10,000 sites abandoned in Cork as housing crisis worsens

IN every town and village around County Cork and in the city there are hundreds of derelict buildings and vacant sites. We have all seen them and know where they were. According to some estimates, there are as many as 10,000 such sites in Cork, between the city and the county.

Such is the extent of abandonment and dereliction across Ireland that this week President Michael D. Higgins ditched his script by opening a center for homeless young people in County Kildare, a former residence that had fallen into disrepair before being renovated and restored, to decry the number of abandoned and derelict buildings that could be restored. President Higgins’ remarks on abandonment were part of a broader attack on the level of homelessness and the housing crisis which he called a “disaster”.

The significant figure of 10,000 derelict buildings in Cork is achieved when you combine a number of different types of sites and buildings – this can include derelict sites and buildings, vacant sites and buildings and municipal voids, where Local authority owned buildings are vacant because a tenant has left and new tenants are considering the property – occasional vacancy – or it is a long term void and could even be condemned.

A vacant site/property is an unoccupied site/property, while an abandoned site/property is a site that has been left in such poor condition that it can be an eyesore or even pose a danger to the public in masonry fall.

Cork County Council’s vacant sites register has only 13 sites listed. The Cork City Vacant Sites Register contains 105 properties.

Contacted this week by The Corkman, the County Council estimated there were 68 abandoned sites/properties in towns and villages across the county. This figure is not reflected in the official register of vacant sites because, as a spokesperson for the Council indicated, the Council prefers to conduct its interactions with owners of abandoned sites on an informal basis, as it believes that he gets the best results this way.

That’s a very low estimate, according to Kiskeam man Frank O’Connor and his partner Jude Sherry, who set up a design agency, Anois.org, and have spent the past few years shining a light on the abandonment around from Cork.

The couple had spent years living abroad in Amsterdam and returned three and a half years ago to be shocked at the number of vacant properties they found in the city and county.

According to Frank, the level of abandonment is a huge waste of resources and he is convinced that much more should be done to revitalize Cork city center and town centers across the county, including those in his native northern plot. from Cork.

This campaign has highlighted abandoned sites in the city and county on a daily basis over the past two years and the campaign has led to additional coverage, including an RTÉ Eco Eye edition focusing on the issue.

The issue of vacant sites and derelict buildings has been highlighted as the country faces a housing crisis with skyrocketing rents and people shut out of the housing market by prices last seen during the property boom. of the late 2000s.

“Transforming, reusing and repurposing unused sites and buildings will make urban Ireland a better place for all of us to live, learn, love, share, create and contribute,” Frank and Jude wrote in a presentation they gave. presented to an Oireachtas committee last year. .

They described ‘urban abandonment’ as an ‘enduring scourge that hampers Irish villages, towns and cities’.

According to this document, abandonment is a description of a property that has “a negative impact on its neighborhood”.

“A property that is an eyesore, that has contaminants, that could harm the amenity, character, or appearance of a neighborhood.

“Abandoned property may be in ruins, in an unsafe condition, neglected, decaying, or contain rubbish, trash, debris or waste. It’s a broad definition. »

The document submitted to the Oireachtas committee pointed out that the abandonment of tskihat was “primarily caused by lack of care and maintenance often aggravated by long-term vacancy”.

“Dereliction also has a character of contagion.

“If left untreated, it can quickly spread to the nearby urban environment.”

The issue of abandonment takes on sharp relief when placed in the context of the worsening housing crisis with rising house prices, rising rents and a sharp contraction in supply as builders are struggling with planning issues as well as escalating material costs and a shortage of skilled workers.

According to Cllr Bernard Moynihan, also from Kiskeam, while the dropout problem can be seen as an urban problem, it is also very present in towns and villages in rural areas such as North Cork.

“The demand for housing is steady and consistently high,” Cllr Moynihan told The Corkman. “My phone is constantly ringing as people are looking for accommodation in this area.”

Mallow-based Councilor Gearóid Murphy pointed to a decrease in the number of Council ‘voids’, which he described as vacant Council properties because they were ‘between tenants’.

“The recent decline in long-term voids is encouraging and I will certainly advocate that efforts continue to reduce the number of long-term voids and bring that number as close to zero as possible,” he said.

“I will also strive to have as quick a turnaround time as possible for occasional vacancies.”

At present, according to Council, there are 29 vacant Council properties in North Cork, comprising 23 occasional vacancies and six long-term vacancies. This is down from a peak of 49 such vacancies in January.

When Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry of Anois carried out a survey in 2020/21 of derelict buildings within 2km of Cork city center they found 700 derelict buildings. This did not include the buildings that were empty above the store.

Why don’t the owners of abandoned properties sell them if they are not going to live there or rent them out?

Anois.org believe they sit on properties and watch prices rise – in the document they gave to the Oireachtas they gave examples where derelict properties rose in value by 20,000 € per year, i.e. more than €100,000 over five years.

In the paper, they quote eminent economist David McWilliams who said: “Abandonment is not a function of poverty but a function of wealth – for only the truly wealthy owner can afford to sit on the asset.”

The other reason derelict property owners may sit there is the attitude of local authorities such as Cork County Council to law enforcement. It’s very different from what people would endure if they parked in the wrong place too long or dumped trash where they shouldn’t.

According to a statement from Cork County Council, he has been focusing on tackling abandonment lately. “A number of proactive initiatives have been put in place, including the creation of a dedicated property activation unit.

“In many cases, significant progress is being made in tackling abandoned sites due to the Council engaging informally with the owner.

“There’s a huge amount of action going on at this level across the county and it’s not reflected in the number of abandoned sites.

“Cork County Council offers a range of support, including a number of paint schemes which are in place across the county and have been well received.”

The informal nature of the Council’s interaction with derelict property owners and the inability of official figures to match what the public sees daily cannot be ignored as a significant factor in the ongoing, long-term failure to address the problem of abandonment. amid a worsening housing crisis.