One of the main issues in the recent election was housing. We live in a state where even those who can afford to in many cases cannot buy or rent a place to live. That is a major fail on any level. It is going to be exacerbated by the state’s plan to increase the population by up to another half a million under Project 2040.
Where are all these people going to live? Statistics prove that the building programme is totally inadequate to house the anticipated numbers. They are falling short by thousands every year. I have met people who are living in three bedroom houses with 12 or 13 other people – and all paying separate rents.
In the meantime we have the phenomenon of the “cuckoo funds.” These are the property companies or investment funds which buy up existing housing developments with a view to selling them on but mostly renting. Dublin is currently the Las Vegas for these people. This is being facilitated by our governments.
Anyone who knows Dublin will have seen the crazy expansion of the city in the past number of years. And it will get worse. I live near the Royal Canal. It used to be a quiet, semi-rural place to walk the dogs. You could see and hear games in Oliver Plunketts from over the canal when walking the bowlers on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Now it is lined by multi-story apartment blocks. Clongriffin was barely even a village. Now it looks like somebody decided to randomly drop a piece of the Bronx there.
What is happening it that mostly American property developers and investment funds are buying up vast swathes of Dublin. Almost 10,000 units were bought in 2019 with a value of around €2 billion. One of the main companies involved, Kennedy Wilson, charges an average rent of €2,049 a month (Irish Independent, May 7, 2019.). I know very few people who have that much just to spend on where they live. And why in any event should people be living their lives mostly to pay for somewhere to live.
Kennedy Wilson say that they make more money in rental property in Dublin than they do in Los Angeles. Another cuckoo fund, Ires Reit, bought an entire estate of 118 proposed family homes last year. Ironically Allied Irish Banks which was saved by the taxpayer during the financial meltdown has demonstrated its gratitude to us all by selling on €1 billion of bad loans to the American vulture fund Cerebus at a 20% loss (Irish Independent April 2, 2019.). These include several hundred family homes whose owners will no doubt be pursued by Cerebus with many of them being evicted so that they can be sold or rented on.
Entire developments like Hanover Quay have been bought by these people. An estate of 150 houses in Maynooth was bought by Urebo who will rent the houses out at mad rates. This is a new landlordism. Our people died under the old landlord system and had our most heroic days in seeking to overturn that during the Land War.
On a global scale, it is estimated that the Blackstone company owns hundreds of thousands of homes which it mostly rents. And it has nothing to do with the “free market.” The free market is people buying and selling on equal terms. What is happening now with housing is more akin to feudalism where people with the means can ensure that working people can only have a place to live if they pay an exorbitant rent. It is usury, not capitalism.
Even the United Nations has criticised what is happening with regard to the housing market. Indeed, it has highlighted Ireland as one of the worst offenders in allowing the funds to take over peoples homes.
This is not sustainable. No healthy society can survive in which housing is increasingly under the control of people who do not even live here. Some Asian states have taken steps to prevent the incursion of both cuckoo funds who buy up housing and the vulture funds who buy bad debts. So it is not just a phenomenon beyond the control of the state as some here would have us believe.
There are other issues related to the planned expansion of the population and the overall pressure that will be place on our resources to cope with all of that. Unfortunately there appears to be little political vision to examine this, and a signal failure across much of the political class to take responsibility. That needs to change.