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Businesses forced to house their staff

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‘IT’S A GREAT TOWN TO LIVE IN’ Westport businessman Tom Bourke.

Oisín McGovern

MORE and more hospitality businesses in Westport are having to supply accommodation for their staff due to the shortage of housing in the area.
The housing situation has become so dire locally that local businessman Tom Bourke decided to take matters into his own hands. Bourke, who owns the Towers Bar and Restaurant and the adjoining Westport Towers apartments, decided to switch eight of his apartments from short-term stays to long-term accommodation for his staff.
Mr Bourke told The Mayo News that young people are finding it ‘next to impossible’ to rent a property in the area. At time of writing, there was just one property in Westport town listed for long-term letting on Daft.ie.
“The turnover on getting apartments ready for short-term stays outweighed the positives for me. We are so busy in the bar and the restaurant, so that [providing staff accommodation] took the pressure off us, going long-term,” Mr Bourke explained.
“The majority of them [apartments], believe it or not, I have staff in them, because accommodation is so hard to get in Westport.”

‘Who you know’
Speaking to this newspaper as part of our analysis of the Westport property market, Bourke said many young people are being forced to move out of the area to secure affordable accommodation.
He said that securing a place to rent in Westport has become ‘about who you know’.
“You need to have an inside line on a property, somebody that knows somebody, because once it goes online or goes up for rent, you are paying €1,200 plus a month,” he said.
“It’s hard enough to get staff, never mind accommodation. Unfortunately, I have had to use my accommodation for my staff. I have also given it to a couple of young couples that I know fairly well.
“It keeps the town alive when you are keeping young people around; it’s important for the whole community. If we can’t help our young people what have we? They’re the future.
“It’s a great town to live in, it’s a mighty town, it’s great craic, it has an awful lot going for it. It’s not fair really for [young people],” he added.

Knock-on effect
THE staffing issues in hospitality are directly linked to the housing crisis, according to local hotelier Darren Madden.
Speaking to The Mayo News earlier this year Madden, who is Chairperson of the Mayo Branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, said the shortage of affordable housing in Westport is having a knock-on impact on local hotels’ ability to get enough staff.
Like Tom Bourke, he has taken properties off Airbnb to rent to employees.
“If we’d more affordable housing in Westport, we’d have less of these problems, but then you see housing developments getting shot down and you have to wonder,” he added.
Several local county councillors have claimed that people have been refused employment in the Westport area due to the accommodation shortage.
Mayo County Council’s Director of Services for Housing Tom Gilligan said the lack of affordable housing is ‘hurting’ the Mayo economy.
“I have heard countless stories of people who have secured job offers only to turn them down because they couldn’t secure the necessary accommodation,” he told The Mayo News.

‘Significant challenge’
Pat Aylward of Atlantic Property Management told this newspaper the lack of building in the town has been very constrictive.
“There has been no building here at all the last 12 years,” he commented. “One company I know that started in Westport a few years ago employs 16 people … where is the accommodation that is being built for those 16 people?”
Westport Chamber of Commerce President Helen Gavin said the lack of long-term accommodation was ‘a challenge’ for local economies all over the country.
“There are a number of vacant/derelict properties within the town which I believe are a far greater drain on our local economy, and I would encourage anyone with a long-term vacant/disused property to consider selling it on or renting it out,” she said in a statement to The Mayo News.
“In addition to this, as I understand it, a recent housing development for the town was refused planning at a time when we are in a housing crisis. I don’t know the circumstances around the refusal, but over-regulation and significant delays in the planning process for the development of commercial or domestic property has been a significant challenge and has definitely delayed growth for a number of organisations as they scale,” she added.