From the Archives December 8th, 1953


An editorial discussed the housing market’s problems

Yesterday’s issue of this newspaper carried the reports of two speeches on the subject of house purchase. Mr M P Linehan, president of the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations, speaking before a gathering of trade unionists, presented the point of view of the man who wants to buy a house. Mr N T Bailey, chairman of the Dublin and District House Builder’s Association, made the case for those who have houses to sell. An abundance of suppliers, a plethora of prospective purchasers – what, one would think, could be a more satisfactory “set-up”? Yet the builders are left with houses on their hands, and the men who would like to have homes of their own are compelled to do without them. Basically, it is a matter of price. Houses are dear in these days, at least twice as dear as they were before the war. This is not the fault of the master-builders, to whom high prices merely bring a decreased demand for their wares; it is due partly to the fact that the wages of their workmen, both skilled and unskilled, have risen, and partly to the high cost of materials. Neither is it due to any stinginess, any “sales-resistance,” on the part of the would-be purchaser. The truth is that he simply has not got the money.

The man who wants to buy his own house is generally a man of the salaried, “white-collared” class – that is to say, a member of the hardest-hit section of the whole community. This man’s salary, no doubt, has risen since the war began: it must have risen, or he would hardly be able to keep alive at all, much less to maintain a wife and family: in some cases, no doubt, it has risen substantially. The incomes of most “white-collared” people, however, lag well behind the cost of living, and the increase in them bears no relationship to the increased cost of houses, with the result that houses are a drug on the market – though a drug that does not become cheaper by virtue of being plentiful – and both the industry and the home-seekers are sufferers. Is it completely impossible to reconcile the system of supply and demand, so that prosperity can be restored to the builders, while the salaried worker can be helped to spare enough from his earnings to furnish him with the home that he so ardently desires? It is not a question of paying cash down: there are means in plenty for the purchase of houses on what are called easy terms. On the other hand, terms which were easy before the war are not so easy to-day. It was difficult enough, fifteen or twenty years ago, to lay down a quarter of the purchase price of a house – the deposit generally required by the building societies – when the house cost approximately £1,000 . . . If the burden was a hardship then, how much more severe is it nowadays, when the purchase price is at least £2,000! How many men in the £9 to £12 a week class can find £500 for a deposit? If that initial trouble could be overcome, the road to houses-for-all-who-want-them would be comparatively smooth.

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