Friday 23 August 2019

'Build apartments, not family homes' says leading economist

FORECAST: Ronan Lyons says household sizes will fall
FORECAST: Ronan Lyons says household sizes will fall

Mark O'Regan and Wayne O'Connor

A shortage of apartments - rather than the traditional family home - is the real reason for the country's ongoing accommodation crisis.

"There are significantly more family homes in Ireland than there are families," says Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons.

"Almost 25pc too many when you compare the 700,000 families with the 900,000 dwellings to fit families. This is not even a problem in the greater Dublin area, where there is a 10pc surplus."

He suggested a shortage of suitably sized apartment style dwellings - depending on the particular requirements of the occupants - is at the core of our housing shortage.

But he stressed the term 'apartment' needs to be broadly defined. In some cases it would provide a home for one or two people as distinct from the standard three or four-bedroom house.

"When it comes to Ireland's demographics, the outlook for the rest of the 21st century will be driven by three main forces: population growth, urbanisation and falling household size," he said.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, he said that since the famine Ireland has been "a late bloomer" - not only in terms of living standards but also as regards population density.

Meanwhile, the flight from country to town continues.

"Ireland is now roughly as urban as the typical Western European country was 50 years ago. Over the next half-century, the country will go from 65pc urban to 80pc or more," Lyons said.

When it comes to evolving household size we are also "behind the curve". All European countries are moving from four persons or more in the typical household to just two, or maybe slightly more. Ireland remains well ahead of its peers, with 2.8 persons currently in the typical household.

However, this number has been falling steadily since the 1960s and will continue to do so over the coming decades. By 2080 an estimated 80pc or more of a projected population of 6.3 million will be living in the urban areas.

And the vast majority of households will comprise just one or two persons.

"This is not a recipe for strong demand for housing estates even further out from our urban cores.

"This is a recipe for building hundreds of apartments - of whatever type - in Dublin and throughout the country, every month for decades," he said.

Meanwhile, the Government has been accused of discriminating against people living in apartments by forcing them to apply for planning permission to make their homes available for short-term letting.

Measures to stem housing supply being lost to letting services such as Airbnb apply to people living in multi-unit developments but not houses. Airbnb's public policy lead, Natasha Mytton-Mills, says to differentiate between houses and apartments is both "disproportionate and discriminatory".

Airbnb has written to government officials, housing bodies and local authorities complaining that such measures are "disproportionate and discriminatory."

In a letter to the Department of Housing seen by the Sunday Independent, Airbnb warned officials it has been advised current planning laws mean people living in an apartment should not need to register for a change of use if they want to let rooms, or entire apartments, on the website. Airbnb argues that no material change of use occurs where a website user lets all or part of their primary residence. However, it does concede there is a material change of use when users let a home that is not lived in for more than half a year.

Sunday Independent

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