Nine social houses does not a housing policy make

Cantillon: Fanfare around Fingal launch reflects State failure to deal with homes crisis

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister of State with Responsibility for Housing Damian English and Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring: social housing waiting list stretches to 100,000. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Minister of State with Responsibility for Housing Damien English might as well have broken a bottle of champagne off the side of one of the new social housing units unveiled in Dublin's Fingal on Wednesday, such was the fanfare generated by the occasion.

The launch of the project, which contains just nine housing units, was attended by the Minister and several local councillors, including the chair of Fingal’s strategic housing policy unit; a testament, if one was needed, of the Government’s utter failure to address the current crisis.

Nine units in the context of a social housing waiting list that stretches to 100,000 is a spit in the ocean, and yet we have a Minister proudly cutting ribbons and heralding the project as evidence of the Government’s commitment to tackling the issue.

"This Government recognises the serious challenge we face in terms of housing and a critical focus and priority has been firmly placed on responding to this challenge through the development and implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan for housing and homelessness," he said.


Private sector

These types of comments, well-intentioned as they may be, trundle out into the ether only to be swallowed by the facts.

This is because the Government’s social housing policy is heavily reliant on the private sector – approximately 80 per cent of the 25,500 new “social housing” tenancies promised in the budget will be through subsidised supports for households in the private rented sector.

And for the developers to jump over the substantial costs and taxes involved in producing a house or an apartment and supply this demand, property prices and rents need to be kept high, which in turns creates an affordability problem.

Hence we have more and more young people with little or no chance of ever owning a home and a massive build-up of pressure in the rental market, which affects social housing waiting lists and aggravates homelessness.

And this circular mess is underwritten by hundreds of millions of euro paid out in rent supports each year, once a short-term expediency, now the Government’s preferred policy for addressing the issue.