Deputy Connolly said the failure by the City Council to build one single public house since 2009 has greatly exacerbated the crisis. The City Council is now attempting to rectify this situation by taking a number of initiatives including the provision of approximately 60 houses by direct build, approximately 70 through turn-key developments, and a small number of other houses through a public/private arrangement. Even with all of these initiatives however, the sum total of houses to be provided will be less than 250, and of those, only 14 will come on stream in 2018 or 2019, with no start or completion date for the remainder.
Deputy Connolly said that while the plan for these houses is very welcome it comes nowhere near meeting the current demand for public housing: there are currently approximately 5,000 households on the housing waiting list in Galway, which is approximately 15,000 people, some of whom are waiting since 2002 for an offer of a house.
In addition to the failure to build social housing, the government’s reliance on the private market to address a public need is simply not working. Indeed, said Deputy Connolly, the number of private houses available to rent has reached its lowest point in over a decade. Moreover the latest report from Daft.ie shows a major jump in rental costs in the city and county. Rent prices in Galway are 25% over levels recorded a decade ago, while the average monthly rent for a 1-bed apartment in the city is 12.2% higher than it was last year; and 14.3% higher in County Galway.
Adding to the rental crisis is the unregulated use of private apartments and houses for Air B&B. More and more, house owners are less inclined to rent long term as there are easy profits to be made. Indeed Deputy Connolly said she has received an increasing number of urgent representations from tenants who have been served with a notice to quit to facilitate the accommodation being used as Air B&B.
The inevitable consequence of this lack of housing supply together with the rise in house and rent prices is the continuing rise in the number of people becoming homeless. Nationally there are currently 8374 people who are homeless, which includes 3124 children. This is an increase of 1665 since this time last year. In Galway the current official figure is 30 families in homeless accommodation and single people being turned away from emergency hostel accommodation on a nightly basis, with the offer of a sleeping bag to keep them warm. These homeless figures however do not include people in domestic violence refuges and/or people living with other family members or friends in overcrowded accommodation of necessity.
Deputy Connolly said the failure to provide sufficient homes is deepening the social inequalities in our city and causing untold stress and suffering. The right to appropriate housing is a basic human right, without which people are prevented from participating actively in our society.
An urgent strategic response is required by the City Council working in tandem with the government. This strategy has to include the urgent building of public housing, affordable housing and the use of co-operatives. Furthermore, urgent legislation must be brought in to regulate the Air B&B sector and the implementation date for the vacant site levy must be brought forward from 2019.