Only 56 social housing units were completed in Ireland in the nine months between January and September 2014 according to data recently released by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG). In the second quarter of 2014 there were just four Local Authority houses completed nationwide. Based on these figures the projected total for all of 2014 will be less than 90 houses. This is the lowest recorded annual figure for forty five years since 1970 for which figures are available – see chart below.
To put this drop in output in perspective, 768 social houses were built during 1989 (10 times the total for 2014) – in the midst of one of the deepest construction recessions. This previous ‘trough’ for completed social housing in 1989 is more than the combined output for 2012, 2013 and 2014. Ivan Yates, in a recent press article, wondered “…how many new houses were completed on average by each council last year?” (see article here). The answer is three Local Authority houses on average were completed by each Local Authority (outside Dublin) in 2014!
In addressing the urgent need to reverse this policy, Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly T.D. said:
“The privatisation of social housing should never have happened. It was a disgrace. The Government has committed to spending €3.8 billion to build and refurbish 35,000 social housing units over the next five years”
The challenge for this government is to quickly recover from this low base as the economy comes out of recession. Some of the proposed strategy has been outlined in a report published in November 2014: Social Housing Strategy 2020 see here.
There are barriers to the supply of housing beyond the availability of finance. Many Local Authorities no longer have technical in-house staff to provide direct social housing programme. There are also onerous technical challenges in relation to EU standards to comply with a Net Carbon standard by 2018 and the requirements of our homegrown SI.9 legislation.
The challenge for the Government will be in deciding whether the solution lies with continuing to rely on the delivery of Social Housing by the Private Sector or will they try to maximise the return on investment and quality by engaging professionals directly, as has happened with the school building programme.