Government yet to act on months-old proposal to house Ukrainians

Proposal would see builders convert vacant buildings into homes on pro-bono basis, with costs recoupable

The Government has yet to act on a proposal to convert vacant buildings into accommodation for Ukrainian refugees on a non-profit basis, which was made months ago by the Housing Commission and some of the largest builders in the State.

The commission, established in 2020 under the Coalition’s programme for government, approached the Department of Housing in late March regarding the scheme. It would see builders carry out some work on a pro-bono basis, with costs of conversion recoupable after being independently verified. It was backed by Property Industry Ireland, the Irish Home Builders Association and Irish Institutional Property.

Commission chairman John O’Connor said the proposal was an attempt to use existing buildings to provide medium-term housing for Ukrainian people fleeing the Russian invasion of the country, which began on February 24th. “Any assessment or design services would be on a pro-bono basis and the construction work controlled – it was only the costs that could be paid,” he said.

While the department says the proposal is still under consideration, there is frustration among those who made it at the delayed response.


Cork property developer Michael O’Flynn, who was involved in drawing up the proposal and is a member of the commission, said that “despite the best efforts of myself and others, I am disappointed there was no follow up to the proposals we outlined, especially now given that this crisis hasn’t gone away and some extraordinary measures are being considered to house Ukrainians”.

The Government’s system for accommodating refugees arriving from Ukraine is under severe pressure. More than 33,500 people have so far sought State-provided accommodation, most of whom have been placed in serviced accommodation such as hotels.

Hundreds of people are sleeping at a purpose-built reception centre in CityWest. An emergency accommodation centre at Millstreet in Co Cork is at capacity. and a tented village at Gormanstown Army camp, Co Meath, is only being partially used due to resource constraints.

Sporting organisations have been asked to accommodate refugees in stadiums and other facilities, and earlier this summer people were forced to sleep on the floor of a Dublin Airport building after the State ran out of options to accommodate them.

The cost of accommodating Ukranians in hotels has been estimated at around €33 million per year for every 1,000 people, with the all-in cost of all supports estimated at up to €1 billion this year.

The department said all proposals it received “remain under consideration” and many had been factored into plans to address the growing crisis in accommodation, and “helped to shape the options being progressed by Government”.

The scheme proposed by the commission would not be without cost to the State. Any buildings involved would be assessed and then upgraded, or purchased and refurbished by the taxpayer, before being used to house displaced families. If a rent was to be paid it would be agreed beforehand with the owner of the building.

The use of vacant buildings does play a part in the Government’s plan. The Department of Housing said some 500 vacant properties were identified by the Government as potentially playing a role in the response, with 90 properties which could accommodate up to 5,000 people given to the Department of Integration for “almost immediate occupation”.

The Department of Housing said it is working with local authorities in 22 areas to deliver vacant units into use “on a rolling basis over the coming months”. However, it said the timeframe for delivering them “will depend on the scale of refurbishment or reconfiguration works required”.

It is also planning to house refugees from the war in modular homes, with construction due to commence in November.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times