It has felt like an important week for the Government – and not in a good way. Left scrambling to shore up support from Independents for a Dáil vote on the eviction ban, it got through with the help of promising some fixes for the market, including some which could help tenants stay on their homes.
While this is a vital goal, there is a risk that hastily put together policies will end up having unintended consequences. Changes to the Fair Deal scheme to make it easier for those in nursing homes to rent out their own houses, for example, has raised some concerns from organisations representing older people. It is now to be reviewed. And schemes to give tenants first refusal on properties for sale, or to involve local authorities or housing bodies in buying them, require thinking through and funding.
As the Government finds itself under pressure, there is a risk that focus is lost on the longer-term issues in the housing market. The key is boosting supply in all areas of the market. The Government can point to some progress here, but the reality is that more – much more – needs to be done. The danger for ministers is that they are seen moving into emergency mode to shore up votes in the Dáil, but they have failed to demonstrate the same level of determination in tackling the hugely complex issues of accelerating supply.
Each week brings new evidence of the scale of the crisis. New estimates from estate agent Sherry FitzGerald show that around 80,000 landlords have left the market over the past decade. It estimates that over 50,000 new homes are now needed every year. Builders continue to complain about the planning system and delays in decisions. An Bord Pleanála remains chronically under-resourced. There is talk about redeveloping vacant and derelict properties, but a report from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland points out that this is not financially viable in many cases.
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Further increasing the rate of new supply is a task requiring huge energy and persistence and the implementation of long-term policies in the home-owner and rental market. Has the Government the vision and energy to achieve this? Indeed, the same question could be put to the opposition parties. Promises of bringing significant number of new homes on stream quickly are not convincing – every effort is needed, but part of finding a way through this crisis is accepting that progress will take time. Frequent planning objections from politicians on all sides do not engender confidence.
The Government, as it shores up support through further votes in the weeks ahead, cannot lose sight of the need to keep the focus on supply. It has developed policies which can make a difference, but progress remains slow and key blockages remain unaddressed. The Government still does not seem to grasp the extent of the crisis.