The Irish housing crisis has undoubtedly been caused in part by lack of foresight coupled with lack of funding by successive Governments.
We are now presented with a plethora of statistics regarding future plans to address this issue. It seems unlikely, however, that projected forecasts are achievable due to ever-increasing population figures which may surge even more if Brexit goes ahead.
Escalating homelessness figures can be accessed from various other perspectives as well.
For instance, it might be beneficial if our politicians devoted more time examining certain aspects of the problem rather than spending money on a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. After all, statistical data show that a high proportion of homeless families consist of single mothers with several children. What a pity that these girls are not encouraged to practice contraception rather than producing offspring regardless of their ability to clothe, feed, educate and provide accommodation for them. Many of these children will, in turn, become a burden on the State.
This unsustainable situation seems to be regarded as untouchable by astute politicians who invariable focus on being re-elected. What a pity.
In a recent letter, ‘Reproduction is nature, not a right’ (Irish Examiner, January 11), Bernard Naughton has touched on the question of ‘reproduction rights’ in the context ‘abortion rights’. It can be further argued that ‘reproduction rights’ and procreation rates impact on ‘housing rights’.
While nobody wants to adopt the previous Chinese model or regress to the days of the Magdalene laundry catastrophe, common-sense, sympathetic regulations would be advantageous to both mothers and children.
For instance, if rates of secondary and third level education, or training could be increased this might reduce levels of single motherhood in the future which could, in turn, reduce welfare dependency and homelessness for this type of family unit. The numbers in this sector will continue to escalate into unmanageable proportions if the matter is not addressed. A nation cannot survive on a culture of entitlements to social housing for multitudes of unskilled and uneducated citizens.
Notwithstanding the emotive nature of this issue, our politicians seem determined to shift responsibility for part of the problem of homelessness on to the private rental sector in an unselective and unjustifiable manner.
The rental business should, of course, be sub-divided into several sub-sectors. Regulations should be determined by the number of properties on offer. The principles of large conglomerates with multiple apartments have proved to be especially heartless and greedy, all too often introducing indefensible rent increases. The imposition of new rules and regulations coupled with indiscriminate media coverage could be likened to a witch hunt of all property owners. Scant attention has been given to the efficiency and fairness of conscientious, small-type, landlords/landladies who invariably develop good relationships with decent tenants. This affiliation and business arrangement can be mutually beneficial to both parties while also helping to alleviate homelessness in some small way.
Furthermore, many of these owners have saved prudently throughout their working lives to acquire these properties. They should be allowed to sell if they wish to do so, once they have notified the tenant in writing according to the stipulations of the Residential Tenancies Board. We are not yet, after all, living in a communist society with an anti-capitalist ethos where private ownership rights are denied. Such blinkered standards, which appeal to some left-wing politicians, could prove to be self-destructive in the long run as this sector of the market is already shrinking.
Apart from this issue, it is, of course, the duty of the government to provide homes for those who cannot provide for themselves. These citizens should be categorised in a distinctive manner as well. In the first instance, the weak and vulnerable should be housed appropriately. So, also, should those tenants who have been rendered homeless by the imposition of unfair rental rates, together with those decent citizens who have been unable to meet mortgage repayments owing to problems such as enforced redundancy or ill health. On the other hand, the culture of entitlements which is utilised by many who are both work-shy, irresponsible and over-fastidious about location and facilities should be addressed and monitored in a more critical manner. It seems that some of these individuals are well versed in jumping the queue or ‘gaming the system’ according to the chair of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan. Housing agency personnel, who are well aware of these clever strategies, are often forced to make unmerited decisions due to carefully choreographed media coverage prompted by the said applicants. This response does not address the root problem. It merely camouflages and distorts the reality of the situation while also mitigating against many deserving applicants who are pushed further back in the queue. At this stage we need a holistic, integrated, principled, solution to the homelessness crisis as the current rhetoric and strategies are worthless and disjointed.