Galway feels the strain of growing housing problem


A "lovely turnout" on a bad night was how Brendan Howlin, the Labour Party's environment and housing spokesman, described it.

One man, sitting near the back of the modest audience, took a less positive view. In any event, everyone agrees that Galway is feeling the pinch of spiralling property prices and that the Government must act before the Budget, a public meeting hosted by Galway Living City Group heard last week.

The demolition of Rahoon means more problems. As the city manager, Mr Joe Gavin, said last week, there are people applying for local authority housing who used to be able to afford their own places. That pressure will increase, now that Rahoon isn't an option.

Outlining Labour's demand for a housing commission, Mr Howlin said that any solution to the crisis must be comprehensive. A commission would address the need for a "concerted attack on speculating and gazumping", he said.

A "land bank" for social housing could form the basis of any new policy. Developers must also face their obligations, with the introduction of a windfall tax on profits or a requirement that some land be provided for social housing. "We've allowed the developer to lead development," the former environment minister said.

Mr Howlin's party colleague, Mr Michael D. Higgins, said a housing commission was a welcome idea but warned that it should not be used as "an excuse for getting past the end of a year where we have the highest surpluses in history". "What is required is action." He said there should be a time-limit on residential zonings to put an end to speculation and a levy should be imposed on such sites because they were being "abused for speculative purposes".

The forthcoming Budget should include claw-back proposals in taxation of speculative gains, he said. Land banks would enable sites to be released for public housing, social housing and private development. Conditions should be attached to developers' access to land banks, such as advance provision of amenities, compliance with safety and recreation requirements and an end to the "unacceptable practice" of leaving estates unfinished, Mr Higgins added. The crisis extended to the rental sector, putting pressure on homeless single people, those with special needs, childless couples and travellers.

Galway Threshold said many of the low-paid in the city were spending most of their wages on rented accommodation and that those with families were very stretched. Some were paying rents equivalent to mortgages, at up to £180 a week for a three-bedroom house. The local authority waiting-list is putting more pressure on the private rental sector and with no security of tenure - a common feature in Galway - it is not a suitable long-term solution.

"How can we accept the fact that two incomes are now insufficient to service a mortgage for a modest home, that our waiting-lists for housing are heading for record levels, that there is now a shrinking public-rental sector and a private-rental sector that is being driven by the speculation in the main housing market?" Mr Higgins said. "It raises the question as to whether some rentals should be capped to the rise in inflation."

Additional funding approved for the local authorities will ease the pressure on housing and land in Galway city and county, according to the Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal, Mr Molloy. Nine projects will benefit, he said.