The Irish Government last week responded to a letter from the UN, sent last March, which said that heavy private housing investment has made housing in Ireland significantly unaffordable.
In its reply, it did not mention Ireland’s record levels of homelessness, the most recent official figures for which – April – show it at an all-time high.
UN rapporteur Leilani Farha, who sent the letter, said the situation is made worse by land hoarding and private equity landlords seeking “highest rents possible to increase returns for shareholders”.
She said the Irish government is aiding and abetting these companies by “preferential tax laws and weak tenant protections among other measures”.
Rapporteur Farha’s report criticised Ireland, the US and Spain, for allowing vulture funds buy up properties forcing huge increases in rents saying “landlords have become faceless corporations wreaking havoc with tenants”.
The report said that “in Dublin……… a person with an average salary renting the average property now has to allocate 86.3 per cent of their income on rent”.
It said there is a “constant escalation of housing costs for tenants” as Ireland treated housing as “an investment” and was more “investor-centric…than tenant-centred”.
It continued: “Investment in housing in the Republic of Ireland has disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live in with security and dignity.
“Private housing investment, and the related increased unaffordability and availability it has generated, has also impacted security of tenure.
“Property investors (and investor landlords) are known to push tenants and owners out of their homes by taking possession, evicting, or creating conditions to compel tenants to leave – such as vastly increased rents or using loopholes in rent legislation.”
In a 16-page reply, Rebuilding Ireland, the Irish government defended its widely criticised housing policy.
It said it had introduced its help-to-buy scheme, levies on vacant lots, and rent pressure zones among other measures.
The report said it considers housing “a critical priority”.
But figures published by Ireland’s Department of Housing show that there were 6,584 adults and 3,794 children – 10,378 people – recorded in state-funded emergency accommodation last month.
The Irish government’s reply said the UN report was wrong to say there had been sweeping cuts to public housing budgets:
“Housing budgets (have been) increasing year on year…the housing budget for 2019 is just under €2.4 billion. This is the highest level of funding ever provided for housing purposes in any given year in Ireland.”
In the section discussing social housing, the letter also informs the rapporteur of the country’s official title (the UN’s letter, at times, refers to Ireland as the Republic of Ireland).
The official government reply takes exception to, and rejects, the Rapporteur’s reference to the Republic of Ireland as opposed to Ireland and with the UN suggestion that Ireland’s housing policies are “contrary to international human rights obligations” and that Ireland is failing “to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises”.
In reply the Irish government says “the Irish Constitution does not contain an express right to housing, (BUT) there are however a range of rights and protections in relation to social housing provided for in Irish legislation.”
It adds that the Eighth Report of Constitutional Convention recommended that the State should insert such a right into the Constitution but it is complicated.
The Irish government also denied the UN claim that “house prices are now approaching levels last seen at the height of the property bubble”.
It said Central Statistics Office figures show house prices are lower than their highest level in 2007 and claimed that housing costs are affordable.
It event went on to claim that housing costs are often not high relative to household disposable income – the average mortgage payment to disposable income ratio was 21 per cent, the average payment by households paying rent to a local authority was 12 per cent.
The upward pressure on rent was, said the Irish government, “due to Ireland’s strong economic and demographic growth and the restricted rental accommodation supply available”.