Divided opinions on OAPs rent increase

By Aideen O'Flaherty

AN increase in council rents for some old age pensioners of €13 per week and an increase in council rents by €3 across the board as part of South Dublin County Council’s annual budget, which was voted in last week, has divided opinion among councillors.

The council’s ruling group of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party voted to accept the budget, including the rental increases for council tenants, stating that it could create an additional €2.3m in funding for the council’s housing stock, and adding that it has the lowest rent rate of any local authority.

Tallaght Aerial shot 1 compressor

Area shot of Tallaght

Sinn Féin, Solidarity and Independent councillors voted against the annual budget, as they viewed the rent increase as targeting pensioners who are “already being pushed to the brink financially”, and adding that the overall rent increase shows that “no regard has been paid to people living in poverty”.

“Sinn Féin were part of the ruling group in the last council and we defended the weekly rents charged to council tenants from constant attack by Fine Gael,” said Sinn Féin councillor for Palmerstown-Fonthill, Mark Ward.

“We are now seeing the new ruling group of Fine Gael, Green Party and Fianna Fáil directly attacking the most vulnerable in our society.

“We had robustly defended the €10 a week discount to weekly rents for all Old Age Pensioners.

“The ruling council group voted to remove this in one foul swoop. Old Age Pensioners are already being pushed to the brink financially. This measure is going to push them over the edge.”

Fianna Fáil councillor for Firhouse-Bohernabreena, Deirdre O’Donovan, has defended her and her party’s decision to bring in the rent increases as part of the annual budget, as she said it would allow the council to better maintain their current housing stock, and that there are systems in place for those who face hardship with the rent increases.

“For the last five years I’ve been dealing with people in social housing who need to get maintenance done, but we don’t have the budget for it – it’s soul-destroying,” explained Cllr O’Donovan.

“A lot of the council’s housing stock is in a poor condition, and I can’t stand over continuing to let families live in unfit and unsuitable accommodation.”

In reference to the hardship some tenants may face as a result of the rent increase, Cllr O’Donovan said: “Under the housing policy there is a hardship clause, so nobody will be left in a worse position as a result of the rent increase.

“The €10 a week discount for pensioners was introduced during austerity because people were struggling – it was only ever a temporary measure, and the €3 across the board increase still doesn’t bring us in line with the next lowest rent of any local authority in the country.

“This is long overdue. Sinn Féin knew [the €10 discount was a temporary measure] and continued to let housing stock depreciate.”

Francis Timmons, an Independent councillor for Clondalkin, voted against the budget, and said the rent increases unfairly target those on lower incomes and could have a knock-on impact on those who are already living in poverty.

“I am livid that no regard has been paid to people living in poverty,” said Cllr Timmons. “There are many who already have to make choices between food on their table or heating.

“The budget was about the haves and have-nots, and will hurt the most vulnerable – children and the elderly in South Dublin.

“I fear for the less well-off under this new ruling group on South Dublin County Council. I felt I had to vote against this regressive budget that targets the less well-off.”

Fine Gael’s Emer Higgins, a councillor for Clondalkin, said that the rent increase is necessary for the council to maintain their housing stock, and to develop more housing to help those on the housing list.

“From my perspective, just to be clear, Fine Gael have protected the temporary discount for OAPs and older couples, but with the next budget and the rent increases we’ve fixed an anomaly in the system – as a result an additional €2.3m can be used for housing stock,” said Cllr Higgins.

“This way we can build more houses, and get people into houses quicker. The rent increase is a sensible approach – we have the lowest council rent in the entire country, and as a result of that we now have people from outside our area trying to get onto the housing list because it’s cheaper.

“It’s unfair on people from our area who need housing. The income from the rent increase will be reinvested into housing.”

Kieran Mahon, a Solidarity councillor for Tallaght Central, said: “This represents an absolutely shameful attack on local authority tenants – particularly over 65s.”

He added that the rent increases represented “putting the boot back into working class communities.”

The rent increases will come into effect next year.

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