Housing: the perfect storm

A bleak picture of homelessness, overcrowding and reliance on overpriced rentals

 

Even the Government admits that its plans to increase the supply of new homes will fall woefully short of expanding demand.The State needs to build about 35,000 new homes every year to begin making a dent in the housing crisis, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said last week. He admits that the current target is to build only some 25,000 new houses a year, a third less. It was a challenge, he confessed, that reflects a “fundamental structural problem in the housing sector”.

The first Central Statistics Office “thematic” report on housing from the 2016 census paints a bleak picture: homelessness, overcrowding, and forced reliance on an overpriced rental sector, on the rise, while home ownership and housebuilding have declined – a perfect storm of rising demand and falling supply.

Perhaps most dramatic is the stark contrast between the 0.4 per cent growth (just 8,800 units) in the housing stock between 2011 and 2016 and the previous five-year period – the latter, at 225,232 new dwellings, was 26 times larger.

Close to one in 10 of the population now lives in some 95,013 overcrowded households which have more people than rooms, a rise in five years of 28 per cent. The hidden homeless. And the number of owner-occupied homes also fell between 2011 and 2016 causing the overall rate to drop from 69.7 per cent to 67.6 per cent, a level last seen in 1971. We are moving backwards, fast.

For most young people renting is the only option and now exceeds owner-occupation among under-35s . And in a squeezed market like Dublin, rents have inevitably soared – up some 30 per cent in the capital since 2011, if you are lucky enough to find somewhere.

Yet, why is there not a more serious attempt to incentivise bringing the 183,000 homes that are currently vacant back into use? And why the obsession with building homes-to-buy for first-time buyers at ever-inflating prices, when the real demand is for affordable social and affordable housing and rental properties? Time for a broader range of solutions, Mr Coveney.

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