February’s Municipal District meeting saw Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne question the Director of Services for Housing on the available resources within his department allocated to the carrying out of house inspections on properties in the private rental sector.
Cllr Byrne highlighted concerns that the number of inspections had dramatically dropped over 2020 and 2021 due to Covid restrictions. She acknowledged that these resources would have been channelled into other areas of the Housing Dept but sought clarification on plans for the housing team to re-focus their energies back into this area.
Speaking at the meeting Cllr Byrne said:
“The number of inspections in the rental sector is quite low with only 299 carried out in 2021 compared to 914 in 2019. I know this is mostly due to Covid but my concern now is if we have the resources to channel back into this area?
“I ask out of concern for those who are trapped in the private rental market through HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) where many of these properties funded by the Council, are grossly substandard. With the major shortage of HAP properties available out there, huge numbers of these tenants are finding themselves with no choice to endure slum living conditions.
“Last year we managed to inspect only 175 HAP properties. If inspections can get back to pre-Covid levels then some of these landlords will feel obliged to carry out works highlighted from these inspections, which will in turn improve the quality of life for the families, children included, that are living in them.
“Now that restrictions have lifted, this simply has to become a focus again for the Housing Department as it may be the only hope for many families whose homes are in dire need of works and repairs.”
Director of Services Paddy Donnelly responded to Cllr Byrne telling her that this area has been a challenge for the Housing Department throughout Covid and remains a challenge to get back to the levels they were at before Covid. He highlighted difficulties in recruiting staff in this area but assured her that it remained a priority for them over the coming months and that levels of inspections, particularly on HAP properties, would increase this year. However he did not envisage it dramatically increasing to the pre-Covid levels instantly, saying it would take time.