The various crises in housing in Ireland has been a constant focus of the media since the start of the crash.

First, it was plunging house prices, developers going bust, construction workers losing their jobs, and the collapsing of PPPs.

Then it was NAMA, vacancy, unfinished estates, pyrite-infected homes, Priory Hall and other poorly built estates, negative equity, and mortgage arrears.

Now it is rising rents, rising prices in Dublin, a shortage of homes in some locations, social housing waiting lists, rising homelessness, and probably from this summer on increasing numbers of repossessions.

Since 2007, all elements of housing, in all parts of the country, have been in crisis. For seven years we have effectively had no housing policy, no housing reforms, and no strong, proactive management designed to address the various problems. Rather, the government’s strategy under both the last regime and the present has been to tinker round the edges — site resolution plans, social and housing leasing initiative, a pyrite committee, minor reform to the Planning and Development Act, etc. None of it in a coordinated, holistic way.

With the exception of putting millions into NAMA to look after the banker and developer interests in an effort to try and salvage something from the disastrous bank guarantee , these are all low cost, minimal effort tactics to give the impression of doing something, but actually toothless and spineless and making very little difference on the ground. They were shamed into sorting of the mess relating to Priory Hall residents.

There has been no substantive investment in tackling various issues such as the 89,872 on the social housing waiting list, or the 96,474 in 90+ days in mortgage arrears, or rising homelessness. Investing in housing has not even to date been seen as a means of tackling two birds with one stone — creating jobs/investment in business and addressing various housing crises. Instead there has been massive disinvestment. For example, since 2008, the capital expenditure for social housing has been reduced by 80% (from €1.3bn to €275m) while there has been a 90% decrease in housing output from local authorities between 2007 and 2011.

The strategy in effect has been to try and muddle through to such times as the private sector and the market return to sort things out. At which point any state investment will be targeted at reviving market interests, with social housing continuing to be supplied through private development and rental supplement. In 2010, 97,260 families received rent supplement allowance to enable them to live in private rental stock due to a lack of social housing at a cost to the state of over €500 million per annum. In whose interest is such a policy? It is difficult to argue, unless you are a vested private interest, that it is the state’s or taxpayers’.

We will continue to have housing problems for a good number of years, especially in the absence of any holistic strategy and set of policies designed to try and coordinate and regulate development and how all aspects of the housing sector functions. That strategy needs to see good, affordable housing as a right; to see housing as homes rather than simply assets and investment vehicles. And it needs to get value for money for the state in terms of private services rendered.

That’s not to deny market interests’ profit, but that this profit is reasonable without being exploitative and does not rip-off both tenants and the state. Much of continental Europe manages to do this. Ireland, however, has swallowed the neoliberal mantra hook, line and sinker, and seven years of crisis has not led to any kind of re-think or change in vision or policy.

As the market returns and house and rental prices rise, in the absence of checks-and-balances such as rental control and adequate supply, affordability and the need for social housing and homelessness will increasingly become an issue, especially if local authorities remain emancipated of resources.

House prices turning and rents rising does not mean that that various problems of housing in Ireland are soon to be solved.  They signal the arrival of the next wave of issues.  Expect on-going housing crises for the foreseeable future.

Rob Kitchin

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For the last couple of months there have been a number of media pieces suggesting that the Irish housing market is turning and house prices are starting to stablise more broadly and rise in parts of Dublin.  It certainly seems from government data and industry and buyers that for some types of property (family homes), in some select places (desirable parts of Dublin) house prices have levelled off and are growing marginally.  The proffered wisdom from these observations is that house building needs to start again.

There are two points to note, however.  First, any stabilisation and recovery in the market is highly segmented by type and geography.  Apartments are still in the doldrums, as is just about everywhere outside the M50.  Secondly, and more importantly, concentrating on house price rises and the shortage of family homes in South Dublin deflects attention away from the much more serious set of housing crises in Ireland.  They include:

Oversupply: The 2011 Census shows that there are 289,451 vacant units in the state, with an oversupply of c.110,000 (plus 17,032 under-construction units on unfinished estates) on a base vacancy of 6% and excluding holiday homes.  This oversupply has been very little eroded over the past two years.

Unfinished estates: In 2012 there were 1,770 estates that still required development work, with 1,100 of these estates in a ‘seriously problematic condition’ and only 250 estates (8.5%) active.  These estates suffer from a number of social issues.

Mortgage arrears: At the end of Q1 2013, the Central Bank reported there were 95,554 (12.3 per cent) private residential mortgage accounts were in arrears of over 90 days and 29,369 (19.7 per cent) of buy-to-let mortgages were in a similar position.

Negative equity: In 2012, Davy Stockbrokers estimated that over 50% of residential mortgage accounts were in negative equity.

Social housing shortage: the Dept of Environment reports that 98,318 people on the social housing waiting list in 2011 (65,643 of whom can’t afford the accommodation they are in).

An over-reliance on unaffordable private rental stock: In November 2011, the Department of Social Protection reported that 96,100 households were receiving rent supplement.  Much of the rental stock is sub-par in standards.

Stalled regeneration: Regeneration projects have largely halted leaving hundreds of families living in substandard and unhealthy accommodation whilst they wait for projects to restart.

Pyrite-infected homes: The government recognises that there are 74 estates, consisting of 12,250 units, whose foundation hardcore is contaminated with pyrite, though it seems clear that there are other infected estates.

Build quality: There are a number of estates affected by build quality issues, the highest profile of which has been Priory Hall.

These are all serious issues which are largely being ignored by the government and media beyond acknowleding occassionally that the issues exist.

Housing policy and the market in Ireland is largely broken.  New housing in South Dublin is not going to fix it and rising house prices is not evidence that things are getting better.

I’m not saying that there should be no new housing in South Dublin.  If there is sure-fire demand, then fine, the market and investment capital can supply.  Nobody is stopping anybody from developing such housing, certainly not the government.

Government investment, however, needs to targeted at sorting out the issues above, much of which has the potential at creating construction work and economic growth, whilst addressing serious social need.

What would be really nice to see is a comprehensive, integrated housing policy that puts together a five to ten year action plan that recognizes that all these issues are interrelated and need to be tackled in concert rather than in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion.  Now why can’t the media and property professionals focus on persistently arguing for the need for that?  A cynic might think that it’s not property supplement friendly.

Rob Kitchin