The newspapers at present are full of talk of the resurrection of the housing market and the growth of house prices in Dublin.  It seems that housing market is finally stabilising and that the long waited for market correction is starting to take place.  Moreover, it is being suggested that we need to start building residential units again and to zone more land in Dublin (this is despite the fact that 2,575 hectares (6,400 acres) of serviced residential land is zoned in the four Dublin local authorities for 132,166 units).

The housing market in Ireland is nowhere near to functioning normally.  In fact, it is still largely dysfunctional for several reasons:

  • extensive mortgage arrears and negative equity
  • the lack of mortgage credit and a large proportion of cash buyers
  • the lack of finance for development and the lack of active developers
  • oversupply in most of the country and pockets of undersupply in specific locales (particularly family homes in parts of Dublin)
  • large numbers of unfinished estates and poor build quality (issues of pyrite, etc.) that need to be retrofitted
  • huge numbers on the social housing waiting list and stalled regeneration schemes

The shortage of family homes in some parts of Dublin is just one aspect of a very unhealthy housing landscape.  What we really need right now is not a knee-jerk reaction but a proper housing strategy that guides addressing the various problems facing the Irish housing market and plans future housing provision.

This housing strategy needs to do a full assessment of the issues above, along with suggested solutions that include planning and finance, plus develop models of where new housing might need to be built given expected demand based on trends in demographics, economic conditions and labour market change.  Together, these assessments should be used to map out a plan of action as to getting the Irish housing back in to some kind of order.

This strategy does not need to be years in the making.  With some coordinated action it could probably be prepared in a few weeks using in situ expertise and resources.  What it does require, however, is some government action to spearhead such an initiative.  Without this, how the housing situation unfolds will be ad hoc, uncoordinated, and likely to reproduce and extend the present problems.

Rob Kitchin

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