CONFIRMATION that Cork County Council is to receive €5.5m to build 20 houses in Dunmanway and purchase seven in Rosscarbery is welcome news and will make an impact on the local authority housing waiting lists for these areas. For those lucky enough to avail of them, when ready, the houses should provide a sustainable answer to their housing needs, but there are many more people in need of housing who could end up with very unsatisfactory so-called temporary solutions if some of the ideas being ‘spun’ in the last week are acted on.
One was to reverse the policy decision of consigning bedsits to the dustbin of history as a temporary measure. It’s something worth thinking about for places like Dublin, but purely as an emergency temporary solution.
The only problem with temporary solutions in Ireland is that they tend to last so long that they sometimes become permanent by default. Anyone of a certain age who lived through the era when bedsits were all the rage will recall that they were great for those who were young, free and easy, and did not mind sharing a bathroom with a half-dozen or more other tenants, but were not units that most people would have regarded as the long-term answer to their housing requirements.
Housing standards and expectations have improved hugely since those days and it would be a mistake to go back to them. However, the current reality is that, while the quality of modern housing has improved, the quantity has diminished to the crisis levels we are now suffering.
The recent housing summit called by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy was a reality check on the lack of progress being made in tackling the housing and homelessness problems. The commitment to put more money into direct building of social housing by local authorities, albeit overdue, is welcome and needs to be accelerated at city and county level by officials.
As Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin remarked earlier this month, since 2014, the housing crisis has ‘been met with spin, bluster and a total failure of policy innovation.’ He said that enormous effort has been invested in various PR initiatives and ‘action plans,’ while citizens listen to ministers explain how complicated the problem is.
One would have to agree that a lot of the ‘spin’ is diverting attention away from the human misery being caused by the housing crisis. At the Fine Gael ‘think-in’ last week, the idea of drafting the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) in to help solve the crisis was floated by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before it was even discussed by cabinet, which made it seem that it was ‘spun’ just to garner headlines.
Maybe there is a practical role that Nama can play, but the idea should have been teased out and properly considered before being announced in order to avoid causing further affront to all the people who are painfully affected by the housing crisis.