'Everything is on the table': €12bn a year plan to tackle the housing crisis

'Everything is on the table': €12bn a year plan to tackle the housing crisis

Incentivising elderly people to downsize, removing height caps in cities, and bringing 90,000 vacant units into use are key elements of the Government’s new housing plan.

Incentivising elderly people to downsize, removing height caps in cities, and bringing 90,000 vacant units into use are key elements of the Government’s new housing plan.

Entitled Housing for All, the €12bn a year plan, to be announced next month, will target the delivery of 33,000 homes a year by 2025.

It will also see the constitutional right to property questioned as well as new compulsory powers for local authorities to buy land for housing.

“Everything is on the table. This is no longer just a money issue. This is complex and there is a concerted effort to finally get to grips with this,” a senior Government source told the Irish Examiner.

Affordability

Tackling the issue of affordability is an ambition of the plan, especially in Dublin where the problem is most acute.

However, there is concern that what is currently planned will still leave homes beyond the reach of many low-paid workers.

In Dublin, the median price for a new build home is €400,000, which would require a household income of over €100,000 to access the appropriate mortgage.

The Government’s objective is to achieve purchase prices in the range of €250,000 to €325,000 in Dublin.

However, such a range would still only be accessible to households with incomes of around €85,000, whereas the national average income is €49,000.

Another central measure is to encourage elderly people currently living in large three-, four-, and five-bed family homes to downsize and free up that stock.

“Thousands of elderly people are still living in the family home, even though the kids are up and gone, and we need to unlock those sort of houses for younger families," said the source.

Thousands of homes could be freed up each year.”

The plan recognises the need to reduce vacancy levels in urban areas. 

This includes above-the-shop units in city and town centres, which have traditionally lain idle.

According to Government documents, seen by the Irish Examiner, there is a commitment to tackle the “underutilisation of existing housing stock”.

It is estimated there is an overall potential market of up to 90,000 vacant or underutilised units.

The Government will also seek to bring forward measures to force action on 80,000 unused planning permissions granted in the past five years. 

Half of those unused permissions are in Dublin — this equates to four years of supply for the capital.

Ministers are also keen to address the physical limitations put on apartment buildings, by increasing the height limits for tall residential towers.

The 1973 Kenny Report, which contained measures for controlling the price of building land in the interests of the common good, could also form part of Housing for All. 

This would give local authorities the power to buy edge-of-town lands at agricultural values, plus 25%.

The Kenny recommendations have long been promoted in order to rebalance the property market.

Private property rights

However, the idea of regulating the price of building land is seen as an infringement of private property rights which are protected under the Constitution, notably Article 40.3.2.

However, the Kenny report argued that this right had to be balanced with Article 43.2 which states that the State may “delimit by law” the exercising of these rights “with the exigencies of the common good”. 

Sources have said that addressing this issue by way of a referendum is “on the table”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, in his ard fheis speech, said Fine Gael is now targeting the delivery of 40,000 new homes a year but accepted this is not yet Government policy.

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