Addressing the Social Housing Crisis in Ireland

18th October 2020

Ireland is currently experiencing a social housing crisis which remains a deep-rooted issue despite Government efforts in recent years. Over 68,000 households are on the social housing waiting list with the number of households waiting longer than 5 years increasing by 10,659 (60%) since 2013. It is a nationwide problem, with regional areas additionally suffering from a lack of construction activity as many financing institutions have targeted the larger urban centres. Over 68% of housing completions occurred in Dublin and Cork in 2019, demonstrating the issues regional counties have in addressing social housing needs from newly developed units.

The delivery of social housing in Ireland is a key issue for our society at present. The number of people and families on waiting lists for suitable and affordable housing grew substantially in the period 2008 – 2012 following the Global Financial Crisis. It has remained unacceptably high since, resulting from increasing population pressure and insufficient construction activity. The requirement for social housing disproportionately impacts lower income and single parent households. As the housing crisis became politicised, government policy changed around 2015 and the Rebuilding Ireland programme was introduced. The programme has committed to delivering over 50,000 long term social housing units before 2021. The involvement of the private sector is required to achieve these targets and various initiatives have been deployed to specifically incentivise private sector capital.

Figure1: Large shortage in supply of social hosing versus waiting list
Source: Housing Agency website & Summary of Social Housing Assessments 2019

Rebuilding Ireland Plan

Rebuilding Ireland launched by the government in 2016, is considered an ambitious strategy to alleviate the housing crisis by accelerating the housing supply nationwide and delivering sustainable long-term housing solutions to those in need. It aims to address the needs of homeless people and families in emergency accommodation, accelerate the provision of social housing, deliver more housing, utilise vacant homes and improve the rental sector. This will be achieved through collaboration between Local Authorities, Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) and the private sector.

The Rebuilding Ireland programme has a multifaceted approach, but one of their key aims is to utilise existing vacant residential stock to provide as social housing. Pillar 2 of Rebuilding Ireland’s plan is to accelerate social housing, with the pillar actions as follows:

  • To deliver 50,000 social housing units by 2021;
  • 33,500 homes will be exclusively built as social housing;
  • 6,500 homes will be acquired by Local Authorities (LAs) and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) directly from the market or the Housing Agency;
  • 10,000 homes will be leased by LAs and AHBs;
  • To streamline approvals, planning and procurement to deliver these as quickly as possible;
  • To accelerate the rollout of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Scheme;
  • To prioritise the creation of mixed communities of private, social and rented housing on State lands;
  • To deliver more housing for older people and people with disabilities, amongst others.

Progress to Date

While the Rebuilding Ireland programme has increased social housing supply in recent years, the majority of these units (c. 64% in 2019) have been delivered through short-term leasing such as the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). This is not considered a sustainable, long-term solution to the social housing crisis, as it supports poor-quality housing, provides no security of tenure and often requires rental “top-ups”. The Rebuilding Ireland target of 10,000 long-term social housing leases by 2021 is substantially behind target.

As of end 2019, only 37% of this target had been met, with restrictions due to the pandemic likely to further delay these targets. This is not sufficient to address the number of people in emergency accommodation or on housing waiting lists. Fiscal pressures due to Covid will also limit the capacity to fund new social housing above what is already budgeted, likely increasing the role of the private sector, despite criticism from some observers that a public-private partnership is not the right approach. Supply of social housing will therefore likely not keep pace with demand resulting in a worsening of the crisis. Housing affordability is also expected to worsen for young and low-income groups once the pandemic is over. The lack of affordability will likely lead to higher demand for social housing, and also uncertainty over the future of urban living may lead to delays in developments.

The lack in availability of suitable housing was a central theme in the 2020 general election, with progress on achieving the objectives of the Rebuilding Ireland plan likely to remain in sharp focus. For a sustainable and long term solution to the crisis, there needs to be a significant and sustained increase in the supply of social and affordable housing across all housing types, in both urban and regional locations.