Council - wrong housing for people on housing list

Westmeath County Council and Athlone Town Council don’t have the right kind of accommodation to serve the vast majority of people on the housing list.

At this week’s Westmeath County Council Housing SPC meeting councillors heard that 46 per cent of people waiting to be housed by Athlone Town Council and Athlone Town Council are single.

The next biggest group are single adults with children.

But 82 per cent of the housing stock consists of three-bed semi-detached homes.

Roibeárd O’Ceallaigh, senior executive officer in the county’s housing department said a recent survey of those on the housing list showed huge changes.

Household types have changed from the traditional family model, he said and Westmeath’s figures are in line with those nationally.

“If we were building houses, we’d be looking for a 50:50 mix between three-bed family units and two-bed smaller units,” he said.

In the meantime, he said it’s likely the local authority will have to consider offering three-bed semis to single people.

“If we only gave houses to families, a substantial percentage wouldn’t get a house,” he said. Over half of those on the housing list are in receipt of rent subsidies.

“Most are probably not really interested in housing but need to be on the housing list to get rent supplement,” he said.

The number of families and individuals waiting to be housed in the county at the end of February 2014 stood at 2,692, but Mr O’Ceallaigh says this is not a huge increase in real terms even though last May there were just 1,893 on the list.

He said hundreds of people failed to respond to the council’s review to confirm if they still want to remain on the list and many were “impossible to contact”.

“In reality it’s not a huge jump,” Mr O’Ceallaigh said, adding that many of those people have since made contact with the council and had their housing need and income assessed.

Almost three quarters of people looking to be housed are in Mullingar (38.4 per cent ) and Athlone (34.3 per cent ) with single digit numbers in Kinnegad and Moate.

Just one to two of those on the list are seeking accommodation in Castlepollard, Delvin, Kilbeggan, and Rochfortbridge.

Mr O’Ceallaigh said the council is meeting with housing agencies such as Tuath and Clúid to consider housing projects.

Because these organisations borrow to build or buy houses which are leased to councils, the figures for those loans are not on the national accounts.

Councils do not have money to build those houses because the Government is not providing it, but they may have land, Mr O’Ceallaigh said.

Just €45m has been made available nationally for niche housing projects, he said, for example for people with disabilities.

It may also be possible to secure a small number of houses through NAMA, but Mr O’Ceallaigh said they have received just four houses so far in Rathgowan and Mullingar.

He expects the NAMA avenue will be closed within the next couple of years but pointed out that providing social housing is a long way down NAMA’s list of priorities.

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