Thursday 17 October 2019

Housing crisis will come Back to bite government

'Its efforts to deliver affordable, social housing have been inadequate.’ Stock photo
'Its efforts to deliver affordable, social housing have been inadequate.’ Stock photo


Many of the great social changes occur without our noticing. By the time they are identified as trends by either sociologists, or economists, someone has either won or lost, and the rest is academic.

For generations there was a tacit understanding of owning a home: "The place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to return to."

Such a notion has gone from being an expectation to a remote possibility.

This week, St Vincent de Paul pointed out the poverty rate among Ireland's working lone parents more than doubled in just five years from 2012.

It blamed housing and childcare as the key factors.

The housing shortage, run-away rents and the ability to have security of long-term tenancy, is a problem across much of the economy.

In Dublin more 30 to 35-year-olds now rent rather than buy. How can you get a deposit for a mortgage while paying out thousands a month in rent?

Yet while housing is a basic right, owning one is not. But if one cannot afford to buy, it is only reasonable - especially if one is prepared to work hard - to be able to afford to rent one.

And this is where the Government is letting people down. For the first time ever, large numbers can afford to neither buy nor rent.

It would be naïve to expect the State to build the necessary number of houses to meet current demand on its own. But its efforts to deliver affordable or social housing to date have been inadequate.

Institutional and private investors are now a key player in the Irish residential market. Their vast resources and ability to develop rent-only accommodation - and the profits they generate - suggest the prospective home-buyer has little chance of competing.

However, what makes the position so egregious is the fact rent is only going in one direction; and the needs and rights of tenants are not being balanced in terms of a new paradigm.

Evidently it is no longer within the gift of the Government to create all the market conditions to favour home ownership.

However, various State initiatives and incentives actually fuelled demand and are adding to the price of property.

Yesterday, developer Michael O'Flynn claimed our housing market has become utterly dysfunctional. He decried the fact ordinary workers have been priced out of the market. There are myriad reasons for this.

In his book 'The Question Behind the Question', John G Miller, in addressing the issue of accountability, suggested it required: "A commitment of the head, heart, and hands to fix the problem and never again affix the blame."

We have not seen such a commitment.

As to affixing blame? This Government may not be exclusively responsible for the housing emergency, but its inability to recognise the magnitude of the problem will surely come back to bite.

Irish Independent

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