Housing conference
1st August 2018
John O’Connor, Housing Agency: Foreword
3rd August 2018

Affordability is the key

The Government has failed to deliver on housing. Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on housing Darragh O’Brien TD writes.

The housing crisis can be seen clearly across three areas: private housing, social housing and the rental sector. Homelessness has reached unprecedented levels, surging rents are at historic heights, home building numbers are tens of thousands behind where they need to be, and some 120,000 people are on the social housing waiting list. All the while, another massive problem is emerging which the Government is completely ignoring. Ordinary workers cannot afford a place to own.

Meanwhile, house building numbers are tens of thousands behind what they originally claimed. Government figures overstated completions by nearly 60 per cent with only 14,500 units actually built last year. Typically, over the past 45 years, new build has been between 20-30,000 per annum, rising to over 40,000 post-1998, in keeping with economic expansion, population growth and societal change with smaller household sizes. Home ownership is now slipping away from an entire generation as house prices rise at 13 per cent per annum while wages are only increasing by 2.5 per cent. The 68 per cent homeownership rate is the lowest since 1971.

Since coming into power, Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, Social Housing Strategy 2020, Rebuilding Ireland 2016, the 2012 Capital Plan, the 2015 Capital Plan and the 2018 Plan. These six separate plans exclude the numerous re-launches involved. More housing plans have been launched by Fine Gael than actual social houses were built in 13 local authorities last year. Now it is clear from data collated by Mel Reynolds that they have also overstated the number of houses actually built rather than just purchased from the private sector.

Data I have collated from FOIs have shown that €1 billion has been spent buying homes rather than building them and a further €4 billion on subsidising private renting rather than investing in new social housing units. The much-hyped new National Development Plan sets out a commitment of €1.16 billion capital spending per annum up to 2027. However, this is still just 84 per cent of the €1.385 billion that Fianna Fáil spent on social housing capital investment in 2008.

Rents have reached unprecedented levels. However, the Government has failed to progress the affordable rental scheme it promised as far back as 2015. Neither has it introduced tax measures to help keep landlords in the system.

Fianna Fáil is using the confidence and supply agreement to press for a policy shift to establish an affordable housing scheme, increase social housing spending and strengthen the rental sector. The Government must start delivering on housing. After six separate plans and over a dozen launches it needs to put bricks and mortar in the ground. Budget 2019 must be a housing budget.

In terms of affordability, Fianna Fáil will be working for a revamped and expanded affordable housing scheme. Only €20 million has been allocated in 2018 covering just 500 units. This needs to be massively enhanced if we are to make a dent in the affordability crisis. In the rental sector, tax measures must be introduced to retain landlords and alleviate costs. Allowing the Local Property Tax as a deductible expense and accelerating full Mortgage Interest Relief should be prioritised. In the social housing sector additional capital investment is vital. Ramping up capital expenditure on social housing beyond 2008 levels when waiting list were less than they are currently is critical to getting to grips with the crisis.

These are our priorities as a responsible political party committed to providing stability and achieving real results on the ground.