DUBLIN (Reuters) - The number of new homes built in Ireland last year fell by 1.9% to just under 20,700, well behind the level needed to meet demand but avoiding the collapse the government feared during the COVID-19 lockdown of the economy.
Building sites were closed in Ireland from late March to the middle of May, when they reopened initially at limited capacity. Ireland's housing minister estimated in June that completions looked set to fall by 33% to fewer than 14,000.
However 7,400 homes were built in the final quarter of 2020 alone, data from the Central Statistic Office showed on Thursday, a year-on-year jump of 16%.
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A years-long scarcity of supply following the bursting of a property bubble a decade ago led to a rapid rise in house prices and particularly rents. Analysts predict the cost of buying a home will pick up again this year following the disruption.
Most building sites were shut down again at the beginning of January after a surge of COVID-19 cases and will reopen at the earliest on March 5.
Ireland's Central Bank estimated recently that 21,500 homes will be built this year and 23,500 next year, meaning that around 23,000 fewer homes are likely to be built from 2020 to 2022 than it had forecast before the pandemic.
Analysts say around 30,000 to 35,000 homes are needed a year to meet demand.
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(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)