SPC 1 - Minutes
Minutes of Meeting of Strategic Policy Committee 1 – Housing & Corporate – held on Tuesday, 28th September, 2021 at 10.00 a.m. in The Council Chamber, County Hall, Riverside, Sligo
- Councillor Arthur Gibbons (Chair)
- Councillor Declan Bree
- Councillor Gino O’Boyle
- Councillor Tom Fox
- Councillor Paul Taylor
- Melinda Swann (PPN Environment)
- Pascal Connolly (Trade Union Pillar)
MEMBERS ATTENDING VIRTUALLY
- Pippa Black (PPN Social Inclusion)
OFFICIALS IN ATTENDANCE:
- Mr Joe Murphy, Senior Executive Officer
- Mr Sean Martin, A/Senior Architect (vitually)
- Mr Jimmy O’Brien, A/HIS
- Ms Aine Carr, Meetings Administrator
- Ms Mary Farrell, Assistant Staff Officer
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons, sought the approval of all present for the meeting to be recorded and this was agreed.
He welcomed all to the meeting but especially Pascal Connolly (Trade Union Pillar) who was attending his first meeting since replacing Pat Fallon. He said that he looked forward to working with him and the contribution he would make to the SPC1 Committee. He also welcomed Councillor Paul Taylor who had replaced Councillor Joe Queenan on the Committee.
PRESENTATION BY THRESHOLD:
A presentation was given to the meeting by Karina Timothy, Manager and Annemarie O’Reilly, Policy Officer, Threshold. Ms Timothy thanked the Committee for inviting them to the meeting and advised that Threshold is a National Service who were available to all renters in Ireland and whose role is to prevent homelessness and to give advice to tenants. She said they worked towards a right based approach for housing and have a national free phone number for all enquiries together with a web chat facility and online face to face consultations.
She informed the meeting that Threshold give advice, advocate for tenants and negotiate and mediate with landlords on behalf of the tenants. They also represent tenants on the Residential Tenancies Board.
She spoke about rent increases and clarified that not all of Count Sligo is in a rent pressure zone. For those outside rent pressure zones, rents can be increased by as much as 40%. She also said that they advise tenants with regard to notices of termination and whether the notice served is valid.
She also spoke about HAP limits and many tenants being unable to meet the shortfall. K Timothy informed the committee that €3.2m was spent on HAP in Sligo in 2020 and that 831renters avail of HAP in Sligo. She noted that while 20% uplift can be applied to HAP payments, the percentage in Sligo is 11%. The average uplift is 15%. She concluded by stating that Threshold also provides a dedicated service for students.
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons, queried tenants getting a valid notice of termination and then having nowhere to go. K Timothy replied that if the tenants have been served a valid notice, they must comply with the notice and Threshold’s role would be to advise them that they must comply and would direct them to their local authority to access homeless services, They would also negotiate with the landlords to give the tenants some ‘leeway’ and ensure that families were aware of the social housing supports available, e.g. HAP. She said that in many cases notices of termination are invalid and this would allow tenants to remain on in their home.
P Black asked if referrals to Threshold should be made for those experiencing discrimination in accessing accommodation because of their status as HAP clients. K Timothy replied that in the case where there was clear evidence, Threshold could help with taking a case to the WRC.
Councillor Bree asked for the presentation slides to be sent to each member and queried where the figure of €3.2 m spent on HAP in County Sligo came from and what year it referred to. He was advised by A O’Reilly that the information had been obtained from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage website which has the number of tenancies and expenditure for each county.
M Swann stressed the importance of advertisements on TV and Social media regarding HAP for the public. In response, Annemarie said that recommendations has been put forward to the Minister for an awareness raising campaign. Councillor Taylor expressed concern that many people who want to be considered for HAP are unable to afford it because rents are so high. K Timothy in response said that no more than 30% of household income should be spent on rent and if the top up and differential rent is greater than 30%, the local authority more than likely will say that the tenant cannot afford it.
P Black asked if Threshold could provide training to the Council and she was informed that this is possible.
The Chair thanked both K Timothy and A O’Reilly for their very informative and invaluable presentation.
MINUTES OF MEETING OF SPC1 HELD ON 8TH JUNE, 2021:
It was proposed by Councillor O’Boyle
Seconded by P Black
“To confirm the minutes of the Meeting of the Strategic Policy Committee 1 – Housing and Corporate – held on 8th June, 2021.
MATTERS ARISING FROM MINUTES:
With regard to the vacant homes action plan, Councillor Bree said that the members had been advised at the SPC1 meeting in June that a map showing occupied and unoccupied properties would be made available to them but this had not been received to date. In reply, the Chair said that he been contacted by M Cummins, A/Senior Executive Engineer, who said that a map was currently been prepared as per GDPR guidelines and would be circulated in the next few weeks.
Councillor O’Boyle asked if there was any update on the RAS transfer policy and J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer, informed the meeting that a draft was been prepared which would be forwarded to the members in the next few weeks for any responses to that draft to be submitted in time for consideration at the next meeting of the SPC in December. He said that this draft would provide for a pathway transfer for those on RAS. Councillor O’Boyle thanked J Murphy for the update.
NOMINATIONS TO SLIGO COUNTY COUNCIL DISABILITY CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE:
It was proposed by Councillor Bree
Seconded by Councillor Taylor
‘That Ms. Jillian Marelich, Irish Wheelchair Association and Mr PJ Cleere, Disability Federation of Ireland (replacing Ms. Cathy McGrath DFI) be nominated to the Sligo County Council Disability Consultative Committee”
HOUSING DELIVERY 2017-2021 UPDATE:
Councillor Bree welcomed the comprehensive report and said that it would be useful if the number of persons on the housing list was also included in this report together with HAP and RAS tenants and not just housing delivered and the amount of turnkey or new builds. He referred to a letter which had been sent from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to the Chief Executive setting out proposals that the Government have brought forward for housing delivery and that all Councils in the country are required to deliver a housing delivery action plan by December 2021 setting out housing delivery for the next 5 years. He noted that the Department wanted 45 new builds next year, 111 the following year with a total of 517 over a 5 year period. He asked if the plan would be coming before the SPC1 for consideration.
In reply, J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer, said that it was not clear how this plan was going to be adopted and whether it was a reserved function and time would be a factor if it was going to the SPC1 and then to the full Council.
QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BY SPC1 MEMBERS:
Questions submitted by Councillor O’Boyle
- Has the council received any funding to buy houses and the recent works In the woodlands to be discussed
- To discuss transfer policy around anti social behaviour
With regard to question 1, Councillor O’Boyle said that he had already discussed the recent works in the Woodlands with J Murphy.
With regard to the Council receiving funding to buy houses, J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer, advised the meeting that the Council had received approval to acquire 7 houses of which 3 were in the pipeline. He stated that he felt that the target of 7 was undeliverable.
Councillor O’Boyle asked if house prices were a factor and if there was a limit on what the Council could spend and J Murphy replied that there are bands for acquisitions and the Council should be able to afford most of them except for one bed apartments where the bands were very low.
Councillor O’Boyle expressed concern regarding anti social behaviour and asked what could be done to prevent it as many tenants were afraid to report it. J Murphy advised the meeting that Sligo County Council has a member of staff who can take evidence from tenants and they would not have to go to court. He said that it was a difficult situation because if the tenants causing the anti-social behaviour are transferred, they have to be housed somewhere else and the problem still doesn’t go away.
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons and Councillor Taylor both emphasised that different bodies e.g. Social Services, Tusla, Garda Siochana and not just the Council needed to be involved. Councillor Fox said that there was a lot of help and support for tenants and people needed to be made aware of this. Landlords should be encouraged to help and liaise with tenants.
Questions submitted by P Black
- I believe we had previously carried over a discussion about implementation of the County Sligo Access and Inclusion Plan including when we can expect to see it reviewed.
- At our previous meeting, it was mentioned that we have a €400,000 budget shortfall for the renovation of existing council houses to bring them back into use. At the time I asked whether this is something the council should consider borrowing money to achieve. This would seem a sensible option to consider given that council houses generate an income for the Council and that interest is still at reasonably low levels. Arthur Gibbons prompted me at the time to bring this to our next meeting. It might be necessary to have someone from finance in attendance to advise us.
- Following the adoption of our work plan, perhaps we need to discuss issues around our role as policy-makers. This would include considering whether everyone in the room is aware of our role and the functions of the different groups that are represented on this committee, whether we might need training to be more effective as policy makers as well as how we should schedule and deliver on the work plan.
With regard to question number one, P Black asked when there would be an update on the implementation of the County Sligo Access and Inclusion Plan.
In response J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer, said that the Disability Consultative Committee had developed a work programme and it would be circulated to the SPC members. He advised the meeting that he understood that the Committee were meeting the next day.
P Black was pleased with this response.
In response to question number two submitted by P Black,
J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer said that there was a shortfall of €400,000 but the Council had another source of funding that could fund this shortfall, but it was limited.
With regard to question number three submitted by P Black, she felt that an extra meeting was required to discuss the Committee’s work plans and also expressed concern regarding the delivery of the Housing Action Plan and that an extra meeting might be needed to discuss it.
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons, proposed that the next meeting of the SPC1 be brought forward in order to discuss the plan.
Councillor Bree said that normally an additional meeting was only required if the meeting went over the time limit of 1hour, 55 minutes but this limit was likely to change once Covid restrictions were lifted in October. He said that meetings could then go on for longer and there should be ample time to discuss any items. He stated that the Committee had a right to call a special meeting but he felt that there was normally adequate time at the SPC1 quarterly meetings.
P Black stated that the Committee need to decide their priorities.
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons recommended that items from the work programme list be put on the agenda for the next meeting and this was agreed.
M Swann brought to the attention of the meeting an email from the Sligo Environmental Network regarding hedge cutting during the winter months and expressing concern that after the growing season between March and September the hedgerows are being cut too tightly and hedges can’t keep their berries which is an important food source for birds and mammals. She queried if there was a policy in Sligo County Council for hedge cutting.
Councillor Paul Taylor said that farmers can cut their hedges outside the prohibited period and the Council would cut hedges at junctions or where safety may be an issue.
The Chair, Councillor Gibbons, said that he felt that hedgecutting was a matter for the Roads Dept or the Parks Dept for Sligo town area and not the Housing and Corporate Directorate and M Swann agreed to liase with them regarding same.
There was no correspondence.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS:
Councillor O’Boyle queried if the SPC1 meeting in December should be brought forward if the Committee wished to have input into the housing delivery action plan. It was agreed that the Chair, Councillor Gibbons, would liaise with J Murphy, Senior Executive Officer on receipt of clarification from the Department regarding the question of it being a reserved function. If it was a reserved function, then a date could be agreed to discuss the plan at an SPC1 Committee meeting to be held sooner than the next meeting which was scheduled for 7th December, 2021.
The Chair thanked all the members for attending the meeting and for their input and contribution.
END OF MEETING:
The business of the meeting concluded at 11.15 a.m.
Meeting Date 28/09/2021