This scheme applies to ‘affordable’ homes built on publicly owned, i.e. Council lands.
It is designed to appeal to low and middle-income households. Single applicants or couples can apply to purchase one of these and if successful the local authority will provide 40% of the purchase cost.
It’s obviously quite an attractive offer, so how does one qualify? There are certain criteria which must be met in the first instance.
the combined income of the household must be no more than €70k, or €50k in the case of a single applicant.
the applicant(s) must have already secured mortgage approval.
the applicant(s) must have been living within the local authority area for at least the preceding 12 months.
the applicant(s) must suit the house that is on offer, i.e. a three person household is suited to a two bedroomed house, a four person household is suited to a three bedroom house.
Each local authority, via its elected members, can set further criteria.
the applicant(s) must have a child in a primary school within certain radius of the property.
or the applicant(s) must have a child in a secondary school within a certain radius of the property.
or the applicant(s) must have a child in a third level institution within a certain radius of the property.
or the applicant(s)’s place of work must be within a certain radius of the property.
It is a reserved function of the councillors to define these distances. And this is what we did today.
Obviously, having wider bands for the distance criteria renders them meaningless. Effectively, a large radius means that the proximity of the house to your children’s school or its proximity your place of work doesn’t give you an advantage in securing the affordable home over those whose kids are in a school at the other side of town, or whose job is a long commute away.
It is tempting to cast the net wide and not rule anybody out. But where does that leave us? It raises the prospect of having a very large amount of eligible applicants for a small number of affordable homes. Those who satisfy the basic criteria have as much chance as those who have children in a local school or whose job is nearby. And ultimately the decision as to who gets the house, and the 40% support will be made on a first come, first served basis.
It means that if an affordable home becomes available in Adare, then applicants from Limerick City whose child is in a city centre school and whose place of work is in Shannon will be just as eligible for the home as the family who is from Adare, whose child is in the local school and who works in the village.
We set these distance criteria today, and it appears that we set them to be tighter than any other local authority in Ireland. After much discussion we decided that, all other criteria being met, if your child is in a primary school 15km from the home you qualify. If your child is in a secondary school 20km from the home, you qualify. If you have a son or daughter travelling up to 120km daily to a third level institution from the home, you qualify. And if your workplace is 150km from the home, you qualify.
It remains to be seen how this works in practice, but I can see two problems arising. Firstly, as mentioned above, if there are too few homes then we have created a situation where a lot of applicants are eligible for those, and the first come, first served criteria kicks in. That’s really not a good way to decide eligibility. It also means that we are reinforcing some very negative patterns that have developed in Ireland in recent decades. We have an opportunity to disincentivise parents from sending their children to schools far from where they live, and that is a good thing to do for all kinds of social, economic, and environmental reasons.
As it happens, the first sites to come on offer are in Adare and we’ll see how it plays out. At any time the Council can revise the distance criteria and we may have to do just that.