The Government may not have expected a popularity bounce after introducing measures to stop investor funds bulk-buying property — but criticism has been especially harsh, sustained, and widespread. And rightly so.
Opposition politicians were joined by analysts yesterday in condemning the Government for failing to apply a 10% increase in stamp duty to apartments and, by doing so, locking in permanent unaffordability to the build-to-rent sector.
Pearse Doherty, of Sinn Féin, made that point forcibly, saying the Government was giving a green light to vulture funds by excluding apartments from the measures which were supposed to allow first-time buyers get into the market.
TASC, the social and economic think tank addressing inequality, told the Dáil public accounts committee that the Government’s approach to social housing simply transferred money into the pockets of private landlords.
It called for a doubling of capital expenditure and public housing output.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien defended the Government, and said the most recent step was just one in a suite of measures to tackle the crisis.
In the months ahead, it will be interesting to see how willing the Coalition is to tackle the deep-seated reasons for our “speculative, volatile, and expensive” housing market, to quote the National Economic and Social Council.
Last November, that body said two steps were necessary to fundamentally change our highly cyclical housing system into a permanently affordable, stable, and more sustainable one.
It said the Government must bridge the supply gap by actively managing land for the public good, and it must bridge the affordability gap by building permanent affordability into the market.
While the Government has insisted that Tuesday’s measure is only one of a number to follow, there is no indication that the Coalition is willing to tackle the issue at its core.
Little wonder that ‘generation rent’ has now become ‘generation spent’, as Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, aptly worded it.
The pandemic has accentuated the many pressures faced by that generation, and now we have figures to show the depth of the challenges they face.
An ESRI study earlier this month suggested millennials will have lower living standards than their parents due to stagnant wages and the prohibitive cost of housing.
The Government needs to pay attention to the disaffection felt by all of those locked out of the property market because the housing crisis is likely not only to shape the political agenda in the months ahead but determine the outcome of the next election.
Some have predicted protests on a par with the anti-water charges rallies of the last decade.
When Covid restrictions lift, they may well come, because access to an affordable roof over your head is the most basic and elemental human right.
Perhaps, as veteran campaigner for the homeless, Fr Peter McVerry, has suggested, it is time to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution to force this Government, and future ones, to ensure it becomes a reality.