VacantHomes.ie is a website that was launched in August 2017 by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector, as an online resource for anyone to anonymously log possible vacant properties and alert local authorities who can then follow up with the owners to see whether the house can be re-used quickly.
According to latest CSO figures there are more than 183,000 vacant homes across Ireland.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy announced the project as part of the early initiatives on the way of dealing with vacant homes in the country.
Tom Gilligan of Mayo County Council and Director of Services at VacantHomes.ie provides a further insight into how the initiative was created:
“We recognised that utilising existing vacant housing stock was one of the the best ways to increase supply and also this would help to provide homes for people who had a housing need to ensure people had a housing need and to meet people who had a housing need.
“In relation to the website itself, we all recognised that Ireland was having to cope with the housing and homelessness crisis. According to the CSO figures there are over 183,000 that are identified throughout the country as being vacant.
“The Vacant Homes initiative is really born out of our commitment to the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. It’s a national website that’s done on behalf of the country. It’s a Government incentive.”
Since its launch, the Vacant Homes initiative has received widespread feedback across Ireland. Over 10,000 people have contacted Mayo County Council with over 1,400 vacant properties registered to date. At present, Leinster and Munster are the most responsive.
Mr Gilligan said:
“We’re very happy with the public response. We’ve had well in excess of 10,000 people having contacted us. At this moment in time we have over 1,400 properties registered to date. 59% of the properties logged are in the province of Leinster where we feel one of the highest demands for housing is. 23% are in Munster, 14% in Connaght and 4% in Ulster.
“We find the most response we’re getting is from Leinster and from Munster but we do know that there are a lot more properties out there obviously. We’re trying to get that information collated and use that information to get vacant homes back into use.
“The Vacant Homes innitiative has been well received by people across the country and I really would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has listed property details already. It’s an ongoing initiative and a resource for local authorities aiding them in getting unoccupied properties back into use.”
Tom Gilligan is calling on local people and vacant property owners to come forward and utilise the Vacant Homes initiative’s services.
“We know that every vacant home has a story and we want to hear that story. Local people have the local knowledge. They’re able to help us identify these properties but they’re also able to help us understand why these properties are vacant,” said Mr Gilligan.
“A particular thing about it is that we are also getting a lot of property owners coming onto us telling us that they are aware of the Vacant Homes Innitiative. They would like to see their properties that have been vacant over a period of time put back into use, in order to help as regards to providing a housing need for those in need.
“We’ve been absolutely delighted with the response we are getting from all over the country. We have people as far away as Australia, the US and Canada who have contacted us. In particular, we had a lady from Australia who heard about the initiative through friends of hers and she has asked us to contact the local authority to see if the house would be suitable.
“That’s the kind of response we are getting. Everyone can get involved and we want everyone to take ownership, to help us and this country work our way through it.”
There are currently two schemes in place that property owners can avail of under Rebuilding Ireland, Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, provided by VacantHomes.ie. These are the Repair And Leasing Scheme and the Buy & Renew Scheme.
Both schemes compliment one another. Local authorities can approach owners of vacant, privately-owned houses in need of repair, with the option to either lease/repair the housing unit, or to buy and repair the unit.
Property owners can receive a maximum of €40,000 under the Repair And Leasing Scheme for 2017. The total amount available in 2018 for the Repair and Leasing and Buy & Renew Schemes will be €60 million.
On further benefits to property owners, Mr Gilligan said:
“There’s other benefits in relation to that if they avail of the scheme. Rent income is guaranteed. They provide a house to the local authority for a minimum of 10 years on the Buy & Renew. The local authority then can purchase and renew the property in order to use it for social housing.
“From our point of view, apart from benefiting the existing housing need there’s a number of other benefits of bringing vacant homes back into use. Obviously for the owner, you have the aspect in relation to rental income and the condition of the buildings, that they don’t deteriorate further.”
The Vacant Homes initiative does not only benefit property owners. Communities and our local economies will strengthen as a result.
“For communities you have that sense of place, you also have provisions of extra housing and services and a reduction of social exclusion. For the economy, you have aspects in relation to sustainability, you’ve dereliction that is reduced and it also helps to build communities and the local development.
“There are so many benefits of bringing vacant homes back into use. It’s not just for the housing need but it benefits the owner, it benefits communities and it benefits the local economy. In areas where we see, particularly as regards to our large urban areas, our towns and villages, they might be suffering from rural decline. This is a way to bring some activity and a sense of purpose back into those areas.”
On utilising vacant homes Mr Gilligan concluded:
“As a nation I think it is important we do that for so many benefits, from an economic point of view and particularly from a community point of view. You see all these vacant properties around and it’s our responsibility to put them back into use.
“It’s not always possible because there could be very legitimate reasons why a property is vacant. Someone might be in a nursing home or someone might be in the care of someone else. The other reasons we find as well is that maybe somebody has emigrated for a period of time and might be back in a year or two.
“What we’re trying to do with property owners, in particular, is to advise them of the schemes; Repair And Leasing and Buy & Renew. If a property owner comes to us and says they don’t have any money to their property up there’s an option here to do it. This is a way to incentivise and to try and get these properties back into use.”
Mayo County Council, in partnership with Code For Ireland, is currently developing an app for VacantHomes.ie.
For further information on this initiative you can access https://vacanthomes.ie/.