The State’s Land Development Agency (LDA) needs to play an active role in “landbanking” to secure sufficient new sites for housing, UCD academic and LDA board member Michelle Norris said.
Acquiring land for housing has been the “real missing part in terms of housing policy”, Prof Norris, director of the UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy, told the Housing Agency’s annual conference in Dublin on Thursday. “Land availability and active land management for social and affordable housing is really critical,” she said. “If you look at some of the mistakes we have made in the past I think failing to actively manage land availability is a key one.”
Barriers to local authorities or approved housing bodies (AHBs) purchasing land “in an affordable way” had stymied the development of social housing and the general housing stock, she said. “This is a problem because it limits the ability to build social housing from scratch, and that lack of building from scratch is a problem because when we are taking dwellings from the private sector to move into the social sector we are not adding to supply.”
Buying already planned or built homes from the private sector often meant social housing providers were not getting the housing that met their tenants’ needs, she said. “The types of dwellings the private sector is providing for sale are generally three-bedroom houses, and larger, and the vast majority of people on the social housing waiting list are one and two person households.”
In addition, she said, most of the existing social housing stock were three-bedroom houses or larger. “So the size of dwelling is not meeting the need. Most homeless people are single men, many of them 20 years on waiting list at current output. So we need to manage land banks more actively and enable AHB’s and local authorities to buy land…The Land Development Agency needs to play a really active role in landbanking over the long term and then making that land available to approved housing bodies and local authorities.”
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told the conference he had this week received Cabinet approval to establish a land acquisition fund which will be under aegis of the Housing Agency. “I am convinced the activation fund, in relation to purchasing new developable land that the State can activate and particularly focus on modern methods of rapid-build construction, is something that is crucially important.”
Dermot O’Leary, chief economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers, told the conference that the State needed to fund build-to-rent developments or they will not be constructed. “Banks do not have the risk appetite to fully fund the needed increase in housing supply.” Housebuilding was “not a massively profitable industry or else you’d have more people coming into it and taking advantage of that”.
Building apartments in Dublin was the most important element of increasing supply, but he said their construction was becoming increasingly unviable.
“The viability of build- to-rent is threated already. We are seeing the impact of that in terms of new supply coming on stream,” Mr O’Leary said. “Apartment commencements are falling off. Focusing on the build-to-rent side of things – someone else is going to have to fund it if they are going to be built...The Government will have to fill up the gap somewhat.”