Social housing plan ‘is not enough’

The next government has been warned to step up its plans to tackle the social housing crisis after one organisation claimed the current strategy was insufficient given the scale of the problem.

Figures emerged yesterday that shows it takes more than a year in some counties between one family moving out of a social housing unit and another moving in.

Cork County had the longest average turnaround time at 66 weeks, followed by Kerry with 55 weeks, and Donegal with 44 weeks.

The last government committed to dealing with the social housing backlog under its Social Housing 2020 strategy, but Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland said the targets in the document were inadequate.

“The Social Housing Strategy in place, while welcome, is nowhere near the scale required to solve the problem,” he said.

Dr Healy said the targets in the document needed to be almost trebled so as to provide the 90,000 units he believes are required, as well as increasing work on turning around so-called ‘voids’ — properties that are in need of greater refurbishment and which may have lain vacant for longer periods of time.

Dr Healy said it made little sense for local authorities to go back to building one-off units and instead that new housing developments needed a social mix that included social housing units.

He also said it was vital that this investment was “off the books” so that it did not compromise Ireland’s total fiscal space involving debt ratio versus GDP.

Simon Brooke, head of policy at Clúid Housing Association, said one response would be for all income through social housing should be ringfenced for social housing, rather than being added to the central coffers of a local authority.

“What it does show is that there is a really urgent need for overhaul of local authority social housing finances,” he said, adding that part of the reason councils cannot turn around properties quickly enough is that “they don’t have the money”.

Mr Brooke said progress had been made regarding returning voids to use but that ringfencing the estimated €300m from social housing rents would help bring more properties on stream.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said: “Last year the target for refurbishing voids was 1,000 units. This target was well exceeded with some 2,700 units returned to use.

“In 2014 an accelerated programme of refurbishments was introduced which over the course of 2014/15 saw some 5,000 units returned to use at a combined cost of €60m.”

The department has also rejected criticism regarding funding for local authorities to tackle the issue of voids.

Responding last week to a question from Labour’s Tommy Broughan, Environment Minister Alan Kelly said: “My department places no monetary limits on what a local authority spends on refurbishing such units.”

High refusal rate

Noel Baker

Cork County Council has said a high refusal rate of offers of social housing and the presence of longer-term ‘voids’ contribute to the lengthy turnaround times for vacant properties.

Figures revealed by RTÉ showed Cork County Council had the longest average turnaround time between tenancies at 66 weeks. The local authority’s CEO, Tim Lucey, said the refusal of offers played a role.

“The lengthy turnaround time in Cork County is due to Cork County Council’s high refusal rate of 43% in North Cork,” he said.

“As late as two weeks ago we offered 15 houses in South Cork in various locations and only five offers were taken.”

He said voids “significantly impact on the average figure” and 229 voids were refurbished last year with another 70 to be progressed in 2016 at a cost of €1.37m.

Long delays

Anne Lucey

Kerry County council has defended waiting times of more than 50 weeks for turning around council-owned housing.

The waiting list in Kerry at the moment has reached 5,000 units, including single applicants and families and is at its highest ever.

Figures show that, in 2015, some62 units became vacant and it took up to 55 weeks to re-let the properties. Some 164 units that became vacant in 2014 and it took almost 49 weeks to re-let each.

John Breen, director of services for housing, said the level of vacant properties across the county is less than 3%. Reasons for the long turnaround time include single rural properties which are hard to let, or 1-2 bed elderly units returned after long-term tenancy.

“The opportunity is always taken to upgrade our stock when properties are returned to us,” he said.

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