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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 25 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 6

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Rental Sector

Eoin Ó Broin


62. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the action he plans to take to slow down the disorderly exit of accidental and semi-professional landlords from the private rented sector and its impact on rising levels of homelessness. [3576/22]

As the Minister knows, since 2017 there has been a net loss of 20,000 rental tenancies from the private rental sector. That equates to about 7,000 a year up to 2020. We do not have data from the Residential Tenancies Board for last year but the expectation is that the rate will continue. Given this loss of rental properties is one of the many factors contributing to the crisis in the private rental sector and is driving the recent upsurge in homelessness, will the Minister outline his plan to stop this disorderly exit of accidental and semi-professional landlords from the market?

The Deputy has rightly highlighted the ongoing issue of the exiting of many mom-and-pop landlords from the housing market. It is not a recent event but has continued for the past number of years. As he will know, the property rights of owners are protected under the Constitution and landlords need to be in a position to manage their property to suit their financial needs as they change with their particular life circumstances. Covid-19 has badly affected some landlords, and financial pressures may have forced them to sell a rental property. Some of the evidence we have indicates that this is the case, particularly with the rising values of house prices.

The exiting of landlords from the private rental sector is a consequence of multiple factors. A changing regulatory environment, which has been necessary to ensure a fair and effective residential rental sector that balances tenants' rights and landlords' responsibilities, has resulted in a challenging compliance framework for some. Covid-related protections were also necessary but they may have contributed to the decision of some to leave the sector. In other cases, the recent rise in house prices has enabled some landlords to take the opportunity to exit negative equity. As a consequence, many have taken the opportunity to unwind their investment.

The most effective way to assist renters in the medium to long term is to increase supply and accelerate delivery of housing for the private and social rental sectors. Our housing plan, Housing for All, sets out the Government's plan to increase supply and to deliver an average of 33,000 homes per year over the next decade. As the Deputy will know, the plan also brought forward the introduction of a new cost-rental sector, which we intend to expand this year and into the next and beyond, the legislative framework for which was set out in the Affordable Housing Act. I will address a couple of other issues in a supplementary response.

None of what the Minister said addressed the core question I asked. What is the plan to deal with the disorderly exit of semi-professional and accidental landlords from the market, something that has been in train for three years and will more than likely continue for four years? The argument that supply will tackle the problem simply does not add up. The Government's housing plan promises 6,500 new private rental homes, a target that will probably be reached around 2025 or 2026. However, we are losing 7,000 units a year. Therefore, it would take the Government three years to catch up the current loss and it would still be behind. If the Government reaches these targets, and the loss of properties to the market continues, the situation will continue to get worse. Sherry FitzGerald made it clear today that there are three times more exits from the private rental sector than there are entries to it. There are a range of strategies and actions that I and others have been urging the Minister to take but, like his predecessor, he has ignored them. What specifically will he do to slow the exit of these landlords from the private rental sector and tackle rising levels of family homelessness?

I struggle to find the range of measures the Deputy says he has proposed to assist landlords. In the 12-page document, which includes five pages of pictures, that the Deputy submitted on Housing for All the only mention of landlords is his proposal to commission the Housing Agency to do a report. The only other measure the Deputy has ever brought forward in relation to landlords was in his pre-budget submission. Sinn Féin wanted to impose a €400 tax on the mom-and-pop landlords, yet the Deputy now bemoans their loss to the sector. Let us be straight with people. The changes the Government bring forward must be calibrated to balance the rights of the property owner and the tenant. Throwaway comments and the demonisation of mom-and-pop landlords that the Deputy and others have engaged in have an effect. Proposals he has brought forward from time to time on extended three-year rent freezes and other measures scare the market. We need to build supply and cost-rental housing. I repeat to the Deputy that the only measure he suggested is for a report to be done on what is happening. The only other real measure he has proposed for landlords is to add a €400 tax on top of all the other bills they have.

What that shows is that the Minister has no plan and landlords will continue to sell up.

We have stated a fact though.

I have repeatedly called for four key policies. The Minister knows them but I will repeat them again. The first is to end the prohibition on local authorities buying properties with housing assistance payment, HAP, or rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenants in situ when the landlord is selling. Many landlords who are leaving the market would be delighted for the local authority to purchase the property but the Government will not allow local authorities to purchase them with a sitting tenant. That is driving family homelessness and making the situation worse.

The second key policy is to allow buy-to-let landlords who availed of tax reliefs from the State at an earlier stage to sell the tenant with the tenant in situ. They got a break from the State and the return should be to sell to other landlords. Third, we have repeatedly called for tax reform for landlords. It is not acceptable that real estate investment trusts and large institutional landlords pay no tax, whereas many accidental and semi-permanent landlords pay very high rates.

We have not called for the commission of a report. What we have called for is much more specific. We want the Residential Tenancies Board and the Housing Agency to bring their expertise to bear on Government, which is clearly lacking, to produce a strategy, with the Government and Opposition, to stop the disorderly exit.

We have outlined our proposals. Does the Government have any proposals? What is its plan to stop this crisis?

Deputy Ó Broin's proposals are fairly threadbare - let us be straight about it. In the Deputy's submission, he proposes to commission "the Housing Agency to undertake research into the disorderly exit of landlords". That is it. The other measure is a €400 tax. What we are doing is delivering 300,000 new homes between now and 2030, including private rental properties, and rolling out cost rental at scale, for which we already have cost-rental affordable tenants in place. Last week, more tenants moved into their homes in Kildare in what was the second tranche of cost rental provision. We will deliver more than 1,750 new cost-rental homes in 2022 and more in each subsequent year. That is what we intend to do.

We must also increase supply across the board. We produced a plan, Housing for All, that invests €4 billion in new housing while the Deputy's submission suggests a €2.8 billion investment from Sinn Féin. Let us be honest with people. All Deputy Ó Broin has been doing is demonising landlords and now he is bemoaning the effect that has had. We need a stable rental market as well as affordable homes for working people, and that is what this Government is about to deliver.

Derelict Sites

Gerald Nash


63. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to review the Derelict Sites Act 1990 and its operations; if so, the status of those plans; if his attention has been drawn to the Geo Directory Residential Buildings Report for Q4 of 2021 which has identified approximately 90,000 vacant residential properties and 20,000 derelict residential properties across the country; if his Department is considering or has plans to bring these properties back into active use; the steps taken by his Department to ensure the collection of outstanding derelict sites levies by each local authority; the guidance and or circulars that have been issued by his Department to each local authority in relation to the collection of the derelict sites levy and the manner in which this should be pursued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3277/22]

Eoin Ó Broin


66. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if, given his role in overseeing the vacant homes strategy, his attention has been drawn to the discrepancy between derelict units recorded in the GeoDirectory residential buildings report and those on the derelict sites register nationally; if his attention has been further drawn to the lack of implementation and collection of the derelict sites levy; and the action being taken to combat same. [3578/22]

As I hope the Minister of State would agree, the Derelict Sites Act 1990 is in very bad need of reform. The provisions of the Act are very worthy in theory but experience has shown that it is rarely used to good effect by local authorities. Derelict properties and, separately, housing that is vacant for some time needs to be the focus with regard to turning around properties in town and city centres and bringing them back into use for housing purposes. Are there plans to reform the Act to improve its utility for those purposes?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 63 and 66 together.

Local authorities have been provided with a number of powers and measures to deal with the issue of derelict properties both in larger urban settings and in smaller rural towns and villages. There also exists a framework of overarching policy and capital funding which provides support to development, including urban regeneration.

The Derelict Sites Act 1990 imposes a general duty on every owner and occupier of land to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the land does not become, or continue to be, a derelict site. The Act also imposes a duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps, including the exercise of appropriate statutory powers, to ensure that any land within their functional area does not become, or continue to be, a derelict site. Local authority powers include requiring owners or occupiers to take appropriate measures on derelict sites, acquiring derelict sites by agreement or compulsorily, and applying a derelict sites levy on derelict sites. It is a matter for local authorities to determine the most appropriate use of the legislation within their respective functional areas.

Since 2018, my Department has requested local authorities to submit an annual return regarding the implementation of the Derelict Sites Act in respect of their functional areas and details of any new urban areas which it is proposed to prescribe for the purposes of the Act under section 21. These requests were conveyed by Circulars PL 08/2018, PL 08/2019, PL 10/2020 and PL 09/2021.

There are many reasons the number of properties on derelict sites registers may differ from the number identified on the GeoDirectory residential and commercial buildings database, including the fact that the Derelict Sites Act only applies to urban areas prescribed under section 21 of the Act. My Department continues to liaise with local authorities on the implementation of the Derelict Sites Act with a view to improving its effectiveness and continues to keep the relevant provisions under review. In this regard, in November 2021, my Department initiated a review of the Derelict Sites Act by requesting local authorities to identify issues and challenges that have arisen in the operation of the provisions of the Act and the derelict sites levy to date. The submissions received are now being examined with a view to further engagement with local authorities and to concluding the review in the current year.

I thank the Minister of State. I have some comments. Can he say when the review will be complete? This is really urgent. There is a mismatch between the register and the directory. There is no doubt about that. Nobody can say that the Derelict Sites Act is working. We know from looking around us in our own home areas that dereliction is creating significant social and economic scars in our town centres. Looking at the figures, my own home town of Drogheda accounts for approximately 1% of all vacant homes in the entire country. Dereliction is a massive problem. I give credit to groups such as Derelict Drogheda that are sequentially cataloguing some of these problems and issues. It shames us all that we do not have a defined route and plan to bring properties of this kind back into use and to prioritise them for housing. I know the Minister of State is working on his town centres first initiative. I am interested to see what his plans are and how the Derelict Sites Act can be changed to ensure that it has some utility in bringing homes into use. We must ensure that local authorities use that Act in a better fashion than at present.

I am taking this question on behalf of Deputy Ó Broin. The Department was before the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage today and its officials enlightened me, telling me that our cities have dereliction rates that are below average. I found that an astounding comment to make. I have asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and I now ask the Minister of State, to come to Cork and walk around the city with me. I will show the Minister of State the dereliction and he can then tell me whether the rate is below average. Just to let him know, Cork City Council is trying to get things done. It is trying to get lighting for the Fairfield area, bollards removed from John F. Connolly Road and a disabilities officer but I am told that we do not have the funding. However, there is €3 million outstanding in uncollected derelict sites levies in Cork alone. There is €12.5 million outstanding across the State. The fact I got from the officials today was absolutely astounding. All three Ministers have to answer this question. There is not one official in the Department who is dedicated full-time to vacancy and dereliction. There should be a section dealing with it. There is not one person dealing with it full-time. There are 100,000 houses derelict or vacant but no one in the Department is looking after the matter. It is shocking.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. To respond to Deputy Nash, the review began in November 2021. We have received a number of submissions from right around the country. There is a workshop this Thursday that will examine the content of those submissions. I hope to make progress early this year.

I will also outline that there are a number of funding streams in place to tackle dereliction. That is important. These provide a carrot for owners of such properties to encourage them to develop them into residential units. There is a very significant project under way which aims to bring 2,500 units into use by 2025 through a local authority programme. There is also the urban regeneration and development fund, which is targeted and to which funding has been committed. It is very important that capital is committed early in the cycle, which we have done. There is also the repair and lease scheme, to which additional funding has been committed. This has been reformed. Record numbers have been brought in through that scheme in areas such as Waterford city, eliminating almost all emergency homelessness accommodation in bed and breakfast providers. We also have the buy and renew scheme under the Croí Cónaithe fund. We are also working on new regulations which I hope will be ready for next week. These will bring in planning exemptions for pubs and other properties being brought back into use as residential accommodation. The Department of Finance is also considering the vacant property tax.

It is worth noting that, between 2016 and 2019, of the 70,000 units delivered in the State, approximately 13,800 were reconnections or unfinished estates being completed. That shows the legacy challenge we are trying to meet. A large proportion of these units have come from the vacant and derelict sector. There is a great amount of work going on. We continue to engage with local authorities to ensure they are resourced to bring properties back into use as they are best placed to do so. I hope the towns first policy will enable them and support them in that work.

There is much talk of carrots but very little talk of sticks. We have waited far too long for a vacant sites tax and some form of "use it or lose it" levy that would be applied to derelict sites. I said earlier that the dereliction we see all around us shames us. It has significant societal, social and economic impacts. The derelict sites that are available to us present a great opportunity for renovation, refurbishment and being brought into use for housing. We speak a lot about developing new sites and even infill sites in towns and city centres. However, we do not focus as much as we ought to on derelict sites. I know the Minister has spoken publicly about the provision of grants of up to €30,000. Is the idea that this would be a grant to purchase a property or a grant to refurbish a property? Is it significant and substantial enough to enable us to tackle this issue comprehensively?

I am not sure if the Minister of State will remember but last May I asked him for an increase in funding for full-time vacant home officers in every local authority. At that time, he said that it would be inappropriate for the Government to intervene in local authority staffing. However, in November, the Department said that every local authority should have a full-time vacant homes officer. In other words, it took six months for the Minister of State to make up his mind on what I said last May. I appreciate him listening to me but he only increased the funding from €50,000 to €60,000. I suppose this speaks to how Sinn Féin brings forward solutions only for it to take months for the Government to listen. It sometimes takes years for it to listen to poor Deputy Ó Broin. However, when it does listen to us, that shows that we have the solutions. Here we are now.

The Minister of State accused me of speaking out of both sides of my mouth. Then he went away and implemented the policy that we asked him to. What I am saying now is that we are looking for full-time vacant home officers and full-time derelict home officers. We are seeking to end the scourge of dereliction because it is destroying communities like the one I represent right across the country. Does the Minister of State realise how difficult it is when people who do not have homes are passing empty homes?

I reiterate that a huge effort is being made right across the Government through the numerous schemes I have mentioned to bring vacant and derelict properties back into use. The State is serious about employing both a carrot and stick approach in that regard. Regarding the Croí Cónaithe cities fund to which the Deputy referred, it is aimed to have regulations issued shortly for a first-time buyer's grant to enable the purchasing of derelict properties. That scheme will be an asset to the State. Therefore, we have a great deal of work under way in that regard. There is, however, a great deal of hypocrisy going on with Deputy Gould. It is almost like a comic stand-up when he comes up laughing and joking

Check the minutes of the meeting.

The Deputy is the only one laughing here as far as I can see.

What do they say? The Minister of State said he could not do it and then he did it.

The Deputy is the only one laughing here, as far as I can see. In the first instance-----

Some of us are correct.

I ask the Deputy to let me continue without interruption, please. I did not interrupt the Deputy once. That is his problem. He keeps interrupting and is unable to listen. For someone talking about listening to vulnerable people in his constituency office, which I do every week, the Deputy finds it difficult to listen to people here. That surprises me. I see vulnerable people every week looking for the housing solutions we are working so hard to deliver, while I also see the Deputy's party engaging in the blocking of housing developments. That is happening right across the country, whether involving public housing on public land being blocked by the Deputy's party or numerous developments-----

Fianna Fáil voted down social housing in Cork in 2018.

I am referring to the Deputy.

The brother of the Taoiseach, the leader of the Fianna Fáil party, was one of the people who voted it down.

The Deputy's party is voting against numerous developments-----

Check the records of the council.

-----week after week.

Fianna Fáil voted down social housing in Cork.

The Deputy's party has one common thread on housing. It is oppose, oppose and oppose again.

No, that is not true.

That can be seen right across the city councils and our network of 31 local authorities. As I said about public houses on public land, Sinn Féin voted that down in Wicklow. That is a fact. The Deputy can dress it up anyway he likes and talk out of both sides of his mouth in this Chamber, but those are the facts.

Housing Policy

Eoin Ó Broin


64. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on whether the increased reliance on turnkeys by local authorities, approved housing bodies, the Land Development Agency and the Housing Agency for the delivery of social and affordable housing as outlined in the Government’s new housing plan will inflate the cost of social and affordable housing and will put those public agencies in direct competition with private purchasers for the limited supply of private homes. [3577/22]

As the Minister is aware, his housing plan has a range of new measures and specifically for the delivery of social and affordable housing. One concern many of us have is that, certainly in the early years of this plan, there will be an increased reliance on turnkey affordable purchases of private sector developments. Does the Minister share this concern? If not, can he give us the reasons why he does not believe this is going to be a feature, especially this year and next year?

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he rightly said, under the Housing for All strategy, we confirm both the need and the intention to increase the supply, on average, to about 33,000 units per year. The strategy is, however, clearly based on increasing new supply across social, affordable and private housing from State-owned and private land. Our policy is to bring forward delivery in the shorter term by enabling supply that would not otherwise have been built. It is not about hoovering up things that have already been built but about enabling new supply. We are targeting the additional supply from unactivated sites, which otherwise may not have progressed. That ensures that we will not be competing with private purchasers for the limited, but thankfully increasing, supply that is currently on the market. We will instead increase supply across the board. That is our absolute focus.

The Housing for All policy is backed by an historically-high level of investment of €20 billion over five years, or €4 billion plus per annum. We have set a target in that period to deliver 47,600 new-build social homes over the next five years, as well as providing nearly 29,000 affordable purchase and cost rental homes. As part of a much wider range of measures to achieve these objectives, including the development of a strong new-build pipeline from local authorities, several initiatives to ensure the delivery of affordable homes in the near term have been developed by me and my colleagues. These are targeted at bringing forward houses that would not have been built yet and at activating uncommenced planning permissions, thereby bringing forward new supply in the areas where the need for affordable housing is most acute. My Department and delivery partners constantly carry out monitoring to ensure that value for money is also achieved. Supported by this strategy, indications of increased construction activity are becoming evident. Some 30,724 residential units commenced in 2021, and that is a year-on-year increase of 42%. This overall increase in the supply, together with the measures in the Housing for All policy, is key to ensuring that home ownership is supported for both affordable and private purchase.

I understand the theory. The problem is that it is going to run into some significant problems in practice, particularly when we look at the pipeline. As the Minister is aware, 2020 is the last year for which we have figures, and half of all new-build social homes were turnkey units delivered by local authorities and approved housing bodies. The other half was partly Part Vs and partly direct builds. Given the pipeline in the social housing sector, it is difficult to see how that is going to ramp up in respect of direct delivery this year and next year. It may happen by the end of the plan, but not in its first years. The Minister has also added the affordable housing fund, the cost-rental equity loan, Project Tosaigh for the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Croí Cónaithe cities fund, including forward purchase agreements for the Housing Agency for apartments in the cities.

Given the limited targets in the Minister's plan, it is hard to see how new-build activity developed by those agencies is going to deliver those targets. The pipeline is not there for this year and next year and probably not even into the year after. That means turnkey units and forward purchases are going to be required and those mechanisms often activate supply. While we may disagree with how this process may pan out, the question is, what are the Minister, his Department and those agencies going to do to ensure that there is not increased competition for turnkey units and forward purchases, thus pushing up prices for public housing delivery and squeezing out owner-occupier purchasers?

I assure the Deputy the last thing we want to do is to squeeze out owner-occupier first-time buyers. That is why every measure we put in place in the Housing for All policy, such as those mentioned by the Deputy, including the first home shared equity scheme, which will kick in at the end of quarter 2 and be able to help people to bridge the gap between the finance they have and what they need through the State taking an equity share, is a supply-side measure. We are advertising advanced purchasing arrangements now among all the local authorities to activate planning permissions that would not have been brought forward otherwise. We have had a decent response to Project Tosaigh operating through the LDA. Again, that is concerned with compact growth in areas in our cities, but not exclusively so, where we have issues with affordability.

Those are short-term supply measures as well. I assure the Deputy that the pipeline we have in social housing for the next several years is actually very strong. That is why we need local authorities and local authority members to continue to support the delivery of social housing. We approved at Cabinet only today the start of the construction phase to provide 1,047 homes at O'Devaney Gardens. That involves an investment by the State of just short of €135 million. I remind the Deputy that his party opposed this project in Dublin City Council, DCC. These are 1,047 new homes for working people.

Based on what the Cabinet announced today, unfortunately, not only will half those homes be unaffordable private units but, equally, the 22% of homes that are so-called affordable will also be way beyond the reach of ordinary people. What we want are affordable public homes on public land. In fact, the all-in cost of the affordable purchase in this regard, based on Cabinet information provided today, when the purchase cost and the affordable housing fund repayment is added in, is between €344,000 for one-bed units and €404,000 for three-bed units. That is not affordable housing for working people.

To return to the issue at hand, the difficulty is that if I were a developer with planning permission for 100 apartments in Dublin, I now have a wonderful opportunity because I can go to a local authority for a mixed social-affordable scheme, to an approved housing body for a cost rental equity loan, CREL, scheme and the LDA for a Project Tosaigh scheme. The LDA can, of course, pay more than the local authorities can because it does not have the same departmental cap ceilings. I could also go to the Housing Agency or any of the several funds which exist. Therefore, it is a sellers' market and that is going to push up the price developers will seek for those turnkey units, particularly this year and next year, as well as squeezing out owner-occupiers. Nothing the Minister has said has convinced me that he has a plan to deal with that prospect, if, as I suspect, it happens. I hope it does not but I would like to know that the Minister has a contingency plan to ensure that is the case.

We must increase apply across the board. I gave the example of the O'Devaney Gardens development, which will provide 1,047 homes. There is also Ballymastone in Donabate, which was also opposed, where there will be more than 1,000 homes. Then there is the Oscar Traynor Road project. Thankfully, because of this Government's affordable housing fund, we at last have agreement on that project in Dublin City Council to proceed with real homes for real people.

It is not affordable.

Most immediately, recent legislative changes have returned large-scale residential developments, LRDs, to local authorities, which will also involve an appropriate fee structure to ensure that local authorities can resource this function appropriately.

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each chief executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authority for which he or she is responsible. In this regard, the assignment of local authority staff to a particular function, such as planning, is a matter for the chief executive. The Minister approved more than 200 new staff for local authority housing delivery teams in December 2021. These posts will increase the capacity of local authorities to initiate, manage and deliver new build housing schemes across the sector.

Since the Minister of State said the Government had abolished SHDs, there have been seven new applications for SHDs just on the Dún Laoghaire side of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. That is because the Government essentially allowed an extension for these build-to-rent developer-led developments. Ironically, some of the Government's local representatives are now running around saying that they are terrible developments. The only reason the applications were allowed to be made was because the Government voted down our amendments that would have closed down the SHD system completely. There would have been none of the outrageous developments that are now being proposed and are all about expensive built-to-rent apartments. Communities are overrun with them, as are local authorities. Local authorities have to deal with SHDs. The planning department in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is telling us that it will be dealing with new SHD applications until well into the end of this year at the same time as having to deal with LRD proposals under the new regime.

Deputy, we are over time.

It does not have the staff and the money being provided is going into general funds, not into creating new posts.

I thank the Deputy. I have a working stop watch.

In the first instance, we have been clear that, under the new LRD arrangements, the relevant fees payable will be retained in full by the planning authority. This will give authorities increased funding to manage their staff and resources. The two-stage process is being restored and the local authority will give the decision closest to the local functional area, which is a positive move.

In the second instance, the Deputy used the term "gold rush". In December 2020, there were 21 applications at pre-consultation stage. There were 23 in 2021. I would not call that a gold rush when one looks at the facts. Of 350 applications that were made since the inception of the SHD process on 3 July 2017, 249 were granted.

We have made positive moves. In theory, one learns from past issues. The two-stage process will create value for local citizens by involving them in the decision making.

SHDs were a scandal. They did nothing to address the housing crisis. They delivered overpriced rents to make money for developers. Since the announcement that this process would go, though, we had seven applications in December. There is murder in Sallynoggin over a nine-story construction. It is a working-class area where there are only two-storey houses but this will be a nine-storey building on a tiny site. It is developer led. In another case, there was planning permission for an SHD of 150 apartments but the developer lashed in 300 apartments onto the application just before Christmas. It is a scandal. The local authority is going to have to pick up the pieces, but it does not have the people to do so because they will be dealing with SHDs and LRDs. The money will go into general funds. We need people in the planning departments who can deal with these applications, but we are dealing with SHDs, which bypass the system. Even though the council still has to do all the work, the board makes the decision and the public have no right of appeal. It is a disgrace.

The negativity towards constructing new homes continues. In the first instance-----

The Government said that it was getting rid of SHDs.

Let me respond. In the first instance, I clearly articulated the resource base that a local authority would have. Heretofore under the SHD process, the resource base was shared 50-50 with the board but the local authority will now retain 100% of an application fee, which is significant. This will provide resourcing to ensure that the local authority has a robust planning department.

In tandem with that, a working group has been established with the County and City Management Association, CCMA - its first meeting is pencilled in for February - to examine and review local authorities' staffing arrangements in general, given the increased workload they will have. They will have resources to match that coming from the applications to them.

Many of the mandatory timelines in the SHD process are being adhered to within the local authority sector, which will lead to improvements by reducing further information requests and having in place a system that is more stress tested and slimmed down, which I hope will provide more valuable homes for our citizens.

We are moving on to the next question in the name of Deputy Durkan, who, I am sure, will keep to time.

Housing Provision

Bernard Durkan


68. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the extent to which his Department is in dialogue with the various local authorities with a view to ensuring a precise number of housing scheme starts in the current and subsequent years in order to enhance the supply of housing at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3251/22]

This question seeks to encourage the dialogue between the Minister of State's office and the various local authorities with a view to maximising the latter's ability to deliver as anticipated under Housing for All.

The recently published Housing for All strategy is the Government's plan to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 units per year over the next decade, including an average of 10,000 social homes per annum from 2022 to 2030. Housing for All is supported by an investment package of over €4 billion per annum through an overall combination of €12 billion in direct Exchequer funding, €3.5 billion in funding through the Land Development Agency and €5 billion in funding through the Housing Finance Agency over a five-year period.

Increasing the overall supply of housing is at the centre of the Housing for All plan. This includes direct investment in social and affordable housing, reforms to ensure availability of land, measures to support the viability of development and ensuring sufficient investment and capacity to support housing construction. There has been extensive engagement between our Department and local authorities on the preparation of Housing for All and its implementation. The Minister held two summits with local authority chief executives in 2021 in addition to bilateral engagements with most local authorities. He will be holding another summit with local authority chief executives in February that will focus on the implementation of the Housing for All measures.

A key action under Housing for All required each local authority to prepare a housing delivery action plan that set out details of social and affordable housing delivery over the next five years. All local authorities submitted their plans to the Minister in December and our Department is engaging with local authorities on them, in particular their alignment with the targets and policy objectives set out in Housing for All. The plans will be published in quarter 2. There will be ongoing engagement with our Department to support their implementation.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. To what extent will there be an increased demand for housing arising from economic recovery in the wake of Covid? Such housing may need to be delivered in a shorter space of time. Might it be possible to provide the necessary wherewithal to ensure that, in anticipation of the increased demand, the number of houses can be increased beyond what is already envisaged on an annual basis? If so, is the Minister of State able to tell local authorities at this stage that a quick and efficient turnaround is necessary? There needs to be a rapid acceleration of the administration of local authority housing loans and all the other processes relating to the provision of houses for people who are crying out for homes now and may be in a much more serious situation in two years' time.

The increased activity in the construction sector has been significant, with the latest commencement notice data showing a total of 30,724 residential dwellings commenced in 2021, which was a 42% increase on 2020. The 2021 total was almost equal to the combined total of 2016 and 2017.

The Deputy is correct, in that there will be increased demand. With a full opening up of the economy and lifting of all Covid restrictions, there will be increased activity and demand, but there are also many constraints and pressures on our delivery, for example, water and waste water infrastructure, inflation and other elements.

Regarding institutional capacity within local authorities, the Minister has been proactive in addressing these issues by working with local authorities through the CCMA and various other structures to identify capacity constraints and the additional staffing resources that are required to deliver the social housing targets set out in Housing for All.

Added to that, the Minister approved more than 200 new posts for local authorities to help deliver on the ambition in Housing for All.

Further, and arising from the Minister of State's reply, to what extent does his Department continue to monitor the performance of each local authority to ensure that those areas most seriously affected by a shortage of housing receive an early and rapid response from the local authorities in order to address the issues to which the Minister of State referred and of which everybody is aware?

In specific response to that, the housing delivery plan is working in tandem with local authorities to ensure that the targets set for local authorities will be met county by county. I will give the specific example of my county, Kilkenny. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I have visited a number of projects that have opened there in recent months. The local authority there is extremely proactive, will exceed the targets in its housing delivery plan and is very ambitious in trying to use infill development sites and sites within town centres. The local authority is very innovative in the design and the quality of the housing being delivered.

Vacant Properties

Alan Dillon


69. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the work under way to ensure that each local authority has a dedicated officer or officers to work on reducing housing vacancy rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3050/22]

Counties in the west are disproportionately suffering from high rates of residential vacancy. We need to ensure that our local authorities are prioritising resources to target vacancy and boost existing housing supply where it is lying idle. What is being done within the Department to ensure that full-time staff are in place in local authority vacant housing offices?

I thank Deputy Dillon for his question. I know he is a great advocate in this area as I have been to Mayo and have seen at first hand the work Mayo County Council has carried out and the lobbying Deputy Dillon has been doing.

I am happy to confirm that a circular has been issued in the past 24 hours to increase by 20% the funding that has been attached to the vacant homes office. We also now have a plan to transition all vacant homes officer posts into full-time positions. Heretofore, as Members will be aware, only three counties in the 31-strong local authority network had a full-time vacant homes officer. We expect by quarter 2 of 2022 to complete the transition and have that as a full-time service throughout the 31-strong local authority network.

It is also very important to note that we will have a training workshop this week, on Thursday, to try to expedite this because it is such an urgent issue and to stitch into the key funding that is available. We have seen the significant funding Castlebar has got under the urban regeneration and development fund and the huge opportunities there will now be for places in Mayo through Croí Cónaithe and the funding that will flow through that to enhance the potential of derelict properties and vacant homes and to get them back into residential use. There are also the new regulations we will update in the coming week. They will mean that old commercial properties like pubs and derelict properties will not need planning permission to transition into residential units.

We, therefore, have a significant amount of work ongoing, on which I am happy to update Deputy Dillon.

I welcome the positive news of the increased departmental funding for supports for vacant homes officers. Having those positions on a full-time basis will strengthen local authorities in combating vacant properties. The latest GeoDirectory residential building report for quarter 4 of 2021 showed that Mayo has the second highest residential vacancy rate in the country, standing at 11.9%. For many it can be disheartening to feel locked out of purchasing a home in the area of their choice while walking around their local area and seeing examples of empty or vacant dwellings that have the potential to make the perfect home with some work. I ask again that the Government and local authorities continue to encourage property owners to bring houses back into use by registering vacant properties and by helping identify their owners, particularly in areas where there is housing need. I know that the Minister of State is very much working towards that.

Mayo has done huge work in highlighting to identify vacancy and areas in which properties can be brought back into use. It is very important that local authorities have full-time vacant homes officers in place to take advantage of these key funding streams now being put forward by the Government with record levels of funding to try to bring these properties back into use. In addition, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is working on the first-time buyer's grant to bring derelict properties back into use. That will be a very significant intervention as well. All these schemes will provide people with a sustainable outcome for living in rural areas and provincial towns, like we have in County Mayo. I look forward to working with Deputy Dillon to expand further these schemes. I am sure we have the best possible suite of armoury to respond to this huge challenge.

Solving the current housing crisis will certainly require the most innovative solutions. The Minister of State made reference to the website, which was developed by Mayo County Council. That provides a starting point of contact for each local authority. I acknowledge Tom Gilligan, the website's founder, and his work in this area. Maybe it would also be useful to develop a website into a one-stop-shop model highlighting the various grants and incentives in place to alleviate the vacancy crisis. The Department should prioritise this and expand the website.

Finally, extending the first-time buyer's initiatives to vacant and derelict homes will significantly help young people across the country, especially in County Mayo, looking to buy and renovate their own homes. I welcome that initiative.

I congratulate the Minister of State on the work he is doing in this area. Until recently, in County Cork, from Castletownbere to Youghal to Mitchelstown to Newmarket, there was one part-time vacant homes officer, and that was the tenth job he had. Would the Minister of State agree with me that County Cork should have three full-time vacant homes officers to cover such a huge area and in order to deliver what the Minister of State wants to deliver?

To Deputy Dillon I will say that we will launch our Town Centre First initiative very shortly, in the coming weeks. That will be an enabling strategy to tie together a lot of the funding streams to which he referred in order to unlock the potential of our rural towns and villages right across the country. That will be a significant intervention by the Government.

Deputy Stanton is fully correct. There has been a huge problem in respect of full-time vacant homes officers. We are now increasing the funding significantly, by 20%. With additional funding coming into local authorities, we hope they will make the best decisions with the resources they have. Staffing is a matter for the chief executive, but there is a huge open goal to be scored here in bringing derelict or vacant sites back into residential use because the demand for them is definitely there. It just needs additional work to try to unlock that potential.

Housing Provision

David Stanton


70. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the progress made by his Department to date in increasing the supply of affordable housing with reference to the key objective of the Housing for All plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3083/22]

This question is about affordable housing. I am particularly interested in what the Minister is doing to unblock the blockages that are there, in particular for people who cannot get a mortgage at the one end but who are earning too much to avail of social housing at the other end, that is, people in the middle.

Housing for All commits to delivering 36,000 affordable purchase and 18,000 cost-rental homes by 2030. The Affordable Housing Act 2021 established two separate affordable purchase schemes and a new form of tenure in cost-rental, which saw the first 65 homes tenanted in 2021. The target delivery for affordable homes in 2022 is 4,100. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, recently approved a further round of cost-rental equity loan applications to allow approved housing bodies, AHBs, to deliver over 700 new homes this year. This will be further supported by the LDA provision of cost-rental homes under Project Tosaigh. The First Home affordable purchase scheme will operate for the period 2022 to 2026, utilising funding of about €400 million. It will support first-time buyers on moderate incomes to buy a new-build home and will be available for applications in quarter 2.

Despite the impacts of Covid-19 on the construction sector, the first local authority affordable purchase homes will be available in Cork shortly. In addition, and to scale up the delivery of affordable homes and kick-start stalled private developments, expressions of interest have been issued by local authorities and the LDA to enter advance purchase agreements.

Finally, a new local authority home loan scheme commenced on 4 January of this year as a successor to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. This scheme incorporates a lower interest rate, higher income eligibility and more flexible home size requirements than previously applied.

I ask the Minister of State whether he agrees with me when I quote the new housing plan for Ireland, Housing for All, which states: "Housing cannot be delivered unless we have the supporting critical infrastructure, including transport.." That includes affordable housing. Is the Minister of State aware that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has recently decided not to proceed with an N25 road in County Cork, which was vital to support in the delivery of 2,500 houses, including many affordable houses? I wrote to the Minister about this matter. Because TII has decided to withdraw its support for this critical road project, the construction of 2,500 houses, including affordable housing units, may not go ahead. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that issue. Will the Minister of State be contacting TII to ensure that this decision is reversed?

I will make a general point, rather than one on specific road projects. Critically, one thing that Housing for All is clear on is that housing delivery has to be connected to lots of infrastructure, including public transport and sustainable modes of transport. On the issue the Deputy raised, namely, that housing may not be delivered because a specific road project may not proceed, the ambition around public transport across the country, both urban and rural, is going to help the delivery and unlocking of land. It is critical that all housing delivery is connected to good public transport routes. While not commenting specifically on that particular project, I think it is critically important for housing delivery to be connected to sustainable modes of transport.

I agree with the Minister of State fully on this. There is a rail link at one end of this development and a motorway at the other. There is public transport between Midleton and Carrigtohill. The Government has now decided to ruin this project. The Department has funded the project to the tune of €4.13 million already. That is now going west. Some €1.3 million has been spent on the road network. That is also going west. It is critically important that the project is delivered. I ask the Minister and the Minister of State to look at this project and talk to the Minister for Transport to ensure that this stupid decision is reversed as soon as possible.

On the question of affordable housing, in April 2018, the Boherboy Road affordable housing project was announced. In 2019, the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, opened the project. It is now 2022 and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is saying that it will be launched. Is it wrong that Deputies, Ministers and the Tánaiste go and open up affordable housing projects only for them not to be started or delivered?

To answer the specific question asked by Deputy Stanton, he is correct in stating that the issue around rail links and public transport is critically important. This is something that we are clearly committed to under Housing for All. I am not privy to the decision of TII in respect of that specific road project. However, looking at the sustainable delivery of housing units and building sustainable communities, there has to be a connection with sustainable transport. We will get back to the Deputy on the specific project he mentioned. I cannot comment on the other question that was asked by Deputy Gould.

Local Government Reform

Kieran O'Donnell


71. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the legislation for the establishment of the first directly elected mayor in the country. [3305/22]

Brian Leddin


120. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the legislation on a directly elected mayor in Limerick; the timeframe for the passage of same through Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3195/22]

The legislation for the establishment of the first directly elected mayor in Limerick city and county went through as a plebiscite in May 2019. I see that legislation is on the priority list. When does the Minister of State expect it to progress? What is the timeframe involved? Pre-legislative scrutiny took place and was signed off on 11 November 2021. When does the Minister of State expect the election to take place? The people of Limerick voted and want to see it being delivered.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 120 together.

At its meeting of 20 April 2021, the Government approved the general scheme of a Bill providing for a directly elected mayor for Limerick. The Government also approved the publication of the general scheme, as well as its referral both to the Oireachtas for pre-legislative scrutiny and to the Office of the Attorney General for priority drafting of a Bill. The general scheme is in line with the 2019 Government policy proposals for a directly elected Mayor with executive functions, and also reflects recommendations of the report of the implementation advisory group established to consider a directly elected Mayor with executive functions in Limerick, published in January 2021. In addition, the general scheme contains provisions necessary to allow a local authority to hold a plebiscite on the topic of a directly elected mayor with executive functions for their administrative area alongside the 2024 local elections.

On 11 November 2021, the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage published its report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme. The committee's report contained a number of important recommendations relating to the directly elected mayor, including the functions of the role, governance arrangements in the local authority and the budgetary process of the local authority, among other matters. The recommendations of the committee's report are under consideration with a view to their incorporation in the Bill in such a way that it will build on the work of the implementation advisory group.

In parallel, I continue to engage with colleagues right across Government to identify further functions and funding for assignment to the mayor and-or Limerick City and County Council. Drafting of this complex Bill is progressing steadily. Publication of the Bill has been identified as a priority for the Department as soon as possible. The timeframe for its passage through the legislative process will be a matter for the Oireachtas when it gets to that stage. It should be noted that the timing of elections for a mayor in Limerick will be decided by the Government once the legislation is enacted.

I have a few follow-up questions. When does the Minister of State expect the Bill to be published and come before the Houses of the Oireachtas? Obviously, Second Stage will be taken in the Dáil in the first instance. When does the Minister of State expect the election of the first directly elected mayor for the capital of the mid-west, and the third largest city and county in Ireland, to take place?

As the Minister of State is aware, almost three years ago, the people of Limerick voted in a plebiscite to have a directly elected mayor for Limerick city and county. Indeed, it was the people of Limerick who took this brave step when other cities and counties in Ireland chose not to. I am glad to see the Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Phelan, here. He was the driving force behind this legislation. Deputy Phelan is on record as saying that this will be the most significant reform of local government in Ireland since the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. There is an urgency to it now. We must honour the decision made by the people of Limerick in the plebiscite. We need to put in place a directly elected mayor for Limerick to let him or her drive his or her vision for Limerick. Does the Minister of State expect that the legislation will go through the Houses and we will have a directly elected mayor in place this year?

I concur with the sentiments of the former Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, that it is the most progressive and the biggest reform of local government since the foundation of the State. In the first instance, looking at the timeline, on 24 May 2019 the plebiscite was held. Subsequently, we established the implementation advisory group in January 2021. Following that, there was a general election and programme for Government negotiations took place. Mr. Tim O'Connor and his advisory group had to go through their process online, which was very impressive. The group received over 1,000 submissions through an online process, which included all stakeholders in Limerick city and county. The general scheme was approved on 20 April 2021 and we received the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage in November 2021. It is a priority, this term, to get the legislation through the Oireachtas. It is up to the Government to set a date for the election. I see my specific role as ensuring that the office of mayor - including the structure and governance aspects - is put in place so that the Government can make its decision on the timing of the election. I assure all Deputies that we are working very hard on the matter. We have it on the priority legislation schedule. Hopefully, we will make significant progress on it this term.

I have one question. When will the legislation be published? We cannot make progress until the legislation is published. When, in this term, does the Minister of State expect it to be published?

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I was a member of the implementation advisory group before I found myself in this particular role.

I know quite a bit about this. It is critical the office has meaningful powers. The new directly elected mayor of Limerick, who I hope will be elected this year, should have the power to select staff and directors of services. He or she should be able to set the priorities of the council, have power over the budget and the spending of the council and have the power to raise revenue. I firmly believe we should build into the legislation a review mechanism to make it better. We need to honour the plebiscite we had in Limerick city and county three years ago. If the Government takes its role seriously in drafting the legislation the people of Limerick will take the election of the directly elected mayor seriously also.

I thank the Deputies. I have seen a first draft of the legislation. We are trying to build in the report on pre-legislative scrutiny from the Oireachtas joint committee and the bilateral engagement I have had with other Departments. This is significant. I encourage Deputies to encourage Ministers in various Departments to give a significant amount of power to the mayor. A big challenge is getting power from Dublin devolved to Limerick. We can see the benefits this can bring in other jurisdictions. I would appreciate any help colleagues can give me in this regard.

Housing Provision

Paul McAuliffe


72. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the progress between his Department, Dublin City Council and approved housing bodies to deliver social and affordable public housing in north-west Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3355/22]

Last year the Oireachtas housing committee spent our time ensuring the Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill were passed. This year we will focus on the delivery, particularly the role of local authorities, approved housing bodies and the Department in ensuring the legislation all of the Deputies on this side of the House passed starts to turn into action. Will the Minister outline the progress he has made working with approved housing bodies and local authorities to deliver affordable and social housing in my constituency of Dublin North-West?

I thank Deputy McAuliffe for the work he continues to do on the housing committee with colleagues in government on delivering very important legislation such as the Affordable Housing Act and the Land Development Agency Act that enables us to ensure 2022 is a year of delivery. As the Deputy knows, under our housing strategy we aim to deliver 300,000 new homes between now and the end of the decade. This includes 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes, while tackling the issues of vacancy and putting our existing stock back into use.

Under Housing for All each local authority is required to prepare a housing delivery action plan setting out details of social and affordable housing delivery in the period from 2022 to 2026. This includes information on the location where the housing will be delivered, in addition to information on planned delivery streams and delivery in the preceding years. In September 2021, I issued social housing targets to each local authority setting out building targets over the next five years, while exiting out of leasing and reducing the amount of acquisition. The main focus under Housing for All is delivering new homes through new build.

In developing these housing delivery plans, each local authority was required to assess the demand in its area for affordable and social housing under the housing needs demand assessment and to plan provision accordingly. In December I received a plan from Dublin City Council, including Deputy McAuliffe's area. The Department is working through it with the housing delivery co-ordination office and reviewing the plan to make sure it will hit the targets we need, having regard to the policy objectives we have set out with the Deputy's assistance in Housing for All.

The review will require further engagement in the short term with the city council and this will be done in the coming weeks. The Department worked closely with Dublin City Council to increase the supply of housing in the constituency of Dublin North-West and throughout the area of Dublin City Council. We expect to have the work concluded on Dublin City Council's housing delivery plan in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister. Until we passed the legislation last year local authorities were not in a position to deliver mixed tenure and mixed income housing and this will assist Dublin City Council in bringing forward projects. We all know the importance of this. Having represented Finglas and Ballymun for more than a decade I know the importance of it. It is very clear that local authorities have all the tools on the table. They have a multi-annual budget, partners in the approved housing bodies sector with which they can work and the Land Development Agency with which they can work on master plans.

If the Minister walked across my constituency he could start with social and affordable housing in Kildonan and senior citizens' housing on the site of the Church of the Annunciation. There are proposals for affordable purchase homes in Silloge and Balbutcher. There is more senior citizens' housing in Coultry. There are also other sites throughout the constituency. The timeline and the ability of the local authority to deliver is crucial. We want to see it happening. The biggest project we will have is on the border of the constituency on the Oscar Traynor Road site. It is interesting the Minister and Deputy Ó Broin mentioned Oscar Traynor Road and O'Devaney Gardens because they are different sites. They are different because of the policies and legislation we passed in the House.

I thank the Deputy. It is crucial that we use the land we have. The Deputy referenced Oscar Traynor Road. It is correct to say that because of the actions taken by the Government through increasing the affordable housing fund and allowing flexibility in it, Dublin City Council was able to rework the proposals, which were supported by 38 of the 60 councillors, to deliver 341 social homes, 341 cost rental homes and 171 affordable purchase homes. This is what Sinn Féin, far left and Social Democrat representatives in Dublin voted against. This was on top of O'Devaney Gardens and other sites such as Ballymastone.

Our focus must be on delivering these homes and ensuring local authorities get the support to do so and that pressure will be applied by Government to make sure delivery happens. We have a cohort of people who want to see there is something for them and that they will be able to own their own homes. With Housing for All and the Government's plans and actions they will be able to do so.

I thank the Minister. I emphasise the importance of ensuring we put pressure on local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver. They have been out of practice for some time. We are back in the business now of local authorities leading. I get the impression from the Opposition, particularly Sinn Féin as it criticises us, that it no longer criticises us on policy but on the inability to deliver a house overnight. We all know this is not possible. It is caricaturing the Government as being uncaring knowing we pass policies that support public housing. We had the lowest of the low tonight with the Opposition spokesperson trying to caricature the Taoiseach as some sort of cartoon villain on social media when his party objected to his leader being caricatured as a witch. It was wrong then and it is wrong against the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is a decent man and Deputy Ó Broin should apologise and delete the tweet. We should focus on delivery. This is what the people in my constituency want. We want the Minister to build houses with all of those people who have the responsibility and to do it in an affordable way.

When they are losing, they play the person not the ball and that is the fact. We have a plan that will deliver for people and we are determined to do so. In the Deputy's constituency there are opportunities in Ballymun, and I have walked those sites with him, to deliver good quality affordable housing at scale for working people because we have put the funding in place. We passed the Affordable Housing Act. We have an affordable housing fund. We are now giving funding to our local authorities on a multi-annual basis. There is €1.2 billion more a year going into capital in the Government's plan than in that of the Members opposite-----

-----but we will not hear them say this.

That is simply not true.

They will interrupt consistently-----

Misleading the House again.

Again with regard to Oscar Traynor Road, O'Devaney Gardens, Ballymastone and I could go on and on, with any proposal that comes forward from any local authority the people to the forefront of objections and voting against it are the people opposite-----

In Clonburris 11,000 homes were opposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

-----and Deputy Ó Broin knows it.

Misleading the House again. That is what the Minister is good for.

Derelict Sites

Brendan Griffin


73. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the way his Department can help first-time buyers bring derelict houses back into use as homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3249/22]

I want to ask about the issue of derelict housing. It is an issue I have raised time and again over the years. There is an opportunity to bring thousands of units throughout the country in every community back into use as homes for people and to do so in a relatively short period of time. What action is being taken? It is something that is very urgent.

Deputy Griffin has raised this on numerous occasions, particularly with regard to County Kerry.

Housing for All published in September 2021 provides a new housing plan for Ireland to 2030 with the overall objective that every citizen in the State should have access to good quality homes through a steady supply of housing in the right locations with economic, social and environmental sustainability built into the system. This strategy provides for a broad suite of measures, including for first-time buyers. In particular, in the context of addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing stock, the strategy provides the Croí Cónaithe towns fund which will be delivered by local authorities for the provision of serviced sites for housing to attract people to build their own homes and to support the refurbishment of vacant properties, thus enabling people to live in the small towns and villages in a sustainable way. This pertains, in particular, to counties such as Kerry.

In addition, Housing for All provides for the launching of a programme of compulsory purchase orders to bring vacant units to the market for sale as well as activating unused State-owned properties for that purpose.

Housing for All also recognises the potential to utilise relevant heritage building stock for residential purposes. It is also anticipated that funding will be made available under the new round of the European Regional Development Fund to tackle vacancy and dereliction in towns. This is an issue that pertains, in particular, to rural Ireland where there are significant challenges of depopulation in certain parts of the country.

Again, I commend Kerry County Council on being one of only three local authorities to have availed of the full-time role of a vacancy officer. Having that role within the local authority will be a significant benefit in trying to unlock the potential the Government is trying to develop by way of our policy on vacancy and delivering for first-time buyers.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. This is an area in which I have a great interest. It is very frustrating to see in my community and while travelling in County Kerry and throughout the country so many vacant units in the middle of a housing crisis. It is critical that we provide incentives to get these derelict properties on to the market, as is the stick which is coming in the vacant property tax. It is vital that we are imaginative in the types of incentives we can provide to people who are currently holding these types of properties in order to make them available on the market with first-time buyers having an advantage. In that respect, there should be a holiday or brief window during which owners selling to a first-time buyer would have a capital gains tax holiday. We must also provide grant aid for doing up these properties as it is expensive to do so, both for materials and labour.

Extending the help-to-buy scheme to these properties is also critically important. They will become new units because they are currently not occupied. It is important, therefore, that the scheme is extended to such properties throughout the countryside, and not just in towns and villages.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta arís. Deputy Griffin is making an important point and his suggestion is worthy of consideration. As I said, a suite of measures is already in place and we are pursuing them. The Croí Cónaithe initiative will deliver. It is an important measure to support local authorities in providing serviced sites for housing, to attract people to build their own homes and for the refurbishment of vacant properties. The town centres first policy, which the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has been leading, will be an enabling force, particularly for smaller towns, in dealing with the barriers people face in doing up vacant properties, particularly heritage and older properties in towns, such as 19th century and early 20th century properties that could be put back to use for first-time buyers. Once launched, this policy should be of great assistance. Local authorities also need to be proactive in delivering.

As I have been getting different figures, I would be grateful if the Minister of State could provide me with definitive figures on how many derelict properties there are in my County Kerry. I am sure he does not have them with him now.

I also emphasise that in our messaging we should not refer only to towns and villages but also to the thousands of derelict cottages and old farmhouses throughout the countryside. That is critically important. People who grew up in the countryside sometimes cannot get planning permission, yet these derelict houses are available and could be transformed. We have to include those buildings, embrace them and bring them back into use to keep our countryside communities alive, including the one I am from.

The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will visit my constituency next week. It is very important that he see the former St. Finan’s Hospital in Killarney, which has the potential to deliver a large number of housing units. The senior Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, was there during the summer. This has been done in Waterford and it can be done in Killarney.

I support Deputy Griffin's comments on incentives. In one particular small town in my constituency, and there are many others like it, there are at least ten vacant properties on the main street. One man owns them all and when I asked him about these properties he replied that he was under no pressure to do anything with them.

They need a small amount of work but he said he was under no pressure whatsoever. He also said that if he did them up and rented them out, the tax would make them unviable. What kind of incentives and supports are available? The man in question stated the properties could not be taken off him because he owned them and they were his property. What incentives can we give this man, and others like him, to develop and open up these properties so that people can live in them?

In some villages, one, two or three property owners may own a number of derelict sites and are just sitting on them. That is replicated across the country. Compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers in cases where a building is derelict would allow local authorities to purchase these properties.

On the specific point raised by Deputy Griffin about the new scheme the Minister flagged over the weekend to grant-aid people who are buying derelict homes, will that apply to one-off derelict homes in rural areas as well as derelict buildings on main streets?

There are approximately 70,000 vacant homes which could be the target of public policy. Remarkably, 12.5% of those homes in Waterford have been put back into use. In most counties, the figure is around 1%. Good practice in local authorities makes a difference. Can the Minister give momentum to that? Will he extend, for example, the repair and leasing scheme to cost-rental homes, in other words, affordable homes, as well as social homes? That is a real target of public policy now and we should allow those schemes to have that flexibility.

The Deputies asked quite a number of questions. On the last point made by Deputy Bruton, between 2017 and 2021, the repair and leasing scheme brought 273 units into use.

On the point made by Deputy Phelan and other Deputies on one-off houses, the Department launched a vernacular strategy a number of weeks ago. These houses are important from a rural perspective and the pattern of rural Ireland. Rather than knocking these properties we need to put them back into productive use, with supports for doing so. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, is looking at tax incentives for individual owners of properties. We have not fully developed that yet but there are important points to consider on this issue.

In respect of grants from our own Department, the historic towns Initiative, the historic structures fund and the built heritage investment scheme are good schemes which address some of the issues the Deputies raised. They are available for small repairs to properties such as roof structures, windows, etc., that can get these properties back into productive use and on to the market for sale. A range of measures are in place. All the Deputies have raised important points that we will also take on board from this debate.

Housing Policy

John Paul Phelan


74. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the progress of the review into rural housing guidelines. [3047/22]

As we are running out of time, I ask the Deputy to skip his introduction and allow the Minister to reply.

The guidelines for planning authorities and sustainable rural housing 2005 were issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and require planning authorities to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way. Since 2018 the national planning framework. NPF, is the national policy document providing the overall strategy for the future development of Ireland. National policy objective, NPO, 19 aims to ensure that policy distinction is made between areas experiencing significant overspill development pressure from urban areas. Updated rural housing planning guidelines are being prepared by my Department to ensure consistency with current requirements and legislation at national and EU level in respect of areas related to rural housing such as environmental protection, the Gaeltacht and climate action. The new guidelines will ensure a more consistent approach between counties and alignment with good planning policy. A draft should be ready by the first quarter of 2022.

I wish to reiterate, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and his colleagues, the importance of rural housing guidelines for much of the country. There are many communities around the country that are dispersed in nature, as the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, mentioned. It is possible to live in a community that is not in an urban setting. There is always an ongoing review of city and county development plans. Many of them are taking place at present. Each county council provides its own guidelines in respect of the development of rural housing, but there has been a more than ten-year gap since there were renewed guidelines from central Government. It is important for people and for the aims of the national planning framework on ensuring that there is a dispersal of the increase in population into rural areas that new rural housing guidelines would be published as soon as possible.

I concur with the Deputy. It is important that, as a society, we acknowledge and understand the demand for rural housing. That is critical to providing a policy to allow for it in a sustainable way. It is important that we have good planning practices and that we call out the misinformation that is currently circulating on WhatsApp groups and in society that one-off rural housing is going to be banned. That is entirely not going to be the case.

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