There are solutions to the crisis. Here are seven important and innovative evidence based policy ideas that I have researched and developed in collaboration with other housing experts, homeless Ngos, trade unions & grassroots campaigns. I will vigorously campaign for these to be implemented if elected to the Seanad.
The first is the need for a new national housing plan based on the game changer of a new form of public housing, instead of stigmatised social housing restricted to very low income households, it would be available to low and middle income workers and professionals, who would pay a rent or mortgage based on their income. This is internationally known as cost rental, and should be adapted for Ireland to include affordable home ownership. This would revolutionise our housing system as it would deliver quality, long term, renting and affordable home ownership – as in many European countries. Guards, teachers, nurses, artists, architects, IT and retail workers, could live and work in mixed income communities in our cities and towns, and avoid socially and environmentally unsustainable commutes. 30,000 of these public ‘affordable and sustainable homes’ need to be built every year, for the next decade.
Without this, Generation Rent will be stuck in unaffordable and insecure rental housing for their entire lives, homeownership will be a preserve of the top 20%, and homelessness will continue to increase. Public land should be used solely for this new public affordable housing.
Secondly, in order to drive the delivery of this new housing on scale, a new dedicated state Homes Building Agency is needed to quickly put in place the capacity and skills to build, in partnership with local authorities, housing associations and cooperatives.
Thirdly, we need a fundamental shift in our attitude to housing from being treated as an investment asset to its primary use – a home. This should be facilitated by a referendum to insert the right to housing into the Constitution. The United Nations Housing Rapporteur has called on Ireland to implement such a legal right to housing. Putting the right to affordable, secure, decent, housing into our Constitution and legislation would provide a new guiding principle for housing policy for all future governments and an obligation to solve homelessness.
Fourthly, for Generation Renters to live affordably and make a stable home in the private rental sector, there is a requirement for life time leases, freezing rents, and rent affordability and enforcement mechanisms.
Fifth, housing policy must aim to end (not just reduce) homelessness. Finland did it by providing the homeless with homes and support services, without preconditions. There should be a moratorium on evictions into homelessness and a time limit (such as two weeks) on emergency accommodation after which a local authority is required to provide housing. Family Hubs should be phased out, as they are becoming a form of long term institutionalisation of homeless families.
The sixth proposal is to tax speculative real estate and vulture fund investors, and implement a punitive vacant site and derelict property tax to stop the hoarding of land and derelict buildings.
Finally, housing policy must ensure we exceed UN climate targets. A new Homes Building Agency could design and build zero carbon homes, undertake the deep retrofitting of social and private housing for people who cannot afford it, as part of a socially just transition to ensure all homes are energy efficient and carbon neutral by 2030.