Homelessness charities have described as scandalous latest Census figures that show almost 200,000 houses are lying empty around the country while thousands of people are trapped in emergency homeless accommodation.

The first results from the 2016 Census show that there are 259,562 vacant dwellings in the country. Discounting the 61,204 that are categorised as holiday homes, there are still enough properties to house all those who are homeless and on housing waiting lists.

The Simon Communities said the figures showed the need for a clear strategy for using empty housing stock.

National spokeswoman Niamh Randall said: “That there are 198,358 vacant units at a time when we are experiencing the worst housing and homeless crisis is scandalous.

“The reason why such significant numbers of homes are vacant must be identified alongside what incentives and taxation measures might encourage renovation, sale, leasing or letting.”

The Peter McVerry Trust said the figures underlined how dysfunctional Ireland’s housing system was.

“In Dublin we have around 4,000 individuals in homelessness yet the figures out today show over 36,000 vacant units across the region,” said spokesman Francis Doherty.

Vacant dwellings include all homes that are fully constructed and reasonably fit for habitation, even if they have never been occupied and are not connected up to the electricity grid. Derelict properties and partially finished homes in ghost estates are not counted.

Between the last census in 2011 and Census 2016, an additional 18,981 homes were built or became fit for habitation, bringing the national housing stock up to 2,022,895 this year.

The total number classed as vacant fell over the same five-year period by 13.8% to 259,562, but within that figure there are 61,204 holiday homes which is actually a slight increase on the 2011 figure of 59,395. Dublin city centre completely bucks the trend with a 190% increase in the number of holiday homes there from 322 in 2011 to 937 currently.

Nationally, the vacancy rate for all properties now stands at 12.8%, down from 14.4% in 2011 and 15% in 2006 but rates vary widely from county to county, with Leitrim the highest at just over 29% and south Dublin the lowest at 4%.

While the vacancy rate nationally has fallen, the change does not keep pace with the change in population. So, while the population has increased by 3.7%, the number of occupied households rose only by 3%.

CSO statistician Brendan Murphy said the discrepancy was most obvious across the east of the country.

“It means household size is getting bigger which is bucking the trend of previous census, whereas in the more rural areas household size is getting smaller,” he said.

According to Simon, there are 6,170 people in emergency homeless accommodation, 2,177 of whom are children, while there are 100,000 applicants for social housing stuck on local authority waiting lists.

Census shows there is no shortage of vacant houses

While house-hunters, renters, and the homeless are all suffering from a shortage of available homes, Census 2016 shows there is no shortage of bricks and mortar.

Some 259,562 dwellings are lying vacant around the country — around one in eight of every residential property in the State.

Vacancy rates are highest in Leitrim, Donegal, Kerry, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Clare, Wexford, Cavan, and Galway county, all above 17%.

They are lowest in the four Dublin administrative areas, Kildare, Meath, Cork City, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Louth, Offaly, and Limerick City, where they are below 10%.

Nationally, the vacancy rate has fallen since 2011 but not by as much as population has risen, which means the number of people living in the average household is increasing.

Possible explanations include higher birth rates or the likelihood that the high cost of housing is forcing more families to double up, such as young couples moving in with their parents.

This trend is most pronounced in Dublin city, where the population rose 4.8% but the number of households increased by just 1.4%, and in the north county Dublin area of Fingal where the population grew by 8.1% but the number of households rose just 4.4%.

The increases were most evenly matched in Cork City and county, Longford, Cavan, and Wexford, while Donegal, Mayo, and Sligo all lost population but saw household numbers increase, meaning the average number of people per household fell.

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