Calls for emergency committee on housing crisis

Cork County Council wants Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to create a national emergency committee to tackle the housing crisis — one which will act with the same urgency which addressed the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the North in 2001.

Councillors supported the motion from Independent Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, who also said the council needs to come up with its own emergency measures because it is not tackling the increasing problem of homelessness.

He made the call after receiving a report showing the local authority has 4,591 approved applicants on its waiting list, 83 of whom are classed as homeless.

Last year, the council provided permanent accommodation for 59 homeless applicants, of which 42 had families. However, 26 other applicants are still in emergency accommodation, which council deputy chief executive Declan Daly described as “regrettable”.

Mr Ó Cadhla said council bosses have to introduce emergency measures to address the crisis in social housing and in the private rental sector.

A report compiled by Maurice Manning, the council’s director of housing, was discussed at the meeting in County Hall. He stated that, between 2015 and 2017, the local authority provided 1,293 housing units for those on the waiting list, exceeding the target set down by the Government by nearly 80 units. Mr Manning said an ambitious programme has been put in place to provide 3,000 housing units by 2021.

Mr Ó Cadhla said that while the council may have exceeded targets, the reality is that the homeless crisis is getting worse. He said landlords are increasingly rejecting people who are getting Housing Assistance Payments and that many refuse to take children.

Independent councillor Noel Collins, who seconded his motion, described the number of people facing eviction in areas of east Cork as “staggering”.

“Sadly some landlords are changing locks and dumping people’s belonging into the street,” said Mr Collins, who is a Simon volunteer.

Sinn Féin councillor Eoghan Jeffers said: “It’s about time it is formally called an emergency, or the crisis will continue to get worse.”

Fianna Fáil councillor Frank O’Flynn said he knows of a family and several single people sleeping in cars in north Cork.

Social Democrat councillor Joe Harris maintained there is no safety net for such people and it is leading to mental suffering and increased suicides.

“I can’t understand why the Government hasn’t declared an emergency,” he said.

Sinn Féin Melissa Mullane said the council only has two tenancy support workers and “need to employ more as they’re at the coalface dealing with the homeless”.

Mr Daly, the deputy chief executive, said that while it has not been declared a national emergency, it is top of the Government’s agenda. He said a committee was established 12 months ago by a former secretary general of the Department of Environment to address housing in Cork City and county.

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