Housing crisis: State not rising to the challenge

There is, it would seem, no housing crisis in Dublin for private and corporate tenants able to find €3,700 a month to rent one of the two-bedroom apartments newly on the market in the city’s docklands, or the five-figure rents the four-bedroom penthouse flats there are expected to fetch. With south facing water views, roof gardens and floor-to-ceiling windows, these are top-of-range properties and worth every cent.

There is, clearly, a demand in this high-end market in the small but perfectly-formed Dublin triangle now known as Google Town: a quarter of the 120 apartments had been taken even before this week’s official launch.

Very high-earning, hi-tech workers should get there while stocks last, or risk having to live in less agreeable parts of the city where they’re likely to encounter Raise The Roof campaigners calling attention to the country’s housing crisis.

The steady increase in rent levels has been matched in the capital by house prices, a grim fact noted by Moody’s Investors Service, which says Dublin is now one of Europe’s least affordable cities for homebuyers.

Only the most clueless of idealists are capable of envisaging the elimination of inequity in a free market economy that cherishes property ownership, but that does not make the widening and now very visible chasm between those who have exceptionally valuable homes and those who have nothing at all any the less repugnant or socially dangerous.

The government has, to its credit, acted to regulate the short-term lettings market, the aim being, according to the housing minister, to “influence the bringing back of houses and apartments in rent pressure zones which are being used for short-term letting purposes to the traditional long-term letting market, thereby helping to ease the accommodation shortage pressures”.

This welcome reform means that owners of second-homes in these zones – which include Cork and Dublin – who want to put their spare properties into the short-term holiday lettings market will have to apply for planning permission which, the minister says, they will be highly unlikely to get.

The less than encouraging word chosen by the minister was ‘encouraging’. It might help to make more rental accommodation available here and there, but it’s unlikely to make a noticeable contribution to solving our appalling family homelessness crisis … an emergency the minister is content to describe as “very challenging”.

Leo Varadkar said in January that this crisis was “easily the biggest challenge” faced by the Government in 2018. There can be no argument about that claim. He was right, but the challenge remains. Anyone who walks around our cities and towns with their eyes open, or knows of families being moved into emergency accommodation, can see it.

Much more than his hope that the crisis will “level off” and tinkering with planning application rules is needed. What is required is a government philosophically committed to squaring the legitimate interests of the private property market with the provision of sufficient affordable housing where it is required to meet social needs. Its record so far suggests that this government is unlikely to rise to that challenge.

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