Deputy Pauline Tully (SF).

Putting taxpayers’ money into hands of private landlords - Tully

Paying out €150,000 to one landlord for social housing support is “not viable” and Cavan County Council needs to be better supported by central government to build more social houses in the county.

That’s the view of Sinn Féin Deputy Pauline Tully who says the role of local authorities in providing houses has been steadily eroded over the last two decades by a government that, she says, erroneously believes the market will fix the housing crisis.

Low quality rental stock, insufficient local authority houses and escalating rents were all named by Deputy Tully as symptoms of a housing crisis that encroaches on homes across Cavan.

She said, by focusing on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Scheme, the government has caused more problems than it has solved.

HAP is a social housing support provided by all local authorities to households with long-term housing needs.

Under the scheme, Cavan County Council supplies supports ranging from €190 for one adult in shared accommodation to €490 for a couple or an adult with three children each month. To qualify, renters must be on the local authority’s housing list.

HAP allows the local authority address social housing needs outside of their own stock of houses. From 2016 to 2020, Cavan County Council built 36 new properties. A condition for private developers requires them to give 10% of newly-built houses to local authorities, but this has only delivered one house to Cavan County Council in those years.

In 2020, the local authority supported 429 tenancies through the HAP scheme. In that period landlords in Cavan received over €1.3 million in HAP payments - the highest payment to one single landlord was over €150,000.

Deputy Tully says the system is not working: “It’s not viable. Local authorities should be building far more properties to house people on the social housing list.”

She tells the Celt: “Over the last four years Cavan County Council has paid out millions on HAP. That is going into the pockets of private landlords. That money could be spent on building houses. Then the local authority would own the house and the rent would be coming back in.”

Deputy Tully believes supports for families in need of rental assistance have caused a distortion in the market: “I am not saying we don’t need private landlords, but many of them are taking advantage of HAP. I know of situations where people have been renting property and, when they mention that they have been approved for HAP, the landlord says ‘If I am going to sign up for HAP, I’m going to be upping your rent’. This has happened to countless people. It’s driving rental costs up and putting taxpayers’ money into the hands of private landlords. I want to see money put into local authority so they can build houses to rent directly to those who require social housing.”

The ground Sinn Féin’s gained in the last Dáil election was in no small part down to public dissatisfaction with the housing crisis.

Deputy Tully contends no effort has been made to deliver a cohesive housing policy to address what she says are the shortcomings of the previous administration.

The Cavan Monaghan TD suggests the system fails those who occupy the middle ground: “There are people who don’t qualify for social housing, don’t qualify for HAP, but are not on large wages. They can’t afford the prices being charged at the moment. I have met with people who cut back their work hours, or refused a social welfare payment, to qualify for social housing because there’s no way they could afford to pay private rental prices.”

Deputy Tully says there should be a greater mix of Cavan County Council’s housing stock in estates through the county town. She says developer’s reluctance to deliver 10% of new estates, preferring to pay a fee to the local authority instead, should be addressed.

“There are many instances in Cavan where the council have bought houses, have tenants in them and other residents are unaware that they are council owned properties. They have done this in enough circumstances to know it works. It’s unfortunate if we have a class of people who think they are above other people. If we put all social housing into one area without proper support, then that causes social problems. This is something that’s happened in Cavan Town and the council need to invest to address those problems,” she says.

Cavan County Council’s Housing Construction Section is currently project managing the Social Housing Capital Investment Programme, which consists of 14 housing schemes for 269 units at various stages of planning, design, and construction.

Deputy Tully believes that the problem needs to be addressed at government level to effect change locally: “I know from talking to the staff in Cavan County Council they would love to do a lot more, but they are not being given the finance to do it. More money has to come from central government to address a huge number of housing problems. We need to see more housing estates being built, we need to see a mix of social affordable houses to rent and affordable houses for people to buy.”

Deputy Tully concluded by saying: “What is needed is public houses built on public land – not sold at knockdown prices to developers who will deliver no social homes.”