Republic of Ireland news

Multimillion-euro fund targets areas with high dereliction to boost housing

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien has launched the third round of the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), worth 150 million euro (Niall Carson/PA)
Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

A multimillion-euro fund that aims to bring vacant buildings back into use will focus on the areas in Ireland with the highest vacancy and dereliction rates.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien launched the third round of the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) on Monday, worth 150 million euros, to help boost housing supply amid worsening rates of homelessness.

The fund asks local authorities to propose residential or commercial sites along with the work needed to de-risk or improve the site so that it is more attractive for reuse or sale.

The fund is expected to be replenished from the proceeds received from sale or use of a site, allowing a local authority to establish a rolling programme to tackle long-term vacancy and dereliction without borrowing.

The Housing Minister is hoping that the new fund will help “get to grips and tackle the scourge of vacancy” in Ireland.

He said: “(Government has put a) clear focus on vacancy, we don't want to see vacant and derelict buildings lying idle for decades and decades. That's not what we want to see.

“What will happen with the fund, we'll allocate the money for local authority on the basis of population, and on the basis of the level of dereliction or vacancy within that particular local authority.

“The whole focus will be in relation to delivering residential units – homes – for people. Submissions will come in by April this year, and we can then get moving with what to work with.”

Mr O'Brien said the Government was about to bring about “the highest amount of social homes delivered in about 50 years”, and that homeless figures were “levelling off”.

The minister said he believed his strategy was aggressive enough to tackle dereliction given the scale of the housing crisis.

“We are aggressive in tackling this issue,” he said.

“We've made real progress in the space of just one year. And that's why I've established the vacant homes unit within my own department to give a real focus on this, because it's something that I personally believe we should be doing more of, but I'm happy with the progress so far.”

Referencing Limerick and Waterford, as well as Tralee and Killarney in Co Kerry, Mr O'Brien said “really good work” had been done, but added “we need to scale it up”.

When asked about the project to refurbish old public buildings for asylum seekers, he said work was under way in some properties, but there was room to expand this as well.

The minister said: “We're seeking more properties there, be they former state properties or indeed private properties to come on stream where we refurbish them, and then hand them over to the Department of Children to be managed.”

Mr O'Brien also said that hundreds of offers have come through since the Government reissued its pledge for accommodation for Ukrainians in late November.

“We've had over a thousand offers come through and we're responding to people within five working days,” the minister said.

The vacancy fund and Vacant Homes Action Plan was launched at the old Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire building at Parnell Square in Dublin, which has been earmarked to become a city library.

Also under the vacancy plan is the government's Croi Conaithe scheme, which gives would-be homeowners access to a grant of up to 50,000 euro to refurbish derelict properties and 30,000 euro for vacant properties.

Nine hundred applications for people in towns alone have been made to this scheme, in what Mr O'Brien called “a strong response”. The fund is also available for properties in cities.

The minister also launched guidance on Compulsory Purchase Orders by local authorities, with an initial focus on derelict properties; a data collection project to measure dereliction; and the “development” of full-time vacant homes officers.

There are 30 full-time vacant homes officers in 31 local authorities across the country, he added.

A six-week advertising campaign is also planned to highlight support available to people to buy, lease or sell vacant property, or convert vacant commercial property into homes.

A Cabinet sub-committee on housing due to meet on Monday is to discuss homelessness, the minister said, adding that he didn't expect tax breaks for development to be discussed.