Fifteen prefabricated units are to be built and become operational in Westside in September as the Galway City Council bids to stem the city’s housing crisis.
The modular family hub, which will be operated by the Fr Peter McVerry Trust, will be located behind Westside library and will consist of a mix of two and three bedroom residences of 50 to 70 square metres in size.
The units will have a lifespan of five years but officials are hoping to wind them down in three years as other further longer term housing solutions become available.
The Galway City Council chief executive, Brendan McGrath, told the chamber at a special meeting on Monday that he had used his emergency powers to speed up the process so that the units could come online as soon as possible.
Mr McGrath said; “[I felt] Triggering the emergency powers is the quickest and most expedient way to move the plan forward. My focus is on the 307 adults and 98 children [who are in emergency accommodation], getting them out of intolerable conditions of hotels and B&Bs where there is no washing or cooking solutions so families are forced to eat fast food.
It is an unhealthy lifestyle. It is a stressful environment [for these families]. Use of these emergency powers enables [the process] to be fast-tracked. I would love to be in an environment where we could debate this but let’s call a spade a spade, I would have meet with different proposals.”
While all councillors acknowledged the seriousness of the housing crisis, many in the chamber raised concerns over the use of executive powers and the level of consultation with them.
Galway city central councillor Mark Lohan described the use of emergency powers as “dysfunctional”.
Cllr Lohan said; “I consider the chief executive using the emergency powers as dysfunctional. Only three members could attend Friday’s last minute meeting [on the project]. If this was two months in the making, why were we briefed in such away? It should be voted on like any other project.”
Independent councillor Mike Cubbard said; “We all knows there is a homeless crisis. We deal with it daily. No notice period? With respect we don’t know what the design will be. Obviously no consultation has taken place with businesses or residents. Regardless what we say [here] this has been already stamped.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Ollie Crowe criticised the lack of consultation with councillors on the project.
Cllr Crowe said; “Zero consultation with public reps. I very disappointed. To be emailed at 12 noon on Thursday, I don’t think it’s acceptable. In any man’s language, it is not acceptable and is a damning indictment of local democracy.”
Fine Gael councillor Pearce Flannery welcomed the news, asking the chamber why there was some criticism of the chief executive’s plan.
Cllr Flannery said; “I don’t know why there is negativity towards this. Is it a solution? No, but it isn’t being portrayed like this. I’d say the majority of the 54 families with an opportunity to get out of the hotels, will jump at the chance. I think it is a good idea. I reiterate, it is not a solution but it will alleviate some of the misery families find themselves in.”
Galway city west councillor concurred with Cllr Flannery’s assessment saying, “It is not the silver bullet. Whatever about political point scoring over who caused this [housing crisis]. We need to think about the people involved, that is who we should be focusing. This is a much better option for those in the worst despair. Having listened intently during this debate, it is no surprise why he has triggered his emergency.”
The chamber was told that the units are likely to cost in excess of €2 million, which will include purchase, construction, and installation at the site in Westside.