AN emergency housing unit for homeless people is set to be established in Ennis. Clare County Council is searching for a property in the town for the unit, director of service Liam Conneally has confirmed.
At a meeting of the Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), Mr Conneally said a bid was made for a property last year but it proved unsuccessful. A second option was considered but the cost of the fit-out was higher than anticipated. The council has now increased its bid for the first property.
SPC member Dermot Hayes said, “Homelessness has more than quadrupled and it’s tragic to see so many houses lying idle.”
Mr Conneally acknowledged that the acquisition of a property “has taken a lot longer” than anticipated but he said it would be operating as soon as possible. In terms of location, he said the unit “has to be central”.
Trade union representative Tom Guilfoyle urged the council to borrow money to allow more houses to be built. “We are borrowing money to build a new library, why can’t we borrow to build houses? We could borrow on a business plan, based on the rental income to pay the loan back,” he said, calling on the council to engage with the bank.
Mr Conneally responded, “We are not shy of funds for building houses. What we are concerned about is the duration of the approval process to get us into a situation where we can tender for a contractor to build a house. There is a process there but we feel it could be shorter.”
Councillor Tom McNamara said the issue needs to be addressed with the Department of the Environment. “We need to fast-track the system. It is taking too long. The department says the council has the money but it’s not flowing. It’s too hard to get organised at ground level.”
Mr Hayes pointed out the increasing numbers of homelessness, saying, “We are not able to provide houses fast enough. We have to come up with some kind of mechanism.” He urged Clare County Council to call it a “housing crisis”. He accused some land-owners of “hoarding’ land banks, waiting for a price rise and he suggested efforts be made to encourage living over the shop.
Mr Conneally stated that there have been several schemes over the years aimed at this area. In relation to the land banks, he said the minister is looking at widening penalties for hoarding land banks in central locations.
Councillor Tony O’Brien said there should be an increase in the thresholds for the purchasing of homes to provide local authority housing. Councillor Gerry Flynn called for measures to make the HAP scheme more attractive to property-owners.
By Jessica Quinn