State must build public housing

Despite more than 289,000 vacant dwellings in Census 2011, there is the most serious housing crisis seen in this country for decades. Few of these vacant properties are being turned over to the state. Many are being deliberately held onto by developers, Nama or receivers, clearly waiting for prices to rise again and turn a profit.

The stranglehold of the private market on both construction and banking is allowing the crisis unfold. Thousands of families need homes but it simply doesn’t suit the ‘market’ to provide them.

Obviously, many could and should be immediately utilised for social housing, but they aren’t the full answer. There is an urgent need in Dublin and the major cities for social and affordable house-building.

The number of families and individuals in need of housing has doubled in the recession. Figures vary between 90,000 and 110,00 people on housing lists in 2013.
Councils are not building social or affordable housing since their budgets have been slashed. Government policy was to place tenants in the private rented sector for a lease of five or ten years (RAS). Few landlords will take part, as they anticipate higher rent outside the scheme.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance met council tenants in RAS homes who are actually paying their landlords under the table to keep them on the scheme – what a farce.
Three-quarters of those on housing lists live in the private rented sector. Rent supplement costs the State €400 million annually and it has been publicised recently that the top 20 earning landlords received rent supplement for 100 or more flats or houses. One landlord received €578,000 from the State. But the maximum rent supplement goes nowhere near rent levels. There are maximum rent allowance limits. All tenants have to pay a portion below and then “top-up” payments to landlords for rent above the maximum rent allowance. Many unemployed families are paying hundreds of euro a month themselves.

The biggest problem now is that landlords won’t take people on rent allowance at all, with ads openly stating “no rent allowance”. This type of discrimination should be declared illegal as it is fuelling the massive increase in homelessness. Renting out a property is a business transaction and such discrimination is not allowed in other businesses.

However state intervention to build homes is the real solution. The investment must be made in a house building programme. This would take thousands of building workers off the dole, free up massive spending power for those renting and stimulate the economy, as well as alleviate misery for thousands.