FOR the last 11 years, I have been calling on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to address the mounting housing crisis in Cork. They have laughed at me and ignored my calls.
Now we are in the middle of the worst housing crisis this state has ever seen and Budget 2021 was the new government’s first real chance to show their commitment to ending it.
Now that the dust has settled and we have all had time to digest the details, it is clear that the housing commitments in Budget 2021 are underwhelming, unclear and inadequate.
Darragh O’Brien has failed in his first big test as Housing Minister and delivered a budget that Eoghan Murphy would have been proud of.
The key question is how much extra capital spending did Minister O’Brien secure for social and affordable housing in 2021 above that committed to by his predecessor, and how many homes will this deliver?
The answer is just €160million to deliver only 993 extra homes — €124million to deliver an additional 593 social homes, and €35million to deliver 400 cost rental homes.
Despite the claims that this is the largest housing budget ever, the actual amount being invested in the delivery of real social housing in 2021 is low.
Just €1.3billion will be given to local authorities and approved housing bodies (AHBs) to deliver 10,300 real social homes owned by councils and AHBs.
This is just 593 homes more than had been promised by Eoghan Murphy in his Rebuilding Ireland targets for 2021.
The Minister has also continued his predecessors’ trend of pushing ever greater number of social housing applicants into the private rented sector, subsidised through HAP, RAS and leasing.
While Eoghan Murphy had promised that 2021 would be the first year that more real social housing would be delivered than subsidised private rental tenancies, Darragh O’Brien has reversed this commitment.
Next year will see 10,300 real social housing tenancies in properties owned by local authorities and AHBs, compared to 18,250 privately owned properties subsidised by the tax payer.
When the Department of Social Protection’s Rent Supplement payment allocation for 2021 is included with HAP, RAS and Long Term Leasing, the cost of rental subsidies in 2021 will hit €1billion.
On the affordable housing front, things are unfortunately very unclear. In October, 2018, the government announced a Serviced Sites Fund of €310million to be spent over three years to deliver 6,000 affordable homes.
To date, just €127million has been allocated but not a single home delivered. Just 50 are under construction.
The Minister announced that €50million from the original €310m would be made available next year. However, there are no targets for how many homes will be delivered through this fund in 2021.
In recent years, Cork City Council have had to implement their own affordable housing plan. While the Minister may have tried to lay claim to this scheme in the Dail chamber recently, it was in fact the council who felt forced to do this because of the failings of governments over the last decade.
The Minister also announced a new affordable fund of €110million. Part of this would be used to finance 400 cost rental homes, though with no timeline for delivery. The remainder is to be used for an as yet unspecified shared equity loan for the purchase of private homes.
It is now clear that there is a battle between the Minister for Housing and his colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform over this shared equity scheme, which is delaying the long promised affordable housing plan.
Shared Equity loans are like Help to Buy on steroids. They prop up unaffordable prices and force first time buyers into dangerous levels of potentially unsustainable debt.
The question that Minister O’Brien can’t answer from Budget 2021 is how many genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy will be delivered by Government next year and at exactly what price.
The Government has shown once again that they simply don’t care about renters. Despite the unsustainably high levels of rent, particularly in Cork, there was not a single measure for renters. Fianna Fáil’s election promise of a refundable tax credit for renters has disappeared.
Meanwhile, the marginal increases in funding for Traveller Accommodation, homeless prevention or adaptation grants will leave many of our most vulnerable at the margins of our housing system.
Budget 2021 will not help address the housing crisis.
At a time when the Government can borrow to invest in much-needed public housing, they have increased that investment by just €160millio above that promised by Eoghan Murphy and Rebuilding Ireland.
This is not ambitious. It is a negligent dereliction of duty by a Minister for Housing who clear has no idea of what is required to get a grip on the housing crisis.
Cork deserved better from this Budget. People were looking for hope at the end of what has been a very long tunnel.
The Minister has failed to give them this hope.