20 Jan 2022

Abuse of councillors is rising during never-ending Housing Crisis

Abuse of councillors is rising during never-ending Housing Crisis

Despite government promises the Housing Crisis remains acute after several years

A NUMBER of North Tipp Councillors pointed out this week that the housing crisis is getting worse rather than better and the public's tempers are fraying.
Cllr Fiona Bonfield told the November meeting of Nenagh Municipal District that "the housing crisis seems to be worsening rather than improving. I don't think it is Tipperary County Council's fault," she remarked. "I think it's a national issue. Like all of the councillors I am inundated every day with phone calls about housing. A lot of people are desperate for housing."
Cllr Joe Hannigan commented that this issue is on his mind a lot. "It's been going on for ever and a lot of people are ringing me about it. The staff in the County Council are doing the best job they can; they are ahead of the designated targets; but, and it's a huge but, we badly need more houses. A big part of the problem is Irish Water who are proving to be incompetent. We all know we have capacity issues at a number of our Water Treatment Plants. We have been crying out for the capacity to be increased for a very long time but Irish Water is doing nothing. As a result potential housing developments are getting stymied. There is a proposal for 60 houses in Cloughjordan but the building work can't commence because the Waste Water Treatment Plant in the village is at full capacity. Proposals to build houses in Terryglass and Nenagh Town are also being held back. Until our infrastructure improves, we can't proceed. There is migration of people into the county but we are not meeting that demand and therefore they are migrating back out again. It's like a bucket with holes when you fill it with water."
Cllr Seamus Morris said the Council should lift its planning ban on timber structures.
He said shipping containers could be turned into housing.
"There is a lot of short-term housing solutions which we could turn to, which could greatly help the situation."
A member of the housing department in the County Council acknowledged the frustration of the councillors.
"The staff in the housing department in the council is equally frustrated. There are 3,600 people on the social housing waiting list in County Tipperary. 793 of them are in Nenagh Municipal District. 60% of the people on the list are in receipt of housing support.
"Up until now private-oriented solutions have been favoured by the government to tackle the housing crisis, private-oriented solutions such as RAS and long-term leasing. The policy has failed. There now has been a significant shift in policy by the government. We are guided by the Department in Dublin and they have noticeably shifted their policy.
"As a Council we have exceeded the housing targets given to us.
"We also have two homeless prevention officers. We have a HAP place finder service in Nenagh, which is also helping the homeless."
The Council Executive member added however that unfortunately there has been a very noticeable increase in anti-social behaviour towards Council staff by members of the public. "It's only a minority of the public but it is very upsetting for our staff," he said. "As a result a number of our housing staff are temporarily exempt from work because they are suffering from stress and mental health. Members of the public are getting very angry at the housing desk and on the phone. We think social media has worsened the attitude towards us."
Cllr Seamus Morris talked about the squeezed middle in society who can't find affordable housing.
The housing officer said there is a 23% refusal rate by members of the public when they are offered social housing, "which is very high. To deal with this, choice-based letting is coming in and it will be directed towards an allocation scheme. This will lower the refusal rate which in turn will free up properties for people on the social housing waiting list.
"The housing market has failed because of the failure of the private sector. The private sector has not stepped up, particularly in the larger towns. As a result a lot of people are relying on HAP.
“ The private sector has to step up. The problem can't all fall on the Council. As it is, we are doing a lot. As I say, 60% of the people who are on our housing waiting list are getting housing support from us. We are using every tool we have to ensure that everyone in the county has good standard housing."
Cllr Ger Darcy asked if there is a start-up date for the new social houses proposed for Ardcroney.
Another Council officer said a number of social houses are nearly finished in Borrisokane and people will be living in them from January on. A number of social houses will also be constructed in Ardcroney, he said. "A contractor should be appointed for these before the end of next month."
He added that there are 120 houses in Thurles Municipal District and Nenagh Municipal District which are being retrofitted. "Most of those are in the Littleton area," commented Cllr Michael O'Meara. "We need to increase the retrofitting figure in Nenagh MD."
Another housing officer, Shane Grogan, pointed out that the Council housing department received a "significant increase in our housing budget this year, as a result of which we have taken on a lot more work."
Cllr Joe Hannigan thanked the housing officer who had been "so honest and forthright."
Cllr John Carroll commented that timber-based structures definitely have a role to play. "In terms of cost they are significantly cheaper; they are carbon neutral; they have a good lifespan. I would like to see them in small clusters in our villages. It would certainly be a better solution than people in a state of homelessness or being compelled to sleep in their cars."
Cllr Michael O'Meara said concrete is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions worldwide. By contrast, timber is more eco-friendly. "We are not talking about log cabins here. We are talking about better buildings than that, decent wooden structures which are aesthetically pleasing.
"I am very concerned about the increase in anti-social, aggressive behaviour towards our housing staff. I want to say it loudly and clearly here that that kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable. I am convinced that a lot of this bad behaviour is fuelled by social media."
Cllr O'Meara said the councillors are also getting more verbal abuse. "There was one instance recently which deeply upset me. It was persistent abuse over a number of days. I thought of going to the Guards about it. I know that this type of appalling behaviour is affecting other Councillors mentally.
"However I want to also state that the vast majority of the general public are decent and good to deal with.
"There is this thing, this verbal and online abuse, which is creeping in more and more into our lives, and we should do all we can to nip it in the bud. If the bad behaviour becomes persistent then we should contact the Gardaí. We are dealing with people who are in very stressful, difficult situations and sometimes they become aggressive."
"And being aggressive with the Council housing staff won't help their situation," remarked Cllr Morris. "I too have had people getting aggressive with me."
The councillor added that he didn't know of one person turning down a Council house which wasn't for a good reason.
"I know of instances where people turn down houses because it would mean living near people who had previously bullied or acted abusively towards them."

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