THE council’s director of housing has issued an assurance that turning around vacant local authority housing is a top priority.
Anne Haugh made her comments following concerns raised by Councillor Pat Burke over two properties in Whitegate that have been vacant for up to 12 months. Councillor Burke told the November meeting of the Killaloe Municipal District that frustration over the delay in getting new tenants in, in the middle of a housing crisis, had prompted him to table the motion.
“We are all aware of the housing crisis,” he said. “It seems the process is so slow if a house can remain vacant for 12 months. I understand that there are energy retrofit schemes and that type of thing undertaken, but 12 months to leave a house vacant when we’re in a housing crisis drove me to put down the motion. This is not particularly anyone’s fault, but I’m wondering if the delay is down to funding or the shortage of building contractors, or what is the cause. It seems when we’re all aware people are desperate for local authority homes. It’s a major issue out there and I realise I’m stating the obvious.
Responding, Ms Haugh told the meeting that the forthcoming budget discussions will focus strongly on housing. “The budget meeting will show that in terms of housing, especially in terms of vacant stock is up there in red lights and will continue to be in future budgets,” she said. “Funding is a major issue in terms of the return of vacant stock. The condition is a major factor. Some stock requires little or no works when it is vacated. In a large majority of cases, significant works need to be done. The policy is to do the larger more disruptive works while property is vacant. We look at all aspects of the upgrading that can be done.”
Ms Haugh added that funding to turn around vacant social homes is a big issue. “There is some funding towards voids,” she said, “but that has been steadily declining to the point that there’s a maximum of €11k per property available. That won’t cover costs. There is a funding issue. We try to seek alternatives from other sources. Energy retrofitting presents that opportunity. It’s a separate funding source. We can use money from the voids programme and energy programme to fund these turn arounds.”
The director of housing also noted that the approach to funding voids will change imminently.
“The funding of vacant stock into the future, with a direction from national level, will take a different approach entirely,” she said. “Local authorities are now being encouraged to move to planned maintenance. There will continue to be a funding challenge for the council. There is a significant deficit every year. We recognise there is a housing crisis and that we need to turn around vacant stock as quickly as possible, but there are those challenges.”
In relation to an official reply from the council stating that the homes in Whitegate will shortly be occupied, Councillor Burke said the progress was welcome. Cathaoirleach, Councillor Joe Cooney also welcomed the news.
Councillor Burke also asked about the availability of tradespeople. “If you had all the money in the world, where can you turn around the houses quicker if tradespeople aren’t available?” he asked. “No matter who you talk do, they’re asking are they doing to fall out of the sky with the shortage of young fellas going into trades and apprenticeships. It’s a very serious issue going forward that nobody is talking about. It needs to happen much quicker.
Councillor Cooney agreed that there is a lot talk about shortage of tradespeople. “There is concern out there,” he said. “When something goes to tender, there are contractors and it is up to contractor to find staff and materials. This is in the hands of the contractors at that stage. There is no point in taking jobs that they can’t get done and that drag on. Maybe a deadline would help.”
Ms Haugh explained that the council’s approach is to have a framework of contractors in the various and that they ould be tied to time frame on projects. “Sometimes there is a delay,” she said. “The cost of job and how it’s going to be funded has to be dealt with internally first. Sometimes you may need to go down a different route and discuss it with the Department [of Housing]. Sometimes the refurbishment is so significant, you can go down the route of construction project. The shortage of tradespeople is recognised in the Housing for All document. There will be a need for tens of thousands of additional construction jobs over the duration. One of the actions for government is to incentivise people into trades and hire labour from abroad.”
In response to Councillor Burke’s motion on the houses in Lakyle, Whitegate, Tony Neville, Senior Executive Engineer, said
“both the properties have been added to our Energy Retrofit Scheme which includes the provision of an Air to Water Heating System. Both properties will reach, at a minimum, a B2 BER energy level.
“Completion dates are now moved to the end of November for both properties and they will be allocated shortly after,” the reply stated.