Rental wreck: The accommodation crisis in Munster's towns

Clonmel and Ballincollig have big employers and young populations working for them. But another thing they have in common, is nowhere for those workers to live. Ann Murphy reports
Rental wreck: The accommodation crisis in Munster's towns

Tipperary County Council offices in Clonmel. In Tipperary, the target is to deliver 1,125 units between now and 2026. The council there says that brown-field sites are now being targeted in the county for acquisition for the projects. Picture Dan Linehan

On the night of Census 2022, more than 166,000 houses lay vacant across the country, as renters found it increasingly difficult to find accommodation in a squeezed market.

This was against the backdrop of increasing numbers of evictions (1,781 in the three months between April and June) and the drawing up of housing delivery action plans in local authorities across the country.

Wayne Stanley, head of policy with Simon Communities of Ireland, said that post-Covid, the number of landlords leaving the rental sector has accelerated, leading to a lack of capacity in the rental market.

He added: “There is no affordability in the system and there are no properties in the system.” The Government's Housing for All plan, launched last September, has ambitious targets for local authorities and approved housing bodies to build social and affordable homes.

For example, Cork County Council’s housing delivery action plan, one of several launched by local authorities across the country, proposes to develop 3,880 homes in the next five years.

In Tipperary, the target is to deliver 1,125 units between now and 2026. The council there says that brown-field sites are now being targeted in the county for acquisition for the projects.

The Cork plan aims to develop 3,198 social housing units and 682 affordable units through direct build, turnkey and Part V arrangements, according to the council. Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Danny Collins, described the plan as ambitious.

He added: “The social housing target is almost one-and-a-half times what is currently needed in County Cork. It also aims to address the need for suitable accommodation for those excluded from the private market and who do not qualify for social housing which is evident across the county. 

"This shows Cork County Council’s commitment to delivering social and affordable housing for the county and to playing our part in addressing this national challenge.” 

Vacant units

Under the Housing for All programme, the government aims to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 per year over the next decade, but housing plans have come and gone with unmet targets.

Wayne Stanley said that action needs to be more immediate, considering the pressures on the housing system at present.

He said: “The truth is that at the moment, we don’t have any capacity. If we look back to 2014, we had what I would describe as some headroom which gave us a bit of time to address the issues. The problem is that we didn’t and we are where we are, without any headroom.” 

He continued: “We have all these pressures pushing people out of their homes, stopping them from getting a new home, and at the same time, we do not have any capacity in the system to provide options. 

"The only place is where that isn’t true is when you look at the level of vacancy that we have, the level of dereliction that we have around the country. Dereliction will take a little longer to deal with.” 

However, he said vacant homes across the country could be tackled immediately.

While Mr Stanley accepts that not all of the 166,000 vacant properties could be used to provide housing for a number of reasons, he said: 

If we could get 3% of those a year for the next two years, we would be getting 5,000 units a year. 

"That is 5,000 that could be allocated to people on the housing list or in homelessness. We could maybe give the State an opportunity to get ahead of the sharp end of this housing crisis.” 

Delays

Sinn Fein’s housing spokesman Eoin O Broin agreed that vacant homes need to be turned around to provide housing.

He also said that the housing plan before Housing for All, called Rebuilding Ireland, promoted the idea that new-build social housing would increase year on year, hitting 10,000 in 2021, but has fallen well short of this projection.

While accepting that Covid had a role to play in preventing that target being met, Deputy O Broin believes the level of bureaucracy that needs to be met for social housing developments is also hampering speedy development of projects.

He claimed that the current four-stage approval and procurement process can add up to two years to a project. He continued: “We have a really great social and affordable housing project planned here in my own constituency – 250 homes, half social, half affordable, beside a train station, high frequency transport.” 

He said outline planning approval was granted in 2018 but a value-for-money exercise was required of the local authority, which he said added 18 months to the project.

He added: “In terms of approvals for projects, financing for projects and then tendering a procurement, there is far too much bureaucracy and that is the reason why this year we see projects slowing down.” He said the government is behind on its plans for social and affordable housing.

He continued: “The solution is that the government needs to slash the red tape and let local authorities and housing bodies provide the homes that people need.” 

Required housing

A statement from Cork County Council said the authority is currently seeking expressions of interest in relation to affordable housing via an online survey. The results of the survey will inform future developments in areas where prospective affordable housing applicants have identified interest, according to the local authority.

As part of the Tipperary plan, the county council will undertake compulsory purchase orders on vacant properties, with assistance from the Housing Agency. Tipperary's local authority has been criticised by campaigners for failing to act on dereliction, particularly in the county's larger towns.

The Garda Station in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Tipperary's local authority has been criticised by campaigners for failing to act on dereliction, particularly in the county's larger towns. Picture: Dan Linehan
The Garda Station in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Tipperary's local authority has been criticised by campaigners for failing to act on dereliction, particularly in the county's larger towns. Picture: Dan Linehan

A spokesman said: “The process of mapping vacant sites in our towns has begun and this will assist with identifying owners and opportunities.” 

And the spokesman said: “It is acknowledged that the one to two-bed requirement is very significant and an increased emphasis has been placed on this house size under Housing for All. One-beds are identified for a number of the brown-field sites we have purchased to date and this will continue to be the emphasis going forward. Four-bed units also form part of our new scheme designs and we will see a roll-out commencing in 2022 and continuing throughout Housing for All.” 

Housing for All progress

The Department of Housing says that since Housing for All was launched, “17,000 new homes have been delivered and we are on track to deliver the 2022 target of 24,600 new homes.” 

It adds: “The progress report details the delivery of significant measures aimed at addressing viability of home delivery, providing additional supports for first-time buyers and bringing vacant homes back into use.” 

 The department outlines that there are four strands to the plan – supporting homeownership and increasing affordability; eradicating homelessness, increasing social housing delivery and supporting social inclusion, increasing new housing supply, addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing stock.

According to the department: “So far, of the 213 actions in Housing for All, 156 have been delivered or progressed. Of the 30 measures due for delivery in Q2 2022, 16 were delivered on schedule, giving a delivery rate of 53% this quarter. 

There is currently just one property for rent in Ballincollig and surrounding area, listed on Daft.ie. Picture: Denis Minihane
There is currently just one property for rent in Ballincollig and surrounding area, listed on Daft.ie. Picture: Denis Minihane

"Whilst the full implementation of 14 measures has been delayed, significant progress has been made on the majority of these actions. 12 of these delayed measures have a revised target date before the end of 2022.” 

In its pre-budget submission, Depaul, a charity working with people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, is seeking an increase in the provision of one-bed units in residential developments. It highlights a need for one-bed units in social housing programmes, “to house high numbers of single people entering homelessness.” 

It is also seeking an increase in Housing Assistance Payments in line with the rental market.

When life goes backwards

When Chloe O’Sullivan arrived home from the UK four years ago with her two young children, she was looking for a new start.

But instead of going forwards, her life moved backwards as she ended up back living with her parents in the family home, sharing a room with her two young children.

She remains in that house now as she continues to look for a home for her and her children where they can have more space and have their friends around. The Ballincollig native describes trying to find a home in the current rental market is very difficult.

She said: “I moved back from England in 2018 so I have been living at home since then. It is so hard. I go to view some properties and there is an amount of other people there. When they (letters) see I am a single mother with two children and I can’t go to work at the moment, they tend to go for someone else.” 

“I have been offered only about 10 or 12 viewings but I have emailed so many but I just have not heard back from them. They totally disregard my emails. I have emailed through Daft, and privately. It is very hard.” 

She believes that people who are not reliant on Housing Assistance Payment, as she is, have a better chance of securing rental accommodation. In Tipperary, Joanne Haddon and John Paul Brunnock have found the same reluctance regarding HAP.

The couple currently live in Golden but desperately want to move. Joanne has recently started working again in the Clonmel area in recent weeks, and a move to Clonmel would make more sense. Picture: Denis Minihane
The couple currently live in Golden but desperately want to move. Joanne has recently started working again in the Clonmel area in recent weeks, and a move to Clonmel would make more sense. Picture: Denis Minihane

The couple currently live in Golden but desperately want to move. Joanne has recently started working again in the Clonmel area in recent weeks, and a move to Clonmel would make more sense. Joanne points out that the commute would be too much every day, especially with the rising fuel costs.

She said: “We are living together for five years in rented accommodation. I am originally from near Cashel and he is from Carrick-on-Suir but Clonmel is closer to where I will be working.” But all efforts to find a house have so far failed.

The couple have been looking in the area for more than four years, after first looking around Joanne’s native Cashel area because she was working there at the time. The couple are frustrated at the price of rents compared with what they are currently paying.

Joanne said: “The cheapest we are seeing at the moment is between €800 and €900 in the Clonmel area. 

The dearest I have seen lately there was just over €2,500. At the moment, we are paying €160 a week.

But she said that despite the apparent low rent, their current home is not suitable because of location and the rising costs of fuel, as well as issues in the house itself. The couple applied for the Housing Assistance Payment but found that a lot of landlords preferred tenants who did not require it.

John Paul is currently on long-term disability because he suffered a stroke a number of years ago and is unemployed. The couple believe they will not get a house through social housing because they don’t have dependents.

In a bid to find private rental accommodation, Joanne put up numerous requests for accommodation. She was delighted with responses but said that deposits were a “crippler”.

She says: “A lot of landlords want a deposit and a month in advance as well. We had a place nearly got in Clogheen and it was €800 deposit and €800 a month in advance, so that was €1,600 in advance.” But they had to let the property go because it was not approved under the HAP scheme.

Joanne explains that she was out of work since last October until recently, making it difficult for the couple to come up with a deposit while also paying their current rent out of social welfare. She is currently on Jobseekers Allowance while John Paul receives a disability payment – both of which are €208 per week.

For Chloe O’Sullivan, the ideal property would be one with three bedrooms because her children are a boy and a girl.

At present, she is back in her family home with her brother as well as her parents, with she and her children sharing a room. As a result, she is not able to allow her daughter’s friends to come for a sleepover because of a lack of space.

Chloe said: “My daughter is nine and she asks why don’t we have a house. I have been trying so hard. She goes on sleepovers to her friend’s house and then I have to explain she cannot have her friend for a sleepover because there is no space and it’s not our house either.” 

Although she would like to live in Ballincollig because her family support network is there, Chloe says she would be open to going outside of Ballincollig if it meant finding somewhere suitable for her and her children.Picture: Denis Minihane
Although she would like to live in Ballincollig because her family support network is there, Chloe says she would be open to going outside of Ballincollig if it meant finding somewhere suitable for her and her children.Picture: Denis Minihane

Although she would like to live in Ballincollig because her family support network is there, Chloe says she would be open to going outside of Ballincollig if it meant finding somewhere suitable for her and her children.

She added: “I understand there is a lack of housing.” She has been in touch with several landlords in relation to properties she sees advertised. But she said the average rental she is coming across is around €1,500.

And she added: “I have emailed lots and lots of landlords but they just get back to you. It is disheartening.” Chloe is also now watching properties being offered through choice-based lettings by the councils in Cork.

Under that scheme, applicants on local authority housing waiting lists can express an interest in homes due for letting. When those properties are allocated, only people who have indicated an interest in them are considered as tenants for them.

She concluded: “All I can do is keep trying. I am not a bad person, I just need a home and room for my kids, so they can have their space. I wish I was able to give them better.”

Ballincollig in numbers

There is currently just one property for rent in Ballincollig and surrounding area, listed on Daft.ie.

The house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and has a rental tag of €1,864 per month. It is located in the village.

In Cork city, covering Ballincollig, the current HAP rates are:

  • 1 adult in shared accommodation €300 
  • Couple in shared accommodation €330 
  • One adult €550 
  • Couple €650 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 1 child €900 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 2 children €925 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 3 children €950 

Clonmel in numbers

There are currently just three properties for rent in Clonmel and surrounding area, listed on Daft.ie.

One is a three-bed, three-bathroom house at Longfield, at €1,500 per month. A two-bed house with one bathroom in the Irishtown Upper area is €1,600 per month. The third property is at Ballypatrick and is a six-bed house with 4 bathrooms, with a rent tag of €2,300 per month.

In Tipperary, the current HAP rates are:

  • 1 adult in shared accommodation €210 
  • Couple in shared accommodation €230 
  • One adult €380 
  • Couple €420 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 1 child €525 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 2 children €560 
  • Couple or 1 adult with 3 children €600

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