Glimmer of hope for people on waiting list
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for people on the public housing list in Wexford as the County Council gets back to building houses again after a gap of 10 years.
'Things are happening again. It's great to see builders on sites again,' said senior executive officer for housing and community Liz Hore.
A promise of more State funding for local authority house building and a warmer welcome for the involvement of independent housing agencies in solving the problem of homelessness should begin to see movement on Wexford's crisis-level housing list.
'I do think we are starting to leave those dark days behind us now,' said Ms. Hore in reference to the desert years of the last decade when Government funding for house construction dried up and the waiting list kept growing while there was an over-reliance on the private accommodation sector which is now experiencing a chronic shortage of supply.
Five new housing staff have been recruited including an engineer and a clerk of works, making up a 65-strong housing department which also includes a senior architect.
Ms. Hore said she and her team are committed to providing homes for people through new house-building programmes, NAMA property acquisition and parterships with approved housing agencies such as Respond, Cluid and also Co-operative Housing, Steer and Oaklee which have come on the scene in Wexford recently. These agencies were once seen as Council competitors.
'We have opened our doors to approved housing agencies. There is a big emphasis on that now. We want to maximise all the avenues that are there. Whatever we can do to get houses for people, we will do it,' she said.
Unlike councils, independent housing bodies can get finance from the European Investment Bank using capital funding secured on their behalf from Government by the local authority.
'In Wexford, we have paid out €3 million in the last two years to approved housing bodies and they have used that to leverage money from the European Investment Bank and other private funds,' said Liz.
The biggest demand in County Wexford is for two-bedroom houses, accounting for 2,600 applications on the list since one-bedroom houses are no longer a choice.
'We won't be building any one-bedroom houses even for elderly people because many of them will have a carer and many of the single men on the list have access to children,' said Ms. Hore, adding that 20% of new builds will be reserved for people with disabilities who face greater difficulties in finding suitable private accommodation.
The building programme will focus on Wexford and Gorey, the areas of greatest demand and population growth. In the Census period from 2006 to 2011 there was a population spurt of 19% in Gorey compared with a general rise of 10% around the county.
Wexford County Council will continue to encourage private landlords to provide housing under the Rent Allowance Scheme, soon to be replaced by the Housing Assistance Payment whereby the local authority pays rent on behalf of a tenant who, in turn, gives the Council the differential rent that would apply on a local authority home - €32.08 per week for a single person and €80 for a couple and three children with an average payment of €57. There are currently 800 landlords on the Council's books along with 4,234 Council-owned homes.
The majority of the 4,012 people on the housing list are in receipt of some form of social welfare payment.
'It behoves us to work to do whatever is necessary to get homes for people in Wexford. That is our aim. You will never solve the housing issue. There will always be a housing need but I am optimistic,' she said.
It's not just about building houses, according to the Council official. 'Housing is about people and their quality of life. We have to look at building sustainable communities and neighbourhoods where people have access to schools, services and supports.'