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Regina’s address to the Minister for Housing

This morning, Monday the 31st of January 2022, Regina had the chance to address Darragh O’Brien TD, the Minister for Housing. Here is what she had to say…

A Aire,

I am delighted with the opportunity to address you both as a Director of Waterford Chamber of Commerce and also as the owner of Liberty Blue Estate Agents, in business in Waterford for 25 years.
There are three items that I would like to highlight to you which would improve the rental market in Waterford and the rest of the Country.

  • A different approach to the tax treatment of private landlords  
  • A tax break for student accommodation to free up housing stock  
  • A reconfiguration of the 30,000 grant scheme to 1st-time buyers and extending it to other market participants which would also entail a reconfiguration of our government’s approach to vacant premises  

The rental market is in crisis. Today in Waterford City there are 13 properties advertised to rent, one being a student house. In fact the most I’ve seen advertised in a long time. There is a housing development called Templars Hall which mostly houses students – surely we’d be better off having those houses rented to families.  We should be housing students in purpose-built student apartments and over city centre shops. Why not introduce section 50 tax schemes for student apartment blocks strategically located with good governance. This would free up badly needed homes for families and we will need student accommodation for the Technological University of the South East. 

Today, if I am asked to find a house for a family in Waterford, I’d have to put them on a waitlist and it may take up to 3 months to find ONE house to rent. I’ve never seen things so bad in all my years. In fact, Liberty Blue Estate Agents closed our doors at the start of Covid almost 2 years ago and haven’t opened them since. It’s appointment only because my team can’t handle the enormous amount of people coming to our doors looking for rental properties. People are crying on our doorsteps and on the phone – they are desperate. It’s very upsetting for them and us. 

We need new supply and we are reliant on the private landlords who are fleeing the market. It doesn’t make sense for landlords to stay in the market.  2,080 landlords around the country left the market last year. 

We need incentives to keep small private landlords in the market.  Who are private landlords?  For example, we have a couple, Deirdre and Sean, and when they got married they both moved into Sean’s house and they rented out Deirdre’s house. Deirdre still has a mortgage on her former home. The tax treatment of private landlords is not equal to the tax treatment of big funds. In fact, an overseas landlord of ours, Pat, pays 20% tax versus Sean and Deirdre who live on the Dunmore Road who pay 50% tax. Then put all the expenses on top and from €1,000 euros rent per month they get in the region of €400 euros. Although lots of our landlords don’t even have enough money to cover their mortgage.  We had a landlord Bridget in the office on Friday distressed because she got hit overnight with the rent pressure zone and her rent is €570 euro per month and it’s nowhere near enough to cover her mortgage. She is allowed to increase her rent by €12 euros going forward. Her mortgage is €900 and the market rent is in the region of €1,000. Yet she gets €570 before expenses. Surely landlords should only be paying tax on profit. This is not a sustainable situation as we can all see. Why not give Bridget a tax credit. Surely being taxed on a negative position of minus €330 euros per month is very unjust. Landlords like Bridget have no money to do maintenance. 

We will continue to see the situation deteriorate until proper action is taken. So I’m asking you, Minister, would you engage in a meaningful way with the people in the industry?  

Minister, it’s great to hear that a new grant of up to €30,000 to help people buy derelict properties to renovate and live in, is coming soon. “Vacancy is an untapped resource that we should be using,” you said recently and I fully agree. 

However, is this really going to work?  In my opinion, most people who have an appetite to do big renovation work are either in property or construction. As an Estate Agent, my experience tells me most people find it hard to visualise how things will look with a property that is presented in poor condition.  The average family doesn’t have the time or know-how to do a massive renovation on a derelict property. I think our government needs to support and encourage co-ops which include experts such as architects and builders coming together to help make it happen.

Will this grant in isolation be user friendly?  Is €30,000 really enough?

Why does it have to be limited to homeowners? Why not open it up to everyone as it will create new stock for housing?

Personally, I’m of the view that this grant could be like a car with no engine, however, with further expansion and turnkey solutions it could be impactful for our towns and city centres. There are too many properties sitting idle.  CPO’s and vacancy tax should free up more stock.  Can you review how the CPO process can be accelerated?

The current 25 year lease scheme whereby investors lease property to councils for 25 years and yet there is no equity at the end of this lease. It doesn’t make sense in the long term. For example, an apartment that costs €120,000 is purchased by Larry today who leases it for 25 years to Waterford Council at a rent of somewhere in the region of €270,000 over 25 years. The amount paid out for the lease might work out 3 times the price Larry paid for the apartment. 

That doesn’t even take inflation into consideration. This is dead money paid out by the State – well us really, the taxpayer.  Surely it makes sense for our Councils to be funded to purchase the property instead of Larry? 

You are setting up a new dedicated vacancy unit in the Department of Housing.  This is positive as I understand a dedicated team will work on dealing with vacancy, which will be tasked with making sure that local authorities deliver a consistent level of properties. All of us in business have to meet targets and need to be held accountable.   Will there be clear metrics and will people be held accountable to deliver this promise?
45% of units delivered across the Repair and Lease scheme nationally have been brought on stream in Waterford.  Whilst this is a great testament to Waterford Council, when you see that 23 local authorities nationally have delivered less than five homes under the scheme in the past four years the baseline is seriously low.  

I personally think that these are dismal figures and hopefully with the resources now being given to a dedicated vacancy unit we can see real numbers that make a real difference.  Considering Waterford has somewhere in the region of 5,200 vacant homes and apartments sitting empty right now. I would also ask you to consider rolling out a big PR campaign around this.  It’s definitely a well kept secret that needs to be shared.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Finally Minister -Waterford has been voted the best place to live in Ireland – We are very proud of our City and County.

I am asking you now-

Review the tax treatment of landlords like Bridget and Sean and Deirdre – help us keep landlords in the market to provide supply 

Review this grant allocated for derelict properties – don’t limit it to homeowners

Commit to delivering resources for a vacancy homes unit – Announce targets and deliver meaningful numbers on 5,200 vacant homes in Waterford 

Go raibh maith agat.

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