To solve the housing crisis, Ireland needs to think beyond the three-bedroom house

Experts agree that a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to remedy the Irish property market.

By Laura Roddy Reporter, Fora

WITH RENTS AND HOUSE prices still climbing, Ireland’s housing crisis isn’t going away anytime soon. To find some answers, the country might need some new perspectives.

“We believe that there is a tendency to assume that everybody’s ideal house is a three-bedroom semi (detached) with a front garden and back garden. Where actually preferences and demographics are shifting to the point where people want very different things,” Stephen Bell, the chief executive of development financing firm Cullaun Capital, said.

Bell spoke to Fora as his firm released a report with recommendations made by panellists at a conference held by Cullaun and highlighted a need to change policy to create a variety of accommodation options.

“We wanted to open up a dialogue where people talk about those different things, whether that be co-living, private rented sector, nursing homes and all sorts of different things that still constitutes a place that somebody might call home,” he said.


Mike Flannery, chief executive of Bartra Capital, said that new categories of houses were needed on the market to accommodate a younger generation that lives on their own into their thirties and can fit into smaller spaces with better facilities.

Both Flannery and Arthur O’Brien, the managing director at C+W O’Brien Architects, noted that new housing configurations are badly needed to meet changing demographic needs.

According to the panel, younger people don’t want a long commute to work in urban centres, for both personal and environmental reasons, and also don’t necessarily buy into the culture of ownership that once dominated Ireland.

“Ireland is only at about 60% urbanisation, compared with a likely typical average of 80% elsewhere. We are going to have to change the whole range of typology. It is not possible with all the will in the world to give everyone a front garden, a back garden and three bedrooms,” Flannery said. 

According to property website’s latest rental figures, the average monthly rent has risen to €1,403 per month in the third quarter of this year. Figures from the Central Statistics Office indicate house prices have risen nationally by 85.2% and in Dublin by 95% since 2013.

To help alleviate demand, Ireland could copy New Zealand and introduced bonds to incentivise smaller housebuilders, according to Brian McEnery, a partner and head of healthcare at accountancy firm BDO Dublin and a former director at Nama.

“Housing is very, very complex. It’s behavioural, it’s economic, it’s developmental and it’s governmental. And it takes time. When the pipeline stopped during the crisis, as it did very abruptly, it is slow to rebuild,” McEnery said.

In 2018, there were more than 18,000 units built in Ireland and around 21,000 are estimated to be completed by the end of the year.

New Zealand has also rezoned land to have seven years of supply in the pipeline, which is similar to Ireland’s need, he said.

Derek Poppinga, the managing director at real estate investment and development firm Mm Capital, said the cost of inflation was one of the biggest challenges facing the sector and added that modular housing should be a serious consideration.

He said this can’t be achieved at the moment because of a skills gap and added that more resources need to go toward training to attract more people and innovation into the industry.

Fidelma McManus, partner at law firm Beauchamps, said there was a need for affordable public rental houses and pointed to Vienna’s model, where the city keeps rent low by owning 220,000 homes, with a further 200,000 provided by limited-profit housing associations.

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