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Simon and DCU study suggests vacant units above shops could alleviate Ireland’s housing crisis


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Vacant apartments above shops could play a key role in providing housing in Ireland, according to a new report.

The study published on Tuesday — Opportunities and challenges of vacant above the shop units for residential use in Ireland — looks at repurposing empty buildings and making them available as social housing.

The research, a collaboration between Dublin Simon Community and Kathleen Stokes of Dublin City University, found that such properties are a “promising form of vacancy” and could provide social housing

The study comes as the latest Government figures show that more than 13,000 people were homeless in Ireland in January.

Dublin Simon CEO Catherine Kenny said: “Ireland now has 13,351 men, women, and children homeless as of January 2024.

Dublin Simon Community chief executive Catherine Kenny: ‘[T]he current scale of vacancy in Ireland is incongruent with the scale of our homeless and housing crises.’

“This a devastating figure and illustrates how the current scale of vacancy in Ireland is incongruent with the scale of our homeless and housing crises.

“By unlocking the potential of vacant units above shops, not only can we conserve existing structures and revitalise urban landscapes but, more importantly, we can look to create much-needed housing stock for our people.”

The report makes a number recommendations, including the following:

  • Innovative design renovations should be trialled in areas with high commercial or retail vacancy to improve local street life while expanding residential opportunities; 
  • The Government should make grants available to encourage the conversion of such properties into homes;
  • Tax rebates could be used to incentivise renovation or release of vacant units above shops for social or affordable residential use;
  • Those who own multiple vacant units above shops could be encouraged to renovate them simultaneously to increase efficiency and quality; 
  • Partnerships between government and not-for-profit groups could be established with a view to releasing renovated vacant units above shops as a combination of cost-rental, cooperative, and social housing.

Lead report researcher Kathleen Stokes said: “Our report contributes to a growing body of nuanced and targeted studies of vacancy in Ireland today, and critically interrogates the idea that VATSUs [vacant units above shops] can easily contribute to housing stock across Ireland.”

Dublin Simon CEO Catherine Kenny added: “While refurbishing a VATSU could require two to three times more investment than delivering a new unit, we cannot underestimate the environmental and social benefits of investing in bringing such units into use as opposed to leaving them vacant, underused, and sinking into further disrepair.

“So, while there are very large challenges for approved housing bodies in terms of funding, timelines, and feasibility at present, the Government and the sector still needs innovative ways to solve the housing and homeless crises — and therein lies the challenge.

“At Dublin Simon Community we believe that there is a pressing need to adapt the housing system, stock, and accompanying strategies to better meet the needs of our people and to breathe new life into our cities and towns. 

“I believe that this research represents a real opportunity — with the proper vision and investment — to provide housing for people in emergency accommodation and bring some decaying urban areas back to life.

“If the Government is serious about addressing the homeless and housing crises, then it must start to think outside the box with regards to how it can re-purpose existing vacant stock to help those homeless and in most need of permanent homes.” 


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