In July, the government announced a new housing plan. Called Rebuilding Ireland, it is designed to tackle the current shortage in housing supply. It is an ambitious plan with praise for itself as radical and innovative. In truth, it is neither of these things. This plan was put together after the previous Housing Strategy document of 2014 but states that this is “having a positive impact, but not at the pace necessary to meet current pressures and pent-up demands.” It is not at all clear how Rebuilding Ireland will address this question of pace. The central problem with Rebuilding Ireland, however, is that it relies on the notion of ‘access to a home’. At best this is a poorly worded substitute for the right to a place to live. At worst, Rebuilding Ireland’s underlying vision relies on a flawed model of provision. We have to give the plan some time to produce something tangible but the way the plan is written does not inspire any confidence that the shortage in housing here will be addressed.
The plan is structured under five ‘pillars’. These are billed as “high level actions [which] will support a range of actions across the five key pillars of the Action Plan”. The plan seeks to address homelessness, accelerate social housing, build more homes, improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing. In time worn tradition, these have targets and deadlines for delivery across government departments and local authorities. A few days after its launch, a senior public servant spoke on the radio and bumbled his way through some of these targets testily insisting that there would be 47,000 social houses available by 2021. Considering that local authorities acquired about 1,000 units in 2015 and constructed just 75 in the same year, there are a number of problems with these targets. Chief among these is a reliance on the private rented market and Approved Housing Bodies. Relying on the private and voluntary sector to provide that many units in five years would require an immediate four fold increase in both building programmes and municipal acquisitions. The plan makes it clear that this figure would be supported by €5.3 billion worth of investment, including accelerated Housing Assistance Payment delivery. As recent high profile cases have shown us, the HAP scheme moves people seeking housing off the local authority housing lists in return for subsidy payments to private landlords. These landlords can evict the tenant if they sell this property later, throwing people back on to some housing safety net which does not yet exist.
Rebuilding Ireland is neither innovative nor radical. One of its guiding principles is a reliance on private providers of housing. This means more money given to landlords, both individual and institutional / financial ones. Why fall back on a model of housing provision which currently does not support people in vulnerable housing situations and which, on other scales, has shown that it can sell property from under people’s feet? One of the reasons identified for an oversupply in the years to 2008 was a reliance on private developer-led speculative building. Developers relied on the continuation of credit to provide home loans to people needing a place to live. More worrying still, the plan promises that it will “work closely with the ESRI and the Housing Agency to improve understanding of conditions in housing markets around the country”. Such understandings are already available: from the ESRI, the Housing Agency as well as the National Economic and Social Council and a number of other bodies concerned with housing rights. Measuring supply and demand is easily done, right now.