Over 2,400 people linger on the waiting list for accommodation in Kilkenny as the housing situation continues to stretch council services beyond their limit.
At September’s meeting of Kilkenny County Council, several councillors described situations they had encountered in their constituencies in which people are living in sub-standard housing. As of the end of August, the number of people on the housing list was 2,402, with the vast majority of these (over 1,400 people) seeking somewhere to live in Kilkenny City.
Other areas of high demand include Callan (100 people),Thomastown (88), Castlecomer (66), Piltown (43) and Kilmacow (37). While many of these people are on the housing list only in order to claim rent supplement and are in good quality private housing, the council has acknowledged there is a problem.
Director of services John McCormack said that in Kilkenny City, there is a serious shortage of private rental accomodation, coupled with the lack of new housing units under construction was exacerbating things.
“It’s a very challenging situation,” he said.
Several seasoned councillors have testified that the situation is as bad as they have ever seen it.
“I would describe the situation as ‘pure crisis’,” said Cllr Matt Doran.
“I have never seen it in such demand. We are going to have to come up with some alternatives.”
Councillors at last week’s meeting heard that two in every three people presenting themselves to council housing services are in the 21-40 age category. The reasons behind homelessness are varied, with substance misuse issues and relationship breakdown often cited, but the council has also said more recently it is seeing more people with financial issues such as mortgage difficulties and repossession.
The local authority has 2,157 accommodation units to meet housing need, along with 483 RAS units and 76 leased units with private landlords or voluntary housing associations. This doesn’t include other accommodation services such as the Good Shepherd Centre, the Amber Refuge, or units provided by parish voluntary housing associations.
Under the council’s capital programme, a number of projects are currently being managed around the county by the housing section. These include a small number of one-off rural cottages, job stimulus packages through small housing schemes, and house adaptations.
One of the ways through which the local authorities were accommodating people was the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). Since the inception of the scheme in 2005, hundreds of applicants have been housed in both private and voluntary units. However, the number of landlords willing to take part in RAS has dwindled in recent years as the private market is proving generally more lucrative.
Local Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan has said the crisis will not be resolved until a change is made to incentivise landlords to rent to council tenants. He says RAS, as it currently stands, isn’t fit for purpose.
“The rate paid to landlords needs to be urgently reviewed upwards so that our local authorities can compete with the private rental market,” said Deputy Phelan.
“We need to urgently look at properties in NAMA in this region and carry out the necessary works on suitable units so they can be occupied immediately. Why have houses and apartments empty when they could be used?
“The council has land all over this county and we need to examine which plots could be developed. This is a more long-term solution as those units most likely would not come on stream for up to two years.”