Appearing at the committee on housing, planning, and local government Mr Coveney said a number of buildings are being looked at to see if they can be converted to accommodate rough sleepers over the winter period.
Mr Coveney outlined a new repair and leasing initiative to allow local authorities to provide up-front funding to property owners to bring vacant properties up to standard.
“The local authority can then lease the properties for social housing, the grant being offset against lease costs. Based on feedback from the sector, I am also proposing to allow approved housing bodies avail of the new scheme,” he said.
“Much of the problem of vacant units is not houses but commercial properties. To deal with these, we are going to look at planning legislation to see if we can make turning these units into residential use simpler and faster.”
Asked about rapid-build housing by Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, Mr Coveney admitted that these types of developments have not proven to be the “silver bullet” promised, but still defended the quality of the homes.
Mr Cowen said: “We were told they would be provided quickly, once commenced. They are taking six months. They are no different from conventional build.
“Regarding cost, time, and numbers, what improvements does the minister envisage or are provided for that will ensure they can have the desired effect originally intended, which has not proven to be the case to date?”
Ruth Coppinger also questioned the quality of rapid-build homes, such as the 22 which were built as part of a pilot scheme in Poppintree in Dublin.
Mr Coveney stressed that rapid-build units are of high quality and said that, in the future, these types of buildings will most likely be used in the private sector.
He admitted that mistakes had been made in the pilot development in Poppintree but that “they are a hell of a lot better than a hotel room or a B&B”.
“This is about getting houses built quickly for people, because there is the demand.
“We need to get away from labelling rapid build as some sort of inferior product — if it’s inferior we shouldn’t be using it.”
Mr Coveney committed to providing additional shelter accommodation for the winter period but he said that it is “not easy” to get good quality accommodation that can be altered and prepared for people.
“We are trying to add to the capacity but we are trying to learn from best practice as well,” he said.
“We are looking at a number of buildings that we hope will be suitable so that we can add the numbers we need. We are looking to get more sheltered accommodation.”