Vacant property owners need to ‘answer Ireland’s call’
People could move to their holiday homes to free up housing near hospitals for medics
Coronavirus pandemic. Tom Gilligan of Mayo County Council says the emphasis of the initiative would be on sourcing homes for key workers, and to assist people living in overcrowded accommodation. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA Wire
A local authority initiative designed to bring vacant homes back into use is seeking property owners to “answer Ireland’s call” and make housing available for medics returning from abroad.
Vacanthomes.ie was developed in 2017 by Mayo County Council on behalf of the local government sector, to allow local authorities to identify empty houses that could be used to help solve the housing crisis.
Tom Gilligan, director of services with Mayo County Council, said the emphasis of the initiative during the coronavirus pandemic would be on sourcing homes, on a short-term basis, for key workers such as hospital staff, and to assist people living in overcrowded accommodation.
“We are already in the midst of a housing crisis and obviously with the new coronavirus pandemic the need for housing has become more acute.”
In particular, he said, doctors nurses and other healthcare workers returning from abroad may not be a position to move in with family members, and could find it difficult to source appropriate accommodation.
“People are coming back from abroad to help with this pandemic – medics and other key hospital staff. None of us know how long this pandemic is going to last, and hotel accommodation may not be the most suitable accommodation for them, beyond the very short term, if we want these medics to perform at their best,” Mr Gilligan said.
“Those doctors and nurses are answering Ireland’s call. We want to send out a call to property owners who have vacant properties that it is time for them to step up and answer Ireland’s call.”
Vacanthomes.ie is working with the Housing Agency on a proposal to source vacant homes on short-term leases of three to six months to provide accommodation quickly. Mr Gilligan is appealing to anyone with a vacant property to come forward, including student-accommodation providers, where they can offer self-contained rather than communal units, institutional-property investors and large-scale landlords, or even people who have holiday homes.
“The 2016 census showed there were 62,000 holiday homes. With remote working, it might be possible for people who live in cities or near hospitals who own holiday homes to instead move to those holiday homes, for the duration of the pandemic, so their houses in Dublin and elsewhere could be rented out to hospital staff for a short term.”
The duration of the lease could be restricted to three to six months, but for those with concerns about being able to recover their properties at the end of the term, particularly large-scale landlords, “service level agreements” instead of leases could be established with local authorities, Mr Gilligan said.
“We need to be innovative and think outside the box here. We want to look at all the options to maximise the number of homes we can bring into use.”
In addition to the need for housing for healthcare workers, there was a concern that coronavirus could spread in overcrowded homes.
“We welcome that evictions can no longer take place but some people are still living in overcrowded accommodation, so we also need some of the many vacant homes around the country to help alleviate that pressure.”
The reuse of existing homes was likely to become more important if larger housing construction sites began to close down, he said.
“We are facing an extraordinary situation, the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes. And we need to look at radical solutions.”