Lack of social housing in Ireland at crisis point

Among the countries in the European Union, Ireland is enduring perhaps more than most others, a severe housing problem caused by an acute shortage of social housing. Local authorities and other public bodies have built just 2,500 of the 13,400 social homes needed to help ease the housing and homelessness crisis. Just a handful of units have been constructed in many local authority areas, with thousands mired in the planning and approvals process for up to three years.
An analysis of official returns also shows that some units received the first of four required approvals from the Department of Housing (DOH) as far back as 2013 but have yet to progress to the planning or construction stage.
The figure comes after it emerged that buyers are being forced to queue for up to a week to buy a new property, and after the government effectively admitted that delivery of ‘affordable’ homes costing between 240,000 euros and 320,000 euros was difficult to achieve.
Data on the social housing construction programme from the DOH, shows delivery is slow, with some local authorities having just a handful of units under construction.
Overall, 31 local authorities and approved housing bodies (AHBs) have been tasked with building 13,400 social homes across all counties.
To date, 2,512 are complete.
Another 3,650 are under construction — a fall of 10 compared with three months previously — while the remainder are either awaiting final approval from the DOH, being designed, tendered or taken through the planning process.
An examination of the Social Housing Status report suggests major problems with delivering units.
It showed, some 12,238 homes were to be delivered of which 1,460 were complete and 3,660 under construction and no local authority direct-build homes had been built in eight of the 31 councils. AHBs were charged with delivering 4,961 units.
Some 831 were complete, and 1,702 under construction. All social housing projects must go through a four-stage approval process before construction works can begin, with stage one considered to be a high-level appraisal of the project, where the business case is examined prior to approval in principle of funding.
Some 2,792 units were at stage one, some since 2013. Some 357 had progressed through all four stages, but work had yet to begin and 21 of the 31 local authorities had delivered less than 10 per cent of their housing programmes.
The DOH said the latest status update on social housing programme showed “significant increased activity” but admitted that delays were occurring.“It is acknowledged that build activity in certain local authority areas has been slower than others to intensify, but that is not to say social housing delivery in those areas has not been progressing,” it said, adding the social housing programme included new build but also delivery under Part V, acquisitions, leasing and other schemes.
In some cases, AHB projects were not progressing due to “market conditions and negotiations with private developers”.It added: “At this time, the department is satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place to deliver much-needed social and affordable homes.” While it is acknowledged that city and county councils lost a lot of expertise after being ordered to stop building homes during the downturn, the fact it’s taking so long to ramp up delivery suggests there are systemic problems.
According to a report from Jim Power, chief economist of Friends First, one of Europe’s leading insurance group, the lack of housing poses a “serious national challenge and threat” to the economy.
It says housing is “undoubtedly the biggest economic and social issue” confronting policy makers at the moment.
And the crisis is likely to continue for some time even if barriers to increase supply are removed.
He said: “The crisis in the housing market continues to dominate political agenda, there is a significant shortage of social housing and rental property.
“Against a background of limited supply and strong demand, house prices and private rents are rising rapidly.” Power predicts average house prices will rise by at least 10 per cent in 2019.
“Ireland needs to increase housing supply as a matter of urgency. This is the only real solution,” he says in the report.
The analysis comes as Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has been given six months by the government’s opposition party Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin to show solid improvement in the crisis.
(The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at andyjalil@aol.com).