Property tax: populism trumps public interest

Millions of euros that might be used for housing adaptation grants, public facilities or homeless services voted away

Elected representatives in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown voted this week to cut the property tax by 15 per cent for 2018, in spite of official warnings that this may lead to increases in council rents, commercial rates, other fees and reductions in services. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Elected representatives in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown voted this week to cut the property tax by 15 per cent for 2018, in spite of official warnings that this may lead to increases in council rents, commercial rates, other fees and reductions in services. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The concepts of solidarity and social justice receive only lip service in this State. A person’s wealth, housing and income tend to influence their treatment by both politicians and officials. The homeless and those in need of social housing rarely vote and are pushed to the back of the queue. People seeking affordable homes do better. But committed voters who live in private accommodation receive maximum political attention.

In the teeth of social hardship and a growing housing shortage, councillors in all four Dublin districts have voted since 2013 to cut property taxes by the limit of 15 per cent. They did this in spite of warnings by local managers that the loss of income would damage services for the general public. Millions of euro that might otherwise have been used for housing adaptation grants, public facilities or homeless services were voted away.

It continues to happen. Elected representatives in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown voted this week to cut the property tax by 15 per cent for 2018, in spite of official warnings that this may lead to increases in council rents, commercial rates, other fees and reductions in services. Fingal councillors were more restrained. Following similar warnings, they decided to cut charges by 10, rather than 15 per cent. Dublin City and Dublin South councillors will vote in the coming weeks. Councillors complain regularly about inadequate government funding for special projects, even as they curry favour with homeowners by cutting charges. The populist nature of the exercise is evident when parties that might be expected to favour taxes on wealth and property – such as Solidarity and Sinn Féin – lead the charge in favour of maximum tax concessions.

We have become a highly stratified society. A fierce determination exists among the residents of leafy suburbs to protect their status and property values. The provision of Traveller accommodation nearby is often regarded with hostility. The housing of homeless families is resisted. And the social mix in planned housing estates, involving social, affordable and private homes, generates such friction that the local authority element can shrink to 10 per cent. With a social housing waiting list of more than 10 years in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, the wealthiest Dublin council, that is an untenable situation.

Since domestic rates were abolished almost 40 years ago, councillors have had little say on fundraising. The property tax has changed that. But some councillors have yet to accept that this is not a mechanism for securing their re-election but an invitation to provide better community services. House values will be revised after 2019 and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested local authorities might be given greater flexibility in varying the property tax. Councillors should first begin to take their responsibility seriously.

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