The pandemic highlighted the real impact of Ireland’s housing crisis, and the benefit of implementing progressive housing policies.
The Government has published its long awaited housing strategy—Housing for All– with a budget of €20 billion over the next five years. Whilst there is much to welcome in the strategy, there are fundamental flaws concerning the scale of the challenges to be addressed. The social and private house building targets are insufficient; taking a decade to end homelessness is unacceptable; and the continuation of rental and retail housing subsidies fall short of what is needed.
More ambition required
The Overall Targets set out in the Housing for All Strategy provide for 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable homes, 18,000 cost rental homes and 156,000 private homes. At first glance this seems ambitious, however they are ten-year targets and funding is guaranteed for only half that period. The targets are also based on a Housing Need and Demand Assessment (HNDA) of 32,700 new homes each year which is inadequate; it would deal with the new households seeking housing each year but it does not take sufficient account of the stock of households currently seeking appropriate accommodation.
Summary of Social Justice Ireland housing proposals Budget 2022
Build more social and affordable housing: An increase in social housing stock is needed to sustain this sector and reduce house and rent prices into the future. The target of 90,000 social homes in Housing for All would address only three quarters of existing need, and does not take account of the 27,500 new households entering the system each year. A more appropriate target would be 20 per cent of all housing stock to be social housing, similar to other European countries. To achieve this Government must provide an annual capital cost of €3.3bn for social housing.
Tackle long term mortgage arrears cases: Among the households most at risk of homelessness are those in mortgage arrears for more than ten years. Housing For All commits to broadening the scope for the Mortgage to Rent scheme, aiming to deliver 1,000 solutions every year. This is deeply flawed. A far better use of State resources would be to develop an equity fund to acquire a stake in properties in mortgage distress leaving families in place at a cost of €1.25bn.
Invest in a skilled workforce: To achieve a target of 20 per cent of all housing stock to be social housing will require a skilled workforce. Inclusion of a new construction apprenticeship programme whereby one in every fifteen is required to be an apprentice earning at least the Living Wage must form part of any building scheme.
Remove demand side subsidies: The process of addressing housing affordability on the supply side rather should begin as soon as possible with the establishment of a construction procurement working group and the winding down of demand side schemes that artificially maintain high house prices. Housing for All sees the Government continuing its commitment to demand-side subsidies, artificially maintaining high purchase prices. The removal of the Help to Buy Scheme would save the Exchequer €144m in 2022.
Ensure Social housing stock and land remain social: Building on land already owned by the State makes the delivery of social housing at scale feasible. According to a 2014 Residential Land Availability Survey, there was sufficient land in the ownership of the State to provide for the construction of 414,000 dwellings. Using less than half of this land would meet the 20 per cent target proposed by Social Justice Ireland. Once the houses are built, it is vital that they remain social.
Approved Housing Bodies: Legislation should also be introduced to ensure that Approved Housing Bodies retain their social housing stock as social housing and prohibit its sale on the private market. This will be even more important after Housing for All which will see AHBs provided with additional funding as they are set to play a larger role in social housing provision.
Services and infrastructure: To ensure the sustainability of social lettings, the services and infrastructure communities require must be in place. Community health networks, social care supports, community policing, safe spaces should be a priority. This regeneration would require an initial investment of €100m in Budget 2022.
Develop a functioning Private Rented Sector: Social Justice Ireland welcomes the specific commitments made in the Housing for All Strategy to increase protections for tenants, increase inspections, investigate deposit protection schemes, and introduce long-term leases. These must be expedited, beginning with Budget 2022.
Address Housing Data Deficits: It is impossible to make realistic progress against housing targets that are not based in reality. Budget 2022 must begin the process of addressing this by aligning data collection on homelessness to the ETHOS typology and provide the necessary administration and ICT supports to Local Authorities at an initial cost of €3m in Budget 2022.