Saturday 3 December 2016

Census 2016: Reverse the bedsit ban and four other ways to fix the housing crisis

Published 14/07/2016 | 16:39

The new census has put the spotlight on the housing crisis.

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 With an exploding population, especially in Leinster, and a startling 259,562 vacant homes around the country, the Government’s efforts to match the two seem as far apart as ever. Here are five things that could be done right now to fix, at least in the short term, the problem:

1. Reverse the bedsit ban: No, they’re not ideal, or even desirable. Even the most flowery estate agent would struggle to call them ‘bijou’ living, but prior to 2013 they were home for thousands of single people – the biggest demographic on the housing list. New rules meant all accommodation has to be en-suite, turfing thousands of perfectly happy tenants out on the streets and leaving landlords with insurmountable bills to bring them up to scratch. Many stand desolate and derelict in city centre locations. 

2. Hurry up with the Land Levy: Developers sitting on idle land which could be used for building, were to be taxed under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015. However, it has been kicked to touch and now won’t come into force until 2018, for no clear reason. Then a land register has to be drawn up by councils, with landowners free to appeal (twice) the 3pc tax. Don’t hold your breath.

3. Sell Land: With over 60 hectares of unused State land in Dublin city centre alone, it seems almost criminal that it isn’t being used for accommodation. The Government could make it available (with a tax refund) for affordable shared student accommodation, which is at crisis level. Ziggurat did this most successfully on the old Montrose site, adjacent to UCD a few years ago. 

4. Redesign the starter home rebate scheme: Set up last November by the Dept. of Finance, the scheme incentivised builders to construct starter homes by repaying development contributions imposed by local authorities, as long as at least 50 homes costing less than €300,000 in Dublin (€250,000 in Cork) were built. So far, exactly zero developers have signed up.

5. Big is Better: Before exiting Government in the Labour meltdown, former Housing Minister Alan Kelly blazed a trail of … well, apathy, for his decision to reduce the minimum size of new build apartments from 55sqm to 45sqm and insist on dual-aspect windows. Well intentioned it may have been, but nobody wants to build, or pay, for them because they’d be like … well, bedsits (see Point 1).

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