Thursday 29 September 2016

Coveney criticised for U-turn on homeless

Plans to prioritise vulnerable families on waiting list shelved

Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of quietly dropping 'the single most progressive measure' taken to help solve the homeless crisis. Photo: Tom Burke
Housing Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of quietly dropping 'the single most progressive measure' taken to help solve the homeless crisis. Photo: Tom Burke

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has been accused of quietly dropping "the single most progressive measure" taken to help solve the homeless crisis.

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One of Mr Coveney's first acts as minister has been to end a requirement for local authorities to assign up to half of all social housing available to homeless people.

The ministerial order brought in by Alan Kelly in January 2015 gave priority to vulnerable families seeking accommodation - but it ended on April 30 while the negotiations over the formation of the new Government were ongoing.

And the Irish Independent has learned that the newly appointed minister has decided not to renew the policy as it "came at a cost to other households on the social housing waiting lists".

The move has been described as a "serious mistake" by director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, Mike Allen.

"That that is the first thing Simon Coveney does is regrettable," he said, adding the initiative was the "single most progressive measure taken for homeless families".

Niamh Randall of the Simon Community described the move as "extremely disappointing".

"People who are long-term homeless must be prioritised for social housing.

"Access to decent, affordable housing is absolutely key to ending this crisis," she said.

The directive forced housing authorities in the Dublin region to allocate at least 50pc of tenancies to homeless and other vulnerable households, while the authorities in counties Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford were required to allocate at least 30pc.

Initially the directive was in place for six months but it was renewed in August 2015 for a further six months and then again for another three months last January.

In February, the Department of the Environment requested that the Housing Agency conduct a review of its impact, which was completed on April 22. Eight days later the directive expired and, based on the Housing Agency's analysis, a decision was taken not to extend it again.

"This review concluded that, while the direction was effective in increasing allocations to homeless and other vulnerable groups, this was primarily achieved by the return to productive use of approximately 2,700 void local authority units over the period of the direction," Mr Coveney said.

"The now much reduced availability of void local authority units and overall housing supply deficiencies would not allow for any further significant allocations."

He added that the "prioritised allocation of social housing to homeless and other vulnerable households came at a cost to other households on the social housing waiting lists".

Mr Allen described the review as "a very facile analysis".

And Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Barry Cowen questioned why the minister made the decision without notifying the Dáil's Committee on Housing and Homelessness.

Mr Cowen said Opposition TDs should have been told about the change in policy.

"We are supposed to be having a consultative process at the Housing Committee and here is the minister taking decisions without telling anyone," Mr Cowen said.

Mr Coveney is due before the Housing Committee tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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