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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020

'We're planning for the here-and-now, but we must future-proof our housing system too'

We need to plan for the next 10 to 20 years to make sure we get it right, writes John O’Connor.

John O'Connor CEO, The Housing Agency

THE NUMBER OF people living in Ireland is increasing year-on-year. Some of this is down to our fertility, some of it because we are living longer and some because people are returning or coming to live in Ireland for the first time.

This is all good news. It means that we have confidence in our country and see it as a good place to live and work, to have children and to grow old. Others share our optimism and choose to move here to make it their home. We can offer a great quality of life and nice communities in which to live.

Good quality affordable housing in well-serviced communities is a crucial part of the jigsaw that we must get right to make this happen. More specifically we need an adequate supply of the right type of housing in the right place. We need to future proof our housing.

We didn’t build enough where they were needed

A lot of our focus in the last few years has been on trying to stabilise our housing system. And rightly so. Immediate actions were required firstly to address an over-supply of housing and then an under-supply. We built far too many homes 10  years ago, some of them in the wrong places, then we didn’t build enough – particularly where they were needed.

Successful government policies have worked to try to solve this problem and bring greater balance and sustainability to our housing system. This is now beginning to bear fruit.

The supply of new accommodation is moving closer to the amount required, but we are not there yet. A shortage of properties to buy or rent have pushed up prices in many areas.

Worrying CSO figures

Recent figures published by the CSO make for worrying reading on this. Back in 1980, 7% of household expenditure went on housing costs, this is now closer to 20%. Those renting in the private market spend 28% of household expenditure on housing, those paying a mortgage sent, on average, 23%.

Housing must be affordable. Otherwise it will have a negative impact on our quality of life. We will need to spend more hours working or doing longer commutes just to keep a roof over our heads. Unaffordable housing will also damage our economic competitiveness.

It forces wage demands up to keep pace with rising costs which in turn pushes up prices or companies decide not to locate in Ireland due to a lack of suitable accommodation.

A balanced housing system

A balanced housing system, where there is a match between the supply and demand for housing is needed. This will take time to achieve and we need to plan for the next 10 to 20 years to make sure we get it right.

Dublin and the rest of Leinster has seen the greatest population growth in recent years. Now over half of the population live in and around the capital. Cities are continuing to grow as the nature of work changes. Our housing system must respond to this change.

The number of people living over the age of 65 is also increasing and this trend is set to continue. By the year 2030, there will be one million people aged 65 and over in this country. Even more so, the population aged over 85 is projected to more than double in the next 20 to 30 years. We need to plan now for the types of housing suited to an ageing population.

Other European countries have a more developed housing sector for this age group – an independent living with care housing models. There is a gap in the Irish market for this type of community-based supportive accommodation where people can age in place as much as possible.

We need to future-proof the housing system

The size of the households we live in is taking on a more European style, however. The average household size in Ireland in the 1960s was 4.2 persons per households, now it is fewer than three. Three-quarters of households are now made up of one, two or three persons.

Given our current housing stock was built for larger households, what types of accommodation do we need to build to address future requirements? This housing also needs to link in to viable communities, with enough people to support shops, schools, health and recreational facilities, and so on. Careful planning is needed to get this right.

The other thing we need to plan for is the right type of workforce to plan, design and build these houses and apartments. Do we have enough skilled people to deliver our housing needs? The construction sector has gone through very difficult times over the last 10 years. We need to plan to attract, develop and nurture the required skills to build quality homes.

If we have learnt any lesson from the last 10 years it should be that while we plan for the here-and-now, we must also future-proof the housing system.

John O’Connor is the Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Agency, a statutory body set up under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (DHPCLG). 

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About the author:

John O'Connor  / CEO, The Housing Agency

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