Developer says long-term vacant properties should be used for homeless

Greg Kavanagh says empty buildings across Ireland could absorb demand for housing

Patrick Crean (left) and Greg Kavanagh: Mr Kavanagh  has called for vacant properties to be converted for use by  the homeless. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Patrick Crean (left) and Greg Kavanagh: Mr Kavanagh has called for vacant properties to be converted for use by the homeless. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

All properties left vacant for three years or more should be converted to homes for families and those on the streets, according to property developer Greg Kavanagh. Mr Kavanagh, who up to recently was one of two businessmen behind New Generation Homes, has written to Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and a cross section of TDs suggesting a range of solutions to homelessness.

“Every retail, office or community space that has been vacant for three years should have the ability to be converted to residential space exempt from planning,” Mr Kavanagh’s letter states. Owners should be given planning exemptions for the conversions, once they offer the properties first to homeless organisations and then to councils for social housing.

If the landlord were to impose “rip-off” rents, then they should lose the planning exemption, Mr Kavanagh argues. “If the homeless organisations or the state housing authorities do not want the property, then it can be rented on the general market,” his letter says.

Mr Kavanagh’s call came as about 1,000 people rallied at Apollo House on Tara Street in Dublin to support Home Sweet Home, which has occupied the vacant office to accommodate rough sleepers.

Several weeks ago Mr Kavanagh left New Generation Homes, which plans to build €2 billion worth of houses around Dublin, after almost 10 years running it with chief executive Pat Crean. Since then he has been working voluntarily with Fr Peter McVerry’s Homeless Trust. “My intention is in the new year to build some units for them,” he said yesterday.

Mr Kavanagh said there was no reason for anyone to be homeless, as the number of vacant properties in many of the Republic’s towns and cities could absorb the demand for accommodation. He pointed out that people were living on the street in his own home town, Arklow, Co Wicklow, while 70 shops were empty, as their customers now went to shopping centres on the outskirts.

“It would be better for the whole town if those empty units were occupied instead of having their shutters down,” he said, adding that they could easily be converted for the use of homeless people.

Mr Kavanagh sold his interest in New Generation to Mr Crean and the company’s backer, M&G Investments. He said he had no plans to return to full-time work for the moment. Instead he he wanted to devote some energy to aiding Fr McVerry’s organisation.

Mr Kavanagh sent his letter to the politicians on Tuesday, although none had responded by late in the afternoon. The letter recommends that landlords pay no tax on any new property they buy over the next years once they offer them first to charities or housing bodies. “I believe that the State will generate more tax from the building of new units than it would have from the tax on rental income over the next decade,” he says.

His letter warns that for the first time in the history of the State, parties and TDs cannot solely blame the Government for the crisis as, if they themselves propose good legislation, it will pass.