Submission to Rebuilding Ireland from Clare Public Participation Network:
August 10th 2017
Clare Public Participation Network wishes to make the following submissions to this review of Rebuilding Ireland:
- Clare PPN wishes in this submission to highlight and draw attention to the fact that a housing crisis exists in rural and regional areas and is not restricted to Ireland’s cities. Whilst the crisis may differ from region to region County Clare is experiencing an extreme shortage of all types of rental accommodation, an increase in homelessness, prevalent over- crowding as well as rural depopulation. There are more than 6000 houses vacant in the county and housing waiting lists stand at approximately 2500 households which when children are figured in means that more than 4,000 people are currently waiting for housing.
- Clare PPN calls for a renewed effort in ensuring accuracy and transparency in reporting of figures: Clare PPN notes the tendency of reports issued from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to minimise the extent of the crisis and to maximise the figures in terms of improvements made. Clare PPN considers it of the utmost importance to proper budgeting and policy making that accurate inclusive figures should be maintained and published. We have noted that the following groups who all experience housing need and homelessness are frequently omitted from official figures:
- People living in the direct provision system who have received leave to remain in Ireland but who are unable to leave direct provision because there is no available affordable or supported accommodation for them.
- Travellers who are currently in overcrowded, roadside, or shared accommodation* due to difficulty in accessing social housing/Traveller specific accommodation and housing in the private rental sector.
- People with disabilities who are currently sharing with families, in residential care or living in nursing homes when their choice is to live independently. In Ireland 600,000 people have some form of disability and in County Clare alone there are 217 people on the housing waiting list in this category.
- On a national level, Clare PPN wishes to add its voice to that of the many other organisations who are calling for an end to the over-reliance on the private rental sector in addressing housing need in Ireland. Clare PPN notes and supports in particular the contribution to the debate made by TASC and the Nevin Institute, both of whom call for a significant change of direction in Irish housing policy and envisage a special purpose company set up by the government to build, purchase and maintain a large stock of state-owned housing which will be available on a cost rental model for long term rental to tenants of all income levels in Ireland. Even in the absence of a shift of direction in policy as described above Clare PPN wishes to stress that there is an urgent need for national and local authorities to invest in directly building or purchasing social housing for the long term secure use of those who cannot access the private rental sector or face barriers doing so. It should also be noted that figures recently released demonstrate that there are over 1200 properties vacant in Ennis where demand for social housing stands at approximately 1100 households. On this basis for sustainable town development it is clear that more emphasis must be placed on all programmes which will bring these properties back into use up to and including compulsory leasing and purchasing. Apart from the poor use of space, dereliction and urban blight which a concentration of empty properties causes in a town, the turnaround for getting such properties renovated and fit for use is in general much faster than bringing new developments from planning to completion.
- Clare PPN regards the following as essential to ensure that housing policy in Ireland in general and the Rebuilding Ireland programme specifically are effective for all groups who make up our diverse communities.
- The need for housing lists to be divided between those with a long term housing need and those with a short term need. People who qualify for housing assistance should be able to select which list they wish to belong to.
- There is an urgent need for a review of the effectiveness or otherwise of the Housing Assistance Payment particularly with regard to people with long term social housing needs. People identified with long term housing need should not be removed from Housing waiting lists even when they are in receipt of HAP. There is also a need for a review in each county and its urban areas as regards the availability of rental accommodation within HAP limits. In Clare, whilst there is housing for sale, there is a shortage of appropriate rental accommodation in almost all areas within the limits of the HAP scheme. This exposes people to greater risks of becoming homeless and of accepting substandard accommodation. Whilst HAP figures can indicate that people have accommodation, they do not provide any guarantee as to the quality or suitability of that accommodation.
- In Clare where Clare PPN is active there is no targeted scheme that addresses the difficulties that members of the Traveller Community face when accessing private rental accommodation even when they are approved for a Housing Assistance Payment. Attention to this issue is urgently needed at a national level, with there being obvious justification and need for an intervention designed through consultation with the Traveller community which obliges, finances and monitors local authorities, approved housing bodies, or private developers to provide appropriate accommodation for Travellers.
- Local Authorities should be held to account as regards their application for and draw down of the funding available for Traveller Accommodation. Local Authorities should jointly conduct an annual Traveller needs and future needs analysis with the Travelling community in each county. The results of this needs analysis should be agreed on by all parties and the Traveller Accommodation Plan should be developed on the basis of it. A realistic budget should be adopted for Traveller accommodation nationally and for each county’s Traveller Accommodation Plan. The Travelling community should be resourced to participate fully in all decisions which concern them and all Local Authority staff who engage with Travellers should be given training on diversity and on the particular challenges that face the Traveller Community. The Trespass Act should be repealed and where members of the Travelling Community who are on the Housing waiting list are dwelling in unofficial sites and the Local Authority has no other suitable accommodation available for them then the Local Authorities should be directed to provide emergency sanitation, waste disposal services and electricity to them for a reasonable fee within the means of the families in question. Local Authorities should be resourced and directed to conduct all of the above.
- Local Authorities should be required to make provision and account for the needs of people becoming homeless through situations of domestic violence. Local Authorities should be asked annually to demonstrate what steps they have taken to ensure that people in such circumstances are catered for.
- National Government needs to make provision for people in Direct Provision who have been granted leave to remain or refugee status but cannot secure accommodation in order to enable them to leave the direct provision centres. It should be noted that many of these people have become impoverished whilst in the asylum application process as a result of the Irish Government’s policies. Clare PPN calls for full social welfare payments to be made available immediately to every person who has been granted leave to remain. As part of its submission to this review of Rebuilding Ireland Clare PPN calls for a complete end to the system of Direct Provision as it fails to meet the housing needs of those in the asylum system. Clare PPN notes that in particular it fails to meet the basic needs of children.
- Clare PPN calls for the continued and increased provision of housing for people with disabilities and the need to include people with disabilities who are currently unable to secure their own independent accommodation in all planning processes and consultations.
Any enquiries regarding this submission may be directed to:
Public Participation Network Coordinator
Unit 1 Westgate Business Park
Phone: 087 1617375
Email: email@example.com Website: www.clareppn.ie Twitter: @clare_ppn Facebook: www.facebook.com/clareppn/
Some of your Councillors thoughts on the housing situation in Clare
Clare PPN’s Social Inclusion College representatives have been doing some work behind the scenes on housing issues in County Clare. One of their actions was to write to all of the County Councillors seeking their thoughts and ideas on how the housing needs of people in the County could be met. For those of you who are interested in this topic some of their responses are here below:
Cllr Gerry Flynn Independent
The Council are concentrating all their efforts on what can be achieved since the economic collapse and with limited construction by the private sector and local authorities. The PPN are represented on the Council’s STRATEGIC POLICY COMMITTEE that deals with policies around Housing/ Culture/ Sport and Recreation and as Chairman I welcome any ideas from the PPN.
I attach some recent information I received from The Director of Service of Clare County Council and you will see the great strides made by The Council to provide accommodation. I would encourage positive comments at this time and also the public need to realise that the day of fast accommodation been provided by The Council is gone and families need to try and provide for themselves. The intention always was for the council to support people who would be vulnerable and I am of the opinion that the council cannot be the only provider of accommodation and currently a lot of housing bodies are doing their best to provide support to the council in the form of approved housing bodies and other providers. You will see from the recent report that The Council have provided 1177 Units of Accommodation from January 2016 to May 31st 2017. I am pleased with this progress.
Questions from Councillor Gerry Flynn for Council Meeting
June 8th 2017
Curtha faoi bhráid na Comhairle ag Cllr. G. Flynn:
“That Clare County Council’s Housing Section provides a report outlining all the initiatives in place to address the housing need in the county.
- Total number of properties rented to applicants from the Council’s own stock from 1st January 2016 to 31st May 2017.
- Total number of applicants supported under various schemes from January 2016 to 31st May 2017: to include: Leasing, HAP, and any other measures supported by the Council.
- Total number of loans approved from January 2016 to 31st May 2017
- Total number of residential property purchased to include acquisition cost and cost of bringing property to a habitable condition. (No requirement for breakdown, just accumulated cost) and how many of these properties are now rented to applicants from January 2016 to 31st May 2017.”
Response to above questions from Liam Conneally Director of Services in Clare County Council
‘I wish to respond as follows: Clare County Council as the housing authority is committed to addressing the high demand for social housing throughout the county. This demand is continuing to be met by the construction, acquisitions, leasing and renting of suitable properties countywide. As well as advancing our supply of housing the Council is active in promoting national initiatives such as the Buy & Renew and the Repair & Lease schemes. The Council is also working closely with Approved Housing Bodies in different parts of the county to deliver housing units.
Also, our staff are assisting new applicants and existing tenants with mortgage information, loan applications and where applicable, tenant purchase options.
The numbers of housing units being delivered annually in the County by private builders is still very low resulting in small numbers being produced through the part V mechanism. Despite the numbers of house units being delivered directly/indirectly by local authorities the high housing demand needs private builders back in the market building houses.
208 house allocations made in the period between Jan 2016 and May 2017. The breakdown of these by Municipal District area is as follows:
- Ennis MD 85
- West Clare MD 73
- Shannon MD 32
- Killaloe MD 18
In terms of Housing Assistance Payment(HAP) tenancies, Clare continues to be one of the leading housing authorities in the management of same with over 1100 tenancies in place since HAP was introduced on June 29th 2015. 886no. HAP tenancies have been facilitated in the period Jan ’16 to May’17. 45no. RAS & Leasing tenancies exist in the Jan ’16 – May ’17 period. During the period Jan 2016 to May 2017 the Council entered into 83no. lease agreements (34 short term leases, 19 long term leases and 30 leases arranged with Approved Housing Bodies).
In regard to Loans, we have seen a marked increase in the number of Loan applications to the Council. For example, the number of annuity loan applications received in 2016 increased from 2 in 2015 to 56 in 2016. This was partly due to the Incremental Tenant Purchase Scheme and the Shared Ownership Restructuring Schemes, both of which were introduced in 2016. There were 18no. loans approved from January 2016 to 31st May 2017 (6 new annuity loans, 5 tenant purchase loans and 7 shared ownership re-structured loans).
House acquisitions are being made to maximise the number of houses available to applicants on the Council’s housing list and while there is still value in the market. In the period January 2016 to 31st May 2017, agreement has been reached to purchase 135no. houses. Of these, sales have closed for 76 dwellings to the end of May with an acquisition cost of €7,749,000. Forty of these dwellings have been refurbished to date costing a total of €963,000 with thirty-six allocated as of 31st May, 2017. The remaining number are currently being assessed for works required, at tender stage or near completion of refurbishment with a view to all being returned to occupancy as quickly as possible. Reduction in turnaround time for such properties is a priority.
The Housing Team within the Social Directorate are working to capacity in the delivery of homes for people in need of housing in a chaotic housing market.’
Director of Service
Councillor Pat Hayes:
Thank you for your recent letter concerning the present housing crisis in Clare and indeed nationally. It is my belief that not enough measures are being taken to resolve this crisis at national and local level.
In Clare here there are proposals to build Social housing in Feakle, Clonlara and Mullagh which in my view this process takes far too long to proceed and this needs to be overhauled and give greater power to local authorities to manage these projects.
As a local Councillor I have been involved in progressing long term leasing of properties across the county and it is my belief that this process can help to alleviate the waiting list as one measure. It Is my view that a far more progressive plan towards house building needs to be fast tracked and needs to remove obstacles to progressing these, The amount of vacant properties in all our towns and villages needs to be seen as a resource that can utilized as a measure that can support the regeneration of towns and villages and at the same time bringing life back to these areas.
Councillor Paul Murphy
I wish to acknowledge receipt of the Clare PPN letter concerning the shortage of housing in County Clare. I acknowledge the fact that there are over 2,500 people on the waiting list countywide, of which over 1,200 of these are waiting for housing in the Ennis area. This is obviously a matter of enormous concern to me and this is replicated right across the country. I believe that this is going to be a continuous challenge for local authorities nationwide as demand will possibly always exceed units available for allocation. Clare County Council purchased 95 units last year and is in the process of building over 70 houses directly while delivering more through Approved Housing Bodies, Long Term Leasing and also the Repair and Lease Scheme. I am aware that it realistically takes 2 years to deliver any housing development and this increases the challenge faced by the Council.
The Housing Minister, Simon Coveney launched the Rebuilding Ireland plan last year and I believe that inroads will be made into the waiting lists if the current Minister is left in this Department. Time will tell and we may have a different Minister in the weeks ahead due to change in the leadership of Fine Gael. The one obvious thing that would accelerate clearing the waiting lists is additional finance being made available to the Housing Departments across the country but this can only be achieved if the fortunes of the nation’s economy and coffers continue to improve.
Cllr Mike McKee Sinn Fein
The lack of Social Housing builds in recent years, as a result of the failures by successive governments, has resulted in the homelessness crisis we are facing today and will do for years to come unless the political will is there to resolve it and not just ministers paying lip-service to and massaging the true figures of what is a disgraceful position we have been left in.To solve this will require great vision, innovation and a holistic approach to tackle social housing need, private market provision, rent inequities, discrimination and community-based inclusivity.
We face social housing shortages; a crisis of homelessness; rising private property prices; increasing rents; shortages in emergency accommodation; burdensome mortgages; and a legacy of poor build quality and unsustainable planning. The idea that the market will solve everything the key pillar on which successive government policies have rested, has been shattered by the boom and subsequent bust. In its wake lie destroyed lives and broken communities.
The vision of Sinn Fein, in relation to housing, is as follows:
- Every person in Ireland has the right to adequate and appropriate housing, regardless of income, age, economic or other affiliation or status, and has a right to freedom from discrimination in housing.
- Every person has the right to security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment or other threats, regardless of the form of tenure.
- Housing policy must adequately meet the needs of disadvantaged groups including, but not limited to, the elderly, children, people with disabilities and lone parents.
- Travellers have the right to housing that is culturally appropriate.
- Everyone has the right to participate in public decisions that affect their right to housing.
The greatest workload for Councillors at present is dealing with housing queries. it is the most difficult job trying to explain to young couples who may be on the list for a number of years that they will still be there for the foreseeable future and the only answer is to find private rented accommodation and avail of the Housing Assistance Payment scheme. While we are all aware that it is illegal not to accept HAP, the reality is the opposite (HAP). The lack of private rentals compared to the demand has ensured that landlords can pick and choose their tenants and demand references which has made it impossible for first time renters to even get on the rental ladder never mind the dream of ownership at some stage.
What is needed: 100,000 new social builds over the next 15 years. Provide rent certainty by index linking rent increases and decreases to the Consumer Price Index.
Cllr Cathal Crowe Fianna Fail
At this evening’s meeting of Clare County Council I received the unanimous backing of my colleagues to have the possibility of our local authority setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to more efficiently provide social housing examined by a committee of councillors. Clare County Council’s Housing Committee will now examine the merits of my proposal before any further decision is taken.
Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) are essentially companies which are set up achieve a narrow and very specific objective. They can be created under Section 110 of the Taxes Consolidation Act of 1997. NAMA is the best known SPV in Ireland.
I recognise that the staff in Clare County Council’s Housing Department are doing a wonderful job in trying to support those in our county who so desperately need housing but the time-frame for building new housing units but that does not mean that other efficient ways of amassing housing stock should be dismissed. It typically takes 2 years from the time the idea to build a Council house is conceived to the time when a tenant gets to move in. Delays can typically involve site procurement, planning, obtaining funding and tendering for the entire project. SPVs don’t have to operate as public bodies do and have the potential to raise loans quicker and achieve a lot in a shorter time frame.
In England local authorities have, for several years, used SPVs to build and buy new housing stock. Lambeth Borough Council in South-London is a good example. In October of 2015 the members of Lambeth Borough Council voted to establish a Housing SPV. Although operating on a far larger scale than Clare County Council, Lambeth Borough Council are currently in the process of building in excess of 400 new houses. A YouTube video explaining how all of this works can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5IheInBB-o
A Housing SPV could buy and build houses and lease these back to the Council on a long-term basis. The SPV could raise capital quickly and plough any profits made back into the Council’s Housing Department. The red-tape of public procurement and tendering could also be circumnavigated.
Some will undoubtedly have reservations for my proposal (see attached written response from Mr. Liam Conneally, Director of Housing, Clare County Council) but I think it deserves further exploration before being ruled in or out.
As a Councillor I am inundated, on a weekly basis, with phone calls and emails from people who cannot find accommodation of any sort. I know of people that spend their weeks moving from one friend’s couch to another. Others scour AirBnB and budget hotels in the area to try to find cheap short-term accommodation. We need to think of innovative and fast-delivery mechanisms for helping these people.
ENDS. For further information / comment please contact Cllr. Cathal Crowe: (087) 1368882
Cllr Gabriel Keating
I refer to your recent correspondence regarding the housing crisis in Clare.
As a County Councillor representing the North West Municipal District, I am actively working with the Local Authority and with various community groups on a daily basis to support people in need of housing. It was my motion back in 2014 which prompted Clare County Council to identify and develop a database of all unoccupied houses in this County. I have long held the view that we need to do more to bring vacant units back into use.
I have tabled a number of motions at Local Authority Meetings to encourage the utilisation of these properties to address our Social Housing Lists. One of those motions was instrumental in securing support at National Level for the introduction of a Repair and Leasing Scheme whereby €32 million has been made available to the owners of vacant properties who cannot afford or access the funding required to renovate these properties and bring them up to the standard for letting to Social Housing tenants.
On a practical level, I actively seek accommodation for people who require support. Recently I have secured housing for 3 people who were made homeless, two in my own parish and one in the adjoining Parish.
While there is no one quick fix solution, I believe that a combination of initiatives including the upgrade of vacant properties and the plan by the various Housing Agencies to buy vacant properties the construction of new local authority homes combined with the measures announced in the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland will improve the situation for people in need.
Cllr Christy Curtain
I would recommend a collaborative approach by Clare County Council (Housing Authority) with the relevant stakeholders to address the ongoing issue of the housing situation in the County. This model of joint participation with a representative group will give added impetus to a renewed effort by the Housing Authority working through the SPC Housing and the Corporate Body to focus directly and expeditiously on the real and URGENT housing needs of the population.
I would urge immediate action in the following Areas:
1) UP-DATE on the current social housing allocation Scheme,
2) Review and analysis of the Current Register of Qualified Households to establish the categories waiting times and locations of households on the list.
3) The engagement of a Rural Resettlement Officer in Clare with a specific housing brief to work in liaison with the Municipal District Offices and the Social and Rural Development Directorates within the Council.
4) An Accelerated Programme of building of Local Authority Social Housing to be funded by the Government.
Cllr Ian Lynch
Housing is an area that takes up a large portion of my dealing with the public and I recognize this is a national issues but needs to be addressed at a local level. To ensure that an appropriate strategy is agreed and implemented this must be implemented as a unit moving forward together with shared values. On that note if feel that the Housing SPC, which includes the CPPN, is best positioned to deliver a united front to ensure that we develop, agree and peruse the correct strategy for county Clare.
Those are the responses we have got so far, we’ll update this article when we get any more.