Public housing is the solution

Government housing policy is the cause of the housing crisis. Homelessness, waiting-lists and extortionate private rent levels are the symptoms. Universally accessible public housing is the cure, the solution, to permanently end the housing crisis.

Government housing policy works very well for those it is designed to benefit: the speculators, landlords, hedge funds—the business class.

Developers are charging Fingal County Council €554,842 for three-bedroom apartments, €427,887 for a two-bed, and €282,323 for a one-bed, according to planning documents lodged with Shoreline’s Strategic Housing Development (SHD) for the €464 million, 1,221-apartment scheme it is planning for Baldoyle in north Co. Dublin.

The Ó Cualann Housing Alliance, a co-operative housing body, built an estate of forty-nine houses in Ballymun, with prices starting at €140,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, €160,000 for a three-bed, and €199,000 for a four-bed. It can be done even more cheaply if the state builds directly; it has the land already.

The largest private landlord in the state recorded a 5.9 per cent increase in rental income in the first half of 2021. IRES REIT, which owns almost 4,000 properties, mainly in Co. Dublin, made a profit of €27.4 million. Its income from investment properties increased by 5½ per cent, to €39.4 million. Occupancy remains “robust,” at 98.6 per cent, while residential rent collection rates were stable, also at about 99 per cent for the period.

A REIT is exempted from paying corporation tax on its rental income, and it does not pay capital gains tax on profits from property disposals. Multiple purchases of apartments are exempt from the new 10 per cent tax introduced by the Government. This was to create the Illusion that the Government want to stop hedge funds buying up rental properties in bulk. That’s all it is: to create confusion and give the vulture funds a free hand, tax-free, in the rental market.

A recent report by the Residential Tenancies Board revealed that landlords believe it is “prudent” to leave houses empty, “to see how the market responds.” Large landlords controlling thousands of homes have the financial clout to leave them empty rather than reduce rents, and believe it is “prudent” to do so. The market responds by raising the market rates for rented accommodation, thanks to the “shortage” created by the landlords.

Government housing policy is working as it was designed to: to line the pockets of landlords, builders, speculators, and developers.

A home or shelter is one of the basic necessities for sustaining life. It should not be a commodity to use as a weapon against ordinary people or for extracting subsidies from the state, to swell the massive profits of business corporations. Every euro of subsidies to landlords is a euro less for public health, education, transport, housing, and dealing with the effects of climate change.

It’s time for change: to run the country in the interest of the people living here, not the business elite; to build an economy for the common good; an Ireland with a right to housing enshrined in the constitution, whereby the state must provide a suitable home at rents linked to income for all citizens who wish to avail of them.

The state must launch a massive house-building programme to build enough homes for all citizens and end the housing crisis permanently: universally accessible homes, publicly owned—a new housing service, similar to health, education, or transport.

The rents will pay for these homes over time, and the state will own these housing assets in perpetuity. It will end the boom-and-bust in the building industry, with good, permanent jobs for building workers. With an abundance of property available, the price of property will fall (this is why the Government don’t want to do it) for those who want to buy; all others can rent a home from the state. With council rents typically 15 per cent of income, this will leave families with more disposable income to spend in the local economy, creating more jobs.

The housing crisis ends with universally accessible public housing, and with it all the social problems it creates. Who benefits? The ordinary working people. Who loses? The builders, speculators, landlords, and bankers.

There lies the reason why Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and those who prop them up will come up with a myriad of “solutions” that do everything but solve the housing crisis or damage the massive profits for their business cronies.

For those who say it cannot be done overnight: there were 92,000 housing units built in 2006 in Ireland. All it takes is political will.