Thank you for joining me for your weekly edition of Housing Crisis Update, for the podcast version click here.
Communities rally around asylum seekers
Local communities around the country donated time and gifts over the Christmas period to families living in Ireland’s 38 Direct Provision centres which are usually closed off to the public. The system of direct provision in Ireland houses our population of more than 5,000 people who are seeking asylum, a number that includes 1,600 children.
Breaking News reports that there is a bigger awareness of Direct Provision than before, with media reports raising concerns about the level of care and cleanliness as well as availability of food. Centres in counties Meath, Laois, Cork and Clare in particular are over capacity.
Laura Lynott at the Indo revealed on Christmas Eve that more than a quarter of a million euro in finders’ fees was been paid out by Dublin City Council to estate agents. The sum was paid to find housing for 159 homeless families navigating the private rental market.
The Irish Property Owners Association has called on Government to stop the initiative "immediately".
The practice of finder's fees first emerged in November after it was revealed the €500 payments were being offered to estate agents in the capital for securing rental properties for Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) tenants. It is against the Equal Status Acts to discriminate against HAP recipients.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like hardship
On Christmas Eve, Inner City Helping Homeless says its outreach teams engaged with over 100 people throughout the night, saying “individuals [were telling them] they [were] unable to access beds through central placement services," including a 60-year-old man on a walking frame.
Rise in demand for charity dinner
On Christmas Day more than 450 people attended the annual Christmas Day dinner at the RDS.
Organised by the Knights of St Columbanus and its 94th year, the event enlists over 300 volunteers.
More than 3,000 dinners and festive desserts are prepared and delivered around the city.
Dublin Live reports the number of takeaway dinners has increased significantly as more people become homeless, with just 1,200 sent to families six years ago.
Serving normative realness
Dublin City Council Chief Brendan Kenny gave a series of interviews after Christmas, blaming a lack of affordable housing on restrictive lending practices and the private rental market for the appalling homelessness figures; the highest in the State’s history.
Mr Kenny said that up to 70% of families presenting as homeless, at a rate of around 200 a month, have been evicted by landlords in the private rental sector.
He added that it could be another three years before any real difference is seen in housing, claiming that affordable housing won’t sell.
Mr Kenny’s comments accord with a Focus Ireland report conducted over a year which surveyed nearly 300 families entering homelessness and found 68% had lost their last stable home in the private rented sector.
For the full report click here.
An Taoiseach has defended so-called vulture funds, saying they were more effective at writing down debt than our own banks. Mr Varadkar said our banks like to “extend and pretend” rather than reaching settlements with homeowners.
The head of government went on to say he thought the term “vulture fund” constituted a “political term”, suggesting more neutral descriptors such as investment banks, investment funds or finance houses.
Vulture funds are financial organisations seeking to take over poorly performing loans which may be undervalued, typically seeking a quick return by liquidating assets, typically through repossession or court proceedings. In Ireland they have been accused of being able to act with impunity.
Revenue reading reveals rort
One of the country’s leading housing economists has said builders cannot deliver houses at the right price for most buyers. Writing for the Examiner last Friday, Goodbody Chief Economist Dermot O’Leary suggested housing shortages would continue for most income earners, even supply were to double.
As foreign capital competes for sites with local buyers, spiralling building costs and booming land prices have pushed the average price across the country to €237,000. Using Revenue statistics, he calculated that roughly half of wage earners could only afford a mortgage of €175,000 under current lending rules.
In Dublin, more than half of new homes were sold for more than that figure with one in five sold at over €500,000, with asking prices in the city going up by €1,000 a month on average in the last year.
It’s a car park guv'; I swear
New laws are in force to prevent land-hoarding from New Year’s Day, but will not apply to the owners of two of the most valuable sites listed on the Vacant Sites Register. After a successful appeal to An Bord Pleanála, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) – which owns a plot in Leopardstown valued at €66.5 million - will not face the levy after having the land redesignated, as a car park.
For everyone else, fines of 3% of the value of undeveloped land became payable from January 1st increasing to 7% in 2020.
Posh boys don’t cry
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has released a spray at An Taoiseach, saying he doesn’t understand what life is like for ordinary people and has hit out at Fine Gael’s “posh boy” image.
His comments come after a series of supercilious outbursts from Mr Varadkar in recent weeks, including an accusation in the Dáil that a Sinn Féin TD’s balaclava was slipping. An Taoiseach was, at the time, debating the broader issues raised by the violent eviction near Strokestown.
Out with the old, in with the new
Wayne O’Connor writing for the Indo reports that experts believe a new kind of housing crisis is set to hit in 2019, with an over-supply of traditional semi-detached houses thought to be coming up for sale in all the wrong places.
The article quotes former chairman of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, and Dr Ronan Lyons of Trinity College as both suggesting a need to meet changing market demands.
Mr Skehan - made famous by his comments about homeless families “gaming the system” - predicted that housing supply will meet demand for the first time since the crash as people emerge from negative equity and move to sell under-used homes. Though the focus is often on new builds, second-hand houses make up the largest part of supply.
Though the prediction will raise eyebrows, O’Connor points out that Skehan’s crystal ball had worked before; divining in 2011 that the property market was within months of bottoming out.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, free of his disfiguring balaclava, started the New Year with an interview to the Mirror promising to jail rogue bankers.
The opposition party’s finance spokesman said he was proposing the new laws as Government “don’t seem to care”.
Mr Doherty also wants the code of practice on mortgages made compulsory – it is currently only voluntary.
His party will kickstart this in the New Year with a national roadshow where it will call on support for a “no consent, no sale” policy in relation to the sale of mortgages by vulture funds.
Over at The Examiner An Taoiseach was in a reflective mood, saying “housing was easily the biggest challenge we faced in the year gone by,” Mr Varadkar said.
Who’s we Leo?