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Minister Murphy's Seanad response to Senator Michelle Mulherin – Bringing long term vacant homes back into the liveable housing stock

Published on Wednesday, 26 Jun 2019
Minister Eoghan Murphy

Seanad – Commencement Matter

Wednesday 26th June 2019

Senator Michelle Mulherin

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to mandate Mayo County Council to step up its efforts to bring vacant homes in the County back into liveable housing stock and to set out the Council's progress to date in implementing various government schemes towards this objective.

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Check against delivery

I thank Senator Mulherin for raising this important issue and for giving me an opportunity to set out the extensive range of measures this Government has introduced to allow for the reactivation of long term vacant residential dwellings back into the liveable housing stock.

An overarching action within Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland is a commitment to develop a National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy, which I published in July 2018. The Strategy strives to provide a targeted, effective and co-ordinated approach to identifying and tackling vacancy across Ireland.

My Department and local authorities have already been proactive in dealing with vacant properties with all local authorities having prepared Vacant Homes Action Plans. In addition, there are a number of schemes available to incentivise reactivating appropriate dwellings into the liveable housing stock.

We are continually examining new ways of reducing the number of vacant residential dwellings. For example, when the initial national rollout of the innovative Repair and Lease Scheme did not yield the results hoped for, we examined it and made improvements to its terms to make it more desirable to those who wish to bring their vacant property back into use.

Correspondingly, the innovative Buy and Renew Scheme also has strong potential to purchase and reuse empty dwellings where properties are available that are suitable for social housing use and therefore is a valuable companion to the Repair and Leasing Scheme.

Mayo County Council is committed to utilising the aforementioned schemes. Of the 80 Repair and Lease applications received, the Council is currently engaging with the owners of 42 properties, and 12 agreements to lease having been signed. 3 units have been completed under Buy and Renew and the Council is assessing a further 10 units. Similarly, 9 units have been compulsorily purchased by Mayo County Council in 2019 for housing, 3 of which are being considered for progression under Buy & Renew.

Mayo County Council is one of the local authorities that participated in a vacancy pilot field survey to assess the level of long-term vacant residential dwellings.  Having visually inspected some 1,065 properties in their administrative area, some 61 dwellings were identified as being vacant over the six month period of the survey. This equates to a vacancy rate of 5.2%, which is in line with what could be expected to allow “churn” in a normal housing market. The Council will aim to engage with the owners of the 61 properties with a view to getting them reactivated into the housing stock.

The Council has also developed the website vacanthomes.ie, on behalf of the local government sector to serve as a central portal for individuals to anonymously log possible vacant homes so that local authorities can follow up with the registered owners. The website has proved a useful tool in aiding local authorities identify potentially vacant homes with the latest statistics indicate that nearly 3,000 properties have been registered on vacanthomes.ie to date.

Aside from the reactivation of privately owned vacant dwellings, the Department supports the comprehensive maintenance and remediation of local authority own vacant housing stock by way of the Voids Programme. Since the outset of the Programme in 2014, and in addition to its own resources, Mayo County Council has been provided with funding of €1.456 million to bring some 320 vacant homes back to productive use. Currently, 2.7% (or 57 units) of Mayo County Council’s housing stock is vacant, with 13 of these currently having a tenancy offered and a further 8 due to have offers made in the coming weeks.

Following a call for proposals for 2019, Mayo County Council submitted some 32 properties for inclusion in the Voids Programme seeking funding of some €225,000.  Allocations for the Voids Programme are due to issue shortly.

Both centrally and at local level, we are committed to optimising the existing housing stock and, in that context, we will continue to review all initiatives with a view to offering the best supports to those who wish to bring vacant homes back into use. 

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