Housing myths

CONOR SKEHAN sets out to dispel some of the myths around the housing crisis.

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie-deliberate – contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
John F. Kennedy, 19621

Myth: Irish people are doomed to make the same housing mistakes over and over again because they are obsessed with property ownership.
Fact: Irish home ownership peaked 25 years ago – at 80% – and has fallen every year since, despite the credit-fuelled excesses of the early 21st century. It now stands at around 70% and is still falling as it converges with EU norms.

Myth: “The rental sector, however, is where those at the margins live.”2
Fact: According to Census 2011 there were 770,375 persons living in the private rented sector. Around 20% of all homes are rented – not including the further 10% in rented social housing.

The ‘take away’ message from these facts is that Ireland’s national conversation about housing is riddled with unquestioned ‘facts’ that are not based in reality.
The Housing Agency is trying to confront the sector, and the public, with surprising new realities – such as our dramatically reducing household size [from 3.04 in 2002 to 2.77 in 2011] and our move away from home ownership [80% to 70% in 25 years], to take but two examples.

Falling household size
In the Dublin region the Agency advises that over the next four years, 57% of new households will be one or two persons, and a further 18% will be three-person households. Three-quarters of all households over the period to 2018 will be for three people or less.
Emerging facts reveal new and surprising realities that we need to supply. We will need new mixtures of tenancies; we will need to build to let; we will need a lot more homes for much smaller numbers of occupants; and, we will need to build to price – so that homes are affordable.
There is a very real danger that many developers, financiers and their advisers will ignore these surprising new realities and miss opportunities, while waiting for business as usual to return. It never will.

The way forward
Meanwhile, those building affordable homes in larger numbers, at higher densities, with complex tenure mixes with equity partners, on less expensive land, using more system building, will establish and maintain a lead.
Housing will continue to surprise. The Housing Agency estimates a national annual housing need ranging from 9,526 units in 2014 to 20,853 units in 2018. This total requirement of nearly 80,000 units may seem like a tall order until we remember that in 2006 the sector produced 88,200 in 12 months.
On the basis of this past form, the sector can and will produce very large quantities in very little time, once confidence and conditions stabilise. The housing crisis that dominates today’s headlines will become a memory much more quickly than many expect.


  1. John F. Kennedy. Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11, 1962.
  2. Ronan Lyons, Assistant Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin, and author of the Daft.ie Reports, writing in the Sunday Independent, April 14, 2016


Conor Skehan

Conor Skehan
Chairman of the Housing Agency