Housing crisis


The right to a home, one of the most basic human rights, remains a pipe dream for many people, despite lip-service from government about their commitments to social and affordable housing.

By Councillor Clare Daly

During the term of this government, waiting lists for local authority housing have rocketed, standing at 48,413 in March 2002. Since then the number of units provided have fallen even further short of target, with less money being allocated than previously.

Limited legislation introduced in 2000 compelling developers to provide up to 20% of all new developments as social or affordable housing has been repealed enabling them to offer money or alternative sites to local authorities. This has enabled developers to sideline or buy out their social housing commitments dealing a further blow to social and affordable housing.

We now have the ridiculous situation whereby there are now more units of private rented accommodation than local authority houses. 141,459 private rented compared to 88,206 local authority houses. 330 million of taxpayers funds are handed over to private landlords every year in rent allowance payments, while funding for the provision of social housing is cutback.

This housing crisis is not inevitable. It is a consequence of political decisions, which have seen developers, speculators and the wealthy elite in Irish society enriched during the celtic tiger at the expense of ordinary people. Fianna Fail politicians shed crocodile tears.

"Affordable" housing

With the elections looming speculation is rife that the government will raise the income limits and maximum loan for the present scheme of affordable housing operated by the Councils. Presently a single person has to earn less than 32,000 to be eligible, and the Council can only give a maximum loan of 130,000. As a result many people are faced with finding deposits of 45,000 to buy an "affordable" house. This is lunacy.

Raising the limits would enable more people to avail of the scheme but it avoids the central problem, that speculation and profiteering have driven house prices to ridiculous levels. Higher loans means the first time buyer being saddled with higher debts and repayments.

Take on the developers

The only way to tackle the housing issue is for all development land to be acquired by local authorities at agricultural prices, linked to regulations to control house prices. The political establishment has avoided this issue in an attempt to protect the bulging bank balances of their big business backers.

The government has slashed taxes on the super-profits of land speculators by 50%. A 100% rezoning tax should be implemented to seize the ill-gotten gains of speculation, which has further cost the taxpayer billions in tribunal costs. Using this money a massive programme of local authority house building could eliminate the waiting lists, with Councils employing direct labour to complete the developments.

There is already enough residentially rezoned land to meet the needs of the population well into the future. Rent controls should be brought in to the private rented sector to end the exploitation of tenants and ensure decent accommodation.

The only way to tackle the many aspects of the housing crisis is to tackle the root cause - profiteering and speculation flowing from the private ownership of land by developers, and landlords. The days of rack-renting slum owning landlords are not a thing of the past.

Trade union leaders would do well to restore the fighting, socialist traditions of Connolly and Larkin to take them on rather than snuggling up to national wage agreements that are long on promises and deliver nothing.

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This article is from the March 2004 edition of Socialist Voice.

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