Budget 2022 is an opportunity for Government to lay the foundations of the much anticipated ‘Housing for All’ strategy.
As the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis continues, it is becoming more apparent that Ireland’s housing crisis is still with us and the last few years have delivered very little real progress in providing suitable, secure, stable and above all, affordable housing. If Rebuilding Ireland had been underpinned by progressive polices, the five pillars would have delivered on key areas of housing need.
As part of a new housing strategy, Government must address these deficiencies and look anew at housing, moving away from housing as mere asset and more towards housing as a social good. The anticipated Housing for All strategy must provide exactly that. To achieve this goal, there are five key policy areas that Government must deliver in Budget 2022.
An increase in social housing stock is needed to sustain this sector and reduce house and rent prices into the future. In other European countries which we would like to emulate, social housing accounts for 20% of their overall housing stock, compared to just 9% in Ireland.
The real need for social housing is also under-reported. Tenancies supported by the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), domestic refuges, direct provision, and many households at risk of losing their home due to mortgage arrears are not included.
The Government must be much more ambitious and realistic in both setting and reaching social housing targets. The current social housing stock needs to double by 2030 to meet demand.
To achieve this target, Government must build over 14,000 social homes each year for the next 10 years at an annual cost of €3.3 billion, starting in Budget 2022.
The process of addressing housing affordability on the supply side should begin as soon as possible with the establishment of a construction procurement working group and the winding down of demand side schemes that artificially maintain high house prices.
The removal of the Help to Buy Scheme would save the Exchequer €144m in 2022 and could be used to expand Housing First for homeless families.
When it comes to landlord and tenant rights in Ireland, these rights are weighed heavily in favour of the landlord whose constitutionally-protected property rights take precedence over the human right of the tenant to live in adequate, safe and sustainable accommodation. Security of tenure must be a vital component of a private rental market that households are accessing for longer periods of time.
The rate of local authority inspections of private rented property has been consistently low, while the rate of non-compliance with basic health and safety regulations among those properties that are inspected has been high.
Regulation of the private rented market must reflect its increasing importance as a housing provider, as reliance on the private rented sector increases across all socio-demographic profiles.
To do this, in Budget 2022 Government must invest in rental property inspections, doubling the budget to €11.2 million, and implement the Deposit Protection Scheme set out in legislation in 2015.
One of the key pillars of the Rebuilding Ireland promise was the prevention of homelessness. Among the households most at risk of homelessness are those in mortgage arrears.
With 92.5% of all arrears arising on mortgages in long-term arrears, it is clear that a sustainable long-term solution must be found. Government can take action to prevent further homelessness in Budget 2022 by acquiring an equity stake in properties in mortgage distress for more than 10 years, leaving families in situ and increasing the State’s social housing stock at a cost of €1.4 billion.
It is impossible to make realistic progress against targets that are not based in reality. The data on homelessness does not accurately capture the numbers of people who need social housing.
By not including those who are reliant on family, friends or the local authority for temporary accommodation, those in refuges and shelters, those at risk of losing their homes due to mortgage arrears and those in receipt of precarious social housing supports, there is a serious underestimation of the real number of homes required. The new housing strategy must be evidence based.
Setting, and then failing to meet, targets that seriously fall short of need will not solve the problem. We can only hope to meet the needs of citizens once that need has been properly recognised.
In Budget 2022 Government should invest in implementing the ETHOS typology (European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion) of data collection and provide the necessary administration and ICT supports to do so at an initial cost of €3.6 million.
The Programme for Government acknowledges the profound social and economic benefits of affordable housing and commits to building more homes. The provision of adequate and appropriate accommodation must start in Budget 2022.
- Susanne Rogers is Research and Policy Analyst at Social Justice Ireland