Photo of Jim Carroll, Hugh Brennan, Ali Grehan, Debbie Mulhall, and Michelle Norris

On a rainy evening last Wednesday, with our friends from Banter, we helped to organise a discussion among a panel of housing experts about the social housing system, and the role it might play in easing the critical shortage of affordable housing in Dublin.

Moderated by Banter’s Jim Carroll, the panel included: Debbie Mulhall, a community-development worker at Dolphin House; Michelle Norris, head of the School of the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice at UCD; Ali Grehan, Dublin City Architect; and Hugh Brennan, CEO for Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance, which has built affordable housing in Poppintree, and is planning more.

If you weren’t in the audience for the event at the Robert Emmett Community Development Project’s centre on Usher Street, you can listen to the 1 hour and 45 minutes of the discussion now. We’ve released it as an episode of our Dublin Inquirer Podcast, which you can hear to via the player below, or by following the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

At the start of the discussion, Carroll recalled that years ago there seemed to be plenty of social housing around the city for people who needed it, and now there isn’t. What happened? he asked the panel. How did we end up here?

“Well, in my view, it’s primarily down to money,” said Norris, who chairs the Housing Finance Agency. “After the financial crisis in 2007, spending on new social housing provision, building or buying council houses or housing association houses fell by 82% … funding has increased somewhat in recent years, but it’s still well below its heights … certainly in my view, the funding provision still is not adequate.”

Furthermore, much of the social housing the government has built in Dublin it has then sold off through tenant-purchase schemes, Norris said.

“We have historically built a lot of social housing in Ireland,” she said. “We’ve sold off a huge amount of it to tenants … so that means that, for instance, all the houses we built between 1990 and the year 2000, almost all of that new provision was outweighed by sales, so the actual net gain, as we say, was very limited.”

So where do we go from here? “I think the solution is to keep the head down and keep going .. because there is a programme of work,” said City Architect Ali Grehan.

“It puts the fear of God into me when I hear somebody say that we’ve got to come up with completely brand-new ideas and new ways of doing things because I fear that it’s just a distraction,” Grehan said. “We do know what we’re doing, people doing know what they’re doing and we just need to go out and get on with it.”

In the meantime, though, people are struggling to find adequate housing, said Mulhall. “Before I came here tonight I spoke with my daughter’s friend, who’s 23 … she’s just got approved for a mortgage. She’s just found out she’s pregnant. And I’m like, ‘Do you really need to do this?’ And her answer to me was, ‘Look I went to the council and they said I could be 12 years waiting to get a place.’”

“So for me, I have that fear, a 23 year old who’s gonna put herself into financial debt, to get this home, and she’s saying that she’s willing to take anything at this stage. That bit really freaks me out. Because … what house is she going to get for €200,000 that’s going to be decent?” Mulhall said.

But it’s not all bleak. Brennan said his organisation has found a way to build high-quality affordable housing in Dublin. “You said that there isn’t a house available at €200,000 … if she came out to us, okay … she could have top quality A2 rated, three-bedroom house, 102 square metres, for €170,000, if she was in the first batch,” Brennan said. “And that’s why we’re saying that this model can work.”

You can listen to the discussion in full here:

Sam Tranum is a reporter and deputy editor at Dublin Inquirer. He covers climate, transport and environment. You can reach him at

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