Waterford City and County Council leads the way in tackling vacancies

Waterford City and County Council leads the way in tackling vacancies

Last month, Dublin City University (DCU) and the Dublin Simon Community published “Opportunities and Challenges of Vacant ‘Above the Shop’ Units (VATSUs) for Residential Use in Ireland.”

According to the report, vacant above the shop units (VATSUs) are particularly complex units to bring into reuse, requiring significantly more flexibility, resources, risk mitigation and absorption, contingency planning, and multi-disciplinary work than other types of vacant units. The report addresses the challenges, opportunities and processes presented by the conversion/reuse of VATSUs for residential use.

Waterford featured prominently in the report as an example of where a local authority can activate and encourage the reuse of vacant above-shop buildings and spaces, in particular due to its widespread take up of the Repair and Leasing (RLS) scheme.

The report noted, “Property owners are working closely with local government officials to renovate vacant properties, including VATSUs, and increase social housing stock in the process. Following on this trend, one business owner has renovated two of their properties using RLS in recent years. Along with stripping both buildings back completely ‘from the floor to the roof’, renovations included putting in new walls, ceilings, floors, rewiring, replumbing, and kitchens. They also had to take out and rebuild the rear wall on one of the buildings, as it was in a poor state of repair, and put in a vented bin store outside each building.”

The continued uptake and delivery through the Repair and Lease scheme were noted, with Waterford accounting for a substantial number of dwellings brought back into use.

More recently in the Dáil on April 9th Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said, “Waterford City and County Council is the leading local authority in delivering units under RLS.

“It participated in the original pilot scheme, commencing in October 2016. To end 2023, Waterford has delivered 312 homes under RLS, 56% of national delivery.  This includes the largest RLS project to date, St Joseph’s House, Manor Hill, where 71 homes have been created in a previously vacant convent in a city centre location.”

In June last year, the Minister cut the ribbon on the age-friendly housing development at the landmark site on Manor Hill, saying, “Waterford City and County Council is leading the way in delivering new social and affordable homes, and in particular in tackling vacancy which to be frank is a scourge in many villages, towns, and cities across the country.”

The former convent has been transformed with 50 dwelling units located within the main building and 21 located in the various out-building clusters on the site, while the former chapel on the site has been repurposed as a community space for multiple uses by tenants.

Over €4.9 million was approved through the Repair and Lease Scheme, funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.  The funding was provided under Housing for All – A New Housing Plan for Ireland.  The Repair and Lease Scheme has been pioneered in Waterford and is a significant driver in providing high quality affordable housing solutions and at the same time has significantly addressed and delivered the return to use of vacant buildings in Waterford.

In County Waterford, 48% of homes provided to the end of 2023 by RLS are one-bed units, with a further 37% providing two-bed homes.

The Report Opportunities and Challenges of Vacant “Above the Shop” Units (VATSUs) for Residential Use in Ireland  by Michelle Connolly of Dublin Simon Community and Dr Kathleen Stokes of Dublin City University can be found at:

https://www.dubsimon.ie/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/19834_VATSU_Report_Web.pdf