Approaches to Housing in the Election Manifestos
Thankfully at this stage all the political parties have finally released their Election Manifestos so as voters, we can finally assess them and make an informed decision ahead of Election Day on 25 February. Along with unemployment, housing is one of the main areas concerning voters and quite rightly so. By Aoife Walsh of Respond.
For far too long in this country a market approach to housing was adopted where profit was the ultimate objective, achieved through speculation and investment. This approach was at the expense of viewing housing as a home; a place to stay, feel secure and be part of a community. Housing became a commodity which was used for profit making instead of its primary function of providing shelter. As a country, as an economy and as a society we are all now paying the price for this approach and will be for many years. Let’s hope the political reform all the parties keep talking about also involves reforming the way we view housing.
It has to be said that the issues being experienced by voters in relation to their housing needs are wide-ranging and varied. The main media focus is on those in mortgage arrears or struggling with their monthly repayments. This is a sizeable group of people; latest reports estimate the number to be in the region of 100,000. For this group, the mortgage is like a noose around their neck and looks to get tighter with increasing interest rates and decreasing wages. All the political parties make promises to assist this group, though in the case of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party it is simply a case of supporting the recommendations of an Expert Group on Mortgage Arrears and Personal Debt that published its final report in November 2010.
Another sizeable portion of the population are concerned about the introduction of a property tax or a site value tax. A proposal to introduce a site value tax from 2012 onwards was contained in the Four Year Plan released by Minister Brian Lenihan in November though Fianna Fáil and the Green Party did not include it in their manifestos. In fact, the only party that broached the issue was Fine Gael who offered alternatives to Local Authorities to increase revenue rather than impose a new tax.
For the estimated 130,000 people on Local Authority housing waiting lists, very little is offered by most of the parties in terms of increasing the supply of social housing. The Labour Party however has one of the more detailed manifestos and they do commit to introducing a staged purchase scheme to increase social housing stock. They also state they will make private sector funding available to larger housing associations and local authorities by issuing “social housing bonds”.
The thorny issue of ghost estates is addressed by all parties with the exception of Fianna Fáil. They all commit to dealing with the problem, completing the estates and holding developers to account but none actually let us know how they will do it. Of course the elephant in the room is how exactly all of this construction work will be funded and only time will tell what role the Advisory Group on Unfinished Developments will play in all of this.
As election day approaches, the time for making your mind up is fast approaching. To help your decision, below are some of the noteworthy commitments from each of the parties.
- Fianna Fáil promise to make changes to the mortgage interest supplement which is a support for those in mortgage difficulty.
- They also commit to modernising the bankruptcy laws and introducing a non-judicial debt settlement.
- The party promises to introduce new regulations ensuring Local Authorities disregard a household’s current accommodation for the purposes of determining eligibility for social housing support
- Fine Gael promise to increase mortgage interest relief to 30% for First Time Buyers who bought between 2004 – 2008.
- Rather than introducing a site value tax, Fine Gael claim they will offer alternatives to Local Authorities to improve their finances such as increasing local user charges, closing non-priority services or imposing a “site sale profits tax”.
- In relation to ghost estates Fine Gael say they will create tough penalties for developers that leave unfinshed ghost estates and those in breach of planning permission. They propose a complete overhaul of the planning system ensuring greater conditionality is placed on developers to finish projects.
The Labour Party:
- As well as committing to extending the moratorium on repossessions to two years, the Labour Party promise to establish a Personal Debt Management Agency in place of MABS which will have quasi-judicial status. They also claim they will reform Ireland’s bankruptcy laws.
- The Labour Party commit to increasing the supply of social housing through a range of measures including a staged purchase scheme and making social housing bonds available for Local Authorities and larger housing associations.
- The Labour Party aims to address anti-social behaviour by introducing a twelve month probationary period for all new social housing tenants.
- Sinn Féin propose models of debt forgiveness for those in mortgage arrears on low and average incomes who are in negative equity and arrears.
- The party commits to preventing future property bubbles by capping land prices zoned for housing. They also promise to increase capital gains tax.
- Sinn Féin is proposing the appointment of a Housing Ombudsman whose role it would be to monitor and enforce relevant codes of conduct, monitor housing and planning practices, monitor the housing market etc
The Green Party:
- The Green Party seeks to reduce the length a time a person must be in receipt of rent supplement before becoming eligible for the Rental Accommodation Scheme from 18 months to 6 months.
- The party will prioritise a review of the Youth Homelessness Strategy.
- The Green Party also promises to seek a dedicated funding stream for long term housing support
As with all things, the devil is in the detail. Unfortunately, for the most part, lack of detail has been a common feature of all the manifestos. Promises are all well and good in an election campaign but only when action is taken and real change comes about, will we know if they delivered on all they promised. At this stage, only time will tell.