Politics
Subscriber Only

Way too early for housing starts to engender feelgood factor

Analysis: Strong indicators for construction tempered by affordability, supply chain and targets

Back in 2011, the incoming Fine Gael and Labour government promised that homelessness in Ireland would be ended by 2016.

It did not come to pass. In fact, the reverse happened. Homeless figures were worse in 2016 than five years earlier.

Since housing became a big issue on the political agenda in the autumn of 2014, we have had four ministers for housing – Alan Kelly, Simon Coveney, Eoghan Murphy and Darragh O’Brien.

All have unveiled plans of various ambitions to deal with homelessness, affordability, rising rents, a lack of supply and a dearth of social and affordable homes.

If there has been a consistent thread throughout the policies it has been over-promising and under-delivering.

On Wednesday, the three Coalition leaders accompanied O’Brien for the publication of the second progress report on his ambitious Housing for All strategy.

Bullish mood

The mood among the Ministers was bullish, with a not-so-subtle message that a corner may have been turned in this crisis.

Most of the feelgood factor came from data showing that 30,724 new homes were commenced last year, the highest number since 2009. Nearly 40,000 planning permissions were granted last year and financial institutions approved some €10.5 billion in mortgage funding.

There were also strong indicators showing that construction employment had risen to almost pre-pandemic levels.

“Recent data gives confidence that the targets for delivery of homes for 2022 will be met and very likely exceeded,” said the Government in a statement.

But one quarter does not a policy make. The Taoiseach admitted that rising construction interest plus global supply-chain difficulties would make affordability very challenging for many people.

Cost-rental homes

O’Brien noted a target of 1,600 cost-rental homes for this year, an affordable housing scheme and Project Tosaigh, where the Land Development Agency will progress private developments of 150 units or more that already have permission but have been stalled (usually because of lack of finance).

That has the potential, he claimed, to provide up to 5,000 additional units.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said a study was in train to see if Cathal Brugha barracks in Rathmines could be the site for 1,000 homes.

When would that happen if it got the green light? 2030? 2035? Later?

It’s redolent of housing policies in this State generally. The gap between announcement and actual delivery can be a decade, even more. It will take much longer than one good quarter to determine if the Government has gained any traction on this issue, or if the wheels are still spinning in the mud.