Elected representatives of Athlone Municipal District will meet with the Chief Executive, the Director of Finance and the Director of Housing of Westmeath County Council to discuss in detail the proposed increase of rent payments to tenants of local authority housing in Athlone before they are due to be implemented in early February.
Addressing the issue, Independent Councillor, Paul Hogan, noted the imminent increase of rental payments was an “emergency item”, the details of which needed clarification promptly.
“Tenants of Council housing have received notification letters detailing a rent payment increase from February 4. This increase is particularly high and I feel not warranted. I feel that the members here were not wholly consulted in this regard with a decision being taken by the local authority executive to raise rent payments. The Executive have seized the moment to increase payments and this should not be the case,” Cllr. Hogan emphasised.
Cllr. Hogan noted that he had received a plethora of representations from members of the community with regard to the rent increase as notifications were received by tenants.
“In one instance, a lady with a disability who has a son on the autism spectrum, is facing an increase of 139e per month. How can this be? It is a completely unfair system in which there are many anomalies and discrepancies and I believe that the data which was used to reach a decision in this regard is not relevant,” Cllr. Hogan commented.
Concurring, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke stated that he too had been inundated with representations from Council tenants since news broke of a rent payment increase.
“I believe that the rent increase is based on a review of family incomes, but incorporating data from 2017 which is not accurate and in support of my colleague, I would call for a meeting with the relevant Executive personnel so we can tackle this issue immediately,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked.
Noting that the Council were all “as one” on the issue, Cllr. John Dolan stated that the issue of a rent increase local authority tenants was a “serious matter”.
“Letters were issued en masse yet there was not a team of people manning the phones when queries were raised. Do we think that tenants were just going to accept such an increase? I am of the opinion that any rent increases should be suspended until we get clarity on the issue,” Cllr. Dolan quipped.
In unison with his colleagues, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, noted that there was not sufficient information regarding the proposed rent increase provided to the members at the annual budget meeting.
“We need to abstract the finer details of this decision. All relevant information should have been disclosed during the budget meeting. As you can imagine families are concerned and stressed having received this news, wondering where they will get the additional money to pay their monthly rent,” Cllr. Keena reflected.
Responding to the members concerns, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, noted that the rent increase was the first since a relevant review in 2012 was was “overdue”.
“It is incumbent on the Council to proceed with a yearly rent review, into which, consideration is taken with regard to 22% of the tenant’s annual disposable income, before a decision is made,” Mr Kehoe stated.