Government’s Housing Blind Spot

All over Dublin 15 and Dublin 7 we can see new houses and apartments under construction. We even have proposals to build a number of the notorious so called Co-living developments in Castleknock.

In spite of all that activity the Housing crisis shows no sign of relenting. The number of people declaring for the homeless register has hardly reduced at all in the past year and that is especially heart breaking for families with young children.

Rents continue to rise and affordability remains a critical issue for those who are anxious to buy a home.

This is quite an extraordinary situation for a country which endured a financial collapse a decade ago due to an excessive glut of new houses driven by wild bank loans. Today Ireland, that had too many houses a decade ago, now has too few to meet the demand for affordable homes.

There is another long -term consideration as well. Home ownership offers a powerful way to plan for retirement. When you own your home by the time you retire you become free of monthly repayment of mortgage debt. That means a lot for people on limited retirement pensions. But if long -term renting becomes the norm rather than home ownership, that closes off this important avenue and that will be a problem for them and for society in the future.

There is a dramatic failure of policy at work here. The Government relies on a developer led market that is simply not working. Market failure is nothing new in Ireland. What is disturbing is the Government’s blind spot in refusing to recognise reality and adjust its strategy accordingly.

When markets fail the State has to intervene. We had to do it at great cost when the banks failed a decade ago. Now we need to get stuck into Housing and funnel public resources into doing a job that private enterprise cannot or will not do.

The State possesses substantial land banks not least in Dublin. It can secure access to reasonably cheap finance on international markets and the European Investment Bank. We need to recruit an energetic task force of planners, architects and managers with a mandate to design and build affordable homes.

It is sad to see a Government apparently mesmerised by the task of making inroads into the Housing Crisis. Next month’s Budget offers a window of opportunity to demonstrate a willingness to change course and act in the best interests of people of all ages who want to afford a home.