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Opinion: A lack of vision has failed people at all levels of our housing system

There are now 90,000 households on social housing waiting lists in Ireland, thanks to an over-reliance on schemes that are cut as soon as the economy falters.

Karen Murphy

THE DEMAND FOR social housing has now escalated to the point where, in the past year alone, almost 20,000 applications for housing have been made to Dublin City Council. This marks an increase of 3,000 households on the previous year. Across all local authorities there are 90,000 households on social housing waiting lists. In 2008, there were 56,000 households on the waiting list for social housing, which in itself was a record level of demand at that time.

The current level of demand for social housing is an enormous challenge to the State and nothing less than a robust, well-planned response will suffice.

The Government will soon be launching its Social Housing Strategy and it will hopefully tie together the many different strands of the approach that needs to be taken to kick-start an expanded social housing programme.

People have been failed at all levels 

The housing system has failed households at all levels: from those caught in unsustainable debt; to those trapped in negative equity; to families who have found themselves homeless due to rising rent levels in the private rented sector. The drastic reductions in the budget for social housing since 2009 has meant very little social housing has been provided in recent years, compounding the pressure at the lower end of the housing system.

The time is now for us to find a sustainable way of funding social housing so that a long-term approach to meeting our housing demands can be taken. The reliance on large scale capital programmes, which was our previous funding model, is no longer feasible in the medium term. While paying for housing upfront has many advantages, it means that as soon as the economy falters then the funding for such social programmes is cut.

Public capital expenditure on housing dropped from €1.8bn in 2008, to €300m in 2013. We have experienced this reality at a huge social cost and this needs to be addressed urgently. A sustainable funding model, combining Government funding with a private source of finance, will counteract these ‘stop-start’ cycles and enable a continuation of social housing delivery which can actually help the economy through hard times.

Increasing the delivery of social housing properties 

The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) is hosting a conference on the topic of financing social housing over the next two days in Limerick. A range of speakers will consider how the financial landscape has changed radically and what options can be adopted to meet the social housing needs of our population.

The financing options open to housing associations will be explored as the need for a clear system of loan financing for housing associations will be central to any new housing strategy. With a combination of private finance and state funding, three new homes can be provided, compared to one home where 100% state funding is used. This model would offer Government a way of financing social housing where the full cost is not adding to the Government’s balance sheet. It would also provide a complementary source of financing in addition to the capital funding available from Government.

The ICSH has proposed to Government that in order to have the potential to increase the delivery of social housing properties to 5,000 over a three year period, a programmed approach should be established which would include a range of delivery options including new builds, leasing, stock transfer/management and ‘off-the-shelf’ purchases. This would allow individual housing associations to contract the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to deliver a specific number of homes over an agreed period.

Karen Murphy is Director of Policy for the Irish Council for Social Housingthe national federation for non-profit housing associations.

The ICSH conference is running a two-day on Thursday 9 – Friday 10 October 2014, at the Limerick Strand Hotel, Limerick City, supported by AIB. Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly TD, will deliver the opening address at the conference, while other speakers include housing and finance experts from AIB, the European Investment Bank, the global investment bank Canaccord Genuity, PwC and NAMA.

The full programme for the ICSH’s housing finance conference is available here. 

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Karen Murphy

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