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VacantHomes.ie: Tackling the myriad of vacant homes in Ireland

Mayo County Council with their Council of the Year Award.

VacantHomes.ie, the pioneering portal website initiated by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector is proving to be popular with the public, as people continually log vacant properties on to the site, from all across the country. Tom Gilligan, Director of Services at Mayo County Council and architect of the website writes about the public’s response and the positive feedback received to date.

I’m delighted with the response we’ve received. The public’s appetite for the initiative is very satisfying and the positive response we’re receiving is incredible. To date, we have thousands of properties logged from all over the country, with the greatest response coming from the provinces of Leinster and Munster. This is extremely encouraging as most of the housing demand is focused in these parts of the country, where supply of housing is certainly an issue. The bringing back of vacant homes will increase supply and provide new homes for people and families with a housing need. Apart from providing new homes, bringing back vacant stock also helps to rejuvenate areas that are in decline. In parts of our urban and rural areas we are seeing buildings that are lying idle. Breathing life in to these properties will not only provide homes but will also protect services and help to sustain and maintain our communities. Bringing vacant homes back into use is a win-win for everyone. From a climate change perspective, it is extremely beneficial as a lot of the key infrastructure is already in place such as roads and utilities like water and energy.

Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, deals with utilising housing stock and VacantHomes.ie is Mayo County Council’s unique response in trying to release the potential of bringing vacant homes back into use.

What we want to do is to try and bring empty homes back into use and are asking the public for their help to do this. Local people have local knowledge and they can provide a unique insight as to why properties are vacant. With this local knowledge they can identify and log details on to the vacant homes website, www.vacanthomes.ie. This information can then be used by each housing authority in order to follow up and help get this unit back into use.

Here in Mayo, we have a significant number of vacant properties, similar to other parts of the country and we see huge potential in getting them back into use. It’s all about reusing what we have and maximising the use of our housing stock. Apart from the obvious benefits of housing, economic and climate change, bringing a vacant home back into use reduces the pressure for new housing developments. Although bringing vacant homes back into use will help alleviate the housing crisis it is recognised that there are so many varied reasons why a property is vacant. There are so many reasons why properties are vacant, and each vacant home has a story to tell and we want to hear it. Every day we hear a story as to why a property is vacant and each one is unique to that particular unit. We know that there isn’t one solution to sort out all the problems, but we want to work with property owners and to help them get their property back into use. Each local authority has developed a Vacant Homes Action Plan and VacantHomes.ie is providing key assistance and help to Vacant Home Officers now working in each authority. The Vacant Home Officers are available to provide advice, assistance and can work with property owners every step of the way in bringing a property back into use.

Along with Vacant Home Officers there are a number of schemes available which provide assistance including upfront finance for the owner. These include the Repair and Leasing, Buy and Renew and the Long-Term Leasing Schemes. The Repair and Leasing Scheme is intended for owners of vacant homes who cannot afford, or obtain the finance needed to bring the empty property up to the rental standard required. If the property requires repair work, the local authority or Approved Housing Body will provide upfront finance to a maximum of €40,000 or (€50,000 in the case of former bedsits). For this the property must be provided for social housing for a minimum of at least five years.

“What we want to do is to try and bring empty homes back into use and are asking the public for their help to do this. Local people have local knowledge and they can provide a unique insight as to why properties are vacant.”

The Buy and Renew Scheme is a companion to the Repair and Lease Scheme as it allows the property to be purchased as opposed to be leased by a local authority. The focus on this scheme in particular, is around older vacant homes to help tackle the blight of dereliction and help improve the appearance of an area. The Long-Term Leasing Scheme may suit owners of properties that are vacant and in good condition. It is also financially viable with a rental income guaranteed of 80 per cent of each month’s market rent. Other benefits for the owner include; no management of tenants, or advertising fees and no day-to-day maintenance of the property.

While Mayo County Council is mindful of the need to bring vacant homes back into use, it is also very much focused on its own capital build programme. Last year 2018, Mayo County Council exceeded its overall target of providing housing solutions by 20 per cent. Whilst happy with its performance to date the Council is mindful of the need to continue to deliver on its overall Rebuilding Ireland target up to 2021 and beyond. Whilst we have our targets agreed with Rebuilding Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government we are ambitious enough to try and exceed them and, in the process, provide ourselves with additional housing. The target Mayo has been given is 708 units, but we want to exceed this, and we are currently planning for 808 units, of which 500 will be new build. Back in March 2019, we had the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD visit Mayo and it’s true to say he was very impressed with the number of capital projects that are happening throughout the County. The Minister and his team, on the day, visited a number of sites in Ballina, Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Swinford, Foxford and Knockmore. We want to deliver on social housing, and we want to ensure that we do it in a sustainable and collaborative way. By building new homes and also by bringing vacant homes back into use we know that we can provide citizens with the right mix of quality housing. Our Chief Executive, Peter Hynes talks about Mayo as a county that is proud, prosperous, sustainable and inclusive and by utilising our existing housing stock, through VacantHomes.ie and along with our capital build programme we know we can deliver on this vision.

T: 086 853 9502
E: TGilligan@mayococo.ie
W: www.vacanthomes.ie