Fresh thinking required to solve Ireland’s homelessness crisis – Simon Communities of Ireland
Ireland’s homelessness crisis is not an intractable problem, but it needs a new determination to move from ‘dealing with’ to ‘ending’ the uncertainty facing more than 10,000 people in Ireland. That’s the message from Simon Communities of Ireland, in its pre-Budget submission launched at its Simon Week annual conference. The conference, entitled ‘Ending Homelessness: Housing and Support Services’ will took place at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8 and was opened by Minister for Housing and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD. The conference marked the beginning of Simon Week 2019, which runs until Sunday, 6th October.
As part of its submission, Simon is calling on the Government to make provision in Budget 2020 to:
- Provide budget for the leveraging of European Investment Bank and credit union funds for the provision of an additional 20,000 affordable cost rental homes nationally over the next five years.
- Increase the Housing Assistance Payment and Rent Supplement payments to ensure that they are kept in line with market rents.
- Increase to the full rate the jobseeker payment rate for people under 26 years of age who are experiencing homelessness.
Commenting, Simon Communities of Ireland’s Head of Policy and Communications, Wayne Stanley said: “More than 10,000 people are now recorded as homeless in Ireland – that is an unconscionable figure in a wealthy country. Our housing system is broken: we are currently taking an individualised look at ending homelessness, when the problem is systemic. As a nation, we need a change in our thinking from the intractable to the possible. One of the first steps is to acknowledge – and come to terms with the fact – that it will not be possible to return to home ownership levels of the 1990s, but neither will it be solved through relying on the private rented sector: our norms must shift to include other housing solutions.
“The measures to end the homelessness crisis are multifaceted, but we believe that sustainable long-term cost rental accommodation is key. Rather than an over-reliance on the private rented sector, a structured cost rental model would see quality, affordable housing built by the State (or on its behalf by approved housing bodies) using low cost loans, such as funding from the European Investment Bank or credit union funding. This model is not developer-led and the affordable rent on this type of accommodation would be based on the cost of building plus ongoing maintenance. Looking to our European neighbours, the Vienna model has been showcased by Dublin City Council and is recognised as part of the solution in Rebuilding Ireland. One of the differences between social housing and cost rental housing is that household income would not be a barrier to accessing such housing: in Vienna, almost all income brackets can access cost rental housing. In Ireland, we would see the roll-out in cost rental housing over time, as it shows the potential for a system of public housing infrastructure that is available to all. As well as the provision of housing, preventative measures, supports to move on and family mediation are also required to end homelessness.”
The Simon Communities in Ireland is also calling for the Government to increase the level of rent supplement and housing assistance payment rates in line with market rent, and to increase to the full amount jobseeker payment rates for people under 26 who are experiencing homelessness.
Mr Stanley said: “People under 26 don’t get a discount on the cost of living because of their age, they too must be given a chance to get out of or avoid homelessness. In many parts of the country, rent for accommodation in the private rental sector is now out of reach of many low-income families and individuals. While we believe that the provision of cost rental homes is the medium-term solution to the housing crisis, in the interim, HAP and RS rates must be in line with market rents to give low-income families a chance to find a home.”
He added: “Ending homelessness is possible: before the last financial crisis, Ireland came close to ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough. People experiencing homelessness and those in low income households were most affected by the financial crash, they can’t be the first to be affected by a Brexit budget.”
During the Simon Week conference, expert speakers from the fields of economics and housing discussed the importance of an affordable housing supply in Ireland and policies that could deliver this. Front-line staff working on the ground across the Simon Communities will also discuss the services that are working and the challenges that need to be overcome to achieve more, with specialist input on topics including Housing First, Harm Reduction and Addiction Services, Youth Homelessness, and Child and Family Services.