Cork Councillor: ‘Housing buck is passed to local authorities’

The Government has been accused of passing the responsibility for the provision of affordable housing onto councils, with councillors in the country’s largest local authority claiming that a key state strategy for building homes lacks clarity.

The claim was made at yesterday’s meeting of Cork County Council, where representatives discussed an update from Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy on the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF).

Announced as part of the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland programme, LIHAF aims to deliver 23,000 homes by 2021 and to bring about “public off-site infrastructure to relieve critical infrastructure blockages”.

The correspondence from Mr Murphy’s office said the scheme has approved €195m worth of funding for 30 public infrastructure projects across the country, and that the fund aims to “increase housing supply by removing infrastructural obstacles that were preventing the development of key sites”.

The letter also praised local authorities’ efforts “to leverage the State’s investment through LIHAF and ensure cost reductions on units in developments across the scheme”.

However Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus McGrath, whose previous motion seeking an update on LIHAF prompted the letter from Mr Murphy’s office, said the response was “deeply disappointing”, “watered down”, and gives little clarity as to how the fund would actually produce affordable homes.

When the scheme was announced there was a big emphasis on the fact that a certain amount of units would be made available below market value, which gave some hope to people looking for an affordable housing scheme,” said Mr McGrath.

“However there was never any clarity as to how that would be delivered, and we now see, as time has moved on, and LIHAF funding has been released, that there still isn’t any clarity in terms of how developers are to deliver on that issue.”

“It has become cloudy, watered down, and the minister’s comments welcoming local authorities’ efforts at trying to secure cost reductions is passing the buck back onto the local authorities, whereas at the time it was a central theme for getting approval nationally, at a Dáil level for this funding. At the end of the day, it is public money and it is being put into infrastructure to facilitate private developments.

“I support LIHAF. It is necessary, we need infrastructure, the lack of infrastructure is one of the main criticisms of housing development but I think the Government need to be fulfilling their commitment in relation to the affordable issue.”

Mr McGrath’s comments won support from Sinn Féin councillor Des O’Grady, who said Government has “walked away from the issue and has left local authorities to pick up the pieces”.

Mr O’Grady highlighted Mr Murphy’s previous reluctance to state what he considers an affordable house price to be, and said this is indicative of a wider problem in housing policy.

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