Thursday 22 August 2019

Government plan for vacant houses akin to children's shoe tax in 1982

Editorial Comment

THE Government seems to want to punish the public for its own abject failure to address the housing crisis.

The announcement this week that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will seek to penalise property owners who don't - or can't - lease out their houses is nothing short of breath taking.

Rather than building new homes for the thousands of families languishing on social housing waiting lists Minister Murphy wants to use vacant houses to deal with the crisis.

Essentially the Fine Gael Government wants the electorate to fix a problem for them and if we don't we'll be punished.

Elderly people - who have worked hard and paid their taxes all their lives - will be 'encouraged' to rent out their family homes while they live in a nursing home.

Under the current 'Fair Deal' scheme the vast majority of the that rent would be hoovered up by the state. This means elderly people and their families would face a stark choice.

They could either lease out their family home and hand most of the rent over to the Government or keep the house - one that might have been in a family for generations - and face stiff penalties for their intransigence.

What if an elderly nursing home resident who has leased out their home passes away and their family opt to sell the home?

Does the tenant just get evicted? Would the family be forced to keep a house they can't afford until told otherwise?

What of those holiday homes that lie vacant for much of the year? Are the owners to be further punished because they have the audacity to have a holiday home?

Will homeless families be forced to move into vacant holiday houses in isolated rural areas?

Areas that in many cases don't have the facilities (schools, doctors, post offices, public transport, broadband etc) to cope with them and where jobs are few and far between as it is.

And what of the international vulture funds that were allowed snap up thousands of homes for a pittance? Will they be penalised for leaving many of those units vacant?

Will county councils be penalised over the thousands of existing council houses that lie vacant and can't be brought up to standard because the Government won't fund the repairs.

In additional to the vaguely defined 'penalties' Minister Murphy says he wants more power to acquire vacant homes under compulsory purchase orders.

That boils down to a threat. If people won't sign up to Fine Gael's plan the government will just take their properties.

This time of year is typically used to fly a few political kites. Often outrageous suggestions designed to make eventual budget cuts and tax hikes more palatable. What is especially worrying about Minister Murphy's proposals is that they have a whiff of actual policy about them.

Most readers will be familiar with the fate of Garrett Fitzgerald's Government - another FG administration that depended on Independent support - after it tried to tax children's shoes in 1982.

Mr Varadkar would do well to dust off his history books.

Wexford People

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