Saturday 24 February 2018

Coveney wants modular homes for students

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Picture: Conor McCabe
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Picture: Conor McCabe

Cormac McQuinn and Barry Lennon

Modular housing for students and purpose-built communities for the elderly could free up more accommodation for families, Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said.

With a deadline at the end of July for delivering an action plan to tackle the housing crisis, Mr Coveney wants proposals that will give an "injection of adrenaline" into the system.

An "emergency response" targeted at Dublin and Cork - where the crisis is at its worst - will be the focus of the plan's first six months, he told the Housing Agency's annual conference. Mr Coveney said he "won't be afraid to be radical if that is what is necessary".

Proposals for student and elderly accommodation were areas the Government "need to be more ambitious on".

Mr Coveney said a lack of on-campus accommodation meant that large numbers of properties were taken up by students and he suggested that this could be freed up as rental accommodation for families.

"You can apply fast-build and modular solutions to student accommodation, perhaps in a way that you can't as easily apply when you're building family homes," Mr Coveney said.

In relation to the elderly, the minister told the conference there are "a lot of large family homes that are occupied maybe by a single person now, who may be persuaded to move to a high-quality, purpose-designed accommodation in a secure location as part of a community".

"They are the kinds of projects that I would like to see local authorities bringing forward now as part of their emergency response plans."

In other proposed measures, the minister referred to an estimated 230,000 vacant properties nationwide, saying he would work to find a way to access them that "respects property rights" but which also recognises the opportunity to "source large numbers of houses in the short term".

Mr Coveney noted that the Government had approved a new SDZ (special development zone) for the Irish Glass Bottle site at Poolbeg, Dublin.

"I expect we will be doing more of that in terms of strategic development zoning," he said. This would only work if Dublin City Council is given "the tools and the approval process to actually turn what is a hugely exciting opportunity into actual build."

Mr Coveney told the conference he hoped to "take people by surprise at the pace that we can deliver that".

While the focus of the action plan will be on urban areas, the Government wants to build "sustainable rural communities again in clusters, rather than in single one-off housing units".

Summing up, Mr Coveney said: "If we can build faster, safely and sustainably, we'll do it. If we can streamline processes around decision-making and approval, we'll do it."

Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan urged the minister to ensure the action plan "avoids the pitfall of having a plan that only addresses new building".

Such proposals, he said, would need to address the management of existing vacant stock as well as the problem of mortgage arrears "to keep people in their homes".

His organisation believes that "affordability is the real challenge facing housing in Ireland". He said a third of people needed State support in order to afford to buy or rent a home.

Meanwhile, Threshold chief Bob Jordan told the Dáil's Housing and Homelessness Committee that the amount of rent supplement tenants are paid should "not be the business" of landlords. He said the rates "should not be put up online as a target", saying this practice helped hike rents.

Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd called for an emergency law to stop tenants being evicted if their landlord is selling up.

Irish Independent

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