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Pandemic provides glimpse of new possibilities for Ireland’s housing system—new paper from NESC Secretariat


The Covid-19 pandemic and the response to it has helped reveal valuable lessons for policy-makers about Ireland’s housing system.  A new paper from the NESC Secretariat, The Implications of Covid-19 for Housing in Ireland, argues that it has brought insights about what has been done well, some important lessons and provided food for thought about the future.

What has been done well?  The paper argues that the crisis demonstrates the capacity of government to take swift and decisive action. ‘The prompt introduction of legislation to ban evictions and rent increases and in the acquisition of additional accommodation for homeless households is evidence of this’, the report’s author Mr Noel Cahill said.  ‘There has also been more intensive co-operation between official bodies and voluntary agencies in dealing with homelessness and a proactive approach to protecting homeless people from the virus’. The research also points out that there has been an increase in rental listings in Dublin.  ‘The total number of new listings of rental property to rent in Dublin in May 2020 was up 39 per cent compared to the same month last year’. Although the fall in construction employment is most unwelcome, it does create an opportunity for more direct investment in social and affordable housing including cost rental on public land and in renovation and energy retrofitting, the report adds. According to the report, access to low cost finance is a critical factor for the development of cost rental accommodation, to achieve below market rents.

The ban on evictions during the crisis is an important protection, the report finds. ‘Tenants who have built up arrears during the crisis are exposed to a risk of landlords taking action to secure termination of the tenancy when the ban on evictions expires, so it is important that it be extended’, Mr. Cahill said. ‘The increased flexibility in the availability of rent supplement has the potential to protect many tenancies of people who have lost employment.  However, there is a need to promote awareness of this flexibility’.

What have we learned?  What could have been done have better? ‘The crisis shows the unsuitability of accommodation for asylum seekers’, the report states, ‘and also the dangers of limited provision of shelters for those exposed to domestic abuse’.  It is also likely that the crisis will lead to an increase in mortgage arrears. In terms of the wider market, the paper states that the effect on supply will be negative due to the the effects of Covid-19 on construction sites, with the possibility of speculative developments being put on hold, and new projects being delayed as developers and financiers re-assess the changed market for housing. The paper also highlights that some charities report difficulties in securing emergency accommodation and highlights the limited availability of services that would allow homeless people to stay in during the day; and the lack of hygiene facilities such as showers for rough sleepers.

The paper also provides a glimpse of some new possibilities.  It lists five potential sources of optimism. ‘To begin, urban spaces are being re-configured and in particular, the balance between cars, public transport and cyclists and walkers and urban services are being changed’, Mr. Cahill said. ‘Secondly, more work is happening remotely, which may influence the nature of the demand for housing, in terms of size and location. We see opportunities here for regional urban centres’.  Thirdly, the crisis is an opportunity to achieve a step-change in the output of social and affordable housing and renovation, based on commitment to counter cyclical investment evident in other countries and falling viability of private housing.

‘A fourth possibility lies in active land management and the reform of public procurement’, the author said.  ‘Active land management includes application of effective compulsory purchase powers to vacant or derelict property in urban areas.  Progress on these institutional fronts would represent a major step forward for Irish housing policy and practice’.  Finally, the crisis has brought a new focus on regulation of safety standards and an opportunity to reconsider the arrangements in place for regulation of building standards, the report states.

Prior to the crisis, the NESC Council published extensive work on land-use and housing policy—see here. This new report is part of a series of Covid-19 Working Papers.

Read the full report here.


Note to Editors
For further information, please contact Mr Noel Cahill,