Low-density development levy needed, says Housing Agency head

John O’Connor also calling for stricter laws to discourage ongoing Airbnb-style lettings

John O’Connor, CEO of the Housing Agency, wants to see more stringent planning laws to discourage short-term letting of units that are not owner-inhabited. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

John O’Connor, CEO of the Housing Agency, wants to see more stringent planning laws to discourage short-term letting of units that are not owner-inhabited. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Developers who build low-density housing in highly populated areas should be hit with punitive levies, the head of the Housing Agency has said.

John O’Connor says development levies should be proportionate to the density of housing schemes being produced, meaning builders providing higher-density accommodation would pay a lower levy.

A shortage of housing stock has caused prices to rise over recent years and months, while rental costs have also risen sharply.

The average dwelling in Dublin now costs over €400,000 according to latest Central Statistics Office figures, and prices across the country jumped by nearly 12 per cent over a 12-month period to June.

“We should be encouraging high-density developments and be very proactive in that,” Mr O’Connor said.

“It’s a waste of land where you’re building low-density developments, and you should be penalised. You shouldn’t be allowed do it in the first case,” he added.

The low availability of apartments in major cities in particular has also driven rents through the roof, while at the same time some landlords are choosing to let their properties as short-term holiday rentals through Airbnb rather than make them available for long term letting.

Stringent laws

Mr O’Connor wants to see more stringent planning laws to discourage short-term letting of units that are not owner-inhabited.

“Airbnb needs to be the original form of Airbnb, which is somebody living in an apartment or house and renting that out for a weekend or a couple of days.

“There does need to be a level of control in that form of rental, particularly having properties that are being left vacant for significant periods of time,” he said.

The Housing Agency chief gave a lukewarm reception to suggestions that the mechanism of compulsory purchase order (CPO) should be strengthened with a view to expediting the delivery of vacant units for local authorities.

“CPO isn’t a silver bullet,” he said, adding that more attention should be focussed on cutting bureaucratic red tape so that owners who are willing to part with vacant units can do so more easily.

He gave the example of a block of eight apartments in Dublin city centre which the Housing Agency purchased from the Office of Public Works with a view to using them for social housing.

Mr O’Connor said it took six months for his agency to organise the leasing of the apartments, and that following a brief period of refurbishment tenants were delayed from moving in for a further half-year period while an ESB connection was being sorted.

Focus

He encouraged local authorities and voluntary housing associations to “focus on delivering housing”, and indicated that those who fail to deliver units after receiving funding should be replaced or that the money should be redirected.

“We should make the people who are getting funding and are responsible for delivery accountable.

“If someone’s delivering, you support and fund them. If somebody isn’t delivering, you don’t. Replace them if they don’t, or move the funding elsewhere,” he said.

Mr O’Connor defended the Government’s €5.5 billion Rebuilding Ireland programme which is currently being reviewed by the Department of Housing, and said he believes the aim to provide 47,000 social housing units by 2021 is achievable.

He said local authorities should persevere with efforts to provide rapid-build accommodation despite criticism over the length of time taken to produce units, and urged the Government to tackle the issue of mortgage arrears as a way of preventing more families falling into homelessness.