Putting it right: 10 ideas for easing Ireland’s housing crisis
Carl O'Brien, Kitty Holland
1 Make renting attractive: introduce rent controls Rents in Dublin have increased by 14 per cent since 2011, putting them back at 2009 levels. Even the well-off find them unaffordable, and hundreds of low-income householders have been forced out of the market. Rent controls in Ireland were ruled unconstitutional in the 1980s and abolished. But the blunt systems of old, which froze rents, have been replaced in other European countries with flexible limits. These balance the interests of landlords and tenants by allowing maximum rises linked to the consumer price index.
2 Increase social housing stock: State-backed property acquisition The State is the biggest tenant in the private rental sector. Through rent supplement it pays hundreds of millions of euro to private landlords. If the State spent a similar amount acquiring houses it could provide accommodation at cheaper rents while building up its social-housing stock.
3 Release land for housing: use or lose planning permission Planning legislation should include strong and enforceable incentives to ensure land that is bought for housebuilding and that has planning permission is used within a set time frame, rather than allowing landholders to sit tight in the hope of making greater profits. There has been talk of doing this in the past, but little action.
No homes to go to
Anna Boch and Alun Owens with their children Aoife, Lorcan and Cormac. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times The apartment family: ‘We feel trapped’
Generation rent: Joanne Martin with her children, Hannah and Alex. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien‘Everything we have is going on paying the monthly rent’
Peter Brown (holding his grandson Cooper), his grandchildren Ruben and Jade, and (back) Rachel, Angela, Stephen, James, Lisa and her son Cole. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES The housing-list family: ‘We’re not looking for anything fancy. Just a bit of stability’
Minister of State for Housing Jan O Sullivan wants to remove opt-outs from the new planning Bill, which will come before the Oireachtas later this year. Photograph: Cyril ByrneNew law will make builders provide social housing
4 Expand rent-allowance housing: eliminate the red tape Landlords have been criticised in recent weeks for apparent discrimination against low- income families by refusing to accept rent allowance. Many do accept it: 78,000 households are part of the system. But they say the rent-allowance scheme is too bureaucratic. Rent can be delayed as tenant and landlord navigate the paperwork. Much could be done to make the scheme more attractive to landlords, including paying them the allowance directly.
5 Build more houses 1: expand the not-for-profit housing sector Social housing has ground to a halt as a result of spending cuts. But not-for-profit housing associations can potentially play a much greater role in building homes for vulnerable citizens. Crucially, they are able to access public funding that’s off the State’s balance sheet via the Housing Agency.
6 Build more houses 2: establish housing trusts South Dublin County Council is examining an idea to establish a housing trust, effectively an arm’s-length building company, which could borrow money from the Housing Finance Authority. The funds could be used to take out mortgages on which the county council could build houses. Local authorities currently cannot borrow from the Housing Finance Authority because of European fiscal rules.
7 Make rent more affordable: increase rent caps The caps are due to be reviewed in December, but this is too far off for families being forced out of homes now. The Department of Social Protection is unlikely to increase them on a blanket basis, for fear of driving rents even higher. Instead, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is working with the department to give community welfare officers the flexibility to increase rent supplement if necessary on a case-by-case basis.
8 Reduce evictions: educate tenants A mass tenants’ rights information campaign should be rolled out to reduce the number of householders losing their tenancies and to ensure that tenants know their rights when they are faced with the threat of eviction. Many don’t know that notice of a rent increase has to be given in writing, that rent can be increased only once a year, or that a notice to quit can only be given for specific reasons.
9 Avoid home repossessions: Permit mass mortgage write-downs Amid warnings that house repossessions could escalate this year, which would add further to social-housing waiting lists, many advocate large-scale mortgage write-downs. People in severe mortgage distress would have a portion of their debts written off or parked, allowing them to stay in their homes while making repayments at sustainable levels. Those against such a solution cite moral hazard and warn that some people wouldn’t pay even though they could afford to.
10 Prevent a property bubble: regulate more tightly The Central Bank of Ireland should limit loan-to-value ratios to 80-90 per cent of a house’s value. We should also discourage variable mortgages in favour of fixed mortgages, which create more stable markets. And it would help if, when talking about property, we talked about the actual cost, with the price of a mortgage factored in, not just the purchase price.