345,000 empty homes claim rejected

THE government has rejected claims that there are as many as 345,000 empty houses and apartments lying idle across the country.

Housing Minister Michael Finneran said his department was in negotiations with NAMA about making unused homes, which are due to come under the agency, available for social housing.

But he rejected a University College Dublin report which claims NAMA will in fact inhibit the recovery of the housing market.

The property report claims 345,000 homes, or one in six, are empty, with vacancy levels of up to 20% outside of Dublin. When holiday homes and derelict properties are then taken into account, it claims the country has an excess of 170,000 empty units.

The research argues that NAMA will slow down any improvement in the housing sector, by keeping property prices artificially high.

But Mr Finneran argued there were in fact in excess of just 120,000 housing units, when natural vacancy levels where taken into account.

The minister said he had met NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh about the use many of those properties for social housing.

But Mr Finneran blamed the swathes of empty housing estates and the property bubble on the banks.

“The financial institutions have a lot to answer for regarding the level of mortgages that were allowed and with 100% mortgages, I think it was wrong.

“Obviously some of these properties are going to come into NAMA ... I’m keen that we engage with NAMA, that we [get] the long-term leasing of those properties if they wish to do so – and they have indicated they will – that I will use them for social housing purposes where suitable.”

The minister was speaking as he announced €100 million in grants to improve or extend homes of the elderly and people with disabilities, with amounts of €30,000 available to fix up individual houses.

Builders also shot down the UCD report, saying developers were not to blame for the housing oversupply during the boom.

Construction Industry Federation housing director Hubert Fitzpatrick told RTÉ: “We acknowledged at the time that 80,000 to 90,000 houses on an annual basis was not sustainable.

“And we always articulated that building 50,000 houses at the growth rate at that time, that that was a more sustainable figure.

“Developers built to the demand that existed at the time.”

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