Adjournment Debate. - Private Rented Accommodation.

We are all aware of the serious situation developing in this area. In examining the various local authority house building programmes in the greater Dublin area over the past 20 or 30 years, one recognises the achievement of the provision of substantial numbers of houses, flats, etc., and also the difficulties which arose from having provided houses in such large numbers. Such volumes of housing was provided because there was a necessity to clear the overcrowded slums in the centre of Dublin. Previous Governments built Drimnagh, Kimmage, Crumlin, Cabra and Ballyfermot. It was then felt there was too great an intensity of local authority housing in specific areas which brought with it certain social problems.

The next phase of addressing the housing crisis was the construction of Ballymun and the development of new satellite towns, two of which I have had the responsibility of representing since first being elected to the House in the late 1970s. Three of these satellite towns were Clondalkin, Lucan and Blanchardstown. In another, Tallaght, it was intended to accommodate 100,000 people, a substantial percentage of whom was to be housed in local authority accommodation.

We repeatedly address the problems which arise from having provided substantial and large numbers of local authority houses, especially social problems. North Clondalkin was the first ever area which needed a report from a task force on urban crime. We do not want to repeat past mistakes and thus do not provide such large volumes of local authority housing. As a result, in the area about which I am concerned, the Eastern Health Board enters the equation. It gives subsidies to people renting accommodation and who are on the local authority housing list.

The market driven cost of rents is soaring and persons or families on low or fixed incomes, such as welfare recipients, are finding it impossible to secure suitable accommodation. Accommodation within their means tends to be of poor quality and of insecure tenure. This inability to find accommodation leads to overcrowding in local authority dwellings where young people cannot afford to move out of the family home.

The Eastern Health Board provides rental subsidies but rapidly rising market costs in the private sector mean the subsidies increasingly lag behind. Indicative of these rental costs would be the Eastern Health Board Area 1 where market costs run from £550 to £600 per month and the subsidy runs at £350 to £400 per month. Area 2 has market costs from £450 to £500 and the subsidy is £300 to £380 per month. The subsidies cited are the maximum available and they vary from area to area. The subsidy system is tied into area rental costs and not to family needs and there is an increasing use of bed and breakfasts and hostel accommodation which is very unsatisfactory, particularly for mothers with young children. Annual outgoings are of the order of £100 million per annum of which the Eastern Health Board caters for about £40 million and about 16,500 cases. The public housing list is running nationally at about 31,000 and it is about 10,000 in Dublin.

While the Celtic tiger and all that goes with it is laudable and progressive, we will probably be judged at the end of this Government's term on our response to social needs and requirements. I hope we will be in a position to address it under a number of headings. There is no doubt the recent Bacon report was an attempt to address a specific aspect of the housing problem but not this one. The general reaction was that the recommendations of the report would mean growing problems in the rental sector. It is a problem I encounter every weekend at advice centres and I sincerely hope the Minister can address the issue and decide how to tackle this growing social problem.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to this matter.

I am concerned at reports of rent increases and shortages of private rented accommodation, especially in the Dublin area. A range of factors is at work, including the recent increases in house prices and values and the growing numbers of asylum seekers who must be accommodated in the private rented sector.

One factor which has tended to place additional pressure on the private rented sector in the recent past is that some prospective first time house buyers have been forced to remain in rented accommodation because of the difficulty they faced in purchasing houses. The overall package of measures which the Government has implemented to address the issue of house prices, as set out in its Action on House Prices, will benefit lower income buyers by helping to dampen price increases and restore better balance between supply and demand. These measures will help many households who had no option but to remain in rented accommodation to purchase their own house which, in turn, will help to relieve some pressure on the private rented sector. They should, together with the likely further reductions in interest rates, have a positive impact on the supply and cost of housing for renting generally.

The SWA rent supplementation scheme is governed by the Social Welfare Acts and administered by the health boards subject to overall direction, regulation and funding of the scheme by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. Health boards determine at the direction of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, appropriate maximum rent levels, in respect of which rent supplement is payable, having regard to the family circumstances and location of the residence. Rent levels for the purposes of the scheme in respect of accommodation for various categories of households, are set by the health boards using local knowledge of reasonable rents for private accommodation. I understand that increased rent levels were set earlier this year by the Eastern Health Board, involving increases ranging up to 25 per cent.

The large numbers of asylum seekers in the Dublin area has increased the pressure on the supply of private rented and emergency bed and breakfast accommodation. Under international agreements, the host state is responsible for providing for the needs of asylum seekers, including accommodation, while their applications for asylum are being determined. The processing of applications can take some time. While the procedures have been put in place by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to deal with the situation, there is likely to be little impact on the overall numbers in the short-term.

This also impacts on the availability of accommodation — private rented and emergency — for other homeless people in the area. Partly as a consequence, the emergency hostels for homeless people in the area are generally full and the voluntary bodies which operate this accommodation and the Eastern Health Board which arranges emergency accommodation for homeless people, are having difficulty in meeting demand. Dublin Corporation and the Dublin Homeless Initiative are addressing this problem by placing increased emphasis on settlement measures to move homeless people out of hostels and identifying and making arrangements with operators of bed and breakfast premises to provide a consistent flow of emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The Action Programme for the Millennium sets out the Government's commitment to a continuing house construction programme by local authorities and voluntary groups. A programme of 3,900 housing starts and acquisitions has been notified to local authorities for 1998. The capital provision of some £213 million is 19 per cent up on last year and authorities in the Dublin region received £72 million — including £20 million for the redevelopment of Ballymun.

It is estimated that the housing programme, taken with the output from complementary social housing measures and vacancies in the existing local authority housing stock, will enable the needs of some 10,000 households to be catered for in 1998, about one third of whom would be in the Dublin area.