'Housing needs blown out of proportion'

Outgoing housing agency chairman says vested interests may spark next boom-bust cycle

Conor Skehan, outgoing chairman of the Housing Agency, said housing demand was close to being met. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Estimates of the number of homes needed to solve Ireland’s housing crisis have been blown out of proportion by organisations with “skin in the game” Conor Skehan, outgoing chairman of the Housing Agency, has said.

Representatives of estate agents and other property industry bodies could help set off the next property boom-bust cycle by overestimating the number of homes needed in the country, said Mr Skehan, who will finish his six-year role with the agency in the new year.

“We are given a formal remit by the Government to bring out a housing needs assessment every year and the specific reason we were given that is the experience of the previous housing crisis, ” he said.

“The point that starts a crisis, and the thing that makes them worse, is data being produced by people who have skin in the game. We now have people saying we need up to 50,000 houses a year, and that’s rubbish.”


Some 20,000-25,000 homes need to be built each year, according to the Housing Agency. However, Goodbody Stockbrokers has put that figure at 35,000 and Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, who works with property website Daft.ie, has said the number is closer to 50,000, a figure recently also cited by estate agents Hooke and MacDonald.

“If a brewer told you there isn’t enough money being put aside for beer, or a car manufacturer told you there isn’t enough money being put aside for cars, you would rightly look at that askance,” Mr Skehan said.

“Weekly we are being told of this creeping demand level from people who are in the financing business who regard property as an investment, from people who are auctioneers, or in the building sector, or the rental sector. There is a Government agency whose job it is to report those facts and that’s what we do.”

‘Out-of-date’ figures

Responding to Mr Skehan’s comments, Mr Lyons said the Housing Agency’s figures were out of date.

“The Housing Agency figures were done about five years ago, and they were done on the basis of the needs of towns and cities only. I can’t square their total with the facts I see looking at the census figures,” he said.

“Davy, Goodbody’s, the American Chamber of Commerce all put the figure at 40,000-50,000. Even the ESRI has come closer in line to that with a figure of 35,000-40,000. The only organisation I know now that believes that housing demand is 20,000-25,000 is the Housing Agency.”

Mr Lyons said his demand projection of 50,000 takes into account natural increase in population, net migration, changing demographics and obsolescence – where houses were no longer habitable.

“There is always a degree of obsolescence. Every country in the world needs to be building every year, and for many years we didn’t. We did not have overconstruction in Dublin, that’s why we ran out of homes so soon after the crash.”

He said that although he worked with Daft his figures were based on his analysis as an economist.

“I’m not clear how Daft would benefit from talking up the housing numbers, but when I speak, I speak as an academic and I would struggle to come up with any number smaller than 40,000, let alone 20,000.”

Mr Skehan said demand was close to being met, with 18,000-20,000 homes expected to have been provided this year.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times