Latest housing plan crucial as Government running out of time to solve the crisis

National coffers are awash with extra cash, leading to further criticism of the housing emergency. Photo: Getty Images


Good news is scarce when it comes to the housing situation. The crisis is affecting many facets of Irish life, both economically and socially, and it even threatens the nation’s future prosperity.

The harsh reality is that, while Government tries to trumpet progress in delivering new homes, house prices continue to increase, rents continue to spiral and rates of homelessness are at a historic high.

Yet the national coffers are now awash with extra cash, with a projected exchequer surplus of €10bn this year and €16bn next year.

Naturally, this leads to comparisons with the past, when governments of the day had no funds but still managed to build homes.

It is, however, far easier to be cynically critical than it is to find solutions. Today, the three Coalition leaders, Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, and Eamon Ryan of the Green Party, will assess yet another plan aimed at trying to overcome several inter-related blockages.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has indicated there will be a significant increase in grants to refurbish vacant and derelict properties. He has also suggested that efforts will be made to activate existing planning permissions with the aim of providing new apartments.

There is also the vexed question of tax cuts for smaller-scale landlords who continue to exit the rental market at an alarming rate, thereby further reducing the dwindling volume of private homes to rent.

Up to now, we have been told that incentives for private-sector landlords cannot be introduced until the autumn Budget. But many people feel this is not swift enough to tackle a major issue.

A controversial taxpayer-funded subvention of up to €150,000 per unit, for building of homes under the cost-rental scheme, is also being considered. It should be remembered here that the State would take a stake in the property concerned to protect taxpayers’ interests.

However, that initiative is not expected for some weeks and will not be part of the latest package due to go before Cabinet on Tuesday.​

Political debate about Ireland’s housing crisis has so far been noisy, vicious and unhelpful. Opposition focuses on Government’s over-reliance on the private sector and the propensity of various aid schemes to further reduce volumes of homes available to buyers.

Government retorts that the opposition is more interested in gaining political advantage than in finding solutions, pointing to objections to many housing developments. It is a circular row which generates more heat than light and ordinary people are weary of it.

The latest package of measures deserves to be given a considered assessment and the only yardstick of judgment must be whether more homes will materialise as a result of it all.

This Government does, however, know that time is not on its side. It is extremely vulnerable on this issue facing into an election late next year or, at the latest, in early 2025.

The housing crisis could be the rock this Coalition perishes upon.