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FACTCHECK

FactCheck: Did the Government miss its social housing targets for three years in a row?

The claim was made in a Dáil debate on the eviction ban.

For general Factchecks not about Covid

THE GOVERNMENT’S RECORD on housing came under fire in the Dáil on Tuesday during a debate on extending the eviction ban, with questions from the Opposition about how much was done while the six-month moratorium was in place.

The debate was sparked by a motion tabled by Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin to extend the ban until next January.

The Government had announced earlier this month that it will not to extend the moratorium when it lapses on 31 March, and sought to defend its record (and decision not to extend the ban) in a counter-motion from Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien.

In that counter-motion, the minister laid out various statistics on housing delivery from the last quarter of 2022, as well as its plans to reduce homelessness in the coming months.

But during a subsequent exchange, Ó Broin claimed that 2022 saw the Government miss its social housing targets for the third year in a row. Is this true?

The Claim

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said that the Government missed its own social housing targets for the third consecutive year in 2022.

In a debate about the eviction ban, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien told the Dáil that 30,000 homes were completed last year, a rise of almost 50% on the previous year. Ó Broin responded:

The Minister missed his social and affordable housing targets for the third year in a row.

EOINOB Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

Context

Let’s look at the Government’s social and affordable housing targets for each of 2020, 2021 and 2022 and compare them to what was delivered in each year.

For the purposes of clarity, ‘social housing’ typically refers to accommodation that is provided by a local authority or an Approved Housing Body (AHB) to an individual or household on a low income if they are deemed to be unable to afford a home. 

‘Affordable housing’ is accommodation that is sold by local authorities or AHBs at a reduced rate to individuals or households on lower incomes, who would not otherwise be able to afford a home by themselves.

The figures we’ll look at don’t include tenancies paid for through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) or the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), as these are social housing supports for tenants in private sector housing.

It should also be noted that the current Government didn’t form until June 2020 (and that an interim Government was in place from February following the general election).

Housing targets for 2020 and 2021 were set under the Rebuilding Ireland plan, the housing strategy drawn up by the last Government.

Housing For All, the current strategy which contains targets for 2022 onwards, was not launched until September 2021.

Technically, targets for those two years were not the current Government’s and not O’Brien’s (as Ó Broin suggested), as he was in Opposition when Rebuilding Ireland was launched – though he was Minister for the final 18 months of the strategy.

But as the Rebuilding Ireland targets remained in place when the current Government took power, we can still look at whether those targets were met in each year as well as in 2022 under Housing for All.

DarraghOB Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien during the debate on Tuesday Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

Social housing

2020

According to a final Rebuilding Ireland progress report, the Government aimed to construct 7,736 new properties, to acquire another 800 vacant homes, and to obtain 2,631 properties from developers for long-term leasing in 2020.

This gave an overall social housing target of 11,167 homes. However, although it acquired 1,314 vacant homes (more than 500 over its target), only 5,070 homes were built and 1,440 acquired for long-term leasing.

This meant the Government’s final output for the year was 7,824 homes, or 3,343 below its target.

2021

The same Rebuilding Ireland progress report outlines how the Government aimed to construct 9,500 new properties, to acquire yet another 800 vacant homes, and to obtain 2,450 homes from developers for long-term leasing in 2021.

This gave an overall housing target for that year of 12,750 homes. However, although the final acquisition figure was 1,262 and 2,711 homes were obtained for long-term leasing – both exceeding the overall target – just 5,196 homes were built. 

The final output for the year was therefore 9,169 homes, or 3,581 homes below the target.

2022

Last year was slightly more complicated than in previous years because of a moving target for social builds and the lack of a specific target for long-term leases and acquisitions.

In the first full year of the Housing for All plan, the Government aimed to add 10,500 homes to Ireland’s social housing stock.

The initial plan was to build 9,000 new social homes in 2022.

However, this was subsequently revised downwards to 8,000 by O’Brien, who told the Dáil in November that the shortfall would be “supplemented by purchases of new homes, by leases of new homes”.

No specific figures were available on the number of homes the Government planned to acquire or lease for long-term for social use.

But going by O’Brien’s November figure of 8,000 new social builds, we can assume it is 2,500 when both acquisitions and new leases are added together (to reach the overall target for the year of 10,500).

The next complication comes in the fact that final figures for social housing delivery in 2022 still have to be finalised.

According to Government figures for the first three quarters of 2022, 2,706 new social houses were built, 341 homes were acquired and 1,206 were obtained for leasing.

This gives a total delivery figure of 4,253 new homes at the end of the third quarter.

That’s 6,247 below the final target for the year, with figures from the final (and often busiest) quarter to come.

Although final figures are still being compiled by the Department of Housing, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil in January that the Government “missed” its social housing target last year.

A ministerial briefing document from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), also from January, likewise said that the Government missed its social housing targets in 2022.

However, a spokesperson for the Housing Minister subsequently claimed that preliminary figures on social housing delivery would be “considerably higher” than the figures released by DPER.

In an updated statement, the Department reiterated to The Journal that figures for the final quarter of 2022 were not yet finalised.

“Preliminary returns by the Local Government Sector suggest that the delivery of new build social homes in 2022 will be more than were delivered in decades,” a spokesperson said.

“Social housing delivery tends to be heavily weighted to Q4, and Q4 figures for 2022 are expected to be significantly higher than Qs 1-3.”

Affordable housing

Under the Rebuilding Ireland strategy, the target for affordable housing was somewhat nebulous; although the Government allocated €43 million for the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands to begin in 2020, there were no specific annual targets.

In the end, no affordable housing was delivered in either 2020 or 2021.

For 2022, a specific target of 4,100 affordable and cost-rental homes was in place.

Final figures on affordable homes are also still being collated by local authorities and validated by the Department of Housing.

O’Brien refused to provide an estimate of the figure in response to a Parliamentary Question from Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan earlier this month, but admitted last August that meeting the 4,100 figure would be “challenging”.

“2022 year end returns have now been submitted by Local Authorities to my Department and are currently being verified against Departmental information,” the Department of Housing spokesperson said in relation to queries on affordable housing.

“Informed by this data, we expect that the Department will be in a position to report confirmed Local Authority wide 2022 social, affordable purchase and cost rental housing delivery shortly.”

Government response

We also asked the Department of Housing whether it reached its social and affordable housing targets in each of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The response received contained the above-mentioned caveats around the compilation and final verification of figures for 2022, but also mentioned an additional factor which hindered the delivery of housing in the first two years: the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It should be noted that the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions of construction sites had significant impacts on the delivery of homes in 2020 and 2021,” a spokesperson said.

Some construction work was allowed during both years of the pandemic, but it still is impossible to gauge the impact of Covid on the delivery of housing (because one can’t measure houses that would have been built had there been no pandemic – not to mention the knock-on effects of social distancing and the possible impact on supply chains).

Nevertheless, the Department of Housing was also robust in its defence of the current Government’s housing strategy. 

“Housing for All is working. The Government significantly exceeded its target for total homes delivered in 2022,” a spokesperson said.

“In 2022, 29,851 homes were completed.  That’s an increase of 45.2% from 2021 (20,553) and 41.3% from 2019 (21,134), pre-pandemic. The 2022 total exceeds the Housing for All target of 24,600 by 5,251, an additional 21.3%.”

However, this refers to total homes completed rather than social and affordable homes specifically, which is what the claim was based on. 

Verdict

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin claimed in the Dáil that the Government missed its social and affordable housing targets for the third year in a row in 2022.

Official figures show that in 2020 in 2021, the overall social housing target under Rebuilding Ireland was missed (though acquisitions of vacant homes were above target in both years and homes acquired for leasing exceeded the target in 2021).

Under the same housing strategy, the Government planned to construct 1,400 affordable homes beginning in 2020. However, no such homes were built by the time the strategy lapsed at the end of 2021.

The Government therefore missed its social and affordable housing targets in both 2020 and 2021 (though at a time when there were restrictions on construction sites due to the Covid-19 pandemic).

Figures for the delivery of social and affordable homes in 2022 under the Housing for All strategy have yet to be finalised.

The latest published figures are only available to the end of the third quarter of the year.

Indications are that the Government will miss its affordable housing target for 2022, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Department of Public Expenditure and reform have both claimed that the social housing target was also missed (though the Department of Housing has not confirmed this).

Despite this, the claim that the Government missed its social and affordable housing targets for the third year in a row in 2022 has yet to be proven (though it is not false), so we rate Eoin Ó Broin’s claim as: UNPROVEN.

As per our verdict guide, this means that: The evidence available is insufficient to support or refute the claim, but it is logically possible.

 The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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