THE appointment of a vacant homes officer in Laois has been dismissed as “a Mickey Mouse sticking plaster” approach to homelessness.
Cllr Aidan Mullins made the comment during a debate on derelict and vacant houses at the latest meeting of Graiguecullen-Portarlington Municipal District.
The Portarlington councillor said: “I do welcome the vacant homes officer, but I don’t think it will be a silver bullet to deal with the housing crisis. The construction of social housing is the solution, not all these Mickey Mouse sticking plaster solutions.”
A vacant homes officer took up the new role with Laois County Council on 19 November with the task of identifying long-term vacant and derelict properties throughout the county. The council will then try to acquire the properties, either voluntarily or through compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and make them available for people on the housing waiting list.
The issue was raised at the meeting by cllr Tom Mulhall, who asked for a council survey to be carried out on the number of vacant properties in the Graiguecullen-Portarlington district.
Cllr Mulhall said there is “a huge volume” of vacant houses, not just in Graiguecullen-Portarlington but all over the county. He said: “It’s quite a serious issue. Some vacant homes are in new housing estates and have not been lived in for three or four years. Constituents are ringing us about them, but we don’t know the reason why a nice three-bedroom property is sitting there vacant, when it would make a lovely home.”
Cllr Mulhall said it would be interesting to see how many of the vacant properties could be released back onto the market, or back to the county council in the case of a local authority house and it could help people in the private rental sector.
Head of finance Gerry Murphy told councillors to contact the new vacant homes officer if there were any empty properties in their areas that they wished to have investigated.
The new appointment was welcomed by cllr Mulhall and cllr Padraig Fleming. However, cllr Mullins felt the cost of acquiring and repairing derelict or vacant properties would be very high. He added: “The repair-to-lease scheme has been seen to be a failure, as there has been a very low uptake. The construction of social housing is the solution, not all these schemes.”
Mr Murphy pointed out that the appointment of a vacant homes officer was also part of urban regeneration, in trying to bring people back into towns and villages. He said: “It’s a multi-approach to bringing properties back into use. The primary aim may not necessarily be to provide housing. It could be to deal with dereliction but has the welcome side-effect of increasing housing supply.”