Homelessness is at crisis levels.
Over 80 families becoming homeless every month in Dublin.
Hotels are increasingly unavailable for emergency accommodation and nor are they suitable for families.
The crisis is such that unprecedented & immediate action must be taken.
The sale of Aer Lingus yielded €335m for the State. In my view, the full proceeds from the sale should be diverted to alleviate the immediate short term crisis.
Purchase housing on the open Market
The average cost to build a house is often put at €226,000 – inevitably planning and construction, particularly where the State is involved, takes years.
There are currently over 1000 properties for sale in Dublin priced at €220,000 or less, with hundreds more available in the regional cities. There is no reason why the State cannot move to purchase up to 500 of these properties, as deemed suitable, immediately. The Government plans to source up to 500 modular homes, which are in themselves relatively costly and ultimately temporary. At the same time, the local authorities are actively seeking to rent properties from private landlords for periods up to 20 years. Purchasing permanent private housing on the open market should be the first step and offers significantly better value for money for the State.
These units are not ideal and are proving to cost almost almost as much conventional home. They are also low density and will require large serviced sites. However, the need is so great that they will have to be utilised to some extent.
Conversion of State & Church properties
All existing vacant State property should be looked at for suitability, with a view to conversion for habitable use if possible. There may be a role for the various churches to play also, given the volume of land & buildings under their control in prime locations – particularly regarding the provision of suitable temporary sites.
Rent Allowance & Curbing Rent Increases
– Level the playing pitch: pay rent allowance in advance, not arrears. All landlord’s request a deposit and first months rent in advance, prospective tenants on rent supplement simply cannot compete.
– Landlords are currently permitted to increase rent once a year. Any increase should be limited to a maximum of 5% in a 12 month period or in-line with inflation should inflation breach 5%.
Private Room, Long Stay, Hostel Accommodation:
Shared dormitory type hostels should be a thing of the past, however they make up the vast bulk of homeless accommodation on offer. Very few of our Hostels provide private rooms – inevitably, many choose to take their chances on the streets rather than share with strangers. Hostels like The Iveagh Hostel provide residents with a small single room – a place to call their own and store their belongings, accessible 24 hours a day. It is a model that can & should be replicated – as little as €10m would construct hostel type accommodation containing 150 single units.
Strategy 2020: Buried in the Detail
The Government has made much of its housing Strategy – Strategy 2020. The plan is to provide up to 110,000 homes over the next 6 years.
However, just 22,000 of these homes will be constructed with the remainder either leased or rented by the State, or via assistance to the tenant using the HAP payment (rent supplement).
In effect, rather than building and renting out its own property, the State is turning itself in to a renter on a massive scale, and this represents incredibly poor value for money.
For example, take one of the leasing options currently available: a 10-20 year lease between the Local Authority and Private Landlord, offering to pay the Landlord 80 – 85% of Market Rent.
Using a typical West Dublin 3 Bed Semi and taking the full market rent to be a very conservative €1200 per month, the State will pay that Landlord €1020 per month to lease the property – €12,240 per year – or €244,800 over 20 years. The cost to build a 3 bed house is estimated to be €226,000. In reality the State could build a house for far less.
After 20 years – the State will have spent €18,800 more than the cost to build, will shoulder all the associated maintenance costs that arise and have nothing whatsoever to show.
Capacity & Approved Housing Bodies
Voluntary Housing Associations can and want to deliver more properties for people on low incomes. From the taxpayers point of view, Local Authorities maintain the right to nominate tenants to housing association properties indefinitely, and the housing associations offer superior levels of maintenance and estate management.
For it’s part the State must cut through the layers of red tape that all too often apply when associations are seeking project finance and it must offer finance at the most competitive rates. The State itself can currently borrow 10 year money at less than 1.5%, there is no reason why housing associations should not benefit also. Achieving a low, long-term fixed interest rate is often the difference between a housing project becoming a viable prospect or remaining on the shelf.
Building on the Right Scale
The State itself must get involved in large scale building, all other options will in the long run cost far more. By utilising modern building techniques, availing of pre-order modular housing grids and working from a set number of design layouts – as was done with the school building programme – the State can deliver social and affordable homes on the scale required and well below the average build cost of €226,000.