Senior executive members of the Westmeath County Council have been criticised for their perceived lack of urgency in dealing with the need for accommodation in the county.
Fianna Fáil TD for Westmeath, Robert Troy, said that despite the best efforts of front line staff, the council is falling short in getting social housing built, and the local authority is overly reliant on schemes such as housing assistance payment (HAP ) and rental accommodation scheme (RAS ) to fill the gap.
Deputy Troy said; “At a recent meeting of elected representatives and officials from the Westmeath County Council the senior housing officer confirmed that the council expect to supply just 70 to 80 housing units this year – this is despite a target of 130 being set. I find the lack of urgency alarming and the lethargic nature of some of the senior members in the council is deeply frustrating given the number of people within the county who are in urgent need of accommodation.
“The over reliance on HAP, RAS, and other forms of leasing is heaping pressure on the private rental market which is already buckling. You need only walk past the window of an estate agent in the town to see the lack of housing available for rent or to buy.
“I am seeking clarification from the chief executive as to what concrete measures they are bringing forward to address the shortfall, and whether or not there is an issue in terms of resources from central Government which would explain the failure in supplying the necessary social housing units. I want to know what sites have been identified which are already within the council’s ownership and how many turnkey expressions of interest were received by the council to date, how many have been advanced, and what criteria is used in assessing these proposals. I also want to know when a new director of housing will be in situ given the retirement of the existing director this week.
“The fact that the council has already spent 80 per cent of their homeless budget while projecting that they will only supply 60 per cent of their social housing target just goes to show that they are using vital funds to plaster over cracks. It’s important that they get out in front of this issue and provide vital housing stock.”
Highest average property price
The deputy’s comments come as a new report was published by GeoDirectory revealed that 379 dwellings were added to the county’s residential building stock in the 12 months to June 2019.
The report shows that 269 buildings were under construction in Westmeath in June 2019. Nationally, 14,107 buildings were classified as under construction last month, a 52.5 per cent increase on the same period last year.
Athlone found itself as the town with the average property price in the country at €184,800. Nationally, the average house price in the 12 months to April 2019 was €289,146, an increase of €15,940 or 5.8 per cent on the 2018 figure. Once Dublin is excluded, the average house price is €214,679.
There were 909 residential property transactions in Westmeath, in the 12 months to April 2019, with an average price of €178,548.
The vacancy rate in Westmeath in June 2019 stood at five per cent, higher than the national average of 4.8 per cent, with the report also revealing that there were 68 derelict buildings in urban areas in the county.
Commenting on the latest GeoView Residential Buildings Report, Dara Keogh, chief executive of GeoDirectory, said, “The construction industry is rising to the challenge of demand for housing, but it is clear that there is still some way to go to reach the required level of supply. Construction activity levels are almost four times higher than this stage in 2015 and this is reflected in the number of new property purchases.”