Housing For All
1. What is the housing problem?
The last decade has seen a crisis across all parts of the housing sector. Rising house prices have made owning their own home unaffordable for most people people on average incomes.
Waiting lists for local authority housing are at an all time high, up 18% in 2001 alone to 54,000.
Homelessness has doubled in our cities while rents in private rented accommodation and evictions have quadrupled.
This year house prices have finally stalled, creating an illusion that the housing crisis is being solved. It isn't. Despite three expert consultant reports and a Commission on the Private Rented Sector there is still a housing crisis in Ireland.
Why is there a housing crisis?
The housing crisis in the 26 Counties is caused by three factors. They are:
(1) Uncontrolled vested interests in the private house building sector.
(2) Underfunding of local authority house building programmes by the central government.
(3) Failure to plan for the long-term housing needs of a growing population.
Corruption and Exploitation
The realisation of the scale of corruption uncovered in local government planning shows how vested interests were able to control the supply of private housing in Ireland. In Dublin, developers were allowed drip feed houses onto the market driving up prices and reaping huge profits.
Even now the attempts to control developers and builders in the Planning and Development Act are floundering. The 20% target for social housing in new developments is not being met nor are the two-year planning deadlines.
This year the Dublin Government have committed over €1 billion to public sector housing schemes. We need a greater financial commitment maintained for a much longer period.
There were unmet housing needs at the start of the 1990s and each year they gre because of government cutbacks. We need now at least a decade of substantially increased spending to redress the problem.
The state is spending over €140 million this year subsidising private rented accommodation. This is an unrecoverable investment. It shows the short-term view of governments who have wasted hundreds of millions of euros rather than develop a long-term housing strategy.
Demographic Change and social planning
Even at times of population decline the State in the 26 Counties has failed to house all of its citizens. There has been a sustained population growth in Ireland for the past 30 years. The failure of governments to recognise this level of change and how they would house the tens of thousands of new households being formed is shameful.
For years the government ignored the need to plan long-term to house its own citizens. Emigration hid the worst excesses of this social planning failure and then in 1990s when migration flows reversed we 'suddenly' had a housing crisis.
The Government should have seen the housing problem coming from a long way off if they really are the efficient competent economic managers they claim to be.
2. The Governments record of shame
Average house prices have risen by 90% during the lifetime of this government.
The average price for a house in Dublin in January was 2002 was €234,079. For a house outside Dublin the average cost was €158,730.
Institute of Auctioneers and Valuers of Ireland predicted rent rises of 18% for 2001
There was a 250% increase in the numbers facing illegal evictions from private rented accommodation in 2000.
There was a 50 per cent increase in the number of people facing rent increases.
140,000 people waiting
35% rise between 1999 and 200
Focus Ireland has estimated that approximately 140,000 people are waiting for housing. Up to November 2001 the number of households on local authority waiting lists stood at 53,955.
Between 1999 and the end of 2001, there was a 35 per cent rise in the number of households on the local authority lists.
Housing lists more than doubled in counties such as Waterford, Westmeath, Monaghan and in south Cork between November 2000 and November 2001.
Waterford County Council had a 118 per cent increase in its waiting list between 2000 and 2001. Westmeath recorded a 104 per cent increase. The number of households on Monaghan's waiting list increased by 102 per cent.
Cork Corporation's waiting list stood at 4,129 households - a 44 per cent increase on 2000 - while 1,301 households were waiting for housing in Galway city, an increase of 76 per cent.
Approximately 7,477 households were waiting for housing in the Dublin Corporation area, according to a provisional estimate.
According to Irish Government figures 216,000 hew public and private sector houses were built over the last five years. With waiting lists still rising this only highlights the scale of work that still needs to be done to even get the housing crisis to stand still in the 26 Counties
We need to sustain another decade of substantial house building.
It is estimated that there are approximately 6,000 people homeless in the 26 Counties, 75% of which live in Dublin. The Dublin Government announced a £180 million strategy to tackle homelessness last year.
The plan does not envisage successfully tackling homelessness until 2010. As with housing waiting lists a much shorter time frame is needed to tackle the problem.
Planning and Development Act 2000
The Planning and Development Act 2000 proposed two key measures. 20% of land zoned for housing development would be earmarked for social housing schemes. The Act also provides that a two-year limit on planning permission be imposed to stop developers maintaining artificially high houses prices.
The reality in the current housing market is that neither of these two measures is being implemented. Proposals for withdrawal of tax breaks for owners of multiple dwellings were never brought forward and last year's budget brought back mortgage relief for owners of second homes.
In 2001, despite claims to the contrary by the Irish Home Builders Association (IHBA), the number of new house completions rose to nearly 52,000, a 4% rise on 2000.
Peter Bacon, author of the three housing reports commissioned by the Dublin Government has said that these figures raise "a political issue. If the Government claims credit for having delivered in excess of the magic figure of 50,000 completions for the second year in succession, somebody will ask why Charlie McCreevy reintroduced mortgage relief."
Bacon concluded that "aggressive lobbying may have panicked the Government". What the figures and the governments u-turn on taking away special incentives for property developers and investors show is no change in the power of vested interests to dictate government housing policy.
Despite the exposure of planning corruption and undue political influence on government by developers, nothing has changed.
Now developers are blaming the slowdown in house completions on the 2000 Act. The years of corruption by developers and politicians have been forgotten. It is only in the last year that the FF/PD Coalition government acted to stop planning officials double jobbing. Officials across councils in the 26 Counties were also representing private developers and helping them through the planning process.
Other positive measures taken up by the Government including the abolition of stamp duty on houses costing less than £150,000 and the co-ownership schemes are welcome but they only offer solutions to a very small segment of total housing need.
Private Rented Accommodation
Despite establishing a Commission on the Private Rented Sector the government has been unwilling to offer more protection for tenants through rent control, minimum accommodations standards or requiring landlords to offer longer leases to tenants.
Infrastructure and Planning
There is also a need to recognise that housing provision does not happen in a vacuum and that substantial investment in infrastructure such as roads, sewerage, public transport, local health and educational facilities is needed. Serious consideration needs to be given to the issue of where new housing stock should be located.
The first step is recognizing the planning blight caused by the never-ending suburban sprawls outside our larger towns and cities. There is a danger in the planning that measures used to speed up planning applications could also create the environment where in haste bad planning decisions are taken in haste with serious long-term consequences.
This need for extreme care is the all the more important as the scale of housing projects needed over the next ten years could easily lead governments back to the short-term quick fixes of the past which end up as huge planning blunders.
Sinn Feins Plan of Action on Housing
Housing is a basic right
Sinn Fein believes proper accommodation is a basic inalienable right and we support enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution.
A National Housing Strategy and a National Housing Agency
While provision of housing should be planned and organised and at a local level, there is a strong need for a National Housing Strategy to be co-ordinated by a National Housing Agency that would maximise the efforts of local authorities throughout the island, by focussing funding and expertise where housing need is greatest.
Such a body must not be a top-down organisation but would instead constitute the shared knowledge and experience in Ireland and use it for dealing equitably, effectively and efficiently with the housing problems that afflict communities throughout the island.
A National Housing Agency would co-ordinate public, private, co-operative and shared ownership housing schemes.
While not being the sole barrier to private home ownership, high purchase prices and mortgage costs are undoubtedly a serious obstacle. A state run financial institution, or some form of partnership between the government and the more progressive financial institutions such as local credit unions could provide an effective means for lower income households to purchase their own homes.
Tax Incentives and State Support
While many home owners benefit from mortgage interest rate relief, first time buyers grants, shared ownership schemes and other tax provisions there is a pressing need to re-evaluate the role of government in subsidising or defraying housing costs. At the core of this re-evaluation should be the need to ensure equality of treatment in how the state disburses tax incentives and other supports into the housing market. Sinn Fein believes that the present system is riven with inequality
The present state support system in the 26 Counties inflates the profits of financial institutions rather than targeting state support at lower income householders.
There must be no more cuts in corporation tax or capital gains tax. In the 26 Counties Capital gains tax should be restored to its 1997 level of 40%. There should be an increase in Capital Gains Tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings. Such as tax would be introduced on a phased basis over two years.
There should be a review of the Seaside Resort Tax Incentive Scheme.
Land Issues and Developers
The hoarding of land to inflate house prices is a deplorable and anti-social act. Sinn Fein supports the control of land prices, with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring house prices.
Sinn Fein also supports the use of compulsory purchase orders against landowners sitting on land banks and derelict property.
The indirect benefit conferred on developers by State investment in infrastructure needs to be established and a code of practice implemented to ensure that private developers are not profiting from the development of infrastructure by local and/or central government.
In every decade of the last century there has been an unmet need for housing. Successive administrations have tinkered with the housing problem. Sinn Fein believes that housing policy throughout the island should be directed towards an elimination of local authority waiting lists with an immediate target of supplying suitable accommodation within two years for 70% of applicants.
Bad planning and bad housing provision in the past have meant that governments have had to demolish and rebuild housing projects. The Ballymun and Divis flat complexes provide a stark reminder of the scale of these planning failures.
Community involvement in the planning process must be a basic starting point of any development plan whether local government or private developers lead it.
Sinn Fein believes there should be much more focus on developing brown field sites and that housing projects should not be built independent of the necessary social amenities, such as schools, health facilities, retail amenities and an adequate local public transport infrastructure. This integrated approach should be enshrined in planning legislation.
There is a need to establish best practice on issues such as housing mix in new developments, as well as dwelling size, size of green and common areas, and overall environmental impact.
Voluntary and Community Housing
The full potential of the voluntary and community sector's contribution to resolving the supply of housing in Ireland has never been established. Sinn Fein believes there is a need to provide resources for developing the best possible models of voluntary and community housing schemes. We believe there should be one streamlined funding scheme with simple procedures for running these schemes.
Private Rented Sector
While private home ownership is the most common form of housing provision in Ireland today a significant part of the population are, often unwillingly, living in private rented accommodation.
Sinn Fein deplores the lack of protection under law offered to tenants particularly in quality of accommodation, length of leases and rent increases.
Sinn Fein supports a system of rent control linked to year of purchase and investment in a dwelling. Tax evading landlords must be pursued. There must be minimum standards of accommodation and inspection units accountable to local government to ensure implementation of quality control.
The achievement of proper targets for the reduction of housing waiting lists would reduce the wasteful expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds on subsidising private rented accommodation through the Rent Supplement scheme.
Sinn Fein supports the establishment of a Housing Ombudsman's office. It function would be to:
Protect the rights of home owners
Support new home owners to enforce snag lists
Monitor the implementation of housing and planning legislation
Ensure an end to gazzumping
Monitor house price changes
Monitor the hidden cost of auctioneers and solicitors fees
Establish a legally enforceable code of practice for house builders and vendors.
Sinn Fein supports the demand for the full implementation of an integrated strategy on homelessness. Local Authority Homeless Action Plans should be placed on a statutory basis.
We support the call for specific targets for the reduction of the absolute numbers of homeless people based on 2002 figures. On the basis of equity this should aim at 70% reduction within two years.
There should be an immediate process of consultation with all the relevant voluntary and statutory agencies to target Youth Homelessness and to develop and implement an Action Plan on Mental Health among homeless people.
The supply of housing is often portrayed in simplistic terms, where all that is needed are more dwellings built as quickly as possible. However, for a wide range of groups the provision of housing is a much more complex problem. Groups such as travellers, refugees, asylum seekers, women at risk, the elderly, homeless and students all need and have a right to suitably tailored housing provisions.
Sinn Feins 12 Point Plan of Action for Housing
- Enshrine the Right to Housing in the Constitution.
- A National Housing Strategy and a National Housing Agency to co-ordinate all aspects of housing provision.
- State-led initiative in partnership with progressive financial institutions such as credit unions to allow lower income earners to purchase their own homes.
- Increased and sustained funding of local authorities to provide housing with a target of supplying suitable accommodation within two years for 70% of applicants on the waiting lists.
- Increase in Capital Gains Tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings, introduced on a phased basis over two years.
- Statutory ceiling on price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring house prices. Compulsory Purchase Orders on landowners sitting on land banks and derelict property.
- Direct community involvement in planning for housing. Legislation to ensure that social needs are incorporated in all housing schemes from the earliest stage.
- Single streamlined funding scheme for voluntary and community housing.
- Rent control in the private rented sector and enforcement of enhanced legislative protection for tenants.
- The establishment of a Housing Ombudsmans Office.
- Full implementation of an integrated strategy for homelessness with a target of 70% reduction within two years.
- Suitably tailored housing provision for those with special needs such as people with disabilities, women at risk, asylum seekers, Travellers, students.
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