Dealing With the Housing Crisis

Very many government measures have been taken to remedy the housing crisis but each new measure seems to make matters even worse.

Homelessness is only the glacial tip of the iceberg. In Dublin and some other areas house prices are now nearly triple the actual building costs and are only about 20% below ‘boom’ levels; rents are at a chilling all-time high; many thousands of families live their lives in mortal fear of significant rent hikes -or worse, eviction! Many others can only acquire homes if they are prepared to travel 200 km round trips to work every day (imposing an outrageous burden on parents and families). Countless others are having to make a choice between having a child and having a home. We see how the Government is trying various measures to remedy the situation, but in pursuit of these measures, they squander vast amounts of State revenues in sticking-tape solutions –fuelling prices and doing far too little to meet present day needs (to say nothing of projected future needs). Leo Veradkar complacently boasts that current prices are only! 80% of those at the height of the bubble’- he is happy that we are ‘only’ 20% below the catastrophic levels of 2008. Fr. McVerry says (in a polite form of despairing understatement) that the government is ‘ideologically incapable’ of dealing with the crisis; we in Aontú might readily accept a more political analysis, namely that, given a choice between relieving the grinding burdens of the people, or allowing land speculators to prosper, this government champions the latter.

There is not the slightest sign that any of the other major parties would perform any better. If Aontú has to distinguish itself from all other parties it will have to pursue policies that WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

The calamitous nature of the problem needs an immediate intervention. 

I argue that we should look to the Kenny Report of 1974. Almost nobody (not even in self-styled left-wing parties) now refers to it, but its conclusions seem to me now to be irresistible- given that the housing crisis has grown exponentially since 1974. As most will know, the report recommended that land could be compulsorily acquired (by the authorities) for its agricultural value +25%. In 2004 an all-party committee in the Oireachtas recommended that it should be proceeded with (but inertia and, doubtless, background hostility by land-grabbers, speculators and the pernicious influence of the supporters (financial and other) of the main political parties ensured that the move would be sabotaged and consigned to that pit, wherein good policies rot.   In essence, the issue is whether or not housing is to be subject only to the insensitive, unsentimental market forces of opportunism and speculation, or whether society decides that housing is an issue that demands to be governed by the social standards to be expected of a civilised community, much as matters of education or health are (or ought to be).

The benefits from ‘Kenny’ would be felt across three main areas.

  1. Development could be led and planned by Local Authorities with due regard to social and environmental considerations and, so, not have to, as at present, follow in the wake of the vagaries of haphazard, piecemeal, opportunistic private led development.   It would reduce the price of houses down to something like their real value- building cost + plus an un-inflated site cost- (I’ve seen foreigners laughing incredulously at the inflated value of our small semis or town houses, which cost as much as a palazzo or chateaux elsewhere).
  2. It would greatly facilitate fully planned developments, by ensuring that;
    • Schools, medical utilities etc. could be located centrally;
    • Ensure a proper mix of housing units (from 5 bed houses to 1 bed town houses/ apartments), would create a localised lifelong environment, to facilitate life-needs (as peoples’ need for single, family dwellings and then smaller dwellings, would change through a lifetime) – so enabling them to move up/ down within their own area.
      Development could follow pre-established bus, rail and tram routes, with resultant benefits for traffic movement and density.
    • Crucially, for the public purse, it would help to moderate salary and wage claims- because salaries, of necessity, are assessed in their potential to fund accommodation prices. So the State (and employers generally) would not have to cope with pay increases designed to keep pace with the accelerated price of property-. It would mean that workers in all occupations; public servants (teachers, nurses, junior doctors Gardaí), indeed all citizens, could again aspire to having a Home of their own. At present these nurses, doctors and others are turning their backs on the country in despair at the impossibility of in finding a place to call home. After ‘Kenny’, think of the savings on the public purse, in taxation etc. Because of the resultant cooling of wage demands, private employers would be better able to compete in the international market for trade etc. Our emigrants would again be able to afford to return.

It would provide a tremendous and consistent boost to indigenous business in ‘programmed’ building and supply of services

An attempt to promote the measure is likely to be met by steely indifference or by robust resistance. People will point to ‘rights to property’ in Art. 43 of the Constitution;

Irish Constitution; Article 43.

The State acknowledges that man, in virtue of his rational being, has the natural right, antecedent to positive law, to the private ownership of external goods.

The State accordingly guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property.

The State recognises, however, that the exercise of the rights mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this Article ought, in civil society, to be regulated by the principles of social justice.

So there is a right to private property but the final sentence of Art. 43 was inserted to ensure that the concept of social justice should prevail over untrammelled private rights.

People (including, maybe, ourselves or members of our own families) who have bought at high prices, will naturally be dismayed at the apparent devaluation of their properties, but this is one of the facts of life –people enter into transactions in one economic climate and subsequently the value of these transactions may rise or fall. (On a more mundane level, we may buy something before Christmas -only to see the same item discounted by 70% two days later). To be swayed by the most understandable sympathies for such cases would be to ensure that nothing is EVER done-the egregious system would endure forever and ever. We need to note that a radical drop in property prices would facilitate movement (up-sizing or down sizing) in the housing price ladder for ALL people.

[There should not be in this measure any heartless disregard for those who might feel (or be) seriously adversely affected, there would have to be provision for the Government to intervene in cases of hardship but the amounts involved would surely be hugely less than those squandered by the present government in propping up a rotten system].

Banks and investors will resist the proposal because their investments would be compromised, but they, more than any, will know the vagaries of the market and the myriad forces that operate on it. (We must also reflect on what exactly Ireland owes its bankers, who for personal or corporate gain have consistently over many years taken every opportunity to make gains at the expense of the ordinary citizen). There is, however, the rather inconvenient fact; since the bankers’ self-serving crimes (will any other word suffice?) that led to the economic collapse, the major bailout of the banks resulted in the taxpayers being the principal shareholders in some of the major banks- how can that circle be squared. Well, all we are doing at present is endeavouring to prop up these ‘facades’ so we can somehow contrive to sell them on at a discount to vulture investors, who will in time, doubtless, contrive to mismanage them again. I would assert that the interests of the compromised banking system are as nothing to the great benefits of ‘Kenny’ to the whole broader community.

I believe we must grasp the opportunity to vigorously pursue the course of the ‘social justice’ that the constitution speaks of, echoing, as it does, the 1916 Proclamation that ‘declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally’.

Housing our people cannot be left to blind and unfeeling market forces and inept government, social justice must prevail.
Unless decisive intervention, like that proposed by Kenny, is taken, the already catastrophic problem will only worsen further; many opportunities existed to introduce the measure since 1974, but compromised politicians failed us. Moreover, our housing problems can only multiply with our growing population. If ever ‘occasion required’ the occasion is NOW.

Let Aontú be seen to lead the way.

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