The failures of 'Affordable Housing'

Readers in Ireland may have seen yesterday's Irish Times story (paid registration required) in which the head of Dublin City Council's housing unit branded the Affordable Housing strategy a failure.

Having been on the Council's affordable housing waiting list for a couple years now, I'm inclined to agree, although for rather different reasons than those Mr Kenny gives. I'll take the article's points individually:

Affordable housing was developed by the Government to allow families and workers such as teachers, gardaí and nurses who had been priced out of the housing market to buy their own homes at a reduced price with the assistance of local authorities.

However Mr Kenny, the council manager with responsibility for housing, said that these "key workers" are not applying for affordable housing and up to 85 per cent of people on the waiting list were single.

I can't speculate on the "key workers" issue. But in the latest list of affordable properties available from the Council, roughly 85% are one- or two-bedrooms. Hello? Any wonder families aren't applying?

Applicants were frequently "too fussy" about the locations of the housing schemes.

I wonder what exactly Mr Kenny means by this. If it's postcode snobbery that's one thing. But it's not for nothing that the real estate agency's mantra is "location, location, location". You really cannot overestimate the importance of this factor in the suitability of a property.

Take my own situation. I work in the city centre; I don't drive; I come and go quite a bit outside normal Dublin Bus hours. Thus it would obviously not be suitable for me to live way out in the suburbs. I resent the implication that that's me being "fussy" - I think it's me being realistic about the impact that location would have on my life. I'm willing to make the sacrifice of paying a bit more for a smaller place in town, which would not be appropriate for all other applicants. It's horses for courses really, and what is Mr Kenny's problem with that?

Of course it also goes without saying that if we had anything approaching an adequate public transport system here, this wouldn't matter so much. And there are also serious issues with infrastructure around a lot of the new developments going up - is it "fussy" to not want to move to an area where there are virtually no essential resources or local amenities? Why doesn't the Council make more of an effort to deal with those issues?

It's also worth pointing out that this so-called fussiness isn't preventing people applying for all these properties. According to the Council, in the last draw there were roughly ten times as many applicants as there were properties available. The least popular location attracted 141 times more applicants than it could accommodate. Obviously we're not really that fussy after all.

The homes on offer were also generally apartments and "key workers tend to want to live in houses", Mr Kenny said.

Personally I'm grand with apartments but whose fault is it if they're the only properties being built within city limits? Not ours surely!

People were backing out when they realised that there was a "claw-back" in place to allow the council to recover money if the house was sold within a 20-year period, he said.

"This raises the question of why some people are getting into this: is it because they need a home or they want to get into the business of property development?"

Or a third reason: because most single people don't expect to be single forever and have genuine concerns that they may have a need to "trade up" within 20 years - and there is no provision to trade up to a larger affordable unit (as affordable housing is only available for first-time home-buyers).

"They apply for the affordable housing, then they don't have the money for the mortgage"

Not really "affordable" then is it?

"a lot of them might be better fared concentrating on the private rental sector."

Translation: "It's your problem, not ours".

The council previously had a weighted system that allocated a priority to people according to their circumstances. For example, those with children were placed high on the waiting list. However, this was discontinued last year in favour of a lottery system.Mr Kenny said it may be time to reintroduce a system that would give greater priority to couples, households or older applicants.

I cannot fathom the logic of de-prioritising the group that makes up 85% of those on the list. Maybe one of my readers can explain this to me.

The problem with the Affordable Housing Scheme is simple: there aren't enough affordable properties available. Everything else flows from this one fundamental issue. Now it's not entirely the Council's fault. The Government bears a large share of the responsibility - for giving into its developer friends and gutting Part V of the Planning and Development Act, which required that 20% of all units in new developments be set aside for social and affordable housing; and for grossly underfunding local authorities such that they cannot afford to build anywhere near the number of units needed. But there is clearly also a lack of real commitment at local authority level to fixing this problem. You can't hide this fact by trying to shift the blame onto those thousands of us competing for the relative handful of properties on offer, Mr Kenny.

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