Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has dismissed a “lazy assumption” that the Government is “ideologically opposed to social and affordable housing”.
Mr Murphy said that “why that isn’t true is that when you go to the different local authorities you’ll see that certain areas haven’t recovered as well as others”, adding that what the Government has done is “change the system from developer-led planning to planning-led development”.
Addressing a conference held by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on the Irish housing and mortgage market in Dublin, the Minister said that the key questions on housing he faces have changed since he took over the ministry in 2017 “because supply is improving”.
The conference heard elsewhere of research suggesting that first time buyers in four Leinster counties - Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, and Meath - are spending at least 30% of their income on covering their mortgage repayments on a monthly basis.
Across Munster, the figures for such buyers stand at between 20% and 25% of income being spent on house repayments in Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Waterford, between 25% and 30% in Cork, and less than 20% in Tipperary.
Mr Murphy said in his speech that a number of “casual assumptions” about the housing market in Ireland need to be challenged, one of which is the suggestion that no affordable homes are being built.
“One in every two homes sold in Ireland this year has been for less than €250,000, nationally. There’s an idea there’s an affordability problem everywhere - there isn’t,” he said.
“Of course there’s a crisis, but it’s in particular areas.”
Mr Murphy made no mention of a new planning bill being advanced under his sponsorship, which would seek to greatly limit the ability of citizens to bring court review proceedings against decisions handed down by An Bord Pleanála.
The bill, which was yesterday dubbed “draconian” by Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment, would see new requirements levelled at groups seeking to take such judicial reviews - including a need to have been in existence for at least three years, with at least 100 members, all of whom would be personally and substantially affected by any proposed development.
The Department of Housing said in correspondence with its own Oireachtas committee that the bill, which it hopes to enact by next Easter, is necessitated by a “significant increase” seen in judicial review challenges of planning decisions that have given rise to backlogs in the courts and endanger progress of the €116bn national development plan.
The Minister concentrated rather on the perceived misunderstandings of the public regarding Ireland’s housing situation.
Those misconceptions, he said, include the idea that “if we just build enough homes… enough social housing homes it will solve the affordability problem”.
“Home ownership in this country has been falling since 1991,” he said, adding that “we have to move away from the idea that simple market dynamics will solve the problem”.
“Two generations have already been badly damaged by housing policies, we’re determined to get it right,” he said.
The conference also dealt with the idea of older people “downsizing” their homes once the extra space they hold is no longer required by other family members.
Presenting research on the topic, Eoin Corrigan of the Department’s housing markets and economics unit suggested that as many as 500,000 bedrooms may be free across the State but are “locked into owned houses”.
However, of the over-55s residents polled on that situation, just under 80% said it is very unlikely they would be willing to move at some stage in the future, a point the Minister was at pains to point out.
“People shouldn’t be living houses that are too big for them,” he said.