Analysis: Inadequate target for housing as party ties remain

The €1.8bn annual cost of building 10,000 units has implications for State’s fiscal rules

Committee members stressed yesterday that the 50,000 figure for new homes was a minimum, and invited Minister for Housing Simon Coveney to go beyond this.  Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Committee members stressed yesterday that the 50,000 figure for new homes was a minimum, and invited Minister for Housing Simon Coveney to go beyond this. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

With more than 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list, the call for 50,000 new social units over the next five years – the centrepiece in the report from the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness – appears inadequate.

A dissenting committee member, TD Ruth Coppinger (AAA-PBP), felt so strongly that this was the case she issued her own minority report, calling for the direct build of 100,000 council homes over the next five years.

A target of 10,000 a year lacked urgency, she said. Putting the number of households on the waiting list at 140,000, she said it would take almost 15 years to clear – if no more were added to the list.

It could be said that few of the committee members strayed much outside their parties’ comfort zones.

Council homes

The figure of 50,000 new social housing units is little more than the 45,000 Fianna Fáil promised before the election or the 10,000 a year promised by former minister for the environment Alan Kelly (Labour) or even the 50,000 over five years promised by People Before Profit. Sinn Féin’s manifesto committed to 100,000 social and affordable homes over 15 years.

The target does, however, fall far short of the 100,000 new council homes by 2018 promised by the Anti-Austerity Alliance in its manifesto, and in this Coppinger is remaining true to her party policy.

Significantly, however, it does goes beyond the Government party’s position. Fine Gael’s manifesto went no further than the 35,000 new social housing units already envisaged in the last government’s Social Housing 2020 strategy. The programme for government also “targets the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units”.

Committee members stressed yesterday that the 50,000 figure was a minimum, and invited Minister for Housing Simon Coveney to go beyond this. Several stressed their figure was “practical”.

The big question is how these new houses will be paid for, and to that there were no definitive answers.

The estimated cost is €1.8 billion a year. European Commission fiscal rules, that the Government’s spending must to be counted “on balance sheet”, thus affecting the national deficit, are problematic. The committee suggested a number of models to raise “off-balance sheet” funding.

Request flexibility

The committee’s call for the Government to urgently seek “flexibility” from the commission on the fiscal rules so the State can pay for desperately needed housing underscores just how unsure the stakeholders are about whether and how the State can provide the housing for its people.

In this, Coppinger is not alone in suggesting a conversation is needed on whether EU fiscal rules should be broken “to house our people”.

Committee members were asked yesterday what in the report should Coveney adopt, at a minimum, when drawing up his action plan on housing. They said the whole report should be adopted.

Whether it is or whether it can all be adopted, given EU fiscal rules, or whether those rules need to be broken given the scale of the crisis, remains to be seen.