The news that An Bord Pleanála has now changed its previous decision so that the 524 private homes to be built on the O’Devaney Gardens site can be sold to institutional investors, commonly referred to as “vulture funds,” is a further indication of the growing power of those funds within the housing sector.
It is also, by the way, an illustration of a combination of incompetency, irrelevance and studied contempt on the part of central government for local authorities such as Dublin City Council which negotiated the deal with Bartra, the development company who successfully challenged the ban on the sale to a “corporate entity” which had been affirmed by Bord Pleanála in September 2021 – but who have now reversed that decision.
The original deal to develop the site was with Bernard McNamara for 100% public and mixed income housing but that collapsed with the financial crisis. Dublin City Council, at a time when SF was the largest party, then negotiated an agreement with Bartra for a mixed private, social housing and affordable housing scenario.
Bartra cleverly played on the state’s unwillingness to commit to buy the 524 units which the developers said they could sell privately, presumably to one of the investment funds. Why Bartra could not have built them and then sold them individually as was first proposed would seem not to have been challenged by Bord Pleanála in its volte face.
We raised this in the context of the increasing role being played by Chinese and other investment funds in the housing sector here. It seemed, and still seems, incredibly naïve that any politicians thought they could prevent that by council motions.
The consequences of builds being sold en masse to investment funds is severe for ordinary families who have now become increasingly desperate – being outbid by vulture funds who are chasing the large profits gained from renting out the houses now placed out of reach of families by the purchasing muscle of institutional investors.
Recent figures from BNP Paribas showed that these cuckoo funds are able to outbid families by a massive premium – by as much as 32% according to the report. pushing families even further away from home ownership, according to a report. Why the government doesn’t act to prevent this remains the unanswered question.
It’s almost a year since Micheál Martin told the Dáil it was “unacceptable” that investment funds were buying up entire housing estates, and the government vowed to take action to prevent this happening. That has come to naught, it seems.
That is of course not to detract from the contemptuous manner in which the state itself through its planning and regulatory structures is ignoring almost all local democratic decisions on these matters if and when they come into conflict with the interests of the major corporate players who are indeed using their financial power to dictate terms regarding the current and future shape of the Irish housing market.
Any state with a genuine commitment to not only putting people into apartments, but in ensuring that housing is part of something more than a “market” with little reference to the society it has responsibility for, would not allow such a crucial sector to be dictated by entities like Bartra. It speaks of a state that couldn’t care less what this place is going to look like in 30 or 50 years time. This we already know.
The obsession with “social housing” on the part of others has meant that the chances of working families being able to buy their own homes was always a minor consideration, including for the parties on Dublin City Council. The one thing the left and the likes of Bartra do share is their contempt for private home ownership. You will be either a tenant of the state or some faceless investment fund.
So, we are now left with a situation where – if the ongoing legal consideration confirms the Bord Pleanála amendment – the 524 units that were supposed to be sold to individual private purchasers will now almost certainly mean that all of those apartments end up in the rental sector – a sector increasingly dominated by the investor/vulture funds.
All of this portends ill for the city and people of Dublin. Even the late Pete St. John would be challenged to find a fitting update for the “grey unyielding concrete” that 40 years ago he saw turning Dublin from a town into a city. Now from a city in any sense of what that ought to be mean as an organic urban community into some dystopian high rise mess.