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Housing Commission will examine Austrian model of ringfencing taxes to pay for house-building fund

Referendum on right to housing expected as 1.5pc of all tax could go towards new homes 

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Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien

The newly established Housing Commission will look at ringfencing taxes to build homes.

The chair of the new commission has said it will examine Austria’s model of putting taxes aside for a housing fund and how this could work in Ireland.

The commission will also be responsible for drafting the referendum on the right to housing.

John O’Connor, chair of the commission, told the Irish Independent long-term housing policies that outlive government administrations create “stable housing systems”. He said the commission will look at putting in place a system similar to that in Austria, where a portion of tax goes into a housing fund which is then used to build social or cost-rental homes.

“A specific element of taxation goes into a housing fund, so it might be 1.5pc of all income tax goes into funding social housing or cost-rental housing,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said “secondary loans” which don’t have be paid off for over 20 years are in place, which are “continually topped off by taxation”.

This leads to a “stable housing system”, he said.

The Netherlands, Austria and Scandinavian countries have brought in long-term policies which last through different government administrations.

He said Austria has created a housing system that has been very stable and sustainable.

“It’s not waiting for a budget allocation this year or next year,” he said.

“We’re going to be looking at Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and other countries in terms of what has worked for other countries.”

However, Austria’s housing system cannot be “just mirrored” here, he said, but it could be adapted to suit Ireland.

The commission, which has been given a budget of €700,000, will work until next July and make recommendations to the Government as to what can be done to reduce housing costs.

A subcommittee has been set up within the commission to draft the wording of a referendum on the right to housing, and Mr O’Connor said this could be submitted to Government as soon as the autumn.

“We would be expecting that we could be, by the autumn, proposing wording and then there’s timescales in getting Government approval and a decision in going for a referendum,” he said.

He said this potentially could be run together with a referendum on water. Mr O’Connor said putting in place a right to housing into the Constitution would allow people to take legal action against the State if Government policy is not inclusive of everyone.

The constitutional change would put an “obligation” on the State and local authorities to put in place inclusive housing policies.

This would mean that if funding was provided to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, it would have to be spent, despite failures to do so in recent years.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said he doesn’t see “any reason why a referendum wouldn’t happen next year”.

The commission membership includes Peter McVerry Trust CEO Pat Doyle, Brian O’Gorman of Clúid Housing, economist Ronan Lyons from Trinity College Dublin and Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Mr O’Brien rejected remarks that there would be no houses built as a result of the Housing Commission.

“The referendum on housing, if passed, would underpin people’s rights to housing here,” he said.


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