Simon Coveney on social housing: “Mixed” communities ensure children can see “different way of life”

Minister says social housing estates "create areas of deprivation and disadvantage"

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Minister Simon Coveney | Image: RollingNews.ie

Building new social housing estates is not the answer to solving the current homeless crisis, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

The Fine Gael TD told Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show that the Department of Housing will not make “the same mistake” as earlier governments in creating concentrated areas of social housing.

“There is an obligation to ensure we have social housing mixed with private housing across Ireland,” he said.

“I have listened to commentators saying this is a simple problem to solve, saying: ‘Let’s just build social housing estates like we did in the 1970s.’

“The result of that was to create areas of deprivation and disadvantage. We cannot repeat those mistakes.”

Mr Coveney also suggested it was important to create “integrated communities” to encourage social mobility.

“For families who may have had generational employment, and children growing up seeing that, it’s important those children see their neighbours living a different way of life that they may want to live,” he said.

“It’s also important for others who haven’t engaged with communities that may be growing up in social housing, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

Mr Coveney added that his department was committed to tackling the use of long-term emergency accommodation.

Nearly €50 million will be spent on hotel rooms for homeless families this year, he said. “It’s totally unsuitable accommodation but it’s about the containment of a problem."

Homeless children

His comments came after new statistics from the Department of the Environment showed there were over 1,000 homeless families with over 2,000 children in the Republic in April.

Focus Ireland today asked the Oireachtas housing committee to take urgent action to ease the homeless crisis.   

CEO Ashley Balbirnie said: “The official figures show an extraordinary increase in the number of families living in emergency accommodation over the last two years.

“There were 291 homeless families nationally when the first official figures were published in June 2014 – and there were a shocking 1,031 families by April this year.

“This is a new problem for Ireland and it is a problem that is getting worse, and getting worse at an increasingly faster rate.“

Focus Ireland also spoke to the committee about reports that a number of homeless families in Dublin have been accommodated late at night on blow-up beds in adult hostels.

“We are running out of language to describe this situation. If a hotel room is ‘emergency accommodation’, what do we call the room in an adult hostel we use when the ‘emergency accommodation’ has run out?” Mr Balbirnie said.

The charity called for new measures including rent supplement increases, stronger investment in social housing and greater security for tenants when landlords sell up.

Under the programme for government, an action plan for housing is due to be published in the first 100 days of office.

The Fine Gael-led administration has committed to “accelerating the delivery” of the €3.8 billion social housing strategy announced in 2014. 

Some 18,000 extra housing units are scheduled to be provided by the end of 2017 and 17,000 additional units are set to be ready for the end of 2020.