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Demand to use derelict houses to solve housing shortage

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Pressure has been put on Clare County Council to avail of derelict sites to tackle the housing crisis that has gripped the country.

At Monday’s meeting of the local authority, Fianna Fáil’s Pat McMahon asked that they “examine the potential of the Derelict Sites Act to acquire properties in towns and villages suitable for housing developments to help address the shocking shortage of accommodation for families and individuals.”

According to Director of Service, Anne Haugh, following on from the CSO publication on vacant property statistics in Clare, the local authority prepared a report on vacant homes within the county. This outlined that “when holiday homes were removed from the consideration, vacancy in Clare was broadly in line with vacancy rates throughout the country”.

She added, “derelict properties are not usually in areas of significant housing demand and tend to be large detached properties in the countryside which are not suited to the needs of a housing authority”. The Council’s vacant homes office is currently working on a list of 155 properties identified as vacant in towns and villages with demand for social housing. “The reasons for vacancy are many, therefore the compulsory purchase of vacant property is not straightforward and where possible we will seek to acquire the properties by agreement. It should be noted that costs for property acquisition incurred above the limits of the unit ceiling costs set by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government are payable by the Council from own resources”. Properties acquired through the CPO process tend to be more expensive due to legal and procedural costs.

Of the Council’s 155 vacant properties, they are situated in areas with the most demand for housing, Ennis in particular. “It’s too slow a process and for that to be regularised and put within the Council remit would and has taken too long”, lamented Cllr McMahon.

“Not everyone wants to live in a town or village, there needs to be a new vision”, stated Cllr Pat Hayes. His comments irked Chair of the Housing SPC, Cllr Gerry Flynn, “I can assure Cllr Hayes that our SPC is doing everything in our power to deal with the housing issues, I’m pleased with the interest from councillors they can share their ideas but I tend to focus on my own brief and don’t cross into the Rural Directorate”. Hayes then replied, “Just to clarify in relation to my proposal is to look at vacant properties and see if we can encourage people to set up in rural Ireland. As an elected councillor I have the right to speak on any issue. There is no doubt that we have to tackle the issue”.

Sinn Féin’s Mike McKee flagged that a number of derelict sites in Shannon have been vandalised. “Some have been set on fire at parties held there by teenagers”. Independent Cllr PJ Ryan felt the process should be made easier for Councils to deal with. “I didn’t realise that it was so complicated. Maybe it’s time it was made easier for local authorities, if you’ve to spend an awful lot of money on the legal side of it then it’s hard to justify”. Ennis councillor, Pat Daly pointed out “there is an opportunity to live over head businesses”.

Further information was requested by Cllr James Breen on what the Council define as a vacant house. “It is very insensitive if a person is in hospital that they get a notice from the Council”. He was told by Anne Haugh that after a period of thirty days if a person is in hospital and the house is vacant they follow procedure and notify the insurer.

“Our reply outlines what we are doing, we are delivering properties that have been vacant and using them for housing, 47 sales have been agreed that were vacant properties, that work we are doing is yielding return. CPO procedure is being used by limited number of authorities but too early to say how effective it has been, there is always suggestions about what might be introduced to accelerate the process. If we come up against brick walls in all other channels we will have to consider our options”, Haugh concluded.

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