Budget’s housing initiatives need all sides to work together

Tight stakeholder collaboration is vital for effective solution to our housing problem

Housing provision requires the patchy alignment across all stakeholders and the dearth of mutual trust being overcome. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Housing provision requires the patchy alignment across all stakeholders and the dearth of mutual trust being overcome. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

Taking on the role of chairman of the Housing Agency a few months ago, I was immediately struck by the level of genuine interest in our housing challenges from a very broad range of people, all willing to share their views. I was equally struck by the extreme divergence of these honestly held views and by the frequent use of the housing issue as a political football.

The housing sector is a complex ecosystem comprising an array of stakeholders: national and local government, various agencies, approved housing bodies and charities, as well as private sector developers, contractors and their representative bodies. I have been struck by the patchy alignment across these stakeholders and, often, the dearth of trust in one another. I believe that progress can be accelerated if we can establish a robust approach to collaboration between all of these stakeholders, always focused on establishing a functioning housing sector that meets the needs of society.

Tuesday’s increased budget allocation, and new initiatives, can make a significant impact if they are implemented through constructive engagement of all of these key stakeholders.

It is clear that no single response will fix the housing crisis; simply addressing one element of this dysfunctional sector will not realise our shared hope, that is, to meet Ireland’s current and future housing needs in sustainable communities. It is clear that while we drive to match total supply with the current growth in overall demand for housing, we need initiatives in each part of a housing market that desperately needs radical and innovative solutions. We must take a number of steps – a combination of well-executed responses with clear delivery targets – that together will achieve the outcomes we all wish to see.

National shortfall

The Housing Agency analysis shows that, overall, annual demand growth is about twice the current output of new builds, a national shortfall this year likely to be about 20,000 units. Behind that top-line number, we can see a very significant pent-up waiting list for social housing (70,000 households are deemed to be qualified). Furthermore, about 66,000 households remain in mortgage arrears and about 9,500 people are currently in emergency accommodation.

A Social Democratic budget?

Progress can be accelerated if we can establish a robust approach to collaboration between all stakeholders, always focused on a functioning housing sector that meets needs 

The shortage of homes continues to inflate the cost of rental and purchase prices, making house rental and ownership unaffordable for many. Capacity within the house construction sector is recovering, but still lags the growth in demand. Each of these issues is a substantial challenge and each needs a specific, innovative and effective response.

A number of these issues were addressed in the budget announcement, including affordability, social housing supply, homelessness and encouraging investment in rental homes. Few, if any, of such initiatives can be implemented effectively in the absence of stakeholder collaboration. The €310 million “affordable housing” allocation announced on Tuesday should be seen in that context, a response of significant scale addressing one of our major housing issues, aiming to provide 6,000 affordable homes (up to 40 per cent discounted through the State retaining shared equity) on lands serviced by local authorities using these funds.

Progress is already being made and momentum is building – housing completions are up 30 per cent comparing the first six months of this year with the same period last year, and figures for planning permissions granted are up 66 per cent in the same period. Acquisition of vacant homes for use in social housing continues to accelerate. But as we experience continuing economic growth and net immigration increases, demand will continue to grow. A significant gap remains, and the substantial increase in public funding announced is appropriate.

Local resistance

Building more homes in the right locations is obviously required. Greater urban development, with good public transport and other infrastructure, has to happen. Local resistance to some developments, by current residents and their elected representatives, is slowing this progress and making the crisis a deeper one that will take longer to resolve.

An increased €90 million funding for homelessness services and capital funding can also make a real impact if key stakeholders focused on this socially crucial issue can work together on implementation.

As we strive to make greater progress, land is a very special resource, particularly in our urban areas. We must use it intelligently, demand the very best planning and design, the best use of space and the best mix of development to respond to different and evolving needs.

Land is a very special resource, particularly in our urban areas. We must use it intelligently

In this context, the establishment of the new Land Development Agency is to be welcomed – it will bring greater focus to how we use public land for the public good, at a scale of ambition that will make a real difference. Affordable housing starts with affordable land and that demands proper land management. The Housing Agency is playing its part to get the Land Development Agency off to a solid start, and has already identified three of its sites for immediate transfer and appropriate development.

A dysfunctional housing sector results in massive social and economic cost. Alignment between all stakeholders through greater engagement on shared initiatives is clearly needed. To increase the likelihood of success, all stakeholders need to step up to the continued challenge, all need to work together to accelerate progress and ensure our efforts lead to achievement of our shared goal. With enhanced collaboration of effort, the additional €470 million allocated to housing in the budget can make a real difference.

Michael Carey is chairman of the Housing Agency

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