By Finian Coghlan
THERE was cross-party support at Kildare Co Council for a motion questioning the wisdom of the long-term leasing of houses, implemented in Kildare as part of State policy, particularly when the stark waste was highlighted.
“There’s an absolute disregard for value for money, and I’d be worried about transparency for this,” said Cllr Aidan Farrelly who introduced the motion at the December meeting of the full council.
He revealed how the average annual outlay was €11,800 for each of the 24 houses the local authority leased in 2019.
“That’s €7.1m over the lifetime, and after 25 years we hand back the keys to the developer?” he queried.
“It’s basically taking the risk from the builder, but with none of the rewards,” he said.
“How many houses could we buy for that €7m? For example, those 24 could be built for less than €300k each for that.
“But the Government’s Economic and Evaluation Service surveyed six local authorities in 2019, and found the average build cost was €230,000 – and that includes Dublin – for a three-bed home,” he pointed out.
The leasing budget for Kildare has risen from that €7.1m in 2019, to €11m in 2020, up to €19m for 2021.
“It was the local authority’s decision-makers here, but Department of Housing signed off on it, and it begs the question, who’s in charge?”asked Cllr Farrelly.
“I regularly disagree with a lot of what the Soc Dems say, but I totally agree with Aidan here,” said Cllr Joe Neville.
“Why are councils leasing houses when we could build them? I don’t believe long-term leasing is the way forward,” he said.
“It really seems like just pouring money into the Liffey,” said Cllr Nuala Killeen.
“The fact the Department [of Housing] is pushing an authority to do this is raising a red flag for me. It’s not responsible accounting,” she said.
“This type of motion can look under covers and save money,” said Cllr Fiona McLoughlin Healy.
“Can someone give us an explanation of the cost benefit analysis of each model of leasing or renting? I’d really like to see that in an upcoming meeting,” she said.
“The option is there so you don’t limit yourself,” said Cllr Kevin Duffy.
“Sometimes it’s about stimulating the marketplace and getting money into it,” he said.
“We have had a briefing on leasing [policy] from the Executive,” Cathaoirleach Cllr Mark Stafford reminded the meeting.
“Leasing is government policy and it’s from a different funding stream,” said Annette Aspell, Director of Housing.
She explained how the Government had committed to leasing 10,000 houses over the lifetime of its ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan, and that Kildare Co Council was trying to meet these targets.
“At the end of the day, the members may want to make representations to the minister rather than the local authority,” she said.
Ms Aspell promised to re-circulate the briefing notes amongst the councillors, and Cllr Farrelly agreed to withdraw his motion and bring a “tweaked” version back to the January meeting.
However, he did note the possibility for confusion with four chiefs – the builder, the local authority, the Housing Agency, and the Department of Housing -involved in the process.
“There’s no way they won’t be pulled from pillar to post here, and I wonder is this all being communicated to the end user?” he concluded.