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Monday 22 April 2019

Comment: We cannot allow tenants to act as if they own houses

 

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Karl Deeter and Brendan Burgess

The real scandal in social housing is that, in Dublin alone, 1,367 families are homeless while there are 5,000 two, three, four and even five-bedroom council-owned homes occupied by just one person.

There are a further 5,000 under-occupied - for instance, only two people in a four-bed house. This pattern is repeated across the country. It comes on top of news there are 3,600 empty State-owned homes which house nobody.

How can we claim we don't have enough social housing when this situation exists?

And not only do we have a homeless problem, we also have an overcrowding problem. In the Dublin City Council area, there are 18 cases of a family of five or more living in a one-bed housing unit. Conversely, there are 118 individuals living in a four-bed house. This is wrong.

We cannot allow social housing stock to be treated like the tenant owns it. A person should not live alone in a large house at the expense of those in horribly overcrowded situations. Social housing on offer should change over time. If the occupant doesn't agree, let them pay full market rent for the property. If they can't, or won't, they should be compelled to move to a house of a suitable size to their needs.

While it is important to respect individuals, accommodate special circumstance and be mindful of the needs of others, there is also a need for a mature conversation whereby tenants of council homes are asked to make room for the next generation who are raising families and need these homes.

If you lose your job, you get the dole. When you get working again, it ends. When you are sick, you get illness benefit. When you get better, it stops.

Read more: How more than 10,000 social houses are under-occupied as crisis deepens

But once you get social housing, you have it for life. You pay a tiny rent, you pay no Local Property Tax and the council does all the maintenance. You are not asked to move on when you no longer need it.

And if your financial circumstances improve, you can buy it for 60pc of the market value. Almost two-thirds of all social housing ever built has been sold on to tenants. You can't claim that the people who were living in those homes couldn't afford housing, if they were able to buy the same home.

The right to social housing must come with certain obligations. The right to a larger social house as your family grows should be matched by the obligation to trade down when you no longer need it.

Why should we spend billions of euro building homes, when we could resolve almost all of the homelessness problem through the cheaper, faster and fairer re-allocation of existing stock?

If we are serious about resolving this crisis, we must treat it like a crisis, and not pander to incumbents who are effectively blocking the homeless out of a place to live.

What's wrong with ending the suffering of the homeless and those in overcrowded accommodation by using homes we already have?

We want fair housing for all, not spare rooms for the many. State-owned homes should be delivered to each according to their need, and no more.

Irish Independent

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