Promise of 2,000 Nama homes to help homeless 'not kept'
HOMELESSNESS could be almost halved immediately if the Government kept its promise to hand over empty homes under the control of the State's toxic assets agency, it has been claimed.
Focus Ireland, one of the country's leading homeless organisations, said it could also "virtually eliminate" the stark problem of entire families without a home if the will was there among the Cabinet.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan vowed to give 2,000 homes under the control of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) over to social housing a year-and-a-half ago.
But Mike Allen, the charity's director of advocacy, said both the coalition and the 'bad bank' were more concerned with getting a cash return than alleviating the deepening homelessness problem.
"The promise of 2,000 homes was announced like it was a Christmas present in late 2011," he said.
"Virtually none of them have been delivered yet."
There are an estimated 5,000 people who are currently homeless in the Republic. Official figures show more than 160 families are homeless in Dublin alone.
A small minority of these are sleeping rough, with about 80 people on the streets on any given night in the capital.
Mr Allen accepted there were some legal hurdles to handing over Nama properties, but insisted the taxpayer-owned agency could shortcut its own processes to speed up the release of empty homes.
"We think they can make a larger contribution than they currently do," he said.
"They need to be less concerned about the rights of the bankrupt developers and more concerned with delivering the social dividend."
Mr Allen likened the current process of handing over empty properties to "a drip feed from behind a screen".
One the problems Focus Ireland has come against is that Nama is "so secretive" that it is not known exactly how many suitable properties they have available.
But if Mr Hogan delivered on the 2,000 promised homes it would make a "significant difference" to the homelessness problem, according to the charity.
"It wouldn't solve the problem but it would give us a number of housing units that we would be able to move people out of emergency accommodation and into new homes," said Mr Allen.
The Focus Ireland director laid blame squarely at the feet of Cabinet ministers who he said weren't collectively pushing Nama to take its social responsibility as seriously as its duty to make money for the public purse.
Taxpayers will also benefit if the problem of homelessness is eased, he said.
However, Mr Allen said be believes the number of suitable properties under Nama control which are in appropriate areas - mainly cities - is exaggerated.
Launching the organisation's annual report, he said there is a need to start building social housing again, particularly in urban areas.
The homeless charity dealt with more than 8,000 people last year - a 7% hike on the numbers seeking help the previous year.
Through its coffee shop in Dublin's Temple Bar, it handed out over 70,000 meals to the homeless or those at risk of losing their homes during 2012.