Vacant buildings all over Ireland are being left to slowly decay, while supply of accommodation struggles to meet demand, with an acute need for quality housing.
According to the Geodirectory residential building report published in 2022, there are over 29,000 vacant commercial units across Ireland and when combined with over 90,000 vacant residential units, this suggests that there are almost 120,000 vacant buildings, a good proportion of which could potentially be returned to commercial, community or residential uses on the streets of towns and cities across the country (Geodirectory 2022).
Peter Horgan, Co-founder and Managing Director of Grayling Properties, shares his insights on one of the ways the issue may be rectified to help bridge the gap between supply and demand, while repurposing abandoned structures and creating quality accommodation. Making the case for allowing co-living developments in Ireland when converting vacant city centre commercial buildings, Horgan points to co-living as part of the mix in addressing accommodation supply.
At Grayling Properties, we are advocates for the restoration and refurbishment of disused buildings. At this point the issue is a national problem but it’s particularly noticeable within neighbourhoods in the capital where dereliction seems to be the thief of community spirit, making it challenging for city-dwellers to feel as if they are part of an active community. Sadly, dereliction has become part of the fabric of where we live, with more and more commercial spaces laying idle. It acts as a constant reminder of wasted potential. What should be homes for children, families, or individuals, instead lay long-term derelict, alongside potential play and workspaces.
The best and most sustainable way of preserving buildings is to make them relevant, useful and fit-for-purpose for their owners and occupiers. For example, our development team has been working on a new project in Rathmines that will see a vacant commercial unit turned into a co-living space comprising of 110 units. In the near future we believe that it is a viable option to transform vacant buildings into comfortable homes the modern city-dweller desires in order to reduce the gap between supply and demand across the housing market. Imagine a city where dereliction is turned into an opportunity to create a liveable urban environment where everyone can thrive with no exceptions made, where experience is prioritised over consumption and where we can make the most of the resources that we currently have.
Last year the state unveiled its Housing for All plan to spend €4 billion per annum on building more than 33,000 new homes a year by the end of the decade to combat the housing crisis. While this is a welcomed step in the right direction the focus continues to be solely on building new homes and developments, which simply is not an affordable or sustainable solution to the problem at hand. We propose that all options are considered in the bid to increase housing supply.
Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis is one of the longest and most severe that the country has experienced. At the same time, countless properties are falling into decline nationally. With the country’s population on a steady incline, we need to be proactive, expanding our approach to providing a solution for the problem. There is a clear opportunity to transform disused buildings into residential units, but the sector seems to lack the support of the government. Blocks of student accommodation and hotels are currently being developed from vacant office and commercial buildings, but the economics do not quite equate the same for the traditional residential developments and often the layout of commercial buildings is an issue when converting to residential. Thus we believe co-living should be re-introduced for this purpose.
Co-living is an option that we believe must be part of the solution. Co-living is so much more than a student house or university campus accommodation. The concept is growing in popularity, particularly amongst millennials looking to move into neighbourhoods in major cities such as London, Copenhagen and Dublin. The community living concept enables young professionals to live with like-minded people, sharing costs and benefiting from flexible rental terms. While properly regulated co-living holds many benefits such as convenient living, affordability and creating a sense of belonging, it also encourages a more sustainable lifestyle while also contributing to a much-needed sustainable solution to the current housing crisis. Studies found that co-living communities had emissions one third that of the average UK household, while another report indicated that living with others reduces a person’s environmental footprint by an average of 23%.
The centres of our towns and cities contain a large quantity of underused building stock, including unused or underused floors above ground-floor retail premises. To increase the supply of new homes, the reuse of such floor space for residential use and re-introduction of co-living must be encouraged. Irrespective of where they are occurring, vacant and abandoned properties are damaging to the well-being of the surrounding communities and neighbourhoods. The main benefit of restoring these unused structures is, undoubtedly, the provision of quality, sustainable housing for the individuals and families who need it the most. Additionally, returning partially vacant buildings to residential use provides us with a great opportunity as a society. Housing reintroduced into the viable stock can provide increased income or capital for the owner while also transforming the affected locations into refined multifunctional places in which people want to live, work and socialise.
Keeping in theme with the principles of the 15 Minute City, such revitalised localities would allow people to walk or cycle to work, school or shops while tourists and other visitors would be attracted by the enhanced cultural environments that would result from the restoration and of these urban spaces.