Donegal families stuck in rent limbo

Housing: Calls for vacant property tax

Donegal families stuck in rent limbo

Many Donegal incomes are just above the threshold for social housing but too low to get a mortgage

Hundreds of families across Donegal are caught in limbo due to ‘ridiculous' and outdated income thresholds for social housing.

That was the direct message from councillors at Tuesday's Lifford-Stranorlar Municipal District meeting who recounted hardship stories from people begging them to have the system changed.

These couples and families are in a situation where their income is just above the threshold for social housing and too low to get a mortgage.

As a result they are trapped in private rented accommodation indefinitely with rents escalating on a monthly basis and absolutely no security of tenure.

Ballybofey councillor, Martin Harley says there are solutions if the will was there.
He suggested that the introduction of a vacant property tax might focus minds.

"People need an opportunity to have a home. At the moment some mortgages would be cheaper than rents. The last census showed there are 10,000 vacant properties in Donegal. We need to put a grant in place so people can do these houses up,” Cllr. Harley said.

“A lot of these houses which are lying vacant, even in our own council estates, are in a dire situation, just lying there for years. The price of construction and materials was due to go up this year too. Maybe we should do what they do in Northern Ireland, put a tax on them and maybe then people might do something to restore them,” he said.

Cllr Gerry Crawford said 13 housing projects in the county had not started or been paused due to the Covid restrictions on construction.

Cllr Patrick McGowan described the income limits as "ridiculous and outdated" and in need or a major overhaul. He encouraged the council to seek out more serviced land sites for affordable sites that might help both social and affordable housing demands.

Municipal district chairman, Cllr Gary Doherty social housing income limits were a real problem but outside the council's control.

“People ask about them all the time, people who need and deserve to be on the list. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for these people, they can't apply for a mortgage because banks turn you down if part of your weekly income comes from social welfare while the cost of building a house is exorbitant pricing most people out of the market.

“There are people in Donegal who are classed as having a good job and are over the income limits for social housing yet they are nowhere near the levels of income needed to apply for a mortgage or get anywhere close to building or buying their own home.

“They are going to be renting for the rest of their lives, there's no other way out of it. We need to be trying to work towards some solution and not leave renting and no security of tenure for them at all,” he said.

The council's area housing manager, Olive Gillespie, acknowledged the income threshold issue relating to social housing had been raised several times with her. She added she understood there were people slightly over the limit.

“It's a threshold the council has no discretion over this. There are people who fall who are slightly over from the point of view of approval for social housing yet their income wouldn't be enough to qualify for a mortgage. It's a difficult position for people to find themselves in,” she said.

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