Friday 31 October 2014

Empty homes restored to aid homless

Published 20/05/2014 | 12:12

Families hold a peaceful occupation of Fingal council offices in Blanchardstown to demand housing
There are about 90,000 people on the local authority housing lists nationwide.

Some 1,750 boarded-up homes are to be renovated and reopened by the end of the year to try and ease the homeless crisis, the Government has said.

Empty houses and flats will be redeveloped using a 35m euro (£28m) fund to supply new builds and lease or buy property linked to loans held by the state's bad-bank Nama.

The target is to supply a total of 2,700 homes for homeless people by the end of 2016.

The Government was forced into action after stories emerged of single mothers on housing waiting lists sleeping in cars with their children.

It is estimated 2,660 people are classed as homeless in Ireland with the vast majority living in temporary accommodation.

Other figures show 127 people sleeping rough in Dublin and 142 families in emergency hotel accommodation in the capital.

Jan O'Sullivan, junior minister responsible for housing, said she was committed to ending long-term homelessness by the end of 2016.

"There has been considerable pressure on homelessness services in recent months and it is vital that we bring a focused housing-led approach to addressing homelessness and rough sleeping," she said.

The Government's plan will see a new housing agency co-ordinate the efforts of charities and public bodies to reopen and fill vacant and boarded-up homes and buy or lease houses and apartments from developers whose loans are controlled by Nama.

The state's bad-bank said it supplied 596 homes last year, it expects another 500 apartments or homes could be made available this year and another 900 could potentially be delivered into 2016.

As part of the Government plan 45m (£37m) euro will be invested to increase the number of homes for the elderly and disabled, with 25m euro (£20m) of this targeted at the homeless sector.

A social rental agency for the capital will also be set up.

Focus Ireland said one family is becoming homeless every day and the charity's director of advocacy Mike Allen warned over attempts at a quick-fix solution.

He said: "It will not succeed if there is an over-emphasis on the quick fix of turning unused buildings into more emergency accommodation without ensuring urgent action to increase access to affordable housing for people who are homeless and those at risk."

Focus Ireland said the homeless crisis must be tackled by providing homes for people to move into after they have used a stop gap of emergency accommodation.

Bob Jordan, chief executive of housing agency Threshold, said: "We are disappointed that this plan does not provide for an overhaul of the Rent Supplement scheme or the introduction of any form of rent control.

"There are people falling into homelessness every day now because they can't find - or can't afford to keep - homes within existing Rent Supplement limits."

Ms O'Sullivan said: "Difficult decisions are ahead but every avenue needs to be exhausted.

"This is an ambitious but a realistic implementation plan. It will be closely monitored and any obstacles to progress will be identified and addressed as a priority.

"We can end long-term homelessness and I will be working closely with all partners over the coming months to ensure that we achieve this goal by the end of 2016."

Nama said it is up to councils or public bodies to strike deals with developers or builders to buy or lease properties.

The state's Housing Agency said it wants 2,055 of 4,000 plus homes identified another 13 are being examined for suitability.

Stephen Faughnan, chairman of landlords' group, Irish Property Owners' Association (IPOA), said several Government policies have contributed to the increasing numbers of new homeless.

He blamed the ban on traditional bedsits with shared bathrooms, property taxes, building energy regulations and tax rates for penalising the buy-to-let sector.

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