198,000 empty houses can’t be tolerated when so many are without a home

05 December 2016

Speaking ahead of Labour’s Private Members Bill on Social and Affordable Housing, Labour’s spokesperson on Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan has called once again on the Government to use the increasing number of vacant properties as a solution to the housing crisis.

“The 2016 Census tells us that there are more than 198,000 vacant dwellings in Ireland, excluding holiday homes, whilemore people are becoming homeless every day. While building new houses, in both the public and private sectors is, rightly, being accelerated, existing vacant dwellings can, and must, be a quick win and a real solution for those families who have no home or are at risk of losing theirs.

“The census figures represent 9.8% of overall housing stock while 4-5% is the norm in a functioning economy. We need to get to that norm.

“Earlier this year, as Labour’s Spokesperson on Housing and Planning I put forward eight ways in which the Government can use the vacant units to solve the crisis. I am calling on Minister Simon Coveney to take these suggestions on board as a real solution to part of the housing crisis:

1. The Government must carry out the audit that they promised in their own Action Plan without delay to find out exactly where the vacant properties are and who owns them.
2. The successful programme that I introduced as Minister to bring 5,000 vacant council homes into use must be continued by Ministers Coveney and English  
3. The Living City Initiative and Living Over the Shop Incentive must be reformed as the potential is there to bring vibrancy back to so many of our city and town centres
4. Increase the fund allocated to the Housing Agency, as proposed in Focus Ireland’s pre-budget submission, to acquire vacant properties for homeless households. The €40million figure announced in ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ is welcome but as Focus Ireland point out, a figure of €210 million would allow the promised 1600 units to be delivered by mid-2018.
5. Prohibit landlords from evicting tenants because they are selling the property as outlined in Labour’s Social and Affordable Housing Bill There is considerable evidence that many of these homes remain vacant for years after being put up for sale.
6. Require Local Authorities to identify empty premises that could be acquired and refurbished to provide homes.  An example of how this has worked successfully is in Athy, Co. Kildare where funding I allocated in 2014 was used to purchase 10 unused and semi-derelict houses and do them up.  There houses are no longer a blot on this lovely heritage town and are homes to 10 families at an average cost of €90,000 per house. I have no doubt there are many such empty buildings in cities, towns and villages all around Ireland. 
7. Local Authorities should be required to examine their portfolio of derelict sites and use their powers under the Derelict Sites Act and through Compulsory Purchase Orders to acquire properties that have been empty and derelict for a long period of time and refurbish them to BER standards for allocation.
8. Bring forward the Vacant Sites Levy by one year as proposed in the Labour Party Housing Bill.

“While there is no doubt that only a functioning construction sector will deliver the number of homes needed on an on-going basis, using the houses we have has to be an immediate priority.”

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