The purpose of the housing conference in Liberty Hall on Saturday 3rd October was to come together to work Towards a Real Housing Strategy. It was a structured forum for activists, academics and the wider public to engage with each other and bring together their own knowledges of the current housing question so that we can better understand it and discuss what should be done in order to address it.

Activists from Housing Action Now, the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, Inner City Helping Homeless, the Peter McVerry Trust, Right2Change, Mandate, Unite and a number of others, spoke and contributed to the discussion. The experiences and understandings of these groups and individuals added the required grounding to a crisis that can sometimes feel abstracted from the human cost of experiencing housing distress. As well as the ‘traditional’ activists, a number of academics from NUI Maynooth provided a framework allowing us to understand the current housing crisis within broader social, economic and political contexts. With these strands of understanding converging, there is the hope that a strategy for tackling the housing crisis can emerge.

A significant part of the conference was to break into workshops so a dialogue about some of the ‘bigger’ issues could flourish. I broke into the workshop about NAMA. The session started with presentations from Mick Byrne (UCD) and Sinéad Kelly (Geography, Maynooth University) on the existing role of NAMA. Following their presentations, the audience became a workshop group with the discussion focused on how we might better understand NAMA and its potential role in reducing housing inequality in Dublin. Many of the questions posed and ideas considered were inherently about how to alter the use of NAMA for social gain and issues which arise from any desire to do so. (more…)

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The conference “Towards a Real Housing Strategy–Solutions to Ending the Housing Crisis” held in SIPTU Liberty Hall on Saturday, 3 October 2015 opened with a declaration of a housing emergency in Ireland. This declaration came from the likes of Dr. Rory Hearne, a housing expert and previously a Lecturer at Maynooth University, Fr. Peter McVerry of the Peter McVerry Trust, and public representatives from Dublin City Council and Galway City.

Dr. Rory Hearne notes that the most recent government reports released show the severity of the situation: over 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list; 80,000 households on short-term rent support, half of whom aren’t on the social housing lists; 30,000 households on the long-term RAS rent supplement; 50,000 households have received a repossession notice on their mortgage in 2014 and another 100,000 households are in mortgage arrears; and a further uncountable number of households are in poor quality public and private accommodations, possibly tens of thousands. These numbers start to tell the many stories of a deep structure of housing distress in Ireland.

The conference was called by Housing Action Now to create a dialogue, conversation, and ultimately to create strategies and goals for a real housing solution. This agenda created space for conversation in smaller groups for this conference open to the public. The entire afternoon at the conference was devoted to small group conversations to create a list of short and mid-term goals, of strategies for achieving those goals, and to report back to everyone to create a larger call for action.

The outpouring of powerful personal stories shook me, and the tremendously powerful statements by academics and activists well-versed in the issues and possibilities instilled me with a hope, that a right to housing can be brought about by careful planning, good organizing, and deep passion for the issues and for the rights of all people of a place to live, a place to flourish, and a place to call home. (more…)

If increasing numbers of rough sleepers aren’t an indication of a housing crisis, then surely the 5000 families in emergency accommodation, the 100,000 households on the social housing list, and the thousands in mortgage distress are. The truth is that Ireland is in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.

On 3rd October Liberty Hall provided a venue for the first housing conference where the housing crisis was the only item on the agenda. Individuals across various fields and backgrounds came together with a common aim: ‘a real housing strategy’. These individuals ranged from housing experts, academics in disciplines such as Geography and Sociology, activists and members of the public whom have had direct experience of community representation.

The Crisis
Rory Hearne, Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, introduced the event by providing the latest housing and homelessness statistics. While these statistics described the housing crisis, one number in particular resonated; ‘half a million households are in serious housing difficulty and at risk of homelessness’. Hearne then revealed how Ireland has been branded as a hotspot for investment in residential property markets for international investment funds, which will lead to a more intensified commodification of housing. Without regulation rents will continue to rise, making renting unaffordable for lower and middle income earners, which could force thousands more into homelessness. With the rising pressure from banks issuing court proceedings on households in mortgage distress Hearne pointed out that ‘if only people were treated better than banks there would be debt write-offs for mortgage holders too’. This statement serves to highlight the tendencies of this and past governments to protect bond holders, banks and developers over the majority of the people of Ireland. Hearne believes that Minister Alan Kelly’s national housing strategy is inadequate and advocates for a new housing policy. This could be realised by building a housing movement. (more…)

In the midst of a mounting frenzy over the Central Bank’s plans to introduce new rules relating to mortgage lending, Rory Hearne offers a detailed and sobering analysis of the bigger picture housing crisis. Published in today’s Irish Examiner.

Providing solutions to the housing crisis have to be central to the forthcoming Budget. But the government needs to be willing to radically transform how the housing market operates in Ireland and reorientate housing policy to meet the needs of the majority of the population rather than the interests of the property development industry. It is surprising how much rising house prices are being celebrated as a new property boom in the media including interviews with buyers (often engaged in cash purchases) about how they are being ‘outbid’ for properties in wealthy Dublin suburbs.

Meanwhile the real housing crisis is affecting hundreds of thousands of households (who are mainly lower income). Fr Peter McVerry has described the growing ‘tsunami’ of homelessness on the streets of our cities and towns. Between January and July of this year 267 families became homeless in Dublin, including 549 children and some of those have been housed in hotels.

But the crisis is much, much, larger than these figures suggest. Almost 90,000 households are defined in housing ‘need’. The majority of these are living in private rented accommodation. Rapid rent increases in recent years (most significantly in Dublin) and the introduction of rent ‘caps’ by the Department of Social Welfare, has meant that more than half of those receiving rent supplement (40,000) have to top up their rent in order to get access to housing.

Then we must include the 132,000 households in mortgage arrears on their principal residence. The government appears to be just hoping they will sort themselves out somehow. But a staggering 70% of these households are over 720 days in arrears and the banks are silently, but steathly, increasing repossessions and evictions. In the first four months of this year the banks have issued legal proceedings in 3,093 of these arrears cases and 281 properties were repossessed further adding to housing pressure.

Overall then, approximately 262,000 (16%) of the total 1.6 million households in the state are in serious housing need. This doesn’t include those who are forgoing basic necessities to cover their mortgage or rent nor does it include those affected by substandard conditions in social housing estates throughout the country. This is not a crisis. It is an emergency.

(more…)

There have been a few headlines recently about some families losing their rental accommodation as rents increase and becoming homeless (see these stories: one, two, three, four; also listen to this radio piece on RTE). It is reported that homelessness is on the rise and a homeless crisis is emerging in Dublin in particular. According to Dr Dáithí Downey, Deputy Director of Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE), paraphrased in Saturday’s Irish Times, the homeless crisis is ‘bloody awful and getting worse’, with Jan O’Sullivan TD, the Minister for Housing, admitting that there is ‘no doubt’ that the issue of homelessness among families is a growing issue.

So what is the situation in Dublin at present? 

According to DRHE, in 2013 a total of 4,613 unique individual adults used homeless services in Dublin (across all funded NGO’s and statutory services – a full report for 2013 is available from DRHE upon request).  The demand has strengthened and changed in character since Autumn 2013 with more families with child dependents experiencing homelessness.  The Simon Community report that in 2012, there was an increase of 24 per cent in those using their services, to over 5,000 individuals and families.

During the week beginning April 28th 2014, the DRHE confirmed there were 184 households with dependent children accommodated in 21 commercial hotels across the Dublin region in lieu of provision of more suitable emergency accommodation for families due to a lack of capacity in usual emergency accommodation.  The majority of these families were welfare dependent private tenants.  The decision to use hotels is seen as a last resort taken in order to prevent any increase in rough sleeping in Dublin, especially among adults with dependent children.

Dublin’s homeless services secured an exit to tenancies and independent living for 793 persons in 2013. This is down by 10 per cent on the previous year’s 879 exits, and a similar downward trend exists for 2014.

So what is causing the rise in homelessness, especially amongst families in Dublin? 

Here’s what I think is happening.

1) From 2012 onwards there has been an increasing shortage of supply of property for purchase and rent in Dublin city due to in-migration and lack of construction.

2) The increasing demand for tenancies has led in turn to a rise in rent due to demand outstripping supply.

3) The rise in rent has been bolstered by new institutional investor owners, and by buy-to-let landlords facing a move from forbearance to foreclosure, seeking a certain yield by squeezing tenants – moving rents up at a rate significantly above inflation (25% to 30% increases in some cases)

4) Families who are income insecure – low wage, uncertain hours, flexible working, dependent on welfare – cannot afford the increase in rent, and rent supplement is not sufficient to cover the gap. They are being priced out of their homes in favour of those who can afford the new rental price.  Such pressure is not aided by tenants often not knowing their full rights or seeking redress through the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

5) These families find it difficult to find alternative private rented accommodation due to rent inflation across the rental sector and landlord preferences for tenants not reliant on rent supplement and discrimination against such tenants. This is also reducing exit routes from homelessness.

6) There are nearly 90,000 households on the social housing waiting list and it is therefore almost impossible to parachute newly homeless families immediately into social housing.  Consequently, those pushed out of the private rental sector end up in emergency homeless accommodation.

7) This process of creating new homeless families is likely to continue as rents rise given the present reliance on private rental sector for new social housing provision.  Moreover, it might be bolstered if repossessions increase as expected from this summer onwards, with former homeowners becoming homeless.

So what is the solution?

DRHE recognise that the use of hotels is both an inadequate and inappropriate way to meet the housing needs of homeless families and can only be considered a short-term respite from being shelter-less and also that it is financial unsustainable. They are projecting a final year cost of over €4.5m for the use of hotels in 2014 if no alternatives are brought forward. So what is required?

First, the state needs to invest in creating new social housing – both refurbishing empty, unoccupied and derelict housing stock in the city and creating new suitable stock in control of the local authorities not private landlords.  The Dublin local authorities have already submitted plans to government for the acquisition and refurbishment of stock for homeless households that will requires a projected capital budget of at least €10.5m to realise.

Second, rent control needs to be introduced that limits unregulated rent increases that are far in excess of inflation.  This needs to be accompanied by an increase in tenant rights that offers them enhanced protections as is common in continental Europe.

Third, there needs to be an additional investment into homeless services to provides the resources that will enable them to more adequately deal with the crisis.  Wishing it will to go away will not work.

Rob Kitchin

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

Perhaps not unsurprisingly the start of 2014 has been greeted with a number of commentaries in the media concerning the Irish housing market, specifically about the upturn in the Dublin house prices and the possibilities of the start of a new price bubble, and the development of a two-speed housing market between Dublin and the rest of the country.  Part of the impression being given is things might return to ‘normal’ in the capital if issues of undersupply of family homes can be resolved, though the situation elsewhere is less certain given oversupply, demographics and labour market conditions. 

The reality is that housing in general is far from normal across every indicator there is both in and outside Dublin and a rise in house prices in the capital, whilst welcome for those in negative equity, is a symptom of these problems and a lack of a housing strategy to deal with them.   Prices will almost certainly continue to rise in the capital during the year, but it is only when all the other indicators – such as mortgage arrears, housing waiting lists, etc – start to be righted that the market will start to resemble a normal one.  That is likely to take a number of years given the depth of problems at hand.

Here’s the present state of play:

House prices (CSO): Nationally: increased by 5.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.5% lower than its highest level in 2007; Dublin: increased by 13.1% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 49.2% lower than February 2007; Rest of country: decreased by 0.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.9% lower than February 2007

New mortgage draw-downs Q1-Q3 (Irish Banking Federation).  2006 (83,860); 2010 (14,289); 2011 (7,907), 2012 (8,582); 2013 (8,711)

Cash sales (industry anecdote): c.50% in 2013

Mortgage arrears for principal residences up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank): 141,520 (18.4%); of those 99,189 (12.9%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Mortgage arrears for buy-to-let (BTL) up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank):  40,426 (27.4%); of those 31,227 (21.2%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Negative equity (Davy Stockbrokers): c.50% in 2012

House building (Dept Environment): 2006 (93,419), 2010 (14,602), 2011 (10,480), 2012 (8,488), 2013 to Nov (7,425).  Of houses built in 2013 (to Nov); 4,274 are one-offs, 2,383 scheme houses, 768 apartments

On social housing waiting list (Dept Environment): 2008 (56,249), 2011 (98,318)

Housing Supply (CSO, Census): Oversupply of property outside of Dublin, with high levels of vacancy (10%+) in all but five local authorities; undersupply of family homes in some parts of Dublin.

Planning permissions (CSO): 2013 up to Q3 – Dublin: 3,116 (houses), 807 (apartments) [3,923] – Rest of country: 6100 (houses), 1035 (apartments) [7,135]; 2006 first three quarters – Dublin 6,482 (houses), 7,153 (apartments) [13,365] – rest of country 87,426 (houses), 8,397 (apartments) [95,823]

Land supply 2013 (Dept Environment): Dublin 2,575 hectares for 132,166 units; Rest of country 11,132 hectares for 262,191 units

Unfinished estates (Dept Environment): 1,258

Pyrite-infected homes (Dept Environment): 74 estates, consisting of 12,250 units.

As I’ve argued previously, we need of a coordinated strategy to deal with all the issues affecting housing in Ireland, including long-term plan of future need, and this needs to be part of a wider National Development Plan/National Spatial Strategy aimed at cross-sectoral recovery.  At present, we just seem to be hoping that the various problems will somehow be corrected through the market or piecemeal, ad hoc or limited schemes, rather than taking a more proactive, coordinated approach.

Rob Kitchin