This month’s blog examines how the 167,000 vacant homes in Ireland could be utilised to tackle homelessness and increase our social housing stock.
The Housing Crisis at a Glance
The number of people living in emergency homeless accommodation is on a worrying upward trend. According to the latest figures from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, 10,492 people are now in homelessness. We are dangerously close to the highest number of people living in emergency accommodation on record. The highest ever was recorded in October 2019 when 10,514 people were homeless
People at all levels of society are starting to feel the pinch and effects of our housing and homelessness crisis:
- Rents have become unsustainably high: The national average rent for new tenancies now sits at €1,460 a month according to latest RTB data. After deductions, the take-home pay for a full-time single worker on the €10.50 minimum wage is €1,622 a month.
- House prices continue to increase: the average national listing price in Q2 of 2022 was €311,874 according to daft.ie; a 9.5% year-on-year increase.
- The number of properties available to rent is at an all-time low: Our latest Locked Out of the Market research report found only 657 properties available to rent at any price in 16 major towns and cities. This represents a 70% drop in the number of properties available year-on-year. The number of properties affordable under HAP too dropped drastically in this time from 906 in June 2021 to just 37 in June 2022.
Homeless Policies cannot work if there are no Houses
Ireland is home to some progressive, person-centred policies that successfully prevent and lift people out of homelessness;
- 85% of people with Housing First tenancies did not lose their home.
- 39% of homeless exits in the first half of 2022 were achieved through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). HAP also prevented 1,011 adults from entering homelessness in that same time; 78% of the total adults prevented from entering emergency accommodation.
The success of these policies and others in reducing homelessness is inhibited by a lack of housing – specifically affordable and social housing.
Bring Vacant Homes into the Market for Social Housing Use
According to the latest CSO data, there are nearly 167,000 vacant homes in Ireland. These are modest estimates, as figures do not include ‘over the shop’ space, holiday homes, or vacant commercial space.
It is unacceptable to have so many vacant homes while our housing crisis spirals out of control. The Minister has announced plans to introduce a Vacant Property Tax in Budget 2023, in line with commitments in Housing for All. This is a positive step towards discouraging vacancy. However, we need stronger incentives to bring vacant homes to the market and ensure these homes are used to house people in homelessness. To achieve this, the Simon Communities of Ireland have called, in our 2023 Pre-Budget Submission, for a renewed focus on a rejuvenated Repair and Lease Scheme (RLS) to bring vacant properties into use with a focus on housing the 10,492 people in homelessness and 61,880 on social housing waiting lists.
RLS targets owners of vacant properties who cannot afford or access the funding needed to bring their property into a state of repair. Properties are then available for Local Authorities for social housing for a prolonged period.
Simon Communities of Ireland proposals for a renewed Repair and Lease Scheme:
- Increased targets to 5,000 vacant homes a year
- Increase RLS loans available and introduce a grant element to allow a maximum of €190,000 under the scheme against cost of repairs.
- Increase minimum lease from 5 years to 15 years
- Focus on increasing supply of one-bedroom properties
- Introduce a minimum of four additional staff in each Local Authority to deal with vacancy
- Run a public awareness campaign on the reformed scheme
- Plan for the future of the scheme and its potential to optimise our housing stock
A transformed RLS would allow a large number of vacant properties to be brought back quickly for social housing use (while our Local Authorities continue to build stock) without putting pressure on the existing market. This would help to reduce the number of people in homelessness, the State’s reliance on HAP and waiting lists for social housing. A wide-scale reduction in the number of vacant properties in our villages, towns, and cities will breathe life back into our communities, improve social cohesion, and increase footfall to local businesses and amenities.
Make housing a Constitutional Right
Increasing levels of homelessness and a high number of vacant homes are symptoms of a broken housing system. Including a right to housing in the Constitution has an enormous potential to be a catalyst for change. A constitutional right to housing would reprioritise housing and place an onus on the Government to ensure there are suitable levels of affordable housing throughout the country.
The Government has announced plans to host a referendum on housing but has yet to commit to this being a referendum on the right to housing. This very important distinction needs clarity now.
The Housing Commission have launched a public consultation seeking views on a Referendum on Housing in Ireland. The consultation asks submissions to consider whether there should be a constitutional amendment regarding housing and what form it should take.
The Simon Community will be making a submission to this consultation and urge you to do the same. We need your help ensure that people in Ireland are given the opportunity to vote for the right to housing to be recognised in our Constitution.
This submission is an opportunity to have your voice heard and ensure housing becomes a constitutional right. Join us online on August 25th to learn more about how you can get involved in making a submission.
 Homeless Quarterly Progress Report for Q2 2022. Available here: https://assets.gov.ie/230948/ae193306-0fd3-4699-8860-8e4d30201b80.pdf
 Housing for All Objective 19.12. Collect data on vacancy levels in residential property with a view to introducing a vacant property tax