Loan scheme aims to bring vacant homes into use
Housing Minister warns 'carrot and stick' approach is needed and says 'changes are coming'
Property owners could be offered local authority loans to bring vacant homes back into use and help tackle the housing crisis.
It is understood the Government is considering implementing a local authority loan scheme to help encourage owners to sell or rent vacant properties after it emerged that up to 80,000 empty units may be located in urban areas where demand is highest.
A strategy to tackle vacant homes is expected to be published next month. Chairman of the Housing Agency Conor Skehan told its annual conference that if housing costs were left unaddressed, it would impact on the country's competitiveness.
"Housing and renting has to be affordable and we have to drive that agenda through," he said. "Affordability is the cornerstone of national competitiveness. Housing costs drive wage costs. If we get housing costs wrong, we lose economic competitiveness."
The latest figures from Census 2016 show that 180,000 units, excluding holiday homes, are vacant across the State. While Central Statistics Office data can pinpoint the general location of units, more work is needed to identify individual properties and their owners.
The vacancy rate here stands at 9pc, compared with 2.5pc in the UK.
"What we need is to identify the vacant homes, that's absolutely critical, and find out how long they're vacant, and look at why they're vacant," Housing Agency chief executive John O'Connor told the Irish Independent.
"We need to talk to the owners about bringing them back into use. Some need a level of financial assistance in terms of refurbishment to bring them back into use but sometimes it's help and telling people about their options."
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Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said he had reviewed the first draft of the vacant homes strategy and while it was "very good… it's not ambitious enough".
"I'll be using the current review of Rebuilding Ireland to see what new ideas we can bring to bear," he said.
"This needs a carrot and stick approach, but will more than likely require engagement with the Minister for Finance. If budgetary measures are needed, this may delay the publication of the strategy, but this won't delay the commencement of the work.
"There's a lot of information to be gathered in order to have a targeted, effective approach, and it needs to be gathered now, but existing property interests should note that changes are coming."
Separately, Mr Murphy said that any private developers in receipt of State funding to provide essential infrastructure on development sites would have to provide affordable units to buy and rent.
The Department of Housing told a Dáil committee earlier this week there was a "possibility" that affordable units might not be provided on sites which received funding from the €200m Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, but the minister said affordable homes would "have to be" delivered as part of the funding deal.
"I want to see affordable rent and affordable buy on these sites because it's very important. Where more public money is brought to bear, there should be more from the private side."
Mr Murphy also said he was considering new regulations to allow the use of bedsits, saying he was "positively disposed" to their use, "if we get the standards right".