Dan Boyle: Home Sweet Home


From top: construction work in April on the Elsmore housing estate at Naas Co Kildare which includes social housing; Dan Boyle

One of the favourite jobs I have had, now reduced to a single line reference on my CV, was three years I spent as the manager of a Housing Co-op in Cork.

The Co-op, as well as seeking to meet housing need, took a particular interest in sourcing neglected buildings of architectural interest. This project operated in a barracks square that had once been an arsenal. A subsequent project brought back into use the re-development of seventeenth century almshouses in Cork city centre.

Another goal of the Co-op was an emphasis in housing allocation that sought to develop a concept of community.

Of the eight units I managed, two single men had apartments. One was a wheelchair user, a Paralympic sailor. The other was a leading light in Cork’s Gay community, and also the main mover in this and several other co-ops in the city.

A pensioner couple occupied another unit. A family with teenage children contrasted with a two sets of couples with young children. A couple without children and a single parent family made up the complement.

While this come may across as the casting of a TV reality show by a production team that think themselves really clever, the actual reality was the variety of tenants helped bring about a real, cohesive sense of community.

Voluntary housing, like this, has been and remains the spare wheel of Irish housing policy. As far as successive governments, and state agencies, have been concerned, it has been known that the voluntary housing option existed, that very occasionally use has been made of the option, but it really it has been preferred not to use the option at all.

Throughout Europe voluntary housing represents a far higher percentage of housing stock than it does in Ireland. The reason why is obvious. In other countries housing policy is more holistic in approach. In Ireland policy is viewed though a very narrow prism.

Land, castles and profit is the Trinity that informs Irish housing policy. The desire to own, inculcated in the Irish psyche since the days of the Land League in the 19th century, has long passed its passion as the weapon to achieve a more equal society, to now being one of the instruments that is bringing about greater inequality.

Social housing gets a bad rap. Our main party of government seems to have a particular allergic reaction to the concept. This has probably been informed by attitudes shown by radio show text responders, whenever the subject gets mentioned.

Why should some people get houses for ‘free’ when I work hard to pay my mortgage – is a view that constantly gets aired. Such reductionist views conveniently ignore that those in social housing don’t get to own their homes.

Those who who buy houses acquire guaranteed long term appreciating assets. This on its own is one of the biggest factors in a widening wealth gap, generational in nature with an older generation owning, and a younger generation finding it impossible to own.

Only an ambitious social housing programme, State funded, and managed by local authorities and voluntary agencies, can kick start supply, reduce costs (especially social costs) and especially bring about a community approach to housing allocation, we have so sorely lacked to date.

Instead this government will continue to put its faith in the Construction Industry Federation, and with them a belief that the market will solve everything. It won’t. Some will become even more wealthy. Most will find it ever more difficult to be housed.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


32 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Home Sweet Home

  1. Col

    I’m open to ridicule here but I have been wondering about something. There are ex-council houses boarded up in Stillorgan (and many other areas I’m sure). In the same estate, similar houses have sold for €500k.
    Could the government spend, say, €200k per house doing them up and sell each for, say €400k? It’s a lovely areas and the houses are a fine size with gardens and parking, near to shops and great bus routes.
    Then, the government will have satisfied the needs of those who can buy a house AND generated a profit which could be used to build social housing.
    I’m sure I’m missing bureaucratic and legal issues, but it seems like a no brainer?

      1. Col

        What is holding them back? Objections? These houses have been empty for a long long time. Is it better to build nothing?

  2. dav

    Dan I think there is something in the fg psyche that requires a presence of homeless citizens to make them feel better about themselves, sic ‘the homeless are that way because they don’t get up early in the morning and deserve their lot..’ It was evidenced in leo’s early strategy of “homelessness” is normal and shouldn’t be called a crisis.

  3. Fact Checker

    Dan says “Such reductionist views conveniently ignore that those in social housing don’t get to own their homes.”

    Actually they often do.

    There has been a long pattern of tenant purchase in Ireland at a significant discount. The huge social house building programme of the 1970s did not actually increase the stock of local authority-owned houses! Why? Because the older ones were sold off as the newer ones were built.

    I have mixed views on it.

    On the one hand it undoubtedly improves the quality of a neighbourhood when a signficant share of residents feel they have a stake in it. On the other hand it is a big transfer of wealth from one set of taxpayers to another.

    1. Dan Boyle

      If and when they buy their houses, which shouldn’t be encouraged, they are no longer in social housing.

    2. johnny

      hey ‘fact checker’ its like a fact free zone with you,is that a oxymoron or just the last part applies ?
      11,000 tenants were offered the opportunity to buy their properties as part of a the latest tenant-purchase scheme proposed by Dublin City Council.
      26 did !

      1. Andrew

        you’re not great on facts yourself johnny. You can’t seem to read properly either.

        1. johnny

          which ‘fact’ are you struggling with there Andy,I work with numbers thankfully.
          are you trying say that more than 26 availed of the scheme,or just a loser with nothing better to do…

          1. Frilly Keane

            Hould up with the indignation there Johnny

            Was it under the Shared Ownership schemes that those offers to buy were made?

          2. Frilly Keane

            That’s the Shared Ownership Scheme with a new lick of paint

            Those 10,974 were well advised to stay out of it

          3. Johnny

            I think we lost “Andy” so the BIG transfer from taxpayers of wealth as claimed by nonfacts checker just ain’t happening huh :)
            (Indignation on)

  4. Mr M

    Great article Dan; excellent.
    I too look at derelict premises, vacant shops with vacant accommodation overhead.It is a shame that at, to start with, we have homeless sleeping rough. We have single parent families living in hotels (like refugees).
    We have people having there homes repossessed without any resolution and then we have only one
    (W)banker so far convicted, not yet sentenced. It’s all to suit the wealthy not the average Joe who gets up and goes to work to try and make ends meet.

  5. Otis Blue

    We shouldn’t ignore the ineptitude and general uselessness of local authorities in this matter either.

    January1st next sees the introduction of the 3% vacant property levy. Worth watching how our cash strapped local authorities will manage that.

  6. Junkface

    My old landlord was on the Irish Construction Industry Federation. He built the worst design houses I’ve ever lived in! It was ridiculous, I mean a total joke in the winter. Students in 1st year Bolton street would have done a better job in designing them. He is totally corrupt! I formally complained to the RTB, nothing seemed to change. So I would not put any hope in the ICIF solving diddly squat! They are a joke.

    Rinse and repeat Ireland. Rinse and repeat

  7. Anomanomanom

    I agree with building more “corpo” houses and i everything bar one point. Most people dont mean free as in handed to for nothing when they use the term “free house”. But there’s area’s of the city that working people could never afford yet council tenants are paying next to nothing so the term “free house” to me means handed something I could never afford to save for or rent. literally lastnight I had a conversation with a corporation tenant about her rent, in an area where 1 beds are €1200-1350 a month, she was complaining she paid €126 a week for her two bed flat. She lives there with her two adult daughters who both work full time. €500 a month for rent, bin collections and yearly boiler check was to expensive I was told.

    1. Frilly Keane

      Social Housing Tenants pay a “differential” rent
      Based on their income

      ‘sounds like the lady you were talking to, has not been assessed under the income being introduced by the additional occupiers income.

      1. Donal

        126 per week sounds like an accurate rent assessed under the differential scheme. % of highest earner and fixed amount per other adult. In Dublin City its 15% and 19eur per other adult

        1. Anomanomanom

          Is that how its done, I thought it was 12%. But the fact its €504 a month doesnt annoy me, private rents are ridiculous and corpo rent rightly shouldn’t be linked, its the attitude of why should I have to pay that I hate.

      2. Anomanomanom

        I know its assessed but I genuinely know of people who are basically in the exact same monetary situation paying completely different rents. But I would like to add I am all for more houses being built 100% bur I can see how the attitude of some tenants does annoy people.

  8. johnny

    One the biggest problems has been accurate and reliable numbers on the supply off new housing,so well done to the CSO for its new publication-New Dwelling Completions.

    “There were 14,446 new dwellings built in 2017, an annual increase of 45.7%”


    Dan,not sure if your a NAMA ‘watcher’ this is the preferred vehicle of the govt to deliver ‘social housing’ (i hate that term).The most striking thing is the claim that they have…

    “NAMA has identified 6,984 residential properties as being potentially suitable for social housing. The process of confirming demand and suitability is a matter for local authorities and is not something in which NAMA has a role. To date, 2,474 have been delivered for social housing use which is the majority (91%) of all those properties for which demand was confirmed and which remained vacant and available.”

    They appear to be laying the blame on the local authorities,the link also provides a list off the properties delivered to Approved Housing Bodies or Local Authorities.


  9. A person

    Dan, you are forgetting about Approved Housing Bodies and all the work they do. Committed people, providing a far better service than the County Councils did in the past. The larger organisations are very professional and provide a great service.

  10. SOQ

    I think that beating the social housing drum is a bit of a waste of time. Mainly for historical reasons, Irish people are a nation of homeowners so the state intervention should be in the building of homes for sale and raising supply, rather than just social.

    1. johnny

      yeah the Brits are in town too for ‘historical reasons’ shame he didn’t wear his kit as colonel-in-chief of the parachute regiment to celebrate the massacre of 14 unarmed Irish citizens in Derry-but than changed,things can change!

      1. SOQ

        Put your penny whistle away ffs.

        My point is that social housing will never be here what it is in other places and is distracting from the real issue. The builders say they can’t make a profit so ok: let people do it for themselves.

        Organise 20 people who don’t own their own homes (or whatever amount it takes) into a co-op. Give them the land and one quarter building costs. Call it community empowerment if you like because by the time they have built their own estate, they will already be a community.

        And there will be no sniping or accusations of freeloading because those people will have hard earned their homes. Where there is a will there is a way.

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