Over 370 vacant homes bought for social housing
Spend of €67m on 260 houses, 114 apartments under Rebuilding Ireland scheme
“We can get incredible value, because we’re buying in bulk.” Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
More than 370 vacant houses and apartments have been bought using a €70 million fund established a year and a half ago to provide 1,600 homes for social housing by 2020.
The Housing Agency was allocated €70 million in July 2016 under the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing action plan to buy vacant houses for tenants on social housing waiting lists.
The agency targeted portfolios of distressed properties held by banks and investment companies, primarily private equity funds, with the aim of “bulk-buying” homes in batches to secure discounts. Most of the homes were former buy-to-let properties, but did not have sitting tenants, the agency said.
After the agency buys properties, it sells them on to approved housing bodies, which use a mixture of State and private funding to finance the purchases. The agency then uses the proceeds of the sale to replenish the €70 million fund.
To date 260 houses and 114 apartments have been bought for a total cost of €67.2 million or an average of just under €180,000 each – significantly below market prices, agency chairman Conor Skehan said.
“We can get incredible value, because we’re buying in bulk, and financial institutions, and what some people might call vulture funds, come to us, because they know they get a dead straight player. They know we’ll pay on time so we get great value on behalf of the public.”
In need of work
Just 30 of the homes have so far been sold to housing organisations, with €5.8 million recouped for the fund. However, Mr Skehan said, while formal sales have yet to be completed on most of the properties, the majority have already been handed over to housing charities and have been allocated to tenants.
“These homes aren’t lying empty. In some cases they have needed work, particularly ones that were vacant for some time, but most we have passed on to the AHBs [approved housing bodies] under caretaker agreements, which allows them to get the tenants in while they sort out the financing.”
The agency hopes to have secured €20 million by the end of January in sales to the housing bodies.
Simon Brooke, director of policy with Clúid, the State’s largest housing association, has described the process as “painful” and slower than expected.
“We have yet to secure any units through the scheme. Because many of the sales involve receivers, there are legal problems to sort out. There was one estate in Tipperary we had hoped to buy but that’s now completely on hold because a legal challenge was taken against the sale,” he said.
“We would hope the scheme could move reasonably quickly, but it has been an extremely painful process, but that’s the painful thing about housing, it’s always a very slow process.”