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Radical change needed to tackle housing crisis in Cork

This was first published in the Evening Echo here

LAST month, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government claimed that their plan ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ is working and is ahead of schedule. But, with each passing day, we know the housing crisis is getting worse. Demand for housing outstrips supply. There is a rental crisis.

Homelessness is increasing. Houses prices have bounced back to the heights of the pre-crisis era.

The housing assistance payment scheme is under significant pressure. The millennial generation are living longer with their parents than any other previous generations. All in all, the housing situation is a complete mess.

A further problem is that it is not just a case of build, build, build. There is a growing realisation that the communities we have built in the past have created many problems. For example, the Cork-city region is a low density city, it is one of the most congested small cities in Europe, it has 70 per cent car dependency and because it has a very large spread, we have a low potential for efficient public transport. We also have large communities in our city suffering from severe disadvantage and deprivation. And, there is a serious affordability problem resulting in exclusion, segregation and a growing problem of a society of haves and have-nots.

The recent city boundary expansion towards Blarney and Tower mean the ill-conceived plans of the past to spread the city-region are continuing. There is currently only zoning for sustainable development for 34,000 housing units in the Cork city-region (city-region based on my analysis of commuting patterns). Yes, there is zoning further in the county for a further 60,000 units. But, these zonings are in high-risk sprawling and or isolated remote areas in County Cork and are far from our employment hotspots. It is easy to envisage what will happen. Due to a greater potential of supply and lower land values in the county relative to the city, people will be incentivised to drive into Cork County until they qualify for the mortgage they can afford. The sprawl model of the past 40 years, unaffordability, segregation and exclusion in the city-region will continue.

Further, the underlying incentives of our national system are wrong if we want to fix this crisis.

Landowners are incentivised to hoard development land that is in scarce supply where people need houses.

Wealthy people are incentivised to invest in housing and land, driving up prices and squeezing out average and low income families out of the market.

When the problems are analysed, it always comes back to one issue as a central problem over others. And, that is the problem of land. Land is scarce. Unlike other goods, we can’t make more of it. And, as more and more people migrate to the city, land availability per person is falling.