No room for venture capitalists in housing programme

Venture capitalists should be invited to build houses in partnership with county councils according to a Mullingar councillor who is calling for lateral thinking to deal with the housing problem in Westmeath.

Cllr Aidan Davitt said the country is awash with venture capitalists who are looking for projects to invest in and some were recently in Westmeath.

Westmeath County Council should partner up with these entrepreneurs to start schemes where the investor would build the housing units with the council and would be guaranteed a rent for up to 15 years.

After that, the units would revert to council ownership, he said, leaving the entrepreneur with a profit over time and the council with a housing asset.

“It really is an option for us,” he told the annual Westmeath County Council budget meeting which sat last week.

He said the county has the two main raw materials venture capitalists need - a large group of people (from the housing list ) to provide a guaranteed rental income and valuable sites which could be built on.

“It’s very possible if we want to be adventurous, we could get someone and guarantee them rents,” he said.

However, Westmeath’s director of housing Jimmy Dalton said he has no interest in being adventurous when it comes to housing supply, and said the country is still coming to terms with the consequences of the adventure that was the Celtic Tiger.

“I hear what Cllr Davitt is saying about venture capitalists but adventure is not something that particularly interests me. We had our adventure. We were adventurous in the Celtic Tiger and it created a lot of problems that we’re dealing with,” he said.

He told Cllr Davitt that he had no doubt but that his logic is sound, but said the council can only operate within the policy set by the Government.

However, he said he and his colleagues are looking on an ongoing basis at possible ways of using council lands.

Cllr Davitt also rubbished the council’s plans to increase the number of people housed in Westmeath under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS ).

He said he’ll eat his hat in January 2015 if the council hasn’t lost a quarter of the housing stock it has access to through the RAS of private rental agreements with landlords because the council pays less than the increasing market rate.

He said the figures for the RAS don’t stack up for landlords and it doesn’t help that the council doesn’t give a deposit.

“People in the private sector will give a deposit, are working, have references and good CVs,” he said, in comparison to a situation where the council decides who a tenant will be.

“Housing is our biggest issue going forward,” he said.

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