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Homes hang in balance

Fears bureaucracy may scupper €7m Ennistymon retirement development

Fears have been expressed that North Clare will lose the opportunity to develop an approved €7 million purpose built supported retirement complex in Ennistymon unless the national funding criteria is changed to facilitate ambitious plans from a voluntary housing organisation.
Inagh Voluntary Housing Association (IVHA) has secured an agreement with Banna Developments to redvelop the old convent site in Ennistymon into a sheltered retirement village with 30 accommodation units, subject to state funding.
However, this major elderly housing scheme hangs in the balance over Department of Housing criteria for the administration of government funded projects.
Banna Developments, c/o Áine Hussey and Thomas Fitzgerald, Quin, was granted planning permission on December 20, 2019, to refurbish the existing convent building and an extension to include 12 two-bedroom apartments with a doctor’s room, day room and laundry facilities; the construction of a new three-storey building to the rear of the existing building consiting of 18 two-bedroom apartments at The Convent, Lahinch Road, Ennistymon.
Clare County Council confirmed it is working with IVHA towards the delivery of a social housing development in Ennistymon.
The council outlined it is bound by policy and procedure in the administration of government funded projects and must achieve the criteria as set by the Department of Housing for individual schemes.
“For a scheme to be supported the housing need must be demonstrated from the social housing list in the area under consideration, this has always been a minimum criteria for public funding of schemes.
“IVHA are free to develop and fund the project privately to house those who do not meet the criteria for the government supported funding.
“The council will continue to work with IVHA to support this body in the delivery, administration and maintenance of public funded schemes.”
IVHA need the council and the Department of Housing to show more flexiblility in terms of funding criteria to ensure this development becomes a reality.
The group has 25 on their waiting list, which includes 12 on the council list, and are confident they would easily fill the 30 units once they are built.
IVHA secretary, Frank Gunter said the group got great support from the council in the past, who were delighted to see housing being provided for the elderly, and didn’t request whether applicants were or wern’t on an social housing list.
“We have an opportunity here to provide a very good residential development for the elderly. If we don’t grasp it, it will be gone.”
Gerry Reidy of IVHA said the current council list isn’t capturing elderly people residing in poor living conditions, which were identified in a report completed by Neil Haran, which was commissioned by the council, and North Clare people residing in sheltered schemes in Kilmaley and Kilmihil.
“Some North Clare people have no financial means, meet no one. They may be healthy at the moment but they are in their seventies and eighties.
“If this elderly housing development isn’t provided, these people will end up being a burden on the state as they will have to go into nursing homes.”
IVHA has accommodated up to 100 people including some of their original tenants who are still in these dwellings since its inception in 2002.
The group are opposed to the proposed mix of elderly and social housing in the one site as they believe it will not work and it wouldn’t be viable to provide medical facilities for a smaller number of people.
Dr Michael Kelleher, said some of his patients are elderly people who are socially disadvantaged due to social isolation, inadequate housing, and medical needs that make them more vulnerable.
In a supported purpose built housing development, Dr Kelleher said these people will manage very well once they have proper back up services in place.
In view of predictions those 85 and older will treble over the next 15 years and those 65 and older will double, the Lahinch GP said there is a growing need to provide sheltered elderly accommodation in Ennistymon, which has a church, shops and other services within walking distance of the site.
Dr Kelleher said he would be surprised if the IVHA would have any difficulty getting the required numbers in view of the growing need in the local community.
Having liaised with the IVHA and the council over the last nine months, Deputy Cathal Crowe believed this project can still be delivered.
Deputy Crowe said housing applicants generally tend to fall into the twenties or thirties age bracket.
“The Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland have repeatedly pointed out the ‘empty nest’ generation have an appetite to move to smaller accommodation to free up their home.
“I believe the council should do an audit of local authority tenants in North Clare, and ask them would they consider moving to supported accommodation in Ennistymon.
“There are elderly couples who have reared all their children living in three and four bedroom semi-detached dwellings. The council shouldn’t discount people who are already housed.
“The prospect of moving to a well insulated house with all modern conveniences in an urban setting near shops and the local church might appeal to them.
“The ancillary supports being provided by the IVHA would make this development very attractive.
“I am assisting an ‘empty nester’ couple who would love to get into Ennistymon from another smaller village in North Clare.”
Councillor Shane Talty said there is far more demand for elderly sheltered accommodation in North Clare than is currently documented on the housing list, which he saw first hand while canvassing for the Local Elections in 2019.
The Lahinch postmaster warned people in private rented accommodation “will fall off a cliff” when they retire from a fully paid income to a state pension, which also illustrates the need for this project.
“The regulations and standards are inflexible, and will be too slow to acknowledge the reality on the ground. This project will not be able to wait around forever.”
Having visited the site, Irish Council for Social Housing development officer, Kevin Ryan, said this project would regenerate an old building that is falling into disrepair, and it would provide much needed one and two bedroom apartments for the elderly population in a very secure supported environment as well as allowing people to downsize.

by Dan Danaher

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