The ESRI has been saying since 2014 that we need to build 30-35,000 units per year to keep up with the growth in housing demand. We didn't, resulting in:
- 10,000 homeless people
- 7,000 in Direct Provision
- 70,000 households awaiting social housing
According to the CSO, these are the numbers actually built since then. Note that in the 2016 programme for government, Fine Gael pledged to build 25,000 units per year to 2020.
Today, in 2020, we have two main issues:
1. Local authorities aren't building enough social houses to cope with demand
2. Private developers aren't building enough units at the 'affordable' price point (under €320,000; three-quarters of Irish households can get a mortgage at this price)
Social Housing in the Programme for Government
The PFG promises 50,000 new units are promised over the lifetime of the government, but it gives no indication given of how these units will be delivered. That detail is as important as the overall number, as the mix of methods has profound implications for the overall housing sector, public and private, rented and owned. They may be added to the supply by:
- Housing Assistance Payment (HAP)
i.e. a private renter falls into difficulty, and the state steps in to top up their rent payments so they can stay in place. The amount paid by the state is the difference between what the tenant can afford and the market-rate rent set by the landlord. This is administered through local councils, and yes, every tenancy involving HAP counts as a 'new social housing unit' (though in this case, a unit has been transferred in from the private rented sector.)
- Part V acquisition
i.e. the local council purchases a unit in a new development. Under Part V of the Planning and Development Act, developers offer local councils a number of units within a development as a condition of gaining planning permission. The price paid is based on the market rate, with a discount. The issue here the shortage of housing at the affordable price-point: construction projects remain skewed towards high-end developments, so this is what is available to councils to add to their social housing stock.
You may have seen reports of Dublin City Council buying a block of eight 2-bedroom luxury apartments at €625,021 each in Herbert Park. When councils can build good-quality units at a fraction of the price, it seems a poor use of public money.
- Part VIII acquisition
i.e. under Part VIII of the Planning and Development Act, the local council submits its own application for planning permission. The council commissions a design and contracts a builder to implement it. In 2019, Part VIII units accounted for 29% of South Dublin's new social housing units and 5% of Dublin City Council's new units.
The PFG restates the need for affordability, but it kicks the can down the road: there are no specific targets and plans in the document.
An enormous opportunity is also missed in the form of public land banks and the LDA (now an on-balance sheet body with CPO powers, subject to FOI.) This new-look LDA is perfectly situated to directly contract builders to construct public housing at scale on public land!
Though Green policy prefers a fully-public model built for affordable cost-rental, the state could have opted to build houses for affordable sale too. Instead the LDA is sticking with a developer-led model, which means developer profits have to be factored into the final market-rate price of a unit. This increases the cost to the private individual or to the state, whether buying through Part V or to address the backlog.
There is an isolated reference to a referendum "on housing". Before entering tri-party talks, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael wanted a referendum on capping land prices for residential development. Green policy is for a referendum on the right to housing. Which of the two is meant here in the PFG?
On housing, as on most areas of the Programme for Government, the problems are clearly outlined but solutions are left vague. Where specific measures are given, they don't serve to address the structural issues.
Uncosted. Unambitious. Unjust. And for me, unacceptable.
P.S. It's doesn't ban co-living developments either.