Returning from the summer recess, members of Clare County Council learned that demand for social housing is greatest in Ennis and Shannon, followed by Kilrush, Ennistymon and Killaloe.

Director of service Liam Conneally provided the information in response to a motion from councillors Christy Curtin, Ian Lynch, Gerry Flynn, Johnny Flynn and PJ Kelly. a

There are now 2,644 housing applicants listed by the local authority. Not all are in need of housing as the list includes 129 transfer applicants, 114 with lease tenancies of up to 10 years and 1,160 in receipt of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). A breakdown of the 2,644 housing applicants shows that 564 are in West Clare, 358 in Killaloe, 1,176 in Ennis and 480 in Shannon.

Due to the economic downturn, Cllr Christy Curtin said the council has been remiss in not building social housing in the county. In comparison, Tim Murphy, the Labour Party Minister for Local Government in the State’s first inter-party Government in 1948-51 built 12,000 houses while Jim Tully, Fianna Fáil Minister from 1973-78, built 100,000 houses inside four years.

According to Cllr Curtin, there is now a legacy of over 250 applicants in Clare who have been on the housing list since 2008 and earlier. Cllr Ian Lynch suggested that the list of 2,644 applicants may represent up to 8,000 people in need of housing in the county.

Chairman of the council’s SPC on Social Development, which includes housing, Cllr Gerry Flynn emphasised the role being played by private landlords in providing 1,160 homes through the HAP scheme and claimed that this sector has been “vilified” at a national level. Cllr Flynn believes that had it not been for the intervention of the private sector in providing rental accommodation, there would be over 1,000 people left at the side of the road in Clare.

At present, he said there is no incentive for private sector involvement in housing provision and he claimed the sector is “crucified” by regulations, Government policy and by Revenue. “Something has to change,” he said. Cllr Flynn was critical of the lack of information on long-term tenancies in the report given that the rental subsidy is paid from public monies.

Breaking down the total of 2,644 housing applicants, he noted that when the 1,403 already in accommodation are taken into account, it leaves 1,241 including the number of long-term tenancies. If these were subtracted it would give a true net figure for housing needs the county.

Addressing the director’s proposition that a significant proportion of applicants do not require a local authority house, Cllr Flynn said, “I’m 13 years in the housing policy committee and I haven’t come across one yet.” He asked the council to consider including a question to that effect on the application form. Cllr Flynn pointed out that the number of social housing applicants has risen from an all-time low of 81 in 2009 to 561 in 2016 and so far this year there

Cllr Flynn pointed out that the number of social housing applicants has risen from an all-time low of 81 in 2009 to 561 in 2016 and 391 applications this year to date.

Cllr PJ Kelly pointed out that the report highlights the housing crisis in different localities across the county. Recalling a survey of vacant houses carried out some time ago, Cllr Kelly said there is a temptation to do something about those houses.

He also argued that a major problem now exists in that there is no incentive for property owners to rent these houses and many landlords are being driven out of the market. Cllr Kelly claimed that owners of houses that could be made available for rent have been scared away by demands being made by Revenue and by the local property tax.

One way to address this issue, he said, would be to waive these charges for a period so that vacant properties could be brought back into use. “The fear of the unknown is one of the things preventing people from cooperating at the moment,” said Cllr Kelly.

Addressing the issues raised, Liam Conneally restated that housing demand is county-wide and is not just an urban issue. He said the council is constantly battling to find accommodation suitable to the needs of the applicant.

Regarding the 282 applicants on the housing list for more than ten years, Mr Conneally claimed that many of them have long-term tenancies and are not interested in council housing. In recent times he said the council has focused on acquiring properties as there is good value in the market. Buying a site and tendering for construction would be a more costly option.

Mr Conneally noted that applicants for HAP and RAS must “tick the box” for the need for social housing in order to qualify for these supports. In this regard, he said, “the system propagates that need whether we like it or not.” Acknowledging the merits of Cllr Kelly’s argument regarding vacant properties, Mr Conneally said Government should be looking at the potential for bringing these vacant units back into use. “This should be incentivised without the fear of Revenue or other State interference. There should be a monetary incentive and also a tax incentive to encourage those property owners,

Acknowledging the merits of Cllr Kelly’s argument regarding vacant properties, Mr Conneally said Government should be looking at the potential for bringing these vacant units back into use. “This should be incentivised without the fear of Revenue or other State interference. There should be a monetary incentive and also a tax incentive to encourage those property owners otherwise these properties won’t come on the market.  “The State must put forward a case in terms of financial reward,” he said.