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Thirty homeless Offaly children in B&B's

Thursday, 22 February 2018

HOMELESSNESS continues to be a problem in Offaly with further numbers of people presenting themselves to the County Council this year.

There have been 16 homeless "presentations" to the council so far this year, following a total of 143 during 2017.

"At the moment there are 33 adults and 34 children currently in emergency accommodation," Mary Flynn, housing official, told councillors on Monday.

There are now 22 adults and 30 children in bed and breakfast accommodation, supported by Offaly County Council, with the remainder in hostels in the Midland region.

The figures on homelessness were presented during a report on housing to the local authority.

Councillors were told the "net waiting list" for social housing in the county is now 868.

This excludes people in the HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) scheme, who were formerly receiving rent supplement.

The gross housing list numbers 1,700 but the net list is the figure used when local authorities calculate their targets for housing provision.

A target of 50 per cent of the need over five years is used, resulting in Offaly County Council aiming to provided 468 housing units between 2017 and 2021 under the Rebuilding Ireland plan.

Another official at the council's housing department, John Cunningham, said the total target for Offaly up to 2021 will be 633 across a range of categories.

The council will directly build some houses itself, starting with the 33 houses in Blundell Wood, Edenderry, which have just gone to construction.

A further 18 units in Tullamore have yet to go to tender, seven units are planned for Daingean and 18 more for Banagher/Kylebeg.

There are further proposals for direct builds by the council for Birr, Tullamore, Clara, Belmont, Edenderry and Moneygall.

The council also engages builders for turnkey projects and there was a good response since June, 2016 when expressions of interest were sought.

Four such schemes have received approval from the Department worth a total of €4.3 million, with 27 units across Birr, Ferbane, Cloghan and Walsh Island, with the latter village getting four houses.

Approved housing bodies (organisations such as Cluid or Respond) will also help the council meet its targets, councillors were told, and they have plans for Birr and Edenderry.

Vacant units owned by the council will be let but it takes an average of 22 weeks to relet an empty council house with refurbishment work costing up to €15,000 per dwelling.

"Some of the houses are older stock and require a lot of work. A very small proportion of them might have received a bit of damage," said Mr Cunningham.

The council also buys houses for letting and 25 were acquired last year.

The meeting was also told that a new council loan, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan (www.rebuildingirelandhomeloan.ie) is replacing the home purchase loan from February 1.

First time buyers can apply for the loans with a single applicant eligible if they earn less than €50,000 gross and join applicants eligible if their gross is below €75,000.

Ninety per cent loans of the market value, up to a maximum market value of €250,000, will be given out, starting at a 2 per cent fixed rate for 25 years, a 2.25 per cent fixed rate for 30 years, or a 2.3 per cent variable rate for 30 years.

Last year six borrowers, all of them making tenant purchases, took out council loans with the total amount borrowed being €288,883.

Council tenants can also purchase their homes under a scheme whereby a discount is given but it is clawed back if the house is sold. 17 houses were purchased in this way in Offaly since January 2016.

Cllr John Leahy, Renua, said the Rebuilding Ireland programme was not balanced because it had too much emphasis on social housing.

Cllr Leahy said there needed to be an affordable scheme for workers and taxpayers and he believed the council needed to lead on it.

Outlining how it could work, the councillor said the local authority could borrow from the Department of Housing to build affordable housing and repay the loan via rent or sale of the houses.

The council could also provide a percentage of serviced sites - thereby saving on site costs to the buyer - and cut out other "unnecessary costs" by dealing with a builder rather than a developer.

The council could further help the buyer by incurring the professional fees on design and planning and by paying the development contributions.

Cllr Leahy said a new three-bedroom €180,000 house could be built with a cost saving of about €30,000 on the site, €20,000 on developers' fees and €10,000 on professional fees.

That would cut the cost of the €180,000 house by €60,000 to €120,000, making it accessible to low and middle income earners.

There would be no "excessive mortgages" of over €200,000. "People can have a good quality of life in comparison to having a 30-year mortgage," said Cllr Leahy.

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