Saturday 14 December 2019

Editorial: 'Government must convince voters it can fix housing'

(stock photo)
(stock photo)


If you were to have asked up to a decade ago what would be the biggest problem we faced, housing would not have come into your thoughts.

An unprecedented property surplus turned into a dearth.

There has been dramatic change since the crash. There has also been sustained criticism the State not only stood still, but actually stood back.

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Thus we came from being haunted by ghost estates to being preyed on by vulture funds.

Blocks of apartments and whole estates are being hoovered up on a buy-to-rent basis.

Some will be relieved by the figures released yesterday revealing only a slight increase nationally in property values. A more salient point, according to experts, is that we are far past the point of affordability for too many potential buyers. And our leaders would be wise to take note.

In the not too distant future, there will be an election. Housing will be a key battleground on which it is fought. It is often said that elections simply determine who is in power, but cannot determine how power is used.

The current Government has tried but come up short. Dublin, the jobs centre of the country, is beyond the reach of affordability for the young. This means increasingly long commutes and a compromised quality of life for too many.

This week we heard from the Central Bank how, for every 12 new jobs created in the capital over the past five years, only one new home has been built.

Shortages in supply combined with the moderation in house-price growth have prompted calls for the Central Bank to relax its mortgage lending rules. But deputy governor Sharon Donnery believes any move to increase the level of credit is likely to lead to higher housing costs and higher indebtedness. She may be right. But the Government is going to have a torrid time on doorsteps countering arguments that it relied too heavily on the private sector to solve the housing emergency.

Why could the State not roll out its own building programme? We know there is no quick fix, but the Government must convince voters it has a fix. Spiralling cost of rents and lack of security for those in the sector are causing hardship.

There will be scant comfort for prospective first-time buyers in the fact Dublin residential property prices have fallen for a third month in a row. They remain unaffordable to middle-income earners.

But any administration that feels it can get by without the support of middle Ireland is playing high-stakes electoral roulette.

An upturn in housing completions is welcome but it is still insufficient due to the scale of need.

'Generation Rent' is entitled to some answers as to why most young people growing up now in Ireland will never be able to afford to buy their own home.

And adult children still living with their parents will also be eager to learn what potential candidates intend to do to ease the housing crisis, when the canvassers come knocking on the hall doors they feel they themselves will never be able to afford.

Irish Independent

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