A SHORTAGE of contractors available for refurbishment work is one reason for the delay in reletting council houses which have been vacated by tenants, Offaly County Council heard on Monday.
Tom Shanahan, director of services, also told councillors similar delays occur when work is necessary on houses which have been bought by the council.
Cllr Sean O’Brien said vacant houses owned by the council was something he was especially concerned about.
“We have to ask why are they vacant? What can be done to ensure that they are done up and relet to the tenants who are waiting?” asked the Independent councillor. “This is an urgent issue and it’s something that’s very hard for any councillor to stand over.”
His Tullamore colleague, Cllr Declan Harvey, Fianna Fail, said vacant houses was something he had “been giving off about for years”.
In addition to those owned by the council which are “idle”, there were others owned by the banks which was going to “rack and ruin” with vandalism and should be compulsorily purchased.
“I grew up in a council house myself. People who live in a council house, they really do look after it,” said Cllr Harvey.
Mr Shanahan said about 35 houses had become vacant this year and the council had bought 21 houses.
“We’re working from a framework of 18 contractors and one of the issues is getting contractors onto site to do this work,” he said.
“There would be specific cases of houses which for one reason or another we can’t get possession of to work on,” he said, adding that Offaly’s record for returning houses for reletting was better than the national average.
Replying to a query from Cllr Pippa Hackett, Green Party, he said 200 privately owned vacant properties had been identified around Offaly but it was a “slow process” engaging with their owners.
Cllr John Clendennen, Fine Gael, said the council should press on and try to buy such properties.
“We have to find reasons as to why we can either issue CPOs (compulsory purchase orders) for properties or work with property owners,” he said, suggesting that a target of perhaps 100 be set for occupation.
“Unless we can set targets like that we are going to continue talking about CPOs or continue seeing corners and sections of our villages and towns completely dead where there should be life”.
Housing officer Monica Cleary agreed with councillors that the repair and lease scheme (whereby an owner can take out a loan of up to €40,000 for refurbishment) had not been successful.
Councillors were also told that sometimes it could be 30 to 40 years before a house is returned to the council and it required work to “make it safe at least”.
Housing official John Cunningham told Cllr John Carroll, Indepedent, that issues ranging from the presence of personal belongings to a statutory eight-week wait following an abandonment notice, could delay the start of refurbishment work on a vacant council house.
Mr Cunningham also said the “bar has risen substantially” in the last 10 to 15 years in the areas of procurement and health and safety for contractors.
While the council had encouraged contractors to come and work with them “there’s still a fear out there in relation to those two regulations”.
Earlier this month the Tribune reported that one council house in Cloncollig, Tullamore was still vacant a year after its tenants left.
In October 2018 a family said they had to move out of the property because of rats and dampness.
They had taken up residence in the semi-detached house the previous May and believe the problems with it were caused by an unoccupied property next door which was being used as a dump.
Prior to that, they were in emergency accommodation in a former hotel, where two adults and five children shared one room.
After leaving the house in Cloncollig, they briefly moved into another unoccupied house elsewhere in Tullamore without the consent of the council.
Because it had already been allocated to another tenant, the family returned to emergency accommodation.
The family has since been housed in Kilcormac.
In September Offaly County Council reported that contracts worth €341,280 had been awarded for pre-letting work on 11 social housing properties.
The single most expensive contract was for €79,460 (excluding VAT), while refurbishment work on another six properties was going to cost a total of €159,410.
This month a tender for €31,340 (excluding VAT) was accepted for pre-let repairs to property in Fairview, Birr, and another for €54,185 for pre-let and adaptation works on property at Ballycumber Road, Ferbane.