Cllr Sorca Clarke.

We need more homes quickly, Clarke claims

If the state is serious about tackling the homeless problem in Westmeath and around the country, it needs to start building more houses and stop hiding behind impressive sounding strategies, according to Cllr Sorca Clarke.

While at the end of March there were 39 adults in emergency accommodation in Westmeath, Cllr Clarke says that the true homeless figure is significantly higher.

“The figure just includes the adults that have accessed emergency accommodation. It’s not the true homeless figure. It doesn’t include all the people who haven’t accessed emergency accommodation, all the people who are couch surfing or the people who are arranging to stay with one family member for two or three weeks before moving on to another.”

Due to the shortage of rental accommodation and rapidly increasing rents, Cllr Clarke says that there has been a marked increase in the number of people from the “squeezed middle”, who are facing the prospect of homelessness for the first time.

Rent and childcare costs are so high that for many families owning their own home is little more than a dream as they can’t afford to save for a deposit for a mortgage, she says. This leaves them particularly vulnerable when the lease comes to an end.

Cllr Clarke also revealed that she had come across a number of low income families who are ineligible for social housing as their Family Income Supplement payment pushes them over the income threshold.

She says that this “anomaly” needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

“Family Income Supplement was designed to take families above the the poverty line and shouldn’t be taken into account when a social housing application is being assessed.

“It needs to stopped and fixed. Lots of those affected families would have one parent staying at home because childcare is so expensive. Their income supplement may only be €20 or €30 a week. It’s an anomaly and needs to be addressed.”

While the homelessness problem is “complex” with many contributory factors, Cllr Clarke says that the solution is simple – “we need to build more houses”.

Cllr Clarke added than rather than just building three- and four-bedroom semis, there are increasing numbers of older people currently living in larger houses who are looking for one- or two-bedroom properties. If these people’s needs were met, it would free up more family homes.

“We need three other types of homes built. We need to build for people who have been approved for mortgages, we need to build more homes for rents and we need to build more affordable housing.”

The government launched its Rebuilding Ireland action plan last year to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis. Cllr Clarke says that unless this plan is accelerated, the problem is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

“The solution is very clear, we need to start building a lot more homes,” she said.

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