A “phenomenal” gap exists between the number of people in need of social housing in Clare and the amount of available accommodation, it emerged this week.
According to figures released at a meeting of Clare County Council on Monday, demand for social housing or housing supports outstrips supply by more than 100 to one in some parts of the county.
The figures revealed by Clare County Council show that as of May 1 this year, there were 3,273 people in need of housing, with just 59 vacancies countywide.
Last year, 65 properties were “addressed” by the local authority and if this level of activity continued, it would take more than 50 years to clear the current housing list.
The council was keen to point out that a significant proportion of those on the list are “interested in housing supports, rather than offering standard local authority housing”.
The detailed figures were revealed following a request by Councillor Ian Lynch. They show that in the Ennis area, which includes Clarecastle and Quin, 1,404 people need housing, while just 14 properties are vacant. It means that the number in need of housing is a little less than double the number of people who currently have social housing (727). Therefore, the council would need three times the amount of houses it currently has to satisfy demand.
In the Shannon Municipal District, which includes Westbury, Meelick, Parteen, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Sixmilebridge and Shannon, the council currently accommodates 458 families and individuals. A further 601 people are on the housing list in the area, where just five houses are vacant. Of those 601, 56% are in the Shannon town area.
In the West Clare Municipal District, incorporating much of the old Kilrush and Ennistymon electoral areas, 859 individuals and families require housing, with 26 vacant properties in the area. Of those, 23% (198) are in Kilrush and 13% (112) in Ennistymon. In Kilkee, 80 households are on the list. Miltown Malbay accounted for 66, Lahinch 64, Lisdoonvarna 56 and Corofin 53 of the 859 on the list.
The Killaloe Municipal District has the lowest housing need in the county, with 409 on the list. Slightly less than a quarter of those are in Killaloe itself, with a further 18.8% in Scariff, 12% in Tulla and 11% in Clonlara. The council’s total housing stock in the municipal area is 317, with 14 vacancies.
In a written response to the motion tabled by Councillor Lynch, director of services with Clare County Council, Ger Dollard said, “The delivery of the housing programme will involve a combination of house acquisition, construction and leasing of new social housing units. The programme will also have regard to large population centres with a higher housing need. Research is ongoing on these three elements of the housing provision and indeed, as suggested in the motion, consideration of acquisition and refurbishment of a very limited number of derelict properties is also being examined.
“Overall, it is important to note that the council, in acquiring, constructing and leasing properties, will have sensitive regard to the need to achieve an appropriate well-managed balance between limited social housing mix, with privately-owned properties in estates. It can contribute positively to improved housing integration. This will consider the perspective of private investors with considerable mortgages and market forces. It will seek to build sustainable communities in all areas of the county.”
Councillor Lynch described the figures as “amazing”, especially taking into account the figures contained in the 2011 Census, which showed that there were 11,782 vacant housing units out of a total housing stock of 55,616 units in the county.
“It is phenomenal. It is amazing when you take into account the previous report on vacant houses. They can’t all be tourists. At the moment, a good 85% of the work I do is regarding housing and not just in Kilrush, all around the county – everywhere people are looking for it. I know one girl who is on the list for the past six years,” he said.
In allocating available social housing stock, the council generally gives priority to families and elderly people, rather than single people or couples without children.
Councillor Lynch acknowledges that not everyone on the housing list is looking for a house, some simply require financial assistance through rent supplement.
“What is happening now is people are living in sub-standard accommodation because the rent supplement does not give them enough to stay in proper accommodation. In some cases, private rental accommodation is not being maintained by the landlord or it is in the beginning but then slackens off. Living in sub-standard accommodation leads to people getting sick and it really is a vicious circle,” he stated.
The West Clare councillor also pointed out that there is little private rental accommodation available.
“Where properties are available, some landlords hold them off for more lucrative short-term lets coming into the summer and that higher rate is pricing people out of the market,” he said.
On April 1, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government announced that it was allocating just over €26 million for local authority housing in Clare.
“We have €26m allocated to provide social housing in the county but we cannot build in some areas because the sewage treatment plants don’t have the capacity for more homes,” he said.
“In towns like Kilrush, the construction of housing developments is not achievable due to the lack of infrastructure, such as a sewerage treatment plant. The development plan prohibits such development until the infrastructure is in place,” he claimed.
Councillor Lynch complained that there was a lack of consultation with council members in relation to how this money would be spent, saying he finds “it very strange that as elected members of this council, we are consulted on the sale of property but not on the acquisition of property and, in particular, the spending of €26m.
“We have not been consulted as a municipal authority as to how these funds will be spent. I have been hearing of the possibility of new houses been purchased but this is only through the grapevine and after such negotiations have taken place. It is quite disappointing that the dog on the street is made aware of how the council intends to spend such a large amount of money before elected representatives,” he said.
The West Clare councillor warned that “careful consideration on how the monies are spent needs to be given, as rushing in and purchasing houses may have knock-on negative effects.”
Councillor Lynch said he believes social housing could reinvigorate some rural communities and could save local services, which have been reduced in recent years.
“We have seen rural Ireland decimated in recent years, with schools and essential services been closed due to falling population numbers. We are presented with a real opportunity to help repopulate rural villages. The allocation of houses in strategic locations could help save some of our local schools and services,” he claimed.
In spending the funding, the councillor also called on the council not to reward “developers who have put residents through years of terrible condition, when they have blatantly failed to comply with planning conditions and now may be rewarded with the purchase of houses”.
“We must be mindful of the developers that have insistently not complied with their planning conditions and have put expense on the council over the years. We must also ensure that where property is being purchased, that monies are not outstanding to other parties. Considering the pressures that construction workers have endured in the last number of years, we have a moral obligation to ensure that where monies are outstanding on works to properties, that these third-party interests are met prior to sale of property,” he continued.
Councillor Lynch concluded, “This is a huge investment in the future of Clare and this must not be rushed. It must be completed with due diligence.”