Ireland will face many challenges over the next 20 years. One is clear — a likely recession triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. As we know, recessions can have devastating effects on a country’s people, setting back key investment, often to the detriment of the most disadvantaged, writes John O’Connor, CEO of The Housing Agency.
As well as this, the world faces a climate crisis that, much like this pandemic, requires us all to adapt to survive. Ireland’s Climate Action Plan states that our carbon emissions need to fall by 24 per cent by 2030 from 1990 levels. This plan, along with international initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the European Green Deal, give us some indication of the actions needed to address the climate crisis.
However, with each crisis there are opportunities. We can already see this on a local level. For example, local authorities making street spaces more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly in response to the Covid-19 emergency.
From an environmental, public health and societal perspective, the way we address our current challenges is crucial. Innovative thinking and actions are required. We need to have a mindset of curiosity and imagination. We must take this chance to build a more sustainable society.
As mentioned in the foreword to this publication, The Housing Agency believes that a new long-term housing plan, which has broad societal and political support, is critical to effectively deliver a more sustainable and affordable housing system. Any new long-term policy must take into account both current and future challenges. The way we build housing can have a huge bearing on community, environmental and economic sustainability.
With these challenges in mind, The Housing Agency believes that future housing policy in Ireland must:
“A national long-term housing plan will give greater certainty to all stakeholders in the housing sector and to citizens as they plan their future. Such a plan will facilitate implementation of the objectives of the National Planning Framework, which is hoped will run concurrently.”
The Housing Agency has contributed to both the Rebuilding Ireland Plan for Housing and Homelessness and the preceding Social Housing Strategy 2020. Based on this experience, the Agency would identify four key elements of a new long-term national housing policy:
By actively using State land to deliver public housing, the public sector must start building homes on a large scale, using a mix of social housing, cost rental and, where appropriate, affordable purchase housing.
To do this, the master planning of development will be crucial. This would involve developing roads and infrastructure to allow parcels of land to be released and developed in turn, similar to the master planning for Adamstown and the Dublin Docklands. Delivering infrastructure ahead of development facilitates more sustainable growth, better communities, and greater certainty for all stakeholders.
A national long-term housing plan will give greater certainty to all stakeholders in the housing sector and to citizens as they plan their future. Such a plan will facilitate implementation of the objectives of the National Planning Framework, which is hoped will run concurrently.
However, it needs to be acknowledged that any housing policy of long duration will need all-party consensus to succeed. The policy, while setting out clear policy objectives, will have to allow for some flexibility in any given period to take account of economic, demographic or variable other factors.
The Housing Agency recommendations
A National Housing Policy and Plan agreed with a 20-year implementation period.
Build public housing on a large scale. The inclusion of cost rental alongside social housing will allow for development at scale while ensuring sustainable communities, with affordable purchase housing also included where appropriate.
Such long-term planning can work. We’ve seen this in the housing policies in countries such as Austria, Sweden and Denmark.
In Sweden, a national ‘housing for all’ policy, which began in the 1940s, favoured public and cooperative housing companies instead of private ones. With such a policy, the central government promoted the construction of larger housing developments while facilitating the rationalization of construction through larger scale planning, design and operation of housing schemes.
In Vienna, the city administration has pursued a consistent model of public owned housing since the end of the First World War which has resulted in State ownership of over 25 per cent of housing stock and the development of a limited profit sector which benefits from state subsidies which provides housing on a similar basis. This Vienna model of public housing provides almost 45 per cent of housing in the city and has kept housing affordable for the majority of Vienna’s citizens.
Ireland faces many challenges in the years ahead. How we respond to the economic difficulties imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic now will have long-term effects.
Decisions made now can show promise for a sustainable future. Through an ambitious long-term housing policy, we can provide many years of sustainability for our housing sector, while meeting the housing needs of our citizens in a way that is both affordable and sustainable for future generations.
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