Tuesday 25 June 2019

Revealed: Government spent €1bn of taxpayers' money on private-sector homes

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on housing Darragh O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on housing Darragh O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke

Shona Murray

The Government has been accused of exacerbating the country's housing crisis by buying private sector homes rather than building social housing to address the supply shortage.

Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on housing Darragh O'Brien gathered statistics from 31 local authorities which show the last two governments have spent close to €1bn of taxpayers' money on purchasing homes from the private sector since 2011.

Mr O'Brien accused Fine Gael of being ideologically opposed to the building of social housing at a time of huge demand for property, given the high numbers of people on the housing list.

Through a Freedom of Information request, he says his data reveals that the Government has spent just short of €1bn in taxpayers' money to purchase 5,559 homes.

Furthermore, he said this has contributed to the growth in housing costs - pricing prospective buyers out of the market without replenishing the national stock.

"Not only has the Fine Gael plan driven up house prices generally, but in many instances it would have been significantly cheaper for the State to build new social homes," he added.

The average cost of a unit purchased was €162,000, rising to €221,000 in Dublin.

"According to the Department of Housing's own figures, it would have cost €22,000 less (€199,000) to have built an entirely new unit in Dublin during the same period," said Mr O'Brien

"In Cork, the average price paid for a unit was €191,000 but to have built a new home would have saved €36,000 of taxpayers' money."

He said this happened at a time when there were "over 3,000 hectares of zoned and serviced land all over the country that could be used" to build new homes to accommodate some of the 130,000 people on the housing list.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said: "The Government isn't focused on building social homes. They're going to throw money at the problem rather than deal with it. I think, ideologically, they have an issue with building homes."

Mr O'Brien said Fianna Fáil policy was to establish a national development authority that would oversee house building nationally. He said the Government's reliance on the market to "sort it out" means the issue won't ever be solved.

"If we get our act together on social housing we could do 5,000 social houses a year," he said.

In response, a spokesperson for Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said the Government policy of purchasing private properties had ended.

"After the first housing summit, Minister Murphy decided to move from acquisitions to build", they said.

The spokesperson also pointed to the fact that Fianna Fáil supports the Government's 'Rebuilding Ireland' strategy, which is a five-year programme to "ramp up Ireland's social housing build".

"This can't be done overnight, and even Fianna Fáil acknowledges this," said the spokesperson. "This year we will build over 3,800 social homes - an increase on 2017. There's no ideological problem. But it's very obvious that homes can't be built overnight."

Irish Independent

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