Bold initiatives which may involve beefed-up powers for the new housing minister are being considered to free up the vast level of vacant housing stock and sites around the country.
Newly promoted Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government Eoghan Murphy is also considering introducing an affordable rent scheme for professionals in Dublin City, mirroring a system operating in London.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Murphy said every option was on the table to solve the housing crisis, including a “big stick” to force action on vacant sites and properties.
He admitted he was a little surprised to have been given the housing portfolio by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, but he had been advised by him that no idea was too radical or too big to discount.
One of his first priorities is to come up with a way to make the best use of the estimated 189,000 vacant housing units around the country.
He said he is still considering what measures he can bring in to address the crisis, but he is conscious that whatever budgetary changes he might bring in could have legal ramifications.
“I am going to come up against property rights, but we do have a new attorney general, so I have to talk to him, as well,” he said.
The Irish Examiner understands that property owners who have a second home or idle property may be offered enticements, such as grants or tax incentives, to modernise rooms or units. If these are ignored, penalties could be applied, under ideas being considered.
Mr Murphy said it is too early to provide any specifics about what measures he might introduce, but he promised radical action that may involve increased powers.
“They will be bold interventions, they will be something that hasn’t been tried before, so it might require new powers, but I think that’s what we need,” said Mr Murphy. “It’s going to be a carrot-and-stick approach and it is going to be a big stick.
“There are sites, there are houses, there are stranded assets that aren’t even being used for housing that need to be used.
“Housing is the challenge, the crisis of our time, and we are in it right now. We need to find what new powers we need to make sure we get the supply-side measures in place and we get these new vacant sites into play.”
Earlier this week, economic think-tank the ESRI said the number of new builds required per year to meet basic demand has gone up from 25,000 to between 30,000 and 35,000, whereas only around 13,000 are actually being constructed.
It suggested some homes built during the recession were only being connected to the ESB grid now, which means official completion figures may be much lower.
The new minister has also come under fire after admitting that a pledge by predecessor Simon Coveney to end the use of hotels for housing the homeless by July 1 would not be met.
Mr Murphy also said he is examining how to make affordable rents more of an option for professionals working in cities, along the lines of a system in London.
“I’m in discussions with other parts of government on an affordable rent, to bring on-stream as quickly as possible cost rental models that either a council would manage or someone else would manage on behalf of the council, to make sure people can rent at an affordable rate,” he said.
Councils could lease lands or build units and let them at market rates or with discounts, under plans being considered.
“So instead [in Dublin] of being fleeced at €2,000, that might be paid today for a two-bedroomed anywhere near the city centre, you [the professional tenant] could find a more affordable rent value at a lower rate that would still be profitable, either to the council or the private investor,” said Mr Murphy.
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