A stand off between Mayo County Council and a voluntary housing body in Claremorris which has seen five houses left vacant for a year and a half has been described as 'disgraceful' and 'unacceptable' this week.
Independent councillor Richard Finn raised the issue at a meeting of Mayo County Council's Housing Strategic Policy Committee this week and called for the situation to be sorted out as soon as possible.
The issue has come about because the operators of a voluntary housing scheme in the town have failed to accept what Mayo County Council has described as a 'fair' rent for the properties, and have refused to allow the tenants to move into the houses, despite their being allocated to the five tenants.
Cllr Finn speaking at the meeting this week said: "We have the situation in Claremorris that a voluntary housing body is refusing to make any effort to negotiate and collaborate with Mayo County Council in relation to the rents. It's a disgrace, that five different people are waiting on the sideline for the last 18 months, because Mayo County Council and this voluntary housing body cannot come to terms in relation to a rent for these houses. The houses are provided 95 per cent at State cost, yet these house agencies are refusing to pass over the tenancy of the houses to the clients who are waiting for housing for a year and half. The houses are complete and they can't get their houses, because the voluntary housing authority will not adhere to the State guidelines in relation to the rental accommodation scheme. We're in a crazy situation where the voluntary housing body are effectively looking for the market price for rent. If I built a house and got 95 per cent State funding, it would be very difficult for me to expect that I would get the commercial rent to rent these houses, it's gone beyond a joke."
Director of services for Mayo County Council, Paul Benson, told the committee: "It's an issue we're unhappy with, we've tried to tackle and unfortunately we didn't get the co-operation we were hoping for from the voluntary housing body, there wasn't a meeting of minds as to what would be the appropriate rent for these houses. We have put forward proposals to that body, based on their expenditure and the income that they need to run that scheme, and we've suggested rents that we think are reasonable and they have been unwilling to accept those rents. They are charging far higher rents, we don't think that's acceptable and it has come to a stalemate. There was a similar situation in Dublin that has been resolved with the intervention of a mediator, now the same mediator who dealt with it in Dublin, John O'Connor, who is the chief executive of the Housing Agency has agreed to mediate in relation to the issue in Claremorris. He has been down, he has seen the scheme and spoken to Clar, we have suggested two dates, but neither of them were suitable for them to meet and we will arrange alternative dates. We met with John last week at a housing confrence and we gave him some details from the council's point of view, and he was going to try and meet with them and formally start the process, and out of that something will hopefully come. I agree with you it's unacceptable the houses are lying empty, but for me a housing authority is there to house people and rent should be a secondary consideration and that's not the case in this case. The rents we are proposing are perfectly acceptable we believe on that scheme, and should be accepted and if mediation fails, there are legal avenues available to the council and we would prefer not to have to go down those."
Cllr Finn asked what sort of solutions the council offered to the agency to try to get the problem sorted. Mr Benson replied: "What we have offered is we have asked them to allow those tenants in at a rent we think is appropriate, if an arbitrator or mediator down the line determines we were unreasonable with the rents we were offering and they actually get the rents they were looking for or something close to it, we would then retrospectively pay them the balance. That is in writing to them and that has not been accepted by them."