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1,500 Offaly applicants waiting for homes in glacial housing crisis

Thursday, 23 August 2018

1,500 applicants are seeking social housing in Offaly and yet there are only plans to build a fraction of the houses that would be needed to house them.
The housing and homelessness crisis has been with us for a number of years now and yet there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. Local councillors say it is the dominant topic at the moment in their thoughts and in their dealings with people.
This crisis has been ongoing for a number of years, Cllr Peter Ormond told the Tribune, and yet we are still no nearer to a resolution. In effect, nothing has changed, in spite of all the promises and reports. The rental market has become very, very tight. It is very difficult to find accommodation for anyone.
The councillor said the situation has been worsened because a lot of landlords have sold their apartments and houses in the last 12 months. The equity on their property has gone up, so they decided to sell their property. This means there is less opportunities to house people.
He pointed out that a landlord only has to give three months notice if he wants his tenants to move out. This leaves people in very difficult situations. They have to try and find somewhere within just three months. It's an impossible task and they are forced to rely on the compassion of their relatives and friends. Just in the last couple of weeks I know of a couple of instances where tenants have been given three months notice and they have no other choice but to move in with relatives. There is nowhere else for them to rent.
The councillor added that rents have been steadily increasing in the county over recent years, and went up again over the last couple of months.
Obviously, the high rents mean people have less money in their pockets for other expenses. Parents are currently thinking about back to school costs. It's hard, if not impossible, for them to meet all the various expenses and the steadily rising rents are making things worse.
He added that 50,000 students were receiving their CAO offers this week. In four years time those 50,000 students will be leaving college and will be looking for accommodation.
The councillor said the solution is simple. Start building social and affordable houses. Social houses are being built in the county, but at a glacial rate. 30 are currently being built in Edenderry and a small number in Tullamore. The council is also buying and leasing houses and apartments. But all of this is only shadow boxing because it's at too small a rate. It's only taking a small number of people off the social housing list.
The councillor feels HAP (Housing Assistance Payment, a form of social housing support provided by all local authorities) works very well when it is implemented, but again it is on too small a scale to make any serious dent in the problem.
The necessary houses are just not being built. The private developers say it is too expensive to build houses and the government is not building social housing. Nobody is building houses in South Offaly. There is practically no house building taking place at the moment in the south of the county.
He added that the Council is currently negotiating with a few private developers to build two or three small housing estates in Birr of about ten houses each.
Some people say to the councillor that there is no housing and homelessness crisis. This is because, unlike Dublin, there is no visible sign of people sleeping on the streets. But just because it isn't visible doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. Far from it. I know of a number of families living in a couple of houses in Birr where the parents are having to sleep on the floor on a mattress, which they take out and remove every day. I know of instances where whole families, parents and their children, are all living and sleeping in the one room. The problem of the housing crisis is not visible on our streets because in rural Ireland we look after each other. There is a family support structure to fall back on. He added that he is not personally aware of children and their parents living for extended periods of time in B&Bs or hotels.
Cllr Ormond said that people are often becoming emotional when they are talking to him about the crisis. Their mental health is being impacted. They don't see any hope or any better future. They don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. Their mental health is definitely being adversely affected. People have no hope at the moment. However, it will be solved sometime. Someone, or some group, will of course solve it. I hope that the government's budget in October will provide incentives to kickstart the construction industry so that ultimately there will not only be social housing for the less well off but people will also have the opportunity to purchase their own home. He said he could see it taking five years to solve the problem.
He added that another issue is that the building process from start to finish is taking longer. It was considerably shorter several years ago. It's gone from a 50 week process to a two year one. It is a lot slower than it used to be.
He praised the housing section in Offaly County Council for their hard work. They are doing their best and working as hard as they can in what is a very difficult situation.

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