Council to provide over 1,800 homes
Tipperary Co Council is set to deliver more than 1,800 housing units - most of them new builds - over the next five years.
The council is confident that its ambitious housing programme will address Tipperary's social housing need. It remains concerned, however, that the acute shortage of accommodation for people who do not qualify for social housing will continue until the private sector starts building with similar earnest.
During a debate lasting almost three hours at this week's meeting of the council, Senior Engineer Jonathan Cooney told those present that the council has been set a target of building 887 new units of accommodation by 2026 under the Government's Housing for All programme. Mr Cooney said the council is satisfied that it will greatly exceed this target by building 1,125 units countywide over the next five years. Also including vacant or ‘void’ houses that the council will bring back into use over that time, he said well over 1,800 units in total would be achieved.
Mr Cooney informed the meeting that contractors are presently active on 25 social housing sites across Tipperary. He doubted that there are even five private developments of similar scale underway. He believed an affordable housing scheme in Tipperary would be needed to kickstart the private sector.
On the subject of voids, Mr Cooney said there was a high rate of 4.7% of council stock deemed void in 2019. This has since been introduced to 2.4%, or 123 units, one of the best local authority performances in the country.
Cllr Hughie McGrath recalled years gone by when the council built estates all over the county. He was critical of the policy of latter years that moved the focus away from building local authority estates, which has not worked. Cllr McGrath did not believe the private sector would be able to solve the housing problem.
Cllr Michael O'Meara suggested that the council should seek a State loan in order to provide more housing. Among other suggestions, Cllr Seán Ryan sought a clinic to encourage greater takeup of the newly-introduced Choice-Based Letting (CBL) scheme; Cllr Seamus Hanafin inquired about compulsory purchase of derelict buildings for use as housing, and Cllr Anne Marie Ryan wanted the appointment of at least one more officer with remit for vacant houses.
Before the meeting was a notice of motion from Cllr Pat English, who wanted the council to request Dáil Éireann “to affirm into law that a housing emergency exists in Ireland”. “Unprecedented emergency actions were taken in the past to deal with the banking crisis and Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Cllr English, who wanted another moratorium on evictions and relaxing of planning regulations with regard to the likes of log cabins and caravans. A vote was taken and the motion was defeated by 20 votes to eight.
Director of Services Sinéad Carr said the council is building far more more houses now than it was 20 years ago, when it had a “manageable” housing waiting list. There was in the time since a 10-year period during which no houses were built.
“That's the hump we have to catch up on,” Ms Carr said, adding that the identified social housing need in Tipperary is 1,600 units by 2026. With its ambitious construction and voids programme, the council would have more than enough units to meet this need, bringing the social housing situation back to a manageable level again. Her biggest concern was for those “just above social housing”, people who do not qualify for the council's support but cannot secure private or affordable housing. The director added that even if the council were to secure a loan, it would take more than two years to deliver the needed units.
Cllr Fiona Bonfield welcomed that the council is exceeding its targets but said the next Census results would tell a lot about housing need. Looking at the application and refusal rates of schemes such as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, she said many of the assistance schemes are not working, which is why people are resorting to the likes of mobile homes out of desperation.
CEO Joe MacGrath mobile homes do not address long-term need. The council's Housing section is doing “an absolutely magnificent job” and the shortcomings lie with the private sector, though Mr MacGrath warned against “a blame game” with regard to private construction. He said the council would write to the Minister for Housing and meet with the Construction Industry Federation to discuss many of the issues raised by the councillors. Tipperary Co Council would continue to play its part in trying to tackle the housing crisis.
“We're not happy to stay within our housing limits,” Mr MacGrath said. “We're going way beyond that. We wouldn't put these figures out unless we were confident of doing that."