Major shortfall in refurbishing vacant council houses in Cork

The Government has been accused of “spin” with its plan to tackle the housing crisis after it emerged it had only agreed to fund the refurbishment of 71 of 113 vacant council houses Cork County Council had asked it to.

Details of the refurbishment plan for so called ‘voids’ (vacant council houses) got a cool reception from some county councillors, most notably Cllr Frank O’Flynn (FF) who had asked for a comprehensive report on what was being done to tackle the housing crisis.

He said he was surprised to see that the Department of Environment had only agreed to fund 71 refurbishments at an estimated cost of €1.4m when there were so many families crying out for housing.

“Their housing strategy is all spin and very aspirational. There’s very little solace for families in this report,” Mr O’Flynn said.

“We have to go back to the department and get them to provide more funding. It’s not good enough.”

He also said it was taking far too long for the council to refurbish vacant houses and get them reoccupied.

His party colleague Cllr Seamus McGrath was also critical of the allocation.

“Their [government] failure in relation to dealing with voids is an absolute disgrace. It’s very difficult to take the Government seriously on the housing crisis when they can’t allocate money to tackle the voids issue. Minister [Alan] Kelly’s department is the one refusing to give us the money,” Mr McGrath said.

Under the Government’s Social Housing Strategy, published last November, it intends to supply 35,000 additional housing units nationally over the next six years, at a cost of €3.8bn.

The 71 vacant houses are supposed to be refurbished this year.

In recent days senior council staff have written again to the Department of Environment seeking a further €2.16m to do up another 135 vacant council houses across the county.

They are also looking for approval for a programme to refurbish a further 22 properties which will require considerably more work than normal to bring them up to a suitable standard.

In an effort to address the growing number on the housing waiting list, council officials are also looking at a number of ‘turnkey’ housing schemes.

These are schemes which are built by private developers and then acquired by the council when they are ready for occupation.

The council has submitted some potential schemes to the Department of the Environment, which have the potential to deliver up to 202 new social housing units.

This move was criticised by Sinn Féin Cllr Donnchadh O Laoghaire, who said he thought Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) “represent very poor value for money.” However, the report stated that the council’s housing directorate was progressing some building of its own around the county and in the process of hiring additional staff to progress these schemes.

The schemes being looked at include up to 65 units at Poulavone, Ballincollig; 45 at Beechgrove, Clonakilty, 48 at Kilnagleary, Carrigaline and 10 at Oliver Plunkett Hill, Fermoy.

The council has also agreed to lease a further 31 units in south and west Cork from the private sector.


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