Paul Melia: 'With so much land effectively owned by the citizens, a joined-up approach is now urgently needed'
It seems astonishing that it is only last month that the Government bit the bullet and admitted that it needed to begin providing affordable homes.
Budget 2019 provides €310m to open up publicly-owned sites for development, with plans to provide 10,000 homes at a 40pc discount to the market price. The reason is because house prices have spiralled so far out of control that thousands of people are locked out of ownership.
The affordable housing scheme will be open to single people earning no more than €50,000, and couples with combined salaries of €75,000. It's a welcome step, but lacking in ambition.
There are around 2.4 million 'tax units' - individuals or couples taxed as one unit - in the State. Just over 680,000 earn between €35,000 and €75,000. And 10,000 homes won't go anywhere near meeting that demand.
But there is a model which could be rolled out on a grand scale.
The Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance has built homes in Ballymun for less than €200,000, helped by the provision of cheap, State-owned land. The homes it produces are top-class, as good as anything built by the public or private sector. They are financed by AIB, and are presold to members of the alliance, who have an average mortgage payment of €880 per month, compared with €1,400 in private sector renting.
The difference of €520 can be saved, or spent locally. Ó Cualann says in Ballymun alone, there is potential for 2,000 units. If the money is spent locally, that's a €13m boost to the local area. The State's return for providing discounted land is more than repaid in the economic boost to the area.
So why isn't this being rolled out everywhere? The affordable housing conference organised by Ó Cualann heard there is no shortage of zoned housing land in public ownership which could be used.
The problem is that the IDA, for example, is not tasked with delivering homes. Its job is to attract companies here, and provide sites for their industrial units. Nor is the HSE a house-building agency, it must deliver healthcare.
But effectively, all this land is owned on behalf of the citizen. A common-sense approach should prevail. While there is merit to leaving a busy city hospital with a large landbank, on the basis that as the city grows so too will the demand for healthcare, can the same be said for industrial land?
A factory can be built practically anywhere. But right now, it's houses we need.
The State's focus now has to be delivering them at an affordable price.