Social homes 'clearly' not being built on land banks owned by State – architect

Government’s Housing for All plan ‘looks pretty unrealistic’, Mel Reynolds says

Architect Mel Reynolds says it is ‘puzzling’ that the State is trying to assemble more land banks for social housing. Photograph: iStock

Architect Mel Reynolds says it is ‘puzzling’ that the State is trying to assemble more land banks for social housing. Photograph: iStock

 

It is “puzzling” that the State is trying to assemble more land banks for social housing when “they’re clearly not building on what they have at the moment”, architect Mel Reynolds has said.

Mr Reynolds said the Government’s ambition to deliver 9,500 social homes per year in their latest housing plan, Housing for All, “looks pretty unrealistic”.

Mr Reynolds was addressing the online launch of the Simon Communities’ “Simon Week” on Monday.

“Looking at figures from the local authorities, to be building that level of new homes on their own land, they would have needed to start approving these a year and a half ago because there’s an 18-month forward stage approval process which hasn’t happened,” he said.

Mr Reynolds said there wouldn’t be any “significant change” from the State’s current reliance on leasing social housing units which is “fine . . . but very expensive”. He said the latest estimates indicate that the State will be spending €1.7 billion on subvented leases by 2023.

“We’re in a very difficult place in a way because the State is hugely important in terms of the lease sector. They’re putting an awful lot of money into private leases . . . At the same time the State owns significant land banks and they don’t seem to be activating it,” Mr Reynolds said.

“For example, in Dublin, the capacity of the four local authorities back in 2018 – they had enough land for 29,377 dwellings and yet only seven per cent has been built out to date . . . There’s a whole section [in the housing plan] about the State buying more land and I’m puzzled as to why they’re trying to assemble even more land banks when they’re clearly not building on what they have at the moment.”

‘Top priority’

Meanwhile, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said resources and funding are not an obstacle in dealing with the homelessness crisis.

He said there is “no shortage of will or determination” in dealing with the issue and that it remains the “top priority” for his department and the Government.

“Homelessness is one of the greatest challenges facing our country today and it is a challenge we in Government are committed to addressing,” he said.

Mr O’Brien added that while “good progress” had been made regarding family homelessness, which has seen a 48 per cent reduction over the past three years, the Government are “mindful of the significant challenges that remain, especially as we come out of Covid and get the delivery of housing back on track”.

“This Government and my department are acutely aware that there is much more to be done. For those who have left homelessness, we must work to ensure that, where needed, families and individuals are supported to sustain their tenancies,” he said.

“In addition to providing supports to families experiencing homelessness, we must address separately the issue of single people who are homeless.

“We must ensure that rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation are supported to exit homelessness.”

Affordability

Architect Orla Hegarty said the country needs to move away from the “supply, supply, supply mantra we have been hearing” and move towards affordability.

“The crisis in housing is in affordability,” she said. “It’s in people losing their homes because they can’t afford them, it’s in people not moving on or moving into better housing because they can’t afford it, it’s in overcrowding which has public health implications.

“People not taking up education or employment or not availing of them fully because they can’t afford housing near their college or near their new job. We’re not going to solve that just by supply in the private market.”