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Opinion: Opposition for opposition sake to Affordable Housing Plan short-changes young people and families

Fianna Fáil’s Mary Fitzpatrick responds to opposition criticism of the government’s Affordable Housing Plan.

Mary Fitzpatrick

ACCESS TO SECURE, affordable, fit for purpose housing is one of the most immediate challenges facing young people and families in Ireland today. 

Over the last ten years, housing supply dropped, house prices inflated, home ownership fell to a record low of 68.6% and homelessness exploded.

Our new government, with Fianna Fáil Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, recognises the failure of the previous ten years and the urgent need for an ambitious state intervention to reverse and fix the crisis in housing supply and affordability. 

This government recognises that the answer to solving the current housing crisis is supply. Unlike the ‘pie in the sky’ promises of the opposition, this government realises that there is no silver bullet and that a range of targeted measures is needed immediately to stimulate supply and meet the ever-growing demand.

Why the Affordable Housing Bill?

The government’s recently published Affordable Housing Bill 2020, covers three distinct schemes; affordable purchase on local authority land, an Affordable Purchase Shared Equity Scheme and a new Cost Rental scheme.

The Affordable Purchase Shared Equity Scheme which opposition TDs are lining up, in tired and outdated party-political fashion, to oppose is a specific and targeted measure, designed so that the state directly intervenes to increase housing supply and affordability, putting the dream of home ownership back in reach. 

It recognises the fact that there are many people paying more to rent a home than they would on a mortgage to buy their own home. It will financially help these middle-income earners bridge the affordability gap, buy their own home and escape paying unaffordable rents. 

Social Democrats spokesperson for Housing, Cian O’Callaghan TD, acknowledged recently that unaffordable house prices are trapping many people in high rental properties and preventing them from buying their own home.

Yet, at the same time, he is opposed to government financially assisting modest income earners to escape the rental trap and secure a mortgage for their own home. 

Homelessness

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Housing Eoin O’Broin also recently quoted Professor Eoin O’Sullivan correctly saying, “Homelessness can be ended through the largescale provision of state-funded social housing tenancies provided by local authorities and AHBs with sustainable streams of funding”.

Yet he opposes Government’s €2.1 billion sustainable investment in local authorities and AHBs to provide social and affordable housing. He calls for the state to build more social housing but at the same time opposes it in his own area.

So, what is the opposition so opposed to? 

·        A €2.1 billion Capital investment to allow the state to build social and affordable homes in all parts of the country including in my own constituency of Dublin Central?

·        A Help-to-Buy scheme which has helped almost 21,000 households raise a deposit to buy their own home.

·        Establishing a Land Development Agency to deliver social and affordable homes on public land?  The not for profit LDA will control the land value and avail of cheap government financing to drive construction and build scale and expertise.

·        A new Cost Rental Scheme which means tenants on modest incomes will only pay rent to cover the cost of building, maintaining and managing their rental homes

This is what they are opposed to.

Tackling the supply issue

Politicians of all parties and none accept there is a crisis in housing supply and affordability.  

Covid-19 has exacerbated the housing crisis and increased the urgent need for an ambitious state intervention so everyone can have a place to call home.

The government recognises the need and is committed to a historic €3.3billion investment in state-provided social and affordable homes. The pandemic has shown the power our collective efforts can have to tackle a significant challenge. 

Working collectively, we in Government parties will use our collective power to tackle the housing challenge by significantly increasing the state’s provision of social and affordable homes. 

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This is not rocket science. 

The way to solve this housing crisis and support everyone to have a secure and affordable home is for an ambitious and sustainable state intervention in the housing market to deliver social and affordable homes.

That’s what our Government is committed to doing and what every part of the political system should be committed to. Opposing our ambitious plan to deliver social and affordable homes highlights oppositions terminal political self-interest that puts party before people and short-changes young people and families. 

Mary Fitzpatrick is a Fianna Fáil senator and the party’s spokesperson for Housing, Local Government & Heritage.

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