Cork City Council defends record after expert claims it delivered no new direct housing builds last year

Cork City Council disputes the claim.
Cork City Council defends record after expert claims it delivered no new direct housing builds last year

At a housing webinar hosted by homeless charity Simon Community last week, Mr Sirr presented social housing output figures for 2021, which he and Dublin architect Mel Reynolds had obtained from the Department of Housing.

CORK City Council was one of two local authorities in the State that did not deliver any new social homes in 2021 that it had built directly, according to housing expert Lorcan Sirr, senior lecturer in housing, planning, and development at Technological University Dublin.

Cork City Council disputes the claim.

At a housing webinar hosted by homeless charity Simon Community last week, Mr Sirr presented social housing output figures for 2021, which he and Dublin architect Mel Reynolds had obtained from the Department of Housing.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland last week, Mr Sirr said the data was contained within a PDF of almost 200 pages that showed Fingal County Council and Cork City Council, in terms of direct delivery, built no social homes in 2021.

“Coincidentally, that’s the local authority of the minister for housing and the local authority of the Taoiseach. Neither did either of them [the two councils] buy any houses because local authorities quite often go out and buy new houses, so-called ‘turnkeys’ as well,” he said.

“When we say ‘directly built by a local authority’, it isn’t council workers going out with shovels and drills and diggers. They contract it out to local builders who do that,” he explained.

Mr Sirr said he believed an issue affecting the delivery of social housing units was that of finance and procurement.

“When local authorities want to build social housing, they have to go through what is now a four-stage [process] — it used to be a seven-stage process — with the Department of Housing whereby plans and ideas and figures would be bounced back and forth, often taking months at a time… within each stage there are kind of mini stages as well and all of that takes an awful lot of time.

“We’re talking not months but years for ideas to come from inception with the local authority.

“Local authorities will tell me even if they wanted to build X hundred houses every year, it’s just far easier to go out and buy them or to get someone else to do it for them because of the four-stage process,” he said.

Reacting to the news, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central Thomas Gould said: “This is a shocking state of affairs as not only does Cork City have some of the longest housing waiting lists in the State but it also has a fast-growing population.

“It is the failure of local authorities to directly build homes at scale which is contributing to extraordinarily high waiting lists across the State.

“I know from speaking with officials in councils that they want to build homes but they face significant obstacles from the Department of Housing, including the failure of Minister [Darragh] O’Brien to adequately support this ambition.

“The over-reliance by councils and the Government on the private sector to house people through mechanisms such as long-term private leases and housing assistance payments [HAP] does not make economic sense in the first instance. It is not permanent housing and the pool of affordable homes available on the private rented market are getting smaller and smaller.”

'INCREDIBLE SCENARIO'

Socialist Party TD for Cork North Central Mick Barry described the housing crisis as particularly sharp in Cork City.

“It is incredible in such a scenario if these claims are accurate and Cork City Council built no new social housing last year,” Mr Barry said.

“The council should clarify the position... and if the claims are accurate they surely owe an explanation to the public in general and to the people on the housing lists in particular.”

In a statement, the Department of Housing said local authorities “provide homes through a blended approach. This includes direct builds, acquisitions, leasing and HAP and RAS [rental accommodation scheme]”.

“It is unbalanced to look at one stream in isolation. Local authorities will also have homes at various stages of delivery at particular times of the year [and] 263 new social homes were delivered in Cork City in 2021 across all build, acquisition, and long-term leasing streams.

“Cork City Council also brought 89 ‘void’ social homes back into the housing stock and supported 742 tenancies via the HAP and RAS schemes.

“More than 500 new build social homes were also under construction in Cork City at the end of 2021,” it said.

The statement said housing delivery was affected last year by enhanced level five restrictions introduced in January, which saw most residential construction being halted for over three months.

COUNCIL SAYS IT DELIVERED 76 NEW BUILDS IN 2020 AND 2021

Meanwhile, a statement from Cork City Council said: “Between 2016 and 2021 the city council has secured the delivery of 2,428 social homes across Cork City, despite the well-documented delays in construction activity experienced during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

“Despite this, in 2020/2021 the city council were directly responsible for the delivery of 76 new build social units in Cork City, with 218 under construction in 2022 for delivery this year.”

The statement said the council continued to meet its social housing targets for every given year through “a muti-faceted approach to delivery”.

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