Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Commencement Matters

Housing Provision

2:30 pm

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Renua Ireland) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the matter concerning the vacancies in public housing stock across the country, as well as the many vacancies in the private housing sector. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to the House.

The Government seems transfixed with rent certainty as it seems to be a cause of ongoing internal debate around the Cabinet table. However, the certainty we require concerns the supply of local authority housing and the allocation of vacant properties. Figures presented in the other House several weeks ago indicated almost 3,000 vacant local authority houses are available for repair and, hopefully, allocation. In County Cork alone, between the city and the county, there are approximately 700 such houses. It is very difficult for the tens of thousands of people on housing waiting lists to see these statistics and how 3,000 local authority houses have not yet been allocated.

Obviously, some of these houses require some degree of refurbishment. All of us as individual public representatives, however, have come across cases where houses which have become vacant are in excellent condition, almost turn key, but there is still a lengthy delay in their allocation. Recently, I inquired about a house in the Cork area which, to the very best of my knowledge, was in a condition that would make it available for letting immediately. When I asked in September whether it would be made available in October or November, I was told it would probably be next February or March. That is unacceptable. We must ensure that once a house is vacant and is in a fit condition for letting, it should be let in the immediate future. At a time when tens of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists, it is unforgivable that such vacancies occur. Will the Minister of State let me know what the Government is doing to ensure these 3,000 vacant houses will be made available to people on social housing lists as soon as possible?

There are also tens of thousands of vacant private dwellings across the country. Many of these were previously not available for letting. At a time of an acknowledged housing crisis and when rural, as well as small town and village, depopulation is a critical social problem, we have to examine all solutions. Does the Minister of State have statistics from her Department or the CSO on the number of vacant private dwellings? We have to devise some scheme to encourage the letting of these properties. While I am not a major fan of tax breaks or incentives, mainly because they have left a long disastrous legacy, we may have to look at putting schemes in place to encourage the repair and refurbishment of some of these properties for letting. There have been schemes, such as rural resettlement, which have been tremendously successful.One size does not fit all and that must be at the core of our thinking with respect to our housing problems. The Cabinet might be having internal debates about rent certainty but there is the issue of vacant local authority houses and the issue of there being probably thousands upon thousands of vacant private houses across the country. Our towns and villages are dying off. A significant number of people - although, admittedly, not the majority - on housing lists in our larger cities would be willing to take up the offer of a tenancy of a good house in a rural area if the proper procedures were put in place. We must be more joined up in our thinking in regard to the housing crisis. Tens upon tens of thousands of people are looking for houses, there are tens upon tens of thousands of vacant houses across the country and it is not good enough that we cannot marry those two statistics into a solution.

I ask the Minister of State for an update on the number of local authority and private houses that are not occupied and to indicate the Government's intentions and plans in that respect. The Government's debate on housing must stretch far beyond rent certainty and into the territory of making those houses available and getting them filled as soon as possible.


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