Said recent recruit and former city councillor Dick Roche, Waterford has the highest per capita housing list in the State.
Directly building Council houses with a new type of craft apprentice system was one solution proposed by former long-serving councillor Davy Walsh, something which was the practice until it was abandoned in the 1980s, he told The Munster Express.
Having a mix of private and public housing creates “more stable communities without stigma”, as is the case in Austria, Holland and Denmark, where rental returns deliver a payback on loans for local authorities, said Dublin-based Councillor Eilís Ryan.
The matter was discussed at a recent public meeting held at the Granville Hotel by the Workers’ Party’s Waterford branch, which was chaired by former councillor Walsh.
He was joined at the top table by Dick Roche, Cllr Ryan (daughter of former Senator Brendan Ryan, former head of the Simon charity) and Cork-based Councillor Ted Tynan.
Cllr Ryan outlined the extent of the national crisis, stating that there are now over 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list, with over 7,000 adults and children living in emergency homeless accommodation.
She said the Workers’ Party policy on housing as an original and innovative approach and outlined how, using a new Public Housing Corporation, the State or Local Councils could borrow ‘off-book’ to finance public housing construction at a scale that could solve the crisis.
While the financing mechanism was new, the approach was traditional – councils directly building good quality public housing for working class communities, as had been achieved in times when Ireland was a much poorer country.
During her visit, Cllr Ryan visited housing estates at Belmont Heights in Ferrybank and noted how estates like Rockenham had a stable community built successfully by local authorities, as Davy Walsh noted.
Ted Tynan spoke of his experience as a Councillor in Cork City, dealing with cases of families living in appalling conditions in the private rented sector or in receipt of the housing assistance payment (HAP).
Cllr Tynan, a veteran campaigner, believes that the scale of the housing crisis, along with the water charges campaign and the widespread poverty that he encounters daily, shows the need more than ever for “a party that truly represents working people”.
Dick Roche was the last to speak from the top table, who claimed that the extent of homeless services available in Waterford mean that the crisis is less visible than in many other areas but that doesn’t reduce its severity.
He outlined the number of vacant houses in the city and put forward practical measures that could be taken to ease the crisis locally, such as allowing tenants to refurbish vacant houses and improving the turnaround time for vacant council houses.
But Mr Roche made the point that while such measures could have an impact, the only real solution was to get back to building public housing.
Adamant that there is “an ideological opposition” from the political establishment to building public housing, he said that much like the water charges, agitation and campaigning by ordinary citizens would be the only way to force a solution.
The discussion was opened to the floor, with heartfelt and angry contributions from some of those affected by the crisis.
Many who spoke were frustrated with the current system of rent supplement which puts public money into the pockets of private landlords, while offering tenants no security or long-term stability.
Other contributions touched on the difficulties that many existing council tenants were having in paying their rent, as well as the need to look back to what the Housing Action Committees that were set up in the late 1960s had achieved, the last time there was a housing crisis on a similar scale to now.
There was also anger at the number houses left vacant or derelict in Waterford city, while families struggled to pay landlords or find any suitable accommodation.
As we reported last week, Dick Roche publicly announced his joining the Workers’ Party and would be putting every effort into building the party locally while campaigning on the many issues that are affecting working people in Waterford. The first of those many campaigns? Tackling the housing crisis.