Minister Kelly, “Stroke Politics” and Social Housing | Irish Examiner

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22 July 2015

Local Authority frustration with Minister Kelly and the Department of the Environment is becoming apparent. The following selection of press articles give a snapshot of the difficulties Cork County Council, and many Local Authorities, face in dealing with the housing crisis and ever-increasing housing lists. Many industry commentators and social housing activists agree that the Minster’s social housing programme is low on detail and substance and unlikely to deliver much in the way any meaningful solution to current problems. Local Authorities are faced with depleted technical staff due to years of cutbacks unable to deliver ambitious targets due to lack of resources. Despit media fanfare, many Local Authorities still await details of capital allocations and additional staff to implement the Minister’s ambitious social housing strategy launched over 6 months ago.

The number of people on the waiting list for social housing in Cork increased by 10% in the previous year. At the beginning of December 2013, the number of people on the social housing list was 7,811 but, on the same date this year, it stood at 8,619 (see article here).

It looks like Ministers are very keen to avail of the rare opportunities afforded for appearances at social housing openings. Given that there were less than 300 Local Authority houses completed in 2014 these occasions would appear to be thin on the ground.

“The environment minister was accused last night of engaging in “stroke and gutter politics” for asking a local authority to postpone the official opening of a multimillion-euro social housing project in Cork City until he was able to attend…

Party colleague Terry Shannon accused the Labour Party of attempting to use public funds to secure their own re-election by attending the official openings for photo opportunities.

“This was a political stroke.”

..The minister had been invited to attend the official opening on Friday of phase two of the government-funded multi-million euro Glen regeneration housing project on the northside of Cork City…

However, councillors were told last night the minister’s office “requested” that the opening be postponed because the minister wasn’t available to attend…

Councillors agreed to proceed with Friday’s ceremony without the minister, and to write to all local authorities informing them of their decision.”

  • 7,000 on housing waiting list in Co Cork yet 763 Nama properties lie idle” Irish Examiner 26 May 2015, the issue of vacant NAMA owned properties and increasing housing lists are discussed. Despite Cork County Council officials having been in discussions with Nama since 2012, not one vacant house has so far been made available to the council for social housing.  Quote:

“It’s been described as “an absolute disgrace” that nearly 7,000 people are on the waiting list for houses in Co Cork, yet 600 Nama-owned homes and 163 apartments are lying idle.

Sinn Féin leader on the county council, Cllr Des O’Grady, said it was scandalous that such a situation had arisen and something needed to be urgently done about it.

“Cork County Council officials have been in discussion with Nama since 2012 and not one vacant house has so far been made available to the council.

“There are currently 6,974 families on the waiting list. This is an absolute disgrace at a time when so many families are crying out in despair for social housing,” he said. He made his comments after having requested a list of unoccupied yet finished properties from senior council officials.

Cllr O’Grady said it was also “very disturbing” that many families were condemned to live in 138 unfinished estates dotted around the county…He said it was also unacceptable that nearly 5,500 families, who bought their houses in good faith and expected to raise their children in a pleasant environment, are living in substandard, unfinished estates…

“The Government needs to also act immediately on behalf of these families and indeed the thousands more in similar situations throughout the State.”..

Chief executive Tim Lucey said the council had got approval from the Department of Environment to spend €21.53m on 110 social housing units…Mr Lucey said discussions were also ongoing with the city council to a joint approach on new housing as the latter didn’t have the necessary land available for some projects.

Cllr O’Grady said while he welcomed Mr Lucey’s report it will take three years before any of those houses come on stream.”

“Senior city officials in Cork have admitted that they do not have the resources to deliver on ambitious social housing targets earmarked for a multimillion government grant…Government TDs hailed the sanctioning of €204m for the two local authorities in Cork which they said would allow the councils embark on a combination of building, buying and leasing schemes to accommodate 25% of those currently on the housing waiting lists…In reply, officials admitted they do not have the resources to deliver on the targets…

Anti Austerity Alliance councillor, Mick Barry, a member of the council’s housing committee, said the funding package would not solve the city’s social housing crisis, and he claimed it would open the door further to the privatisation of social housing.

He said the 1,349 social housing units earmarked for Cork represented less than one in six of those currently on the city’s housing list, and could represent less than one in 10 by the end of 2017.

“The minister announced this plan with great fanfare and no doubt he hopes it makes himself and the Labour Party look good in the run-in to a general election.

“But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people on the city’s housing waiting lists will still be without social housing in two and a half years’ time despite the fanfare and the bluster unless far more radical measures are taken.”

He said many houses in the package are not council properties but would be provided by approved housing bodies or lease arrangements with private landlords under the rental accommodation scheme or housing assistance payment scheme.

“Here we have a Labour Party minister presiding over the privatisation of social housing. A large percentage of the new accommodation [Alan] Kelly is boasting about will actually be private accommodation on long-term leases brokered by councils that people will be forced to accept on pain of having their rent allowance cut off.”

He said this would involve people having their names taken off council waiting lists on the grounds rent allowance or housing assistance payment was a form of social housing provision.”

“There are fears that the council may not be able to deliver on Government targets for social housing because it is short of staff and may not be able to purchase properties as landlords hold onto them in the belief they will get better prices as the economy picks up.

The department has set aside €80.6m to acquire the properties throughout the county up to the end of 2017…The cash injection was seen as good news for those who have spent years on the housing waiting, but that may not be the case.

Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe said property owners had told him they want to hold onto houses until the market improves. He added that rents “had gone through the roof” and families could not keep up…Party colleague Frank O’Flynn agreed, declaring government pronouncements on social housing as “nothing but spin”.

He criticised the fact that council officials were unable to provide him with areas where houses would be built, or when programmes would start. The officials said they were preparing a report on their plans…

Sinn Fein councillor June Murphy said there was a considerable housing crisis in the county and that the council couldn’t cope and was referring people to homeless services.”

“Cork county councillors are to seek an explanation as to how the local authority has debts of €13m for sites which it bought for social housing but were later deemed unsuitable for residential development…The Department of Environment and Local Government refused to include the 12 sites in the Land Aggregation Scheme because it found that the sites were unsuitable for residential development.”

Sinn Féin councillor Kieran McCarthy said that the matter was discussed at a meeting with his fellow party councillors last Monday. He said that the party will submit a motion seeking more information on the sites….

“I went to the Housing Department to try and get some repairs done for people and was told that they haven’t had a budget since 2013,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Imagine how many repairs could have been carried out for €13m? It’s very frustrating knowing that’s there while there are people suffering.”

Other posts of interest:

More Fire Safety evacuations, European Committee of Social Rights court case & uninhabitable rented housing | NEWS

Peter McVerry says he’d be embarrassed if he was Alan Kelly | Journal

Questions asked about Minister Kelly’s Social Housing Strategy | Irish Times

Housing Crisis | Less than 1,000 homes completed in Dublin in 2014

Minister Kelly approves 200 staff: will any go to building control?

Pyrite: the spiraling cost of no Local Authority Inspections

Developer makes 27% profit in 6 months: warns against state housing.

SI.9 Cost for 2014 = 3 x Ballymun Regeneration Projects

Catherine Murphy TD | Today’s Housing Promises Won’t Bear Fruit for at Least Two Years

Dáil: Fall in Housing Construction following introduction of Building Control Regulations

SCSI: Republic built 2,000 fewer new homes than official estimate | Irish Times

Cabinet’s ‘spin’ and the real Housing problem | Irish Independent

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