A Plan For Affordable Housing
“All housing, not just for first time buyers, needs to be affordable. This means lower prices in Dublin and surrounding counties, which will bring down rents,” pointed out Colm McCarthy, Economist at University College Dublin, during the recent 2018 National Construction Summit.
Colm McCarthy was a main speaker at the event, where he presented his ‘plan for affordable housing’. He stressed that affordability is at the crux of the current housing crisis.
“Affordability is mainly a Dublin problem,” he said. “In most parts of Ireland, both house prices and rents, are generally affordable.” However, housing prices in the outer areas of Dublin as well as in the inner suburbs are unaffordable on average incomes, and rents are a reflection of the high house prices.
He cited recent DAF statistics which show that the average price for a 3-bedroom semi-detached house is no higher than €250,000 across the country but yet in Dublin there is not a single district where prices are at or below this level. Indeed, a house in Dublin will cost at least twice or three times that of a similar property outside of the capital city.
The divergence in house prices started in the mid-1970s due to restrictive zoning. “There is now a shortage of zoned and serviced land with planning permission in and around Dublin,” he said. “There is no shortage of land.” The supply of land is plentiful but the supply of land with zoning, services and planning permission has been restricted as deliberate policy.
Colm McCarthy added: “Dublin is now the lowest density city of its size in this part of Europe. There is a huge amount of singe-storey residential development close to the city centre, which is very unusual in a European city.”
He suggested that major changes are required to current housing policy, with a particular focus on Dublin. “It means liberal zoning, prompt delivery of services and easier planning permissions,” he remarked. “It does not necessarily mean high-rise. Dublin’s problem is the prevalence of zero-rise.”
The housing affordability problem is also a threat to Ireland’s financial stability. The average income of first time buyers who gained a mortgage last year was €74,000 – double the national average. The current loan to value ratio is 90% but this should be replaced with a loan to prices ratio, he argued. As older mortgages are paid off, the banks are in danger of replacing safe debt with riskier loans. “Current lending is beginning to move back into dangerous territory,” he cautioned.
“The problem is essentially affordability,” he stressed. It should be possible to build typical 3-bedroom houses for €150,000. “We have loaded cost on by highly restrictive zoning and the virtual impossibility of gaining planning permission.”
However, Colm McCarthy questioned whether there is the political appetite for radically tackling the affordability problem as this would entail a major revaluation of housing in general, resulting in existing home owners seeing sizeable reductions in the potential sale prices of their properties from the current hyper-inflated levels.
Colm McCarthy (right) pictured with Eoghan Murphy TD, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, at the 2018 National Construction Summit.