€30 million budget to solve Laois council housing crisis over next two years

€25m to build council houses, and €5m buying up vacant Laois properties

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Email:

lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie

€30 million budget to solve Laois council housing crisis over next two years

Conniberry Way in Portlaoise, the only council estate in the town under construction.

Laois County Council has a huge budget to solve the housing crisis over the next two years.

With 1,606 people waiting for a council house in Laois at the last count in October, the local authority has revealed it will spend €30 million in the next two years buying and building homes.

Laois County Council’s housing acquisition programme will spend €4.5 million of state granted cash, buying up existing homes or buildings and making them ready for new tenants.

Their housing construction programme has the unprecedentedly huge budget of €25 million, all state granted, to build new council homes.

There will be another €300k spent in improvement works to Local Authority houses. Another €555k will be spent on an Energy Efficiency programme for council houses.

The Capital Programme runs from 2018 to 2020.

The council CEO John Mulholland said that their existing aim, to deliver 366 homes between 2015 and 2017, is “making steady progress”.

Those homes are being added to the council’s stock of about 2,000 homes, through a mix of buying, building, leasing, re-letting vacant homes, and rent payments for tenants in private accommodation in the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

They plan four actions to deliver more houses.

These are firstly to purchase sites and lands in Portlaoise, Portarlington and other areas by Compulsory Purchase if and when appropriate.

The Laois authority will also work closely with Approved Housing Bodies to deliver more homes.

It will also prepare housing scheme master plans in order to apply for government funding to build them, and also explore the possibility of “turnkey projects” whereby the council works with private developers to create new council housing estates on private owned land.

Homelessness management and prevention in Laois has a budget of €290,000 to spend in 2018.

The council will also spend almost €3 million maintaining its council units in 2018, up by €331k from 2017. This includes an extra €211k to raise fire standards to meet new regulations.

On his recent visit to Laois, Minister of State for Housing Damien English urged Laois County Council to apply for government cash to buy vacant homes, develop turnkey projects and build houses on their lands.

““I’m at a loss driving around towns and villages and seeing vacant properties,” he said.

However he was told by Cllr Willie Aird that the council owned very little banks of land in Portlaoise that it could build houses on.

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald said that people on low to middle incomes earn too much to qualify for a council home, but too little for a mortgage, left in “no-man’s land”.

“I would love to see if we could buy sites for people to build on,” she suggested.

Banks own many private vacant houses, Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley said.

“In Kilminchy there is a vast amount vacant, banks are sitting on them, the same banks we bailed out. They turfed people out, gave them no writedown, and the local authority is now trying to fund them in private rented accommodation,” she said.

“It’s a myth that thousands of people were put out of their homes by banks,” Deputy English told her.

He suggests the Mortgage to Lease scheme “for people in unsustainable mortgages”.

“It uses private funding to buy up houses and lease them back for 30 to 40 years through councils, so people can live there for the rest of their lives,” he said.