Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Real Estate Investment Trusts

Eoin Ó Broin


1. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to attend the proposed investor roadshows to attract large institutional investors into the Irish residential market; the number of these roadshows that are planned; the location and when they will take place; and the sort of investors he plans to meet if new incentives are being offered to these funds. [55415/21]

The Minister might help us clear up some confusion the Taoiseach has caused in recent days. Will he confirm that on foot of engagement from his Department, the Department of Finance is to organise a roadshow for institutional investors in the residential property market, including so-called cuckoo funds, to "reassure" those investors, in the words of the Department of Finance, following moves introduced by the Government to try to reduce the level of bulk-buying of family homes by such funds earlier this year?

This question demonstrates Sinn Féin's priorities in housing. It gets two priority questions every six weeks, and it did not ask about rent, homelessness, affordable housing or building capacity in the construction sector but has raised this non-issue. It has done so, and deems it as important, because it wants to create a controversy and sow discontent. It wants to put its own sinister, disingenuous slant on this. The tactic is reprehensible. I watched the party leader earlier in the week and the attitude she had on this, trying to create this issue that does not exist. It is dishonest and the Deputy knows it is.

That is irrelevant, however. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The Deputy should be better than this. He should be honest with people. He has a responsibility as a Deputy and legislator but his priority is to raise a non-issue to create a controversy. As he knows, I have no plans to attend any of the proposed events he referenced. The action in Housing for All relates to ensuring there is investment in the Irish property market. Ironically, the Deputy's party leader said Ireland should be open for investment. What does he want? We are investing €4 billion a year through Housing for All, which is €1.2 billion more than the Deputy's party proposed in its 12-page submission to the strategy. Where will the rest of the capital come from?

I have no plans to attend any such proposed events. Perhaps we can get onto some real issues.

I am quite confused. When the Minister was in opposition, he was very vocal, and rightly so, about the impact of certain categories of investors, which he called cuckoo funds, and the impact they were having on the affordability crisis. This question is about affordability because the Government continues to pursue the same policies as the previous Government, incentivising the wrong kinds of investors into the residential property market, to buy up homes - not build them - from under the noses of buyers. Given the excessive tax breaks they get from the Government, they are able to outbid not only buyers but approved housing bodies, local authorities and others. Sinn Féin is doing nothing other than reporting on a memo secured under freedom of information by Craig Hughes from the Mail on Sunday, in which the Department of Finance stated these investors, investors the Minister called cuckoo funds, were spooked and that the Minister needed to engage with them to reassure them Ireland is open for business.

Perhaps he will treat the question with the same seriousness with which he addressed this issue when he was in opposition, or perhaps it is another one of the commitments he has abandoned now that he has become Minister.

I am very serious about the housing crisis and the challenges this country faces, about the people on our social housing waiting list and about the 8,475 people who do not have a home or are homeless. The Government has a plan with 213 actions to tackle it. We have introduced the Affordable Housing Act, which Sinn Féin supported even though it criticised it throughout its passage, and a reformed Land Development Agency to build on State land to increase supply, which is what we need to do, but Sinn Féin voted against that. In the case of most other legislation we have introduced as a Government, while Sinn Féin has criticised it, it has ended up supporting it.

The Deputy proposes non-ideas. This is a non-issue and he knows it. This is what he deems to be a priority. This is Sinn Féin's priority. Once every six weeks, it gets to ask two priority questions, and the Deputy is raising an issue to try to stir up a controversy that does not exist. I reiterate there are no plans such as those he suggested.

It is clear the Minister has absolutely changed his position now that he is in office compared with when he was in opposition. When he was in opposition, he rightly highlighted the distorting impact of certain categories of investors, which he called cuckoo funds, on people's ability to buy homes. The mealy-mouthed measure the Minister introduced earlier this year, of a mere 8% increase in stamp duty, will do nothing to stop this category of investor bulk-buying at inflated prices homes that should be bought either by working people and families or by approved housing bodies and local authorities for social and affordable homes.

Again, the origin of this story is a memo from the Department of Finance at the request of officials from the Minister's Department to set up a roadshow to reassure these same investors. That he cannot just honestly admit there was a proposal to do that, and that he is now saying he will not attend such events because he is fearful of the political backlash, shows he is not serious about tackling an issue he claims he was serious about in opposition. It is time to stop these funds buying up homes from working families, something he promised but has failed to do.

We are making the largest intervention any government or the State has ever made in housing in Housing for All, a fully financed, multi-annual plan, backed by more than €20 billion, more than Sinn Féin sought. We have banned bulk-buying of family homes and duplexes. Just this week, we introduced an owner-occupier guarantee, which will come forward in the large-scale residential development, LSRD, Bill, which I assume the Deputy will support. An Bord Pleanála, in the conditions of two recent decisions on planning permission, has underpinned what the Government did and has restricted the sale of any of those properties to more than one individual.

They are the facts, but they do not matter to the Deputy because what he wants is a video clip for social media. He continues to want to try to create a story and issue that does not exist. Is Ireland is open for investment, in Sinn Féin's view? Does it want investment? We need investment of about €20 billion, or €12 billion a year, in housing. Is Sinn Féin going to provide all of that?

Local Authorities

Michael Lowry


2. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of social housing units to be completed by Tipperary County Council by the end of 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55465/21]

How many social housing units are to be completed by Tipperary County Council by the end of 2022? Will the Minister make a general statement on housing in Tipperary and rural Ireland?

I thank the Deputy for the question. He will be aware that Housing for All is our Government’s plan to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 units per year over the next decade. This target includes the delivery of about 90,000 new social homes and just short of 54,000 new affordable homes from 2022 to 2030. As I mentioned, Housing for All is supported by an investment package of more than €4 billion each year, through an overall combination of €12 billion in direct Exchequer funding, €3.5 billion through the Land Development Agency, LDA, and €5 billion through the Housing Finance Agency, HFA. Under our plan, we will deliver 47,600 new build social homes from 2022 to 2026.

We are setting individual targets now for the delivery of social housing and they have been provided to each local authority under the Housing for All plan. I have asked the local authorities in Tipperary and elsewhere to develop housing delivery action plans and those plans must be submitted to me, the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Burke, and the Department by December 2021. These plans will set out details on how and when local authorities will deliver their housing targets. Turning to Tipperary specifically, the county council there has been issued a target to deliver 887 new build social homes between 2022 and 2026. This includes a target for 2022 of 230 new builds. We will also allow a small amount of acquisition in that space, but those 230 homes are new builds.

Details on social housing delivery for each local authority are included in the social housing statistics published quarterly by my Department. We want to have transparency in this endeavour for elected representatives, including Deputies and councillors. The social housing construction status report, which is also published quarterly by my Department, will include scheme-level detail on social housing building activity. Therefore, we have provided the finance, we now have the target and we await the housing delivery plans from Tipperary County Council to arrive before the end of December.

The housing department of Tipperary County Council is progressive and organised and it does a pretty good job in delivering social and affordable housing. However, it must be noted that due to a lack of building over the years and because of changes in policy, we have a problem in Tipperary regarding the availability of social housing. When many people read about housing issues, they think the problem is a city issue and a Dublin issue, but it is not. It is also an issue in rural Ireland. In my constituency of Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir, for instance, has 353 approved applicants with no houses. Tipperary town, Cahir and Cashel have 862 applicants with no possibility of getting houses in the short term. Clonmel has 662 approved applicants for housing, while Nenagh has 757 and Templemore has 954. Overall, we have a total of 3,588 people living in substandard housing conditions and we are told that 230 houses will be available in the next year, so there is a massive shortfall.

The Deputy is correct that there are challenges in this area, including in building up resources in local authorities. I agree with the Deputy completely that the challenges we face in housing are not just urban-centric, they exist all across the country in urban and rural areas. Our job as a Government and my job as the Minister is to support local authorities to enable them to deliver in this regard. We are providing the human resources for county councils, like the one in Tipperary, to enable them to create their own housing delivery teams and we will provide those posts for them.

We must build that capacity up. The target for next year of 230 new build homes will stretch some local authorities, but it is achievable. In the short term to 2026, delivering just short of 900 new social homes will make a significant impact. We have gone through those targets individually with each local authority, including with Tipperary County Council. We will provide whatever support is needed to help the local authority to meet those targets and to make real strides in reducing the housing waiting list in Tipperary.

On a related matter on the subject of housing, the Minister will be aware that technological universities can borrow money from the Housing Finance Agency, under the auspices of the Housing for All plan, to allow them to construct purpose-built student accommodation. St. Patrick’s College in Thurles is a campus of Mary Immaculate College, MIC, and it trains teachers. The college has a development and expansion plan, and it has been a successful venture for everybody, including for the economy of Thurles. I contacted the Minister, as well as the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris. Can he tell me if there has been any progress in determining how we can fund the development of this accommodation on the campus of St. Patrick’s College in Thurles?

I am familiar with the proposal from St. Patrick’s College in Thurles. On Tuesday of this week, I had a bilateral meeting with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, to discuss several issues around student accommodation. Included in those discussions was the issue of how we might be able to assist in providing accommodation on the campus of St. Patrick’s College in Thurles. We met with senior officials and representatives from the area and we are progressing this project. I have asked the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to engage directly with the Housing Finance Agency in this regard. As the Deputy rightly said, we have a commitment to allow technological universities to borrow money for the construction of accommodation. A small bit of legal work is being done on that aspect to bring it to conclusion and that will be completed by the end of the year. The initial view is that St. Patrick’s College in Thurles could very well be able to access funds from the HFA now, and I will ask the representatives of the technological university to engage directly with officials of the HFA. We will be there to assist in any way we can, because there is a unique opportunity in Thurles to provide a significant amount of student accommodation in a short time. Everyone would welcome that, so we will do everything we can to help.

Planning Issues

Eoin Ó Broin


3. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department will initiate a review of An Bord Pleanála in view of the recent High Court decisions against An Bord Pleanála with respect to the docklands strategic development zone to ensure its future decisions are consistent with the principles of good policymaking and democratic planning. [55416/21]

As the Minister of State is aware, Dublin City Council, DCC, sought to amend the docklands strategic development zone, SDZ, two years ago to increase building heights and residential and commercial densities in that part of the city. After deliberating on the proposal for two years, An Bord Pleanála rejected the proposal, but that has been struck down in a recent High Court decision. While I am not asking the Minister to talk about any individual planning application or court decision, because he is prohibited from doing so, the recent High Court decision is the latest in a series of decisions that have found An Bord Pleanála at variance with planning law in respect of strategic development zones and strategic housing developments, SHDs. Is the Minister of State concerned about this trend and will he consider a review of An Bord Pleanála decisions to ensure that they are consistent with good policymaking?

I thank the Deputy for his question. I wish to explain from the outset that under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, I am specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of any particular case in which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may be concerned.

Sections 50, 50A and 50B of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, codified a statutory right of judicial review of any decision of An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála takes full cognisance of any settled legal adjudication in respect of its decisions and seeks to apply any principles arising from such adjudication to its application of its statutory decision-making role. Section 3.2.4 of Housing for All - A New Housing Plan for Ireland sets out several objectives with the aim of improving the functioning of the planning system, including a comprehensive review and consolidation of planning legislation. The review will also include a fitness check and upgrade of relevant provisions of planning law to ensure that it is more accessible and streamlined from a legal perspective. The review, which is being led by the Attorney General, is due to be finalised by September 2022 to allow updated legislation to be enacted by December 2022.

A review of An Bord Pleanála was undertaken by an expert panel and published in March 2016, as the Deputy may be aware. An implementation group, with representation from the Department and An Bord Pleanála, was established to oversee the implementation of the review's recommendations. The review contained 101 recommendations concerning legislative provisions and a review of those 101 recommendations is under way in respect of the proposals we are considering in that context.

That response was interesting, but it did not deal with the central point that I asked the Minister of State to address. I will repeat it, therefore, but I will also give some more context. We have now had three, if not four, High Court judgments where decisions made by An Bord Pleanála on planning applications for material alterations to the docklands SDZ have been struck down. We have also had a growing number of conflicts between local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in the context of its decisions on strategic housing developments. In fact, of the 89 SHDs that have been granted, almost half have been opposed by the planning authorities.

That is an important fact. Dublin City Council has opposed almost 25% of the 29 approved strategic housing developments, SHDs, in its jurisdiction. Almost half have been opposed by South Dublin County Council in its area. Exactly half have been opposed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The planning authorities in Fingal, Meath and Cork have taken views at strict variance with the board. Given the growing conflict between the High Court and the board and between local authorities and the board, surely this is something the Minister should be looking at now, not putting off for a year or more until the review of the Attorney General is published.

As I clearly outlined, there was a review in 2016. The recommendations on foot of that review are now being examined as to their implementation subsequent to that. My Department has an oversight agreement with An Bord Pleanála where vital issues and concerns are raised on an ongoing basis. The Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, has statutory functions to conduct reviews in this area. The powers and armoury are there and are being acted on, as I referenced in terms of the implementation group, the oversight agreement with the Department and in connection with the OPR.

More issues relating to the case will be coming at the end of November so I want to be very careful about issues that are before the courts. All these issues are taken into account. I wish to reaffirm the board's independence. That point is important in the context of this debate.

Again, the Minister of State's answer was very interesting but it did not address the question. I am not asking about the implementation of the 101 recommendations of the 2016 review, nor am I asking about the more comprehensive review of the planning system by the Attorney General. I am asking about a specific trend. In fact, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, raised similar concerns in the context of a court case between Dublin City Council and the board. It is not credible to have six or seven local authorities in constant conflict with the board, and the board losing a string of High Court decisions. I am not asking the Minister of State to comment on the court decisions or the individual planning applications. A trend has emerged recently as a direct result of the strategic housing development, SHD, policy, which, thankfully, the Minister is scrapping, albeit he is taking far too long to do so. At the centre of this is the section 28 mandatory ministerial guidelines for building heights and substandard apartment design standards, which will continue even after the SHD process expires. I am asking the Minister of State to give a commitment to using the oversight body he just mentioned to raise this recent trend as a matter of urgency with the board to try to have the matter addressed.

I just made clear that we are actively doing that, through the oversight agreement in the first instance, and the other two mechanisms I outlined. Some 27,000 planning permissions are granted in this State per annum, 10% of which go to appeal. The process is working as prescribed. There are instances, such as those the Deputy has outlined, of concern and we are actively engaging on those issues. The Minister and I are working on the judicial reform Bill, another key piece of legislation which will improve the functioning of the planning system and ensure it is delivering key capital projects that this Government is putting finance behind. All of this is being worked on actively. I assure the Deputy we are keeping a watching brief and acting on any points of concern within the planning code. The review that is ongoing with the Attorney General's office will be most comprehensive to ensure that the planning code is fit for purpose and passes stress tests to ensure it is delivering for society.

Derelict Sites

Eoin Ó Broin


5. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the support his Department is providing to local authorities in the collection of derelict site levies in view of the fact that less than 3% of possible revenue was collected in 2020 nationally. [55417/21]

What support is the Department providing to local authorities for the collection of derelict site levies in view of the fact that less than 3% of possible levies was collected in 2020?

The Derelict Sites Act 1990 confers significant powers on local authorities to tackle the problem of dereliction in our towns and cities. The application of the derelict sites levy is only one of those powers which also include requiring owners or occupiers to take appropriate measures on derelict sites and acquiring derelict sites by agreement or compulsorily. It is a matter for the local authority to determine the most appropriate use of the legislation within their respective functional areas. Addressing vacancy and maximising the use of existing housing stock is a primary concern for this Government, as demonstrated by the fact that one of our four pathways is dedicated solely to this priority area in the new Housing for All strategy. Work is under way in the Department of Finance, through the current local property tax returns, to assess the present vacancy situation and once collated and analysed, this data will contribute to a number of the policy initiatives outlined in Housing for All, including a new local authority-led programme to help local authorities buy or compulsorily purchase 2,500 vacant homes in their areas which can then be sold on the open market and will ensure homes do not lie vacant; reform of the fair deal scheme to remove disincentives to selling or renting unused homes; the Croí Cónaithe fund, which will be delivered by local authorities for the provision of service sites for housing to attract people to build their own homes and support the refurbishment of vacant properties, enabling people to live in small towns and villages in a sustainable way; and our new towns first policy, which will include approaches to utilising stock and new financial incentives. These measures are in addition to the vacant property tax consideration being pursued by the Department of Finance. The Department intends to engage with the local authorities in a proactive way and continue to do so and to ensure effective enforcement of the provisions of this legislation. It also intends to carry out a review of the Act, which has been improving its effectiveness since 1990.

There was potential to collect €12.5 million in levies last year but instead, only €378,763 was collected. That figure was released to me in a reply to a parliamentary question. It is disappointing. In fact, it is a scandal and it is happening under this Minister's watch. All across this State, potential homes are being left to rot every day. That is clearly a Government problem. Not one single local authority has collected the full levy, with the majority collecting nothing at all. This is not a case of local authorities dropping the ball. It is a case of systematic underfunding and a failure to support local authorities. The most powerful tool local authorities have for returning derelict houses to the housing stock is the derelict sites levy. Some 30 local authorities did not impose any such levy and 21 local authorities did not collect a cent.

It is definitely not for the want of support form central Government to local authorities. That can be proved with evidence. If one is to critically evaluate the network, one should look at Waterford. Almost 55% of Waterford's repair and leasing scheme has been utilised. That is delivering properties on the ground. I was there to see it first-hand. One should look at how compulsory purchase orders are used in Louth to deliver local properties that were derelict back into use. There is €50,000 available from the Department and every local authority will be required to have a full-time vacant homes officer by the end of the year. Many of those officers are currently working part time, notwithstanding the fact that the Department gives €50,000 per annum towards a salary for a vacant homes officer. Only three local authorities employ a vacant homes officer on a full-time basis. We are going to be strictly monitoring that situation. Some €12 million will be available next year for the repair and leasing scheme. That money will be used right across the local authority network. The Department of Finance will be applying the vacant homes tax. We are getting the data for that initiative through the property tax re-evaluation this November.

I am not sure if the Minister of State understands the question. He started talking about the vacant homes officer but I am talking about derelict sites, which is a different matter. Thousands of derelict sites and buildings around the State are being left to rot. COP26 is going on at the moment and the most sustainable way of reducing our carbon footprint is to repair and retrofit houses that already exist. It is a win for everyone. It is a win for local authorities because housing stock can be turned around more quickly. More importantly, it is a victory for people who need homes and we protect the environment at the same time. There are now 100 derelict sites within the Cork City Council area. Frank O'Connor and Jude Sherry did a survey and identified 400 derelict sites across each local authority in Cork.

This is the case in every local authority area. Scandalously, the Minister of State and his Department allowed landlords to get away with derelict sites that are destroying communities.

I know exactly what I am talking about. I have been in Waterford, as I alluded to-----

That is the agency-----

Let me finish. I saw derelict sites being brought into use through the utilisation of schemes of the Department. I ask the Deputy to engage with his local authority to ask it what it is doing regarding the 400 houses he mentioned. The support exists in the Department to bring them back into use. I ask the Deputy to take up the question of why they are not being brought back into use.

The Law Reform Commission is continuing to review the CPO process. On a larger point, on the Croí Cónaithe fund, our towns-first policy, we are unlocking the potential of cities and towns and bringing derelict and vacant properties back into use through sustainable tenancies. The Government is singularly focused on trying to offer the opportunity to have a sustainable tenancy to all citizens.

Wind Energy Generation

Carol Nolan


4. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if it will be ensured that the revised wind energy development guidelines will prioritise community consultation and address householder concerns about noise and flicker levels; when he expects the revised guidelines to be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55282/21]

I am returning to Priority Question No. 4, in the name of Carol Nolan.

Go raibh maith agat. Tá brón orm mar bhí mé píosa meascaithe suas.

I wish to raise the issue of the revised wind farm guidelines. We need to make sure that communities’ rights are respected and upheld, and also that there is balance in representing the rights of communities. It should not be all one-way traffic. The revised guidelines have been promised for years, but we do need to prioritise community consultation and address householder concerns on noise and flicker levels. When will the guidelines be published? Could the Minister of State give me a specific timeline because the matter has been kicked down the road for too long?

My Department is currently undertaking a focused review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines. The review is addressing several key aspects, including noise, setback, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividends and grid connections.

Guidance on the noise aspect is currently being finalised by my Department in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, which has primary responsibility for environmental noise matters. Significant work has been undertaken on the noise elements and the two Departments recently met to discuss new developments in this regard, including consideration of the impact of the revised 2030 target to generate up to 80% of our electricity from renewable sources and the need to ensure proposals regarding the measurement and assessment of noise from wind turbines are fit for purpose. These aspects are currently being considered by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and further engagement between the Departments is expected imminently. Following this interdepartmental engagement, I will be in a better position to provide an update on the expected publication date of the revised guidelines, the finalisation of which remains a priority for the Department.

It should also be noted that the review and finalisation of the guidelines have been included as a specific action in the recently published Climate Action Plan.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. When will the interdepartmental engagement come to an end? Have we a timeframe and timeline? For years we have been waiting for revised guidelines to address the concerns of communities that have legitimate fears over noise and shadow flicker. There is great concern. In Lemanaghan, County Offaly, which is in my constituency and where there is a proposal for a wind farm, there have been 2,300 submissions from residents. It is just one small area but it indicates the extent of the issue. We need to ensure, as legislators, that there is balance and fairness and that the rights of all communities are upheld. The respectful and right thing to do is to give people a timeline and a guideline, in addition to a date as to when the guidelines will be published, rather than an indefinite answer to the effect that publication will be whenever engagement finishes or otherwise. Let us give the people some certainty and a date.

I thank Deputy Nolan for her supplementary question. In the first instance, I would love to give an exact date, but unfortunately I cannot because I do not have one. The Deputy referred to public consultation. There were 500 submissions in the round of public consultation to bring about the draft guidelines. Some are very technical in respect of noise and they are being assessed on a bilateral basis with the Department of the Environment, Climate Action and Communications.

With regard to publishing the finalised version, if there is a significant revision of the guidelines, another strategic environmental assessment may be required. That is a distinct possibility. We are engaging proactively to try to resolve this. It is very technical. I, being from a rural community, know exactly what the Deputy referred to because it has been a significant issue in my county also. We need to strike a fair balance for residents and ensure, on the other hand, that we can meet our renewable energy targets.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I would appreciate it if he could come back with a direct and definite answer on the interdepartmental engagement. The Minister of State mentioned that step in the process. I would like to know when it will finish so I can inform my constituents what is happening and give them some idea of the position on both the process and dates. The affected communities are experiencing genuine difficulty at pre-planning stage, on which stage the objections of local communities are routinely ignored. There seems to be a charade of compliance and meaningful consultation but, really and truly, communities are not falling for this. They need certainty and definite and strong protections.

Wind energy developers say they have been committed to implementing the current code of practice, which emphasises full and transparent engagement with local communities. This, however, is not the experience of many communities, which feel powerless in the face of the commercial power of the companies. Therefore, there has to be an urgent approach to producing the draft guidelines. What has been happening has been going on for years, and it must not go on any longer.

I am absolutely aware of the urgency. The position was the same when I entered the Department. I have brought a sense of urgency to this matter also but, unfortunately, it is beyond our control. I say that genuinely because, in addition to there being another Department involved, there is the difficulty that we may require another strategic environmental assessment given the technicality of the noise measurements. That is going to take a significant period if it is required. As soon as I have an update – it was only last week that we had a meeting about this in the Department – I will revert to the Deputy in writing. I understand her concerns, however. They are genuine. I hear about them in my community also.