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Think [and consider the data]

Thoughtfulness and challenging received wisdom are necessary for a sustainable housing policy

A CLEARER PICTURE is emerging of the state of the housing sector. A number of reports and newly-compiled statistics point to a heavily strained system, struggling to provide even modest levels of supply and affordability. Most households cannot afford a new home within reasonable commuting distance of Dublin, without first stumping up a significant deposit. Policies aimed at reducing building costs by either increasing building heights, or reducing standards, are ineffective and don’t facilitate the common good. And only ten local authority homes were built in Dublin the first half of this year.

What does this crisis look like? Here are some figures that help point the way.


Due to inaccurate official housing statistics, Goodbody has instigated an independent audit of house-building output. Its ‘BER House-building Tracker’ is based on new Building Energy Ratings, certification of which have been a legal requirement for all dwellings since 2013.

By this measure, 6,447 new homes have been completed in the year to date, less than half the official Department of Housing figure, which is based on ESB connections. The pace of building is increasing, rising 86% year-on-year in September, though it remains well below official estimates. In total, fewer than 8,000 new homes will be built this year.

80% of these new dwellings are houses, and fewer than 1000 apartments have been completed this year. Seven out of ten new dwellings, and most apartments, are located in the Greater Dublin Area, the ‘recovery’ evidently being restricted to the capital.


The Central Statistics Office’s Residential Property Price Indicator Index is an accurate record of house prices. It confirms that government policy has facilitated a remarkable recovery in new home prices.


In 2010, the average new home was 25% cheaper than the average second-hand house price. By 2016, the average new home was 15% more expensive, at €450,274. The price of second-hand homes in Dublin has increased at a much slower rate – an average of 11% per year, to €389,879 by 2016.

By last year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown had seen new home prices double in six years to €618,026, almost 14 times the average full-time wage.


A report in October by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), ‘The Real Costs of New Apartment Delivery’, confirmed what the industry has known for years – new apartments are severely unaffordable. A combined household salary of €87,000 is required to afford the cheapest low-density two-bed apartments in suburban Dublin. The average sale price across the city is €435,500, almost ten times the average full-time wage. Prospective owners must be in the top 20% household-earnings bracket.

The report raised a number of interesting facts. Increasing height – an official preoccupation, actually drives prices up. Reduced standards like smaller floor areas and reduced lift cores – an industry preoccupation, do little to reduce the ‘affordability gap’. Site values are the biggest cost, and a significant driver of price inflation.

Land values and developers’ profits comprise 35% of sales prices.


Rebuilding Ireland’s ‘Social Housing Completions Report 2017’ catalogues an expanding ‘pipeline’ of almost 700 projects, with the capacity to provide more than 11,000 potential social homes. However, actual output is far less impressive than official inputs.

Local authorities built 75 social housing units nationwide in the first six months of this year. In addition, 380 social homes were completed nationwide by ‘approved housing bodies’ (AHBs) and voluntary co-ops, organisations that heavily rely on voluntary efforts and fund-raising, in addition to state funding.

Of the 120,598 people on housing waiting lists nationwide, 40,207 are in the four Dublin council areas. Ten local authority homes were built in Dublin the first half of 2017. Dublin city council has the largest population, and the highest number of homeless families, but it built no social housing.

Cork city council, Kildare county council and Galway city council did not build a single local authority home between them, despite having housing waiting lists of 6,005, 6,869, and 4,095 respectively.

21 local authorities built no social housing in the first six months of 2017.


There are 240 new households availing of state rent assistance every week. Approximately €730m will be spent on state rent assistance, for 96,000 households, this year. By 2018 this will increase to €900m for 110,000 families. Rising levels of homelessness have been well documented, and are truly alarming.

There are only 1000 rental properties available in Dublin, and 3,200 nationwide. The lack of supply continues to pressurise the rental sector, and lower-to-middle income households and tenants in arrears are especially vulnerable.

Local authorities own enough residential- zoned land to build 37,000 dwellings, yet at current rates just 300 local authority homes will be completed this year.

Considering the continued reliance on the private sector, low levels of new house-building, the lack of an affordable housing scheme, and low permanent social-housing provision, the situation for families on more modest incomes will remain perilously difficult for the foreseeable future.


Mailíosa (Mel) Reynolds is a Registered Architect and Certified Passive House Designer