1,400 wait for council houses

Laois County Council has over 2,000 houses rented out across the county, but it does not have anywhere near enough homes to house everyone on their waiting list,.

Laois County Council has over 2,000 houses rented out across the county, but it does not have anywhere near enough homes to house everyone on their waiting list,.

The number of applicants approved and waiting for a house to rent stands at 1,400, made up of individuals and families, but it was even higher last year.

“That number has dropped in the last 18 months from 1,750. We have reassessed applications, and a lot of people have either left or their circumstances have changed,” said a council housing official.

Construction of new council houses does not look likely either.

“The Capital budget for the provision of social units through construction/acquisition has reduced dramatically over the last number of years. The budget for 2013 has not been confirmed by the Department of the Environment,” the official said.

The council also provide social housing through leasing arrangements with private landlords, but figures on this were not made available.

The scheme means private houses are leased long term and then let out to council tenants. It has been criticised as “dead money” by Laois Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who claims to €700 million is being spent yearly by the government renting houses from private owners.

“Not alone is this dead money, but there is a time bomb with leasing arrangements. On top of paying about 75,000 to rent a house over a ten year lease, after that time that house has to be returned to the developer in pristine condition, there is going to be a huge bill, and a tenant to house, the raw economics are not good,” he said.

He says the time is right to build local authority estates now when material, labour and land is so much cheaper.

“We want well planned housing estates built with purpose. Services, infrastructure and community must be at the core of any social housing plan - not the fast buck politics of public private partnerships,” he said.

Dep Stanley suggests also that where developers have abandoned unfinished estates, and local authorities have to pay to finish them, that empty houses should be given to them in lieu of a bond, thus increasing their stock of houses.

“That would solve many problems, and get rental income for the local authority. The big point is there are tens of thousands of empty houses, and tenants on waiting lists, there has to be a match here,” he said.

He praised the good construction and design of local authority estates built by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, in the 30’s and 50’s, such as the Marian estates in Portlaoise, and Harbour Street in Mountmellick.

“These were massive building programmes, long term that is more sustainable,” he said.