Ex-Housing Agency boss says affordable housing should not come 'fully completed'

Ex-Housing Agency boss says affordable housing should not come 'fully completed'

The former head of the Housing Agency is warning the Government to remain financially prudent and not to “give in” to the building sector.

Conor Skehan, who is a lecturer in Planning, said that as a country Ireland needs to change what is acceptable as “affordable” housing.

He pointed out that in other countries “starter” homes are just that – they come without built-in kitchens or tiled bathrooms.

"It is unrealistic to expect a fully completed house at a realistic price," he told Newstalk Breakfast.

People are starting to see a glimmer of hope, that there will be a “softening” of prices, but Mr Skehan warned that there could be a second housing crisis if the housing industry is not tackled.

He urged the Government not to halt the prudence of the Central Bank.

Cheaper and more affordable housing is possible, he said. "It is a challenge that will have to be faced."

He said it had been done successfully in other countries with greater use of “factory-finished” houses.

He also pointed out that it is important to “crush the expectations” of high profits in the building industry. "In the retail sector profits in single digits are acceptable, while in the building sector profits of up to 30% are expected," he said.

The idea of “mad profit margins” needs to be crushed, he added.

Sites play a huge part in the escalation of costs.

The Government should “stick with being prudent” and should not give in to the building sector.

Mr Skehan also warned of the growing divide between urban and rural politics, saying that urbanisation is happening all over Ireland.

He said: "The focus should be on the areas where there is the most need and that is in urban areas."

When asked about the impact of smaller special interest groups in politics, he said “squeaky wheels always make the most noise” and he acknowledged that it was sometimes necessary to “cobble together deals”.

He said that the system needs everybody to “buy into the idea” of properly structured and funded services.

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