Councils failing to buy empty homes 'for common good'

Local authorities are failing to buy up derelict or vacant houses – despite having special powers allowed “for the common good”.

Tens of thousands of houses are believed to be lying abandoned around the country, while at the same time almost 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation.

But new figures show more than half of county councils have not made any attempt to build up their housing stock through the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).

Just 240 attempts to take ownership of vacant properties using CPOs have been made in the past seven years.

These statistics “don’t make sense” in the middle of an emergency, according to Fianna Fáil’s housing spokesman Darragh O’Brien.

“We need to get to grips with the housing crisis by building more units and getting the most out of the existing housing stock. That’s a given.

“However, the poor usage by local authorities of their CPO powers compared to the high vacancy rates across our cities just doesn’t make sense.”

Mr O’Brien quoted a report from the Central Statistic Office which put the number of vacant properties in the country at 184,000.

However, this figure was strenuously disputed by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. His spokesman said it was “disingenuous” for Fianna Fáil to use these figures as they were “recorded at a single point in time” and included houses for sale or for rent, or where the owner was away.

Mr Murphy’s office said councils have a range of options open to them for dealing with empty properties aside from CPO.

“In the last four years €120m has been spent on returning some 10,000 vacant local authority homes back into use,” he said.

“The minister has also made funding available for a Vacant Homes Office in each local authority that will be able to do the follow-on work needed to ensure the owners of vacant properties are engaged with and informed about their options.”

Local authorities can take land or property without the consent of the owner by means of a CPO if it is deemed to be for the common good.

However, Freedom of Information requests by Fianna Fáil shows that even in urban areas where the housing crisis is at its worst, CPOs are rarely used.

Dublin City Council has requested just 25 houses since 2011 while Dún Laoghaire Rathdown has only attempted to apply a CPO to one property.

Louth County Council has the best record, applying for 141 houses at a total cost of more than €1.5m.

Mr O’Brien said “major inadequacies” have been identified with the use of these statutory provisions by local authorities.

The Dublin-Fingal TD called on the Government to incentivise local authorities to acquire vacant properties and resell them by covering conveyancing and other costs.

The minister’s spokesman said councils are “identifying potentially vacant homes dwellings that can be reactivated by way of the wide number of schemes and regulatory powers”.

These include repair and lease, buy and renew, long-term leasing and choice-based letting.

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