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Housing Commission report – the building blocks for future policy or another house of cards?

An examination of the recommendations in the divisive report that are likely to be accepted and rejected

The report of the Housing Commission was never going to win universal acceptance by politicians. Some of its 83 recommendations are radical and controversial. Even the commission itself was divided on some key areas. Three of its members produced a minority report on the issue of a referendum on a right to housing.

The Opposition portrayed the report as a scathing indictment of Government policy. It was not quite that but it certainly was no endorsement of Housing for All, or the plethora of housing policies that preceded it over the past decade.

It was, therefore, no surprise that Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien did not greet the report with open arms.

“As would be expected, not everything in the report released today is accepted or agreed,” he said.


So what changes in policy are likely as a result of this Government-commissioned report?

Recommendation: Emergency action required

The first stark finding of the commission made plenty of headlines. Ireland has a housing deficit of between 212,500 and 256,000 homes, or 10 per cent of the housing stock.

It is complicated by the fact that apart from the deficit, more housing will be needed in future. The population could grow to 7.25 million by mid-century. The average size of households will also fall, requiring more units, albeit smaller. In addition, one out of every 200 houses or apartments goes obsolete each year.

Last year, just under 33,000 houses were built under Housing for All. The commission implies that a median of 55,000 to 60,000 homes per year will be required. There is pressure on O’Brien to deliver more houses. However, he is refusing to release his new housing targets until an Economic and Social Research Institute report is published in the autumn.

Verdict: The Government will have no choice but to increase its targets to close to 50,000 later this decade.

Recommendation: Establish a Housing Delivery Oversight Executive

This is another quango, a decision-making body responsible for co-ordinating the delivery of housing. It would have the power to address all the blockages to housing delivery and oversee and drive investment in public utilities on land zoned for housing.

Currently, it takes many years between a plan being lodged and completion date. There are many delays and blockages in planning, approval, finances and infrastructure. The new body would address and find solutions to these delays.

O’Brien was less than enthusiastic about this recommendation . “I think that in itself would be problematic. I don’t want to add additional layers on housing delivery,” he said on Wednesday.

Officials have said privately that when Eoghan Murphy was minister for housing, he established a Housing Delivery Co-ordination Office, which is still in operation. They see this body as a duplication.

Verdict: O’Brien will not accept it.

Recommendation: Establish high-yielding housing delivery zones at agreed strategic locations, where housing can be delivered in the short to medium term and at scale

Given the targets are so high, this is no surprise. The Government will give this recommendation serious thought. The commission has said they should include State lands, brownfield sites and assemble smaller sites. Compulsory purchase powers will be available as a last resort.

The department will argue that much of this is already in Housing for All, and that the above recommendation dovetails with the remit of the Land Development Agency.

Verdict: Likely to accept, but in conjunction with existing actions.

Recommendation: Cost-rental as the main form of supply for both affordable and social-rented accommodation. It should comprise 20 per cent of the national stock

Cost-rental is a new form of tenancy in Ireland. The rent covers the cost of building and maintaining the property but there is no profit for the developer, therefore the rent is below market value.

The commission found this an attractive solution. “When delivered at scale, cost-rental housing can place downward pressure on market rents by acting as a cost-competitive alternative to the private rental market,” it said.

It also sees it as a way of reducing the number of people paying Housing Assistance Payments to private landlords.

O’Brien insists this is already happening and that he changed the law to ensure that 20 per cent of developments were earmarked for social and affordable houses.

Verdict: Government will say it’s already in train.

Recommendation: Promote earlier participation by the public in the plan-making process

Planning, regulations and red tape take up a significant chunk of the analysis. Again and again, it refers to the huge time lag between conception and completion of housing developments. Examples abound. Local authorities, which have few powers, have to put (larger) housing proposals through a four-stage approval system. It takes approximately 128 weeks (more than two years) to reach the approval stage. Planning applications are subject to appeal through every single stage of the project, including late-stage appeals. Each has the potential to stall the development, sometimes for years.

It notes that judicial review has become a more prominent feature with An Bord Pleanála facing 95 cases in 2022. The Strategic Housing Development process was introduced in 2017 to accelerate large developments. A total of 43,910 homes came under its remit in Dublin. Seven years later, only 3,173 have been built, with another 10,298 under construction. The reason most of the other 30,000 have not been built? Twenty-four of the schemes in Dublin are subject to judicial review.

Verdict: O’Brien will argue that his mammoth Planning and Development Bill (currently before the Dáil) will address this.

Recommendation: End system of selling local authority houses to tenants

Council houses have been sold to tenants at substantial discounts for many years. The commission argues it distorts the market, and also removes houses from the social stock.

This was never going to pass muster with a Fianna Fáil minister. Tenant purchase schemes have been very popular as they encourage social mobility and change the status of an estate from local authority to mixed. Besides, the same family will continue to live in the house.

Verdict: Likely to be rejected.

Recommendation: Change the rent pressure zones to a system where rents are pegged to “reference rents” for local dwellings of similar quality

Average rents in Dublin increased from €960 a month in 2012 to €2,258 in 2023. The response of successive governments was to introduce rent pressure zones (RPZ), in Dublin and other pinch points throughout the country. RPZ rent increases were capped at 4 per cent a year, but O’Brien reduced it to 2 per cent.

Several reports have said it has created a two-tier market where existing tenants have lower rents, while new tenants face significantly higher rents.

Verdict: Unlikely to be adopted. O’Brien has strongly defended RPZs. He can also point to three members of the commission who dissented from this recommendation.

Recommendation: Establish a Land Price Register

The commission believes this will increase the transparency around land transactions and improve the functioning of the market. There is already a Property Price Register, which has proved to be a success and this new register would be seen as a companion to it.

Verdict: Indications are that the Government likes this idea and will accept it. It also likes another action, which is a National Housing Condition Survey, carried out every five years.

Recommendation: The State should explore the option of setting up specific private saving funds that can be used to assist in the funding of housing

The department signalled on Thursday that this is an idea that has merit.

Verdict: Likely to be accepted.

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