Monday 26 February 2018

Home truths: Let's get nostalgic about promises

A housing demonstration in Dublin at the end of last year. Photo: Stephen Collins.
A housing demonstration in Dublin at the end of last year. Photo: Stephen Collins.
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

'From 2010, long-term homelessness and the need for people to sleep rough will be eliminated throughout Ireland."

These bold and confident words were uttered in documents published to promote a Fianna Fail-led Government's 2008 strategy to tackle homelessness once and for all.

In fact, by 2010, homelessness in Ireland had risen to just under 4,000 people.

And this week a truck was spotted driving in Dublin streets with a giant mobile hoarding towed after it. On the huge hoarding was a heart-wrenching picture of a child sitting in the street with its hands over its eyes. The slogan reads: "1,600 children in emergency accommodation - it's time for action." The giant mobile poster is a Fianna Fail election promo.

It seems politicians believe we forget their promises easily and probably we do.

So here's another one for you, albeit a bit more recent: "The coalition is going to end all long-term homelessness across the country by 2016."

These are the words which accompanied the launch of the current Government's homelessness policy in 2013. Labour Junior Minister Jan O'Sullivan fronted up that one, explaining: "In a real Republic there is an onus on us all to ensure that all citizens have a place they can call home."

Or if we want to, we can go right back and select any number of government promises to boost housing and eliminate homelessness.

We can go back into the pre Celtic Tiger mists for the: "There is no need for anyone to sleep on the streets" statement issued by then Minister of State, Emmet Stagg, whose 1992 plan to eliminate homelessness was launched when the Department of Environment had estimated there were 2,675 people without accommodation.

Through the last year, the promises machine has gone into overdrive as ministers compete to out-promise one another on housing in the run up to the recently announced election.

And when it comes to unfulfilled housing promises, we also have to pick our way through the possibility that 'older' unfulfilled or part-fulfilled commitments and pledges are constantly being rolled into newer ones.

For example, back in October's Budget we got one of the biggest housing promises of all - that Nama would help the State construct 20,000 houses in a five-year period.

But we can weed out 2,000 of those from this 'new' pledge because Nama had already been busy rolling out homes in accordance to a previous promise to deliver 4,500 properties by the end of 2016 (an important year for promise targets). It seems Nama had already built 2,500 of these by last October and when I queried, I discovered that the 2,000 of those remaining to be built under the 'old' promise had somehow accidentally gotten rolled into the 'new' Budget-time promise in October.

What's more, on the day the big "20,000" pledge was made, Nama itself weighed in to distance itself from that tally - stating that one fifth of these were actually not commercially viable to proceed with in the first place.

So it seemed that around 4,000 of those 20,000 pledged homes couldn't go ahead unless someone was prepared to come forward and make yet another promise - to stump up vast sums of yet unaccounted for cash for infrastructure like water and gas and roads.

That took us down to 14,000 homes which hadn't been promised already or which actually have a realistic chance of going ahead. And we haven't even mentioned the number of homes Nama would have been constructing anyhow without the big Budget-time promises.

And so we move on to this week from 20,000 promised homes to 22, with Alan Kelly (currently Junior Minister for Housing Promises) standing on site in Ballymun and promising us that the score and two of prefab homes which the council already pledged to have built by Christmas would in fact be ready by the end of this month instead. Here he is deploying the old 'top up' promise.

At a cost of €4.2m for 22, or €190,000 each - these promises aren't cheap.

And the promise machine is still spitting them out - take this week's idea for an "affordable rental scheme" whereby the State pays 30pc of market rent for low earners.

Details of how the affordable rental scheme will work have yet to be decided. However, reports stated that some €10m will be made available this year for a pilot project. The information surrounding it seems to suggest that around 600 to 700 households will benefit.

We've had the launch of the latest useless living-over-the-shop scheme, we've had rent control measures to extend leases, we've had regulations to close down bedsits and to improve the quality of the homes we're not building. But we need houses, houses, houses.

Not more feckless promises.

Indo Property

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