Housing to haunt new Government

Feb 10, 2020
Against a backdrop of underinvestment, housing will remain a key economic concern for the new Government, writes Annette Hughes.

With 2020 well under way, some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions and had our focus shifted to the plethora of election resolutions and promises which emerged over the past four weeks. With the election now behind us, political leaders will need to focus on delivering on those election promises. 

Governments generally have a five-year term to fulfil their promises, but experience tells us that some of the policy commitments promised in party manifestos may never be implemented. The new Government faces both challenges and opportunities in steering a sustainable economic path as it embarks on a new term. One of its key functions is to administer public policy and deliver high-quality public services and infrastructure across a range of areas including housing, health, education and transport.

Notably, housing was the topic that received the most attention during the election campaign and it remains the Government’s number one priority. There continues to be underinvestment in both private and social housing, and the demand for housing significantly exceeds the current supply. Much has been made of the doubling of housing stock from 2016 to 2019 with 21,000 new homes, however the national annual housing supply requirement is closer to 35,000.

We were informed during the election campaign that 6,000 new social housing units were built in 2019. Yet, data from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government shows that there were 2,003 new social housing units built in the first nine months of 2019, or 2,229 units when local authority vacant units brought back into the stock are included. Adding acquisitions (1,533), units leased from the private sector (630), households supported under the Housing Assistance Payment (12,853) and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (717), implies that a total of 17,962 social housing households were accommodated in the first nine months of 2019. This may be in the region of 24,000 for the full year. This total is in a year in which the latest assessment of housing need reported that there were 68,693 households across the State (43.2% in Dublin) on the social housing waiting list. 

In the meantime, the shortage of affordable accommodation to rent and buy continues to create challenges for Irish policy makers, notably, the escalating homelessness problem, and rising rents and property prices, although the rate of growth has moderated in recent months. 

Some of the solutions proposed included building more social and affordable homes, preferably on State-owned lands, which has implications for the level of capital investment on housing (€2.03 billion in 2020), the second largest allocation after transport (€2.5 billion). Other measures included rent regulations, which have proved to have a range of unintended consequences for tenants, including a negative impact on new and existing supply, as well as the potential for lower quality stock. The issue of the decade will undoubtedly be climate change and this too will impact on housing stock. With an estimated two million residential properties across the country, the potential cost of retrofitting to improve energy efficiency could be in the region of €10,000 to €30,000 per home, depending on its age and quality.  

The one consensus during the election campaign by all parties was that there needs to be a substantial and fundamental change in housing policy, given the failure by all to address a number of issues over the past decade. The new Government clearly has its work cut out.

Annette Hughes is a Director at EY-DKM Economic Advisory.