Towards the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin spoke of waking up each ever-more precious morning and grabbing the newspaper. Making straight for the death notices section, once he was sure his name was not there he would then rise.
The leaders of the three Coalition parties will be hoping their ‘Housing for All’ policy will similarly elevate their own fortunes and forestall any premature obituaries.
Micheál Martin hailed it as “the most ambitious programme of social and affordable housing delivery ever”. But it’s “generation rent” and the 500,000 young people hoping to own a home who’ll deliver the verdict. Living up to their promises on housing is something no government has managed in decades.
And the blame cannot be laid at the door of any single party alone. It’s the product of generations of bad planning and missed opportunities.
In government Fine Gael consistently underestimated the problem. Fianna Fáil’s dysfunctional relationship with the property market hardly needs revisiting.
Nor will Sinn Féin get a free pass. Choosing to stay outside the Dáil for so many years, when they could actually have done something to help, doesn’t get them off the hook.
So those hoping to own, or rent, a home may take solace from the point this plan does at least appear to grasp the scale of the problem.
Committing €4bn a year to the delivery of 300,000 homes by 2030 sounds impressive.
Coillte does not have a forest of magic money trees we can pluck billions from. Throwing money at housing and setting ambitious targets has not been the issue but missing them certainly has.
When the Taoiseach says “few things are more fundamental to us than having somewhere to live” he means it. But these sentiments are not new. As a country we have even ratified international treaties on the right to housing “without discrimination of any kind”.
Yet owning a home is still beyond the grasp of too many of our people. People have been expecting evidence of a renaissance in approach. They want to see signs the State is ready to play a game-changing role in housing provision.
Building houses matters but so too does providing infrastructure and supporting communities. Any true transformation in State involvement must also extend to accelerating approval processes for getting permission to build.
This means unclogging official supply pipelines of red tape. Regrettably if the State is to support home ownership and affordability: while at the same time relying on the private sector to provide the bulk of homes then affordability may continue to be an insurmountable obstacle.
Demand has remained so desperate any ramping up of supply also ramped up prices. The pace of delivery failed to bridge the gap. The speculators and developers won before the State was out of the blocks. This plan has many noble aspirations but the Government’s fate rests in its resolve to see it through and on time before the roof caves in.