There is a somewhat lily-livered leader in the Irish Times today about housing. I say that because it is big on telling us what we must avoid, but it doesn’t face up to what we do in order to avoid it. There are some ‘right-on’ ideas about the government having to play more of a role, but that’s about it.
There is a shortage of houses. Dublin’s population is growing at a pretty fast clip, and has been for decades, through good times and bad. There are 160,000 more people in the county than there were 10 years ago, and yet we have build hardly anything. We could easily absorb 100,000 extra housing units in Dublin.
There is no magic tap that the government can turn on to make houses. You still need land, materials and labour to make houses and the government only has one of these resources. It isn’t particularly adept at marshalling it either, with many vacant sites in the possession of the city council, according to a recent report.
Homes are expensive, and it costs more to build a new house than to buy an existing one, according to the experts. It doesn’t matter who builds them, the State or a private developer. There are some figures available on what it costs a local authority to build a house and it turns out that it costs more to build a council house than a private sector house when the cost of land, levies and VAT are stripped away.
These are really big problems. There is massive demand, but there is no supply. And lack of housing is going to cripple our country with high economic costs, to say nothing of the social costs. They are not just problems for the government. They are problems for the whole country and the public, private and social sectors to resolve together. This isn’t really being done and it needs to be. We need to finance and build homes in a different way from what we’ve done before.
Miscellaneous Notes: A letter to the Irish Times. The eminent author is basically wrong, unfortunately. The evidence does not point to the costs being higher in the private sector, in fact the opposite.