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Daft Report: A decade of disastrous housing policy laid bare

An extraordinary chart here, via housing expert economist extraordinaire, Ronan Lyons of

A decade ago, in 2010, there were just over 8,000 units of housing available to rent in the capital city. Today, there are fewer than 1,000.

At the root of the issue, obviously, is supply and demand: Demand for housing is much higher today than it was a decade ago, because the economy is no longer in a crippling recession. The problem is that supply has simply not kept up with that demand.

The bottom line here, any way you cut the cake, is that politicians are to blame, both in the ways that are obvious, and the ways which might be less obvious. There are many ways in which they have actively caused the problem, and several ways in which they may have accidentally made it worse. Let’s start with the obvious:

The basic rule of Irish politics, on the housing question, for the last decade, has been this: Everybody is in favour of housing in general, but opposed to housing when it is proposed in a specific area. This is what we colloquially call “NIMBYism” – “not in my back yard”.

The simple problem here is the political system, and the incentives it delivers to politicians. They might well support building thousands of new houses in general, but the people who are registered to vote tend to already have houses. And since Irish people vote on local issues, a community who is opposed to a new development is much more valuable to a TD than the votes of the people who will not get to buy a home if the new development is shot down. There are numerous examples of this: Labour TD Aodhán O’Riordáin basically won his last election on foot of opposing a new housing development in his constituency, even as he preaches housing for all from the national pulpit. Similarly, Ivana Bacik and Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan are presently strenuously opposing a new development in Dublin Bay South, even as they both present themselves as advocates of more housing nationwide.

The end result is a political system which structurally advantages serial objectors to new housing over those who may lose out if it is not built.

Every single political party is guilty, in this respect, because every single political party has elected representatives who have objected to perfectly reasonable developments on spurious grounds. The real reasons for the objections are never articulated: In truth, the reasons for opposing a development are often tied in to a desire to preserve the value of existing homes in an area, and an instinctive opposition to a wave of new residents coming in and “spoiling” an existing community. Until politicians have an electoral incentive to take on their own voters, this problem will not be solved. My good friend Jason O’Mahony, columnist for the Irish Independent, puts it well: An Irish Government that solved the housing crisis would be thrown out of office in a matter of months, because of all the vested interests it took on.

The other issue, of course, is that Government policy in relation to the existing housing stock has quietly been a disaster.

Over the past decade, Ireland has embraced just about every left wing, anti-landlord, pro tenant, measure it could think of. We have had rent controls. We have additional taxes on landlords for their second homes. We have absurdly long notice periods – running to well over a year in some cases. It has become almost impossible to evict tenants who do not pay rent, or who damage property. All of those things were supposed to make life easier for renters, and were announced to great acclaim. The end result is that the number of homes available to rent has fallen dramatically. Rent controls do not work, and never have worked, and, everywhere that they have been introduced, deliver the same result: A smaller rental market.

The media are, for whatever reason, disinclined to tell this story. But speak to the dwindling number of private landlords, and you will hear the same thing over and over again: Renting a property is just not worth the hassle. The result is that many have sold up, or switched to AirBnB, or left their property vacant.

The housing crisis cannot be solved quickly, but it can certainly be solved: Government must make it easier to build new houses, and more attractive to rent out existing houses. Right now, Dublin is on a path to a situation where the only landlords are enormous housing funds, who will prioritise corporate clients, and where the only new housing that gets built is through Government schemes on brownfield sites.

Politicians, on this occasion, are almost exclusively to blame. And not just the Government: All of them.

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