I agree that we have to be very proactive in dealing with vacant properties. That is what we are trying to do. It was nice that the Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures last week reflected the fact that over 5,000 vacant properties had been brought back into use in the past two years. The report of the CSO was released last week and is independent of the Government. We also know that 8,400 local authority voids have been brought back into use. There has, therefore, been a major focus on vacancies.
Local authorities have designated vacant homes officers who act as a central point of contact. They provide information and advice for owners of vacant homes and also deal with queries from members of the public in respect of private residential vacant properties in their administrative area.
The range of duties of the vacant homes officer includes tasks that support the development of local authorities’ vacant homes action plans. They are involved in co-ordinating both initial vacancy assessment exercises such as drilling down into available data, primarily from the CSO and GeoDirectory. They also undertake visual inspections of properties in their administrative area, where appropriate, as well as engaging with the owners of vacant homes on the options available to assist them in bringing their properties back into the habitable housing stock. A range of options have been outlined by the Department which are an attractive carrot designed to encourage people to bring forward these vacant properties.
It is, of course, a matter for each local authority to decide the appropriate allocation of staff and resources for this work, having regard to its overall workforce planning policy. However, we have indicated to local authorities that we want them to do as much as possible to ensure vacant homes in areas of high demand for housing are targeted and brought back into use, where feasible. In that regard, my Department will be providing funding to support the work of vacant homes officers within each local authority, allowing for an increased focus on vacancy issues and boosting take-up of schemes to tackle vacancies. Correspondence from local authorities to that effect was received last week and there will be more in the weeks ahead.
I had the opportunity recently to visit Limerick where I saw some great work being done on vacant properties. I have to commend the vacancy unit for the work it is doing. I have asked it to do much more of that work. It has brought forward some excellent properties under the purchase and renewal scheme. It is also dealing with the repair and leasing scheme. There is a range of schemes in place. There is, therefore, no excuse for leaving properties vacant. I accept that in some instances there is a reason which must be addressed with the person who owns the property which might be complicated, but local authorities are being asked to prioritise this work. They have been provided with funding and we have seen some great results throughout the country, in Limerick in particular.