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Dublin: 11°C Friday 14 May 2021

Is this the solution to Ireland's social housing problems?

The problem is generally considered to be stock. But, a plan put before South Dublin County Council could solve that.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE massive social housing waiting lists. Some have nearly 10,000 people on waiting lists that can leave families waiting for up to a decade.

The problem, ostensibly, is housing stock.

Councils don’t have the money to build social housing themselves and requirements on developers to provide social housing in developments was traditionally quite low.

Therefore, there are not enough houses to cater for those on the waiting lists. Of course, there are available houses. Whole ghost estates full of them.

However, social housing is a local authority issue and local authorities just don’t have the money to buy wholesale housing stock. Nor do they have the borrowing capacity to buy a large number of houses.

But, since December, South Dublin County Council has been examining a plan that would drastically improve their ability to pay to build houses.

The plan is to establish a housing trust, an arms-length company, in South Dublin. This company would then be able to borrow money from the Housing Finance Authority (HFA). The money would then be used to secure mortgages on which SDCC could build houses, which would then be rented to those on the housing lists.

The plan seems simple enough, but Sinn Féin councillor Eoin O’Broin, who suggested it, says that Ireland is not using a similar system as the rest of Europe.

“We pay money up front for housing, which means we can build very few units at a time.

“Besides, social housing in private developments has been proven not to work.”

O’Broin says that he was inspired to put forward his motion after hearing UCD housing expert Michelle Norris, a member of the HFA, give a talk at a seminar.

There, Norris outlined that the HFA has funds available to borrow, but that local authorities weren’t taking advantage of it because their borrowing is linked to governmental debt to GDP ratios.

O’Broin says that the plan could form part of a short to medium- term solution to the housing problem, but that, ultimately, the central government has to intervene.

“It’s not an immediate fix, but maybe next year if the plan comes off, we can increase the housing stock.

“Ultimately, in the long-term, central government needs to become involved in the purchasing and provision of social housing.”

Read: ‘Getting worse by the night’: TDs debate Ireland’s growing housing crisis

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