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From Dublin’s urban sprawl to the costs of inaction: 12 things we learned from the Housing Commission report

Key points from the report, from social housing to Shannon water and urban sprawl to idle land in towns

1. The role of the State

State-supported housing, it says, “must be thought of in a broader context than simply catering for the acute needs of Ireland’s most vulnerable people”, and it must also “provide a stable funding anchor” to complement the private sector and focus on the “capacity to shape the market and remove distortions”.

2. Infrastructure

There is a big emphasis on infrastructure. It argues that the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities needs to reconfigure its practices to support the delivery of advanced infrastructure – and that big-ticket items such as the Greater Dublin Drainage Project and the Water Supply Project (tapping the Shannon for the capital’s water needs) require “urgent action”.

3. Policy overhaul

The report recommends reform to some of the key measures, including Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) “resetting them as short-to-medium term measures” for eligible households. It also says the Government should “review and recalibrate” measures for first-time buyers and that equity loan schemes should be “appropriately targeted”. It calls for a new time-limited Housing Delivery Oversight Executive to identify and address delivery blockages, and the establishment of Housing Delivery Zones at agreed locations.

4. Social housing and affordability

The report calls for a new Social Housing Act to ensure the sector is protected and not privatised, and for the size of the social and cost-rental sectors to reach 20 per cent of the national housing stock – with cost rental becoming the predominant model for social housing.


5. Vacancy, tax and planning

There are large chunks of the report here that the Government will doubtlessly say are in train already – such as recommendations to prioritise and extend grants and supports for reuse and retrofitting of vacant buildings, as well as taxing empty buildings and undeveloped land, sharing uplights in land value, or promoting early and effective public participation in planning. It also recommends monitoring of the prevalence and use of second homes and holiday homes in rural Ireland.

6. Referendum on housing

Alongside its report, the commission was to give wording on a proposed referendum on housing to the Government. This process was badly derailed by internal division, with a minority report now enjoying the support of three members. The report is mute on what happens next.

7. The private sector

While emphasising the role of the State, it also mandates the Government to ensure that there are “diverse sources of finance”, including “a predominant international element”.

8. The rental market and standards

The report argues that social housing providers should be able to accommodate households with a “wider mix of incomes”. It calls on the Government to reform the system so that market rents are regulated “fairly and effectively” by introducing “reference rents”. Meanwhile, standards for rented dwellings should be consolidated and there should be a risk-based inspection process across all forms of rental. Regulatory agencies in the sector should be amalgamated into a single authority with strengthened enforcement powers, it argues. Meanwhile it argues for development of standard house and apartment types across the board to reduce costs and drive efficiency.

9. Dublin

The verdict on the capital is not good, with urban sprawl, capacity constraints, commuting times and congestion to the fore. However, it also says that national planning policy and influence from civil society and politics have actually limited Dublin’s growth. It says that the National Planning Framework places “constraints” on Dublin’s growth potential and risks distorting development in nearby counties.

10. Costs of inaction

Irish housing policy, the commission says, has been “overindexed” to avoid housing oversupply, without recognising the economic and societal costs associated with housing undersupply. It estimates the housing deficit at between 212,500 and 256,000 homes.

11. Idle land in towns

Existing incentives for urban brownfield and infill developments are “wholly inadequate” and undermine policies aimed at urban consolidation and supporting climate change policies – these, the commission says, need to be addressed.

12. Land prices

A land price register, presumably modelled on the residential property price index, shuld be established to increase transparency and improve the functioning of the market.