Enough vacant buildings to solve Ireland’s homeless crisis, conference told

Dublin event highlights potential of repurposing old buildings to provide housing

There are enough vacant properties in Ireland to solve the homeless problem, an expert in providing accommodation for homeless people said at a debate on the housing crisis, vacancy and dereliction in Dublin this weekend.

“There are about 24 empty homes for every homeless household in Ireland,” said Francis Doherty, director of housing development at the Peter McVerry Trust at the Open House architectural festival’s Big Debate on Friday night. His figures were drawn from the 2022 census of 166,752 vacant houses and apartments and an approximate figure of 7,000 homeless households.

Speaking about how the Peter McVerry Trust began re-developing derelict buildings in towns and cities across Ireland in 2013, Doherty said that this conversion of vacant buildings kills the myth that you can’t use heritage buildings for homeless accommodation.

“There is no building that can’t be adapted. Eighty-five per cent of all the social housing we provide for homeless people happens on redeveloped brown field sites which provide a better outcome for our clients because they are close to amenities,” said Doherty. Former convents, monasteries, pubs, hairdressers and a grainstore in Tralee are among the properties that have been redeveloped as residential accommodation by the charity.


Architect, Valerie Mulvin said that a wider variety of older buildings needs to be listed, protected and repurposed imaginatively to keep our urban spaces alive.

“We also need more flexible regulation – particularly fire regulations – as modern standards don’t always work on older buildings,” said Mulvin. She said that one stop shops, similar to those in local authorities in Germany, would make the restoration of historic buildings much easier. The introduction of compulsory management orders, like those in the UK, was also suggested as a mechanism to force vacant buildings into reuse.

The audience in Dublin’s Science Gallery also heard how artists and community organisations are being pushed out of the city by big build to rent developments. “I’ve recently heard about a kick-boxing training studio is Cabra which has been squeezed out by a build to rent development. This kind of thing is happening all over the city. These community spaces should be classed just as important as a hospital,” said panelist Laoise Neylon at the debate.

The proliferation of new hotels and build to rent properties with mainly studio or one bed apartments was criticised by several panelists. “The city needs to be full of people who can live with all their family throughout out their whole life,” said Ms Mulvin.

Architect, Roisin Murphy, who chaired the panel discussion that architects should join the “no build” movement to promote the reuse of derelict and vacant buildings in a climate crisis rather than using more carbon to build new buildings.

“The argument used to be that it’s cheaper to knock it down but that is no longer the case with the increased cost of building. We need to empower councils to stop hoarding and land-banking by developers,” she said.

Other speakers called for a ban on evictions and a referendum on the right to housing. The Housing Commission currently has a working group discussing the appropriate wording for such a vote.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment