THOUSANDS of families are facing homelessness "right now" and cannot afford to wait two or three years for new housing.
Two of the country's biggest housing charities, Threshold and the Simon Community, have warned that "immediate assistance" must be provided to families on the brink of losing their homes, and reforms of the rented sector are urgently needed.
The comments come after the Government unveiled a €3.8bn social housing programme which it claims will eliminate housing waiting lists by 2020 and create up to 29,000 new construction jobs.
Some 35,000 new homes will be built, purchased or leased, and a new housing assistance payment to replace rent supplement will provide another 75,000 units over the coming years.
The Social Housing Strategy 2020 comes as almost 90,000 people languish on local authority waiting lists, some for five years or more.
The shortage of new homes coming onto the market has also fuelled price and rent increases, with just over 8,000 delivered last year - compared with some 93,000 in 2006 at the peak of the boom.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly insisted that the plan was not designed for short-term electoral gain. The plan will be funded through a combination of exchequer finance, capital from NAMA and use of public private partnerships.
"I'm unlikely to have a more important day in my time in Government," Mr Kelly said. "The most important thing we can do is give somebody a home. As a society and a State, we are failing to meet our obligations. It's important we have policies that aren't around electoral cycles. This is a long-term policy."
State funding of some €3.8bn will provided over the next six years - a €1.6bn increase on the amount announced in October's Budget - and 29,000 construction jobs will be created in the building programme.
The main points of the plan are:
Some 18,000 new homes will be in place by the end of 2017, along with 32,000 rented units sourced from the private sector.
Another 17,000 homes will be constructed by 2020, and 43,000 private units delivered.
A 'Social Housing Passport' will be introduced to allow people move from one local authority's waiting list to another, so they can pursue job opportunities. They currently have to re-apply.
A tenant purchase scheme will be introduced to allow tenants buy their own homes.
Housing assistance payments will be based on market rents in each area, and not capped on a national basis. Local authorities will be given flexibility to increase payments in areas of high demand.
The plan was welcomed by housing charities which said it highlighted the extent of the problem, but required immediate implementation.
The Simon Community criticised the lack of measures to address those currently experiencing homelessness, while Threshold chief executive Bob Jordan said many families could not afford to wait.
"There are thousands of families throughout Ireland with a housing need right now," he said. "They cannot afford to wait for two or more years, while the Government gets new social housing construction underway. "
The National Association of Building Co-operatives warned that exchequer funding was needed in the short-term before other sources of finance became available.