Kilkenny’s vacant homes officer has identified around 250 buildings across the county deemed potentially suitable to be brought back into occupancy.
While the most recent Census estimated the number of vacant units in Kilkenny in excess of 3,500, the council’s housing department has disputed the accuracy of this figure. A vacant homes officer, Evelyn Graham, was appointed last year to assess properties and see what steps could be taken to return it to viable housing stock. The process of determining that a property is vacant, clarifying its ownership and other issues, such as obtaining surveys, drawings, and determining legal matters, can be an arduous one.
At a recent council meeting, Ms Graham informed members that she had conducted a visual inspection of properties in the city and areas of greatest demand around the county. She attempted to identify owners where possible and then engage with them with respect to a variety of schemes aimed at bringing buildings back into occupancy.
Of the 240+ units that have been identified so far, some 40 have since been removed from the list for various reasons, including being brought back into use or sold, or they are simply not suitable due to their remote location or state of dereliction.
Ms Graham said a lot of the properties were tied in with financial issues or problems. Around 12% were not vacant or available, due to someone living there or just not being ready to do something with them. Others have complex reasons for vacancy, including financial or family/ inheritance issues.
Some are in poor condition with a high cost in bringing them back to use, and around 8% are derelict or in areas where there is no housing demand.
Limited uptake on schemes aimed at addressing vacancy has not helped matters. The Repair and Leasing Scheme, which offers a loan of up to €40,000 to property owners, has had just 34 potential engagements, with just one unit completed so far.
The Buy and Renew scheme has seen little more success, while Compulsory Purchase Orders have been little utilised under housing legislation. The vacant homes officer will continue her work, and while there has been a focus on the city, towns and villages are also in the spotlight.
“Local knowledge is vital. If you have specific properties or sites to bring to us, please do so,” said Ms Graham.
Director of services for housing Mary Mulholland said the intervention of the vacant homes officer had resulted in some property owners taking the initiative.
“Our activities have prompted most of the regeneration, refurbishment or the ‘for sale’ signs that have gone up on the buildings,” she said.
Cllr David Fitzgerald (right) proposed writing to the Minister about the Fair Deal scheme for older people. He said the scheme was flawed and encourages elderly people who vacate their homes to leave their homes idle in some cases for many years.
“While it remains idle, it deteriorates and the cost of bringing it back into stock can be even greater,” he said.
“I have written to the Minister myself on this. There are good houses that people lived in being left go to rack and ruin because of the flawed Fair Deal plan.”
Mayor of Kilkenny Martin Brett seconded the proposal to send a letter to the Minister.