230k houses lie vacant as thousands wait for housing to become available

As Focus Ireland figures show another 74 families became homeless in Dublin last month, the Housing Agency has called for grants to refurbish the hundreds of thousands of homes lying vacant.

Using 2011 census figures, the Housing Agency has estimated that 230,056 houses are unoccupied in this country. Meanwhile, there are 6,000 homeless people, including 2,000 children, and 150,000 on the local authority housing waiting lists.

According to new figures from Focus Ireland, 366 families and 731 children in Dublin have become homeless in the first four months of this year alone.

In Paris, London, and the US, property owners face tax penalties if they leave properties vacant over a long period; these penalties increase with each year of vacancy. Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said the Government “may well” look at using the tax system to penalise the owners of vacant homes when it publishes its housing strategy in July.

Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency, described the vacant homes as “an enormous stock of houses that already exist”.

“We have to try to find a way to work in an integrated way to see what we can do to use these houses quickly [to help solve the housing crisis],” he said.

Mr Skehan said that, aside from offering refurbishment grants, “the Government should consider offering short-term taxation breaks to house owners that rent out vacant property”.

He said vacant houses were a normal part of a housing market but that Irish vacancy levels were “above normal” and that there were complex reasons behind this such as delays in repairs, conveyancy, connection to services, or that they were in an area where people do not want or need houses.

Mike allen, Focus Ireland
Mike allen, Focus Ireland

Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen said he was concerned that, with the high tourist season about to begin, we may soon hear of a “family sleeping in a park” as they can not access emergency accommodation. He also expressed concern that the Government still is not grasping “the scale of this problem” and how “fast its deteriorating”.

Mr Allen called for a moratorium on evictions as, “if they continue at this rate, the consequences will be appalling”. He also said the sale of housing to vulture funds and the high volume of rental properties being repossessed has to be addressed. The 15% increase in rent allowance was described as “too little too late”.

A total of 125 families became homeless in Dublin in January, 83 in February, 84 in March, and 74 in April.

The latest increase last month brings the total number of families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin to a record 888 with 1786 children.

Responding on RTÉ Radio to the homeless figures, which he described as “totally unacceptable”, Mr Coveney said that, of the 12,000 houses built in Dublin last year, “virtually none of them” were available for less than €300,000 and yet this was all that 40% of buyers could afford. Therefore, he said, there is a “mismatch in the types of houses” for sale and market needs.

The Housing Agency hosts its annual conference at Dublin Castle today. This year’s event will examine how to achieve affordability in the Irish housing market.

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