Rebuilding Ireland – Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, an initiative of the Government of Ireland
Eoghan Murphy TD, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, announced (14 August, 2017) a number of key actions already being taken by his Department and local authorities to quickly progress the delivery of vacant homes back into use as soon as possible. This is being done in advance of the Vacant Homes Strategy to be announced in September.
Among the key initiatives being taken are:
- A dedicated Empty Homes Unit is being established within his Department’s Housing Delivery Office to drive and coordinate actions at central and local government levels and to support local authorities in their actions.
- All local authority Chief Executives were requested earlier this month to designate vacant homes officers in each of their authorities to examine Census 2016 and other data on vacant homes in their areas and identify, through a Vacant Homes Action Plan, priority “vacant hot-spot” areas and properties that can be quickly brought back into use.
For the Dublin area and the other four main cities, the Minister has asked that these City Action Plans are produced by end-October, with the deadline for all other County Action Plans to be completed by the end of the year at the very latest.
- Activating a website (www.vacanthomes.ie) that has been developed by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector, as a central portal for individuals to anonymously log possible vacant properties and alert local authorities who can then follow up with the owners to see whether the house can be re-used quickly. The website will also provide some useful information for property owners as to what steps are currently needed, and how, to bring their house back into use.
- Ensuring that all local authorities maximise the quick turnaround of their vacant social housing stock between lettings, through more efficient ongoing maintenance and upgrading of their properties so as to minimise “down-time” and quicker identification of new tenants, through for example, the choice-based letting initiative.
- Prioritising the development and adoption of exempted development planning regulations that can allow the change of use of vacant commercial and over-the-shop premises to residential use without having to seek planning permission. It is intended to accelerate the drafting process so that the draft regulations can be submitted to the Oireachtas for approval in October.
- Building on the experiences under the Living City Initiative, early consideration with the relevant Government Departments on whether a broad set of linked initiatives could be developed to address the range of urban vacancy issues, such as unused commercial properties, under-utilised upper-floor accommodation over shops, as well as conversion/upgrading of vacant properties through a coordinated and streamlined planning, fire safety and building standards process.
- Exploring (through initial meetings with Deputy Michael Harty, and in line with the Programme for Government commitment) how we can progress an initiative on rural resettlement as a measure to facilitate wider re-use of existing housing stock, especially in lower-demand rural areas.
- Continued interaction and engagement between his Department and the Department of Health to explore how the terms and conditions of the “Fair Deal” Nursing Home Support Scheme could be adjusted to encourage and facilitate the use of vacant properties of those in nursing home care.
Minister Murphy had previously indicated to the Joint Oireachtas Housing Committee that the Vacant Homes Strategy could not be finalised and published until the targeted review of Rebuilding Ireland was complete in September – however, he committed to ensuring that delayed publication would not delay actions to get housing stock back into use.
“Increasing supply isn’t just about building new homes, it’s about managing the stock that we already have that’s not being used. There is more to come under the Strategy but this is the right start. We need action taken at local level, with national coordination from my Department. And the new website being coordinated by Mayo County Council is crucial because we need individual people in communities up and down the country to help us develop and implement a targeted approach as quickly as possible. So we’re asking for people’s help to make this work.”
“We’re building new houses and we’re going to build more, but with the pent-up demand in the system from years of little or no construction activity, we have to manage empty homes back into use.”
“Almost 80,000 vacant homes were identified in our cities and towns back in April 2016 when the Census took place. It’s critical that we get a proper handle on the current vacancy levels, in terms of what’s changed and come back into use in the last 16 months, where they are and who owns these vacant properties. Armed with this information, we can then prioritise and target those areas where demand is greatest and help to increase the choice and availability of new homes to buy or rent.”
“While the Housing Agency-led Working Group undertook some valuable analysis on the Census data, I am mobilising and resourcing the local authorities, who are best placed with local knowledge on the ground, to each draw up plans to identify the real scale of vacancy in their own areas and to engage with owners to bring these empty homes and properties back into use. My Department stands ready to offer assistance, advice and funding, where appropriate, to start this important work, which will ultimately feed into the Vacant Home Strategy later this Autumn.”