Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland sets out a range of measures to assist in meeting Ireland’s housing needs by ensuring that Ireland’s existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible. An overarching action within that Pillar is a commitment to develop a National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy. This Strategy, which I published July 2018, 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 in one document with a clear vision for moving forward in the next few years.
The strategy acts as an overarching roadmap and a focal point for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives right across Government to ensure that we are utilising our existing housing stock to the fullest extent possible. Specifically with regard to potentially vacant space above retail space, my Department launched the Bringing Back Homes – Manual for the reuse of existing buildings in April of this year, to help property owners, the public, local authorities and the construction industry to developing vacant buildings and space over commercial property. Bringing Back Homes aims to help increase housing supply as well as rejuvenate town centres and city streets.
My Department and local authorities have already been proactive in dealing with vacant properties and there are a number of schemes available to incentivise reactivating suitable dwellings into the liveable housing stock. One such example is the innovative website vacanthomes.ie was developed by Mayo County Council in July 2017 on behalf of the local government sector to serve as a central portal for individuals to anonymously log possible vacant homes and to alert local authorities so that they can then follow up with the registered owners.
It is a key tool in the effort to identify and bring long-term vacant homes back into use, and this source of locally generated information is proving useful in supplementing the country-wide analysis on vacancy and in mobilising communities to assist local authorities in developing and implementing a targeted approach. The website provides useful information for property owners on how to bring their vacant properties back into use and on available financial supports.
The latest statistics indicate that some 3,422 properties have been registered to date. The breakdown by province is Leinster 48%, Munster 34%. Connacht 15%, and Ulster 3%.
The Action Plan for Rural Development also included a commitment to develop a pilot initiative to encourage increased residential occupancy in town and village centres. A Steering Group chaired by the Department of Rural and Community Development and involving number of other key Departments and agencies, including my Department, was established in early 2018. The pilot scheme was launched in 6 rural towns and villages. Funding of up to €100,000 is being made available to each of these towns to assist in developing innovative proposals to encourage town centre living. It is envisaged that the lessons learned through this pilot can help to inform the approach to supporting and investing in rural towns and villages in the future, and lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
In addition, the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, which is administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development, seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over 10 years to the Fund and €315 million is allocated to the Fund for the period 2019-2022.