Alan O’Reilly is a political activist based in London.
Ireland is in the grip of a long running and seeming intractable housing crisis.
Home ownership and getting on the housing ladder has been an ambition for generations of Irish people. But increasingly it is out of reach for many, and even securing somewhere to rent is becoming harder and harder.
The crisis has been an issue that has bedevilled successive governments over the last ten years. A decade of booming house prices and non-stop construction came to a sudden and juddering halt with the 2008 economic crisis.
Housebuilding was the last of anyone’s priorities in the immediate aftermath of the crash, and there seemed to be an expectation that a recovery in house prices would be slow.
That, put simply, proved not to be the case; the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) Residential Property Price Index recorded a 21 per cent rise in national average house price from January 2010 to December 201
Coming to the end of 2022, house prices had risen by nearly ten per cent over the last year – this on top of previous years double digits growth. According to the CSO, the median price of a property last year was €300,000.
With an increase in housing costs came a squeeze on rentals. Daft.ie, an online property website, showed that fewer than 300 homes were advertised to rent in Dublin at the start of August, compared with an average of 1,450 from 2015 to 2019. This lack of supply is driving up rents, which in the third quarter of 2022 rose 14 per cent on average from a year earlier.
This crisis is being driven by several factors. Population is part of it: Ireland’s population has risen to 5.1 million, the highest rate since 1841. This is an increase of over seven per cent since the last census was conducted in 2016.
Supply has failed to keep up with demand. A decade after the economic crash (caused in part by a housebuilding boom) housing completion rates have simply not kept pace with need. Economists estimate that somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 new homes are required to meet demand, but this is almost double the government target of approximately 30,000 homes built annually.
There is also a strong and persistent anti-housing lobby that campaigns vigorously against new house or apartment construction. It’s worth noting that many of the same political representatives who demand something be done about the housing crisis are the same people who will often protest any local development.
Successive Irish governments have undertaken a range of measures since the 2008 economic crash to address the housing crisis, to varying degrees of success.
But across the political spectrum there is agreement that lack of good and affordable housing presents a real challenge, and it is likely to be a central part of any future election.
In the meantime, the Government is due to finalise the wording on proposals for a referendum that would guarantee constitutional right to housing. This was part of the Programme for Government, and a referendum is expected in 2023.
What precise rights this would grant will clearly depend on the wording of a referendum, but for many campaigners they want to see a more active and direct role for the state in guaranteeing and supporting renters and potential homeowners.
(How precisely this addresses the supply/demand imbalances remains an open question.)
As in the United Kingdom, the key question is whether any government can thread the needle between the urgent national need for new housing and the vociferous lobbies against most actual proposals to build any.