Council opts to narrow location choices for housing list applicants

Applicants for social housing face new restrictions on where they choose to live following a decision to reconfigure the number of areas of choice within the county.

There are currently 2,700 applicants on the Galway County Council housing list. Of those 450 are ‘crossovers’ who would also live in either of the two areas cited in the city. A further 700 applicants from the city have said they would take a tenancy in the county.

Applicants are currently given the option of selecting from 56 areas of choice (two of those are in the city) and can express three preferred places they would live to live.

However, in order to secure Government funding for the provision of social housing, the local authority this week agreed to reduce that number to just 14.

Some councillors expressed consternation at the new restrictions. Cllr Karey McHugh in particular wasn’t happy that Tuam was not a stand-alone area of choice and that applicants in that locality could now be housed anywhere in Williamstown, Corofin, Kilconly, Milltown or Tuam town.

She said that the majority of applicants had put Tuam as their first choice and that expecting people to move to Kilconly or Milltown wasn’t going to work, as it could mean changing schools, having to adapt to a different community as well as having to deal with “legacy issues.”

She said she couldn’t support it but later following an explanation from Director of Services for Corporate Services and Housing, Michael Owens and a debate, the changes were adopted.

Mr Owens explained that it made more sense for reduce the areas of choice by including more areas together as one but he did stress that people’s preference and needs, as in which schools their children attended, were taken into account where possible.

He explained that the fewer areas of choice meant it would be easier to administer, that they could meet applicants sooner, access information as in priority and status on the housing list and reduce the cycle from the current three year to one year.

In other words, every applicant’s housing needs will now be assessed on an annual basis and anyone on the list for eight years or more would be met by the housing liaison officer and reassessed in the next few months. Applicants were given two weeks to accept an offer and refusing two offers in any continuous period of a year means they lose their place in the queue.

Cllr Tom McHugh thought two weeks was too long and should be shortened to ensure no premises was vacant for too long but Mr Owens said that was a reasonable period to allow paperwork to be completed.

Cllr Joe Byrne said the Council could solve Gort’s housing problem by building a housing scheme on a 30 acre site in their ownership.

Cllr Tim Broderick said the Council was already “mollycoddling” people and that young families around the county drove distances to school and work while paying mortgages they were struggling to pay.

Headford is a stand-alone area of choice with 103 on the housing list there. The Aran Islands is also on its own with eleven on the list.

But the island of Inishbofin doesn’t feature at all on the Council’s areas of choice. Cllr Eileen Mannion was told that anyone from the island would be offered a tenancy in Clifden, Leenane, Letterfrack or Roundstone.

Cllr Ivan Canning suggested the Council acquire vacant properties around the county, either those in NAMA or boarded up and abandoned.

He said it was a shame the number of half-finished housing estates around the county that could be included in the council’s housing stock.

“It’s a huge waste of money buying land to build new houses when there are so many vacant houses about, boarded up and closed up, not to mentioned the half-finished estates.

“It’s not good enough either that our own houses can be left empty for up to three years before a new tenant is moved in when the work involved could be done in three weeks,” he told the meeting.