An audit of almost 1 million sq m of State office space to establish if any can be converted for residential use has been sought by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.
Amid a deep crisis and mounting pressure as the political system prepares for an electoral cycle where housing will take centre stage, Mr O’Brien is asking that the Office of Public Works (OPW) review its office stock in an effort to boost housing supply.
In a letter to Minister of State for the OPW Patrick O’Donovan, the Fingal TD has asked him to undertake “an audit of all State offices to evaluate if they could be converted into residential accommodation”.
The move heralds the extension of work already under way on a plan to establish if private offices can be converted for residential use to the state sector.
The OPW, Mr O’Brien wrote, owns 256 office buildings and has leases in another 285, with a total floor area of almost 900,000sq m. Of this, 61 per cent, or 544,000sq m, is owned with the balance leased. The OPW holds a portfolio of property throughout the country to meet the needs of a host of State bodies, the Civil Service, the Garda and others.
Mr O’Brien already wrote to Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney this year asking him to convene an interdepartmental working group to assess the potential to convert empty private sector offices to housing. The request to Mr O’Donovan would be “in parallel”, he wrote, to work being done by an interdepartmental group set up following this initial intervention.
“This significant scale highlights potential opportunities for conversions into residential use. I am sure you will agree that the State should take the lead in converting offices into homes where appropriate and I very much appreciate your input and that of your Department”
Housing experts have warned that while the conversion of office space is often seen as a quick win, the physical and engineering challenges associated with conversion can be greater – and more expensive – than first imagined.
According to an update given to the Cabinet last week by Mr O’Brien, he is optimistic that the overall Government target of 29,000 new homes can be achieved this year – although these targets are widely seen to be an underestimate of the true level of housing need.
However, Mr O’Brien also warned ministerial colleagues that there is still “a level of uncertainty” in the residential construction sector, including in respect of borrowing costs and construction cost inflation which “continues to dampen investment in residential development”.