Explainer: Why Universal Public Housing Is NOT The Same As Social Housing

In the summer of 2016, Éirígí For A New Republic started campaigning for the creation of a new system of universal public housing that would be open to everyone who was in need of a home, regardless of their income. We very deliberately used the term ‘public housing’ to distinguish our proposals from the failed model of ‘social housing’.

At that time the term ‘public housing’ was relatively rarely used in public discussions about housing. In the intervening three years, however, it has come into far more widespread usage with the spokespeople of major political parties, including Sinn Féin, Labour, The Green Party and even Fianna Fail now regularly using the term.

And some of these parties have also changed their housing policies, mimicking some elements of the Universal Public Housing model that Éirígí has been proposing since 2016.

In the battle for housing justice, language really matters. And the details of housing policy really matters. Below we explain the very real differences between ‘social housing’ and our proposals for an entirely new system of universal ‘public housing’.

So the next time you hear an establishment politician talking about ‘public housing’ ask yourself the question, “Are they talking about universal public housing or just some form of glorified and re-packaged ‘social housing’?”

Whether they live up their pre-election promises is another matter entirely.

Jan O’Sullivan, Labour Party housing spokesperson. Having spent decades supporting the market-led model of housing, Labour now claim to want a new system of  ‘public housing that is open to everyone.’

Jan O’Sullivan, Labour Party housing spokesperson. Having spent decades supporting the market-led model of housing, Labour now claim to want a new system of ‘public housing that is open to everyone.’

Social Housing - Designed To Fail

‘Social housing’ is a creation of the political establishment, a model of housing that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and other parties of government have overseen since the foundation of the state. From the outset it was deliberately and unashamedly designed to re-enforce class division through the creation of income-segregated housing.

‘Social housing’ was designed for those sections of the population that were of no interest to the private sector because they were unable to pay significant private rental or take out mortgages from the private banks.

Those on middle and higher incomes, who are of great interest to private developers, landlords and bankers, have always been prevented from accessing ‘social housing’.

In the early decades of the state ‘social housing’ was reserved for those from the ‘working classes’. Today only those who earn less than a modest income threshold are eligible to apply for ‘social housing.’

Restricting ‘social housing’ to those on low and very low incomes had a predictable result. It created concentrations of poverty and concentrations of the problems that are associated with poverty, such as high unemployment, lower educational achievement, substance abuse and crime.

A bad situation was made worse when the same establishment political parties then refused to support those communities with the additional economic and social supports that they needed to overcome the odds the that had been stacked against them.

Over time it was almost inevitable that some‘social housing’ developments would develop major problems, which they duly did.


The ghettoisation of ‘social housing’ was no accident. It was a deliberate strategy to create a cultural stigma around ‘social housing’ - a stigma that would help corral generations of families straight into the grasping paws of the private developers, private landlords and private bankers.

Restricting ‘social housing’ to low and very low income families has one other important effect - it ensures hat the rent paid by ‘social housing’ tenants is permanently insufficient to cover the cost of construction and maintenance of the overall ‘social housing’ stock.

It is no exaggeration to state that ‘social housing’ was designed to fail, to be eternally associated with social problems and an economic cost to the state.

Universal Public Housing - Designed For Balanced Communities

UP Housing, or Universal Public Housing, is a model of housing that would be open to everyone that is in need of a home, regardless of their income. Retail workers, pensioners, teachers, students, unemployed workers, builders, nurses and every other occupation would live side by side in UP Housing developments. This sort of mixed-income housing would create balanced communities and end the stigma associated with the failed model of ‘social housing’.


UP Housing would provide people with the absolute security of tenure that they are denied in the private rental sector. This could include inter-generational tenancies in a mature UP Housing system. Security of tenure is essential for people to make important decisions about work, creches, schools and other life decisions. It also helps create stable, long-term communities.

Those on higher incomes would pay a higher rent than those on lower rents, but nobody would pay more than they can afford. Unlike the private rental sector rents would also rise and fall with the income and stage-of-life of the tenant. For example the rent of a tenant would drop during a period of unemployment or illness. Similarly, the rent of a tenant would drop if a tenant returned to education or training for a period of time.

Unlike the private sector UP Housing developments would be designed and built to facilitate balanced communities, not maximum profits. This means that developments would include different housing types and sizes to suit all ages, family sizes and needs. Tenants could voluntarily move to larger or smaller homes within the same area, dependent on their stage of life and needs. This would be done without the stress and costs associated with buying and selling homes in the private sector.

UP Housing would see the state building hundreds of thousands of new homes and buying up hundreds of thousands of existing homes. This ‘build and buy’ programme would address the overall lack of housing supply and help to create a better social mix within our current housing stock.

While the creation of new system of UP Housing will require significant state investment in the short term, it will be largely self-funded by the rent generated from mixed income tenants over the entire life-cylcle of a home. The calculation of those rents would be linked to construction, maintenance and financing costs as well as the income and circumstances of the tenant. UP Housing would also bring an end to the squandering of billions of euros of public monies on the temporary rental of emergency accommodation and homes from the private sector.


The wider indirect economic benefits of UP Housing would be significant if not easily calculable. The inherent boom / bust nature of the private housing market and the threat that this represents to the construction sector and the wider economy would be moderated by the creation of a permanent state-backed house building programme. Wage pressures on private and public sector workers would be moderated as workers would no longer be subject to ever-increasing rents and house prices. Monies that would otherwise be used to pay extortionate private rent or over-priced mortgages would instead be used by UP Housing tenants to boost the real economy.

The social benefits of UP Housing would be transformative for Irish society. Millions of men, women and children would be provided with the secure and affordable homes that the current system denies them. The stability of a ‘forever home’ is a prerequisite for putting down roots and the development of a stable community. Affordable rents would reduce the financial pressure on families, allowing for better work-life balances. The ending of segregated ‘social housing’ would create more stable communities and help break down existing class barriers.

The difference between ‘social housing’ and Universal Public Housing could hardly be greater. The former is designed to maintain class division in Ireland, while generating super-profits for developers, landlords and bankers. The latter is designed to help end class division in Ireland and provide high-quality homes for our people at the lowest possible cost.

You can find out more about UP Housing at our campaign page http://eirigi.org/up-housing

If you want to help us in the fight for UP Housing please get in touch via the from on this page http://eirigi.org/about-us

Éirígí housing protest outside the constituency office of Shane Ross, June 2019.

Éirígí housing protest outside the constituency office of Shane Ross, June 2019.