EFFORTS to speed up the turnaround of Council properties once they become vacant have been called for by the Chairperson of the authority’s housing committee.
Councillor Gerry Flynn called for a comprehensive survey of all residential property owned and rented by the Council, with a focus on older developments. He told the January meeting of the local authority that this approach would reduce the need for major renovations when the tenancies are surrendered back to the Council for future letting.
Addressing the meeting, the Shannon member said the Council is moving to a Planned Maintenance Programme for its 2,700 properties. He noted that the Council had an approved loan of €10 million for maintenance, of which just €3 million has been drawn down to-date.
“It was always expected that there would be a surge after Covid-19 in relation to maintenance, I would expect further drawdown of this loan,” he said. “I think it’s important we take a more proactive approach to dealing with the older houses, to keep the standards of our properties up to an acceptable level.”
The Independent member also pointed out that Councils would have to make greater effort to secure funding, as the amount from central government had been reduced.
The motion was seconded by Councillor Donna McGettigan who noted the long wait between a house becoming vacant and a new tenant moving in.
“People are saying to us, ‘We’ll take it as is and we’ll fix it ourselves’. But if a house is maintained to the standard it should be, whenever it is vacated, you wouldn’t need that time.”
Councillor Johnny Flynn said he had supported Councillor Gerry Flynn’s motion on the €10 million loan in 2019, for planned maintenance. He said that Covid had had huge impact, resulting in only €3 million being drawn down. He raised concerns over the availability of tradespeople and hoped that the Council would be able to bring on its own apprentices.
“A lot of older people that we’d all be aware of who are in older houses are suffering from fuel poverty, and that there has been a lot of work done, but we need a lot more capacity in terms of tradespeople to deliver this,” he said.
Councillor Michael Begley also spoke in support of the motion. He noted that modern technology like heat pumps in newer housing stock was also likely to cause problems. “I think we should have those items, particularly in wintertime, given priority,” he said.
Councillor Ann Norton said, “We have to be very conscious of the the older houses with the elderly people that are finding it financially difficult now, to heat and to maintain houses because of the lack of money that they have, because the pension is so.”
The standard of housing stock was an issue raised by Councillor Ian Lynch. “We have a prescribed list of conditions the house has to be in and that is extremely onerous,” he said.
“It’s probably too onerous. When most people are looking for a house, they want a roof over their head. I think the government needs to look at this.”
Councillor John Crowe said members received constant calls about maintenance and that the response from Council staff was excellent. He emphasised the importance of drawing down the loan and addressing maintenance issues as effectively as possible.
Councillor Pat McMahon described the motion as “excellent,” saying it would speed up the turnaround time between Council tenancies.
A written response to the motion was provided by Anne Haugh, Director of Service for Housing.
It outlined that Council-owned properties have been comprehensively surveyed and that new builds and acquired properties are also surveyed as they come online.
“A €10 million loan was sanctioned by this Council and to-date €3 million has been drawn down to develop the Asset Management System and to address certain planned priority and planned statutory works items which remain on-going via multi-property tenders on a phased basis over the next two years,” the response said.
“In addition to these planned works, the condition surveys are also used to inform work programmes for units that are surrendered back to this Council for future letting. Separately this Council continues to meet targets regarding work associated with the Energy Retrofit Scheme.”
The response added that: “A national level a procurement exercise is underway to roll out an asset management system for housing stock across the sector similar to that which has been implemented in Clare and funding has been committed by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage towards the completion of stock condition surveys by all local authorities on a phased basis over the coming years.
“The progress by Clare County Council in this area which has been made possible by the local authority’s own borrowing has been acknowledged by the DHLGH and a commitment to recoup the costs of the condition surveys and some initial completed works under the programme has been received.
“As the motion indicates the benefits of works being completed to properties in a planned manner as informed by the condition surveys should in time reduce the demand for responsive maintenance as well as reduce turnaround times for reletting.
“All directly rented properties by Clare County Council are surveyed with the Minimal Rental Standards in mind and depending on the type of lease, necessary improvements works are undertaken by the party responsible. Also registered RTB properties continue to be systematically surveyed in accordance with the targets set by the LGMA.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.