Broad welcome from support groups for Government's plan to solve housing

Housing support groups have broadly welcomed the Government’s housing plan, which has pledged to ramp up social housing supply, incentivise developers, and ease rental pressures.

Broad welcome from support groups for Government's plan to solve housing

Housing Minister Simon Coveney pledged to phase out the use of hotels for the homeless, to end the practice of council estates, and to facilitate the building of 25,000 units annually by 2019.

However, housing groups also warned that the actual delivery of the plan, which has headline targets, was crucial, indifferent of which party stays in power.

The Fine Gael government plan commits to spending €5.35bn on social housing over the next five years. This will facilitate the building and opening of 47,000 units, it says.

As expected, planning for large-scale developments will be fast tracked to An Bord Pleanála through fresh legislation in the autumn. A new €70m fund will also help buy and give thousands of vacant units from investors and banks to local authorities and housing bodies.

Mr Coveney said he hoped 25,000 units annually by 2019, 20,000 of which would be private, would be built. This is two years ahead of the Programme for Government target.

There will be a root-and-branch review of the rental sector in the autumn, which will examine affordable rates for tenants. New protections will also stop the purchase of rented properties resulting in tenants losing homes.

A first-time buyers’ grant, backdated to this week, will also be part of October’s budget. This will be in the form of a tax rebate. But the figure remains unclear, especially with Fianna Fáil pushing for a grant of €10,000 per couple. The minister said it could not be used to buy mansions.

Mr Coveney announced supports for the homeless, including in nutrition, education, and transport and an end to the use of hotels and B&Bs for emergency accommodation over the next year.

As expected, a €200m infrastructure fund will help local authorities build local infrastructure. Large developments could also get the green light after just 18 weeks, he said.

Employers group Ibec said the plans were a “game changer”. The construction industry federation said the plans were a “major challenge” and the industry would now have to reach a “massive level of output”. CIF chairman Tom Parlon said the €200m infrastructure fund was very helpful “to assist in shortening the time involved in bringing new residential developments online”.

Organisations in the social housing sector backed the plan. The Irish Council for Social Housing said “a continued high level of political leadership will be required” for it to work.

The Clúid Housing Association said delivery of the details were key and the strategy needed cross-party support, even if there was a general election soon.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Credit Union Development Association, also welcomed the plan and said: “We are ‘cheque ready’ — we have the money and we’re ready to push ahead with this immediately.”

The plan is the first real test for the minority government, since taking office. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would personally oversee the implementation of 80 key actions in the strategy.

Fianna Fáil wants a new agency to oversee the plan. But Mr Coveney said a unit in his department would take charge of delivering the strategy. “We need to make decisions a lot faster if we are going to respond to an emergency,” he said launching the plan at Government Buildings.

Not intervening in the housing sector would leave just 15,000 new units being made available annually by 2021, he said, as opposed to the target of 25,000.

The Government also expects to meet with Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, about building 5,000 new social housing units ‘off balance sheet’ through the NTMA under the plan.

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