Sometimes 'vanilla' is okay, particularly if you find yourself stuck where you don't want to be.
Housing was always going to be a top priority in Budget 2019. With last month's launch of the €1.25 billion Land Development Agency (which, under Project Ireland 2040 aims to build 120,000 homes over 20 years), and the drip, drip, drip effect of feeding information into the general domain over the last few weeks, there were no major surprises in this year's budget, as flagged in Property Plus last Sunday.
Yet, while we raised the possibility of tax tweaks in areas like the rumoured “granny flat grants” and stamp duties on bulk property purchases, such as student accommodation and apartments, neither issue was raised. Curiously, nor was there mention of any extension to the Help to Buy scheme, which is set to expire at the end of next year and which has been instrumental in allowing about half of all new first-time buyers since January 2017 own their own home. And no move as yet on the Local Property Tax rates either.
What Finance Minister Paschal Donohue called a "caring Budget", Fianna Fáil's finance spokesperson called a “crisis-driven” one. But perhaps no knee-jerk reactions are precisely what's needed at the moment in favour of the steady improvement and reform that this government keeps reminding us it's delivering.
Ultimately, it was meant as a books balancing budget, and one that has been introduced by a government keen to be seen to be acting like grown-ups
“I acknowledge that where we find ourselves today is not where we want to be. There is much work to be done to reduce the level of homelessness, find permanent solutions for those in temporary and emergency accommodation and to improve affordability for those on low and middle incomes,” said Donohue. “However, from a point where housebuilding was close to a virtual standstill a number of years ago, this government has made, and is continuing to make, progress.”
Ultimately, it was meant as a books balancing budget, and one that has been introduced by a government keen to be seen to be acting like grown-ups, tackling the country's most chronic issues, namely housing and health “at a time of external uncertainty when the impacts and consequences of Brexit are unclear”.
So, when it comes to the property sector, what did it deliver? Again, not much.
Of the allocated €2.3 billion for next year's housing programme, there was an increase of about €470 million, (or 26 per cent year-on-year) to the €93 million in local authority funding already allocated.
An extra €121 million has been diverted into the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) for 2019 to provide an additional 16,760 new tenancies next year to give individuals and families a way out of emergency accommodation or the risk of homelessness. Another €60 million will be pumped into emergency accommodation this year for additional family hubs and “so that no one has to sleep rough this winter”.
Who else gained? The Serviced Sites Fund was increased from €100 million to €310 million over the next three years, so local authorities can make land available for social housing.
And as was previously tipped/leaked, there was a slight easing of pressure on landlords and on families in terms of inheriting family homes.
“This is our way of rising to the challenge of providing shelter for our people,” said Donohue. He may still not be where he wants to be, but he is trying his best to get out of Dodge.