Connolly accuses other councillors of doing a ‘U turn’ on housing

No penalties will be taken against anyone who accepts a house in the new scheme from the Galway City Council and Clúid and it will not result in these tenants having to come off the waiting list.

This is the view of Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh, who secured these clauses into an arrangement which will see City Hall lease 57 affordable houses to the voluntary housing body Clúid.

However Independent councillor Catherine Connolly has criticised the deal, saying it will leave tenants more vulnerable than protected.

At a meeting in January, City Hall officials proposed to lease 57 empty houses to the Clúid Housing Association for a period of five years.

However concerns were expressed about the proposal regarding how it would affect tenants’ rights and their place on the waiting list. As a result, councillors deferred a decision to allow the Department of the Environment to study an alternative option of City Hall purchasing the houses for use as social housing.

The issue came up for discussion again at this week’s council meeting and councillors were informed that the Department was “not agreeable to this suggestion”. Councillors were disappointed by the Government response, leading Fine Gael’s Brian Walsh to comment: “The Government can find the money for the banks and for NAMA but it cannot come up with a relatively small sum of €6.5 million to provide much needed social housing”.

However Cllr Walsh was concerned that 57 houses in the city should not be left vacant. He also said it was costing City Hall €40,000 a month in loan interest to service the debt associated with the houses.

“This money has to come out of the housing budget and if we don’t resolve this we run the risk of maintenance and disability grants being cut back,” he said. As a result a majority of councillors gave approval to the council leasing the houses to Clúid.

Independent councillor Catherine Connolly was bitterly critical of the decision and accused her fellow councillors of doing a “U turn” on the issue, saying it makes “no sense whatsoever” to hand over to Clúid for five years.

“What happens after that is entirely unclear except for very vague proposals in relation to either the voluntary body retaining the houses, the houses reverting to the city council and, or, the tenants buying them out,” she said.

Cllr Connolly said that there is a clause in the proposal that tenants who did not accept an offer of these houses would be penalised. She also said that once tenants are placed in the houses they will be “removed from the housing waiting list with just a verbal promise that the city council will look after them”.

However Cllr Walsh has described her reaction as “the same old nonsense from Catherine Connolly”. He said his proposal included two conditions - that no penalty was to be taken against anyone who refused as this offer is “voluntary and short term”, and that anyone who accepts an offer would be “given credit on the housing waiting list” in lieu of time spent in the Clúid house.

“They key thing is that they will not be taken off the waiting list and they will not be disadvantaged by the acceptance of the offer,” he said. This was accepted and approved by councillors.

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