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Experts speak

The announcement of the government's new housing plan based around a land development agency was met with the usual childlike credulity on the part of the official broadcaster, RTE. Much was made of a covenant to provide affordable and social housing.

However housing experts commenting on the plans presented us with some hard facts. They pointed out that a covenant is just a fancy word for a promise. The government will give the developers public land at knockdown prices and they will promise to build a percentage of affordable and social housing. But that's all a covenant is. Itís a promise. Once the government hands over the land the developer has the land and the government has a promise. If profit margins shift in the developer may regretfully slip back from their promise.

The main thing is that once land is in private hands and owned by developers there is really no such thing as affordable housing or social housing. All housing will be built by them at the market rate. Under this regime affordable housing would be either smaller or of poor quality or both or else the government would subsidise the person buying the property, in which case we pay twice. Once for the cut-price land giveaway and secondly in a taxpayer subsidy to allow people to live in the properties. In the same way social housing simply means that local councils would buy properties at the market rate and subsidise the rent. Again we pay twice.

The government plan hangs around attracting developers. But the only thing the developers bring to the process is capital. Houses will actually be built by construction firms who would as happily work for the public sector as they do for the private.

So what the government claims is a housing policy is actually a financial policy. They even say that, arguing that the land bank can be used in a counter-cyclical way to smooth out the ups and downs of economic development.

When we understand this we can see why the government is not dealing with the housing crisis. It is not attempting to do so. What is actually happening is that they are leading the charge by local landlordism and vulture capitalism to privatise public land. From the point of view of Irish capitalism European banking rules and financial restrictions will be met, the sovereign debt will reduce due to the influx of vulture capital, gombeen capital will enrich itself and the workers will be pushed to the wall in another decade of sacrifice on the altar of capitalism.

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