The Irish Times view on the rental crisis: A Minister in denial
Eoghan Murphy insists rent control zones are working, but the evidence suggests the housing crisis is not going away any time soon
Rising and unaffordable rents and the eviction of tenants are prime reasons for homelessness, which affect all age groups within society. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Dublin needs an additional 80,000 housing units “as soon as possible” if rents are to be stabilised, but the construction industry is providing only about half of that number, according to Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons. His comments form the basis for the latest Daft report on rising rents and confirm the unpalatable reality that the housing crisis is not going away anytime soon.
Rising and unaffordable rents, and the eviction of tenants, are prime reasons for homelessness, which affect all age groups in society. But the underlying cause is a shortage of housing, particularly social housing, and an excessive dependence on private construction. The growing number of homeless children and their families has, quite rightly, drawn particular media attention. But an elderly cohort of citizens, many with fixed incomes, is living in fear of homelessness as landlords raise rents and their access to social housing diminishes.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy was in denial yesterday when he insisted that rent control zones were working. Under that Government initiative, rent increases in pressure zones were pegged at a maximum of four per cent a year. The Daft survey found they had risen by double that figure, to an average of eight per cent nationwide. In areas of particular pressure, such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, increases ranged from seven to 16 per cent. To say, as the Minister did, that rents are moderating, will satisfy nobody, particularly as inflation stands at less than two per cent.
For some lucky individuals, it is now cheaper to buy a house, by way of a mortgage, than to rent one. That is a crazy situation. It reflects the degree of dysfunction and gouging that exists in the marketplace. By withdrawing from the provision of local authority housing, successive governments handed too much control to developers and to the private sector. Ireland’s percentage of social housing stock is now less than half that in the UK and Germany. To compensate, rent supports were introduced. But they have failed to keep up with rent inflation; some landlords will not accept them and the population is growing. This is a recipe for social unrest.
Powers granted to the Residential Tenancies Board will now allow the agency to defend the interests of tenants and impose heavy penalties on those landlords who break the law to circumvent rent restrictions. New and refurbished apartment complexes will also be covered by the legislation. As things stand, the best that can be hoped for is that private rents will moderate and housing output will increase. To encourage those developments, social housing must be given a higher priority. Otherwise, Ireland will remain a cold place for young children and elderly citizens, amongst others.