By Francis Doherty, Director of Housing Development and Communications at Peter McVerry Trust
At Peter McVerry Trust we are focused on finding pragmatic, effective and sustainable solutions to the homeless crisis. Since 2013 we have developed a reputation as an agency that takes on challenging derelict sites and vacant building renewal projects. By doing so, we have clearly demonstrated the opportunities presented by vacant and derelict buildings as part of wider response to housing need.
Our early foray into this space was borne out of an effort to find an effective and quick way to deliver housing in areas of need for homeless persons (urban centric); to fit with our scale and model of supports (anywhere between 1-25 social housing units); and within walking distance to key amenities for the future tenants (shops, post office, chemist, GP, school, work, etc).
Focusing on this space offered other key benefits. Firstly, there was limited competition and in particular limited competition for these sites and properties with first time buyers/owner-occupiers. Secondly, we could win over neighbours and communities more readily by showing the positive outcomes associated with reducing the anti-social behaviour that many derelict sites and vacant buildings have on communities and also removing the nightmare of actually living next to an abandoned property.
However, sustainability was always a tacit part of what we were doing and an important factor in our conscious decision to grow this area to become the primary method of housing delivery for Peter McVerry Trust. The visibility of the issue of vacancy and dereliction, the evidence that came about from the CSO and others showed the enormous volume of re-usable resources that could provide a lifetime of housing opportunities.
Viewed in today’s context, nearly a decade on, Peter McVerry Trust’s decision to focus on this area as means of housing delivery looks like an appropriate choice. Over 85% of our housing delivery comes from re-use of existing long-term vacant properties and brownfield infill urban developments (we only provide bike storage and no car park spaces). In the period 2021-2025 we will deliver 1,200 new social housing units and 1,000 of those will come from reusing existing properties and infill developments.
The single biggest issue facing society is of course the climate emergency, no organisation or its day to day operations are immune from the impact of climate change. The people with whom Peter McVerry Trust works and supports are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change impacts in Ireland. Yet housing, or more correctly the construction sector, is one of the largest sectoral emitters in the State and needs to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030. When measured against a plan to ramp up housing outputs by tens of thousands of homes per year its is hard to marry those two objectives.
However, there is a pathway to succeed on both fronts. Ireland has tens of thousands of empty properties, some may offer only a single housing output if re-used but the same number, if not more, will offer the chance to create multiple homes per property. This is the area we need to focus on and activate, reusing these buildings can offer pathways to affordable and social housing across all areas of Ireland. It can do so in way that is much more sustainable than taking up yet another green field, building another new road and pumping out more emissions on steel and concrete.
While we are only a drop in the ocean we want to continue to lead and demonstrate that there are pathways to succeed in our mission without sacrificing our goal of ensuring we minimise the impact on our climate and the natural world.
Heads up from IGBC:
To celebrate World Green Building Week 2022, the IGBC organised a series of events to show how we can accelerate a sustainable built environment for everyone. On Friday 16 September we invite you to join a tour of St Agatha court and see how Peter McVerry Trust brought back to life these derelict buildings by renovating them into high-quality social housing.
About Peter McVerry Trust
Peter McVerry Trust is a national housing and homeless charity committed to reducing homelessness and the harm caused by substance misuse and social disadvantage. The charity provides low-threshold entry services, primarily to younger people and vulnerable adults with complex needs, and offers pathways out of homelessness based on the principles of the Housing First model.
In 2021, the charity worked with over 10,000 people and was active in 28 local authorities across Ireland. Peter McVerry Trust’s vision is an Ireland that supports all those on the margins and upholds their rights to full inclusion in society.