September 30th, 2010
04:39 PM GMT
London, England – It’s like food. Some of us have too much. Some of us have too little. Now the housing market is showing the same gaping imbalances.
Take Ireland. At the root of the current banking crisis was a massive property bubble. Irish house price inflation and homebuilding trumped most of Europe in the decade to 2005. Incomes and population were going up, household size was going down. Demand for new homes was rampant. But not permanent.
We might, with some degree of irony, call this the financial version of the Greek tragedy. Inevitably (at least with hindsight) the bubble burst. Now Ireland has more than 100,000 more homes than it needs. Next stop, demolition.
But the problem is equally tragic in reverse. Cross the Irish Sea, or journey to Europe’s easternmost point and you’ll see why. Homebuilding in Britain fell to its lowest level in 87 years last year. The government admits there’s a huge gap between supply and demand, leading to overcrowding.
Over in Russia, Prime Minister Putin said this month that in order to make enough housing for everyone, the country needs to build "100,000 square meters a year." The budget for this is nearly $14 billion.
It’s a bleak comparison. For those counting the square meters in Moscow’s Khrushchev-era apartment blocks, life in Ireland’s ghost estates might look like heaven. But many of us who are a little luckier would struggle to decide which is worse.