Where are our ghost estates?
PICTURE OF IRELAND:The term “ghost estates” has been with us since at least 2006. As the economic crisis deepened, unfinished houses and apartments became a symbol of the excesses of the property bubble.
Those who bought and moved into what became unfinished estates faced a number of problems:living on or next to building sites, health-and-safety issues, poor services and infrastructure, negative equity, anti-social behaviour and a diminished sense of community.
Unfinished estates still litter the landscape. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government has undertaken three national housing surveys to monitor unfinished developments. In the first, in 2010, the number of unfinished estates was reported as 2,846; that rose to 2,876 in 2011. They were particularly prevalent in the upper Shannon area of Cavan, Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo.
Last year the department said the number of unfinished estates had fallen to 1,770. This was principally because the definition of an unfinished estate was changed. In 2010 and 2011 the term referred to estates with issues of vacancy and oversupply as well as outstanding development work. Last year the definition referred only to outstanding development work.
The 2011 census counted 289,451 vacant properties – 14.5 per cent of total stock – in April 2011. Of these 59,395 were classed as holiday homes. In any ordinary housing market, about 6 per cent of properties would be expected to be vacant .
To tackle the issue, the Government has set up two schemes. The social-housing leasing initiative has sought to make some properties available for social housing. The second initiative, site-resolution plans, is designed to tackle health-and-safety issues.
The social-housing leasing initiative has had little take-up, while site-resolution plans have had little effect beyond fencing off dangerous areas and filling in potholes.
In only 250 estates – 8.5 per cent – is the developer working on site. That leaves 1,520 estates requiring work but unlikely to be completed in the short to midterm.
In November, Minister of State for Housing and Planning Jan O’Sullivan said decisions would be taken early this year to establish which estates were commercially unviable and need to be partially demolished.
View from the ground One resident’s experience of living on an unfinished estate
Amit Sehgal paid €155,000 for his dream home, in Gleann Riada, near Longford town, in June 2006. But with €135,000 outstanding on his mortgage, he now feels trapped in a house where he worries about the safety of his wife, Tina, and sons, Ayush (seven) and Ryan (two).
Sehgal, a fast-food manager, is determined to repay his mortgage but says he thinks the “house value is zero”.
The estate has been in the news because of gas seeping into homes from the sewerage. Last year two houses were damaged in suspected gas explosions. One has been evacuated; one unsold apartment block has been demolished.
Sehgal acknowledges work already carried out, but he says it’s slow. His house has been tested for the presence of gas. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide were detected but not at harmful levels, he says.
Sehgal sees few options. “I am still paying my mortgage, but if I move . . . how am I going to pay €400 or €500 rent extra?” People don’t like to visit, and he fears he may never be able to sell. - EOGHAN MacCONNELL