THE average cost of maintaining Traveller accommodation group scheme units in Clare is seven times higher than the unit cost of standard local authority accommodation, it emerged this week.
For the current year, Clare County Council has budgeted €910,288 providing maintenance of its standard 1,550 local authority housing units across the county, compared to over €492,019 looking after just 65 Traveller accommodation units.
In 2009, the county council spent €565,000 on maintenance and management of Traveller accommodation sites and this figure increased to €628,000 in 2010.
Additional expenditure on refurbishment resulting from vandalism in 2010 at Beechpark, Ballymaley and Ballymurtagh amounted to €90,000.
Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee chairman, Councillor Brian Meaney warned the current cost of maintaining Traveller group housing is “unsustainable” and has to be drastically reduced.
Even though Traveller accommodation funding can be recouped from the Department of the Environment, Councillor Meaney stressed it is wrong to expect the taxpayer to continually pay for this bill.
“We have to ask the question, do we need to educate people how to live in houses?” he said.
Councillor Meaney recalled that Traveller housing provided in Lees Road, Ennis in the ’70s was vandalised once before a refurbishment programme, only to have dwellings substantially damaged again.
However, when the houses were made available to the general public, Councillor Meaney claimed there were no major problems and residents now live in a thriving community.
Following consultation with the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC), the Housing Directorate submitted an integrated package of pilot initiatives to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Govenrment (DoEHLG) for funding.
It is proposed to install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in three Traveller sites – Beechpark and Ashline in Ennis and Ballymurtagh in Shannon.
The main aim of this project is to promote and develop capacity building, community development and responsible and sustainable tenancies and neighbourhood relationships, including resourcing the positive accommodation actions contained in the adopted Clare Traveller Plan 2010-2013.
It also wants “to counter the illegal and adverse activity in Traveller estates”, which detract from quality of life and sustainability and to resource the enforcement actions contained in the plan.
Pending an assessment of the civil works on each site and completion of a tender process, which will be initiated in the coming weeks, it is estimated the CCTV cameras will cost in the region of €100,000. They should be in place by the end of June.
The new measures also include a tenancy management officer, community development resource and additional maintenance resource.
In the 2010 LTACC annual report, the committee expressed concern about the “inordinate cost of maintenance of newly constructed Traveller accommodation and the unsustainability of this expenditure”.
“The large-scale breaches of tenancy agreements and the levels of anti-social behaviour and poor quality of life that were being experienced also received much attention at the committee.
“The Traveller Accommodation Programme commitment to quality in the accommodation was not working as envisaged and it was felt that, in particular, group schemes were not working at various levels including cost,” the report outlined.
Councillor Joe Arkins said Traveller group housing is not working and suggested efforts should continue to try and accommodate Travellers in the private rental market. He suggested the entire programme should be reviewed to establish if the council is getting value for money.
Committee member Colette Bradley acknowledged there are problems on Traveller accommodation sites, which in some instances are being caused by feuding.
However, Ms Bradley pointed out some Travellers living in housing and halting sites are not engaging in any anti-social behaviour and their accommodation provision is working well. She stressed the actions of a minority of Travellers tarnish the reputation of those who are primarily law-abiding citizens.
She welcomed the provision of CCTV in three Traveller accommodation sites “as some residents lacked a sense of security in their own dwellings” and hopes it will “act as a deterrent against the threat of violence, which left some Travellers living in fear”.
She added the whole Traveller accommodation issue is very complex and it isn’t easy to come up with solutions that suit all interested parties.
Traveller representative, Heather Rosen claimed the high cost of maintaining Traveller accommodation is linked to the feeling of isolation and segregation felt by Travellers living in complexes surrounded by high concrete walls and barriers, which militate against easy access for emergency services and where tenants don’t have the keys to remove them in emergency cases.
Ms Rosen alleged that when some Traveller families vacate unsuitable group housing accommodation, they are taken off the social housing list and are forced to leave the county as they are no longer entitled to rent allowance. She said the inordinate cost of Traveller accommodation also needs to be examined as a matter of urgency.