The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is committed to ensuring there is maximum usage of the existing housing stock. In this context, Minister Eoghan Murphy, in August 2017, announced a number of key actions to quickly bring vacant homes back into use.
Vacant Homes Unit
As part of that announcement, the Minister established a Vacant Homes Unit (VHU) in the Department, with the aim of driving and co-ordinating actions at central and local government levels and supporting local authorities in their actions. The VHU has worked and continues to work with the Central Statistics Office, the local government sector and the Housing Agency to improve the range and usefulness of the data available around vacant homes. The key focus is to enable local authorities to quickly identify vacancy hotspots, particularly in areas where there is a high demand for homes, and which have vacant or under-utilised houses that are capable of being brought back into use.
A pilot survey is to be undertaken in a number of local authority areas to assess the accurate level of homes available for re-use, as well as developing a robust methodology to identify recoverable and liveable homes for roll-out across the country. The results of this survey will ensure that we target resources and schemes to bring those homes back into the liveable housing stock, through for example, our Repair & Lease or the schemes (further details on these schemes below).
National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy 2018-2021
Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, sets out a range of measures to assist in meeting Ireland’s housing needs by ensuring that Ireland’s existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible. An overarching action within that Pillar is a commitment to develop a National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy. This Strategy strives to provide a targeted, effective and co-ordinated approach to identifying and tackling vacancy across Ireland. The Strategy contains a range of objectives and key actions which will be pursued in partnership with stakeholders and agencies across the housing sector to address vacancy in our housing stock. The Strategy and the accompanying Executive Summary are set out below.
Vacant Homes Action Plans
Local authorities have also produced Vacant Homes Action Plans for their administrative areas, setting out goals and targets to show how they intend to deal with levels of vacancy. In addition, each local authority is identifying a designated Vacant Homes Officer (VHO) to be assigned as a central point of contact within their organisation and to liaise with central government and other stakeholders as appropriate.
Bringing Back Homes Manual for the reuse of existing buildings
Action 5.21 of the 2017 review of Rebuilding Ireland committed to supporting and facilitating the reuse of older vacant buildings for residential use. In this context, a working group consisting of Department and local authority representatives with expertise in building regulations, fire safety in buildings, planning, design and heritage, was formed to explore the regulatory procedures that apply for such development and to recommend ways of streamlining the process.
The group has now completed its work, which is reflected in the following documents:
- Report of the Working Group on the Reuse of Existing Buildings
- Bringing Back Homes Manual for the reuse of existing buildings
- Bringing Back Homes print version
The Bringing Back Homes - Manual for the Reuse of Existing Buildings supports and facilitates the reuse of older / vacant buildings in our towns and cities for residential use. In order to encourage reuse and increase the number of viable, liveable properties, the manual provides clarity to industry, local authorities, members of the public and property owners on the application of the current regulatory requirements to common existing building types and guidance on how best to facilitate their reuse.
Vacant Homes Officers in each local authority will serve as the first point of contact for queries from parties interested in developing vacant buildings for residential purposes.
Role of Vacant Homes Officers
Vacant Homes Officers are available in local authorities to provide information, advice and support for owners of vacant homes and also to deal with queries from members of the public in respect of private residential vacant properties in their administrative area. A list of Vacant Homes Officers and their contact details is available here - Vacant Homes Officer contacts.
Assistance, Grants and Incentives
Below is a non-exhaustive list of grant assistance and incentives which can assist owners of vacant homes:
Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS)
The Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) is targeted at owners of vacant properties who cannot afford or access the funding needed to bring their properties up to the required standard for rental property.
Subject to the suitability of the property for social housing, and the agreement of the property owner, the cost of the necessary repairs will be met upfront with a capital loan from the local authority or an approved housing body (AHB) up to a maximum of 40,000 euro (50,000 euro where the property is a former bedsit). This allows the property owner to sign-up to a lease arrangement for a length that is linked to the value of the repairs, subject to a minimum of 5 years. The value of the repairs will then be offset incrementally against the agreed rental payment over a defined period within the lease.
More information on the Repair and Lease scheme can be found here or by contacting your local authority Vacant Homes Officers.
Buy and Renew Scheme (BRS)
The Buy and Renew Scheme (BRS) supports local authorities in purchasing and renewing housing units in need of repair and makes them available for social housing use. It is a matter for each local authority to determine the suitability of a property for social housing; important considerations in that regard include the location of a property in relation to housing need and demand, the design/scale suitability of a property for social housing use and the costs and practicality of acquiring and remediating a property.
The Buy and Renew Scheme particularly focuses on older vacant homes to help tackle the problem of dereliction and improve the appearance of the community. As a complementary initiative to the Repair and Lease Scheme, it provides the option for suitable properties to be purchased rather than leased, if that is the preference of the owners of vacant properties.
Further information on the Buy & Renew Scheme is available from Vacant Homes Officers.
Better Energy Home Grants
Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) provides Better Energy Home grants to help homeowners and landlords reduce their energy costs and emissions. Grants are available for the following energy-saving and renewable solutions:
- Attic insulation
- Wall insulation - including cavity wall, internal dry lining and external insulation
- Heating controls upgrade
- Solar thermal solutions
- Heat pump systems (this grant is available from April 2018)
- A Building Energy Rating (BER) after the energy-saving work is carried out (you must get this BER to qualify for the grant)
The works being undertaken must be carried out by an SEAI approved contractor. Grants range from 300 euro for attic insulation, to 700 euro for upgrades to heating controls, to 6,000 euro for external wall insulation.
Full details on grants available, how to apply and what works qualify are available from the SEAI website at Better Energy Homes | Home Grants | SEAI
Long Term Leasing Initiative
The Long Term Leasing Initiative allows owners of vacant properties that are in good condition to lease their properties to local authorities. Leasing under this Scheme takes the uncertainty out of being a landlord for terms of up to 25 years. It is also provides a guaranteed rental income of up 80%/85% of the market rent each month (depending on the property type), with no vacancies. The Enhanced Long Term Leasing Scheme is also available for owners of 20 or more vacant properties, with rents set at up to 95% of the market rent, in exchange for additional property management services. Full details of the schemes are available from the relevant Vacant Homes Officer or the Housing Agency.
Housing Assistance Payment (HAP)
Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a form of social housing support provided to those who qualify for assistance and have long-term housing need. Under the scheme, payments are made on behalf of tenants directly to the landlord subject to maximum rent limits. Homeless HAP is similar to HAP but differs in that it provides discretion to exceed the HAP rent limits for homeless households. Further information on HAP.
Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS)
The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) is an initiative to cater for people who are in receipt of rent supplement and living in the private rented sector for 18 months or more. Local authorities enter into direct contracts with landlords for their properties for medium to long term periods.
Other more specific grants and schemes are available to owners of vacant properties, depending on the type of building e.g. heritage grants, thatching grants etc. Further details and options available to you can be identified and discussed with the relevant Vacant Homes Officer.
On foot of a commitment in Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s 2016 Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, new planning regulations are now in place which allow the change of use, and related works, of certain vacant commercial premises, including “over the shop” type spaces, into residential use without the need to obtain planning permission.
Further information may be obtained in Circular PL 01/2018: Amendments to the Exempted Development Provisions in the Planning and Development Regulations or from your local planning authority.
Local authorities will work with owners of vacant homes to assist in whatever way they can to bring vacant homes back to use. However, where they deem it appropriate and necessary to the common good, they can also use legislative powers available to them to compulsorily purchase properties under the Housing Acts via Compulsory Purchase Orders.
Further Information on Vacant Homes is available from designated Vacant Homes Officers - Vacant Homes Officer contacts - in each administrative area
The Vacant Homes Unit,
Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government,
Tel: 01 888 2597 / 01 888 2595