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Minister for Housing and Planning, Mr. Willie Penrose T.D. publishes report to tackle vacant social housing

04/07/11

The Minister for Housing and Planning, Mr. Willie Penrose, T.D., today (4 July, 2011) published a report on tackling vacant local authority houses (4 July, 2011).  The report, the latest in a series of reviews produced by the Value for Money Unit of the Local Government Audit Service, is the culmination of an examination of local authorities’ management of their vacant stock.  The Local Government Audit Service, of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, is responsible for the external audit of all local authorities.  The report noted that over the period 2007 and 2008, the level of vacant properties varied between 5.2% and 5.75% (6,115 and 7,045 units) of the total stock of approximately 120,000.  The reasons behind these vacancies varied between casual vacancies and those that needed major refurbishment. 

The Minister noted the timely nature of the report, which included a number of key recommendations, stating, “in these challenging economic times with less funding available to build or buy new houses, bringing these vacant units back into use should be our highest priority”.  While the report noted the challenges faced by local authorities in letting properties in unattractive locations, in a time of constrained budgets, and following anti-social behaviour, it does make a number of recommendations for the improvement in the process.  The recommendations ranged from the roll out of the term maintenance and refurbishment works contract type to all local authorities involved in such works, to property inspections prior to taking vacant possession and greater involvement with tenants and community associations. 

A summary of the recommendations follows:
• Roll out of the term maintenance and refurbishment works contract type;
• Timely inspections (pre-vacancy) and comprehensive inspections pre-works to ensure works are appropriately scoped out and costed;
• Better management of information about vacancies to facilitate early identification of problem properties or delays;
• The allocation of housing should be more closely linked to maintenance and improvement system, so that offers of housing are only made when the property is appropriate for the needs of the service user;
• Greater investment in tenancy training and tenancy support is needed.  This should include the provision of a tenant handbook to all new tenants and regular meetings with housing department staff.
The Minister indicated that his Department would be consulting closely with the City and County Managers Association to ensure that these and other recommendations are implemented as a matter of urgency.

In addition, the Minister was pleased to note the importance of the National Retrofitting Programme in tackling the vacant stock.  This programme has provided for the improvement of over 4,250 units to a BER of C1, where practicable, since its establishment in 2009 and at a cost to the exchequer of €48 million.  “Building on the successes of this programme in recent years, I am pleased to have been able to make a further €31 million available for these important works in 2011”, the Minister said.  The 2011 programme is designed to prioritise vacant properties to ensure properties are returned to viable use in as short a period as possible, while also ensuring that the properties are comfortable for the new tenants.

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