Crisis now a real threat to stability - House prices

IN the last four years, since a low point in 2013, house prices have increased by 60.5%. In Dublin, things are even more out of control. 

There, the cost of a home has jumped by 77.4%. Prices across the rest of the country jumped by a relatively modest but equally unsustainable 51.2%. This impossible merry-go-round accelerates relentlessly. Prices jumped by over 12% nationally to the end of July. Central Statistics Office data shows property inflation is running at 12.3%. In Dublin City, where the supply-and-demand matrix contrived or otherwise is utterly out of kilter, the rate hit 13.6%.

These figures are just one describing deepening distress. They are just one way underlining how preposterous it is to rely on the market to serve society, much less the needs of individuals or families — especially as that market is increasingly reluctant to pay a decent wage or offer anything resembling job security.

The homelessness crisis — 8,000 and rising — is just the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands of individuals, tens of thousands of families are trapped on a life-draining treadmill just trying to keep up. The response seems to be to build more social housing, but at this point something far more radical is needed. This crisis reaches far beyond those who traditionally relied on social housing. Many individuals and even households with two incomes are trapped in a way no other Irish generation was — even in the darkest days of the darkest recession. That implosion is fuelled by the fact that in the four years Dublin prices rose 77.4%, wages have barely improved and many incomes were stagnant. An ever-growing number of citizens can accuse the State of failing them, of not ensuring that, if they play their part in the social contract, they can expect a chance to live a secure, modest life.

The reality is that this crisis is no longer about housing but rather social and political stability. It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that this homegrown unresolved issue may have a greater impact on this Republic than Brexit. Why, after all, should thousands of trussed-and-stuffed citizens offer fealty to a system that has hung them out to dry?

So far the response has been at best poor, at worst laughable. Fianna Fáil’s the-boys-are-back-in-town proposals around tax cuts for developers fall into the latter category but the Government’s prevarication is not much better.

After the votes are counted after the next election, some establishment candidates will have to console each other as increasingly implausible candidates from the fringes of politics — and reality — celebrate victory. The suddenly unemployed and bewildered need look no further than the housing crisis to understand why they need a new career. It is time, metaphorically and literally, for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to lead from the front, to put on the hard hat, the yellow jacket and climb aboard a digger and start flattening some half-used army barracks or some other idle land so homes might be built immediately. That may seem excessive but it would be far more sensible than waiting for the market to fix the crisis.

We have spent far too long indulging the niceties of a failed system that exacts and ever-more impossible ransom.

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