Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Local Authority Housing

Brendan Smith

Question:

33. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if it will be ensured that substantial financial provision is made for the voids programme in 2021 due to the valuable and important work being undertaken under the programme in 2020 and the need to make further progress in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28448/20]

It is disheartening to see council housing stock that is vacant, boarded up or both, when many people remain on our local authority housing lists. I compliment the Minister on making two substantial financial allocations to our local authorities for this year's voids programme. Those allocations will make a real difference in the two local authorities in the constituency I represent, namely, Cavan County Council and Monaghan County Council. Bringing houses back to habitable use will make a difference to each estate. Most importantly, it will give individuals, families or both a new home before the end of the year. I am anxious that the voids programme will be strengthened even further for next year.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, for raising this matter and agree with him completely. It is a frustration for all of us to see housing stock that is not in use and that is why, in July this year, I announced €40 million in funding and a targeted approach for all 31 local authorities to bring voids, which are vacant stock, back into use. We set each of the local authorities a target and asked them to make their submissions to the Department.

I am pleased to tell the Deputy that 2,411 properties have already been returned by local authorities and are currently being worked on. I have instructed each of the local authorities that, under this funding, any property that is brought back into stock must be occupied or allocated by the end of this year. Some of these properties are long-term voids that have been out of the market and out of use for over 12 months. There will be a targeted approach to this. I have a housing delivery team that I chair each week and we get a report on voids every week. Our housing delivery office is in contact with all local authorities. I know the Deputy is already doing this in Cavan and Monaghan but I ask all Deputies to be aware that this scheme is in place and to put positive pressure on local authorities to bring vacant units back into the housing stock.

We also need to look at the mechanism by which properties are brought back into the housing stock. The de-tenanting of properties needs to be looked at. We need to examine how long a property remains vacant when someone moves on or the property is handed over. We also need to look at the work that is required to give that property to a new tenant because sometimes it is far too extensive. We must look at other certifications in those situations.

We have made a good start. I am trying to negotiate funding for another voids programme for next year but I encourage our local authorities to deliver on the targets I have set this year because it will mean 2,500 families who would not get a home without this stimulus measure will get one. It is the largest voids programme that has been introduced in a long number of years.

I thank the Minister for his reply. This was the first issue about which I spoke to the Minister when he was appointed. I and Fianna Fáil councillors in Cavan and Monaghan are constantly in touch with the housing divisions in both of our councils. We are working with council officials to ensure that we get maximum turnaround.

Each of us in this House and everybody in society wants to see more public housing becoming available. There is a quick turnaround in upgrading voids because, by and large, those houses are in areas where housing is needed and services are already in place. It also helps employment, in that it makes work available for small-scale building contractors.

There can be a quick turnaround in returning these houses to habitable use. It also is important that tenants who are frustrated at living alongside dilapidated houses for some time are given consideration. We all know of the pride that the vast majority of people take in their houses and estates. When we go to the annual local authority estates award ceremony, it is heartening to see the interest that people take in their homes, estates and communities. For a quick turnaround and provision of more housing to ensure we are using existing public housing stock, the voids programme is a great investment. I sincerely hope the Minister can strengthen what has been a good programme in 2020.

I thank the Deputy. He has raised the important point that the voids programme provides local employment. The programme provides housing for local people and a lot of the work involves smaller local contractors. The scheme that the Government brought forward in July created 750 jobs across the country. We need that to be sustainable into the future.

I mentioned earlier that we need to revise how local authorities assess properties before they are re-tenanted. That needs to be done and I am asking officials to do it now.

I am committed to driving on with another voids programme next year. We are now in the middle of negotiations for budget allocations that will be announced next week. This has been one part of that. We have existing properties and, while we want to increase our housing stock and are committed to doing that as a Government, as am I as a Minister, we need to make sure we are using our existing homes well.

This year 2,500 people will be in homes who would otherwise not have been. That is something we need to build on, if the Deputy will excuse the pun.

We also need to make sure there is a targeted approach to this and that each local authority has a specific target. That has worked very well. They know exactly what they have to deliver, how they draw down the money and that we will work in co-operation with them. I commend them on the work they have done and the manner in which they have responded to my request to get these properties back into use.

I thank the Minister. I work closely with all of the councillors in counties Cavan and Monaghan, my Oireachtas colleagues and the officials in the housing divisions in both councils. I know they value the two allocations that were made in the latter half of this year. They have a substantial programme of work for next year once the funding is made available. It is both good value and is visible to the public at large, because nothing is more frustrating for a tenant in a local authority estate than seeing houses lying idle that to a layperson's eye appear to be good structural homes that need very little upgrading and modernisation. We all know of top-quality young people and families who need their own homes but are living in hovels and, in many instances, are paying exorbitant rents. I have seen the quick turnaround that can be achieved through maximising the potential of the voids programme. I look forward to an even better voids programme in 2021.

To conclude, it is a priority. We want to build more new homes. Covid has had an impact on output this year. I mentioned to colleagues earlier that between 16,000 and 18,000 house completions will happen this year, half, or even less, of which will be local authority completions between acquisitions, leasing and builds. There is even greater pressure to use the existing stock we have in a better way.

The frustration people feel when they see empty homes although they have been waiting for eight, nine or ten years on a housing list is palpable. I have visited many fine local authority developments that need to be refurbished. I recently visited one not too far from here, St. Mary's Mansions, which is a magnificent scheme run by Clúid. Fifty-six 70-year-old apartments have been fully refurbished and another two floors have been added to the building to create 80 apartments. People are again living in quality public housing in the centre of the city. That is what we want to see. We need to use the existing stock we have better.

Local authorities have responded. The local authorities in Cavan and Monaghan have responded very well to this, as have others. I encourage them to do as much as they can between now and the end of the year to bring these properties back into use.

Tenant Purchase Scheme

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

34. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he plans to amend the terms and conditions of the Tenant (Incremental) Purchase Scheme 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28223/20]

Pauline Tully

Question:

67. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if the criteria for the tenant purchase scheme will be reviewed to permit pensioners to purchase their local authority house in cases in which they can show the means to be able to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27757/20]

My question relates to the tenant incremental purchase scheme of 2016. This is the most unsuccessful tenant purchase scheme ever. The Minister of State will probably agree with me. Can he let me know when he will bring in the radical changes to the scheme that are urgently needed?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 67 together.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for the question. The programme for Government commits to maintaining the right of social housing tenants to purchase their own homes with some changes to eligibility. The current tenant incremental purchase scheme 2016 is open to eligible tenants, including joint tenants, of local authority houses that are available for sale under the scheme. To be eligible, tenants must meet certain criteria, including having a minimum reckonable income of €15,000 per annum and having been in receipt of social housing support for at least one year. The minimum income level was introduced to ensure the sustainability of the scheme. Applicants must demonstrate that they have an income that is long-term and sustainable in nature to ensure that the tenant purchasing the house is in a financial position, as the owner, to maintain and insure the property for the duration of the charged period.

A review of the operation of the first 12 months of the scheme has been prepared. The review and the commitments in the programme for Government are being examined. All of these issues raised, including the position regarding pensioners wishing to purchase under the scheme, are being considered. My Department is preparing a submission on this and other social housing reform matters, and we expect we will be in a position to make decisions and changes to the scheme in early course.

The Deputies will be aware that under the programme for Government, a number of issues were raised. As Minister of State, they are the guide rails I have to go by. Under the programme for Government, as in the Act, there is a requirement that local authorities have first call on the purchase, that the discount rate be revised and that the applicant has resided in the home for over a year, a period that should be increased.

I thank the Minister for his reply. When was the review completed? He said he hoped to bring proposals forward soon. I have heard that for three or four years. I mean no disrespect to the current Government, but the word "soon" is one of the most misused words in the House. Can the Minister of State tell me whether "soon" is before Christmas, before Easter or before this time next year?

Can the Minister of State tell me how has the Department decided that a pensioner who can put cash on a table to buy a house would be unable to subsequently pay for the insurance and maintenance of that house? There are people, in particular in rural areas, who are living in council houses built on their land who can buy a house because they have worked hard all of their lives. They cannot buy houses because of the rules. Can the Minister of State explain what is the logic in believing that someone who can buy a house for cash would not be able to maintain and insure it?

I wholeheartedly endorse every comment my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, has made. I recently wrote to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, about two cases. I was involved, as a public representative, in getting two pensioners a council house almost 30 years ago. They provided a site. Neither applicant ever had the State spend one bob on the house since it was built by the council nearly 30 years ago. They have the cash to buy the house. It is in the middle of the small bit of land they have, which is a typical small farm in County Cavan. They should not be deprived of the opportunity to buy their home. I appeal to the Minister and Minister of State, along with my colleague, to change that crazy regulation.

A person who recently retired received a cash payment, but when she wanted to buy her council house she could not do so because she has no income and is in receipt of a pension. She is in a catch-22 situation. She thought she would be able to buy the house when she retired. Another lady, who unfortunately was in a severe car accident and is now in a wheelchair, received a large sum of money but as a result of these criteria cannot buy a house. I agree with the two Deputies that something has to be looked at.

I thank each of the Deputies for their questions. In line with the programme for Government, the review which had been commenced has to be refined, because of the agreement that was made regarding the three issues I alluded to in the programme for Government.

We have to be very careful as Deputies when we are talking about cash buyers buying local authority housing. We have to be very careful about the rules we set. They have a knock-on effect on every applicant throughout the country. While there are very genuine cases, we have to be very careful about the rules we apply to ensure that they are fair in terms of the local authority stock and that they are giving pensioners who have money, resources and certainty a chance to purchase their homes. It cannot be the case that someone who has cash can buy a local authority house. People should know the reasons for that.

The Minister of State did not tell me when the review was completed. A review was completed. The Minister of State did not give me the definition of the magic word in the English language, "soon". I would like a definition of what he calls "soon" because I have heard the word for three years. I do not know if that is because it rhymes with zoom, but we need to get zoom into this soon.

He seemed to imply that I or anybody else thought any person other than a tenant or joint tenant could buy a house.

Is the Minister of State saying there should be restrictions on the ability of joint tenants or tenants to buy a local authority house? Nobody is proposing to widen the eligibility criteria applying to those who can buy those houses, certainly not me.

Can the Minister of State explain why the Department believes maintaining and insuring the house creates unaffordability given that in many cases involving people with part-time jobs, the repayment would be less than the rent?

Does the Minister of State have his Collins English Dictionary with him?

Yes, it is ready and present. To be clear, the review had been completed and has to be revised to take into account what was agreed by the three parties and unanimously adopted by their membership. That will happen shortly. I cannot give an exact timeframe for that because I do not know. That is the honest answer.

Are we talking about three or six months?

We are talking about three months. We are doing the budget at the moment which takes priority but it will be as soon as possible. Politicians are mad for people to put an exact date on things, but things can happen beyond our control, especially in this Department. We have many matters to respond to every day and we are trying to negotiate a significant budget.

I am not proposing to change the terms of the scheme to preclude any tenants or joint tenants from taking part in it. However, we have to be very careful in the rules that we have. Any income thresholds that are set need to be sustainable. No one wants to put people into an unsustainable position where they cannot service their repayments.

If I may make one point, please. The Minister of State seemed to cast some doubt in suggesting we need to watch out for a person with cash to buy a house. I was talking about the case of honourable persons who, through hard work and support from other individual family members, are in a position to buy out their house. There would be no question mark over the authenticity, provenance or source of the funding that they would use to buy their local authority house.

That is an important clarification.

That is why I said that the majority of cases are genuine. I was at pains to point that out.

We move next to Deputy Richmond. Níl sé anseo. We will take the next question from Deputy Paul Murphy.

Question No. 35 replied to with Written Answers

Housing Policy

Paul Murphy

Question:

36. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will ensure that public land is reserved for the building of public housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28326/20]

I presume the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will take this question. This is the same question that Deputy Joan Collins asked a moment ago. I am somewhat bemused by the answer, which seemed to be saying the Government was for public homes on public land. The Government is gaslighting us. It is not building public homes on public land. It is proceeding to privatise public land and hand it over to private developers. That is what is actually happening. A little honesty would help in having a debate on this issue.

Did Deputy Murphy ever vote for a development plan?

He was never a councillor.

It is clear what the Government is doing.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Murphy for his question. As I pointed out earlier, it is key that the Land Development Agency is developing a model of housing which is social, affordable and cost-rental housing. From the applications that have been received by the LDA, actions speak louder than words. For example, the matrix for the applications in Shanganagh and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is that 34% are for social housing, 51% are for cost-rental and 15% are for affordable purchase. The work we have to do in the Department is to deliver those schemes now to ensure there is sustainable housing and an increase in supply for social tenants and that this supply is on public land. The kernel of the Land Development Agency's role is to deliver that.

We must also prioritise the legislation to place the Land Development Agency on a statutory footing and ensure that this work is prioritised and carried out. As I pointed out, there are currently nine sites under the control of the LDA on which it aims to deliver 3,600 homes. The agency is partnering with a number of local authorities and working with them on the ground to ensure we make the best possible use of public land to deliver public homes. The legislation will make clear the tasks the Land Development Agency will carry out to ensure we have sustainable tenancies in future for our citizens. I look forward to working with every Deputy in the House to achieve that.

The truth is that what the Minister of State has put forward is some public homes on some public land with the rest of it to be used for private homes. That is what the Government is doing. To take example of the Oscar Traynor Road site, 50% of the houses on the site will be fully private homes on the open market, a further portion will be affordable, although they will not be affordable, and 30% will be social housing. Of 500 homes in Killinarden, 100 will be fully private. We have a housing crisis in this State. The public, through the State, owns a limited amount of land. The cheapest way by far to provide public housing to address the housing crisis is for the State to build on that land. Every single piece of land that the Government gives over to private developers is land that will not be used for public housing. The Government should commit to building public homes on public land instead of pursuing the continuation of a process of privatisation pursued by the previous Government.

It is important to note that on the Shanganagh Castle site, which predates the Land Development Agency, we do not know if the purchase homes will be affordable because the LDA does not yet have a purchase price for them. The LDA has told Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that the rental units will cost €1,300 a month, which is not affordable for many of the cohorts. On the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, the original proposition for the LDA was that 60% of the homes would be sold at open market prices. If the Minister of State is saying that is no longer possible and that all the sites in which the LDA is involved will be solely social affordable rental and purchase homes, that would be a big shift and one that many of us may welcome. Let us remember, however, that in O’Devaney Gardens, which is a Dublin City Council rather than an LDA site, 50% of the homes will sell at prices of approximately €470,000. The so-called affordable homes will be sold for €310,000, plus an equity stake of €50,000, which amounts to €360,000. That is not affordable. I hear what the Minister of State is saying and we will judge the legislation when we see it, but we have developments today where public land is being used for unaffordable open market price houses and allegedly affordable homes that are unaffordable. That is a problem not just for our voters but for the voters of all of the parties in government as well.

From reading the programme for Government, the delivery mechanism of the Land Development Agency is very clear. It will be through mixed tenure of social, affordable and cost-rental housing. That is the mechanism that will be employed and the legislation that will come through the House will make very clear that no privatisation of the LDA will be allowed. It will be very transparent in how it does its business. There are nine sites in the agency initially, with the explicit objective of delivering 3,600 homes. As I mentioned, when one looks through the planning process one can see the action on the ground through various applications. In the case of the application for 597 homes I mentioned, it is very clear that these homes will be available to people who will qualify for affordable, cost-rental and social homes. This will ensure there will be increased supply in the area in question and secure tenancies for our citizens.

Can I have a simple answer, please? Is the Government committing to having zero private, open market houses built on all of the LDA sites? If that is the case, I will welcome it but I do not think it is the case and I will be very surprised if it is. That is the only way the Minister of State can say the Government will build public homes on public land. Even within the framework of the programme for Government, the Government talks about providing homes for affordable purchase through the LDA, in other words, selling off housing on public land. Useful information was published recently by Orla Hegarty outlining that the cheapest way by far to provide housing to address the public housing crisis is for the State to do it on public land. It costs less than €250,000 to build quality homes on public land versus a much higher cost of giving the public land to private developers and then buying a portion of that back to be used as social housing.

It is absolutely not the only way. I made that very clear when I spoke about the sites in the ownership of the LDA and cited the example of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

In Columb Barracks, in my town of Mullingar, the Land Development Agency, LDA, has taken over a site which will be the mechanism to deliver social and affordable housing to the town at an increased level. It is key that we deliver that through the State agency to ensure that mixed tenancies are delivered for people through social and affordable homes. I gave the clear example through that planning application of the make-up of the various homes in the scheme. It is key that the Land Development Agency increases supply, gets those 6,300 homes from those initial line sites on the ground and ensures that we have-----

On all the line sites.

I have given a very clear example in terms of the planning application that was submitted for Wicklow. I gave another clear example in my town.

Does the Deputy oppose the supply of 597 homes?

We have to be very clear. The Deputy can try to shout people down but the key point I am making-----

I am not trying to shout down the Minister of State. It is just-----

No. Please, do not interrupt the Minister of State.

Does the Deputy oppose the provision of 597 homes?

The Minister should not interrupt the Minister of State either.

I have given a clear example where 597 homes will be delivered in that matrix by the Land Development Agency, and it will continue to do such good work.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

37. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the relationship between the new Covid-19 levels and the protections for tenants; if the protections will be enhanced if the levels change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28425/20]

The Minister said this evening that he will closely monitor Covid-19 case numbers and that he will take action to protect renters, if necessary, if numbers increase. Given that we have five levels containing a range of measures, would it not be appropriate to specify in those five levels the sort of measures the Government would take and the levels at which they would do that?

I thank the Deputy for his valid question. All of us hope that we do not have to move up further through the levels. Work is ongoing with regard to other measures that may have to be taken in the future, particularly if it was a level 5 event. I earnestly hope that will not be the case.

I know the Deputy is aware of the protections that are in place under the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020. Even though some do not want to accept it, there has been a significant tapering off of terminations of tenancies. There has been a continued reduction in homelessness, particularly family homelessness. There is still an issue with singles, and we need to focus on that. What I want is a sustainable rental sector. That is why the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, mentioned other housing measures like the affordable rental plan, which the Government is committed to delivering. The Enniskerry Road and Emmet Road developments are the two pilot projects of the previous Government but I would like to see that expedited further.

To answer the Deputy's question, it is being monitored closely, not just within my Department but by the Cabinet sub-committee on housing. We want to make sure that tenants are protected. I might use this opportunity to mention that in respect of the new protections that have been brought in for tenants, I have asked the RTB to engage in direct communication with all tenants from next week. Some 430,000 contacts, in terms of landlords and tenants, will be sent an information sheet advising them of their new rights, who they can contact and their recourse to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and to the emergency rent supplement that many people are not accessing. That will be followed by a full national advertising campaign on radio and television to get the word out because more work needs to be done to highlight the protections that are available for people under the current legislation. We are monitoring this. Preparatory work is being done within my Department in conjunction with the Department of the Taoiseach.

I welcome that the Minister is indicating that this work is being done. I take it from the answer that if we do go up to level 5 measures will be introduced. It is important that that work is finalised as quickly as possible in case we find ourselves in that situation and that it will be communicated to people, preferably in advance. That would be the way to do it.

Work has been done by a team of epidemiologists at Harvard University, the University of Illinois and the University of Pennsylvania which has shown that the rate of evictions can substantially increase the number of cases and the spread of Covid-19. Has the Minister or his Department examined that modelling? Has any modelling been done in Ireland on the impact of evictions on the spread of Covid-19? If not, will he or his Department undertake such modelling on the public health repercussions of evictions?

The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, published its quarterly report on 2 October and within that are some of the facts that pertain to the positive effect within the market of the new protections and the new legislation the Government brought forward. As a result of the legislation we are now able to track the number of 28-day warning letters for rent arrears issued. We were not able to track that previously but it is now in law. We can do it because once a warning letter is issued the landlord must copy it to the RTB. There used to be a 14-day notice. We changed it to 28 days in the legislation that others in the Chamber opposed. Some 844 warning letters were issued. Some 182 notices of termination were issued but of those 182, 174 self-declarations were made also. The numbers with regard to homelessness in June, July and August indicate that there has been a stabilisation. I want to see it reduced further. We have got to operate on a primary legislative footing. The primary legislation we have in place is a much sounder footing on which to be able to build. I will come back in when the Deputy has asked his supplementary question.

I agree with the Minister that that primary legislation should be on a sound footing. One of the most effective things the Minister could do, which is a long-term reform but would also be welcome in terms of Covid-19, is to reduce the grounds for eviction through primary legislation, which would bring us into line with other European countries. Will the Minister do that as a matter of urgency in terms of Covid-19 but also with a view to it being a long-term reform?

I asked the Minister about modelling in terms of the impact of evictions on Covid-19. We have international research and evidence showing that there is a relationship between evictions and the spread of Covid-19. Has that been looked at here? If not, will the Minister make sure that such modelling is undertaken at some level within Government?

From the medical advice that we are given there is no question that people moving through society during a virus pandemic enhances the risk of its spread. That is the reason measures were taken by the previous Oireachtas and why further measures have been taken here to protect tenants. It is something that we will watch. Significant permanent changes were made in the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 relating to arrears, assistance and notification periods, which is very important, and also to determination notices. Further strengths were brought in with that Act that, unfortunately, did not receive the unanimity I felt it deserved. That said, we will still need to work to protect tenants' rights further and I and my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Noonan and Burke, are committed to doing that. We had a good initial meeting of the Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage earlier today where I committed to working in a collaborative way with colleagues from all parties and none to ensure we can bring forward workable, realistic solutions that will not have a negative impact on the market or drive people further out of it, which is an issue that is not discussed. The knock-on effect of the intended or otherwise unintended consequences of some of the measures that are put forward as simplistic solutions would lead to more tenants becoming homeless and in emergency accommodation, which is not what I want to see happen.

Local Authority Funding

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

38. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if additional financial support will be made available to local authorities to make up for the shortfall in non-rates revenue and additional expenditure due to Covid-19. [28369/20]

As Sinn Féin has stated previously, we welcomed the significant revenue the Government is providing for local authorities to fill the loss of rates revenue. We are still unclear about what will happen with the loss of non-rates revenue and additional Covid-19 expenditure. I know the Minister cannot tell me how much may or may not be in the budget because he is still negotiating that but he might be able to tell us what the County and City Management Association has told him is the shortfall both for the non-rates revenue and for the additional Covid-19 related costs so that we can have a sense of the scale of the problem.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin. Funding local government is a serious issue and something all of us want to ensure because they have had a very tough time. I take this opportunity to thank the staff in the 31 local authorities across the country who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during this pandemic. Our citizens saw the commitment of the women and men in local authorities to serving their communities.

That is admirable and, therefore, I want to make sure our services are not diminished in any way.

Earlier at the meeting of the Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which Deputies Ó Broin, Cian O'Callaghan and Gould attended, members dealt with the Revised Estimate for 2020 – an additional €600 million, amounting to a rates waiver of 100%. It will be dealt with in the House tomorrow and I expect support from every Deputy. Once the Dáil agrees on the Revised Estimate, we will be able to disburse the €600 million to the local authorities. We have already paid the local property tax for the full year.

To answer the Deputy's question, local authorities have incurred other Covid-related losses and additional costs. I am working hard to make sure this is addressed. I cannot give an exact figure yet; I am not being evasive about that. I am dealing with the County and City Management Association, CCMA. The amounts mentioned by the CCMA and the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, vary. Some local authorities have been hit worse than others, particularly regarding rates. In this regard, there are differences between local authorities. Local authorities may face different pressures. Suffice it to say we are doing everything we can to ensure the hole in local authority funding is plugged for this year. The Ministers of State in my Department, Deputies Peter Burke and Noonan, are committed to doing this. When we have an agreement with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, I will be required to bring a Revised Estimate to the committee and the House. I hope to be able to do that in the short term.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he knows from what I said at the committee meeting, we will support the Revised Estimate tomorrow. I understand the CCMA has, in very detailed discussions with the Minister's officials, given ballpark figures for the non-rates revenue and the additional Covid-19 expenditure. They are not absolutely accurate. I would have thought it would have been helpful to share the figures with us so we would have a sense of the quantum of need.

The Minister is correct to emphasise that not all local authorities are affected in the same way. Smaller, rural and more tourism-dependent local authorities, such as that in Kerry and others along the western seaboard, will be much more negatively affected if additional funding is not provided to address the non-rates revenue shortfall as well as that in respect of Covid-19. Some of the larger urban local authorities, mine included, can probably absorb the cost a little better. Without the Minister telling us the exact amount, could he give us at least a ballpark figure from the CCMA? We will find out eventually so why not tell us now rather than in a week when I have to ask again?

I would not want to ruin the surprise for the Deputy. To be serious, because this is serious, staff and services are being provided to our citizens across the Twenty-six Counties. A couple of points arise. The €600 million waiver provided is not insignificant. Colleagues will agree that significant work and negotiation were required to ensure a waiver of 100%.

In early April, we advanced €136 million of the local property tax allocations that were made to local authorities. The full allocation of local property tax, some €517 million, was paid to local authorities in September. The only reason I do not want to give the Deputy a ballpark figure is that there are variations in scale and I would be setting an expectation, either low or high; suffice it to say that officials in the Department - very committed civil servants whom the Deputy and colleagues will know very well - are engaging daily with the local government sector. The sector is well aware that we are supporting it and that we are in discussions with other Departments to ensure no deficit in local government funding this year. That is what we are endeavouring to achieve while we negotiate a budget for next year.

We need to be flexible because circumstances will change. Local authorities will need to change and adapt as we continue to live with this pandemic. They perform a crucial role, particularly through the community call initiative there will across the country.

Homelessness Strategy

Paul Murphy

Question:

39. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on the causes of the recent increase in homelessness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28322/20]

Mick Barry

Question:

46. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the measures he will take following the recent release of homeless figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28553/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

47. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if, in the context of Covid-19 and particularly rising infection rates, his views on whether it is unacceptable from a public health point of view to allow families and persons to become homeless; the measures he plans to take to ensure this does not happen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28542/20]

I would like to ask the Minister about the recent increase in homelessness among single adults. The number increased by 171 nationwide between February and the end of August, with the majority, 133, in Dublin. What is the Minister's view on the causes of the increase? What action is the Government taking to deal with it?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 46 and 47 together.

I thank the Deputies. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to reducing and preventing homelessness and provides detail on how the Government will approach it as a priority. This year, we are seeing a reduction in the numbers of people in emergency accommodation. That is to be welcomed. Deputy Murphy's assertion that homelessness figures are rising is incorrect. The statistics do not bear that out. We have seen a slight increase in the homelessness rate among single adults. We are watching that but what I must watch, in particular, is the number of people who have been homeless for a sustained period. One of the issues that arises is the lack of availability of properties appropriate for single people. That is why I issued, in early July, the call for housing, which involved asking each local authority, through the Housing Agency, to acquire properties, particularly focusing on those experiencing long-term homelessness. I refer not just to single people, who are a concern, but also to larger families. I apologise to colleagues who attended the meeting of the housing committee earlier if I am repeating myself because we went into this in a little detail. Approximately 50 larger families have been homeless for four years because the requisite, appropriate properties have not been available to them. I have again asked through the Housing Agency that we source such properties as a matter of priority to focus our efforts on those who have experienced long-term homelessness. We also need to ensure that we prevent people from going into homelessness. We need to ensure, therefore, a sustainable supply of public properties. We must also ensure that people do not fall into homelessness itself.

I thank the local authorities, the delivery partners and the Department for all their work this year on sourcing homes and dealing with the threat of Covid-19. Significant numbers of individuals and families are exiting homelessness every week. On 25 September, I published the monthly homelessness report for August. It showed that a total of 8,702 individuals were in emergency accommodation, representing a decrease of 26 on the figure from the July report. Indeed, the figures from August 2020 represent a decrease of 1,636 individuals, down 16% on the 10,338 recorded at the same point in 2019. The August report also confirmed the lowest number of families reported in emergency accommodation since June 2016 and the lowest number of dependants recorded since February 2017. That is not to trumpet a success because I will not be happy until the homelessness figures are driven down to the bare minimum.

My Department also published details on the number of adults exiting homelessness to a tenancy on a quarterly basis. Based on the information provided in the performance reports from the local authorities, the report for quarter 2 showed that, in the first half of this year, 3,033 adults exited homelessness into a tenancy. This represented a 7% increase on exits over the same period in 2019. There are, however, still too many households in emergency accommodation, many of whom I have visited since taking over as Minister. I am committed to addressing this.

One of the key measures we are implementing to resolve this crisis involves increasing the supply of housing. To this end, the programme for Government commits to the increased supply of public, social and affordable homes. In particular, we will increase the social housing stock by more than 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds. In the short term, as part of the July stimulus I considered how we could use our existing properties better and get them back into use. I refer to the void stimulus, the objective being to have 2,500 homes back in use this year. A sizeable proportion of them will be for the homeless, which is to be welcomed.

The programme for Government also recognises that many of those experiencing homelessness have additional support needs, which we have discussed this evening, and it includes specific measures to address these needs. These include measures to help rough sleepers to enter sustainable accommodation, the continued expansion of Housing First, to which we are committed, with the focus on construction and acquisition of one-bedroom homes and, importantly, ensuring there are dedicated resources and funding to deliver the necessary health and mental health supports required to assist homeless people with complex needs. I am working closely with my colleague, the Minister for Health, to make progress on the measures to be taken to enhance the health supports provided to homeless households, with a particular focus on Covid in the short term.

The Minister was given five minutes to respond.

There are three questions being taken together and in those circumstances the Minister gets additional time.

There are two issues, the first of which is the general homeless figures. I welcome that they are decreasing. That is a consequence of the eviction ban for which we have called for many years. Unfortunately, it has been largely lifted and I think we will see an increase in general homelessness as a consequence of that because evictions of private tenancies are the number one cause of homelessness and the number one reason for evictions is landlords selling, which will return and will drive that increase. There is a particular issue which should not be lost, namely, the issue about the increase in homeless single adults. The organisations involved are crying out about the crisis in this area. Anthony Flynn of Inner City Helping Homeless says that winter is going to be a major issue for that organisation and that deaths will skyrocket. Simon has warned that the figures in Dublin will go over 3,000 by Christmas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is getting 15,000 calls a month. Within this general picture, we have a particular crisis in this regard which needs to be addressed.

The Minister mentioned Housing First and said there are certain individuals who fall into homelessness who require additional supports. I have always welcomed the Housing First programme, particularly in Louth County Council. There are also family situations that need whatever supports can be provided. Can the Minister provide any detail or a timeline in regard to the roll-out of family-orientated Housing First, in particular as regards Louth County Council?

While I welcome the call for housing, although we will have to wait to see what it produces, the real problem is that we are not producing enough one-bedroom units in the social housing pipeline. In my own constituency, the housing waiting list is over 4,000 households. The demand for one-bedroom accommodation is a staggering 43.5% of that figure. It was previously 33% but it has gone up. If that trend is replicated in the other urban areas and one compares that to the low number of one-bedroom units in the social housing pipeline - the Minister was not responsible for that pipeline but he is responsible for the future pipeline - we need to look at increasing the overall number of one-bedroom units in the direct delivery of social housing as well.

I will take the last question first. I agree with the Deputy. I have already met our delivery partners, the local authorities and the approved housing bodies. In any schemes that are brought to us, I want to see designs for community schemes that provide for a mix of units. I visited one such scheme yesterday with the Taoiseach in Balgriffin. More than half the units there are one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. There are also three-bedroom family apartments. We want a mix.. It is true that that is what we need. We are playing catch-up.

The call for housing was never going to be a panacea. It will bring in extra stock in the short term but we need to build more and we need to design for a community. I will come back to Deputy Ó Murchú's question in a minute. Deputy Paul Murphy is correct that there is a specific issue with single adults who are homeless. We need to focus our attention on that issue. The homeless task force, which meets every Monday and is chaired by me, is focused on what we need to do. The Deputy mentioned a number of the agencies and homeless charities. Two of the three are involved in the task force which I chair. There are a number of delivery partners and organisations that I am dealing with and listening to in terms of their experiences on the ground. We need to do that.

We are running out of time on these questions.

On Deputy Ó Murchú's question on Housing First, our priority is to expand it into the rest of the country on a singles basis first. Where local authorities such as Louth County Council have other plans, they should bring them forward and we will have a look at them. Our focus must be on tackling homelessness and expanding Housing First as it exists.

Referendum Campaigns

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

40. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the preparations that have been made for the right to housing referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28424/20]

What work is under way to prepare for the referendum on the right to housing, has the Minister been looking at a wording for that referendum and what timeline are we looking at in respect of it?

The commitments in relation to constitutional reform in the programme for Government provide for the holding of a referendum on housing. My Department has begun the initial work on scoping the complex issues involved and will in due course make recommendations on how we might progress such a referendum. I do intend to, and will, consult with my colleagues in government as to the proposal that should be put to the electorate and the appropriate timeframes that should apply to the process. Having regard to the breadth of commitments on housing in the programme for Government, as alluded to earlier by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, my immediate focus and priority is the delivery of homes and the question of a referendum on housing will be addressed over the course of the lifetime of the programme for Government. It is an issue I worked on in opposition too. People and organisations such as Mercy Law Resource Centre have done substantial work in this regard. We need to look at constitutional protections and protections and rights under legislation and to examine the legislative protections in other countries such as Scotland, Wales and others such as Finland. There is a basis for how we can structure it. There is also a reality issue into next year in terms of whether we could hold referendums. We need to use that time to prepare in that regard.

I thank the Deputy for his question.

Can we leave this question because I would like to allow Deputy Verona Murphy in? She has two questions and she has been here a long time.

Residential Tenancies Board

Verona Murphy

Question:

41. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of queries and complaints made by landlords and tenants to the Residential Tenancies Board (details supplied); the average wait time for a response to the relevant queries in the last nine months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28437/20]

I thank Deputy O'Callaghan. One of the functions of the Residential Tenancies Board is to deal with complaints made by tenants in regard to the behaviour of landlords and complaints made by landlords in regard to the behaviour of tenants. Given the obvious importance of having such disputes and complaints dealt with swiftly, can the Minister outline the number of queries and complaints made by landlords and tenants to the Residential Tenancies Board, and the average wait time for a response to the relevant queries in the last nine months?

We have time for a very brief response.

I thank Deputy Murphy for her question.

The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, was established as an independent statutory body under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2020 to operate a national tenancy registration system and to facilitate the resolution of disputes between landlords and tenants. The service provided by the RTB is quasi-judicial and all of their mediators, adjudicators and tribunal members have independent decision-making powers, in the same way as judges have within the court system. To ensure impartiality, transparency and fairness, adjudicators are independently appointed and they undertake their functions in an autonomous capacity.

In 2019 the RTB received 6,185 applications for dispute resolution, of which 3,515, or 57%, were made by tenants and 2,539, or 41%, were made by landlords and 131, or 2%, by third parties. The average processing time for an adjudication in 2019 was 16 weeks, with 60% of adjudications closed within 12 weeks. The average processing time for mediations was 12 weeks, with 77% closed in eight weeks.

For quarter 1 and quarter 2 of 2020, the RTB received 2,435 applications for dispute resolution, of which 1,415, or 58%, were submitted by tenants, 947, or 39%, were submitted by landlords and 73, or 3%, were submitted by third parties. The average processing times for quarter 1 and quarter 2 are not available at this point in time. Processing of cases was impacted by the pandemic lockdown in March, with all staff working from home and consequently it is expected that timelines will be impacted by this.