High-density housing can be high quality

Sir, – Mark FitzGerald quotes his father Garret, writing almost 40 years ago, and forecasting a severe housing shortage, that "part of the problem has been created by the attitude of planners towards housing densities" ("Housing is at a crisis point – it is time to park ideology and build", Opinion & Analysis, February 17th). How prophetic he was and part of the problem has been that over the past four decades policymakers have been reluctant to take a broader view of the economic cost of affordable housing.

What has often been ignored is the high external costs that low housing densities impose on society (such as congestion and carbon emissions from building).

Markets, left to themselves, fail to provide the type of affordable housing that has significant external benefits or public good. The solution is to subsidise the type of housing which would internalise such public good features (high density housing) and tax housing without such public good features (urban sprawl).

This should be done because affordability is not the only outcome. Quality of life in urban settlements and carbon mitigation also matter.


Society takes a longer term view than the individual which is why governments should subsidise good quality affordable housing and legislate for minimum quality standards.

Housing density levels and an efficient high quality public transport system should be at the heart of urban planning.

For this reason it is not helpful simply to compare housing densities across cities.

In addition, the capital gains captured by private developers often accrues because of the provision of public services such as roads, schools, and health facilities.

There is a strong case for meaningful levies on property value uplifts which could be used as an implicit housing subsidy and used in the provision of high quality, high-density housing and not the promotion of sprawl. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Economics,

Faculty of Built


and Engineering,


University Dublin.