Tuesday 24 January 2017

'Repair and Lease' plan to pay owners €30,000 to put vacant homes in use

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

New scheme: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke
New scheme: Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke

Owners of vacant properties will be given up-front payments by the State in a scheme designed to bring thousands of homes back into use.

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As much as €30,000 will be provided to bring properties up to a standard allowing them to be rented to social housing tenants or families in need of State support, before long-term leases of up to five years are agreed.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said the Repair and Lease scheme would help alleviate short-term demand until delivery of new homes was ramped up.

He added that a pilot project was under way in Carlow and Waterford, and that both local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) could enter into arrangements with private landlords.

"It will be extended to AHBs, and they may be a more effective vehicle for delivery," he told the Irish Independent. "Local authorities might advertise in the paper seeking expressions of interest, but an AHB will go out and knock on doors and ask who owns property and see if they will accept three or five years' rent up front.

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"That hands-on approach is needed. There's thousands (of vacant units) in urban areas and we need a scheme that brings a portion of those properties back into the market.

"It's much quicker than building a house or going through planning permission. The reason why I think this is important is we need a solution for the next two years while the overall housing stock increases. We need solutions for people today."

Census 2016 says there are some 200,000 vacant properties across the country, and the Department of Housing will begin compiling a register of vacant units when the final census figures are released later this year.

The Repair and Lease scheme is designed to make vacant private properties in need of renovation capable of being rented for social housing or to those in receipt of housing assistance payments (HAP).

In many cases, families may have inherited a property after a parent passed away but were reluctant to sell. These families would be given a portion of the rent up front to make necessary upgrades. The amount was likely to be around €15,000, but could rise to €30,000 if required, the minister said. Once expressions of interest were received, local authorities or AHBs would negotiate rents.

Some €1m is being provided over the coming months, with €2m next year. Based on average rents being demanded this year, at €929 per house, the allocation could fund delivery of more than 2,100 units.

"I'd see this as a really good response to short-term housing need but we need to show that the model works," Mr Coveney added. "It's a much cheaper way of getting housing than building or buying."

The property owner will have no role in managing the property, which will be handled by the local authority or AHB, which will also ensure it is maintained.

AHBs including Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust and Simon Community will be given resources to fund the works, and it is expected that much of the demand will be in the cities. However, vacant units in any area of need can be utilised.

The scheme is in addition to the Housing Agency's €70m budget to spend on vacant properties. It is negotiating with banks in relation to 1,600 vacant units linked to bad loans. The homes will be sold to councils and AHBs, allowing the fund to be continuously recycled.

Irish Independent

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