The CSO have recently released a very detailed dataset on housing vacancy at the Small Area level in Ireland (link). This allows us to undertake a far more in-depth analysis of the location and profile of housing vacancy across Ireland than was previously available.

According to the Census 2016, there is a total housing stock of 2,003,645 in Ireland. Based on the occupancy status of each property on census night this can be broken down into four main categories: Occupied (1.7m or 85.2%), Temporarily Absent (50k or 2.5%), Vacant (183k or 9.1%) and Holiday Homes (62k or 3.1%).









Figure 1: Occupancy Status of Housing Stock in Ireland, 2016

Our main interest here is in the 183k vacant units which accounts for 9.1% of the housing stock across Ireland. While the overall vacancy rate has dropped quite a bit from a 2011 rate of 11.5% (230k) there is still some explaining to do to properly understand the components that make up these 183k units. Thanks to the far more detailed set of data from the CSO we are now in a position to undertake a more detailed analysis.

Geographical Distribution of Vacancy (less holiday homes)

To start with we can look at the overall geographical distribution of vacancy rates. As we know the highest vacancy rates are primarily in the west and peripheral parts of the country with Leitrim (19.9%), Roscommon (17%), Mayo (16.1%), Longford (15.2%), Sligo (14.4%) and Cavan (14.4%) with the highest levels of vacant units. At the other end of the scale, lowest rates are all within Dublin and the commuting counties. Lowest rates are in South Dublin (3.6%), Fingal (4.7%), DLR (5.3%), Kildare (5.7%), Wicklow (6.2%) and Meath (6.6%). Rates in our main cities are all higher than these counties with rates of 7.7% in Dublin City and Cork City, 8.4% in Galway City, 9.4% in Limerick City and County and 9.9% in Waterford City and County (Figure 2).

When discussing vacancy rates it is also important to look at overall levels of housing oversupply and our expected base vacancy. A base vacancy rate of 6% of total housing stock is normally expected within a properly functioning housing market. For instance, the expected base vacancy for Ireland would be approximately 120k housing units (6% of 2.003m housing stock) – this allows for renovation, changing ownership or changing tenancies. Oversupply is calculated by subtracting the expected base vacancy from the actual recorded vacancy figures on census night.

This results in Ireland having an oversupply of approximately 63k properties in 2016. When we look at this on a local authority level we can see that while many local authorities have very high levels of over-supply, a number have an under-supply of properties or have figures very close to the expected 6% base vacancy rate - South Dublin, Fingal, DLR, Kildare, Wicklow etc (Figures 2&3).

Figure 2: Vacancy Rate in Local Authorities, 2016 (less holiday homes)

Figure 3: Over and under-supply of housing in Local Authorities, 2016

For a more detailed geographical perspective of vacancy rates across Ireland please visit our Census Housing Mapping Tool on the AIRO website. This tool now has very detailed data on housing vacancy at the local level across Ireland with a very informative ‘pop-up’ providing detailed data on housing vacancy levels at the Small Area level.

Figure 4: Vacancy mapping tool on AIRO website

Link: http://airomaps.nuim.ie/id/Census_2016/P1_Housing/


Explaining levels of Vacancy

For the first time the CSO have provided further information on the nature of housing vacancy across Ireland and this allows us to get a better understanding of why and how so many housing units are vacant. While we regularly hear the ‘183k’ housing vacancy figure being used in the media it’s important to look at this figure to try and break it down a little further.

The new classifications from the CSO allow us to breakdown the vacancy figures into three categories: (1) units that were occupied in 2011 but vacant in 2016 (82,437 or 45% of all vacant units), (2) units that were vacant in 2011 and still vacant in 2016 (65,039 or 35.5%) and (3) a final category where the vacancy in 2011 is unknown (35,836 or 19.5%) - see Figure 5. The following section will provide a further breakdown on both recently vacant and long-term vacant properties.

Figure 5: Status of 2016 Vacant Units in Census 2011

1. Recently Vacant Units

This first category is particularly interesting and these units are essentially housing units that were previously occupied in 2011 but classed as vacant on census night in 2016. As such they can be classed as ‘recently vacant’ units. At a total of 82,437 or 45% of total vacant units, these properties account for 4.1% of total housing stock and it may be argued that these properties certainly account for a high proportion of our expected base vacancy (6% or 120k units) – essentially properties that happen to be vacant on census night due to renovations, changing ownerships etc.

There is a clear spatial distribution to the proportion of vacant units that are classed as ‘recently vacant’ within local authorities. As expected, highest rates are all within the main urban areas where the housing market is most active with Dublin City (61%), South Dublin (59.9%), DLR (58.7%) and Cork City (57.2%) having the highest proportion of ‘recently vacant’ properties. Lowest rates are within Leitrim (32.4%), Roscommon (34.3%), Mayo (34.4%) and Cavan (34.7%) – see Figure 6.

Figure 6: Status of 2016 Vacant Units in Census 2011

Figure 7 below, excluding the large ‘other reason’ category, provides an interesting insight into the different recorded reasons for vacancy of these ‘recently vacant’ properties. A high proportion of properties within the Dublin local authorities are vacant as a result of being For Sale or For Rent. In Dublin City this is particularly high with 15% of all vacant properties classed as being For Rent. As such almost one quarter of all ‘recently vacant’ properties within Dublin City (2,758 of 11,238) were actively on the housing market – either For Sale or For Rent on census night.

Figure 7: Reason for Vacancy of ‘Recently Vacant’ properties, 2016

2. Long-term Vacancy

The second category is based on properties that were vacant in both 2011 and 2016 and can be classed as ‘long-term vacant’ units. At a total of 65,039 or 35.5% of total vacant units, these properties account for 3.2% of the total housing stock. In contrast to the spatial distribution of the ‘recently vacant’ housing units the highest proportions of ‘long-term vacant’ units are within Roscommon (51.5%), Cavan (48.1%), Longford (48%) and Mayo (45.6%). Again, and as expected, lowest rates are within cities and commuters areas - South Dublin (14.8%), Fingal (16.3%), DLR (18.7%) and Dublin City (20.2%).

Figure 8: % of Vacant Units classed as ‘Long-term Vacant’ in Local Authorities, 2016

Figure 9 below details the recorded reason for vacancy of the ‘long-term vacant’ units. Dublin local authorities have a much higher rate of For Sale and For Rent than the State average. Dublin City recorded more than twice the rate of For Rent than other Dublin local authorities with almost 16% of all vacant units on the rental market.

Figure 9: Reason for Vacancy of ‘Long-term Vacant’ properties, 2016

The latest AIRO Census Housing Mapping Tool provides a lot more detail on the location and quantity of these ‘long-term vacant’ housing units with specific details also available on the type vacant units (detached, semi-d, terraced, purpose built apartment and apartment in converted house) that are located in each Small Area across the county. Simply click on the map for a detailed pop-up window. Figure 10-12 below detail the location of Long-term Vacant units, Vacant Purpose Built Apartments and Vacant Apartments in Converted Houses.

Figure 10: Location of Long-term Vacant Units, 2016

Figure 8: Location of Vacant Purpose Built Apartments/Flats, 2016

Figure 9: Location of Apartments/Flats in Converted Houses, 2016


Visit the AIRO Census Housing Mapping Tool for more details on housing vacancy and other housing related variables on type, tenure and overall stock figures: http://airomaps.nuim.ie/id/Census_2016/P1_Housing/

Justin Gleeson