Church asked to identify property that could be used for housing

Minister’s letter sought update on lands and vacant buildings for his housing crisis plan

Sources with knowledge of  Darragh O’Brien’s letter sent to the archbishop said the intention is to open dialogue with the Catholic Church on the possibility that its lands or buildings could be used as part of efforts to ramp up housing supply. Photograph: Getty

Sources with knowledge of Darragh O’Brien’s letter sent to the archbishop said the intention is to open dialogue with the Catholic Church on the possibility that its lands or buildings could be used as part of efforts to ramp up housing supply. Photograph: Getty

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The Government has asked the Catholic Church to identify land or vacant buildings it owns that could be used as part of efforts to tackle the housing crisis.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien made the request to the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, in recent days.

It comes as work continues to finalise the Government’s Housing for All plan.

The Cabinet subcommittee on housing is due to meet today for discussions on the plan ahead of a launch later this week.

The Irish Times understands Mr O’Brien highlighted comments made by the archbishop and other clergy on the need for action to address the housing crisis as he made his request to the church.

The Minister emphasised how identifying landbanks and vacant buildings to use for homes will be a key part of the Government’s forthcoming housing plan.

Sources with knowledge of the letter sent to the archbishop said the intention is to open dialogue with the church on the possibility that its lands or buildings could be used as part of efforts to ramp up housing supply.

The Minister’s letter, sent last Wednesday, acknowledges the independence of the church in managing its property portfolio as well as how addressing the housing crisis is primarily the State’s duty.

Greater scale

However, Mr O’Brien is said to note that some dioceses have been engaging with local authorities in relation to unused land banks and properties. The Minister expressed a hope this can happen on a greater scale as part of national efforts to resolve the housing crisis.

He suggests the State could get the first option to purchase land or buildings that are being sold, with the church working with organisations such as councils, Approved Housing Bodies and the Land Development Agency (LDA).

Mr O’Brien mentioned homelessness, the impact of the crisis on renters and young families’ hopes for housing and says he knows the church is aware of the scale of the problem and the “need for strong action”.

Previous remarks by the Most Rev Martin that “radical steps” need to be taken on housing as well as comments this month by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, about the need for national engagement with “a significant housing crisis” are highlighted by Mr O’Brien.

The Minister suggests the Government’s Housing for All plan is an opportunity to engage with the church and other organisations to “help get to grips” with the crisis.

A letter from the Minister for Housing to Archbishop Eamon Martin acknowledges the independence of the Catholic Church in managing its property portfolio and how addressing the housing crisis is primarily the State’s duty. Photograph: iStock
A letter from the Minister for Housing to Archbishop Eamon Martin acknowledges the independence of the Catholic Church in managing its property portfolio and how addressing the housing crisis is primarily the State’s duty. Photograph: iStock

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference had not responded to a request for comment from The Irish Times at time of publication.

Housing for All – which will seek to provide more than 33,000 new homes per year by 2025 – is set to be launched as early as Thursday.

Speaking last week, Mr O’Brien said the plan will deliver social housing in Ireland “on a scale never seen before”.

He also said the multi-annual housing plan will be fully funded and there would be a “massive emphasis on affordable housing”.

Vacant-property tax

Measures expected to be included are a vacant-property tax, incentives for people who want to downsize to smaller homes, and grants for renovating properties in towns around the country.

The Department of Housing has earmarked land controlled by commercial State companies for the expansion of the planned home-building programme, including sites controlled by CIÉ and the ESB.

Another element, code-named “Project Tosaigh”, will see the LDA play a role in activating thousands of dormant planning permissions on lands that may be privately owned. They could take a partnership role in a project or take them over and develop them. The Government is also advancing plans to transfer some 1,400 social housing units to the agency from the National Asset Management Agency.

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