One of the hot topics for this General Election is Social Housing.
I’m concerned that the current discussion on the provision of Social Housing appears to be that this is some sort of “charity”, or that the people who will avail of Social Housing are in some way “charity cases”. This is wrong.
The ability to commit to some form of long-term living arrangement, whether buying a house or renting, is fundamental to having a healthy society. Most people are happy to rent temporarily until such time as the decide they want to “settle down”. This could be to get married, co-habit, have children, or just stop travelling the world.
When people decide to buy a house or commit to long-term renting, they are putting roots down. They become even more a part of society. They care about their environment, their neighbours, their locality, and become more aware of their sense of place. This also leads to a personal sense of place and security.
The founders of our State knew this. When I was at school, I was taught that it was Government policy since the foundation to help citizens own their own houses. When I got my first mortage, interest relief was at 90%. That meant for the first few years, almost every penny of my mortgage payment was claimable against tax. That was a great help to me. But somewhere along the way since then, this policy appears to have changed.
A lot of people are lucky enough to be able to afford a mortgage, and still have enough left over to provide a decent standard of living for their families. These people have security, stability, and an optimistic future. This bodes well for society as a whole, as these people are contributing in many ways.
However, many people cannot afford both a mortgage and a decent standard of living. They can have one or the other, but not both. This means that if they want the long-term stability of a house, they must sacrifice quality of life. If they want a decent quality of life, they must sacrifice stability.
Our banking crises exacerbated this situation and the fallout continues to have huge negative effects on the housing market. Some people point to the Continent, where home ownership is very low, and most people rent. But they omit that fact that renting on the continent is completely different from Ireland. On the continent, families may rent the same house or apartment for 60 or more years. They have stability because they know they have rent and tenancy certainty. Continental landlords also take a long-term view of their investments, not trying to make a “quick buck” from hard-pressed families. So it is not the same.
Social housing provides that stability to families who cannot afford mortgages. Whether they choose to buy or rent, they have long-term stability. Social housing also “tempers” the housing and rental market by providing a safety-valve when prices get too high. Social housing is generally built to a much higher standard than private housing schemes. Private builders want to build as quickly as possible and realise profits, but councils know they will have to own and maintain their houses for perhaps 50 years — so they need quality.
Some people will point to problems with social housing schemes such as anti-social behaviour, and long-term unemployment, benefit fraud, etc. But these problems are not solved by refusing to build social housing. These problems arise when social housing is not planned properly and integrated. Building a bunch of houses on the outskirts of a city or town, with no facilities, amenities or public transport is not “social housing”.
But social housing is not something you can turn “on” and “off”. It requires long-term planning and committment. So that’s why I support social housing as an integral part of how we run our society.
Originally published at www.eoinmeehan.com.