{' '} {' '}
Limited time offer
SAVE % on your upgrade.

Page 1

VIEW

An independent social affairs magazine

www.viewdigital.org

Issue 52, 2019

ÂŁ2.95

The Karl Marx-Hof public housing complex in Vienna

Is Vienna model the answer to Ireland’s housing crisis? See pages 6 to 9


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

Page 2

www.viewdigital.org

Putting public/social housing on the agenda ne thing that the political parties and a broad range of academics, housing associations, voluntary bodies and wider civic society agree on in the Republic of Ireland is that there is a housing crisis. There is a difference of opinions on what the solution should be. Our latest edition of VIEW concentrates on looking at social/public housing issues and gathers an extensive range of views on the present state of it and poses the question – does the State need to embark on a huge public housing building programme to effectively tackle the dire situation which thousands of people find themselves living in? I am somewhat disappointed though, that despite numerous attempts, we were unable to get the views of the present housing minister Eoghan Murphy. The press office team of the Fine Gael politician informed me that “that the Minister would not be available during either April or May” for an interview. Dublin needs an additional 80,000 housing units “as soon as possible” if rents are to be stabilised, but the construction industry is providing only about half of that number, according to Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons. His views were reported in a recent Irish Times editorial (May 14, 2019).

O

VIEW editor Brian Pelan brianpelan@viewdigital.org The editorial’s final paragraph stated – “Powers granted to the Residential Tenancies Board will now allow the agency to defend the interests of tenants and impose heavy penalties on those landlords who break the law to circumvent rent restrictions. New and refurbished apartment complexes will also be covered by the legislation. As things stand, the best that can be hoped for is that private rents will moderate and housing output will increase. To encourage those developments, social housing must be given a higher priority. Otherwise,

Ireland will remain a cold place for young children and elderly citizens, amongst others.” Amidst the gloom was one positive development. It was the visit of the Vienna Model Housing exhibition to Dublin recently. The Austrian capital is presently celebrating 100 years of public housing on a mass scale. I was so impressed by what I learnt that I visited Vienna to see at first hand the city’s public housing. My report is on pages eight and nine. The decision by the Housing Agency and Dublin City Council, to support the exhibition has to be warmly applauded. (See pages six and seven.) The team at VIEWdigital hope you enjoy and are stimulated by this issue. We want to extend our thanks to the Housing Agency, guest editor Eddie Lewis and Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor at Ulster University for their invaluable support. The final words on social/public housing should go to homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry (his interview is on pages 12. and 13).“It’s been a housing crisis for years. I would say that it’s out of control now. I think that coming down the line is a catastrophe.” Will his warning be heeded? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the numbers of those in housing need continue to rise.

Go to our website WWW.VIEWDIGITAL.ORG to read more stories and how to sign up to receive regular issues of VIEW magazine

Become a VIEWdigital champion Contact Una Murphy at unamurphy@viewdigital.org if you enjoy our work and want to know more about becoming a VIEWdigital champion

Contact VIEW editor Brian Pelan at brianpelan@viewdigital.org Contact VIEW deputy editor Kathryn Johnson at kathrynjohnston@viewdigital.org Contact VIEW publisher Una Murphy at unamurphy@viewdigital.org

Making a complaint to VIEWdigital – www.viewdigital.org/2018/08/08/making-a-complaint-to-viewdigital/


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Editorial

Page 3

VIEW, an independent social affairs magazine

By guest editor Eddie Lewis, Associate Lecturer in Housing Studies at the Institute of Public Administration, and author of Social Housing Policy in Ireland: New Directions y common consent we have a housing crisis in this country. This impacts all aspects of the housing market and is seen in particular in the imbalance between the demand for and supply of housing, the affordability and housing cost issues facing many households and the rise in homelessness. Although it cannot be counted to represent the whole of the answer, the provision of social housing is at the heart of the public policy response to this crisis. But there are many unanswered questions surrounding what we mean by social housing, who should deliver it and by what means, how it should be funded, what households actually want and how the social housing stock should be protected and managed? Perhaps we should start by trying to set out our expectations. The personal challenges facing households who have become homeless, are dealing with mortgage arrears and negative equity or simply struggle to meet the cost of housing cannot be denied. We reflect on some first-hand accounts of the issues facing households today. But we also have to accept that policy change needs time to take effect. This may be of little comfort for those facing critical housing problems today. But it is the reality. There is no white knight or silver bullet, no simple change in policy that will resolve the crisis, no barrier that once removed will bring about immediate relief. It is not just a solution to the housing crisis that is needed but a way of managing the crisis, providing the time and space to prepare and implement new solutions that will be required to create a more sustainable supported housing sector. Traditionally housing policy has split between the provision of a safety net for those deemed to be in housing need – the provision of social housing and where required homeless services – and the support of home ownership through a range of grants, tax reliefs and subsidies. But this hardly describes the world we

B

‘’

The personal challenges facing households who have become homeless, are dealing with mortgage arrears and negative equity or simply struggle to meet the cost of housing cannot be denied

currently live in where, according to the National Social and Economic Council, something between a quarter and a third of all households will require ongoing assistance to meet their housing costs. As a point of reference about 15 per cent of households receive social housing support today. Policy drift is bringing about change. The idea of local authority housing as residual support for those who cannot afford accommodation in the private market is giving way to the provision of rental assistance available for nearly all newly formed households. Housing associations have a growing role in the provision of social housing. A supply-driven allocation model, where the parameters were set by the time on the waiting list and the amount of Exchequer funding provided by the State, is giving way to a demand-driven and open-ended support model where the main limit is set by the availability of accommodation in the private rented sector. But these and many other changes in the way social housing support is provided are not well integrated with social and economic policy and the implications not well understood. In this issue we look at a number of key fault lines around which a new social housing policy will have to be forged. We do not advance a particular answer but invite key stakeholders to explain how they see future housing policy developing and the direction to be followed. But there is no single pathway forward and we have to be honest enough to accept that housing solutions may only have a limited shelf life. The social and economic environment, especially within a small open economy like Ireland’s, is a dynamic one. Housing policy needs to be able to respond and adapt as circumstances change. • Eddie Lewis is the author of a recent book – Social Housing Policy in Ireland – New Directions, available from the IPA.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 4

the BIG interview VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, about her concerns over the Irish Government’s ‘practice of adopting laws and policies which treat housing as a commodity and undermine the enjoyment of housing as a human right’ first came across the name of Leilani Farha after a UN Working Group sent a letter, co-signed by her, to six governments, including the Irish Government, as well as the giant equity firm Blackstone on March 22, this year. The letter outlined concerns about how policies in the six countries have “financialised housing to the detriment of human rights”. The letter to Ireland criticised our levels of homelessness, an over-reliance on the private rented sector for social housing and the presence of large equity landlords. I started by asking Ms Farha about what she meant by the “financialisation of housing” and what was the main argument she was putting forward in the letter sent to the Irish Government? “My main concern in the letter is in respect to the way in which the government of Ireland has dealt with its housing crisis. The letter alleges that by allowing the financialisation of housing to occur post the global financial crisis the government itself has contributed in a quite meaningful way to the housing crisis that Ireland is experiencing right now, in particular, Dublin,” she replied. Ms Farha went on to say: “The letter outlines that the impact of allowing foreign investment to the extent that it’s been allowed, and in fact promoted through the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA), has had an impact on the housing conditions for a whole swathe of the Irish population. “The letter says that the privileging by the government in treating housing as an investment has had dire repercussions for people living in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. It has put Ireland on an unsustainable path.” I asked Ms Farha had the Irish Government formally responded to the criticisms in the letter? “They have not yet responded,” replied Ms Farha. “But I didn’t give a deadline for a response. It was an invitation to engage in a conversation.” I then moved on to discuss another

I

‘’

The right to adequate housing means the right to live somewhere in peace, security and dignity. When you are living in homelessness you have neither security or dignity part of the UN letter which said: “Contrary to international human rights obligations, investment in housing in the Republic of Ireland has disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live in with security and dignity. In Ireland, in late 2007 to early 2008, the housing bubble – which started in the early 1990s – burst and the construction sector collapsed.” I asked Ms Farha was she fearful that another housing crash in Ireland would occur? “I have a fear of what is happening right now,” replied the UN special rapporteur. “I have an extreme fear that human rights are not being enjoyed when you have such rising homelessness which is an egregious violation of the right to housing. I also take very seriously that there is so very little social housing. I also take very seriously that there is no constitutional or legislative right to housing. I don’t need to look forward to

being concerned and alarmed. I’m concerned and alarmed now.” We then went on to discuss the role of Real Estate Investments Trusts (REITs) in the Irish housing market, (REITs are property investment companies). Ms Farha said: “It seems that the legislative framework for REITs is the same everywhere which is basically that they are encouraged through tax breaks. I have expressed concern with respect to Ireland and other countries around REITs. “The idea is to entice people to invest as shareholders in residential real estate. I can’t see that as anything but a push for profit. The creator of the REIT is trying to ensure maximum profit for the shareholder. That doesn’t benefit tenants generally. We know that. “I want to make it clear though that I don’t have a problem with housing for profit. I don’t think all housing has to be social housing. I think there are people who can afford to live in the private rental market. But that market has to be regulated for the benefit of tenants. The regulation is key because tenants are rights holders and they have the right to adequate housing. And adequate housing should be affordable to them and their household income. “Governments have to figure out how they are going to make sure that on the one hand, you can have private market accommodation and on the other hand that the private market accommodation is consistent with the State’s human rights obligations. That housing has to be affordable and kept affordable.” I asked Ms Farha what does the term ‘housing is a human right’ mean in practical terms? “It means several things,” she replied. “First of all there should be a right to housing in constitutional provisions or a legislative right to housing. It is symbolic of the State’s recognition that housing is a fundamental human right. We believe that the right to vote is a fundamental human right generally. And you will find that in most constitutions. We believe in criminal justice and you will find a whole bunch of


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 5

Leilani Farha: “It’s really important that people in Ireland take to the streets to protest about the housing crisis” civil and political rights around criminal justice. And so if you believe that housing is a human right then that also should find its place in the legislative apparatus. “The right to adequate housing means the right to live somewhere in peace, security and dignity. When you are living in homelessness you have neither security or dignity.You can’t have a dignified life without a toilet or a shower for example. “It’s also understood that states should adopt national housing strategies which are based on human rights. It means having measurable goals and timelines. It also means having accountability mechanisms “It’s really important that there are recourse mechanisms for people to claim the right to housing.” I then asked Ms Farha, given the present housing crisis in Ireland, should the Irish Government embark on a huge public housing building programme or should it be a mix of public and private and what should the percentage be? Ms Farha said: “International human rights law is not prescriptive because it is to be applied to states around the world. What’s necessary is probably a mix, however not just any old mix. It’s clear from advocates on the ground that there is a lack of social housing – the waiting lists are long and there is no access. That obviously has to be addressed. My worry about only building social housing is the solution would take some time. It takes the procurement of land, if it is not available, and it takes building time. If you only took that approach how would people in immediate need fare? “In some places they are trying what is called inclusionary zoning where a percentage of any new build has to be attributed to affordable housing. It’s a fine proposition except affordability has been

The poster for the new housing documentary Push co-opted by politicians to mean generally 80 per cent of market rent which is not affordable under international human rights law. Affordability under international human rights law attaches to the ability of the household to pay. It doesn’t attach to the market The market doesn’t dictate what’s affordable, the households and incomes dictate what is affordable. “If you are going to roll out a housing programme then you are going to have to figure out what is your housing need is and determine in every area how much affordable housing do you actually need and for whom and what income and to plan accordingly.” Ms Farha then posed the question. “What about the expropriation of existing units by government? Why not subsidise some luxury units for people in need?

You have to do what you have to do to end the crisis.” Last year, Ms Farha’s signature was amongst academics, researchers and experts in the area of housing, economics, social policy and human rights who signed a letter which was sent to the Irish Times. The letter urged that private rents should be affordable and tenancies secure, with tenants having the option of a lifetime tenancy. It also expressed support for a Raise the Roof rally in Dublin. The Raise the Roof campaign is made up of groups and political parties who have joined forces to protest about the housing crisis in Ireland. I asked Ms Farha did she support people coming onto the streets to protest about the housing crisis in Ireland? “Absolutely,” she replied. “People taking to the streets in cities such as Dublin, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich is absolutely imperative. Governments don’t change things on their own and they need to hear from the people, Sometimes for governments to listen to people, the people need to yell.” My final question to Ms Farha was did she feel pessimistic or optimistic about solutions to the housing crisis? “I do feel a sense of optimism.” She referred to her participation in a new housing documentary Push, directed by Fredrik Gertten, which examines the global housing crisis. “There has been a great reaction to the many screenings of Push. Everywhere I go people are talking about the housing crisis. There has been a shift globally and we’re starting to get on the right track. It’s really important that people in Ireland take to the streets. We need to create a global momentum where people are saying enough is enough.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 6

The Vienna Model comes to Dublin A joint partnership of the Housing Agency, Dublin City Council and the City of Vienna brought the Vienna Model exhibition to Dublin in April this year. It offered a fascinating insight into 100 years of public housing in the capital city of Austria ohn O’Connor, the Chief Executive of the Housing Agency said: “The Housing Agency was delighted to sponsor the Vienna Model exhibition and the associated seminars. Our intention, when we originally thought of bringing the exhibition to Ireland was to show what has been achieved in Vienna and to share it widely.” Mr O’Connor added, “We believe the exhibition and associated events provide a timely opportunity to consider in detail a successful housing model that has contributed to making Vienna such an attractive and well-loved city for both its citizens and for visitors. As we face the considerable challenge of providing affordable housing, for many of our own citizens, there is much to learn from our European counterparts and from Vienna, in particular.” Brendan Kenny, Deputy Chief Executive of Dublin City Council said of the exhibition, “Our plans for future housing investment must adopt a holistic view capable of fostering a socially integrated society living in sustainable and affordable housing. “These are key concerns for Dublin City Council and we are excited to welcome the Vienna Model exhibition and our high calibre speakers over the coming weeks to share their insights on how we continue to make Dublin a great place to live in. “The Vienna Model of Housing is the living proof that demonstrates how providing high quality, affordable housing is the basis for an inclusive, thriving, healthy society,” added Mr Kenny. Kathrin Gaál, Executive City Councillor for Women’s Issues and Housing, City of Vienna, said: “Providing affordable housing in Vienna has been a political priority since 1919. “Compared to other cities, rents and land prices in Vienna have not solely been determined by the market.Vienna’s allocation guidelines ensure that higher income earners and the middle class can access the public housing sector.”

J

Dr Mel Nowicki (left), Oxford Brooks University, with Pamela Connolly, Dublin City Planning Executive and Padraig Flynn, SOA Co-Housing at the Housing Investment, Community and Environment: Housing for All seminar at the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, as part of the Vienna Model exhibition Images: Arthur Carron

A seminar at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore, Dublin, as part of the Vienna Model of Housing exhibition


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

Clockwise, from above: The Vienna Model of Housing Exhibition, outside Dublin Castle. Robert Murphy (left), with Sarah Miller and Liam Barry. And seven-yearold Sean Binns, from Cabra, Dublin at a workshop at the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, as part of the Vienna Model of Housing Exhibition

www.viewdigital.org

Page 7


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

Page 8

www.viewdigital.org

Part of the Goethehof public housing complex in Vienna

VIEW goes to Vienna Editor Brian Pelan looks at public housing in the Austrian capital ublic housing in Vienna grew out of squalor, war and disease. I learnt this after a trip to Dublin last April to view the Vienna Model Housing Exhibition in Ballymun, Dublin. It was my first insight into how the Austrian capital had created a type of housing which has now lasted for 100 years. About three weeks later I was on a flight to Vienna for the very first time. I wanted to see for myself how it worked and were there lessons for how Ireland could tackle its own housing crisis? My ‘guide’ for the day was Markus Leitgeb, spokesperson for Wiener Wohnen, a municipal property management company which manages around 220,000 council flats. Today, more than 50 per cent of all Viennese are living in a subsidised flat – either in one of the 220,00 municipal flats or in one of the 200,000 cooperative flats built with city subsidies. Markus showed me around the Goethehof housing complex, situated near the River Danube, and answered the many questions I had about public housing in Vienna. How many public housing apartment complexes are there in Vienna, I asked him? “There are about 2,000,” replied Markus. “There are big ones like the Goethehof which has 800 apartments. They vary in size. “The Goethehof was one of our earlier buildings which was constructed between 1929 and 1930. In the last few years, we have been renovating it. A team

P

100 years of public housing • 1919 – Social Democrat Jakob Reumann becomes Mayor of Vienna • 1923 – The Vienna Municipal Council decides on the construction of 25,000 apartments • 1945 – About 20 per cent of the apartments in Vienna have been destroyed. 35,000 people are homeless • 1948 – The reconstruction fund for residential apartments is set up • 1956 – The 50,000th apartment since the end of World War Two is completed. • 1984 – Every year, an average of 10,000 apartments is renovated • 2019 – 100 years of public housing in Vienna is celebrated of around 4,500 employees at Wiener Wohnen looks after the needs of all the tenants in Vienna.” I was impressed by the scale and size of a green space in the heart of the Goethehof. “Many of our buildings have parks in them. Our belief is ‘light, air and sun’, ” said Markus. “There is a mix of tenants living in the Goethehof. That is one of our principles. We look at the income of the residents and their housing conditions. People who don’t have a job can live

here in subsidised housing. “Many of the complexes have a school, library, nurseries, access to doctors, shops and swimming. The idea of Vienna public housing is ‘little cities within a city’. “The rent is also regulated by law. It’s €5.81 per square metre.: Markus showed me a newly built rooftop apartment which had 78 square metres. “The rent for this apartment would be about €680 a month. These terms are permanently fixed for the tenant with some minor adjustments.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 9

The Karl Marx-Hof public housing complex in Vienna

Housing spokersperson Markus Leitgeb and the River Danube which flows beside the Goethehof complex I was impressed by the scale and layout of the apartment and the stunning view it offered of the city. We finished off our visit to the Goethehof by visiting the nearby River Danube which is used by residents to swim in the summer and have picnics on its grassy banks. “The city of Vienna has owned these buildings for 100 years. We’re not going to give them away to the private market,” said

Markus. In a forward to a new book about the history of Wiener Wohnbau, its director Karin Ramser writes: “There is no other city in Europe that has such continuity of social housing policy and that never gave it up when the spirit of the times required neoliberalism and privatisation.” My brief visit to Vienna showed me that is possible to create public housing on a huge scale were tenants have the security

of tenure and affordable rents. As Ireland struggles with a housing crisis, the city of Vienna offers a vision of what is possible. Two big issues stand in the way though – the idea of property as a commodity and home ownership. Unless we effectively tackle these two concepts, the vision of a huge Vienna-type public housing programme in Ireland will, unfortunately, remain a dream – forever on the horizon.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

COMMENT

Page 10

Sponsored by the Housing Agency

Cost Rental can play a key role in delivering sustainable communities John O’Connor, Chief Executive of the Housing Agency, believes that cost rental can deliver on much needed secure and affordable housing in the Republic of Ireland he idea of cost rental has been in the media a lot recently. It is a model where the rents charged are linked to the cost of delivering and maintaining the properties, as opposed to being linked to market rents. It aims to ensure that homes are affordable for households with a moderate level of income. This model has been used, for example, in Austria for the last century. It is considered a critical element of their approach to housing. Vienna regularly scores as having the highest quality of life in global surveys, and their housing is a key element of this high ranking. Given the difficulties we have experienced recently in the provision of housing, what can cost rental offer to achieve affordable and sustainable housing? The Housing Agency has been looking at ways to provide long-term affordable rental homes for a wide cohort of Irish households with low to middle incomes, who wish to rent. We believe that cost rental public housing should be a major part of the housing we provide and there is a need to establish cost rental in Ireland on a large scale. We must focus on public investment to support communities creating good places to live. The Agency has committed to a pilot cost-rental model project on a site along the Enniskerry Road near Stepaside in Dublin. For this site, the Agency and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have contracted housing associations Túath and Respond to build 155 apartments, 50 of which are to be cost rental and the remainder designated for social housing. An application submitted by Dún LaoghaireRathdown County Council for Serviced Sites Fund grant funding for this project has also been successful. Tenders for the project have been assessed and the contract is due to be awarded shortly, with construction expected to commence in June.

T

‘’

We believe that cost rental public housing should be a major part of the housing we provide and there is a need to establish cost rental in Ireland on a large scale

The Housing Agency is also providing three additional sites for development to the Land Development Agency and is setting specific requirements for the provision of long-term cost rental housing on these sites. One of these is Devoy Barracks in Kildare which the Housing Agency expects to be delivered as a costrental model with a minimum of 250 houses and apartments. These projects will provide very valuable lessons for the development of a national cost rental approach in Ireland and will help to shape the contractual model and specifications for future larger-scale projects. The long-term affordability of completed cost rental homes is largely delivered by putting in place the right structures and supports at the outset of the project. We need to learn from these early projects. Cost rental requires longterm thinking. We need a steady supply of affordable homes to rent, ones that provide the type of security and certainty that people need to plan their lives. Cost rental offers this opportunity. And while it brings these great benefits to individuals and families, it also has wider social and economic benefits. This model will provide greater choice to households and help to deliver on sustainable communities. Affordable and secure accommodation is also a key element underpinning our economic competitiveness. • The Housing Agency’s role is to promote the supply of housing to meet current and future requirements. We support the building of sustainable communities to enable everyone to live in good quality, affordable homes. Go to www.housingagency.ie for more details.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 11

COMMENT

A plea from the locked-out generation Fiona Cassim, who is married, works as a billing administrator and part-time contributor for the Irish Times and Irish Independent, says she is part of ‘generation rent’, born into a society which is ‘hell-bent on home ownership, and yet the majority of us are still renting’ n recent years, the Republic of Ireland has been dominated by the words ‘housing crisis’. Where once the topic of homelessness would not have found its way into the media, now it screams from the headlines. To be homeless is simply to be without a home, something which should be a right, not a fight, yet some 10,000 people find themselves without this human right in Ireland today. The Government talk about about this right being enshrined in our Constitution, but in practice, will this create enough housing for everyone? Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is trying to implement solutions that simply do not work, all the while insisting that everything is going according to plan. Tell that to the mothers sending their children to school from the confines of hotel rooms and B&Bs. These people were not always homeless; they once had a home that they lost because of unaffordable rents and higher mortgage repayments. The demand for both social and affordable housing overwhelms the supply. More than 2,000 social houses were built in 2018, yet this number still fell four per cent below the target. While this is somewhat good news for those eligible for social housing, it still does not solve the problem for people who are not. My husband and I work full-time, yet we earn a wage that is lower than the ‘average’ weekly wage, as set out by the Central Statistics Office. With rising rents and no disposable income, we struggle to afford the rent and know that owning our own home someday is pretty unlikely, as we cannot save anything towards a deposit. The threat of homelessness hangs over the head of every person on a low to medium income. New figures estimate that one in 10 people are already spending

I

‘’

I suggest ministers listen to the voices of the homeless and those who are struggling to survive on the average wage. We are the voices of this housing crisis, after all, because we are the ones suffering it

60 per cent of their income on rent, because rent prices have become unrealistic. We work solely to keep a roof over our heads and that roof provides little security, as more and more private landlords are opting to sell up. In their place large corporations are bulk buying residential property and making it difficult for people, such as young couples. to buy. In terms of housing models, Ireland falls behind when compared to other EU countries. The much-admired Vienna housing model was recently showcased in Dublin as a way forward for Ireland’s housing problems. In Vienna, 78 per cent of the overall housing stock is made up of rental accommodation, with 45 per cent of this either social or affordable housing, as opposed to our Part V building scheme, where just 10 per cent of new builds are allocated to social housing. There is little in the way of benefits available for ordinary working people, however. I In Ireland, those working full-time are now entitled to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), where local authorities pay landlords the current market rate, and tenants pay a percentage; however, with joint earnings capped at €36,000, it means that couples working full-time, like my husband and I, cannot avail of the scheme. In Vienna, earnings can be as high as €53,000 for an individual to still be eligible for social housing. It seems to me that the Irish government is failing the ordinary working class people and it is failing because it does not understand us, it does not hear us. I suggest these ministers listen to the voices of the homeless and those who are struggling to survive on the average wage. We are the voices of this housing crisis, after all, because we are the ones suffering it. The locked out generation of Ireland is knocking, can anybody hear us?


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Campaigner: Father Peter McVerry with his dog Tiny in the Ballymun housing estate, Dublin

Page 12


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 13

‘’

A housing catastrophe is coming down the line VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to the veteran homelessness campaigner and Jesuit priest Fr Peter McVerry at his home in Ballymun, Dublin he sun has decided to make a rare appearance as I stroll through the vast Ballymun housing estate in Dublin. Quite a few families are sitting outside their front doors enjoying the heat as a few helmeted teenagers speed past me on their scrambler bikes. I’m on my way to visit the veteran homelessness campaigner and Jesuit priest Fr Peter McVerry who has been living in the area since 1980. Before moving to Ballymun he lived in a tenement flat in Summerhill in the inner Dublin area. “If you live a middle-class lifestyle you can only administer to middle-class people,” said Fr McVerry. “I think you have to live amongst the people you are going to be working with. I want to stay here. My next move will be into a nursing home.” His living room is full of books, papers and dog treats for his Jack Russell called Tiny. My first question to him was about the housing crisis in the Republic? “It’s been a housing crisis for years,” replied Fr McVerry. “I would say that it’s out of control now. I think that coming down the line is a catastrophe. “The catastrophe is that there are about 40,000 mortgages which are in arrears of more than two years. 28,000 of them are owner-occupied and about 12,000 of them are landlords’ mortgages. The Central Bank estimates that at least half of them are going to be repossessed. If even a fraction of those who are evicted become homeless then this country won’t be able to cope. “You are going to see families living on the street.You are going to see families sleeping in police stations and in parks. We have our head in our hands and nobody is talking about it. “The only alternative to the Government’s housing policy is to build social housing. But they don’t want to build social housing now. The government claim that when you put a lot of people on low incomes together you create a ghetto and that causes problems. ‘I would argue that doesn’t cause problems. What causes problems is concentrating a lot of low-income families together with few services. When they

T

Protesters at a recent march in Dublin against homelessness built Ballymun for around 16,000 people there was just one swimming pool for teenage kids to use. Of course, you’re going to have problems. “They’re building some social housing here and there, but they don’t want to build mass social housing. In 1975 the Republic of Ireland built 8,500 council houses. In 1985, when we had a recession, we still built 6,900 council houses.” And what about now? I asked him. “In 2015 this country built 75 council houses. In 2016 it built 264 council houses. It’s nowhere near what we need to address the housing and homelessness crisis in this country.” I asked Peter McVerry if he was in charge of housing and had a cheque book in front of him, what would he do to address the situation? “Firstly, we got to go back to rebuilding. Relying on the private sector has failed. The only alternative is government owned and controlled housing. We have to go back to providing social housing on the same scale as we did in the 1970s and 1980s. We need to build 7,000 to 10,000 council houses every year. “Also every town and every street in Ireland has empty houses and empty apartments. It’s obscene to have an empty house in the middle of a housing crisis. The government has given grants to the owners to bring them back into use but only a few hundred owners have accepted grants and done it.

“I would say to the owners that we’ll give you the grants but if you can’t do it we are going to compulsorily purchase it. The census in 2016 identified 186,000 permanently empty, boarded up houses. “There is another issue, apart from housing those who are homeless and on the social housing waiting list, is how do we prevent more and more people becoming homeless? Because until we stop that flow into homelessness, trying to house homeless people and people on the housing waiting list is like trying to empty the bath water with the taps full on. We have to stop that flow. Where are these people coming from? They are coming from the private rented sector. The vast majority of them are getting evicted. Rents are too high but the biggest cause of evictions is the landlord saying they are selling the house. “My proposal is that for three years, to deal with this emergency, it would be illegal for landlords or banks to evict people into homelessness.” The Peter McVerry Trust (a charity set up by Fr Peter McVerry to reduce homelessness and the harm caused by drug misuse and social disadvantage) has around 300 to 350 houses and apartments in total. “It’s a drop in the ocean,” he said. Fr McVerry’s final words to me are sombre and pessimistic. “I see no signs that this housing catastrophe is going to be averted.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 14

Why public housing is the answer Eoin Ó Broin,TD, the Sinn Fein spokesperson on housing, talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan about how his party believe a radically different approach is needed to tackle the housing crisis oin Ó Broin is passionate and outspoken about the need for a huge increase in public housing to tackle the crisis in Ireland. The Sinn Fein TD, who represents the Dublin mid-West constituency, has just written a new book to further promote his arguments, Home:Why Public Housing Is The Answer. I caught up with him recently at the Dail and started off our interview by asking him: “What does social housing mean to you? “The first thing is that it is housing provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies. It is subsidised because the tenants living in it can’t pay the economic costs of the unit. I lived for 10 years in the tower blocks in the New Lodge area of north Belfast which was social housing. I now represent a constituency which has some of the largest social housing estates in Ireland. For me, social housing means public housing provided to a good quality standard with good vibrant communities. Do we have some social housing estates that have some issues? Yes. But my sense of social housing from my own lived experience is a very positive one,” replied Mr Ó Broin. And in terms of income what sort of people would be living in social housing, I asked him. “The incomes are set in legislation. So generally it’s for families with a gross household income of less than €43,000 here in Dublin. Once they sign their tenancy, their income can rise to whatever. If you go into a traditional local authority estate in Dublin you will find a whole range of people – from permanently unemployed, unemployable, people with special needs and what not. A lot of the newer estates would have less of that latter group within them and there is a little bit more concentration of low incomes because of the way in which housing policy has developed. But in the older estates, you would have a greater income mix.” How can we make social housing better? Why are you passionate about it? What is your vision? I asked the Sinn Fein TD. “For me, first of all, we should stop talking about social housing and we should completely redefine what we mean about public housing. Today in this State, eight per cent of the total housing stock is social housing. And it’s not going to move much between eight, nine or 10 per cent over the next number of years. Social housing in the main is for the very poorest in our society. What I would do and what Sinn Fein has argued for a very long time is that we need to talk about public housing, housing which is provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies for a much broader income mix than is traditionally the case. “So in my expanded definition of public housing, housing estates would have a mixture of subsidised social rental, and

E

The front cover of Eoin Ó Broin new book, Home: Why Public Housing Is The Answer non-subsidised affordable cost rental and non-subsidised affordable purchase. “That means you would be looking at meeting the needs of about 30 per cent of the population through public housing in good quality, mixed income estates.You would then be building a different type of estate much closer to some of the public housing in housing models in continental Europe. The vast majority of the public housing would only ever be rental and you wouldn’t be able to purchase it.” What does the term ‘affordable’ mean to you? “For modest income households with incomes of between €45,000 and €75,000 should not have to pay more than 30 per cent of their net disposable income on their accommodation,” replied Mr Ó Broin. He was also very critical of the current Fine Gael strategy on housing, Rebuilding Ireland. “There has been a broad policy consensus in the government since the early 1990s which has informed Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in relation to housing. “What that policy consensus says is that the State will provide a small amount of social housing for the very poor in our society. It will also subsidise a significant number of low-income families in the private rental sector through a variety of schemes. But the overwhelming majority of people will have their needs met in the private sector, either to buy or rent. “What this means is that we have an excessive reliance on the private sector for the vast majority of people’s housing needs “There has been very little macro policy change in the last 30 years and that’s why we are in the kind of mess we’re in at the moment.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 15

‘’

At the moment we’re not even treading water, we’re drowning Darragh O’Brien,TD, the Fianna Fail spokesperson on housing, talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan arragh O’Brien and I sat across from each other in a small private room in the Dail in Dublin. The Fianna Fail spokesperson on housing was eager from the start to give me his party’s views on the housing crisis in the Republic. Why housing? was my first question to him. “I was in foreign affairs for over two years and then we had a reshuffle last year. Our party leader Micheál Martin asked me to take over housing, planning and local government. “I’m delighted that I have this position as the issue of housing is acute. It is an absolute crisis throughout the country but it is particularly acute in Dublin. Being a Dublin TD and someone with a finance background and representing one of the youngest constituencies Fingal, where we see young couples not being able to get on the housing ladder, paying extortionate rents and homelessness.” If it’s a crisis what is Fianna Fail’s solution? I asked him “The reason there is a crisis is twofold,” replied Mr O’Brien. “The first is supply and the second is affordability. There is no silver bullet, but first we have to take a look at what we did before which worked. The State was very good at housing its people, going way back to the 1930s and 1940s. Even when the State had no money it was able to build homes for people. “One solution that we have been pushing very hard for is the re-establishment of an affordable housing scheme for first-time buyers. Let’s build affordable homes on State-owned land. We have it costed. We got €310 million in the last budget but the Government still haven’t started it because I don’t think they believe in it. “Second is in relation to direct build social homes. We need to get the supply into the market now. We have about 130,000 people overall on housing waiting lists, many of them are stuck in a broken rental market with extortionate rents. “If you look at the very worst years of the most recent crisis from 2008 to 2011 (following the global economic crash) Fianna Fail were building about 4,000 public homes per annum. That’s dropped to about 1,000 homes per annum now. We need to be building about 40,000 homes – private and public.” I asked the TD about the number of private houses that should be built and given, the high rents at the moment, what were his views on what would happen to those mortgage holders in the event of another economic slump? “There is an affordability issue which is acute in Dublin and to a lesser extent in the other cities about the purchase of homes,” said Mr O’Brien. “That’s why we want an affordable housing scheme which is effectively a shared ownership scheme where the State would take an equity in a house. We’re looking at (for first-

D

time buyers) that one would be able to purchase a proper threebedroom house for between an average of €160,000 and €210,00. The State would be taking a 20 per cent stake in that house which you would be paying back over time. “This was actually done before. Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party set this scheme aside in 2011. Since 2014 we have been calling for this. If you get that supply into the market with the monies we’ve been allocated in the last budget we could build about 7,000 affordable homes on State-owned land. There is enough State-owned land in the Republic to build about 114,000 homes. “The fundamental difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is that Fine Gael don’t believe in State intervention, whilst we do. We believe that the State should lead by example and intervene where necessary. “We also believe in home ownership. Sinn Fein has repeatably voted against affordable housing. They would rather that everyone was in public housing. Their priority is public housing and public rent. “We have no issue with public housing but we believe it is an appropriate and justified aspiration for people and families to own their own homes.” We then moved on to discuss Fine Gael’s housing strategy Rebuilding Ireland. The Fianna Fail TD said:“This present government lacks the ambition to tackle the housing crisis and I don’t see the emergency measures being taken. Everything is too slow.” “The Rebuilding Ireland strategy is failing,” he claimed. “There are aspects of it which focus on rebuilding which are fine but we’ve overcomplicated it. “There is too much centralised control from the Department of Housing. In my view they need to get out of the way for a while. That’s not about dropping standards. It about letting the local authorities get on with it. “At the moment we’re not even treading water, we’re drowning.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 16

COMMENT Lives disrupted by insecure accommodation Orla Hegarty, Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Enviromental Policy at University College Dublin, believes we need to have a public housing programme to tackle the housing crisis erhaps the worst thing that could happen is that we start to think of the housing crisis as a perennial (or worse, a ‘wicked’) problem; one that can be alleviated but never solved. Problems that continue can too easily become normalised. Over the last five years, the challenges have become more acute and are most visible in the rising numbers who are without any home. Five years ago, there were 2,500 homeless people in Ireland and today this stands at more than 10,000(1), the largest demographic being children under five. This figure excludes many other categories of homeless, including those sleeping rough. Less visible, are the lives disrupted by unsuitable, expensive and insecure accommodation, long commutes and strained household budgets. This has an impact on the wider economy. For many, not only is unaffordability an immediate distress, the longer term goals of secure tenure or ownership have moved out of reach. In the space of five years, the monthly rent for a typical apartment in central Dublin(2) rose almost 50 percent from €1,134 to €1,661 (£962 to £1,410) and the average price paid by a first-timebuyer across Dublin rose from €220,000 to €365,000 (£193,000 to £312,000) Currently, the social housing system is overly reliant on this private market, thus directly competing with both private renters and purchasers, and this financial burden is becoming unsustainable for the exchequer. More significantly, many people who previously met their own housing needs require a subsidy and this puts pressure further on the state. The cost of rental subventions(3) will reach almost €1bn (£850m) by next year and the demand is rising. It is time, therefore, to go back to first principles, to re-define and take control of the affordability challenge. New forms of urban housing are needed, designed to higher densities than before with integrated services, public transport and amenities. They must be places where families can put down roots, develop communities and get on with their lives. If this doesn’t happen we will continue to see transient cities, unsustainable sprawl, and

P

‘’

Currently, the social housing system is overly reliant on this private market, thus directly competing with both private renters and purchasers, and this financial burden is becoming unsustainable for the exchequer

More importantly, public housing is a means of leveraging available finance most effectively and achieving the best value for money. In basic terms, sufficient land and finance are available and construction is affordable in Ireland. The Department of Housing confirm competitive all-in costs(4) for building three-bedroom houses and two-bedroom apartments are in the range of €235,000€244,000 (£199,000-£207,000). In effect, this means that cost-rental homes, and mortgage purchases, could be built at affordable levels, below €1,000 a month (£876). Furthermore, the nature of house building means that finance can roll over from one phase to the next, without the need to fund all development up front. Importantly, under a public housing programme, the design, specification, cost and pace of delivery can be managed (or partnered) outside the uncertainties of the market and speculative investment. In the 1930s and 1940s, when the State had few resources, the principles of efficiency and self-sufficiency delivered a new housing at scale, far beyond our current ambition. The benefits of good affordable housing accrue to the economy in more participation in education and employment, reduced healthcare costs, and more disposable income. The is no reason why this could not happen again. 1 – DHPLG Homelessness Data, 2019 https://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/homelessness/other/homelessness-data 2 – CSO Housing Statistics, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/saveselections.asp

segregation, all with economic, social and environmental costs. Public housing, instigated by the state, is a means of providing long-term housing that is both sustainable and affordable, where most of the residents meet their own housing needs from their own resources, and where those households who need a subsidy, in the short or long term, live in the same community.

3– IGEES/ DPER Social Housing Supports, 2018 https://igees.gov.ie/wpcontent/uploads/2018/10/SIASeries-Social-Housing-Supports-1 .pdf 4 – Houses of the Oireachtas, Written Answer 16509/19 (April 2019)


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 17

Frank McDonald, far right, with members of the jury for the Mies van der Rohe European award for Contemporary Architecture, the organisers and architects, at the Grand Parc housing complex in Bordeaux

European solutions to housing crisis Frank McDonald, author, journalist and former Environment Editor of the Irish Times, talks to Brian Pelan about the influence of Margaret Thatcher on Irish social housing policy and how we can learn from other cities in Europe met former Irish Times journalist Frank McDonald at his home which is situated in the heart of Dublin’s Temple Bar quarter. The author of several books on Dublin’s built environment was in sparkling form as he outlined his critique of the present Government’s housing policy and how other European cities have been much more imaginative when it came to social housing programmes. “We were very good at producing social housing in the past,” said Frank. “ The State, with almost no money, built huge housing estates such as Crumlin, Cabra and Finglas in Dublin. “I personally blame former Conservative Party prime minister Margaret Thatcher, more than anyone else, for what happened next. She introduced a programme of basically selling off social housing to the existing tenants at knockdown prices with a view to creating a ‘property-owning democracy’. “That not only whittled away the social housing stock in British cities and towns, it was also accompanied by a complete failure to build more social housing. Thatcher’s approach to social housing was completely mirrored here in Ireland. “Padraig Flynn, who was the Minister for the Environment from 1987 to 1991, was totally keen on all this. At one stage in the late 1980s, a press release came in from his department which was headlined ‘the sale of the century’. They were offering thousands of local authority houses for sale at knockdown prices. There was a huge take-up for this offer. “Long term this policy was disastrous because it reduced the social housing

I

One of the renovated ‘winter gardens’ in Grand Parc in Bordeaux stock which was not replenished in any serious way. “We lost our way for ideological reasons. Those same ideological reasons are what lies behind the current homelessness and housing crisis “The truth is that most housing in Ireland is unaffordable, especially in Dublin, for people on ordinary incomes. Contrast that situation with cities like Vienna in Austria where something like 60 per cent of the population live as tenants in either social or affordable housing schemes which have largely been built with public money. “I am incensed by the failure of this Government to live up to its responsibilities in providing social housing. “If you look back at Irish history one of the biggest problems we had was dispossession or the fear of dispossession. That fear has lingered right up to the present day where we now prefer to own our homes instead of renting them.” “We need to seriously reform landlord and tenant law so that tenants in Ireland have rights which are equivalent to the rights they have throughout the most

of Europe, with the exception of Britain. “We have followed the AngloAmerican planning model of ownership. As a result of that more and more people are falling out of the loop. The law as it stands at the moment, despite all sorts of alleged reforms over the years, still puts the landlord in the driving seat.” Frank then told me of a European architecture competition that he was involved in. He used this an argument to how we could do things differently in relation to social housing policy. “I had the honour of being a member of the jury of this year’s Mies van der Rohe European Prize for Contemporary Architecture which is the most prestigious competition in Europe. We travelled all around Europe in a week to look at the five finalists we had chosen. The one we gave the prize to was for the renovation of three blocks of social housing in Bordeaux by the architects Lacaton & Vassal, who are known for their imaginative renovation schemes. “These three slab housing blocks are part of a social housing scheme that was built in the late 1960s called Le Grand Parc. Instead of demolishing these three apartment blocks, they added ‘winter gardens’ to them. Each apartment now has the equivalent of a roof terrace added to the front of their homes – except that they are enclosed by heavy thermal curtains. This was all done at a cost of €62,000 per unit. People living in these apartments there had their lives transformed. “This shows that there are all sorts of solutions for social housing if the Government here was prepared to open their eyes to it.”


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 18

Sponsored by the Housing Agency

The supply of housing is increasing, but we need to keep up with growing demand Rory Mulholland, economist in the Housing Agency, provides an overview of recent housing market trends and challenges t is hard to believe that 10 years ago, approximately 90,000 new homes were completed in Ireland in a single year. We all know what happened next – the housing market underwent a severe downturn, and less than 5,000 new homes were built in 2011. It is only in the last few years that we have seen a recovery in the supply of new homes. Since 2013, housing supply has begun to increase again but still not enough to meet demand, particularly in urban areas. The below graph shows the level of ‘New Dwelling Completions’ since 2011.

I

There were 18,072 New Dwelling Completions in 2018. The ‘National Planning Framework: Ireland 2040’ estimates a long-term housing requirement at 25,000 new dwellings per annum. In the next few years, the figure is likely to be higher. This is because, in recent years, Ireland has seen a continued economic expansion coupled with higher inward migration causing a further increase in housing requirement beyond earlier estimates. The gap between supply and demand has led to continued inflation in both the

housing and rental market. House price inflation has averaged over 10 per cent per annum over the past five years and prices now stand 19 per cent below peak levels. The rental market, which declined less severely than the property market during the crisis and recovered earlier, has seen continued inflation since 2012. Rents now exceed pre-crisis levels at an average national rent of €1,134 per month or €1,650 in Dublin. Inflation in both markets has now slowed, with this trend expected to continue. Reasons include:

increased these rules have become more binding and inflation has slowed. The overall level of credit provision in the economy is much lower than a decade previously. This lower level of credit growth has, to some degree, led to a lower effective demand for housing than might otherwise be the case.

(1) Continued expansion in supply New Dwelling Completions are up 25 per cent on an annual basis, while units with planning permission are up 40 per cent to 29,243 in 2018. As supply closes in on the level of demand, inflation should be expected to ease. The supply of rental units is expected to increase strongly with attention being paid to ‘Build to Rent’ investment. While these units are at the upper end of the market, this investment should lead to an easing of inflation on lower priced units – as outlined by Ronan Lyons in a recent Daft.ie release.

The establishment of the Land Development Agency offers an opportunity to expand the provision of public housing beyond the traditional ‘social housing’ sector and into affordable housing provision and cost rental. However, there remain challenges in expanding the supply of housing further. The Irish economy has grown strongly since 2013, with unemployment now at 5.4 per cent. How much slack is left for the residential construction sector to recruit from is unclear, particularly with competition for labour from commercial real estate – the dominant destination for investment post 2013. A lack of funding for housing development in rural Ireland has been cited as an issue, one the Statebacked Home Building Finance Ireland will seek to overcome. Indeed, overcoming both challenges will be key in meeting Ireland’s future housing requirements. Equally important is that we now build the right homes in the right places to meet current and future housing needs.

(2) Credit and Macroprudential policy The Central Bank rules constrain an individual household’s borrowing to 3.5 times gross income with a minimum deposit of 10 per cent. This has constrained credit growth by directly tying the level of credit provided to a household’s income. As house prices have

(3) State Investment The State continues to expand its investment in public housing provision, with €1.25 billion allocated to deliver 10,000 social housing units in 2019.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 19

COMMENT

Many challenges facing housing sector By Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor, Ulster University t is just over 50 years since the Caledon incident, an event that happened on June 20th 1968 when a young nationalist MP, Austin Currie, squatted in a house in the small village of Caledon with the intention of highlighting what he and others saw as discrimination in the way a house was given to a single girl when there were many families on the waiting list. A campaign against the unfair allocation of housing in the Dungannon area had been ongoing since 1963. Housing was at its forefront particularly in areas like Dungannon and Derry. In the aftermath of the Caledon squatting incident, civil rights marches followed together with violence and disturbance. Looking back many agree that Caledon was one of a number of significant events that led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and the depoliticisation of housing. The NIHE is still with us today and will soon be celebrating its 50th birthday. It is supported by around 20 housing associations who now build all new social housing. But whilst providing and managing homes remain at their core, housing associations are also a main driving force for social enterprises and they have been referred to as the sleeping giant of social enterprise growth. In Northern Ireland they have levered in millions of pounds of private finance to build thousands of houses making them a powerful economic force. As there are no dividends for shareholders any surpluses are reinvested enabling them to grow further. They are working to creating employment for their tenants, delivering wider community benefits and improving their own service delivery to their residents. There are, however, many challenges facing the sector. With the absence of a functioning Assembly, there is a backlog of legislation and ministerial decisions that have not been followed through. Reviews of the Housing Selection Scheme, the private rented sector, the social housing reform programme have all suffered. There is uncertainty as to what will happen in the future with regard to the current status of the NI Housing Executive. If the NIHE is taken off the government balance sheet, then it will have the capacity to borrow private finance to build new housing. This, of course, could have an impact on how the housing association grant is shared amongst existing associations. Another challenge is whether or not the proportion of grant available to HAs will be reduced as has happened in England. The grant currently funds around 50 per cent of the development costs but

I

Professor Paddy Gray any reduction will require HAs to borrow even more money from the private sector for the new build programme. And what about the NIHE’s 86,500 existing homes? A stock condition survey carried out by Savills in 2015 suggested that there has been significant underinvestment in its stock since 2009 with £7 billion investment is needed over the next 30 years. Where will that money come from and who will supply it or will the organisation be forced to ‘decommission’ some of its stock creating a further gap between supply and demand? The Supporting People (SP) programme which provides housing support services to 18,500 vulnerable people each year may also have an impact if the budget is reduced. Many housing associations avail of the £72.8 million which had been protected but, if reduced, then services would have to be cut. The welfare reform programme will also have a significant impact as many residents have or will have their income cut through the roll-out of Universal Credit and the Bedroom Tax as well as the changes that already happened for younger people. Although mitigation was introduced to protect claimants from the effects of the bedroom tax when £22 million was paid out in 2017/18 to 39,000 claimants, as things stand, this is due to end in March 2020 and if not continued will have a profound effect on those who will lose out and who will have to pay increased rent. Research across the UK has also confirmed that for those residents who have been moved across to Universal Credit, rent arrears have gone up considerably. Housing associations will

have to devote more resources to collecting rent and if arrears escalate, then some may have greater difficulty raising future private finance for new build, or at least they may be charged higher interest rates. The availability of private finance is another area that may pose a challenge in the future. As Brexit looms it may be more difficult to access European related finances which in turn may force some associations to reduce their new build programme. Housing organisations are also facing increased pressure to involve residents and to encourage a tenant voice as a result of regulatory priorities in this area. Other regulatory priorities include effective governance arrangements and a robust approach to the assessment and management of risk. Whilst many challenges exist there are also opportunities as well. Social housing providers should become innovative in how they deliver for society as a whole. New ways of thinking are required to provide the best possible housing, care and support to improve lives and to build successful communities. Working in partnership with other stakeholders is vitally important as the NIHE and housing associations seek new ways of delivering houses and funding this. Build to rent in partnership with private developers, building for sale and using any profits to cross-subsidise increased supply are just some areas that are being embraced. Mixed tenure schemes are important to reduce the stigma attached to social housing which was highlighted in the recent English Green Paper and the CIH Rethinking Housing. Housing Associations must work closely with the new councils that were formed in 2015 particularly with the introduction of Local Development Plans. Councils are taking on greater powers and this could include new areas in housing as they bed in. We have come a long way from the days of injustices in housing allocations, high levels of poor housing conditions and other abuses that took place at that time. The NIHE, housing associations and others are working tirelessly to create vibrant communities and to reduce the shortage of housing that still exists. Support must continue to be given despite the political impasse so that future generations can enjoy what past generations missed out on.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 20

COMMENT

Why we need a new investment pathway Daithi Downey, Head of Housing Policy, Research and Strategy at Dublin City Council where he also leads the Dublin Housing Observatory, argues that we need to fund a public rental model that works for all decade on from the calamitous impacts of the global financial crisis, economic growth in Ireland is positive and continues to buck global trends. Notwithstanding sectoral divergences within the all-island economy, there remain substantial parallels in how economic growth north and south is impacting on the housing options and choices of greater numbers of households. Despite a noted slow-down in 2018, economic growth in Northern Ireland (NI) remains positive at 0.9 per cent while an unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent is close to a record low. Additionally, gross disposable household income in NI – that is the amount of money individuals have for spending or saving – grew by 1.5 per cent in 2017. Recent data confirming house prices in NI increased by 5.5 per cent in the year to January 2019 reflects these trends. NI rents have also reportedly increased by 2.4 per cent. This broad-brush picture has much in common with the trends on the rest of the island where there is near full employment in 2019 (just 1.7 per cent of the Irish labour force is long-term unemployed) and where yearly Irish house price inflation since 2012 continues apace and uninterrupted and private rent levels continue to climb inexorably to values substantially above their previous Celtic Tiger peaks in 2007/08. Yet housing in Ireland remains a space and place apart from the post-crisis economic recovery. A cruel ‘game of homes’ exists with high stakes for single workers and working families, as well as dependent households, students and new migrant households – all competing for access to scarce affordable, secure and quality housing. Today, macro-prudential lending rules, combined with house price inflation and a chronic supply-side shortage of affordable housing for sale locks aspirant first-time buyers out of home ownership and speeds their long-term membership of generation rent.Yet many renters cannot afford the spiralling housing costs they face. Some have either interrupted or deferred their independent household formation and joined the boomerang generation residing

A

‘’

Many renters cannot afford the spiralling housing costs they face

back in their familial home, now often overcrowded as a result. Others without this choice continue to be pauperised by rising housing costs and face into an extended period of housing stress and insecurity. Growing numbers tip over the edge into housing exclusion and homelessness. There were 11,877 households accepted as homeless in NI in 2017/18 while elsewhere a new record high of 10,300 people were homeless in Ireland at March 2019. What is to be done to address widespread housing market failure? How can we arrest declining housing affordability, reverse ineffective demand and restricted choice, improve poor quality and tackle unmet housing need? A major part of the solution would be to install a new all-Ireland investment pathway from the perspective of needs-

based social infrastructure – including secure, affordable homes for low-income households – that ensure more inclusive growth and sustainable living environments for all our futures. We need to produce a large and sustained supply of new public housing available to all who choose it on a costrental basis. A key objective will be to create value, promote innovation and address a wide range of housing needs while shifting the burden of ensuring residential construction, use and re-use is also tackling climate change and delivering a low-carbon economy. To succeed, this new public housing must be of the highest design standards, adaptable and attractive, deploying new, innovative, design-led, precisionmanufactured and modularised passive housing typologies that also support the circular economy - where we up-cycle and renew older residential dwellings and neighbourhoods to increase occupancy and use. How might this be made real? Until recently there has been a shift away from direct investment in public housing for rent towards investment in private rental housing and rent allowances and subsidies. This must now be reversed so that we return to an investment pathway which supplies and maintains general needs public housing over time commensurate with needs and in the right locations. If we choose to renew the funding and financing mechanisms we deploy we can create this investment pathway. We will need resources allocated from government and the community to cover capital investment and operating costs and we will need financial arrangements and instruments that allow high, upfront capital costs to be spread over time as exchequer surpluses and local service charges allow. Private financing alone cannot replace this capital funding. Over-reliance on ‘innovative’ private financing schemes that are costly and complex for government, public housing providers and service users alike must be avoided in favour of identifying new fiscal and monetary arrangements to fund a public rental model that works for all.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 21

Sponsored by the Housing Agency

Irish housing challenges: Informing policy and practice requires wide-ranging evidence gathering

Through our work we aim to promote the provision of good quality housing and sustainable communities, says Ursula McAnulty, Senior Researcher at the Housing Agency he Housing Agency in its recent Strategic Statement (2019 – 2021) identified three clear housing challenges for Ireland – supply, affordability and security. In response to these challenges, the work of the Housing Agency focuses on five inter-connected themes:

T

• Being a centre of knowledge on housing • Optimising supply and utilisation of housing • Understanding housing demand and affordability • Realising results through our people • Meeting governance and service commitments. Being a centre of knowledge on housing is a key goal of the Housing Agency – through our work we aim to inform quality policy decisions and to promote the provision of good quality housing and sustainable communities. Our research programme is integral to achieving this goal. We have a schedule of planned research which provides an evidence base to inform policy and drive the implementation of leading practice. Our research programme includes annual publications such as the ‘National Statement of Housing Supply and Demand’ which brings together current information on key trends in the housing market and looks ahead to future demand. Another recurrent report is the annual ‘Summary of Social Housing Assessments’, in which the Housing Agency carries out an assessment of households qualified for social housing support (i.e. those on the waiting list for social housing) to inform policy and plan for the right types of housing support. We have also carried out a wide range of individual research projects focusing on contemporary topical issues. Some of our current projects include: ‘A National Survey of Housing Experiences, Attitudes and

Aspirations in Ireland’ – this surveyed over 1,200 adults and covered issues such as housing affordability and their housing aspirations. We are about to embark on a follow-on survey which focuses on the experiences of people living in apartments. As higher density living in our cities is being encouraged by government, this timely piece of research will help us understand the experiences and attitudes to apartment living in Ireland. Ensuring our research focus identifies solutions for all housing needs groups is important. The Housing Agency has carried out a suite of research projects focusing on Older People, with the most recent publication: ‘Thinking Ahead: Independent and Supported Housing Models for an Ageing Population’ which details 19 case studies of housing for older people across Ireland and showcases best practice examples of housing projects developed / being developed. The Housing Agency has also carried out a number of projects relating to Travellers, and we are currently providing

support to the Expert Group on Travellers, which was established by Minister Damien English to review legislation that impacts the provision and delivery of accommodation to Travellers. Working collaboratively with other organisations is important to the Housing Agency. Two recent research projects are good examples of successful collaborations – we jointly commissioned a research project with Cluid which examined the performance of Owners’ Management Companies in Ireland and reviewed international comparisons. We are also working with Focus Ireland on a project which examines the links between domestic violence and homelessness with a focus on service provision and co-ordination. Lastly, we are in the process of creating a Data Hub which will collate and present a range of data on key housing themes from a variety of sources, which we hope will provide a valuable resource. All our publications are available on our website: www.housingagency.ie


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 22

COMMENT

We need to be innovative and radical Tom Gilligan, Director of Services at Mayo County Council, explains how the Vacant Homes initiative is helping to address the housing shortage and breathing new life back into communities acantHomes.ie, the innovative website initiated by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector, is going from strength to strength. Bringing empty units back into use benefits property owners, people with a housing need, the local economy, climate change and also helps protect local services. It’s a no brainer and a win-win for everyone. By utilising existing housing stock, the supply of accommodation increases and this helps to provide individuals and families with new homes and a better choice of housing. Apart from breathing new life into unused buildings, bringing vacant homes back into use rejuvenates areas that are in decline and helps to sustain our communities.VacantHomes.ie has to date increased the supply of social housing right across the country. We’re seeing hundreds of vacant units either brought back or in the process of being brought back as a result of this crowdsourcing initiative. Local people have the local knowledge and every vacant home has a story to tell and we want to hear it. The information that is being provided is allowing the Vacant Home Officer in each local authority an opportunity to assess the unit and try and contact the property owner. There are options available that will assist the owner to bring the unit back into use such as the Rebuilding Ireland, Repair and Leasing and Buy and Renew Schemes. In Mayo County Council, housing is the number one priority and whilst the council is mindful of the need to bring vacant homes back into use, it is also very much focused on its own capital build programme. Last year, Mayo County Council exceeded its overall target of providing housing solutions by 20 per cent. Whilst happy with its performance for last year the council is mindful of the need to continue to deliver on its overall Rebuilding Ireland target up to 2021 and beyond.

V

‘’

Bringing empty units back into use benefits property owners, people with a housing need, the local economy, climate change and also helps protect local services. It’s a no brainer and a win-win for everyone

The target Mayo has been given is 708 units, from 2016 to 2021, but the ambition and plan is to exceed this and the council is currently planning for 808 units, of which 500 will be new build. Back in March 2019, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy visited Mayo and he was given an opportunity to see first-hand, the work that is happening right across the county. On the day the Minister and his entourage visited a number of housing developments and capital projects in Ballina, Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Swinford, Foxford and Knockmore. Similar to other parts of the country, homelessness is an issue in Mayo. Despite the progress being made in its housing programme last year, the number of homeless presentations to the offices of Mayo County Council increased by 25 per cent. Unfortunately, the trend for 2019 doesn’t see any decrease in the figures and one of the main factors is the inability of people to secure private rented accommodation. There isn’t adequate rental stock available to meet the demand. In Mayo, we’re not seeing the level of private construction under way to help deal with the current housing crisis. According to Project Ireland, Ireland’s population will grow by an additional one million people by 2040. In order to meet this challenge, we will need to see greater output in housing delivery for both the private and public sectors. This means building new homes and utilising existing housing stock in order to ensure the level of supply meets the housing demand. The scale and complexity of our current housing crisis mean that we need to continue to be innovative and radical in our approach. Housing and, in particular, the provision of more social and affordable housing will help to ensure long term secure housing and tenancy for people, which should make it easier to deal with the challenges that we are currently experiencing in the housing sector.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 23

COMMENT

We need secure and affordable tenancies Joe Finnerty, left, and Cathal O’Connell, from the School of Applied Social Studies at University College Cork, argue that the response to the housing crisis must have national and local actions he scale of Ireland’s housing crisis – from young adults locked out of the traditional housing ladder, to rising rents in the private rented sector, and the growing spectre of family homelessness is seen in some quarters as evidence that the government is ‘doing nothing’. But this view confuses inaction and ineffectiveness. The government’s Rebuilding Ireland strategy has multiple measures including rent pressure zones, increased social housing expenditure, boosting private house construction, reforming private renting and tackling homelessness. The government describes Rebuilding Ireland as “ambitious and imaginative in its reach, and radical in its approach”. In acknowledging what progress is being made, it is also important to point out where policy is devoid of ‘ambition’ and isn’t ‘radical in its approach’. Recent policy has moved away from secure social housing tenancies from local authorities and approved housing bodies towards what are called social housing “solutions”. However, a social housing policy so reliant on the private rented sector can very easily become part of the problem it is trying to solve. Private renting in Ireland is poorly regulated for tenant security, quality and especially affordability. Tenants can still be legally evicted on a variety of grounds including refurbishment, health and safety, and sale. Paying for this type of response is also an issue. There is now evidence that the Housing Assisted Payment (HAP) scheme contributes to rent inflation in cities especially where low-income households are concentrated. Between 2018 and 2021 the state will pay private landlords €3 billion in rent subsidies including HAP much of it in an environment of rising rents. The response must have national and local actions. Nationally, reform of the private rented sector and HAP have significant roles to play in providing accommodation for households choosing to live in the sector. What’s most needed is a properly functioning social housing sector providing secure, affordable tenancies and contributes to flourishing families and

T

‘’

Between 2018 and 2021 the state will pay private landlords €3 billion in rent subsidies including HAP much of it in an environment of rising rents

communities. Local authorities need to be restored to the lead role in building for low to middle-income households. To fund this they also need to avail of the State’s Housing Finance Agency. Selling off local authority homes to tenants needs to be reviewed. Tenant purchase eliminates valuable stock from local authority estates and bizarrely a proportion of these end up in the private market for rents that are far higher than local authorities charge. Obsessing about “mixed tenure” estates is an impediment to effective action. Arguments that local authorities should not build large scale social housing schemes because of “ghettoisation” are spurious and are not supported by evidence. There is much more convincing long-term evidence showing success and not failure of social housing estates. The policy should focus on building mixedincome estates thereby opening up social housing to a diversity of households who chose to rent their homes and put down roots in these communities. Actions at Cork level There is scope for a city the size of Cork to pursue effective housing actions. The extension of the city boundary opens up land for housing by the expanded city council and this needs to be aligned with the new Cork Transport Strategy and includes cost renting for households above local authority income limits but who wish to avoid exorbitant mortgages or private rents. Eliminating and preventing long-term chronic homelessness is feasible as the scale of Cork homelessness is much smaller than Dublin’s. By using a ‘Housing First’ approach with supported tenancies, long term homelessness on streets and hostels could be solved. Local forums such as the housing and homeless Strategic Policy Committees can robustly explore the merits of housing policy options. Finally, as Cork people may soon directly elect their Lord Mayor, housing must be the first item in the in-tray of the new First Citizen.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 24

Capturing the heart of a community ontemporary photographic artist Jeanette Lowe, who was born and lives in Dublin, has had her work exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London, The Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Dublin, as well as in many solo and group exhibitions.  Jeanette started taking photographs in Pearse House Flats in Dublin City centre in 2009 as part of a personal project. Her association with the flats goes back to her grandmother Bridget ‘Birdy’ Ashmore who was one of the first residents of Pearse House in the early 1930s. Bridget and her family were rehoused in the flats when their small cottage, located on the site, was demolished. Her images demonstrate that social housing is not just about bricks and mortar, it’s about communities with a strong history of life, love, struggle and joy.

C

Clockwise, from above: Pearse House, Dublin; Alana and Lacey; pictured right, and Nathan, left Images: Pearse House: Village in the City by ©Jeanette Lowe


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 25


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 26

COMMENT

Call to reverse reclassification decision Brian O’Gorman, Chief Executive of Clúid Housing, warns that the recommendation, if it is not changed, will directly impinge on Approved Housing Bodies’ ability to build social housing. n 25 years at Clúid Housing our organisation has built up its reputation and housing stock to become the largest Approved Housing Body (AHB) in Ireland. Over 17,000 people now live in a home either owned or managed by Clúid. In recent years, Clúid has partnered with five other AHBs – Circle Voluntary Housing, Cooperative Housing Ireland, Oaklee Housing, Respond and Tuath Housing – to form the Housing Alliance. Local authorities are the largest provider of social housing, but AHBs play an increasingly important role, with responsibility for approximately 30,000 homes. The six AHBs of the Housing Alliance are responsible for over 20,000 of these tenancies nationwide, that’s twothirds of the total AHB housing stock in Ireland. The current government target for social housing output is 50,000 additional homes by 2021. It is expected that AHBs will deliver one-third of that figure, representing a major contribution to social housing output at a time when our country is experiencing an unprecedented shortage. In December 2017, at the request of the European Statistics Agency (Eurostat), the Central Statistics Office (CSO) provided an assessment note on the sector classification of the 15 largest AHBs in the country. In essence, the CSO’s recommendation was that the 14 largest AHBs, which were off-balance sheet, should be classified as being on the government’s balance sheet. In February of this year, Eurostat supported this recommendation. The Housing Alliance sees the reclassification of AHBs as the most significant issue to hit the sector in many years and has warned the government both before and after this decision was made that it will directly impinge on AHBs’ ability to build social housing. Together, the members of the Housing Alliance are campaigning for a time-lined action plan from the government to explore all options to move AHBs off-balance sheet. Classifying AHBs as on-balance sheet means that AHB expenditure will contribute to general government debt. More importantly, though, classifying AHB spending as government spending means it

I

‘’

Classifying AHB spending as government spending means it will have to compete with others for the expenditure available in that fiscal space ... It is highly likely that this will result in less money being available for AHBs

will have to compete with others for the expenditure available in that fiscal space. In other words, while we’re classified as onbalance sheet we’re competing with other public services, such as hospitals and Garda stations, for the same amount of government funding. It is highly likely that this will result in less money being available for AHBs, with an obvious consequential reduction in social housing output. This, in turn, could threaten Rebuilding Ireland’s ambitious delivery targets. It is vitally important that we maintain and protect the contribution of AHBs during this time of change. AHBs are independent non-profit civil society organisations. The contribution of AHBs, such as the Iveagh Trust, predates the foundation of the Irish state. AHBs, alongside other civil society organisations such as credit unions, form an essential component of the strata of Irish society. This independence is compromised by Eurostat’s reclassification. The Housing Alliance has been working alongside our colleagues in the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) to identify the changes that will see the decision to reclassify reversed. It is our understanding that the changes required are possible and within the ability of housing associations and Government to bring about. The changes to finance, administration and regulation required are eminently deliverable. Clúid believes very strongly that AHBs have made a huge contribution to the development and management of highquality social housing, and are on course to play a major role in the delivery of government targets for social housing as set out in Rebuilding Ireland. Clúid welcomes statements from Eoghan Murphy T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, which emphasise the Government’s continuing support for the AHB sector and his desire to see the reversal of reclassification. However, the issue of reclassification hangs like a heavy cloud over the AHB sector at present, and we sincerely urge the government to bring about its swift resolution. • For more information on Clúid Housing, see www.cluid.ie


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 27

COMMENT

Cost rent policy needs to be on the agenda Rory O’Donnell, Director of the National, Economic and Social Council and Noel Cahil, economist at the NESC, argue that we need to widen social housing to a form of affordable or cost rental public housing n this article, we focus on social housing and the need to both increase its overall provision and widen it to a form of affordable or cost rental public housing. We draw on seven NESC reports –the first of which was published in 2004 and the remaining six between 2014 and 2019. NESC advises the Taoiseach on strategic policy issues relating to sustainable economic, social and environmental development. An acute scarcity of social housing is a major feature of the crisis. The trend in the provision of social housing is shown in Figure One. Those on modest incomes— who do not have access to social housing—are experiencing severe affordability problems in the private rental or owner-occupied sectors. A critical priority is to achieve a substantial increase in the stock of social housing in a way that increases the total housing stock. There are several factors limiting the new building of social housing in recent years. One would seem to be fear that large social housing developments would, through a negative ‘neighbourhood effect’, create areas of increasing social disadvantage. In part this idea reflects the fact, because of its scarcity, social housing has been increasingly reserved for those on low incomes. But, NESC has argued that it reflects an exaggerated view of the significance of neighbourhood effects among policy makers (NESC, 2014). Ways have to be found of achieving substantial increases in the scale of both total housing provision and affordable housing. A second obstacle to the timely expansion of social housing is the complexity of the public procurement system. Further reform seems required to combine speedier decision making with effective delivery and accountability. Since its 2004 report, NESC has highlighted the need for Irish policy to consider cost rental. Cost rental refers to housing in which the rents cover only the incurred costs of a stock of dwellings, rather than the current market value of the property (NESC, 2015a: 46). Where subsidies are provided, cost rents will cover costs net of subsidies. A large cost rental sector is significant in several EU member states that have more stable and affordable housing systems than Ireland. The benefits of a cost rental approach are realised in countries where

I

this sector has been encouraged to expand and compete with private rental in a diverse rental market. It has the potential to address many of Ireland’s housing challenges. The movement towards a new, wider, system of ‘public’ housing based on cost rental will raise a number of challenges for Ireland policy and housing sector actors. It requires access to land at a reasonable cost and depends critically on low-cost finance. It raises the question as to what organisations—such as voluntary housing or municipal housing bodies—will be capable of taking finance, driving housing development and managing a larger, integrated, cost rental housing sector. Indeed, in time, this direction of development will pose a number of questions about the long-term viability and wisdom of Ireland’s traditional social housing model, in particular, differential rents (whereby rents are based on tenants’ income) and tenant purchase at large discounts. Vienna represents an outstanding example of a dynamic wealthy city that has been successful in the provision of highquality affordable housing for its growing population. Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of accommodation in the province of Vienna is provided by limited-profit housing associations operating on a cost rentals basis, while a similar share consists of municipal housing. The latter is more heavily subsidised and has lower rents compared to the limited-profit sector, but both are part of a successful housing

system. Dublin City Council and the Housing Agency recently brought an exhibition on the Vienna model to Dublin and this generated widespread interest and discussion. There are two cost rental projects planned in the Dublin area. There is much to be learned from the Vienna experience of successful provision of affordable rental accommodation at large scale by both voluntary bodies and a municipal housing provider. • NESC reports on Housing since 2004 • NESC (2004), Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2014a), Social Housing at the Crossroads: Possibilities for Investment, Provision and Cost Rental, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2014b), Homeownership and Rental: What Road is Ireland On?, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2015a), Ireland's Private Rental Sector: Pathways to Secure Occupancy and Affordable Supply, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2015b), Housing Supply and Land: Driving Public Action for the Common Good, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2018), Urban Development Land, Housing and Infrastructure: Fixing Ireland’s Broken System, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council. • NESC (2019), Transport Orientated Development, Dublin: National Economic and Social Council.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

Page 28

www.viewdigital.org

‘’

We have a shortage of housing in Ireland

Bill Nowlan at his office – Marine House – in Dublin

VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to property expert Bill Nowlan about REITs and his PhD on social and affordable housing roperty industry veteran Bill Nowlan has built a business career which is steeped in the world of real estate in the Republic of Ireland. We met for lunch at his offices WK Nowlan-Real Estate Advisors, which are situated in Marine House on the south side of Dublin. Bill spent his early career in Irish Life, then founded his own company W.K. Nowlan Real Estate Advisors. He has also partnered with businessman Frank Kenny to create Urbeo Residential, which says it is focused on “matching investor needs for long-term, stable returns with those of tenants to build stable and sustainable communities of rental housing”. He has also served on the board of Focus Ireland, which works with people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes across Ireland. “I was asked to join the board of Focus Ireland,” said Bill. “I was a nonexecutive director. “I presume they thought my knowledge of commercial property would be of some use to them. I spent eight years on the board. “Everything was going swimmingly and then the world came to an end in 2009. Suddenly when Focus Ireland filled out a form to buy a house, nothing happened, the money didn’t come back. It stopped because of the economic crash in Ireland. The government just stopped investing in social housing. “Then the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) came along. I then started thinking about my real estate investment experience and was it possible to bring back the concept of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).” NAMA was created by the

P

government of Ireland in late 2009, in response to the Irish financial crisis. “I basically put proposals to the government that said REITs are a method of taking several billion euros out of NAMA over time. I set up a committee which was called the REITs Forum which included KPMG, A&LGoodbody and NCB Brokers. We built up a body of opinion and articles were published. Eventually, the government listened and REITs were introduced. “There are now four REITs in Ireland. I was on the board of one of them, Hibernia. My son Kevin, who was in NAMA at the time, was thinking of leaving. We said ‘let’s walk the talk’ and the concept of Hibernia being a REIT in Ireland was born. It is now worth between €1.4 billion and €1.5 billion. I’m not involved now. “When Hibernia was launched I was still involved with Focus Ireland who still couldn’t get any property. I wondered was there a way I could get equity into the social and affordable housing sector?” It was to result in Bill studying and getting a PhD from Ulster University. The title of his PhD was ‘The equity finance of social and affordable housing’. His five-year research looked at funding models and why there has been such a low level of institutional capital attracted into this area of the market. I asked Bill did he view social housing as an investment opportunity for investors? “There’s no such thing as a social house, it’s a piece of real estate which happens to be occupied by a particular tenant who may or may not be getting government support. The standard of the property should be acceptable from the

market down and the standard should be set by the market. The people who have government support should get the same standard as market housing.” Urbeo Residential has joined forces with US investment fund Starwood and the Irish Strategic Investment Fund to create a €1 billion platform. It plans to buy rental accommodation with an element of social and supported tenancies in Dublin and other major Irish cities. One of its first acquisitions was in Tallaght, Dublin. “The average rent would be around £1,500 per month for the properties in Tallaght,” said Bill. When I said that some tenants may find that too high of a rent, Bill replied: “What I would say is that the cost of building houses is too high in this country. Housing is all about financing, it’s all about money.” Do we have a housing crisis? I asked. “We have a shortage of housing,” replied Bill. “The cost of housing is too high here for a multitude of reasons. There is too much taxation. We’re still using a housing system which was invented in the late 1800s” Should the government commit to large scale public housing projects to try and solve the housing crisis? I asked? Bill replied: “But were will the money come from? The present government is constrained by its own budgets and also from Europe.” As our interview came to an end Bill proudly showed me a quote from Pope Francis which is at the start of his PhD. Part of it read – “Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals that make your talents fruitful.” So far Bill has led a very fruitful life.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 29

COMMENT

HAP limitations beginning to emerge Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy at Focus Ireland, examines the impact of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) for families in the Republic of Ireland he Government’s housing and homelessness strategy, Rebuilding Ireland, envisages that over 60 per cent of the ‘social housing solutions’ will be in private rented accommodation, funded through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). Given that the building capacity of both the private and public sector had been decimated during the financial crisis, HAP got Rebuilding Ireland off to a flying start – delivering early successes while we waited for the new builds to arrive. Just over half of the families that move out of homelessness do so using the enhanced HAP known as Homeless HAP (HHAP) (1) Under HAP, the local authority pays the full rent to the landlord and the tenant pays a differential rent (usually around 15 per cent of their income) to the local authority. HHAP differs from mainstream HAP by providing access to a deposit and advanced rent as well as paying up to 50 per cent above the normal HAP rent. The HHAP enhancements allow homeless families to compete more effectively for rental accommodation, putting them on a more equal footing with the many other families seeking limited supply. In the absence of significant new real social housing, these families would be stuck in emergency accommodation for years. However, two years in, with privatesector building recovering very slowly and public sector building determinedly dormant (if not dead), the limitations of relying on HAP are beginning to emerge. First, the resulting HAP and HHAP tenancies suffer from all the insecurities and prejudices of Ireland’s private rental sector – insecurities which are clear when you realise that over 70 per cent of homeless families became homeless in the first place due to evictions in the private rental sector. Second, is the current scale of HAP, which now accounts for over 43,000 of the 313,00 tenancies in the private rental sector. Given this scale, tenants eligible for HAP are competing with working tenants who face the full rent, and they are both competing with families desperate to get out of homelessness with HHAP. The third problem is just the enormous scale of the households that are potentially eligible for HAP if everyone who is eligible applied. There are 71,858

T

‘’

70 per cent of homeless families became homeless in the first place due to evictions in the private rental sector households on housing waiting lists and, even though working families with around average incomes are eligible, only 16 per cent obtain all their income from employment. Eligibility is based on net income. So a family with a full-time and a part-time worker could easily be eligible for social housing and therefore for HAP, even with wages significantly above the minimum wage. For instance, a Dublin family with one child where the main earner on €15/hr for 38 hours/week and the second earning €11/hr for 20 hours would gross €41,000, resulting in a net income of around €37,500. There are many thousands of households with this level of income – NERI figures from 2011 show that a third of all households had a gross income of less than €27,000 and almost two thirds (62%) grossed less than €50,000. Wages have increased since then but not so much to radically transform this picture. Perhaps these working households do not apply because they would not be a priority for an actual social house or they aspire to own their own home. They may be put off by the unfounded stigma of social housing. But if they are living in the private rental sector, they are in fact eligible to go on the housing list and, in

Dublin for example, have as much as 50 per cent of their rent covered by HAP. If they only knew. As public knowledge of HAP rises, there is a real possibility of very large numbers claiming it – at a massive cost to the State. Rental accommodation would be affordable only to those eligible for social housing support and the very rich. There are a number of bad policy responses to this – for instance, you could slash the income thresholds for social housing, so making it even more marginal and only for the very poor. But there are three good potential responses. The first might seem to be paradoxical as it would extend HAP to cover real social housing by moving to a ‘cost rental’ system. Under this policy, the local authority would charge tenants a rent sufficient to cover current and capital costs. This means tenants with moderate incomes above the social housing thresholds could rent at below-market rents, while the rent of low-income tenants would be made affordable by a housing subsidy – HAP. This would take demand pressure out of the private rental market and provide affordable rental accommodation that would help to underpin our housing system and the economic prosperity of our cities. The local authority/AHB would receive income from a mixture of tenants paying the full cost rent and those being subsidised by HAP. It would also retain the home as an asset. Both the income and the asset provide the basis for a much more ambitious programme of house building. Second, you could revise the income test for a rental subsidy so that it gradually falls as income rises, ending the cliff edge eligibility. And finally, all this would boost the third policy response – to build far more social homes. 1 – Figures produced by the DRHE for the Dublin City Council housing Strategic Policy Committee in February 2019 showed that 656 (56 per cent) of all households (i.e. families and singles in all four local authorities) exiting homelessness went into the private rental market using the housing assistance payment.


VIEW, Issue 52, 2019

www.viewdigital.org

Page 30

COMMENT

We need to challenge negative perceptions Justin Cartwright, Policy and Engagement Manager at the Chartered Institute of Housing, argues that we need to champion social housing just like our other public services and infrastructure “The name ‘social housing’ has developed a stigma over the past 30 years. Terms like ‘affordable’, ‘public’ and ‘council’ housing don’t carry the same stigma as social. Call it affordable housing – does what it says on the tin.” The Chartered Institute of Housing recently undertook a major new research project that engaged with over 230 people in Northern Ireland, asking them fundamental questions about the future of social housing. The above quote was from a resident at a group interview in Cookstown. Throughout the project, which was launched to make recommendations for change to social housing policy in Northern Ireland, we were constantly told about the value of social housing. We were reminded of the major role it plays in improving public health, reducing poverty and building a strong economy. At the same time, some participants (both tenants and people connected with the housing profession) saw social housing as having a stigma. As the opening quote suggests, some considered that the name itself was stigmatised. Of course, a name doesn’t develop a stigma out of thin air. Scratch the surface, and people spoke about the ‘residualisation’ of social housing – the move from housing the working classes to housing more of the non-working poor in Northern Ireland and the resulting impact on community sustainability. People spoke about how social housing was built in spatial ghettos, featuring homes that looked different from market housing. Some developments were fenced off and denied the public services required to ensure that the community could thrive. So some now call for a rebranding of social housing as ‘community housing’, ‘affordable housing’ or similar to reduce this stigma. In our view, doing so would be an expensive exercise that wholly misses the point while not achieving very much at all, not least reducing stigma. A more appropriate response would be changing

‘’

Social housing is so valuable to our society, we should be shouting its benefits from the rooftops

some of the policies that have contributed to these perceptions. First, we need to increase the supply of social housing and similar housing options that address people’s various needs. Fundamentally, if there is more social housing, then more of it will be available for working families in a needsbased allocations system. Second, we must establish priority for allocation according to a common definition and understanding of need. There are acute disparities in how different types of need are determined by Northern Ireland’s selection scheme. For example, an applicant’s current home being too expensive is considered need, but the applicant is awarded just ten points – while hundreds of points are needed to be allocated a house in highdemand areas. In practice, these households are being excluded from social housing, and will continue to be excluded even with a significant increase in supply. Third, we must recognise that the consequence of building single tenure developments is that other tenures are provided ‘elsewhere’. A focus on mixedtenure communities is vital. The result could be developments that become what Aneurin Bevan, Labour Party politician who was the Minister for Health in the UK from 1945 to 1951, referred to as “the living tapestry of a mixed community”. And last, but certainly not least, we need to challenge negative perceptions through education. Social housing is so valuable to our society, we should be shouting its benefits from the rooftops. There is merit in the housing sector and government leading work to change the narrative, informing the wider public of the social and economic benefits of social housing. As one research participant said, “social is that which society funds … social housing serves society and that makes it a positive thing”. Let’s champion social housing just like our other public services and vital infrastructure.


Sponsored by the Housing Agency

THE HOUSING AGENCY is a

team of dedicated housing professionals working towards delivering sustainable and affordable housing for all. Using our knowledge and expertise we lead the way in informing and delivering housing policy. We are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of the Irish housing sector through our active engagement with others.

The Housing Agency provides a range of housing-related services and manages some key projects Sourcing and Acquiring Properties for Social Housing Housing Procurement Services Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies Lands Development and Management Mortgage to Rent Housing Practitioner Training Services

Policy Advice

Pyrite Remediation

Research and Analysis

Approved Housing Bodies Services

Support to Local Authorities

Loan Underwriting of Local Authority House Purchase Loans

HOUSING AGENCY 53-54 Mount Street Upper, Dublin 2, DO2 KT73 E: info@housingagency.ie

National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability

T: (01) 656 4100 www.housingagency.ie


Contact VIEWdigital publisher Una Murphy for more information on what we offer at email: unamurphy@viewdigital.org

Profile for brian pelan

Latest issue of VIEW – Is the Vienna model the answer to Ireland's housing crisis?  

A social affairs publication which examines the housing crisis in the Republic of Ireland

Latest issue of VIEW – Is the Vienna model the answer to Ireland's housing crisis?  

A social affairs publication which examines the housing crisis in the Republic of Ireland