Government to announce build and buy initiatives to tackle housing crisis

The Government will today announce initiatives to build and buy thousands of houses and units in a short space of time to tackle homelessness and social housing waiting lists.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney will unveil the Government’s long-term housing strategy which intends to address the housing crisis, homelessness, and rising rents.

Rapid-build housing using modern technology will deliver 1,500 units by the end of 2018, as part of the strategy. These units will go towards homelessness and have a shelf-life of 50 to 60 years.

The rapid builds will be actual houses and not modular units.

Social housing waiting lists will also be tackled through a €70m fund given to the Housing Agency to buy mainly vacant units from banks or investment firms. These units will then be sold on to local authorities and housing bodies, such as Cluid and Threshold. The money that comes back will be recycled, say officials, and go back into the general fund to continue buying up units for social housing. It is anticipated that up 1,600 units could be delivered by 2020.

The two initiatives will be announced today by Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Enda Kenny as they unveil the Government’s much-anticipated housing strategy.

The strategy will also outline:

  • A help-to-buy grant for first time buyers, which will involve tax repayments to purchasers;
  • Plans to protect tenants when their accommodation is sold to other companies;
  • Initiatives to help meet Mr Coveney’s target of delivering 25,000 housing units a year;
  • A special infrastructure fund to help build roads and bridges to facilitate developments;
  • A review of the rental sector later this year on how to protect tenants and address high rates.
  • The possibility of fast-tracking planning for large scale developments;
  • Free public transport for parents and children living in emergency accommodation.

The Programme for Government pledges to build 25,000 housing units a year by 2020. But Mr Coveney has said the amount will need to be higher, possibly up to 35,000, to make up for the deficit over the last decade.

He has said that building close to 25,000 a year in two years’ time is possible.

Currently, there is planning permission for 27,000 houses but there is enough zoned land around Dublin for 88,000 units. Nonetheless, only 4,400 units are in construction. The cost of building is the reason for the huge differences.

Other initiatives expected to be announced today to include incentives for developers to build more units and quicker.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner earlier this year, Mr Coveney said: “I need to find ways of facilitating the building of significantly more houses than are being planned or delivered as soon as possible.”

The minister also outlined emergency measures, including the buying up of unused state agency land banks to help build thousands of units. It is unclear if this will be included in the strategy.

It is expected that the first-time buyers grant will be considered as part of October’s budget. There were warnings yesterday, though, that any top-ups given to buyers must not indirectly result in house and apartment prices rising further.

The Government, though, are especially keen to utilise vacant units for social housing. Last week’s census figures showed there are almost 200,000 vacant homes across the State. This represents almost 10% cent of the total housing stock.

Meanwhile, Labour has called for rents to be linked to the consumer price index and for a levy penalising developers hoarding land to be brought in quicker.

Launching its own housing plan yesterday, the party proposed broadening the remit of Nama into a housing agency.

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