Cowen calls for action on vacant properties to fight homelessness

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

Barry Cowen TD

Cowen insists more must be done to tackle the issue

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Housing and TD for Offaly/North Tipperary, Barry Cowen, has said the Government needs to prioritise the refurbishment of vacant units to boost the supply of available accommodation to help tackle the homeless crisis.

Deputy Cowen made the comments in light of the latest available figures showing that there has been a 50% increase in the number of people who are homeless between December 2015 and December 2016. There are currently 4,643 adults registered as homeless along with 1,205 homeless families including 2,505 children.

“Minister Coveney needs to show a greater commitment to implementing meaningful policies that will impact the dysfunctional housing market. The priority must be focused on returning vacant spaces back into use as accommodation. For example, there are an estimated 4,000 vacant units in Dublin City alone that could be refurbished or converted to use as housing for both social, affordable and private housing,” explained Deputy Cowen.

“Data from the 2016 Census shows that there are almost 260,000 homes vacant right across the country. This represents 15% of the total housing stock which demonstrates the sheer dysfunctionality of our housing market. The Government needs to examine ways of returning some of these vacant properties to the accommodation market to help tackle the housing crisis," he continued.

“It is worrying that Minister Coveney appears almost unaware of the scale of the vacant housing problem affecting the country. The ‘natural’ vacant rate in urban areas usually stands at 5%. However, this figure ranges between 10 – 15% in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Carlow. It again demonstrates how dysfunctional the housing market currently is."

Cowen called for immediate action: “We need a suite of policy measures to reduce the vacancy rate in these areas to help tackle the homeless crisis. For example, the current backlog in the Probate System is resulting in many houses sitting idle for years before they can be used or sold on. This is something which can be easily resolved if the Government has the will to deal with this problem."

“Furthermore, many houses that are vacated by an elderly parent are left empty for years. Often this is because their children do not wish to sell the property outright nor can they afford the costs of refurbishing the house to use it as a rental unit," he maintained. 

“Fianna Fáil have proposed the introduction of an Empty Property Grant Scheme to encourage owners to lease properties to Approved Housing Bodies (AHB) or rent directly to tenants nominated by Local Authorities on long-term leases. In return AHB’s and Local Authorities would refinance the full or partial costs of refurbishment. Similar schemes exist in the United Kingdom and could be introduced on a pilot basis in local authorities which have high vacancy rates,” concluded Deputy Cowen.