Developers and the housing crisis
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole harkens back to the good old days of the 1930s and 1940s, when the State built massive council estates to house those citizens who could not afford to house themselves (“It is insane to look to developers to solve the housing crisis”, Opinion & Analysis, (September 18th). This was a magnificent achievement of its time and was driven by the urgent need to clear the squalid living conditions experienced by the residents of inner-city tenements.
I grew up in Walkinstown, and my mother grew up in Crumlin, having started life in an inner-city tenement in Lower Mount Street before moving to Crumlin in the early 1930s. While these housing estates provided an absolutely massive improvement in living conditions compared to the horrific conditions in the tenements, housing poor people together in massive congregations gave rise to social problems and, despite the rose-tinted glasses of romantic retrospection, areas like Crumlin could be harsh places to grow up, despite the vast majority of the residents being the essence of “salt of the earth” decency.
As a State we replicated this model up to the 1970s and 1980s in west Dublin. This congregation of the poorest section of society led to severe social exclusion and the social and human outcomes in these ghettoised areas were and are problems to this day – high unemployment, lower than normal educational and health outcomes, early school leaving, crime and imprisonment, antisocial behaviour and drug addiction.
This is a difficult subject to discuss because you risk stigmatising the overwhelming majority of decent residents in these estates. But these issues are real. Given this experience over decades, surely we must learn that building massive, single-class, social housing estates is a folly. If we repeat this folly, columnists will write future critical columns asking why any State had wilfully ghettoised people.
The costs of dealing with the social problems that inevitably arise in large council estates is never factored into the cost-benefit analyses comparing the social leasing of council housing with building council houses. The costs would run to billions over decades.
Mixed-tenure estates comprising private affordable, affordable rental and social housing are the only viable way forward. This means we must procure our social housing by way of Part 5 agreements, purchases, social leasing, the housing assistance payment (HAP) and rental accommodation scheme (RAS) and public-private partnerships as currently proposed by Government. Building massive council estates is not the answer.
In utilising State-owned sites as now proposed by Government, the developer will pay for the site at full market value. It is simply another method of delivering council and affordable housing. The site will be paid for in the bricks and mortar of the social and affordable housing delivered for the State. The outcome will be integrated and socially sustainable estates and communities where the residents of council, private, affordable purchase and affordable rental homes will live together cheek by jowl.
Does anyone think that local authorities build houses by direct labour? They have not done so for up to half a century. The construction of council estates has been carried out by private contractors since the 1970s. The same builders and developers who build private estates. Whether built by the private or public sector, they still take three years from conception and first drawing to first opening the front door.
What we are experiencing is the inevitable outcome of the fiscal collapse and the almost total absence of housing construction for eight years.
It will take a further two to three years before we see the beginning of the end of the housing crisis as supply gradually meets demand – whether this supply is provided by the private or public sector. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole in his opinion piece is far too pessimistic. I am currently training two fox cubs to guard my chicken run, and am very confident of the outcome. – Yours, etc,
Dungarvan, Co Waterford.
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole explains just how crazy it is to look to private developers to solve the housing crisis. This is the proposal to spend €1.25 billion of public funds to give public lands (the family silver) to private investors to build and set prices according to free-market forces.
This magical solution does three very clever things to protect the interests of political ministerial careers.
First, amid a growing media spotlight on the abject failure of social and affordable housing, it seduces the public that the problem is being dealt with.
Second, it sets up a new State agency that puts sufficient distance between any Minister and direct public accountability. Rather than taking the blame the Minister will henceforth be able to point fingers and threaten to knock heads together in the Land Development Agency.
Third, it allows the Cabinet to continue to act as “weak government” and allow unfettered markets run free. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I don’t think that anyone in this country can be unaware of the dire situation which exists in relation to homelessness. Why, then, did we sell 43 per cent of the almost 83,000 council houses which were built between 1990 and 2016? We sold them at about half of their market value; yes, we discounted them at rates of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent. During this period, we sold 36,000 social housing units at knock-down prices.
We have been doing this for decades, and we are still doing this today. Can anyone explain this logic? – Yours, etc,