Belfast Telegraph

Families 'cannot wait for homes'

Thousands of families threatened with homelessness cannot wait years for the Government's promise to build more homes, a leading charity has warned.

Threshold said the coalition's vow to construct 35,000 homes for those most in need over the next six years will come too late for many.

Bob Jordan, chief executive of the national housing charity, said there are 90,000 families on waiting lists for social housing, as a result of funding cuts in recent years.

"There are thousands of families throughout Ireland with a housing need right now," he said.

"In some cases, these families are experiencing, or facing, homelessness.

"They cannot afford to wait for two or more years while the Government gets new social housing construction under way. They need assistance right now."

Environment Minister Alan Kelly said his 3.8 billion euro Social Housing Strategy 2020 would aim to have 18,000 homes for those on waiting lists built by the end of 2017. Another 17,000 would be completed by 2020.

Under the plan, another 75,000 families would be housed in private rented accommodation, organised by local authorities, through the Housing Assistance Payment and Rental Accommodation Scheme.

It is expected 29,000 jobs would be created during the construction phase.

A separate "task force" will be set up to focus on social housing in Dublin.

Mr Kelly said he was taking a "hands-on" approach to the housing crisis and bringing responsibility back into central government.

"The strategy restores the state to a central role in the provision of social housing through a resumption of direct building on a significant scale by local authorities and approved housing bodies," he said.

"It emphasises the state's lead role in building partnerships with other public, voluntary and private providers of housing in the development of innovative funding mechanisms that do not increase the general government debt."

Mr Jordan said the biggest concern over the strategy was the likely timeline while plans to house 75,000 families in private rented accommodation would be difficult.

"The private rented sector is currently in crisis, with rent levels spiralling out of control," he said.

"Government-supported schemes have not kept pace: you only have to look at how rent supplement tenants are faring at present to see this is the case."

Homelessness charity Simon Communities said the strategy is a long-term plan that does nothing for those already in an escalating crisis.

Niamh Randall, national spokeswoman, said the two-year time-frame for the start of new social housing is too long for more than 2,500 adults in emergency accommodation and almost 800 children in hotel accommodation.

"We need to address these immediate needs as a matter of urgency, particularly for people who are vulnerable, those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness," she said.

"We are extremely disappointed that homelessness is not prioritised."

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