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‘Challenging’ voids scheme leaves County Council in race against time

County Hall, Dundalk
A view of the Louth County Council building in Dundalk. Photo Credit: Adrian Crawley.

Louth County Council say they are in a race against time to bring 60 vacant properties across Louth back online and available to social housing list applicants or homeless persons in the county.

Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien announced last month that €40 million of funding was being made available nationally for the return of, what the department estimated to be, 2,500 vacant local authority properties to productive use. A pot of €847,865 has been made available to Louth County Council to bring the void housing back into stock.

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Currently, Louth County Council has 87 void housing units – six in Ardee and Mid-Louth, 18 in the Drogheda Borough District and 49 in the Dundalk Municipal area.

In addition to 14 homes purchased via Compulsory Purchase Order, the local authority aim to have a large chunk of these homes brought up to standard for live social housing stock with the funding available.

Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly told the September meeting of the Drogheda Borough Council that the local authority are experiencing challenges in completing the task of bringing the projected number of voids back into use, as contractors are hard to come by.

“What does that mean for the 18 vacant properties here in Drogheda?”, Sinn Féin councillor Joanna Byrne asked while Cllr James Byrne queried whether or not a number of vacant properties in Beechwood Drive would be included.

“There’s anti-social behaviour, there’s litter. It’s very unsightly. Will they be part of it?”

Mr Donnelly did not confirm what number of the 18 vacant properties in the Drogheda area were earmarked for refurbishment via the scheme. “It’s very welcome,” he said, whilst also revising down slightly the figure of 60 that had been told to councillors at last week’s Dundalk Municipal District meeting.

EXPLAINER

What is a ‘void’ and what is a ‘CPO’?

“We expect to bring back into service between 50 and 60 voids, across the whole county. It’s challenging. It has to be done by the end of November.

“Our contractor framework is quite limited. A lot of these contractors are at max capacity. We have focused additional staff resources on that. We will look at properties that are easer to return into service and get tenants allocated. We hope to have tenants allocated and in by the first week in December.”

Mr Donnelly said it was difficult to secure the amount of contractors they needed for the various work. “Most of these works require 10-12 weeks to turn a property around. We have already turned around a few already. It is the focus of the engineering team.”

He also added the local authority had not been informed whether or not they would lose the remainder of funding if all is not spent by the deadline.

The funding available to the local authority is split into three categories – Standard Refurbishment with a maximum outlay of €12,500 per unit which will see houses re-let to persons or families on the social housing list this year, Homeless Refurbishment targeted towards long-term homeless households, capped at €20,000 and Long-Term Vacant Refurbishment, where the local authority will target long-term vacant units (greater than 12 months) which require extensive works.

A further 30 properties have been used by the council as temporary accommodation for isolation or to cater for homeless persons during the Covid-19 pandemic over the last five months. These properties are also classed as vacant.

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