Ronald Regan once said that the scariest words in the English language were “we are from the government and we’re here to help”. Well if that’s true the phrase recently used by our own dear leaders must still be in the top ten : Housing Strategy.
It is a long standing habit of governments to create a slew of problems and then rush heroically to the scene of disaster and declare that only government action can remediate the problem.
We are in the midst of a housing crisis. Homelessness is rising fearfully and families on low incomes are finding it nigh impossible to rent accommodation in the capital city. Why?
Well some years ago Dublin city councillors made cheap apartments illegal. Reacting to the traditional squalor of student bedsits and the boxy flats of the Celtic Tiger they decided that it was against the dignity of man to live in what they called shoeboxes. They passed a series of regulations for new build apartment blocks that ensured the shoe box would be forever a thing of the past.
And so they are , and so is cheap rental accommodation. The minimum build size is now sixty square metres. Which is a very decent sized flat. Each flat must have dual aspect. Every two flats must be serviced by dedicated a lift and stairs. Each must have a one basement located car parking space. There is more that that gives the gist.
Every single one of these arbitrary rules add massively to the cost of construction. We can have all the nice intentions in the world but extra space and extra spec will mean a higher price. Though the left is loathe to admit it no matter how much you torture them , one and one will always add up to two.
So today we have young professionals, low income families, students and single folks starting a career all competing for a shrinking pool of affordable housing. The new flats when they come on stream will not help. As Ronan Lyons shows in his excellent work on the subject the added costs of regulation will mean city apartments will start at around 450,000 euro to buy, way beyond those at the bottom of the housing ladder.
In Milan where I lived for a decade it was accepted that when young folk left home they started in what is called a monolocale which could be as small as twenty square metres but rarely bigger than thirty five. As they earned more they would pay for more space and more comfort but every must start at the beginning. Our planners seem to think we should start at the end.
If the state is serious about ensuring a plentiful of supply of affordable rental accommodation then the best thing is it can do is undo the mess it has made , strip down the opaque and Byzantine planning process and then get out of the way.