Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

James Browne


65. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to reduce the social housing waiting lists particularly in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15745/19]

I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to reduce the social housing waiting lists, particularly in County Wexford.

Rebuilding Ireland aims to deliver 50,000 additional social housing homes through build, acquisition and leasing programmes and aims to support some 87,000 additional households through the housing assistance payment scheme and the rental accommodation scheme, over the six-year period of the plan. A significant part of that will have an impact on Wexford. Very significant progress has been made in delivering on Rebuilding Ireland's targets, including in County Wexford. This is reflected in the reductions recorded on the housing waiting lists, with the number of households on Wexford's list reducing by 567, or over 20%, between 2016 and 2018, with just under 2,000 additional housing supports provided in the county since 2016. The target for 2019 is for the delivery of an additional 931 housing supports in County Wexford, comprising 353 homes through build, acquisition and leasing programmes and another 578 households to be supported through the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme, which will have a significant impact on further reducing Wexford's housing list.

A substantial focus of all stakeholders is to increase supply through new build activity. Wexford County Council has a social housing construction programme of 58 projects, yielding almost 700 homes over the next three years. This pipeline continues to grow with regular approvals for new schemes. We continually ask every local authority to increase its pipeline. We visit them through the housing delivery office and the Minister and I meet the different local authorities either on site in the area or in meetings here in Dublin. We constantly request them to increase the pipeline and add more projects through that so it is not limited to what I have outlined but that is where it is at this moment in time. I am confident that these actions, targets and resources available under Rebuilding Ireland provide a strong platform for continuing to reduce the number of households on waiting lists in Wexford and across the country. We have set targets with local authorities but we are asking them to go beyond those targets. We see them as a minimum, not a maximum and in fairness, when it comes to targets, Wexford County Council has gone above its targets. We will ask it to continue to do so and we will make sure that taxpayer's money is there to fund it.

In fairness to the housing section in Wexford County Council, it is doing its best in the circumstances and it is always available but I have a number of serious issues to raise on social housing. For example, in those numbers the Minister of State gave, more than 60 houses are shovel-ready to go in one housing estate in Enniscorthy but it has been held up by seven and a half months because Irish Water will not give the go-ahead. That is more than half a year lost waiting for Irish Water. There are similar problems with other estates in County Wexford. A utility body is holding up necessary social housing. Wexford County Council has already run out of money to purchase houses for people. I am particularly concerned that this will affect people with disabilities. The average wait for somebody with a serious disability, even with something such as a broken back, to get an adapted house, is over two years. As I have real concerns in that regard, I ask the Minister of State what he will do in those areas.

We are available to meet Wexford County Council on any occasion and in fairness it is quite active in meeting with us. The specific questions the Deputy has asked have not come to our attention. I can confirm that the budget for acquiring houses is not gone. I am surprised that this is the impression that has been given. We are encouraging local authorities to build more houses and to get involved in all the schemes but naturally, when there is good value to be achieved in acquisition, we are willing to do that. I am not sure what information the Deputy has but if Wexford County Council has any particular schemes it wants to get involved in or houses it wants us to buy and if it recommends good value, we will work with it on that but we are very strong in our encouragement that it build new houses, as well as carry out leasing and so on.

Acquisition makes sense sometimes and we certainly fund it when it is requested, explained and backed up with information. I am not sure where that is coming from.

In respect of the two-year wait for someone with a disability, that should not be the case. I have been in a lot of houses that Wexford County Council has specifically designed and built for people with special needs - some families needed a lot of additional help - and there was some great success there. I am surprised that the Deputy has examples of houses that are needing two years because there are plenty of mechanisms to fund housing like that. Wexford has been involved in a couple of cases. The issue with the one site the Deputy mentioned in Enniscorthy was not raised with me directly through the delivery office. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have met Irish Water on numerous occasions and we went through different changes in work practices as well. There should not be delays on sites. If there are, we certainly will dig into that.

The issue is not with Wexford County Council but with Irish Water, which seems not to be getting back to developers who have shovel-ready programmes. Approved housing bodies are agreeing to purchase houses off-plan but they cannot get answers out of Irish Water. Wexford County Council is stepping in where it can but it simply should not be the case that houses are being held up, especially where these housing developments are in towns and connected to mains water. It is not a big decision to make.

On the disability issue and people with serious disabilities trying to get housing, Wexford County Council is doing its best but it is a simple supply issue. There is a backlog of people with disabilities waiting and there is a considerable delay; the current wait is for two years. The reply I have from Wexford County Council, and perhaps I was not clear in this regard, is that Wexford County Council is not purchasing any second-hand houses as its allocation for 2019 is already used up. That is the reply I have from Wexford County Council. I appreciate the Minister of State may not know off the top of his head but I would appreciate it if he could come back to me.

I did not hear the very last thing the Deputy said but funding is available to local authorities, when they ask for it, to fund certain projects. Wexford County Council went way beyond its targets last year, thankfully, and successfully did so in respect of both its build and its acquisition. We encourage that when it makes good sense and is good value. Certainly if there is targeted housing for someone with a disability, that is something we encourage. We have also encouraged local authorities to work with private sector housing if there are already social housing tenants in those houses.

I am surprised at the reply the Deputy received. I did not fully hear the wording of what he read out. It was a little bit different from what he said at the start but we will certainly check it out. The Deputy can be very clear that we will talk to Wexford County Council. In respect of any delays on sites, we have a housing delivery unit that troubleshoots where there are problems on certain sites. The Deputy is bringing it to my attention now and it is news to me that there is a delay of six months. It is a little bit different now as the Deputy is saying it is a private site, not a council site, for a turnkey. That is fine, we will check it out. I would just say that the local authority has not come to us with a site that was delayed for six or seven months. Measures were put in place with Irish Water last summer by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to make sure this would not happen as it caught up and it should not be happening again.

Planning Guidelines

Jan O'Sullivan


66. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties encountered in a number of towns in obtaining planning permission for housing developments due to the density restrictions in Project Ireland 2040; if clarification will be issued to planning authorities in relation to densities that are appropriate to towns and cities, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16328/19]

My question is on the planning and density restrictions in Project Ireland 2040, particularly difficulties around towns. I do not suggest that we should not have greater densities in cities but there are issues around planning applications in towns in particular, and there is difficulty in respect of complying with the densities that are required.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual planning cases. Under Project Ireland 2040, including the national planning framework, the Government has taken a broadly welcomed lead on moving away from sprawl to more compact urban growth as a key mechanism to support proper planning and sustainable development, as well as action on climate change and congestion.

Project Ireland 2040 restates the commitment to implement statutory planning guidelines on sustainable residential  development in urban areas, which were published by my Department in 2009. These guidelines generally require densities in the range of 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare in urban areas and more than 50 dwellings per hectare in more central urban areas. Many examples of the successful achievement of these density levels are set out in an accompanying urban design manual, which is available on the Department’s website. In addition, it is important to note that the guidelines also provide scope for densities under 35 dwellings per hectare in smaller towns and villages, to assist in delivering sustainable urban housing alternatives to one-off rural houses. I am satisfied that the 2009 guidelines are entirely consistent with the compact urban growth objective of the national planning framework. My Department will continue to engage with local authorities, the home building industry and other sectoral interests to address any issues arising, particularly in the context of the amendments to be made to development plans as part of the roll-out of the national planning framework.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the fact that he said he is going to engage with local authorities because it seems to be a real problem in some of our towns. Developments are being proposed where there is much need for housing - we all agree that we need to see more housing in our towns - but because of the specific densities, they are not viable and therefore are not being proceeded with. We are ending up not getting the housing development we need in many of our towns because they have to satisfy these quite restrictive criteria. I completely understand that we need more density in urban centres and so on. There are practical issues arising where it does not become viable to go ahead with some of these developments. I think the Minister's attention has been drawn to some examples; I understand my party leader drew his attention to some. I ask the Minister to clarify how he is engaging and whether there is some scope for flexibility in that regard.

It is true that Deputy Howlin engaged with me in respect of something that had been brought to his attention, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in respect of concerns as to whether the densities are correct and to make sure we are not preventing developments from happening. The requirement of 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare for urban areas is the equivalent of 35 to 50 homes on a site similar in size to the pitch of Croke Park. I do not think that is over-densification in an urban area, if we are talking about a town like Wexford or a town in Cork, as was drawn to my attention. We have to make sure we are maximising the sites we have that are close to town centres. That is going to be important for community living and for reducing our reliance on cars. It is also going to be important for reducing our carbon impact. The guidelines and manual that we have speak to this. It is also about taking a different approach, not just trying to build one type of home on one site but a mixture of different types of homes, in order that we can provide housing for someone coming into their first job, for a family, but also for someone of an elderly age as well. Increasingly, what we are trying to drive, through the work of the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Jim Daly, is housing for the elderly. On some of these sites, if they combine houses for families with elderly housing facilities or community spaces, they can achieve that 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare quite easily.

What I am concerned about is the practicalities. Certainly the idea of mixed developments, housing for the elderly and so on is very positive. However, the practical result of it is that in some cases they are almost being required just to have apartments, which may not be appropriate for a town or for the demand within a town. I ask the Minister to engage with the issues that are arising to ensure we do not end up with developments not happening at all because of the restrictions. If there is a way in which the Minister can be flexible to ensure that the developments actually can happen, that is really what my request is.

On foot of my engagement with Deputy Howlin, I did speak to my planners again about this issue around density. I spoke at the annual planning conference last week in Carrick-on-Shannon. The challenge of the right density was one of the key things that I spoke to. So often now, when we talk about the challenge we have in housing, it is actually a challenge around planning. We know more homes are being built, but are they being built in the right locations and for the right people? This is the planning aspect that comes into it and density is key to that. There is a meeting happening in Cork next week with the planning authorities there to talk through this issue to make sure the guidelines we have published are being used to their maximum flexibility. We can arrange for other workshops if necessary in Limerick, Wexford or wherever else planning authorities might feel that the density requirements are not being interpreted in the right way by private planning bodies.

I ask that the Minister would engage with all the local authorities because I think this is arising in other places besides the ones we have mentioned. I ask that the Minister would engage to ensure they are aware there is flexibility.

Social and Affordable Housing

Joan Burton


67. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the implications of rent, house prices and mortgage costs for public sector workers; his views on the lack of affordable housing for low-paid public sector workers, in particular members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10637/19]

Darragh O'Brien


74. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the affordable home scheme; the number of sites identified; the timeframe for delivery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16254/19]

Barry Cowen


78. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the role he is playing to facilitate the construction of affordable housing on State-owned land; the number of housing units built on such land to date; the proportion of units that are deemed affordable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10566/19]

This question is about the plight of low-paid civil and public servants. How are they supposed to afford to buy a house? How are they supposed to afford to rent a house with the kind of prices over which the Minister is now presiding? For example, soldiers who serve this country with great distinction and bravery are walking out of our Defence Forces every day because they simply cannot make enough money to be able to afford to rent or buy.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 67, 74 and 78 together.

One of the Government’s key priorities is to address issues of housing affordability, including for low to middle-income households and workers. A multi-stranded approach is being taken to support such households in achieving home ownership, particularly those households earning annual gross incomes up to €50,000 for single applicants and €75,000 for dual applicants.

In terms of affordable purchase, I commenced the relevant provisions of Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 to provide a statutory basis for the delivery of an affordable housing for purchase scheme.  I also made regulations last month on foot of which local authorities are now moving ahead to develop schemes of priority for the allocation of affordable housing in due course.

 The new scheme will be set in the context of moderating growth in house prices and rental levels in the market and will complement other key Government affordability initiatives.  These include the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which has seen 720 loans to a total value of some €127.5 million drawn down, and the Help to Buy scheme, under which some 10,500 applications, to a value of €153 million, have been approved.

 In order to support the affordable housing programmes of local authorities, the Government has committed €310 million, over the three years 2019 to 2021, under the serviced sites fund to support the provision of 6,200 affordable homes to purchase or rent.  An initial ten projects, with the potential for 1,400 affordable homes, have already been approved with an allocation of €43 million under the first call for proposals, and a second call for further projects has now issued to 19 local authorities where economic assessments have been carried out by the local authorities concerned and affordability issues have been identified.

In addition, approximately 2,350 affordable homes will be delivered on mainly publicly owned lands supported through the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, while 5,600 further homes will benefit from a LIHAF-related cost reduction, some of which are already coming to market and are being advertised. The work of the Land Development Agency will also be of crucial importance in terms of delivering more affordable housing.  The initial portfolio of sites that the agency has access to will have the potential, over the short to medium term, to deliver 3,000 affordable homes in line with the Government policy of achieving 30% affordable housing on State lands generally.

In parallel, the Dublin local authorities continue to progress a number of other significant housing projects on publicly owned lands, including the redevelopment of O'Devaney Gardens and a site at Oscar Traynor Road in Dublin city, yielding approximately 280 affordable homes. In addition, 380 cost rental homes will be delivered between projects at the former St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and at Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Taken together, programmes are in place under which nearly 18,000 affordable homes or homes with a LIHAF-related reduction will be delivered, with over 11,200 households also supported through the Rebuilding Ireland home loan or the help to buy scheme.

My question was very specifically about members of our Defence Forces, particularly privates, corporals and perhaps, given how prices are escalating, sergeants. I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with what people in the Defence Forces earn, but it is not a huge amount. The Minister did not once mention ordinary soldiers and how they are supposed to afford current market rents or purchase prices. Last year rents increased by over 7%, with slightly smaller increases in the Dublin region. I am not aware of members of the Army having received a wage increase which even closely matched those numbers. The increases the members enjoyed was probably somewhere around 2% to 3.5%. How are they supposed to make ends meet?

The Minister's cost rental price, as announced by the South Dublin County Council recently, is €1,200 a month. How can an Army corporal or private with a family, perhaps two children and a spouse, afford a rent like that? It is gouging.

My question focused on an element of housing policy that I have been focusing on for a number of years now. I refer to the affordable purchase scheme. I am not disputing what Deputy Burton said: I agree that there are issues on affordable rent. We have heard for years about the Enniskerry Road development and the pilot project there. I have heard that project has just gone to tender and that Focus Ireland and other groups are involved. It will be good to see such a scheme up and running.

The average age of home ownership is now 35 years, up from 26 years in 1991. On the level of home ownership, I heard the Taoiseach bemoaning the fact that home ownership levels have now dropped to a record low of 67.6%. We have a major affordability problem. The Minister knows that: I have said it to him many times. I am interested in the delivery of the affordable purchase scheme. It is interesting to hear the Minister's response to Deputy Burton concerning the number of land banks that have actually been offered by local authorities. I want to see a start being made on those affordable homes.

My responsibility is to provide an affordable housing sector, not for the benefit of any one public sector worker or any one worker in the economy, but to everyone in the country. We must have a functional housing sector that provides not just social housing or general housing but affordable housing as well. I am not responsible for the pay and conditions for anyone working in the public sector.

If we are not building more homes then conversations around people in emergency accommodation or affordability, whether in terms of rent or purchase, become moot because there would not be enough supply. Supply is now increasing. The focus of Rebuilding Ireland in its initial years was to rebuild those parts of the housing sector that were broken so that more homes could be built. As those homes were built more social housing homes were built at the same time. Last year, one in four of all homes built was for social housing.

We have a very ambitious pipeline for building affordable housing currently, whether affordable to buy, affordable to rent or cost rental. Recently, notwithstanding the huge affordability challenge we have in this country, house prices have begun to moderate due to the increase in supply. Last year rents began to fall in consecutive quarters. The big increase in supply has made a positive impact, but notwithstanding that we have to drive affordability at the heart of public policy. That is why we have the help to buy scheme, which has helped over 10,000 people buy a home. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan has helped over 700 families and individuals get a mortgage for their first homes. I will refer to a number of other schemes in more detail in my next contribution.

I do not know if the Minister is aware of the trauma that the near collapse of the Rebuilding Ireland scheme has caused people, after having made six month or eight month applications to some local authorities. In Fingal the waiting time was six or seven months. The Minister is totally out of touch. I asked him about soldiers because they serve their country, yet we have lost 20% of them in recent times because they cannot afford to live. The cost rental model in south County Dublin is offering future cost rental at around €1,200 a month. Can the Minister tell me of an Army private or corporal who can afford €1,200 a month in rent? We are supposed to have Defence Forces in which 10,000 or more people are expected to serve. In the main people in the ordinary ranks are not very wealthy or well-off. How are they supposed to get a home to rent or buy? The Minister does not seem to recognise this fact. He said that he has no responsibility for individual people. The Government should feel an immense collective responsibility for our Army.

We could talk about affordability all night: there are many aspects to it. On the affordable housing scheme, the criteria has been assigned. I provided my thoughts on some of it and did not agree with parts of it. We should look again at the upper limits of €75,000 for couples. I am anxious to understand the price the Department is considering selling the affordable homes at. The average price of a home currently is around €380,000, which is not affordable for most people, particularly considering the pressures on supply mentioned by the Minister.

In recent weeks we have been made aware of the number of built units that have been purchased by real estate investment trusts. That is affecting the market because some houses in my area which are within the reach of normal families to buy have been hoovered up by REITs and what are now referred to as "cuckoo funds". That is not a recent phenomenon in the past couple of months. When will the scheme open for applications and what will the prices be?

I thank the Deputy for his questions. One of the later questions deals with institutional investors. They are not hoovering up properties to the extent people think they are. We need to rebalance our housing sector away from over-reliance on individual landlords with one or two properties; we need to find a balance there.

On the serviced sites fund, the second call has gone out from my Department to 19 local authorities. In answer to how much a home will cost under that serviced sites fund, it is a maximum of 40% off the market price and that will vary across the country. Now that we have done the regulations it will be open to each local authority to open its scheme depending on when it sees the houses coming to market through its own local authority lands and what it has programmed.

In response to Deputy Burton, I did not say I do not have responsibility for individual people. I said that as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I have responsibility for ensuring that everyone in the country has housing security - that they have a home. We are working to do that through social housing, affordable housing or housing more generally in the economy. It is very important that we do that. If the Deputy had been here the earlier contribution on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, she would have heard it is not closed; it is open. There is plenty of funding within it and drawdowns are happening. We are working with local authorities where they are finding difficulty in drawing down that funding. The objective is to help people get affordable homes, with more than 10,000 people on the help-to-buy scheme and about 750 people through the Rebuilding Ireland home loan.

We have put in place a number of different programmes to help members of the Defence Forces, teachers, members of the Garda and nurses to be able to afford to buy a home or to be able to rent a home at a rate below the market rate. That is now coming through the local authorities and the housing bodies. We are working with them in conjunction with the European Investment Bank to make that more of a reality for more people.

Vacant Sites Levy

Mick Wallace


68. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to publish the 31 progress reports on the implementation of the vacant site levy he has received from local authorities; if he has considered changes or amendments to the vacant site levy further to the information contained in such reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16352/19]

Mick Wallace


117. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has considered examining reducing the 0.05 ha minimum site size threshold for the vacant site levy given that over 160 sites were identified by Dublin City Council as being vacant but were under 0.05 ha; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16350/19]

The first question relates to the 31 progress reports on the implementation of the vacant site levy he has received from local authorities. I have received them via freedom of information request, but it might be helpful for him to publish them. They make for interesting reading and it is a pity it took so long to get these progress reports. Has the Department considered amendments to the vacant site levy on the basis of the information contained in these reports, which highlight major problems with the levy introduced in 2015?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 117 together.

Under the vacant site levy provisions of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, planning authorities are empowered to apply a vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of relevant vacant sites. These arrangements commenced in respect of vacant sites included on local authority vacant site registers prior to 1 January 2018 with payment of the levy due in January 2019.

When I was appointed Minister, I initiated a review of the measure and introduced amendments under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 aimed at further strengthening the vacant site levy provisions. These amendments included increasing the rate of the levy from 3% to 7% for sites on local authority vacant site registers from 2019 onwards and the removal of the possibility of applying reduced or zero rates of levy for sites on registers that are subject to a site loan which is greater than a specified percentage of the market value of the site, reflecting the improved economic circumstances and higher property prices since the levy measure was originally introduced.

The inclusion of sites on vacant sites registers continues to be determined by the criteria provided for in section 5 of the 2015 Act, subject to the site not exceeding 0.05 ha in area. I am satisfied that the existing minimum size threshold of 0.05 ha reflects the appropriate size of a vacant site that should be targeted with a view to maximising return from the measure, thereby enhancing its effectiveness. To give some context, 0.05 ha is about 500 sq. m or about 5% of the size of a rugby pitch, on which it would be possible to build a maximum of two to three small houses or three to four small apartments.

My Department does not maintain a central register of vacant sites, as each local authority administers the vacant site register in respect of its functional area. A recent review of the online vacant site registers across all local authority areas shows there are collectively more than 360 individual sites currently on the local registers. Over 120 of these sites were entered on the local vacant site registers on 1 January 2018 and are therefore subject to the levy in 2019, unless development works were activated in the interim.

As of 14 March 2019, sites with a value of €416 million were listed on local authority vacant site registers, of which €281 million related to sites listed on the registers prior to 1 January 2018. Without any changes to the number of sites currently listed on local authority registers, it is estimated that the levy proceeds nationally could be of the order of €8.4 million, applying the current 3% levy rate in respect of sites on the registers in 2018, increasing to €29.1 million in 2020, applying the increased 7% levy rate in respect of sites listed on local authority registers in 2019.

Levy implementation progress reports were requested from local authorities late last year and all local authorities have submitted responses. These responses are currently being examined by my Department with a view to determining what, if any, further implementation supports may be required, as well as publishing the progress reports. I can in the meantime arrange for copies of the progress reports to be made available to the Deputy if he so wishes.

Do I have two minutes this time?

You have two minutes.

The changes the Minister introduced to the vacant site levy are not adequate and have not tackled landbanking. I wonder if the Department has any interest in doing anything about it. The vacant site implementation report from Wicklow County Council shows that it looked at 158 sites. It highlighted a lack of clear understanding and interpretation of the legislation by internal staff in other local authorities and the Department. It referred to the lack of consistency in decision-making from An Bord Pleanála in regard to sections 5 and 6.

The Wicklow County Council report is very good, but the Wexford County Council one is rubbish; it only looked at four sites in the whole county. What is going on? Does it not have the staff to do it? Will the Department do anything about it? It does not make any sense. The Wicklow County Council one is comprehensive, but the Wexford County Council one is not. Perhaps it does not have the people. If it does not have the people maybe the Department would provide them to it. If the Department does not think the local authorities can do it, why not get someone else to do it? Perhaps the independent planning regulator should be brought in if the Department is not prepared to give the power or if the local authorities do not have the mind to do it.

There are 162 vacant sites in Dublin. I was the one who argued for 0.05 ha back in 2015 because the Government had it at 0.01 ha. When I look at the Dublin City Council report, I actually think I went too big. The Minister said it is only possible to put a couple of houses or apartments on 0.05 ha. I could put 12 apartments on 0.05 ha and it would be possible to put at least eight and maybe ten on 0.03 ha. It might be hard for people to get finance to build out a small site and that is very understandable. The local authority should look at buying the 162 sites and build them out itself.

Finance for small sites and particularly infill sites can be quite complicated because there can be many difficulties, as Dublin City Council found out recently when it looked at a particular site in the city centre.

I am sorry I raced through my initial answer which contained considerable detail. There are 360 sites on the local registers. More than €400 million worth of land is under levy. The new 7% rate that I brought in is now in effect, which means that over the two-year period it is a 10% levy on the value of that site. It is worth noting that 42 sites have come off the register since it was first compiled because construction has commenced, and been completed in some instances, on those sites. That shows it is successful, with 42 sites out of 360 sites actually seeing construction and having construction completed because the levy was applied to that vacant site. Many more sites would be on the register were it not for our decision to introduce the levy and to more than double it in the course of this year.

I am reviewing the reports and the Deputy is right that it is a different picture in different local authorities. That is why we will help the local authorities that need that help. I still believe the local authorities are best placed with their local knowledge to compile and maintain their registers of those sites in their own functional areas.

The levy will bring in approximately €10 million on the sites the Minister mentioned because it was 3% of approximately €300 million and it will be 7% in the following year. As he knows, my Bill proposes a levy of 25% which would really encourage them not to bank land.

Mel Reynolds has pointed out that in Dublin alone it could bring in close to €300 million in one year if all the sites are tapped into in terms of a levy. We could then talk about bringing down the price of housing. A girl telephoned me at the weekend wondering if she should buy a three bedroom house more than 30 km from here for €330,000. That is €330,000 for a three bedroom house. I can tell the Minister the cost of such a house is half that amount on mainland Europe. He will not be able to bring down the price of housing if he does not tackle land banking. His site levy is not workable. It will not make a difference. There are major concerns about the definition of what even constitutes a vacant site. I gave some examples at the committee.

Thank you, Deputy.

I thought I was supposed to have two minutes.

No. The Deputy gets one minute this time. We will hear the Minister's response.

This is not a revenue raising measure. We did not bring in the vacant site levy to bring in money. We brought it in to encourage the use of land for development. We will not measure this based on the amount of money we bring in but on the number of sites we get under construction as a result of bringing in the levy. As I said, development is taking place on 42 sites since we brought in the levy. We more than doubled it to 7% but over the two-year period that becomes 10%. That is punitive. If someone has a piece of land worth €1 million, which actually is not very much for a piece of land-----


-----the person is liable to pay €100,000 on that. We are seeing proof of that now. The levy we have put in place is moving sites from vacancy into construction but the important thing to note as well is that we are not just using the vacant site levy to get land moving. We have also got the Land Development Agency bringing forward State land to make sure we are progressing the existing massive State land banks that are not being used efficiently. We can look at the different individual measures we have under Rebuilding Ireland from the Land Development Agency all the way through to our vacancy officer teams and the vacant site levy. This is about getting land and getting it built on.

The vacant levy is doing nothing to tackle land banking.

I will be coming back to the Deputy when we move the next grouping of questions.

Questions Nos. 69 and 70 and 72 replied to with Written Answers.

Private Rented Accommodation

Eoin Ó Broin


73. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the significant increase in the number of institutional investors in the residential property market and the impact this is having on security of tenure and affordability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16413/19]

Mick Wallace


101. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the increased number of bulk sales of apartments by developers to REITS or investment funds; his plans to counter this and the effect it has on the first-time buyer and rental markets; if he has had discussions with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, with regard to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16351/19]

Jan O'Sullivan


111. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the fact that investment and private equity firms are buying entire new apartment developments; if he has had discussions with his ministerial colleagues on addressing the advantages these firms have in order to ensure a level playing field for other potential purchasers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16330/19]

As the Minister will be aware, during the past two years we have lost approximately 12,000 rental properties according to the Residential Tenancies Board as a result of accidental buy-to-let landlords exiting the market. We have also seen a significant increase in the level of institutional investment in recent years, both with respect to building and the buying up of blocks of apartments. Is the Department undertaking an analysis of these two trends within the private rental sector and, in particular, their impact both on price in terms of affordability for new entrants and on security of tenure?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 73, 101 and 111 together.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. There are approximately 340,000 tenancies registered with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, of which approximately 310,000 are private rented tenancies. The majority of landlords, just over 70%, own just one property, with a further 16% owning just two properties. Almost 86% of the registered rental housing stock is owned by landlords with fewer than ten properties, reflecting the fact that the overall proportion of the rental stock held by institutional investors is relatively low.

Historically, the private rented sector in Ireland has been largely made up of small-scale landlords, who will continue to provide the bulk of private rented accommodation. However, a more diverse sector, which includes institutional investors specialised in providing and managing rented residential property on a larger scale, provides additional stability and less exposure to property market risk and volatility. Institutional investors can also help provide the range of tenancy options that households need across their lifecycles. The fact that institutional investors are entering the rental market, with a clear long-term focus on their investment, provides security for tenants who can be confident that their landlord is committed for the long run.

It is important to recognise the positive effects that institutional investment can have in terms of the supply of housing, not least given the scale of housing development envisaged under the national planning framework over the period to 2040, particularly apartment developments in the main urban centres.  It is worth noting that a recent report on institutional investment from the Department of Finance clearly points to the benefits of professionalising the sector, realising economies of scale, and a resultant improvement in regulatory and taxation compliance standards.

That report also notes that it would not be correct to assume that the properties being bought by institutional investors would otherwise have been bought by first-time buyers, with the suggestion being made that much of the stock would likely have been purchased by buy-to-let investors with access to equity, either through their household or business wealth.

I am committed to improving security of tenure of tenants and I have brought forward additional measures in this regard for Committee Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018, scheduled for later this week. These include providing new powers to the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords who engage in improper conduct, including non-compliance with the rent increase restrictions in rental pressure zones, which are the areas where institutional investment tends to be concentrated.

The legislation will allow the RTB to initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint to be made. It will also require the annual registration of tenancies with the RTB and significantly extend the notice periods for tenancy terminations by landlords. The annual registration of tenancies will provide improved data on the profile of landlords in the market, including institutional landlords and will be of benefit to my Department in keeping the market under review, ensuring that we facilitate the positive impacts of institutional investment, while addressing any broader issues that may arise. 

An aspect of the Minister's reply that concerns me is that it does not address a particular part of what is happening in the rental sector not only here but globally, which is certain types of institutional investors with certain types of business models have a very clear role in driving up the price both of land and of rent or purchase properties but also they can add to increasing levels of insecurity. I am not against institutional investors if they have a long-term reasonable yield return to provide security of tenure and reasonable rent for landlords, as exists in other European member states, but the business logic particularly of vulture funds that are looking for short-term high-yielding rents is having a particularly problematic impact on large cities. It is happening in New York, London and elsewhere in Europe and we are beginning to see it here. We are having a disorderly exit of accidental buy-to-let landlords from the rental market, which we have seen during the past two years according to the Residential Tenancies Board, and an under-regulated entry of short-term investment funds into the private sector, which is having a destabilising effect. Is that something the Minister and his Department are looking at and, if not, will he give a commitment to start doing so?

A site adjacent to the Central Bank Currency Centre in Sandyford, and owned by the Central Bank, was placed on the vacant site register by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2018. That site is bounded to the north by sports pitches and to the south by the M50 slip road. The Central Bank appealed its inclusion on the register and stated: "The site creates a security buffer enabling surveillance particularly of adjoining public roads." An Bord Pleanála accepted this argument in its decision and it became a vacant site. The Carmelites own a site of approximately 3.45 ha on Ballinteer Road which is valued at more than €21 million. They said that they had planning permission for a carpark on that site but it was never used as a carpark. An Bord Pleanála accepted that it was a vacant site because they had planning permission for it. That is nonsense because the Minister will not be able to catch the sites in this regard.

With regard to real estate investment trusts, REITs, I had an argument with the then Minister, Deputy Noonan, here on 16 January 2014 about what REITS would do to property in Dublin. I said they would drive rents up through the roof. He said it would not happen and that I was exaggerating, but it has happened. They have been an unmitigated disaster with respect to the supply of housing and rental properties. Why does the Minister not admit it?

My question follows on from Deputy Ó Broin's question regarding short-term versus long-term institutional investment. To what extent has the Minister and his Government colleagues had discussions on this issue, to what extent are they able to control the way in which these investments may enter our market, make money and then leave, or to what extent can he ensure that we get the long-term professional landlord system we see in other European countries that can provide stability for tenants? Has the Minister been able to get any reassurances in that regard?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. Briefly, to respond to Deputy Wallace's comment, of course we can find individual sites and make a judgment based on an individual site for the scheme as a whole but it would be wrong to do that because we know under the vacant site levy that we have more than 300 sites now on the register-----

The legislation is rubbish.

-----but more than 40 sites have now seen construction and development because of the levy.

Moving on to the questions with which we are dealing, overall the impact to date has been very minimal. If we consider 2017, less than 1% of transactions were from large foreign institutional investors - that is based on either 2017 or 2018 data. Approximately 4.5% of tenancies are under the control of or the administration of these foreign institutional investors but it is growing. Part of the reason for that is because of the changed guidelines around build-to-rent to attract more finance in to invest in more apartments, building and development. It is good we are doing that because I believe we would all agree that we want to move away from the instability we currently have, because of our over-reliance on small individual landlords, to a more stable, mature and European style rental sector. That means larger landlords making a longer-term play but we want them to make that play based on what we might refer to as a steady Eddie, a reasonable rate of return that does not allow for gouging. That is why there is some comfort in knowing that the vast majority, if not all, institutional investors have invested in rent pressure zone areas where we do have strict regulations and they will get only stricter when we agree the legislation coming through the House.

The difficulty is that we replace one level of instability with another level of instability. Again, I draw the Minister's attention to what is happening in a number of large European cities, where large institutional investors are not long-term professional landlords in the way the Minister has described but short-term funds looking for short-term gain. Of course, here, for those particular investment vehicles, we do not charge tax on the rent roll or capital gains tax when they have flipped a property at a later stage, and depending on how they are structured, they may not even pay dividend withholding tax. We are inviting in the very short-term types of investment in the residential property market that will lead to ever greater levels of instability.

I repeat my question to the Minister as he has not answered it in the first two rounds. Will the Department look at the specific impact of these types of investment vehicles? Again, I stress I am not against long-term sensible investment in the rental market so long as it is producing security for tenants in terms of security of tenure and rent certainty. That is not what is happening in other jurisdictions and my worry is that, as these funds start to enter our market, we will replace the instability of the small accidental landlord with the instability of the large institutional vulture fund, which is very bad for our rental market.

I have lost count of the number of initiatives on housing that have been brought in since we were elected to the House. One thing has not changed: housing remains unaffordable. The Government is not tackling the fact the supply of housing in this country is dysfunctional. It is double the price of mainland Europe for a three bedroom house within 30 km of the capital city. That is the truth. Why is it like that? There are two aspects. There is land banking, which the Government refuses to tax in a proper way, as other countries do, and there is a fellow called the developer who does not build anymore and who is looking for between 60 and 80 units. The Government needs to tax land banking. Some 10% of the housing stock is social housing when it needs to be about 30%. The Government needs to get interested in providing a serious amount of social housing. It should tax land banking and have 30% of the housing stock as social housing, and that will go some way towards addressing the dysfunctional nature of the supply of housing in this country.

In his initial reply, the Minister suggested he did not think these institutional investors were competing with first-time buyers. Will he tell us why they would not be or where the building is for first-time buyers of apartments in particular? He suggested this is a different set of properties.

I thank the Deputies. In reply to Deputy Wallace, the housing sector in this country was dysfunctional for decades and it broke completely following the financial crisis. What we are trying to do now is rebuild it in a way that is sustainable so it will not crash again. There is a levy on vacant land and that is what we discussed in the previous question. In regard to our ambitions around social housing, one in four of every new homes built last year was built for social housing. That is an ambition that no previous Government has had and we are going to continue that into the years ahead under the national development plan.

I am sorry I did not come back to Deputy Ó Broin's question but Deputy Wallace brought us into other areas. In regard to this particular area, the ownership of a property does not abrogate a tenant's rights in regard to the rent controls we put in place or a lease agreement they may have. We have brought in much stronger tenancy protections in recent years and we are only going to strengthen them in the coming weeks. Of course, this is something we keep under review in terms of making sure that, as we transform the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and make it a proper independent regulator of our rental sector, it can have a proper view of exactly what is happening in the market. That is why the annual registration of individual tenants is so important to allow them to build up a proper knowledge base of exactly what is happening on a real-time basis, year in, year out, in our rental sector. Of course, we keep it under review and I have discussed this report with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, which was one of the Deputy's earlier questions.

In response to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, the view of the Department, which prepared the report, was that it would not necessarily be the case that had an institutional investor not come in and bought, say, 50 apartments in a single scheme, this would mean that 50 people who were going to be first-time buyers might have bought them instead. The likelihood, on its analysis, is that they might have been bought by individual buy-to-let investors, which would perhaps further reinforce the instability we have seen from having such a large share of individual landlords control such a large part of the property sector for rent in this country.

My apologies to Deputy Clare Daly. I should have called her on Question No. 71.

Pyrite Issues

Clare Daly


71. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if a consultative forum will be convened for representatives from the Pyrite Resolution Board, the Housing Agency and Deputies from the areas affected to review existing pyrite legislation and the operation of the remediation scheme. [16333/19]

My question relates to whether the Minister has or will consider the idea of a consultative forum of the Pyrite Remediation Board, the Housing Agency and Deputies in the constituencies affected by pyrite to review the legislation. As the Minister knows, there are problems in regard to how the board and the agency are interpreting the legislation. They seem to be refusing any intervention from the Department or legal advice the Minister has got. It is making life incredibly difficult for citizens affected by pyrite.

I am glad we are taking Deputy Daly's question as it is an important discussion. There are no plans to set up the forum she is calling for but that does not mean we are not open to discussing any of the issues. We had very useful meeting at the back end of last year where all the relevant Deputies came together with the agency and the Department to tease through some of the issues. Progress was a little slow after that but we have made some progress in recent weeks. I would be very happy to have that ongoing engagement. In fairness, we attempted on a few occasions to try to have that. There are still certain sectors that need changes and we are willing to look at that. We have made progress on foot of the previous meeting and I will try to arrange another meeting.

I do not intend to have a formal consultative board, however, as it is not required. We can try to work through the changes with the Deputies concerned. If that does not work out, we can look at it again, but it does not need a formal board, in my view. There is a process where people can engage with the Pyrite Resolution Board directly. I would be happy to arrange a further discussion and we can see where we go from there.

I am not bothered whether there is a forum. What I wanted was the opportunity to raise this issue on the floor of the House. The Minister of State knows there are cases that are being interpreted by the board completely incorrectly. The legislation as it stands states that people who bought their houses after the enactment of the legislation were generally not covered by the scheme unless they could demonstrate they did not know of the presence of pyrite nor could they have known. The Minister of State got legal advice on that and he said there was no impediment to the board including cases under this remit. I had a meeting with it about a constituent of mine where we demonstrated in black and white that the man could not have known because nobody knew, given that nowhere in Swords or anywhere in that estate was pyrite present when he bought that property. Subsequently, a small number emerged. The board listened to the case and it could not give me a reason it would not deal with it. That was six months ago and a year after the Minister of State and I met the board on this issue, yet it still refuses to include that case. It is madness. There is no impediment. If it does not listen to the Minister of State, what hope do I have as a Deputy? We need some forum to call the board to account.

Perhaps I was not clear in my first answer. I think we have made progress on that particular area. The Department got legal advice because I do not expect any board to listen to me as an individual Minister of State, so we backed that up with legal advice and an opinion. I understand the board then got its own legal advice and we have now finally made progress on that situation, which affects a certain number of people. I believe that, as of the meeting last week, a certain amount of progress has been made, so perhaps the Deputy will be a little happier on that situation. I am aware there are still other scenarios we want to tease through. Nonetheless, we have made some progress because we did not give up in the past six months. We kept pursuing this but we used proper legal advice and legal interpretation, not just my opinion or somebody else's. That was as a result of us all coming together to tease through some of the problems. I am happy for us to do that again to facilitate the process.

To be clear, more than 2,000 people have made applications at this stage, in excess of 1,800 are in the system, more than 1,400 have had their houses resolved to a satisfactory condition, and approximately 500 will have their houses remediated this year as well. We have made good progress, as the Deputy has acknowledged. There are other scenarios which we will deal with. I am happy to consult the Deputy to do that.

I am beginning to think there is a secret plot between the Government and the legal profession, and it is not even that secret. The Minister of State got legal advice, fair play to him, and that advice said there was no impediment to the board in this regard. Then the board, presumably, used public money again to get its own legal advice to stop the implementation of something the Minister of State was trying to facilitate. How in God's name is that a productive use of the board's time? I hear what the Minister of State is saying, which is that, a year and a half down the road, he thinks he has got the board back online. That is not good enough from a public body, particularly when I have at least one householder whose house is crumbling and who cannot be included in the scheme when we clearly demonstrated that he could not have known that pyrite existed because nobody in Swords knew at the time. It is shameful. I am not blaming the Minister of State because I know he is trying to push the board. However, is it not shocking that the Minister of State had to go to these lengths? We are now on our third round of legal advice to get these fellows to act. It would have been cheaper if they had just gone and fixed the man's house to begin with.

Unfortunately, we do not have time for a response. That concludes questions for today.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.