Threats and verbal abuse all part of housing staff's working day
Housing staff in Wexford County Council have become the target of threats and verbal abuse from angry applicants as some people wait more than a decade for a local authority home.
Staff at Council weekly drop-in clinics are being shouted at and physically threatened by people desperate for a house as the local authority waiting list reached an all-time high in the county with 4012 applicants countywide.
'The level of aggression towards staff has increased. We've had threats made against staff,' said senior executive officer for housing and community Liz Hore.
Ms. Hore said the Council has been forced to take court action against a number of people to ban them from local authority offices such is the level of anger that has spilled over at times.
'The majority of people are fine but some people have become aggressive. It's been happening over the past two years. Staff have been called names and physical threats have been made. It's anger at the waiting list. You wouldn't have seen that before.'
Ms. Hore said the issue is taken very seriously by the Council. 'It's unacceptable. We won't tolerate it. Everyone who comes in here has the right to be to be treated with dignity and respect but equally, we expect that our staff would be treated with the same dignity and respect.
'We appreciate that it is very frustrating for people but we are doing our best,' she said.
The waiting list for local authority houses in County Wexford has reached an historic peak with 1,443 applicants in the Wexford district; 1012 in Gorey; 855 in Enniscorthy and 702 in New Ross.
Behind these figures are many human stories of hardship and heroic patience on the part of families, elderly residents and disabled people.
The main reason for the waiting list crisis is the absence of a local authority house building programme over the past 10 years due to a withdrawal of Government finance, along with a population increase, a growing elderly population, a shortage of affordable private rented accommodation, an absence of private house building by reluctant developers and a lack of ready finance for young couples who might previously have built or bought their own homes.
At the height of the economic boom, Wexford County Council received €27 million in Government funding in 2006 to build 90 houses in the county.
During the recession, funding stopped and the national house building programme was effectively scrapped. In 2012, for example, the Council was allocated a housing budget of just €181,000 which was spent mostly on finishing works.
The Council housing list has been growing since then and has now reached a level never before seen in the county, with many people waiting over a decade to be housed.
In some cases, the children of applicants have grown up in over-crowded or inadequate private rented accommodation, graduating from primary to secondary school while their parents are still waiting to be allocated a local authority home.
The waiting time is the longest in the Wexford district with applicants waiting up to 11 years for a three-bedroom or four-bedroom house; in Enniscorthy and Gorey it's an eight-year wait for a three-bed house and in New Ross, it's five years for a four-bed house. The average waiting time across the county is eight years.
Up to 70% of the demand for Council housing is in the county's four urban areas and the waiting time in rural areas may not be as long.
Official recognition of the crisis eventually came in November 2014 when a six-year National Housing Strategy was launched, committing finance once again to local authority house building around the country. The newly-appointed Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has admitted that 'housing is probably the number one priority' for the new Government.
Wexford County Council has been promised €25 million over three years of which €10 million has already been received with houses either completed, under construction or planned in Wexford, Gorey, Enniscorthy and Oylegate.
Councillors have been at the frontline of applicants' anger over the housing crisis. 'I have to say that out of all the issues I deal with, it's the most frustrating,' said Independent councillor Ger Carthy. 'You have massive demand and no supply.'