Louth leads way for reusing empty buildings

Louth County Council is leading the way in reusing empty buildings for social housing and other local authorities should follow their example, Fr Peter McVerry has urged.

Fr Peter McVerry with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone in Twitter's Dublin office to launch Space Engagers. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The anti-homelessness campaigner, who founded the Peter McVerry Trust, said Louth County Council had made 81 compulsory purchase orders over the last couple of years.

Just two cases were successfully challenged in courts by owners who claimed the action taken by the council was contrary to the right to private property.

“I would urge the Government to tell the other local authorities to follow Louth County Council’s example. We have the solution to homelessness — we just have to use it,” he said.

The national housing and homelessness charity has developed a new empty homes mapping app with Dublin-based social enterprise, Space Engagers.

The new online tool was launched by Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, at the company’s Dublin office yesterday. He said companies had a responsibility to give something back to a community and make it stronger.

The pilot project, named Reusing Dublin, hopes to tap local knowledge on empty buildings across the capital in an effort to alleviate the homeless crisis. It is hoped that buildings identified by the public can be reused to provide social housing solutions.

The Peter McVerry Trust has been working on empty and derelict buildings for a number of years and knows, from experience, that high-quality homes can be created much faster and cheaper than traditional new build construction.

Fr McVerry said the Government produced a plan 18 months ago to reduce homelessness and every single month since then the number of homeless people had increased.

“The Government keeps on telling us their plan is working; you just have to give it time. I am asking how much time do we have to give it?”

He said the Government was trying to manage homelessness rather than trying to eliminate homelessness.

“The measures they are taking are little baby steps instead of the radical steps I would be proposing.”

He believed just 100 owners had availed of a grant of up to €40,000 available under the repair and leasing scheme introduced a year ago.

He said the 2016 Census identified 186,000 permanently empty, boarded up habitable houses and apartments in this country.

While some could not be brought back into use for various reasons, many of them could be.

He believed they could solve the housing problem within two years with empty buildings.

The trust’s head of communications, Francis Doherty, said it had no legal problems with the new online mapping tool.

“We will do a number of checks before we ever declare a site is vacant. If somebody says my property is on your site and asks for it to be taken down we will do that,” he said.

“The app is only live now in the last few days but it is something that can be used in any county in Ireland.

"We have had discussions with Kildare County Council and are liaisoning with Limerick City and County Council.”

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