PAUL MILLS: Owning a home is becoming an ever more distant dream

Owning one’s own home in Ireland is, and has been, the ambition of the vast bulk of Irish people over generations. However, it’s an ambition that is becoming ever less likely to be achieved, writes Paul Mills

There was a time, in the dim and distant past, before the boom, when some of us believed that the Government had an agenda to boost the supply of apartment buildings and coax more people to rent rather than to buy. Apartment buildings, with only room to swing a proverbial cat, were springing up all over Dublin.

The upside was that it would have many benefits for the landlord classes and, at the same time, free up people from spending large sums on homes. Their need to save vast sums to pay a deposit and pay the stamp duty tax, and then fit out and maintain a property, could be prevented.

The additional available funds would help to grease the wheels of commerce. Call it a conspiracy theory, if you will.

But then along came the boom, when the bankers, builders, and their acolytes in government climbed onto the big roller coaster of house-building to take advantage of the profits of the boom.

Between those who wanted to own a home and those who had the ambition to become landlords, or those with spare cash lying around, there was a huge demand for housing.

Local councils were persuaded to rezone lands to allow the rewards of the boom to permeate right across the country. There was no market research into the viability of supporting houses. It was as if the view was “build it and they will buy”. Over recent weeks, we’ve been reading of the derelict ghost estates up and down the country. They are eyesores.

People in part-finished housing estates are effectively living on building sites. The estates are creating a nuisance for the local tidy towns committees and undermining local pride. Those houses were a product of wanton, indiscriminate building.

The Government’s suspect statistics make it look like it’s been successful in its efforts to solve the housing shortage.

Owning one’s own home in Ireland is, and has been, the ambition of the vast bulk of Irish people over generations.

This need to own our own home marks us out as different to most of our cousins in the EU, where renting is more normal. However, it’s an ambition that is becoming ever less likely to be achieved.

The apparent return of boom-time prices, the entry of the vulture funds, and the changing nature of work and work contracts in Ireland are not helping people who want to buy a home of their own.

However, in recent days, we’ve been reading about the ever-increasing rise in rental prices and the reduction in the number of properties.

Indeed, it’s been claimed that it is cheaper to buy than to rent. However, the shortage of housing and the presence of folk with cash in hand are not helping ordinary people to get their foot on the property ladder.

Builders appear to be reluctant to get back into the game. Who knows whether its risk-aversion, cash shortages, or simply waiting for the Government to bring back more subsidies to allow the gravy train to roll once again?

Then, you have to worry about the low wages paid by many jobs.

So, even if the houses were available, the folk who would like to buy them cannot afford them. Indeed, could it be that the housing shortage is not quite what we are led to believe?

It might just all be spin, a little like the circus for the Romans: Keep the folk looking the other direction, while the real action is happening elsewhere.

It may or may not be government policy to drive folk into the arms of developers, to keep owners or renters in apartments for life.

But it’s a wonder that it is taking so long to boost supply in the market. You can call it what you want, but it sure looks like social-engineering to me. Will it make our country better? Not likely.


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