The case for recommencing private home building is overwhelming, the successful return of education providing the government with a model for a return to relevant construction on April 5.
“A return is the right thing because the workplace is proven to be safe, because there is an urgent societal need for new homes, and because continued closure would create serious risks of skills shortage, house price inflation, company failures and job losses. Just as Government phased the re-opening of schools to demonstrate it could be done safely, a similar approach to construction generally could be followed with home building re-opening on 5th April,” James Benson, Director IHBA, stated.
The evidence that home building is safe comes directly from the HSE. Throughout 2021, around 40 percent of the construction workforce has been allowed to operate - those working on FDI and social housing projects. In that time the peak number of Covid cases has been 42. Compare that to the food sector which also provides a vital service and has seen a peak of 776 cases in early February.
“Allowing private home building to resume would only add an additional 14,000 workers. These workers are spread across hundreds of developments, through-out 26 counties the length and breadth of the country. Private home building is the safest sector within construction, involving natural phasing of works, low site numbers and 60 percent of work outdoors,” James said.
With every week of closure, 800 partially built homes lie idle - that is 800 families living with parents or living in rented accommodation they may have outgrown. 800 people with mortgage approval waiting to fulfil their dream of moving into their new home but have their lives disrupted when an immediate return to work could be permitted.
“The sustained closure of home building also creates a growing risk of longer-term damage to the housing market. Members of the IHBA are increasingly reporting a flight of skills as tradespeople who have been idle in Ireland for three months look to open sites across Europe. Skilled workers vote with their feet -they will go home or to other countries and not come back,” James added.
Implementing unnecessary constraints on new home building will also contribute to the under supply of home building negatively impacting middle income earners. Just 6,000 homes this year could be available to private purchasers. As the country tries to move out of the pandemic, we do not need to worsen our housing crisis.
“The job Government has to weigh up all the factors. Reopening education showed how the Government found a balance between addressing the societal harm of closed schools with the need to curb the spread of the virus. The same thinking can now be applied to construction. Phasing back home building will allow the Government and the health authorities to monitor closely and gradually all construction work to resume,” James concluded.