Vacant housing stock could play vital role in solving housing crisis

Housing

Restoring vacant homes and buildings to residential use through new and existing policy measures could play a vital role in solving Ireland’s housing crisis, Fine Gael’s Housing Committee team has said.

Deputy Emer Higgins and Senator John Cummins say reform of existing Government policy and greater action by local authorities could see more vacant homes delivered for social and private use.

In a Discussion Paper on Vacant Housing and Renewal, published today, Fine Gael has put forward 26 proposals for consideration which build on the policies planned in Housing for All and Town Centre First.

The proposals could enhance by over 10,000 the number of vacant homes becoming available for early use, according to Deputy Emer Higgins and Senator John Cummins, Fine Gael’s housing spokespersons in the Dáil and Seanad.

Among the innovations put forward by the Fine Gael Housing Group within the Parliamentary Party are:

  • Set targets for three existing local authority schemes (Repair and Lease Scheme, Buy and Renew Scheme, Housing Acquisition Fund).
  • Extend the Living City Initiative to targeted new areas for rejuvenation.
  • Introduce a carefully designed levy on property which is unnecessarily remaining vacant or derelict.
  • Reform and modernise the Derelict Sites Act to make it a more effective tool.
  • Mainstream best practice within our local authorities in utilising schemes, using CPO powers appropriately, and targeting dereliction.
  • Fund a major expansion in the Town Health Check which to date has only been undertaken in 15 towns and has a massive waiting list.
  • Extend supports for first time buyers to substantially refurbish vacant dwellings as well as to build new homes.
  • Make it easier to achieve a change of planning use where it tackles dereliction.
  • Require banks who are vacating iconic town centre buildings to engage with local authorities to form hubs for renewal.
  • Provide a top-up to all existing grants, where they are used by a community as part of an integrated plan of renewal for their locality.

Deputy Higgins said, “Supply is undoubtedly the biggest challenge to tackling the housing crisis, and tapping into our vacant home potential offers a huge opportunity to bolster the housing stock already promised under Housing For All.

“Different estimates indicate there are between 42,000 to 92,000 vacant properties which should be the immediate focus of public policy on vacancy and renewal. The two main data sources on vacant homes are the CSO and GeoDirectory. However, there is a pressing need for a more concrete source to reflect the true scale and potential of available homes.

“Existing legislation like the Derelict Sites Act should be modernised to make it easier and less cumbersome for councils to use. A further option for Government is to put a tax on unnecessarily vacant houses to encourage their use, which is explored further in our Discussion Paper.”

Senator Cummins continued, “Housing for All commits to introducing a new programme for the compulsory purchase order (CPO) of vacant properties to be resold on the open market. Louth County Council is a leader in the country for taking over vacant homes for social housing, initiating 93 CPOs on 93 homes.

“The Repair and Lease Scheme, introduced by Fine Gael in 2017, has also played a critical role in bringing vacant properties in need of repair back into use for social housing. Waterford City and County Council has been leading the way on this, delivering nearly 50% of all units nationally.

“The three key local authority schemes released just 1,800 homes in the past four year. This represents just 3% of the of vacant homes (using the midpoint of our estimates). However, some local authorities have used these opportunities far more effectively than others. If all councils could match Waterford’s use of these schemes, that figure would be over 9,000.

“We also believe that a more effective use of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, Urban & Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, and also a reform of the Fair Deal Scheme could help ramp up supply. Town Centre First should also be adopted as a national principle so the economic and social vibrancy of town centres informs the approach of every public body.”

A detailed engagement on these ideas will commence early in the New Year on a regional basis with local stakeholders.

The Fine Gael team said there is immense knowledge in our local authorities, our communities, our town and village associations, our local chambers of commerce and other stakeholder groups which will be tapped into to ensure we can deliver on this huge opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation.

Sarah Brooks

Sarah Brooks

Sarah has worked in marketing and content creation for many years. In her role at Newsgroup, she is the online editor of www.newsgroup.ie with a particular interest in local news and events. Sarah also works closely with our editorial team on our printed editions in Tallaght, Lucan, Clondalkin and Rathcoole/Saggart. If you have a story and would like to make contact please email Sarah at info@newsgroup.ie.

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