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David McWilliams: Stop hiding behind faux arguments when objecting to new homes

Need to increase housing supply outweighs any Nimby complaints about developments

The solution to too few homes is more homes. The solution to far too few homes is lots more homes. You might think this is obvious. It is. Yet objections to new building abound and are coming from several quarters, including a quite unscientific movement which argues that building new homes is the problem.

Help me here. Is the argument that building less homes will cause house prices and rents to fall? If so, why don’t we just bulldoze a few estates, cut supply, and see how that feels?

Similarly with rents, the enormous number of objections to build-to-rent (BTR) schemes implies a view that rents will fall if these new rental properties are not built. When objectors say that 1,500 new rental properties will not help people desperately looking for somewhere to live, what is the logic?

If objectors believe that nationalising the new housing stock is the way to go, then okay, let's have that discussion. But let's not hide behind faux arguments

We really need to catch ourselves on here and realise that new homes are what the country needs. I understand as much as the next person that there are deep ideological issues with large landlords owning many properties, but if that’s the issue, let’s be honest and say it. If objectors believe that nationalising the new housing stock is the way to go, then okay, let’s have that discussion. But let’s not hide behind faux arguments. And if the objectors have a problem with “the sort of people” who might end up living in their area, why not just say that too and have the conversation?


In urban societies, all property is a patchwork of private renters, public renters, homeowners, large landlords, accidental landlords, co-operative members and various volunteers and charity groups. In some places, a greater fraction of homes is rented, and accommodation is seen as a cost, like electricity. In other places, a greater fraction is owned, and property is seen as an asset.

My own preference for society is to move away from the asset and towards the cost structure, but I appreciate this will take time and is not everyone’s cup of tea.

In the meantime, we must build.

Extraneous issues

The various design issues, the architectural conundrums and the overall development concerns that may be top of the list for some objectors are legitimate, but these dilemmas do not take away from the basic idea that the solution to too few homes is more homes, irrespective of any extraneous issues around landlords, ownership, property ladders or individual wealth creation.

Let’s look at the facts.

The latest Daft Rental Report for the third quarter of 2021 tells us that the nation’s rental stock has fallen to its lowest level since 2006. Pathetically, Dublin had just 820 homes available to rent, down 51 per cent from last year. Throughout the country, the lack of supply is obvious. There are only 232 homes to rent in the rest of Leinster; 236 in Munster; 172 in Connacht/Ulster; and only 11 in Limerick city. Rents are up nearly 7 per cent across the country on the year and up 2.5 per cent in Dublin.

But there is good news for people needing a home. A recent report from LIV Consulting estimates that some 44,000 rental properties are due to come on the market over the next five years, with a further 54,000 having been proposed and working through the planning system. A further 9,272 purpose-built rental homes are currently under-construction, with another 34,371 having secured planning.

Such an increase in supply will have two major effects. The first is that value for money will increase. What you get for your euro in terms of quality will be substantially better. Secondly, we will likely see a reversal in rent prices. In other words, the ratio of rents to incomes should also come down.

Any supply helps at this stage because the housing market operates like a living organism – people look around and react to what they see. Even the building of posh penthouses will help at the margin. Consider the rich people who would like to live in a penthouse. If there are no penthouses, they rent the smaller apartments and homes that used to be owned or rented by middle-class people. Those people, elbowed out by the rich, then migrate to the homes that used to be reserved for poorer people and the poorer people end up in a precarious position, facing homelessness.

Therefore, even building houses for rich people, can help poor people, by taking richer people out of the middle market and thereby taking middle-income people out of the poorer market. A vacancy levy at the top would help too. Bringing all vacant homes into use is an easy thing to do with the right incentives.

Emergency demands urgency

Of course, it’s not good enough to wait for this type of shunting process to run its course. This emergency demands urgency. The State should build homes for poorer citizens, like we did for years with council houses. These homes will always be subsidised by general taxation, in the same way as our primary and secondary education is not asked to pay its way, or public hospitals or public transport. Public housing should operate the same way, financed out of general taxation.

Right now, some 50,000 proposals for homes are stuck in the planning system. We need them. If approved, the market would be less choked and give home-seekers some hope. The fact is that Ireland has one of the lowest shares of apartments in our housing stock compared with the rest of the EU, and our population structure is likely to converge towards European norms over the coming decades. Bizarrely, the suggestion that we build smaller one-bed and two-bed apartment units appears to be an affront to objectors.

The Social Democrats decried the development of 1,600 apartments in Drumcondra, which is 2km from the centre of the capital city, precisely where building should be taking place, as “deeply concerning”. The basis of the “concern” is that 70 per cent of the units will be one-beds or studios, but this type of accommodation is exactly what is missing from our existing stock.

Transparent Nimby arguments

The benefits of higher density living from an environmental and sustainability point of view are well established, yet the Green Party has adopted motions to curtail the development of build-to-rent properties. The Greens are not alone here, with members of almost all other parties also having come out with hilariously transparent Nimby (Not In My Back Yard) arguments against some proposed developments that have angered their constituents.

An Taisce, alongside local politicians from People Before Profit, has recently taken aim at a 276-unit student accommodation development in Dún Laoghaire right beside the IADT (Institute of Art, Design and Technology) on the basisthat it is of an “inappropriate height” and will prove a “flight hazard” for birds. The development in question is six storeys tall.

My own personal favourite Nimby quote comes from the Ranelagh Village Improvement Group, opposing a development on the basis that it would “create a ghetto of transients with no community life or identity”. You can always depend on Ranelagh.