Government strategy to make use of vacant properties welcomed

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The publication of the Government’s National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy has been welcomed by Galway Simon Community.

The local charity has said that immediate action now needs to be taken in order for the strategy to start having an impact on the homelessness crisis in Galway.

They also said that focusing on the reuse of vacant properties in Galway in the short term will provide homes for those who urgently need across the city and county.

According to the 2016 Census, there were 9,646 vacant homes in County Galway, a vacant rate of 12.3% and 2,841 in the City, a vacant rate of 8.4%.

With 292 adults in emergency accommodation in Galway, as well as hundreds more sleeping rough, sofa surfing, ‘hidden homeless’ or living in homeless services, the charity says bringing some of these vacant homes back into use would provide welcome additional housing.

Karen Golden, CEO of Galway Simon Community said the strategy could make a significant impact in addressing the current crisis and must be implemented as a matter of urgency.

“We welcome the Minister’s announcement and the publication of the long awaited Vacant Homes Strategy. Improving the effectiveness of the management of housing stock in Galway and across the country is a matter that requires urgent constructive intervention.

“Bringing vacant properties back into active use will provide additional housing which in turn will relieve pressure on some of the people who are currently experiencing the stress and trauma of homelessness and housing instability.

“We need to have forensic examination of Local Authority housing stock with additional funding mechanisms structured to incentivise a swift turnaround of these properties back into use.

“The Simon Communities have been highlighting the potential of vacant homes for some considerable time now and last year, we published our Ten Point Plan which looked at solutions to addressing vacant homes across Ireland.

“There is reference within the National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy  to exploration of possible taxation measures. Homes empty for more than 12 months should be subject to a vacant property tax.

“Introducing measures such as the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) and Compulsory Leasing Orders (CLOs) should also be considered.

“ Ultimately, this would mean that homes which lie vacant for a long period of time could be leased by Local Authorities for use as social housing.

“Uptake of the Repair and Lease scheme has been low and this should be reviewed with targets revised upwards, ensuring the schemes can attract the greatest number of homeowners possible.

“We welcome the commitment to engage with the Housing Agency and Approved Housing Bodies. AHBs must be supported to the greatest extent to participate in this process given their proven track record in providing housing services to those that need them most. Priority must be given to those with the greatest housing needs.

“The use of vacant properties alone will not solve the current crisis or prevent future housing crises but it can make a significant contribution to reducing the numbers experiencing homelessness. In addition, this government and future governments must ensure the building and delivery of sustainable social and affordable housing in Galway and across the country in order to prevent a housing crisis of this magnitude happening again.”