Councillor claims homeless figures skewedby inclusion of Travellers

Families waiting more than 10 years for a local authority home in Galway are being passed over because of a short-sighted Government policy, the head of Galway City Council’s Housing Policy Committee has claimed.

Councillor Declan McDonnell said that while there were many genuine cases among the dozens of people in Galway registered as homeless, a substantial number were using the system to get priority for social housing allocation.

He pointed to new figures showing that Travellers account for more than 80% of those registered as homeless in County Galway and more than 50% of the homeless in Galway City. The figures were obtained from the local authorities by Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish.

“When you consider the fact that Travellers represent just 1.5% of the population of County Galway and 2.2% of the population of Galway City, and yet they make up the majority of those classified as homeless, it doesn’t make sense.

“It’s not like fifty years ago when you had substantial numbers of Travellers living on the side of the road and there was a genuine high level of homelessness among them,” said Cllr McDonnell.

He said that the Minister for Housing had back in January promised a new scheme that would promote the availability of affordable houses.

“We were told that would be published by now, but it hasn’t come. In the meantime, the Government has instructed that priority be given to those registered as homeless in the allocation of new housing.

“All they are doing is fighting one fire, while in the background people are being caught in the middle, people who have been ten years and more on the local authority waiting list are being passed over in favour of others who have only been there for a few months.

“It’s a short-sighted policy, when we don’t have another policy in place to help people who are being caught in the middle.

“Obviously there are many families who are genuinely homeless and urgently need accommodation, but there are a substantial number of others who are ‘gaming the system’, claiming to be homeless when in reality they are not.”

Cllr McDonnell insisted that he was not looking for Travellers to be treated differently that the rest of the community. “I’m looking for equal rights here for everyone.”

He warned that the current policy would lead to the creation of unbalanced housing estates and unsustainable communities.

“We have had this in two instances elsewhere in the county, where in one case four out of seven houses were allocated to Travellers.

“We cannot repeat this mistake in the city – It is vitally important that we continue to have balanced estates in Galway. There has to be integration, certainly, but it doesn’t have to be to the detriment of everybody else.”

Cllr McDonnell said that the current situation was not the fault of the staff of the local authorities. “This the deck of cards they have been dealt, this is government policy that they have to implement.”

He said the Government needed to act quickly to help people caught in the ‘middle income trap’, those earning between €35,000 and €60,000, who would never get a mortgage and they only way they would ever have a home of their own would be to get a subsidised house.

“There are groups of such people in Galway City willing to form a co-operative to build affordable houses for those in the middle income bracket and all they need is a site.

“There are others with low incomes who work with Galway City Partnership and want to build modular timber-frame houses at a cost of about €50,000 to €60,000 each for themselves using their skill, but again they need a subsidised site.

“The Credit Union has agreed to work with Galway City Partnership and to consider loans for these people and this would also take more people off the housing waiting list, but they need a serviced site. These guys are skilled lads, between them they would build the houses themselves – the houses come in packs – and they would bring the costs down by doing it this way.

“We had dozens of homes built in a similar way in places like the Monivea Road, in Glenina Heights and Meadow Grove back in the 1970s when co-ops got land cheaply and built their own homes. This is in its infancy at the moment, but it shows that there are ideas out there that need red tape lifted,” said Cllr McDonnell.