HAVING enjoyed a briefing with officials from Wexford County Council, Minister of State for Planning and Local Government Peter Burke seemed in optimistic form. Working in one of the most under pressure government departments – Housing – the Fine Gael man seemed to feel that Wexford was firmly moving in the right direction in terms of the challenges posed in housing provision.
This is very much dependant on what numbers you want to look at, however. In recent weeks, we’ve highlighted the extent of the rental crisis in Co Wexford. With a major shortage of rental properties and rents spiralling as a result, things have very much reached crisis point. Local property management firms have stated that any rental property in the Wexford town area is usually gone within 15 minutes of being listed and they receive hundreds of queries within the first hour of any new property being listed online. Currently, you could spend up to €1,100 per month on a two bed apartment in Wexford town.
While on his recent Wexford visit Taoiseach Micheál Martin stated that “build, build build” was our only way out, this seems more of a long term solution. Is there anything that can be done in the short term?
“I think we are responding in real time,” Minister Burke said. “In the last two years the local authority has reduced its housing list by 20%. That’s significant solutions for vulnerable families. They have over 200 houses in the pipeline for this year. Again that brings additional housing into the market place which is so, so important to free up rental properties. The key response long term and short term is more supply and that’s why the ‘Housing for All’ plan is acutely pointed in terms of having €4bn in multi-annual funding, every single year.
“We will be getting the numbers up every single year and everywhere I go, looking at the figures here from the local authority for example, commencements are up to record levels in terms of planning permission coming in and site notices where works are commencing. It’s about bringing more housing into the market, which will in turn help to relieve some of that rental pressure and provide ideal starter homes for so many citizens. That’s the only answer. When you’ve a market place where demand significantly outstrips supply, it’s the basic core rule of economics, you have to get supply up. That’s what the government is singularly focused on doing. Supply, supply, supply and increasing it at every step of the way. We are building communities.”
While this sounds encouraging, it was stressed to the Minister that many Wexford families are now finding themselves in an impossible and urgent situation. Landlords seeking to take advantage of the housing market are keen to cash in on their investment and a lack of available private rental property means that a whole new raft of society are at real risk of homelessness.
“We’ve brought in five pieces of legislation in the past five months, trying to give certainty to those renting in terms of their tenancy and so that they don’t face immediate eviction,” Minister Burke said. “So they have long definite periods and significant tenancy rights. That’s why in Housing for All we said we’re going to legislate for tenancies of indefinite duration. That’s why we’ve provided for rent increases linked to the consumer harmonisation index. That’s why we have 200 homes in this county coming in this year and commencements up. This is the only way we can really ensure a cap on rents. Bringing new supply in.
“We all know rents are too high. But the big challenge for government is bringing in more supply and we will do that. It will be visible to people and communities. This is the only show in town for housing. We need to meet all of societies demands and we’re absolutely focused on doing that.”
Overall, Minister Burke seemed impressed by Wexford County Council’s response across a whole host of areas.
“We’ve seen the way local authorities like Wexford have risen to the unprecedented challenge of the last 18 months, being the arm of government that is closest to the citizen. I want to thank them for all the good work they’ve done. Also we’ve got significant urban and regeneration projects in Wexford getting under way, getting record funding and positive developments like the establishment of MARA (Maritime Area Regulatory Authority) which will be a huge asset to the local area.”
Among the locations visited by the Minister as part of his visit were the Enniscorthy Technology Park, Gorey Town park and The Hatch Lab.