Real change beyond FF-FG is only way to tackle deepening housing crisis

All homes built on scarce public land should be affordable, says Sinn Féin

“Affordable homes must be priced according to income, with rents between €700 and €900 per month in Dublin and sales prices of €230,000 or less.” Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

“Affordable homes must be priced according to income, with rents between €700 and €900 per month in Dublin and sales prices of €230,000 or less.” Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

Desperate to deflect from its failures, the Government is now blaming the Opposition for the housing crisis. Last week, Fine Gael published a report claiming Sinn Féin was opposing the building of thousands of homes in Dublin.

The document is littered with factual inaccuracies, intentional omissions and deliberate misrepresentations of Sinn Féin’s policies and actions. Its central claim, that we are blocking the delivery of 6,000 homes across the city, is untrue. Unfortunately, some commentators have repeated the claim.

Eoin Ó Broin was national organiser of Ógra Sinn Féin between 1995 and 1997. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Eoin Ó Broin is Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson and author of Defects: Living with the Legacy of the Celtic Tiger, which will be published by Merrion Press in August. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin has a strong record on housing across all local authorities. Our councillors played a central role in the passage of the Clonburris strategic development zone (SDZ) between Clondalkin and Lucan.

The plan will deliver more than 8,000 new homes and much-needed amenities. A Sinn Féin amendment to the SDZ ensured that all public land is used for more than 2,000 social and affordable homes.

In stark contrast, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against the plan. Fine Gael went further, appealing the SDZ to An Bord Pleanála, delaying the delivery of much-needed homes by a year.

What we cannot support is the transfer of public land to private developers at low cost for developments that see more than 50% of new homes sold at unaffordable prices

Sinn Féin actively supported communities in Inchicore, ensuring the St Michael’s estate development of more than 800 new homes and a library would be 100 per cent affordable. This ground-breaking development, approved in 2018, will include 30 per cent social and 70 per cent affordable rental homes. To date not a single brick has been laid, thanks to the dead hand of central government bureaucracy.

The single biggest drag on the delivery of public homes is the combined weight of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s public spending code and the Department of Housing’s four-stage approval process. To date neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael have seen fit to change this.

Poolbeg SDZ

Sinn Féin councillors actively supported the Glass Bottle Housing Action Group campaign for genuinely affordable homes in the Poolbeg SDZ. That master plan will see the delivery of up to 3,500 homes along the southeast docks.

The SDZ includes a commitment that 15 per cent of the homes must be affordable, in addition to the 10 per cent social housing required under law. In order to ensure genuinely affordability, Dublin City Council negotiated a deal with the National Asset Management Agency whereby the Glass Bottle site lands would be sold to the council at a significant discount.

Astonishingly, the then Fine Gael minister for housing, Eoghan Murphy, refused to sanction the funding. As a result, the Glass Bottle site was sold, along with the rest of the Poolbeg lands, to the Ronan Group. Council officials have since expressed concern that delivering genuinely affordable homes will now be very difficult.

More recently a majority of councillors, including Sinn Féin, backed a proposal for more than 800 new homes on the Oscar Traynor Road lands in Coolock. The proposal would include social, affordable cost-rental and affordable-purchase homes.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Councillors abstained on the proposal and the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien, has not, to date, indicated that his department will fund the development.

More generally the Sinn Féin groups on each of the Dublin councils have voted in favour of every single planning application brought forward by management for social housing across the city.

What we cannot support is the transfer of public land to private developers at low cost for developments that see more than 50 per cent of the new homes sold at unaffordable prices. Five such land deals have come before councillors in Dublin city, Fingal and South Dublin in recent years.

Public land is a scarce and valuable resource. All homes built on public land should be affordable

Sinn Féin has campaigned for decades for public housing on all of these sites. The refusal of successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments to fund these developments has left the lands idle.

Instead, the Government is promoting deals with developers at great cost to both the taxpayer and the local community.

The most recent of these, in Donabate, involves the sale of public land to a developer at half its market value. In return, 60 per cent of the homes will be sold at prices up to and exceeding €400,000. Worse still, the developer has 10 years to complete the project.

Common sense

Sinn Féin’s opposition to such deals is not ideological. It is plain common sense. Public land is a scarce and valuable resource. All homes built on public land should be affordable. Every development should have a mix of social, affordable-cost rental and affordable-purchase homes. The mix should be based on local need and the developments should have adequate services and amenities.

The only way to tackle the ever deepening housing crisis is for a real change in policy. This requires a doubling of capital investment in public homes on public land, to deliver at least 20,000 social and affordable homes a year, by councils, approved housing bodies and community housing trusts. Crucially, affordable homes must be priced according to income, with rents between €700 and €900 per month in Dublin and sales prices of €230,000 or less.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have had their chance to fix our dysfunctional housing system. They have failed. It is time for change.

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