Rising to the challenge
A housing plan for all needs to tackle affordability, supply and address gaps in our housing system
Director of Policy, Irish Council for Social Housing
For over a year, the pandemic has taken over public discourse and indeed public policy. However, underneath the public health crisis, a long-running housing crisis has persisted – if not worsened. Adding to the existing problems, the closures of construction sites over periods in 2020 and 2021 has had an impact on new supply, which was already in catch-up mode.
At the time of writing, the Irish government’s new housing strategy – ‘Housing for All’ – is expected shortly. It is hoped that this new plan will provide a real opportunity to re-balance our housing system in favour of one that provides affordability, security of tenure and a place of safety for all households, regardless of their economic status. For people on low incomes this will mean sufficient social housing stock to ensure that no individual or family is left behind or left homeless.
There are many challenges facing the Government, society and housing providers, among which housing supply and affordability remain key obstacles. The new plan presents an opportunity to increase the investment in social housing to provide a steady supply of homes from Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) and local authorities.
Affordability is an issue, not just for the 61,880 households on social housing waiting lists, but also for those struggling in the private rented sector. Recent data from the Daft.ie rental report Q2, 2021 show that average national rents climbed by 5.6% in Quarter 2 due to what it calls “an unprecedented scarcity of rental homes”. The average national monthly rent in the quarter was €1,477, up 2.4% from the first quarter, whereas rents in Dublin city centre were €1,985.
In response to this chronic affordability problem a cost rental programme to provide more affordable rents has been initiated by Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien. AHBs are now developing cost rental homes to meet this significant housing need and will scale up this form of housing under the new housing plan.
The challenges surrounding and impeding delivery stretch from access to land to the layered capital funding system, all of which need significant reform. Reforms to the development process and to reduce delays will be needed to drive major delivery in the next five years. AHBs have already increased their output –under Rebuilding Ireland they have delivered over 14,000 social homes and will increase this significantly under the new plan.
Another issue, which is also time-sensitive, relates to improving the carbon footprint of the housing sector through sustainable build programmes and retrofitting. A target of 500,000 homes to be retrofitted in the next decade must be prioritised. A greater focus on commercial retrofits, regeneration, rather than demolition, and reuse of vacant and underutilised buildings, will help with our climate response.
“To respond to the glaring gaps in our current system, it is time to plan and provide for a range of purpose-built homes. This includes supported homes for older people and people with disabilities, people with mental health difficulties, as well as increasing the number of one-bedroom homes.”
To respond to the glaring gaps in our current system it is time to plan and provide for a range of purpose built, supported homes for older people and people with disabilities, people with mental health difficulties as well as increasing the number of one-bedroom homes being built.
Utilising demographic data to underpin planning decisions will assist in the development of a wider range of accommodation profiles. The gaps in our housing stock reduce choice and flexibility and impair the quality of life for many.
While there are significant challenges ahead, what we have learned over the last year-and-a-half is that change is possible, solutions can be found and people are our biggest strength. The pandemic has tested our resilience, and AHBs, local authorities and communities responded with energy and innovation. This can now be applied to building a better housing system for all.