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Councillors demand more affordable housing

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COUNCIL NEEDED INDEPENDENT EVIDENCE Tom Gilligan, Mayo County Council.

Mayo County Council’s housing-provision record branded ‘disgraceful’

Oisín McGovern

COUNTY councillors have demanded that Mayo County Council take greater action to increase the availability of affordable houses.
Members of Mayo County Council’s Special Policy Committee on Housing said the council should assess how many people qualify for neither a mortgage nor social housing.
The idea was suggested by Independent Councillor Michael Kilcoyne, who labelled the number of social houses delivered by Mayo County Council in 2020 (17) as ‘disgraceful’.
“I believe Mayo County Council should have a list of people who are looking for affordable housing in the county,” said Cllr Kilcoyne. “In other words, people who are over the income limit of €25,000 but who cannot get a loan or a mortgage.
“To be honest with you, we shouldn’t have to be paying out a couple of hundred thousand to consultants to find this type of information for us. We should be able to do it ourselves.”

‘Blue in the face’
Cllr Christy Hyland agreed with Cllr Kilcoyne and said that the income threshold to apply for social housing should be raised.
Cllr Hyland argued that such a move would accommodate people who do not qualify for a mortgage for but who earn too much to apply for social housing.The Independent councillor said that such a move would be resisted by the opposition if the Government were to consider it.
“I’m blue in the face. The income band hasn’t been changed since 2011,” said Cllr Hyland, who represents the Westport-Belmullet municipal district.

‘Dogs on the street’
CLLRS Hyland and Kilcoyne both questioned why the council had hired KPMG Future Analytics to assist with an application for an affordable housing-scheme in Westport.
“Why do we need KPMG to come in here… to carry out a survey, at the cost of the taxpayer, regarding affordable housing? We have no records of people who have been refused mortgages who don’t qualify for social housing,” said Cllr Hyland.
“We have a huge need for affordable housing in our area. I can’t see why it’s getting so complicated,” the Westport-based councillor added, before citing public housing developments in his municipal area that had been built in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I can’t see why we can’t come into a green field site and build, as we did in the past… it’s absolutely ridiculous. The dogs on the street are barking about affordable housing.”

‘Value for money’
MAYO County Council officials defended the decision to employ KPMG, which is charging the local authority €4,380 for its services (excluding VAT).
Director of Services for Housing Tom Gilligan said the council needed the company’s services to provide independent evidence to the Department of Housing for their application.
Mr Gilligan explained that there were seven criteria for selection under the Affordable Housing Fund. These include evidence of an affordability challenge and a minimum population of 1,500 people in the local area.
He argued that the council required a greater level of detail than was provided by the housing-demand assessment carried out as part of the County Development Plan.
“If it [the KPMG report] gets us an affordable-housing scheme, I think we’re getting value for money,” he said.
Mr Gilligan added that the council would require legal advice before seeking information from people who had been denied mortgages but exceeded the income limit for social housing.
‘On hold’
Head of Housing with Mayo County Council Simon Shevlin said an application for 27 affordable houses at the old Convent of Mercy site in Westport was on hold until the KPMG report was completed.
Mr Shevlin said KPMG would be surveying income limits and future house prices as part of its report.
Referencing figures given by Mr Gilligan, Shevlin explained that affordable housing funding would mainly apply to houses valued at over €200,000.
Gilligan said that 565 properties of the 900 properties for sale in Mayo were valued at up to €200,000.
Shevlin said that the council would apply for a similar affordable-housing scheme in Ballina and Castlebar if its current application was successful.