Will it work?
Each of the proposals in this “Capital Ideas” series has been put to a group of three experts for an initial “back of an envelope” evaluation. They are: Frances Ruane, former director of the Economic and Social Research Institute; Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland; and Cliff Taylor, Irish Times economics columnist.
We have failed to address housing needs in Dublin for a long time, and not just recently with the increase in homelessness. Historically, planning has failed to link housing properly with other services.
The idea of an architectural competition for ideas for modern housing would be invaluable especially as we have not built much by way of urban housing in recent years. We need to start with “place design” and follow that with “home design”.
Many cities are being challenged by urban population growth and Dublin could take advantage of being a late mover to look at how other models might work. We need to look at a range of models. Where there is public housing owned by the city, resources must be available locally to maintain the properties and support the communities who move into these new dwellings. While this will increase costs, it will ensure more sustainability long-term.
Land availability and cost are major features of our housing crisis. Urban land redevelopment offers fantastic potential to rejuvenate areas of our towns and cities.
A new agency, the Land Development Agency, has been provided with ¤1.25 billion in capital funding to manage State-owned lands, develop homes and regenerate under-utilised sites. The agency will also buy private land adjoining existing prime sites held by State and semi-State organisations to assemble land holdings for housing. The agency is to unlock the State-owned sites for private development to facilitate the construction of 150,000 homes by 2040. Under the plan, developers will have to agree to requirements such as 30 per cent affordable housing and 10 per cent social housing.
There are several successful international examples of the active management of public land. Transport for London has majorly expanded its capacity in land value capture and property development. It is now a key actor in urban development and affordable housing supply in London, forming strategic partnerships to develop areas around its transport hubs, including affordable housing, commercial, retail and parks.
The Land Development Agency could transform whole districts of our cities, but it must be well-staffed with the necessary professional competence, must maximise the public good and achieve value-for-money.
There is no doubt that one of the outcomes of the housing crisis will be more public housing. The current mix of private, local authority and various partnership models just isn’t providing enough. And if we are going to build, why indeed not do it properly.
The State through various arms will spend billions on housing in the coming years. Almost ¤1.9 billion is being set aside for public housing alone in 2019, and other budget headings are also directed at housing. At the moment a lot of the public housing budget is supporting people living in private accommodation. Using public money and lands to build houses could provide a better solution.
Housing is the top priority for social and economic reasons. If this is not tackled it will limit future investment and growth as businesses realise employees can’t afford to rent or buy.