Concerns were aired at the Wicklow County Council meeting over 30 per cent allocation for local people and councillors were split on issue.
A WICKLOW councillor has shared her own personal experience of getting on the property ladder via a council scheme, as she warns colleagues to be careful when suggesting applicants for a new Affordable Housing Scheme must be from the county.
The scheme in Wicklow town was launched on the morning of Monday, January 9, with Councillors arguing over the merits of the eligibility criteria for the scheme at the monthly meeting of Wicklow County Council, held later that afternoon.
National policy states that 30 per cent of the scheme will be ring-fenced for local applicants, with the remaining 70 per cent open to all.
This raised alarm among some councillors, with concerns that those in need of homes in the county may miss out.
There were also concerns that the scheme would be overwhelmed due to a lack of other schemes being rolled out in other counties.
Cllr Joe Behan had been most vocal in opposition of the policy.
At the meeting he said: “We are one of the first councils to offer such a scheme and the rest of the country soon realised that we effectively only have control over 30 per cent of our own residents, and the rest is first come, first served.
“We have no guarantee that people from outside the county won’t be ahead of our constituents, which I think is wrong and unfair.
“We should be looking for the Minister to change that provision for any future schemes we might be involved in.”
Cllr Behan added: “I would also say that in terms of the people who have applied today, I certainly hope that the vast majority of them are our constituents.
“I have no doubt that the council officials will administer the scheme absolutely fairly, but I think the officials are bound by Government decisions and we need to really stress to the Government that this type of scheme needs to change.”
Cllr John Snell moved to put perspectve on the issue, saying: “The scheme today is most welcome and I do share some of the concern but the reality is that’s what the Minister has put in place.
“So we will have and be guaranteed 30 per cent, which in all fairness should be 100 per cent of people for the locality, ie from County Wicklow, but until such time as the Minister changes that, whether you are in County Wicklow, Clare or Donegal, that is the scheme that’s in place, so I would hope that party members here will go and talk to the Minister in that regard.
“And I just want to clarify that we could end up in a situation here where 100 per cent of the people who have applied here over the next number of days will all be from County Wicklow, and that will be most welcome, of course.”
Cllr Aoife Flynn Kennedy went a step further by sharing her experience of securing her first house in Dublin through a shared ownership scheme, despite being from Bray.
She said: “I think it’s really important that we remember that our communities are not defined by the border of a county. Our communities are defined by where people have their circle of supports and where they engage in the local area.
“In the Bray area, we have a lot of members of our communities that actually live in county Dublin. And I would ask all the members here to be careful about the concept of you must be from Wicklow to avail of these schemes.
“What we are ultimately going to do is exclude members of our communities because they happen to not live in a postal address that is in the right area.
“I speak of this from a personal experience. My first home was bought under the shared ownership scheme and it was bought in county Dublin, which is the area of Bray that actually sits on county Dublin and I was lucky enough that Dun Laoghaire did not exclude me from accessing that home or I would not have got on the property ladder.
“This will be experienced by towns right across the county, where they border the other county.”
Cllr Tom Fortune felt the lack of a roll-out in affordable housing schemes nationally placed undue pressure on the Greenhill Road scheme.
He stated: “I can’t understand similar projects couldn’t be rolled out at every county and then you wouldn’t have this lottery.
“Every county would have a project, rather than 36 houses happening in Wicklow and it becoming something like when you go back to the economic crash.
“Where I live in Kilcoole, there was a hut down at the sea gate as you go into beach, and there was a big article in the Irish Times it was valued at €300,000. There’s an element of that in this whole thing.
“It’s like a game show. Get in there quick, if you are good at IT, if you are smart with a computer, you can get in there and beat somebody.
“I think that’s grossly unfair to people. I think it’s disgusting really in lots of ways. While the concept of the project is very, very good, it lacks proper strategic intent. It lacks drive. It lacks deliverability across the counties. It leaves a lot to be desired.”
Cllr Irene Winters said: “I know people who have applied for those houses who work here but rent in Gorey because they can’t afford to rent in Wicklow. Do we exclude them because they don’t live in the county?
“I know people who have applied from Cork who have transferable jobs, who want to be back up here near their families but can’t afford to move back up near their families here, unless they were to come under an affordable housing scheme.
“I know people who have applied today who were born outside of Ireland, but actually have been living in County Wicklow for the past 15 years and would consider themselves from the area. So it’s very dangerous to say only Wicklow people.
“We have no idea what qualifies, what makes a person a Wicklow person or a local person. You can be born here, you can have family living here, you can have reasons to want to move to this area. Anyone who wants to come to County Wicklow and buy a house and live in our community is welcome, as far as I’m concerned. I think we should have that attitude towards all of our housing measures. Everybody who wants to come here and contribute to our community should be welcome.”
Cllr Anne Ferris said: “I want to congratulate Cllr Flynn Kennedy and Cllr Winters for speaking out and I agree with every word that they said. There are many reasons why people may be from Wicklow who are not able to live in Wicklow, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter where you come from or where you live.
“The opportunity should be equal to everyone and I believe if we were to try to stop it and say only people from Wicklow can apply, then I think that would be in breach of somebody’s human rights. We know what happened in the United States with the America first and how that ended up.”
Cllr Gail Dunne stated: “The staff should get great credit for all the work they put into it. In fairness, it’s a difficult scheme get off the ground and they did brilliantly. All the councillors at Council and Municipal District level were kept informed.
“People have different ideas on how it should be distributed, and that’s fair enough, but I want to thank the staff and Director of Services Joe Lane for all the work they carried out in relation to this scheme, which is one of the first in the country.”