herald

Sunday 24 September 2017

Turning derelict buildings into real solutions for homeless

Francis Doherty, of the Peter McVerry Trust, outside the modern and energy-efficient homes
at St Agatha’s Court. Photo: Damien Eagers
Francis Doherty, of the Peter McVerry Trust, outside the modern and energy-efficient homes at St Agatha’s Court. Photo: Damien Eagers

Eleven apartments that lay empty for a decade will soon be ready to take in new tenants as part of a €57m regeneration vision for modern social housing.

St Agatha's Court in Ballybough in the north inner city was a half-derelict 1960s corporation building and a playground for vandals.

However, the Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) has rejuvenated the 11 apartments at a cost of €1.5m.

This is only the first stage of an ambitious plan to renovate some of the 33,000 vacant properties in Dublin.

PMVT spokesman Francis Doherty said: "We are showcasing how quickly we can turn empty buildings into homes for the homeless.

"We're hopeful private landowners will come forward and enter the scheme.

"This will be a quick win in terms of housing delivery in the next couple of years.

"The homeowner will get market value for a sale, or if they choose to lease their home long-term they get a grant and a guaranteed rent."

The St Agatha's Court apartments are owned by Dublin City Council and leased long-term to the charity.

They will be available for social housing tenants at the end of the month.

But the apartments are just a tiny piece in a vast jigsaw, as the charity attempts to solve Dublin's homeless crisis against the backdrop of escalating rents.

Grant

The PMVT is asking homeowners to sell vacant properties at market value, or avail of a €40,000 grant to renovate homes - with the charity taking charge of each property's maintenance.

While rental and property prices climb, the charity said there were "plenty of properties" but many were disused.

"Peter McVerry will manage the contractor and the tenant and ensure properties are maintained," said Mr Doherty.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimates that 33,000 homes are vacant in Dublin, and around 200,000 properties are disused nationwide.

However, the national figure is believed to be much higher because the CSO does not take account of derelict homes.

Some properties are owned by those who cannot afford to renovate them, while others belonged to people who have died.

The PMVT said even homes without roofs and dilapidated properties have the potential to be rejuvenated.

"You're really talking two or three years worth of housing supply sitting empty in the city, waiting for someone to turn them round and get the properties back into the housing system," said Mr Doherty.

The Government has released €32m for the Renovating and Leasing Scheme (RLS) and €25m for the Buy and Renew Scheme (BRS).

Under RLS, the Government said it was possible to bring 800 properties back into social housing use this year.

The scheme will be funded with €140m up until 2021, when the Department of Housing estimates 3,500 properties could be secured for social housing.

If BRS is successful, the department plans to push the funding of this initiative up by as much as €50m next year, with estimates of up to 500 properties being renewed for social housing.

The PMVT, along with the department, also hopes to tackle social deprivation and dereliction in urban areas.

If St Agatha's is an indication, with its pristine magnolia exterior, beechwood panelling and royal blue front doors, social housing has a new face and is more palatable than ever.

"We are sending a message to people that we value them and we want to offer them the best homes we can secure," said Mr Doherty.

"The homes here at St Agatha's Court are all modern in design. Each property is energy-efficient, with its own parking space and bicycle locker.

Emotion

"Our architects looked at extra-value bay windows that let light pour into the rooms.

"They're in the heart of a community, with a health centre nearby, shops, a school.

"We see the emotion when people move in to our properties, they realise this is their home.

"We have sofas, TVs and even butter in the fridge and bread in the press ready for them."

Residents will not fit the stereotypical "homeless" label - some tenants are likely to have been renting and have lost their homes due to colossal price hikes.

At least one tenant will be taken from the street.

Most of the properties will house single men and women - the most difficult group to rehome - but there is also a townhouse for a couple or single parent and child. A lift will allow a disabled tenant to move in.

"We are looking to integrate people into the community," Mr Doherty said.

"These will be people from all backgrounds, who will be given a new future, and we want to see this expanded across the city."

The number of homeless children and families is now at its highest in history.

Department of Housing figures show that 1,069 families - including 2,134 children - are homeless in Dublin.

A total of 7,148 are experiencing homelessness.

Anyone with a vacant home should contact emptyhomes@pmvtrust.ie for information.

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