At the heart of the Social Democrats’ housing policy is a belief that good quality and affordable housing in sustainable communities is a fundamental requirement for a good life. Our vision is for an Ireland where everyone has a place to call home, writes Cian O’Callaghan TD.
The issues in Irish housing public policy can seem intractable, but a solution is possible. It starts by putting values at the heart of decision-making, values like fairness, equality, sustainability, and progress. Such an approach takes heed of a diversity of needs and interests and pushes housing affordability, sustainable communities, and security of tenure to the top of the agenda. Such an approach, I believe, would go a long way to solving the current housing crisis.
The key challenge right now is how unaffordable housing has become. It is estimated that housing should cost up to a maximum of 33 per cent of take-home pay. Right now, too many people are spending up to 50 per cent of their wages on housing. This is bad for individuals and bad for the economy. When so much disposable income is soaked up by housing costs, people have less to spend on other goods and services in the local economy.
To solve this issue, the State must take a proactive role in delivering social and affordable homes. I believe that State land should be used to build thousands of affordable homes that are sold or rented at cost. The Ó Cualann developments in Ballymun in Dublin, Ardmore in Waterford and Knocknaheeney in Cork show how this can be done.
This model of affordable housing now needs to be scaled up and rolled out nationwide. If this were done with energy and vigour, as social housing developments were built in the 1930s, it could have a significant impact on the cost of housing, resulting in more affordability across the board.
As well as building on State land, new measures must be introduced to unlock private supply. Across all our cities and towns, there are derelict buildings and vacant sites. These could and should be homes. Those who hoard land or unused buildings during a housing crisis should face additional taxes and charges. We also need to create more transparency around land prices and ownership. These measures will encourage people to act, and as supply increases, prices should fall.
The Social Democrats believe in building affordable homes as part of diverse communities that are socially and environmentally sustainable communities with great facilities where no one is excluded or left behind.
Investing in community facilities helps to create strong communities. These include playgrounds, community centres and other places where people can gather and connect.
To achieve socially sustainable communities, we have to create new housing options that meet the needs of people of all ages and people with disabilities. This can be done by using universal design standards, expanding downsizing and sheltered housing schemes for older people and ringfencing funding for accommodation for people moving out of congregated settings.
Housing is crucial to ending marginalisation within our society. As a matter of urgency, we have to end direct provision and provide ‘own door’ accommodation for those seeking asylum. The Housing First model has shown how housing with wrap-around supports can also help provide vital stability for those with addiction and mental health issues. This must be expanded. We would also ensure funding allocated to Traveller housing is spent.
Housing is also key to environmental sustainability. Our housing policies must align with our climate policies. To achieve this, we need to build homes that are fit for the future. This includes micro energy generation, rainwater harvesting and carbon-neutral buildings. It also means increasing tree planting and biodiversity projects in new developments, providing for allotments and community gardens and connections to sustainable transport options like cycling infrastructure.
In addition, building standards must be set high and rigorously enforced. Every house should have excellent ventilation, and every household should have a garden, balcony, or outdoor space of its own as a key measure for good mental health. We must also ensure that housing is suitable for a future where more of us will be working from home.
Secure tenure in sustainable communities
Core also to building sustainable communities is providing people with the stability to settle in a place and form meaningful connections within the local community.
The current rules as they relate to renting have led to huge housing insecurity. I’m in favour of reducing the no-fault eviction grounds, creating leases of indefinite duration, and providing a deposit protection scheme. I also believe that no one should ever be evicted into homelessness.
Ultimately, we need to see housing as a human right, something vital that we all require. That is why I wholeheartedly support the creation of a new constitutional right to housing.
“The State must take a proactive role in delivering social and affordable homes. I believe that State land should be used to build thousands of affordable homes that are sold or rented at cost.”
For far too long, housing policy in Ireland has been written by developers for developers. The results speak for themselves. Rents have doubled in a decade. House prices in Dublin are up 90 per cent since 2012, and over 8,000 people are currently homeless.
This housing crisis won’t be solved overnight, but it also won’t be solved unless we change the direction of the State’s housing policy.
We need to see an end to developer-led policymaking and move towards a new type of public policy as set out, one that takes full account of the diverse needs of a modern society. By doing this, we can ensure that everyone in Ireland has a place to call home and that everyone can be enabled to live their life to its fullest potential.