Vacant property owners turn down €32m grant scheme

Up to 800 houses were due to be provided for social housing by the end of this year

Just seven Dublin property owners have applied for grants of up to €40,000 to allow their rundown vacant houses be refurbished for homeless families.

The Repair and Leasing scheme was established 10 months ago under the Government's Rebuilding Ireland plan to tackle the housing and homelessness crises. A fund of €32 million has been allocated to the scheme this year with a target of bringing 800 homes into use by the end of the year.

However, to date no homes have been secured in Dublin, and contracts on just seven houses have been signed nationally, but none have yet been refurbished and handed over to local authorities.

According to the latest census, 183,000 homes, excluding holiday homes, are vacant, more than 20,000 of which are in Dublin city. The Government is considering whether to introduce a tax on vacant homes to encourage their owners to bring them back into use.

The Repair and Leasing scheme allows local authorities to enter into long-term leases with owners of empty properties that are too rundown to rent out. Property owners can avail of a grant of up to €40,000 to bring their vacant houses and apartments up to standard. In return, they must sign up to a lease arrangement with their city or county council for a minimum of 10 years. The value of the repairs is offset incrementally against the rental income.

The scheme was initiated on a pilot basis last October in Carlow and Waterford. So far Waterford County Council has signed contracts for four homes and Carlow County Council has signed contracts for three. Refurbishment of the houses is expected to take two to six months, before they can be made available to social housing tenants.

In Dublin, where the scheme has been available since February when it was extended nationwide, it was the city council that decided to earmark the housing for homeless families and use approved housing bodies to enter into agreements with landlords. However, housing charities said they have been unable to attract property owners to the scheme.

Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said the scheme was "not going to work" in its current form and the Government's targets could not be met.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing said more than 250 applications for the scheme had been received nationally.

“All local authorities are active in sourcing and identifying potential units and it is expected that significant numbers of contracts will be entered into once that process is complete.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times