Government and the housing crisis: turning a corner, or heading for a reckoning?

Housing emergency escalates. Stock image


The Government faces a confidence motion tabled by the Labour Party this week in relation to its decision to lift the no-fault eviction ban. The Coalition expects to win comfortably.

But how confident can anybody be that the housing emergency will be resolved any time soon? There are at least two strands to the crisis: not enough private and public housing is being built; and, more immediately, there is not enough rental property available.

The Government argues it has “turned the corner” in relation to building while also admitting there are particular difficulties in the rental sector. In truth, the two strands are inter-related, and this and other recent governments can no longer minimise responsibility for what, in the round, is a worsening crisis.

The Government claims credit that more young people bought their first home in January this year than any year since those figures were first counted in 2010 — in the midst of an economic and banking collapse.

Since then there have been three governments, which have launched at least two grand plans, and introduced several tweaks to legislation, and still nowhere near enough housing is being built to meet demand.

Similarly, the Government claims credit that more social housing is being built now than at any time since 1975, which conveniently ignores that the population now is more than five million, but in 1975 was just over three million.

Government parties have put forward several reasons for housing targets being barely achieved or missed: the Covid pandemic and war-induced inflation driving up building costs. But these are not reasons, they are excuses.

Throughout much of the time referred to, the government has benefited from a low interest rate era, which is now at an end. In 2021 the ESRI argued that prudent government borrowing could mitigate inadequate housing supply and upward pressure on prices and rent, a suggestion which was met with barely concealed outrage at the heart of Government.

Furthermore, for several years it has been known that the rental market was increasingly descending into a state of dysfunction. The time to arrest this decline was the last budget, if not the one before, to ease the tax burden on small landlords now deserting the market in droves, worsening the crisis and leading to the lifting of the eviction ban next month.

The Government did not take such decisions. It has allowed to pass the six-month period of the ban without putting timely measures in place to ensure the country will not be faced by a ‘tsunami’ of more homelessness from next month.

In this newspaper today, experts in the rental market point to several missed and bungled opportunities, from the imposition of endless red tape from a not-fit-for-purpose Rental Tenancy Board to the continued imposition of a 50pc tax on rental income.

The Government may win the confidence of the Dáil this week, but 15 years on from the crash, still far too little housing is being built, the crisis is worsening, and an entire generation is becoming more disillusioned with the status quo. This government will, rightly, stand or fall on its housing policy.

Such has been the level of failure of that policy over more than a decade, it will only have itself to blame if the electorate’s verdict, when the time comes, is damning.