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FactCheck: How many social housing units were actually built last year?

TheJournal.ie’s GE16 FactCheck examines some confusing and contradictory claims about social housing.

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AS PART OF our GE16 FactCheck series, we’re testing the truth of claims made by candidates and parties on the campaign trail.

If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, or see a claim that looks great, but you want to confirm it, email factcheck@thejournal.ie.

We’ve had a few queries about housing so far, about which several different claims are being made by several different candidates and parties.

Lorcan Sirr in Dublin Bay South asked us to examine claims made by a government minister on TV last week, so we did.

90403565 (1) Aisling Butler gets the keys to a newly-provided social housing unit, last December. Source: RollingNews.ie

Claim: 13,000 social housing units were built last year – Paschal Donohoe
Verdict: FALSE by a large margin, but not what the Minister meant to say.

What was said:

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Thursday night, Donohoe stated:

In social housing alone, for example, in 2014 7,000 more homes were built. Last year, 13,000 more homes being built.

A Fine Gael spokesperson confirmed to TheJournal.ie that Donohoe actually intended to say that those numbers of social housing units were provided (tenancies were contracted with people on social housing listsand not built.

Nevertheless, here’s an analysis of the claim, as made on the programme.

The facts:

Housing construction is measured in two ways: completions (when a house is connected to the ESB network) and commencements (when construction begins on a house).

The Department of the Environment does not track the number of commencements for social housing units, so we are reliant on completion figures.

In 2014, departmental figures show there were 515 social housing completions.

Based on this, Donohoe’s claim about 2014 (as it was phrased on Prime Time) overstates the number by a multiple of almost 14, and is verifiably false.

socialhousing2014 Source: Dept of Environment

The Department has not yet published figures for the last quarter of 2015.

TheJournal.ie requested the relevant figures from the Department, but we were told they are still not available.

Without the official data, we can’t make an absolutely definitive evaluation of the Transport Minister’s claim about 2015.

However, we do know that social housing completions came to 246 in the first three quarters of the year, and private completions came to 8,668.

socialhousingcompletions2015 Source: Dept of Environment

According to Department of the Environment figures, there were completions of all kinds on 12,666 housing units in 2015.

Although the Department has published the overall number, they haven’t yet said how many of those were in the private sector, and how many were social housing units, for the fourth quarter of last year.

However, if we average out the rate of growth in private completions from quarter-to-quarter, from January to September, we can estimate that there may have been around 3,664 private housing completions from October to December.

This would leave an estimated yearly figure of 12,332 private units.

If we subtract that from the overall number of completions (12,666), we are left with an estimated total of 334 social housing units built in 2015.

housebuilding1415 Source: Dept of Environment

Fianna Fáil Environment Spokesperson Barry Cowen, also appearing on the show, volunteered that from 2007 to 2010, Fianna Fáil oversaw the construction of 3,600 social housing units per year.

Actually, that figure understates the reality, which is that social housing completions in those years totalled 20,380 – an average of 5,095 per annum.

ffsocialhousing Source: Dept of Environment

Building/delivering/providing/contracting

However, as confirmed by a Fine Gael spokesperson, what Donohoe intended to refer to was the number of social housing units delivered, rather than – as he claimed – built.

According to the Department’s report on Social Housing Output for 2015 (published two weeks ago), 13,000 social housing units were delivered last year, and 7,000 in 2014 – the source of the figures mentioned by Donohoe on Prime Time.

The figures for 2015 are labelled provisional, which means they might actually be higher or lower than stated.

However, the report found that in total, 13,141 units were delivered or contracted to people on social housing lists, or in receipt of rent allowance, and so on, through several programmes:

socialhousingbreakdown2015 Source: Dept of Environment

’13,000 keys’

But how many of the social housing units provided are actually being lived in?

The report itself makes the claim that “13,000 keys” were handed to “those on housing waiting lists.”

Speaking to Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One’s Today programme on 27 January, Alan Kelly repeated the claim:

We’ve used every avenue possible to us to ensure 13,000 keys were given over to people.

TheJournal.ie asked the Department of the Environment to provide the exact number of occupied units, and explain the source of the figure.

A spokesperson said: “Once the units have been delivered, we would assume that the majority are tenanted.”

Anything included in the output statement [the 13,141 units] means the local authority has submitted the claim and drawn down the money.

The spokesperson stated, however, that the local authorities and housing providers don’t systematically report back to the department when a unit becomes occupied.

So the specific claim about “13,000 keys being handed over” appears to be based on an assumption that, given the very high demand for social housing, a newly-delivered unit does not stay unoccupied for long.

However, there is, according to the department, no systematic way of verifying the exact numbers involved .

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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