It’s not a pretty picture – supply is nowhere near where it needs to be
WE HAVE known for some time that there is a problem with accurately assessing the number of new houses and apartments being built every year, and these figures finally represent something approaching the true picture.
Until the Central Statistics Office (CSO) became involved last year, the official stats produced by the Department of Housing stated that 85,154 new homes had been built between 2011 and 2017.
The CSO said the more accurate number is 53,578 – a difference of 31,576. That represents more than a year’s supply under the Government’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan to tackle the housing crisis.
Two people have really been banging the drum about the lack of accurate data, and it’s worth highlighting their contribution.
Housing lecturer Lorcan Sirr and architect Mel Reynolds have repeatedly highlighted issues, and both suggest that the CSO’s role in gathering data will help provide a more accurate picture of what’s going on.
Apart from the valuable contribution from the CSO around new-build figures, it makes some useful and necessary recommendations.
Senior statistician Kieran Culhane noted that there were a wide variety of data sources around house completions.
These include the Building Energy Ratings system, the building control management system operated by local authorities, planning permission databases, geodirectory, stamp duty returns, the Local Property Tax database, septic tank registration system and Homebond registrations.
And yet despite all of these, there is no “single, authoritative” source.
“These administrative datasets which are available are fragmented and tend to either over or underrepresent actual new dwelling completions in any given time period, meaning that taken in isolation, none can provide an accurate count,” Mr Culhane said.
The solution was to use Eircodes, he said. When planning permission was granted for one or 100 units, each one should be allocated an Eircode.
When the local authority was told the house was under construction, and later completed, a record would be created of that property.
When it was sold, Revenue would note it for stamp duty purposes, so the unit could be tracked through the system, giving an accurate picture into the future.
While the Government can rightly claim that housebuilding is increasing, and the number of vacant homes returning to use is on the rise, this is not a rosy picture. Supply is nowhere near where it needs to be.
These figures have implications, particularly in relation to housing strategy, but across the wider construction sector too. Does the industry have the capacity to ramp up supply?
“When you think about capacity to build, we’re nearly at full employment and have a skills shortage, so the chances of going to 20,000 or 23,000 units this year is very slim,” said UCD lecturer Orla Hegarty.
“If you have to wait for bricklayers, plasterers or plumbers, everything has to wait and so it has a knock-on delay. I think they’ve taken their eye off the ball.
“There’s no single government department responsible for construction, it’s scattered all over the place.”
The Government must now implement the CSO’s recommendations, and begin to accept that arise in construction of new homes isn’t enough. It’s all about the numbers.