Friday 2 December 2016

Social housing estates are a thing of the past, our future is mixed communities

Simon Coveney

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

For too long, the debate on housing provision has been polarised, focusing either on social housing or on home ownership needs but never bringing those elements together (Stock picture)
For too long, the debate on housing provision has been polarised, focusing either on social housing or on home ownership needs but never bringing those elements together (Stock picture)

The publication of the Government's 'Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness' is a major step forward in providing good quality, well-designed homes for all our citizens. The Government is determined to deal with the under-supply of housing and the problems it generates for families and communities.

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I believe that this plan is historic, because the Government has set out a holistic overview of the overall housing system, and with the contribution made by the cross-party work on last month's Report of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness, we are now seeing how this 'new politics' can and should be working.

The fact that we have delivered this plan within the first 75 days of our administration is testament to the priority that this Government, and I as Minister for Housing and Planning, has placed on developing and publishing it as quickly and yet as comprehensively as possible.

For too long, the debate on housing provision has been polarised, focusing either on social housing or on home ownership needs but never bringing those elements together. Too many of our cities, towns and villages show the effects of that kind of thinking, resulting in ordinary families being instantly categorised and even stigmatised, based on where they live or the name of their estate.

This action plan points towards a different path. While it opens the door to a massive public house-building and acquisition programme, it aims to deliver this not through the large social housing estates of the past, but by creating mixed communities with social housing, affordable rented housing and private housing, all provided together in the one location.

I was reminded recently of the momentous decisions taken by a previous government - 50 years ago this year - to transform how our young people were educated by the introduction of the Free Education Scheme, by then Minister for Education, Donogh O'Malley.

The long-term implications and benefits of prioritising young people's education and nurturing of their future prospects are still being felt, and we are all reaping the rewards.

We now face a comparable turning point in relation to how we provide affordable and accessible homes for our citizens and how we address the chronic and acute problems around homelessness.

At yesterday's launch, a short video was shown of a new Sophia housing development in Dublin that provides long-term homes for mainly homeless couples.

This captured the life-changing possibilities of giving homeless people a place to call home; a place where they can finally close the door on the experience of homelessness; a place that provides warmth, security and hope for the future. This action plan is ultimately focused on delivering more homes for the people who need them.

While we can point to initiatives that are working, this plan is all about scaling up these efforts - building more homes in the right locations, providing options for people who want to buy or rent, and prioritising housing supports for the most vulnerable.

This is certainly an ambitious plan, with over 80 focused actions. Many of these are linked, and I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through full and collaborative implementation of the plan, we can and we will:

• Comprehensively address the homelessness issue;

• arrest the growing affordability gap for many households looking for housing;

• drive the rental sector towards providing a range of quality accommodation;

• deliver housing in a way that supports, and does not direct, economic growth; and

• achieve wider objectives, such as the need to support proper planning and the creation of sustainable communities across the entire country that people want to live and work in.

The implementation of this plan has already begun - but the State cannot do it alone.

We will need all stakeholders, especially local authorities, housing agencies, property providers, voluntary bodies and policymakers across government to work towards the common goal of providing good quality, affordable and well-located homes for our growing population.

Irish Independent

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