A trade union has expressed serious concerns about a local authority’s plans to lease some of the vacant social houses it can’t afford to repair to voluntary housing agencies who could do the work.
The Operative Plasterers’ and Allied Trades Society of Ireland described the move being considered by Cork City Council last night as “another dilution of local government”.
OPATSI spokesman Barry Murphy urged the council to seek a loan from central government, and use the cash to hire local construction workers to do the repair work.
“Using the inappropriate scheme to hive these properties simply as a means of accessing funding whilst keeping borrowings off the state’s balance sheet might on the face of it seem to represent a quick fix to the current problem, but will ultimately serve to fragment communities and will develop a two-tier social housing system,” Mr Murphy said.
Socialist Party Cllr Mick Barry said he understands that up to 70 houses could be leased out to voluntary housing agencies.
He described the move as the “privatisation of the city’s housing stock” at a time when 7,500 people are waiting for a council house, and warned against going down this road.
“We should reverse cuts from central government to the council’s maintenance grants and let the council do the work,” he said.
But Cllr Ger Gibbons (Labour) defended the proposals: “The council has a total of 8,726 houses, with 305 waiting on maintenance. That’s about 3.5% of the total housing stock — way below national rates.
“We’re constrained financially and we have to come up with alternatives. We’re taking about selling five or six properties only on the open market — homes that were going to cost over €100,000 to put back on the social housing list, and put that cash back in to the pot to do more repairs.
“It’s a very sensible way of looking at it. It makes sense.”
City manager Tim Lucey rejected claims that the leasing proposal represents privatisation. He said the alternative options will be of benefit to the council and tenants. “The more collaboration we have, the better.”
He also told councillors that over the last three years, there have been 700 refusals of council homes from people who were offered homes in the area of their choice.
During the same period, house vacancy levels only rose only from 249 to 305.
Cllr Emmet O’Halloran (Fine Gael) also criticised the portrayal of the leasing of homes to charities as “privatisation”.
And he said the proceeds from the sale of just five or six council homes could fund repairs to dozens of homes which need repairs in the region €7,000.
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