On Blackditch Road in Cherry Orchard, two empty cottages sit side by side, both closed up with metal shutters.
On Croftwood Drive, there are three shuttered houses.
A short walk around Cherry Orchard passes seven more boarded-up properties, most neighboured by well-kept houses with flower boxes.
Dublin City Council owns around 35 vacant homes just in Cherry Orchard, says People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin.
It takes the council an average of 23 weeks to relet a vacant social home, according to a report for 2022 from the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC).
But in Cherry Orchard, some have been empty for as long as six years, says de Nortúin.
“The longer you leave it the worse it gets.”
Meanwhile, many local families are crying out for a home. “Children have a right to a home,” says de Nortúin.
De Nortúin has been trying for years to get an explanation from council officials as to why these homes haven’t been turned around, raising it again at last week’s meeting of Dublin City Council’s housing committee.
At the meeting, a council official suggested they continue the exchange later in private.
Dublin City Council’s press office hasn’t responded to queries sent Friday morning about how many homes the council owns in Cherry Orchard and how many are empty.
Funding to turn around empty council homes – often called “voids” – has been falling, said Robert Buckle, a senior engineer with the council, at a meeting of the housing committee on 8 November.
The council’s budget for voids for 2024 is €10 million, said Buckle – but that is not enough.
His team spent €25 million this year, he said. “We don’t want to see houses boarded up in 2024 … but if the budget isn’t increased that is where we are heading.”
The Department of Housing used to fund half the cost of turning around voids, he said, but now it funds on average €11,500 per home, which shakes out at around a quarter of the cost. “There is a decrease on the voids budget at the moment, constantly coming down, and that’s making things very tight budget wise.”
Meanwhile, construction costs have skyrocketed, he said. “Voids in 2023 are costing us on average about €45,000. Before 2023, it was an average cost of €32,000 and this is to do with materials and labour costs.”
The latest NOAC report says it cost the council an average of €22,000 to renovate an empty council home in 2021.
Councillors pledged to try to find more money to refurbish vacant council homes.
Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker suggested that the housing committee write to the Department of Housing to ask for more funding for voids and for an ongoing commitment to fund the programme.
Asked Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu: “What is your optimum ask?” Councillors in government parties would try to push for more funding, she suggested, echoing comments by Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney.
Zoning in on Cherry Orchard
“I am dealing with serious cases, people screaming and crying for houses,” said People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin, at the meeting. “I’m pleading with the council staff to come out and take this seriously.”
The boarded-up homes in Cherry Orchard include some relatively new “rapid-build” homes that were only completed in 2019, she said.
“Councillor de Nortúin’s contribution is really concerning,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor, Deirdre Heney at the meeting. She asked how many of the empty houses in Cherry Orchard are new builds.
Buckle, the senior engineer in charge of voids, said he could hear the frustration in de Nortúin’s voice.
He would come back to her privately, he said. “I don’t want to say on the floor here this morning.”
De Nortúin refused to accept that and said she wanted the answer put on the record. “People keep ringing me over the phone and you won’t actually address the issue.”
The committee chair, Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, said that she wanted to move on and asked that she be copied into the future correspondence with de Nortúin about the issue.
“This is suppressing it now,” said de Nortúin. “For two years, I’m asking this question.”
Why leave them empty?
As of January 2023, 1,200 households were waiting for a social home in area J, which includes Cherry Orchard.
Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries sent on Friday morning asking how many vacant homes it owns in Cherry Orchard and why so many are empty.
Nor did it respond to queries as to the average time to turn around a void in Cherry Orchard, and the longest a council home has been empty there.
Later by phone, de Nortúin said she has been flagging the issue of vacancy in Cherry Orchard since February 2022, when she wrote to council officials about two vacant homes in the area.
“Can we not act quicker with properties like this?” she wrote.
In March 2022, she raised the issue with the then-housing manager, Coilín O’Reilly, she says.
Since then the situation has worsened, but she still cannot get a reason from council staff as to why they are not refurbishing the vacant homes, she says. “We were promised a taskforce to identify it.”
The Lord Mayor, Fianna Fáil Councillor Daithí de Róiste, who is also from Cherry Orchard, said he can’t work out why the council is sitting on so many vacant homes in the area either.
It is one thing with older properties, he says, in that they might need a lot of work. “But some of these are new houses, that are only five years old,” he said. “We all want voids turned around as quick as possible.”
De Róiste says he hopes to explore the issue further during upcoming discussions around the council budget.