A CALL has been made for the opening of a ‘one stop shop’ in Clare to support midwestern homeowners affected by pyrite.
Deputy Cathal Crowe is seeking the facility, which would be overseen by The Housing Agency and would support homeowners accessing the new defective concrete blocks grant scheme. The calls has been made in parallel with the progressing of the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022. Deputy Crowe said the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) is examining the option of opening regional support centres and he believes that the centre for the midwest should be located in Clare.
“The Housing Agency would oversee this,” he told The Champion. “It would provide an interface between the public and government staff and support homeowners in accessing the grant and getting remediation works done.”
The new Bill, published last Tuesday evening (June 21), is a 62-page document outlining the revised blocks scheme. While Clare and Limerick are to be given access to the grant, the local authorities who will help administer the scheme are not specified in the Bill. This is to facilitate the extension of the grant to any area where it is judged to be necessary. The Bill confers: “New provisions to allow the Minister to prescribe either the whole or specific geographic parts of a local authority area for the purposes of this grant scheme.” The Housing Agency will be given the function of testing homes in local authority areas, according to the existing IS 465 protocol. The agency will then “submit findings and recommendations on the matter to the Minister who will make the necessary regulations”.
The Bill also outlines that applications will be made by homeowners to the relevant local authority who will validate them before forwarding to the Housing Agency “for them to assess the merits of the application”. The agency will then “determine if the application has met the damage threshold for entry to the scheme” and arrange for testing, preparation of an engineer’s report and the recommendation of the appropriate remediation option. The level of grant payable in respect of each application will also be decided by the agency.
Caps on the grant and calculations to cover different remediation options are outlined in detail. As has been widely publicised, the overall maximum grant is capped at €420,000. A second cap of €145-161 per square foot also applies. Grant funding is available too for alternative accommodation costs (up €15,000), storage costs (up to €5,000) and essential immediate repair works (up to €5,000) or 100% of the actual cost, whichever is the lesser. The Bill proposes that grants would not be open ended and that remediation works would begin 18 months after grant approval. Provision has also been included for homeowners to make a second application to the scheme, in cases where remediation options other than full demolition have been recommended in the first instance. There is also the possibility of varying a grant approval, subject to certain conditions.
An appeals mechanism for decisions of the Housing Agency or local authority is outlined. In respect of rental properties, a clawback provision applies for dwellings registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) at the November 1, 2021.
When it comes to local authority housing stock, 350 units of which are believed to be affected by pyrite in Clare, the Bill raises the possibility of financial support. This is a departure from the terms of the original scheme and the funding may also be made available to approved housing bodies.
Speaking on the day the Bill was published, Deputy Joe Carey said he was more optimistic than he had been about its merits. “It seems that many of the issues that were problematic in the old scheme have been addressed,” he said. “That is very welcome, but the devil will be in the detail. As well as the legislation itself, the minister will have the power to make regulations as necessary.”
Speaking to RTÉ on Tuesday, the Housing Minister said he is keen that the legislation would pass before the summer recess, Last week, Minister Darragh O’Brien asked the Housing Committee to waive Pre-Legislative Scrutiny (PLS).
In a statement, the committee said that “given the urgency of this Bill” it agreed without opposition that it was not possible to undertake full PLS.
Instead, three public committee meetings will be held on Thursday. This “accelerated scrutiny” will hear from affected homeowners, including those in Clare, experts, and officials.
“The Committee retains the right to communicate their views of the Bill to the Minister following these meetings,” the statement added.