House building (file pic).

‘Families at breaking point’ over lack of four bedroom homes

Too few four-bed houses are available in Westmeath – and the result is too many families struggling in homes too small for their needs, council members have complained.

The issue was raised by Cllr Ken Glynn at Westmeath County Council’s October meeting, where he tabled a motion proposing that the council recognise the lack of four-bed social housing properties available within the county and put measures in place to remedy that as an urgent priority.

Cllr Glynn said the issue is being raised with him by families at all of his clinics – many of whom are at breaking point.

“Sometimes it’s the case that a family has a child – or even two – with autism, and so require space; in other instances, it can be that a family has multiple children having to sleep in the one room,” he said.

The written response to his motion stated that the council are aware that four-bedroom homes are particularly scarce in the market and are associated with larger households that can be difficult to provide with alternative accommodation options.

It went on to state that in that regard, the council will continue to prioritise the provision of such homes through the various channels of delivery including own build, Part V, turnkey and through AHBs (approved housing bodies), adding that there are also some leasing and other private market channels, all of which will be used.

The response went on to reveal that based on the current housing waiting list, there is a requirement for 30 four-bed homes in Westmeath representing 1.93% of the total net housing need. Taking transfers into account, there is a need for 97 such homes representing 3.63% of gross need.

It stated that the Westmeath Housing Delivery Action Plan provides for the delivery of 914 homes in the period 2022-2026 inclusive. Of those, approximately 5% – or 46 – will be four-bedroom units.

“Westmeath delivered 15 four-bedroom homes in 2022 (9.2% of delivery). It is expected that a further eight will be delivered in 2023 (4.7%) and 45 to the end of 2026, giving a total of 68 four-bedroom homes over the five-year period of the Housing Delivery Action Plan.”

The response concluded by stating that in addition, the acquisition programme currently includes 24 four-bedroom homes mainly for 2023 but some will fall into 2024 depending on contract closing date.

Cllr Glynn was, however, concerned that, notwithstanding the figures, the problem will take years to solve while there are families currently in need.

“The stats are the stats and the reality is that while it’s stated here that 1.93% of the total housing need is in relation to these, that’s 30 families.

“That’s 30 families that are living in overcrowded circumstances.”

Cllr Glynn was concerned that the statistics provided did not factor in families in accommodation that is not large enough for their needs.

“This is not a new problem. This is a problem that has been growing over time,” he continued, going on to state that the new private development that is being built by Glenveagh Homes has no four-bed homes.

“If you look around the county at developments that are going on, what level of four beds is in those areas? I would say it’s small to none.”

He said in his experience, council staff are themselves frustrated over the issue.

Cllr Glynn asked for the support of his colleagues and asked that the motion be forwarded to Minister Darragh O’Brien and that he be asked for action.

“It’s long overdue. These families cannot be left sitting on the sidelines waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,” he said, saying the situation is “scandalous” and needs to change.

Cllr Andrew Duncan seconded the motion, saying there is a “critical shortage” of housing across all of all areas, from two-beds right up to larger four-beds: “They’re just not being built – not just in terms of social housing but in terms of affordable housing as well,” he said adding that has real repercussions for people.

Cllr Duncan said even at local level, within Westmeath, the authority should encourage developers to build more four-beds.

“There is a critical shortage of affordable housing across the country There’s been a fairly significant amount of social housing built but it tends to be smaller two- and three-beds and the four-beds have to catch up.”

He supported Cllr Glynn’s motion fully: “I know exactly where Cllr Glynn is coming from. I understand the pressures that those people living in a low number of bedrooms are under and I think we need to do something for them.”

Cllr Paul Hogan also supported Cllr Glynn, and said it looked as if it is likely to take another five to seven years before the requirement for four-bedroom houses is satisfied – but that would be contingent on the numbers remaining static. He also seconded the proposal to write to the minister to see action.

Support came too from Cllr Frankie Keena, who said the problem “is definitely an issue”.

“But there’s a shortage of one-bedroom accommodation as well for the single person who is kind of left in limbo as well,” he added.

Cllr Denis Leonard agreed with that, and said the problem was not just with social houses but affordable as well. “One of the problems has been that we’ve built so many houses in our large towns with very small lots: developers are trying to maximise how many houses they get per acre, and they’re putting in two- or three-beds instead of sometimes four.”

Cllr Leonard supported the call to write to the minister: “It’s affecting an awful lot of families,” he said.

Cost rental development

Meanwhile, almost €8m in funding has been approved for Mullingar and Westmeath’s first cost rental development in Westmeath.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has allocated €7.8m under the government’s Affordable Housing Fund for Tuath to provide 46 cost rental homes in the new Farranshock development on the C-Link in Mullingar.

Twenty one of the 46 homes are to be delivered before the end of the year and the remaining 25 in quarter three next year. The homes will be two- and three-beds and the cost rental rates will begin at €1,025 per month, which is approximately 30 percent less than the current market rates.

Deputy Robert Troy says that allocation of funding is “very positive news”.

“It’s a welcome development that for the first time we have cost rental houses coming on stream in Mullingar. This further demonstrates the government’s commitment to supporting and tackling the housing challenges. It is multi-faceted. We need to build more houses, we need to build social houses, affordable houses and cost rental houses to cover all people who face housing challenges.

“This is further evidence of the government’s commitment to helping people into home ownership and into security of tenure. When you see the houses being built around Mullingar, you can see that progress is being made. A corner has been turned and I look forward to this issue being addressed further in the years ahead.”