Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Aréir bhí mé ag labhairt ar an gceist seo sa chéad chuid den méid a bhí le rá agam. Luaigh mé go bhfuil 60,000 duine ar an liosta feithimh le haghaidh tithíochta agus gur scannal é sin. Is gá dúinn, toisc go bhfuil an fhadhb seo againn san eacnamaíocht, déileáil leis seo. Is féidir linn déileáil le dhá rud ag an am chéanna — tithe a thabhairt do dhaoine agus an eacnamaíocht a spreagadh. Tá dúshlán ann agus tá seans ag an Aire agus ag an Rialtas gníomhú chun déileáil leis an bhfadhb seo.

We have reservations on the section dealing with anti-social behaviour. It lacks clarity and direction. Hopefully we can tease some of it out on Committee Stage. We believe a different approach is needed and we will table amendments to address that. We urge the Government to do the right thing on Committee Stage and to examine anti-social behaviour. The promotion of good estate management should be the priority of any anti-social behaviour strategy. Communities must be able to access well-resourced initiatives for the reduction and prevention of anti-social behaviour, including but not limited to family intervention and mediation services.

There is an urgent need to strengthen the Private Residential Tenancies Board as well in respect of landlords and tenants. There are a number of complaints in my constituency where local authority housing is next to private rented flats. The latter are prone to anti-social tenants in some areas. I refer to the inability of the local authority, the Garda Síochána and the landlords to address these tenants. One example concerns an area I visited last week, which has been totally regenerated. I refer to Fatima Mansions, where work is ongoing to finish the regeneration. Much work has been done by the community. Leading up to it, on St. Anthony's Road, there are a number of properties owned by the same family of landlords. Each dwelling has been sub-divided and the landlords seem to have gone out of their way to get the most troubled, difficult and disturbed tenants in Dublin.

The stories of residents put in context what they must deal with and amount to a cry for help to us to do something. The community has pulled together to do something about it but there must be a quicker mechanism. One woman moved into a new home in this regenerated area and said she was so excited about moving into her new home. She had been waiting years for it. She says she used to sit in the kitchen looking out at the kids playing but now she sits in the back room because she cannot sit in the front room watching the comings and goings on the road. She says that this includes drug dealing and people going to the toilet in doorways, especially No. 14, with the black steel door, and that the noise level and the filth on the road is horrible. She says it is much worse than the flats in the bad old days and wishes that somebody can do something because the landlords just want money.

I regularly visited Fatima Mansions in the bad old days and for an old resident of Fatima Mansions to compare the situation today with the old days shows the scale of this problem. Another woman says that since she moved into her home on St. Anthony's Road, she has had the horrendous experience of dealing with rat infestation relating to the houses adjoining hers. She says this is related to the dumping of rubbish, she has spent hundreds of euro trying to address this and has contacted the environmental health officer, Dublin City Council, public representatives and anyone who would try to help her with these problems. She says she has young children and has had to move them out of their bedrooms when they heard rats behind the walls in partitions. She says the ongoing difficulties of anti-social behaviour is terrible and that people are living in shocking conditions.

I want this Bill to address the fact that people are in receipt of rent supplement, are benefiting from the State subsidising landlords and there does not seem to be the same degree of caution or help given to these tenants. A proposed tenant for local authority housing is vetted. There are now tenancy training schemes but that does not apply to those in the private rented sector, nor does it apply to landlords so that they do not put a concentration of people with difficult problems, whether drug dealing or psychiatric cases, in one set of buildings. This greater concentration adds to the problem. There must be some mechanism so that if there is concentration, support is in place from the HSE, the local authority and the Garda Síochána if required. If there is a continuation of these problems there must be a quicker remedy for the community. Landlords have a duty to their tenants to keep their dwellings in a fit state and a duty to the community around the dwellings they are letting and making a profit from. I hope the Minister will address some of these issues.

With the collapse of the PPPs, there is concern that a number of flat complexes in this city earmarked for regeneration, in areas such as Cherry Orchard, have become vacant and have been boarded up pending regeneration. In St. Teresa's Gardens a number of dwellings have been boarded up with no prospect in the near future of the regeneration scheme taking off. The same is true of Dominic Street and St. Michael's Estate. This creates its own problems, with dereliction and the vacant look attracting the anti-social, hooligan element. This brings down the tone of the area and destroys the spirit of those who are holding out in the hope of regeneration. I ask the Minister to try to address this, and the collapse of the PPPs. We need more social housing so we can deal with the shortfall that will occur. All of the properties in the Dublin City Council housing stock that are lying vacant will not be replaced by new dwellings as promised when the State went down the foolish road of public private partnerships.

The Bill mentions schemes of lettings but I do not see a standardised scheme in it. As one goes across the country from local authority to local authority, why do we have different schemes of letting and different points schemes? It is absolutely crazy. Locally elected representatives, Deputies and the public should be able to understand the system rather than having to bounce through one, two or three variations. In this city there could be four local authorities with four different schemes, which would be absolutely crazy. I hope the Bill will produce a standardised scheme so everybody in the country will know where they stand in regard to the scheme of lettings.

I welcome the Minister's proposals to outlaw bedsits in the private sector. For years in this city we have been waiting on local authorities to replace bedsits in local authority flat complexes; this has not happened as quickly as was possible and the matter must be addressed.

The issue of subsidising private landlords was raised last night by Deputy Fahey. He bemoaned the amount of money spent by the State in subsidising private landlords and for once I agree with him. It was interesting, particularly as the issue was raised by him. The amount of money involved in this has gone through the roof. The latest figures for rent supplement amount to an increase of 20,000 people from this time last year. That money would be much better spent on local authority housing. Rather than spending such funding on private landlords through the rent supplement or rental accommodation scheme, the local authorities should buy up the empty apartments and houses around the country to replenish housing stock and address local authority housing waiting lists.

I value the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this multifaceted Bill, which aims to address a number of issues of significance in the housing area. At the outset I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and his predecessor in the portfolio, Deputy Noel Ahern, for the work that they and their officials have done in putting together a piece of legislation that has to date won broad-based support.

I have personally long been convinced of the critical importance of public policy on housing and social housing in particular. There are few who would argue with the fact that a quality built environment impacts on a household's quality of life. It also has an influence on the individual sense of personal worth, educational attainment, health and well-being and employment potential. Any legislation in the area is of major importance.

Sections 14 to 18 of this Bill introduce a requirement for local authority members to make and adopt a services plan for their jurisdiction and imposes subsequently on the authority manager a requirement to bring forward a housing action plan to implement the members' proposals. On the face of it this is a very sensible approach, building on the existing system of local area plans, county plans and county housing strategies. The introduction of the housing services plan and a managerial implementation plan completes the circle.

The problem may be the risk which exists for those thousands of families on our nationwide housing list that the making of these plans becomes an end in itself and that we continue to see inadequate or inconsistent output from our local authorities. Since the launch of the strategic management initiative and the advent of the Better Local Government strategy — which, in my opinion, has given worse local government — we have seen a significant increase in the output at local authority level in particular of glossy plans and reports with no commensurate improvement in the quality, extent and range of services delivered in all areas under local authority remit.

Social housing provision is a case in point. The Government has regularly been castigated in this House for the growing waiting lists but the Government has sought over many years to encourage and pressurise urban and county councils into increasing their output and availing of the funding on offer from Government. Whereas some authorities have responded admirably, many have not, including some controlled by the parties which have been critical of Government. In response to a parliamentary question on outputs in my own county tabled in late 2007, it emerged — to my surprise — that Kildare County Council had drawn down on average only 69% of available funding between 2002 and 2007 for social housing construction or purchase.

I acknowledge that the situation has improved significantly since 2007 in County Kildare but it is nonetheless the case that when I was elected to this House in 2002, I expected to have to lobby Departments and Ministers to secure funding for infrastructure for Kildare, including housing, and not the reverse, where my local authority had to be pressurised to avail of what was on offer.

The difficulties which have existed with some local authorities around the country in terms of their social housing output, and notwithstanding the fact that overall output may have increased, indicate that housing has lost its position as a primary local authority function. Had it not, and had elected members and county managers in particular not pursued other agendas, far more could have been achieved during the years of plenty. It is to our considerable discredit as a nation that those on our local authority waiting lists remain among the most marginalised people in Irish society.

Sections 19 to 24 of this Bill address the areas of social housing support, and in particular the making of an allocations scheme, or a scheme of letting priorities as it would have been commonly known. This was referred to by Deputy Ó Snodaigh. It is important that in making an allocations scheme, local authority members are cognisant of the fact that they have a crucial role not just in building houses but also in building communities. That is a far more difficult challenge. It is necessary, particularly in the allocation of new housing schemes, for this fact to be taken into account, and any scheme made should ensure the diversity which exists in society at large and in the county in question is reflected in the new local communities created in these estates. In other words, it is essential that new housing schemes include people who vary in age and nationality, people who are single and married, people with disabilities, people who are unemployed and people who work every day.

Achieving this type of balance and integration would go a long way towards preventing the anti-social behaviour which many Members have referred to and the marginalisation of social housing projects around the country. To achieve this end, the allocations schemes adopted around the country will need to be a lot more comprehensive and sophisticated than they have ever been in the past.

On the issue of allocations, I acknowledge the work done by environmental health officers. In counties like Kildare they carry out individual assessments of need on the housing applicants and at all times they demonstrate consummate professionalism. In this regard I suggest the need to introduce professional training to all those working in the housing area so that housing management in itself can be regarded as a lifelong profession rather than something people dip in and out of.

The sections up to and including section 27 deal with the rental accommodation scheme, an enlightened initiative on which I congratulate the Minister. It gives some significant security of tenure to people in private rental positions. This scheme must be resourced and promoted at local level, where its merits are not yet fully understood by either tenants or landlords, and I congratulate the Minister on placing the scheme on a statutory footing.

Sections 21 and 31 propose to remove the procedure whereby local elected members must give approval for the disposal of land or a dwelling in accordance with section 183 of the 2001 Local Government Act. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate why the matter of disposal would arise in respect of the rental accommodation scheme. In any event, I object, as a matter of principle, to any provision that removes powers from local councillors.

Sections 28 to 34 deal with control and management and allow local authorities, by way of reserved function, to delegate the management and control of houses or estates to designated bodies, including those comprising residents of an area. This is a progressive move and I warmly welcome it.

Section 34 also deals with anti-social behaviour. As already stated, a better allocation system, coupled with Garda vetting of prospective tenants, would assist in preventing this growing phenomenon. However, in estates where such behaviour already exists, far stronger action, including, if necessary, court proceedings and eviction, must be taken by local authorities. The local joint policing committees have a major contribution to make in this regard in order that the perpetrators will be penalised and the innocent victims can enjoy the security of their homes and neighbourhoods. In many people's experience it has been the victims who have been obliged to flee their estates while the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour are allowed to continue to engage in their nefarious activities.

The incremental purchase scheme, which is covered in sections 35 to 40, is another positive new initiative to add to the variety of other schemes that support home ownership. The scheme involves a number of restrictions and I ask the Minister to outline how housing authorities and approved bodies will identify the properties to be sold. The scheme is generous in its provisions, particularly as it is intended to set the initial purchase price at 40% of the construction cost with the balance offset over 30 years of occupancy at 2% per annum. Funds from these sales, whether completed by local authorities or approved bodies should, I suggest, be ring-fenced for further capital projects and should not be subsumed into current spending.

Sections 41 to 43, inclusive, deal with matters including the housing adaptation grants for older people and the disabled person's grant. This topic was addressed by Deputy Áine Brady at some length. While I wholeheartedly agree with the points she made, I am of the view that the Bill could be further strengthened by the inclusion of a provision which would address the plight of applicants in counties such as Kildare, where the local authority has traditionally made totally inadequate provision in its estimates in respect of the matching funding required to make grant schemes work effectively and to meet the demand which inevitably arises on foot of the presence of a growing and ageing population. I fail to understand how it is possible for the local authority in County Kildare to justify to the people who live there the fact that it allocates approximately €1.6 million in respect of these grants, whereas the council in County Donegal, which has a smaller population, allocates in excess of €4 million per annum.

Voluntary and co-operative housing has been an area of massive growth, particularly during the past decade. At present, there are 679 approved bodies which have constructed and are managing in the region of 20,000 properties. The quality of the units built and the management of the estates are, with very few exceptions, of a very high standard. The sector, having made good use of the capital assistance and capital loan and subsidy schemes to provide specialised housing and meet the needs of mainstream housing applicants, can be extremely proud of its achievements. The providers in this area vary in nature, from local conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and local community bodies — providing in the most part for the needs of small groups of elderly people and of those with disabilities in their local areas — to major organisations such as Respond, which is responsible for in excess of 3,500 units at present, which has a nationwide remit and which addresses a broad spectrum of social housing provision, including that of agency services to local authorities. I congratulate the Minister on granting to local authorities the power to devolve to such bodies further functions, including those relating to estate management. In many instances, the bodies to which I refer have proven to be more effective than local authorities, particularly in the area of estate management.

I must declare an interest in respect of voluntary housing because for more than 15 years I have been actively involved with local communities in County Kildare in the establishment and management of locally-based voluntary housing associations. To date, these associations have built or purchased in excess of 260 family units. The relatively small but effective housing associations in County Kildare operate on the basis of a self-help philosophy and see social housing need as something that can be addressed, at least in part, by local communities using the financial supports that Government provides. In practice, the experience in County Kildare has been that those in need of housing have come together to help themselves. These people have anchored themselves in their local communities by establishing locally-based associations or by joining existing associations that are managed with the active support and participation of established community activists who bring with them project development and management expertise. Without exception, the Kildare projects have been successful in the context of cost-efficient unit delivery and estate management. At a number of locations, Kildare County Council has co-operated with these associations to deliver part of its own social housing programme on a joint-venture basis.

In the context of the Bill, however, a number of issues arise. Section 22 confers on county managers the authority to make allocations in accordance with an allocation scheme drawn up by members in respect of dwellings provided by approved by voluntary housing bodies. In County Kildare, some 100% of units allocated under the former rental purchase scheme — currently the capital loan and subsidy scheme — have been allocated to households drawn from local authority waiting lists following consultation and agreement with the local authority. Will the Minister ensure that there is nothing in section 22 which would prevent or discourage self-help initiatives of this type, which have worked successfully in County Kildare, particularly in circumstances where the power might be given to a county manager to allocate houses on a scheme to qualifying applicants other than those who had been directly involved in the development of the project as a self-help initiative?

I warmly welcome the fact that the Minister has decided to include the sector in the incremental purchase scheme. In light of the difficulties that exist, I acknowledge the pragmatic approach that he is adopting in the Bill in allowing voluntary providers to determine the extent to which they will participate in the process. While the incremental purchase scheme is a forward-looking initiative, the Bill fails to address the plight of those who already live in properties provided by voluntary associations. Very few of those who live in homes funded by the capital loan and subsidy scheme have chosen this form of accommodation over local authority accommodation. Rather it is the case that there was no other reasonable alternative available to them.

We now have two forms of social housing provision, namely, that provided by local authorities and that provided by the voluntary sector. Both forms are being 100% funded by the Exchequer and both providers have drawn their tenants from the same local authority waiting lists. Those who have chosen the voluntary accommodation have done so because, in the vast majority of cases, they have had no real alternative.

At present, local authority tenants can avail of tenant purchase schemes whereas tenants of voluntary housing associations cannot do so. In view of the position I have outlined, it is fundamentally unjust that voluntary tenants cannot avail of tenant purchase schemes. I implore the Minister to amend the Bill to address this issue or to at least indicate that he will bring forward a new legislative proposal, within a reasonable timeframe, to address a matter which I firmly believe runs contrary to natural justice. Nowhere is that injustice more evident than in the schemes in County Kildare I referred to earlier where tenants, who came together to cause the housing project to be built, see their joint venture neighbours in council owned properties avail of tenant purchase while they, whose initiative caused the houses to be built in the first instance, cannot. That is an indefensible position and something that must be addressed.

I refer to the remedial works scheme. Deputy Upton spoke yesterday of the importance of the schemes currently under way and the type of developments throughout the country which gave rise to the need for remedial schemes. Valuable work has been done in my own constituency in locations such as Kilcullen, Newbridge and Athy. The Minister has an application on his desk for a remedial scheme for St. Patrick's Park in Rathangan, and I urge him to look positively on that. I express a fear that as we move, not just pressed by developers, bankers or others, as suggested by Deputy Upton, towards creating a much more dense urban environment as advocated largely by professional planners, in some cases we may be bringing into existence the sort of housing scheme that will need to be remediated in the future. I am particularly concerned about local authorities that build high density properties that are very small and which do not provide for lifelong living. That is something that must be addressed. I compliment local authorities generally on the high standard of properties they are building throughout the country, with the possible exception of the area of high density, because the quality of the design has improved beyond belief in recent years.

I refer to the issue of Traveller accommodation. Deputy Connaughton attended a meeting of the health committee with me recently where we heard concerns expressed by the Traveller community, and advocates on their behalf, about the high infant mortality and the low life expectancy in the Traveller community compared with the population at large. At least part of that problem derives from the inadequacy of the accommodation available to that community throughout the country. I support the Minister in the positive initiatives he is taking to address this intractable problem. I am happy to recommend the Bill to the House.

The Bill is like one of the omnibus Bills that come before the House in that it means well but whether it will deliver is another story. I agree with some of the remarks made by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl. I have heard the talk from so many Ministers in all Governments about the importance of the over-arching policies and strategies that are required in council housing and so on. It is important to have those, and there are many aspects of the Bill with which I have no major problem, but I have a major problem with one aspect which has been mentioned by colleagues on all sides of the House, namely, the number of glossy magazines, plans and so on laid before councillors and Deputies throughout the country, with very few houses being made available.

I have nothing but the highest praise for what the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is trying to do. There is hardly anyone in this House who understands the position better because he has been through the local authority system for many years. To put the problem in context, yesterday evening I got the details of the number of people on the housing list for Galway County Council — everyone is concerned with their own geographical area — and I was astounded to be told that there were 2,250 on it. The normal level is approximately 1,200 or 1,400 but the shocking aspect of that statistic was that 500 were added to the list in the past three months. That speaks volumes, and every Member of this House knows that only too well, but regardless of what we know about it one can imagine the effect of it on the people concerned because they are saying, in effect, that they have nowhere else to turn to for housing other than the local authority. The message is that there is nowhere to go. From the point of view of the moneys made available by the Department I accept that some local authorities maximised the opportunities made available to them. However, there are so many people currently waiting legitimately for a house in County Galway that the entire allocation for the country could be used to solve that problem.

Unless the Minister of State, the Minister and the Government decide to further capitalise the allocation to housing in the next four or five years, we will see much longer housing waiting lists because there will be no funding from any other source. Unlike the position in previous years, there are other ways in which the Minister can act in this area and I will compliment him if some of the measures he is trying to implement, including the long term leasing scheme, work.

There are not that many ways for a person who has not got the money for a house and who cannot borrow or repay a mortgage can actually get a house. If one considers it, there are not that many places for them to go. Variations of schemes were introduced over the years. There was a multiplicity of them. In fact, there was such a difference between one local authority and another one would think they were not in the same state.

I was a Minister of State in the 1980s in what was so-called the worst of times and in the period since then there were never more of what we used to call local authority houses or social houses built. Some people will say that in terms of value for money we must be careful about the people to whom the houses are allocated and that there a more efficient way to proceed financially, from the taxpayers' point of view, in terms of putting a roof over their head. That matter has been discussed at length in every council chamber for many years. Something I have seen over the years is that when various schemes are tailor made to help young people build their own house or get a house through the shared ownership scheme, the procedure is so bureaucratic that before it is over the council staff and the applicants are fatigued, and the scheme dies.

I refer the Minister of State to his recent announcement on the new home loans scheme. I was prepared to give that a reasonably good chance but when I read through the details — I assume the Minister of State must have seen it because he operates almost on the same terrain as myself — I saw there were a number of aspects that would ensure it could not work, and it did not. I understand only four or five have been assessed for it. There is almost no uptake and one of the reasons for that is that there is a floor area restriction — I believe it is approximately 1,300 sq. ft. — on the house above which one would not be entitled to draw down a loan. I refer here to the 92% loan.

Some of the houses being built in the private sector are so big they are obscene. I cannot for the life of me see why people build five bedroom houses when they only hope to have two children. It is their right, and even members of my own family are at it so I am no position to criticise, but there is no question that there has been a huge overdoing of house sizes. Under the home loan system, when people build a house, it must be well insulated and as efficient as possible, but that has an effect. People are being asked to build a house half the size of their neighbour down the road in the private sector so they do not go for the loan. If the Minister wants that loan system to work, he should look at the size of the house. I am not suggesting it be increased to 2,400 sq. ft. but another extra room on to the floor area would make a dramatic difference.

Everyone is talking about anti-social behaviour but not much is being done about it. I wonder if the will exists to clamp down on the people who upset the lives of ordinary decent people and devalue their estates. Estates I am used to are much smaller than those in Dublin but it does not matter if there are 20 houses in an estate or 200 houses if there is an undesirable element creating havoc in the area. People become so tired waiting for the authorities to shift those people that eventually they leave, unable to continue living under those conditions. I have come across the greatest band of pups in my time in a few of the housing estates across east Galway. They have created havoc and the joint policing fora, the HSE, the gardaí, the local authorities and all the mechanisms that are in place did not work because they were too slow.

When those people are evicted for serious wrongdoing in council estates, what do we do with them when they are evicted? Where do they go then? That is a problem the Judiciary faces but, one way or another, if people are committed to bringing up their children and living their lives in a local authority estate, they have enough problems to face without being damned by those anti-social elements. These people are becoming bolder, more daring and harder to handle. There is not a Deputy in the House who does not know of the sort of character I have described. Whatever is in the Bill, I hope it is strong enough to address that problem.

I mentioned the schemes for the homeless and those on housing lists to acquire a council house. Whatever about over-arching strategy and new strategic approaches, I sincerely hope the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and county councils will never shy away from the single rural house where it is appropriate. It is hugely important that account be taken of people who have a commitment to the land because there is nowhere more appropriate to house the family than in the village where they were born and reared. Some people say we should have a continental approach, where those who farm would live in a hamlet along the Danish or Dutch lines. That is not what Irish people want. While numerically the number of houses should be small, the policy should never change.

I remember when the affordable housing proposals were made. There are eight such houses in my village of Mountbellew that were built when the scheme was first established and they were good value. The wheel has fallen off that wagon, however, as it has in much of the building industry. Now there are some affordable houses that are more expensive than houses on the open market. Some local authorities have been trying to sell affordable houses at those prices and no one will buy them. Something must be done immediately because those houses were built for a specific purpose. The applicants have been assessed and the loans made available so surely there must be a mechanism to reflect the downturn in house prices. The Department is not immune to the downturn in the housing market and if some local authorities are trying to get the same price for an affordable house now as they would have got three or four years ago, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

I assume they are trying to keep the price up so the money can be reinvested elsewhere. The purchasers will not wear that. Something must be done because those houses must be sold at some stage. They were built to a high standard and people were delighted to apply for them so there is no point in them standing idle.

When I first started I regularly helped young couples with local authority loan applications. Many of the schemes, such as shared ownership, are a variation of that loan scheme. I have noticed over the years that there was always some bureaucratic daftness written into the scheme that would exclude people who genuinely needed housing and who could have repaid the loan. Unless there is a realistic effort by, and a desire on the part of, the Government to assist moving people off the housing waiting lists, many will remain on them. Under the Fine Gael-Labour Government in the 1980s, when there was not a penny anywhere, more houses were built for local authority tenants than in any time since. According to the Minister, resources are now limited. If the Government is not prepared to put money into social housing, a bonus-led system must be introduced which will allow local authority tenants, under certain conditions, to be responsible for their homes. It should not be like the approach with the new home loan scheme which excluded thousands.

In the past, several local authority tenant purchase schemes have worked well. Any government, where it is appropriate, must ensure every local authority tenant has an opportunity to buy his or her property. Once that threshold is passed, people become house proud. The replacement of window panes and doors, for example, becomes a matter for the tenant-purchaser to which they will respond positively.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008. This wide-ranging legislation covers many issues relating to housing at local authority and other levels. It is an issue close to the heart of every public representative, both at national and local level, and is important considering the current economic situation.

I must give credit to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran. He has more knowledge, expertise and practical experience of this area than the majority of Members, from his involvement at local authority level over the years, from the Seanad and from the Dáil. Such is his level of knowledge, he could give much information to staff in his Department and to housing officers across the country.

I am delighted the rental accommodation scheme is being put on a statutory footing. The scheme has operated over several years with a good take-up. Many of those on the scheme would have been in the private rental market. The scheme gives security of tenure to those who avail of it. For those who were receiving supplementary welfare allowance from the Health Service Executive, if they took up part-time employment, they lost part of their rent supplement. This does not apply under the rental accommodation scheme. That scheme works as an incentive, whereas the old system was a disincentive to people to take up employment, creating a poverty trap in turn.

People in receipt of rent supplement through the Health Service Executive for private rental accommodation often refused offers of local authority housing. Under the differential rent system, the net amount they would have to pay as local authority tenants would be higher than that under rent supplement. In the last budget, moves were made to close this gap and I hope there will be further moves in the next budget. It is wrong that there should be a financial incentive for people to refuse a genuine and good offer of local authority housing.

With the numbers losing jobs, all Members are getting extra queries at their constituency offices about mortgage repayments. Many with mortgages who lost their principal source of income are falling into immediate difficulties with repayments. Understandably, they apply to the local community welfare officer for interest payments under the exceptional and urgent needs payment scheme.

While some 7,000 people have been assisted under the scheme, some applicants have run into difficultly. Several cases with which I have been dealing forced me to put down a parliamentary question on the scheme. In one instance, a community welfare officer made a decision that, in his opinion, the original interest being charged on the loan was excessive and refused any interest payment as a result.

By way of parliamentary question, I asked what criteria the Department of Social and Family Affairs had given to community welfare officers on reaching such conclusions. I was informed no criteria were issued; it is a matter for each community welfare officer in the Health Service Executive to make his or her decision.

That is a recipe for inconsistency and disaster. I have had to bring some cases to the social welfare appeals office. Essentially, one arm of the State claims a mortgage should not have been granted to purchase a house. However, the banking and financial institutions, regulated by another arm of the State, had no problems with the level of loans being approved. I am curious as to how a community welfare officer feels his level of expertise in this area is much greater than that of the financial services industry. It could well be that he is right because banks were giving out excessive loans. However, I want to know what criteria were used to determine some interest payments were excessive.

The Minister also informed me in the parliamentary reply that negotiations with the Irish Bankers Federation and other interested parties are ongoing to come up with a set of guidelines for this area. While I welcome these being introduced in due course, in the meantime people are falling through the cracks in the system. I understand there is pressure on the Department's budget but, that said, people should be given fair play. In the cases to which I referred, the applicants were not seeking amounts higher than they would have received under the rent supplement scheme. The outcome for them is that they may become homeless, which means they will fall back on the local authority only to be paid the full rent supplement scheme. Even if they wish to sell their homes to sort out the problem, they cannot put them on the market if they have an application for rent supplement or mortgage interest supplement.

While there are many good staff in local authorities, there are inadequate appeals mechanisms for those who feel they may have been harshly struck off a housing list. More to the point, a common feature of the past 12 months is that people are not being allowed onto housing lists. They are told they should not have moved out of the house they were in and that for a variety of reasons they are not being let onto a council's housing list. In many local authorities the person who makes a decision of that nature informs the applicant that he or she has a right of appeal. The appeal is sent to the director of service with responsibility for housing and he or she usually inquires of his or her colleague why the decision was made. Some 99 times out of 100 — I will not say nine out of ten — colleagues who work together in the same office support each other.

There is not a proper independent appeals system within local authorities, as in somebody who is not connected to the housing section. A number of those cases have gone to the Ombudsman. A better appeals system should be put in place. That would be in the interest of local authority staff who are in the front line dealing with difficult situations. I say that in a positive way. A proper appeals system would protect everybody involved. It does not need to be statutory, it just needs to be set up internally and it can be done as part of the housing strategy that any local authority and its elected members can pass.

I wish to discuss the voluntary organisations such as Clúid and Respond. I hope the ongoing issue of buying houses from voluntary housing schemes can be addressed at some point. People with houses from such organisations cannot get back onto a housing list as they are told they are adequately housed and do not have a housing need. That can happen in many towns. My constituency in Laois has many small towns. A local authority may build between 30 and 50 houses in one town. People who need housing can take up their tenancy and after a two-year period they can embark on a process to buy their house. In another town of the same size the housing needs might be addressed by Respond or Clúid. People in that town will never be able to buy their homes while their neighbours and cousins in the town up the road can buy their homes from the local authority. The public cannot understand why there is such a level of inconsistency. That is a valid point because, essentially, all those houses are being financed by the Exchequer in the first instance. I would like that issue to be addressed.

That leads me to an issue I have raised in the Chamber previously, namely, the tendering procedures for voluntary housing associations. Perhaps somewhere along the line it can be confirmed whether they come under the guidelines the Department of Finance issues for public bodies. Housing associations are not public bodies, they are voluntary organisations but in practice they are substantially funded by the Exchequer. While they are in that situation they are not strictly bound and they can have their own shortlist and tendering scheme that may not have the full rigidity and openness, which is what I am talking about, compared to when a local authority puts a similar housing scheme out to tender. There is a lacuna in the system. I consider such bodies as being essentially publicly funded.

In my constituency a voluntary organisation had grandiose plans for a development of 200 houses in a town. During the property boom it sold off a site. It made a killing on the sale of a site that had been bought with taxpayers' money, sold it off and then perhaps got involved in developments in other parts of the country. I have seen that happen. That is not what housing associations were set up to do. Some of them have been involved in straightforward land speculation. Such practices were funded by the taxpayer. Voluntary organisations have received their site and planning permission and then for some reason sold the site. Perhaps they did not have the funding to complete the project and offloaded it at major profit. They took the money out of the county and perhaps moved on to do some work in another area. I would like to see a bit more transparency in that regard.

A significant issue that is being addressed is antisocial behaviour in local authority estates. There is a big gap in the estate management procedure. I give credit to the voluntary housing organisations for their active engagement on a permanent basis with their tenants whom they meet on a regular basis. In comparison, local authorities tend to allocate a house, collect the rent and the only contact they have with their tenants is to respond to calls about maintenance for doors or windows. The community and green areas in local authority estates regularly fall into poor condition because the people who are in the houses do not own them. They are only renting and the owners, namely, local authorities, have other priorities. There is a greater need for hands-on estate management from local authorities. That would help strengthen the bond between tenants and local authorities and would eliminate some of the antisocial behaviour occurring there also. I accept that happens to some extent but more needs to be done.

People who have local authority houses can find their incomes improve and they can afford to drive big cars and have Sky television yet they ring the local authority if something is wrong with the plumbing in the house. Somewhere along the line tenants should be responsible not just for basic repairs but also bigger maintenance jobs where they are in a position to do so. Most people agree that information should be shared on a restricted basis between key nominated staff members in local authorities, the Garda Síochána, local social welfare offices and the Health Service Executive to ensure proper cross-referencing of people and to ensure that people's histories are known before they are allocated local authority housing. That is happening on an informal basis but it should be put on a formal structure.

A feature of many new local authority estates is that they contain a large proportion of lone parents, especially women, raising young children. Many single parents have come to me with concerns about antisocial behaviour in an estate by bigger fellows who intimidate them. When they are in a house with young children they do not feel as capable of defending themselves against people who throw their weight around in an estate.

I wish to speak about the Part V targets versus the actual figures. I am not being parochial in saying I sincerely believe that the best housing authority in the entire State is Laois County Council. Its record of house construction and Part V agreements has been outstanding. The Deputy across from me is smiling but that is verified in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's statistics. All local authorities had a five-year plan but Laois County Council not only met its target, it exceeded it.

The published statistics for 2007 and the first nine months of 2008 were given recently to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Laois County Council had a construction programme of 309 houses and 204 were constructed through the Part V scheme. That is in excess of 500 houses. Counties with ten times the population of County Laois did not achieve that level of house provision. We have substantially cleared much of the housing list but it is starting to creep up again with people losing jobs. People are going on the housing list in order to avail of rent supplement. The only reason they want to go on the housing list is so that the council will stamp the form that will allow them to seek rent supplement from the Health Service Executive. Such people may not have a housing need but they need financial assistance to pay their rent. That is quite a different issue from having a housing need.

Another matter that came to my attention in the statistics we were given in the committee last week is that in Laois we achieved a 50:50 balance under Part V between social and affordable housing, whereas only 36% of houses that came in under Part V in 2007 were social and the balance were affordable. In the first nine months of 2008 the figures were worse again. It was 27% nationally. I would like to see those figures at 50:50, as is the case in County Laois. There is a tendency among housing authorities to allow more of the affordable houses under Part V and in that way they are neglecting the people who could be accommodated by a traditional social housing programme, albeit under the Part V scheme.

At a time when new schemes to provide housing are being introduced, it is important people in local authorities are trained to deal with the issues. If local authority staff are to give advice to people looking for local authority loans, they must be able to explain the difference between fixed and variable loans. They need some level of financial expertise to be able to advise people in that regard. Sometimes people do not have that expertise and give a stab at the figures without having the required knowledge and information. People looking for loans think they are getting good advice when they get advice from someone in the local authority on these issues, but in some cases the information is not well founded. I would like to see extra training for people in those sections of local authorities.

I expect the Minister will bring forward some proposals with regard to the large stock of unsold affordable housing that exists. It is important this happen quickly because these houses are costing money. We are all aware the value of houses on the open market has gone down and as a result the affordable houses on offer from local authorities are now on offer at market prices which have dropped significantly. Local authorities, however, have not been able to drop their prices. As I understand it, the scheme was originally intended to be self-financing. Therefore, the local authorities cannot just wipe €50,000 off the price of an affordable house without some consequence or without somebody picking that up.

I urge all local authorities to ensure they put sufficient funds in their estimates to ensure they are in a position to draw down the maximum grants under the mobility housing aid scheme, the housing aid for older people and the housing adaption grant for people with disability. We get complaints year in and out that the Government does not provide the funds, but, regularly, this is the fault of local councillors not having put the portion required to be met locally into their estimates. This is what causes the shortfall and is the reason some people at local level do not get their grants. It is a two-way street. The Government provides good funding, but the local authority must provide a corresponding portion of funding, perhaps 20% of the total amount involved, out of its estimates.

I look forward to seeing this legislation proceed to Committee Stage and to it being enacted as soon as possible.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Stanton.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. In the time that I have been a public representative, formerly as a member of Clare County Council and latterly as a member of the Oireachtas, I can say without fear of contradiction that the provision of public homes and housing has been the single biggest issue I have encountered or will continue to encounter. This fundamental issue has a profound influence on how people participate in, contribute to or engage with society. It has been my experience as a public representative that once an individual or family's housing needs are addressed and sorted out, their lives and how they contribute to the overall social and economic well-being of society changes dramatically. It is for this reason a Bill such as this is so important.

Notwithstanding the enormous capital input into housing over the past 12 years by the Government, it is safe to say we have missed many targets. The specific approach of the Government to the provision of housing in general has had an undue influence on where we find ourselves today. It is interesting to note that Dr. Peter Bacon is back on the scene with regard to bad banks and such. This time, I hope the Government chooses to listen to what he may say because in ignoring many of his earlier recommendations for the housing market, it has put us in a very weak economic position.

When presenting the Bill to the House, the Minister of State asked whether we are getting value for money from our investment, whether we are efficient and effective and, most important, whether we are protecting the most vulnerable sections of our society. In order to answer the question on whether we are protecting the most vulnerable, the Minister of State must bring his proposals on homelessness before the House. He must also consider providing for this on a statutory basis. This issue was placed on the agenda during my first period as a member of Clare County Council and through the creation of the homeless forum all parties concerned sat down to work out a strategy for County Clare. This was an interesting exercise and members such as the local authority, the HSE, the probation service and the voluntary sector came together to create their own plan. That said, it was also interesting to see that some State agencies viewed it as an opportunity to absolve themselves of certain responsibilities, passing the buck, so to speak. Placing the issue of providing for homelessness on a statutory basis could, possibly, alleviate this type of behaviour.

I take this opportunity to commend voluntary organisations such as the St. Vincent de Paul on its Trojan work on the issue of homelessness. It was they, the representatives of the voluntary sector, who did most on this issue in Ennis in County Clare. On the broader issue of homelessness, it is ridiculous that local authorities can invest large capital sums in building shelters and facilities for homeless people, but that these remain closed and unused because the HSE refuses to pay to staff them. There must be a more integrated way to deal with the issue.

In response to the Minister of State's question as to whether we are getting value for money from our investment, we need only look at what went on throughout local authorities over the boom years of the Celtic tiger. It was quite common during the first six years of this century for county councils to buy back local authority housing which had been sold to tenants just ten or 15 years previously under the early tenant purchase schemes. These houses were sold at a very competitive price initially, but the local authorities found themselves having to buy back stock they once owned at six to ten times what they sold it for. This was ridiculous and is a prime example of just throwing money at a problem for the sake of it. The practice is unsustainable and I welcome the provision in the Bill for the incremental purchase scheme. This is a more natural approach to house ownership. I understand and agree with the principle of Irish people owning their homes, but we cannot allow a repeat of what went on over the past ten years. The State must have and maintain its own stock of housing that will allow people get on the path of home ownership.

This Bill is very much slanted towards local authorities, both executive and members, and the manner in which they go about their work. The Minister of State asked about efficiency and effectiveness. He need look no further than the voluntary housing sector and how it operates to find these. In the past number of years there has been a significant and worthy contribution from this sector towards the provision of housing for their own communities through the voluntary housing scheme. This housing provision works well.

In my constituency of County Clare, I have seen parallel housing provision from both the local authority and the voluntary sector. However, the projects that come from and of the community are invariably more successful. They do not seem to have the same problems as the local authority projects. This is not to take from the fine work that local authorities do. However, projects such as those provided at Kilmaley and Kilmihil in west Clare and, perhaps, the Áras Mhuire development in Tulla, are housing developments that have very strong roots in their communities. These projects create a sense of empowerment for both the individuals who finish up with a home and the local committees who steward the project. It is disappointing that this Bill does not reflect on this or provide any developments or improvements towards the concept of communities taking charge of their own housing needs.

The cost of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, is no doubt one that will come under the budget microscope. It cost the HSE some €441 million in 2008 and has increased by €91 million or 26% since its introduction. This is, surely, an indication that some of our housing policies are not working as they should. The Bill does not make provision to review the scheme. This is a mistake. The whole scheme should be more integrated into our local authority housing plans. Two questions must be asked about RAS. Does it provide the best value for money for the State? What type of security of tenure does it provide for the participants? If our housing policies were working correctly, we would see the aforementioned figure decrease year on year. Without proper assessment and analysis of the RAS in the current economic climate, it could become a millstone around the Government's neck.

I acknowledge the provisions within the Bill that extend more powers to local authorities to deal with anti-social behaviour. The Minister of State should note the extreme difficulties created in some estates by a small number of people who have bought out their houses through the shared ownership scheme or the tenant purchase scheme. The local authorities are left powerless in preventing them from engaging in anti-social behaviour. This is a growing problem within local authority estates and needs to be addressed. The local authorities should have the power to step in and deal with people who are creating absolute misery for their neighbours and the community at large. Will the Minister of State re-examine this issue and introduce a section on Committee Stage to tackle it?

Is it dealt with in that section?

Fine Gael supports this Bill in principle and will table a number of amendments on Committee Stage, which I hope the Minister of State will take on board.

I welcome the Bill. It is very important and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on it. The Bill has four Parts, 44 sections and three Schedules. Part 1 contains preliminary and general material but Part 2, pertaining to the functions of housing authorities, and Part 3 are the important ones.

The Bill makes provision for an allocation scheme or housing list and it will be mandatory that the details be made public. The housing authorities will have to create the list. From now on, people will know where they are on the housing list. Until now, this has not been the case in many local authorities. People do not know their position or who is ahead of them, how long they have been waiting or perhaps how they reached their current position. Very often in our clinics, people state they were on the list for six years while someone else, who may only have come to the country within that period, got a house straight away. I hope this provision will address this. It is important that the list be constructed properly, carefully and fairly.

Section 22(12) states:

The manager shall—

(a) prepare and submit to the members of the housing authority not later than 30 April in each year a written report on allocations made under its allocation scheme by specifying the different categories of dwellings and households ... .

The manager, where he or she must submit reports for the members of the housing authority, should also make copies for the Members of the Oireachtas in his area. Will the Minister consider providing for this in the legislation? Quite often, Members of the Oireachtas are asked to make representations about housing. We must pass legislation and monitor how it operates. Therefore, it is only fair that, where mangers are required to furnish members of local authorities with their reports, they should also furnish them to Oireachtas Members in their administrative area. This would be simple and useful.

Section 11 contains a very welcome provision that refers to ancillary services. It is a pity such provision was not made years ago before the housing boom started. Ancillary services include roads, shops, playgrounds, places of recreation, parks, allotments, open spaces, etc. The Bill alludes not only to providing houses, which are basically boxes in which people live, but also to providing community services. By including shops, roads, playgrounds, parks, schools, etc., one is building community. This must be central to our vision if we are providing housing. This vision has been lacking.

Residents in some housing estates, perhaps in our own areas, will argue they do not have enough space in which to park their cars. Rows occur between neighbours over parking space because developers have concentrated too many houses in the same location. There is plenty of land in this country but people have had no room because developments have been too condensed. We need to give children space in which to play and ancillary services must be provided. The Bill states a housing authority "may" provide ancillary services if it considers them appropriate but the housing authority should insist that they be provided because they are essential.

Section 35 is a large section on anti-social behaviour. It is a very important section because people have a right to live in their own homes in peace without being interfered with in all kinds of ways. It is a very strong section. Subsection 35(5) states:

When drawing up a strategy, or before amending a strategy, a housing authority shall consult with—

(a) any joint policing committee . . . ,

(b) the Garda Síochána,

(c) the Health Service Executive, and

(d) any other person as the authority considers appropriate.

I have referred time and again to the importance of out-of-school youth services. Youth workers, youth clubs and youth organisations engage with young people on the streets. Young people are very often at a loss because of the lack of facilities in the housing estates we have constructed. They have nowhere to go because we have not been building community. I suggest to the Minister of State that youth services should play an integral part in preventing anti-social behaviour. I want to turn this into a positive proposal. Not only can properly resourced and supported youth services prevent anti-social behaviour, they can also harness to positive effect the energy and innate good-will of young people. Young people could contribute in a positive way to their communities.

Unfortunately, due to cutbacks, youth services are very often the first services to be hit. The anti-drugs strategy and other strategies are being hit across the board. When talking about anti-social behaviour, we must think positively and ascertain how to prevent it and turn things around such that those who engage in it will engage in positive behaviour instead. This is important.

Article 9(2)(VI)(f) of SI 412 of 2007 provides that one can refuse rent supplement twice and still not be debarred from receiving it in the future. If for some reason one refuses the offer of a house, perhaps for what one considers to be a very good reason, one is told in many local authority areas that one will be placed at the bottom of the list. I am sure all Members have encountered this. If a person refuses an offer of a house, he or she should not be put on the bottom of the list straight way. Although I have read the Bill, I have not noticed a provision in this regard. People who refuse a house should be subject to a provision such as that in SI 412 of 2007 such that they would be allowed two refusals before being placed at the bottom of the list. This would be reasonable.

I came across a case recently in which a single mother with a ten-year-old daughter refused a house. Not only was the house in very bad condition when she was offered it but her daughter was being bullied by a child in the estate where it was located. Her daughter was nervous and afraid of the other child, yet she was told she would be placed on the bottom of the list. The local authority did not take into account the mother's concern. This type of case may be provided for in the Bill — I am not sure — but, if not, it should be considered, if possible. It would make a difference because the person in question would be offered a second and third house.

It is important that there be discussion with applicants who refuse houses to ascertain the problem with them. If a person refuses a house, he or she should not be offered the house next door, which could very well happen. This should be addressed.

From time to time, someone is offered a house which is not in good condition. Will the Minister of State ensure that houses offered by local authorities are in good condition? The condition should be so good that the Minister of State would not mind moving in. These are the criteria we should have. I have come across cases of houses being offered to people which are in appalling condition with back gardens dug up, missing sewerage tank covers and drafty doors. People should not be offered houses in these conditions. People are then told to paint the house themselves.

In many areas, including my own, town councils and county councils are housing authorities and people must make two applications using the exact same application form. Is there any way this duplication can be avoided and a person can make one application which is sent to both housing authorities? This could be examined.

I know issues arise with regard to funding for disability grants and I have a suggestion for the Minister of State. Stair lifts are given to people who need them. Often, the stair lift is not taken back after the person passes away. Many such pieces of equipment could be taken back when they are no longer needed. The Bill contains much more we could discuss but I have touched on most of the points I wished to raise. Colleagues mentioned other points and I did not want to duplicate.

A buzzword at present is "energy conservation" but I do not see it mentioned in the Bill. Perhaps it is included in other legislation. It should be a priority to take advantage of sunlight to warm houses through glass and windows facing south. We should also ensure as far as we can that we maximise energy conservation. I wish the Bill speedy passage and the Minister of State good luck with it.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. How did we arrive at a stage in the country's development where thousands of people are on local authority waiting lists yet thousands of houses throughout the land are unoccupied? When did we, economically and socially speaking, decide that a house would become a tradeable commodity to be used as an instrument for investment primarily and not as a place of refuge or to raise a family? Until such time as we legislate in this area with people in mind and give up our obsession with the property market we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. We have, through this legislation, an opportunity to provide decent housing for all those who need it, if only we can embark on a little lateral thinking.

My colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, stated that recent figures published showed a massive jump from 43,700 on the social housing waiting lists to nearly 60,000 in just three years. How did we come to this point when so many houses were being built during this period? With the right thinking, this legislation provides a golden opportunity to address the imbalance that exists within the social housing sector.

The relationship between the Department and the local authorities needs to reflect the realities on the ground. For instance, in my constituency of Cork East, there is a local authority scheme at Stag Park in Mitchelstown where affordable houses remain unsold and are boarded up. I have queues out the door of my clinics in Mitchelstown with people on the social housing list who would dearly love to obtain one of these modern, well-appointed and fantastically designed houses. However, they will remain unsold until such time as the Department frees up the financial obligation of the local authority to the Department with regard to their sale. The current market conditions dictate that they will remain unsold because they have been boarded up for so long that a certain stigma is attached to them.

The Department must become more flexible in its approach. A house which is designated as an affordable house and which is unsold within a specific period must be allowed to be occupied at the discretion of the local authority if the local authority has made a decent attempt to sell the house. The Minister of State must examine this. Countless thousands of affordable houses throughout the State could be used for social housing but this cannot be done because of certain constraints placed upon them.

Generally, I am in favour of voluntary housing associations but I have certain reservations about trends that I have seen within this sector. I am anxious that voluntary housing associations would not supplant the role of the local authority in terms of the provision of social housing. It is true that they fulfil a need in terms of catering to a certain demographic. However, I have documented cases and had representations from quite a number of constituents who find that once they occupy a voluntary housing association property, they find they have no recourse to eventual purchase or to an independent arbiter with regard to the conditions of their tenancy. In one case I encountered, the rent of a couple on a fixed social welfare income was increased substantially by the voluntary housing association and they had no recourse to an independent arbiter when they sought to question the increase. This issue must be addressed.

Irish people will always want to own their own home. This is ingrained within our psyche. This trait must inform how we formulate policy. If one provides a social house it must be on the basis that it will become available for purchase in the medium to long term. This choice and right must exist even if it is not exercised. The current tenant purchase scheme is woefully inadequate, in that there would be a golden opportunity to sell off older housing stock if it were discounted at a more favourable rate. Most local authority houses I visit which have long-term tenancies have so much invested in them by the occupiers that the valuations they get when they seek to purchase the house have no bearing on the original real cost of construction and the amount invested in the intervening period.

If one wishes to purchase one's home in the current climate there is a discounted rate but it has become an instrument of the market by virtue of a valuation which must be sought. This is in spite of the fact that people have built communities around their homes and have ensured the upkeep of the houses for the duration of their tenancies. If we are to incentivise the ownership of houses we must create better conditions to allow older people to purchase their homes. There is a net benefit to the State in that it would yield a massive dividend and would provide an opportunity in terms of significantly reducing maintenance costs to local authorities.

Section 16 provides that making a draft plan is required. The country is facing a pensions nightmare for the future. On several occasions, I recall the Minister for Health and Children reminding us that life expectancy has risen dramatically since the Government came into office. I question her claim to fame in this respect, but if we are living longer, then any draft plans must be formulated on the basis that housing provision for older people in the future is encapsulated within such plans. We cannot keep shoving people into nursing homes, and sheltered housing is only part of the solution. Where a draft plan is formulated on foot of a county development plan, lands must be zoned specifically for housing for the elderly. There must be some degree of forward planning which must start now to deal with that issue.

If people are currently residing in quite large houses, they will want to downsize in the future. It is probable that there will be a demand for smaller units. County development plans — by extension, the draft housing plans — must take account of that kind of planning. We cannot just plan for the next two or three years, but for 20 years hence. We need a little bit of foresight in that respect. In my experience, I have found that planning policy units lack the necessary resources to carry out demographic studies of population trends for future housing provision. The Government must take cognisance of this. The CSO could be a viable instrument in assisting local authorities in that respect.

The rental accommodation scheme with which I am most familiar is in north Cork, and it has been well deployed. This is the case because the staff have used the scheme to best effect, which is a tribute to people who are using limited resources. How did we get to a stage where we would use taxpayers' money — approximately €450 million — to pay a rental subsidy to a landlord with a second or third home, to ensure housing provision for people on the housing list? There is an economic fallacy to that argument. It defies any kind of logic or common sense. We need to wean ourselves off this dependence on rent allowance. There would be no need for a rental accommodation scheme if resources were being allocated to provide houses for people in need. If we take approximately €450 million per annum, there is a multiplier from that which would adequately provide capital spending for all of the social housing needed. I am not railing against the scheme as it currently exists, because it has done well in the circumstances in which it operates, but there must be more lateral thinking about how we provide social housing. That is something that needs to be examined.

The over-supply of housing in large parts of the country in the recent past must teach us that the relationship between demand and supply must be a qualitative one and not based on quantity alone. We must re-jig our thinking in this area. I wish to speak specifically on antisocial behaviour in this respect. We had a scheme on Mallow Town Council whereby the council and other sources funded a tenant liaison officer. Since that officer's contract of employment had to be terminated because there was not adequate funding to meet the need the qualitative relationship between the tenants and the local authority has deteriorated. The work the person in question carried out on a three year contract was so valuable that the relationship between tenants and the local authority improved dramatically during that period and the incidence of antisocial behaviour reduced dramatically. One way to deal with antisocial behaviour is to build relationships by ensuring that a tenant liaison officer is appointed under statutory provision in every local authority jurisdiction. The relationship building process in this instance was done over time and with a very meticulous approach and it yielded results. That needs to be examined in this Bill.

Section 30 states that the housing authority can delegate some or all of its management and control functions in respect of its dwellings to a designated body. I would like the Minister to expand on that provision. I have a certain reservation that if we move to cede power to the voluntary housing associations, we would cede exclusive control of social housing policy to non-statutory bodies. The Minister should speak about this in his response.

There is land zoned in Mallow that is owned by the town council, in which a plan for more than 100 houses was formulated. The entrance to that site is currently no wider than the width of two cars. There is a lack of joined up thinking where land owned by a council is zoned for local authority housing. There must be proper access to the site. The land adjoins a private estate and if one considers the multiplier of 100 houses for cars and traffic movements, then without any rectification of the access, we are storing up difficulties for the future. We cannot speak about antisocial behaviour or about building communities unless we have proper zoning and proper access to local authority housing sites. That is something that needs to be addressed as well.

For too long, social housing has been a poor relation in long-term planning. Successive Governments have built houses with the sole aim of getting people off the list. That in itself is worthwhile, but we have never thought about the implications of crowding hundreds of houses into one area without any thought for the implications of lack of proper space, amenity space and proper access to the sites. That is why so many problems exist. There will be a great opportunity presently for the Government to ensure social housing provision in a way that provides for everyone in need of housing. We must have some foresight in our thinking in that regard.

I wish to share time with Deputy Tom Hayes.

I have been in politics for ten years and part of that time was spent in a town council and Waterford County Council. I have come to understand the benefit of good housing policy generally. My experience of the 20% housing provision policy has been very good. I can appreciate the benefits, not only from the standpoint of people being housed in decent houses, but also the benefit to communities. People have found themselves in stable communities and there has been an effect on crime rates. The policy has allowed for social integration and has probably proven the benefit of innovative housing policy, which is necessary for the country.

This brings me to my next point, related to a circular issued to every local authority in February. Circular N3 of 2009 relates to social housing investment programmes and new leasing arrangements. As I understand it, this was done to try to identify more ways to facilitate social housing throughout the country. As we know, there are land banks or banks of houses throughout the country which are free at present. Local authority officers are calling the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish if the Department will fund their schemes and the answer they are receiving is "No". The Department, rightly, is trying to be innovative and the circular proves this. As I understand it, the Department determines the status of the free houses in these estates and enters into long-term leasing arrangements, which is fine.

The local authority officers to whom I have spoken believe this is a good concept, but they wish to tweak the arrangements as they do not suit every local authority. The €20 million allocated for this idea is a reasonable amount of money, but for the purposes of the local authority and for those on the housing lists they believe it could be better utilised. For example, it is the case that some local authorities, especially smaller ones, cannot access such houses. Some local authorities have advertised in local and national newspapers and have received very little response with regard to the houses the Department believes are available. In some cases, the needs of local authorities are not met by the houses mentioned. For example, there is no good in putting 20 senior citizens in dwellings two miles outside a town centre.

Something very simple could be done within the Department. It could take the leasehold concept it devised, but use it for sites already identified by the local authorities, for which plans have been drawn up and where the builders have been identified. Local authorities could then enter into long-term leasehold arrangements such that the builder proceeds and builds the development and enters into a long-term leasehold arrangement for ten or 20 years after which the local authority is given the option to buy up the units in any such development. That would allow a degree of flexibility for local authorities to proceed and meet the requirements for the people on their housing lists and it makes more sense all round. Right now, the scheme produced by the Department bails out the builders and the banks to a certain extent.

That is fine. It facilitates those on the housing list, but if the system is slightly tweaked to allow for long-term leasing options or arrangements, it could start money flowing through the local economies throughout the country. It could start building and construction again. People could go into a hardware store to buy goods which, in turn, could help to keep the local economy moving. The opportunity is there to use the €20 million allocation to pump prime local economies. If the Department diversifies the good concept explained in its circular somewhat it could achieve a good deal more for local authorities. That is the material point.

An allocation of €20 million is fine and it is clear from the circular that leasing proposals must ensure that accommodation is in a location and of a type which can appropriately meet the needs of persons on local authority lists. That is not the case for all local authorities at present. The interest shown from advertisements in the national newspapers was only very slight in some cases. The circular states that the Department is working with local authorities on early proposals with a view to developing this guidance further. We must take that very seriously. I believe many local authorities have called the Department and have been told the money is not available. However, if the system were changed a little and if local authorities were given the latitude to enter into long-term leasing arrangements, their needs could be met and it would allow money to start flowing into local economies throughout the country. That is as much as I wish to say on the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I understand the Bill gives the powers to the Department to realise such suggestions. It does not require much thinking to diversify with regard to the relationship between the Department and local authorities and it could help the local economies.

I thank Deputy Deasy for sharing time. We have a wealth of knowledge in this area to help us to deal with the housing situation and the difficulties presented by any Bill which comes before the House. We come to the House with a great level of knowledge, having spent a good deal of time in local authorities in our constituencies. Dealing with housing issues is not a weekly but a daily issue. There are always people with issues in respect of housing or re-housing and related issues.

In recent years, antisocial behaviour has appeared in some of our housing estates. This must be dealt with using a very firm hand. I am unsure where the blame lies, but the increase in antisocial behaviour, especially in some of the newer housing estates, is unacceptable and must be dealt with in a very firm way. It is possible to be critical of what is occurring at local authority or Government level in this regard.

When one visits some housing estates in some constituencies, I could name some such as my own, for example, such behaviour is a fact of life. This is a terrible waste of taxpayers' money. The message this sends to people is worse again. It sends a wrong signal to people to see boarded up houses in any housing estate. Some young or unemployed people may get devilment into their heads. I realise the Minister of State has a great interest in the matter given his background in a local authority and I am pleased that such a person is dealing with housing and re-housing in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is a singular issue which must be dealt with. No local authority can claim to have only a few boarded up houses. At a time of high unemployment and increasing antisocial behaviour, having boarded up houses despite people waiting on the housing list is wrong. This issue, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency, can be dealt with even in this difficult economic climate.

Getting on housing lists can be difficult for young, single men who have no resources to repay loans and of whom there is an increasing number, given changes in society ranging from marriage breakdown to solitary living. Single men not being put on housing lists is grossly unfair. We must address this matter, particularly given the way in which society has changed for those men. Giving some of them houses would help to maintain the estates in question. If they were unemployed, they would give good leadership in many respects, including through night security and in community organisations. We have neglected this matter for many years.

In light of the rush to build in recent years, I question the quality of housing in many new estates. While great improvements have been made and there are good models of new local authority housing estates, an odd one might be questionable and we should keep an eye on the workmanship involved. In a debate on this Bill, it cannot be left unsaid that the Department has done considerable work to increase standards in recent years.

Since it is essential that there be play facilities, greater links with GAA, rugby or soccer clubs or other organisations in parishes and towns should be pursued so that new housing estates can be built close to them. In recent years, South Tipperary County Council has been involved in building good playgrounds to help communities. I encourage the building of more playgrounds because they allow activity, which is necessary in respect of young people, particularly during their holidays. On long summer evenings, there is nothing like fresh air and activity to focus young people's minds. They will go from the playground to the football, rugby or hurling field or whatever the case may be.

I mentioned it, but I refer to every organisation, including ladies' football and camogie among a wide array of sports. A considerable amount of activity is required.

People need more pride in the areas in which they live, since much leadership could come from it. Some months ago, I attended a presentation in my constituency at which various groups won prizes for keeping their estates well. When one drives into their estates, one sees people's pride in the upkeep. To instil this pride in people, there should be more competitions and encouragement.

In my local authority area, people who get two-bedroom houses are unable to purchase them later. People's economic circumstances change and, for various reasons, they would like to buy the houses, but there seems to be a regulation involved. Does it apply to my local authority area alone or has the Department ruled on the matter? We live in a country in which people like to own their own houses. In recent years, I have dealt with many cases of people who, after their financial circumstances changed drastically enough to allow them to make a purchase, wanted to buy their two-bedroom houses. Will the Minister of State clarify the situation and the Government's opinion on the matter. A rota of people would be necessary, but people should be allowed to buy their own homes if they can afford to do so. I would like to see changes in this respect.

As a nation, we like to have our own houses, live in our own communities, raise our families, stay with our parents or whatever the case may be. We should do everything to encourage good quality housing and a good environment in which people can live and rear their families. The main difficulty is the antisocial behaviour found in some housing estates. Recently, Tipperary town had a significant issue in this regard. People who were housed only a short time ago sent out a bad signal. It is a pity that towns get a bad name thanks to people who have been given top class houses by local authorities that bent over backwards to help them.

In the context of the Bill, the Dáil should acknowledge all of the work done by people in local authorities, including housing officers who try to overcome difficult situations.

This Bill is important in so far as it amends some of the basic housing Acts from 1966 to 2004. We should structure our discussion in terms of whether we are referring to a right to a home or to housing units in a speculative market. This point, which has been raised by a number of international observers of the Irish housing situation, relates to how housing was not exempted from the market and its dynamics. The right to a home was defeated by the decision to allow housing to become a feature of a speculative market.

It has had a number of results that have impacted, not only on those who would wish to have a home, but on the economy in general. For a period during the early emergence of the current economic difficulties, for example, how could one have a growth rate that was not sustained by exports?

It happened because of property revaluation. The Government was in receipt of revenue from new building and transactions to a certain extent. Consequently, the entire artificiality of the growth rate had as a contributor to it, the speculative housing market.

Perhaps it would be best were I to stick to facts as published in the Government's publications in respect of this matter. In 1996, the average second-hand house cost €85,629 while in 2005, such a house would cost €330,399. The average cost of new houses in 1996 and 2002 was €87,202 and €276,221, respectively. What happened in respect of housing was that it was regarded as being one of the main spaces and places for speculative investment. I am coming to the point where this subject affects the legislation before the House because the choice in the legislation is whether this is what one now seeks to recover and extend or whether one wishes to depart from it. The nominal value of housing stock in 1981 was €39.1 billion, while the equivalent figure in 2005 was €553.5 billion.

This has immense implications. Even though I have a slot that is longer than usual, I do not have the time to work them out in full. However, were one to examine comparative European figures, one could look at the ratio between value and loans. In other words, if a loan has been taken out for such a massively escalated valuation, what then happens if, in addition, a person has used the house that was his or her home as collateral for further liquidity and has made further borrowings on it? As the market has collapsed at present, clear implications arise. Although the madness of that economics is clear, such madness was not accidental. It was fuelled by property-related tax reliefs that were driven on in one budget after another by the then Minister for Finance and current Commissioner, Mr. McCreevy.

Goodbody's economic report contains some interesting figures as to the total cost of all this. For example, in 2008 the cost over the seven years between 1999 and 2006 in respect of the urban renewal schemes of tax revenue forgone was €1.423 billion. Moreover, in 2004, the Revenue Commissioners' report gave a figure for the annual cost of property tax reliefs of €8.4 billion per year. In other words, we were giving to the speculators, who now were taking the need for a home as a means of acquiring tax-evaded wealth, the equivalent of 22% of total taxation. It is interesting that I am making this speech this week because next week, Members will learn the degree to which an attempt will be made to claw back such relief or what such people's contribution will be to the position in which we now find ourselves with a deficit of 8% and €16 billion to be found. Members can discuss next week how it might be structured over a number of years.

In addition, what happened regarding capital gains tax also is interesting. When the rate for that tax was halved, where did people go with the cash they made, having cashed in some of their capital assets? They headed for the housing market, which is the reason we got such an inflator. The general argument from the McCreevy school of economics is that this will be good for everyone in the end. I noted elsewhere that some people were attracted to this notion in a manner reminiscent of Tawney's old adage as to the reason tadpoles put up with their miserable existence. They do so in the hope that one day, one of their number will sprout a jaw, jump to land and become a frog. Some people were lured into the notion that it might be their turn. However, of the 400 top earners in that version of the economy, in 2003 three of them had reduced their liability or in other words their effective tax, to zero, while another 48 had kept their liability below 5%.

I now will turn to the reason this is relevant. The background to this legislation is that the Government had the benefit of a number of reports. It need not believe anything I have just said. For example, it had reports from Dr. Bacon, the published work of Professor Drudy in Trinity College and Dr. Pádraic Kenna's work on housing dynamics. However, it decided not to act on any of them and in so deciding, it lived with it. It is very interesting that the National Economic and Social Council states how it got it wrong on page 83 of its report No. 118, which was published in March 2009 and I applaud it for so doing. It referred to how it had hoped for a soft landing and states:

It is important to acknowledge that the Council did not anticipate or fully understand the impact of the downturn in construction on the Irish economy. The Council's recent report on the Irish economy (NESC 2008) noted the dependency on construction and a likely decline in market completions, but did not predict the consequences now being experienced across the economy. The Housing Report (November 2004) identified the cyclical nature of housing and recurrence of asset bubbles and bursts phenomenon. In this, it relied on existing studies of affordability and stress tests in reaching the conclusion that, despite some overvaluation, the Irish market could slow down as supply met the underlying need for the additional housing. However, it also highlighted the need for new housing and argued that while output did exceed supply, there was evidence of "pent up" demand based, in large measure on the low number of households per 1000 in the population in Ireland and the need for more social and affordable housing.

I will turn to the legislation before the House. Where are these finished, completed but unoccupied houses? For example, if one examines their geographic dispersal, as someone who used to teach adult education in County Roscommon it is fascinating, while driving through that county, to see signs everywhere for town houses in villages with tiny populations of 1,000 or 2,000. This was the madness of the speculative drive in respect of housing.

Lest I forget to lay emphasis on what is being proposed and with respect to the Minister of State, I refer to his proposals such as, for example, the provision of a long lease for €20 million per year for 20 years, whereby local authorities effectively might supply tenants on lease for such unoccupied houses. At the end of the two decades, they then would go back to the property developers in a recovered market. This is an outrageous suggestion. I have listened to other Members speak about how market value is used to operate one of the purchase schemes. To invert, why not have the State become active as a purchaser and not a lessor in respect of such properties? Is this not the time to buy? Were this done now, the public would support the State's decision to relieve builders by offering to buy outright at cost such units as the State considers it needs and which would in turn make a contribution to a reduction in the social housing lists, which have become outrageous. How would a person in the street respond?

The opening speech in this debate suggested there is a limited amount of funding for social housing and something must be done for the poor developers who are stuck with all the finished houses. It is proposed to spend €20 million a year for 20 years helping these people but at the same time I must tell those who rely on social housing that they must put up with their existence and that there will not be a significant increase.

I refer to the text of the Bill and the disposal of powers in the legislation. I operate from the perspective that a home is a right, a right that should be exercised through a number of options, as it is in many countries. Some 77% of homes in Ireland are owner-occupied, an aspiration one must respect. Equally, one has a right to live and have one's housing needs met as a tenant. I was a member of two local authorities for 18 years, from 1974 to 1992. In that period, particularly towards the end of it and now seeing it from the perspective of the Dáil, I watched a reluctance on the part of city and county managers to want to be managers of a housing stock with tenants. It began with a reduction in staff. At one time in Galway city, as Deputy McCormack will bear out, there was a clerk of works and a foreman who would visit properties and supervise the repairs for a particular week. People got windows, doors and leaks fixed. Gradually, staff were taken from repairs. Managers began to reveal their ideological prejudice against being managers of a housing stock. Different Governments began to place the emphasis on tenant purchase schemes. There were rows in the transition from the 1966 obligation to transfer the house in a habitable condition and whether that included the boundary walls. The management had the urge to get out of the difficult business of managing local authority stock and there was an underlying prejudice in housing design.

Some local authority housing has insulation of a higher quality than houses built on the private market. The notion that one is entitled to a housing space with amenities, not just a roof over one's head, and that people with families, people with none and older people can live in a community was not in the housing philosophy. Great concrete nightmares were being built. They were being built in the past ten to 15 years in Galway city. Some of these great concrete nightmares would not meet the standards of general accessibility laid down in European law.

One is entitled to a home, as a right, and equally to live in security in one's community. The contributions on antisocial behaviour were interesting. If one is a local authority tenant — many of whom are on low incomes — one has the same right to live in security, free from intimidation and threat, as any citizen. As I listen to local authority management systems speak, they are very negative. They always refer to responding to the problem, not eliminating the problems concerning design and provision of amenities and staffing.

Looking across all local authorities, some regard the position of housing liaison officer as a punishment station. In others, people ask for a year or two in the position but find it so socially stressful that they cannot handle it and ask to be assigned to other duties. That indicates that local authorities are struggling due to under-provision from central Government. This stems from the nightmarish populism of 1977, when the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, decided to abolish local revenue. The capital grant was to be replaced by central funds but it never happened. Allowing for the under-provision from central Government we still have a hopeless system from the local authorities. There are special policy committees, housing committees and so forth. I wonder whether such units can genuinely influence policy. If they could, the idea for constructing the strategy for the city or county should come from the elected representatives. The director of services could explain what is being proposed. In the classic version of Irish local government democracy, county and city managers have the notion that if they have shown it to people, they have consulted and people have been involved.

How much time do I have left?

I am fascinated by the Deputy's contribution. One minute and 40 seconds remain.

I am moved by the fact that the Acting Chairman is getting carried away by it all.

I was interested.

What is needed for local housing policy is genuine democratic structures. I agree with some of the principles in this Bill, such as the principle of integrated housing, something we did not have before.

I warn other Members who may speak on the matters in section 11. Considerable powers are being taken yet no one will ever be able to consult the Minister about an individual case. That is probably proper.

I will argue against particular details in the Bill. Section 20 states that a household will be ineligible for allocation of a house if, as a tenant of any housing authority, the household or any household member was in rent arrears for an accumulated 12 week period in the three year period immediately prior to the assessment. That should be removed from the Bill. We are facing into a situation where 500,000 people will be unemployed. Anything could happen to families and their incomes. The above provision, which may apply to any member of the household, will be inapplicable and should be removed. I look forward to exchanging views with the Acting Chairman on Committee Stage.

I propose to share time with Deputy Clune. I welcome the publication of this Bill, which is a long time in gestation. For three years I have asked on the Order of Business when this Bill would come before the Dáil. In February 2007 I asked the then Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, who was taking the Order of Business. Deputy Harney assured me the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill would come before the House during that term. At the end of the term I asked whether the then Tánaiste was misleading the Dáil because the Bill still had not come before the House. She replied that she was not and that this term means the next term. I did not understand what that meant but we are now a good number of terms and one general election on from then. The extract from the Official Report on the date in question states:

Mr. McCormack: When will the necessary legislation be introduced to allow tenants of local authority apartments to purchase them? I refer to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

The Tánaiste: That Bill is due to be published in the early summer.

Mr. McCormack: Is that before or after the election?

It continues:

Mr. McCormack: That is a very important distinction.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not possible to answer that question.

Mr. McCormack: I wish to clarify whether it will be before 1 June or after. What is the early summer in the Tánaiste’s calendar?

Mr. F. McGrath: After the Seanad elections.

Mr. McCormack: The Tánaiste does not have an answer.

This was after the Tánaiste assured me it would come before summer 2007. We have had a couple of summers since then and only now do we have the Bill.

I mention the delay in bringing this Bill before the Dáil because it has repercussions for the legislation's effectiveness. The purpose of the Bill is to improve housing services and their delivery by amending and extending the Housing Acts of 1996 and 2004 to give effect to the programme of social housing reform measures outlined in Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities. These are very fine words and the Bill coming before us aspires to them but the country is broke and we have no money to follow through on the aspirations. If this Bill had come before the Houses when we were all looking for it two or three years ago and when the country was not as broke as it is now, we would have had the necessary finance to enable local authorities fulfil the aspirations in this Bill.

There is no money available to local authorities even to construct local authority houses. There is no money to deal with the housing waiting lists either. In Galway city there are 2,300 on the housing waiting lists and the number is increasing every day. There are more in the county as a whole on the waiting list. The housing officer there told me no later than today that the unit used to deal with approximately 20 applications a week and it now deals with 80 applications per week in Galway city alone. It received a circular from the Department this week indicating that if anybody is off sick or on maternity leave in the housing or other departments, they cannot be replaced. In other words, staff are physically unable to do their jobs.

Problems in contacting the authority are a fault of the system rather than the staff. On ringing the number, one gets through to an answering machine which will ask if one wants to speak in English or Irish, dialling 1 for English and 2 for Irish. One will then get through to another answering machine which asks what department is required and asks the person to dial 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. If 3 is for housing, one would dial that number. Another answering machine asks if the person wants to talk about rents, local authority housing and so on, and that number can be dialled. One could get through to another answering machine before the line would go dead.

That is my experience as a public representative trying to contact the housing authority. How in the name of God can an ordinary person deal with this? Every one of us in the House and outside it knows that is the position developing in local authorities and public bodies which people must contact. It is sometimes through no fault of operators but eventually when I get through to somebody — I should speak for myself — I am inclined to be a bit harsh on that person sometimes. One then gets the bad name of being contrary when making contact.

Frustration builds up as a result of the system we have allowed to develop. I have spoken to various managers about this and asked them to correct the issue but either nothing can be done or nothing is done about it. I am digressing somewhat. Like the Acting Chairman, I often speak about local problems when I get the chance.

That is no problem. We should have more speakers from Galway as both of the Deputies are brilliant.

Part 3 deals with tenant purchase schemes. The delay in bringing forward this Bill has probably cost local authorities a considerable amount of money, possibly millions of euro in some cases. It is great for the applicant that the Bill is coming through at this stage because the tenant purchase scheme is based on the market value of a house when it is purchased. The market value of the house is therefore much less than it was when we first asked for the Bill. Perhaps that will be to the benefit of tenants.

Getting the mortgage may be more difficult.

The Deputy is correct. When I inquired about this Bill three years ago and asked when it would come before the Dáil, I also queried the position of tenants in flats, maisonettes or apartments and if they would be entitled to buy out their apartments. There were many queries about this and I was assured the issue would be part of the Bill. I do not see it in the current Bill so I hope the Minister will introduce amendments to deal with the matter or accept amendments put down by the Opposition in this regard to allow tenants of maisonettes, apartments or flats to purchase them.

I do not see why this could not be included in the Bill as it would give a sense of ownership to people who wish to buy out their properties. Perhaps not everyone would want this but a sense of ownership could be given to those who want to buy out their homes. It would give more responsibility to such people for the necessary upkeep and repair of the properties, which some people would relish.

I also wish to speak on the many schemes that are now under funded, such as the housing aid for the elderly scheme. In Galway city, there was only enough money to pay out to people who were in need of repairs under this scheme and other related schemes such as the disabled person's grant up until last December. This means that many householders throughout the city and county who had participated in the scheme, been approved for grants, hired contractors, got work done and borrowed money to build a downstairs bathroom or a shower for an elderly relative, for example, have not received grants. This is despite their having borrowed for this purpose, which is a scandal.

I am very sorry but not surprised that very few Government Deputies have offered to speak on this Bill. The Government has squandered the finances of this State over the past ten years, although it blames the problem on the global economy and everything else. It should take responsibility for what it has done because the people on the front line are now suffering as a result of the policies of this Government. It is not that policies failed but that policies were successful in running us into the state we are in now.

There is a little over ten minutes left in the slot.

I will take the little bit then.

Not the ten minutes.

It is a matter between the Deputy and Deputy Clune.

Deputy Higgins referred to antisocial behaviour and this Bill strengthens the hand of the local authority in this regard. There is nothing in the Bill to strengthen authorities with regard to antisocial behaviour in rented houses in private estates that are part of the rent supplement scheme. Nothing can be done about those, no matter what antisocial behaviour occurs. It happens in some isolated cases but there is nothing relevant here for such cases. Many times, the neighbours or other people involved cannot find the landlord in question.

If the HSE, which pays the rent supplement, had the authority to withdraw the payment for a week, two weeks or a month, the landlord would not be long turning up to ensure the rent would be paid or that tenants would cease any alleged antisocial behaviour. The matter must be addressed. I am sorry my time was so short.

I wish to address a few different areas under this Bill. Many previous speakers gained experience while serving as members of local authorities and this informed their contributions to the debate.

Deputy McCormack referred to antisocial behaviour. The Bill attempts to strengthen the position of local authorities in dealing with such behaviour. It can be extremely difficult for other tenants or neighbours to be obliged to endure antisocial behaviour. The problem of illegal drug use can be dealt with under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Use of or dealing in such substances can be an issue for eviction, as can danger, injury or damage caused to any person who lives adjacent to the property of someone involved in such activity.

I have spoken to housing officials who attempt to deal with antisocial behaviour — I refer here to circumstances where such behaviour has given rise to extremely difficult situations — and I discovered that it is difficult to obtain evictions notices from the courts because, in many cases, judges state that local authorities have a responsibility to house individuals. It is difficult to argue with the logic of that. However, those obliged to cope with the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour are left to live in misery if the latter are not evicted.

The Minister stated that the Bill will transfer powers to local authorities, which will now have the ability to draw up their own charters. How will this stand up in court, particularly in circumstances where the State has a duty to house people and where local authorities are primarily responsible for the delivery of housing on behalf of the State? I will be interested in seeing how this will operate.

The way to deal with antisocial behaviour is to work with people, introduce tenancy schemes, base the allocation of houses on stricter criteria and build smaller combinations of units. With regard to the latter aspect, social unrest and bad behaviour have been more prevalent in large, sprawling housing estates. People in such estates who want to get on with their lives often find themselves in atrocious situations. A great deal must be done in the context of working with tenants and ensuring that they will not interfere with the lives of others. I accept that the latter is not always easy.

I am glad the issue of antisocial behaviour is being addressed in the Bill. However, it will be interesting to see how the relevant provisions operate in practice. Some people are obliged to live in appalling conditions where there is noise, intimidation, rubbish strewn about front gardens, etc. Certain individuals find such circumstances so intolerable that they will abandon their local authority homes. This, in turn, gives rise to event further complications. I hope the Bill will be successful in ameliorating the position for those who merely wish to get on with their lives.

Members have been contacted by those seeking to have the issue of homelessness addressed in the Bill. I received a submission from Sonas, which works with the victims of domestic violence and which is seeking that the needs of such individuals, if they have been obliged to leave their local authority homes, be addressed. Sonas wants these people to be recognised as being homeless and proposes that their names be placed on housing lists as a matter of urgency. This is a reasonable proposal and it reflects the position in which the victims of domestic violence, in most cases women with young children, find themselves.

The Bill will place the rental accommodation scheme on a statutory footing. I admit that the scheme has perhaps been slow in coming into operation which is due to the fact that the local authorities have not appointed adequate numbers of staff to oversee it. In addition, the staff who have been appointed may not have been sufficiently proactive in their approach. This valuable scheme, which is due for review during the current year, ensures that tenants have some form of security of tenure and that they are entitled to expect certain standards in respect of the accommodation they occupy. The latter is perhaps one of the reasons the scheme was slow to get off the ground, particularly as many private rented accommodation units were not up to standard. However, local authorities are now dealing directly with landlords and are guaranteeing them three to four years' worth of rent. As a result, such landlords know who will be their tenants for three to four years and are aware that they will not be without rental income at any stage during that period. In addition, the interests of tenants are being protected by the local authorities.

I am of the view that the scheme is working well and is easing the pressure that obtains in respect of rent supplement. In recent years, landlords in our cities were demanding high rents because that was what the market dictated. As a result, the level of rent supplement available from community welfare officers could not match the expectations of many landlords and tenants found themselves caught between two stools. Rents are now decreasing. On Friday last, I spoke to a person who lives on the south side of Cork city and whose rent recently fell from €1,200 to €900 per month. As always, the market finds its own level. The rental accommodation scheme is extremely positive in nature. There are many empty apartment blocks, etc., in Cork city and the council has reached agreement with certain of the owners of those properties to allow them to be used as part of the rental accommodation scheme.

The Bill addresses the issue of affordable housing but not to any great extent. The scheme of affordable housing has worked well. However, the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was informed last week that some 3,700 affordable housing units have not yet been sold. Perhaps it is time to sell these units on the open market in order to facilitate people in owning their own properties. The economy is in a state of flux and property prices are falling. In many instances, the cost of affordable housing units is out of kilter with the price being charged on the open market. The affordable housing scheme is no longer attractive to buyers as a result of the potential clawback and the fact that they cannot upgrade or move on to other properties should they wish to do so. Circumstances are changing and it is my opinion that the affordable housing units to which I refer should be sold on the open market. This would facilitate those who can afford to do so to purchase their own properties.

I welcome certain of the provisions in the Bill. I hope they will give rise to improvements and will encourage those who wish to purchase their own properties.

I welcome the Bill before the House. It is appropriate in that it allows us to reflect on the position of local authority housing and housing in general. I thank the housing section in Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council which I deal with on a regular basis, given that the number of people seeking housing in Kildare has been on the increase for years.

I listened to Deputy McCormack's contribution and I thank Kildare County Council for not having the same mechanism of telephone exchange that he is dealing with in Galway.

I have listened to the debate from the outset and an issue raised by speakers on both sides of the House is antisocial behaviour and how that problem can be dealt with. We can put regulations in place as long as the day is long but the problem is in implementing them.

The problem of antisocial behaviour goes back to when the first houses were allocated. The current procedure in Kildare County Council is that the council draws up a list which it gives to the environmental health officer of the Health Service Executive. He or she then travels throughout the county assessing the applications. Another meeting is held at that stage to compare files. A number of applicants are then put before the area committee of the council, which has an input at that stage. As Oireachtas Members, our only input now is in regard to letters of representation. In drawing up the list, the final part is done by the manager through the director of services, housing.

There has been a change in that regard. The original procedure was that if there were ten houses to be allocated, ten names were put forward. Comparisons could be made and information given but that is the position now. The procedure now is that there are 15 names on the list and the councillors have no part in the final say.

I understand the position in regard to emergencies. Emergencies will always arise where, unfortunately, people find themselves in need of houses due to family circumstances, a house being burned down or whatever but the one aspect that should not be interfered with is the geographical allocation of houses. The remit of the area should be examined in that regard because what often happens in many of these estates is that a sense of "them" and "us" develops and the local authority and even the residents find it difficult to establish the community activity one would want to associate with a new estate. I refer to a number of people who come to the area from a distance away. In some areas in Newbridge people from 20 or 30 miles away are allocated a house. They are taken out of their own environs and put into a totally new environ, and that creates a problem. That medium of allocation should be examined with a view to putting more thought into it.

At last week's Labour Party conference I raised a question about the development of community. Many local authorities now have a liaison officer who sets up meetings with the tenants being allocated housing to try to encourage them to establish residents associations and so on but there is not enough involvement or trust in that process to create a community within each estate. That is a problem.

Regarding the design of estates, I have raised on several occasions the issue of the green areas within estates. When a new estate is established there are those who want to see roses and other flowers growing in every part of the estate and tension is raised when a young lad goes out with a ball or a young lady goes out with a hurley or a camogie stick and the flowers are damaged. There should be a small kick-about area in every estate at the side of a number of houses or elsewhere where children can roll in muck, kick a ball or do what they like without interfering with the overall outlook of the estate. I have those in one or two areas in Kildare and it was unbelievable to see the control on the part of the children. They did not go near the flower beds or anything else. They just went to their own area where they stayed, and there was no tension in the estate. That is something that should be considered because it has a great deal of potential. Children interacting in areas like this in many instances become lifelong friends. Even when families move away, the children maintain links with the area and are involved with the area. I have raised the issue a number of times in meetings with the county manager in Kildare and I hope there will be some movement in regard to it.

The tension caused by antisocial behaviour is unbelievable. As soon as one family comes looking to move from an estate because of antisocial behaviour, three or four come forward with the same request because of the tension that has built up in the estate. Is it possible for a meeting to be held with those residents to try to defuse the situation? If three people ask to be moved out, and the Minister knows this as well as the Chairman, it is not possible to do that at the drop of a hat. Some mechanism must be put in place to try to overcome the problem. It is not possible in terms of problems with drugs or alcohol but in the ordinary run of events it should be possible for the liaison officer to try to generate a community spirit in such areas to the benefit of everyone living in the estate.

I tabled a number of questions to the Minister of State on the disabled person's grant and the house adaptation grant. I got a positive reply each time to the effect that he is going against the tide in that regard and increasing the grants. I hope the Minister will be able to honour that. I understand the current position where the Minister said there would be an increase of 8% in the overall funding. That funding has a major part to play in terms of each local authority. At the last meeting we had in Kildare, the county manager said he was committed to grants totalling €3 million. He said that apart from the €3 million he had €5 million on his books. One can see the advantage if one is able to deliver on the funding for those grants in that it will immediately provide a momentum to the building industry in each area. They may be small projects but they are all job related and cover a multiplicity of trades including bricklayers, plasterers, roofers, electricians, plumbers and so on. It is vital that we try to hold on to that. I understand the Minister is facing a battle, as is every Minister, but he has made a commitment in that regard. I hope the Minister for Finance acknowledges the effort he has made to ensure grants are made available to local authorities.

In addition to the building industry benefiting, the Minister will improve the standard of living of the most vulnerable in society, including those seeking house adaptation grants and the disabled person's grant. In general, standard of living will improve through the other grants also. I hope that after the budget next Tuesday he will be in a position to make funding available for those grants.

The Minister is putting in place a new mechanism regarding the purchases of houses, and possibly those in voluntary housing at present will be able to purchase houses outside the scheme. In many instances those in the schemes want to purchase the houses they live in because their family life revolves around them. Some of the voluntary housing schemes are superb and the tenants in them have been fighting for many years with many Ministers over this. We seem to be unable to complete the proposal. If they are removed from those places, their situation will not be improved because they have established links in these areas, their children are at school and their friends are there. In this instance the final hurdle should be cleared and people in voluntary housing should be allowed to purchase their houses. They have built the community, they are not just some group of people. We can see the community involvement when we are knocking doors.

It is a pity we are not in position to overcome that final barrier because it would be of great benefit. These are small estates of 20 to 25 houses that are ideal as communities. Instead of their being allowed to buy those houses, we are now saying that because they live there, the tenant must buy a house elsewhere. It is an error and it should be reviewed because it could be the final step in a system that has benefited many people. Even if there is a timeframe, whereby a tenant must live there for five or ten years, so be it. That finality should be offered because these people have been there since the initial stages. It is wrong to take them out and tell them they can buy the house down the road when they have built up their own communities.

Travellers also have housing needs that must be addressed. We must move on from halting sites. Travellers make their cases to me about a place for their horses and their traditions being broken by placing them in residential areas. We talked for many years about having sites to facilitate this but many Travellers are now in education and seeing a new facet of life. They do not want to break with tradition but we can develop this further. The fact that halting sites are sometimes in towns should be looked at and maybe we could rethink what we can do for them. They are doing the business themselves now, getting educated and bringing their kids to school for the betterment of the community in general. Housing needs must be looked at as part of that.

Housing lists should be transparent so people know where they are on them when they approach the local authority. The biggest problem with housing allocation is that people feel they were ahead of others on the list who have since got a house. I understand emergency allocation but I do not understand how people do not know where they are on the list. This argument goes on time and again and creates major problems for housing authorities when people claim they were on the list and were not sent word or perhaps had moved. There should be an annual list updated each year so people know their position on the list. It would make the allocation of housing easier, eliminating many of the problems.

There is a sheltered housing scheme in Athy, with ten units for senior citizens, and it is the best scheme in the country. It is immaculate and well cared for by the people who live there. It is a model for other developments because senior citizens can live in such areas with no pressure as a result of antisocial behaviour. People will be more active if they know they are secure.

The only problem I see with the RAS scheme is the lack of play areas for children in apartment complexes. I know of one area where the apartments are beside the canal and the parents are concerned. The scheme is beneficial and I support it because it allows the tenant to deal with the local authority while the local authority deals with the landlord. It is positive and wipes out all the problems about the tenant having to find the landlord to get things done. There is a need for thought about families however, with more individual units in housing estates rather than apartments where problems might arise in terms of suitability for children.

I have recently had cases of people living in shared ownership units who re-mortgaged the house and then could not repay the debt. Is there any link between the shared ownership and a person re-mortgaging to his own detriment? In one instance there was a house on a lovely estate where the person who purchased it under the shared ownership scheme re-mortgaged and now a lending agency will be taking over the house because the person cannot repay the money borrowed.

Debate adjourned.