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‘A sad state of affairs’


Councillors slam council’s construction record and lack of affordable housing

Oisín McGovern

Due to a lack of affordable housing in Mayo, many young couples are considering leaving their jobs or are unable to take up employment, according to councillors at a special housing meeting of Mayo County Council.  The lack of affordable houses for couples on average incomes was one of several housing  issues raised during the meeting, which ran for nearly two-and-a-half hours.  
The seriousness of the housing situation was underlined by the decision to convene another special council meeting on housing in September.
Despite the insistence by Cathaoirleach Cllr Richard Finn that such meetings only be convened in exceptional circumstances, a motion by Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne to arrange another meeting on the topic received unanimous support from the other councillors.
Cllr Christy Hyland told the meeting that one constituent had asked him if he would be considered for social housing if he left his job.
The Westport-based councillor said: “Isn’t it a sad state of affairs? This man is in a good job… but to be asked a question like that…. And there are many couples asking that question. There’s seriously something wrong that people are seriously thinking of leaving their employment in my area to get a roof over their heads.”
The Independent councillor also claimed that people who had been offered jobs in Westport were refusing to take them up due to a lack of housing in the area.
“The affordable scheme that was announced two weeks ago, that’s no good to the couple [earning] between €30,000 to €50,000. What planet is the department living on?” he added.
Fellow Westport councillor Peter Flynn said that people who were earning between €25,000 and €30,000 and did not qualify for social housing had been ‘completely forgotten about’.

Cllr Flynn went on to describe Mayo County Council’s record on new-housing construction over the past five years as ‘abysmal’,
The Fine Gael councillor was reacting to figures that revealed that the council had delivered a total of 160 houses since 2016 – an average of 32 houses per year.
He described the figure as ‘unacceptable’ given that housing was managed by seven different council offices and received €6 million in annual funding.
“People wonder why councils are losing more power; I can see why Government are taking the easy option and centralising all of this. If we don’t up our game, sadly, I can see housing being taken away from us,” he added.
Cllr Flynn also echoed Cllr Kilcoyne’s query as to why Mayo County Council had not applied for a Government-sponsored Serviced Site Fund for affordable housing when it was introduced in 2018.

Criteria blamed
Simon Shevlin from the council’s housing department said that the local authority had not been allowed to apply for the scheme, as Mayo did not meet the criteria applied by the Department of Housing.
Mr Shevlin said an application for the scheme was currently being prepared for a new housing development in Westport.
Responding to another query from Cllr Kilcoyne, Mr Shevlin clarified that 79 loans under Rebuilding Ireland had been approved by the council, while 45 were refused, from 2018 to 2021. This figure contradicts a figure given to the Dáil by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien that Mayo County Council had refused 79 loans approved only 45.
Mr Shevlin cited the 59-week long application process as one of the reasons for the slow delivery on housing in the previous years.
He also stated that 78 houses were currently ‘on site’ with another 217 at various stages in the construction process.