Government’s seven plans to tackle vacant housing are delayed again

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Gabija Gataveckaite

All plans to tackle vacant housing have been delayed, according to the Government’s own housing progress report.

In the latest Housing for All update, the seven plans to tackle vacancy and use existing housing stock have been delayed until spring or summer.

These include Croí Cónaithe, the €500m fund to coax developers into building, which is set to launch next week.

“I think it is a scourge and a blight on our towns and villages. It’s bad not to use those properties,” Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said.

“The Crói Cónaithe piece is pretty significant, to be fair, and we’ve been very open with this. We detailed in the housing plan 218 different actions.

“Everything is in progress, over two thirds of what we said we would do is completed.”

Mr O’Brien admitted he is “rightly” under pressure from Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to meet housing targets.

The Government believes supply shortages arising from 20,000 landlords leaving the rental market since 2016 will be filled by other sources.

In a briefing to journalists, Department of Housing officials said there were 320,000 landlords in 2016, and recent figures show there are currently just over 298,000.

The Government committed to building 24,600 homes this year, including 9,000 social, 4,100 affordable purchase and cost rental as well as 11,500 private rental and private ownership homes.

Nearly 40,000 planning permissions were granted in the 12 months up to the end of last September, along with more than 30,000 commencements as part of the multi-billion Housing for All plan.

However, despite the rising number of landlords leaving the market, the Government has no plans to encourage small landlords to stay in the rental sector.

Government officials from the Department of Housing said landlords leave the market “for a variety of reasons” and that “new sources of supply” will instead fill the gap.

Officials said planning permission for 12,000 build-to-rent homes was granted in the past three years and these will “come on stream in coming years”.

The Government hopes cost rental will provide 2,000 homes per year up to 2030, or 18,000 units in total, and of 7,800 homes in the Fair Deal scheme, some will come on to the market.

“The rental landscape is changing but the constitutional property right is that if somebody chooses to sell the property, we can’t restrict them from doing that and I don’t think we’d want to,” one department official said.

“The landscape is changing, different players are coming in and moving out, but we’re satisfied and think that there is a sufficient volume in the areas set out here that will fill the gap which has come about.”

The Taoiseach said pandemic delays, as well as “inflationary pressures and supply chain issues”, have contributed to construction delays.

He also said the “cost of housing will continue to be a challenge in the short term”.

Despite only 65 cost rental homes being delivered last year, the Government has vowed that 1,580 homes will be delivered this year.

There are also “very advanced” plans under way to bring in foreign construction workers.

However, Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan said “target after target” had been missed.

“Crucially, every target in relation to vacancy and dereliction has been missed,” he said.

“More than 90,000 properties are vacant, and the minister is still sitting on his hands.”

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