Willie Penrose TD, Minister for Housing and Planning, was in action in the Dail last week fielding questions – see Dail Debates (17th May) and Dail Eireann Written Answers (18th May) (pages 101-121).  He answered questions on a range of issues, but one area that caught my attention was in relation to social housing vacancy, turnaround time until reoccupied and re-fitting costs because the answers came with some data I’ve not seen before.

With respect to data on turnaround times the Minister drew attention toThe sixth annual report of the Local Government Management Services Board [LGMSG], published in February 2011, which details service indicators in local authorities in 2009, shows the average time taken, from the date of vacating of a unit to the date when all necessary repairs are carried out, to re-let a unit in each authority. The figures show that some 4,286 dwellings were vacant, accounting for 3.4% of the total national social housing stock of around 126,000 units.  The length of time taken to re-let units varies considerably between authorities and ranges from as little as one week in Limerick City Council to as high as 45 weeks in South Tipperary County Council.”

He supplied the following table taken from the report of the LGMSB.

Average time taken (in weeks) from the date of vacation
of dwelling to the date whenall necessary repairs are carried out and which are deemed necessary to re-let the dwelling
Carlow County Council 17.7
Cavan County Council 13.0
Clare County Council 18.2
Cork City Council 17.9
Cork County Council 11.1
Donegal County Council 24
Dublin City Council 19.5
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council 15.9
Fingal! County Council 18
Galway City Council 7
Galway County Council 30.1
Kerry County Council 24.1
Kildare County Council 6.9
Kilkenny County Council 19.7
Laois County Council 18
Leitrim County Council 15.1
Limerick City Council 1
Limerick County Council 40.2
Longford County Council 7
Louth County Council 8
Mayo County Council 18.5
Meath County Council 11
Monaghan County Council 14.8
North Tipperary County Council 12.5
Offaly County Council 8.8
Roscommon County Council 21.3
Sligo County Council 18.6
South Dublin County Council 18.7
South Tipperary County Council 45.8
Waterford City Council 9
Waterford County Council 19.5
Westmeath County Council 5.2
Wexford County Council 9.2
Wicklow County Council 25.6

Given the numbers of people on the social housing waiting list and the pressure to obtain social housing it would be very interesting to find out why there is such a wide variation in the length of time it takes local authorities to repair and refit housing and get new tenants into their new homes.  These figures are an average, so one presumes in some cases houses are unoccupied for more than a year.  The figure of a one week average for Limerick City seems barely credible, especially given the length of the other counties, but maybe they have a special refit and relocate team?

The DECLG programme to aid financially local authorities in refitting and refurbing local authority housing is the Social Housing Investment Programme.  Here’s what he had to say about it in the written answer:  “Under my Department’s Social Housing Investment Programme, local authorities are allocated capital funding each year in respect of a range of measures to improve the standard and overall quality of their social housing stock. The programme includes a retrofitting measure aimed at improving the energy efficiency of older apartments and houses.

My Department requested local authorities specifically to target vacant dwellings in 2011 with the objective of returning the maximum number of vacant units to productive use at reasonable cost. However, necessary improvement works to occupied houses will continue to be eligible for funding from within the allocations notified to individual authorities.

Some €31million is being provided to local authorities in 2011 in respect of their social housing improvement works programmes.”

And in the Dail Debate: “This [€31m] does not include funding for large-scale regeneration projects and estate-wide remedial works projects which also include retrofitting and refurbishment works on vacant dwellings, for which a further provision of €172 million is being made this year. My Department’s improvement works programme is specifically targeting vacant dwellings in 2011 with the objective of returning the maximum number of vacant units to productive use at reasonable cost. In the case of casual or short-term vacancies, a grant of up to €18,000 or 90% of cost, whichever is the lesser, is recouped to the local authority in respect of works to improve the standard and the energy efficiency of a dwelling.

In the case of properties which have remained vacant for a protracted period or properties which have fallen into a state of serious disrepair, a special measure is being introduced this year which will allow local authorities to claim up to €35,000 for each unit returned to productive use. Authorities are required to prepare an Improvement plan for vacant properties for 2011, outlining the number of vacant properties on hands and setting out the proposed measures to improve these properties.

My Department’s records show that over the period 2004 to 2010 some €52 million was recouped to local authorities in respect of improvements works on vacant properties. I will also circulate with the Official Report a tabular statement setting out details in this regard.”

Here is that improvement works data.

Cavan County Council 451,395.00
Clare County Council 793,307.00
Cork City Council 2,853,410.00
Cork County Council 2,108,482.00
Donegal County Council 377,536.00
Dublin City Council 31,021,448.63
Fingal County Council 430,965.00
Galway City Council 209,752.00
Galway County Council 356,277.00
Kerry County Council 2,645,289.00
Kildare County Council 134,194.00
Leitrim County Council 223,454.00
Limerick City Council 1,181,503.00
Limerick County Council 547,564.00
Longford County Council 762,839.00
Louth County Council 702,664.00
Mayo County Council 1,371,463.00
Meath County Council 1,514,163.00
Monaghan County Council 211,002.00
Offaly County Council 272,705.00
Roscommon County Council 379,677.00
Sligo Borough Council 357,555.00
Sligo County Council 165,181.00
North Tipperary County Council 664,857.00
South Tipperary County Council 27,611.00
Waterford City Council 1,588,878.00
Wexford County Council 712,730.00
Wicklow County Council 821,583.00
Total 52,887,484.63

€203m then is being made available in 2011 to help repair and refit local authority housing this year, including large scale regeneration projects such as Ballymun and Limerick.  If this is the full allocation, then the €172m directed at large scale regeneration projects is almost certainly a fairly large rollback on what was originally allocated and required, albeit it’ll go some way towards addressing some pressing issues.  It’ll be interesting to see how much of the funding available is drawn down and its effects on void social housing turnaround times.

Minister Penrose also acknowledged that the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments had submitted its final report to him on May 6th.  He presently “considering its findings and recommendations and will bring proposed actions and recommendations to Government for approval shortly, with a view to publishing the Report thereafter“.

Rob Kitchin