Zappone: “Emergency accomodation is needed but the underlying problems lie much deeper”

05.12.2014

On December 3rd, the Seanad held an emergency debate on Homelessness crisis with Minister for Housing, Alan Kelly present.

Read Senator Zappone's speech here.

"I thank the Minister for coming to the Seanad. My hope is that the fruits of our exchange this evening will assist him in his preparations for the homelessness summit which has been convened for tomorrow and any work subsequent to that.

An immense ethical imperative has arisen in the wake of Jonathan Corrie's death. It obliges all those with homes to be involved in supporting a solution for those who have no homes. That is, perhaps, the best way to offer our sympathy. The Minister will be aware that homelessness and sleeping rough arises out of complex causes. As identified by him in his recently published housing strategy, the under-funding for the provision of social housing and rising rents in the private sector are the principal underlying causes of the housing crisis and the increasing number of families losing their homes.

I would like to focus on some elements of a sustainable solution that could be considered and may need to be incorporated into the Minister's ambitious and welcome plans thus far.

First, in terms of the outcome of the summit, will the Minister put in place a five or ten-point plan to solve the problem of a sufficient, consistent supply of emergency accommodation and will he put in place a practical and implementable urgent timeframe within which to deliver sufficiency and consistency? Who will be charged with monitoring this?

Second, is there a need for legislative changes, which was also mentioned by other Senators, in terms of the intense debate around whether rents should be controlled in order to curb unsustainable increases and to increase stability and certainty with regard to individuals and families having a home? Whereas it may not be wise to cap rents, are the Minister and the Government pursuing any type of legislative change to provide a graded-type of control to rents or to provide longer notice periods or extend the security of tenure provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act?

Another gap in our legislation not commented on as much that may require change is the fact that there is no legal obligation on local authorities to provide shelter. When an individual or family becomes homeless and presents to a local authority, as much as that local authority wants to provide shelter, it is sometimes unable to do so. If our laws included a legal obligation to provide shelter would such a catalyst spark other changes downstream so that no one individual or family ends up living in a car or on the street if willing to accept the accommodation offered?

Third is the need to increase the rent supplement, which others have spoken about. If the Minister or the Government have ruled out any legislative changes to place restrictions on rent - I do think that is not wise - are they not then obliged to find a sustainable way to increase rent supplement? Should it not be one or the other or, perhaps, even both?

Fourth, a coherence of strategies is also important. For strategies to cohere they must not contradict each other. News reports today indicate that NAMA has started paying off the second half of its €30.2 billion debt with the repayment of a €1 billion bond. We are also told that it is on track to return a modest profit to the Exchequer. In a recent article published in The Irish Times Dr. Rory Hearne makes the charge that the Minister's housing strategy failed to reform NAMA and that this leaves Government policy with a fundamental contradiction. He argues that NAMA's objective to achieve a maximum commercial return to the State is fuelling high rents by pandering to investors.

For example, as part of its strategy to sell units at the highest price, NAMA recently advertised that a portfolio of properties would provide a residential rent income of €10.6 million. NAMA also has the mandate to contribute to the social and economic development of the State and does so by way of a special purpose vehicle set up to sell or lease NAMA residential properties for social housing. Dr. Hearne says that the housing strategy should have ensured that NAMA delivers far more than the 2,250 social housing units by 2020 that are incorporated into that strategy. If this means that NAMA does not make a profit those who will be most affected will be the private investors rather than the Irish people who paid for the write down of the loans, some of whom are now homeless.

We are all in agreement that emergency accommodation is required but the underlying social problems and solutions lie much deeper. Ireland needs a massive social reinvestment to tackle those problems and a comprehensive and coherent approach to our economic and social policies.

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