Just build houses, professor tells Government

Social policy analyst says up to 30,000 new homes needed annually to tackle crisis

Prof Tony Fahey said homelessness is ‘a very small part of the total picture’. Photograph: Frank Miller

Prof Tony Fahey said homelessness is ‘a very small part of the total picture’. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

A leading social policy analyst has said up to 30,000 houses need to be built annually to tackle the housing crisis and his message to Government and local authorities is: “Just do it.”

UCD professor of social policy Tony Fahey said there is no reason the Government and local authorities cannot press ahead with social housing developments once they ensure work is done in parallel to ensure all important services, such as schools and policing, will be put in place.

An apparent focus by Government and some local authorities on seeking that new social housing developments be “mixed-tenure” or not exclusively local authority tenants may be contributing to delays in building, he said.

The objections to 100 per cent local authority estates are “completely overdone”, he said. “The concern with mixed tenure is an obstacle to getting the job done and it’s hard to understand where it comes from.”

Prospered

Many well-established developments in Dublin such as Cabra, Drimnagh and Donnycarney started life as local authority estates but became mixed tenure for reasons including tenants buying out their houses and private developers building in those areas as they prospered, he pointed out.

Prof Fahey was speaking after Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy had criticised the failure of some local authorities to put in place family hubs as emergency accommodation for the homeless in preference to hotels. The Minister has threatened to use emergency powers to transfer responsibility for emergency accommodation to his own department.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told RTÉ on Friday there was “no quick fix” to the housing crisis and denied the Government was seeking to put the blame on the local authorities.

Prof Fahey said homelessness is “a very small part of the total picture” in a context where nearly 10,000 people are homeless and the Economic and Social Research Institute has said 25,000-30,000 houses need to be provided annually to house those on housing waiting lists.

A wide range of possibilities are open to address the crisis, including a return to the large scale housing programmes of the 1930s and 1960s, from which places like Cabra emerged, he said. The Government could direct local authorities to launch a “new wave” of local authority housing and it was up to central government to provide funding for that.

Local authorities had built or funded the building of 300,000 housing units in the past and while there was criticism of some developments such as Ballymun, he considered the criticism was “unbalanced” and ignored the achievements.

Low-cost loans

Local authorities had two roles in relation to social housing for most of the 20th century, he said. They provided and managed rental housing, much of which they would have commissioned private developers to build and also provided low-cost loans.

After the mid-1980s recession, governments essentially cut off the supply of funding for such loans but the Government’s announcement of a new scheme of lending for home purchase for certain low-income limits was the first indication of a possible return to that earlier function of local authorities.

Michael Walsh, chair of the County and City Management Association (CCMA) Housing Committee, said local authorities are at the forefront in addressing the “very challenging” issues faced on housing.

“We are absolutely committed to meeting the targets set out for us by Government,” he said.

The Rebuilding Ireland strategy sets annual targets for the build, acquisition and leasing of new social housing stock, which have been met each year, Mr Walsh said.

The targets for this year, and subsequent years, continue to increase as local authorities accelerate their building programmes, he said.

Local authorities are also pleased to facilitate and collaborate with approved housing bodies to deliver new social housing, he added.