2022 in housing and homelessness
There are “grounds for optimism” about housing delivery next year despite the significant cost and economic pressures the construction sector is facing, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told delegates at the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland’s (SCSI) national conference in Dublin earlier this month.
At the same event, Deloitte economist Kate English reassured the crowd that despite the predicted strain on the property market from high inflation, there was “not enough to suggest that we will see a decrease” in prices in 2023. Her optimism in the buoyancy of the market is shared by a Davy stockbrokers analyst who predicts “While modest declines in Irish house prices towards the turn of the year 2022/2023 are certainly possible, we still expect 3% growth in Irish house prices in 2023.”
So property owners and investors can breathe a sigh of relief. What about everyone else?
Generation Rent, homelessness
In the JCFJ, our concern has always been, and remains with, the people who are left behind. Young couples who are locked out of the property market because the price of a home is many times more than the average salary and they can’t get a mortgage, people in private rental accommodation who are paying rent so high it is leaving them with very little, people on HAP supports in the private rental sector who have no security of tenure, people forced to live in their parents’ home because they can’t afford to move out, and people who are without a home at all. This list is far from exhaustive, it is just a whistle-stop tour through the pain and disruption that the housing crisis is causing.
Some qualified good news
There is some good news, even though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. As we are frequently reminded, more houses are being built now than at any point in the past ten years. Social housing has been built, for the first time in decades and the move away from reliance on the private rental sector with HAP supports as a means of providing it has begun. It will take time for the effects of these changes in policy to be felt, but this is good news.
In a recent press release about Housing for All, the Government assured us that its 2022 targets for delivering 24,600 houses will be exceeded. “Under the plan, supply of new homes is increasing with 20,807 new homes completed in the first three quarters of the year, more than the whole of 2021 (20,560) or any other year since the CSO series began in 2011.”
What it doesn’t say is that many of these homes will be bought on the open market, and not directly built. The purchasing of homes puts local authorities in competition with individual buyers and making it even harder to become a home owner in a market which already has a shortage of supply and where prices are beyond the reach of many people. And with regard to social housing, a report quietly uploaded on 22nd December reveals that only 2, 706 of the 9,000 new builds promised were completed by the end of September. So the good news is not quite as positive as it might appear.
Cost rental housing
Another positive step has been the introduction of cost rental housing into the Irish housing system. Although it is not the perfect adaptation of the Vienna Model we would like to have seen implemented and is not at the scale we need for it to make a marked difference we have hope that it will be expanded as public appetite for it grows and the Housing for All targets are amended. Earlier this year, we met with Minister O’Brien and presented him with a copy of our Cost Rental document, and later discussed it with representatives from the Department of Housing, with a view to encouraging the expansion of the scheme.
The Department’s report on 2022 Housing for All targets includes plans to address issues in the supply of cost rental homes in 2023 supporting Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to deliver cost rental homes by increasing the Cost Rental Equity Loan from a maximum of 30% to up to 45% per project, increasing the Affordable Housing Fund grant from a maximum of €100,000 per unit to up to €150,000 per unit for local authority affordable homes, and considering proposals for a new viability measure to activate stalled planning permissions and bring forward cost rental at scale.
The ultimate proof of Housing for All working will be a drop in the homelessness figures. This time last year, there were 8,971 people homeless. Now it is more than 11,000. As we noted last year, the numbers tend to drop in December, perhaps because of people returning to family or evictions being delayed until after Christmas is over, but aside from this blip, there has been a constant rise in the number of people becoming homeless. With the ending of the eviction ban next year, as well as the rising cost of living, this trend seems likely to continue.
In September, Minister O’Brien attended the launch of a report co-funded by the JCFJ which contained a comparative analysis of other European countries who have successfully brought homelessness figures down. These include Finland which has almost eliminated homelessness through a combination of their Housing First policy which provides homes to everyone who needs one, funding, interconnection between social services and cross-party political commitment. There are solutions, should the Government care to heed them.
Outrage at normalisation of situation
Optimism has its place but the reality of the current housing and homelessness issue should not inspire it in anyone except perhaps stakeholders in property. The scale of the problem is immense and its negative impact on individuals, on families, and on society is immeasurable. As our colleague Peter McVerry SJ has noted, this situation has become normalised when we should be outraged. While there is still so much fear, anger and uncertainty, the optimism can wait. Let’s see how 2023 goes.