The housing system in Ireland has become characterised by profit and privatisation: private developers building on State land; private landlords receiving large subsidies to provide “social housing solutions”; private operators of emergency accommodation; and private investment in short-term, high-yield lettings. This is a policy failure. Social Justice Ireland welcomed many aspects of the Housing for All plan, as a considerable improvement on its predecessor, however there are still policy gaps through which the very marginalised may fall. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Encourage the Right Supply
Increasing supply is an instinctive response to a housing crisis. However, all supply is not made equal. Changes to building regulations which allowed for lower standards in buy to rent properties to make them viable for investors has led to substandard accommodation not intended for long-term housing. Housing for All commits to increasing the housing stock by 33,000 units per year, to reach a total increase of 156,000 over the life of the strategy. Even if this were sufficient, development must be affordable and sustainable and seek to provide long-term homes, rather than short-term investment opportunities.
The Government’s response to generations who cannot afford to buy or rent a home is to concentrate on demand-side subsidies. The Help to Buy and Affordable Home Equity Scheme artificially inflate the incomes of first time buyers to enable them to reach a market price that would otherwise be unattainable. This is a tacit acknowledgement that housing is unaffordable, while also maintaining those unaffordable prices. These supports should be tapered and withdrawn.
There are a number of supply-side initiatives that would help to reduce house prices and make them actually affordable:
- Open up procurement so that developers could come together to bid for materials and buy in bulk, thereby reducing unit costs. The LDA may have a role in coordinating and facilitating this procurement.
- Investigate the use of “delivery labs” such as those used in some parts of the United States and Saudi Arabia which bring together all stakeholders – industry experts, analysts, communities, builders and developers. Because of the full stakeholder approach to the design labs, there’s less “nimbyism”.
- Demand full transparency from developers through the development of a developer / builder register that requires them to publish costs.
- Invest in new methodologies, such as modular homes; greater use of timber frame houses; and a reduction on the reliance on concrete. This will also fit in with our environmental obligations under the National Reform and Resilience Plan as concrete is very carbon intensive and bad for the environment. These methodologies are also easier to scale as some or all of the units can be built off site and shipped to location.
- Reconsider density, not as up, but as out. It is possible to have high density, low-medium rise.
- Focus the apprenticeships provided for in Housing for All on new methodologies, so that there is a mix of practical experience and class-based learning. Driving change here will not only support a transition to these new methodologies but provide a cutting-edge construction workforce.
- Waive some or all construction levies for developers, conditional on the full waiver applying to house prices. This could begin in areas with greater increases in house prices – Dublin City, Fingal and the Border counties, or could be linked to Our Rural Future and incentivise building in towns and villages.
- Provide for the use of Compulsory Sale Orders to bring vacant properties to the market.
Build More Social Housing
Ireland’s social housing supply is approximately 9 per cent of our housing stock. According to Housing Europe, this is at odds with many of our European counterparts. Social Justice Ireland proposes that Government set a target that 20 per cent of all housing stock be social housing by 2030. This would equate to an additional 232,800 social housing units to be delivered in the next eight years. Housing for All commits to just 90,000 but lacks clarity over how 42,500 of those could be delivered within the plan. The current need, based only on the social housing waiting lists and households on subsidies is 157,000 households. This does not account for households leaving Direct Provision; new households fleeing war; households in refuges for Domestic Abuse; the majority of the homeless as currently counted; or all of the homeless not currently counted within official data.
More Talk, More Action
Delivery labs are not the only way to bring all stakeholders together. We need more and better Social Dialogue on key social issues such as housing. Housing affects us all. Businesses are experiencing staff shortages, in part, due to lack of suitable, affordable accommodation in the area; rural communities are suffering due to lack of real, sustained development and living opportunities; the environment is impacted by how, where and what we build; and, of course, those who are most marginalised are most affected. Meaningful social dialogue would see all stakeholders work together to provide solutions for the common good.
The housing crisis has gone on for too long. We need fresh thinking. And, perhaps, more talk.