The number of families on Westmeath County Council housing lists soared by over 40 per cent between 2005 and March 2008, according to new figures released by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The Local Authority Social Housing Needs Assessment, published this week, reveals that in the three years between 2005 and 2008, the numbers on housing waiting lists in Westmeath rose from 408 to 581, an increase of 42 per cent.
The local authority exceeded the national average, which revealed that the overall number on housing waiting lists increased by 30 per cent over the three years, with a total of 56,000 households in need of social housing at the end of March this year.
Westmeath County Council was among a number of local authorities experiencing large increases. Others included Meath and Waterford county councils, Limerick City, Wexford Borough, and the town councils of Athlone, Tullamore, Trim, Athy, Cobh, Dungarvan, Enniscorthy, Fermoy, and New Ross.
However reductions in the need for social housing were noted in Kerry, Monaghan, and Tipperary South county councils, the town councils of Ballinasloe, Carrickmacross, Cashel, Castleblaney, Cavan, Kilrush, Letterkenny, Listowel and Westport, and also in Waterford City.
There was also significant variation between the different categories of need - for example the number of homeless households on the waiting lists decreased since 2005, while the special needs (older people and people with a disability ) households showed a substantial increase.
Announcing the figures, Minister for Housing Michael Finneran also highlighted a number of initiatives that will help meet the needs of households identified in the needs assessment, including the wider use of long term leasing arrangements and the Incremental Purchase Scheme, which will open up an avenue to home ownership for those on social housing waiting lists.
He added that the Government has been responding to the increased social housing need by expanding its social housing investment programme.
“Local authorities have, over the past number of years, recorded significant levels of housing output culminating in a record output of over 9,000 units in 2007. Indications are that the public housing programme will provide over 9,000 new dwellings again in 2008 through a combination of local authority construction and acquisition programmes, the programmes of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies, and by means of long term arrangements with private property owners under the Rental Accommodation Scheme.”
The Minister also pointed out that among the 56,000 households in need of social housing support, are some 21,000 currently in receipt of rent supplement assistance from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which will benefit from the improved standards for private rented accommodation recently announced by the Minister, due to come into force on 1 February 2009.
“While recognising the difficulties currently facing the public finances, the Government is committed to continued high levels of investment in the social housing sector, in order to sustain progress towards the target of meeting the needs of some 100,000 households over the period of the National Development Plan 2007-2013, through the range of social housing measures in place. The provision of over €1.5 billion for social housing in the 2009 Estimates is clear evidence of this,” the Minister concluded.