Waterford City & County Council has clarified the status of 71 houses in its current stock, which were described last week by Senator David Cullinane (SF) as ‘lying vacant while people are in dire need of homes that they can afford’.
Referring to what he described as “a very misleading message” transmitted to those on the housing list, the Council’s Special Executive Officer (SEO) issued a comprehensive statement to The Munster Express seeking to “make their position as clear as possible”.
According to Joe Sullivan, the assertion made in relation to the ‘vacant 71’ did “not in any way reflect the position on the ground or the outstanding work that is being done daily by our vacant house refurbishment team”.
So what about the aforementioned 71?
“Of the 71 houses currently being refurbished as referred to in the Sinn Fein statement the following is the position:
* 15 are completed and have been returned for re-letting
* 25 units have works currently underway
* 28 units are currently in the tender process which we are obliged to comply with
* Three units were offered and refused and have been re- offered and more importantly new tenants have been identified for all of them.”
Mr Sullivan stressed: “It is important for people on the housing waiting lists to understand that there are no I repeat no vacant social houses in Waterford City and County that are not being refurbished for re letting and there are no vacant houses that are not being refurnished in Waterford due to lack of funding.
“Having said that I do understand how the information may have been misinterpreted and acknowledge that it was not intended to be misleading.”
This statement came in the wake of Senator Cullinane’s September 28th statement, which contended “that local authorities are not being provided with the necessary funding to ensure that existing social housing stock is put back into circulation. The housing waiting list in Waterford is expanding by the week”.
The Senator added: “I am sure that any of those families on the list would be glad of one of these houses or apartments. It is disgraceful that 71 units lie vacant while people are in dire need of homes that they can afford.
“There has been a concerted effort on the part of government to shift the blame for the housing crisis, and the responsibility for addressing it, onto local authorities. This is farcical. The responsibility for the crisis lies squarely with central government. The responsibility lies with Minister Alan Kelly and it lies with Government TDs from Waterford, no matter how much they attempt to run from it.”
According to Joe Sullivan: “Over the last five years, more than 700 houses have become vacant for one or other of the above reasons and have been refurbished by the housing department and re-tenanted. In 2014 alone a total of 167 houses were refurbished and re-tenanted.
“In 2015, 118 houses have been refurbished and re-tenanted just to date. So at any one time we will always have a number of houses that have become vacant and that are being refurbished for re-letting. Once a house becomes vacant it is immediately included in our refurbishment programme and new tenants considered for them.”
Joe Sullivan said it was important to make those currently on the waiting list in Waterford aware that there were “no, and I repeat, no vacant social houses in Waterford City and County that are not being refurbished for re-letting and there are no vacant houses that are not being refurbished in Waterford due to lack of funding.”
He continued: “Having said that, I do understand how the information may have been misinterpreted and acknowledge that it was not intended to be misleading.
“There is a perception out there nationally that there are a significant number of vacant social houses out there that are closed up and could be refurbished for people on the housing lists . While that may be somewhat the case and to different extents in different parts of the country, that is absolutely not the position in Waterford City and County due to a completely proactive approach being adapted by the Housing Department over many years.”
Describing the situation in Waterford as “disgraceful,” Senator Cullinane suggested that “these units will more than likely remain idle throughout the winter months. This is unacceptable. The Government must provide local authorities with the necessary funding to get existing housing stock back into circulation…People need real solutions. This Government has absolutely failed to address the housing crisis.”
With 5,000 houses in the Council’s stock, Joe Sullivan said many of these residences become vacant for “a whole host of reasons”.
These include the death of a tenant, “new family formations”, the abandonment of houses by tenants “each year without notice”, fire damage, while “some become vacant following transfers which are granted , based on serious overcrowding or for serious medical reasons”.
He added: “So at any one time we will always have units that have become vacant that are being refurbished for re-letting. But it is a continuing and evolving process and every month the units are at different locations, new ones will have come in and others will have been tenanted. But the critical point here is that we have no houses that are not being worked on or that have not been offered to applicants. We have no units that are not being worked on due to lack of funding.”
Notwithstanding this, is funding this programme a challenging for the Council? “It certainly is,” Joe Sullivan conceded “and it also challenging from the resource staff and management side. The return of 167 units in one year is not insignificant from either a cost or workload viewpoint.
“More importantly this is the lifeblood of our current allocations. And just to clarify if people see houses boarded up, this is an insurance and a security requirement while work is ongoing – it does not mean we are not working on the houses, or works may be finished and houses offered to applicants.
“While we are constantly trying to speed up the re-letting process, there are a few strands to the process, from assessment of works required, to procurement and going to tender process to the actual re letting , where refusals of offers is still a factor (up to 30 per cent) and leads to further time delays in re-letting.”