The Irish Housing Crisis, a Social and Political Shamble

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Hannah Costello examines the current Irish housing crisis, focusing on the figures of homelessness, rental & housing prices and the government’s perspective on the ordeal.

11,754 people. According to the Irish Times, that is the current figure living in emergency accommodation. The housing crisis in Ireland is extremely problematic, and challenging to navigate. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to buy, rent or sell; the current housing situation is nothing short of a headache. This article will dive into three main elements of the current housing crisis; homelessness, rental & housing prices and government barriers. 

While there are housing availability issues across the entirety of Europe, Ireland is a particularly severe case. While a lot of the problems can be boiled down to management and planning issues, many pull the focus to the government. Homelessness is at a record high since the start of recording in 2014, with 11,754 people in emergency accommodation and over 1,600 of those families – meaning that 3,431 of that 11,754 are children in homelessness. While some chalk up the homelessness figure to being immigrants, data shows that only 17% of the 11,754 are from outside of the European Union. 

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated a housing shortage at 250,000 earlier this month in the Dáil. The government is trying to fix this issue by pledging to build an average of 33,000 new homes each year from 2021 to 2030. However, an argument can be made that the housing issue is, in fact, not down to the lack of housing but instead down to a lack of urban planning and poor transportation infrastructure. 

There are grants of up to €30,000 on offer for people who are bringing life back to old houses and grants of up to €50,000 for people who are bringing back life to homes in a severe state. Most are not interested in this primarily due to the extensive work needed to refurbish these houses. Furthermore, people have become more interested in buying newer homes or renting, preferably in the city, over purchasing an old house in the country. 

With the current predicament affecting students significantly, some had interesting perspectives on the matter. For example, Fionn, a second-year history and politics student, said, “My accommodation rent and conditions are a good deal for a room 30 minutes away from UCD, given the current state of the housing market. But the fact that my rent is higher than what my parents paid every month on the mortgage for the house they built and that other students are in worse conditions has vexed me.” While Jill, a third-year psychology student, said, “It’s nothing short of a clusterf**k. I was looking to rent near the university, but the rent asking prices are ridiculous; I have to travel for nearly two hours to get to campus.”

With An Taoiseach having ended the winter eviction ban on the 1st of April – with support from aligned government parties – it is still being determined what the eviction figures will become. With the increase in Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, Minister for Integration, Roderic O’Gorman, said, “We’re accommodating 58,000 Ukrainians and 20,000 people in international protection. There is a real pressure on housing.” With this statement, far-right groups are using the housing crisis as a means to fuel their protests at Dublin airport and other locations, with some having banners broadcasting “Ireland is full”. 

However, there is a reason for the lifting of the eviction ban; according to Tánaiste Micheál Martin, “continuing with the [eviction] ban would have made things worse,”

 “We want more rental properties into the market. We need more rental properties into the market.”  

According to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), there are over 7,000 households that have eviction notices looming in the coming weeks and months. However, Sinn Féin, the opposition party, argued in the Dáil that 10,000 people might be evicted this year and that the government should “show some compassion” and reinstate the eviction ban. 

Source: The Independent

While the government has come up with many solutions to the housing crisis over the years, there is still a great debate on the best solutions. Jean, a second-year History student, argued, “While the government is making the right decision to lift the eviction ban, the housing market still needs to be regulated. Putting rent caps on the real estate market ensures landlords don't exploit potential tenants – like students. While it is possible for a possible lack of control on rent caps, the government could place those caps on the square footage of the house or apartment  they're allowing for little room for error when it comes to the pricing of the housing market.”

The housing crisis is often described as political football, with the next elections approaching in March 2025. With multiple government responses and increased numbers of short commitment solutions being made by different parties, the opinion polls change rapidly on motions in the Dáil. As of February 2023, the first preference voting intentions for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dropped (18% and 22%, respectively), with Sinn Féin taking the lead with 35% of the vote. Some would argue that they changed their opinion due to the housing crisis solutions discussed in the Dáil and the lifting of the eviction ban. 

According to An Taoiseach, while the housing crisis has also been raised by potential employers and investors in Ireland, they acknowledge that Ireland is not the only country to face these issues. Speaking on his first day in Washington for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, An Taoiseach noted that he did not believe that there was any acceptable level of homelessness – and that while Ireland was turning the corner concerning housing construction, it was “certainly not there yet” regarding the overall housing problem. An Taoiseach, in the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, also criticised Sinn Féin for putting advertisements in the US newspapers seeking a referendum on Irish unity. 

Regarding the housing crisis, Mr Varadkar agreed with Tánaiste Micheál Martin’s comments that the country was “turning the tide” on house building. 

Mr Varadkar then commented that following the economic crash, Ireland was building roughly 5,000 houses a year, and during his first term as Taoiseach, he had raised this number to about 20,000 (now around 30,000, including student accommodation and the return of derelict property). 

He further stated that he “always accepted the view that the housing crisis is holding us back”, both economically and socially. However, he said it had to be put into a “factual context”. 

“We have never had more people at work; we never had a better year for trade and investment than last year, we are doing very well economically”, he said.

Finally, An Taoiseach defended the lifting of the eviction ban stating that the ban was always scheduled to end in March and that the matter of when it would be lifted wouldn’t affect the number of people served with notices as there was always going to be a spike. He further explained his decision stating that putting off the lifting of the ban until September or January would be in vain as the same issue would still arise irrespectively.