The grim reality of Ireland's housing crisis and the financial strictures it imposes on individuals and families was highlighted in a report last week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Ihrec) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
It found that lone parents and their children accounted for more than half of all homeless families in the State. These family units made up 53 per cent of homeless families, with fewer than 25 per cent owning their homes, compared with almost 70 per cent of the total population.
They were also four times more likely to have problems of affordability (19 per cent) compared with the general population (5 per cent). The report also highlighted the disadvantages experienced by young people, migrants, people with disabilities, Travellers and others in the Irish housing system.
It zeroed in on affordability as a key metric, noting that despite the introduction of Rent Pressure Zones in late 2016, rents have increased above their pre-crisis levels by almost 40 per cent in Dublin and 20 per cent elsewhere, significantly outstripping wage growth over the same period.
While there are many strands to the State’s housing crisis – supply, accessibility, security of tenure – the lack of purchasing power is central. If those on middle incomes could buy, there wouldn’t be such an shortage of rental accommodation and such upward pressure on rents.
If those on lower incomes could rent, they wouldn’t be so reliant on the State for rent supports or social housing, which would reduce waiting lists.
The Government’s new “housing for all” strategy promises to address the affordability problem by increasing supply – it pledges to deliver 33,000 homes a year out to 2030, a level of residential construction that we haven’t had since the pre-crash era.
There are two challenges here. First, can it be delivered?
It’s not within the Government’s gift to deliver this target. The Government won’t be building these homes. Around 156,000 – 52 per cent of the total – are to be delivered exclusively through the private market, presuming the price dynamics prove a sufficient enticement for developers and land-owners, while most of the 90,000 social homes will come via turnkey acquisitions or so-called Part Vs also from the private sector.
Second, if the target is delivered, will it change the current affordability metrics that alienate so many?
That’s a key question and the evidence either way isn’t clear-cut. As the pandemic abates and the new Dáil term starts, housing will take centre stage again.
A decade of rising prices and chronic undersupply has bored a hole in Irish politics, alienating mainstream parties from an increasingly vociferous younger demographic. Sinn Féin has enhanced its political standing by highlighting the issue. The Government’s political fortunes are increasingly tied into resolving it.