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Sunday 19 November 2017

New empty houses database goes live as national homeless crisis worsens

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Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A new national database aimed at recording and making use of Ireland's vacant housing stock has gone live, as new government figures released on the bank holiday weekend reveal the homeless crisis has worsened.

VacantHomes.ie plans to draw information direct from local communities on empty properties in their areas, and their owners, with a view to converting them into social housing.

The project, the initiative of Mayo County Council, comes as latest figures reveal 118 more children became homeless in June, bringing the total number of children in emergency accommodation to 2,895. The number of homeless families increased by 53 to 1,365.

Sinn Fein accused the Government of trying to bury bad news, while Fianna Fail said it exposed failings in the Government's housing strategy.

The new online database is part of the Government's vacant housing strategy, to be published next month. Tom Gilligan, director of services with Mayo County Council who developed the website, said the figures on the country's vacant housing stock were not definitive. Census data puts the figure at 183,000 in 2016, while a more recent survey put the figure at 96,000. "We were very much working off old data. We are unsure of what is the real number of vacant properties," he said.

Local community groups, such as residents associations and Tidy Towns committees are being encouraged to feed into the database.

Visitors to the website are asked to complete a form providing details of the property, its physical condition and any information about who owns it. None of this will be published for security reasons. Local councils will use the information to trace the owner with a view to getting the property back in use. The Government is offering grants of up to €40,000 to convert properties to social housing.

"Our research shows that a lot of our knowledge about vacant homes can be sourced locally, whether the owner has emigrated, whether the owner is in a nursing home, local people will have the best information on that," said Mr Gilligan. The project was piloted in Belmullet, in north Mayo, with the help of the local Tidy Towns Committee, which identified 16 vacant properties in its town. "As a result, we have already contacted owners of the vacant properties with a view to getting them into the "repair and lease" scheme," he said.

Sunday Independent

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