State has 13 empty homes for each homeless adult, says charity

Half of repossessed homes offered for social housing rejected by authority, committee told

The Government’s Housing Agency has rejected half the repossessed houses and apartments offered by banks for social housing, an Oireachtas housing committee has heard.

The agency was last year allocated a €70 million rolling fund to buy 1,600 homes over the next four years for use by local authorities and voluntary housing bodies for tenants on social housing waiting lists.

Since September the agency has been offered 690 homes, mostly by AIB and Bank of Ireland, the majority of which were repossessed buy-to-let properties, agency chief executive John O’Connor told the committee.

The agency made bids on just 347 of these homes and had their bids accepted on 305, costing €46.57 million. So far it has signed contracts for 217 homes and 29 purchases have closed.


Decisions on which homes to take were made in collaboration with local authorities Mr O’Connor said. “The local authorities have been very responsive in terms of giving us quick feedback on whether these properties are located in an area suitable for social housing.” But in many cases it was the agency’s own assessment of the property that determined whether to buy, he said.

“Sometimes it’s because of the condition of the property that we don’t proceed.”

Homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust told the committee the equivalent of 13 homes lie vacant in Irish cities for each homeless adult. Privately owned empty buildings, derelict sites, and unused spaces above shops must be brought into use to rapidly secure housing supply, Brian Friel, national director of housing with the trust said.

“Even if every empty local authority house was brought back into use it would only meet a small proportion of the social housing and homeless need.”

Local authorities need to become involved in the collation of data on empty properties and derelict sites of all types and sizes, he said.

“One of the biggest challenges the State faces in tackling vacancy rates is that there is no real time data to ascertain how many empty units there are, the conditions of the units, who owns the unit and the reason why so many buildings remain vacant.”

Local authorities should be resourced to make more use of compulsory purchase orders (CPO), Mr Friel said. However, they should also be empowered to use compulsory leasing orders (CLO), where the council would not take over the ownership of the property but would take over the management of the vacant building.

“Consideration should be given to an automatic CPO or CLS process for any unit empty for five years or more as a means to discourage and prevent people who can afford to pay fines and taxes from leaving properties vacant. This would protect communities from abandonment and dereliction.”

The trust is proposing a Government “matchmaker scheme”, where approved housing bodies or local authorities could be matched with property owners who are not in a position to undertake renovation works. These homes could be bought for social or affordable rental use, Mr Friel said.

The trust is also seeking a vacant property tax to prevent speculative investors buying and leaving properties empty.

Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in housing policy at the Dublin Institute of Technology, told the committee the number of houses being built each year was vastly overestimated.

Homes vacant for two years or more, including former ghosts estates and houses in Nama, require a new ESB connection and are then counted as “new” homes in housing statistics. “When different measures are used, for example stamp duty transactions and other market indicators, it can be reliably calculated that the numbers of new houses and apartments being built each year is about half of what the official ‘completion’ statistics suggest,” he said.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times