The housing crisis touches every family in Ireland, from young couples struggling to save to buy their own home to renters trying to make ends meet.
A recent report published by Social Justice Ireland, Housing and Poverty 2022, provides important insight into the impact of housing costs on the poverty rate in Ireland across a range of demographics.
The report suggests a number of recommendations across areas of housing policy, many of which I am glad to say we are already advancing through Housing for All, the Government’s new plan for housing in Ireland.
At the heart of the problem is a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Housing for All sets us on a path of delivering 300,000 new homes before the end of 2030 including 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes, and 18,000 cost rental homes, with the rest to be delivered by the private sector.
It’s a plan with real ambition, guaranteed investment, and fresh ideas that use the public and private sector — not fighting with one hand behind our back. It’s about delivering housing of different tenures, in the right places and, most importantly, at prices people can afford. It gives certainty and stability for those who want to finance and build homes.
The Housing and Poverty 2022 report references the commitment in Housing for All for 90,000 new social homes, but indicates that half of these will be delivered through the private sector under the housing assistance payment (HAP) scheme and rental accommodation scheme (RAS).
This is incorrect. The focus of the plan is on putting bricks and mortar in the ground. The 90,000 social homes committed to under Housing for All are new homes. They will provide sustainable, secure, and life-long homes for people, while adding greatly to our social housing stock.
On average, some 10,000 social homes are expected to be built each year over the life of Housing for All. This will equate to almost 30% of all new builds envisaged under the plan, going further than the 20% recommended in this report.
Since becoming minister, and indeed long before it, I made it very clear that I agree we need to radically reduce our reliance on HAP and RAS.
I don’t believe that we can simply switch off those rent supports. We need to continue this direct support while scaling up our social housing stock
The Housing and Poverty 2022 report also indicates that some 81,000 HAP tenancies were provided from 2016-2020, with only 60,000 or so still in place by the end of 2020. The report incorrectly concludes that the difference of 21,000 represented failed tenancies.
The reasons for households exiting HAP are varied, including tenant-led exits; compliance exits; transfers to other forms of social housing; and landlord exits. Indeed, by the end of 2020, 7,756 households had transferred to other forms of social housing.
The other housing policy priorities set out in the report are very much in line with the commitments made in Housing for All
It calls for the establishment of a commission on housing, which I am delighted to say met for the first time on January 12.
It calls for a review of the mortgage to rent scheme for those in late-stage arrears. Enhancements to this scheme are set to be announced in the coming weeks, making it more accessible to more households in mortgage distress.
The report prioritises the vacant site levy (VSL) for enforcement. We are replacing the VSL, which we can all agree has not worked, with a new zoned-land tax that will be administered by Revenue. It will be a more broadly based tax on land, aimed at land activation, rather than intended as a revenue-raising measure.
It will encourage the timely activation of zoned and serviced residential development land for housing. Some 8,000ha of zoned residential land may be affected so that’s potentially land for as many as 250,000 homes. It will also cover more than 15 times as much land than is currently subject to the VSL.
I firmly believe Housing for All will tackle the heart of the problem and there is clear momentum behind it
In the year to September 2021, 30,519 residential units were commenced, up 40% year-on-year, when compared to the same time last year.
The future is looking brighter and I believe 2022 will be a year of delivery.
- Darragh O'Brien is the housing minister