Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy (left) and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe discuss house building initiatives yesterday; Donal O’Shea
In the weeks since the Irish people decided, by an overwhelming majority, to entrust women with control over their own bodies, there has been a tangible sense of optimism about the future for which our country is now heading.
The referendum illustrated that the Irish electorate, despite what we have been told about ourselves, possesses both the compassion and the intellectual wherewithal to engage with issues of great complexity, and come to conclusions not based on fear and manipulation.
It is important that we capitalise on the momentum created by the repeal movement, and continue to work towards change in how our society operates.
What do the repeal, marriage equality, and water charges movements have in common? Each had its roots in citizen-led, grassroots organization; often, years before they became issues of national import.
These campaigns showed that when the Irish people come together in solidarity we can break ties with our regressive past. They should be used as points of reference in the next social and political struggle facing the Irish population; the fight for a right to housing.
It seems clear that if there is to be any change in how we as a people interact with housing, it will need to come from outside the realm of party politics.
A second housing crisis, just 10 years after the first, has seemingly done nothing to dispel the view among our political class of housing as a commodity first and foremost. The needs of the Irish people remain a distant second to the needs of foreign vulture funds, and will continue to do so it seems.
If you were to look briefly at the current government’s oddly passive handling of the housing crisis thus far, you could be forgiven for interpreting their various missteps as just that; missteps.
But after further examination, it becomes apparent that their housing policy fits in with their overall ideological self-image; shepherds for the market, with little or no duty of care to their own electorate.
Their reluctance in regulating a private rental market out of control, for fear that they may disrupt the phantom supply that it has been providing, has seen rents approaching an average of €2000 in Dublin. Indeed, their pursuit of Rent Supplement as a primary solution has only served to create an artificial floor in many areas.
When contrasted with their bullish responses to the EU’s GDPR and the European Commission’s Apple tax ruling, it becomes evident that Irish legislature are only averse to imaginative, decisive policy solutions when the outcomes favour citizens over capital.
One of the most heartening developments of the entire repeal campaign was the success of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Assembly, a collection of citizens drawn from a range of locations, ages, genders, and social backgrounds, came together and heard expert witnesses, held Q&A sessions, and participated in roundtable discussions and debates.
This participatory forum, along with the campaign that followed, showed the way forward for Irish democracy. Citizens were allowed to influence and engage with their own futures in a way that wasn’t limited to a vote every few years.
Although there is no imminent prospect of a similar forum on the issue of housing, there does seem to be an increasing appetite among the public for a change from the traditional paradigm.
People want to live in a society, not a marketplace. Suggestions such as cost rental models and local cooperative housing, with a focus on local investment to suit local needs, are beginning to gain traction in the public consciousness.
The Irish political establishment are still a long way from legislating for the type of change required to make a meaningful impact on our broken housing system, but a groundswell of public protest and support would go a long way in encouraging them.
One needs only to revisit Leo Varadkar’s previous statements regarding marriage equality and the 8th amendment, not to mention Micheál Martin‘s shaky history with water charges, to see that our politicians have a propensity for evolutions in thinking depending on which way the electoral winds are blowing.
Donal O’Shea is an Irish freelance writer, currently living in Chicago.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy (left) and Junior Housing Minister Damien English
“The key to solving the housing crisis is supply. This is one of 720 such sites around the country. There were about 7,000 social housing units built last year — 8,000 this year. That’s how you solve the housing crisis. Rebuilding Ireland wasn’t a plan for one year. It’s a five-year plan and is ahead of targets in many areas.”
Junior Housing Minister Damien English, April 11.
Eoghan Murphy last night who said local authorities built 1,014 houses in 2017, a further 761 were provided though Approved Housing Bodies, and 522 came from Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The remaining homes were completed in 2016.
Irish Examiner, April 20
A total of 780 social houses were built across the State last year, according to figures published by the Department of Housing.
On RTÉ Radio One’s Late Debate, presented by Sarah McInerney.
The panel was: John Paul Phelan, Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform; Dr Rory Hearne, of Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute; Fianna Fail TD for Kildare North James Lawless; Jennifer Bray, Deputy Political Editor of the Times Ireland edition and Emmet Ryan, business and technology reported at the Sunday Business Post.
During an item on housing, Dr Hearne (again) laid out steps he believes would help ease the housing crisis.
He added that the local authorities in Dublin have enough land to build 20,000 houses and, elsewhere across Ireland, local authorities have enough land to build 40,000 houses.
Dr Hearne asked: “Why is that public land not being used to build affordable houses?”
Mr Phelan went on to give updates on the most recent quarter – saying commencements are up 40 per cent, planning applications are up 20 per cent and that planning laws have been changed.
Dr Hearne specifically asked Mr Phelan how many of these new home will be affordable housing for people on an average wage.
After a pause, Mr Phelan responded: “I don’t know.”
Irish Water protest on O’Connell Street, Dublin in August 2015; Dr Rory Hearne
The focus in recent weeks on the Taoiseach’s self-imploding spin machine (from his spinning of yarns to impress Trump and the exposure of the Strategic Spin Unit) hasn’t been all bad news, however, for Varadkar and his band of merry Ministerels.
It has served to distract attention from the Government’s consistent failure to address the biggest crisis this country faces – the housing crisis – or as it should be called – the affordable homes emergency.
The latest reports show that rents and house prices continue to rise, making housing even more unaffordable for the average worker.
Tens of thousands of home owners in arrears still face repossession and eviction, and over 3,000 children and their families remain in homelessness emergency accommodation.
But the reality is that this crisis is likely to worsen further in the coming months and years.
There is no reason (aside from public and political concern) why the numbers of children and families in homelessness couldn’t rise from 3000 to reach 6,000 or 10,000 in the coming decade.
The authorities can keep building more ‘Family Hub’ emergency accommodation and ignore the evidence of the damage being done to children and families.
There is no reason why rents won’t keep rising faster than wages, that overcrowding won’t continue, and people will be stuck living at home with parents or in the private rental sector.
Just look at the US and the extent of housing inequality and suffering that is tolerated there.
That is the ‘dystopian’ housing system we are heading towards in Ireland. But it is not inevitable.
It depends on who wins the battle for housing that is underway at the moment. We are in the midst of a ‘moment of reckoning’ in the Irish housing system – a type of war –and the winners are determining its future for decades to come.
On the one hand, there are the current ‘winners’ – the vulture funds, the banks, the financial and property investors (investing on behalf of the global and Irish wealthy), Real Estate Investment Trusts, landlords, estate agents, and property developers.
And, within these, are many of our politicians (a quarter of the current cabinet are landlords) and media (who benefit from property advertisements).
This class, or even cabal, I call the property-finance complex – are in the process of converting more and more of our homes into commodities (investment assets to be profited from) through which renters and students can be exploited and mortgage holders fleeced.
The property-finance cabal has no interest in building affordable rental properties or homes for purchase. And they have government working on their behalf – implementing policies of tax breaks, selling off NAMA and bank assets, privatising public land and social housing facilitating a huge profit and wealth transfer to the property-finance cabal in order to ‘incentivise private sector ‘supply’ (and boost the profits of the banks).
The table below shows that in December 2017 property investors – (household buyers-non occupiers and non-household Buyers) – bought over a third (37%) of homes that month, 2,379 homes.
In contrast, first-time buyers bought much less – just a fifth (21%) of homes purchased – 1,358 homes. So the property-finance cabal are clearly winning, backed by current government policy.
But, on the other side, there is a growing population of people losing out – and they range from our most vulnerable homeless families to average and professional workers, from guards and teachers to university academics who cannot afford to buy a home.
The extent of people affected by the housing crisis is reflected in the shift in attitudes amongst the Irish public towards housing.
Housing has moved from being a relatively marginal issue in public and political debate to becoming the issue of single most concern.
The most recent Eurobarometer poll (undertaken in December 2017) shows that, for Irish people, they think housing is the most important issue facing the country. 57% of respondents cited it as the most important issue.
The second most important was health and social security (cited by 33% as the most important), followed by rising prices/cost of living (cited by 22%).
We can see the dramatic rise in importance of housing as an issue (as the crisis worsened) from the Eurobarometer November 2013 poll when just 4% cited it as the most important issue to November 2014 when it was cited by 13%. But then in November 2015 housing jumped to being the first issue of concern at 34% and in November 2016 it was again first with 42% citing it as most important.
Alongside this, there has been a growing movement of citizen action (most notably the Apollo House occupation), civil society groups and political parties asserting that housing should be provided as a home – as a human right and that everyone should have access to affordable secure accommodation.
These have been putting forward alternative solutions such as setting up a new semi-state housing agency to build affordable ‘cost-rental’ housing for a mix of incomes, co-operative affordable purchase homes, putting in place tenant protections from eviction, funding local authorities to build social housing on a much greater scale, putting the right to housing in the constitution and new initiatives to support Housing Associations not vulture funds to buy the mortgages in arrears.
But many are asking why there hasn’t been more citizen action on housing – why have there not been housing protests like the water movement?
There are a myriad of explanatory factors, including the active undermining of society-wide solidarity on the issue by government and state agencies blaming the victims like the homeless and those in mortgage arrears.
It has been a real challenge to convince people why they should partake in such protests and public action and motivate them to get involved.
At the MyName protest concert we organised outside the Dail before Christmas, for example, there was a good turnout – possibly close to a thousand people there at one point. However, we thought there would be more there.
But there are also two other important interlinked explanations.
Firstly, the various housing action campaigns and NGOs and trade unions representing the diverse groups affected by housing exclusion have been ploughing their own furrows – doing great work – but not coming together to create a sufficient mass of united impact.
Secondly, and this is linked to that issue, is that many of those affected – from private rental tenants to those on housing waiting lists to aspirant home owners – have not been convinced that the campaigns and protests are relevant to them and can make a difference.
Next Saturday, April 7, in Dublin the National Homeless and Housing is organising a protest calling on the government to make housing a constitutional right, to end evictions, to build public housing and legislate for real security of tenure for tenants, amongst other issues.
The coalition is now one of the largest civic alliances created on the housing issue to date in Ireland involving trade unions, tenant’s groups, community groups, artists, musicians, NGOs, charities and political parties.
This is an important attempt to bring together the diverse groups affected by the crisis.
There are many reasons why it is worthwhile attending housing protests such as the one on April 7.
Firstly, if you want to ensure everyone has access to an affordable and secure home then you are going to have support public action to make that happen. The Government has shown that it is not going to do it willingly.
But, as with water, or medical cards, and many other issues – the evidence shows that public protest and a public outcry on an issue can change government policy. But it has to be big enough that politicians can’t ignore it.
So each additional person that is there on April 7 will make it more likely that it is a big enough protest to have an impact on politicians.
Politicians don’t like negative publicity and people pointing out what they are doing wrong.
They prefer citizens to be passive and to leave their democratic ‘involvement’ to voting every four or five years. Large protests shatter the cosy consensus that government decision makers have an inalienable legitimacy to govern.
Large protests also challenge societal tolerance of the present crisis. They challenge the idea that the crisis is acceptable and it is the only possibility.
Public action disrupts this fallacy and points to alternative solutions and pathways. Importantly, it raises the aspiration and expectations of people affected to not have to just accept their current difficult housing circumstances.
Being part of the protest is a way to shatter the silence around housing victims who are being stigmatised and attacked on a constant basis by politicians, on social media and elsewhere. This is probably the essential reason to join the protest on April 7.
Joining the public protest is an act of true citizenship – an act of solidarity with your fellow country people who are really suffering.
Homeless families I have worked with have told me how their children have asked them ‘how can we be left like this without a home’.
The children asked them ‘does nobody care about us? Why does nobody care about us?’.
Thousands marching through Dublin calling for action on this affordable homes emergency and demanding the right to a home for everyone, will show these children that there are people – genuine citizens – who care and are not going to tolerate this crisis continuing.
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne
Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan speaking to RTE’s Sean O’Rourke this morning
On RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan was interviewed about a range of matters.
These included the Luas Cross City works, the College Green plaza the lack of cycling facilities in the capital, housing and comments of Housing Agency’s boss Conor Skehan who recently claimed some people were ‘gaming the system’, by, he alleged, declaring they were homeless in order to jump the housing waiting list queue.
He was also asked his opinion about the €500,000 that Dublin City Council have voted to spend on lowering a recently built flood defence wall in Clontarf.
From the interview…
Owen Keegan: “What we’re saying is do not come into the city centre unless your destination is in the city, core city centre. There was far too much traffic going through the city centre and we’ve basically made it, we’re not accommodating that traffic but you can still access every car park, you can access every hotel and business is doing well in the city centre. This myth that business is dependent on car access, that’s simply not the case.
“Business is recovering very well in the city centre. We’ve held the retail core, despite all the challenges and it’s a difficult time for retail generally with the move to offline [sic] sales. It’s about the quality of the retail experience and about the whole public…it’s not just about how you access it.”
Sean O’Rourke: “This is an another angle being taken by, this is another one of our listeners, Marie, ‘will you please ask Owen Keegan what’s the plan for cyclists trying to make their way safely through the city; you take your life in your hands and probably drive Luas drivers mad as well cycling down Dawson Street’?”
Keegan: “Well one of the immediate things we’re going to do is improve cyclist facilities around the College Green area because we recognise that it is very challenging at the moment. There is a need for significant further investment in cycling facilities in the core city centre.”
O’Rourke: “Now, describe the plaza that’s planned. I mean what is it going to do? How big is it going to be? What’s going to go on there?”
Keegan: “It’s basically an open space but, you know, finished in very high quality materials, you know, for pedestrians. There will be a dedicated cycle track on one side of it, a two-way cycle track. I mean I’m not going to describe the image here..”
O’Rourke: “It’s a public facility…but again people are thinking, ‘well, you know, that was supposed to be the great appeal of the boardwalk and the first job that has to be done there, along the Liffey, is you’ve to go out and clean up the needles that are there, left by people unfortunately who have the wrong relationship with drugs.”
Keegan: “I think there are issues about the boardwalk but I don’t believe that this public plaza will be, I think there’ll be significant uses of, you know, I mean, one of, the problem with the boardwalk, at times of the day, it isn’t that used, it has been frequented by, you know, certain category which is unfortunate. I don’t think that issue will arise here.”
O’Rourke: “You think it’s going to be an area that’s going to enhance the city as opposed to one that’s going to create further social problems…”
O’Rourke: “What about housing? Obviously you have a responsibility there and it’s in Dublin, perhaps more than anywhere else, that the crisis is most keenly felt. What have you been able to do by way of, I mean how many new social houses or apartments did the city council build? I don’t mean ones that you supplied to new, or sorry to people who didn’t previously have one, what is the story there at the moment in Dublin City Council?”
Keegan: “Well, look, the housing situation is very difficult and the city council, we’re not responsible for the performance of the housing market. The recovery in the general housing supply has been slow, much slower than, given the buoyancy of the economy – that’s not our direct responsibility, but it is a major factor, so, I suppose the housing crisis is partly because we got out of social housing building and that would have been, and in actual fact there was no money to spend on social housing, it’s something that I think was most unfortunate. We’re back in social housing now, it’s taking time to ramp that up.
“But you know we’re dealing with the consequences of the failure of the private housing market and we have some influence on that market, in terms of planing policy but there are other factors there. But we have been very proactive in terms of sourcing our social housing. I mean last year we would have sourced about 4,100 units – not many of those were new builds. But there was an awful lot of housing that had been, our own stock, that had been out of commission, that we recommissioned.
“We made about 2,400 HAP housing assistance payment units available, the new builds would have been, we built around 100, sorry 250, the approved housing bodies brought about 350 units of supply, we got about 56 on Part V. Overall, we did about 4,000 allocations.”
O’Rourke: “But that would seem to be just a fraction of what’s needed in a city of a million people? How many people are on your housing list, waiting list?”
Keegan: “There are about 19,000. But 4,000 does represent significant, relative to where we would have been…”
O’Rourke: “What would you expect to do this year?”
Keegan: “Well I’d expect to do a lot more than that.”
O’Rourke: “Would you expect to double it?”
Keegan: “I’m not sure we’d quite double it, no, no. We have an awful lot of houses at different stages of construction, we’ve under construction, at planning, design, so, the pipeline is building up. It takes time to get housing. And we were out of the social housing business. At the same time, a lot of our effort has gone into, we brought another 200 hostel beds on, we’re working on about 500 family hub units, all of these units are delivered by the city council so, you know, we have been very proactive, compared to where we were two years ago and we would begin to see the benefits of that over the next two to three years.”
O’Rourke: “Is money an issue for you or have you got as much as you think you can spend?”
Keegan: “I think in fairness we’re getting as much as we think we can spend, you know? I don’t think that is an issue.”
O’Rourke: “And what about space in which to build?”
Keegan: “Well at the moment, we have a limited number of sites. I think every site that we own is at some stage in the process, you know, in two or three years, we’ll run out of sites and we’ll have to acquire land or, you know, but at the moment, we have enough sites, they’re all, every site we have I think is being pursued and is at some stage along the process.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, I mean, talking about the list, the 19,000 people on it, do you have a view on what Conor Skehan had to say, the chair of the national Housing Agency, that some people were making themselves homeless in order to get quicker access to accommodation?”
Keegan: “There is no doubt that a number of people who are presenting, or families who are presenting as homeless, are leaving the family home. Now whether you can accuse those people of ‘gaming’, you know, that’s a very emotive language. A lot of those people are in very difficult situations in the family home. So I think it would be unfair to categorise everybody who leaves a family home.
“There is probably, you know, a sense to which, given the political priority on housing families who are actually homeless, the priority being put on that, you know, people who are queuing in an ordinary fashion, in very difficult conditions in the family home, some of them may say ‘well look, I’m not getting anywhere’, you know, and may have made themselves homeless.
“But I think someone has to have an understanding of the factors, it’s not as simple as, I think the word ‘gaming the system’ was unfortunate. People can be in very, very difficult circumstances at a family home and it may not be tenable for them to continue to reside there and they present…”
O’Rourke: “And in desperation maybe, they think there’s a quicker route to a permanent home…”
Keegan: “Yeah and given how important housing is, it’s not unreasonable that people would maximise, now I don’t advocate, and we certainly think people are better off being in the family home where they have family supports and in many, most cases, it is by far a better option going into a hotel, but you know, we have to accept that for some people it is not a sustainable option.”
O’Rourke: “One other question, it’s on the mind of some of our listeners. A lot of time, I think was it two years and a lot of expense went to raising the sea wall, that protective barrier in the Clontarf area. And now it’s going to be lowered again so that motorists can have their view of the sea restored? Does that make sense?”
Keegan:“It doesn’t make sense to me. And I would have advised the members strongly against it. But, ultimately, this was a political decision. In fairness to the elected members, I think we started that, the construction of that project in the run up to the general election. And having sailed through the planning approval process and nobody objected to it, none of the councillors objected to it, it was unanimously endorsed, the part VIII at the council. When we went to build it there were a number of concerns raised locally and they just gathered momentum in the run-up to the general election and, certainly one councillor was particularly active in campaigning against it and kind of, we were, the contractor was on site. It just, we kind of just lost control of the thing, so it was unfortunate. I mean, don’t start sensitive projects in the run-up to a general election would be the lesson I’d learn from that.”
The Canadian Government, headed by Leo’s BFF has just launched its new – and first National Housing Strategy. It will spend $40bn CAN as it seems to remove 530,000 Canadian families from housing need and reduce chronic homelessness by half over the next decade.
From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sinn Fein TD Eoin O’Broin, a Twitter clip from Mr Varadkar posted on Monday which was referred to during Leaders’ Questions today
During Leaders’ Questions.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin addressed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the affordability, or non-affordability, of housing in Ireland.
He told how there are many people who earn too much for social housing but cannot afford to rent or buy a decent home.
Among his examples, Mr O’Broin mentioned couples who earn a combined €50,000 or a single working person who earns €35,000 a year.
He said average rents cost between €14,000 and €23,000 per year, while average house prices across Ireland cost around €250,000 and, in Dublin, in the region of €400,000.
Specifically, he asked:
“Can you tell us what the Government’s definition of affordable housing is? And can you tell us the exact number of genuinely affordable housing units that will be delivered by your government next year?“
“I can’t give you a numerical definition of affordable housing. Obviously that depends on, on the individual but I certainly would think that somebody who earns the average income in the State should be able to, to be able to get a mortgage and should be able to purchase a home with that.
“And, obviously, without giving you a numerical definition, I can’t answer the second part of your question.”
“I’m encouraged by the fact that planning permissions are up, that construction is up. I was in my constituency on Monday with Minister Murphy visiting the Hansfield area where over 1,000 houses are under construction – 150 of which are public housing, social housing and about 800-900 are family housing and affordable housing.
“And in my constituency, in that part of my constituency, there are houses that are available for €320,000 and apartments that are available for €220,000. People who are able to secure a 35-year mortgage paying €880 a month which is considerably less than rent for people in lots of parts of the city. So I think we are making real progress in that regard.”
As part of his response, Mr O’Broin said:
“I was hoping you’d mention Hamstead in Fingal. I watched the Twitter clip (above) of you yesterday of you in the hard hat and initially, of course, I thought it was a Callan’s Kicks satire because there you were stood beside houses and the sale price of those houses that you were stood in front of, Taoiseach, was €315,000 to €395,000.
“So you’d need a combined household income of between €81,000 and €101,000. You’d need a deposit of €31,000 to €39,000.
“Now you ask me where do I get my definition of affordable housing. Well, actually, it’s from legislation, from existing affordable housing schemes introduced in this State.
“It’s above the threshold for social housing and it’s approximately a household average of €75,000.
“So it is absolutely remarkable that we have a Taoiseach that doesn’t even know what the legislative definition of affordable housing is, let alone have one for his own Government, and cannot tell us how many affordable units will be delivered from the €1.1billion of subsidies he’s giving to private developers.”
Mr Varadkar and Mr O’Broin then had the following exchange:
Varadkar: “You are, of course, misinformed, because the houses that were behind me are not for sale. They’re social housing.”
O’Broin: “The houses on the left…for sale. They were right behind you.”
Varadkar: “I think this is getting to the point of triviality but for anyone who’s interested in the facts, there are about 1,000 homes under construction there. It includes social housing which is not for sale. It includes apartments which are specially adapted for people with disabilities. It includes private housing.”
Mr Varadkar went on to claim Sinn Fein, specifically on Dublin City Council, only want “segregation” and social housing-only areas as opposed to mixed areas with different types of housing.
Mr O’Broin said this wasn’t true.
Mr Varadkar went on to say:
“The reason why Sinn Fein wants that is because they want segregation, they want to divide people so they can brew up discontent.”
Taoiseach tells Dail that someone on the average wage should be able to afford a home.
Average annual wage €37,500 (CSO)
Standard mortgage borrowing limit €131,250
Average 3bed semi-d house in Ireland €215,000 (REA)
Standard deposit required €21,500
Loan required €193,500
Bad day for Leo. Doesn't know what an affordable home is. Then claims construction is increasing, yet his housing minister is 8 days late publishing Sept 2017 housing supply stats. The Aug figs suggest activity is declining. pic.twitter.com/DMghMr3UNX
“… the real number of unoccupied houses and apartments might only be a tiny fraction of that, if the results of an investigation carried out by Fingal County Council are replicated elsewhere.
“Its study, which involved council officials visiting houses listed as vacant, found that only a very small number of houses in the north county Dublin authority area (perhaps only 50 or 60) were genuinely unoccupied, compared with the 3,000 figure stated for Fingal in the official census returns.”
Rob Kitchin, on his Ireland After Nama blog, has looked at this story, acknowledging he couldn’t locate the Fingal County Council report or press release.
Mr Kitchin is a Professor of Human Geography and Director of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis at the National University of Maynooth
“What is reported in the IT is:
‘The council initially conducted a desktop exercise on the 3,000 supposedly vacant properties. When commercial properties, as well as those in construction or in the planning process, were eliminated the figure fell to 361 properties.’ They then visited 74 of the 361 homes to check on occupancy, though it’s not stated how those 74 were sampled.
Of those 74 visited, they discovered that only 13 were actually vacant. In other words, rather than having a vacancy rate of 5% (as reported in the 2016 census – 4,944 vacant units + 289 holiday homes), they have a rate of about 1% – far below what might be an expected base vacancy level of 6% (there are always some units vacant due to selling, gaps between renting, working temporarily elsewhere, people in healthcare, etc.).
I have no doubt in the 18 months since the census in April 2016 properties that were vacant will have been occupied, however it seems unlikely that vacancy is so far below base vacancy, which is what the IT piece seems to be suggesting.
“In terms of method it is unlikely that the CSO shared the individual addresses of vacant properties as identified in the census with Fingal.
“But if they were working from census data then it does not include commercial properties, nor properties under-construction, or in the planning process, or derelict.
“So removing those properties from census counts would make no sense – they were never counted by the CSO. Indeed, in a rebuttal story in the Irish Times, the CSO stand over their data and method – which is to send enumerators to every property in the country, to visit upwards of ten times if they fail to get an answer, and to talk to neighbours to try and ascertain the use status.
“…In my view, there needs to be a branch-and-root review of property data in Ireland.
“This needs to start with asking the question: what data do we need to generate to best understand planning, housing, commercial property, infrastructure need, etc?
“…With good quality data that people trust we might avoid different agencies producing wildly estimates of some element of housing or commercial property, such as vacancy rates, and we would greatly aid our planning and economic development.
“However, if we carry on as we are, we’re going to continue to fly half-blind and only have a partial or flawed understanding of present conditions and we are going to replicate mistakes of the past.”
Modular housing in Ballymun, Dublin being built in April
Further to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council releasing a “buoyant” pre-Budget statement…
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Seamus Coffey, chairperson of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) and UCC economics lecturer, spoke to Audrey Carville.
Audrey Carville: “I suppose for many people the question is this: is it possible for the Government to stick to existing plans and still do more to tackle the housing crisis?”
Seamus Cofffey: “Oh absolutely, I think a key point that we’d make is that choices have to be made. That if there are priorities that we wish to address, these are the ones where the available resources are targeted. And if we look at capital spending in which the provision of social housing would be one element over the next couple of years, capital spending, Exchequer capital spending is set to double from the level it was in 2016. It’ll be almost double that by 2021.
“So the Government has set out a plan that does see quite a rapid and large increase in capital spending and this plan is in line with the fiscal rules. In fact, if you take the plan to 2021, it’s probably showing over-compliance with the fiscal rules. Yet within that, they are finding the space to double capital spending.
“Yes, we have some severe and serious problems at the moment. They take a long time to build up and equally they can take a while to solve but there is the space to do that, if things are prioritised.”
Carville: “What will happen though if the Government says, ‘well no, actually, we’re facing an emergency of such a nature that more has to go into the provision of public housing straight away, that we have to change things slightly. ”
Coffey: “Well, again, it’ll be choices, if you want to provide more for social housing, you can transfer spending resources from elsewhere or you can raise additional funds from tax revenue.
“One issue we’d be concerned with is the overall impact, the fiscal and the government sector has on the economy. We’ve an economy that’s growing very, very strongly at the moment and has been for a number of years. The unemployment rate has dropped down to 6%. If we feel we need to ramp up say, output in housing, both say in the private sector and in the public sector, one issue is: do we have the resource capacity to do that?”
“Where are the workers going to come from? Are the workers going to come from other sectors in the economy? Maybe driving up wage rates? We’re beginning to see, although moderate at present, wages beginning to rise. Are we going to import workers from abroad? And, of course, if we bring in the workers to build the houses, that’s only adding to the problem we’re trying to solve with greater housing supply in the first place.”
Carville: “There is also the question of where those workers might live at the moment, because of the severity of the crisis. There have been all sorts of calls for different measures. For instance, over the past couple of days, we’ve heard Fianna Fail saying that there should be tax cuts for developers to encourage them to develop houses more quickly. What do you think of that idea?”
Coffey: “When it comes to individual measures, the fiscal council sort of remains outside the debate. What we’re looking at is the overall impact of all the decisions taken by Government and that’s not just on the spending side. There does seem to be a kind of impetus on the sort of spending watchdog. You can also have issues on the revenue and tax side as well. It’s a combination of those decisions. When it comes to actual individual measures, that’s a matter for the political process to decide. We consider what the outcome is in terms of the overall Government account and the impact on the economy.”
Carville: “So you don’t have an opinion one way or another, or at least one that you’re going to give us on the question of tax cuts for developers?”