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Poor population forecasts making housing crisis worse, academic warns

Pessimistic forecasts as to the future population of the State is adding considerably to the housing crisis, a conference has been told.

Trinity College Dublin associate professor in economics Ronan Lyons told the Engineers Ireland national conference in UCD that original housing projections accounted for a net migration figure of 220,000 in this decade.

That figure had already been surpassed in the first three years of the decade, he explained.

The actual rises in population has been higher than even the most optimistic projects and this will lead to greater demand as those arriving into the country have families of their own.


The projections for net migration between April 2022 and April 2023 was 15,000; the actual figure was closer to 90,000 he said, albeit one that has been bolstered by the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war in their country.

“Our current projections should be better at understanding that there is population growth happening and they are not,” he said.

“In every single census since the 1990s we have been too pessimistic with our high population projections. It’s not about optimistic or pessimistic. If you don’t get it right in terms of the ranges, you store up a whole lot of other problems.”

The number of homes in the State which need to be built will have to double between now and the middle of the century to keep up with demand, he warned.

The current target of 33,000 homes a year needs to be increased to 55,000-75,000 every year by 2050. This is based on a population of 6.75 million-7 million for the State by that year.

Prof Lyons said the number of homes that had been built had been consistently behind the needs of Irish society since the crash of the late 2000s. House building since 2015 had been “going in the right trend but at the wrong level”, he said. “We are still only building half of what we have to be. For the scale of supply, we are not at the races.”

The number of homes being built at present was only “small change” compared with what Ireland had built in past decades.

In 2022 the number of houses being built was lower for the number of households than in 1989 which was at the bottom of the slump for building housing in that decade. Coupled with that, houses in the State have been built in rural areas instead of urban areas where they are most needed.

In the 1970s housing in Dublin was no more expensive than it was elsewhere in Ireland, but that changed from the 1980s on.

“Year after year the city [Dublin] did not add enough housing,” he said. “As a consequence, housing in Dublin is now 50 per cent more expensive than it is in the rest of the country.”

By 2015 housing in Dublin was twice as expensive as it was in the rest of the country. “It has improved a little bit in the years since, but we, in the 1990s and early 2000s, were building houses in the wrong locations. Crudely we were building houses in rural Ireland when we should have been building apartments in other areas.”

The State now has about 300,000 missing homes that should have been built, but weren’t built, he estimated. Consequently young Irish people used to leave home around the age of 23 or 24; it is now between 29 and 30.

“That has increased sharply in a very short period of time,” he said.