LAST WEEK, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland ruled in favour of a developer which used the absence of any social or affordable housing as a selling point for a development in Dublin. But statements like this merely encourage social segregation, argues Donal McManus of the Irish Council for Social Housing.
THE PROMOTION OF social housing in Ireland has always been a challenge in a country with one of the highest levels of homeownership in the world. This is despite the fact that many hundreds of thousands of families may have started off in social housing.
The recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) on a private housing development – whose advertising championed the absence of social and affordable housing within – makes that job more difficult. Housing consumers don’t need to be highly nuanced to understand the underlying message in any promotional literature which uses the absence of social and affordable housing as a key attraction to make the place ‘an exceptional place to live’.
This sort of persuasive advertising is designed to appeal to the emotions of a nation which was consumed by home ownership at any price, and relegates people living in social and affordable housing as having less value. Irish society is currently paying the price both financially and socially for home ownership overload, and is having to introduce housing policies to mop up its failures. Thousands of households with mortgage arrears, unfinished estates and vacant properties built for owner-occupiers as well some poorly constructed homes are the legacy of this
Since 2000, planning legislation (known as part V) allowed local authorities the power to set aside up to 20 per cent of new residential developments, over a certain size, for social and affordable housing. Amendments in 2002 allowed other options for developers to comply with part V. In addition to providing new social and affordable homes on site, they could offer cash or land in lieu of completed units.
The ASAI found that promotional material for housing developments can contain the information that there is no social and affordable housing, if that is truly the case.
But if private investors buy properties in private developments, how do you guarantee to other owners that some of those units would not be rented in future to those in need of social housing? Would there be a stipulation in any advertising literature that only true homeowners will be considered for sale? Are bodies like the ASAI going to police this to ensure that this is factually true over the long-term?
The 2000 Planning and Development Act had worthy societal aims in reforming the planning system, including the objective to counteract social segregation. However, the construction industry had a strong aversion to implementing part V – particularly the option of providing units on the same site with private homeowners. And the part V process itself was rather too clunky to be able to deliver social and affordable units in a timely manner on a significant scale. The provision of cash may have become the dominant option in lieu of social and affordable units provided on site.
However, there have been a number of fine examples where developers have worked in partnership with housing associations and local authorities to create high quality mixed tenure communities. This should have been the norm, not the exception – especially now when we have the highest ever demand for social housing in the aftermath of a housing crash.
A challenge for the future would be for the housing industry to develop and promote a product such as a mixed tenure sustainable community. The days of monolithic social or indeed private housing developments should be at an end.
Although the number of new housing developments may be limited in the coming years, we want to avoid any resonances of a ‘no blacks, no dogs, and no Irish’ approach in housing delivery – and responsible advertising has a key role in this respect. Government policy has been to counteract social segregation, and there should not be mixed messages that condone it.
Donal McManus is executive director of the Irish Council for Social Housing.