Over 7,167 people were trapped in emergency accommodation in January 2016, a year on year increase of 25% according to the most recent Homelessness Report published by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (DHPCLG). 1 In light of these homelessness figures, the preliminary Census findings make for startling reading. The Government has committed in Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness (Action Plan) to develop an overall national vacant housing re-use strategy utilising Census 2016 data. As part of this strategy the Action Plan contains a number of commitments regarding initiatives to reduce overall vacancy rates in the national public and private housing stock. In the short term, focusing on the ‘low hanging fruit’, vacant housing offers significant opportunities to provide permanent homes for those that need them most urgently.
In the longer term we must ensure the scale of the current housing and homelessness crisis is not repeated. To do so, the building and delivery of sustainable social and affordable housing output is vital combined with new measures to reduce vacancy levels to guarantee a functioning and effective social and private housing stock. It is critical that any measures introduced in this regard are reasonable, targeted, and that relationships required for their implementation are managed sensitively allowing for the balancing of parties respective rights and needs where possible. Urgent and sustained action is required to address dysfunctional levels of vacancy in Irish housing stock to unlock solutions to the current housing and homelessness crisis. To this end the Simon Communities in Ireland offer a broad ranging 10 point plan to address the many underlying issues that have given rise to elevated vacancy rates and the subsequent impact on housing availability across all housing sectors.