Call for more supports to redevelop units above shops into homes

Simon charity and DCU report says properties above shops could help tackle housing crisis and revitalise urban locations

The Government needs to look at an enhanced system of financial supports to encourage more people and housing agencies to redevelop vacant units above shops, a new report suggests.

With a more targeted focus on properties above retail spaces, fresh sources of homes could be quickly identified to help tackle the housing crisis and revitalise urban locations while conserving heritage buildings. That’s according to the Opportunities and Challenges of Vacant “Above the Shop” Units (VATSUs) for Residential Use in Ireland report from the Dublin Simon Community and Dr Kathleen Stokes of Dublin City University.

Funded by the Housing Agency, it examines the opportunities, processes and complexities of repurposing vacant units above commercial properties for residential use, particularly for social housing.

Chief executive of Dublin Simon Catherine Kenny said more than 13,000 people were homeless, describing it as “a devastating figure” which illustrates how “the current scale of vacancy in Ireland is incongruent with the scale of our homeless and housing crises”.

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“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,” she said.

Ms Kenny accepted that refurbishing such properties “could require two-three times more investment than delivering a new unit” but stressed the environmental and social benefits of investing in bringing such units into use. “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.”

While the Croí Cónaithe scheme now offers grant aid up to €50,000 to renovate a property deemed vacant, and €70,000 for one that is accepted as derelict, the report recommends fresh subsidies.

The report suggests further grants should be considered for people assessing the potential of vacant units for home conversion while tax rebates for the renovation of units for social or affordable homes in areas where demand for housing is high should also be on the table.

It also suggests exploring if owners of multiple VATSUs, particularly when co-located across multiple buildings, could come together to examine ways of renovating simultaneously to increase the cost-efficiency and quality of residential units.

And the report suggests the establishment of partnerships between Government and not-for-profit housing providers, with a view to releasing renovated VATSUs as a combination of cost-rental, co-operative and social housing.

“Through collaboration with stakeholders and in-depth case studies, we’ve identified practical solutions and policy recommendations to facilitate the conversion of these vacant units into vibrant residential spaces,” Dr Stokes said.

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