The head of housing in Cork city has been criticised after suggesting that if people on the housing list can book a holiday online, they should be able to engage with an online council house letting system.
Valerie O’Sullivan made her comment about those who have failed to engage with the city’s Choice Based Letting (CBL) system during a wide-ranging debate on housing issues at Monday’s meeting of Cork City Council.
Earlier this year, figures released by City Hall showed that only 42% of people on the housing list had engaged with the CBL system, which allows tenants to search online and apply for tenancy in specific council homes, when they become available.
But Ms O’Sullivan’s comments about the estimated 2,700 people on the housing list who have failed to engage with CBL drew criticism from SF Cllr Chris O’Leary and AAA Cllr Fiona Ryan.
Mr O’Leary described it as an over-the-top statement and called on Ms O’Sullivan to withdraw it.
A furious Ms Ryan branded it an “outrageous comment” which buys into an “anti social welfare bias” which ignores the fact that many people may not be able to engage with an online system for technical or literacy reasons.
She said she dealt with a constituent on the social housing list recently who had significant literacy issues, and who was afraid and embarrassed to engage with City Hall on housing issues.
But Ms O’Sullivan told councillors that two people who were placed by the city council in emergency accommodation recently, turned down offers of houses because they said they had booked holidays abroad.
She said there were around 9,000 people on the housing list last year, and following an extensive review of need, the figure has dropped to just over 5,400. She said the council has written to people on the list on at least three separate occasions since CBL went live last year, inviting them to use the system.
Officials have made those on the list aware of the range of help and supports which City Hall will provide to help them engage with the system, she said.
“They can be assured of our full support and assistance,” she said.
Ms O’Sullivan also said internet access is freely available in the city’s network of public libraries, that CBL is loaded onto those computers, and that council staff have have been trained to help anyone with literacy issues navigate their way through the process.
Earlier this year, councillors were told that the CBL system was designed in consultation with advocacy groups, and vetted for accessibility to lessen any likelihood of a digital divide being a barrier to using it.
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