The National Housing Federation recently called for a long-term national housing plan. They have published a report which places the blame for the ‘housing crisis’ on the lack of long-term planning. In recent decades we haven’t even had a long-term housing minister and our economy appears to be lurching from one short-term panic to another. Covid, the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and inflation (not to mention BREXIT), to select just a few. The idea of taking the long term view seems fanciful.
Last month I was lucky enough to visit a country which does have a housing strategy. It isn’t perfect (what strategy is) but it does appear to have some real momentum behind it. That country is the Republic of Ireland.
Housing was a big ticket item in the last general election when Sinn Fein made major gains with ambitious housing promises including “Introducing the largest public housing programme in the history of the State,” and “Reduce rents by up to €1,500 a year” and “Give the Central Bank powers to cap mortgage interest rates.” They almost doubled their number of seats in the Dail with the highest number of first preference votes.
The successful coalition moved quickly to take the initiative. In September 2021 it published a strategy “Housing for All” with a plan to see 33,000 homes per year built, back with €4bn a year funding. To compare with England (population 56 million), Ireland has a population of 5million, eleven times smaller. Per head 33,000 homes would be equivalent of 363,000 homes per year in England and £40bn of supply side funding. The breakdown of the homes includes over 10,000 social rented homes per year (that would be 110,000 in England), 6,500 private rental, 4,000 affordable homes and 12,000 homes for purchase. Targets are easy to set, however delivery in the first year was almost 30,000 homes (twice the level achieved over here) with over one third being social housing.
Social housing is effectively fully funded as all the debt charges are paid by the state, which means that rents are far lower than in the UK and the quality of new build is high. The funding also makes it possible to regenerate existing derelict buildings for housing. Supported housing and housing for older people is 100% grant funded. The strategy also includes an agency with responsibility for bringing forward publicly owned land for new housing. The Government is also seeking to deal with construction sector capacity and a range of regeneration objectives.
Ireland has not cracked its own housing crisis, however, I and the other housing professionals with me were very envious of the level of commitment and thought going into making real progress. Not everything can be read across from the Republic to here, but if we are looking for the difference a housing strategy can make, our Government could benefit from looking at Ireland.