Government housing strategy ‘not based on reality’

Housing for All data fails to reflect scale of challenge, says Social Justice Ireland

Social Justice Ireland called for the scrapping of the help-to-buy scheme. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Social Justice Ireland called for the scrapping of the help-to-buy scheme. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

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There are “fundamental flaws” in the Government’s new housing strategy, with targets that are “not based on reality”, a leading social-justice think tank has warned.

Social Justice Ireland said data used in Housing for All did “not remotely” reflect the scale of the challenge, while many of the most housing-vulnerable households had not even been counted in the plan.

The think tank called for the scrapping of the help-to-buy scheme, which allows first-time buyers to claim back up to €20,000 or 5 per cent of the cost of their purchased home through their tax, and said the sale of public land for private development must be outlawed.

In its pre-budget submission, published on Monday, the organisation says the State is the only institution with the capacity to meet the post-pandemic challenges and will need to expand its role in tackling housing, health and climate change.

Emerging from the pandemic, it notes, one in eight people lives in poverty, of whom more than 15 per cent have a job and more than a quarter are children. It says many of lowest-paid workers who were providing essential services during the pandemic are not paid a living wage, and despite the dramatic increase in health spending in the last 18 months “the two-tier system and long waiting lists still remain”.

It says: “Budget 2022 should embrace the need for new approaches to how we as a society prioritise choices. People, wellbeing, public services and a widespread and fair recovery must come first.”

On Housing for All, with its budget of €20 billion over the next five years, there is “much to welcome” but, adds Social Justice Ireland, “fundamental flaws in social and private housing-build targets, the lack of ambition in preventing homelessness and the continuation of rental and retail housing subsidies” mean it may “fall short” of what is needed.

Data collection on housing need “does not accurately capture the numbers” as it does not include “those who are reliant on family, friends or the local authority for temporary accommodation, those in refuges and shelters, those at risk of losing their homes due to mortgage arrears and those in receipt of precarious social housing supports”.

It says there are 5,416 mortgage accounts in arrears for more than 10 years. The Housing for All target of 1,000 ‘mortgage for rent’ solutions annually “does not remotely reflect the scale of the problem”.

Looking at the strategy’s target to increase the social housing stock by 9,000 per year to 2030, it says 14,341 per year are needed.

It says demand-side schemes, such as help to buy, which “artificially” maintain high prices, must be wound down. “The removal of the help-to-buy scheme would save the exchequer €144 million in 2022.”

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