Councillors pointed out there is a massive housing shortage problem in Tipperary which is causing a lot of anger amongst the local people, during a recent Council meeting.
The councillors of Nenagh Municipal District were given a rundown by members of the Housing Department of the County Council of the housing situation. They were told that 16 new houses will be constructed in Borrisokane; two houses will be built in Cloughjordan; and two more in Ardcroney.
“There is a €3.2 million grant called the Housing Adaptation Grant for private housing,” a member of the executive told them. “There is a €550,000 grant for local authority housing. We have €3.1 million for an energy efficiency programme.” The official ran through a few of the housing developments this year and a number of the housing schemes available. The Council is currently operating a number of schemes which will help in the revitalisation and reoccupation of vacant residential properties. “We have two sales agreed in the Buy and Renew scheme (where local authorities acquire vacant properties for social housing) in the Municipal District. We have received 35 formal applications under the Tenant Purchase Scheme (which allows local authority tenants to buy their homes). We have reviewed 134 RAS contracts (RAS is short for Rental Accommodation Scheme and is a social housing support catergin for the accommodation needs of persons who are in receipt of long-term rent supplement) and they have all been agreed by the landlords. We have transferred 106 applicants to the HAP scheme.”
Cllr Morris welcomed the report. He said it’s obvious there is great work being done by the Council’s housing department and he complimented the staff for their commitment and diligence. “However, we are also losing houses because landlords are getting out of the game. They are not renewing their contracts. The housing market is getting seriously squeezed. There isn’t enough emergency accommodation for homeless people.
“I know of a lot of people who are sleeping on someone’s sofa. I know of one person who is actually working every day but is also homeless, which is unusual. She simply can’t find accommodation and is sleeping on someone else’s couch.
“I think we are not getting the full picture here today. Landlords are telling me that because of a variety of reasons, including government taxes, the fact some tenants are not paying the landlords, and because HAP isn’t working, they are getting out of the game.
“We privatised social housing. That was a mistake. Relying on the private sector to solve the problem of social housing is not going to work.
“We councillors could also do with a report about the people looking for emergency accommodation.
“But what I really want to talk about is vacant housing. Since the local elections the number of vacant houses in the District has increased from 40 to 49. If you tell someone sleeping on a sofa that more and more houses are lying empty, sometimes for as much as a year, or more, they simply can’t understand it. It’s driving them mad.
“I know the vacant houses require considerable work including adhering to climate change specifications, but that shouldn’t be an excuse; we have to work harder at this.”
Cllr Michael O’Meara concurred with Cllr Morris. He said there was a very nice house in his area in Rathcabbin which has been vacant for the last two years. Cllr O’Meara said it really infuriates people when they see all these vacant houses and then they consider there’s a housing and homeless crisis. He welcomed the fact that 16 houses in Borrisokane have gone to tender.
The councillor added that the two housing schemes, Buy and Renew, and the Repair and Leasing, don’t seem to be working (on a nationwide basis). “The Repair and Leasing scheme was launched to much fanfare but it hasn’t lived up to the billing.
“You have to take your hat off to the Council’s housing department. They are trying their best to find accommodation for the most hardup cases.”
Cllr Phyll Bugler pointed out there is a house on Main Street Ballina which has been vacant for two and a half years.
“People are getting annoyed with this situation where the housing list is getting bigger and the vacant house list is getting longer,” remarked Cllr Rocky McGrath. “I know a lot of young married couples who are very keen to get on the housing ladder and feel very frustrated because it is so difficult. Some people are on the housing waiting list for several years. Sleeping on people’s couches is all fine for a while but it puts families under terrible pressure. The upkeep of the vacant houses is a big thing for me. For example there are ten vacant houses in Rearcross which are looking shabby and rundown. They need some maintenance work.”
Cllr Ger Darcy said he totally agreed with the other councillors. “We really need to speed up the vacant housing process. It’s driving people crazy and they are on to us on a daily basis about it.
“I note too that there were 149 applications for housing loans and only a third of them were granted. Why so few?
“On a separate note I want to bring to your attention that a sewage system in Ardcroney is in trouble again. There had been a septic tank there which for years had to be emptied every week. Now there’s unfortunately a problem with the system which replaced it and some effluent is escaping.”
“The vacant housing thing is really driving people nuts,” commented Cllr John Carroll. “One of my bugbears is the damage which some tenants cause to their rental properties; sometimes it costs €50,000, €60,000, €70,000 to repair.”
Cllr Fiona Bonfield said it was very disappointing to see the social housing list increasing.
Cllr Joe Hannigan, Chairman, urged everyone to work hard to resolve the housing problem. “This is a massive problem and is an indictment of the system. We really have to get down to it now. Nice guys don’t win matches. It really is game on here.”
“Our constituents are raising the housing crisis with us every day,” remarked Cllr O’Meara. “We Councillors are at the coalface. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable being at the coalface.
“We need to use commonsense. What’s wrong with getting people into these houses and letting them do the painting and improvement work themselves if they are so inclined? I know we have certain stipulations to adhere to, but this is a crisis and we shouldn’t be getting caught up in red tape.”
A housing official said one of the reasons only a third of the 149 applications were granted a housing loan was they hadn’t filled out the application forms correctly. “Another problem is they might have been applying for a loan of €200,000 or €300,000 but were only suitable for a lower loan.”
He said the socialhousing list had actually decreased. “About a year ago there were 3,900 on the list in Tipperary. Now it’s down to 3,400. 55%of them are in HAP accommodation, which is central government’s principal mode of dealing with social housing. In fact Tipperary County Council is one of the most successful counties in the country for the rolling out of HAP. It is the fifth most successful county in the country in terms of RAS. In our construction programme we are ahead of our targets. We are working very hard.
“We are aware some landlords are leaving the RAS scheme, but no tenant in RAS has lost his tenancy because his landlord has left the scheme.
“We have completely reconfigured the homeless service. We recently appointed two homeless prevention officers. The number of people in emergency accommodation has dropped. Many who were in emergency accommodation are now in secure accommodation.
“We have gone back to the Department seeking more funding for the upgrading of our vacant stock. We are still awaiting a response from the Department.”
He said the 16 new houses in Borrisokane should be built by the end of 2020. He added that tenants can’t be allowed to do up vacant houses themselves. “We can’t allow that, because of insurance reasons. They have to be done to a certain standard. In the circumstances it might sound like nitpicking but if we don’t do it right then we might get caught out.”
He added that central government is looking at the possibility of creating an affordable housing scheme.
Cllr O’Meara commented that the Rebuilding Ireland housing scheme “is a very good scheme but a lot of people are failing in their applications for it because they don’t have a sufficiently long savings record.”