A former Mayor of Galway has warned that Galway’s housing crisis "will multiply in the years ahead", unless the new Government introduces an affordable housing scheme with a substantial discount to buyers.
While the housing and accommodation crisis has been one of the chief issues in Ireland of recent years, Independent Galway City East councillor, Declan McDonnell has said that the Covid-19 pandemic will only exacerbate the problem.
He pointed to a report from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly showing Galway is set to be the worst hit of the State’s large urban areas, with 46.1 per cent of the city's commercial businesses in the sectors likely to feel the greatest economic impact of the pandemic.
He said families and individuals who have planned to buy a house will now not be able to do so after the pandemic owing to job losses and salary cuts. He also pointed out that while the main concentration of house provision by councils and the Government was on building social houses, an increasing number of people all no longer are earning enough to get a full mortgage, yet their incomes will still be above the threshold to qualify for social housing.
'Every site Galway City Council is involved in, from this point on, must have an element of affordable housing in it, or else we are going to become a State of renters rather than homeowners'
“There is a huge number of people already in this ‘no man’s land’," said Cllr McDonnell, "and that number is certain to rise. That’s why it is vital there is an affordable housing scheme that will make 40-50 per cent of all new sites, being developed by councils or voluntary bodies, available to people in the low-to-middle earnings bracket at a discount."
The last affordable housing scheme allowed people in certain middle income brackets the chance to purchase a new home from their local council, generally at a reduction of 25-35 per cent off the market value. In Galway city, a total of 595 such houses were provided between 1999 and 2009, peaking at 230 in 2006.
No affordable houses since 2009
However, no affordable houses have been provided in the city since 2009, and that scheme was finally scrapped in 2011. Details of a new scheme were published by the last Government more than two years ago, but Cllr McDonnell said it is still in limbo because the financial regulations, detailing the amount of the subsidy to be provided, had still not been finalised.
“That delay is inexcusable," he said. "No affordable houses can be built or bought until those financial regulations are passed down to local authorities, even though there is a crying need for them."
Councillors have tried to have secure a proportion of houses in two recent city developments - a 52-house one on the Monivea Road and a 58-house scheme in Ballybane - as affordable houses, but officials told them this was not possible as the money for them was coming from the Social Fund, which meant they all had to be social housing.
Cllr McDonnell argues that an all-social housing mix "does not work", and that a combination of social and affordable housing is better. “We must make sure that every site that Galway City Council and all the other local authorities are involved in, from this point on, must have an element of affordable housing in it, or else we are going to become a State of all renters rather than homeowners."