Government identifies 500 empty properties for conversion for Ukrainian refugees

Darragh O’Brien said that the bill for refugee accommodation, health and accommodation could hit €1.7 billion in 2022.
Government identifies 500 empty properties for conversion for Ukrainian refugees

Olivia Kelleher

A trawl has been carried out by the Government to identify larger empty properties such as churches, private entities and commercial premises for conversion in to semi permanent or permanent accommodation for Ukrainian nationals who arrive in Ireland.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told “Today with Claire Byrne” on RTE radio that they have identified 500 “significant” properties so far.

“They would be refurbishments. A lot of what we are going to be doing is taking old commercial stock, old state stock and converting that in to apartments or homes,” he said.

“We have never received an influx of people in such a short space of time before. The initial response has been good. It has been efficient to be fair, and we have really stepped up to the mark.

“So yes we are going to have to look at how we can convert existing properties that are there. New build properties do take time. If you were to expedite off site construction and that you would be looking at nine to 12 months so what do you do in the meantime?”

Permanent housing solutions

Mr O’Brien said they have to consider the possibility of the war in Ukraine being more protected and individuals staying in Ireland for many years.

“We are going to have to look at providing permanent housing solutions. We could potentially require up to an 35,000 additional homes over a period of time should we be permanently accommodating.

“Right now we need 33,000 homes per annum under the Housing for All plan which we are well underway to delivering.

“We are increasing output every week and this year will be a good year for delivery. But the additional requirement could be another 35,000 homes over a five year or six year period potentially.

“Some of them could be good refurbishments. Refurbishments of vacant homes. They won’t all be new builds.”

Mr O’Brien said the State and its agencies has responded really well to the crisis thus far.

“No one is saying this is easy. This is a challenge. It adds further to the challenge we have. But the planning has been going very well, and we will do everything we can to respond to this humanitarian crisis.”

He said that “nothing was off the table” in terms of housing Ukrainians who enter the State with modular homes also being a consideration.

“There is an impression abroad sometimes that modular homes will be the solution to everything. They have a role. Off site construction can play a very significant role.

“We have five or six companies in Ireland that are already providing off site construction. But will there be a requirement for some temporary accommodation through modular homes? I think so.

“I am asking local authorities to identify service vacant sites around the country zoned or unzoned. They could be anywhere around the country, but there will be certain criteria around site selection.”

Emergency planning powers

Meanwhile, Mr O’Brien said that the bill for refugee accommodation, health and accommodation could hit €1.7 billion in 2022.

“By the 20th of March we had nearly 15,000 Ukrainians seeking refuge here,” he explained

“That is increasing every day. I am looking at measures as to how we can expedite delivery of more permanent or semi-permanent housing. That involves a couple of things like looking at emergency planning powers that I could use potentially under the planning act.

“Looking at how we can shorten procurements. There are some emergency provisions available to us there.”

Mr O’Brien added that a figure of €1.7 billion could rise to €2.5 billion depending on how many people enter Ireland.

“We have to be very clear with people that there is a financial cost. We know that.

“I think the Irish people are supporting what we are doing to make sure that these people who have been brutally attacked by Putin and by Russian forces can come here and get safe refuge and have safe harbour here.”

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