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JCFJ tackles housing

housing_01.jpgFor several years, a common view of housing was that ‘the boom could only get boomier’, said Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times journalist (pictured here), who launched ‘The Irish Housing System: Vision, Values, Reality’, a new policy paper from the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice on Wednesday, 10 June. However, the comprehensive data and rigorous analysis presented by Dr Michael Punch, School of Sociology, University College Dublin, who compiled the policy paper, showed clearly that the boom and its aftermath have had many negative consequences for individuals and families, and for the economy as a whole. Over forty people, including academics and representatives of a wide range of voluntary organisations, attended the launch in the Mont Clare Hotel, Dublin. Both the policy paper and a summary version are available on the JCFJ website. See photos of the launch here.

PRESS RELEASE: ‘Toxic Legacy’ of Housing Boom Evident in Economic, Social and Environmental Difficulties We Now Face, says Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in New Report

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Ireland’s twelve-year long housing boom not only contributed to the financial and economic crises now facing the country but it also widened inequalities in housing and in wealth and led to environmentally damaging patterns of development. This is the conclusion of a major report, The Irish Housing System: Vision, Values, Reality, which has been issued by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The report was launched today, Wednesday, 10 June 2009, by Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times journalist and co-author, with Frank McDonald, of The Builders.

The Irish Housing System: Vision, Values, Reality calls for a widening of the means by which housing is provided, with greater scope for supply by non-profit providers, including local authorities, housing associations, co-operatives and community organisations. It argues that we need a “new deal” for social housing, with a long-term commitment by local authorities to building up and sustaining good quality public housing, open to a wider tenant base. It calls for legislation to control the price of building land and for community-based approaches to the regeneration of local authority estates instead of the Public Private Partnership approach that has been favoured over the past decade.

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Boom Failed to Deliver a Decent Housing System

Dr Michael Punch, School of Sociology, UCD, who compiled the report in collaboration with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, said: “During the boom years, Ireland built record numbers of houses, yet problems of housing access and affordability actually increased. House prices rose by well over 300 per cent between 1994 and 2007, so that people on average earnings were locked out of ownership or could afford to buy only by moving far from their place of work”. He pointed out also that the numbers on waiting lists for social housing doubled over the course of the boom, while the State increasingly relied on the private sector to meet social housing needs, with hundreds of millions of euro spent each year on rent supplement.

“The boom which could have helped secure a decent housing system has instead left us with huge problems”, said Dr Punch. He pointed out: “Many people now have major difficulties in paying their mortgage, given the rise in unemployment and the significant drop in the net incomes of those still in work; many more find themselves in negative equity. Thousands of houses and apartments lie empty even as acute housing need remains unmet. Tenants in local authority estates due for regeneration are left with the consequences of the withdrawal of private developers from the Public Private Partnerships and so find themselves back where they were ten years ago.”

Housing: Commodity or Home?

Dr Punch said that official housing policy has a commendable emphasis on ensuring access and affordability for all households but many of the developments during the housing boom years ran directly counter to these aims. He said: “A particularly worrying feature in Irish housing policy and practice during the boom was the tendency towards a greater ‘commodification’ of housing. In other words, housing came to be seen and treated first and foremost as a commodity rather than a home, with the emphasis on its role in securing investment gains rather than its primary role of meeting a fundamental human need of every person.”

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A New Vision for Housing

Fr Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, Acting Director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, said that:  “There are ethical questions to be asked about what happened during the boom years, in terms of social justice and environmental sustainability, questions that focus attention on what were our core values, individually and collectively, during that period.” He called for a new vision for housing, with housing recognised as a fundamental human right, priority accorded to those in greatest need and the promotion of the common good a core concern. “In essence, we need a housing system that is socially just, and economically and environmentally sustainable”, said Fr O’Hanlon.

[Ends]

For further information or for interviews contact:
Eoin Carroll, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
Tel: 01 855 6814; Mobile: 087 225 0793
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.jcfj.ie

Note: A full copy of the report is available in hard copy and electronic format. There is also a summary document.

SOME STATISTICAL INFORMATION (the majority of which are available in high resolution graphs / charts / tables)

Housing Output
1995:  30,000
2006:  93,400 (+211% on 1995)
2008:  51,724 (44% decrease on 2006)
2009:  18,000/19,000 (projected) (60% decrease on 2008)

New House Prices
1994:  €72,732
2007:  €322,634 (344 % increase on 1994)

Second-hand House Prices
1994:  €69,877
2007: €377,850 (441% increase on 1994)

Divergence between house price and building cost
Between 1995 and 2007 house prices increased by:
Four times average building cost;
Five times average earnings;
Seven times faster than the consumer price index.

Rent Supplement
2008: 74,000 recipients
Cost: €440.8 million

Empty Houses
New House Completions 1996–2006: 496,670
New Households 1996–2006: 347,322
Houses Surplus to Need: 249,348

Surplus as percentage of completions: 41.8%