Refurbishment of short-term vacant homes ‘manipulating’ figures

Vast majority of vacant properties funded under scheme only empty for a few months

South Dublin County Council said four long-term voids had been refurbished since last year along with 325 short-term voids.  Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe

South Dublin County Council said four long-term voids had been refurbished since last year along with 325 short-term voids. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe

 

The vast majority of social housing units brought back into use under a scheme to refurbish “boarded-up properties” were only empty for a short number of months.

The Department of Housing provides funding to local councils to renovate vacant social housing properties or “voids” that require significant work.

The funding is targeted “exclusively on vacant and boarded-up properties with the objective of returning these to productive use”, a spokesman said.

However, the vast majority of voids returned to use were vacant for less than six months and classified as “short-term voids”, figures from the four Dublin local authorities show.

Fingal County Council brought no long-term vacant social housing units back into use last year or to date this year under the department scheme. The 246 vacant properties brought back into circulation following work were all short-term voids.

Long-term ‘voids’

South Dublin County Council said four long-term voids had been refurbished since last year along with 325 short-term voids. The average time a void unit was vacant prior to works was 2½ months.

In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, one long-term void was upgraded last year, and a spokeswoman said renovations were ongoing on a number of others this year.

So far this year Dublin City Council has renovated 146 long-term voids, out of 736 in total. A total of 901 voids were brought back into use last year, less than one-third of which (297) were vacant for more than six months.

In Galway City Council, just six out of 81 units returned to use in 2016 were long-term vacant units.

Since 2014, about 8,000 local authority homes have received State funding under the voids scheme and were included in the department’s Rebuilding Ireland housing supply statistics.

Housing supply targets

Housing expert Mel Reynolds said including renovated short-term voids in department’s housing supply targets was “a clear case of manipulating the figures”.

Mr Reynolds said the department was making a significant dent in their Rebuilding Ireland housing supply targets by including short-term void turnarounds as additional units.

Counting refurbished short-term voids as new housing units “significantly inflates department social housing output figures”, Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said.

“This is essentially claiming to be increasing the total stock of real social houses when they are simply moving one tenant out and another tenant in,” he said.

The department is currently working on a new measure to track building supply.