Saturday 25 November 2017

Empty nester plan has merits but it simply won't solve the housing crisis

SO the State's bad bank, NAMA, has come up with a somewhat controversial proposal to help address the country's dire housing crisis.

Older parents whose children have left home should be given financial incentives to leave their large family homes and downsize to smaller properties, it's being suggested.

These so-called 'empty nesters' are apparently occupying valuable housing stock that remains under-used and NAMA has advised the government to offer them financial incentives to free up these bigger homes.

In doing so, NAMA has quite rightly criticised the government's lack of urgency in addressing the need to develop the country's housing stock but this 'solution' is very questionable - and the most obvious question is what exactly is meant by 'financial incentives'?

The proposal is worryingly vague and while downsizing to a smaller property for the right price may appeal to some elderly couples, to others it's bordering on offensive.

Elder-rights groups have objected strongly to the proposal, claiming it is 'punishing' older people for the country's lack of social housing options. It's an argument that's tough to disagree with.

ALONE Chief Executive Sean Moynihan, for example, has said it is dangerous to suggest that older people should give up their homes without any plans to build one or two-bed units locally for them. While admitting it could work in some cases, he said it would only be a success with long-term planning from the government and in consultation with older people.

Age Action Ireland, meanwhile, says the proposal ignores an inherent lack of step-down choice in the current market for its service users, particularly compared to many other European countries. They too have a very valid point.

But aside from trying to adequately accommodate those who are willing to move, what about those who are wholly opposed to the idea? They too are entitled to object and have their voices heard, many of whom are stunned and even offended by the idea.

These are people, we must remember, who have worked hard all their lives to pay their mortgages and rear their families and are now savouring retirement in homes they worked hard to secure.

Who gives NAMA the right to come along and suggest that they don't need the big house that they worked hard to pay for? The big house that, although may now have a few more empty rooms than before, is still their family home and something very, very dear to them.

There has been plenty of debate on the issue and varying opinions brought to the table but one thing is for sure - if the scheme is to work, simply throwing money at people is not enough. There has to be multi-agency interaction to ensure no one is enticed or, worse, induced into making a decision that is not in their best interest.

Better still, though, how about NAMA and, indeed, our incoming government officials putting their efforts into a meaningful plan to develop more housing for those who need it and leave alone others who've worked hard to build their homes.

Wexford People

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