WEST Cork seems to be bucking the national trend when it comes to dealing with the country’s housing crisis.
Members of the West Cork Municipal District, as well as members of the Bandon Kinsale Municipal District, had nothing but praise for the Council’s housing division after they were presented with a breakdown of the figures relating to 2018 and the new builds planned for the year ahead.
Cllr Alan Coleman (Ind) paid tribute to the County Council team for securing €80m, which represents a significant increase on the €55m allocated in 2017.
The director of services for housing, Maurice Manning, said the increase was ‘indicative of increased activity’ but the councillors weren’t finished heaping on the praise.
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said the housing team deserved credit for the fact that rent collection is up to 97%, saying: ‘This is a huge increase.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) described the report as ‘great’ especially as it showed West Cork as being ‘top of the league’ in relation to the Housing Assistance Payment, or Hap, for short.
In a moment of levity, Cllr Joe Carroll, referencing Housing Assistance Payments (Haps), attributed to the fact that the people of West Cork may be ‘Hap-pier’ than most – which is not a stretch given that the area regularly features in quality of life surveys.
But Seamus De Faoite, a senior executive officer with the Council, had a more pragmatic take on it. He said that West Cork, as a region, has a number of large towns, which offers a greater range of housing and accounts for the strength of the Hap figures.
Mr De Faoite confirmed that the number of Hap tenancies set up by Cork County Council in 2018 was 1,135, and that the Council was averaging 17 per week.
Overall, the number of Hap tenancies in West Cork, since the system was set up, has reached 1,074.
In a breakdown of the county-wide construction programme for the year ahead, Mr Manning said stage two of the developments at Carrigaline-Kilnagleary would see 15 more houses built before Christmas.
He confirmed that tender documents are being prepared for 57 units at Beechgrove in Clonakilty; that a 17-unit development at Courtmacsherry is going to planning; and that stage three of the 18-unit development at Kearney’s Field in Dunmanway is to be submitted later this month to the Department of Housing.
Seven housing units at Rosscarbery are also being returned to the department for stage three approval; as are two houses at Townshend Street in Skibbereen.
Six houses at Beacon Point in Baltimore are due to be completed this month, while 14 units at St Mary’s Road in Dunmanway are due to be finished before the end of the year, with six more in the same development to follow in 2020.
As for ‘turnkey acquisitions’ – housing developments that are built by private developers and sold on to Cork County Council – there are three houses in Skibbereen, six in Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula, and 30 in Bandon.
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) suggested that the Council should advertise for developers to build houses in small towns and villages, but Mr Manning said the Council has been advertising for the last number of years and said: ‘Anyone interested in making turnkey developments for us can contact us.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) asked if West Cork’s inhabited islands could be featured in the quarterly reports to Council. He made the point that there are only six children attending the primary school on Cape Clear Island.
He said he was afraid that ‘Cape will go the same way as Sherkin, when it closed its school.’ And argued: ‘The only way to address that is to provide more houses on the islands.’
Mr Manning said the West Cork islands would feature in the next report and he also addressed concerns expressed by Cllr Danny Collins, who pointed out that if 74% of the people on the Council’s housing list are using the online Choice Based Letting system, then there are 26% of people out there who still haven’t accessed the online service.
Mr Manning said: ‘If the members are aware of housing applicants who are missing out, let us know, and we will see what we can do to assist them.’
Under the Choice Based Letting scheme, Mr Manning said 147 houses were advertised online, and 128 of these have either been allocated or are under offer.
But he said the key number is five – that being the number of refusals, which is down to an all-time low of 3% in the western division.
The councillors expressed their appreciation of the fact that in all of West Cork the total number of vacant houses is down to 33, which is just 1.85% of the entire housing stock.
And Mr Manning said seven of these are out to tender.
As part of a Vacant Homes Action Plan, the Council – as of February 5th last – been notified of 390 properties that may be suitable for acquisition under the Buy and Renew Scheme.
Mr Manning said 35 of these are in the process of being brought back into use by the owner and the Council; 72 are being pursued under the scheme; there are compulsory purchase orders in respect of 17 of the properties and a further 41 are ‘under consideration.’
Mr Manning also confirmed that the County Council’s ‘place finder’ officer has assisted 13 people out of homelessness and into secure accommodation.