Sunday 15 December 2019

Only sound policy can stabilise housing market

For Sale signs in Rialto. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
For Sale signs in Rialto. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

It is astounding to think that we are back in a so-called housing crisis while the property collapse is not just fresh in the memory but still a daily nightmare for so many people who over-extended themselves during the 'boom' or are living in negative equity. It is now estimated by the Housing Agency that the country needs 80,000 houses, 38,000 in Dublin alone. Such is the scale of the housing shortage that the Government is considering establishing a 'Strategic Investment Fund' to provide capital for builders and developers who can no longer get access to bank funding.

Of course this 'shortage' is confined to certain areas, mostly Dublin and other large urban areas where there is a lack of family homes. At the other end of the scale there are many towns and villages who will have to live with the nightmare of 'ghost estates' for the foreseeable future.

What both extremes of the property story tell us is that it is imperative that the country does not sleep-walk into another housing bubble. To avoid this we do need to build more houses, but we also need to closely examine the type of houses allowed by the planners and the location of such houses. But, most important of all, the authorities, be they legislators, planners or regulators, must ensure that any new property 'boom' is in the best interests of home-buyers, not developers, speculators, builders or landlords.

Getting a functioning housing market back on track is not a short-term exercise. There can be a lead-in time of several years from the purchase of a site to the sale of a finished home. One leading auctioneering firm is already calling for a reduction in VAT to stimulate building and reduced local authority levies and density requirements to make it easier for builders to construct family homes. However more innovative solutions may be needed in the short term to release property on to the market speedily. Ideas worth considering include incentivising older people, whose families have left home, to sell and move to apartments or smaller properties or encouraging families to move back inside the city limits now largely denuded of a permanent population due to the 'flight to the suburb' and decades of misguided government policy. But most of all, we need a coherent housing policy that would give us a stable and functioning market.

We didn't have it in the boom, we didn't have it in the bust and we don't have it now.


The prospect of Dublin hosting two Heineken Cup semi-finals in 24 hours is a tantalising one that could be realised by tomorrow evening. Not content with their Six Nations glory, Ireland's rugby stars are back at it with their provinces and Munster, Ulster and Leinster all have realistic chances of winning their last eight clashes this weekend.

In what is almost certain to be the final instalment of the competition in its current guise, Munster welcome the mighty Toulouse to their Thomond Park citadel as they look to write another chapter of their European story, while 1999 winners Ulster are out for revenge against the team who beat them last year, Saracens, at the new-look Ravenhill.

Tomorrow, three-time champions Leinster face the current holders Toulon in their ferocious south of France home as Brian O'Driscoll's farewell tour crosses paths with another departing hero, Jonny Wilkinson.

Just like 2006 and 2009, the fierce provincial rivals from the east and south coasts are on a collision course with each other if they can overcome their French opponents, with Leinster holding home advantage, while Ulster have also been drawn at home – to Clermont or Leicester – should they win their game this evening.

Two semi-finals at the Aviva Stadium would guarantee the IRFU at least €2m in prize money and rental income, while the prospect would be a real boon to the city's tourism bosses who could expect to glean as much as €40m in spending over the last weekend in April. The rugby season has given so much, is it too much to ask for a little bit more?

Over to the boys in red, white and blue.

Irish Independent

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