Thursday, 19 January 2017
6. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the additional action he will take to significantly increase the supply of housing being made available through the repair and leasing scheme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2023/17]
I will try to introduce my question briefly.
The housing strategy, Rebuilding Ireland, recognises the issue of vacant properties. Action 5.1 of the strategy commits to developing a national vacant-house strategy. Action 5.7 refers specifically to the repair and leasing initiative. In October 2016 the Minister initiated that process with a pilot scheme in Wicklow and Waterford. Budget 2017 allocated €6 million for 150 units. I ask the Minister to advance that at a more rapid rate over the coming years.
I can give a straight answer to that question. The Deputy will shortly see quite a big initiative from me to increase the emphasis on repair and leasing. We will try to move budgets around to try to ensure we use this scheme as a way to get many vacant properties back into use much faster.
We had to ensure the scheme worked and was legally sound which is why we have essentially had pilot projects in Carlow and Waterford, which have been successful. We want to introduce the repair and leasing scheme to Dublin and other parts of the country quite quickly. We want to dramatically increase the level of ambition in terms of the numbers of properties we want to bring in through it. Essentially this means we will be able to offer property owners the cost of repairing properties to make them fit for the rental market for social housing. We will essentially cover the cost of that upfront and recoup that cost from a rent over a five- or ten-year period.
Many people will not put private property into social housing because they do not have the money to spend €10,000, €15,000 or €20,000 doing the place up. We are solving that problem. Not only are we solving it but we are also saying to the landlord or property owner that they do not even have to worry about the repairs as we will manage them, we will also manage the tenant, and we will give back the property in five or ten years' time more valuable than it is now. In the meantime they should allow us to use it for social housing. I think we can get many hundreds if not thousands of properties back into use using this scheme. It has proven its worth in Waterford.
I want to rely on approved housing bodies as well as local authorities to drive the scheme. I believe that approved housing bodies, such as Focus Ireland and others, will be willing to knock on doors and ask people if they would be willing to make their property available under certain conditions.
I thank the Minister for the reply. When he launched his strategy, I was in no way critical of it, but I said that implementation would be critical. Previous replies I have received from the Minister on this have indicated there would only be €6 million and so I welcome his commitment here today to increase the scheme.
The strategy clearly recognises that these properties can be brought back more quickly than a new build. That is one of the key reasons behind it. This scheme has greater potential in 2017 and 2018 as other issues relating to planning and development of new builds begin to come back to the market. I want to see this frontloaded and driven as quickly as possible.
Specifically the Minister said he would introduce a scheme; we want to see the detail of that with - he is noted for this - specific targets for the coming two years.
In reply to me previously, the Minister indicated that he saw the scheme having the capacity to deliver 3,500 units between now and 2021. My real focus is determining what can be delivered in 2017 and 2018. These are the key years because, even with the best will in the world on the part of the local authorities in terms of building local authority houses and so forth, construction will not meet the demand at present. We must prioritise this in order to bring additional properties back into use quickly.
No, not at all. I mean that because that is exactly what we are trying to do. Everybody wants more social housing in the system and nobody wants it more than me but we simply cannot build houses overnight. Even rapid-build housing takes time. If we can get vacant properties that are idle at the moment, making no contribution to anybody, back into the system and put long-term leases in place to provide extra social housing in Dublin and other parts of Ireland, that would make a lot of sense. It is also a way of repopulating villages and towns in rural Ireland. It is working in Waterford so there is no reason for not expanding it significantly. Initially, we made €6 million available for 2017 which would cover around 150 properties. We are now looking to ramp that up very significantly and will announce the targets and the spend for 2017 in the next ten days or so. We want to get a faster turnaround to increase the number of social houses more quickly by getting vacant properties that are doing nothing at the moment back into the system.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Acknowledging that there is somewhere in the region of 200,000 vacant properties nationally and upwards of 40,000 in the greater Dublin area, I believe the Minister is right. This scheme has potential at the front end. I look forward to the publication in the next week or two of the details of the additional budget and the targets. I urge the Minister to be as ambitious as possible. Not hitting the target is not the end of the world but there is no place for under-ambition in the context of the crisis we are facing. I appreciate the Minister's comments and look forward to seeing the plan published in the next few weeks.
I can be accused of many things but under-ambition is not one of them. I regularly set targets and they are normally pretty ambitious although some of them might not be as ambitious as some Members would like. We will be taking the same approach on this. We will set ambitious targets and then go after them as best we can. This will put many people under pressure but I see this as a way of getting many properties back into use quickly. It is a really good deal for property owners too. Basically, somebody else will take charge of the property, get a tenant in, manage the tenancy and do any necessary upgrade work and at the end of the tenancy period, the property owner will have a more valuable property and will have had a decent rental income from it in the meantime. This is a win, win situation.
The official figures indicate that there are approximately 200,000 vacant properties, excluding holiday homes. Many of those will not be accessible through this scheme but even if a fraction are, we can get thousands of properties back into use. The question is how fast we can do it.