The issue of housing shortages raised its head again at this month’s meeting of Westmeath County Council.
Councillors spoke of men, women, and children being forced out of their homes by rising rents that they cannot meet, and warned that the situation will have reached crisis proportions if action is not taken by Christmas.
Speaking in the aftermath of the meeting, Councillor Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said: “This is something that I have tabled on three occasions in the council chamber. The amount of people coming to us day to day with problems is in relation to housing. Back between two and five years ago the Government introduced a long-term leasing scheme, and most local authorities around the country adopted it.
“The conditions have changed since then. Landlords are now calling these people telling them they need more rent. When I say more rent I mean exhorbitant amounts of money. What is worrying me is that I don’t believe the local authority will be able to meet those rents. In some cases people are going from €500 up to €900 or €1,000. I have a few people in the last couple of weeks coming to me terrified.
“These people, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in the position of having nowhere to live.”
Cllr Moran says that the rise in rent demands cannot be solely laid at the feet of the landlord: “Renting has all changed. It is not the landlord’s fault, it is the Government’s fault. They won’t increase the rent subsidy. They are leaving things solely to the local authorities who can’t raise the amounts that the landlords want.
“We are left with a huge dilemma. I think the situation will come to a head towards the end of October and up until Christmas. Until the subsidy is raised the problem will get worse and worse.”
Cllr Moran says that the time for talking is over and that urgent action is needed to solve the issue: “I am sick of raising the issue at every meeting. I have said that we need to sit down with the council and put a plan in place. There has been enough talking around the issue. Let’s just get things moving. If it means allowing private developers to come in and take over the building side of it, let’s do it.
“We have so many empty shop units around town, units that have been empty for 10, 12, and 14 years. I am saying to the council, let’s look at the town development plan. Let’s convert those places into living accommodation and let people live there. Those premises would provide good living and it would be healthy for the centre of the town as well in terms of activity there. It is a win-win situation.
“The longer we talk, the higher the figures start to rise. I feel if this problem is not dealt with it will continue to escalate, and I can see it being a huge issue on the doorsteps come the General Election.”
Cllr Moran made reference to the possibility of Ireland welcoming more refugees from Syria into the country. While he acknowledges that Ireland must do its part in the humanitarian crisis, he believes the country must put more effort into solving the situation on its own doorstep before being able to play its part in world affairs.
“Minister Fitzgerald is talking about taking in more refugees from Syria. By all means we need to play our part. But the reality is we are doing it to our own people. We are not even looking out for our own. These people are in this position through no fault of their own. It is society, councils, government that have let people down.
“We don’t have derelict housing in Athlone in terms of big housing estates. What we do have is massive land banks in the council. I am saying to the council to ask a developer to come on board because they will build them a lot cheaper than the council can.”