What is happening to the public housing supply in Ireland?

By September 1989 there were almost 20,000 people on the waiting list for council homes in Ireland, but only 768 houses were actually completed in that year. This is a sharp drop from numbers being built in the mid 1980s.

Many people are living in substandard local authority housing, often in overcrowded conditions. Private rental accommodation can be poor. A large number of people are living in mobile homes, many situated in relatives back gardens.

Elaine O'Sullivan lives in a caravan in Swords with her husband and two young children. The conditions are cramped and the caravan is damp. Her husband Martin O’Sullivan says the family are on the housing list in Swords but,

If the government don’t give money to the County Council to build those 79 houses, which won’t be enough, but it will be a help, there’s no chance of anybody getting a house.

In Mountwood Fitzgerald Park in Dún Laoghaire many tenants unhappy with the conditions want to move out of their local authority flats. A number of them have been on the waiting list for a house for over a decade.

Dublin Corporation’s Housing Department decides on who gets a house, what house they get and when they get it. There are almost 4,000 on the waiting list. Those who wish to move, have to wait for a place to become vacant, and this can be a lengthy process.

Eithne Fitzgerald of national housing charity Threshold explains that in the greater Dublin area in 1989,

Dublin Corporation built no new houses, Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation built no news houses and Dublin County Council provided 30 new houses and that’s for 5,000 people, and government policy seems to be they are waiting on casual vacancies to meet housing demand.

Local authorities receive money for housing from the government but in 1990 the Minister for the Environment Padraig Flynn decided to cut this allocation by 85%. Local authorities must now make up the difference by selling off their housing stock to sitting tenants.

The proceeds of those sales should be used to build more houses but the real problem is that for every one new house you build you have to sell three old houses so there’s a net loss to the total local authority housing stock.

Virtually half the tenants have opted to buy and this will have a huge impact on the number of casual vacancies becoming available.  

If somebody decides to emigrate and they have already bought their house from the council, the house is going to appear on the private market, rather than coming back for re-letting to somebody on the housing list.

This suggests there will not be any houses available for people who can’t afford to buy their houses.

A 'Today Tonight' report broadcast on 5 April 1990. The reporter is Jerry O’Callaghan.