Hundreds of council flats vacant because they are ‘too small’

Council says there is a ‘crisis level’ of demand for emergency beds across the capital

The former Fitzgibbon Street Garda station in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

The former Fitzgibbon Street Garda station in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 09:10

Hundreds of Dublin local authority flats are empty because they are considered too small to live in.

Dublin City Council has identified almost 460 vacant homes in flat complexes which do not meet minimum size standards.

In general the flats are almost half the size considered habitable under Department of the Environment standards for single bed homes.

In a report to councillors earlier this month, Dublin City Council said work had begun on combining sets of two flats into single-bedroom homes as part of a major refurbishment programme.

Both campaigners and housing authorities say there is a crisis level of demand for emergency beds across the capital, with homeless people being turned away from shelters every night.

Emergency beds across the capital are full, while 147 families – including about 300 children – have been allocated rooms in hotels as a last resort.

Overall, just over 2,000 local authority housing units – or 8 per cent – out of a total of 25,600 flats in the Dublin City Council area are vacant.

Many of these vacant flats are to be demolished as part of a redevelopment scheme.

“They are not habitable or capable of being rendered habitable without significant expenditure.

“Any attempt to do so will undermine the planned redevelopment schemes,” said a council report,

About 1,000 vacant flats are either scheduled for major refurbishment work or described as “casual voids” which are awaiting new tenants

Many of these will come on stream as part of a series of renovations and fast-tracking of the allocation of homes.

In an effort to phase out the use of hotel beds across the capital, the council is in talks with Nama and other State agencies over the use of a large property where families could get support until more sustainable housing is in place.

The Office of Public Works is among the agencies being asked to source State-owned property to use for either social housing or homeless shelters.

The Irish Times understands that Fitzgibbon Street Garda station in Dublin’s north inner city is one of the buildings being examined. It has been empty for a number of years due to safety concerns.

Another property is St Bricin’s Military Hospital near Arbour Hill, which is used by the Irish Defence Forces as a medical facility.

A third property based on Clare Lane – between the National Gallery of Ireland and an annex of the Department of Transport – has the potential to be converted into eight apartments.

The cost of refurbishing or converting the facilities is likely to be significant, while there is also a risk that some may get bogged down in wrangling over ownership.

In the case of Clare Lane, for example, OPW officials estimate it could cost up to €150,000 to bring the building into “productive use”, according to internal correspondence.

The OPW confirmed that the Clare Lane building was under consideration but declined to provide details of the buildings it is examining.

“All stakeholders – OPW, Dublin City Council and the Department of Environment as the lead department – are in consultation and assessing the suitability of all of the properties under consideration,” it said.