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Drogheda, County Louth Alamy Stock Photo

Councils identify 89 State-owned buildings to immediately house over 5,000 Ukrainian refugees

A total of 25,383 refugees have arrived in the country as of last night.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE identified 89 vacant buildings that are capable of immediately housing up to 5,355 refugees from Ukraine. 

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien informed Cabinet today that in total, over 500 vacant buildings have been identified by local authorities, which include buildings such as community halls, former religious and education properties, former hotels and former hospitals.

An assessment is ongoing of the remaining buildings. 

There has been a significant reduction in the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving to Ireland in the last two weeks, with 130 arriving yesterday. 

A total of 25,383 refugees have arrived in the country as of last night.

One building to accommodate multiples

In addition to identifying vacant buildings, each local authority has been asked to identify and scope the refurbishment requirement of at least one building that is capable of accommodating multiple families in their local authority area.

Funding will be provided to refurbish the buildings, which will then be handed over to the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) – the body responsible for the provision of accommodation for refugees – that will manage the refurbishment. 

Government also wants to encourage owners of commercial units that are lying vacant to volunteer their property. 

Currently, owners of vacant commercial properties in most local authorities have the right to a refund – up to 100% – on their commercial rates if they say it is vacant because they cannot get a reasonable rent, or because they are planning to redevelop it.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien plans to remove this exemption, giving a rates refund, to encourage the use of these premises.

The minister has also requested the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA)  establish an Emergency Vacant Housing Delivery Unit, drawing on expertise from the local government and private sector to co-ordinate, consult with and direct refurbishment of buildings.

Exemptions from planning requirements will be determined where necessary on these buildings. 

Pilot modular homes project

Modular housing will also play a role with the OPW leading on the design, development and delivery of any accommodation to be produced through ‘volumetric’ or modular construction including associated site enabling works on available and suitable State land.

It is understood that a pilot project for modular homes will be established, however no specific location has been earmarked by Government yet. 

The housing department will also establish a ‘clearing house’ to address contractual, operational and compliance issues associated with planning permissions which have been granted.

For instance, where planning permission has been granted but there are infrastructural blockages – the clearing house will be tasked with recommending solutions so the planning can be activated.

On-site construction opening hours are also due to be extended, though a Government spokesperson confirmed this evening that it will be site specific and not across the board of all construction sites.

Construction site opening hours 

It could be the case that when a development is nearing completion, construction site hours will be extended an extra two hours in the evening during the summer months in order to speed up delivery. 

A dedicated Director of Service level staff member, supported by a small team, will be assigned full-time in all local authorities to coordinate the local response between all of the agencies and community groups engaged in support and service provision to the Ukrainians.

The minister also confirmed the removal of the Local Authority Acquisition cap which limits the number of houses a council can purchase. He is also restoring local decision making in certain emergency situations, as well as pushing for quick turnaround and re-letting of vacant social housing stock to those on social housing waiting lists.

The minister said work is also underway and legal advice is being finalised in relation to the restriction of short-term lets.

As regards housing pledges made by members of the public, a spokesperson for government said the placement of refugees should “start ramping up soon”. 

“The Ukrainian crisis poses simultaneously an unprecedented demographic challenge and a supply chain crisis for housing. My Department’s aim is to fully implement Housing for All as well as accommodate the needs of Ukrainian refugees.

“While the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth are the lead Department for the initial humanitarian response, my Department is focused on the mid to long term accommodation challenges that will inevitably emerge.

“In responding to the Ukrainian situation, any new accommodation we develop will be additional to our Housing for All targets for 2022. Any suitable and additional permanent accommodation will be returned to general social and affordable housing if and when the Ukrainian crisis is resolved and special accommodation needs end,” said O’Brien. 

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