The homeless crisis in Galway is now "out of control" as rents spiral upwards and increasing numbers seek emergency accommodation or sleep on the streets, a situation that will "continue to escalate with detrimental consequences" unless immediate action is taken.
This is the view of Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly, who is calling for an urgent strategic response from the Galway City Council in tandem with the Government. She said such a strategy must include "the urgent building of public housing", affordable housing, and the use of co-operatives. She is also calling for legislation to regulate the Air B&B sector, while the implementation date for the vacant site levy must be brought forward from 2019.
No public housing has been built in Galway city since 2009. Dep Connolly has called this a "failure by the Galway City Council", the local authority would point out that it has been restricted in its movements by Government directives, delays, and lack of funding.
However, Dep Connolly acknowledged that the council was "attempting to rectify this situation" by taking a number of initiatives including the provision of c60 houses by direct build, c70 through turnkey developments, and a small number of other houses through public/private arrangement. Despite this, the sum total of houses to be provided will be fewer than 250, and of those, only 14 will come on stream in 2018/2019, with no start or completion date for the remainder.
Despite the new houses being "very welcome" they come "nowhere near meeting the current demand for public housing", with close to 5,000 households on the housing waiting list in Galway - an estimated total of 15,000 people, some of whom are waiting since 2002.
It is increasingly recognised that the Government’s reliance on the private market to address a public need for housing is not alleviating the crisis in any way, but may actually be making it worse. The latest report from Daft.ie shows a major jump in rental costs in the city and county. Rent prices in Galway are 25 per cent above levels recorded a decade ago, while the average monthly rent for a one-bed apartment in the city is 12.2 per cent higher than it was last year, and 14.3 per cent higher in the county.
Adding to the rental crisis is the unregulated use of private apartments and houses for Air B&B, with house owners less inclined to rent long term with "easy profits to be made". Dep Connolly said: "The inevitable consequence of this lack of housing supply, together with the rise in house and rent prices, is the continuing rise in the numbers becoming homeless."
There are currently 8,374 people in the State, including 3,124 children, who are homeless - an increase of 1,665 since this time last year. In Galway the current official figure is 30 families in homeless accommodation, while single people are being turned away from emergency hostel accommodation on a nightly basis, with the offer of a sleeping bag.
Dep Connolly pointed out that the homeless figures however do not include people in domestic violence refuges and/or people living with other family members or friends in overcrowded accommodation of necessity.
"The failure to provide sufficient homes is deepening the social inequalities in our city and causing untold stress and suffering," said Dep Connolly. "The right to appropriate housing is a basic human right, without which people are prevented from participating actively in our society."