Wexford County Council is well ahead of its target for social house building for 2018 as it moves from buying houses in the private market.
Nine new builds were built in the county by the local authority last year compared to 23 this year. 23 homes were due to be built this year, but 51 are now expected to be built by year's end, while 95 houses are due to be built next year.
123 houses were acquired by Wexford County Council last year compared to 90 this year when 30 were due to be bought. It is estimated that a further 30 houses will be bought by the local authority next year. By far the largest number of houses the council has is 600 on the HAP scheme, compared to its target of 384.
Senior housing officer Pádraig O'Gorman said the council may build as many as 100 houses in the county next year. 'We have reduced our second hand sector acquisitions which have been a very important area in recent years but we have been the withdrawing from them. Private development is starting and we are getting our 10 per cent of Part V. We are on target to get our leasing numbers.'
Cllr Malcolm Byrne said a local authority buying houses doesn't contribute to society as it means the council is competing with first time buyers. 'I have a concern as while we have ramped up (our building) we are still very reliant on private housing bodies. I would prefer if we were building and maintaining our own.'
Cllr Ger Carthy congratulated the housing team on improving the social housing programme from 'a low base'. Expressing concern that no single houses will be built in rural County Wexford unless they are connected to an Irish Water treatment system, he said single houses are needed in rural areas for people who want to live in the countryside.
Director of Services for Economic Development Tony Larkin said: 'It's a sewerage issue. If it's part a scheme that already has a satisfactory arrangement the answer would be larger sites. There is no reason why you couldn't have three or four houses each with their own separate treatment systems.'
Cllr Carthy said that would not be appropriate. Mr O'Gorman said the council has to reduce its house acquisitions to an average of 13 per cent. 'We had 123 last year, the second highest in the country, and we have 80 this year. The plan is to get down to 20 to 25 by 2021.'
Cllr Carthy called for a rural Wexford social housing policy or to continue with acquiring houses as people need to be accommodated in rural County Wexford.
'We are being governed by Irish Water,' Cllr Paddy Kavanagh warned. 'Some villages are growing too big while several others are growing too small,' he said, adding that this is leading to an imbalance in communities affecting GAA clubs and communities. Cllr David Hynes said County Wexford is one of the most proactive nationally at building social houses. He called on the council to address the number of derelict houses across the county, saying they could be CPO'd. 'A lot of people can't get HAP because of the rent increases. Some of the people have ended up in emergency accommodation.'
Mr Larkin said he has met with the staff and the councils trying to target specific houses with a view to bringing them back as social houses. 'We have done three or four and we have another range of them before Christmas. We will prioritise this for every district.'
Mr O'Gorman said the council will be looking to Respond for the vacant units in Westlands, where seven housing units have become available. 'They could come no stream quite quickly,' he said.
Cllr Michael Sheehan said some houses are being left idle for over 50 weeks once the council has bought them, asking for a full report.
Cllr George Lawlor said the council spends tens of thousands of euros repairing its social houses. 'I really do think we are going over the top in terms of the amount we spend on refurbishment of the houses. Contrast this to when we lease houses from a landlord. The onus appears to go onto the new tenant to make sure that everything is in order.'
Giving an example about a 20-year leased house, he said the conduct of the landlord has been 'awful'.
'The tenants found a toilet in the back yard and four full bins. When they contacted the landlord they were told to get rid of it themselves. A cat had been trapped in the house had destroyed the furniture and there was a plate of food in the fridge. We are spending ten of thousands of euros (on these houses).'
Cllr Johnny Mythen said there are a large number of people who need affordable housing,
CEO Tom Enright said there have been issues in taking over houses in rural areas. 'When you have an empty house in a town or village when its brought back as a house there aren't any issues with water services and we have to use that to our advantage. We should use the existing housing stock as these houses are already connected to the existing system.'