Lots of promises, not many houses

Review of 2018: Just 28% of planned homes finished by June 2018

September saw the removal – attended by masked gardaí – of “Take Back The City” housing activists from a property at 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1. Six activists were arrested. Photograph:  Jack Power

September saw the removal – attended by masked gardaí – of “Take Back The City” housing activists from a property at 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1. Six activists were arrested. Photograph: Jack Power

 

The year began with fireworks when the outgoing head of the Housing Agency Conor Skehan suggested people may be “gaming the system” by presenting themselves homeless to jump up the housing waiting list.

Skehan’s use of language may have been injudicious, but the outrage over it set the tone for a year when there was an intense focus on presentation rather than content, and promises instead of housing.

January saw Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy announce schemes to help low and middle-income housebuyers, including a low-interest Affordable Home Loan scheme, and an Affordable Purchase Scheme. Some 10,000 houses could be built by 2021 he said.

January also brought the vacant sites levy, which will from next month see landowners pay penalties for “hoarding” housing land.

The following month, in another push, the €75 million Ireland Strategic Investment Fund was set up to finance projects for smaller property developers.

Vindication of a sort came for Skehan in March, when Dublin City Council said it intended to stop prioritising homeless families for housing to discourage prolonged stays in emergency accommodation.

Also in March, the city council announced it wanted to redevelop thousands of its oldest and most dilapidated flat complexes under a 15-year plan to raise social housing standards across the city.

By April, the shine had dulled on the new year’s housing announcements. Murphy found himself defending his role in tackling the housing crisis, insisting “all the tools and incentives” were there for developers to build.

Also in April, plans for up to 3,500 homes on the former Irish Glass Bottle site were appealed to An Bord Pleanála. A decision on that appeal will not be made until next year.

Manipulated figures

Things were to get worse for Murphy in May, when it was suggested in the Dáil that he was manipulating the homelessness figures to keep them below 10,000.

The same month Dublin city councillors agreed the plan to stop giving homeless people priority for housing.

With June came the first legal challenge to a decision made under the State’s new “fast-track” planning system for large-scale housing developments. An Bord Pleanála admitted it had made an error in granting permission for more than 500 homes beside St Anne’s Park in Raheny.

There was bad news for the Government on the housing figures when the CSO revealed the number of new homes built in the State had been overstated by nearly 60 per cent for several years.

Things perked up a little in July when work to rebuild O’Devaney Gardens started 10 years after its regeneration was scrapped. It was a fleeting moment in the sunshine, eclipsed by a bizarre public row between Murphy and his colleague Catherine Byrne over plans for the State’s first “cost-rental” housing estate in the Dublin suburb of Inchicore.

Also in July it emerged that Dublin’s developers were sitting on planning permission for more than 25,000 houses and apartments, with the Construction Industry Federation admitting developers were likely to hold off building apartments until Murphy published new height guidelines

In autumn came a new flurry of housing announcements. The State’s new building body, the Land Development Agency, was established, and Dublin City Council identified 10 sites for more than 2,000 affordable homes.

Protests sparked

September saw the controversial removal – attended by masked gardaí – of “Take Back The City” housing activists from a property at 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1, which they had been occupying for three weeks. Six activists were arrested, sparking protests outside the building.

October’s budget brought the announcement of €2.4 billion to provide 27,000 new social homes in 2019. But just 6,000 were to be newly built; almost all the remainder would house people in existing buildings in the private rental sector.

The same month it emerged 2018 housing social housing targets were unlikely to be reached. The Department of Housing wrote to councils warning over their completion of just 28 per cent of planned homes in the first half of 2018.

Just 33 affordable mortgages had been drawn down in Dublin city since the affordable home loan scheme was launched at the start of the year.

In November came news that homeless services across Dublin would cost €150 million in 2019, a rise of more than €90 million over five years.

As the year limped to a close, thousands of people took part in a protest march in Dublin on December 1st to highlight the housing crisis.

It emerged that fewer than 1,500 social homes were built by local authorities and housing associations in the first nine months of the year and only 601 of those in Dublin. Renters in Dublin city paid €156 more a month than a year previously, and no construction had started under the Affordable Purchase Scheme.

The Government did issue the height guidelines, and planning permissions for apartments were up 200 per cent, so perhaps next year will see some improvements.

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