As another winter looms and with the housing crisis showing no signs of abating, Wexford councillors have called on the local authority to “get its finger out” and start delivering homes for its people.
Speaking at the September meeting of the county council in Carricklawn, Sinn Féin’s Cllr Tom Forde noted how the number of people finding housing through the HAP Place Finder Service, which assists homeless households or households at immediate risk of homelessness, had dropped markedly in the past two years.
“It’s very difficult in the private market at the moment and what is there is extortionate, in 2020 there were 51 households rehomed through the Place Finder Service, in 2021 there was 36, and this year there’s been eight so far,” said Cllr Forde. “What other supports do we have in place for homelessness prevention, because there’s very few options for tenants at the moment if you’re threatened with homelessness?”
Cllr Forde also took umbrage with recent comments by the Minister for Housing, in which he said the Housing For All plan had delivered for County Wexford, describing it as a “false narrative”.
“Do we have adequate resources to address the housing issue? If we don’t, that narrative needs to be changed,” said Cllr Forde.
In response, Housing Officer with WCC, Carolyne Godkin, provided some figures which illustrated the depth of the housing crisis across Wexford right now. She explained how, between January 1 and September 9 of this year, the council’s Homeless Support Unit had received 934 calls, of those 63 per cent were found to be at risk of homelessness, a further seven per cent were supported into emergency short-term accommodation, and 24 per cent were not eligible at the time for housing services.
Ms Godkin also revealed that WCC currently has 87 households in emergency accommodation, of those 22 are families, 44 are in own front door situations, with the rest are in private emergency accommodation.
Addressing Cllr Forde's query regarding the Place Finder Scheme, she said the figures had dropped because “there is no accommodation available”.
Although housing may be at a premium right across the county at the moment, a question from Cllr John O’Rourke highlighted how almost a third of homes offered to people by the council were being refused. Ms Godkin revealed that between 25-33 per cent of people refused the social houses offered by the council and it was then up to the housing department to decide if the reasons given were valid.
“We then decide if the refusal is reasonable or unreasonable and the vast majority, 70 per cent, are unreasonable. There are cases where it’s reasonable, where a child is accessing a school with an autism unit and we’re asking them to move out of the area when they don’t have a car,” she said. “After two ‘unreasonable refusals’ people are knocked down the housing list. However, if your reason is genuine, it won’t be marked against you and you will be given a second chance.”
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Mr Tom Enright rejected Cllr Forde’s claims regarding a false narrative being created by central government and said there were other issues at play when it came to explaining the shortage of houses in the county.
“We have sufficient resources to deliver what we’ve been allocated under the Housing For All programme,” said Mr Enright. “We recently got an extra six staff in the Housing Capital programme and whenever we’ve asked for additional resources we’ve always been given them. There’s bigger issues around construction, the availability of contractors, architects and acquiring land at a reasonable price at the moment.”
But Cllr Lisa McDonald took a dim view of not just the conversation thus far but the council’s overall approach to building houses; and she began by asking that its monthly report be updated to reflect changes which she and her fellow Rosslare members had known about for months.
“I would like if we had the houses that are completed and allocated taken off the board, it warps the figures when you look at it,” she asked. "The Tagoat development in the RMD, it says knotweed management company appointed, we were told several meetings ago in Rosslare that the knotweed had been dealt with. There’s a ‘long fingering’ of projects in the Rosslare District the whole time, I’m sick of looking at the Rosetown project on the housing update.”
Recalling her schooldays, Cllr McDonald then compared WCC’s approach to housing to that of a barge, sputtering down the river, while others sped past in superior vehicles.
“If you look at the delivery dates of the housing projects we have taken, we are far slower than the housing bodies. It reminds me of a poem I did in the Leaving Cert about a barge going down the river and a speedboat going past it. We have a barge dealing with housing when we should be driving a speedboat or, at the very least, a catamaran, we need to pick up the pace, we need to get our finger out.
"I have two separate builders in two distinct areas, one who did pre-planning with Diarmuid Houston and was told by the housing department it wasn’t proper planning and another in Murrintown who has promised me he’ll have houses and I can actually house the people myself without going anywhere near our housing department. He was told he could build those next year but is facing a situation where he has no answer on that. That needs to be fast-tracked for the next meeting.”
Ms Godkin agreed to remove completed projects from the housing updates in future meetings.