Minister queried over delay in building social housing

A Galway TD has tabled a Dáil question seeking answers from the Minister for Housing on why his Department is effectively holding up the building of 55 badly needed social houses in Galway City.

Deputy Noel Grealish said the go-ahead for the houses in Knocknacarra, signalled this time last year, has been stalled by a Department officials seeking to squeeze five more houses into the site.

The issue has been described by City Councillor Declan McDonnell, who is chairman of the City Council’s housing committee, as “a disgrace”.

Cllr McDonnell said that at a time when more than 4,700 families were on a waiting list for housing in the city, it was ridiculous that the building of the houses by the council on the Ballymoneen Road should be delayed.

“This time last year we were told by the City Council’s Director of Services that Department approval had been given for building 14 houses on Ballymoneen Road.

“And he had been given verbal approval for the building of another 55 houses on the adjoining site, for which he expected written confirmation by last Christmas.

“Now, nine months in to this year, tenders have only just come in for the building of the 14 houses, which means no building of any house will take place before 2017.

“Worse still, the Director of Services — who has had umpteen consultations with the department on the building of the other 55 houses — has been told he now has to do a feasibility study to find out can we fit in another five houses on that site.”

Cllr McDonnell, who chairs the City Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on housing, said the upshot of this was that the extra houses were unlikely to be built before 2019.

“It’s ridiculous, all this will do is hold everything up — at a time when Housing Minister Simon Coveney is saying he will do everything to fast-track houses, his officials are just placing blockages in the way.

“We now have a situation that for eight years not a single social house will have been built in Galway, from 2010 to 2017.”

Cllr McDonnell added that it would be years before any real progress would be made on reducing the waiting list.

“The current wait for people on the lists is 13 years in the westside of the city and 11 on the eastside. And if we are only going to get 69 social houses  in the next three years, there is no hope of a dent being made on the waiting list.”

He said that it was projected that some of the slack would be taken up by the voluntary sector, and an estimated 518 houses would be provided in the next four years, between organisations like Cluid and Respond, and the local authority.

“But 500-odd as against a waiting list of almost 5,000, that’s just 10 per cent of the waiting list.”

Cllr McDonnell said an indication of the pressure on the rental market was the experience of a woman in Ballybane who recently advertised two rooms for rent — and received an avalanche of enquiries, 124 in all, within two hours, mostly from students and their parents desperately seeking somewhere to stay.

Deputy Noel Grealish, who has tabled a Dáil question on the hold-up of approval for the City Council houses in Knocknacarra, said that the problem of homelessness and the waiting list for housing was as bad in Galway as it is in Dublin, relative to its population.

“I have asked the Minister to explain why a barrier is being placed in the way of these badly needed houses at such a crucial time, and what steps he plans to take to solve the crisis in Galway and other cities outside of Dublin,” added Deputy Grealish.