From top Fine Gael Meath County Councillor Alan Tobin; Clúid social housing in Meath
The prospect of new social housing in Ashbourne, County Meath is a hoodie-filled horror, warns a Fine Gael councillor.
Ashbourne resident Martin McMahon begs to differ.
Almost a year ago, Fine Gael councillor Alan Tobin, incurred the wrath of dog owners world wide when he announced the erection of signs in Ashbourne, County Meath warning of “Dangerous Breeds of Dogs”.
Barely chastened by that experience, Alan has launched his latest campaign, this time to warn us ‘Snowflake’ Asbournians about “Dangerous Breeds of Human”.
Alan was triggered by the announcement of a new development of 67 houses. The houses are being built in an estate which will be managed by the Clúid Housing Agency with tenants coming from the Meath County Council housing list. Clúid Housing is the largest housing association in Ireland, delivering 155 homes to date in Meath.
Clúid Housing spokesperson Lucinda Murrihy said
“Meath County Council informed us of the need for affordable housing in the area, and supported us in achieving the funding. We conducted a sustainable development audit, as per the Department’s requirements, and all stakeholders agreed that the proposed scheme would be an excellent addition to the local community.”
Clúid are working closely with Meath County Council to ensure a positive mix of tenure; including older people, families, single people, and people with disabilities
In a piece to the Meath Chronicle Alan presented his apocalyptic vision of what was to come:
“In 10 years time, will this estate in Archerstown, Ashbourne next to Ashbourne Golf Club and White Ash Park be an additional no-go area riddled with drugs, burnt out cars, high levels of state dependency and crime?”
In his self-promotional leaflet delivered to Ashbourne Residents this week, Alan answered his own question with:
“Estates similar to this one in Dublin and elsewhere in Meath have proved to encourage unemployment black spots, antisocial behaviour and a ‘them and us’ mentality that we do not want to promote in Ashbourne”
Contrary to this hick hiding behind a haystack with pitchfork in hand yelling “Strangers a comin'” image of Ashbourne evoked by Alan’s fears, Ashbourne is a great place.
We are a hugely diverse community.
My neighbours and friends hark from places as far scattered as Dublin, Thailand, Estonia, Poland, America and on and on. In a very short period, our community has grown from a sleepy village to a substantial stand alone Town fifteen minutes from the M50.
There are already about 3,000 houses in Ashbourne, 67 more beside the golf club won’t tip us over into Armageddon.
There is no ‘them and us’ area in Ashbourne, you can walk through anywhere you want at any time you want, without fear.
You won’t meet a boy with a banjo on the way in, you’ll meet a solid welcoming community, so come on over, we’re happy to have you.
While the focus is on an ‘off-balance’ sheet mechanism to fund social housing we could be facing a situation where there are over 3,000 homeless by this time next year.
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
There is a lot of criticism of the political system in Ireland, and particularly the elected TDs and how the Dáil goes about its business, for being ineffective and a waste of time.
The newly formed Committee on Housing and Homelessness has shown what politicians can achieve. The committee was only set up two months ago, in April, “to review the implications of the problems of housing and homelessness, and to make recommendations in that regard”.
And this is vital and urgent work. The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive provides regular updates of the homeless figures in Dublin and the most recent ones from April show this crisis is just getting worse.
Their infographic below reveals that in April, there were 888 families with 1,786 children in homeless accommodation in Dublin. The number of children is almost double what it was just a year earlier.
At this rate of increase in homelessness we could be facing a situation where there are over 3,000 homeless by this time next year. A shocking prospect.
The Committee on Housing and Homelessness has had presentations over the last two months from a broad range of organisations, groups and individuals involved in housing.
There are groups who are very active at a grassroots level – such as Housing Action Now and the Irish Housing Network – who do not appear to have presented to the committee which is unfortunate given their ‘on-the-ground’ experience of supporting those most affected by the crisis and their innovative ideas on potential solutions.
The quality of debate at the committee meetings was very high and there was a substantial amount of really important information provided on the facts about the housing crisis, the different groups affected and potential solutions to the crisis.
All the submissions and the discussions at the committee are very interesting and you can read them all on the Oireachtas website here.
For example, during its hearing on May 31, the NTMA and the Department of Finance made a presentation on the issue of our ability to borrow (while staying within the EU fiscal rules) in order fund the provision of much-needed social housing.
The NTMA (the National Treasury Management Agency) manages our National Debt and various funds such as the Infrastructure Investment Ireland Fund (which is what used to be the National Pension Reserve Fund) and borrows on behalf of the Government.
The NTMA explained that Ireland’s debt levels (the debt to GDP ratio) have fallen from 120% to 94% but our absolute level of debt, at over €200 billion, is four times what it was in 2007.
And the annual interest that we must pay on this debt is close to €7 billion (which was just €2 billion in 2007).
European fiscal rules require Ireland to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio by roughly 5% per annum.
But due to our economic growth rates we are achieving this and therefore, there is ‘fiscal space under the debt-reduction rule’ that could allow us borrow more while staying within the EU rules.
But the debt is only one of three rules.
The other two relate to government expenditure benchmark and the ‘balanced budget’ rule. This means that if we borrow to spend or invest directly by the government (or local authority which is considered a state agency), for example in social housing, it affects our public spending limits.
But if we borrow and invest it through a non-government body on a commercial basis it does not affect public spending limits as it is considered by EUROSTAT (the European agency that defines if we are breaking the rules or not) to be ‘off-balance-sheet’ spending.
This is why pretty much the sole focus of the Department of Housing, Finance and Government has been trying to find ‘off-balance’ sheet mechanisms that allow investment not affect the rules.
But there is a very obvious issue here that requires clarification. If you increase spending on an area, like social housing, and fund this through an equivalent increase in taxation, then surely nothing changes in terms of the budget deficit?
Now if the planned abolition of the USC was going to cost us approximately €4bn then surely that could be paused which would then leaves a number of billions that could be invested in social housing provision and not require borrowing or lead to a breaching of EU rules?
The committee will present its final report today.
It will be well worth a read to see what’s in it.
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne
You may recall how, back in April 2012, Karl Deeter, of Irish Mortgage Brokers, claimed that 25 per cent of people who were in mortgage arrears were lying or ‘strategically defaulting’.
This morning Mr Deeter joined Ruth Coppinger, Socialist Party TD for Dublin West, on Today with Seán O’Rourke this morning on RTÉ Radio One, to talk about social housing.
Grab a tay…
Karl Deeter: “The idea of social housing I agree with, I agree with helping poor people. I think that when people are down on their luck they should receive assistance. What I’d be saying is that the underlying performance of it matters. So, in the same way that we say we should have hospitals, that the hospital performance matters, I’m saying we need to do the same on housing and not just see more of the same as being a solution. And really the point I would be making is that people who are not well-off are not a static group. You don’t necessarily become poor and then stay that way for life. But the tenancy right to a social house stays with you for life, once you get one. And effectively it becomes a brand of middle class welfare because in many instances you’ve got people who aren’t well off who can’t access social housing but you’ve got people who are moderately well-off who are earning above average wage, living in these social houses, receiving what is effectively a very subsidised rent.
Sean O’Rourke: “But is there not, for many years, a differential rent scheme whereby people pay according to their means?”
Deeter: “Of course it has and when you look at the figures though, let’s just examine them, look at the two-bed houses – average rent on those is €62 a week. The average rent overall is about €59 a week. The highest rent being charged in all of Dublin city and lmost likely for a five or six-bed house is €228 a week which is about €990 per month. Now what I would say then, is when you look at the five-bedroom houses and six-bedroom houses on average, it’s €80 a week or €117 a week. Which is a price so good that you simply, it can’t be matched anywhere.
If you were to charge these rents, and look at it from an investment perspective, in other words that we want to see people to be getting good value for money and be sustainable and build more, you’d have to build these houses for about €40,000 which is just not achievable.”
O’Rourke: “So is it your belief then that the rent charged to people who are there, who maybe moved in initially on the basis of need and inability to buy their own houses that, if they become well-off or if they become better off shall we say, that they should be charged the market rate?”
Deeter:“I don’t see an argument for middle class welfare and that is very distinctly the point I’m making. I don’t believe you should take people who can afford to pay more for something and give them subsidies. Now people say ‘oh but they are means tested and there’s differentiations, etc’ but that, to me, still doesn’t get to the root nub of the issue.”
O’Rourke: “So would you..”
Deeter: “There’s a lot of people who are well able to afford more than the rent because, let’s not forget, and this is where the proof of it all lies. Many people in social houses get mortgages and buy those homes, ok? And they end up paying more on that mortgage than they were paying on that rent. So a) I already know from having done hundreds of these types of loans, there’s a greater affordability there…”
O’Rourke: “Should there be a threshold in which people are told, either buy or vacate?”
Deeter: “I’m not saying there should be because this is really more of a thought experiment. I’m saying that if we’re going to have a serious conversation about social housing that we should be wondering why we are basically accruing benefits to some people while there’s other people who are locked out. In a way you’ve got some people who are doing quite well and they’re almost like bed blockers in housing.”
O’Rourke: “We’ll come to Ruth Coppinger in a moment but are you saying or suggesting Karl Deeter that this might be a way of securing extra money to invest in the development or in the building of new social housing?”
Deeter: “I absolutely am saying that like the money has to come from somewhere and I think there’s a wider social housing conversation that needs to be had about increasing things like local property tax to fund social housing, rather than Part V which, in the last four years, in its best year it only delivered 16 homes. As well as that you could reduce perhaps, by having a better-run section, the numbers of evictions. Because there’s another thing that people don’t talk about. They come on and say ‘oh look at the market, there’s loads of people being evicted.’ The actual eviction figures for Dublin City Council, ok, show that within Dublin City, the city council evict more people in the banks or building societies in 2011, in 2012, in 2013 and I’m talking two or three times more. Other than 2015, it was the first time the banks evicted more people than Dublin City Council so there’s a lot of things in it that we never discuss. I’m saying we need to have this conversation.”
Fine Gael TD and junior minister for finance, Simon Harris
This morning’s Friday Gathering panel on the Today With Seán O’Rourke Show were: Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Simon Harris, Anti Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger, Mick Clifford, Special Correspondent with The Examiner and Political Correspondent with RTE, Katie Hannon.
During their discussion, the matter of homeless and social housing was raised.
Mr Harris also talked about the economy…
Ruth Coppinger: “Just with regard to this funding of local authorities, let’s just be absolutely factual: 20 local authority homes were completed in the first quarter of 2015 and 117 housing association homes. If that continues…”
Sean O’Rourke: “Is that for the whole country?”
Coppinger: “Yes. There’s the department of environment figures. If that continues for the whole year, there’ll be less than 500, you know, social houses. In 1975, I lived in a council house with my family and there was 8,795 houses built by local authorities.”
Talk over each other
Simon Harris: “We’re not having a dispute over this. I’m basically making the point…”
Talk over each other
Coppinger: “No, but can I clarify, I said, Fianna Fáil did lower things but actually they built more in 2010 than you’re building now and this is meant to be an housing emergency. That’s just the facts.”
Harris: “Let’s be very clear about what I said. When you decide, as a Government, as the previous government did, to stop building social housing, to stop building social housing and to move into the rental market – that was a policy decision they made. When you decide for that to happen, the system grinds…please let me finish…the system grinds to a halt. The infrastructure that’s in place to build the houses grinds to a halt. You have to bring that back up. We have put investment in place that will allow that to happen but it won’t happen over night…”
Coppinger: “It’s not for building houses. It’s for modular homes and hotel accommodation.”
Harris: “You, you, you protesting about it, or sitting in show houses, isn’t going to solve the problem.”
Talk over each other
Coppinger: “Well, actually, it’s brought more attention which is move than you’ve ever done.”
Harris: “No what will solve the problem is actually coming up with ways of funding it and our economic policies mean we can…”
Coppinger: “Can I tell you how we could fund it? It’s actually quite simple.”
Harris: “You don’t have a way of funding it.”
Coppinger: “Ok, I’ll give you two examples of where it could be funded.”
Coppinger: “Nama has €3billion on hand now, for development. I believe it’s going to go into the Docklands or whatever. That €3billion could be set aside for social and affordable houses. It also sold Dundrum Shopping Centre and a number of shopping centres and it got €1.8billion, that could also go towards it. We could argue about how much it costs to build a house but if you brought in emergency legislation, planning legislation, to fastrack this, which could be done if you had a Government that cared..”
Harris: “We do care.”
Coppinger: “You could quickly acquire land, Nama has a third of development land in Dublin. And, for example, modular homes which I understand people might want because hotel lives are so bad, aren’t that cheap and they’re really not that quick either because you’ll still have the whole planning issue. You could actually, no, but you could refurbish some of the hotels, give people cooking facilities and located them to where their kids are. I’ve talked to homeless people about it…”
Harris: “And I’ve talked to homeless people as well.”
Coppinger: “And, sorry, there is also the Strategic Investment Fund – there’s €4billion…”
Harris: “And as you know, and as you probably heard from Nama, at the Public Accounts Committee, there is a significant number of homes that have been offered to local authorities. Some have been, a significant number, over 4,000, have been turned down. That’s not a criticism of local authorities but of the 6,000 houses offered, the local authorities turned down over 4,000.”
Coppinger: “That figure is being cited by the Government but actually…”
Harris: “It’s not being cited, it’s a statement of fact.”
Coppinger: “It’s not a lot to offer though…”
Harris: “It’s a statement of fact.”
Coppinger: “Over 8 years, if you boil it down, that’s not a lot of housing.”
Michael Clifford: “There’s a case, the Government, definitely, they righted a listing economy, there’s no question about that, the economy is in much better shape than it was four years ago. You can argue about how fair it was, absolutely, you can argue about and the fact that the benefits coming through are not being felt. However, outside, following the programme, laid down by the Troika and Fianna Fáil, in relation to numerous social issues, the Government’s been an abject failure. They put all their energies into the economy, as they saw it and a number of social issues – we saw this the minute the Troika left town – they started being hit by various issues straight away.”
Harris: “Yeah but I have to come back on this point because there is an attempt, and I think a view held that you can decouple economy from society. It’s very easy for any politician or commentator to list all societal issues, of which there are many, you can’t fund them, they’re only aspirational and cheap talk unless you actually have a functioning economy. What we now have is what we didn’t have when we came to office in 2011: is an economy that can begin to fund those services. But only if we secure the recovery, only if we get more people back to work and only if we make the right decisions.”
President Michael D Higgins at the launch of Merchants Quay Ireland’s annual report this morning in Dublin
“President Michael D Higgins has urged bodies like the City and County Managers’ Association to apologise publicly for not valuing social housing more in recent decades. Speaking in Dublin, he said that while a newspaper headline proclaims today that the economy is roaring back in Ireland, inequalities are roaring back much louder in the world.”
“President Higgins was speaking at the launch of the annual report of the housing charity, Merchant’s Quay Ireland. The report states that it delivered 19% more medical interventions to homeless people throughout the Republic last year and that homelessness and drug use continues to grow in the midst of what it terms “an unprecedented housing crisis”. The President recalled that in 1995 there were 2,000 methadone users in the State but that there are now 10,000.”
Fine Gael’s junior environment minister Paudie Coffey
This morning, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen claimed that, according to local authority figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the number of people on the social housing waiting list is 130,000 – 45 per cent higher than that of the Government’s official figure of 90,000.
Junior environment minister Paudie Coffey attempted to rebut those figures with Cathal MacCoille on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Cathal MacCoille: “We knew there were about 90,000 families and individuals on the social housing list, according to the Government’s own figures but Fianna Fáil say the figures they’ve obtained from the local authorities, under the Freedom of Information Act, show the true up-to-date figures for the number on that list is 130,000. We heard from Barry Cowen, of Fianna Fáil, earlier about this. On the line now is Paudie Coffey, the minister of state with responsibility for housing. Minister, good morning.”
Paudie Coffey: “Good morning to you Cathal.”
MacCoille: “Do you agree, first of all, with Fianna Fáil’s figures. Are they correct?”
Coffey: “I don’t agree with Fianna Fáil’s figures because really, essentially, what they are is just a snapshot in time, taken from the local authorities around the country. But, as we have discovered, and really, the reason we utilise the Housing Agency – which is an independent agency – that has research capabilities to capture reliable information. We utilise those figures and they’re the figures that the CSO and every other agency in the country utilises. The last time that they did an in-depth analysis and a robust assessment of the housing need in this country was in 2013. And they’re the figures that we have arrived at – the 90,000 that you’ve mentioned and we utilise that in our response to the social housing strategies that the Government announced last year.”
MacCoille: “Right. The only problem with that is obviously that’s a two-year-old figure. What’s wrong with those figures that Fianna Fáil are using to say, it’s not 90,000, it’s 130,000.”
Coffey: “Well the housing lists are changing all the time, Cathal. If Fianna Fáil were to ask the same question today as it did possibly a month or a few weeks ago, they would get a very different answer.”
MacCoille: “Yeah but ok. But what’s wrong with them asking, as a measure, as an accurate measure – if they are accurate – of what the situation was a month or two ago, when they put in these requests. Why is that figure not accurate?”
Coffey: “Various factors come into play and as I’ve said, the Housing Agency do a robust analysis, they engage with every local authority who, in turn, do a critical assessment of every applicant on the housing list. And that means a contact with every person who’s circumstances may have changed in the first instance. Some people may have found employment as we see the employment figures rising and they would no longer have the need for social housing. So that’s just one example.”
MacCoille: “Yeah but we’re talking about… what I’m asking is… because you appear to be saying that the local authorities are keeping inaccurate figures, is that what you’re saying?”
Coffey: “No that’s not what I’m saying…”
MacCoille: “So what are you saying?”
Coffey: “The figures are changing all the time and I think that’s acknowledged by all parties…”
Talk over each other
MacCoille: “Yeah, ok, but can we just concentrate on the figures that Fianna Fáil got a month or two ago when they put in this request. Now, you’re not accepting those figures and what I’m asking you is: why don’t you accept those figures as a representation of what the situation was then?”
Coffey: “Yeah, a lot of those figures would have duplicity in them. A lot of those people will have left the housing list even since, there are changes in people’s circumstances all the time. Sometimes people’s housing needs would increase, and sometimes it would be removed altogether, where people come off the list.”
Coffey: “Now it is reasonable to assume that it has risen since 2013, I will acknowledge that and that is why every year, from now on we will have reliable information captured by the Housing Agency which are the independent agency in this regard and that information will be used to inform Government policy, not only in terms of the social housing strategy but in other strategies and policies in terms of planning and the provision of housing…”
MacCoille: “Sorry and when will we get those figures?”
Coffey: “We already have the 2013 figures…”
MacCoille: “Yeah, but up-to-date figures?”
Coffey: “The social housing strategy has now been adopted and it’s being implemented to meet the needs of 110,000 houses in this country, not the 90,000, 110,000. Every year, from 2016, we will have reliable information, we will evaluate that and monitor progress in terms of how we’re meeting…”
MacCoille: “So we’ll get an up-to-date figure next year?”
Coffey: “An up-to-date that is reliable and accurate and provided by the Housing Agency.”
MacCoille: “Any chance we’ll get it before the election?”
Coffey: “Excuse me?”
MacCoille: “Any chance we’ll get that up-to-date figure before the next general election?”
Coffey: “The Housing Agency only this year published the national housing survey and now they are already engaging with local authority housing which measure the needs over the coming years.”
MacCoille: “But what I’m asking you is: Is there any chance of getting an up-to-date figure for the number of people on the social housing list before the general election...”
Talk over each other
Coffey: “Neither I nor you know the date of the next general election so I can’t answer that.”
MacCoille: “We do…excuse me Minister, please, can we just concentrate on the basics, we know there will have to be a general election by April of next year and I’m asking you a simple question: is there any chance of getting an up-to-date figure for the number of people on the social housing list before April next year?”
Coffey: “The Housing Agency will provide accurate data in 2016. I cannot give you that answer now, you know, over the airwaves. 2016 is set for a date for the general election. The Housing Agency are constantly reviewing and evaluating the housing need. The Government are focused on providing solutions to meet that need and that’s why we’ve committed €4billion over the next number of years to meet that need in social housing…”
Councillor Deirdre Forde (Fine Gael) claims “non indigenous” are more likely to get a council home and thinks Cork County Council’s housing allocation policy is sending a message to mothers – “have as many children as you can if you want to get a council house.”
Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh and chairman Frank Daly at the launch of NAMA annual report 2013 in May
RTÉ reports that Nama identified more than 5,200 homes as potentially suitable for social housing.
But that only 736 have actually been delivered for such housing.
Local authorities rejected some 2,800 of the homes because they were believed to be unsuitable.
Spokesperson for homeless charity Focus Ireland, Mike Allen says NAMA must concentrate on delivering substantial numbers of quality social housing units:
“The units have been turned down by local authorities as unsuitable for social housing now that might be that they are just badly built and they would be a huge liability or it might be that they are in areas where there is already a very high density of local authority housing and it’s not appropriate to have more.
“The simple fact is that not enough homes are coming through to us from NAMA and that’s an absolute fact which we would stand over and say that something should be done about,” he said.
[Screengrab of today’s Irish Times about Sabrina McMahon and her children]
You may have read Kitty Holland’s story in the Irish Times this morning about Sabrina McMahon and her three children who have spent a week living in her car in Tallaght.
Ms McMahon has been on the South Dublin Council’s housing waiting list for more than a year and she said that, while she has tried to to find private rented accommodation, she hasn’t been able to find a landlord who’ll accept rent allowance.
In the Dáil on April 16, Independent TD Catherine Murphy voiced her concerns about a similar situation, saying:
Those from the Simon Community indicated that the problem in respect of housing has reached crisis levels. It is no longer just people who have – I hate to use this word – traditionally been considered homeless who have nowhere to go. In that context, I am aware of increasing numbers of families, particularly those with children, who are being made homeless. The representatives from both organisations indicated that the crisis to which I refer is on the verge of becoming a disaster. I do not know what we have to do to get the media to pay attention to what is happening to a significant number of people. I met a family last week – I deal with such families every week – who slept in a car with their child. They approached the local authority and asked what they should do the following night and they were told to find a relative or friend with whom they could stay. The family in question has been homeless for eight weeks. I could give a litany of people who are in the same position. The Minister and the Government are in denial.
Figures from the Department of the Environment last December show there are almost 90,000 families waiting for social housing.
Further to this, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was asked by reporters about the issues facing Ireland’s private rental sector with his comments broadcast on RTÉ News At One.
“Well the Government is addressing it. You are right: there is a very serious housing problem and it’s particularly impacting people who are in the private rental sector. We’ve taken a number of initiatives already this year. For the first time since the beginning of the recession we have recommenced a public housing programme, we’ve made provision for that, in last year’s Budget. Just last week we launched a new initiative to get back into circulation those dwellings that are boarded up. I think one of them was frustrating things for somebody who’s on a housing list is to be looking at a boarded-up house which has been there for months and sometimes more, for years. And I think Jan O’Sullivan last week made €15million available to local authorities to speed up the reallocation of boarded-up dwellings. There’s almost 1,000 of them that can be put back into circulation very quickly which would address the problem. We’re also addressing it in the context of the construction strategy that the Government is working on.”
Annette Hughes, as Marie Antoinette (top) and Gerard Tier and his two-year-old daughter Kyria (above) joined members and supporters of the Anti-Austerity Alliance to protest outside Leinster House, Kildare Street this morning calling for rent control and new social housing construction.
“Gerard and his family have been living in emergency accommodation in hotels for the past six months as he can’t find anywhere that will accept rent allowance. Local election candidate in the Mulhuddart ward, for the protest.”