Other Questions

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Bríd Smith


6. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to ensure no more deaths occur among homeless people and rough sleepers; and his plans to re-open a location (details supplied) or similar to ensure there are no more fatalities during the winter of 2017. [52274/17]

Will the Minister outline his plans to ensure that no more deaths occur among homeless people and rough sleepers? Will he also outline plans to re-open locations similar to Apollo House that could ensure there are no more fatalities in any city throughout the rest of the winter?

I express my sympathy and condolences to the family of the lady who passed away in Cork yesterday.

On the night of 7 November 2017, a total of 184 individuals were recorded as sleeping rough in Dublin. As I have said previously, no person should have to sleep rough on our streets or be without shelter at any time of the year.

At last September's housing summit, I emphasised the need for all housing authorities to have sufficient capacity in emergency accommodation and to have appropriate facilities in place for every person sleeping rough, on any night of the week. I also instructed the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, at that time, to set about ensuring the delivery of 200 additional permanent emergency beds by Christmas, in a range of new facilities and locations across the city. A total of 50 of the 200 permanent beds are now in place, and the remaining 150 emergency beds will be brought into use over the coming days, with all being in place by mid-December.

The people who use these facilities will have access to a range of health and welfare supports, which they would not have on the streets. Facilities like this will provide the individuals involved with some stability so that housing authorities and the HSE can work with them to create a pathway to exit homelessness into independent living.

As the weather becomes colder, my Department has also been working with local authorities to ensure that their cold weather initiatives are in place.  These arrangements ensure that additional temporary beds can be brought into use across a range of existing services and facilities for singles and couples who need them during periods of cold weather.

There is a weather warning for snow throughout the country today. This morning, I walked in Le Fanu Park in Ballyfermot, as I always do, and the Brent geese were back. There were not enough of them, which is probably a sign of climate change, something we will discuss later, but clearly the cold snap is on the way. The woman to whose family the Minister has given his condolences, and I offer the same, as Members throughout the House really feel for these people who die on the streets, is the third to die in the past eight days and the eighth to die on our streets since August. I do not know how the Minister feels about this, but I feel ashamed of this country to have that knowledge.

On Monday in my clinic, three middle-aged men, not together and not all at once but separately, visited me. All of them are working and each of them is about to be made homeless. They do not have a problem with drugs or drink, they are not chaotic and they did not make bad choices, but they are about to be made homeless for different reasons. One of them is being divorced and cannot afford to move into an apartment or flat at the current rate of rent available in the city, another is being put out of his home because the banks have repossessed it, and another is being made homeless because the landlord is selling the property he is renting. There are myriad reasons homelessness is on the increase and the Government is failing to deal with it. It is failing to deal with the long-term consequences and it is utterly failing to deal with the short-term hardship. Not all homeless people are chaotic or make bad choices. People are being made homeless because of housing policies.

We have a crisis when it comes to homelessness and the Taoiseach has spoken about this on a number of occasions. Every time a person dies while rough sleeping I am notified. I am one of the first people to be notified about the circumstances of the death. It is a very difficult phone call to take; I can assure the Deputy of that. This is why I have made a commitment, and we are following through on that commitment, to make sure there will be a bed in place for any person sleeping rough. By the middle of December 200 new emergency beds will be in place so no one will be forced to sleep rough on the streets.

These are not just temporary beds for Christmas. They are permanent emergency beds being put into our stock of emergency beds. On nights when we have difficulties with the weather or other reasons, such as Storm Ophelia, we put in place emergency beds. There are 50 to 60 of these available on any given night. A couple of weeks ago, we launched the cold weather initiative because we were entering the winter season. This has been in effect on a number of nights over recent weeks, and it remains in effect because of the cold snap that is coming and the prediction of snow. In the cold weather initiative, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive works with the voluntary sector and rough sleeper units to try to get people into secure accommodation for the night. We are working on these facilities and opening them up. They are very good facilities with single and double bedrooms and all of the wraparound supports that can be there, and we want to get people from rough sleeping into sheltered accommodation and then get them into more permanent solutions.

There was a recent attempt by the Government, and particularly the Taoiseach, to try to normalise this, or politically normalise it, and say it happens everywhere so it is not a big deal. It is a big deal, and it is an even bigger deal when we have organisations such as the Peter McVerry Trust and Inner City Helping Homeless and political parties urging the Government to declare a housing emergency. The Government declared an emergency to cut public sector pay and conditions but it will not declare a housing emergency. If it did, it would allow it to CPO, on big vacant buildings such as Apollo House and the hotel on the quays, and open the facilities needed when they are needed and shut them when they are not needed. It would also allow the Government to borrow off-balance-sheet to build the social housing needed. There is a complete refusal to recognise this is an emergency. It is an emergency that is the creation of economic policies and policies to do with developers and vulture funds in this country.

I ask the Minister not to tell me he is throwing everything at the HAP because it does not work. Ask Celina Hogan, who was on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" yesterday. She is from Ballyfermot and has been living in a hotel. Every day she tries to get a landlord to take her and her two children through the HAP. The Government will give her up to €1,800 or €1,900 month for a HAP rental but landlords do not want to do the HAP and it is not happening. This is why homelessness is on the increase and it is not being dealt with.

The Peter McVerry Trust is an excellent organisation and is one of our partner organisations, which we fund to provide services for people who are homeless. Among the new facilities we were to open before the middle of December is one in Cabra, which is run by the trust and is already open. It is a very fine facility that is going to help a number of people into sustainable long-term accommodation. Inner City Helping Homeless is also doing good work. I have been out with its teams to see exactly what it is doing. It is hoping to be part of a co-ordinated effort under the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and we will try to progress that work because the group has positive motivation.

We are using compulsory orders very extensively in counties such as Louth and at the housing summit in January CPO powers will be a particular focus. We are not relying on putting everything on HAP and the numbers do not bear that claim out. We are building social housing through local authorities and housing bodies and we are acquiring more homes for the social housing stock, as well as long-term leasing homes. Responsibility for social housing was outsourced by previous Governments and we are taking responsibility back in a very rapid way under Rebuilding Ireland. We are also looking beyond 2021 to see if we can make it a permanent measure.

Will the Minister answer the question? Does he consider that we have a housing emergency?

Local Authority Housing Waiting Lists

Jan O'Sullivan


7. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of households on local authority housing waiting lists at the end of November 2017, or October 2017 in the event November's statistics are not available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52066/17]

My question looks for an accurate figure for the number of people on waiting lists for local authority housing. At the rough end of that are the people described in Deputy Smith's question but there are also issues related to construction and supply.

My Department does not record monthly statistics on the number of households qualified for social housing support. Details on the number of households qualified for social housing support in each housing authority area are provided in the statutory summary of social housing assessments, which are now being carried out an annual basis and we have last year's figures.

The most recently published statutory summary of social housing assessments relates to the assessment carried out in 2016. This records the number of households on all local authority waiting lists, as of 21 September 2016.  The results of the 2016 summary show that there were 91,600 households deemed qualified for, and in need of, social housing support. Full details in relation to the 2016 assessment are available on my Department's website.

I expect the results of the 2017 assessment, carried out in September, to be published shortly. We expect the figures to be slightly down but we do not have them yet and there is no point giving the Deputy figures that are not fully assessed. When we have them we will make them available. If we need to correct the record we will do so, but we work off the net need at the moment.

I appreciate that the figures will be out in a few weeks' time but while the Minister has indicated they will be lower, I imagine they will not be much lower. We are all aware of the huge demand for housing and the number on waiting lists around the country. This goes back to Deputy Cowen's question about supply and the construction programme of local authorities. We really need local authorities to build houses for people on waiting lists, which is the most basic and traditional way to supply housing. I did some analysis of the social housing output report of 2015 on schemes that were approved by the beginning of 2016 and the recent social housing construction status report of 2017 indicates that the majority of those approved at that time are still not at construction stage but are in the capital appraisal, preplanning and pre-tender stages. They have not started building yet. What is the Minister doing to get the construction programme moving more quickly? Is the problem in the Department, in councils or somewhere between the two?

We have had discussions on the various processes of getting on site which we are constantly trying to improve as a major part of Rebuilding Ireland. Local authorities are the responsible authorities to do this. Their capacity was reduced by previous Governments, for reasons with which I did not agree, but we are building it up by strengthening their teams and the number of people available to them, as well as giving them funding so that they can up their game and take charge of the delivery of housing. The most recent statistics show that there are 772 developments in the pipeline, which will deliver 12,293 homes, though we have asked local authorities to increase this figure. The number of schemes at capital appraisal is 165, with 119 at preplanning and 58 at pre-tender design. The number of site starts is 191 and at site finish stage there are 147. On top of these there are acquisitions and bringing back voids and turnkey projects so activity is well up. The figures will show that next year, with up to 8,000 social houses being delivered as compared to a year ago or two or three years ago. We recognise that it is not enough and we have told local authorities to put more projects in place. This includes agreeing a new timeline for bringing projects to site and where it used to be up to five years it is now at 59 weeks, which is in line with the private sector.

Is the Minister going to deliver on those timelines? In my local authority, houses which are going to be ready for occupation next year will be counted as delivered in 2018 but they started back in 2014. There are sites on which construction should have started years ago but they are still sites and, meanwhile, people are out on the streets, hungry and cold and trying to get into emergency accommodation. We need a sense of urgency.

That is exactly what we are trying to put into the system. I agree that there is no excuse for sites taking up to eight years to be completed. We are reviewing all the projects and we are looking at the processes to see if we can put in place realistic timelines that all local authorities can sign up to. Their housing teams and chief executives have bought into this, as has our Department. Our job is to deliver it and a new team in the Department will track it on a weekly basis, viewing sites with me and the Minister to ensure it is happening on the ground and to deal with any barriers we come across. In the past there were no timelines or agreed process, which is a crazy way to deliver projects, but we now have these things and with proper project management I am confident we can deliver them on time. It is not good enough for a project to take six years. It happened in the past but it will not happen in the future and we will stand over that. We had to narrow the process down first and we have achieved that.

In response to a freedom of information request, I received the net social housing need waiting list for all local authorities as of 1 September and the figure was 99,555 households. The Department uses a different methodology for the housing needs assessment it is about to publish, as it did last year, so it is important to outline the methodology to the House. The Department is not cleaning the statistics in the same way as it did and, having spoken to council officials, I am unclear as to what the methodology is in my council area and how comparable are last year's and this year's figures.

My understanding is that the process will be the same as last year.

It will be based on net need, which means people who are in need of a house or whose housing needs are not being met. People on the HAP or RAS schemes or on the transfer list are not included because their housing needs are met but it will include people on rent assistance, which is 45% of the total number on the housing waiting list. It also includes people in other private rented accommodation, or in emergency accommodation. It includes anyone who is in need of a social house and qualifies under income limits.

We do not expect a dramatic drop in the figures but we have analysed the data and we expect a slight reduction. This is not enough for people who want a house but it is a positive trend. The more important trend, however, is that for the delivery of housing which is up as compared to recent years, and rightly so, both for completed houses and starts. We are asking local authorities and all parties to help us in this as we need support at local authority level. There are still far too many vacant properties. We have recommended all the schemes to deal with vacant properties, such as CPO, repair and leaseback and the purchase and renew scheme because they are not being fully utilised at present. It is even worse that somebody is homeless in a county where there are vacant properties.

Local Authority Housing Eligibility

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the review of income eligibility limits for social housing will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52195/17]

The Minister will recall that I have raised the issue of the need to increase the income eligibility limits for social housing with him on several occasions, as well as with his predecessor, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and with the Minister of State, Deputy English. My constituency of Cavan-Monaghan is in the lowest income limit band and the limit is far too low. I have previously cited in the House cases of people on family income supplement who have been denied the opportunity to apply for a council house because the family income supplement brings them above the income threshold. That they have been approved for family income supplement demonstrates that their income is not sustainable to support a family but they are unable to qualify for social housing. That situation urgently needs to be addressed.

The social housing assessment regulations 2011 prescribe maximum net income limits for each housing authority in different bands according to area, with income defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band are based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. The limits also reflect a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn and thereby promote sustainable communities, which also had a future-proofing impact.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support.  The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve that by providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying the households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

As part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of the income eligibility limits for social housing supports has commenced. I expect the results of the review to be available for publication in the first half of 2018.

I thank the Minister for his reply and I welcome that the review is under way. However, delivery in the first half of 2018 could be seven months away, which would not be acceptable. I was given a commitment by the Minister's predecessor that the study would be concluded at an early date and the Minister gave a similar indication in response to previous parliamentary questions. Each time the issue has been raised, the schedule for publication has been put back. I appeal to the Minister to demand of his officials that they complete the review within a month or six weeks. As I said to the Minister on the last occasion I raised this issue during Oral Questions, a long, drawn-out review is not needed. The Department should ring a few good officials in councils who are dealing with the issue on a daily basis. Such officials could give the Department examples of applicants who have been turned down because of the family income supplement or carer's allowance payment being factored into their income. This exercise should be completed very quickly. There is an urgent need to increase income limits.

One of the great successes of social housing in this country has been the mix of people in communities in large local authority housing areas. We will lose that mix of people in my area because those working in low-paid jobs are not eligible for consideration for social housing. That needs to be rectified in the very early part of 2018, not in a year's time.

I share the Deputy's concern and his desire to get the report completed as quickly as possible. When I said it would be delivered in the first half of 2018, I did not mean that it would be done in seven months' time. We want it to be done as quickly as possible. We have been engaging with the Housing Agency, which is doing this work, to get the report done as quickly as possible. I understand the Deputy's point on getting in touch with local authorities that might be better than others in order to get a quicker understanding of what might need to be done in this area but in order to do a review such as this and given its importance and how it will affect every local authority in the State it has to be comprehensive, consistent and work with each local authority to get the relevant data and make an assessment on that basis. I agree with the Deputy's commitment to ensuring we maintain a mix in communities and the social housing stock. One of the reasons an additional €5,000 was built into the 2011 review was to ensure we were bringing in a broader cohort, facilitating a mix and keeping sustainable communities. The limits are net of things such as tax and USC and, therefore, in some areas are above the average industrial wage, although I appreciate Cavan is in the lowest band. Work is being done by the Housing Agency and as soon as it is completed, we will publish it.

I again appeal to the Minister to go back to the Housing Agency and the senior officials in his Department and ask them to give this issue the utmost urgency. We cannot condemn people who are working in low-paid jobs and trying to care for and support their families in difficult circumstances to renting houses for the rest of their lives. Such people come to my clinics every week and ask me if there is any chance they will get on the council housing list. A difficulty for such people is that they are renting and are unable to draw down the other supports available to those on the council housing list. It is not the only difficulty but it is an extra factor. They realise they do not have a chance of being able to get a mortgage or source funding from a financial institution in order to provide a home for themselves. They need to be able to access local authority housing. We must help the people who are working hard and trying to provide for their families. Most of the people who have come to me are young mothers and lone parents working in low-paid jobs and trying to rear families on their own in exceptionally difficult circumstances. They need to be supported by the State.

I understand and respect the Deputy's commitment to the issue and to his constituents who are in this very difficult situation. It is difficult to know what assessments are being done in individual cases. I do not yet know what the review will conclude and it is not clear to me if it will recommend an increase in the bands or, if such increase is recommended, how much that might be.

We are moving to introduce an affordability scheme to deal with the issue, as was addressed in a previous question this morning. It is important that we can look after people. We must move away from a person either qualifying for social housing supports and getting almost all the supports the State can offer, or not qualifying and getting almost nothing. There is a cohort of people who need our support and for whom a little help will make a large difference. That is why we are bringing back an affordability scheme, the details of which I will announce as soon as I can.

I will allow a brief supplementary from Deputy Ó Broin.

As I said on the previous occasion Deputy Smith raised this matter, a very simple solution would be to allow local authorities to disregard family income supplement when conducting the means test for social housing. That is already the case in respect of carer's allowance. In my constituency, a working family were €500 a year over the social housing income threshold and were consequently denied access to social housing support and have to pay €1,600 per month in rent. Separate to the review, the Minister could change the regulations overnight to allow for the disregard of family income supplement. I urge him to do so because it would solve the problem for many of our constituents.

I am aware the Deputy raised that matter previously and I discussed it with my officials. It has been communicated to the Housing Agency, which is conducting the review.

Housing Provision

With the permission of the House, I will now take Parliamentary Question No. 8 as Deputy Wallace sent me a message in that regard. However, I will penalise him by not allowing him 30 seconds to introduce the question.

What did I do to deserve that?

The Deputy was late.

It will be of assistance to Deputy Wallace.

The Leas-Ceann Comhairle is making it up as he goes along.

I am being pragmatic.

Mick Wallace


8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government further to the announcement by the Minister for Finance of the creation of Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, if his Department has engaged with the Department of Finance regarding HBFI; the role he envisages his Department playing with regard to HBFI; if he has satisfied himself that HBFI will bring the required funding into the area of residential development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52273/17]

As announced in budget 2018, my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, intends to establish Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, to provide funding on market terms to viable residential development projects whose owners are experiencing difficulty in obtaining debt funding.

Officials from my Department have met with Department of Finance officials on the matter and will continue to engage with them as the enabling legislation is developed. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will bring forward the relevant legislation to the Oireachtas in early 2018, with a view to commencing operations later next year.

With a proposed allocation of up to €750 million, it is estimated that HBFI could have capacity to fund the construction of around 6,000 new homes in the coming years. I welcome the addition of this new instrument that will further support the delivery of projects to supply much-needed new homes. The measure will bolster the strong supply-side measures introduced to date under Rebuilding Ireland which are beginning to have a positive impact.

In its role as a commercial lender, HBFI will not have any remit in designing the housing mix contained in the schemes which it funds. However, developments funded by HBFI will be subject to the same planning and regulatory requirements as all other developments, including the delivery of social housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Although finance for builders is a good idea, is it correct that approximately 8% is being proposed? Will NAMA have any involvement? As Members know, none of the houses in which NAMA has had an involvement will be sold at an affordable price. It is considering a minimum of approximately €350,000, which is not an affordable price for most people in Ireland who need a house and cannot get one.

I am 100% in favour of the State facilitating small developers to build by organising finance for them because, as we know, many of them are struggling to obtain finance. Large developers can build, but the State has the option of cutting them out and working with small developers by financing them. This could have a huge impact on the supply of housing. Housing must be provided at an affordable price. Given that the State can borrow money at less than 1%, surely a rate of 8% is draconian.

I agree with the Deputy that builders in many parts of the country are experiencing difficulties in obtaining finance at an affordable rate to allow them to undertake projects that are viable and can deliver houses at prices people can afford. We have introduced a number of measures to help with construction and development costs in site development. For example, the An Bord Pleanála process has been fast-tracked and the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, has been put in place, which essentially is the Government paying the development levies. We have also introduced the help-to-buy scheme and are now introducing Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, which will be a new source of finance for builders who cannot get it from the traditional lenders. I cannot comment on what the exact rate will be, but it will be provided for in the legislation when the Minister brings it forward. However, I do know that it will be competitive and commercially viable.

On HBFI interactions with NAMA, my understanding is it will sit alongside NAMA and that there will be a service level agreement under which staff will be seconded to work in the new entity which will work to provide finance for builders and developers throughout the country to have more homes built more quickly at more affordable prices.

There is potential for Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, to be a positive development. I do not, however, see any rationale for NAMA's involvement in HBFI other than in relation to how money might be provided off the books. On several occasions in this House I have heard Members speak about availing of the expertise available in NAMA on housing. It is well known that it does not have that expertise. It simply engages large developers, with which it has found favour, to provide that expertise. To say it has expertise on housing is a little like saying former Anglo Irish Bank employees had expertise in the supply of housing during the boom times, which was not the reality. The Government has no scheme or structure in place to tackle the lack of affordable housing coming onto the market in Ireland. The previous scheme which was far from perfect was done away with in 2011. We now need a different type of scheme. Currently, the State is making no effort to supply affordable housing.

As the Deputy will be aware, traditionally large developers would have had access to finance; therefore, I would not expect them to approach HBFI for it. Home Building Finance Ireland is a new entity that will provide finance for small builders and developers throughout the country at competitive commercial rates of interest to enable them to build more homes at affordable prices. We have a different view on NAMA and the expertise available therein. There is a body expertise available within it that has been working in the State's interests for the past few years. As NAMA winds down and comes to the end of its life cycle, there is potential for this State resource to be put to very important use - having more homes built more quickly and at more affordable prices.

On the Deputy's comment that the State is doing nothing to provide affordable housing, apart from the affordability scheme which I will announce, we have put in place a number of measures, including the €200 million provided for the LIHAF to open up new sites more quickly, which will result in the provision of housing at more affordable prices. A second round of LIHAF funding was announced in budget 2018.

The LIHAF is not helping.

LIHAF 2 will bring about the provision of affordable houses. Some 10,000 units have gone through the pre-consultation and the An Bord Pleanála fast-track process. All of these measures have been put in place to try to remove some of the last impediments to building more homes more quickly and at more affordable prices. They will start to come on stream towards the end of this year and in 2018.

Homelessness Strategy

Thomas P. Broughan


10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will report on the weekly actions he undertakes to put an end to child homelessness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49916/17]

It is approximately two and a half years since I made a complaint to the Ombudsman for Children, Mr. Niall Muldoon, about the conditions in which children were living in hotel rooms, guesthouses and emergency accommodation. I have also asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, what work is being done to address the longer term physical and mental health impacts of homelessness on children. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, told me yesterday that there were still 676 families and approximately 3,000 children in this type of accommodation. The Government and everyone who has served as Minister with responsibility for housing will be held to account for this in years to come, be it by way of tribunals or multi-party actions and so on. What is the Minister doing on a weekly basis to help the families mentioned?

I thank the Deputy for this question. One of the key commitments made in Rebuilding Ireland is that we will support homeless families and children to exit homelessness into independent tenancies. For homeless families residing in emergency accommodation, the long-term solution is to increase and accelerate the supply of homes. Rebuilding Ireland seeks to achieve this and in the period to 2021 some 50,000 social housing homes will be delivered. On child homelessness, a key objective is to cease using commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families, except in limited circumstances. I am committed to achieving this objective and continue to work with a range of partners to get to a point where families presenting to a housing authority as homeless will not have to rely on hotel accommodation.

Regarding the activities my Department and I are undertaking to address child homelessness, we are working with local authorities to accelerate the delivery of social housing for those who need it and while these more permanent housing solutions are being put in place, we are working with local authorities to deliver family hubs which are a first response only but do provide more suitable, safe and supported family living arrangements. Twelve hubs, providing 300 units of family accommodation, are operational and seven more, to accommodate more than 160 families, will be operational by the end of the year. More will follow in 2018.

On the provision of supports for homeless families in emergency accommodation, I liaise on a regular basis with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to ensure robust child protection measures, inspection arrangements and health supports are in place in emergency accommodation for families. I have also met the Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioner to discuss issues in connection with homeless families. I will continue to work with all stakeholders on a sustained basis with a view to addressing family and child homelessness.

On the target date provided by the Minister, the target date of 1 July set by the Taoiseach in addressing this issue was not met. This is the second Christmas, or perhaps the third, many children will spend in a single room in a hotel or guesthouse. We have all heard heartbreaking stories from young mothers and couples about the impact this is having on children. Has the Minister visited any of the families involved and asked anybody in the Department to undertake an analysis of the physical and mental impact on families, particularly children, of living in this type of accommodation? The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, co-funded a study of food access and nutritional health among families living in emergency homeless accommodation which she has told me does not make for pleasant reading. This is an ongoing outrageous scandal. Unfortunately, not enough people in the country appear to be taking it with the seriousness with which it will be taken when what has happened in the period from 2010 is invigilated. As I said, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will be among those who will be held to account.

I should be held to account because it is my responsibility to get these families and children out of homelessness into permanent secure homes.

Why then does the Minister not declare a housing emergency?

I have visited a number of the family hubs where I met a number of families who were previously in hotel accommodation. Yesterday Focus Ireland launched two very important reports on the experiences of homeless families and families that had exited homelessness into family hubs and the impact it had had on them. I accept that the target of mid-July in taking families out of hotels was not met, but there had been an exceptional increase in the number of families presenting as homeless in the month previous. The hub model which is only a first response was criticised by many for many months. Some of the people who criticised it have now visited the hubs and met and heard from families on how much improved their situation is. There is now recognition that family hubs are the best first response in that we can provide wrap-around supports for families while working to move them towards permanent housing solutions. The evidence to date is that families are spending far less time in family hubs before moving to permanent accommodation than was the case when they were in hotels.

Everything is happening too slowly. The Taoiseach and the Minister recently laid the foundation stone for 84 homes at Clongriffin in the Dublin Bay North constituency where there are almost 7,000 families on the housing waiting list.

It is just far too slow. We still need to talk in terms of a housing emergency, and perhaps we need to talk about a housing executive for Dublin. The Minister has been talking about his affordable housing scheme for months. Where is it? Why does he not just bring it forward and start treating this as it should be treated, that is, as a complete emergency?

Finally, the Minister will have noted Dr. Rory Hearne's and Dr. Mary Murphy's study on hubs and their warning that they should not be used as family accommodation for more than three months. I wish to raise with the Minister very briefly the Department's own guidelines, Policy and Procedural Guidance for Housing Authorities in relation to Assisting Victims of Domestic Violence with Emergency and Long-term Accommodation Needs. We are coming to the end of the 16-day campaign to combat violence against women. A brilliant organisation in my constituency, Sonas, as well as Aoibhneas, have drawn my attention to the difficulties families coming out of refuge accommodation face in accessing accommodation because of the inflexibility of the local authorities' response to this. There are a number of gaps in the Department's guidelines that I would like the Minister to urgently address as well.

Homes are being built, including new social housing homes. We have just published the quarter three status report-----

The development in Clongriffin will not be completed until the first quarter of 2019. That is not good.

Let the Minister respond.

Please, Deputy

Just under 2,000 homes are about to go on site across 92 schemes, we have 3,660 homes on site across 191 schemes, and just over 1,400 homes have been completed across 147 schemes. Social housing homes are being built. We are rapidly increasing the number of social housing homes being built by local authorities and housing bodies over what was built last year and the year before last. This is welcome progress and we will increase that number again next year. Importantly, we are seeing homes being built on the private side as well. The increase in the housing stock across the country generally will help us to deal with issues faced not only by people who need social housing homes-----

Meanwhile, these children are suffering.

-----but also people who need affordable homes. We are putting in every care and support we can into families in hubs, looking after the children. These families' experiences were one of the very first things brought to my attention on my appointment as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, perhaps on the first or second day in the job. I have met with care workers working in hubs, and they are concerned about the long-term impacts on these children as they move into adulthood. That is why I am working with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to ensure that every support possible is in place and why we are trying to get families out of hubs as quickly as possible. The evidence to date shows that the vast majority of families are spending less than six months in hubs-----

Or 18 months, or two years.

-----moving into more suitable accommodation as a result.

Student Accommodation

Maureen O'Sullivan


11. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which the increase in student accommodation is addressing the homelessness situation and the housing lists, particularly in Dublin. [52064/17]

The question relates to student accommodation. I would like to know the correlation between the increase in student accommodation and how it is affecting or addressing the homelessness situation and housing lists, particularly in Dublin.

Increased availability of dedicated student accommodation can relieve pressure arising in the wider rental sector from students looking to meet their accommodation needs. By extension, this increases the overall housing stock, which in turn assists in addressing wider housing supply issues, providing capacity for other accommodation to be made available to provide solutions for others seeking housing, including households at risk of becoming homeless.

To support and drive increased student accommodation delivery, my Department has implemented several measures under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, including fast-tracking planning applications directly to An Bord Pleanála for student accommodation projects of 200 or more bed spaces, and facilitating low-cost funding availability from the Housing Finance Agency to the higher education institutes specifically for student accommodation projects. Applications for more than 3,000 units are before An Bord Pleanála at present.

Furthermore, in fulfilment of Action 4.7 of Rebuilding Ireland, the national student accommodation strategy was developed and launched in July by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and me, in close consultation with my Department, with key targets and actions to support the student accommodation sector.

The combination of these measures will allow for the freeing up of dwellings in the general rental market as students are facilitated to move towards purpose-built student accommodation units, giving other households in the rental sector a better chance to access rental accommodation.

To give Deputy O'Sullivan an idea of the figures, since we launched Rebuilding Ireland in 2016, an additional 2,606 purpose-built student beds have become available to the market; a little over 4,000 are under construction today; planning was lodged for over 4,500 recently; and going through the planning process at present, including some in respect of which planning has been granted, are over 4,500. We are greatly increasing capacity in purpose-built student accommodation, and rightly so. I know there are difficulties of over-concentration in some areas, but some of our actions in the action plan are dealing with that, trying to blend in student accommodation with communities. We are working hard on that too because we want to increase direct build of student accommodation, but in a sustainable way for communities.

We have had this discussion before, and I understand the point the Minister of State made then and makes now that this is an important and a distinct category and that under-provision of student accommodation has meant demands on the private rented sector. However, the point I made then and which I make again now is that we have this urgency and this efficiency in getting student accommodation built - I will leave the other issues for the moment - but a student population is transient. Students are in situ for perhaps seven, possibly eight, months of the year, so there are another four months during which this student accommodation will be available for Airbnb or whatever else. This is a major profit-making opportunity for the builder, for the developer. One of the biggest housing issues I am seeing is the difficulty single men face. When I look at the increase in student accommodation, I do not see it bringing down the housing list. Yet we want the social mix. Why was there no discussion with those who provide student accommodation on the possibility of having some for single people? They could go through the Garda vetting and references and everything else, but then they would have the accommodation for 12 months, or permanently. This, rather than student accommodation, would make a difference to the housing lists.

We are trying to tackle the housing shortage in many different ways, of which purpose-built student accommodation is a very successful one. The demands of students are slightly different from those of families, who need accommodation all year round. We have had some success in this regard. Purpose-built student accommodation will free up other properties in the rental sector. The planning guidelines were changed and clarified in respect of the use of such accommodation for the three or four months during which it is not in use by students in order to make these projects viable. This is why we see increased delivery of student accommodation. It is more viable to do this now. However, there are also very strict conditions as to what these properties can be used for those three or four months of the year. In the majority of cases they are used by international students coming to avail of facilities over the summer months. In fairness, I think much of the new student accommodation is blending in very well with the communities, and rightly so. This will free up properties. We are achieving what the Deputy wants to achieve. The effect is that the housing lists are coming down. We will see this year's figures in a few weeks' time, and I expect they will show this. However, that is not enough. We must keep going, and part of that is an increased supply of direct-build student accommodation. To be clear, it is not just private developers; there is a greater increase now in the higher education institutes delivering their own plans and proposals. Before An Bord Pleanála today are applications for more than 3,500 units directly by the education players themselves.

We discussed before the difficulties that a preponderance of student accommodation brings into an area and a community and the need to address that. On-campus accommodation is excellent because there are ways for the community to engage; with the private sector there is not. This is why the suggestion had been made of some kind of regulator of student accommodation, perhaps combining it with hostel accommodation. The Minister of State still has not answered my question on the fact that student accommodation is vacant for at least four months of the year in most cases, whereas if some of these student accommodation units had been given to the housing list, particularly for single men and single women, I think that would have worked and would have made a big difference to housing lists. It is a question of that period of four months and what will happen to that accommodation. It could be left idle, but I doubt it because there is too big of a profit-making opportunity there.

Again, the business case for all these purpose-built student accommodation units allows for their usage over that number of months. It is a period of three or four months. It is actually more in some cases because one must take into account the Christmas period as well. Such accommodation is used by other students coming into the country from the higher education sector and other people who avail of our education facilities. Yes, in some cases Airbnb is used, but that is what they are there for. This is monitored through the planning system and controlled. The developers make applications through An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities and they must detail their full plans for those premises. It is not the same as providing housing for other families or for single people. This is specifically student accommodation, not permanent homes. Students' needs are a little different from everyone else's needs. The Deputy says we should build more homes for others. We are doing that as well. This is one section, one category. We are trying to approach this in many different ways and, again, the figures will show this is freeing up rental properties that are more suitable for others. There is no doubt about that. Naturally, given the changes made recently in the budget by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, we are trying to direct investment to other areas of residential accommodation and make that more affordable and more attractive. Many of the issues the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, deals with seek to encourage investment into other forms of accommodation for single men and other people who need that as well. There is activity there too, but this is specifically about student accommodation. It is a key area we have identified and we must provide more student accommodation.

First, they want it, but we also want to have it to free up other properties. On the issues around the communities, in most cases, in any of the new accommodation that is being built, there are good reports about student interaction with the communities. They have been asked to do it and that interaction with communities is being addressed in any of the planning applications.

Social and Affordable Housing

Aindrias Moynihan


12. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the initiatives planned in 2018 to increase the number of homes available for persons saving for a housing deposit that wish to purchase a home but that are presently unable to afford to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52264/17]

I ask this question on behalf of the many people who are caught in the middle. They are not eligible for social housing and they are unable to afford to buy a house. While they have good jobs and a household income of €40,000 to €70,000, they are still struggling to put together the money to buy a house because they are paying €1,300 for rent, child care and so on. They want to buy their own home. They have seen all the different plans but they need to see bricks and mortar. They need houses that are affordable to buy or to rent.

The Government recognises the housing affordability pressures faced by households, particularly those on low to moderate incomes, in parts of the country where housing costs and demand are highest. A number of measures have already been introduced to maximise and expedite housing supply and improve affordability. The latest housing activity reports indicate that the range of measures being taken are beginning to yield positive impacts in terms of increasing planning permissions, on-site commencement activity and more new homes being connected to the electricity grid.

In addition, under budget 2018 the Government has removed further significant obstacles to building more homes, more quickly and at more affordable prices by investing more in direct house-building by the State, providing additional funding for servicing housing land, removing the capital gains tax incentive to hold onto residential land, leveraging LIHAF investment in enabling infrastructure to provide a proportion of homes from these sites at reduced prices, escalating penalties for land hoarding and providing a new, more affordable finance vehicle for house builders through Home Building Finance Ireland. Furthermore, under budget 2018 I have also secured funding of €25 million over 2018 and 2019 to unlock local authority-owned lands specifically for affordable housing, using delivery models like co-operative housing, which have already proven to be successful but are now needed at a much greater scale. My Department is currently finalising the arrangements for the use of this funding and I expect to announce details in this regard shortly.

I thank the Minister for the information. I have a number of questions. What does the Minister consider to be an affordable house? What is an affordable rent? The Central Bank has a limit of 3.5 times income. What figures has the Minister been able to put together on that? Has he assessed the impact of the help-to-buy scheme on the price of houses? Has he looked at developing any new or similar initiative to support house buyers in the next year?

The Minister talked about the possibility of local authority houses being put back on the affordable scheme. It was a very bad move to get rid of that scheme in 2012 and it has left a big gap in the meantime. Local authorities are already out there with plans for social houses. Are they now going to have to start back at the very start with plans for affordable houses on greenfield sites? If they are, those houses will not realistically have gone through the planning system and will not be available for at least a year and a half. Has the Minister considered going through the local authorities in regard to the opportunities for one-off rural houses where people have a site available, so they can get planning permission and get on with building their own home?

Obviously, when we talk about affordability and what is affordable to an individual, it depends on their means. The Central Bank has income limits in place when it comes to taking out a mortgage. When we talk about affordability, we look at two aspects. We look at what is affordable for the developer or builder to be able to build a house that can then be sold at an affordable price, and we have brought in measures to help with that. Home Building Finance Ireland is one measure that is on the way, and there is LIHAF 1, the newly announced LIHAF 2 and other measures to help builders to build at more affordable prices. The fast-track An Bord Pleanála planning process is another measure in this regard.

The new affordability scheme that will be announced shortly will be looking again at income limits to help those people who are not accessible or eligible for social housing but who cannot afford to put together a mortgage for houses in high demand areas. We will be looking at income limits above the eligibility for social housing in order to bring that to a range of probably between €45,000 and €70,000 or €75,000. That will be finalised when we announce the criteria for access to the affordability scheme.

Of course, we have a number of models already under way in terms of affordability. There is the Ó Cualann model of co-operative housing which was delivering a two-bedroom house for €140,000 and a three-bedroom house for €170,000. We want to do that now at scale, which is what the €25 million fund is for.

With regard to rent pressure zones, to date, the data shows us that rent is increasing by less than 4% in those zones, compared to over 8.5% last year. We will have quarter three data on rent pressure zones next week, I hope, and that will tell us if the trend is continuing. If it is, that is welcome. Every quarter new areas come under those zones, which means rents at an affordable price.

To conclude, within the LIHAF funding there are rent affordability measures on some of those sites, in particular in Cork and also on a site in Dublin, which will allow for rents at an affordable price.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.