Where we live is directly related to where we work. It isn’t surprising that areas showing the most economic activity around the country are also the areas under the most pressure in relation to accommodation. Therefore, it’s logical that when approaching the issue of the housing crisis we should bear in mind the reasons why areas like Leitrim, Waterford, Wexford, Mayo, and Donegal among others have high levels of vacant housing: the painfully obvious need for employment in these areas.
We’ll need to be creative and radical in searching for a solution that will tackle the matching problems of low social housing and high regional unemployment.
‘We have to stop hoping for the best and move to an approach where we actively drive housing delivery to create vibrant, diverse, and inclusive communities’ (Catherine Murphy).
If we then make those communities attractive to small start-up enterprises, self-employed entrepreneurs, and so on, using the many tools available to us (tax incentives or training and mentoring schemes, for instance), and equally attractive to motivated job-seekers (with community employment schemes, or back-to-work enterprise schemes, for instance), then with a little bit of cooperation and coordination, the community can supply and fulfil at least some of its own employment needs.
If we then provide the financial services to support these young enterprises with a not-for-profit community banking system that takes as its operating principle that local deposits finance local projects, we have provided a stable economic infrastructure for our community. We will then have sustainable communities that can provide houses and jobs and, importantly, neighbourhoods where individuals and families can live together, work together, and grow together.
Sounds a bit Brigadoonish? None of the conditions I’ve suggested above is unfamiliar. It’s not revolutionary to suggest that we build houses to suit the various spatial plans governments occasionally put out there. There’s nothing outlandish in suggesting that we attract employers to locate there and some motivated workers to live there. There’s nothing new in banks offering financial products to support capital investment in infrastructure. What is new is the scale. We’re not talking about banks handing over multimillion-euro loans to developers fresh out of NAMA to build multi-storey blocks of luxury apartments. We’re talking about financing the carpenter who wants to open a shop selling hand-made furniture and to hire a couple of apprentices on CE schemes, or the organic gardener who wants to turn a hobby into a small business selling fruit and veg at farmers markets. What we need is a bank whose vision and ambition is local: a bank that is less interested in maximising profits, bonuses, and shareholder returns than in supporting and sustaining their community. That part might sound as if it came straight out of Brigadoon, but there is a successful precedent to take look at.
This is part of a longer article co-written by Owen Connolly and Dr. Jeannette Boyne. Read in more detail as follows;