Thursday 20 July 2017

Government should purchase vacant properties to help rental 'crisis' - TD Barry Cowen

Stock Image: GETTY
Stock Image: GETTY

Rebecca Lumley

The rental market is in "crisis" and the Government must intervene by buying vacant properties and leasing them out, Deputy Barry Cowen said today.

Rents soared by 13.4 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of this year and the Fianna Fail Housing Spokesman said that the Government should use their compulsory purchasing powers to tackle the issue.

Speaking on Today With Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One, Deputy Cowen said: "I say to (Housing Minister) Coveney and I say to Fine Gael now at this time, that they have at their disposal compulsory purchase powers which are there to address social need.

"I say to them, use them. Use them extensively and use them immediately.

"I think there should be a programme initiated by the minister and the department where local authorities should be instructed to start proceedings to compulsory purchase those properties, to bring them into use and I’m saying where it cannot be done it will crystalise in that process."

Mr Cowen said that such a scheme would provide a quick solution to the problem, as well as re-populating small communities.

He explained: "What I have in mind is the vacant units, the vacant, dilapidated buildings in many villages and towns and cities throughout this country that people are looking to see come into use.

"They want to see their towns and villages re-energised, revitalised and re-populated."

Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen Picture: Tom Burke
Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen Picture: Tom Burke

Read More: Country's average rent rises by €134 a month - and is now at an 'all-time high'

Deputy Cowen said that if managed efficiently, families could be living in Government purchased houses within a few months.

He claimed: "It will take a lot quicker than the five to six years we’ve been waiting for Fine Gael in Government to bring about these changes.

"It’ll take a matter of months if it’s done correctly, effectively and local authorities are adequately resourced to win those cases at the courts, or wherever they have to be fought."

Areas of the country with the highest rents were categorised as rent pressure zones last year under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. In these zones, rent can only rise by a maximum of 4pc annually. Areas covered by this legislation are the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway.

The Offaly TD said that while soaring rent is most prevalent in these areas, the problem must be addressed on a broader scale.

He said: "There are many rent pressure zones that might not have the 900 threshold that Dublin has, that Cork has, that cities have. "They are in as grave and difficult a situation as those areas, relative to where they are and that has to be identified and you have to have a regional focus as well.

"While it's at its gravest in Dublin and the capital cities, it’s in my constituency and many other constituencies also. There’s no TD in the country can deny that."

Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Mark Condren
Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Mark Condren

Read More: Charlie Weston: It's time to try out something radical to boost housing supply

Mr Cowen said it was the Government’s duty to show urgency in alleviating the current crisis and recommended that they make competitive finance available to the construction sector, as well as giving local authorities a more pro-active role in the provision of housing.

He said: "They haven’t brought these initiatives in relation to supply, in relation to development and charges, in relation to certification costs, in relation to a VAT holiday, in relation to new methods and vehicles for competitive finance to be made available to the wider construction sector, rather than the elite few who have the opportunity to charge those sort of rents and cripple people who are doing their best to survive.

"It’s Back to the Future stuff. It has to be addressed."

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