For crisis sake …

250,000 … a quarter of a million properties are currently lying vacant around Ireland. When I heard that statistic earlier on today I nearly fell over. That number is twice the population of Cork !! How has it come to this ? It’s 2016 not 1890. While the main political parties were faffing around courting each other in a perceived collective attempt to establish a government, the housing crisis was deepening every single day.

Hundreds of families are being made homeless every month and absolutely nothing is being done about it, its insane. What is it about this country of ours that we never seem to be proactive about anything? We experienced the economic and societal woes of the grim 80s which gave way to the hedonism of the late 90s / early 00s. The country was bankrupt financially and more importantly we hemorrhaged a whole generation of our young to foreign shores. Guess what, it all happened again after the boom. The bust left us shell shocked and once more wringing our hands, gnashing our teeth and asking why us? Why because as a society we were deeply irresponsible for not learning from the sins of our fathers.

During the boom people fell over themselves to spend all the money they could get from irresponsible banks on indulgences they simply didn’t need. More money chased fewer properties and trophy homes forcing the price of even your most basic two up two down to reach eye watering levels.At one point in 2006, before the crash, a 1 bedroom flat in Dublin city centre was costing 340,000 euro, without parking!!! Banks were offering 110% mortgages to couples with a combined income which to any right-minded individual simply would not meet the repayments if the unthinkable happened, if the market went south. It did. It plummeted.

The usual vested interests bluffed and spoofed their way through radio interviews when responsible commentators like Morgan Kelly called the situation for what it was, a disaster waiting to happen. The economy and the housing market were inextricably linked and doubly doomed, but the estate agents, bankers, mortgage brokers and politicians led us to believe that at worst, it would be a soft landing. It was anything but. Within a couple of years property prices and rents had swan dived, panic ensued. Where was the forethought, what were the financial and political institutions doing to provide for that rainy day in the future ? Governments have a social responsibility to provide adequate housing surely? Why didn’t successive governments not have a plan in place ? A housing strategy ? No.

No there has never been anything other than a piecemeal housing strategy by any government in Ireland and as usual the electorate have never really held the powers that be to task for it. We currently have a situation where the number of houses being built is less than 5% of what it was during the boom. Supply has dried up, its a desert out there. The residential sales market which saw a mini renaissance over the last couple of years has ground to a halt unless you are a cash buyer, or you have a 20% deposit and are able to satisfy the banks’ stricter lending criteria. So whereas before we had a crazy situation of house prices increasing month on month, those increases have been transferred instead to the rental market, all because of lack of supply.

A room in a shared house in Dublin is now costing on average 700 euro. A one bed flat in Rathmines is costing in excess of 1000 euro per month. Queues to view the most dilapidated of hovels stretch down the road as people lower their standards merely to rent a roof for over their heads. It seems the majority of people that are suffering are again the youngest and brightest, like they did in the 80’s and again during the most recent recession. All the while, through every crisis, be it an economic one, a residential housing crisis due to spiralling prices or a rental crisis due to lack of supply of rental properties, the government sits on its hands and we watch them do it. There is never any joined up thinking on display. Let me remind you again of those 250,000 vacant properties, sitting there idle right now, while the government instead elects to spend 46 million euro a year housing families in hotels !!! More insanity. It always seems that when government departments are given a choice between the common sense thing to do and the blatant wrong thing to do, they invariably choose the latter and we let them away with it.

How many jobs could be created from restoring 250,000 properties to their habitable former glory ? How much pressure would that take off struggling families knowing they had a roof over their head? How much would rents fall across the board as a result of the releasing of the valve in the rental market? How much would communities benefit from housing these families for years to come?

The solution to the housing crisis requires some basic joined up thinking which involves putting people, families and communities first. If we satisfy these parties in this order we can pro-actively build a society that is better placed to grow and learn from our past mistakes  and undoubtedly be in a better position to deal with inevitable crises in the future.