Allegations have been made that a mixture of “delay tactics”, no emergency planning, and a lack of finance in the Department of Housing are preventing 69 local authority houses from being built in Galway, as the city’s housing waiting list rises to almost 5,000 families.
The 69 proposed houses are located in the Knocknacarra area. Of these, 14 are located on the Ballymoneen Road, and were approved by the then Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, in May 2015. Despite this, and tenders having been received by the local authority almost six months ago, permission to go ahead with construction has yet been forthcoming.
According to Independent city councillor Declan McDonnell, the reason appears to lie within the finances of the Department of Housing - despite the department, and Housing Minister Simon Coveney, releasing a housing strategy - which made numerous references to the provision of social housing units in Galway- towards the end of last year.
“Minister Coveney has stated at meetings with Galway City Council officials and at a number of conferences I have attended, that his priority was to fast track housing across the State,” said Cllr McDonnell, “but speaking to local authority officials, I have discovered the reality is there is no finance, and I think this is why these houses have been delayed so long. Is the Minister simply making promises with monopoly money?”
Independent Galway West TD Cartherine Connolly has also slammed Minister Coveney, accusing him and his department of having no emergency plan that would allow Galway City Council to develop housing projects on the “vast amounts of land residential zoned land” that it owns.
The remaining 55 houses were promised in early 2016. Construction of these have been delayed as the Department is demanding the council increase housing density on the site from 55 to 60. Cllr McDonnell, a former Mayor of the city and chair of the Galway City Council Housing Committee, has called this “another delaying tactic”.
“While the Department continues to drag their heels, people in the city face escalating rents, a shortage of properties, and possible homelessness,” he said.
The overall situation has resulted in no social housing being built in Galway since 2008, despite the city’s housing waiting list standing at officially at 4,720 households - some of whom have been waiting since 2002 - although many would acknowledge that the figure has risen since that figure was published in September.
That figure does not include the 470 households in Rental Accommodation Scheme and long-term leasing, and the 180 households in receipt of Housing Assistance Payment, whose names have now been taken off the waiting list and put on a transfer list.
“These figures, and the absence of an emergency building program, bring into sharp focus the empty rhetoric of the Minister and the Department of Housing,” she said. “The plan, while referring over and over to the provision of social housing in Galway, belies the truth of the matter - n the guise of social housing the state is actively supporting and bolstering the private market under the HAP scheme. Applicants who have been on the waiting list for 10 and more years are now told they have no choice but to sign up to HAP, following which their name is removed from the housing waiting list.”
Dep Connolly said the “continued reliance on the private market to provide homes for our people” is both “scandalous” and is “intensifying the crisis”. She called for the4 city council to be provided with “sufficient funding” for an emergency building construction program, to include shared ownership schemes and co-operatives.
However, both Dep Connolly and Cllr McDonnell have pointed out, that the delay is such that, if the 69 houses were given planning permission now, they would not be ready until mid-way through next year - meaning a decade would have passed since the construction of social housing in the city.