Clare County Council has been accused of “massaging” official figures on its social housing list, amid growing concern of a 28% hike in applicants seeking local authority accommodation.
Strategic policy committee chairman, Councillor Gerry Flynn, claimed official figures did not fully reflect the real social housing waiting list, which is already at “crisis point” and of “epidemic” proportions.
Councillor Flynn claimed the council is “massaging” the overall figures due to the lack of a proper validation process, as applicants were knocked off the list if they didn’t respond to a council letter, asking them if they had a house. He believes an applicant should be left on a list unless the council has “concrete proof” they have obtained permanent accommodation.
His charge coincides with a challenge from Housing Minister Paudie Coffey for the council and other local authorities to “step up to the plate” in terms of social housing provision.
According to the most recent figures provided by the council, there were 3,066 on the housing waiting list in Clare. Of that, 813 expressed a preference for a house in Ennis and 176 in Kilrush. This is a significant 28% increase from the 2,389 applicants seeking social housing support in 2012.
Director of service Ger Dollard noted there are many reasons why people are on the housing list, the principal one being the necessity to qualify for rent supplement. Many on the list are renting private accommodation and may be fully satisfied with that.
Mr Dollard said the introduction of the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) will further streamline this area.
“Notwithstanding the variables that impact on the housing list, there is a need to provide additional housing accommodation at many locations and the council is working on projects in this regard.The council will also work closely with voluntary housing bodies to increase housing supply in the shortest timescale possible,” he added.
Minister Coffey has confirmed the overall social housing funding for 2015 has been increased by over Ђ200 million with capital funding increasing by Ђ180, providing a total investment of Ђ800 million in 2015. This will provide 7,500 homes nationally under a range of social housing initiatives in a mixed response way, with direct provision from local authorities, more funding to re-let vacant houses quicker.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, he said the new social housing strategy would address the long term issue of over 3,000 people on the Clare housing waiting list.
“We are asking local authorities including Clare to prioritise their demand and need in their county. We want them to submit this to the department and we will be assessing the whole housing need. We will be allocated funding appropriately to start addressing that,” he said.
Asked if it was pointless for Clare County Council to send up social housing lists without a substantial increase in funding to the council, he replied the government would be announcing a very ambitious national social housing strategy within the coming weeks that would include a mix of options that will benefit counties including Clare.
This will include direct provision of houses by local authorities and schemes by voluntary housing agencies who can raise funding off balance sheet. The agencies can partner with private investment funds and propose schemes to the government.
Welcoming the minister’s comments and the Government policy shift towards direct social housing provision, Mr Dollard recalled the previous policy was to rely on the Rental Assistance Scheme (RAS) and social leasing to deliver on the housing required.
In effect, due to funding constrains nationally, the policy focus was to seek that the private sector would deliver the housing supply necessary.
He described the provision of 12 new dwellings in Clonlara and a 22 housing units by Cluid Housing Association in partnership with Clare County Council at Pound Lane, Ennis as a very significant addition to the overall housing stock.
“On the basis of the significant additional capital funding provided for in Budget in 2015, the council is already progressing schemes so that it is ready to ensure that projects can be advanced as quickly as possible in Clare.
“Progression of projects will require issues around procurement, funding arrangements and administrative and technical support to be streamlines so that a system which has been at a very low activity level can now return to full flow. The council has highlighted to the minister and department officials the necessity to create the environment necessary so that projects can be progressed in the shortest timescale possible,” he added.