Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Vacant homes to be used for social welfare tenants

LOCAL AUTHORITIES are to be allowed to place social welfare tenants who are on housing waiting lists in thousands of vacant “affordable” homes under a new initiative.

There are almost 4,000 unsold affordable homes in housing estates and complexes in the hands of the State.

These were provided on foot of housing legislation which requires developers to set aside 20 per cent of new developments for affordable housing.

However, demand for these affordable homes has fallen due to the collapse in property prices.

Michael Finneran, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, said yesterday that a circular has been issued to city and county councils authorising them to examine alternative ways of using these vacant houses.

These include allocating homes to families on social housing waiting lists; transferring the homes to tenants who have been on rent supplement for more than 18 months; and selling them to local authority tenants.

“If the local authorities cannot sell these houses, I’ll certainly agree to other ways of disposing of them,” Mr Finneran told The Irish Times. “I don’t want the State to own vacant houses at a time when there are people on housing waiting lists.”

He said he was mindful of “swamping” an estate with tenants on social welfare, and would ensure there was a good social mix on estates, where possible.

“I’ll be guided by sustainable community principles.

“It’s important that we examine each development on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Finneran pointed out.

He said officials estimate there are at least 3,700 vacant affordable homes at present, but this figure is likely to rise to about 5,000 by the end of the year as more homes are completed.

Local authorities anticipate they will be able to sell a significant number of these houses, despite the state of the property market.

They say a rise in the amount which a person can borrow from the State to buy a house – which has been increased to €220,000 – will help those who are having difficulties getting mortgages from banks.

This attempt to use some of the State’s vacant housing stock for social purposes is the second initiative of its type this year.

Last February Mr Finneran announced a €20 million plan in which the Government will lease about 2,000 vacant houses in the private sector to people on local authority housing waiting lists.

The scheme would involve the Government leasing vacant houses from developers for a period of 10-20 years.

The move was criticised by some Opposition parties as an attempt to bail out developers, while others said the leasing arrangement represented poor value for money.

Labour’s housing spokesman Ciarán Lynch TD estimated that leasing the houses could end up costing the State up to €500,000 per house.

However, Mr Finneran yesterday insisted the scheme would offer value for money and represented a valuable opportunity to source homes for people and help to give a “leg up” to part of the construction industry.

He said there had been significant interest in the scheme from property developers.

Irish Times


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