The Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) was initially piloted in Carlow and Waterford and the pilot has been rolled out nationally since 23 February 2017. The scheme is one of a suite of measures available to local authorities to bring vacant properties back into use. Since the national roll out, my Department has been working intensively with local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to develop and implement the scheme. There have been a number of national and local press advertising initiatives, as well as targeted online promotion, in an effort to ensure that property owners who can benefit from the scheme are aware of the benefits.
I can confirm that at the end of 2017, applications in respect of a total of 820 houses had been received by local authorities nationwide. A total of 41 applications have been received across the four Dublin local authorities, with 26 of these properties being deemed suitable for social housing, and 7 unsuitable, following an initial evaluation. A Lease Agreement has been signed in respect of 1 property, which has now been tenanted. A detailed breakdown of the RLS data up to end Q4 2017 is available on my Department’s website at the following link:
The nature of the RLS means that the period leading up to the signing of contracts – sourcing and inspecting the properties, and negotiation with owners - is the slowest part of the process. All local authorities are active in sourcing and identifying potential properties and it is expected that significant numbers of contracts will be entered into once that process is complete. Once contracts are signed, delivery is estimated at between 2 and 6 months, a fraction of the time involved for a capital acquisition or build project.
Feedback from local authorities indicates that, in many cases, properties requiring extensive repair work, and therefore not suitable for the RLS, have been secured under the Buy and Renew Scheme which facilitates local authorities or AHBs to purchase vacant properties for social housing use. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that the levels of vacancy recorded as part of Census 2016 have significantly reduced in the interim, particularly in urban areas like Dublin where many previously vacant homes have since been occupied.
It is clear from end 2017 output, that RLS has not yet delivered the level of new social housing homes envisaged. I have reviewed the operation of the scheme, as part of the review of Rebuilding Ireland, and I have concluded that the scheme has significant potential but there are areas where it can be improved to make it more attractive and effective. At the Housing Summit held on 22 January 2018, local authority Chief Executives were advised that, from 1 February 2018, a number of key changes were being made to the scheme. These include:
- a reduction in the minimum lease term required from 10 to 5 years;
- increasing the proportion of market rent available to property owners where they take on more responsibilities under the tenancy, meaning that up to 92% of market rent will be available; and
- provision of additional funding for property owners, over and above the current €40,000 limit, where the dwelling is a bedsit type dwelling being brought into compliance with the Standards for Rented Houses Regulations and made available for social housing.
I am making €32 million available for the scheme in 2018 and I expect local authorities and AHBs to continue to implement the scheme locally and to achieve the target of 800 new properties this year.