The Minister for Housing and Planning, Willie Penrose T.D., has issued a press release and short report on the 2011 unfinished housing estate survey 2011.  The data updates the survey undertaken in 2010.

The headline figures

* 2,876 housing developments of two or more housing units were inspected by the Department in the 2011 survey

* 701 developments have no outstanding building work, though they have issues of vacancy, and 109 developments have not substantially commenced.  There are thus 2,066 unfinished housing developments that still require building work.

* 18,638 dwellings were recorded as complete and vacant, a 4,612 (20%) reduction from the 23,250 recorded in 2010.

* 17,872 dwellings are at various further stages of construction – 8,794 are nearly complete (9,976 in 2010) and 9,078 are underconstruction (9,854 in 2010), a reduction of 1,958 from 2010 (9.9%)

* In terms of activity levels, 1,822 of the 2,066 unfinished sites were mainly inactive at the time of inspection with 245 active (in 2010 429 sites were active, a reduction of 43%)

* Of the 247 estates categorised as the most problematic from a public safety perspective (Category 4), 36 have been re-categorised to the less problematic Category 3.

The good news

* There has been a reduction in:  (1) the number of vacant and unfinished properties – (43,080 to 36,510; 15.25%); (2) 701 estates have no outstanding building work though they have issues of vacancy, and 109 have not commenced.

* There have been some improvements in health and safety and infrastructure (fencing, sewage, roads, paths, lighting etc), though these are not quantified in the report.

In other words, some progress has been made on the ground.

The bad news

* At the present rate of correction in terms of occupancy (6,570 per annum) it will take 5 years for the remaining 36,510 units be occupied.

* There are still significant health and safety issues, only 36 of the 247 worst estates were downgraded.  This is a reflection of the lack of access to development funds and the short period of time the local authority fund has been available to redress these issues.

* There is a marginal reduction in the number of incomplete properties (19,830 to 17,872; 9.9%) and there has been a fall in the number of active sites (43%).  In other words, development work is slow to inactive.

What the data highlights is that the housing market is still very weak (and much of the fall in vacancy will be accounted for in rentals) and that funding for development work and for mortgages is very difficult to access.  It also suggests that rhetoric about there only being 12 months or less supply in many counties (as stated by the CIF) or that we need to build 30,000 units per year for the next 15 years needs to be treated with caution, at least in the short to mid term.  Over the long term, we will need additional social and private housing, but we don’t need to start building it right now until the present level of oversupply is worked off and development and mortgage credit become available.  And there is significantly more oversupply in the country than brand new, unfinished developments.  The Census 2011 revealed that there are 294,020 vacant units in the country, probably about 80-100,000 units are oversupply (on a 6% base rate) consisting of unfinished units, vacant one-off houses, empty investment and secondhand property.

We will be working with the updated spreadsheet over the next couple of days to get a fuller picture of the changes and we will load all of the data up into the AIRO website so that estate by estate, and county by county, comparisons can be made between 2010 and 2011.

Rob Kitchin