Action needed to tackle housing crisis

For some reason, it has proved very difficult to make housing a political issue.  Unlike water charges or other issues, it is perhaps not something in which everybody is negatively affected.  Some in fact are doing very well out of the dysfunctional housing market. 

The Housing & Homeless Coalition has sought to make it an issue with its Raise the Roof protests.  This Saturday 18th May at 2pm from Garden of Remembrance, thousands are expected to protest.

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The coalition involves USI, ICTU and others calls for the following:  

  • a major local authority led public investment in housing
  • end to forced evictions into homelessness
  • the legal right to housing
  • security of tenure and rent control

Access to housing is at crisis levels.  With the highest percentages ever renting, this is not out of choice but rather because an entire generation of people are locked out of home ownership.  The failure of government to invest in public housing means people are renting into their late 30s, 40s and beyond.  Whatever about renting privately when working, it will be impossible once at retirement age.  

Many people are in effect in social housing through HAP payments, but it is just extremely expensive, as it is in the private rented sector.  The government seems to think this is a solution to one’s housing need, hence if you access HAP, you lose your place on the housing list.

Last month, vulture investment fund IRES Reit announced they had bought 78 houses in Balbriggan’s Taylor Hill with a view to renting out all these houses at up to €2,000 a house.  No doubt in time, some of these houses will end up being rented through HAP. 

As it is, Part V of the Development Act means councils are buying 10% of housing at commercial rate and then renting at a social rate.  Local authorities spent €125m buying houses in this way last year, at a rate significantly higher than it would be to cost building. For example, it will be buying houses at Taylor Hill for €300,000 but it could build directly for between €150- 200,000

The government are spending huge amounts of money in solving the housing problem for as few people as possible.  We need an alternative and I support the demands of the Housing Coalition.  

I favour the Cost Rental Model of Public Housing being developed on as wide scale basis as possible.  Cost Rental is where public/ council housing is open to people on higher incomes and the rent is on a percentage basis of a person’s income. 

For example, currently council rent in Fingal is 15% of income, but only those on low incomes can access social housing.  This means the rental income is less.  A cost rental income model could force local authorities to be competitive in terms of service provision and maintenance, especially if it wants to attract higher income people to rent.

The Castlelands Area Plan is on 100% publicly owned land and the proposed allocation of housing is 60% private, 30% affordable and just 10% social.  How can it be that in the middle of a housing crisis, the government is selling off public land for private benefit?  Will it be the case that public land is sold off, only for vulture funds to buy up half the stock, with its own profit interests at heart? 

I propose the Castlelands Area Plan allocation of housing be as follows 25% social housing for those in need of housing, 25% private 25% affordable and 25% be allocated on a cost rental model allowing people from different backgrounds to access public housing on the basis of a percentage of their income.  

Under this allocation model, the council will benefit with revenue from selling a portion to the private sector and also serve the needs for a percentage of people who do wish to own their own place in Balbriggan.  The increased social housing allocation, as compared to what is proposed, recognises that there is a housing crisis.  The 25% affordable allocation will also generate revenue for the councnil to reinvest in the community, while the cost rental aspect provides an ongoing revenue base, which will contribute into the future.  

The cost rental model has been taken up already by Dublin City Council in the redevelopment of St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore and it is an aspect of housing developments for local authorities elsewhere.  It ought to be scaled up because modelled correctly, it is a way towards sustainable communities into the future.  Please call for cost rental housing to be developed in your submissions on the Castlelands Area Plan.

Meanwhile, Irish Independent journalist Charlie Weston has stated that vulture funds mass buying of housing is a political issue. He has 3 measures to tackle this 1. Increase stamp duty on commercial residential purchases 2. Increase levy on to block landlords 3. Fiscal measures to encourage sales. I agree with this proposition.


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