Labour’s priority in housing is ultimately to solve the housing crisis and to do so we believe that we must have an ambitious, State supported, housing system where incentives are put in place to achieve the goal of building affordable homes. Senator Rebecca Moynihan, Labour’s Spokesperson on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, writes.
One of our key priorities is a fundamental change in approach to how we protect renters. Firstly, we believe it is necessary to strengthen the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board while increasing its staff so that it actually has the capacity to fulfil its mandate. We think that it is vital that local authorities begin publishing annual statistics regarding inspections of private rental accommodation to ensure regulations are being correctly and effectively enforced.
Labour would further prioritise renters through the reintroduction of a Rent to Buy scheme, whereby a person with a tenancy for three years who successfully pays all their rent would then see that turned into a deposit for the property that they will then go on to own.
Another priority for the Labour Party is a fundamental rethink of how the State defines ‘affordability’, and accordingly, ‘cost rental’. The purpose of an affordable rental model is to target lower-income renters and it is clear from consultation with experts in the area that the generally agreed definition of ‘affordability’ equates to one-third of a person’s net income. It is therefore a priority of the Labour Party to deliver truly affordable housing, without allowing for profiteering off the cost rental model.
If we are serious about solving the housing crisis, State intervention is necessary. However, any intervention needs to be evidence based and costed. The Government needs to think long-term to ensure that this housing will actually represent a fair and low-cost option for working people. State cost-rental schemes must allow for loans of a minimum 40 years to make this a reality. The housing crisis can be solved, but any attempt to do so must be rooted in evidence and fact. We can build an Ireland where every child grows up in decent housing in a good neighbourhood, but only if we invest in practical policies to deliver solutions like affordable housing that is actually within working families reach.
Labour believes that owners of apartments that were built deficiently should have State support. It is necessary to introduce a package of measures to assist these owners, including low-cost loans. We would also reform the law dealing with failure to comply with building standards in order to protect innocent inhabitants of defective buildings and stop repeat offenders getting away with disregarding building standards.
We must escalate our approach in dealing with vacant homes. One of our priorities would be the increase of property taxes on vacant homes and the implementation of a Vacant Homes Strategy. Labour’s policy is that a levy should apply to housing units which lie vacant for more than six months. It is an absolute scandal that vast swathes of empty apartments and houses like empty across the country, particularly in Dublin, while thousands of families and individuals have no proper homes. Developers and speculators are purposely holding back a number of these units to artificially inflate rents and housing prices. To ensure efficient and near immediate use of these properties, we would introduce a levy on vacant housing. Local authorities should also be empowered to compulsorily purchase such empty apartments.
“If we are serious about solving the housing crisis, State intervention is necessary. However, any intervention needs to be evidence based and costed.”
As we emerge from the pandemic and restrictions loosen, it is essential that construction of housing ramps up. The pandemic has not eradicated the urgent need to build housing and deliver homes for people on the social housing list. Throughout the pandemic, while many suffered immense financial hardship, house prices continued to rise. Coupled with a lack of supply and with increases in savings, housing will continue to become even more unaffordable for the vast majority. If the Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on anything in relation to the housing crisis, it is that we cannot allow people to languish in hotels and in hubs. The only solution out of this is by directly building social and affordable homes.
While there is an immediate need for social and affordable public housing, it is vital that the public housing stock is not allowed dwindle again in the future. To that end, Labour would require local councils to build or acquire two homes for every one that they sell and local authorities to keep the same volume and quality of land in public ownership.
We support the need for a single authority responsible for developing housing and public land in order to deliver homes quickly. Any such authority must have the power and remit to give financial assistance to local authorities and approved housing bodies for the construction of social housing. However, it is a priority for the Labour Party that none of the land controlled by such an authority could be sold to private interests. Public land must be made available and prioritised for social and affordable housing, including schemes of affordable home ownership.
Right to housing
Finally, we consider that holding a referendum to recognise socio-economic rights in the Constitution, including a right to housing, is of vital and pressing importance. For too long, the Constitution has been relied on to justify failing to implement necessary measures to alleviate the housing crisis. It is a priority for the Labour Party that we provide a constitutional balance between private property rights and the right to a home.