Ghost estates: an Irish epidemic

A ghost estate in Mullingar  (photo by Lee Bonass)

A ghost estate in Mullingar
(photo by Lee Bonass)

Housing is a big issue in Ireland, ever since the start of the Celtic Tiger. People binged on the thought of leaving for work in the morning, and no matter what they did with their day, their house would earn two times whatever they earned.

So, what did people do? They built more houses to gorge on their near-addiction. Holiday homes in Connacht or Wexford – with dreams of disappearing there every weekend, like what the French do on a weekly basis.

Things got out of control very fast, and before everyone knew it, the economy had imploded and people had been left with houses which they couldn’t sell, and in some cases nearly seven-years later, they still can’t sell.

This led to the creation of a notably Irish phenomenon called ‘ghost estates’. These popped up around the country since the collapse of the economy, and in the 2011 census there were around 230,000 empty homes in the Republic, and of the 230,000 around 10% were in ‘ghost estates’.

John Callaghan, an auctioneer in Roscommon spoke to me on the issue and said: “In a town of a population of just over 2,000 people there are way too many empty plots, and houses. It doesn’t make any sense why these were built during the Celtic Tiger, it’s not as if where we are is on any commuter belt. Developers were greedy back then and tried to profit from other people’s naivety”.

The latest number of unfinished estates provided by local authorities has dropped to less than 1,300, which compares to 1,770 a year previous. Local authorities providing proper road access as well as footpaths, roads, lighting and other services, have brought a lot of these ‘ghost estates’ up to standard.

In November 2013, Minister for State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan said that the State plan on the demolition of 40 of the worst ghost estates in the country. Others are likely to be added to the list when the work starts later this year.

‘Ghost estates’ are predominantly in the rural areas of Ireland, and don’t really seem to appear in the urban areas of the country. In the cities of Ireland, especially in Dublin, there is a housing shortage.

In Dublin there is more than 16,000 applicants waiting for council housing in the city, but the council cannot provide sufficient and suitable housing.

“The profile of our housing stock does not match, with half of our applicants being single,” said Dick Brady, assistant city manager, with very few single room apartments available.

Applicants on the waiting list for council housing in Dublin shows that 55 per cent of the people are single, with 30 per cent lone parent families. Whereas, 53 per cent are receiving rent allowance and 77 per cent rely on social welfare.

Fine Gael councillor Gerry Breen said that applicants could be waiting more than 11 years on the list at the current rates of housing in the nation’s capital. The council should issue a €1 bn bond to get 4,000 more units that are needed from either NAMA, building firms or from the private sector.

Currently, Dublin City Council has a total housing stock of just over 25,000 units, and many refurbishment projects of existing housing estates are underway, including St. Michael’s Estate and St. Teresa’s Gardens, which are both in Dublin 8.

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