County Council sells repossessed homes even as 7,000 wait on list

Cork County Council sold repossessed homes on the private market, having told local representatives it was forbidden from using the properties to alleviate its lengthy social housing list.

However, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government has contradicted the council’s claims it “had no choice” but to sell the houses due to government orders.

The council has been called on to explain its decision to sell the homes at a time when over 7,000 are on a waiting list for a council house in Cork County.

The Irish Examiner has learned that since 2013 —when Cork County Council claimed local authorities were forced to sell repossessed properties — councils in Carlow, Dublin City, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and Fingal all transferred such houses to the social housing stock.

Last April, Sinn Féin councillor Melissa Mullane submitted a motion calling on the council to seek funding “to purchase any properties subject to a council mortgage which are repossessed so that these repossessed properties can form part of the council’s social housing stock”.

The minutes of the meeting show the council’s housing section told members “up to mid-2013, the department allowed local authorities to purchase repossessed properties, which had been subject to local authority mortgages, and transfer the properties to social housing stock if the local authority had a housing need for the property at the location and if the property was deemed structurally suitable”.

“The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government then advised local authorities that they could no longer purchase these properties, irrespective of whether they had a housing need for them or not,” the minutes read.

The claim drew the ire of councillors, who said the apparent directive was scandalous.

The council subsequently told the Irish Examiner that “Cork County Council, along with other local authorities, had no choice but to sell the repossessed properties on the open market”.

However, it has since transpired that a number of councils across the country have used such repossessed properties to tackle their housing waiting lists.

A spokesperson for the department has told the Irish Examiner it “has not told councils that they must sell houses that have been repossessed”.

“It is possible some councils will sell such houses where, for example, they may not be suitable for social housing and where there is significant outstanding loans against the property, so a sale of a house can be used to offset the loan,” said the spokesperson.

“Other councils may take such houses where suitable into their housing stock or may continue to manage the loan and may tenant the house.

“There are no separate criteria that apply to Cork in this respect and it will always be a matter for the council in the first place to make decisions on the management of their housing stock.”

Last April, the council told members it had repossessed 13 houses since 2013, nine of which it has sold.

Asked to respond to the department’s statement, Cork County Council said in April it wrote to the department asking for permission to buy any properties subject to a council mortgage which are repossessed so these can form part of its social housing stock, and to provide funding for same.

It said it has yet to receive a response.

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