Hundreds of people rallied in Cork tonight demanding radical action to address the housing crisis as new figures showed that 400 new homes could be developed in vacant upper floors in the heart of the city.
An analysis by Cork City Council has found that there are 423 vacant or under-utilised upper floors in some 260 buildings in the city.
Most are in the heart of the city, where 140 vacant upper floors were identified with potential to create up to 400 new homes.
The council has arranged a seminar next week, with a range of experts, to explore the reasons for such urban vacancy and to explore possible solutions.
The figures emerged as those attending the rally were told the lack of housing is the single greatest problem facing Irish society.
Drawn from trade unions, women’s groups, student unions, housing agencies, and community groups, all united under the umbrella of the Raise the Roof campaign, they demanded radical action on the housing emergency.
The rally, which marched from City Hall to Lapp’s Quay, was addressed by a number of speakers including Barry Murphy of One Cork, the trade union representative group, Gillian Noonan of the Anti Eviction Taskforce, Traveller representative Bridget Carmody, and student activist Anna Heverin.
Mr Murphy described the housing crisis as “the single greatest problem facing our society today”.
“We have record levels of homelessness, record numbers on housing waiting lists, and huge levels of insecurity in the rental sector,” he said.
“We have had housing crises in the past and central to their resolution was the provision of public housing through the State and local authorities.
Ms Carmody said Travellers are 11 times more likely to become homeless.
“During this whole accommodation crisis that has inflicted such suffering on our community, Government funding has been available but has gone unspent. Between 2000 and 2017, €55m earmarked for Traveller accommodation has gone unspent,” she said.
Ms Heverin said just over 400 students were listed as homeless during the last census. “Some of the student accommodation development underway at the moment has cinemas and bowling alleys, with prices as high as €260 a week. Students don’t need cinemas and bowling alleys. They need affordable housing.”
The rally coincided with a meeting of Cork City Council which supported a motion, tabled by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn, calling for the housing crisis to be declared a national emergency.
His motion included calls for a dramatic increase in funding for and supply of local authority-led public and affordable housing, the prioritisation of the delivery of housing on public lands, and a ban on evictions into homelessness.
FG councillor Des Cahill branded it a “populist motion” and said the Government has allocated €500m to the city council alone for house building over the coming years and has provided and funded “several instruments” to help those in genuine mortgage distress.
But Sinn Féin councillor Shane O’Shea said the Government’s response to the crisis has been piecemeal.