Longford county councillors at the final meeting of this term last week. Caption below PICTURE: SHELLEY CORCORAN
Longford is in serious need of an affordable housing scheme for younger couples and families who are earning too much to qualify for social housing but not enough to qualify for a mortgage with mainstream banks, a recent meeting of Longford County Council has heard.
Social housing targets in the county have been met for the past two years and councillors are now expressing concerns that having more social housing than affordable housing will result in young couples moving out of the county.
However, due to low property prices and high billing costs in the county, Longford is precluded from the government's current Affordable Housing Scheme.
At the May meeting of Longford County Council, a policy for affordable housing was adopted but, councillors have stressed, a policy is no good if the government's current scheme excludes counties like Longford.
“This is a matter of urgency,” said Cllr Mick Cahill (FF).
“We need to see some progress on this because there’s a big demand for affordable houses, and certainly across south Longford with Center Parcs opening up. Unless there is some sort of affordable housing scheme, all those people with Center Parcs jobs are going to bring that wealth into other counties.”
His Fianna Fáil colleague Cllr Martin Mulleady was in agreement that affordable housing is essential to help young workers get on the property ladder.
“I think that it’s very important that the county has social housing, but we want affordable housing as well,” he said.
Cllr Micheál Carrigy (FG) agreed that depending on social housing would be a bad move for the council.
“We’ve hit our targets with regard to social housing but we don’t want a situation where we have too much social housing. We have couples out there who want to buy their home and I think the affordable housing scheme is the way forward,” he said.
In a notice of motion, Cllr Paraic Brady (FG) called on the council to provide an exact number of social houses that are intended for the county for the remainder of 2019 and 2020 and a breakdown of the areas in which those houses will be built.
“The north of the county has more social houses than any other part of the county and what I’m looking for is an equal spread,” he said.
“We need affordable housing, social housing and private rental mixed. I don’t think it’s fair on the people of Longford.”
There is a need for social housing in the county , north Longford's Cllr PJ Reilly (FF) pointed out in response.
“We need social houses and we have to achieve our target. But they need to be spread across the county, not to be putting them all into the one area,” he said.
With that, Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock posed the question: “What do we want our county to become?
“Do we want to be known as a social housing hub? Or do we want to be a vibrant community that wants to create employment, create jobs and create communities?” he asked.
The simple fact, he added, is that there were too many houses built in this county, resulting in a large number of people coming into the county but not taking up employment.
“What we need is a scheme that’s directed at the right type of people,” he said.
“We have an oversubscription of social housing at the minute. We have 55% more social housing than the national average in the 2016 census. That says to me that we do not need huge volumes of social housing in this county.
“There was a target of 321 social housing to be built at the end of 2021. We need in excess of 321 affordable houses to be provided in this county before the end of 2021.
“We created a thousand jobs in the last 12 months around the Longford town area. And the question that has to be asked is: how many of those people that will be taking up those positions are actually living inside the county boundaries, never mind the town boundary?
“So, it’s no good creating jobs and exporting the wealth of that out to different counties. We need to be able to cater for people. We need to build communities as opposed to providing houses willy nilly with no strategic plan,” he concluded.