Mayo County Council has budgeted this year €500,000 for the repair and upkeep of its vacant housing stock, but they would need three times that figure to keep on top of the number of houses that become vacant throughout the year. That is according to director of services for Mayo County Council, Paul Benson, responding to a query about how many vacant houses in Mayo belonged to the council. Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne raised the issue at the annual budget meeting of the council, and he was told that some 1,590 houses are in the ownership of the council at the moment, and between 50 and 60 of those are currently vacant.
Mr Benson told the meeting: “The reason they are vacant is that we’ve never got ahead of the game in relation to vacant houses. You need a significant amount of money to do so. We will have €500,000 available to deal with those 50-60 houses, that will get most of them in a condition to be re-let, not all of them. The difficulty we have is that four to five houses become vacant every month, so there’s one a week. But unless you have money other than the €500,000 to actually meet what’s becoming vacant on a weekly basis you won’t get ahead of it, and those houses have to wait until January of next year to get funding. So we need maybe €1.5 million to do that.”
He went on to point out that even if that money became available to the council it would be left with a choice of investing it in the vacant stock or carrying out improvement works on houses of existing tenants that are in need or repair. He said: “And even if that money is made available in the morning, you’re left with a choice. Do you spent the money on the houses that are occupied and people are living in poor circumstances or do you do the houses that are vacant, and that sometimes isn’t an easy choice. It is sometimes easier and makes more sense to do up the house someone is already living in. But it does come down to money. There are a number of houses in the stock that are difficult to let and even with money we may not be in a position to let them, and even if there is money there is no tenant looking for them, so we have to look at other solutions for them. We are trying to deal with the problem but it comes down to money and we are trying to decide how we prioritise vacant stock and occupied.”