Launching a new housing scheme in north Dublin, Leo Varadkar said he expects a surplus in the number of apartments and houses being built within two years.
However, this was disputed by experts, who said the Taoiseach’s projections are “very ambitions” adding that as many as 40,000 units would have to be constructed in 2019 just keep up with demand.
Mr Varadkar’s comments came after the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) recently found house prices will rise by at least 20% in the next three years because of strong economic growth and only a modest increase in house building.
However, Mr Varadkar said the Government’s housing plans are working and construction would catch up with demand.
“We are in catch-up mode now,” said Mr Varadkar. “We anticipate next year between 20,000 and 25,000 new homes will be built that will bring us to steady-state and then 2019, we would expect to get ahead of that and actually start getting to the point where supply is exceeding demand.
“There is no point dressing it up in any way that isn’t true, we had a situation for seven years in Ireland where almost no homes were built, that goes for social housing as well as private housing because the Government was broke and couldn’t build or afford to build and also the banking system and the construction sector was bust.
“We are starting from a standstill position and are only ramping things up.”
Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons said 40,000 homes would have to be built to simply stand still.
He said the figure of 25,000 homes for next year given by Mr Varadkar is “quite ambitious” as it would mean a tripling of the number of houses constructed within three years, which the construction industry would struggle to keep up with.
“With that kind of growth rate I would be worried about capacity in the sector,” said Mr Lyons.
He also pointed to the fact that there are now less people living in each home and therefore more units must be built to keep up with demand, this is without taking population increases and net migration into account.
Mr Lyons added: “I would very much welcome the opportunity to eat my words in 2019.”
Kieran McQuinn, a research professor with the ERSI, said between 30,000 and 35,000 houses would have to be built each year to meet housing needs, adding this was a “conservative” estimate.
“We are unlikely to hit 35,000 by 2019, and even if we do, there is a pent-up demand,” he said. “It is likely to be 2020 or 2021 before we hit the targets and each year that we don’t hit the targets the surplus is carried on so you need even more houses.”
Mr McQuinn added that while the official figures to calculate new builds, which uses ESB connection data, last year stood at around 16,000, the real figure was closer to 7,000.