Census 2016: Preliminary findings on housing stock and vacancy rates. What has been happening in the Western Region?

A previous blog post Census 2016 Preliminary Results – What does it say about the Western Region? provided some headline figures on population and migration data in 2016 and changes since 2011.

Here I examine two further aspects; housing stock and vacancy rates and examine what is happening at a Western Region and county level.

What is the housing stock in the Western Region?

In April 2016, the Western Region had a housing stock of 404,494, an increase of 0.8% or 3,183 on 2011. Nationally the increase was 0.9% over this period (18,981). These relatively small increases are not surprising following the economic crash and the very limited house building that has taken place since then.

Within the Western Region there was an actual decline in housing stock in three of the counties, (see Table 1 below), Roscommon, -0.5% (-173), Sligo -0.2% (-51) and Leitrim -0.2% (-36), indicating some houses have been removed from the housing stock, though the data does not tell us whether these are ‘ghost estates’ or not.   Though these are marginal changes, there are also negative declines in just a few other places, Dublin and Limerick cities and Longford. In contrast, within the Region, only Galway city records a significant increase in housing stock – 3.5% – the highest recorded increase across the State.


Source: CSO, Census of Population 2011, Census of Population 2016, Preliminary Results.

As the change in housing stock is so closely related to the most recent period of economic growth and decline, it is interesting to look at the figures over the 10 year period, 2006-2016. This period marks the time immediately before the peak of economic growth and growth in housing supply and the economic crash following this, culminating in the current period, marked by a return to economic growth.

Between 2006 and 2016, there was an increase in housing stock of 16.4% in the Western Region and this compares to 14.3% nationally. Within the Region, some counties had a very significant increase in housing stock, Donegal (20.2%), Leitrim (19.1%) and Roscommon (16.9%), highlighting the particularly strong growth rates in the West.

The evident contrast between the growth in supply in the earlier period and the limited growth and contraction in the latter period highlights the difference in housing activity over the periods.

It is worth noting that even with the limited growth in housing stock in the latter period, the growth in the Western Region between 2006 and 2016 of 16.4% is still nearly than double the population growth in the Region over the same period – 8.6%.

Looking at the period 2011-2016, the percentage change in both population and households by county is presented in Figure 7 below. While Donegal lost population (-1.5%) it still experienced a small increase in the number of households (0.8%).


What are the vacancy rates in the region?

The vacancy rate measures the share of the housing stock in each county that is recorded as a vacant dwelling by the Census enumerators.  The average vacancy rate in the Western Region in 2016 was 21.7%, marginally lower than in 2006 (22.8%).

 Fig. 2: Vacancy rates in western counties, Western Region and State, 2011 and 2016

vacancy-rates-11-16-wrSource: CSO, Census of Population 2011, Census of Population 2016, Preliminary Results.

In total Leitrim (29.5%), Donegal (28.2%) and Mayo (24.0%) had the highest vacancy rates in the region, while Galway city (10.5%) had the lowest.   All counties in the Western Region experienced a slight decrease in their vacancy rates between 2011 and 2016.

 Nationally, the average vacancy rate in 2016 was 19.9%, a decrease on the 2011 rate of 22.8%. At a national level, Leitrim and Donegal have the highest vacancy rates in the country and this was also the case in 2011. Figure 8 below shows the vacancy rate by county in 2016.


These data, though preliminary highlight a couple of important themes.

The first is that it is very clear that there are huge differences in housing stock and vacancy rates across the country.

There are also differences within Regions, for example though most counties in the Western Region report negative or less than 1 % growth in housing stock, Galway city on the other hand had the highest growth in housing stock across the country.

This analysis also highlights the value of a five yearly census. As Table 1 illustrates the difference evident in the last 5 years, compared to the previous 5 years is particularly evident in examining the changes to the hosing stock.

Deirdre Frost