Housing Policy

1. INTRODUCTION

A home is a basic human need, ranking alongside sleep and food, as an essential to sustain life. In modern societies a decent and secure place to live improves educational attainment, leads to a healthier and longer life, and is needed to access many public services. Yet throughout the history of capitalism the system has never been able to provide decent and secure housing for all in our society.

PBP’s housing policy is based on a simple premise that everyone in our society requires a decent and secure place to live, irrespective of their income. Housing should be treated as a universal public service the same as health and education. Based on the experience of previous generations and internationally, the most effective way to deliver a decent secure home, based on need, is through public housing.

Modern environmentally friendly building techniques, innovative design with occupants at its heart, flexible living spaces to accommodate changing family-sizes are all evident in public housing examples across Europe – such as the award winning design of Norwich City Council housing and the New Municipal Dwellings programme in Vienna. We can learn from this best practice.

Here we set out our key policy proposals and in the sections below we go into more detail on how we can achieve a housing system on the island of Ireland that provides safe, decent and secure housing for all:

  • Renew and revitalise public home building on public land – keep existing public land in public ownership
  • Fund and empower local government and the Northern Irish Housing Executive to increase their stock of public housing and public land
  • Abolish the income threshold limits to make public housing available to more people on a broad range of incomes with rents set at a percentage of take home pay
  • Establish a scheme that enables public housing tenants to move between and within developments based on their accommodation requirements at different life stages
  • Establish a system of housing planning and construction that ensures adequate supply for those with particular housing needs such as those with a disability, those fleeing war or abuse.
  • Provide for an affordable purchase scheme within the public housing system where the unit can only be sold back to the local authority or public housing body from which it was purchased
  • Create and fund a state building company to retrofit and refurbish all public homes so that they meet new energy efficiency standards – create a system of training and recruitment delivered through the state building company and under local authority or public housing bodies
  • Establish greater controls in the building industry including building standards, rights for construction workers and certification
  • Reform planning to ensure democratic engagement by communities in sustainable development – make it a statutory requirement that community amenities including educational, transport, economic, green space and civic/cultural centres be mandated and front loaded in all new development – enforce Passivhaus and design quality standards – all development must have regard to the challenges of climate change and higher density living
  • Establish a new Rental Board that will represent all tenants (public and private) – extend security of tenure and maintenance/dwelling standard rights for tenants and introduce a system of rent setting and control – encourage tenant unionisation – extend tenancy rights to all tenants including students
  • Establish an Independent National Traveller Housing Agency to oversee the delivery of culturally appropriate Traveller accommodation
  • End corporatisation of housing system – bring the dwellings owned by corporate landlords into public ownership – revoke all legislation that allows vulture funds, REITs, build to rent corporate landlords and other special purpose vehicles to operate in the Irish housing market.
  • Establish and maintain registers of vacant and /or derelict sites and unused dwellings and give powers to local authorities and public housing bodies to enforce penalties and compulsory purchase orders
  • Establish landlord, land value, speculation and windfall taxes – introduce a static income tax on income earned from property rental in the private residential market

The Irish Context

If you are poor or on a low-income then securing housing is always a struggle. However, the past twenty years has shown that with the exception of big developers and finance providers, our housing system is dysfunctional for all, with:

  • excessive and unaffordable rents for those in the private-rented sector,
  • evictions, in many cases illegal, a regular occurrence across the island,
  • homelessness among families at a record high,
  • waiting lists times for social housing, north and south, standing at years, almost decades in some cases and increasing,
  • lack of affordable housing for young people resulting in one of the highest levels of 16-29 year olds still living with parents in the EU,
  • growing levels of private renters among older age-groups leading to an emerging housing crisis for the next generation of pensioners,
  • exorbitant house prices making home ownership impossible,
  • windfall profits by land speculators and construction finance providers.

 

In the South we have had the Celtic Tiger construction boom and bust, leading to the banks and developers being bailed out by the state – only for the whole process of excessive rents and prices to start all over again. In February 2020, there were over 10,000 people (including 3,534 children) homeless and accessing emergency accommodation.

In the North the housing system is no less dysfunctional, with a massive housing price and construction bubble exploding after the 2008 crisis, but this has not been followed by a return to excessive rent and price rises.  Yet the low level of new social house-building means that over the five years up to and including 2019, there has been a 60 per cent increase in homeless applications.

The Housing Problem

The root of the housing problem lies in the very nature of capitalism that sees a home as a commodity, something that is to be bought and sold or a place to store wealth. So long as housing policy relies upon the market and private sector interests to deliver homes, we will face a housing crisis in one form or another.

People Before Profit’s housing policy is based on the following key principles, that:

  • everyone requires and has the right to decent, secure and affordable housing, irrespective of their income;
  • housing should be based on needs that change over the course of a lifetime and should be culturally appropriate;
  • housing forms part of whole community development and should be planned and developed with the amenities and services that make communities resilient and sustainable;
  • communities and individuals should have a say in all stages of development;
  • the most modern and environmentally sustainable design, construction methods and building materials should be used to ensure quality homes for all.

These key principles inform the detailed policies that we set out below – we believe that “Another Housing System Is Possible”.