Ireland risks ‘perfect storm’ in housing system, DIT lecturer says

Dr Sirr says thousands ‘stuck in the middle’ of social housing and affordable homes

Tens of thousands of people will be stuck not being able to afford their own homes or access social housing if current policies continue, a housing expert has said.

Dr Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in housing at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), said Ireland is in danger of creating "a perfect storm" in its current housing system.

Dr Sirr was speaking at the Think-tank for Action on Social Change’s (TASC) annual conference in conjunction with the Foundation for European Progressive Students at Croke Park on Friday, which focused on economic inequality and the housing crisis.

“Fewer permanent jobs and a greater reliance on contract work coupled with traditional attitudes to mortgage risk in a socio-economic system designed around home ownership is about to cause a perfect storm in the Irish housing system,” Dr Sirr said.


“The housing market is a reflection of our labour market and we are now seeing the rise of a class of workers who earn too much for state subsidies, but will struggle to ever own their own home.

“These people - who typically earn between €36,000 and €60,000 per year - are stuck in the middle.”

Dr Sirr said responses to the current housing crisis have continued to rely on the private sector.

“Without state intervention to create affordability and a reappraisal of mortgage risk, access to housing through the private rental sector, traditional home ownership and the local authorities will worsen,” he said. Dr Sirr added housing will play a much bigger role in the next general election.

Housing as human right

Dr Rory Hearne, a postdoctoral researcher at Maynooth University said Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's policy for tackling the housing crisis is "worsening the situation".

“Rebuilding Ireland is almost completely reliant on the private sector to deliver 134,000 social housing over the period 2016 to 2021,” he said.

“Policy needs to prioritise the provision of housing as a social necessity and a human right rather than as a speculative investment asset.

“This means secure and affordable homes are prioritised within housing and economic policy ahead of interests of the property industry, real estate investment trusts and wealth equity fund investors. The human right to housing as a home needs to be implemented.”

Chair of Dublin city council's Planning and Development Committee, Councillor Andrew Montague, said the State needs to focus on building apartments in order to provide homes for single and young people, where demand is greatest in the housing market.

“The latest census shows that about two-thirds of homes needed in Ireland are for single people or couples without children so apartments in our towns and cities are required to meet this demand. But building apartments in our cities and towns is a major challenge with projects often taking years to complete,” Cllr Montague said.

“Prolonged timescales can deter investment as there are real risks that projects started in times of economic growth could finish in a downturn.” Threshold chief executive John-Mark McCafferty said new legislation must be introduced to protect the rights of tenants. “Overcrowding in rented accommodation and the phenomena of the ‘hidden homeless’ has recently come into sharp focus, as we see growing instances of people sofa surfing and situations of multiple generations of families living under the same roof because younger generations can’t source affordable accommodation,” he said. “There is no suitable definition of overcrowding and this needs to be inserted into existing minimum standards as set out in the Housing Regulations.”

Former social protection minister and chair of TASC’s board Proinsas de Rossa paid tribute to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, which has claimed at least 30 lives, at the opening of the conference.

He said it was “a tragedy that may never have happened if proper building regulations were applied,” while adding “we have to ensure there is proper regulation”.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times