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Councillor Flynn: “The problem is the people we are trying to keep out don’t give one tuppenny damn about by-laws and signs.”

‘There are a lot of people sleeping in cars’

NO properties in Shannon were available to rent on daft.ie or myhome.ie last Thursday or Friday, reflecting an extraordinarily tight market, in which supply is almost non-existent and prices are high.

Councillor Gerry Flynn said that the local housing situation is really poor.

“It’s abysmal, there’s no doubt about it. Since the Council took over Shannon (it assumed responsibility for the town from Shannon Development in 2004) it has received total saturation of social housing. That’s all Shannon has got, social housing from Clare County Council.”

“Shannon Development used always make areas available for private housing. That in turn helped a lot of people who wanted to buy their own house. This policy is in place since September 2004 and this policy is coming home to roost.

“They (the Council) saw Shannon as a luxury of sorts, to get over 100 acres of residential land, already zoned, and they were focusing on Shannon as being the solution to social housing in Co Clare.

“We’re basically kicking back on that. We’re saying there are a lot of people having to leave Shannon because they can’t get a house here. Clare County Council is a contributory factor and that’s the truth of it.

“Shannon Development had a better and more balanced approach to dealing with housing. Anybody that’s living in Shannon would tell you that, it’s not just me saying it,” said Councillor Flynn.

He also said that the measures the State has brought in for people on low incomes to buy houses are not fit for purpose.

“You have people on lower to middle incomes, people who might be earning a maximum of €35,000. The Government are ignoring those people. The people who provide services in shops, restaurants, carers, there’s a hell of a list of people not on what the Minister considers to be low to middle income, €50,000 to €60,000.

“But the mechanisms he has introduced to support people who want to buy their own houses are in that bracket of income. That is crazy.”

Councillor Flynn said that people who could not rent had been able to get hotel rooms as a stop gap, but that this is no longer possible following the arrival of a substantial number of refugees.

“There are a lot of people sleeping in cars, if they’re lucky enough to have a car,” he said.

While many people who own their own homes are insulated from it, he said there is a huge crisis. “It’s like a perfect storm, everything is falling into place to make the situation drastic. It’s not just in Shannon, it’s county-wide, people are struggling and don’t know where to turn.”

Locally, he feels policy has failed badly.

“You can’t have a town surviving on social housing alone, you’ve got to have a mixed tenure, otherwise the whole fabric of the society of that town will break down.

“For the social supports you need people working as well. Especially in a populated area you need people in a position to buy their own property.”

Sinn Féin’s Donna McGettigan said that people frequently contact her about housing issues, while she feels the real scale of the problem isn’t captured by official statistics.

“One fella who was sleeping on a couch in his sister’s house, he was considered housed because he has a roof over his head. The figures tend to be skewed, you don’t get the real figures on it. HAP isn’t working either, the prices of rent has gone up and the difference you have to pay can’t be afforded, so people are getting locked out of HAP.”

There are too many people chasing too few houses locally, she feels.

“Some people have said to me that they’ve gone to see a house and there could be more than 50 people also looking at that property, so what are their chances?”

She says that it is by no means unusual for families to have to share a house now, or for adults to have to fall back on their parents for support.

“It’s not right. It’s not right for parents whose kids moved out, they’ve retired, but now they have to live with young children again.”

Councillor McGettigan also said that it can be extremely difficult for people to get mortgages, even though they have history of making substantial rental payments.

“You could be renting a house paying €1,400, you could be applying for a mortgage costing €900 and the banks will insist you can’t pay it. You’re essentially locked out from buying.”

She said it is difficult to continually speak to people to whom she can provide little help.

“It’s very frustrating for councillors on the coalface. We don’t have a magic wand and you just don’t have a good story for people when they come to you. When you can’t even give someone a tiny bit of hope it is very hard.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.