Peter McVerry Trust Pre-Budget Submission

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1 Peter McVerry Trust Pre-Budget Submission September 2015

2 Immediate Actions Leadership: Peter McVerry Trust calls on the Taoiseach or Tánaiste to take up responsibility for the coordination of the multi departmental and multi agency effort needed to tackle homelessness. Now, in a time of emergency, we need political leadership to drive the social and economic changes that will prioritise the most vulnerable and reverse the staggering levels of homelessness experienced in Irish society since Declare a National Emergency: The crisis is behind us and we have moved into a full blown emergency. The emergency powers needed to deliver actions that will immediately reduce the numbers of homeless individuals, couples and families must now be introduced. If an emergency is not declared it is unlikely that many, or any, modular housing units will be on site and ready before summer At current rates of increase there will be 6,519 people in homeless accommodation across Ireland by 31 st December 2015, a 49.3% increase since January 1 st. Modular Housing Units Peter McVerry Trust fully supports the use of high quality, cost effective modular housing units as part of the solution to the homeless and housing crisis. It is clear that in meeting the need for housing, a mix of traditional build and modular build homes will be essential to deliver the levels of output required. Rent Certainty: Bring forward and enact legislation to create a system whereby open market rents cannot be increased beyond the rate of the consumer price index. It is also important that mechanisms are in place to regulate out of contract increases to avoid inflation between tenancies. The feasibility of area based price brackets should also be examined based on the size and quality of accommodation, as well as residential and community amenities and services available to residents in a given area. Rent Supplement Rates: An immediate increase in rent supplement rates for persons exiting homeless services and anyone deemed to be at risk of homelessness. Rates should reflect the increase in rents since Q3 of 2011 (25% nationally and 36% in Dublin) for a single person. In Dublin this would equate to approx 710 for a single person. Given that this would still be well below the market average, or even the median figure, it would therefore be essential for Department of Social Protection officials to be allowed flexibility to make discretionary payments above this. The rates applied in the Housing Assistance Payment scheme would also need to be adjusted in light of increases in the rent supplement rates. Bedsits: Allow higher quality bedsits to be re-introduced solely for the purposes of providing accommodation to single, homeless persons, single people exiting drug treatment services (e.g. detox) and single people exiting institutions (prisons & hospitals). These bedsits would be leased to homeless housing providers who would maintain the units and support the tenants.

3 Capital Assistance Scheme: Launch a second round of the Capital Assistance Scheme for 2015, prioritising projects that can begin building works by end of Q or properties that can be acquired and occupied by the end of Q In the 2015 Capital Assistance Scheme the Government approved a total of 151 million in funding to build and acquire properties. However, the total value of applications made to this fund was 280m this was for 370 project proposals returned across the Local Authorities totalling 2,000 units. A significant number were acquisitions (approximately 1,000 units) and 1,000 were construction. The new call should prioritise further acquisitions and shovel ready building projects, as many build projects approved in 2015 are unlikely to commence works until late 2016/early In 2016/17 the CAS scheme should become an open rolling scheme to allow projects to be submitted when ready and acquisitions to proceed much more quickly as and when suitable properties come to market. Voids and Derelict Buildings: Increase the funds made available to local authorities to bring voids, derelict buildings and sites back into use. The previous round of funding was successful at reducing the number of voids and allowed renovated units to be brought on stream much quicker than new build programmes. That funding has now been exhausted and more funding is required. The Government should also examine the potential for increased Government funding to be made available to facilitate the compulsory purchase of sites and derelict houses for the purposes of providing social and affordable housing. Lease Short Stay Apartments: There are a large number of serviced apartments targeted at tourists many of which will be unoccupied over the winter months. A significant proportion of these short stay apartments could be leased by Dublin City Council on a 6 month basis during winter 2015/2016 to provide safe and secure housing to homeless families and individuals. They would make much better sources of accommodation than hotels or B&Bs. Residents would continue to be supported by homeless service providers. Amendment of 2004 PRTB Act: Short Term Actions Peter McVerry Trust believes that the 2004 PRTB Act should be amended to prevent tenants being evicted when a housing unit in which they are tenant is sold. Peter McVerry Trust believes that tenant s should only have their lease broken where the new owner intends to use it as a family home. The PRTB would keep a record of such sales and ensure the property could not be rented in the two years immediately after the sale, unless in exceptional cases. This would prevent tenants being evicted, allow the tenant to continue in situ under the existing contractual rights and would prevent further market speculation and increases in homelessness as result of eviction of sitting tenants.

4 Frontline Services: Conduct an immediate needs assessment of frontline agencies, to evaluate what additional staffing and resources are needed to keep pace with current pressures. It will be essential that additional financial resources are made available to allow new resources to be put in place. This applies especially in the state and local authority bodies where cuts to employee numbers have significantly hampered service provision. Co-ordinated National Response: A national coordinated response to homelessness is now needed. Peter McVerry Trust consideration should be given to restoring the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to its previous national remit. The reconfigured National Homeless Agency could be a stand alone entity or sit within the Housing Agency. If properly resourced, a body with a national remit could play a key role in developing understanding of homelessness nationally and delivering best practice responses to homelessness across Ireland. Unused Floors Initiative: There are significant quantities of unused or underused spaces in urban centres across Ireland. These can take the form of unused basements units or upper floors that are poorly used or completely vacant above commercial units. Peter McVerry Trust believes an immediate audit of spaces with the potential to be converted into sustainable homes should be carried out in the Dublin and other major urban centres. It makes good sense to understand what potential exists within our current built environment to produce new residential accommodation before launching into a wave of further suburban expansion which requires extensive State investment in infrastructure. In bringing forward an Unused Floors Initiative it is important that incentives are introduced to encourage property owners or long term tenants to develop suitable spaces into apartments to meet the needs of one and two person households. These units would be essential in meeting the needs of vulnerable households, students and the private market. Micro SDZs: Peter McVerry Trust proposes the establishment of micro Special Development Zones for the purposes of fast track modular, affordable and social housing. The creation of such sites would allow pre-authorised modular housing construction options to be built on specially designated zones quickly, without the need to go through a lengthy planning process. SDZs have been established to aid major companies in Dublin s Docklands the principle should also be applied to mixed use housing developments which would have to provide private, affordable and social housing units. Investment in existing social housing schemes: There has been an acute lack of investment in social housing schemes, particularly those managed by local authorities. These communities require significant investment to improve the quality of the housing and improve the social and economic amenities of these neighbourhoods. These areas are more likely to suffer from higher rates of poverty and material deprivation and targeted supports in conjunction with

5 investment in infrastructure should be prioritised in these communities. This would help lower the risk of homelessness, reduce poverty and create supported pathways for young people and the unemployed. Structural Reforms Right to a Home The right to a home must be reflected in the Constitution. The right to home should be the core pillar on which all policy to tackle the housing and homeless crises are centred on. The Government should immediately move on the Constitutional Convention s recommendation to hold a referendum on ESC Rights and the insertion of a special clause on the right to a home in the Constitution. The State signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights over 40 years ago and ratified it more 25 years ago yet no steps have been taken to reflect these rights in the Irish Constitution. Without the protection of their basic rights vulnerable persons rely on the whim of the political system to meet their needs. This is not acceptable nor is it working. Minister with Special Responsibility for Homelessness In the next Government it is essential that there be a Minister with Special Responsibility for Homelessness. The individual would coordinate efforts to prevent homelessness, ensure adequate supports and services for those in homelessness and lead on the roll out of the housing led approach to tackling homelessness. The position would play a key role in proofing Government policies and proposals to ensure that they contribute to reduced rates of homelessness rather than contributing to the crisis. Peter McVerry Trust believes that the position would need to have access to, or input into, a wide variety of Government Departments. For example to bring about impactful, evidence based prevention interventions the position would need input in the areas of children and youth affairs, education, employment, health, justice and social protection. Amendment of Housing Act 1988 Peter McVerry Trust believes that the Housing Act 1988 should be amended to place full and unambiguous statutory responsibility on local authorities to deliver housing to persons presenting as homeless. The definition of homelessness should also be updated in the Act to better reflect homelessness in all its forms in Ireland. Local Authorities must be properly funded by Government in order to fulfil its revised statutory obligations. Public Consultation on Building Standards A full public consultation process is needed to determine what tenants and home owners are seeking as they look to rent or buy homes. The Housing Agency has already detailed the profile of the occupiers of future housing in terms of the number of 1, 2 and 3 person households etc. Consultation is needed with

6 the end user or occupier in order to ensure that there is some balance to the consultation process which has to date focused exclusively on the concerns of the construction sector. Local Authority Housing Local Authorities must have the resources and expertise to begin building housing. Local Authorities have the potential to play a major role in the delivery of housing across the country. They have access to land and can build housing units cheaper than other housing providers. Local Authorities should be encouraged to build private and affordable housing together with social housing to create better balanced communities and to meet the demand across these three strands of housing need. Housing Innovation Fund Establish a housing innovation fund to support the construction sector to drive innovation in new and sustainable forms of construction. The fund would be used to develop prototype properties. These properties, which may have varying usage periods, would meet all building regulations and be used to meet the needs of the different household types. The fund would be over seen by the Housing Agency. Housing Finance At present the Construction Sector has raised concerns that it cannot develop new stock on the basis of the cost associated with new developments. While we believe that robust independent analysis of the actual costs are needed consideration should be given to the development of a Social Investment Bond. This bond would only be payable when a developer exceeds or meets a 15% social housing provision threshold within a new development. The Social Investment Bond would be payable by Government and would be tailored to help the developer meet a certain yield, thus ensuring that private and social housing is delivered, creating a better tenure mix and more social housing options. The bond would only apply in developments of certain sizes and would be negotiated on case by case basis to avoid undue costs falling on the State. Transitioning Temporary Homeless Accommodation to Permanent Housing The State should begin the process of enabling the transition away from temporary homeless accommodation to permanent homes. Service providers should be supported to convert these hostels into apartment dwellings. The new developments could consist of congregated accommodation settings, developments of apartment blocks or a mix of both with ongoing on site or floating support staff. It would again increase housing stock for homeless persons whilst reducing in the long term expensive emergency accommodation. National Tenants Union The Residential Tenancies Board should be tasked with conducting an extensive survey of tenants to see if there is an appetite to establish a National Tenants Union. A NTU would give tenants a voice in the debate around rental standards, accommodation and reform. It would be essential in helping to address the imbalance and the almost complete absence of tenant s voices in such debates

7 Peter McVerry Trust, 29 Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1, D01 C2N4 Tel: Website: Registered Charity number: CHY Number: 7256 Company Registration Number: 98934

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