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Vacant houses hold key to unlocking crisis

CLARE County Council has appealed to property owners to make their vacant homes available for social housing, in a bid to ease the “epidemic” accommodation shortage.

According to the council’s director of services for housing, Ger Dollard, one of the keys to unlocking the solution is through the use of vacant properties.
Owners of the thousands of currently empty properties in Clare are being encouraged to make contact with the local authority, with a view to making more homes available for those on the waiting list.

Mr Dollard told a meeting of Clare County Council that this is the “real solution” to dealing with the housing issue in the short term.

Figures contained in the 2011 Census show there are 11,782 vacant housing units in Clare out of a total housing stock of 55,616 units. The vacancy rate of 21.2% is the second highest in Munster and higher than the national average of 14.5%.

At the meeting, Mr Dollard agreed there is a serious demand for housing in the county and he accepted that applicants “can get frustrated.”
He stated the council is making progress and is engaged in various activities to provide housing, particularly concentrating on vacant properties. “We are trying to turn them around as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said that while new builds will not deliver solutions in the short term, “The real solution in the short term is to try and get the housing that is there, to get owners and landlords of properties to enter into an arrangement with the council to make those properties available for social housing. The key is to unlock vacant properties.”

He was speaking after Councillor Gerry Flynn, chairman of the council’s housing SPC, called for public housing allocation policy workshops in each municipal district, to engage landlords and “struggling” housing applicants.

Describing the situation as an “epidemic”, Councillor Flynn noted councillors are very limited in what they can do to help those with housing needs. “Many think we have a magic wand to get them a house but we don’t.”

Mr Dollard stated the housing department of Clare County Council has engaged in information sessions on various aspects of housing delivery.
He commented that due to the degree of personal and confidential information involved, he did not believe a public workshop would be appropriate for housing applicants and landlords.

Mr Dollard concluded, “It would be worthwhile to concentrate on the deliverable realities on the supply side when presenting information on the demand side. This could include existing council stock, existing house acquisitions and leasing initiatives in line with the Government’s Social Housing Strategy.
“The council would be happy to arrange some information sessions for landlords on the variety of leasing options available to ascertain if further improvements can be made in bringing forward housing stock for applicants on the council’s housing list.

Councillor Christy Curtin told the meeting, “I appreciate the work of the housing section, but there is a crisis occurring throughout Clare. Housing demand is increasing and we have to do our duty”.

Councillor Mary Howard highlighted the large numbers of vacant properties.

“There are many areas where there are unoccupied homes that would be ideal for families. We need to come up with some way where we would be in a position to lease these houses,” she said.

She also suggested over-shop letting would suit some on the housing list.

Councillor Paul Murphy added his support, while Councillor Ian Lynch commented, “It’s great to talk to landlords but we need to talk to the people in crisis”.

He told how, in Kilrush, one property attracted interest from 14 people waiting for housing.

Councillor Ann Norton spoke of the numbers of people who have contacted councillors “desperate” to have their own homes. She said that engagement with the public would show the council’s support.

Acknowledging the work of the housing sector, Councillor Johnny Flynn said the council needs to find a way to provide clarity and support to those on the waiting list. Councillor PJ Ryan stated there is a need to get back to funding for new social housing builds.

Councillor Cathal Crowe described the situation as “chronic”, while Councillor James Breen insisted, “There is no point coming into the housing section and abusing people that are doing their best with a limited supply of housing. Treat people with respect and maybe then we wouldn’t need full-time security.”

It was decided that the issue would be discussed at the four municipal districts.

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