I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I was in the Chamber yesterday debating the issue of housing for two hours. I had to yield the floor to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, to begin a separate debate on housing for the elderly. Wth this Commencement matter, I appreciate the time Senators are giving to considering the challenges we face in housing provision. I thank the Senator for giving me an opportunity to outline the work the Government is doing with local authorities to address the issue of vacancies.
Rebuilding Ireland sets out a range of measures to assist in meeting housing needs by ensuring the existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible.
One action within pillar 5 is a national vacant housing reuse strategy. This strategy, which I published last July, strives to provide a targeted, effective and co-ordinated approach to identifying and tackling vacancy across Ireland and draws together all of the strands of ongoing work into one document with a clear vision for moving forward in the next few years. It builds on the significant work already begun by the various stakeholders, including the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies in 2016 and 2017 in order to meet our goals in respect of vacancy.
We have been very proactive in dealing with vacant properties and there are a number of schemes available to incentivise reactivating suitable dwellings into the liveable housing stock. This again relates to the frustration about which the Senator spoke. People see an empty home and want to know why it is empty and how it can brought back into use. That is what the strategy is about. Each local authority has prepared a vacant homes action plan and submitted that plan to my Department. They have also appointed vacant homes officers to co-ordinate local actions needed to look at the vacant residential stock in their areas. We are continually examining new ways of reducing the number of vacant homes.
The initial national roll-out of the innovative repair and lease scheme did not yield the results we had hoped for. We examined it and made improvements and we are now seeing more homes coming back into use through that scheme. Corresponding to that is the buy and renew scheme, which also has strong potential. We have seen a number of homes that might have been brought into the repair and lease scheme brought under the buy and renew scheme instead. Under this scheme the local authority buys the home outright, renews it, and puts it into use for social housing. The two schemes work very well together and we are now seeing greater interest in them. We have also advertised them and we can roll out further advertisements if that is seen to be necessary. As an alternative to these schemes, the long-term leasing initiative allows owners of vacant properties that are in good condition to lease their properties to local authorities. Leasing under this scheme takes the uncertainty out of being a landlord for as long as ten or 20 years. It gives certainty to the person who owns the property.
Aside from the wide range of incentives available, local authorities are also being encouraged to utilise their legislative compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers in order to bring vacant and derelict properties back into use. This approach can result in the delivery of housing more speedily and at much lower cost than new builds, often without having to go to the court. Simply invoking the CPO powers and giving notice that it is intended to use them can bring properties back into use. We have seen that happen very effectively in Dublin and Louth.
Away from the centrally funded schemes, my Department has made legislative amendments that will support the reactivation of vacant properties. For example, new exempted development regulations came into operation this time last year. These allow for a change of use of vacant properties above shops, below a certain amount of homes, without a requirement for planning permission in order to bring them back into use. We also introduced regulations on the application of disability access certificates to existing buildings when brought back into use and other such matters.
Work undertaken by local authorities, drilling into the available vacancy data, coupled with the initial results of the first wave of visual inspections by six local authorities are getting us closer to the actual number of vacancies in the country. Initially, when looking at the high numbers from the CSO, people thought that this was low-hanging fruit. It is not that the CSO data are incorrect, it is that when one looks at what is actually counted, which includes holiday homes, homes that are for sale, and homes that are between lettings, it is not vacancy as we would understand it. The work with the local authorities and their teams continues. It is starting to bear fruit. Whenever we talk about housing, we should talk about supply and the improvements we are seeing, but also about how we are using existing stock and getting it back into appropriate use.