Priority Questions

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Barry Cowen


1. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to introduce an affordable rental scheme to subsidise rents for low to middle income households in employment; the reason his Department decided not to use the €10 million allocated in budget 2016 for a pilot scheme for this purpose. [34098/17]

My question relates to an issue I referred to earlier during the passage of the legislation, which is the absence of an affordable housing scheme. In the Rebuilding Ireland programme it was envisaged that local authorities would look at ways in which they could facilitate and accommodate such schemes and maybe have them on a local authority or regional basis. The time has come for the Government to bring forward both an affordable rental and affordable purchase scheme, which the market is crying out for. I would like to hear the Minister's views and opinions on the matter before we deliberate any further.

Action 4.6 of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan provided for the introduction of an affordable rental scheme to enhance the capacity of the private rented sector to provide quality and affordable accommodation for households currently paying a disproportionate amount of disposable income on rent. Provision was made for €10 million per annum to be allocated through my Department’s Vote for that purpose. As set out in the strategy for the rental sector published in December 2016, the commitment to develop an affordable rental model is now to be progressed through kick-starting supply in rent pressure zones. Lands held by local authorities in such zones are to be brought to market on a competitive tendering basis, with a view to leveraging the value of the land to deliver the optimum number of units for rent, and in particular targeting middle income households in mixed tenure developments. This is intended to allow the rental units to be made available at below market prices without the need for ongoing rental subsidies. Accordingly, the provision of €10 million earmarked for the affordable rental scheme is being redirected to support additional activity under other housing programmes within my Department. An important policy intervention in the delivery of new housing supply under pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland is the development of State-owned lands for mixed tenure housing, particularly in the major urban areas where demand is greatest. I have asked all local authorities to be innovative and proactive in developing these sites. The final model for each site, including the affordable rental element, will be the subject of careful consideration by the local authority concerned, including by the elected members, who are best placed to know and provide for the housing need in their area. My Department is considering, in conjunction with local authorities, what national or local eligibility requirements should be specified. I am also considering further initiatives and actions to address the issue of affordability in the context of the targeted review of Rebuilding Ireland which my Department has now commenced.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is it a source of personal regret that despite the fact that €10 million was specifically allocated for this purpose in budget 2016, as the Minister alluded to, it is now being redirected to other initiatives? Was that at the request of the previous Minister? As a new Minister in the role, is the Minister disappointed it was the case? Does he think he will be able to regain lost ground on this issue? One hoped the pilot scheme would have been deemed to have been successful by this stage and that a supplementary budget would have been made available for an enlargement of it or a rolling out of it across the country?

It is not a source of regret. It is a better use of resources to use our State-owned lands in this way to try to leverage affordable rent and affordable buy models and to have that €10 million to allocate to other areas where need arises. A recent example is when we had to allocate an additional €10 million to try to accommodate 200 more families who presented as homeless in the past number of months. On the issue of affordability and the review under way in the Department, that particular section of this problem, affordable rent and affordable buy, has to be a part of some of the new solutions that will be brought to bear. It is a part of our consideration. Deputy Boyd Barrett talked about this issue on Second Stage of the Bill. Anything we do at each point in the housing market will have an effect on the other points. The delivery of new social houses is very important. If we can also bring in new types of accommodation that are affordable for people to rent or buy, it will relieve pressures in other parts of the market, which would make it easier for us to combat the problem we are facing as a whole which is both a housing crisis and a homelessness emergency.

It is some months since the publication online of the available sites around the country which are in the gift of many local authorities. The public was requested to express an interest in being considered by local authorities to develop sites on a contract or partnership basis into the future. Can the Minister ascertain at this stage the sort of response there has been and if it is from that source that affordable schemes are emanating? If so, is there a blueprint there for something to be initiated before the budget to honour the commitment that was given in budget 2016?

With regard to the active management of local authority lands, the Rebuilding Ireland map was published in April this year. There is potential, if one looks at those lands and where they are located, for 50,000 new homes, which is significant. It is a very important part of what we want to deliver. We facilitated a workshop in the Department on last Monday, 10 July, to get the ball rolling with local authorities. I have requested that the plans for what we will do with that work be prepared by the end of September.

There are models out there for affordable buy and affordable rent that are being examined at the moment. One particular model involves co-operative housing and an affordable buy scheme. I had the privilege to hand the keys over to a new family moving into one of those homes out in Ballymun earlier this week. A total of 47 or 49 units will be delivered at an affordable cost to people who can get a mortgage and move into that area. The cost is about €170,000 for a three-bedroom house, which is graded A2. There are schemes and models that are working. My job as part of the review is to bring those schemes together and drive them from the Department. If a scheme is working, we have to see if it can be applied and rolled out across the country.

Housing Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


2. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to ensure that no LIHAF funding will be released to developers that have not provided for a proportion of the units in their development to be sold at an affordable price that is less than €300,000 in Dublin and at appropriate levels elsewhere. [33571/17]

I am looking for a very specific update on the roll-out of the local infrastructure housing activation fund and, in particular, what the affordability return for taxpayer money will be in specific developments. Will the Government and Department keep to the original proposal from last August that at least 40% of the units in each of these developments should come in at 10% below market price or could some developments have no affordable units in them at all, as the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, seemed to suggest the last time he took questions?

The aim of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, is to relieve critical infrastructural blockages to enable the accelerated delivery of housing to address the shortage of supply in urban areas.

The Exchequer funding under LIHAF goes directly to the local authority which will procure the infrastructure through normal public procurement. The State receives a dividend in the form of accelerated housing supply once the blockage to development is removed, land for the infrastructure, as well as much-needed social housing under Part V. In seeking to secure improved affordability on private housing, it was initially proposed that a capped price point would be set on a percentage of the housing. However, it was subsequently recognised that setting a cap in 2016 for housing that would be developed up to 2021 and beyond was problematic and would have adversely impacted the commercial viability of some sites, with consequential negative impacts on overall supply.

Accordingly, a more proportionate way to recognise the contribution of LIHAF that will encourage housing supply and deliver an affordability dividend has been put in place. Two options are available to local authorities in seeking to reach agreements with developers, one which sets a minimum number of houses to be offered at 10% below market cost, including under €300,000 in Dublin, and a second option where a cost reduction related to the LIHAF contribution could be spread over the housing development as a whole.

This second option means a smaller reduction in price over a greater number of houses, giving more purchasers a potential saving, but not affecting the viability of the development and more accurately reflecting the contribution of LIHAF to reducing the overall costs of providing the new homes.

No drawdown of funding can occur by local authorities until cost-reduction commitments have been agreed and signed between the local authority and the developer. It is expected that all agreements will be finalised by the end of this month.

I thank the Minister. One of the questions I put to departmental officials in the committee two weeks ago was whether it would be possible for a development to secure LIHAF funding where there would be no affordability dividend in that development. The official said it could be possible. When we raised it with the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, previously he said that if there was no affordable dividend in the actual development, the money would not be released. I am asking the Minister the same question. If a local authority comes back, for example, in Cherrywood, and if despite the expenditure of €15 million of taxpayers' money none of the units there come in at below €300,000 which would be the minimum affordable criterion at a push, will the Minister give a commitment that the money will not be provided in such circumstances?

It remains to be seen what will be agreed by different local authorities in respect of the sites that are being developed or opened up thanks to the LIHAF funding. It is important that the local authorities use that funding to leverage as much affordability as they can. Obviously, there is optionality open to them.

Whether we are considering Cherrywood or any other site, we have to bear in mind exactly what proportion of money is being brought to bear by the Government relative to the overall amount of money that would be required to develop the site, how that money is being invested and what it will release for the community that will be there. The most important thing is that we are seeing new supply. The affordability commitment can and must be made. If LIHAF funding is being brought to bear on any development through a local authority to open up that new supply, there must be an additional affordability criterion above and beyond the existing Part V commitment under the development.

The problem is that supply in itself will not automatically guarantee affordability. I go back to the questions Deputy Cowen raised. Every time anybody in this House asks about affordable rental or affordable purchase, the answer is, "We're looking at models". The truth is that the Government does not have any models. I understand one project is about to be developed involving the Housing Agency and two approved housing bodies in Dún Laoghaire. That will be the first possible affordable rental model. However, I am hearing that the entry-level rent will not be anything close to affordable.

The difficulty will be that if €15 million of taxpayers' money is drawn down in a project such as Cherrywood and if none of those units comes in at below €300,000, people will rightly want to know if it is a good use of taxpayers' money. The Minister's answer is a little better than that given by his predecessor. It would help local authorities in their negotiations if the Minister says very clearly that if there is no affordability dividend with actual affordable units, then money will not be released.

We need to be clear when we talk about the purpose of the fund. LIHAF exists to facilitate investment by the local authorities of taxpayers' money to ensure pieces of land can be opened up for the development of housing. We need to bring that supply of housing online. We also have to cater for different price points. It goes back to a point that Deputy Boyd Barrett alluded to earlier in that if we can get people into homes they can afford to buy - whatever affordability means to them as an individual in terms of what they earn and the percentage of their income they are happy to put towards accommodation - and if it takes pressures of things like the rental market and off families who are struggling to find places to live at affordable rent, it has a knock-on effect throughout the system.

Affordability will depend on a number of different factors that input into the cost of construction, one of which is land. In certain parts of the city and the country, the land costs will be much higher and that will have an impact on the type of affordability that can be leveraged by the State in relation to that particular site. We have to look at this on a case-by-case basis in terms of the contracts local authorities are now finalising. Each of the different developments that are accessing LIHAF funding will be finalised towards the end of this month and they will then come to the Department to see what has been agreed.

House Prices

Barry Cowen


3. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to stem the house-price inflation that was in evidence in the second quarter of 2017. [34099/17]

The prices of newly built homes are rising much faster than the prices of existing ones. The latest report indicates 12.4% price inflation for new homes in the second quarter of 2017, compared with 5.3% for second-hand homes. What are the Minister's plans to stem the extreme house-price inflation evidenced in the report for the second quarter of 2017?

The residential construction sector in Ireland was severely impacted by the economic downturn, with housing output falling by almost 90% between 2006 and 2013. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the lack of housing supply and the lack of a competitive market are widely accepted as being primarily responsible for driving the high levels of house price and rental inflation that we have seen in recent years.

In order to directly influence and generate supply of new homes, the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan contains a suite of actions, such as the €226 million LIHAF that we just discussed; leveraging the value of State-owned lands to deliver a more affordable rental offering in rent pressure zones; streamlined planning systems for housing developments; and other planning reforms to provide flexibility to deliver viable housing schemes and apartment developments in the right locations. In addition, analysis of vacant dwellings data from the 2016 census provides strong evidence for targeted policies to maximise the number of vacant properties that can be brought back into use, especially in our cities and large towns where demand is greatest.

Recent housing activity reports, available on, show that strong supply-side measures are beginning to have a positive impact, with all output indicators showing upward trends. However, it is crucial that we continue to focus on supply and particularly the supply of homes at more affordable price points.

As part of the targeted review process for Rebuilding Ireland, I have asked my Department to focus in particular on the broad issues of housing supply and affordability for different market segments, building on the measures already being advanced under the action plan.

The comparison is plain to see - 12.4% versus 5%. The huge and appalling rise in the price of new houses has to be stemmed. Depending on the actions in Rebuilding Ireland and waiting for supply to meet demand is simply not working without targeted initiatives in supply. The Minister needs to indicate to the House that he will specifically target initiatives that will have the effect of reducing the cost of construction. It is only there that progress can be made. For example, will the Minister either in the budget or earlier provide a holiday on VAT in the construction sector? Will he review planning and development fees? Will he review certification costs and the manner in which certification is carried out? Will he consider competitive finance methodologies such as putting a vehicle in place to allow private investment involving the credit unions and pension funds to fund infrastructure? These are indicators the Minister needs to show the sector he is interested in addressing. To date the failure in that regard has meant that demand has led to this spike and continues to do so.

Given the fall-off in construction which happened during the crisis from 2006 and 2013 that I alluded to, obviously supply is the crucial factor in terms of stemming inflation. As we have huge demand and do not have enough stock to meet that demand, we therefore have to increase supply across a number of fronts. Increasing supply means different things. Of course, it means building new homes. We need to work out who builds those homes and for whom. It also means managing stock. The country has a huge number of vacant homes and we also have vacant space or what might be called stranded assets above shops in towns and villages. All of that needs to be looked at. We need targeted measures through the supply of new homes and the management of existing stock.

Year on year to March of this year, completions have increased by almost 40% and ESB connections in Dublin have increased by one third. That shows that work is being done, that Rebuilding Ireland is working and that there is new supply coming into the market.

With all due respect, the completion statistics are coming from a low base. Also, using ESB connections as an indicator has proved not to be the road to go down, considering that many properties have been brought back into use rather than such connections indicating new constructions. Will the Minister introduce initiatives to address the cost of construction and the criteria associated with bank lending and the rates being charged? Has he had sight of the cost of construction analysis being done by the Housing Finance Agency, an independent assessment which was requested six months ago? Where does that stand? If he has had sight of it, or if it is nearing completion, surely he would be in a position to make recommendations which would make inroads into addressing the high cost of construction. If he were to do that, he would leave room for a margin and allow prices to come down. Supply measures can have success into the future but in the immediate term we need to get some indication of the type of interjection the Minister will make in the market to stem the appalling rise in the price of new homes. As well intended as the demand measures were, such as the help-to-buy and the deposit schemes, they have had the effect of spiralling prices in the absence of supply measures.

I said ESB connections; I did not say completions. I said when I took over this brief we would stop calling ESB connections completions because they are not completions. However, any ESB connection is a good sign because it shows a new family or an individual will move into that property, whether it is new or has not been occupied for two years. It is a positive indictor. I accept it is not an indicator of a completion.

In regard to construction costs, two pieces of work are under way. One is an international comparator and the other is a cradle-to-grave look at the inputs that are there for people who are building and developing. That work is almost completed and we will make a decision based on the findings of those reports. I would point to some schemes I have seen recently, for example, a scheme in Finglas which was a rapid build, the cost of delivery of which was very impressive. It involved a precast form of building which the private sector is now also adopting. When people first talked about rapid builds for social housing, people turned their noses up at it, but the private sector is also moving to adopt that model, because it is an efficient and affordable way to build. We are also looking at ways of using land owned by local authorities to try to leverage affordable homes to buy. For example, I would point to a scheme in Ballymun where the local authority gave the land away for effectively nothing, waived the development levies, organised finance through AIB and we now have 49 new homes for families to live in at very affordable purchasing price points for an area like Ballymun in Dublin.

Emergency Accommodation Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


4. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the measures he will take to ensure that all emergency homeless accommodation, including family hubs, funded by his Department will meet the highest possible standards. [33572/17]

In the two reports on family emergency accommodations and hubs published yesterday, one by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the other by two academics from Maynooth University funded by the European Union, one of their central recommendations was the need for an independent inspection regime for emergency accommodation, in particular for families. In order to ensure the highest possible standards are met not just in the initial provision of emergency accommodation, will the Minister give a commitment to at least explore legislation to ensure family emergency accommodation has some formal independent inspection regime, whether by Tusla or some similar body?

The Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness provides for early solutions to address the high number of households in emergency accommodation. These include the delivery of increased social housing supply through new-build, acquisition and refurbishment schemes and independent tenancies for homeless households in the private rented sector through housing supports, such as the enhanced housing assistance payment, HAP. Statutory responsibility in relation to the provision of housing, homeless accommodation and related services rests with individual housing authorities, while my Department’s role involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive is working with each of the four Dublin local authorities to support the delivery of a number of family hubs, which will provide homeless families with more appropriate and supported temporary accommodation, as an alternative to hotel accommodation. The facilities in question will provide a suite of children's services, laundry facilities and cooking facilities and will provide space for families to engage with their key workers and with local authorities in relation to finding more permanent housing solutions.

In addition to being required to comply with normal statutory requirements, including in regard to fire safety, there are guidelines in place, which were developed by my Department in consultation with the Dublin local authorities, on best practice and standards for temporary accommodation for families. In so far as family hubs are concerned, this guidance includes standards in regard to minimum sizes for family units and the provision of living spaces.

Furthermore, the Dublin authorities are also guided in the provision of temporary accommodation for families by the national quality standards framework for homelessness services, which the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has developed. This framework is consistent with Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, standards and seeks a minimum level of quality in the provision of temporary accommodation for homeless families.

In terms of standards and quality, it should also be noted that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has an inspection regime in place to deal with complaints and to ensure targets are met and accommodation is appropriate and safe. The inspection team has a work programme, which includes site visits and interaction with homeless families and individuals on issues arising in their accommodation.

During the past two years as the family homelessness crisis has spiralled out of control, many of us have had direct experience of very poor emergency accommodation conditions in which families are living. They may not be the norm and there are very many good quality, well run and well maintained facilities, but, for example, I refer to rooms with dampness and blood and urine stained mattresses, accommodation that we would not allow ourselves, let alone children, to stay in. Notwithstanding the fact that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has those quality guidelines and they are HIQA compliant, surely the best way to ensure high quality standards in all emergency accommodation, whether it be the new hubs or existing emergency accommodation, not including hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, is that they be subject to an independent inspection regime. That is why the HIQA legislation was amended to include, for example, direct provision centres. It would be a really strong statement of the Minister's confidence in the emergency accommodation that his Department is funding if he would subject them to the same type of independent inspection regime so that everybody could be assured that they are meeting the high standards that he has outlined.

I have complete confidence in the family hubs and in the way they have been set up, designed, built or retrofitted, and in the people who are working there and bringing community care into those facilities. I have also complete confidence in the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and its ability to carry out inspections in those facilities to make sure they are up to scratch. I would say to Members who are members of the committee and who have been invited to the Crosscare, or Mater Dei, facility to visit and get a better understanding of exactly what we are talking about when we talk about these family hubs. They will understand from the care workers there that everything that is happening in those hubs is being driven by the communities there in terms of what they want to see and what rules or charter, which is probably the best way of putting it, they want to work under. That is the type of facility they will see there and those are the types of standards being used. The workers there are Tusla approved, separate from the Crosscare, or Mater Dei, facility, and they work together in these family hubs for those families. I am very happy and confident in the standards I have seen so far to date.

I am not questioning or do not doubt any of that, although in addition to people, including ourselves, seeing hubs being constructed, we should also be talking to the families who are currently living in hubs. They would give a much more insightful explanation of the difficulties that families experience, notwithstanding the improvements from hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation to hubs, but none of that is the point I was making. Some 70% of families with children in emergency accommodation currently have been there more than six months, and 40% have been there more than one year. We currently have approximately 200 families who are approaching their second year in emergency accommodation. It does not matter how good a facility is when it is set up, it needs to be subject to an independent inspection. The word "independent' is important because that means independent of the funders, that is, the Minister's Department, but also independent of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. If many other aspects of residential care funded by the State are subject to independent inspection such as by HIQA, I cannot see any compelling argument as to why the Minister would not have the same kind of regime for all Department of Housing, Planning Community and Local Government funded emergency accommodation.

I had the opportunity to speak to a number of families in the hubs. They confirmed to me they were much happier in the hub than they were in the hotel because of the shared play facilities and the cooking facilities. They could cook a meal and have it on their own without having to have their children in their arms, which they had not been able to do previously but they do so now because of the supports in place. The hub is a better place than a hotel. I repeat that it is a first response, a temporary response and an emergency response.

Some of the people who were meant to be going into the hub at the Crosscare facility were able to find a pathway to more permanent housing before they even went into the hub. If we consider the commitment that was given in June to those families who were homeless at the end of May and in emergency accommodation, one third were to go into social housing, one third were to go into HAP supported tenancies, and one third were to go into hubs. Each of those families was met and given a letter with that commitment.

I reiterate that the hub is the first response, not the last. It is not meant to be a long-term response. It is better than hotels. I am very satisfied with the arrangements that are in place for the management and operation of these hubs. I am happy to continue to discuss this with the Deputy if he feels there is something missing in respect of the inspection regime. I am happy with what I have seen in terms of the engagement with the care workers, workers from Tusla, local authorities and representatives from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive in terms of how they are trying to make this an appropriate, safe and strong space for families. If the Deputy has other concerns of which I need to be aware, perhaps he could share them with me.

Housing Issues

Jan O'Sullivan


5. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans with regard to developing and publishing a vacant homes strategy; the date on which he expects to publish the strategy; the elements he will progress in advance of publication; his views on the disappointing take up of the repair and leasing scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33629/17]

Last week, the Minister told us that the vacant homes strategy was being deferred. We had been expecting it before the summer break although it was actually due at the end of March. He said it was being deferred because there were certain measures he wanted to introduce. I gather some of them may be budgetary. He also said there were some elements he could progress in advance of publication. My question is around what elements he might be able to advance ahead of publication. I have a specific query about the repair and leasing scheme, which does not appear to have taken off as well as expected.

Pillar 5 of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is specifically focused on utilising existing housing stock, with a key objective of ensuring that the existing vacant housing stock throughout the country and across all forms of tenure, in both the public and private sectors, is used to the optimum degree. In this regard, action 5.1 of Rebuilding Ireland commits to the development of a national vacant housing reuse strategy, informed by Census 2016 data.

To this end, the Housing Agency established a working group comprising senior representatives from my Department, local authorities and from the Housing Agency itself to inform the strategy. My Department has received the output from the work of this group and is at present engaging with key Departments and agencies to consider the analysis and agree on the recommended actions prior to publication. I would like to see as much ambition as possible in bringing as many viable vacant properties back into use at an early stage. I intend, as part of the review of Rebuilding Ireland, to explore what further actions can be taken and what new ideas we can bring to bear, in close liaison with ministerial colleagues.

If budgetary measures are needed to reinforce the ambition, this may delay the publication of the strategy. However, this will not delay the commencement of important work at local level in gathering more accurate and up-to-date information on where vacant properties are and who owns them, so that we can facilitate the reuse of many vacant properties, particularly in our cities and towns. I will be meeting with local authority chief executives next week and may release further details then.

Ahead of finalisation of the strategy, it is important to note that my Department has already introduced a number of significant measures under Pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland to incentivise the increased use of vacant housing stock to help meet the needs of those in receipt of social housing assistance. These initiatives include the repair and leasing scheme, the buy and renew scheme, and the Housing Agency acquisitions fund. My Department will continue to engage actively with local authorities, working together with the housing bodies, to maximise delivery from these schemes, particularly in respect of the repair and leasing scheme referred to by the Deputy, and to progress the wider range of actions to be finalised as part of the broader vacant house reuse strategy.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is meeting with the local authorities next week and hope that he will impress upon them the importance of proactively finding out why there are so many vacant properties around the country. I referred before and will refer again to the Peter McVerry Trust's specific proposal about having vacant homes officers in each local authority, whose role would be to try to bring those homes back into use. Even if the figure of 200,000 or so that is identified in the census is an overestimation, it would still be enough to address the housing and homelessness crisis if even a fraction of them were brought back into use.

I know the Minister might not tell me as it is a budgetary matter, but is he going to consider a vacant homes tax? Will that be discussed and considered in advance of the budget? What measures will he take to ensure that local authorities are more proactive in this area? There is so much potential and it is so much quicker to do up an empty house and bring it back into use than to build a new one. It seems to me that there is no great sense of urgency being shown in respect of the fact that these houses are there and could be brought back into use.

The Deputy is absolutely right to focus on vacant homes and the vacant homes strategy. As we discussed earlier, if we are to solve the problem we are currently facing, it is not just about bringing online new builds but also managing the existing stock that we have. That figure of 180,000 or 190,000 vacant homes in the country does not include holiday homes. People sometimes wonder. Some of the initial work that has been done in terms of trying to drill down into that figure would indicate that about 100,000 or 110,000 of those homes are not in locations where people actually need to live to work and everything else. We might be looking at a figure of about 90,000. When we break that down even further and take out short-term vacancies between letting periods, houses that might have been for sale and homes caught up in probate issues and things like that, the truer figure might be closer to 25,000. It is still a huge number of homes. It is what we need in a given year. We need to make sure that we can come with a very strong strategy to get those homes unlocked and lived in.

Again, I appreciate that the Minister is meeting the local authorities next week. Surely, a year after Rebuilding Ireland, they have some handle on exactly what is going on in each local authority area. It should not be too difficult, particularly in the cities where we have the biggest demand for housing. Has the Minister any sense of what might be available and why they are being left vacant for such a length of time?

The Deputy must bear in mind that we are talking about private property. If we are going to approach this we must do so in a way that is going to work. I have already begun consultations with the Attorney General and the Minister for Finance as to different measures that we can undertake.

The publication of the strategy may be delayed for certain reasons of which the Deputy is aware. That does not delay the commencement of work. When I meet with the local authority chiefs next week, we will talk about the work that is already under way. For example, we can look at particular counties like Louth, which has been very successful in pursuing compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, and using that tool to get houses unlocked. Of the houses that were unlocked in Louth, they only needed to use CPOs for a tiny fraction. It was the initial engagement with the owners of the property that allowed them to come to much quicker and cheaper solutions than would have resulted from going through the whole CPO process.

Work on this is already under way in the local authorities. The piece I have to do is to look at the different schemes that are in place to see how they have been working, whether they have been working, if we can streamline them in some way, and if we can bring more resources into those schemes. We need to make sure that the local authorities have the people to do that work on the ground in co-ordination with the unit of my own Department. I may be able to give more detail on that at the beginning of next week.

I suggest that the Minister also engages with the voluntary housing sector. Those groups will tell us that there are difficulties with the repair and leasing scheme and that some of the schemes that are in place are unduly cumbersome and not straightforward. Even when they identify homes that are available, they are having difficulty transferring them to their stock. I do not know if the Minister has the figure, but in terms of the repair and leasing in particular, does he know how much of the allocated funding for this year has been spent?

I do not have a figure for the allocated funding that has been spent so far on the repair and lease scheme. I have asked for that figure and am awaiting it. I have spoken to the housing bodies and to the Housing Finance Agency and the Housing Agency. The Deputy will be aware that there is legislation coming in the autumn in respect of the regulation of housing bodies. Once we have that in place, we can secure better and longer term sources of finance, for example from pension funds or potentially perhaps from the credit unions, as was alluded to earlier by Deputy Barry Cowen. When we do that, we are bringing greater resources to bear as well as greater expertise in terms of some of the things we might be able to do in conjunction with existing schemes, be they the repair and lease scheme or the buy and renew scheme, as well as other new measures that will be coming online.

While vacant homes will be part of the strategy, we also have to look at stranded assets, by which I mean, for example, space above a shop that might have previously been a home but has now become some sort of temporary or default storage space. Such a space could actually have people living in it and might be located where people want to live, in a village or town centre where all the transport, resources, shops and everything else are nearby.