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Ireland’s Housing Conundrum—Plenty Of Vacant Houses But Nowhere To Live

With a deluge of vacant houses, many still have no place to call home. Ireland tries to solve its self-made housing crisis.

By Jeff Vasishta February 22, 2017

It may be called a housing crisis—but Ireland’s problem is more of a conundrum. It has double the vacancy rate—12.8 percent—under normal circumstances and yet large swathes of the population find themselves without a roof over their heads. Today, reported The Irish Times, the country has just over 2 million dwelling units for a population of 4.75 million, translating to exactly one unit for every 2.35 people.

At a meeting for the Joint National Housing Conference at Dublin Castle, many theories were bandied about as to why so much Ireland’s population couldn’t find a place to call home.

Seamus Hanrahan, senior project manager at Limerick City and County Council cited figures which showed high vacancies at the lower end in South Dublin—4 percent—and at the higher level in County Leitrim—30 percent. He pointed out, there are 198,358 vacant dwellings in Ireland.

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“With those kind of figures you would have to ask yourself: Why is there a housing crisis? And, I suppose, rolling on from that question is: What level of housing provision would we need to make in this State for there not to be a crisis?”

Minister of State for Housing Damien English concurred, calling it a “crazy situation.” Crazy or not, it didn’t happen on its own and now fingers are being pointed—in different directions. James Kelly, a conservation architect from Kelly & Cogan Architects felt that large shopping centers are to blame.

“They suck all of the retail life out of the surrounding streets, they kill off surrounding streets. If you want to see what the impact of a Liffey Valley [shopping centre] is, look at the impact of Dundrum on Dún Laoghaire. [The main street] is a dead place and it will remain dead – and it is going to fade.”

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Green councilor Ciaran Cuffe, a qualified architect and lecturer in urban regeneration, felt that the increasingly segregated society was creating pockets of affluence and poverty with some areas flourishing and others dying. He felt city housing and planning had much to answer for.

“Those who have the money and the ability simply leave and live five miles away and send their kids to the schools where they will mix with kids from a very different social background or class if you call it that”. For far too long we have had massive segregation in housing policy — and I am worried that that will happen again.”

All were agreed on one point. Too many vacant buildings are currently uninhabitable. Identifying them and taking measures to bring them back into the housing sector was key.

The Government has provided funding of €140 million over five years to assist property owners and local authorities to rehab vacant buildings for families or individuals on local authority waiting lists. It will be piloted in Carlow and Waterford.

“We have asked all local authorities to go literally street by street, estate by estate, to identify the vacant properties,” the Minister said, adding that more data was due in coming weeks on identifying what types of units are not in use.

Joe McGuinness, director of housing at Louth county council, explained to The Times the process used to bring vacant houses back from the dead.

“Once we identify the house is vacant we use the normal CPO process. You serve notices on the owners and they have a right of objection. If nobody objects, (it) reverts back to us and allows us to confirm the order. We then pay compensation to the owner, give notice to enter the property, and then we more or less refurbish the house. Within 12 months we have to register the house with the Property Registration Authority and that’s us owning the property fully.”

While there are many losers in Ireland’s housing crisis, one section of the Irish workforce is set to boom from it — contractors.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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