18 February 2021 Edition
Fixing a broken housing system
The right to a safe and stable home is one of the most basic and fundamental rights in any society. Sadly, too many people cannot access this basic right across Ireland. Tens of thousands of people have been locked out of home ownership by high rents and higher house prices.
As a result, owning their own home is beyond many workers and their families. That should not be the case. A growing number of young people are living at home, unable to save up enough money for a deposit on their own home.
Young married couples are forced to live with their parents, often leading to overcrowding. This can also put great strain on relationships. Others move from place to place, staying with friends or in and out of short-term rented accommodation, unable to put down any roots.
And, most worryingly, too many people have no roof over their heads at all and are forced to sleep on the streets or in emergency accommodation. It is simply unacceptable that in 2021 there are people, including families with children, sleeping in tents on the streets of cities and towns across Ireland.
That is not good enough and we shouldn’t accept it. Not only can we do better than this, we have to. We cannot let another generation remain locked out of owning their own home
We need to fix a broken housing system and bring about change that makes a real difference in people’s lives. Everyone should be able to feel safe in the knowledge that they have a secure and stable home.
That is why as a Sinn Féin Minister in government, I am bringing forward the biggest shake up in public housing for 50 years. The Housing Executive will have the power to borrow money to restart its building programme, increasing the public housing stock.
We need to see housing policies that give everyone access to safe and secure home across the island
Housing Executive tenants will continue to play the lowest rents in public housing on these islands. This will mean more people will have a safe and modern home to live in. It is vital houses are affordable and not beyond the reach of working people.
When workers have to spend all their hard-earned wages to cover their rent with little left over, they become trapped in a cycle of poverty. My housing policy will also see public housing going to those who need it most.
In the North, housing policy in some areas is still beset by problems of sectarianism. That is unacceptable. Public housing should be based solely on need.
The last major shake-up of housing was in the early 1970s and saw the creation of the Housing Executive, came about to end sectarian housing allocation.
Fifty years on, we should not be dealing with the same issue, but, in areas like North Belfast, the problem remains. This will come to an end through my housing policy and public housing will be solely on the basis of need.
The housing policies I brought forward are the most radical and ambitious for 50 years in the North.
And it is also my commitment to bring forward legislation to improve safety, security, and quality of homes for people living in the private rental sector and enhancing councils’ role in registration and enforcement in that sector.
We need to see an equally radical approach in the South to tackle the growing housing crisis. With rents spiralling out of control in Dublin and other cities and the cost of private housing well beyond the reach of many workers, together with increasing homelessness, there is an urgent need for action.
Prior to the last election, Fianna Fáil promised to end the housing crisis by building 10,000 affordable homes a year in government.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin
As my colleague Eoin Ó Broin has discovered, only 530 affordable homes will be delivered this year. And with only 700 guaranteed for 2022 and 1,500 for 2023, this falls pitifully short of that is required. In fact, it is a drop in the ocean.
However, this is not about statistics. This is about the family packed into the spare room of their parents’ house; this is about the people sleeping on friends’ sofas, those working all the hours they can simply to pay exorbitant rents for a box room in Dublin.
And tragically, it is about the people in tents on the streets, those sleeping in doorways, and those whose children will spend yet another birthday in so-called temporary emergency accommodation.
It is also about the many young people who have left this island to go elsewhere in search of work and a better life. Many of these would like to return to Ireland and to their families, but see no prospect of owning their own home and no option but to move back in with their parents. These young people need hope to be able to plan for a better future.
They need to know their hard work will get them somewhere and that they will not be trapped in an endless cycle of working to pay rent, never having the certainty of knowing the roof over their head is their own.
Sinn Féin in government is transforming housing in the North, creating a level playing field so that workers and families can get a break. We now need to see the same approach across the island so that everyone has access to safe and secure home.
Deirdre Hargey is a Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Belfast and the Minister for Communities in the Executive