Ireland faces a housing crisis due to growing demand and lack of construction. And yet, hundreds of thousands of properties in cities and towns around the country are vacant. Peter McVerry Trust, a on-profit housing association, started the Empty Homes Initiative in order to address this seemingly paradoxical situation.
Ireland’s housing crisis has been a result of a lack of construction of homes over the last decade, rising rents and growing demand. This crisis resulted in over 10,000 homeless people. Meanwhile, there are over 182,000 residential properties lying vacant in the country. These properties are in the cities, towns and villages across Ireland where there is high demand for housing. The Empty Homes Initiative is now a national project which is undertaken in 14 countries across Ireland in collaboration with the relevant local authorities. The project addresses vacancy in Ireland’s cities and rural towns and villages. The initiative is jointly funded by Peter McVerry trust with the renovation or repair of the works co-funded by the charity and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Two schemes are available for reactivating the properties: The Repair and Leasing Scheme, and the Buy and renew Scheme.
The Empty Homes Initiative aims to bring these vacant properties back into use for social housing, providing housing solutions in existing communities for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness. The methodology used is Advocacy plus Action equals Solution. As an advocate for action on empty homes, derelict sites and underused spaces, Peter McVerry Trust have been taking action on the issue by using a range of initiatives as part of Rebuilding Ireland that facilitates the securing and reuse of empty buildings.
The advocacy has had a tangible impact on a policy level. It has led to the inclusion of an Empty Homes Pillar in Ireland’s Housing and Homeless Strategy 2016-2021, the development of a national vacant homes reuse strategy, the appointment of an empty homes officer in every local authority and the introduction of the two schemes for reactivating empty properties. It has also led to an analysis of an empty homes tax, a significant increase in the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders on empty homes and revised planning laws to allow the reuse of long-term empty commercial buildings for housing. The advocacy work has also increased public awareness, understanding and action around the issue.
Intense relationship management with homeowners and a willingness to work collaboratively with local authority staff to ensure the success of the schemes is key to overcome challenges regarding the financing of repairs and and thus needs a pragmatic approach. The numbers of properties brought back increased as the project became more established.