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€6.5 million apartments 'These aren't the types of homes we need'

The sale of a €6.5 million apartment in Ballsbridge makes good headlines, but is symbolic of the growing divide in Irish society, writes Senator Kevin Humphries.

IN MY LIFETIME every generation in Ireland has faced a housing crisis. Each crisis has been marked by the lack of housing, followed by a rapid expansion, more often than not in the wrong places, that eventually ends with a crash or recession.

If we do not want to repeat history, we must learn from those mistakes.

Not enough affordable housing

It’s very hard to know how many homes are being built in Ireland at the moment. One thing we do know is that there aren’t enough affordable homes under construction.

Another is that developers are responding to a very small segment of the market. Focused in south Dublin, lots of new expensive houses and apartments are now for sale.

In the midst of a housing crisis, the market is flooded with extravagant developments. It shows the lopsided priorities of our developer led housing model, and the failure of the State to intervene to correct it. Because these aren’t the type of homes we need.

The sale of a €6.5 million apartment in Ballsbridge makes good headlines, but is symbolic of the growing divide in Irish society.

Entire postcodes become parking spaces

We have seen this before, most spectacularly in London. Entire postcodes there were left as parking spaces for capital, with empty homes that serve no useful purpose for society.

The Lansdowne Place apartment is not an isolated example in Dublin as four new mews in Donnybrook recently sold for over €2 million each; while in Rathgar three bed townhouses are listed from €875,000.

These developments will not address skyrocketing rents and chronic shortage of affordable homes. If we don’t want a two tier society, a government backed affordable housing scheme is essential.

And the State must now intervene in our failed market with its own development body to commission and build social and affordable developments. We cannot rely on private developers who are driven by profit alone to solve the crisis.

Public building programmes

Since the 1940s, every time Labour has entered government we have had to restart a public building programme. Most recently we weren’t able to do that until 2014, but some of those projects are now coming to fruition like on Charlemont Street.

That won’t be enough, and structural changes are needed to so that the building of public housing continues once the current crisis passes.

Just a short walk from the €6.5 million apartment, there are plans to develop 3,500 homes on the former Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site. The community campaign led by the IGB action group secured a commitment that 28% of the housing built there, or nearly 900 homes would be social and affordable.

Yet we have seen no progress towards construction. And there is still no government backed affordable housing scheme.

Affordable ideas

Nor is there any shortage of ideas to address the overall crisis. Just one put forward by the Labour Party is to repurpose NAMA into a provider and funder of affordable housing for sale and rent, turning it into a National Housing Development and Finance Agency.

Another is to roll out nationally the model of affordable housing delivered by Ó Cualann cohousing alliance in Poppintree where a 3-bed home sold for €160,000.

The private housing market has failed us many times. The State must now flex its muscle to prevent a repeat.

Otherwise we will be left with expensive and empty housing for the elite and long commutes and unsuitable accommodation for everyone else. There is no shortage of land in the places where housing is most needed.

What has been lacking is the political will to build on it.

Senator Kevin Humphreys is a Labour Senator from Ringsend, Dublin 4.

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