Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Rent Pressure Zones

Darragh O'Brien


21. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of specific staff allocated to each local authority affected by short-term letting regulations to implement the new rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45192/19]

Will the Minister provide on the number of new staff allocated to each local authority affected by the short-term letting regulations he brought in, which became effective this summer, in order to implement the new rules for those authorities that have rent pressure zones? I am trying to get a handle on the additional resources now in place and what resources it is planned to put in place over the coming months.

I thank the Deputy for the question. On 4 June, my Department wrote to planning authorities with rent pressure zone, RPZ, designations seeking estimated resource funding requirements for the implementation and enforcement of the new short-term letting provisions, to cover the period to the end of 2021. My Department wrote again to planning authorities on 2 July and 26 September seeking new or revised estimates following my designation of additional RPZs in certain parts of the country, which extended the application of the short-term letting provisions to these areas. The additional resources sought primarily comprise additional enforcement staff but also include, inter alia, associated legal and IT costs.

Since then, further communication has taken place between my Department and all relevant planning authorities seeking clarification and refinement of the resourcing requests, as well as the practical implementation of the short-term letting provisions.

Under budget 2020, €2.5 million is being made available to support planning authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the short-term letting legislation. My Department has now secured sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for this new funding provision. My Department will be contacting local authorities shortly regarding the recoupment of eligible expenditure in respect in the latter part of 2019 and their budgets for 2020.

Pending this, planning authorities are enforcing the new provisions, including the recruitment of new staff, if required, from within their existing resources.

I thought my question was quite clear in that I asked how many additional staff per local authority have been recruited. The Minister's reply referred to clarifications, the refinement of additional resources and additional funding. I am interested in how much, if any, additional funding has been secured. Surely the Minister has an idea how many additional staff are in place to cope with demand, given that the regulations came into force in July. Is he happy with the progress to date?

How many people have registered their properties under the new regulations? Is the Department keeping an eye on that? I and others raised this issue at a meeting of the housing committee in terms of how it would be managed and whether resources would be in place to manage it. Without being difficult, I would like some information on how many additional staff are in place in Dublin City Council and Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County councils. Have all of the local authorities responded to the Minister's correspondence?

The Minister mentioned two dates, 2 July and 26 September. Does his Department have the information it needs? Does it know what each local authority requires? I am trying to get a handle on the numbers involved, the effect of these regulations and whether they have been implemented yet.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up questions. There were a few parts and I will try to cover all of them.

Each planning authority already has a planning section, an enforcement section and everything else. Dublin City Council has more than 170 staff. It was quite clear in the first few months of implementation of these new laws that local authorities would be required to reallocate staff from within existing resources. For example, a number of staff in Dublin City Council were already dealing with short-term letting because it was an issue for the city. What we did with the planning laws was clarify the legal situation from a planning point of view.

We said we would allow local authorities to hire new staff out of the funding we would provide for 2020 and onwards and we would try to recoup the cost of additional staff hired in the course of 2019. We know Dublin City Council want to hire about 13 new staff and has already started recruitment. It has taken on new staff. Out of all of the local authorities impacted by the changes, we have had requests for between 50 and 60 new staff in total between now and 2021. Funding of €2.5 million is available which will go some way to meet the costs of the additional staff required for planning authorities. I will deal with complaints, exemptions and everything else in my next reply.

That is useful to some degree. The Minister indicated that 50 or 60 additional staff have been recruited by the affected local authorities. I take it that no additional staff have yet been appointed. That is important. The regulations have been in place since 1 July. A major issue was made of short-term lettings. These are an issue not just in terms of restricting supply for long-term renters but also in the context of enforcement. The Minister correctly referred to the quality of life for people who are living next door to properties being used for short-term letting, particularly apartments and so on.

We are aware of the issues. Deputy Ó Broin, I and other members of the housing committee spent a lot of time discussing this issue. I want to know what effect the regulations brought forward by the Minister have had. They have been in place for over four months. Is the Minister satisfied with the progress that has been made? What more would he like to be done? Has each local authority told the Minister what additional funding they need?

I thank the Deputy. Each local authority came back with information on the number of additional staff they will require and the funding they will need out to 2021. We are now engaging with them in terms of the actual funding we have, and what that means in terms of how many new staff can be hired and how they may have to reallocate staff within their own planning authorities which are the sections within local authorities that deal with this matter.

Dublin City Council has already recruited additional staff. A lot of recruitment needs to take place in order to provide the additional 50 or 60 staff required. We are in a bedding down period and are now moving towards more rigorous enforcement. We have had 300 or more notifications to avail of exemptions, that is, people who want to continue to home share but who will not be involved in short-term lettings unless it is under the 90-day cap. We have had 16 requests for a change of use. We have had 370 complaints from members of the public. A total of 152 people received warnings from the council and 45 concerned property owners were subsequently issued with section 154 warning notices further to subsequent inspections. Some 160 of these cases were subsequently resolved to the satisfaction of the council without the need to initiate court proceedings, which means that properties were put back into use for long-term letting or were sold. There are 165 ongoing investigations. That gives the Deputy an example of the significant work which is already under way, and that is before all of the new additional staff have been hired.

Water Supply Contamination

Eoin Ó Broin


22. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the information he received regarding the failure of Irish Water and Fingal County Council to fully implement the recommendations of the March 2019 drinking water audit report relating to the Leixlip water treatment plant prior to the alum dosing incident that resulted in the issuing of a boil water notice for 615,539 persons on 21 October 2019; and the action he will take in view of the findings of the October 2019 Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, drinking water audit report regarding the Leixlip plant, which indicated the October boil water notice. [45363/19]

As the Minister knows, we have had two significant boil water notices issued for the five local authorities in Dublin, Kildare and Meath. Today, representatives from Irish Water, the EPA, Fingal County Council and the City and County Management Association, CCMA, appeared before the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. What actions has the Minister taken since the two boil water notices were issued? What reassurance can he give to the public that the current boil water notice will be dealt with as quickly as possible and that additional measures will be put in place to ensure that this does not happen again?

I thank the Deputy for the question. Leixlip water treatment plant is publicly operated by Fingal County Council through a service level agreement with Irish Water and not a private operator. The EPA report of the audit of the recent incident at the Leixlip water treatment plant, published on 30 October, found that the recommendations of the EPA's previous audit of the plant in March 2019 were not implemented. The audit noted that, in particular, the failure to install automatic shutdown when critical plant alarms were not responded to was a contributory factor to the incident on 21 October which resulted in a boil water notice for over 600,000 consumers.

I am extremely concerned that the lessons and corrective actions required following the audit in March were not fully implemented, and that once again so many people are today affected by a boil water notice.

The turbidity issues now arising are linked to the need to upgrade this treatment plant to reduce the risk of contamination. The EPA has identified in its audits that the filters at the plant need to be upgraded without delay.

Since the October incident, Irish Water and Fingal County Council have implemented automatic plant shutdown on high turbidity if there is a failure to respond to an alarm within 15 minutes.

In the case of the current boil water notice, the plant operators reacted quickly, even before alarms were activated, and shut down what is known as the old plant at Leixlip.

I have spoken to the managing director of Irish Water and the CEO of Fingal County Council and will meet them to discuss these issues in detail.  I have also requested that the EPA provide me with a full report on the incident in addition to its audit report. This will include the EPA's view on the causes of the incident, if and how it could have been prevented and the responses of Irish Water and Fingal County Council.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Two things became evident from today's hearings. The first is, obviously, very significant systems failures and management failures between the incident that took place in April and the EPA audit in March and the event in October. Not all of the eight recommendations the EPA made in March have been fully implemented. The EPA has made another nine recommendations to Irish Water and is awaiting a response in that regard. I would like the Minister in his supplementary response to give us an assurance that he will take a hands-on role in this, now that the extent of the problem has become manifest, to ensure that Irish Water and Fingal County Council fully implement all the recommendations from the two EPA reports as quickly as possible.

One of the disturbing things about the November incident - the Minister is right about this - is that Irish Water made very clear that what happened yesterday was not a plant failure and that everything that was meant to have been done was done in accordance with proper procedure. The difficulty is that we still have a boil water notice affecting more than 615,000 people in six local authority areas. While capital funding is in place to deal with some of the filtration issues the Minister spoke about, installation of the ultraviolet system the EPA is now recommending would require, in Irish Water's words today, tens of millions of euro of additional money and could take two to three years. Can the Minister give us a commitment that if that is required to reduce the level of risk at this plant, he will actively explore it with Irish Water as well as Fingal County Council?

I thank the Deputy for the follow-on question. When we read the EPA audit of the October event, if we want to call it that, and the March event, and now we have a November event, I think we were all pretty shocked by what was not done between March and October. It was a very detailed report and I thank the EPA for the work it did very quickly as a result of this boil water notice being put in place. This is a critical piece of infrastructure and we now see the importance of ensuring that when these audits happen they are responded to in a timely fashion and that the investments that need to be made are made without undue delay. I thank the members of the committee for the lengthy engagement they had today over a number of hours with the relevant stakeholders. Yesterday I myself spoke to the managing director of Irish Water, the chief executive of Fingal County Council and the head of the EPA. I will visit the Leixlip plant tomorrow. In this instance I have requested a special report from the EPA that follows on from and will build upon the audit. That will come to me very shortly, after which I will engage with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure we have a proper understanding of what needs to be done regarding the operation of this plant. Irish Water finds itself in a difficulty in that it is legally responsible for the plant but not in operational control of it. Certain things which should have been done and which Irish Water wanted to do after the March failure were not done. They have now been done but it should not have taken the October event for them to be done. I need to review, based on the information I get following this third incident, exactly what new measures might need to be taken regarding not just the long-term treatment issues and investments - the Deputy talked about the issue of UV - but also the operational control of the plant itself.

I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to press him, however, on the issue of the ultraviolet filtration system because, if that is necessary, it will require additional capital investment over and above what has already been allocated for this plant. Therefore, while I am not asking him to commit to that expenditure, I am asking for reassurance that if it is required, he will look on it positively.

The other issue that arose today is that while non-domestic customers of Irish Water will get rebates to go some way towards compensating businesses, it is not the same for domestic householders, who in many instances have had to pay very significant sums of money for bottled water. Bizarrely, Irish Water said it would provide bottled water for vulnerable households but it has no criteria for determining what a vulnerable household is and just provides the water on request. Surely, given the frequency of the boil water notices we are seeing, not just in Dublin but elsewhere, some fairer system could be put in place to provide bottled water to householders in instances in which they are not able to drink the water coming through their taps.

I thank the Deputy for his follow-up question. If he has the opportunity to visit a water treatment plant and see a UV system in operation, he will see how it works and its benefit. My understanding is that even if a UV system had been put in place, it would not have prevented what has happened in this third incident, so it is important to separate that out. My immediate concern is to ensure we can get the type of work we need to do done on what is called the old part of the plant in order that the threat of a boil water notice does not hang over all these residents indeterminately into the future. That is the first piece of work we must do and the most important. There are other elements in the audit, including UV lighting and so on. We must look at this because this is a critical piece of infrastructure. It serves far too many households, supplying one third of Dublin's drinking water, I think.

The list of vulnerable users maintained by Irish Water has worked very effectively when we have had various incidents in the past. The Deputy will remember that in 2017 a very large pipe broke, which affected thousands of households, but Irish Water was able to target those vulnerable households unable to get out to the water tankers with bottles to fill with water. There were two choices here: cut off the water supply to treat the plant, or let water go into the system and put in place a boil water notice. Since we have done the latter, people can still shower and wash clothes, but when it comes to drinking, cooking, brushing their teeth and so on, they need to boil water. They therefore do not necessarily need to go out to get plastic bottles of water, which has other impacts. They can still use the water coming out of their taps. I know boiling water is a massive inconvenience, but the inconvenience of having no water at all would have been much greater. I therefore support the call made by the authorities on that.

Compulsory Purchase Orders

Darragh O'Brien


23. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he has taken to strengthen the use of compulsory purchase powers by local authorities to acquire units for social and affordable housing purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45193/19]

The Minister will be aware that in September 2018 a report by Indecon for the Department of Finance recommended a major programme of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, to tackle vacancy rates across the country and bring vacant homes into the public housing stock. With that in mind, what steps have the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his Department taken to strengthen and increase the use of compulsory purchase order powers by local authorities to acquire units for social and affordable housing purposes to rehouse families across the country?

I thank the Deputy for his question.

Local authorities have a range of existing legislative powers available to them to deal with derelict and underutilised properties in their functional areas, for example, through the compulsory purchase powers and under derelict sites and housing legislation. This legislation is kept under constant review.

There is a clear focus on increasing the supply of housing available in both the private context and the social context. To this end, looking at our existing housing stock and whether we are making efficient and effective use of it is a key element of Rebuilding Ireland.

The key in this regard is the implementation of the national vacant housing reuse strategy. Every local authority has now prepared a vacant homes action plan and has designated vacant home officers to co-ordinate local actions to address vacancy and to identify priority "vacancy hotspot areas" and properties that can be quickly brought back into residential use.

Since the launch of Rebuilding Ireland, just under 1,200 vacant homes have been reintroduced to the liveable social housing stock, primarily through a range of vacancy initiatives. Local authorities are also working to bring homes back into use by acquiring dwellings in unfinished estates. Overall, we have also seen an estimated 11,032 homes come out of long-term vacancy into the housing sector from the third quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2019, inclusive, of which 7,551 were units which were reconnected to the electricity grid after at least two years, while more than 3,000 related to units connected to the electricity grid which were in unfinished housing estates. A proportion of these may have led to compulsory purchase orders in some instances, but this was not necessary.

Based on the most recent survey of local authorities, the vacant site levy has moved at least 42 sites into development. The derelict site provisions have also been brought into line with the vacant site levy provisions. In 2018 An Bord Pleanála concluded nine compulsory acquisition cases taken by local authorities under the Derelict Sites Act and which were referred to the board for confirmation.

These recovered properties aid us in the ongoing effort to meet our commitments under Rebuilding Ireland to ensure that Ireland's existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am talking specifically about the homes that have been brought in by the use of compulsory purchase orders. I am aware that CPOs are a good stick to have and that they do not always need to be used, but there is a great disparity in their use in some local authorities versus others. With that in mind, when was the most recent circular his Department issued, if it has issued one, to local authorities advising them, or advising them again, of the powers they have? Some seem quite reticent to use them. I have specific examples of this.

The Minister talked about bringing vacant housing stock back into use, but only about 102 homes have been brought back into use under the repair and leasing scheme. That is just 13% of the target that was set. It is in principle a very good scheme. It should be a lot more successful than that. I have noticed recent advertisements in the papers trying to push it. That is welcome.

Are some local authorities ignoring the fact that they have these additional powers? What is the Minister and his Department doing to ensure that local authorities use that stick when needed to bring long-term derelict and vacant homes back into the housing stock?

One of the complications we have to acknowledge with CPO is that it involves some 70 pieces of legislation, some of which have their roots in the 19th century. The Law Reform Commission is undertaking a piece of work to see how we can reform and streamline CPO powers so they can be clearer. We have held workshops in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the Customs House as part of our housing summits. We have taken exemplary local authorities in this area, such as Louth County Council, and talked through the different things they have done regarding CPO and how successful those approaches have been.

The repair and lease scheme is a good and necessary one. Often with local authorities, however, it proved to be the case that when they have engaged with someone on the repair and lease scheme the home has come under the buy and renew scheme. The owners have not gone for a lease. Instead, they have sold the property to the council and the council has subsequently renewed the property. In those cases, under the repair and lease and buy and renew schemes together, we have achieved a return of more than 500 properties. That has proven, therefore, to be a successful approach.

A pilot study was also conducted across a number of local authorities. That was initially based on the CSO numbers for potential vacancies in the country. That was a high number, but it included homes for resale, reletting and holiday homes. We asked six local authorities to do a field study. Each was to investigate about 1,200 vacant homes within their local authority area. To date, those six local authorities have inspected more than 7,000 homes. Of the 7,157 homes which had been seen to be vacant, only 205 proved actually to be vacant on the second inspection, which I think happened some six months later. That brings us down to a truer level of vacancy of about 2.9%, which is a normal vacancy rate in a normally-functioning housing sector. I will return to the other points in my follow-on answer.

Chartered Surveyors Ireland has submitted a report to the Government with recommendations concerning CPO law in Ireland. It is complicated legislation and change is needed. If we consider local authorities, would a practical step be to incentivise them to acquire vacant homes by covering conveyancing costs, for argument's sake? I think we can do much better than we have been doing in this area. Many of the 205 properties, of the 7,000 vacant properties to which the Minister referred, down to 205, are vacant because elderly people may have problems with the fair deal scheme and how that is assessed. That is prevalent and changes need to be made on the health side of things regarding how assessments are made. Many properties are vacant because people may not be able to get out of nursing home care. The method of assessment by the HSE means that those homes cannot be rented out. Specifically regarding derelict and vacant homes, I would like to know about the recent interactions the Minister has had with local authorities. I believe some local authorities just do not want to go down this road. Has a recent circular been issued to local authorities? Would the Minister consider incentivising local authorities by covering the conveyancing costs for homes that they bring back into the housing stock?

Deputy Darragh O'Brien is absolutely correct concerning the fair deal scheme. It is one of the things I first suggested when I came into this role. There was a huge backlash publicly about forcing people in nursing homes to become landlords. That is not what we were talking about at all. We were talking about a situation where someone might want to get a property back into use and enabling them to do so in a way that would not penalise them. That is now being looked at by the Department of Health. Reforms concerning the fair deal scheme are coming forward in the legislative programme. My intention and hope, working with officials from the Department of Health, is to be able to put forward amendments at that stage to get those properties back into use. Those changes will require sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I think that many vacancies are coming from the fair deal scheme. Many vacancies also come about because of other reasons, such as probate, which can be difficult to disentangle.

Our ultimate aim, however, is not to use CPO. We want the threat of CPO to be strong enough to ensure that properties come back into use. An indicator of some progress in this area is the more than 7,000 homes reconnected to the electricity grid after more than two years of long-term vacancy because of engagements that have occurred. Between my Department and the local authorities, every area now has a vacancy plan and a vacancy officer. That is the result of the ongoing work we have with the local authorities on the important issue of vacancy. Schemes are in place to cover the costs that might be encountered where somebody might coming under the repair and lease scheme. In those situations, we will fund the work that needs to be done to get property back into use. It must then be used for social housing and that is an important caveat.

Rental Sector

Michael Healy-Rae


24. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if incentives will be put in place to ensure that the private providers of accommodations are encouraged to keep their properties available for letting purposes and not to sell into the private market due to the fact at present no one is purchasing property to go into the business of letting in view of the fact it does not make financial sense to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45136/19]

I wish to put on the record what could be perceived as a conflict of interest regarding the issue I am addressing. I raise this issue on behalf not just of constituents, but people up and down the length and breadth of this country. I am referring to people who provide accommodation. That could be student accommodation, property rented to local authorities or rented directly to private individuals as their homes. As far as I am concerned, these people have not been represented here by Opposition spokespersons or by people in the Government. I feel this needs to be highlighted and the importance of these people to the housing sector demonstrated to the Minister.

The strategy for the rental sector, developed under Rebuilding Ireland, was published in December 2016 and outlines a range of measures to develop further a viable and sustainable rental sector. Structured around the four key areas of security, supply, standards and services, the strategy sets out a number of targeted measures and initiatives with the aim of providing better security of tenure, achieving higher accommodation standards and greater rent certainty for tenants, as well as enhancing the supports and services available to landlords to facilitate the development of a more vibrant and sustainable rental sector. The strategy also aims to provide for other models of delivery of housing intended specifically for rental purposes.

In accordance with action 9 of the strategy, a working group on the tax and fiscal treatment of rental accommodation providers was established in 2017. The group was chaired by the Department of Finance and included representatives from the Revenue Commissioners, my Department and the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. The group’s report was published by the Department of Finance on budget day 2017 and it presented ten policy options for consideration. These were divided into short-term, medium-term and long-term timeframes. Five potential short-term options were identified as measures which could potentially be implemented via budgets 2018 and 2019.

It is a matter for the Department of Finance to lead on the implementation of the group's policy options, in line with any related Government decisions. To date, the following policy options have been implemented. Option 1 concerns the accelerated restoration of full mortgage interest deductibility for landlords of residential properties. With effect from 1 January 2019, mortgage interest on rental units is 100% deductible for all landlords. Option 4 is in respect of introducing deductibility for preletting expenditure for previously vacant properties. Implementation of this policy option was prioritised in budget 2018 to encourage an increase in housing supply by bringing vacant properties back into use. I support any measures that help to maintain and increase the supply of rental properties.

The people on whose behalf I am speaking are taxpayers. They have rental income and pay tax. As the Minister knows, these people collect money in rent, then pay more than 50% in tax, pay their mortgages, if they still have them on their properties, and maintain properties to a proper standard. That is 100% right, of course. I am fearful, however, that many of these people are departing from this activity. We can see the reason for that when we look at the Opposition benches. I refer to the language sometimes used about people who own and rent out property. Even within the Government, these people are spoken about in a derogatory way, as if they are doing something criminal.

Some of these people are accidental property owners. There are also people who have gone out of their way to buy property to rent it out. The Minister is not a foolish man, that is one thing that he is definitely not. He is intelligent enough to know that in today's market, it does not make financial sense for people to purchase property and start to rent it out. As I stated, those people will be giving more than 50% of the rents collected in tax. Then they have to maintain the property, rent it out and face all the associated difficulties and tribulations. Those people are not going to do that in the future. I am fearful that people selling property to get out of that business are selling into the private sector. That property is then no longer available for renting and that is making the crisis worse.

The Deputy will have another opportunity to contribute.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

We have to be careful regarding the language we use in this Chamber concerning a whole host of issues. We should not seek to demonise one part of our community. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae rightly stated, many of the landlords in this country, some 70%, own only one property. Many of them are accidental landlords who did not mean to become landlords, but became such because of what has happened in our recent history.

Some of them may now be at a point where they want to cease being a landlord and are able to do so. This has led to some of the volatility we have seen, with tenants being served notice to quit and the insecurity they experience as a result of needing to find a new place when we do not have enough homes to meet demand.

We have sought to provide incentives for landlords. We have sought to ensure that people invest in rental property because not everyone can go from living in their parents' home to buying a property. Many will need to rent and many will want to rent for a number of years.

I do not disagree with the Deputy's analysis of the high tax treatment of landlords. However, despite the work done by the tax strategy group, we have not been able to go down the route of making changes to the tax treatment of landlords as there are so many other spending demands on the Exchequer and we can only make certain changes year on year. We have introduced other important measures in the areas of mortgage interest relief and the expenditures that can be included by landlords in their engagement with the Revenue Commissioners.

When I talk about a European model in housing, I am referring to having a rental sector where tenants have long-term leases, security and affordable rents and have an understanding that rents cannot jump dramatically every year. We want to move away from the position where people invest in the rental sector based on the capital appreciation of the property and then exit the market ten or 15 years later to one where people invest for a rent roll. That lends itself to a certain type of investor and this approach is beginning to work in the cities. I worry, however, that landlords are exiting the sector outside the cities, resulting in a lack of rental accommodation outside cities and large towns. We must keep a close eye on this.

The Minister's analysis of the situation is spot on and I am very impressed with it. It is perfect but the problem is in trying to provide incentives to landlords outside cities, as the Minister said. With regard to the cities, it does not make sense that a person or the State should subsidise a rent of €2,500 per month. I do not care where people put their heads down at night but I do not believe renting a house for four weeks is worth that money. At the same time, I am speaking for people who own properties and are trying to make them pay. I want the business to be profitable enough for these people to continue in it but I also want people who are paying rents to have security and to be able to afford the rent. I do not like the idea of people renting forever, although I do not mind people renting for a certain period in their lives if they can then get a local authority house or are able, through employment, to get a mortgage and buy their own property.

The Deputy's point about those who are renting and wanting to leave the rental sector to buy a home is well made. Rents are too high in too many parts of the country. People cannot afford their rent and are making sacrifices just to meet the cost. They should not have to make those sacrifices. In addition, they are unable to find the space to save in order to purchase their first home. We have introduced schemes such as the help-to-buy scheme and the Rebuilding Ireland home loan to recognise that people are caught in a rent trap and to help them out of that trap and into home ownership.

We must ensure we have a rental sector that will protect those who will continue to rent and people coming to this country to rent. The sector must also have investment, not only from the State but also from the private sector. Further improvements are required to allow that to happen in a sustainable way. That is why rent controls are so important. I am talking about ensuring that people cannot make super profits off the backs of people who are struggling to find a place to live. At the same time, we must make sure there is an incentive for people to invest, become landlords and provide an important service in cities and towns. This is an area we have to keep an eye on.

We can take some hope from the fact that in the first two quarters of this year, as well as seeing landlords exiting the sector, we also saw new landlords entering the market. I understand there was no net change in the first two quarters but I will have to check that. As landlords exited, new landlords came in to the sector. I hope this points to progress.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Seamus Healy


25. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will immediately fund local authorities to enable them to commence an emergency local authority house building programme of a minimum of 10,000 new builds per year on public land. [45493/19]

Successive Governments have not only failed to solve the housing crisis but have created a housing emergency. I ask the Minister to fund local authorities to build a minimum of 10,000 houses per year on public land as the key driver to tackle the current housing emergency.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Over the course of the six-year Rebuilding Ireland action plan, the Government is firmly committed to meeting the housing needs of more than 138,000 households, with more than 50,000 homes being delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes. The implementation of Rebuilding Ireland is a key Government priority supported by significant annual investment. For 2019 alone, funding of €2.4 billion is being provided for all housing programmes, with a further €2.63 billion available in 2020. This investment will see the housing needs of almost 27,400 households being met in 2019, of which 10,000 will be new social housing homes delivered through build, acquisition and long-term leasing programmes. In 2020, we are targeting the delivery of 11,000 homes through build, acquisition and leasing. More than 7,000 of these will be newly-built social housing homes, the highest number of such homes to be built in a single year this century. The delivery of these homes will substantially aid the continued reduction in the number of households on social housing waiting lists. These numbers continue to decline, with a 26% reduction since 2016.

My Department continues to engage intensively with all local authorities to keep momentum on new build output as high as possible. As part of our ongoing commitment to support structures, a dedicated housing delivery office has been established to support local authorities to maximise their delivery potential and harness the best that is available in their functional areas. In addition, in September last, my Department, in collaboration with local authorities, published the employers' requirements document. This document supports local authorities by providing guidance on the general quality of materials, finishes and fittings for use in social housing in the interest of value for money. In addition, it provides guidance on the preparation of tender documents for improved cost and programme control.

There is nothing preventing local authorities from delivering more social homes. My Department continues to work intensively to streamline and facilitate new processes. New homes require appropriate planning permissions and while this cannot be achieved overnight, dedicated efforts since 2016 will now see 2020 as a record year for social housing build output.

The picture the Minister has painted is not the picture I or the vast majority of Deputies find in their clinics. We do not expect the Minister to solve the problem overnight but his party has been in government for eight years. What has happened since 2002 is that the public housing programme has been handed over to the private market, namely, builders, developers and landlords, and we now rely on the private market to be the main driver for the provision of public housing. It is clear to any reasonable person looking at the current situation that this policy has failed utterly.

That 4,000 of the 10,398 persons who are homeless are children does not indicate a successful policy. Targets set by the Minister and Government over a number of years have not been met and we now have a very serious problem. The only way to deal with it is to ensure that funds are made available. Local authorities can only build housing if they have funds and I am asking the Minister to make funds available so that they can build at least 10,000 houses per year.

All Deputies receive numerous representations in relation to people in housing difficulty, whether they are trying to rent, buy a home or secure social housing or are at risk of going into emergency accommodation. The difficulties we have are fundamentally supply difficulties. Until we get supply surpassing demand, we will continue to have people facing difficulties in the housing sector.

Rebuilding Ireland recognises that social housing output was outsourced to the private sector in the past. I am committed to changing that and giving back to local authorities and housing bodies the mandate to drive the delivery of social housing. That is why more than 7,000 new homes will be built next year. We will actually increase the social housing stock by more than that figure through acquisitions and long-term leasing. More than 7,000 social housing homes will be directly built by local authorities and housing bodies and a small portion will be built through the Part V process. That is more than in any other year this century, including the boom years. This shows what we have done under Rebuilding Ireland in terms of giving the authority and resources back to the local authorities.

Since 2016, they have been tooling up in that regard. We can have this record year next year because of the work that has been done. After 2020 and into 2021, it will be higher again.

Obviously, the Minister does not recognise that there is a serious homelessness crisis. The figure of 10,398 does not include a significant number of other people who are also homeless. Thousands of people couch surf. They are living at home or on relatives' couches and floors. There are additional thousands in that category alone. There is also a situation where thousands of individuals and families neither qualify for the local authority housing lists nor for a mortgage. They are not included in these figures. They find themselves in the unenviable position where they have to rent for the rest of their lives at very significant rental costs. Rents, as we know, have rocketed in recent years. Thousands of families and individuals in that category are not shown in any figures, and those people are put to the pin of their collar to survive. The Minister should fund the local authorities to build significant numbers of houses - a minimum of 10,000 - on an ongoing basis to solve this problem.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-on question. It is not a question of funding. Rebuilding Ireland was a ring-fenced budget, the first time that has happened over a number of years, because of the commitment we were making to getting social housing built again. I refer to more than €6 billion to be able to do that. The situation we have in homelessness is complex. It is not just about a lack of adequate housing, although that is a very big part of it. Some 10,400 people in emergency accommodation is an unacceptably high figure. That is why we have to continue to drive the delivery of new social housing homes.

It is worth recognising also that, last year, more than 27,000 households were supported through different Government supports. We will do that again this year on top of that. Each year, under Rebuilding Ireland, we are helping tens of thousands of people who might be in housing insecurity, in emergency accommodation, or who are on the housing lists waiting for that social housing home to get into those homes. A huge amount of work is being done but much more work needs to be done. From day one, Rebuilding Ireland was always a five-year programme to get back to a sustainable level of housing output. Now, in the national development plan, which will take over from Rebuilding Ireland after 2021, we drive those targets up even further.

It is worth pointing out one factor. Last year, for every four houses that were built, one of those houses was built for social housing. It will be between that and one in three this year. That is very important because it shows the commitment this Government is making with taxpayers' money to building social housing homes directly.

We move on to other questions.

Deputy Seamus Healy rose.

The Deputy got his two supplementary questions.

Do I not have another minute? I want to ask the Minister, and I am sure he would want to respond-----

He might want to respond but-----

-----about the procedure for homeless persons being approved as homeless by local authorities.

Perhaps the Minister can-----

There is now a situation whereby persons who are homeless in Tipperary County Council-----

I am depriving other Members of opportunities.

-----must advise the council that they are homeless, make a full housing application and wait 12 weeks to be designated as homeless.

We understand the question.

Will the Minister comment on that situation because it is unbelievable?

Will the Minister communicate with the Deputy?

If the Minister thinks it is wrong, he should instruct the local authority to do otherwise.

This is unprecedented that the Deputy would have three supplementary questions.

I can communicate directly with the Deputy if there are particular issues that people in his constituency are facing in this regard. We want people to engage with local authorities early where they are at risk of homelessness. We also want to make sure there is no unnecessary delay in processing their applications, be it for the housing assistance payment, HAP, homeless HAP, the use of a HAP place finder, or getting on the housing list.