IN today’s economic climate getting a local authority house is ‘like winning the lotto,’ according Cllr Mary Hegarty, chairperson of a housing committee in West Cork.
Cllr Hegarty (FG) made the comment last week after hearing a breakdown of the housing stats for West Cork and the wider county area at a specially-convened meeting in Castletownbere.
Padraig Barrett, a senior executive officer at the Council’s housing department, said the number of applicants under the Housing Needs Assessment in Cork County is 4,426 – of which 984 are West Cork applicants. Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said the numbers could increase in time because people are struggling to pay rents. In Clonakilty, he said, some people are coming under increased pressure because the cost of rent has reached €1,000 a month.
He said people faced with such high rents ‘had very little left at the end of the month after paying their accommodation costs.’
His party colleague, Cllr Rachel McCarthy, said the problem had been exacerbated by the fact that landlords do not want to take the housing assistance payment, otherwise known as HAP.
Mr Barrett indicated that the Department had set the Council a HAP target of 1,040 for 2016, but the number of tenancies that have been set up under that scheme up to the beginning of November was 855. He said he was hopeful that an increase in the HAP limits would facilitate greater access to the scheme.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said he was concerned about the size of the housing list in Bantry but welcomed the fact that the Government had an action plan to build more social housing.
Padraig Barrett outlined how Cork County Council had purchased 101 houses in 2016 throughout Co Cork – 29 of which were in West Cork – and were looking to buy more next year.
He said the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has agreed to further house purchases but asked for them to be cleared on a ‘case-by-case basis.’
Mr Barrett outlined further Council efficiencies saying the number of voids – local authority houses that have been vacated for one reason or another – is just 2.94%.
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) was of the opinion that the delay in having the vacated properties revamped was taking too long. He said people looking on say that contractors coming and going. He maintained: ‘There needs to be someone calling the shots.’
But Mr Barrett described this figure as ‘exceptional by any standard.’ He explained to The Southern Star: ‘Where you have turnover of tenancy you will always have voids.’
He said some of the vacated properties required a lot of work and some were located in depopulated areas, or areas that considered unsuitable, such as adjacent to a busy road, and the Council was looking to sell these.
The Council official also pointed out that they have a number of projects in the pipeline all over the county. He said there were between 25 and 30 projects in places like Bantry, Skibbereen, Macroom and Castletownbere.
Furthermore, he said the Council would be proceeding to the Part Eight planning phase of three major housing schemes that would be completed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme.
The PPP schemes – which include projects in Skibbereen, Clonakilty and Macroom – contain 50 houses each and will, when the Part Eight process is complete, form part of a bundle with eight others nationwide.
He said the bundle would then go for detailed design and ultimately it would provide 400 new houses as part of eight projects costing an estimated €80m.
Other social housing projects, such as the proposed mixed development featuring 40 units by Cluid in Kinsale, is expected to commence in 2017; and a 16-unit Cluid development in Bantry has been given approval in principal.
Mr Barrett also indicated that 41 applications under the Tenant Purchase Scheme have been lodged with Cork County Council.
And, finally, he said the ‘choice-based letting’ scheme would be rolled out in 2017.
He said that scheme would allow qualified social housing applicants to express an interest in renting a house in the Council’s stock of available houses.