John Prevc, partner at Make Architects, speaking at a ULI Ireland event in Dublin.

Dublin and other cities in Ireland should embrace density to help combat the country’s housing challenges, according to a panel at the ULI Ireland Conference, held in Dublin.

Marian Finnegan, chief economist at Cushman and Wakefield, said the country’s growing workforce is driving a huge need for accommodation that is not being met. Ireland should be building 38,000 housing units every year to keep up with demand, Finnegan said, but fewer than 15,000 units were built in 2016.

A lack of available rental units has led to skyrocketing rents: across Ireland, renters spend 41 percent of their income on rent. In Dublin, the figure has risen to 55 percent, and in Galway, Limerick, and Cork it is between 40 and 50 percent. This trend—coupled with a lack of social housing—has contributed to rising homelessness.

Owen Keegan, chief executive officer of the Dublin City Council, noted that the council’s 2016–2022 city development plan lays out a series of measures to remove constraints and facilitate new housing development. These include more land zoned for residential development, provisions for mixed-use zoning, promotion of the build-to-rent model, a slight increase in building height permitted in the city center and at rail hubs, reduced car parking requirements in areas with access to public transport, and an increase in the proportion of one-bedroom apartments allowed in the city.

However, Keegan argued that these measures do not go far enough, and challenged the council’s policy that Dublin is—and should remain—a low-rise city. According to Keegan, the city can make a far greater contribution to meeting the housing demand in Dublin by reviewing its current, restrictive stance on height and density, especially in the city center. Keegan conceded that the idea of higher densities is unpopular among residents, who fear that densification will lead to pressure on local services and reduce home values. Still, he maintained that these concerns must be balanced with the need to promote affordable housing and facilitate sustainability.

Increasing density also can bring vitality to Irish cities, said John Prevc, partner at Make Architects and vice chair of the Future Space Foundation.

“Developers have to build communities, not just houses,” he said.