Housing minister considers church-owned land amid vacant sites

The housing minister said there was a significant amount of land owned by the church that could be reallocated to housing.

In a word

Darragh O’Brien called the number of vacant sites across the country a “scourge”. The Fianna Fáil TD spoke as it launched the next phase of the government’s housing scheme in Finglas, Dublin today.

Under the Housing for All plan, the government is expected to achieve its goal of building 24,600 housing units.

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However, recent analysis by consultancy EY found that while the state may be ahead of its target this year, it will fall short in 2023 and 2024, by 2,000 units and 1,450 units respectively.

The Housing for All plan targets 24,600 homes built this year, 29,000 in 2023 and 33,450 by 2024.

Tackling vacant homes

Housing Minister Darragh OBrien at the site of the former Church of the Annunciation in Finglas for the launch of the next phase of P3 social housing schemes. Picture date: Wednesday June 22, 2022.

O’Brien said his department will tackle vacant properties as part of the Housing for All plan.

“We have a vacancy plague across the country which, in the two short years that I have been minister, we seek to address and combat, over the conversion of former commercial premises into housing,” said O’Brien.

“I’ve relaxed the planning rules on this, where there are full exemptions, if you’re converting commercial premises into housing, we’re doing that very successfully through programs like Repair and Lease.”

The minister said he would use data from local property tax returns, due in the coming weeks, to look at vacant properties as opposed to derelict sites.

“We’re also going to introduce a tax in this space, managed by the IRS, which I think is preferable to an abandoned site tax,” he said.

“This will deter them and punish those who leave sites inactive.”

church grounds

O’Brien also acknowledged that there is “no doubt” that there is a significant amount of church land in the state that is “underutilized.”

“I have written to the Archbishop of Dublin and it has been raised at the Bishops Conference, at my request, that the Church would seek to transfer land where appropriate to the State so that we can provide social housing and affordable,” O’Brien said.

“I have actually seen this happen in some areas and land has been transferred for free in some areas.

“The issue of development plan and zoning within Dublin City Council is the business of our councillors.

“My department has engaged with church authorities, and not just the Catholic Church, but also other denominations, and we are looking, where land is available, to be able to get that land offered to us, either at a reduced price, or in certain cases free of charge where we can do it.

Vacant social housing

On vacant social housing, O’Brien said his department is working on it: “We’ve brought in just under 6,000 vacant social housing units in two years.”

“This is the highest amount ever made before and I have a new program this year to bring in another 2,450,” he added.

“Fortunately, there are very few vacant social housing units left. We also do replacements and infill developments. But there is still a lot to do. »

The government is expected to provide up to 9,000 social housing units this year. O’Brien said there were issues in terms of material shortages and inflation.

At the end of the line

“The state is the biggest player in the housing market and the biggest promoter of the housing market,” O’Brien told reporters today.

He added that he thought the outlook was good despite inflation and construction issues.

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