Darragh O’Brien TD has been Minister for Housing for two years. His record, like that of his predecessor Eoghan Murphy, can be judged by the numbers, writes Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD.
House prices are up 22 per cent and rents are up 15 per cent since the current government was formed. Homelessness has increased by 19 per cent in the same period.
In the last 12 months alone, child homelessness has increased by more than 40 per cent. For the first time since records began there are now more than 5,000 single adults in Department of Housing funded emergency accommodation.
Social housing delivery was 30 per cent behind target in 2020 and 2021. This was partly due to Covid-19 but also because of the unnecessary levels of bureaucracy imposed by the Department of Housing on local authorities and approved housing bodies.
Meanwhile, not a single affordable home to buy was delivered in 2020 or 2021. A handful have been completed this so far in 2022, though at best only 450 will be delivered by year’s end.
Progress on affordable cost rental is not much better, with just 65 such units delivered in 2021 and a target of up to 700 for 2022. At the same time, the Land Development Agency will not deliver a single new build home until 2024 while its cost rental target, delivered via
Project Tosaigh turnkeys, is unlikely to yield any units this year.
Housing for All critique
The hallmarks of Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien TD’s first two years in office have been big promises, lengthy delays, and poor delivery. It took 14 months for the Minister to publish his housing plan. Despite its length, it is light on detail and continues with the same failed policy consensus of the previous government. In fact, Housing for All’s social housing targets are lower than those of the previous governments. The affordable housing targets are even worse.
Contrary to the Minister’s claim that Government is investing €4 billion a year in public housing delivery, the actual level of direct capital investment in the delivery of social and affordable homes will only be €1.5 billion this year.
Simultaneously, direct subsidies to big landlords and developers continue unabated. Government has expanded the so-called Help to Buy scheme. They are also pressing ahead with the highly controversial Shared Equity Loan Scheme. Both policies have been widely criticised for, at best, locking in unaffordable prices and, at worst, pushing those prices even further upwards.
The Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Scheme will see €400 million of taxpayers’ money gifted to large developers to build apartments priced at €400,000 without any affordability dividend.
Large institutional investors continue to snap up entire developments, charging rip-off rents while avoiding any tax on their rent roll. Meanwhile, single property accidental and semi-professional landlords are leaving the private rental sector in significant numbers, which in turn is driving up demand, rents, and levels of homelessness.
In response to the ever-deepening crisis, Minister O’Brien points to increases in planning permissions and commencements. He believes that as these properties come on stream supply will start to meet demand.
Unfortunately the targets underpinning his plan are simply too low and, in many cases, will deliver the wrong kinds of housing at the wrong price to meet the ever-growing levels of social and affordable housing need.
“We need to abandon the failed policy of overreliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing demand.” Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD
It is time for a radical change in direction. We need to abandon the failed policy of overreliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing demand. We need a plan that places the State, and in particular our local authorities, at the forefront of meeting this unmet need.
Sinn Féin alternative
In government, Sinn Féin would double direct capital investment in social and affordable housing. This would require voted capital expenditure of €3 billion annually. This level of expenditure would fund the delivery of 20,000 social and affordable homes per annum: 12,000 social and 8,000 affordable rental and purchase homes.
A Sinn Féin Government would also give renters a break with a three-year ban on rent increases for all existing and new tenancies while putting a month’s rent back in every renter’s pocket through a refundable tax credit.
We would also end the egregious tax reliefs for institutional landlords. Following a comprehensive review of the tax treatment of landlords, we would ensure that all landlords pay a fair rate of tax in a manner that would help stabilise the private rental sector.
Sinn Féin believes that housing is a human right and that all sections of society should have access to appropriate and affordable homes. To this end, we would hold a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution. We would also ensure that those sections of our community who have also been at the margins of our housing system, such as travellers, people with disabilities, older people, and migrants, have their needs met.
There is also a need for comprehensive reform of our planning and building control systems to promote better placemaking and consumer protection.
Ever growing numbers of people, on low, modest, and above modest incomes, are unable to access secure, appropriate and affordable accommodation. This is a direct result of failure of successive government policies, including the current government.
It is not enough for government to use the rhetoric of state-led investment in public housing. That rhetoric must be matched with investment levels and public housing targets that can meet current and future need.
Minister Darragh O’Brien and the current Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Green Party Government cannot and will not tackle the housing crisis. Indeed, they are the cause of that crisis.
Only a Sinn Féin-led government can deliver the radical change in housing policy that is required to deliver the tens of thousands of social and affordable homes that so many people desperately need and rightly deserve.