The Labour Party would aim to build 18,000 homes in its first year in Government as an “acceptable” target, leader Brendan Howlin has said.
Speaking at the official launch of the party’s housing policy in Dublin, Mr Howlin reiterated his manifesto commitment to building 80,000 homes on public land over a five-year term. “We’ll build homes,” is Labour’s simple policy commitment.
That construction is to be funded by €16bn in cash held outside the annual spending budget in order to stay inside fiscal space guidelines.
€5bn is to come from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), €4bn from NAMA’s surplus, €4bn redirected from the rainy day fund, with the remainder to be sourced via injections from the European Investment Bank and Ireland’s credit unions.
Mr Howlin said that Labour is offering a “unique” take on the housing crisis. “People want honesty, they don’t want promises that won’t be delivered,” he said.
“To do this we need to deploy a lot of money, and we can’t spend the same euro twice.”
Mr Howlin was joined on stage by the party’s candidate for Dublin Fingal Duncan Smith, who’s striving to hold onto the seat vacated by the retiring Brendan Ryan.
Mr Smith said it currently takes a lot to drag him away from his constituency, but that housing is that subject. He said he “genuinely believes” that Labour’s plan is the answer.
Fingal has the fastest growing population in Ireland. “We have enough public land there to build if the political will is there,” he said.
We are showing that political will.
Regarding Labour’s plan to freeze rents “until enough homes are built”, Mr Smith said that “we’ve frozen rents before, and it worked”.
The party is also planning to both cap rents and to introduce a system of secure long-term tenancies - the norm in many European countries where home-ownership is not prioritised to the same extent - with rent paid in affordable housing to qualify as a housing deposit should a tenant so wich once creditworthiness has been established.
Mr Howlin said that construction manpower for the building splurge, an issue given both the slow growth in the profession and the fact that the industry in Ireland is currently working at full capacity, would be sourced through a focus on apprenticeships, re-training of workers from other sectors (such as the peat and coal-burning industries), and “asking Irish workers if they will come home”.
He said, given that Fine Gael has delivered just 14,000 construction jobs on the back of a commitment to 40,000 since 2016, that “I wouldn’t wish to be compared with Fine Gael when it comes to job creation”.
“We know how to create jobs because we understand workers,” he said.
The biggest incentive towards the creation of jobs, if you ask the unions, is certainty of work.
Labour, echoing a similar policy commitment from Fianna Fail, said it would empower the local authorities to directly build homes, with the initial surge in building to be commissioned from the private sector.
The party also committed to merging all housing agencies into one central body in order to ensure “knowledge and experience is shared on a daily basis”.
Asked what would be a satisfactory target of publicly-built homes for the first year, Mr Howlin said “you’re certainly talking about 18,000”.