Other Questions

Housing Regeneration

Joan Collins


28. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to support a regeneration team (details supplied) to utilise public lands at a location for 300 social and public housing units; and if this model will be used as a pilot scheme with a view to extending it to all public lands. [19794/18]

Eamon Ryan


37. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the assessment he has made of an estate (details supplied) as a suitable site for the provision of the cost-rental model of public housing; if he has met or will meet the regeneration team for the estate; and if he has studied its proposal for the provision of housing in the area. [19871/18]

On 26 April St. Michael's regeneration team in Inchicore launched "Our Community: A Better Way". I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to support a regeneration team to utilise public lands at a location for 300 social and public housing units - not affordable units. Will this model be used as a pilot scheme with a view to extending it to all public lands?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 37 together.

I thank the Deputy for the question. St. Michael’s Estate is one of three significant sites being brought forward by Dublin City Council under its housing land initiative, HLI, the aim of which is to ensure the delivery of mixed-tenure homes in the Dublin City Council functional area. All three sites under the HLI are identified as strategic development and regeneration areas within the Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022.

Mixed-tenure developments are an important policy objective in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness and uphold the principle of sustainable mixed communities where housing needs are not subject to rigid segregation based on income levels. They also provide an opportunity to see major sites developed more quickly, and integrated into existing communities and areas.

While I have not seen the details of the proposal referred to by the Deputy, I expect to meet those involved next week. However, I am very familiar with the approach which the city council is taking to the St. Michael’s project. This envisages the potential to yield a minimum of 420 mixed-tenure homes and the elected members of the city council have determined that the homes will be provided on the basis of a 30% social, 20% affordable, and 50% private tenure mix. The council also agreed the methodology for community consultation, as set out in the feasibility study presented to it via a community consultative forum.

In line with good governance procedures, a project board, which includes representation from my Department and the National Development Finance Agency, has been established and is working to progress the development of this site.

As regards the delivery of affordable homes from this site, while it is ultimately a matter for the elected members of the city council to decide whether these are affordable homes to purchase or are delivered as cost-rental homes, I firmly believe that there is a need to ensure that the rental sector, particularly in our cities and major urban areas, is accessible and affordable.

In order to do this, we need to invest in a different type of rental offering, a so-called cost-rental sector which operates between the social and private market sectors. We are learning from pilot projects and the examination of similar models operating elsewhere. My Department and I remain committed to working with Dublin City Council and other councils to ensure we make this a reality. We are working with the European Investment Bank and other key stakeholders with a view to announcing the first major cost rental project in Dublin city shortly, with a broader programme of cost rental projects across Dublin and other cities to follow.

St. Michael's Estate can be a practical scheme in the context of the cost-rental model and building public housing on public lands. It will be up to the city council and it has already discussed that there should be a pilot scheme on this site. It is an amazing proposal that the regeneration team is putting forward and I believe the Minister should take it on board. Although I know the Minister has said he will meet the team next week, he should then come back to the Dáil to say whether he will let it lead this model.

I have been invited to meet the regeneration team with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, next week and I look forward to that. Dublin City Council has been supporting the establishment of the Kilmainham-Inchicore network as the primary vehicle for the interface with the local community on this. If a group has a new proposal that might work, I will, of course, be happy to engage with it.

While cost rental has to be something we bring into our rental sector on a massive scale, we need to prove it first. We need to find a few sites, or perhaps one larger site, and prove cost rental. We need to put serious financial backing and firepower behind it and then roll it out on a broader basis across the country over a number of years. There is huge potential for cost rental on some key sites in Dublin. It will hit a number of the targets under Rebuilding Ireland, not just to build more homes but to build communities as well, and also to regenerate parts of the city that have, unfortunately, needed regeneration for far too long.

What the regeneration team is putting forward is a proposal for 300 units, with a mixture of one, two and three-bedroom units, which would cost in the region of €56 million, and it is looking for this to come out of capital expenditure for next year. I believe this project would be a very good way of seeing how the cost-rental model works. The daft.ie figures show that rents have gone up by 80% in Dublin in recent years and that they are totally beyond the means of ordinary people - such as retail and transport workers, nurses, doctors and teachers - right across the board. This sort of plan could be a game changer for this country in regard to rent, as well as the high cost of mortgages, and I urge the Minister to look at it seriously. Some €56 million is not a huge amount and it could regenerate that community in St. Michael's Estate. The St. Michael's Estate regeneration team had been burnt badly by the McNamara public private partnership of the 1990s. We need something that people in the community can buy into, rather than people from outside buying into the community.

For the information of the Minister, the political situation in Dublin City Council has moved on from that original land initiative decision. A majority of councillors have supported a motion of the housing strategic policy committee to request that this project is taken out of the land initiative for the purposes of the funding model and that the Department fully funds it through Exchequer or loan finance. It is not the business of the Dáil to decide whether it should be 420 or 300 units as that is for Dublin City Council, the councillors and the local community to decide. What Deputy Joan Collins is arguing - I fully support her - is that this project should be fully State-funded. There are reasons why it is different to the other sites. What we are asking the Minister to consider is direct State funding of whatever the final configuration of the project is, rather than the land initiative, because that would be better for the community as a whole.

I thank the Deputies. The public private partnership model is not always the best model to use on a particular site. Deputy Ó Broin's colleague is chair of the housing committee on Dublin City Council. I have met with him and I can meet with him again to discuss some potential ideas for this site if it is not proceeding under the public private partnership model.

I have had extensive meetings with the European Investment Bank, and those meetings continue, in regard to different sources of funding for cost rental on a major scale, as the Deputy is aware, given I have said this previously in the Dáil. Deputy Ó Broin is right that the decision regarding the mix or the number of units will not necessarily come to the Oireachtas but, nonetheless, 300 units is very low for that site. Under previous planning guidelines for apartments, it could have been as many as 420 and, under the new guidelines, one could achieve even more than that. It is very important, when we look at Project Ireland 2040, that, in the context of these key sites in the city, we are achieving compact growth and real density, particularly in light of public infrastructure for transport, schools and everything else.

Deputy Joan Collins is right about rents being too high. The most recent information from the RTB indicates that rates of increase came down in 2017 in comparison with 2016 but that they are still very high, at just over 5%. However, as we begin to do more in the rental sector and to make more interventions regarding cost rental and land, which is something we are going to do, this will have an important impact on the different factors that are causing this affordability challenge for people up and down the country, particularly in the major cities such as Dublin.

Valuation Office

Bobby Aylward


29. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the measures being taken to ensure that small and medium enterprises are not adversely affected by commercial rate revaluations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19855/18]

Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates in respect of any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists prepared by the independent Commissioner of Valuation under the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015. The Commissioner of Valuation has responsibility for valuation matters, including the revaluation of properties, and is independent in the performance of his functions under the Acts. The levying and collection of rates are matters for each individual local authority.

The Valuation Acts provide for the revaluation of all rateable property within a rating authority area so as to reflect changes in value due to economic factors such as business turnover, differential movements in property values or other external factors and changes in the local business environment.

It is not the purpose of a revaluation to increase the total amount of commercial rates collected by local authorities. Indeed, section 56 of the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2015 provides that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, having obtained the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, is obliged to make an order directing a rating authority to limit the overall amount of income it could raise through rates in the year following a revaluation to the total amount of rates liable to be paid to it in the previous year, plus buoyancy arising from valuations determined in the year of a revaluation of newly constructed property, and adjusted for inflation as measured by the consumer price index. Rate limitation orders have been made in each of the local authorities in whose areas revaluation exercises have been carried out up to now and further orders will be made in respect of future revaluations as they arise.

This is a major issue. The dramatic increase in commercial rates is crippling SMEs across the country. Our small independent businesses are the backbone of the economy and we need to encourage SMEs to grow and expand in order to create jobs, especially in the regions. We must take urgent action on this issue. The Minister recently stated to me in the Dáil that the commercial rates Bill is currently being drafted. What is the status of this legislation, given we need to get it published as soon as possible?

Fianna Fáil previously introduced a Bill in the Dail proposing that the level of increase being levelled on an individual business be capped. We also proposed that any increase should be allowed to be staggered over a five-year period at the discretion of the local authority. This would mean an increase is limited and spread over time, rather than the current process involving a single increase. There is also a clear need for reform of the appeals mechanism for businesses to local authorities to restructure debt repayments on the basis of inability to pay. The Government should also consider offering a choice of direct debit payments rather than two tranches of payments in order to help businesses cope with cash flow issues. Turnover and square metreage should be considered. Will the Minister consider these proposals as the drafting of the commercial rates Bill continues within his Department?

I thank the Deputy. On the valuation process, as this happened in my local authority area, I know there are, generally speaking, more winners than losers when this occurs in terms of people seeing their rateable valuation decrease rather than increase. It is roughly a 65-35 split, so some 65% will find themselves paying less as a result. In some local authority areas, as the Deputy knows, this work has not been done in a very long time and it is a question of ensuring that there is fairness across the system in order that some people are not carrying a historic burden in meeting the rates needs of local authorities. This is very important work. If someone feels that a mistake has been made in the process, there is an appeals mechanism they can follow which is independent of me, as Minister, and my office.

I raised the rates Bill with the Attorney General last week and I raised it with him again today. It is priority legislation for us and as it will not be going to pre-legislative scrutiny, once we have it drafted and ready to go we can bring it straight into the Dáil. I had hoped it would be published later this month but more than likely, it will be the beginning of next month. It is a very important Bill that will give greater enforcement powers to local authorities and allow them to achieve what the Deputy wants them to achieve, which is to be able to bring in rates alleviation measures and to recognise where certain areas need a bit more help to come up, for whatever reason, by reducing the burden on local businesses. The risk with having rates which are based on turnover is that it is not a very consistent basis for a local authority to be able to plan into the future based on how much money might be coming to them in a given year. I would much rather focus on giving authorities more enforcement powers in order that they can collect more than they collect today. Some local authorities do this very well, while other local authorities do not do it very well.

I accept that approximately 5% get a reduction but I am talking about the people who have had increases. I am sorry to harp on about this and this is my second time to raise the issue in the past fortnight. However, the reason is that I am being contacted by local businesses in Kilkenny because of the revaluation that has been conducted in the past 12 months. They are coming to me with increases of 400%, 300% and 200%, which are too much for a business to take in one go. These are small and medium-sized businesses such as publicans, crèches, childminding businesses, which used to pay no rates, and beauticians. They are small businesses that are barely surviving and to go from paying €600 in one year to €2,400 is too much of an increase in one go. I am asking the Minister to change the system and bring the changes in over five years to give these businesses the chance to breathe before getting up to the next level. Three businesses have closed down on High Street in Kilkenny since Christmas. I do not say it is because of rates and it could be for other reasons but it is a sign. We need small and medium-sized businesses, as they are the backbone of employment in this country.

I wish to come in on this subject because Wicklow is going through its own revaluation process. We all know the value small and medium-sized enterprises have to each county, especially in towns. Through no fault of the businesses themselves, rates have not been revalued in 20 or even 30 years but the businesses are now faced with a revaluation process that is unjust and will involve a significant hike. Deputy Aylward is looking for some form of concession, meaning the increase can be spread over a period of time rather than over one year but the legislation does not have the necessary flexibility. Is there any way we can amend the forthcoming legislation to give the power to local authorities to take the increase and spread it out over a four-year or five-year period, given the fact that there has been a deficit in the revaluation process? This is impacting the heart of rural towns and villages but it is not the fault of businesses.

Increases of between 300% and 400% on the basis of revaluation sound very strange to me because-----

-----in my own local authority area 40% was a maximum and that was an outlier, with most people seeing rises or reductions of 10% or less. There is nothing I can do about it as the process is independent of me. Nevertheless, I would be interested to see how it is working out for businesses in those particular circumstances.

In the rates Bill, which is separate from this issue, we want to ensure local authorities have the flexibility to alleviate rates where they need to in order to help businesses in struggling areas, though the valuation rate is independent. When the legislation comes into the House I want to make sure we can achieve something that will give teeth to local authorities from the point of view of collection, and fairness in finding the balance between different businesses in their rateable areas. Whether it is national or local government, we should not do anything to hinder business but should support it as small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of our economy, and local business is what drives smaller towns and villages. Everything about Project Ireland 2040 is about opening the door to smaller towns and villages that saw a population exodus in previous years. Through greater investment and the urban regeneration fund, the rural regeneration fund and changes in technology and work practices, we will revitalise these towns and villages and we will give businesses the support they need.

Social and Affordable Housing Funding

Tom Neville


30. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which he will provide additional funding for the provision of social housing to Limerick City and County Council in the event that the local authority exceeds the social housing delivery targets recently set for it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19813/18]

I wish to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which he will provide additional funding for the provision of social housing to Limerick City and County Council in the event that the local authority exceeds the social housing delivery targets recently set for it; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Local authorities have been notified of their targets for social housing delivery via construction, acquisition and leasing which, in the case of Limerick City and County Council, is 1,365 units for the period 2018-2021. The targets are based on the summary of social housing assessments of 2017.

Limerick City and County Council has an ambitious pipeline of new social housing construction projects in place, including those it is leading itself and those being delivered in partnership with approved housing bodies. There are approximately 770 new social homes in its programme and the council is adding to this on an ongoing basis. Other delivery for new social housing is also under way in Limerick through schemes such as the leasing schemes, which are working well.

Details of local authority activity across the range of social housing programmes are published on my Department’s website. I have also indicated that I intend to publish progress against targets across each category of activity on a quarterly basis. I am determined that local authorities meet their targets and the financial resources they need to do this are in place. I have always been clear that the targets that have been set are minimum targets and, where further social housing delivery opportunities are available and represent value for money, my Department will support the local authorities to pursue them.

I welcome the initiative, particularly the quarterly review of targets, but we need to make sure these targets are hit as we do not want hear about things not happening as they should. The target of 1,365 units between 2018 and 2021 is ambitious and, now that the funding is being provided, we need to have an element of stick in our approach to ensure such targets are met on time.

Some existing housing stock has already been purchased by the local authority, which is very welcome, but potential tenants are waiting a considerable amount of time for them to be upgraded or refurbished in order that they are habitable. Some in County Limerick have been waiting for 12 or 14 months, especially where it is one house on its own in a country area but has been bundled in with a number of other houses, meaning it is left for a long period before it can be done up. A number of people have said they will sign off on a deal to move into a house and have the works done around them, or move out for two or three weeks while the work is being done. A lot of the work that needs to be done is around regulations and not health and safety. The houses have been lived in already and it may be that someone died there but they are sitting idle because of regulations. I would be grateful if the Minister could investigate this problem, which is specific to country areas.

I have had the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to be in Limerick to look at regeneration schemes and new-build schemes and I was there at the weekend, albeit in a personal capacity. What is happening in the local authority at the moment is quite exciting. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has met the housing delivery team as part of the new delivery unit in the Department which he heads up, and it is a very good team. It members know what they are doing and we need to make sure they have the tools to deliver what they need to deliver. If there are any blockages or snags which the Deputy or any other Deputy can identify, they should give them to me. The Minister of State, Deputy English, the Department and I will inform the local authority in order that we can unblock problems. The funding is in place and local authorities know what they need to do so now we need to drive delivery and drive local authorities in respect of specific projects and sites.

A lot is happening under the repair and leasing scheme in Limerick City and County Council and 66 applications have been received, with six agreements to lease having been signed. There are more in the pipeline and €32 million has been secured in capital funding for the repair and leasing scheme in 2018, while further funding can be delivered if it is needed. There are other long-term leasings for which there is an allocation of €115 million in 2018, an increase of €31 million on last year.

Last week, a total of €2 million in claims for the council was processed in respect of delivery of new housing for social housing. We are doing that on a continuous basis, week in and week out.

I welcome the work carried out by Limerick City and County Council. The Minister is correct that the council is moving and working hard on this. I have had personal engagement with the county management. It has been second to none on coming back to me. I am however, expressing the anomalies from a rural perspective. I understand the cities like Dublin, Limerick and Cork have higher waiting lists. There are rural people too on the housing lists who want to live in their rural areas. These houses have been identified and earmarked, particularly in respect of medical circumstances. It is an anomaly in the system. I am not asking for a solution today. I am just highlighting that sometimes, rural single houses can get lost in the pipeline. That is not to take away from the required priorities. I refer in particular to people who are rough sleepers or who are homeless. As a Deputy representing a rural constituency, I wish to identify that this issue also arises. It is something that can be solved quickly and people can be moved into those houses. They are actually liveable at the moment.

The Deputy is absolutely right to highlight this as an issue. When we look at local authorities, of course we give them autonomy in respect of how they manage their resources. Some try to manage those resources between going for bigger schemes and bigger sites versus the resources that might have to be put into individual units or homes. Each local authority needs to strike that balance to make sure that in providing social housing, local authorities are not working against our long-term plans under Project Ireland 2040. That aims to make sure we are doing what we can to regenerate parts of our counties that need to be regenerated. Initiatives like the repair and leasing scheme are key where a building can be turned into housing, if it has not already, and with some minor works can become a residence very quickly. If the Deputy has specific locations or specific towns or villages, he should give them to me and I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to follow them up with the delivery team in the local authority.

Social and Affordable Housing Eligibility

Brendan Smith


31. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the review of income eligibility limits for social housing will be finalised and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19748/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett


63. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to review and increase the income limits for eligibility for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19869/18]

For a number of years I have been raising, with the Minister, his predecessor and the Minister of State, the urgent need to increase the income eligibility limits for social housing. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, we are in the lowest zone in the country whereby the income limit for a single person is €25,000 and for a couple is €30,000. It is a 40% differential between that and most other counties throughout the country. We are condemning people to not being able to avail of social housing and at the same time those people have no chance whatsoever of being able to get a mortgage to buy their own home. I have repeatedly asked at Question Time that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government finalise the review, increase the eligibility limits to a realistic level and to get movement on this issue without further delay.

Are these questions grouped?

It is grouped with No. 63.

It is the first questioner of the group who has 30 seconds to introduce them. Go ahead.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 63 together.

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

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were 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. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected 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, both promoting sustainable communities and providing a degree of future-proofing. I am conscious that seven years have passed since the review.

As part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports has commenced. I acknowledge that Deputy Brendan Smith and others have raised this matter repeatedly here. It is an issue we highlighted in Rebuilding Ireland. We recognise the importance of that too. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have made it clear that this review is happening. The Housing Agency should have the report and its recommendations with us in the summer, possibly late summer. When we have that we will be able to make the final decisions. I accept it is dragging on. The Housing Agency is involved in many other policy initiatives with our Department. This is taking longer than we all hoped it would. It is an area being highlighted and on which we also want work to be done. We will have an update for the Deputy and the results will be published during the summer.

It is most disappointing this review is taking so long. I have told the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State himself in this Chamber that were the departmental officials to ring around to a few good housing officers in the local authorities, the review could be done within an hour. Any of us who make representations meet people on a weekly basis who cannot qualify for a council house. They do not have a hope of getting a mortgage. Those people are being condemned to a life of living in rented accommodation. It is surely within the competence of the Department to raise these limits to a realistic level.

The Minister of State observed that one of the factors in deciding the eligibility limits and the cut-off point was rental cost. Rental costs have changed dramatically in the past year to 18 months. The Minister of State's home area neighbours my own county. He knows what costs are like in Mullagh, Virginia, Ballyjamesduff, Bailieborough and across to Kingscourt. That is just in east Cavan alone. It is similar in Monaghan. Will the Minister of State ask the Department to try to bring forward that review well before the summer? I was told it would be published "shortly" two years ago. I was told it would be "in the near future" six months ago. Now, we are being told it will be the summer again. It is far too tardy a response to this issue. It needs to be dealt with before we continue to condemn a generation of people to living in rented accommodation.

I acknowledge that Deputy Brendan Smith has raised this quite often. The last time we discussed this, I did say that we hoped to have the report by June. I hope it will not be much longer than that before we have it. To be clear, a ring around will answer some of the questions. We know from our own analysis with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, what the rent increases are. We know there is pressure on the rental sector.

We are looking at four areas under this review. The Housing Agency is doing this work on behalf of the Department. It will be similar to what happened in 2011 and similar criteria will be looked at. These include the current income bands to see if they reflect the cost of providing suitable accommodation in the private sector. If they do not, then the question arises as to what should the appropriate thresholds be. That is a judgment call that must be based on evidence and on research. It cannot be just for me, the Deputy or the Minister to pick on a whim. That is also what the Housing Agency is analysing. It is also looking to see if we will continue with a regional banded approach to eligibility for social housing support. That is an important issue because the Deputy highlighted himself the differences in the different bands in respect of our native counties and other counties. We have asked the Housing Agency to analyse that and bring forward a suggestion on that too. Finally, we have asked the agency to look at the feasibility of introducing a form of transfer system that would allow social housing applicants to move across local authority areas while keeping their time on the list.

That is an issue that has been asked about repeatedly over the last year by councillors and our own colleagues. The review has a few areas that will inform policy changes. It is important that we get that information gathered correctly and that we make policy changes based on that as well. In the past couple of months, we have seen what can happen with local authorities interpreting information differently. We want to be very clear on this. We will have this review on our desks in the next couple of months and then we will be able to make decisions based on that. It is taking longer than any of us wanted. It is important we get the work finished.

We cannot have any further delay on this. It is compounding the already multiple injustices of the current housing crisis. Every single week, working people come into my office - I am sure it is happening everywhere else - who are being cut off housing lists. They may have been on those lists for ten years or 15 years. Then they are just gone because they do a bit of overtime or get a slight pay increase. They are cut off the list. That is not acceptable. Now, they are not even on a list where they will not get a house. They have no housing support available. It is not just that they will be stuck in rented accommodation. In my area, they cannot get the rented accommodation. They cannot afford it.

It means working people - bus drivers and people on average wages - are being forced into homelessness and simultaneously off the housing list, or not being allowed on the housing list in the first place. Two months is just not good enough. What is the Minister of State going to do for the family that came into me this week, that - because there was a bit of overtime - has lost ten years on the housing list? The decision was fought and the council said it would put the family back on the list but the ten years were lost. That was because of a bit of overtime. This is bonkers. It is completely unfair. For years, social housing was about ordinary working people who could not afford mortgages or could not afford the private rented sector. They are now being excluded in large numbers and thrown off housing lists. What is the Minister of State going to do about it?

I would be surprised if someone was taken off a list for ten years because of a bit of overtime. The story might not add up. We will check that.

It is absolutely true.

I am happy to look at it with the Deputy. I would be surprised.

We had a discussion about overtime earlier, and how that is judged. To be clear, the reason for the review of the guidelines and the establishment of a national standard was because there was a different policy in every local authority prior to that. There were different income limits, gross or net, different allowances for overtime and different allowances for child benefit. A fair system was not administered across the board, so we made sure that was introduced. There is now a fair system. We agreed that it had to be reviewed, and that is happening. In the meantime, there are other supports available to help people who are over that income level. We had a discussion earlier about the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which is working quite well; almost 500 applications for it have been received. It is a good scheme to help people whose income puts them above the social housing limits. Other schemes exist which seek to deal with the pressure zones in certain areas. We have provided LIHAF funding and we are working with the private sector to bring forward affordable housing. An affordable housing policy is in place throughout the system and every local authority has been asked to bring forward proposals on that issue, and have been asked to manage land for that purpose. Money has been made available by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, so that such land can be opened up and serviced. A range of initiatives have been put in place; I have only touched on a few.

We recognise, as all Deputies in this House recognise, that the income limits need to be looked at and adjusted. The adjustments will be based on evidence and science, as they were before. The Housing Agency is doing that work for us and gathering the required information. It will make recommendations to the Minister, and the changes will be made in the summer. That is where we are now. If I could click my fingers and have the work done more quickly, I would do it, but it is important that it is done correctly.

If the Minister of State is telling me that he can fix the case I mentioned, I will be very happy. I am telling the Minister of State that a person who did some overtime was taken off the list, and then after appealing and fighting the decision the family was told the appeal was not going to be accepted but they could reapply. Once that was done, the family lost their ten years on the list and they are back at the bottom of the list because of the overtime. That is completely unacceptable. If the Minister of State can sort that out, I would be very happy.

I had a case where a working person has refused a €10,000 a year increase in pay from their employer because they would be off the housing list if they took it. Housing in my constituency would be completely unaffordable to that person. That person is actually refusing pay increases. The limits have not increased since 2011. It is ridiculous. Wages are rising at the moment, but they are not rising to a level where people can afford to buy a house. However, they are rising to the extent that people are now above the permitted limits. The housing list is being culled of people who have no other alternatives. It makes a mockery of social mix, because what is happening is that people who traditionally benefited from council housing are being taken off the list, meaning that only people on the very lowest incomes are eligible for social housing. Where is the social mix in that? These limits have to be raised urgently, and the Minister of State has to do something about people who are removed from the list because of small increases.

The Deputy should not misquote me. I did not say that I could sort it out, rather that I doubt the story that someone lost their-----

I am telling the Minister that it is the case

I said that I would check out the story. I doubt that someone lost their ten year history over working a little bit of overtime. I am doubting how the story was portrayed in the House.

Is the Minister of State doubting that it could happen?

If I am wrong, then so be it. I am happy to check out the story.

To allow for social housing mix, there are a range of schemes which blend social, affordable and private housing on State-owned lands. There are plans afoot to provide enough land to build 50,000 houses, taking the mix of social, private and affordable houses into account. People will benefit from that. In addition, to allow for that mix, a blanket increase of €5,000 above the limits has been recommended. I am aware that is quite low in today's terms, and that is why the Government has agreed to look at that criteria. It will be based on evidence brought forward. We want that mix, and we want to encourage people to bring forward housing schemes. We do not want housing schemes that would mean that people would turn down jobs or the chance of increasing their income. That is why the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme was introduced in the first place. It recognised the ability of people to get a job and to earn income. The Deputy does not like that scheme either, but it works very well and reflects the ability of people to work and earn income. That is what it is there for, and we see it every day of the week.

I previously raised the fact that the family income supplement payment is factored into a person's income. By definition, if a person is eligible for family income supplement, it means that his or her income is not sufficient to sustain a family. That supplemental money was being factored in and meant that people were no longer eligible to stay on the social housing list.

As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, one of the cornerstones of social housing policy in this country going back many decades was to have a mix of people in the same areas, including people depending on welfare payments and those in employment. If the policy continues as it currently stands, nobody who has a job will be eligible to qualify for a local authority house. That would be a retrograde step for this country in every respect. Can the Minister of State give us a commitment that he will tell his Department officials and the other agencies involved in this review that he wants to bring this report back to the Dáil before the middle of July? It could go on until the autumn or until next year, given how the matter has been dealt with at official level so far. Can the Minister of State commit to that, and tell the officials and other agencies that he has committed to Dáil Éireann that this will be case, and that he wants it to be finalised with a new and realistic scheme in place before the middle of July?

We are trying to ensure that the housing scheme is brought forward, using State-owned lands to deliver housing to the public through social and affordable schemes and in conjunction with the private sector. I do not believe that social housing policy in the past brought forward projects that provided that mix. I look at the consequences of that in many places where very large scale social housing developments were brought forward without a mix. I am not convinced that it is the case that the issue was dealt with correctly. We are trying-----

In my own constituency, there is a good mix.

-----to change that now to ensure it is done correctly through the clever use of State land, as well as using State finances. Guidelines were issued in the first instance because we had to make sure that all interventions target the most needy. That is how taxpayers' money is best used, and that is why we have the schemes that exist and why we set a national standard. The review, carried out a number of years ago, occurred because national criteria were not implemented and different standards applied in every local authority. We are trying to address the housing difficulties across the country and bring in a standard approach, based on systems and process which has not been in place hitherto. That is part of the repair work we are doing. The Department will then be in a position to fix and address the housing problem across every sector for the years ahead.

Emergency Accommodation Provision

Catherine Connolly


32. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the spending by Galway City Council on emergency accommodation from 2015 to 2017 and to date in 2018; the nature of the emergency accommodation; the locations of the emergency accommodation; if the accommodation is provided directly; if not, the names of the agencies providing the accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19831/18]

If the Minister wants an example of how out of control the market is and the emergency being created, he should look at Galway city. My question is on emergency accommodation but I will preface it by pointing out that today the students in Galway are protesting because they have been subjected to an 18% increase in their lease for the coming year. As they enter the exam period, they have been told that they have to come up with an extra €1,000 for a nine month lease for next year. That is a symptom of the market.

Another symptom is the cost of homelessness services. At the beginning of May, there were 190 homeless people in Galway. What has been the cost to the State of housing our homeless people in 2015, 2016, 2017 and to date in 2018? I want to bring clarity to the situation in Galway.

On the issue of student accommodation, many changes have been made in that area since Rebuilding Ireland was launched. It is an issue of supply, like every other form of housing. We are intervening in the area of supply and are attempting to dramatically increase the amount of student accommodation. I do not have the specific figures for Galway because it was not part of the Deputy's original question, but I am happy to engage with her on the issue. We are trying to put our educational stakeholders in a better position so that housing can be delivered. Student accommodation must be sorted out, but it also reflects the overall housing market.

Exchequer funding is provided to housing authorities on a regional basis towards the operational costs of homeless accommodation and related services. Under the funding arrangements, housing authorities must provide at least 10% of the cost of services from their own resources. Housing authorities may also incur additional expenditure on homelessness-related services outside the funding arrangements with my Department. Therefore, the exact amounts spent by housing authorities on homeless services, as well as the types of accommodation and the service providers engaged, are a matter for those authorities, as are many such contractual issues.

Galway city and county is included in the west region, along with counties Mayo and Roscommon, for the purposes of homelessness administration, with Galway city as the lead authority for the region. Reflecting the position at national level, the funding provided to the western region has been increased significantly in recent years from €1.7 million in 2015 to €2.37 million in 2016 and €3.79 million in 2017. To date in 2018, just under €100,000 has been drawn down by the western region, and I expect this to increase significantly in the coming months. In this regard, my Department has advised the region, and all regions, that funding will be provided for all required homeless services as the year progresses.

It is difficult to digest those figures, but I note the significant increase over a number of years. I mentioned the students because that is the latest symptom of an out of control market. The Minister of State has as much information as I have; the students are protesting because they are being subjected to an increase of €1,000. Can the Minister of State imagine that?

Homelessness is the most acute problem in Galway. The Minister of State is fully aware that not one social house has been built in Galway since 2009. It is clear from the figures from the Department that none was built last year. Galway distinguishes itself by being bottom of the league. It acquired seven houses; the lowest number in the country.

Is this just a complete inability to deal with a problem or is it a refusal to accept that the market will not provide?

I am asking the Minister of State about this matter again. I know it is difficult to hear these figures. In the context of emergency accommodation and the significant increase, I can tell the Minister of State that people are now in a situation whereby they are getting respite in apartments for a week or two in order that they can feed their newborn babies. They then have to go back to single rooms in hotels. That is the level to which the emergency service has been reduced. The Minister of State indicated that the Department spent €3.7 million in 2017. Does it not occur to him that he needs to go down to Galway on a regular basis, haul the local authorities over the coals and ask what land they have, why they are not using it and why they are not building?

I thank Deputy Connolly. That is exactly what we are doing. She will be familiar with this. I have visited Galway City Council and Galway County Council to discuss on a number of occasions. The Minister has also gone to Galway on several occasions and has visited some of the emergency accommodation provision being funded by means of the taxpayer's money paid to all the different service providers at local level.

It is fair to say that there is serious pressure in Galway city and county. There is no mistaking the figures; they are very clear. This year, 145 new social homes will be delivered into the system. The target for the next three or four years is 1,089. We expect Galway city to treat that as a minimum and we have told the council that very clearly. We are going site by site and road by road in order to try to see what we can do to remove barriers and deliver accommodation much earlier. There are a number of schemes in the system. However, these are not sufficient to deal with difficulties that exist in Galway, which is a major pressure area. It will be getting major attention within the Department. The Minister, the social housing delivery team and I will be down there on a regular basis, visiting all the different sections, to ensure that the needs of Galway are addressed. Last year, through the benefit of the housing assistance payment scheme, more than 764 housing solutions were found. That will not be nearly enough to deal with the emergency, so I will be working with the authorities this year and next year as well. There are opportunities in Galway. We have made the resources available and we have made it very clear that we will do whatever it takes to move matters forward. We want this to be addressed.

I appreciate that the Minister of State is taking it seriously, but we are reliant on the market. He accepts that not a single house has been constructed. As a result, we are utterly reliant on the market. When the Simon Community carried out its snapshot study, Locked Out of the Market X, in March, it indicated that there were very few properties available for rent in Galway. In fact, the study identified 15 such properties. That is all that was available in the three days of the study. In the month overall, there were 28 properties. In addition, the Government is totally reliant on housing assistance payment, the residential accommodation scheme and the long-term leasing. None of those schemes come next or near prices in Galway, all of which was set out in the Simon report. Even with the discretionary payment of 20%, people cannot get a home to rent in Galway. Besides the fact that we have created the problem, the Government is making it worse by not building. What is wrong with Galway City Council or with the Department? Where does the problem lie? Galway City Council bought a lot of land at huge prices when I was a member. It has been zoned for residential use and it is not being used. I understand that two thirds of the residential land has been set aside because of a proposed road which, if it goes ahead, will not be built until the mid 2020s. Two thirds of the residential land has been sterilised. Can the Minister of State tell me I am wrong about that?

Deputy Connolly is well informed at a local authority level because she has her own connections there. It is true to say that some of the land that Galway city owns is sterile because of a route selection. That project is going to be happening quite soon, which will deal with that part and which will open up the town. We have asked the council to bring forward plans for that land or, if necessary, for alternative land. We said we would work with the authority on purchasing new sites as well. We have gone through all the different areas, site by site. We have arrived at some solutions to bring forward some housing earlier.

To be clear, we have looked at Galway city and County Galway. There are difficulties with both, and there is a line on the map that separates the two. In other initiatives, in Cork and other places, we have managed to make this work through a combination of local authorities. We both think that a similar approach, namely, for the Department to work with the two Galway local authorities to bring housing solutions forward, might be appropriate. We will deal with this by taking the line off the map. There are potential solutions with which we can work. Through taxpayers' money allocated by our Department and this Government, the funding to address this is available. The supply issue is a major difficulty in Galway, for both private and public accommodation. There is very little private sector development. We will work with all our abilities to try to make this happen. We are looking at a new approach to making this happen a little bit quicker, because it is a priority area. It is an area that we want addressed and the resources are there to do it. There is a difficulty with land but not with all of the sites. We will deal with it on a site-by-site basis and we will find solutions as we go along.

Question No. 33 replied to with Written Answers.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Robert Troy


34. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he will place new wind energy guidelines on a statutory footing. [19852/18]

I wish to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the Government intends to bring forward new wind energy guidelines and when these will be placed on a statutory footing.

My Department is currently undertaking a focused review of the 2006 wind energy development guidelines. As part of the overall review, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, is being undertaken on the revised guidelines before they come into effect. This is in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, otherwise known as the SEA directive.

SEA is a process by means of which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes which act as frameworks for development consent, prior to their final adoption, with public consultation as part of that process. Following a tendering process, my Department appointed SEA experts in December 2017 to assist in this regard. It is expected that a public consultation on the revised draft guidelines, together with the comprehensive environmental report, will be commenced by the end of the second quarter of this year, with the aim of issuing the finalised guidelines, following detailed analysis and consideration of the submissions and views received during the consultation phase, in late 2018.

When finalised, the revised guidelines will be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Planning authorities, and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála must have regard to guidelines issued under section 28 in the performance of their functions generally under the Planning Acts. In the meantime, the current 2006 wind energy development guidelines remain in force. I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

It does not really clarify the issue. I am quite aware that we are still working under the 2006 wind energy guidelines. The problem is that people throughout this country are living in fear. New guidelines were promised as far back as 2011. In fact, it is safe to say that this is one of the issues I have raised most frequently in the Dáil since being elected. The previous Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the UK Government concerning the export of wind energy in 2012. Wind turbines of heights of 160 m or 170 m were to be erected in the midlands. That did not proceed, but it highlighted the need to change the 2006 wind energy guidelines, particularly as these were published at a time when turbines were 40 m or 50 m high.

The previous Government, including the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and former Deputy, Alex White, and the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly , could not agree on new wind energy guidelines. Two years have passed, there is a different Government in place but we still have nothing concrete. Every time I raise this issue, whether by way of parliamentary question or on the Order of Business, I am informed that the new guidelines are imminent and that the Government is working through the consultation period and examining submissions. We are still no further along, however. If an application was submitted in the morning, it would be judged on the basis of the 2006 guidelines.

Like the Deputy, I am well aware of people's fears and concerns. The whole reason this Government is bringing forward new guidelines and a preferred option, which has to go through the SEA process, is to bring a better balance to the guidelines and assure people that their concerns are being dealt with. We are not just talking about it; this Government is doing it. The process, as I have said, has to include carrying out the SEA. As part of that, the experts were employed in December 2017. Their work will be finished quite soon. It will then go through a public consultation period, and we will be able to complete all of this near the end of 2018. We will have completed the initial stage at the end of this quarter, which is in about two months. This will address the concerns around noise, visual amenity, shadow flicker, consultation obligations, community involvement, community dividend and grid connections. All the concerns of which I, as a Minister of State and a Deputy, am aware and which were brought to us by various stakeholder groups are being dealt with in those preferred guidelines. The guidelines address the issues. They are being dealt with. It is best for those communities that we follow the process we are meant to follow under law. If we do not do that, the guidelines will not be effective.

I agree that wind energy will and must form part of our renewable energy framework. However, this has to be done in a proper and appropriate manner and local concerns must be addressed. The reason we are where we are now is that the previous Government, of which the Minister of State was a member and in which the Labour Party was involved, did not publish the guidelines. Having gone through the consultation process and received in excess of six submissions, the then Government could not reach agreement and that delayed publication further.

We are two years on and we are still awaiting new guidelines. What the Government has failed to address is the fact that any application submitted now is adjudicated under the 2006 guidelines, which are out of date. We need new guidelines in place as a matter of urgency which take account of the size and magnitude of proposals. A goodwill gesture would be to put in place a moratorium on future planning applications until such time as we have new guidelines on a statutory footing.

The preferred draft guidelines go a long way towards addressing community concerns, but they are a draft and must go through the SEA process. That is now taking place and I cannot move it any more quickly. It is an important process. If we want new guidelines, that is the process they have to go through. At the end of quarter 2, we will have draft guidelines and at that stage anyone making an application for a wind farm will probably reflect them in any proposal. The Deputy is correct, however, that until they become part of planning law, applications will be judged according to the old guidelines. The new guidelines will achieve what the Deputy and most other Members want, which is a balance wherein community concerns are dealt with. While it has taken time for the two Departments to agree on guidelines on behalf of the people on foot of the responsibility of Government to balance the issues involved, the draft guidelines are a step in the right direction and will solve the problem when published. It is important to go through the process, however, or the guidelines will not stand up.

As there are only three minutes left, I ask Deputy Boyd Barrett to forfeit his initial 40 seconds to allow the Minister to reply immediately. I will then allow Deputy Boyd Barrett a supplementary question.

Housing Assistance Payment Administration

Richard Boyd Barrett


35. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the action he plans to take to address the difficulty of housing applicants in finding private rented accommodation within the HAP or homeless HAP limits in many parts of Dublin and the refusal of local authorities to provide increases in these limits in line with actual rents in these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19870/18]

My Department and I are constantly monitoring housing assistance payment data and other key information relating to the private rental market. Indications are that the current HAP rent limits and the flexibility to exceed those rent limits provide local authorities with sufficient capacity to assist households in securing rented accommodation that meets their needs. Indeed, increasing the HAP rent limits in particular local authority areas could have further inflationary effects on the private rented sector, which could have a detrimental impact on the wider rental market, including for those households who are not receiving HAP support. From data available at the end of quarter 4 of 2017, approximately 46% of the total number of households in the Dublin region being supported by HAP were benefitting from the additional flexibility that was provided to local authorities to exceed the maximum rent limits. When the additional discretion available to homeless households is removed, 18.3% of HAP households were benefitting from the additional flexibility. In those cases, the average rate of discretionary payment being applied was 15.4% above rent limits provided. The average rate of discretion for homeless HAP scheme tenancies being applied was 29% above rent limits provided.

While I am satisfied that, in general, the HAP scheme continues to operate well in a challenging rental market, I will continue to keep the matter under review.

It is not working in my area. Rents are so far ahead of the limits that if one is told to get HAP, one might as well pack one's bags for the hub, albeit there is a queue for that as well. The Minister must answer the question for the people who come to me who have rung 50 places, which is no exaggeration. I tell people now to take note of the number of places they have called. They may have called 80. They face eviction or are in a hub and they are ringing, ringing and ringing. Within the limits or slightly above them, there is nothing. They cannot find anywhere. The number of HAP tenancies secured by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has plummeted. What does the Minister say to the person who finally finds a place which will take HAP but where the uplift required is beyond what the local authority is willing to give? People cannot find anything else. It is obvious from going on daft.ie or myhome.ie that this is the case. What does the Minister suggest for that person? Unless he or she gets the uplift, he or she is homeless.

I thank the Deputy for the question. I recognise that in Dún Laoghaire, which is the area he represents, there is a particular difficulty in securing HAP tenancies. I can see that when I look at the data. We have a place-finder in place to assist those who are trying desperately to find tenancies as well as offering one month's deposit and the first month's rent. There is a potential need to use HAP in a different way to help those who really cannot find a tenancy. We are working on that to see if something can be done over and above what is being done now to help people into HAP tenancies. Nationally, we have secured 353 HAP tenancies a week so far in 2018. HAP continues, therefore, to be a very important solution for those who are struggling to secure housing.

Of 163 HAP tenancies secured in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, 77% needed the additional discretionary payment. That went up to 18% which was still lower than the 20% uplift which is available in the system. When we add in the homeless HAP statistics, 190 tenancies were secured in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area. That is 26 benefitting from the homeless HAP, which is 96% of the discretion. The average rate of the discretion above that is 29% when there is a 50% uplift in homeless HAP. When one looks at Dún Laoghaire, not everyone is availing of the additional discretion or needs to and when they do they are not taking it to the maximum. There is still room, even in Dún Laoghaire, to get more from HAP.

They are being refused.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.