Mary Lou McDonald: We must make housing in Cork and beyond affordable again

The housing crisis in Cork can be fixed, and property can be made affordable for all, but the government needs to change tack fast, says leader of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald TD
Mary Lou McDonald: We must make housing in Cork and beyond affordable again

Mary Lou McDonald believes Sinn Féin holds the keyfor a better housing policy

CORK City Council, as part of its development plan review, commissioned KPMG to assess both the future need and cost of housing in the city.

The report shows that the housing crisis on Leeside will get even worse over the next seven years unless there is a serious shift in government policy.

Even if the government delivers on its current targets, the average price of a house in Cork city by 2028 will hit just under half a million euro.

Tenants in Cork are also set to be hammered, with rents set to soar by a further 36% unless the government takes real action.

In the Dáil last Wednesday, I raised this alarming report presented to Cork City Council with Taoiseach and TD for Cork South Central Micheál Martin.

These reports are significant and are based on the most up-to-data from the CSO and ESRI. They shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed by the government.

However, rather than address the substance of the report, the Taoiseach sought to attack me, Sinn Féin and the opposition.

Mr Martin passed on the opportunity to outline what his government would do to ensure that the housing crisis in Cork doesn’t get worse in the coming years.

Instead, he chose to defend failed policies that drive housing developments where so-called affordable housing costs up to €378,000 to buy and €1,500 per month to rent.

The fact that the Taoiseach sees these prices as affordable tells us everything we need to know as to why government housing policy hasn’t worked and won’t work.

It is because the housing approach of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is still centred on the interests of developers, wealthy investor funds and big landlords.

It is the very same perspective that shaped the underwhelming plan launched by Darragh O’Brien, a plan which simply recycled and reheated the policies that gave us the housing crisis in the first place.

People in Cork know well the consequences of these failed policies. You experience it every day with out-of-control house prices, rip-off rents and families stuck on council waiting lists for years with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Nearly half of first-time buyers are now depending on their parents to help them secure a deposit. They are the fortunate ones. Not everybody in Cork looking to buy their first home is lucky enough to have parents in a position to help.

This situation is not reflective of government policies that work. All the evidence on the ground and the forecasts show the very opposite.

The Taoiseach has now been warned by an important analysis that the crisis in Cork will continue and worsen unless the government changes tack.

This simply has to happen because as Cork City expands, additional demand will put even more pressure on housing delivery.

For Metropolitan Cork to grow successfully and remain economically attractive, housing has to be solved. Plain and simple.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can avoid the nightmarish scenario outlined in this report, but this will require a serious change in government policy and hell of a lot more urgency from those in power.

We can move away from the failures of the last 15 years. We can open the doors and opportunity for Cork’s locked-out generation, for a generation exploited by sky-high rents and for those trapped in the box room of their parents’ house.

We can make housing in Cork and throughout Ireland affordable again.

It is hard to believe, but there was once a time when things weren’t like this. A time when if you worked hard, made day to day sacrifices, and saved your money, then you could buy a home, start out in life and raise a family, if you wished.

There was a time when housing was about building thriving communities, rather than building huge profits for vulture and cuckoo funds.

It is not beyond us to get back there. What is needed is some cop-on and better forward planning from the government, and crucially we need a Taoiseach that will listen rather than lash-out.

Mr Martin likes to evoke the late, great Tommy Cooper. He would be better off dispelling with the illusion that the market will magically solve the housing crisis. What we need is a state intervention in housing on a scale never seen before.

Instead of reaching for soundbite criticisms of Sinn Féin’s housing policies, I would urge the Taoiseach to borrow them and implement them with some haste.

Give struggling tenants a break by cutting rents and banning rent increases for three years. Significantly increase government investment for direct delivery of 8,000 genuinely affordable homes and 12,000 real social homes a year. He could also support Thomas Gould’s ambitious, innovative plan to put an end to houses sitting empty for months, and years, on end.

These measures would make a big difference to the lives of those caught up in the housing crisis and help deliver a better future for Cork.

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