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A vacant above the shop unit

DCU and Dublin Simon launch research on vacancy

Thinking Outside the Box: New Ground-Breaking Report from DCU and Dublin Simon Explores Refurbishment of Vacant “Above the Shop” Units for Residential Use

A targeted focus on vacant above the shop units could provide a new source of housing in Ireland, revitalise urban locations and effectively conserve heritage buildings across Ireland - according to a Dublin City University and Dublin Simon report released today.

The ground-breaking research report titled "The Opportunities and Challenges of Vacant ‘Above the Shop’ Units (VATSUs) for Residential Use in Ireland" delves into the opportunities, processes, and complexities of repurposing vacant units above commercial properties for residential use, particularly for social housing.  The research was delivered in a collaboration between Dublin Simon Community and Dr Kathleen Stokes of Dublin City University (previously the University of Galway), and was funded by the Housing Agency under their Research Support Programme.

VATSUs are increasingly recognised as a promising form of vacancy that could contribute to increased housing stock across Ireland. However, the research details complex challenges facing individuals and government in using VATSUs to help alleviate the housing crisis in cities and towns.

Catherine Kenny, CEO of Dublin Simon, reflecting on the report states,

“Society is rightfully aware of significant vacant and derelict properties across our cities and towns. Ireland now has 13,351 men, women and children homeless as of January 2024. This a devastating figure and illustrates how the current scale of vacancy in Ireland is incongruent with scale of our homeless and housing crises.  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."

The findings offer valuable insights for policymakers, housing organisations, and urban planners seeking innovative solutions to housing challenges, whilst maintaining the structure of our historical buildings and the social cohesion of our communities.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Trialling innovative design renovations of vacant buildings in areas with high commercial or retail vacancy, to improve local street life while expanding residential opportunities from VATSUs to the ground floor.

  • Examining the potential for feasibility grants to examine the residential potential of VATSUs, and estimated costs for renovation.

  • Exploring tax rebates or similar to incentivise renovation or release of VATSUs for social or affordable residential use in areas with high housing demand.

  • Seeking out owners of multiple VATSUs, particularly when co-located across multiple buildings, to examine ways of renovating simultaneously to increase the cost-efficiency and quality of residential units.

  • Establishing partnerships between government and not-for-profit housing providers, with a view to releasing renovated VATSUs as a combination of cost-rental, cooperative, and social housing.

Dr. Kathleen Stokes, lead report researcher adds, 

"Our report contributes to a growing body of nuanced and targeted studies of vacancy in Ireland today, and critically interrogates the idea that VATSUs can easily contribute to housing stock across Ireland. While there is great potential for such spaces to become homes, VATSUs can be more complex and costly to bring back to use. 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.”

Catherine Kenny agrees, 

“While refurbishing a VATSU could require 2-3 times more investment than delivering a new unit, we cannot underestimate the environmental and social benefits of investing in bringing such units into use as opposed to leaving them vacant, underused and sinking into further disrepair. So, 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.

“At Dublin Simon Community we believe that there is a pressing need to adapt the housing system, stock, and accompanying strategies to better meet the need of our people and to breathe new life into our cities and towns. I believe that this research represents a real opportunity - with the proper vision and investment - to provide housing for people in emergency accommodation and bring some decaying urban areas back to life. If the Government is serious about addressing the homeless and housing crises then it must start to think outside the box with regards to how it can repurpose existing vacant stock to help those homeless and in most need of permanent homes.”

For more information and to access the full report, please follow this link.