Social housing stock rises by less than 10,000 in four years

Dublin local authorities added 659 homes a year on average, but Dún Laoghaire saw stock fall

The State’s social housing stock rose by fewer than 10,000 units between 2017 and 2020, according to the National Oversight and Audit Commission.

The commission collates net additions to social stock across the State’s 31 city and county councils, which includes new builds, new and second-hand acquisitions, voids coming back into stock and Part V units acquired from developers. They also allow for outflows from the sale of units to tenants and demolitions.

The figures show that, between January 2017 and December 2020, the State’s stock of social housing rose by just 9,753 to 141,128.

In three local authorities – Galway City, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Cork County – the stock of social housing actually fell by four units, 39 units and 654 units respectively during the four-year period.

The four Dublin local authorities, where demand for social housing is strongest, added just 2,637 between them, an average of 659 a year.

This brought Dublin’s total social housing stock to 45,988.

The commission’s headline number differs significantly from the Department of Housing’s figures as the latter includes “social housing solutions”.

These include long-term leasing of private dwellings for social tenants, including those availing of housing assistance payments (HAP), where the State pays most of the rent to private landlords, and the Rental Accommodation Scheme, where local authorities rent dwellings and let them to social tenants.

The department’s figures also include other leasing arrangements as well as the social homes supplied by approved housing bodies.

The commission's figures were cited by architect and housing expert, Mel Reynolds, at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage last week.

Mr Reynolds said the commission’s data were an “absolute measure of social housing stock”.

Dublin local authorities

The most eye-catching numbers related to the four local Dublin authorities, he said, “where we’ve seen very little addition to the permanent stock of local authority homes”.

“Given the demand on combined social housing lists is over 40,000, to add an average of 659 homes a year goes some way to explaining the demand pressure we’re seeing in the capital,” he said.

The shift from directly building social homes to providing rent subsidies – the so-called bricks to benefits switch – has been one of the most significant trends in housing policy here over the past four decades.

Separate data last week showed the Government spent close to €900 million on rent subsidies in the private sector last year, including €542 million on the Government’s main rent subsidy scheme, the HAP.

Some 100,000 households, a third of the rented sector, are now reliant on some sort of State subsidy.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times