Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 42 replied to with Written Answers.

Homeless Persons Supports

Chris Andrews


43. Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the amount of funding granted by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, to day services in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38478/20]

Homeless day services are an important element in addressing homelessness. In many ways, they are underutilised and their importance is underestimated. I ask the Minister the amount of funding granted by the DRHE to day services in the past 12 months.

I thank the Deputy for his question. He is correct that day services are crucial. My Department's role is to provide a framework of policy, legislation and funding to support housing authorities to address homelessness locally. To that end, I secured a further €60 million in a Supplementary Estimate for additional Covid-19 measures just the week before last, bringing the total funding for homeless services to €256 million. The Government was not found wanting in taking on the challenge of Covid to protect our most vulnerable - our homeless community.

Local decisions on sourcing, operating and funding homeless accommodation and related services are a matter for local authorities. My Department does not fund homeless services directly but contributes towards overall costs incurred by housing authorities in their provision. Under the funding arrangements, housing authorities must provide at least 10% of the cost of services and may also incur additional expenditure. The precise amounts spent by housing authorities on homeless services, including day services, are, therefore, a matter for the individual housing authorities.

The DRHE provides a shared service of behalf of the four local authorities in the Dublin region. Some €121 million was provided in Exchequer funding to the Dublin region in 2019, with €160 million recouped to date in 2020. Certified end of year financial reports for 2019, broken down by region, are available on my Department's website and I will provide them for the Deputy. These reports include a breakdown of expenditure in each region, including day services. The DRHE financial report shows that €5.1 million in expenditure was incurred on day services in 2019. It estimates the total cost for provision of day services in 2020 will be in the region of €3.4 million, with expenditure incurred, to the end of the third quarter, of €2.8 million. End of year certified financial reports for 2020 will be published in January or February 2021.

I thank the Minister. There is currently no mechanism through which an organisation can apply for funding through or from the DRHE, and that needs to change. The Minister mentioned day services. During the pandemic and during this winter, there has been no open access homeless day service for rough sleepers operating in Dublin through funding from the DRHE. That is a big gap. There are day services like Merchants Quay, but they do not allow anyone into their premises. They provide takeaway sandwiches, which are left on the footpath, and there are no showers. That needs to be addressed. No support is offered to a person rough sleeping in Dublin who may be from Bray, Banagher or Cork.

They are deemed ineligible but it is important to remember that no one is ineligible when it comes to becoming homeless. This issue needs to be addressed. I suggest that the Minister visits the Mendicity Institution, which is not funded by the DRHE but opens late seven days a week.

I visited many of the outreach centres all across Dublin. I chair the homelessness delivery task force, which is made up of many of our homeless partners such as Focus Ireland, Depaul Ireland, Dublin Simon Community, Peter McVerry Trust and many others, and we meet on a biweekly basis.

Funding is not an issue. We have an issue with the funding for some of the section 10 organisations, which I am also looking at. I have visited centres during the day, including very recently, where activities and services are provided for those who need them now. We have an additional €60 million funding this year on top of what was an increased amount. If there are any specific items the Deputy wishes to bring to my attention or issues with regard to a particular service accessing funding, he should feel free to bring them to me. We will examine them in the context of our overall homeless strategy. We cannot fund every single group. That is why it is done through the local authorities, which have the boots on the ground. I am happy to look at any particular items the Deputy brings to my attention.

I appreciate that. I reiterate that the administration of funding by the DRHE and the way it determines who it funds needs to be examined. I invite the Minister to visit the Mendicity Institution, which is open. It is more than 200 years in existence so it has a strong track record. It provides shelter and support because somebody homeless who arrives from outside of Dublin is not given any supports and is deemed ineligible. That is not acceptable. People arrive in Dublin for particularly complex reasons and to say they are ineligible does not cut it in this day and age. They are not even assessed. They are not even given a bed for one night. That needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I urge the Minister to examine that and make something happen in respect of it.

A priority for me and for this Government is to continue the fight against homelessness. That is the reason we have put unprecedented resources into that particular area. Thankfully, even since early April this year, we have seen a continued reduction in both family and singles homelessness and in respect of children. That is a trend we want to continue. That is the reason we need to ramp up exits from homelessness. So far this year we have had more than 4,300 exits from homelessness and we are targeting 6,000 for next year. It is a job we have got to tackle. Where the Deputy is talking about funding for day services, no one is being turned away. When people move to Dublin from other areas of the country, there are issues about the way that is managed. I get the point the Deputy is making but it is important that we know there is emergency bed capacity in every city and every region in the country. The winter plan is in place. There is additional capacity, and I check that every single week. I hope we get to a stage where we do not need those types of facilities, which I have visited. There is capacity right now for people in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and all our major cities so no one, with the assistance of the State, should be sleeping rough. There are facilities in place for them.

Social and Affordable Housing

Cian O'Callaghan


44. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide funding and support to Dublin City Council to build social and affordable homes on a site (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38186/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


67. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide the necessary funds and other assistance to develop the Oscar Traynor Road site for social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38400/20]

In a follow up to the priority question tabled by Deputy Ó Broin, I ask the Minister if the Government will provide funding and supports to Dublin City Council to build social and affordable homes on the lands at Oscar Traynor Road.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 67 together.

We took this question earlier and it could not be linked because Deputy Ó Broin's was a priority question but we actually did that. The 253 social homes were fully funded by the Department and €8.6 million or €8.7 million in the serviced sites fund was available to go towards the affordable housing. It is a significant site. There are many other significant sites across the country and other sites have been delivered much quicker. With regard to the history of the Oscar Traynor Road sit, there have been missed opportunities in the past. I am meeting with the management of Dublin City Council tomorrow. I have engaged with councillors there. The Lord Mayor has written to me. I have engaged with the Fianna Fáil group, my own colleagues who have been in contact and others, as I should do. I want to do this in an organised way. I asked for the report from the city council. It has responded with a concise report but it has asked for a little time to consult its members on this and to work through revised proposals. Should they be realistic I have to assess whatever proposals come forward.

On the provision of social and affordable homes on the site, we will not be found wanting in that regard. I will look at any realistic alternative proposal that comes forward but as I mentioned to other colleagues earlier, I do not want this to go on for months. We do not have that luxury. I would say to councillors across the country that our local authorities also have a responsibility to deliver homes. People sometimes want the perfect scheme that fits their own political ideology. Sometimes compromise will be required to deliver homes that people urgently need. I am open to working with people. I am not looking at Deputy Boyd Barrett when I say that. I know he is getting a little paranoid this evening but I am not. I am simply saying that we need to focus on what needs to be done, which is delivering homes, both public and private, for our people on our own land. I will look at any realistic proposal that comes forward and I will help.

I thank the Minister for his response and his comments. I agree with his previous comments that there needs to be consensus on this issue. A non-adversarial approach is the way to proceed. There needs to be quick delivery. That is a strong view in the local community. Beyond that we need housing delivered on this site and on others. There is full agreement on that. The Minister has said a number of times that he will look at realistic proposals. I want to tease that out with him. What is his view of what are realistic proposals?

It is what it is.

Proposals to develop this in the best interests of the local community so there is a decent amount of affordable homes that can be purchased and rented, as well as the social housing element, will require, for example, approval from central government and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to draw down significant funding from the European Investment Bank. Is the Minister open to that? Does he consider that to be a realistic approach?

Who wants an unrealistic proposal? That is nonsense talk, and the reference to ideology is nonsense talk. The Minister has his ideology and the ideology of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party has dominated housing policy forever. The result is that sites in public ownership, which should long since have had public housing built on them, have sat empty because over those years they insisted, in one shape or another, on involving private capital and that delayed everything. I have a proposal for the lands at Oscar Traynor Road. Build public housing on the land now and lift the income thresholds so that people from different income backgrounds can get on the list to get housing. Why do we not try that? We do not try it because the Minister's ideology does not want it.

We have binned the non-adversarial approach and now someone asks me for unrealistic proposals. We may have just heard one but, having said that, I am interested in results and building homes. That is what we are about. I am not sure how many homes the Deputy or his ideology has built in this State. It is probably none. What we are about is delivering homes for people and for families. I know that is something that is of interest to the Deputy.

To answer Deputy O'Callaghan's question, which he put in a constructive way, I will look at realistic proposals. I will not close the door on anything. It may turn out that it is Deputy Boyd Barrett's proposal to raise the social housing limits. It may be people with €500,000 salaries or whatever or maybe we just pull the money out of the sky and build whatever we want but we have to be realistic about it. I will fund the public housing on it. We have done that already. The 253 units I referred to are funded under the Department. I want to see good, affordable housing for purchase and rent but, to be fair, I want to give the local authority some space to assess what it will come back to me on.

I have said I am open to working with them on it. I will meet the local authority at 10 a.m. tomorrow and intend to see how we can move it forward. I do not mean to be disrespectful to Deputy Boyd Barrett. I respect him. I know we are all interested in this and there is some frustration that homes are not being delivered more quickly. This Government will change that, and I would like to be able to work with colleagues to do it.

There is agreement in this House about wanting delivery of homes. Most of us want the same thing. The proposals that were voted down by councillors, including from the Minister's party, would have resulted in about half the site almost certainly going to an institutional investor and some of those homes effectively being rented back to the State under HAP. We know that there is planning permission for 40,000 homes, mainly from the strategic housing development process. These are mainly apartments and are largely going to institutional investors for build-to-rent purposes. We have no shortage in the context of that model and it would have been a mistake to have public land use that model too. When will we have a definitive view from the Minister about what proposals can go forward, particularly in view of the urgency of the matter?

What we have been doing is not realistic. It has not delivered, so that is not real. The lists are long and we should look at the cost. With HAP or RAS, in my area the rent is €2,000 a month to a private landlord. That is €580,000 over 25 years for social housing and the State does not even own it. If the State does a leasing deal of €28,000 per annum, that is €600,000 over 25 years and it does not own anything at the end of it. If the State purchases a turnkey property, the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service report from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform states that it will cost €80,000 more than the local authority building it itself. Why do we not just get local authorities to build properties themselves? It is cheaper, we will own the properties at the end and it can be done more quickly because one does not have to involve all sorts of other players and thereby complicate and delay matters, as has happened. We either do not get it or it costs us a fortune and we own nothing at the end. Why do we not just build it ourselves?

I do not know if the Deputies are aware of the history of the site. It has been in council ownership since around 2007. It is 2020 now. When one says to just let the local authorities build it, it is 13 years later and they have not done so.

The Government does not fund them.

Deputy Ó Broin's party was chair of the housing strategic policy committee in Dublin City Council-----

It does not control the purse strings. The Government controls the purse strings.

-----up until the local elections last year so he can ask Daithí Doolan and his friends there who he controls about why they did not vote for certain housing developments across the city. To get back to the Deputy's point, the Government is interested in letting local authorities build. We raised the discretionary cap to €6 million to allow local authorities to do that. That proposal did not come from anyone here.

One application as a result of that big change-----

The non-adversarial nature that is professed by the Deputies opposite has already broken down in advance of me receiving any proposal whatsoever regarding the Oscar Traynor Road development. What this Government will do in the budget that the Opposition voted against is use the single largest housing budget in the State's history, with €3.3 billion for housing and 12,750 new social, public homes to be delivered next year. The Opposition opposed it. We will carry on with the job of delivering homes for people and the Deputies opposite can carry on debating.

Fund the Oscar Traynor Road development. That is what the Minister could do.

Local Authority Housing

Jim O'Callaghan


45. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the retrofit works on Pearse House in Dublin 2 will commence. [38289/20]

The Minister of State will be aware of Pearse House. It is one of the largest flat complexes in the inner city and is located in my constituency. Pearse House is located in a fine area but it is in dire need of refurbishment and retrofitting. What are the plans in this regard?

The regular management, maintenance and improvement of local authority housing stock is a matter for each relevant local authority. The Department supports local authorities to improve their social housing stock through a range of funding programmes including energy retrofitting, regeneration and refurbishment works to vacant properties in order to return these to productive use as quickly as possible.

Dubllin City Council has a large stock of social housing and I understand that it has completed a strategic development audit of its 220 apartment complexes in order to develop a programme of works that will feed into its capital housing apartment complex regeneration programme for 2020 to 2040. Regarding Pearse House, I understand that the council is examining the options for improvement works, which includes a protected structure, and is engaged with local elected members to this end. Following this process, it is a matter for the council to bring forward proposals for works and to apply for funding under the relevant social housing programme depending on the nature and scope of works required.

I am absolutely committed to delivering on the programme for Government objectives and, in particular, to increasing the social housing stock by more than 50,000, as outlined by my colleague, with an emphasis on new builds and to progress a State-backed affordable home purchase scheme to promote home ownership. The Government has backed up these objectives in budget 2021, with €3.3 billion in total funding being made available for the delivery of housing programmes. The overall investment will see the social housing needs of over 28,500 households being met in 2021. This includes 12,750 new social homes to be delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes. While we work to deliver these new homes, particularly social and affordable, working with local authorities and other delivery partners, it is also important that councils maintain and upgrade their existing stock. The budget includes funding for both these approaches and we will work with the city council and other local authorities to that end.

I thank the Minister of State. I do not know if he is aware of Pearse House. It is a remarkable flat complex in the inner city, between Pearse Street and Hanover Street. There are 345 flats there. It was designed by Herbert Simms. It is a fantastic location but it is in dire need of refurbishment and retrofitting. Great people live in Pearse House but for the past 20 years they have had to put up with substandard accommodation. One significant problem in the flat complex is the significant dampness. That needs to be tackled through a major refurbishment project. I am aware that Dublin City Council announced in October that it was planning a major refurbishment and retrofitting project for Pearse House. It is important that the Department gets behind it. I was concerned by what was stated by Dublin City Council at the time. It indicated that it would take between 12 and 15 years to carry out the refurbishment work. That is far too long. The problems there need to be resolved immediately, especially the dampness. It is unfair to ask people to live in those conditions when we have given a commitment that we can fix it.

I wholeheartedly agree. The Deputy referred to the design of the flats by Dublin city architect Herbert Simms, which were built between 1936 and 1938. I am familiar with Pearse House. From a heritage perspective, these flat complexes throughout the city are vitally important. The Deputy rightly points out the issue of dampness. This is a significant public health problem, which causes respiratory problems for families. We hope to have that addressed. It is also important to the note the embodied energy in these buildings. From a climate action perspective, the greenest buildings that we have are the ones that are already built. We want to ensure that these apartments complexes throughout the city, with more than 220 apartment complexes under Dublin City Council, are brought up to a high level of thermal comfort for families. We recognise the importance of achieving that standard.

I note that the Minister of State refers to heritage, which is important, but, obviously, from the point of view of the residents of the flats, it is of secondary importance. The problem with the flats is that they were built in the 1930s, and many were built to a size that would not be acceptable today. For example, the one bedroom apartments are there are 37 sq. m to 39 sq. m, compared with the current minimum standard of 45 sq. m. Two bedroom residences are 49 sq. m to 56 sq. m, compared with the minimum standard now of 73 sq. m, and three bedroom apartments are approximately 62 sq. m, compared with the minimum standard now of 90 sq. m.

I have had the opportunity to speak with the Minister about the matter and I know he is committed to seeing this work through. In fairness, he has committed to a meeting which we will have in due course. For the residents in the flat complex, it is important that the Department sends out a message that it will not let Dublin City Council let this drift on for ten to 15 years. The people living in the flats need to see the work being done promptly. The dampness is not just a societal issue but a health issue. I ask the Minister of State to expedite it and ensure that works are done.

The Minister has committed to a meeting. Just to outline the works on Pearse House in the past 24 months, all roofs were repaired in 2018. Blocks A and C had their roofs upgraded in March 2019. Stairwells were repaired in 2019. A drainage survey of the entire complex was completed in 2018. There were repairs to the network system, and upgrades to the fire and domestic alarms and ventilation units, which relate to dampness, a matter the Deputy raised.

These are ongoing refurbishments and are part of a wider in-depth national regeneration programme that includes community development approaches of inclusion and of tackling the causes of disadvantage in these communities.

Homeless Persons Data

Eoin Ó Broin


46. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the action he is taking to deal with the rise in the number of deaths of persons who were accessing homeless services and or sleeping rough. [38309/20]

The Minister will be aware that I have raised this issue previously and I fully accept the seriousness with which he has been responding to it but since we last raised it, we have seen a number of very significant tragic deaths of people who were either rough sleeping or engaging the homeless services in Dublin, Galway and Cork. I have heard some very concerning figures, particularly from Galway and Cork, in the past number of months. Can the Minister update the House on his discussions with the homeless service providers and what additional actions intends to take to address this very tragic set of circumstances?

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue, which we also discussed six weeks ago. There have been, as he rightly said, a number of deaths recently of people who were either rough sleeping or accessing homeless services. Every death is a tragedy. I have already and will extend again my sympathy to their families, friends and to the service providers who get to know many of their clients very well. We all know that every single death hurts in that respect.

To better understand what is happening the DRHE, along with the HSE, have jointly commissioned a time-bound detailed review of all recent deaths in homeless services. It will be authored by Dr. Jo-Hanna Ivers, who is assistant professor in addiction at the department of public health and primary care in the school of medicine, Trinity College Dublin, who is a very eminent person with experience who has done work in Britain where she published an article in the British Medical Journal on the five year standardised mortality ratios in a cohort of homeless people in Dublin. We also need to understand what is behind this.

The week before last I visited a wonderful development on Haddington Road of an old 1820s house which has been refurbished into 18 single apartments. Pat Doyle, the chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust, explained it very well when he said that there are stories behind each of these deaths. He spoke of one gentleman who sadly passed away earlier this year who was a friend of Fr. McVerry himself. The trust had supported him for years and he died of cancer earlier this year. He passed away in his own place with his own key and with support all around him. He is included as a homeless death because he was accessing homeless services, and rightly so. It would be wrong, however, to believe that he and many others in those numbers are people who have died on the streets. Some have and that is not something that we want to see. We need to get a better picture of what is happening to see if there are any trends because there has been a marked increase. The work mentioned is a time-bound one which I will share with colleagues and with the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

I welcome the study because we have to have an informed and evidence-based approach to this. In many cases what we are seeing is the overlap of three sets of issues - homelessness, mental health and addiction - and the lack of adequate provision of those three services at the right time and place to meet the needs of individuals ,which in many cases, unfortunately, puts them at greater risk of tragic and unnecessary death. I have argued previously that we need to increase supports for mental health and addiction services and to press ahead with the programme for Government commitments on implementing Housing First, and on decongregating emergency accommodation. We need to introduce adult safeguarding reviews, as they have in Britain, to look back at where these deaths have occurred to see what lessons can be learned.

I take issue with one thing said by the Minister and this is said with the greatest respect because we need to have this conversation in a sensible way. It is not appropriate to include people who are in tenancies in the category that we are talking about and I am aware that other homeless services have expressed this view to the Minister. We are specifically talking about people who have either died while sleeping rough or while in emergency accommodation homeless services. That is an important distinction.

No one wants to categorise people within this. All I am saying is that I used the example of that gentleman and there are others, who are people who were accessing homeless services and counted in these terrible figures and shocking statistics. That is just to simply state a fact. I chair the north Dublin regional drugs and alcohol task force and I am aware of the need to increase funding. I see the work that is done through Housing First. Up to the end of September, 459 individuals were housed through Housing First and we have committed as a Government and have secured additional funding for budget 2021 to expand Housing First further. We discussed this at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage when I attended last week. That is something that we need to do and to also ensure that the mental health and addiction ancillary services are in place. Housing First is an excellent approach. We need to continue to expand that further and that is what we are going to do.

I again acknowledge the fact that the programme for Government has a commitment to increase this provision. The original Housing First strategy introduced by the previous Government only committed to approximately 600 Housing First tenancies up to next year. We need in the region of 3,000 to deal with the current number of individuals who need that particular support and that is where we need to get to. I press the point that it is not about categorising; it is about being evidence-based. We are talking about people who are in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough.

I understand that.

A person who has previously engaged with homeless services, and who has moved on to a stable tenancy, and, for example, as in a number of cases that have been quoted by the DRHE have died from other tragic causes need to be treated as a separate category because their vulnerability is very different. The Minister probably agrees with that point and I look forward to the report and to his engagement with the committee but we also need to see what additional interventions will be put in place so that we have a reduction next year in these very tragic and, in many cases, preventable and unnecessary deaths.

I call Deputy Cian O’Callaghan.

I welcome the review and the commitment that has been made to expand Housing First.

Will this review examine the changes that have been made in the past year or so in the increased use of private hostel operators who have been contracted to provide accommodation for people who have become homeless? These operators, in the main, do not provide support services with the accommodation. Is this aspect being examined in the review? Some private operators have rules in place, which do not allow chatting and other infringements of basic human rights. We also have reports of people who have been barred by some of these private hostel operators for minor infringements and have slept rough as a result. Is this review into tragic issue of homeless deaths considering the changes that have been made with the engagement of private operators?

We are still on the question raised by Deputy Ó Broin at the moment and I know that Deputy O’Callaghan has a question on that.

Deputy O’Callaghan came in on that question.

The Minister has a minute to conclude.

That is okay. I am just asking because the Deputy has a question on a particular issue, just a couple of questions down on the list.

Returning to Deputy Ó Broin’s point, we need to look at how these deaths are reported. I am going to do that and am giving a commitment here, as well as when the report is completed. The appropriate place for that is the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and this would be a good thing to do. I have not asked the professor herself but if the author of the report is willing and is invited by the committee when she has concluded the report, that again is an appropriate thing to do.

As to Deputy O’Callaghan’s question on private operators, I also mentioned this at the committee meeting when I was there, the DRHE is also carrying out spot inspections. They have done 126 of these since January. I am concerned about the couple of instances raised by the Deputy. If he is aware of specific hostels where these issues are arising, I ask that he bring these to my attention and not to delay in this as I know he will not. We will look into it immediately. There are standards that even private operators must follow and they are subject to full inspection, and rightly so.

Planning Issues

Thomas Gould


47. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the development of a site (details supplied). [37909/20]

Can the Minister give me an update on the development of the St. Kevin's site in Cork? As he will be aware, this strategic housing development has proposed the construction of 274 units, comprising of 46 houses and 228 apartments, but, unfortunately, arising from the consultation between an Bord Pleanála and the LDA, An Bord Pleanála has stopped the planned development and is waiting on further information on the development.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Deputy for the question.

The LDA was established on an interim basis in September 2018 by way of an establishment order made under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971 , pending the enactment of primary legislation when it will be established as a commercial State agency.

The LDA is currently working on a HSE-owned 14.5-acre site on the grounds of St. Kevin's Hospital, Cork. The agency has advised my Department that this site will deliver approximately 274 units. The project is currently in the pre-planning stage, with a strategic housing development pre-application consultation already completed with An Bord Pleanála. The LDA envisages that the strategic housing development planning application will be lodged for the site by the end of 2020.

As with all State bodies operating under the aegis of my Department, arrangements have been put in place by the agency whereby Oireachtas Members can request information directly from it regarding operational matters. In this regard, it may be contacted directly at oireachtas@lda.ie.

Once the planning application proceeds, we expect a decision to be made by An Bord Pleanála within a 16-week period. This will be a significant project for the LDA because we note the agency will be a huge arm of the State in the delivery of low-cost, affordable quality homes for citizens. The site, along with the other nine currently in the ownership of the agency, is part of the proposal to deliver 4,000 quality homes, which are very important to our citizens.

I welcome that there will be an announcement before the end of the year but unfortunately I have listened to Minister after Minister responsible for housing talk about this development and do nothing. In 2002, the facility was closed down. For 18 years, it has lain idle. We have had Fianna Fáil in government, Fine Gael in government and a mixture, yet nothing has been done. I welcome the announcement but in 2013, seven years ago, I sought to have the site developed. On a number of occasions, I went to Cork City Council seeking a partnership with the likes of Cork Institute of Technology, UCC and homelessness services to have a sustainable site but nothing happened. The first Minister I went to was Mr. Phil Hogan, and I also approached Deputies Coveney and Eoghan Murphy. I raised it with everyone. We need the site developed. The Government and HSE spent hundreds of thousands of euro protecting it with security firms but, in 2017, it was burned to the ground.

I note that the Deputy has other proposals for the site but it is important to state our aim and primary focus is to deliver the 2,074 quality affordable housing units on it. We can only be accountable for what is under our jurisdiction in the Department. I have advised the Deputy that the planning application is expected to be lodged by the end of this year. There is a lead time of 16 weeks from that date for the planning application to go through its verification process. We expect the units to be delivered. It is one of the primary sites under the control of the LDA to deliver high-quality homes for our citizens. As I pointed out, the LDA, as a significant State agency, has a unique opportunity to deliver the homes on the nine sites under its control, one of which is in my constituency - a very significant site at Columb Barracks. We look forward to developing them to ensure we have high-quality, cost-rental affordable homes for our citizens.

As I stated, I welcome the announcement. Can the Minister of State give me a timeline for the delivery of the houses and apartments? I was a councillor on Cork City Council for 11 years fighting to get this site developed. I welcome the proposal but what I am looking for now are definite timelines. If the work starts in 2021, when will it be completed? We have been waiting for far too long. There are thousands of families on the housing lists of Cork city and county councils. The site overlooks the River Lee and the Mardyke. It is one of the most picturesque sites overlooking the Lee Valley. It would be brilliant to have a development there. Unfortunately, St. Kevin's was a mental health institution where some tragedies happened. Any development should remember this and the victims.

I fully appreciate that many of these sites, no more than the one in my constituency, have a significant emotional history attached to them. I am sure the LDA will liaise with the local authority in respect of that.

With regard to the application, I have given the Deputy a clear timeline, referring to the end of the year. Once the application is submitted, there will be a 16-week verification process.

With regard to building housing, the LDA has progressed immediately with planning on its sites before even being put on a primary statutory footing. It was key for it to get on with business once established. The Minister and I have a revised Bill, which we will publish shortly, in connection with this. We are in the business of trying to deliver high-quality, affordable homes for citizens. That is our core determination in the Department.

Local Authority Housing

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


48. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if consideration has been given to increasing the income threshold for applicants to qualify for inclusion on local authority housing lists. [38314/20]

Brendan Smith


64. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will ensure that the review of income eligibility limits for social housing is finalised and published without further delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38279/20]

Denise Mitchell


95. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the review of the income eligibility limits for social housing. [38476/20]

Question No. 48 is to try to encourage the Minister to lift the ridiculous income eligibility threshold for applicants so they may qualify for inclusion on the local authority's housing list.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48, 64 and 95 together.

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended. The 2011 regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy. The 2011 regulations do not provide local authorities with any discretion to exceed the limits that apply to their administrative areas.

Under the household means policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, universal social charge and pension-related deductions within the meaning of Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. The policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short term or once-off in nature.

The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single-person household, with an allowance of 5% for each additional adult household member, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%, and 2.5% for each child, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources. However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is under way. The review will have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

There is no logic to the current income level because it is set so low that it excludes tens of thousands, particularly young couples. A working couple with an income of, say, €38,500 would not get any mortgage. They would not even be able to afford rent in this city or any of the surrounding counties. There needs to be a proper examination of the criteria so there will be a realistic income level. I am not suggesting we should increase it in such a way as to have an open-ended system. I understand the housing system is designed to facilitate those most in need but many of the couples, because they cannot afford to rent or afford a mortgage, are now stuck at home with their parents or siblings in overcrowded accommodation. That has led to a loss of jobs, suicides and other problems.

It needs to be addressed and it should have been addressed before now.

It is clear that the guidelines and income limits we have at the moment are totally outdated. I was promised that a review would be completed and carried out and that income limits would be improved. This was back when the Ministers with responsibility for housing were Deputy Coveney and, subsequently, Deputy Eoghan Murphy and the relevant Minister of State was Deputy English.

I have cited cases in the House previously involving a one-parent family with the mother working in a part-time low-paid job and getting the family income supplement. Such a mother with two or three children is unable to get on the council housing list. That is wrong because that person has no chance of getting a loan. Even if she did get a loan, she could not sustain or service it.

There is a cohort of people who are working, oftentimes in low-paid jobs, unfortunately, in difficult circumstances. These are often from one-parent families and they are dependent on the family income supplement. By definition, their income is not sustainable from their employment. They are expected to house themselves without State assistance or without getting on the local authority list. This review needs to be finalised and we need a big improvement in the income limits. This needs to be addressed as early as possible. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to make progress on this.

It has already been said that we have outdated income levels. We need this review. We need to ensure we have reasonable income levels. We have people who are caught in the middle and they are suffering. We need affordable cost-rental, affordable mortgages and council houses.

We need to take into account not only income levels but also that people have increased costs. I am talking about people who may have children with serious mobility issues or a disability. I have in mind one particular issue that has come to my attention lately in Dundalk. We are not exactly sure how we are going to deal with it. I also know of many cases involving people who spend eight, nine or ten years on the housing list. At the last moment they may get a small increase in wages and then miss out on having a council house on that basis. They cannot afford a mortgage by any stretch of the imagination.

I fully accept the well-made points of each of the three Deputies who have highlighted their concerns in this area. We all face these issues at our clinics every week. They involve people who are on the margins. We see people missing out on the housing list because of income that potentially should be disregarded. That can be most frustrating.

I wish to set out the position of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has secured a 24% increase in the capital budget. This will give more options in terms of different channels. We can direct people to the affordable purchase scheme and the cost rental equity scheme. We have asked the Housing Agency to assess these two schemes on the back of the review that has been done to increase the income limits. The processes need to go together. We expect to publish the review early next year. We expect a significant number of options for people. A total of €110 million is ring-fenced for affordable measures. That is concrete and definite for next year. Obviously, we will then assess what more can be done to ensure people get secure accommodation, because that is the will of everyone in the House.

I acknowledge what the Minister of State has said but that will not provide the additional supports for those who are waiting to get on the list. The average rent in Dublin at present is over €2,000. For families who are on approximately €40,000 or €45,000 per year, that means two weeks' wages or more. The minimum income required for the average priced house in Dublin is over €100,000 and the average house price is over €400,000. There is no hope for them. That is the way they see it. They are cut off from all those options and they are also cut off from social housing in any shape or form. I call on the Minister of State to accelerate the delivery of affordable houses and affordable rental with faster provision than is the case at the moment.

I welcome the remarks of the Minister of State. In his initial response he spoke about sustainable communities. Thankfully, over many decades we had local authority policies that worked well with local authority housing and a mix of households. We will not have sustainable communities if we do not improve the income limits. We will only have people who are on low incomes, especially those dependent solely on the State for income if we do not improve the income limits. The counties I represent, Cavan and Monaghan, are in the lowest tier in respect of the bands referred to by the Minister of State.

If there is no change soon, we will condemn a generation to renting for life. No one in this House wants to see that. People are entitled to be able to aspire to own their own home whether through the local authority or through a mortgage or loan of their own. We need action on this.

Again, I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. I know both are highly committed to making progress in this area. We need progress as rapidly as possible or we are condemning more and more people to rent for life.

Deputy Ó Murchú has got in under Deputy Mitchell. That is why he is in again.

I am somewhat surprised and glad. It is much appreciated.

It has already been said that there are eligibility issues. The income levels simply do not cut it. In fairness, it has been said in the House that people may find themselves in situations where the family income supplement or something else puts them a little above the criteria. We need to have some element of flexibility. I have spoken about the situation that some people find themselves in. Combined with low incomes that may be a little over the threshold, some families may also have considerable outgoings. This may be down to the fact of children with additional needs. That needs to be taken into account.

To add to what Deputy Brendan Smith has said on creating a situation whereby mixed developments are not necessarily going to happen, I suggest this will force an issue that has happened in many cases in which people choose not to take up a job or employment to ensure they can afford to pay the rent by being able to access the housing assistance payment.

I thank the Deputies for their well-made points. The sole focus of this Department is to ensure that we provide secure accommodation that all our citizens can access equally.

We should always instil hope in people because there is hope. People who are on the margins can take consolation from the significant budget we have secured for the Department for 2021. As I have said, the Housing Agency is assessing all of this based on the new cost rental and affordable schemes due to be published shortly and the income eligibility review. On that basis, the agency will be able to ascertain what income can be disregarded in terms of various social welfare payments.

I fully accept the frustration expressed by Deputies that this review has been going on a while. However, we have moved considerably in the Department in recent months in terms of the new measures that have been brought in to ensure affordability. This has been put to the forefront of the Department. We also have to assess the review on that basis. It will be early next year. I can assure the House of that.

Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund

Bernard Durkan


49. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to outline the extent to which allocations under the heading of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, have been made for specific works in each local authority area; the extent to which such progress has been completed or progressed and if any are outstanding; his plans to allocate further funding in this area to meet exigencies that have arisen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38276/20]

We have three minutes left. Deputy Durkan may wish to skip the 30-second introduction.

I wish to comment apropos of the current discussion relating to housing. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, was a means of providing the infrastructure to facilitate local authority housing. I hope my question will come in tabular form. I trust it will set out, along with the Minister's view, what has happened so far, what is still outstanding and why it has not been completed.

The local infrastructure housing activation fund was designed to support housing supply by relieving critical infrastructure blockages. A total of 30 projects were approved with an overall budget of €195.7 million while €146.8 million was Exchequer funded and the remainder was funded by local authorities. Full details of the approvals are available on the Rebuilding Ireland website. The relevant website link is www.rebuildingireland.ie/LIHAF.

Of the 30 projects, two projects will not proceed. Kildare County Council has confirmed that the Naas inner relief road will not progress and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has confirmed that the Clay Farm project will now not proceed.

Currently, five LIHAF projects have completed infrastructure construction. Up to the end of October, a total of 12 projects were at infrastructure construction stage or had been approved to move to same. Of the remaining 11 projects, one is expected to have a tender approved in the fourth quarter of 2020 and to go to construction in the first quarter of 2021. A total of ten projects are not yet ready to go to infrastructure tender stage, a precursor to receive approval to proceed to construction.

My Department keeps all projects under review with the local authority. All funding under LIHAF is now fully committed and there are no proposals to make further allocations. The serviced sites fund of €310 million is now available to local authorities for facilitating infrastructure on their lands to support their delivery of affordable housing.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. In relation to the schemes that have been approved and the moneys that have been spent, to what extent has local authority house building or house building to meet the requirements of the local population been advanced?

In Naas in my constituency, a dispute arose in relation to the works concerned, which has resulted in a stalemate. What action is being taken to ensure that the alternative works proposed and supported by the local people, which are totally reasonable, can be advanced at this stage?

We can examine that within the Department and revert back to the Deputy. Of the five LIHAF projects at the end of October, Sallins in County Kildare is one that has been progressed, so there is good news. In terms of the sticking points, we will get back to the Deputy on the site in question.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 9.12 p.m. and resumed at 9.30 p.m.