There is the potential for up to 2,500 vacant homes in Laois to be refurbished and brought back onto the market for those on the housing waiting list.
So says Fine Gael Councillor Conor Bergin who was speaking at Monday’s meeting of Laois County Council.
Mr Bergin was speaking after he sought an update on the uptake of the Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) in Laois since 2016.
Where a property requires repairs to bring it up to the standard for required for rented properties, the RLS will pay for the repairs up-front in return for the property being made available to be used as social housing for a period of at least 5 years under either a direct lease or Rental Availability Arrangement with the local authority.
Under the scheme, the cost of the repairs will be repaid by the owner by offsetting it against the rent due to the owner for the property over the period of the lease agreement and the maximum funding available is €60,000.
However, it has transpired that just one house has been refurbished in Laois under this scheme in the last five years.
And when you consider that the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show that there are 2,500 vacant properties in Laois, the figure is astounding.
This compares very poorly to other counties and in Waterford, for example, the scheme has been used to tackle the shortage of one and two-bedroom homes for people on the housing waiting list.
44% of one and two-bed units delivered by Waterford City and County Council in recent years have been via the Repair and Lease Scheme.
In reply to Cllr Bergin, Nicola Lawler of the Housing Department, said that since 2016, just 41 application forms have been sent to interested property owners.
28 of these subsequently submitted an application but 18 of these were deemed unsuitable.
According to Ms Lawlor, ‘the main reason for properties being deemed to be unsuitable is due to the properties being located in areas of low demand. As a result, it was considered that it would not be possible to sustain long term leases’.
So of the ten remaining properties, four did not proceed as the property owner did not go any further with the process.
Five are currently under consideration and just one is completed and actively out for lease.
Cllr Bergin also asked that Laois County Council undertake a campaign to increase public awareness of the scheme, which could potentially renovate many currently derelict houses in Laois.
He said: “People can sometimes be left with properties like these through inheritance and maybe they don’t have the finances to pay for repairs themselves.
“So this is a win, win for everyone because it means we can take people off the housing waiting list and after a period of five years, the homeowner regains the property to do with it whatever they see fit.”
In reply, Ms Lawlor said: “The Repair & Leasing Scheme is promoted on www.laois.ie where the necessary information and application forms are available.
“We will commence a new campaign this year to explain the potential of this scheme and the Buy and Renew alternative to regenerate properties that are in need of repair and renewal.”