Ongoing Athlone housing crisis needs more pro-active solution

As a housing crisis abounds in Athlone, local election aspirant Fianna Fáil Councillor, Aengus O’Rourke, has spoken of the need to adopt a more pro-active, if not aggressive, approach which he notes could go a long way to resolving the present residential property shortage.

“Akin to all local authorities, Westmeath is under huge pressure to deal with the current crisis and in Athlone alone, there are close to 700 people on the social housing list,” Cllr. O’Rourke.

With this figure in mind, Cllr. O’Rourke highlighted the vast number of vacant houses presently dotted throughout the town.

“The amount of idle, derelict and vacant houses in Athlone is unbelievable. These properties are all in private ownership. Look around you, every estate, every street seems to have them. As things stand, it is entirely up to the property owner to decide what to do with these properties. This is fine and legitimate under normal circumstances, but what we are going through now are not normal circumstances. We are in the worst housing emergency in a generation or more,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked.

The local businessman acknowledged that the vacant properties were laying idle for numerous years called upon the local authority to proceed with Compulsory Purchase Orders for these houses.

“I am not talking about homes that are vacant for a couple of months while work is being carried out to them, or while sales are going through. I am referencing houses and apartments that are and have been lying idle for years. We all know them, they have over grown gardens, a dirty and unkempt exterior, large dangerous trees growing in their gardens, a pile of post and junk mail on the floor in the hall, the curtains permanently drawn and have been in this state for years.

“With the support of the Department of Housing, Westmeath County Council should proceed with a raft of Compulsory Purchase Orders for these properties.

“Owners of these eye-sores would be first given a period of time to use the house or apartment and if they did not avail of this situation they would receive the market value for it, less the cost of doing it up and making it ready for habitation or for sale,” Cllr. O’Rourked added.

The derelict state in which these houses presently lie has a negative impact on the estates in which they are to be found.

“While these properties lie idle they irritate neighbours, they attract anti-social behaviour. They detract from an estate and as a result can have a negative impact on house prices in an area. By Westmeath County Council pro-actively moving these homes in to living, breathing family units again, they are once again an asset to an area, rather than a liability. And, people, couples and families who so desperately need and want a place of their own now begin to see light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel.

Such a scheme would cost considerable money, and would need to be carefully managed by Westmeath County Council. However, the pay-back medium to long-term would be multiples of the outlay. Estates would come alive with new families and our housing crisis would begin to come under some control. We need to take prompt pro active and assertive action as necessary on these careless landlords,” Cllr. O’Rourke concluded.

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