BY JACKIE KEOGH
A NEW ministerial directive on housing vulnerable people is expected to put pressure on already overburdened housing lists.
The decision to allocate 30% of all vacant local authority houses to people who come under three distinct categories – homeless, disabled, or those deserving of housing on medical or compassionate grounds – was described by councillors at Monday’s meeting of the Western Committee in Cork as being under-resourced and unrealistic.
A housing official with Cork County Council briefed the Council members on the new directive.
He pointed out that it applies to all of the Council’s housing stock, including houses that are being leased by the local authority, casual vacancies, long-term vacant houses, otherwise known as ‘voids’, and property that is available through the voluntary housing bodies.
But it excludes homes under the rental accommodation scheme (RAS) and properties sourced under HAP, the housing assistance payments scheme.
The directive was issued in a bid by the Government to tackle the country’s housing crisis, particularly the rise in homelessness, as well as those who have been victims of domestic violence, or have left State care.
Assistant county manager James Fogarty said staff and members had no choice in the matter.
He told the members bluntly: ‘We will have to comply with it.’
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) described the move as a ‘setback’ for people who have already been on the Council’s housing list for years.
Despite the fact that €2.6m was invested in 2014 in revitalising vacant houses, including 140 such houses in West Cork, Mr Murphy said: ‘There is still a huge number of people on the long-term waiting list.’
According to Council officials, there are an estimated 136 vacant houses in need of refurbishment throughout the county, but there isn’t any money to refurbish them.
Mr Murphy asked if Environment Minister Alan Kelly had ‘plucked the figure 30% out of the sky’. And Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) said that without adequate funding, the policy was a non-runner.
Cllr Hurley also expressed concern for those who have been ‘waiting years’ for a Council house and had come close to getting one.
Now, he warned, they will be displaced.
Cllr Tim Lombard (FG) questioned the logic of the directive because 30% of the entire council housing stock could mean that two, three and four-bedroomed houses can be allocated to a single person who is homeless, disabled or deserving of a house on compassionate grounds.
Western Committee chairman Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy also pointed out that a lot of the current County Council housing stock is ‘not fit for purpose for people with disabilities.’
Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) summed up the frustration of the Western Committee members when he said: ‘This is going to leave Council officials and us with a huge headache.’
Mr O’Sullivan said everyone on the waiting list could be deemed as deserving of a house on compassionate grounds. ‘A lot of people are in dire financial circumstances,’ he said.
Cllr Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony called on the chairman to write to the minister to say that more funding was needed.
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) was dismissive of the directive, claiming it was merely a strategy to ‘get the Government off the hook’ and he suggested that if the Government was serious about tacking homelessness, it should ‘open the purse strings and start spending money.’