Independent Councillor Kevin “Boxer” Moran has warned that the housing crisis in Westmeath is “a ticking time bomb that will explode” if action is not taken to combat the situation.
Councillor Moran delivered his assessment after the housing executive delivered a presentation to a meeting of the county council last week regarding the plan for social housing.
The executive informed those in attendance that the council is aiming to provide 850 social housing units to the county by 2020 in order to combat the ongoing housing crisis in the region. The strategy is broken down into two clearly defined periods, the first from 2015 to 2017, and the second from 2018 to 2020.
Between houses built by the local authority, purchases, vacancies, and the Capital Assistance Scheme, the council is targeting 148 new houses by 2017 and a further 143 by 2020, bringing the total to 291.
Between leasing and the rental accommodation scheme, the council hopes to secure 394 houses by 2017 and a further 165 by 2020, 559 in total. That brings the total of new houses by 2020 to an ambitious 850 at a cost of a little under €30 million.
As part of the plan, €5.1m has already been approved for the construction of a site at the Ashdale estate comprising 28 houses. There are plans for a second site at Ashdale for a further 20 homes, as well as building six more in Battery Heights.
In 2014, the county council spent €750,000 on 86 units, putting the cost per unit at €8,720. To date this year, €612,057 has been spent on acquiring 52 units. The average turnaround period between the local authority acquiring a house and handing over the keys to new owners is between six and eight weeks.
Councillor Moran said he saw nothing new in the report: “There is nothing new here to ease the pressure on people or on councillors. I was hoping to hear something different today. Since 2007 millions have been spent on leasing and RAS schemes. Can we not approach a developer and work with them to find a solution to all of this?”
Councillor Moran said it was the present Government who created the high rent prices that exist today: “The Taoiseach said we are not going back to boom times, but we are and the Government are the ones that have created these high rent prices. The housing situation is a ticking time bomb that is going to explode.”
Westmeath County Council director of services, David Hogan, said that the council are aware of the serious nature of the housing crisis, and have outlined an ambition plan to tackle it head on. He said the target of 542 houses by 2017 was a “enormous challenge” that conveys how seriously the council is treating the situation.