Eoin Ó Broin is passionate and outspoken about the need for a huge increase in public housing to tackle the crisis in Ireland. The Sinn Fein TD, who represents the Dublin mid-West constituency, has just written a new book, Home: Why Public Housing Is The Answer, to further promote his arguments, .
I caught up with him recently at the Dail and started off our interview by asking him: “What does social housing mean to you?”
“The first thing is that it is housing provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies. It is subsidised because the tenants living in it can’t pay the economic costs of the unit. I lived for 10 years in the tower blocks in the New Lodge area of north Belfast which was social housing. I now represent a constituency which has some of the largest social housing estates in Ireland. For me, social housing means public housing provided to a good quality standard with good vibrant communities. Do we have some social housing estates that have some issues? Yes. But my sense of social housing from my own lived experience is a very positive one,” replied
Mr Ó Broin.
And in terms of income what sort of people would be living in social housing, I asked him.
“The incomes are set in legislation. So generally it’s for families with a gross household income of less than €43,000 here in Dublin. Once they sign their tenancy, their income can rise to whatever. If you go into a traditional local authority estate in Dublin you will find a whole range of people – from permanently unemployed, unemployable, people with special needs and what not. A lot of the newer estates would have less of that latter group within them and there is a little bit more concentration of low incomes because of the way in which housing policy has developed. But in the older estates, you would have a greater income mix.”
How can we make social housing better? Why are you passionate about it? What is your vision? I asked the Sinn Fein TD.
“For me, first of all, we should stop talking about social housing and we should completely redefine what we mean about public housing. Today in this State, eight per cent of the total housing stock is social housing. And it’s not going to move much between eight, nine or 10 per cent over the next number of years. Social housing in the main is for the very poorest in our society. What I would do and what Sinn Fein has argued for a very long time is that we need to talk about public housing, housing which is provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies for a much broader income mix than is traditionally the case.
“So in my expanded definition of public housing, housing estates would have a mixture of subsidised social rental, and non-subsidised affordable cost rental and non-subsidised affordable purchase.
“That means you would be looking at meeting the needs of about 30 per cent of the population through public housing in good quality, mixed income estates. You would then be building a different type of estate much closer to some of the public housing in housing models in continental Europe. The vast majority of the public housing would only ever
be rental and you wouldn’t be able to purchase it.”
What does the term ‘affordable’ mean to you?
“For modest income households with incomes of between €45,000 and €75,000 should not have to pay more than 30 per cent of their net disposable income on their accommodation,” replied Mr Ó Broin.
He was also very critical of the current Fine Gael strategy on housing, Rebuilding Ireland.
“There has been a broad policy consensus in the government since the early 1990s which has informed Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in relation to housing.
“What that policy consensus says is that the State will provide a small amount of social housing for the very poor in our society. It will also subsidise a significant number of low-income families in the private rental sector through a variety of schemes. But the overwhelming majority of people will have their needs met in the private sector, either to buy or rent.
“What this means is that we have an excessive reliance on the private sector for the vast majority of people’s housing needs .
“There has been very little macro policy change in the last 30 years and that’s why we are in the kind of mess we’re in at the moment.”