Boarded up homes on Connaught St, Phibsboro earlier this year

You may recall how the Census 2016 figures which showed 183,312 vacant houses in Ireland – excluding vacant holiday homes.

And how Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last week that:

“…the numbers [of houses] that are really vacant are actually much smaller than any of the figures show.

And the Irish Times reporting last week:

“… the real number of unoccupied houses and apartments might only be a tiny fraction of that, if the results of an investigation carried out by Fingal County Council are replicated elsewhere.

Its study, which involved council officials visiting houses listed as vacant, found that only a very small number of houses in the north county Dublin authority area (perhaps only 50 or 60) were genuinely unoccupied, compared with the 3,000 figure stated for Fingal in the official census returns.”

Rob Kitchin, on his Ireland After Nama blog, has looked at this story, acknowledging he couldn’t locate the Fingal County Council report or press release.

Mr Kitchin is a Professor of Human Geography and Director of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis at the National University of Maynooth

He writes:

“What is reported in the IT is:

‘The council initially conducted a desktop exercise on the 3,000 supposedly vacant properties. When commercial properties, as well as those in construction or in the planning process, were eliminated the figure fell to 361 properties.’  They then visited 74 of the 361 homes to check on occupancy, though it’s not stated how those 74 were sampled. 

Of those 74 visited, they discovered that only 13 were actually vacant. In other words, rather than having a vacancy rate of 5% (as reported in the 2016 census – 4,944 vacant units + 289 holiday homes), they have a rate of about 1% – far below what might be an expected base vacancy level of 6% (there are always some units vacant due to selling, gaps between renting, working temporarily elsewhere, people in healthcare, etc.). 

I have no doubt in the 18 months since the census in April 2016 properties that were vacant will have been occupied, however it seems unlikely that vacancy is so far below base vacancy, which is what the IT piece seems to be suggesting.

“In terms of method it is unlikely that the CSO shared the individual addresses of vacant properties as identified in the census with Fingal.

“But if they were working from census data then it does not include commercial properties, nor properties under-construction, or in the planning process, or derelict.

“So removing those properties from census counts would make no sense – they were never counted by the CSO. Indeed, in a rebuttal story in the Irish Times, the CSO stand over their data and method – which is to send enumerators to every property in the country, to visit upwards of ten times if they fail to get an answer, and to talk to neighbours to try and ascertain the use status.

“…In my view, there needs to be a branch-and-root review of property data in Ireland.

“This needs to start with asking the question: what data do we need to generate to best understand planning, housing, commercial property, infrastructure need, etc?

“…With good quality data that people trust we might avoid different agencies producing wildly estimates of some element of housing or commercial property, such as vacancy rates, and we would greatly aid our planning and economic development.

“However, if we carry on as we are, we’re going to continue to fly half-blind and only have a partial or flawed understanding of present conditions and we are going to replicate mistakes of the past.”

We still need better property data (Rob Kitchin, Ireland After Nama)

Thanks Mel Reynolds

14 thoughts on “Pretty Vacant

  1. Paps

    Can I have the job of visiting the 183,000 proposed vacant houses? Sounds like a lovely soft gig and definitely money well spent.

  2. Diddy

    Census fault. All dubious properties should be fully investigated to provide a reliable data set. I’d also like to know who didn’t fill in the form.. i.e. Who’s here that shouldn’t be..

    1. Barry the Hatchet

      I’ve read this comment several times and it still makes absolutely no sense to me. How is this the fault of the CSO? They do investigate empty properties – it says it right there in the post. And it’s been reported elsewhere that the CSO (which goes to great lengths to ensure forms are filled out) is seeking to prosecute eight people for failing to fill in the form at the last census. And it’s the job of the GNBI to keep track of immigration figures. You can’t expect census enumerators to be asking to see people’s visas.

  3. Barry the Hatchet

    Thanks for this Rob (and Broadsheet). It struck me as an outrageous (and terribly convenient) claim Leo was making. And once again it is unsurprising that the media has totally abrogated its responsibility to actually verify any of the things it reports.

  4. theo kretschmar schuldorff

    Why in heaven’s name aren’t they starting with the umpteen volunteer projects which specifically track all the vacant homes in Dublin (where the problem is)
    Projects like list the whole lot of them (809 by their count).
    This side-show about the reliability of census data is DAFT, and a smokescreen for the inertia of local authorities.

  5. realPolithicks

    Typical of this government, when they don’t like the numbers they simply rubbish them even if they are produced by another government agency. When the numbers work for their argument, they defend them to the hilt.

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