The housing department at the Galway City Council is understaffed, overworked, and unable to meet demands, according to a number of city councillors.
The division of City Hall responsible for managing the housing list and needs of the most vulnerable in the city is struggling to manage all aspects of its department.
The growing need for social housing in the city is becoming a major issue for the council as it is unable to process applications, or prepare houses for new tenants in a reasonable amount of time.
There was a total of 371 homeless people in the city in 2011 according to a report issued by the council. The figure included four families. The spiralling number of people on the housing list is proving difficult for City Hall to manage, with almost 5,000 currently waiting for social housing.
The issue was discussed at Monday’s city council meeting where Independent councillor Declan McDonnell said: “In my 21 years I’ve never seen them work under such difficulties, people should be transferred from other sections if they are not busy. The housing department is under huge stress.”
In relation to the turnover of vacant properties Cllr McDonnell said “This work must be carried out to protect those most vulnerable in our society.”
Staffing in the housing department is of great concern to councillors who recognise that staff are under immense strain. “It’s not the fault of the council that people have to wait 12 weeks to process applications,” said Labour councillor Collette Connolly. “We need to be able to turn applications around in one month.”
Fine Gael councillor Padraig Conneely added: “The list is getting longer, and more houses are being boarded up.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane feared that the problem could become uncontrollable. “We’re giving no hope to people,” he said. “If the trend continues we could see that figure in the region of 6,000, otherwise people will be on the list the rest of their lives.”
Councillors were unimpressed with comments from the housing department which estimated that 80 per cent of people are on the list “merely to receive housing supplement”, and are “adequately housed”. Director of services Kevin Swift commented: “The majority of people are accurately housed in the private rental sector.”
Staffing restraints are preventing the council from hiring additional staff, however under the Croke Park agreement the council is entitled to move staff from other departments. Cllr Keane said “We have been asked to tread with caution with the relocation of staff from an industrial relations point of view.”