Charities expected to take ‘huge risks’ over empty homes

The Government expects housing charities to take "huge financial risks" to try to use the glut of empty properties lying idle to house people on localauthority waiting lists, reports the Irish Examiner.

Housing charity Respond has accused the Department of the Environment, which runs a long-term leasing scheme, of refusing to modify the terms of the scheme to make it workable.

Under the Government’s plan, led by Housing Minister Michael Finneran, thousands of unsold houses built in the boom could be used as social housing.

Under the proposal, the state and voluntary housing bodies were to enter into "long-term leasing arrangements’ whereby the Government would pledge to rent the properties for a period of up to 25 years.

While in recent months the banks have been accused of delaying the social housing scheme, both Respond and Focus Ireland – charities which provide housing for the disadvantaged – have stated it is down to the reticence of the Department of the Environment to make it work.

According to Respond, the refusal by the department to alter some of the key components of the scheme is the main reason why it is still not operational. After months of negotiations, the housing association claims it is frustrated by the refusal of the department to modify the terms of the scheme in order to take account of the huge financial risk charities are being asked to undertake.

Focus Ireland, meanwhile, maintains it has been impossible to find out whether or not unsold houses are suitable or not as they do not even get to that stage of negotiations.

Advocacy officer Mike Allen said it was nowincumbent on the Government to encourage developers to sell to housing bodies.

"We are going out and identifying properties. We are going to the banks but the figures do not add up. The amount we can borrow, the amount being asked, Government are telling us they are asking too much but that is the price – we can’t negotiate it anymore.

"When we borrow the money we also have to pay interest, developers are not lowering their prices, it seems to be comfortable for them not to sell at the moment. The Government needs to do something."

Ms Walsh, said Respond had experienced a radical reduction in housing output of 92%.

"The provision of social housing has changed dramatically in the past two years because of the recession and lack of funding from the Department of the Environment.

"We are keen to utilise the Long Term Leasing Scheme being proposed by the minister in order to ease local authority housing waiting lists which are now estimated to be 80,000 families.

"Unfortunately, as it currently stands, we believe the department’s scheme is simply not feasible for housing associations as it places too much financial risk on charities like Respond who would have to borrow millions of euro."

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, June 14, 2010