Kilkenny appoints vacant housing officer to assess reality of vacant stock

CPO has not yet been used to acquire homes for social housing

Sam Matthews

Reporter:

Sam Matthews

Email:

sam.matthews@kilkennypeople.ie

Number of vacant properties

Vacant premises: council says there are discrepancies or inaccuracies in the available data on number of vacant units

Kilkenny County Council is among a number of local authorities to have not yet used its powers of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to acquire properties for social housing.

A Fianna Fáil Freedom of Information request last week revealed more than half of county councils have not used CPO to add to their housing stock. Figures published in the Irish Independent show that just 277 homes across the whole country have been acquired by councils through CPO.

The issue was previously raised at the October meeting of Kilkenny County Council, when Cllr David Fitzgerald asked Director of Services for Housing, Mary Mulholland, about the matter.

“A number of local authorities have been very proactive in terms of using CPO powers — have we CPOd any properties in Kilkenny? If we haven’t, why haven’t we?” he asked.

Ms Mulholland replied that while she was aware of some other counties using CPO powers, they had not been used in Kilkenny to date (then October 15) for the purposes of social housing.

Vacant officer

Ms Mulholland said the council had this year appointed a Vacant Housing Officer. CSO data suggests that the total amount of vacant households (excluding holiday homes) numbered 2,995 at last count. However, the council says there are discrepancies or inaccuracies in the available data.

The initial phase of the Vacant Housing Officer’s work is carrying out an assessment of vacancy rates by visiting properties.
In initial visual inspections, 150 properties were inspected in the city and county. Only half of those inspected have been determined to be vacant.

Ms Mulholland said this suggested that a lot of properties reported vacant actually weren’t, or at least their owners were saying they weren’t. In addition, establishing a clear title is often an issue.

“Often, the challenge is in identifying the owners or establishing ownership,” she said.

Ms Mulholland added that some of these properties have poor potential, and may be changed from ‘vacant homes’ to ‘derelict sites’.

“A lot of the properties are older, and we are finding them to be in very poor condition,” she said.

“Even though they might look stable, there’s a lot of work required.”

The next phase of the plan involves engagement with property owners, and around 40 have been contacted so far. A number of schemes are in place in order to progress matters, including the Repair and Lease scheme, Buy and Renew scheme, and other urban/rural regeneration schemes. Ms Mulholland said CPOs would be considered for ‘problem properties’ or where ownership could not be established.

Cllr Fitzgerald thanked the housing staff for the ‘hugely efficient way’ they were carrying out their work. He said he wanted to wish the housing vacancy officer well in ‘addressing the anomaly’ between the differing accounts of vacancy rates.