3rd April 2002
Right to housing must be enshrined in legislation and in the Constitution
Speaking at a pre-election Forum on Homelessness organised by the Simon Communities of Ireland Sinn Fein candidate for Dublin South Central, Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:
On behalf of Sinn Fein I commend Simon for organising this Forum and for providing a very important focus on homelessness in the run up to the forthcoming general election. This is an important opportunity for us to outline our policies but also for you to assist us to develop those policies. As the people at the coalface of the homelessness issue yours is the most important input that policy-makers can have.
I want to express my support and that of Sinn Fein for Simon's list of priorities. We agree strongly that the right to housing should be enshrined in legislation and in the Constitution. Housing is a social right but the current government does not regard it as such. This government's housing policy is not based on the rights of citizens but on the dictates of the market where the driving force is the profit motive of speculators, developers, builders and landlords.
The ideology that has driven this government is expressed in a section of a government amendment on housing in that debate where it stated that "first time buyers have been afforded greater participation in the housing market".
Our people are first and foremost citizens with rights not consumers with buying power. They have a right to an equal place in society and decent homes not a niche in a cut-throat housing market designed by this government for the profit of its friends.
We in Sinn Fein fully support Simon's demand for the full implementation of an integrated strategy on homelessness. We see the primary measure needed as a real social housing programme led and funded by central government, the local authorities and voluntary housing agencies.
The Report on Social Housing by the National Economic and Social Forum states:
"The ever-widening increase in income inequalities and resources is nowhere more evident today than in the case of housing. One of the results is that home ownership is now beyond the reach of most people on average incomes. This in turn is adding to the pressures of an already over-stretched social housing sector."
The NESF represents a broad cross-section of society from trade unions to employers, from farmers to local government members, community and voluntary groups. Even such a diverse group was able to agree that at the root of the current housing crisis is the Government's failure to provide social housing - that is houses built by the local authorities and housing co-ops.
Incredibly, given the massive need we see all around us, only around 8 per cent of all houses are being built by the local authorities or voluntary sector. This is by far the lowest share for any period in the past century. Since 1996 the number on local authority waiting lists has risen by 43 per cent.
Spiralling house prices have driven more people onto local authority waiting lists and into private rented accommodation.
People in private rented accommodation face poor living conditions, high rents and no proper security of tenure. Unscrupulous landlords can let sub-standard property for high rents and evict tenants with little difficulty. These landlords are being subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of over £100 million annually in rent supplements under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.
The Commission on the Private Rented Sector presented its report in July 2000 but the government has failed to take action even on the limited proposals of the Commission. Tenants are being left to suffer. We know that evictions are now at levels not seen since the Land War under British rule.
New house starts were down by some 20% in 2001. We believe that the slowdown in the private housing sector provides an opportunity for the government to use the available capacity of the construction industry to attack the housing crisis by increasing resources for public sector housing.
Sinn Fein's key housing demand is:
Major renewed State investment in a comprehensive Social Housing Programme, with front-loading of funding under the National Development Plan to allow the local authorities to house our citizens.
We also call for:
- A target for elimination of waiting lists by local authorities, with an immediate target of 70 per cent of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list. We support Simon's call for specific targets also for the reduction of the absolute numbers of homeless people based on 2002 figures.
- The control of land prices with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce house prices. A Constitutional amendment to allow for this if necessary.
- Statutory control of rents in the private rented sector, strengthened laws to set standards for accommodation and more resources to implement those regulations.
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