Affordable housing scheme for first-time buyers delayed

Initiative to speed up development of apartments in cities also pushed back

A landmark affordable housing scheme for first-time buyers and an initiative to speed up the development of apartments in cities have both been delayed according to the latest update of the Government’s Housing for All plan.

Target dates for the “First Home” shared equity scheme and the Croí Cónaithe fund to encourage the use of existing planning permissions for apartments have been pushed back until the end of June.

Overall, 60 per cent of the actions in Housing for All that were due for completion in the first three months were delivered but some of the most significant measures in the plan are among those to have been delayed.

A Housing for All progress report warns of "challenges ahead" highlighting the war in Ukraine as leading to risks including "significant inflationary pressures and supply chain disruption and instability".

The Government also faces the task of housing tens of thousands of refugees expected to arrive in Ireland.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD said delivering the plan “is now more important than ever as we respond to the grave humanitarian crisis brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” and spoke of the need to “redouble our efforts”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said Ireland is “stepping up to protect those fleeing their home” while promising the Government will protect the Housing for All plan and its current pace of delivery “to the greatest extent possible.”

The Government highlighted positive indicators of construction activity as it released its update on the plan including the fact that about 43,000 homes were granted planning permission in 2021.

It also pointed to progress in delivering social, affordable and cost rental homes in parts of Dublin citing planning applications by the Land Development Agency (LDA) for about 1,800 homes in Dundrum and Balbriggan.

Housing for All was launched last September and the update says that of its 213 actions, 135 have either been completed or are being delivered on an ongoing basis.

‘Significant progress’

Twenty measures were due for completion in the first three months of 2021. Twelve of these have been delivered. It says that while eight are delayed “significant progress has been made on the majority of these actions”.

Plans to provide a “First Home” shared equity scheme for affordable housing is perhaps the most high-profile measure subject to delay. The purchase of new-build homes is to be jointly funded 50:50 by the State and participating mortgage lenders. The website for the scheme is due to go live in May and it is to be open for applications by the end of June.

The introduction of the Croí Cónaithe fund for cities to ensure that existing planning permissions for apartments are used by the end of 2025 has also been delayed until quarter two of 2022. It had originally been scheduled to happen by the end of last year.

The fund will involve a subsidy for the construction of high-density developments over a certain height and the Department of Housing said it and the Housing Agency hoped to be in a position to invite submissions of suitable apartment schemes from the development sector soon.

It said the terms of the linked Croí Cónaithe (Towns) Fund are to be launched “in the coming weeks”.

This latter fund will aim to support people to build their own homes or refurbish vacant properties for owner occupation.

The development of a national policy on voluntary “right-sizing” – essentially offering incentives for older people to move out of larger homes they may no longer need – is delayed to quarter three of 2022.

Reform of the differential rents system – which sees local authority tenants pay a rent based on their household income with 32 different schemes across the country – is also delayed with a revised target date of the end of the year.

The goal is to introduce a national scheme that will standardise rents across the county to ensure fairness. The report says that “given the emerging cost of living challenges in recent months, it is considered appropriate to defer implementation of this action”.

Measures that have been completed include the publication of the new Town Centre First policy for the renewal of Irish towns.

Planning regulations have also been extended to allow a change of use of certain vacant commercial premises to residential use, including former pubs. The development of a Youth Homelessness Strategy has happened on schedule and other measures to have been completed include a review of the Housing Agency’s Acquisition’s Fund and the introduction of a targeted energy efficiency retrofit scheme for Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).

‘Wider targets’

Despite the difficulties Mr O’Brien said that the Government was standing over the wider targets set out in the Housing for All plan.

“We published the Q1 progress report this year and since Housing for All was launched in September we have made significant progress,” the Minister said on RTÉ’s News at One.

“This year we have a good pipeline of homes. We are targeting for delivery about 24,600 new homes both public and private . We are on track for that.

“Last year we produced about 1,300 more homes than we had done in 2020. That was in a difficult year with Covid and construction shut down. We have to watch this very carefully of course. There will be further challenges to delivery but this year our pipeline is strong.

“The plan is to 2030. That is what has been lacking in the past is actually having a plan that is sustained and fully funded.

We are investing on behalf of the Irish people over €4 billion a year in Exchequer backed funding in the housing market which is the single biggest intervention the State has made.”

Asked about the potential for homes involved in the Fair deal scheme to become available, he said the matter was being progressed.

“Yes, it is going to happen and it was happening anyway prior to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. This isn’t a specific measure in relation to the humanitarian response,” he said.

“We estimate that there is about 8,000 homes vacant right now. The legislation for the change will be made before the summer recess. It is really important that the State uses every lever in its power to get homes back in to use.”