State unlikely to come anywhere near social housing target in budget

Private rental sector will still carry burden in 2021 after years of fanciful announcements

The target for this year was 7,736 social homes but in the first six months of the year just 725 were built. File photograph: Eric Luke

The target for this year was 7,736 social homes but in the first six months of the year just 725 were built. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

The extra half a billion euro lobbed to the Department of Housing to build additional social homes will, if these houses are built, result in the provision of 593 units above the existing target for 2021.

The Government’s Rebuilding Ireland programme had set a construction target of 8,907 houses; Budget 2021 has upped that to 9,500.

It’s not a whole lot of bang for the extra €500 million bucks. 

However, it is probably petty to quibble over these figures, as it is really unlikely that anywhere near the original target, let alone the new one, will be built.

The target for this year was 7,736 social homes but in the first six months of the year just 725 were built. Of course, the restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic were partly to blame for these abysmal figures.

However, construction sites were closed for less than two months and, in the case of social housing construction sites, if the homes were nearing completion those sites were closed for just one month. Furthermore, building work which was being undertaken to provide housing for homeless people or people moving on from emergency accommodation didn’t have to stop at all.

Clearly construction rates will be playing catch-up for much of next year, yet the Government maintains a total of 28,500 households will secure social housing against the Rebuilding Ireland target of 22,157, as a result of Budget 2021.

Again, it is the private rental sector to which the Government will turn to provide homes for those on the social housing waiting lists. Pre-budget, it had planned that 10,000 people would have their social housing needs met using the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP); it has upped this to 15,000.

No one was due to be accommodated using the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) next year as it is being phased out in favour of HAP; now 800 people are due to be housed in the private rental sector using RAS payments.

The multi-annual affordable housing announcement again got an airing as part of Budget 2021. This time, €110 million has been allocated for “a new” affordable purchase shared equity scheme for first-time buyers and a new cost rental model. This funding will “progress the delivery of over 2,000 affordable homes on both private and public land next year” according to Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath.

This time last year the then minister for housing Eoghan Murphy said the first affordable homes would be available to eligible low- and middle-income buyers at the start of this year.

Fanciful

This did seem fanciful at the time, given no affordable housing scheme was in place, and also construction had not begun on any homes, but then, affordable housing has fallen foul of fanciful announcements many times. The affordable purchase scheme was first announced five years ago as part of Budget 2016, but it still isn’t in place. The new Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is due to have a go at getting it together in the near future.

Budget day saw many welcoming the extension of the Help to Buy scheme to the end of next year, perhaps not realising the extension of this measure to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder to the end of 2021 was actually announced in last year’s budget.

In fairness to Paschal Donohoe what he said in his budget speech on Tuesday was he was extending the “additional measures” announced in the July stimulus programme for the Help to Buy scheme to the end of next year. The changes, increasing the amount buyers can reclaim in tax from €20,000 to €30,000, had been due to last until the end of this year only.

O’Brien will have his outing this morning with more housing announcements expected, but said in a statement on Tuesday he was “delighted to have secured such a significant increase” in funding.

For several years, successive ministers have welcomed the increased funding for social housing and new funding for affordable housing and cost rental housing. It has yet to make a perceptible difference.

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