Wednesday 26 November 2014

John Moran: Top civil servant questions our obsession with home ownership

Calls for thorough debate on future of housing in Ireland

Peter Flanagan, Commercial Property Editor

Published 20/03/2014 | 02:30

John Moran, General Secretary at the Department of Finance
John Moran, General Secretary at the Department of Finance

ONE of the most powerful civil servants in the country has questioned whether Irish people should be aiming to own their homes.

The Department of Finance's senior civil servant, John Moran, called for a thorough debate on the future of housing in Ireland.

Speaking at a property conference in Dublin, he said it was time for in-depth discussions on whether it was necessary for everyone to live in a "three-bedroom house" when more and more people were committing to renting long-term.

"There may be a need to address fully the idea of everyone needing a three-bedroom house in Dublin and if that is the right way to go about planning long-term.

"That could raise a scenario, which I wouldn't like to get into, of a Los Angeles-type sprawl of Dublin with three-bedroom houses all the way out to Kildare and surrounding counties while the city centre gets hollowed out again even as the overall population grows," he warned.

While Mr Moran said he "didn't know the answer" to the question yet, it was something that would have to be dealt with as there were huge infrastructure projects such as Irish Water that depended on the Government successfully mapping out the future development of the capital for them to be successful.

The number of households renting is now higher than at any point over the past four decades, having risen steadily since 2000.

The civil servant explained that the arrival of overseas investors and new investment tools had "professionalised" the rental market in such a way as to make renting for the long-term a viable option. Up to now the rental market was very fragmented but that was changing – the change was giving tenants security in the long term, he said.

"That change on its own alters the role of the banks because then fewer mortgages are needed," he added.

Mr Moran also predicted that as the banks worked out the huge number of mortgages that were in arrears there would be a jump in the number of people for social housing.

"You only have to look at the mortgage arrears numbers to know there is a pent-up demand for it (social housing) and as the mortgage backlog is worked through there is an inevitability that some of those people will end up on the social housing register and add to the 100,000 already there."

Irish Independent

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