Irish Examiner view: Property market has become a loaded dice

Public needs and rights regarded as secondary to commercial ambitions
Irish Examiner view: Property market has become a loaded dice

Even as the Government extends lockdown to at least March 5 and works to better control travellers to try to contain Covid-19, it is possible to see the fight against the virus as a conflict between sustaining economic norms and public well-being. 

If airports could be closed without destroying struggling but vital airlines, that defence would be in place. 

If, on the other side of that coin, bars or restaurants could be safely reopened, that would have happened too. 

There is a very fine line, one that shifts as infection rates surge or ebb, between facing a public health crisis or sustaining economic interests.

Consistently striking a balance is almost impossible. 

That is so as it is as subjective as it is political, especially as there is a glaring example of what happens when public needs and rights are regarded as secondary to commercial ambitions.

New figures on the cost of building homes from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) show that costs for private-sector, two-bed apartments in urban areas of Dublin stand at been €219,000 and €262,000. 

That SCSI data exposes a yawning gap between developers’ costs and what local authorities have been asked to pay. 

Just last month, Dublin City Council deputy chief executive Brendan Kenny said the authority was charged between €303,636 and €372,842 in construction costs across five separate projects. 

In some instances, the building land was owned by the city council.

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin has described this as “price gouging”, as it shows that developers charge up to €100,000 extra on construction costs for social developments. 

It is more than difficult to dismiss that analysis. 

It is also difficult to dismiss Mr Ó Broin’s view that private developers are building to rent rather than sell as the majority of people who want to to buy a home cannot afford to do so. 

This is just an extension of the unwelcome reality that investment funds and property companies are now, by some distance, the primary forces in the housing market.

Central Bank rules mean a first-time buyer couple needs a deposit of €38,000 and €96,000 in income to buy the cheapest apartment in Dublin. 

That couple, if they had €60,000 and an income of €150,000 could not afford a typical two-bed apartment in a high-rise in Dublin city centre. 

The report suggested the build-to-rent model is more viable than the build-to-sell model because of high construction costs. 

Costs force people to be long-term tenants rather than buy a resource that might be realised as age and retirement change needs. 

No matter how it is dressed up, no matter how earnest the regret, this great transfer of wealth is a direct consequence of governments’ policies and a unwavering refusal to intervene in any way that benefits those who wish to buy a home rather than land hoarders, developers, or their financiers. 

At this stage, it must be accepted that this is deliberate policy, one with entirely predictable and unattractive consequences.

If such a hands-off approach is adopted to confronting the pandemic and its deeply inequitable consequences it will burden and diminish us for years, maybe decades, to come.

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