The case for investment in social housing

Posted on October 07, 2014 by Daragh McCarthy

Publication cover - Housing inBriefOct2014
Ireland's Housing Crises

"Regeneration schemes”, we must never forget, are not just about plans, structures or budgets. They are not just about the physical houses provided. They are about communities that are enabled to thrive and flourish. They are about people who are being acknowledged and encouraged to develop a proud sense of their identity, to nurture feelings of belonging that empower them to shape their present circumstances and imagine their future.
President Michael D. Higgins (2014) Speech at the opening of the Thornton Heights Housing Scheme

While housing policy encompasses more than just the provision of housing units, there is a need to address the current shortage of suitable long-term accommodation for people currently on the waiting list. The creation of an Affordable Housing Provisions Agency would considerably aid efforts to plan, finance and deliver affordable housing units on the scale required to meet ongoing demand. While existing state agencies have experience and assets that can alleviate some of the current problems, a new central public body would draw on existing capabilities to lead a consolidated response to the current housing crises. In many Western European countries this type of institutional structure has facilitated substantial investment in public housing separate from government deficit and debt.

The waiting list for secure tenure social housing has tended upward since the construction of new houses became almost entirely dependent on private provision and new forms of short-term, market-based housing supports were introduced.

Percentage change in the social housing waiting list, base year 1993

Moving from the direct provision of new social housing units to an increased reliance on passive supports to the private market has served the economy poorly and left a large section of society in housing distress. In the year to November 2013, Focus Ireland supported 9,237 people who were either homeless or at risk of losing their home, up from 7,819 during the same period in the previous year. The charity saw a 43 percent increase in the numbers seeking its Housing Advice services (from 2,973 to 4,248) in the same period. The demand for social housing remains extremely high with 89,872 households recorded as on waiting lists in May 2013; more than twice the level recorded at the end of 2005.


The Affordable Housing Provision Agency should aim to create a market where 25 percent of housing units becoming available in a given year are designated for social housing. This could be achieved through a mixture of new builds, long-term leasing of private property and renovation of the existing stock. Its work would address the inadequacies of an overwhelming reliance on private development and underpin modest, stable price growth in the property market.


Housing policy based on the principles of affordability, social solidarity and sustainability is a vital component of a well-functioning, modern economy and society. A new housing agency would be a core part of a reformed institutional framework that based on these principles and focussed on meeting the current challenges in the system.


McCarthy, D. and Collins, Micheál L (2014) ’Ireland’s Housing Crises: The Case for an Affordable Housing Provision Agency’ NERI Research inBrief no16, October 2014.

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