Negotiations for the next Programme for Government have begun in recent weeks amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party are looking to agree a plan for the next five years. It is anticipated that part of those discussions will explore the document drafted by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to facilitate negotiations with other parties on a plan to ‘recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the Covid-19 emergency’. It has 10 key missions including one on housing; ‘Housing for All’. We examine the document in the current context of SVP members supporting households in precarious living situations during the pandemic and examine whether measures outlined in the framework document will be sufficient to support families with their housing needs in to the future.
This statement lacks ambition and fails to understand the real trauma behind anybody experiencing homelessness, not least almost 4,000 children. It should be a priority for any Government to ‘End Homelessness’ rather than ‘Reduce’ it.
Housing is a fundamental need, on which so many other needs depend, such as health, safety, and privacy. This has become more evident during Covid-19; there is a direct correlation between health and housing. In London, for example, poorer inner boroughs such as Lambeth and Southwark have triple the per capita infection rates than the leafy suburbs of Kingston, Sutton, and Bexley. One reason might be that it is more difficult to socially isolate in overcrowded social housing. But it is also the case that those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be in poor health than those living in less deprived areas of the country. On top of that, middle class people are more likely to have jobs where they can work at home, while those who travel to work are more at risk of infection.
‘‘Create a new deal for renters, which is focused on providing more long-term security, stable and affordable rents, and greater choice’’.
A recent TASC report, Stories of the Pandemic: Covid-19 and Job Losses in Ireland, interviewed people who have recently become unemployed. Those interviewed who are renting from a private landlord are particularly worried about the security of their rental accommodation. While SVP have welcomed the introduction of emergency measures to protect tenants such as a ban on evictions and rent increases during the crisis, what happens after the crisis ends? There is no protection for tenants who have accrued rent arrears due to a delay in their rent supplement application for example. SVP members have received calls from families who fear they may face homelessness after the crisis ends as a result of rent arrears. This follows previous research by TASC which highlighted that just 40% of people renting privately can afford to regularly save money. This research was carried out pre Covid-19 and record unemployment levels.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the housing and homeless crisis, however, part of the solution should be developing a cost rental model, which, encouragingly is outlined in the framework document. The cost rent is calculated to take account of the cost of land, finance, construction, and management of the dwellings and importantly is not tied to the market which is profit driven. Also, linking cost-rents to affordability is important to ensure tenants are only paying what they can afford. With a cost-rent model tenants would have security of tenure and long term sustainability. Cost-Rental requires careful consideration by the next Government, this is in the context that research from NESC shows that around one-quarter to one-third of the population will not find satisfactory housing through the market alone. Also, a recent ESRI presentation showed that those in the most affected sectors for job losses due to Covid-19 measures are more likely to rent. In light of our new economic reality other mechanisms to fund cost-rental as is used in many other European countries needs to be explored.
Ireland’s most successful housing-policy period was probably the decades in which public provision of high-quality homes constituted a large share of total housing supply. While our economic outlook may not be as encouraging as it was just a few short months ago priority should be given to the housing needs of those that have suffered during the pandemic because of having no secure home to stay safe and well. Any negotiations between political parties with the view to forming a new Government should contain this objective.
 www.esri Presentation by Barra Roantree 24th April ‘Fiscal Policy through the crisis: support for individuals’