Vacant Homes

Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis. According to data released by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, there remains tens of thousands of vacant homes dotted around the country.

According to Census 2016, in Ireland there were 183,312 vacant dwellings, of which 140,120 were houses and 43,192 were apartments. Of the Irish housing stock total, this vacancy figure of 183,312 represented 12.3%. In Mayo, there are significant numbers of vacant properties, just lying idle. According to the same Census 2016 there were 10,597 vacant homes, including 1,334 apartments. There are also 4,855 holiday homes in the county. With increasing rents and with an acute shortage of housing supply for potential homeowners the need to bring vacant residential properties back into use has never been greater. Although bringing vacant homes back into use won’t completely solve the current housing crisis, their potential cannot be ignored. According to Tom Gilligan, Director of Services with Mayo County Council, chief architect and instigator of www.vacanthomes.ie “It is all about reusing and recycling what we have and maximising the potential in our national housing stock”.

VacantHomes.ie

www.vacanthomes.ie is a crowdsourcing website that allows members of the public to record vacant properties. Mayo County Council is the lead authority delivering the website on behalf of the local government sector.

www.vacanthomes.ie also provides advice and assistance for property-owners. Once a property is logged on to the website, an alert is despatched to the relevant Vacant Home Officer. This notification allows the vacant home officer to follow up to try and contact the owner of the property in order to get the dwelling back into use as quickly as possible. A key target in the Government’s Housing for All plan is the creation of a full-time Vacant Home Officer in each of the thirty-one local councils.

The www.vacanthomes.ie web portal has been very successful, right across the country, with over 7,000 properties logged to date. Apart from the obvious benefit of providing much needed housing, bringing vacant homes back into use will breathe new life into communities and will help to sustain and protect our local economy and local services, such as schools and shops.

Schemes available to help bring vacant homes back into use Currently there are a number of schemes available to help owners of vacant homes. These include Repair and Leasing, Buy and Renew and Long-Term Leasing Schemes. The Repair and Leasing Scheme is intended for owners of vacant homes who cannot afford or are unable to access the finance needed to bring the empty property up to the standard required. The maximum costs of repairs allowable under the initiative for houses/apartments will be ¤60,000, including VAT. For this the property must be provided for social housing for a minimum of at least five years.

There are a number of requirements in relation to the scheme:

  • the property has to be vacant for at least 12 months prior to submission: proof of vacancy will be required
  • there has to be a social housing demand for the property
  • the property has to be assessed as being viable to provide social housing

If the property meets these requirements, it will be inspected by the local authority or approved housing body staff who will identify the works that are required to bring the house up to the required standard.

The Buy and Renew Scheme is a companion to the Repair and Leasing Scheme as it allows the property to be purchased as opposed to be leased by a local authority. The focus of this scheme in particular, is around older vacant homes to help tackle the blight of dereliction and help improve the appearance of an area. As with the Repair & Leasing Scheme, the use of the Buy & Renew Scheme is subject to the suitability of the property for social housing, the condition of the property and the cost of remediation.

The Long-Term Leasing Initiative allows owners of vacant properties that are in good condition to lease their properties to local authorities. Leasing under this scheme takes the uncertainty out of being a landlord for terms of up to 25 years. It also provides a guaranteed rental income of up 80% / 85% of the market rent each month (depending on the property type), with no vacancies.

Other more specific grants and schemes are available to vacant property owners, depending on the type of building, for example thatching grants, heritage grants and SEAI energy grants.

Members of Mayo County Council accepting the Excellence in Business Awards, awarded to Vacant Homes, for the Best Housing Solution to the Housing Crisis 2018. L to R, Gerri Joyce, Senior Staff Officer, Housing Section, Olivia Gallagher, Administrative Officer, HR Section, Tom Gilligan, Director of Services, Housing, Roads & Services Development, Former Councillor and former Chair of the Housing Strategic Policy Committee, Gerry Ginty and Mary Palmer, Staff Officer, Housing, Roads & Services Development.

The urgent need to bring vacant homes back into use

Tom Gilligan, Mayo County Council.

The current war in Europe has seen an unprecedented number of traumatised people fleeing Ukraine with the Government estimating that up to 33,000 refugees could be seeking accommodation in Ireland by the end of May. This need for accommodation is again highlighting the necessity to bring more and more vacant dwellings back into use. In addition, the rise in homelessness in Ireland with Department of Housing figures showing that in March 9,825 people were homeless, including over 2,800 children. Along with historically low numbers of private rental accommodation being available there is no doubt we are heading into “a perfect storm” of issues impacting the housing market. That is why the need to bring vacant homes back into use has never been greater. The Vacant Homes initiative not only benefits property owners but communities, local services, including builders/tradespeople. Our local economies will strengthen and be more sustainable as a result of bringing vacant homes back into use.