Monday 28 April 2008

Developers splurge €78m to avoid building social housing

BUILDING firms have paid €78.6 million to avoid their responsibilities under the social and affordable housing scheme.

But home-seekers remain the real losers as city, county and town councils receive the payouts but do not re-invest the monies in social housing, say housing rights campaigners.

More than 43,000 people are on council housing waiting lists — with many anxious to avail of affordable housing.

Under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, developers were required to set aside 20% of their rezoned land for social or affordable housing.

But contractors can skip their responsibility by availing of a buy-out loophole.

However, housing support groups are concerned the builders’ opt-out payments could lead to young couples, in particular, continuing to struggle to get a house.

Many applicants, who could only afford a mortgage under the social and affordable scheme, are slipping further down council waiting lists.

A breakdown by the Irish Examiner of the amounts reveals developers paid 31 county councils, five city councils and 22 town councils.

Focus Ireland last night demanded councils stood up to developers and insist on homes being provided rather than cash.

“If they’re buying their way out, they’re being let buy their way out,” said head of development David Burke.

“Local authorities have to step up to the mark and not be pushed around.”

Mr Burke said local authority social schemes were designed for young families. On average, however, they are waiting up to four years to get a roof over their heads.

The Irish Council for Social Housing said the developer payments meant it took years longer for local authorities to find or develop other housing schemes with the cash.

“That slows the process of people being taken off the waiting lists,” said executive director Donal McManus.

With the slowdown in the private residential building, the fears remains there will be little or no social and affordable homes built in the near future. Local authorities, it emerged, are not allocating the builders’ funds into social and affordable schemes. Now the Department of Environment is warning local authorities that budgets will be cut if they continue to hoard payments from developers.

Correspondence from the department shows its secretary general Geraldine Tallon is “determined” funds are used as soon as the councils receive the money.

“Unused Part V funds will be taken into account when allocations to authorities for the main social housing programmes are being finalised,” said Ms Tallon’s letter.

Irish Examiner

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