Failure of government explains social housing need

As local and central government fail to meet social housing need, masses of houses lie empty across Ireland. By Eoin Ó Broin.

The National Institute for Spatial and Regional Analysis (NISRA) estimates that from 2006 to 2009 the supply of houses in Ireland outpaced projected housing need by 154%. It estimates that 302,625 homes like vacant across the state, not including almost 50,000 holiday homes.

The NISRA have also provided a comparison of the number of new homes built in each county between 2006 and 2009 set against the projected need for housing in each county, determined by projected population growth. The results show how housing supply ran ahead of demand during the peak of the construction boom. The figures are startling.

For example, it was estimated that the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown area would need an additional 538 units to meet its projected population growth from 2006 to 2009. However during that period an oversupply of 7,139 units of accommodation were built - an oversupply of 1,224%.

Dublin City Council had the largest oversupply in terms of actual numbers, with 15,363 units representing an oversupply of 401%. Cork County came second with an oversupply of 11,018 or 115%. Limerick City had the largest percentage oversupply in the state, with a massive 1252%. Only Galway City came close to matching supply and demand, with a 2% oversupply.

What makes these figures even more shocking is that despite a flood of housing in every county in the state housing need continues to increase.

In 2008 the Department of Environment conducted its triennial Housing Needs Assessment, which counts the number of households on local authority housing waiting lists. Released in early 2009 the assessment concluded that there were 56,000 households in need of social housing. This figure was 30% higher than the previous Housing Needs Assessment conducted in 2005.

In December 2009 the Irish Independent published figures obtained from the Department of Environment which indicated that the total number of households on local authority lists could be as high as 99,846, an increase of 130% on 2005.

The Irish Independent figures estimated that the waiting lists in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown included 4,406 households; in Dublin City included 6,108 households; in Cork County included 4,880 households; and in Limerick included 1,468 households.

In each case, the number of vacant homes identified by NISRA significantly exceeds the number of families deemed by the Department of Environment to be in need of local authority housing.

There are also a further 93,000 households in receipt of Rent Supplement, an emergency social welfare payment to households unable to meet their rental payments in the private sector. Even when these households are included in the overall housing need figure the total vacant housing stock exceeds the level of existing need.

The reason for this situation is very simple. During the Celtic Tiger housing supply was determined primarily by market forces, central government tax incentives, and developer led planning decisions at a local level rather than strategic planning based on social need.

Central and local government failure explains why there are hundreds of thousands of vacant homes side by side with hundreds of thousands of people in need of housing. 

 Compiling the study

NISRA was established as a University Institute at NUI Maynooth in January 2001. The institute’s remit is to undertake fundamental, applied and comparative research on spatial processes and their effects on social and economic development in Ireland.

The NISRA figure is calculated by combining data from the 2006 Census, Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government figures on house completions since 2006 and Geodirectory data. 

The census estimated that in 2006 there were 216,533 vacant units including 174,935 houses, 41,598 apartments and 49,789 holiday homes. Combined these figures represented 15% of the states total housing stock. When holiday homes are excluded this figure is 12.5%

Department of Environment figures indicate that since the census was completed there have been an additional 215,451 units added to the states housing stock. NISRA estimates that approximately 50% of this remains vacant today.

Geodirectory estimates that there are 1,981,513 residential units across the state.

So by adding the Census and Department of Environment figures, NISRA argue that 302,625 representing 15% of the states current residential housing units, not including holiday homes, are vacant.

NISRA have also provided a detailed county by county breakdown of the vacant housing here.