The return of the commuter?

Whoever forms the new Government will have to take urgent steps to break the impasse due to a shortage of housing

 

It was the lure of cheaper property prices in counties far-distant from Dublin during the boom years that drove so many people to purchase houses in new estates mushrooming around towns throughout Leinster. These first-time buyers thought they were getting value for money, but what many of them failed to factor into the equation was that they would face long daily commutes to work in Dublin, mostly by car.

New motorways facilitated the city’s sprawl into Leinster while laissez faire planning virtually guaranteed approval for whatever developers wanted to build in faraway places, with no consideration for the unsustainable pattern of development we were unwittingly creating at the time.

As boom turned to bust and the property market crashed, we were left with hundreds of “ghost estates” because developers ran out of cash to finish them. The largest single category of housing under construction during the long recession was single houses in the countryside, because nearly everything else had dried up. Yet the Economic and Social Research Institute warned, in August 2014, that there would be “significant housing shortages in the Greater Dublin Area if the rate of housing completions does not increase rapidly”.

More than 18 months later, we are in the midst of a major housing crisis, with hundreds of families living in emergency accommodation – usually hotel rooms – and thousands more on local authority waiting lists for social housing.

The housing shortage is particularly acute in Dublin, where an average of only 2,500 new homes per annum have been built in recent years – six times less than the number needed to cater for demand.

Inevitably, this has exerted upward pressure on property prices in the capital, which have risen by 30 per cent since 2013, compared to less than 10 per cent elsewhere, according to the latest ESRI report.

As a result, said lead author Dr Edgar Morgenroth, “purchasing patterns similar to those seen during the boom years may re-emerge if affordable housing is more readily available outside Dublin and the other areas of high demand, resulting in unsustainable long-distance commutes for house buyers.”

Stricter Central Bank lending rules may be contributing to this depressing trend, he believes. Other factors include high construction costs in Dublin, planning regulations that add to these costs, lack of suitable development land and an inability to raise funding for larger projects.

But the fact that so few apartment buildings are currently under construction in Dublin suggests that developers are also hedging their bets in the expectation that property prices will increase further, thereby making it more profitable to build. Whoever forms the new Government will have to take urgent steps to break this logjam by speeding up the imposition of a vacant land tax to discourage hoarding of sites suitable for development.

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