1 May 2003 Edition

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Housing cutbacks - what's another year?


So who do you believe? In one corner is Threshold, the housing and tenants rights association, and in the other is the Fianna Fáil minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, Noel Ahern.

Threshold is worried that in a time of dire need, there will be a drop this year in the amount of social housing units built in the 26 Counties. They predict that only 4,000 units of social housing will be built in 2003. This is a 39% drop on the target of 6,600 units. Last year, 5,077 housing units were completed.

Aideen Hayden believes that "this widening divergence between promises and delivery will have serious consequences on the ever-increasing waiting lists for social housing".

'Last year' is where minister Ahern hangs his argument. Last week he said that "the government has been responding actively to the increased level of social housing need by expanding social and affordable housing output very significantly. For example, last year saw the delivery of the highest level of output under the range of social housing measures for over 15 years".

What Ahern has difficulty facing is what is happening this year. He did not dispute the Threshold figures but hid behind one of the arguments used recently by his brother, Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern. This was that the Coalition were trying to tackle the issue of affordable land for housing and had made this an issue for the all-Party Committee on the Constitution.

However, the committee chairperson has signalled that this work might take years. So there you have Fianna Fáil's rationalisation of the effect their spending cutbacks are having this year - last year was great and future years might be better.

Maybe the last word should go to Threshold, which pointed up the fact that government policy, while addressing some housing issues, was discriminating against those most in need.

Highlighting the deal done on providing 10,000 new affordable dwellings in the new partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, Aideen Hayden said: "Affordable housing schemes do little to help the worst off in our society, because home ownership is beyond their reach. Effective social housing programmes help the economically and socially most vulnerable in our society."

I think they mean now, this year, minister.

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