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Councillors frustrated by social housing

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*Cllr PJ Ryan. Photograph: Martin Connolly

Housing officials are frustrating Clare councillors who are now seeking a greater input into the allocation of social housing units by the local authority.

An elected member of Clare County Council since 2009, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) admitted that a January motion of his included the most amount of questions he has ever put before a meeting as he looked for the Council to review the social housing allocation system.

Cllr Ryan asked who was entitled to a house, what criteria is used for allocations, the minimum/maximum time a family can be on the waiting list, who makes the final decision, what input do local representatives or Oireacthas members have, why councillors are not informed of allocations in their Municipal District and “why does it take so long for a house to be allocated after it is deemed fit for habitation”.

Director of Social Development, Anne Haugh in a detailed response confirmed that allocation of social tenancies are made in accordance with a scheme on social housing which was adopted by the Council in July 2017. The scheme is to be reviewed later this year and will be brought before the Social Development SPC before the end of June.

“Local authority housing is allocated according to eligibility and need,” she stated. Income, previous rent arrears and availability of alternative accommodation were listed as the three main eligibility criteria, “an applicant must meet them all to be deemed in need of social housing support”. Haugh said there was no set time that personnel would be on the waiting list for. “All applicants who are qualified for social housing are considered once a suitable property becomes available within their identified area of choice”.

Final decisions in relation to allocations is by “Chief Executive order, delegated to senior executive level”. Politicians are entitled to make representations on behalf of constituents who have requested them to do so. “Properties are allocated once the works to the property are complete, it is the case that sometime those offered properties refuse the offer leading to delay in occupation of a property. However, this is the exception rather than the rule”, the Director added.

Confirmation of an upcoming review “heartened” Cllr Ryan. “We’re in a frustrated position with the amount of houses that are needed,” he outlined. The Cratloe native told the meeting he was contacted by a woman on Christmas Eve on the waiting list who “had nowhere to go because she fell out with her partner, she has been on the housing list for five years. It is not something you would want to sit down to your Christmas Dinner listening to”. He claimed, “Housing staff are pushing rules down to diminish the role of elected representatives.

His frustration was shared by Cllr Paul Murphy (FG). “We’re not being informed of housing allocations in our Municipal District, while I do respect GDPR I do believe we should get an email saying when an allocation has been made so we can talk to the people that have made representations to us. It can be embarrassing”. Cllr John Crowe (FG) seconded the motion.

During the review, elected representatives need to be given an “appropriate chance” to make an input, Cllr Michael Begley (IND) maintained. “Everyone in the country is using GDPR as as excuse, the application of GDPR is extended beyond the extreme limits it was intended to be in the first place”.

Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) sensed where Cllr Ryan was coming from but warned, “I’d be afraid we’d be throwing the baby out with the bath water. An awful lot of work goes into this”. He added, “I don’t see it as my role to allocate housing anywhere, I would not be confident or otherwise to make that decision but I do expect my views and input would be listened to”.

Support for the motion and the views of Cllr O’Brien were voiced by Cllr Ian Lynch (IND). “The hardest role as a councillor is trying to meet the needs of housing crisis but what I get is nothing in comparison to what the Housing Deparmentt deals with”.

Chair of the Social Development SPC, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) highlighted councillors last had access to the housing list in 2009. “Officials have embraced Rebuilding Ireland programme, all you have to look at is the amount of awards received”. He requested a special meeting or workshop to further discuss the matter. Senior executive officer, Siobhán McNulty confirmed that such an arrangement could be facilitated.

“Nearly 100 people have come out of homelessness since the Council have taken on the role. The role of elected members since I started in 2004 has been diminished,” Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) stated. Cathaoirleach of the Council, Cllr Cathal Crowe (FF) stressed, “There is a misconception that a Council house is a free house, we need to knock that myth on the head”.

Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling acknowledged the “whole nature of housing, homeless and traveller accommodation has changed completely”. He continued, “Part of our difficulty is it’s not around the ability of you to make representations, it’s when your representations don’t make the desired outcome that we’ve the problem”. Dowling concluded, “In the context of the review taking place, there is nothing preventing us as a local authority sitting down with the SPC and looking at improvements we can make internally. Love it or loathe it, GPDR is with us, won’t give you my view on what I think of it. We can make improvements internally”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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