Sinn Féin TD Tomas Gould outside one of Cork city's many vacant homes as his party launched its Vacant Homes Strategy.

Sinn Féin launch housing plan

Sinn Féin has announced an ambitious plan to bring every single usable home in Cork back into the housing market.

According to the party, the National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy 2018-2021 has failed Cork badly with an average of 4.1 per cent of houses in the city and county currently lying vacant.

However, the Government’s Housing Agency has found that in certain areas of Cork city, vacancy can be as high as 25 per cent.

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said the Vacant Site Levy (VSL), which was brought in to encourage landowners to utilise their empty land, is also “failing miserably” and believes the current levy of seven per cent of site’s market value should be increased to 15 per cent.

“The levies collected in Cork in 2020 were nowhere near seven per cent of the total site values,” he said.

According to Deputy Gould’s figures, Cork city’s vacant sites represent a total market value of close to €27 million.

However, the deputy said Cork City Council collected approximately €21,875 last year, representing 0.08 per cent of the total value.

“Not only are vacant homes an eyesore and an insult to those trapped in the housing crisis, they are a magnet for anti-social behaviour, criminality, dumping and pests,” he said.

Voids and social housing

Sinn Féin is now calling for a dedicated taskforce in the Maintenance Department in Cork City Council to be established to carry out regular preventative maintenance audits on social housing rather than addressing repairs on an emergency basis only.

The party says this would reduce the works needed to “turn around” a social house when it becomes empty, thus decreasing the number voids in the city and helping those on the social housing waiting list to find homes more quickly.

Deputy Gould said when a Cork City Council tenant vacates their house, the council can’t start to get the property ready for a new tenant until the Voids Programme is opened.

He said the council then must submit a full list of all the works needed on the property which must be approved by the Department of Housing before the council can begin its work on the house.

“This red-tape is clearly a serious barrier to getting voids turned around quickly. With 340 voids returned in 2020, there were still 572 remaining in December. That’s 572 empty houses that could be homes for people on the housing waiting list,” said Deputy Gould.

In October 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) found that Ireland’s social housing was in breach of Article 16 of the European Social Charter.

The ECSR found that these breaches related to sewage leaks, dampness and mould. It also found that no complete statistics on the condition of local authority housing had been collected in Ireland since 2002.

In order to achieve its plan, Sinn Féin said it would urge the Government to end the practice of local authorities paying Local Property Tax and instead use these funds to introduce a system of preventative maintenance and to fund the return of voids.

The party also suggest conducting five year rolling preventative maintenance audits on all social housing stock while properly implementing a national register of social housing stock.

Sinn Féin would also encourage the fast-tracking of the Voids Programme by allowing applications for void returns funding to be made all year round to ensure that local authorities can apply to return a house to their stock as soon as it becomes vacant.