Sunday 21 January 2018

Report will recommend number of initiatives to revive properties, including turning heat on banks

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Tom Burke
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Owners of vacant properties will be offered new government loans to refurbish houses and get them back on to the private property market, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The new loan facility will be a key recommendation in Housing Minister Simon ­Coveney's soon-to-be-published Vacant Property Strategy Report.

The report will recommend the introduction of a "relatively modest loan fund", which would provide funding for investment in vacant or empty properties.

Once renovated, the properties could then be put on the private market for sale or rented to private tenants.

"In terms of encouraging return-to-use of existing vacant stock, the report will recommend the introduction of a specific support for owners to help them make the necessary investment in their property to allow for sale or rent," a Department of Housing source said.

"Similar approaches have been used in the UK previously and one of the findings has been that a small amount of money can go a long way in terms of leveraging," he added.

At present, it is unclear how much of a loan will be offered to property owners or the rate at which they will have to repay the funding.

The new fund would be in addition to schemes currently operated by local authorities, which see property owners given grants to repair properties that are then used for social housing.

Last week, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed there are more than 180,000 vacant properties in Ireland.

This is a 20pc drop on last year, but the Government is still eager to put as many vacant properties as possible back on to the market.

The vacant property report will propose a number of initiatives aimed at bringing housing stock back into use and encouraging owners to refurbish properties for sale and rent.

The strategy will also seek to identify the exact number of empty properties in Ireland and develop an understanding of the reasons for the large number of vacant properties around the country.

The report will recommend the establishment of a government task force specifically focused on returning empty properties to the housing market.

A 'vacant homes team' will collate national data from local authorities. The team will also be charged with putting pressure on banks and other financial institutions which have vacant properties on their books.

A government source said the unit would "light a fire" under banks with portfolios containing high numbers of empty houses.

"The national team would also be tasked with working with financial institutions and their representatives to actively go through their portfolios and identify potential for stock to be brought back into use," the source said.

The Housing Minister has specifically asked officials working on the vacant home strategy to consider how the Living City Initiative could be extended to assist in bringing empty properties back into use.

The scheme offers historical towns and cities tax breaks with the aim of bringing older buildings back into the market.

The Department of Housing's submission, as part of Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe's capital review, argued strongly for significant investment in urban renewal to operate in parallel with measures being brought forward in the vacant homes strategy.

According to the CSO's figures, Cavan has the most vacant homes, at 46.4pc, followed by Leitrim (45.6pc).

Of larger towns with populations above 10,000 or more, Letterkenny (14.9pc), Longford (14.6pc) and Ballina (14.3pc) ranked highest.

In addition to the 183,312 empty properties, there are also 62,148 holiday homes.

Sunday Independent

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