“Solving Ireland’s housing crisis will require taking actions which conflict with the interests of private industry, for the sake of the wellbeing of people living and working in this state”
Labour Youth activist, Jake Murray, explains why Ireland’s housing emergency can only be solved by the Left.
As Ireland lumbers through its multiple year housing crisis both the causes and solutions are a subject of much debate in all sectors of politics, and rightly so.
The facts however are (with few exceptions) not up for debate. Housing stocks both for sale and for rent are at their lowest in the history of the state. The state is currently paying out up to €142,000,000 euros in direct payments to private landlords through rent supplement. The waiting time for social housing can stretch into years.
This provides a stark background to two questions which dominate this conversation. How are prospective buyers, particularly first time buyers, supposed to save the amount required for deposits on a home purchase? How are those who are either unable or disinclined to purchase a home expected to afford accommodation within reasonable distance of their places of employment with rental prices skyrocketing and tenancy security plummeting?
These questions take on differing importance and urgency to different policy makers and members of the public but they are both rooted in the same key problem: supply.
Low supply, created by an anaemic post-crash private construction industry, a virtual abandonment of social housing construction by state and local authorities and a high birth rate (by European standards) has crippled the ability of a generation of Irish citizens and immigrants to either purchase or affordably rent a home. While the fundamental economic rules of supply and demand are not hard to understand, the reasons that successive governmental polices have failed to address or even slow the crisis are baffling.
Piecemeal efforts to pay private landlords extortionate rates straight from the state coffers or relocating families to hotels during the quiet season have, surprisingly, failed to work. To be fair, the idea of ‘rent pressure zones’ (rent control would apparently have been government overreach), should have slowed down the growth in rent prices but were undermined by exemptions in the policy and deliberate evasion by landlords. The private sector has proven its unwillingness to comply with price control in the rental market and its inability to engage in construction in the housing industry.
It is this writer’s opinion that solutions to the current crisis must come from government and must come from a socially conscious policy that the state’s current leadership lacks.
Social housing construction is required on a large scale to counterbalance years of undersupply and mortgage lending criteria that, while introduced to combat instability in the banking sector, have severely limited access to ownership for a vast swath of the population. This will have the effect not only of providing housing to those most vulnerable in our society but also of reducing demand on the private sector, and thus helping to ease price pressure. This capital expense would then also reduce the burden on the state coffers of rent supplement payments and facilitate a longer term policy of providing a steady supply of affordable housing to those most in need year to year rather than waiting for pressure to grow and housing crises to overwhelm the state.
This is not a policy that either the Right aligned parties of Ireland or even its newest so called centrists would endorse. It will require actions that conflict with the interests of private industry for the sake of the wellbeing of people living and working in the state. It will require hard work and cooperation between multiple stakeholders with an eye to fairness and quality of life over profit. It will require more imagination than ‘tax cuts for developers’ or ‘moving home to save for a deposit’. It will require robust regulation of the private rental sector and even more robust housing and town planning on the part of both the national government and local councils.
The solution to the housing crisis can only be implemented by the Left. Empowering people by providing affordable housing and preventing predatory rental practices is not within the scope of the Right or even the political centre’s imagination. This crisis is an abhorrently unnecessary burden on the people of Ireland after a decade of austerity and the task of solving it falls to us.
(The views expressed in Left Tribune articles are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Labour Youth).