Tom Gilligan, Director of Services at Mayo County Council, explains how the Vacant Homes initiative is helping to address the housing shortage and breathing new life back into communities
VacantHomes.ie, the innovative website initiated by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector, is going from strength to strength. Bringing empty units back into use benefits property owners, people with a housing need, the local economy, climate change and also helps protect local services. It’s a no brainer and a win-win for everyone.
By utilising existing housing stock, the supply of accommodation increases and this helps to provide individuals and families with new homes and a better choice of housing. Apart from breathing new life into unused buildings, bringing vacant homes back into use rejuvenates areas that are in decline and helps to sustain our communities.
VacantHomes.ie has to date increased the supply of social housing right across the country. We’re seeing hundreds of vacant units either brought back or in the process of being brought back as a result of this crowdsourcing initiative. Local people have the local knowledge and every vacant home has a story to tell and we want to hear it. The information that is being provided is allowing the Vacant Home Officer in each local authority an opportunity to assess the unit and try and contact the property owner. There are options available that will assist the owner to bring the unit back into use such as the Rebuilding Ireland, Repair and Leasing and Buy and Renew Schemes.
In Mayo County Council, housing is the number one priority and whilst the 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, Mayo County Council exceeded its overall target of providing housing solutions by 20 per cent. Whilst happy with its performance for last year the council is mindful of the need to continue to deliver on its overall Rebuilding Ireland target up to 2021 and beyond.
The target Mayo has been given is 708 units, from 2016 to 2021, but the ambition and plan is to exceed this and the council is currently planning for 808 units, of which 500 will be new build.
Back in March 2019, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy visited Mayo and he was given an opportunity to see first-hand, the work that is happening right across the county. On the day the Minister and his entourage visited a number of housing developments and capital projects in Ballina, Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Swinford, Foxford and Knockmore.
Similar to other parts of the country, homelessness is an issue in Mayo. Despite the progress being made in its housing programme last year, the number of homeless presentations to the offices of Mayo County Council increased by 25 per cent. Unfortunately, the trend for 2019 doesn’t see any decrease in the figures and one of the main factors is the inability of people to secure private rented accommodation. There isn’t adequate rental stock available to meet the demand.
In Mayo, we’re not seeing the level of private construction under way to help deal with the current housing crisis. According to Project Ireland, Ireland’s population will grow by an additional one million people by 2040. In order to meet this challenge, we will need to see greater output in housing delivery for both the private and public sectors. This means building new homes and utilising existing housing stock in order to ensure the level of supply meets the housing demand.
The scale and complexity of our current housing crisis mean that we
need to continue to be innovative and radical in our approach. Housing and, in particular, the provision of more social and affordable housing will help to ensure long term secure housing and tenancy for people, which should make it easier to deal with the challenges that we are currently experiencing in the housing sector.