Number of vacant homes ‘may be grossly overstated’

Dublin study indicates that census data on unoccupied houses and apartments is inaccurate

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has said all possible solutions to the housing crisis would be looked at. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has said all possible solutions to the housing crisis would be looked at. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The number of vacant homes in the State may be grossly overstated, the findings of a pilot study in one local authority area has indicated. 

In last year’s census, a total of 183,000 vacant residential properties were identified across State, some 30,000 of which were in Dublin. 

However, the real number of unoccupied houses and apartments might only be a tiny fraction of that, if the results of an investigation carried out by Fingal County Council are replicated elsewhere.

Its study, which involved council officials visiting houses listed as vacant, found that only a very small number of houses in the north county Dublin authority area (perhaps only 50 or 60) were genuinely unoccupied, compared with the 3,000 figure stated for Fingal in the official census returns.

The study involved physically checking out 76 “empty” homes to discover that 63 of them were in fact fully occupied.

The information is contained in a circular sent by the Department of Housing late last week to the planning and housing directors of all local authorities. 

It instructs all local authorities to initiate vacant homes action plans, and to identify as a priority coherent and accurate data on how many vacant properties there are. 

‘Overstated’

“The number of vacant properties has definitely been overstated,” Fingal county manager Paul Reid told The Irish Times.

“There is certainly a drastic difference between the top number and what we found on the ground.”

If that figure were replicated elsewhere, it would mean that the number of vacant homes and apartments that could be reoccupied could be fewer than 10,000, far fewer that the Government’s estimates.

Returning vacant homes to occupancy has been a central plank of the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland strategy with thousands of such properties being earmarked for reuse.

The council initially conducted a desktop exercise on the 3,000 supposedly vacant properties. When commercial properties, as well as those in construction or in the planning process, were eliminated the figure fell to 361 properties.

In the second phase of the project, inspectors from the council visited 74 of those 361 properties to determine their status. They discovered that only 13 were actually vacant.

Extrapolating the findings to the 360 properties, it could mean that, out of the initial 3,000 properties identified, only between 50 and 60 might be residential properties that are vacant.

The Cabinet yesterday discussed the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis, with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy later confirming all possible solutions would be looked at including the return of bedsits.

“I think we have to look at all possible solutions. I have been looking at that over the summer and I will be coming with an announcement on that shortly,” he said.