Eoin Ó BroinQuestion:
51. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on the March 2022 homelessness report of his Department. [22549/22]
Vol. 1021 No. 5
51. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on the March 2022 homelessness report of his Department. [22549/22]
Since the Minister ended the blanket ban on evictions in April of last year, the number of adults and children in Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage-funded emergency accommodation has increased almost every month. The latest figures for March show that we have almost 10,000 adults and children in emergency accommodation. Can the Minister give his response to the latest report from his Department and outline what actions he is going to take in the coming days, weeks and months to halt and reverse this trend?
I thank the Deputy for his question. It is an important one. A priority for me as Minister is to continue tackling the serious problem that is homelessness. The continuing increase in the numbers, which I flagged a number of months ago and which was to be expected, is of serious concern to me as I know it is to the Deputy. The Government, local authorities and others are making every effort to reduce homelessness. I will go through some more details shortly. Key to this is the delivery of new social housing and boosting overall supply. I want a housing-led response to homelessness. That is what we are focused on.
We are investing significantly in social and affordable housing, with record funding allocated for current and capital expenditure this year alone. This year, funding is in place to deliver 11,800 new social homes, including 9,000 new builds. That is the highest number in any given year in the history of the State and is thus building on the progress we made last year when, even with Covid, we delivered 9,183 new social homes, a 17% increase on 2020.
More specifically, I have established the national homeless action committee, a standing committee within Government made up of NGOs, me and representatives from other relevant Departments, reflecting a whole-of-government approach. Its initial key priorities are the advancement of additional measures to prevent homelessness and work on the youth homelessness strategy. There will be a voids programme for 2022 with an emphasis on quick turnaround and reletting of vacant social housing stock to those on social housing waiting lists, including those in emergency accommodation. I want a specific focus on that and discussed it with our main local authorities recently. I also reinstated the delegated sanction to local authorities in respect of social housing acquisitions that meet certain criteria. This will allow local authorities more flexibility to secure acquisitions that support a household to exit homelessness or to prevent homelessness.
I thank the Minister. Part of the problem is that many of the things he is outlining are not going to be coming on-stream, particularly for those who are in emergency accommodation for very long periods. The driving causes of homelessness are the shrinking nature of the private rental sector, increasing numbers of vacant possession notices to quit, increasing presentations and a dramatic fall-off in the number of exits both for single people and families. If we look at exits from homelessness in Dublin, for example, there was an average of 141 per month in 2019 and 186 per month in 2020, falling to 58 in 2021 and to 30 or 40 a month this year. That trend is going to continue. Nothing the Minister has outlined to date is going to address that trend in the short to medium term.
I am very concerned with the latest circular the Minister has issued to local authorities. I do not believe it gives adequate flexibility. It is too rigid and will only result potentially in a very small number of people being prevented from falling into homelessness through the tenant in situ scheme. I urge the Minister to be more flexible and to engage with the Opposition to ensure the measure does much more in the weeks and months ahead.
I thank the Deputy. To conclude my initial response, I also want to refer to mortgage to rent, which is a very important mechanism for preventing homelessness. Last year, I made some significant changes which came into effect from 14 February of this year. Last year, 678 borrowers availed of the mortgage to rent scheme. We are targeting 1,000 this year and in each year onwards and I think we will exceed that. It is really important that we increase supply and I am going to do that significantly this year.
To respond to the Deputy's question on acquisitions, the circular was issued and changes made in consultation with the local authorities and the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA. I want to put on the record of the House that I particularly asked local authorities to look at the tenant in situ situation, particularly in respect of housing assistance payment, HAP, and rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenants, to see where we can prevent it and also making sure there is no distortion. I do get criticism from time to time in respect of an expanded acquisition programme that we are competing with first-time buyers. That circular was done in conjunction with the local authorities. I want to see how it works and am committed to doing it. While I am not convinced that it is inadequate in any way and want to see it work, I will also say to the Deputy that if we need to tweak it as we move forward I can assure him I will be happy to do that in conjunction with Opposition parties also.
The difficulty with the circular is twofold. First, the language indicates that it applies only when the household is deemed to be at risk of homelessness, for example when they are eligible for homeless HAP, which would be six weeks out from their notice to quit. That is far too late in the day to intervene. Second, under the previous tenant in situ scheme there was greater flexibility. Dublin City Council, for example, would have acquired properties for households at risk of homelessness who were on the housing list five years.. For Kildare, even lower in my own local authority, it was about eight years. This circular is being interpreted as applying only where a tenant would otherwise have a successful allocation of accommodation, so ten to 14 years on the list, and only when they are imminently at risk of homelessness, so six weeks out. That is far too rigid. The private rental sector has become so constrained that there is virtually nothing out there, as the Minister knows, for those families who have notices to quit. I urge the Minister to sit down and meet with Opposition spokespeople to tease out how to make the wording of the circular more flexible to prevent families from becoming homeless and to reduce those increased presentation numbers from next month and the months immediately after that.
This is a mechanism that we want to see work. The Deputy referred to the tenants in situ scheme in Dublin City Council, which it effectively ran itself. It has not been precluded from operating that scheme. We need to balance what we are doing to make sure those waiting for a long time on the list will not be waiting even longer. This is a preventive measure. I want to see it work. I have been really clear with the local authorities. I have had two housing summits with them recently. These summits involved all chief executives and directors of services in all 31 local authorities. I attended the summits and addressed both meetings. I am in regular contact with the local authorities, particularly the ten larger ones. With regard to Dublin City Council in particular, it is in the four Dublin local authority areas that homelessness and the risk thereof are most predominant. I am happy to examine this as it moves on. I can give the Deputy that assurance.
In 2021, we had 5,234 exits from and preventions of homelessness. There was significant work done in that regard. We have an issue with a shrunken rental market. It would be interesting to hear the views and policies of the Deputy and his party on how to retain landlords within the system. We need to retain individual landlords within the system, which may require tax measures. I am assuming I will have the Deputy's support if that must be done.
52. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if the terms of reference for his senior-counsel-led report on alleged conflicts of interest at An Bord Pleanála cover all three sets of issues now in the public domain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22550/22]
As the Minister knows, there have been a number of very serious allegations of potential conflicts of interest made in the public domain against an individual member of An Bord Pleanála. My question relates not specifically to the allegations, because I realise the Minister is not in a position to comment on those, but to the terms of reference for the senior counsel review that the Minister has commissioned. Can he confirm that those terms of reference relate to all the allegations of potential conflicts of interest in the public domain? Will he share and discuss them with Opposition spokespeople before he finalises them, which I understand he is due to do imminently?
I am aware of the allegations that have been made. I understand they are denied by the board members specifically. It is important that we say that. I have appointed a senior counsel, Mr. Remy Farrell, to provide a report to inform my consideration of the matter. Any allegations of this nature, be they related to individuals or the process, must be taken very seriously. We have done so in advance of the recent public commentary on this. The terms of reference, to which the Deputy referred, and the timelines for the report are nearing finalisation. I will publish them. It is right that we do so and that people have sight of them.
I understand the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, has independently written to the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála requesting the chairperson to outline the systems and procedures that An Bord Pleanála has in place to ensure effective compliance with all statutory duties provided in sections 147 and 148 the Act and any other matters that the office deems relevant. The board is independent in its performance of its functions under the planning Act. We have to guard that independence. Pending the outcome of the considerations, I am not going to make any further comment, but I assure the Deputy and others who have shown an interest in this that the terms of reference will be published and shared when concluded, which will be very soon or in a matter of days. We need to let the senior counsel proceed with his time-bound work. I want it focused; I do not want it to drag on. I want this examined so we can deal with this issue efficiently and expeditiously.
In order for An Bord Pleanála to fulfil its functions, it has to have the confidence of the public. It is the view of many of us that this confidence has been eroded over the past several years, in part because of some very controversial decisions in contravention of local city and county development plans and, in many cases, the advice of its own inspectors. This has led to the extraordinary situation of Dublin City Council being forced to take judicial reviews on two occasions, with respect to both St. Anne's Park and Salesforce in the docklands, to defend the democratic integrity of the development plan and the strategic development zone there. Therefore, I fully support the Minister in expediting this matter as quickly as possible to restore full public confidence. Can he confirm that the terms of reference will cover all the allegations currently in the public domain? I am not asking him to comment on them but to state that the terms of reference of the senior counsel review will be broad in that nature.
I assure the Deputy that they will be. He will see that very shortly, or in a matter of days, when we publish them. The work is now being concluded. It is important that the public have confidence in the board. We all have a responsibility to ensure this is the case. The Government has made significant changes to the planning process by reinstating a two-stage process that starts in the local authorities through the large-scale residential developments legislation. The strategic housing developments are no more. Those that are just working through the system will conclude because they have started. That is a very significant step forward.
I have approved an additional 42 posts in An Bord Pleanála to make sure it is resourced. I am considering a further workforce plan in conjunction with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to determine what additional resources can be put in place. We want this done quickly. The terms of reference are broad enough to cover any of the matters in the public domain right now. I am happy to share them. We will publish them because we need transparency in this process.
I thank the Minister for that. One of the most important recommendations of the 2016 review of An Bord Pleanála that is as yet unimplemented is the recommendation that all future appointments to the board be made through the Public Appointments Service. Particularly in the current context, it would be a very wise move. Could the Minister commit to doing that during his time in office?
Given that the last internal report initiated by one of the Minister's predecessors into allegations of planning impropriety, the Mulcahy report into certain planning matters in Donegal, still has not been published, will the Minister commit to publishing it and, crucially, the report of the senior counsel review into the matters concerning An Bord Pleanála? I fully welcome and support the Minister's commitment to transparency. It is many years since Mr. Gerard Convier won his High Court cases with respect to allegations of planning impropriety in Donegal; yet the report, which is on the Minister's desk and has been inherited from two of his predecessors, still has not been published. Transparency would dictate that the Minister publish it. Could he give a commitment in that regard and a commitment to publishing his own commissioned report on these matters concerning An Bord Pleanála?
There are a number of reviews happening. I wish to refer also to the Attorney General's review of the planning code and a revised system for board appointments. That is really important. This is the most extensive review of the planning system, and we are working through it. I see that the Chairman of the joint committee, Deputy Matthews, is present. The committee will be involved. About five years' work is being done in nine months. With the support of the committee, I expect to bring a consolidated planning Bill forward later this year because changes need to be made. It will also cover the area of board appointments.
With regard to the publication of any-----
I do not wish to cut across the Minister but am wondering whether that involves a "Yes" or "No" on committing to implementing the specific recommendation of the An Bord Pleanála review.
All of that will be considered. The OPR review will be carried out as well. The OPR review is being conducted by Mr. Niall Cussen. We must not proceed in a piecemeal fashion but in a consolidated manner.
That is a maybe.
I need to let the senior counsel, Mr. Remy Farrell, start and conclude his work. That has not started yet. We do not know what the outcome will be, so I will not say anything further about what will happen with the report in the future; suffice it to say that the Government takes the situation very seriously. That is why it acted proactively. I welcome the Deputy's remarks in support of the process under way. We will publish the terms of reference in a matter of days.
Will the Minister publish the Mulcahy report?
I will take note of what the Deputy has said. We will come back to him in due course.
53. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will increase the current income limits to qualify for social housing immediately given the ongoing rising inflation and difficulties being experienced in meeting the rising costs of rent within the current income limits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21949/22]
Will the Minister of State increase the current income limits to qualify for social housing immediately given the ongoing rising inflation and the difficulties experienced in meeting the rising costs of rent within the current income limits? Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter, lena thoil?
I thank the Deputy for his question. Applications for housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority in accordance with the eligibility and needs criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated social housing assessment regulations. The regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority in differing bands according to each area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy.
The income bands and the authority area assigned to each were based on an assessment of income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation in the country.
A blanket increase of €5,000 was introduced prior to the new system coming into operation.
Housing for All - A new Housing Plan for Ireland, was published in September 2021, as the Deputy knows, and was part of a broad suite of social housing reforms committed to reviewing income eligibility for housing. The review, which examined the efficiency of the current banding model and income limits applicable to local authorities, has been completed and the Minister is currently considering its findings and expects to make a decision shortly on the recommendations.
There is a state of disconnect in respect of the current income limits to qualify for social housing. The Tipperary County Council cap is €25,000 for a single person and €27,500 for an average family comprising two adults and two children. These figures have not been reviewed since 2011. Given the significant increase in rent, and the massive rate of inflation and increase in the cost of living, it is simply not in any way realistic to expect a family of two adults and two children to meet their housing needs and living expenses on an income of €27,500 per year. It is just not possible. Will the Minister review this? He said he has carried out a review, but when will we see it? This is causing considerable problems, especially given that the cost of renting an average four-bedroom house in County Tipperary is approximately €1,200 per month., meaning that a family with an income of €28,000 is expected to pay 51% of their income towards the rental of a property. This is just not possible. It is inhumane and should not be accepted. The review is eagerly awaited.
I hear the points made by the Deputy. That is why the Department and Minister have initiated a review under Housing for All. It also includes the context of the wider global interventions we are making in housing from the record level of social housing construction to the affordability measures from direct purchase and shared equity and our new cost-rental model, which will be a game changer in terms of giving people secure tenure below market rental rates. All of those interventions have to be judged with this review.
We should consider the scale of Housing for All. There will be €4 billion in multi-annual funding for constructing a record level of housing. The Minister has to base that on the increase in rents which are capped by the new interventions and a number of items of legislation we introduced to protect renters throughout the Covid pandemic and ensure they would not be evicted. The review will be judged on shortly.
Some of the NGOs come up with acronyms. Housing for All is a totally inappropriate name. In the face of significant increases in rent across County Tipperary and, as I said, a considerable increase in the cost of living, the income limits are wholly inappropriate. I call on the Minister to act as a matter of urgency. We keep talking about aspirations and good intentions, but they will not house people. People cannot afford their rent and cannot avail of HAP.
According to information on daft.ie, just 60 properties are available to rent in the entire county of Tipperary, from Carrick-on-Suir to Lorrha. Tipperary is a huge county. There are only four properties available in my town of Clonmel. There are 3,521 on an approved housing list waiting for housing in Tiobraid Árann. As I said, people cannot get places to rent. It is a huge problem and needs to be dealt with. The national average listed rent is now €908, an increase of 61% from the lowest rate. The property rental crisis is now at its worst level ever. My office and every other Teachta's office is overrun with people and we cannot do anything for them. The new strategy is called Housing for All, but housing for who and when? Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad, nó cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan teach?
Housing for All is a very appropriate name because, in the context of a comprehensive societal approach, it is important that we have streams to have a record level of social, affordable and private housing. Many people in our society are unable to reach the threshold to get a mortgage. That is why we have a record level of affordable housing investment to meet that need. Housing for All is the most appropriate name for a document to capture society and respond to the needs of the demographic change in society I can ever see. There is investment behind that. As I said, the review has been completed. The Minister is assessing it and will make decisions in the context of the record levels of affordable housing that are being provided to the State, as well social housing. That is what the document will be judged on.
56. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the new Croí Cónaithe fund to service sites and refurbish vacant properties in regional towns and villages. [17862/22]
87. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the position regarding the Croí Cónaithe towns fund as outlined in Housing for All, which will allow local authorities to support homeownership by making available serviced sites at a reduced cost and by supporting the refurbishment of vacant properties; when it is likely to come on stream; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21924/22]
I ask the Minister about the Croí Cónaithe fund. We know there is currently huge attention being paid to dereliction and vacancy. We know the benefits of bringing derelict and vacant housing back into housing stock, not just for residential use but because we know about the embodied carbon in vacant and derelict housing. It makes perfect economic and environmental sense to do so. I ask the Minister update us on the Croí Cónaithe funding and how it will assist with bringing derelict properties back into use.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 87 together.
Housing for All provides a new housing plan for Ireland to 2030, with an overall objective that citizens 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 right into the system. The strategy sets out, over four pathways, a broad suite of measures to achieve its policy objectives, together with a financial commitment of in excess of €4 billion per annum. A suite of measures under way in the pathway to address vacancy and the efficient use of housing stock includes the Croí Cónaithe towns fund, as referenced by the Deputy, which will be delivered by local authorities for the provision of serviced sites housing to attract people to build their own homes and support the refurbishment of vacant properties. This will enable people to live in small towns and villages in a sustainable way.
The consideration of the approach to the Croí Cónaithe towns fund is at an advanced stage, including the scope and appropriate timeframes, and will be launched very shortly. As Deputy Matthews said, this is an important fund from the Government and one which will breathe new life into towns and villages. A direct payment will enhance the viability of bringing vacant and derelict stock back into residential use. It is important to breathe life into towns and villages across the country. We look forward to launching this fund later on this year. I look forward to seeing applications coming in from the 31 local authorities.
I thank the Minister of State and welcome the fact that Croí Cónaithe will be launched shortly. I also recognise that Housing for All is an extensive and significant housing policy document that encompasses a massive range of housing, including social, affordable and private. That needs to be acknowledged, as well as the fact that success is being delivered within that.
A committee recently carried out an extensive series of meetings on dereliction, vacancy and regeneration, and how we can bring building stock back into life and concentrate not just on buildings in towns but also deliver nicer public areas and address transport to and through those towns as we bring life back into our towns and villages across the country. Croí Cónaithe will definitely support that.
Another area we have to examine is the fact that we know where the dereliction is and we are getting more and more information on vacancies. As the census reports and local property tax returns come in, we will have better information on that. We know where the derelict properties are and why we need to address that. We know it makes perfect sense and that many people now want to live in towns and villages, given working from home, digitisation and improved transport throughout rural Ireland coming on stream.
We also need to examine how we will do this. The current building regulations are comprehensive and vitally important, but they put an extra layer of difficulty on developers as they try to bring upper floors and second and third stories back into use. We need to examine the regulations, not in any way to reduce the regulations or standards but to simplify the process and make it easier for people to carry out that work.
I ask the Minister to also provide an update on the Croí Cónaithe cities fund. Will it be up and running this year? Has the Government decided whether the fund will be an equity stake in the new-build apartments, grant aid to the purchaser or a subsidy to the developer?
On Deputy Ó Broin’s supplementary question, we got Cabinet approval just this week in respect of proceeding with the fund. We are working through matters with the Directorate General for Competition in respect of state aid. There is a similar scheme in Sweden that was successful. What we have to do is notify that, which we are doing. I expect that we will launch it in the coming weeks. There will be a lead-in time, so I cannot give a figure for how much will be drawn down this year. The predominance of it will probably start from next year. All details of the scheme will be published. We will hold a briefing before that. We received Cabinet approval on Tuesday in respect of moving forward to the next stage.
As Deputy Matthews rightly outlined, the Croí Cónaithe towns fund will be a game changer in terms of bringing derelict properties back into use, along with the other interventions in the system. There will be two strings to it. One string will involve looking at a reduced cost of self-build in terms of serviced sites, which is very important for the system, while the second will relate to the refurbishment of vacant properties. There is evidence to be seen around the country in respect of how many vacant properties there are. That is a potential we have to tap into and bring back into use. There is a target of 2,000 homes being brought back into use by 2025. Those direct payments will defray VAT, development levies and the building regulations. However, we have to be careful regarding the standards to which we are delivering housing in this country. We have the best quality housing to the best accreditation in terms of energy and regulation and we have to be careful that we do not compromise our standards in the context of that role.
Many people have come to me on this issue because they know the Green Party holds strong policies in respect of urban and rural village regeneration and all the benefits that brings - economic, social, environmental and climate. I am glad the Minister stated the fund will be launched shortly. I look forward to the detail on that. I have brought forward a Bill that considers how we can streamline the regulation process as well. That is very much part of it. It is good that the Government recognises that and has committed substantial funding to it. We also need to consider how we do this in the context of either private owners who want to do this or those who wish to develop second and third storeys. It is important that the whole pattern of how we do this is considered. I look forward to discussing those regulations and suggestions with the Minister at a later date.
I will bring in Deputy Bruton to conclude on this question.
I understand that part of Croí Cónaithe involves looking at higher-density urban developments and introducing an intervention to make them affordable for first-time buyers. What progress has been made on that scheme? I do not know whether that question was answered in reply to Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan. There is much high-density development. In constituencies such as mine, it is almost exclusively high-density development. The fund will be eagerly awaited.
Obviously, there are two funds here. There is a fund to which the Government has committed €500 million between cities and towns. The Deputy is 100% correct. There are approximately 80,000 planning permissions that have not been activated, many of which are for high-density development or in city areas. The Croí Cónaithe cities fund will be focused at five cities, namely, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. I brought the proposal and memo to Cabinet on Tuesday and we got approval to move to the next stage. That means that within a matter of weeks, we will be launching an open call on the fund. It will provide real assistance for owner-occupiers. It will create viability within those developments. It will be an open call for people to come forward with their proposals, on the condition that those proposals are built out. It will be done on an open-book basis. I know this is something for which the Deputy has advocated strongly, and rightly so because this speaks to ensuring we have compact urban growth and that we actually get some of these sites developed, with people and families living on them. We are only weeks away from the launch. I again thank the Deputy for his interest in this matter.
54. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the extent to which County Mayo was assessed to determine the level of demand for an affordable housing scheme; and the reason Mayo County Council was not included by his Department when finalising the affordable housing targets for 18 local authorities level for the period 2022-2026. [22198/22]
Issues in respect of housing and affordability of housing in County Mayo are at crisis point. There is a shortage of affordable homes to rent or purchase in parts of the county, especially in towns such as Westport, Castlebar and Ballina. The national affordable housing delivery targets were published but I was disappointed to see that Mayo County Council was excluded and that the Department’s five-year targets were allocated to only 18 local authorities. No scheme has been approved in Mayo County Council to provide affordable housing at present and that is having a negative impact on future economic development in the county.
I thank the Deputy for his question. I am anxious that all counties can participate in the affordable housing fund. They can do so should relevant schemes be brought forward. I asked all local authorities, including Mayo County Council, to prepare housing delivery action plans, which they have done. Each authority was asked to assess the level of housing demand with affordability constraint projected for their area using a common tool, namely, the housing need and demand assessment tool. Local authorities with a strong and identified affordable housing need were asked to prepare affordable delivery action plans and were set five-year affordable delivery targets.
An identified level of affordable housing need arises where, of the projected housing need in the county, more than 5% of new households would not qualify. The level of affordability constrained need in Mayo is assessed at below 5% although, in fairness, we have not constrained it to being county-wide. I understand there are localised affordability issues, particularly in Westport and also potentially in Ballina. We are happy to consider those issues. Where local authorities have localised affordability measures, as is the case in the two towns to which I referred, they can still apply to the Department for funding to develop affordable housing schemes if they can demonstrate that an affordable scheme is needed to address those localised affordability challenges and they can meet the criteria for the fund. I am confident that can be done.
I will come back in on the Deputy’s supplementary question to specifically inform him of the interaction between my Department and Mayo County Council. We are engaging with it right now - we did so as recently as yesterday - regarding the potential development of affordable housing schemes in Mayo. We have offered assistance to the county council, as we do to all local authorities if they are bringing in schemes that are specific to particular areas within the county. The county he represents is a large one and there may not be an affordability constraint in the context of the whole county but, within it, there may be such a constraint. Those are the ones we want to ensure come into the scheme.
I thank the Minister for his response. As he outlined, the issue for young people and families seeking home ownership and trying to get onto the property ladder is that the average house price in Mayo is below the 5% affordability constraint for access to the affordability scheme. As he outlined, the issue boils down to the calculations on a county-wide basis. Mayo has the fourth-lowest market house price in the country but that is certainly not reflective of the open market price of new-build homes in areas such as Westport, Castlebar and Ballina. Some of these A-rated new premises are on the market for between €270,000 and €350,000.
I am delighted to see Mayo County Council has been proactive. It reached out to the public in Mayo, seeking information to understand better the demand for affordable housing, including locations of choice and the affordability constraints of potential applicants. The threshold for social housing in Mayo is €25,000. Many people are above that threshold but caught within the squeezed-middle bracket. It is important that we respond to these pressure areas. Mayo has significant issues in respect of vacancy and dereliction. Increasing housing supply in the area would be an important step forward.
In answer to the previous parliamentary question, the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, discussed the Croí Cónaithe towns and villages fund. We have to tackle the scourge of vacancy and dereliction and we are going to do so. That fund will come out very soon.
As regards Mayo in particular, in June 2021 a scheme was submitted for 25 homes in Westport under the previous fund, namely, the serviced sites fund.
We have told Mayo County Council that it can resubmit that to the new fund and I understand work is ongoing between my Department and the council on that.
KPMG is doing some work for Mayo County Council on the future analytics side, to prove the affordability constraint in other areas. Mayo County Council has asked for a meeting, to which we have agreed, but it asked that it would happen after the work with KPMG is concluded. I understand that work will conclude this month and we are happy to meet with Mayo County Council in June, once it has received that data.
The fund is open. We have issued an open call for people to apply. Finally, from 1 July this year the first home shared equity scheme will be open for first-time buyers. We believe in home ownership. That scheme will be country wide, right across the 26 counties and it will give people choice too.
Specifically on Mayo's applications to the fund, we are working with the council on a positive basis because I want to see schemes come in from Mayo.
Deputy Ó Broin has a brief supplementary question.
I ask the Minister to confirm that all of the regulations underpinning the affordable housing schemes have been laid before the House and if not, can he tell us which ones are outstanding and when they will be laid.
I welcome the Minister's support for and engagement with Mayo County Council. It is hugely important. We have a very good housing team in the local authority and I am working closely with that team. However, housing policy in Mayo has been dictated by financial interests rather than by the needs of the locality and that certainly needs to be reformed. We should pursue affordable housing initiatives not based on the risk or the cost but based on the needs of people who want home ownership. With social housing, councils get 100% reimbursement whereas the cost of affordable housing is met by the councils and they carry the risk. That is the danger here for local authorities; they want to implement a scheme but they want support from the Department. I thank the Minister for his engagement and look forward to working with him on this in the coming weeks.
We are very serious about engaging with all local authorities. As I said already, where schemes can be brought forward, we want them. We have also issued a call on advance purchase for schemes that are currently being built or being built out and we have received six or seven proposals on that already, which will see homes delivered this year. In urban centres the LDA, through Project Tosaigh, will deliver hundreds more affordable purchase and cost rental units this year and quite a lot into 2023 too. Deputy Dillon can be assured that we will continue this work and I thank him for his engagement and support.
In response to Deputy Ó Broin's supplementary question, the cost rental affordable regulations were laid before the Houses. They are done and that national scheme is in place. The regulations for affordable purchase through local authorities were concluded a number of weeks ago and I would expect that they have been laid before the House but will double check. Our work is concluded on that. The final piece that we need to do relates to the first home shared equity, which we are wrapping up right now. As soon as we have the criteria for that, we will lay them before the Houses.
I will double check in relation to the affordable purchase regulations. We have concluded them and I have signed off on them. I would expect they are there-----
It was done last week. My question is whether that is all of them.
That is all on affordable purchase through the local authorities. The regulations on affordable rental through cost rental have been laid as well. The final piece of work or the other leg to the stool relates to the first home shared equity and that work will conclude in the next few weeks. We will be publishing that and will have an extensive public information campaign on it because this Government supports home ownership. All three parties in the Government want to make sure that affordable housing is central to our housing response and we are making progress in that regard.
55. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide an update on the Croí Cónaithe funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22312/22]
I seek an update on the Croí Conaithe aspect of the Housing for All plan, particularly as it relates to towns and villages.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for his question and all Members for their interest in this issue. Deputy O'Sullivan has advocated for this very strongly and we all recognise the importance of the Government giving assistance to those who can bring vacant and empty homes in our towns and villages back into use. We are within weeks of launching that fund. It will be managed through our local authorities. The Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, and I want to make sure the process is as simple as possible. It will be done by way of a grant scheme for home owners.
Right across our country we have a resource in the form of empty housing stock that can breathe life back into our towns and villages and we should use it. Working this fund right the way through has been quite complex but we are nearly there on it. We got Cabinet approval on the fund itself on Tuesday last and will now move the cities and towns fund forward. It is a significant investment on behalf of the Exchequer, to the tune of €500 million. This will run between now and 2026 and we want to make sure it works.
The local authorities have been very supportive of this and will administer the fund and the applications. I want the application process to be simple and clear for people. This is another avenue through which we can ensure that our young and not-so-young people who aspire to owning their own homes and living in their own areas will be able to do so. It also speaks, and rightly so, to the policy that the Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, launched recently, the town centre first initiative and supporting that. Our aim is to support growth within our towns and villages and this is a really significant step forward by this Government. This is a strong commitment in Housing for All and in the programme for Government and the fund will be launched within a matter of weeks. I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for his support and for advocating for these changes on behalf of his own constituents.
The reason I brought this up is that in west Cork the two aspects of the Housing for All plan on which I get quizzed most regularly are the affordable housing element, including when we will see affordable housing schemes and the Croí Conaithe fund. I am regularly asked when Croí Conaithe funding and finance will be made available, particularly by single people who really see this as an opportunity to get on the property ladder or get a house for themselves, as well as by young couples. What we are struggling with at constituency level is directing people towards proper information. The sooner we can get detailed information, with FAQs on different aspects of the scheme, the better. We can then direct people who see this scheme as a potential solution to that information.
I assure Deputy O'Sullivan that we will make sure all of the relevant information is available. There will be public information campaign on the scheme. There is a lot of interest among Government and Opposition Deputies in this fund. We will make sure all Deputies receive the relevant information. Local authorities will be managing the scheme.
I am glad that Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned single people, a cohort of people who find the current housing situation acutely challenging. That is why we have made very significant changes to the local authority home loan scheme. We have increased the limits for single people. The Croí Conaithe fund will apply to single people. It will also, as is the case with all of the policies the Department has brought forward, be underpinned by the fresh start principle and will apply to people whose lives may have changed through divorce or separation and who do not have any interest in other properties. They are entitled to a fresh start too and that will happen through this policy and through the first home shared equity scheme too. It is really important that we recognise changes in our society, including changes to family types.
This fund will really help people and as I said, we are only a matter of weeks away from launching it. We will make sure all of the relevant information is available. I thank Deputy O'Sullivan and others for their support on this. This could be a game changer for regional Ireland in particular and for towns and villages right across the country.
As the Minister has said, one of the reasons this is such an exciting scheme is that it has the potential to breathe new life into towns and villages, particularly in the regions. It could increase footfall on our high streets. At the moment, there are some villages and towns experiencing 50% to 60% vacancy rates on their high streets.
Another important issue is the fact that a lot of over-the-shop premises can be quite difficult to work with. I have seen many that are in quite a state of disrepair and access can be a real issue. There are also complications around fire certificates and other certification requirements. I ask the Minister to provide detail on the situation regarding premises that can be difficult to work with in terms of access and certification. Is there a plan in place to ensure that dealing with those issues is as smooth as possible?
Croí Conaithe will very much focus on empty buildings and vacant homes that exist right now and such premises will be in different states of disrepair.
The other very serious issue, which will very much help Croí Cónaithe, is above-shop living. That has not been cracked yet in respect of the regulations. We have a group working on that, particularly on fire regulations and so on. It will conclude its work on that very shortly. We will not wait for that to be done to get Croí Cónaithe launched. There are vacant homes on the main street in Clonakilty, in Deputy O'Sullivan's constituency, and in Banagher, County Offaly. They are homes that were residences before. I see the fund working first for them, and then I want to get the above-shop units back in place because the cost of bringing a lot of them back into use is prohibitive for people. Croí Cónaithe will be launched very shortly. The work on access, egress and fire certification is being undertaken by an expert group in the Department, including stakeholders within the sector. That work will conclude this year. We will not wait to launch Croí Cónaithe. We want to launch it soon because there are homes out there that we can get working on pretty much straight away. The resource of above-shop units is one not just within our towns and villages; we see above-commercial-premises units within our cities as well. We have made changes in planning and I have extended the regulations for conversion of commercial buildings, including now conversion of former public houses to residential units without the need for planning permission. That has been done really successfully, particularly in two counties I mentioned, Waterford and Limerick, which have really led the way on this. We are encouraging all counties to do the same.
57. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if there will be a review of the current policy whereby persons or families on the brink of homelessness can avail of assistance from the local authority homeless prevention office only after that person or family has become homeless; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22311/22]
I would like an outline of the policy across local authorities as to what point their homelessness services or officers kick into action. I believe that policy needs to be reviewed within local authorities such that people on the brink of homelessness can access those services. At the moment that is not necessarily always the case.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an gceist.
The increase in homelessness seen in recent months is of serious concern to the Government and we are acting to address it. While significant work has been done, there is still considerably more work to be done. There are a myriad of reasons for the increase, including landlords leaving the market, which I think the Minister referred to, and HAP availability decreasing. There are a significant number of challenges that we are attempting to address.
Contrary to what is perhaps suggested by the question, there is no national policy that prevents local authorities from providing assistance until a person has become homeless. As set out in Housing for All, the Government is committed to a housing-led approach as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. This includes the prevention of loss of existing housing. We actively encourage local authorities to undertake prevention measures. For example, Housing for All provides for enhancement of the provision of targeted prevention and early intervention services for families and children who are at risk of homelessness through a co-ordinated multi-agency response, with the Department, the HSE, Tusla and local authorities leading in this area. Local authorities already oversee a range of homelessness prevention and tenancy sustainment measures. Many of these services, including those operated on behalf of local authorities by NGOs, are funded by our Department. These include Threshold's tenancy protection service. This service has been instrumental in preventing homelessness in the first instance and in supporting people to remain in their homes. Our Department also funds the HAP place finder service, which plays a vital role in keeping families out of homelessness and housing families who find themselves in emergency accommodation.
All additional measures we can take to address the rise in homelessness are being actively pursued by the Government.
The reason the question is phrased in the way it is is that there seems to be an issue in my constituency in dealing with the local authority down there and the accommodation finding officer. The officer will offer full, proper assistance only when a person or family find themselves without a home. Cork County Council has been to the fore in bringing voids back into the social housing stock and in delivering social housing in general. The Minister will visit Skibbereen next week and the 50 social houses there and the 100 social houses in Clonakilty that are being delivered for families that need them. However, there are families who find themselves only a matter of weeks from being without a home because of the sale of a property, for example. They are not able to avail of the county council's homeless services and emergency accommodation. The likes of Novas are under serious pressure to deliver such services, so something needs to change in that regard.
If I may be so bold as to request a supplementary reply from the Minister, it is about the fact that people are being refused payment plans for going onto HAP, which is creating huge difficulty. I dealt with a woman to whom this happened the other day. She broke the agreement on the basis of being in hospital. She is dealing with eviction and the money has been sought upfront. There were legacy arrears of €1,600. It is a huge issue and something that absolutely needs to be addressed.
I have researched the operation of the policy in Cork City Council and Cork County Council. They have advised that if persons present with a notice to quit, they will engage immediately. The notice to quit will be sent to Threshold for verification. Once that is validated, Cork City Council or Cork County Council will support the tenant with services such as HAP place finder. If a tenant is in arrears, Cork local authorities may refer to MABS and explore if a hardship clause can be used, if the landlord can be engaged with, etc. If a tenant has not received the notice to quit but is expecting one, the tenant must remain in the property to receive assistance if and when the notice to quit is issued. The local authority should then proceed to provide support - for example, referral to Threshold. As I said in my opening response, I think Cork County Council, in the Deputy's area, does engage.
The Deputy referred to the voids programme. The Minister will announce a new voids programme next week for social housing tenants. This will include the delivery of 100 social housing units in Clonakilty. I hope that that provides a response to the Deputy's specific question.
In response to Deputy Ó Murchú's question, it would be useful if the Deputy could provide details of the specific issue he raises. I think there should be some discretion there, but if he could provide us with details of that issue, we will-----
I will. It is HAP central that is saying that that is the case from February, that no one who breaks an agreement will get a new one and that no new tenant can enter into a brand new agreement. It will lead to homelessness. I appreciate the Minister of State's response. I will be on to the Department directly.
Again, Cork County Council is at the forefront when it comes to voids and bringing them into the delivery of actual social houses. The council would be at the very top if there were a league table. The Minister of State has quite correctly read out the policy as to when the place finder mechanism should kick in. I am saying we do not always see that on the ground. Quite often we see instances in which people are two, three or four weeks away from having to vacate a property and the place finder mechanism that local authorities have does not seem to assist as it should. Novas and Threshold, as was said, have big caseloads to deal with, unfortunately. Maybe the question should be rephrased to ensure that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage ensures that local authorities implement that policy where a notice to quit is demonstrated and that the place finder service does everything possible to ensure that accommodation is found.
There should be a standardised approach. Our Department funds Threshold, so if the Deputy and clients are not finding this to be the case on the ground, it should be the case. They should have that support immediately, and in advance if they are at risk of homelessness or find themselves with a notice to quit. It is critical that all local authorities have that standardised approach.
58. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the measures he proposes to introduce to address the needs of people arriving from Ukraine. [22142/22]
I strongly support the Government's policy in accommodating Ukrainian refugees. I am concerned about the continuing use of community halls and Army camps. I have two basic questions. One is to get assurance that the emergency response will have the budget and the authority to quickly change schemes - for example, for holiday homes and vacant properties. Second, I would like an assurance that this will not interfere with the ongoing Housing for All strategy the Minister is delivering for other housing needs.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is leading the initial humanitarian response, including providing immediate and short-term accommodation for persons arriving in Ireland from the conflict in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, my Department is focusing on the longer-term accommodation challenges and is leading cross-Government efforts through a housing task force established by the Government for this purpose. All accommodation and housing options are being examined by the task force. These include the medium-term delivery of modular and volumetric accommodation, refurbishing or reconfiguring vacant buildings and stimulating and accelerating construction of new permanent-build homes. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, recently brought proposals to the Government for approval in this regard. These proposals include establishing an emergency vacant housing delivery unit in the Local Government Management Agency to support refurbishment of vacant buildings, assigning a director of service and a small team to co-ordinate the local response between agencies and community groups supporting the provision of services to Ukrainians, requesting each local authority to scope the refurbishment of at least one building capable of accommodating multiple families in their area and establishing a clearing house to resolve issues associated with planning permissions granted but not yet activated - these could be infrastructural issues such as water and wastewater.
Further options will be brought to the Government in the coming weeks and will be developed.
I refer to issues around emergency beds in each local authority area as well. Certainly in my local authority area, there is quite a considerable amount of activity and the local authority is being very proactive in trying to deliver both the emergency shorter-term options and longer-term ones.
To reassure the Deputy, this is working in parallel with Housing for All. We are quite clear that the Housing for All targets will be delivered as well in tandem with this, which is an immense humanitarian challenge right across Europe. The Government is determined to play a critical role in trying to support these families fleeing this terrible situation.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply.
I will ask the Minister of State a number of specific questions. There are 62,000 holiday homes and there is a window of opportunity to potentially bring them into use. It probably would need some level of payment though, to attract some of those 62,000 into use. They would be really valuable.
I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has an emergency vacant housing delivery unit, he has the Office of Public Works, OPW, looking at modular building and he has a clearing house in his own Department but it seems a quite complex structure. Should we not be going for a more focused singularly responsible leader for all of this response, whether it be modular, activating vacant property or removing infrastructural blockages and giving that body the authority to modify schemes, such as the lease scheme, in order that one could have a more speedy response without bureaucracy?
The Deputy makes valid and useful points. The task force that the Government has set up, which will meet next week, and the response immediately is being led by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth but all Departments are playing a significant role in that regard.
The issue of holiday homes is being considered and the subcommittee will look at that as well. I suppose what we are in is a unique situation unprecedented in our time. We have always had issues with refugees in this country and have not always dealt with them adequately. The response by Government now has been focused and determined.
Certainly, the point made by the Deputy in relation to that singular approach is substantially what we are doing in government but the role at local level by local authorities is critical here. That communication level, from the Government response right down to local authorities, is playing a considerable and significant role in trying to address this crisis.
Where the Minister of State is looking at State lands for potential modular use, will a material contravention process, which can be lengthy, still be required? How will the Minister of State get temporary use of lands for modular building that would not be too long delayed?
Specifically in relation to State land, "No" is the answer. We will be using the emergency provisions of section 181(2) of the Planning and Development Act to deliver that because this is a crisis situation. We are exploring other potential planning regulations which may allow for a range of developments to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees without the need for planning permission where they are required to meet the State's obligation under the EU Council Directive 2001/55 relating to the provision of temporary accommodation and protection to Ukrainian refugees.
59. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the steps he is taking to assist local authorities taking over housing estates and developments from private developers when these estates and developments need additional infrastructure investment for issues such as lighting, roads, and wastewater infrastructure. [22152/22]
The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will be aware of the many families and homeowners who are left in limbo because neither the developer nor the local authority is taking responsibility for infrastructure in their estate. Lighting, footpaths and road quality are deteriorating and nobody is stepping in. While this is a matter for each local authority, due to the capital expenditure required many cannot afford these interventions. Would the Minister of State be willing to put in place a specific funding stream to assist these families?
I thank Deputy Cairns for her question.
The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and here referred to as the Act, and the Water Services Acts 2007 to 2018 set out the statutory provisions relating to the taking in charge of housing estates by planning authorities and Irish Water where it is appropriate to do so.
Section 180 of the Act sets out the process to be followed in relation to the taking in charge of housing estates where a development is considered to have been satisfactorily completed, as well as where it has not been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority. It is a matter for the relevant planning authority, as the Deputy quite rightly pointed out, to agree to take in charge any individual housing estate.
When taking in charge an estate under section 180 of the Act, the planning authority agrees to take in charge the roads, footpaths, public lighting and open spaces associated with the development. With regard to water-related infrastructure such as sewers, water mains or service connections within the attendant grounds of a development, these, which are initially taken in charge by the planning authority, must then be transferred to Irish Water by ministerial order pursuant to section 12 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013.
Ultimately, progression of individual developments through the taking-in-charge process is a matter for the relevant housing developer, the residents in such developments and the relevant local authorities following the procedures set out clearly in section 180 of the Act.
Under section 30 of the Act, I, in my role as Minister of State with responsibility for planning, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, are precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or the board is concerned.
I appreciate that the Planning and Development Act locates this as a local authority issue but that is of little consolation to the thousands of people affected. Families and homeowners with whom I have been in contact in towns such as Clonakilty, Kinsale and Skibbereen are being left in limbo and somebody needs to step up to help them. The infrastructure in their housing estate is either deficient or deteriorating and the original developer in many cases is no longer around. The local authority is refusing to take responsibility for the estate until existing issues, which would cost tens of thousands of euro to rectify, are resolved.
Currently, there is no way out for these families. After years of campaigning, and in a piecemeal fashion, some of these issues eventually get solved.
The situation is compounded by the families having to pay property tax but not receiving services that they need. That is not good enough. As Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, what will Deputy Peter Burke do to help resolve the issue?
There is provision in the Act for housing estates that have not been taken in charge in terms of what action the residents can take to compel the local authority to commence the process. It is up to the local authority then to judge the development in terms of the completion to the prescribed planning permission.
Over the past decade we had to respond to in excess of 3,000 ghost estates and put in key public infrastructure to underwrite them on foot of a significant recession in this country where the economy crashed and the Department had to grapple with it.
Now the process is in place. The Act is robust and strong. Essentially, to answer the Deputy's specific question, the residents have a mechanism there clearly set down in the Act in terms of the expiry of four years of the planning permission where they can take action and request the local authority to take the estate in charge.
The Minister of State has to appreciate the frustration of families in these cases because they are continually pleading for assistance and too often the only solution proposed is for them to fund the works themselves and then the local authority can take over. The problem is this system is set up to leave nobody responsible. Developers, local authorities, Irish Water and the Department are all playing pass the parcel while families in some cases cannot let their children out to play or older residents cannot walk because of the crumbling footpaths and broken lighting. This type of laissez-faire approach defines housing policy. This is a situation where the Minister of State could make a concrete difference to families in residential estates across the country.
I am also wondering what practical measures the Minister of State is taking to prevent this happening in the future and what regulation enforcement is in place to ensure developers put in place and maintain the infrastructure they should.
There are very robust mechanisms in place now to ensure the legacy of a decade ago-----
Obviously not, or this would not be happening.
I would appreciate it if the Deputy would let me finish. I did not interrupt her.
I said there are a number of mechanisms in place now to ensure this does not happen again. I mentioned that we had almost 3,000 ghost estates in this country, and we have changed the law to ensure that this does not happen again. There are mechanisms to ensure that developers have bonds in place that guarantee that planning permissions will be completed as prescribed. The local authority has the independence to hold them to account on that. That process is clearly set out in legislation. Also, subsequent to that and with regard to the taking-in-charge process, it is clearly set out in the Act that residents can request the local authority to take estates in charge.
The Department has had huge funding streams over the last decade to try to respond to massive remediation plans to install infrastructure in estates throughout the country. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of the local authority to do that and to hold to account developers who are required to finish estates to the level that is prescribed in the planning permission.
60. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will urgently review the housing assistance payment limits for social housing which are hopelessly inadequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22195/22]
Across all the area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and in much of Dublin, the HAP limits that people have available to them if they are looking for rental property are not even at the races in terms of the levels of rent. One will not find a two-bedroom apartment for less than €2,000 per month and more often it is €2,200 per month. Something has to be done. Otherwise people looking for rental property or facing homelessness are absolutely banjaxed. What will the Minister do?
As Deputy Boyd Barrett knows, HAP supports approximately 61,900 households in this country. We had a debate last night about rents and one matter that I was not able to put on the record then was the fact that the Government provides nearly €1 billion in direct rental support to families, and rightly so. Approximately €585 million goes to HAP. Sometimes that is forgotten and others try to paint it as some type of subsidy to the private landlord sector. It is not. The payments are supports that go to real families.
I acknowledge the Deputy's question and I will give him an update on the current position. There is no question but that there are pressures due to rising rents. We have introduced the 2% rent cap and that is taking effect. That aside, we commit to ensuring that HAP levels are adequate to support vulnerable households while we increase the supply of social housing. I want to see people exiting HAP and going into permanent homes. There were approximately 4,300 exits from HAP into other social houses in 2021, which is good. We are seeing a substantial reduction in the number of increases within the HAP. Fundamentally, there is a top-up payment of 20% above the maximum limits and up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in or in immediate risk of homelessness.
However, under Housing for All we have committed to undertake an analytical exercise to examine whether an increase in the level of the 20% discretion available to all local authorities and the discretion in the four Dublin local authorities is required to maintain adequate support for families. The Housing Agency was undertaking this work and has completed it. The review has been submitted and it is with my Department at present. I expect to receive the recommendations following the analysis of the Housing Agency's work by the Department. That will conclude shortly and I will be engaging with the Oireachtas joint committee through its Chairman, Deputy Matthews, and members of the committee. That work is nearing conclusion.
I fully recognise that the increases in rent and the HAP limits pose problems, and particularly acutely in the Deputy's area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. We want to help not just by increasing the HAP, which I am open to doing based on the analytical data that come through, but also by providing permanent homes for people. To reiterate, there was a significant number of exits, 4,587, from HAP into other social houses in 2021.
In the long run or even in the medium term, I am not in favour of pouring huge amounts of money into rent support, but I accept that for now, until we address the social housing deficit, we must do it. We have to give people options. However, this is a matter of urgency. I am not exaggerating. Everybody who is approaching me, and the number has been increasing over the last few months, are doing so often because they are being evicted from HAP tenancies. By the way, I appeal to the Minister on that ground. If people are being evicted from HAP tenancies on grounds of sale, the local authorities should just buy those properties straight away. Why would they not? If they are for sale and one can prevent people being made homeless, just buy them so we do not have the same people knocking on the council's door and saying they are homeless.
In the meantime, there is a massive gap between the HAP limits and the actual rents. The HAP increases must be introduced as a matter of urgency. Otherwise the numbers going into homeless accommodation are going to increase. Even the place finder service is sending people out to look at places which the HAP limits would not allow them to view. It is ridiculous at this point. They have to be increased as a matter of urgency. Otherwise people who are looking for a rental property and do not have a roof over their heads or are facing eviction are in really deep trouble.
I recognise the issue. I represent Dublin Fingal and I meet people and talk to tenants all the time. It is difficult. We are making progress in that regard by increasing the supply of permanent homes. That is very important because we need a supply-led and housing-led response to homelessness.
To answer the Deputy's question specifically, I am treating this as a matter of urgency. I required the Housing Agency to do a piece of work, and the Deputy would expect me to do that, so that what we do is based on sound analytical evidence. As I said in response to earlier questions, I have told all local authorities by way of a circular that they can acquire homes to prevent people going into homelessness, particularly where there are HAP and RAS tenancies. All 31 local authorities, including Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, know that because the circular has been issued, and I encourage local authorities to do so. We are providing the finance for that to happen. That acquisition with the tenant in situ is available now.
I will keep the Deputy informed and up to date with regard to the review and when we are bringing forward any changes to HAP. I want to do that as quickly as possible, but it must be based on sound evidence. I will do that. I recognise the Deputy's genuine concerns in this regard and I thank him for tabling the question.
The substantial issue, of course, is that we need more social housing stock. By the way, and we will discuss this later, we should be looking for purchases in excess of 10% in private developments as well, given the situation we are now facing and to increase the options for people. Apart from that, I should also mention the income thresholds, because I probably will not get a chance to mention this anywhere else. The Minister could respond on that. Seriously, there are many people who are caught in limbo. They are just over the threshold and as a result cannot even get HAP support, never mind get a council house. Something has to be done about that as a matter of urgency. These people are caught. I am aware of one woman who has been in emergency accommodation for three and a half years. She is working in a State agency and now she is not entitled to housing support, but her income would not get anywhere near the local rents. We need to look at the things that are happening to people and tailor the policy to that.
I will let Deputies Ó Murchú and Ó Broin ask two brief supplementary questions on this.
I reiterate that action must be taken on the issue that one cannot get payment plans while in a HAP tenancy. That is a definite difficulty that will lead to homelessness. Beyond that, there is an issue I brought up with the Minister previously. We have to look at the means assessment being carried out now for over a year in respect of getting onto the housing list. It is leading to people not getting on the list, having severe difficulties and even some people not getting houses. We must look at the means by which we are doing that. The way it was done previously, by taking a four-week period of wages, meant one was not thrown by certain anomalies that can occur over a 12-month period.
I thank the Chair for his indulgence. I am looking at the circular again. One of the conditions is where the property is one of the priority categories in Circular 02/2022, which was one-bedroom and four-bedroom properties or properties for disability adaptations. Does that mean two-bedroom or three-bedroom properties would be excluded under the revised circular? Clarification would be helpful. The circular also states that proposals for acquisition by approved housing bodies should continue to be submitted to the capital advance leasing facility, CALF, team in the Department in the normal manner.
Does this mean a CALF acquisition might provide a solution where a local authority acquisition would not meet the criteria as the Minister has set out? Is this something we should be exploring?
Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned social housing limits earlier. In response to other questions we said the work is nearing conclusion. I received a submission and sought further changes to it. It has gone back to the officials and we will have it very shortly. This is with regard to social housing limits throughout the country. A very important measure the Government has brought forward is a new form of tenure in cost rental. This is also in the Deputy's constituency. We have seen the first tenants in place paying approximately 50% of market rent. The tenancies in the development are secure as they are for 70 years. There are also many others. We have hundreds of cost rental tenancies. I want to see it expanded to thousands of tenancies. People over the social housing limits can get State-backed secure affordable tenancies. This is happening with cost rental. We are reviewing it and I am close to concluding it with regard to the social housing limits.
On purchase and tenant in situ I want to say very clearly that one-bed accommodation is something we are acutely aware of. We all know the predominance of single people in our homeless numbers. We need to focus on this. We also need to focus on larger families and four-bed accommodation. This does not exclude two-bed and three-bed accommodation. Approved housing bodies are referenced in it by way of accessing CALF finance where they see opportunities that may be there. It may make more sense for an approved housing body to do this in an area and if so we will do that.
Part V was increased in the Affordable Housing Act. I know the Deputy had issues with it and that is fine but we have 10% social accommodation and 10% affordable accommodation in new tenancies. We need to increase the supply and we are doing so. We are reviewing it and nearing a conclusion. We are not just reviewing it as we are looking at changes to social housing limits and how they will fit in with affordable and cost rental accommodation. This is important. We need more and more families in affordable cost rental accommodation and affordable purchase accommodation.
61. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage further to Parliamentary Question No. 183 of 3 March 2022, when he expects the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, works to begin on the Midleton Water Rock LIHAF project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22096/22]
Deputy Stanton is very anxious to break the logjam on the Midleton Water Rock project, which has the potential for 2,500 homes. The local infrastructure housing activation fund would contribute just over €2,000 per unit to trigger it. It seems that it is stuck. The latest problem is that Transport Infrastructure Ireland has said the major road is not up to scratch to allow it to go ahead.
The objective of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, is to provide public off-site infrastructure to relieve critical infrastructure blockages. This enables the accelerated delivery of housing on key development sites in urban areas of high housing demand, adding to supply, a crucial factor in terms of moderating house prices. LIHAF projects often involve complex, large-scale public infrastructure developments which pave the way for associated housing developments. This requires extensive design, planning, public consultation and procurement processes in advance of the projects moving to construction.
In respect of the Midleton Water Rock project, which includes roads and waste water infrastructure, Cork County Council has confirmed that the most economically advantageous tenderer for the infrastructure project construction works has been identified following a two-stage tender process. Pre-contract correspondence is ongoing between Cork County Council and the most economically advantageous tenderer and this process is taking longer to finalise than had been anticipated. I am, however, informed that Cork County Council and the LIHAF landowners have completed advance clearance works, which will enable commencement of the main contract works following the successful conclusion of the pre-contract discussions. I understand that every effort is being made by Cork County Council to ensure all requirements are satisfied so that the tender process can be progressed and the works commence in the coming weeks.
This is significant funding to deliver significant units in Cork. The Minister was in discussions yesterday with Deputy Stanton on this issue to try to move it along. It is a very important activation fund. This country really has to activate planning permissions and get projects on the ground. LIHAF is one key component of providing infrastructure to do so.
The frustration arises because this is very good value from money from a LIHAF point of view. For €2,000 each there would be 2,500 homes. It seems one hand of government is trying to push it along and another is trying to block it. Funding for the proposed upgrade of the N25 was dropped and now TII is saying it is inappropriate to go ahead with the development. We now have a real problem. We need ministerial intervention to break through.
As I referenced, the Minister has engaged with Deputy Stanton and will continue to do so. The arms of the State have to work together to deliver key infrastructural projects such as this. It is not good enough in a housing crisis when we see the level of value for money that a project such as this can deliver to society. It has to progress. I have full confidence that negotiations will continue at pace.
62. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage pursuant to the minutes of a meeting (details supplied) which identified the ongoing challenges faced by the approved housing body sector in the delivery of its targets in Galway county the details of his plans to address these challenges and a timeline for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22189/22]
67. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage pursuant to the minutes of a meeting (details supplied) which highlighted an increase in the number of families and persons presenting for homelessness services in Galway city and county as well as a notable increase in Traveller homelessness, the engagement he or his Department has had in 2022 with Galway City and County Councils with a view to addressing this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22190/22]
The two questions are linked. One is to ask the Minister what action has been taken on the challenges identified by the approved housing sector in delivering on its targets. The other question is on homelessness and the stark increase in numbers in Galway city and county.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 67 together.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta as ucht an cheist seo. Increasing housing supply and addressing homelessness is a priority for the Government and we will continue to support all local authorities, including Galway City Council and Galway County Council, to deliver on this agenda. Housing For All sets out national housing policy and implementation measures up to 2030. In September 2021, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, issued social housing targets to each local authority, including Galway City Council and Galway County Council, setting out build and leasing targets over the next five years.
A key action of Housing for All is that local authorities will develop and submit housing delivery action plans to include details of social and affordable housing delivery. All local authorities submitted their action plans in December and the Department is now working closely with the local authorities to review and finalise the plans. The plans will be published by local authorities before the end of the second quarter of the year.
Under Housing for All, the funding is in place to support both Galway local authorities, including the approved housing bodies with which they work. We are keen that they progress their social housing schemes as quickly as possible and that they receive the support of public representatives in the advancement of their programmes. The Department has provided significant resources to both councils in order to address the issues raised by the task force. To date in 2022, the task force has met once and three further meetings are scheduled this year, with the next one being this month on 10 May.
Housing For All recognises the significant role that approved housing bodies have played and continue to play as partners in social housing delivery. We are also aware of the challenges presented to the CALF funding model in certain areas outside the main urban centres where rent levels are lower. Commitment 4.10 of Housing For All is a specific action to review the structure of the payment and availability CALF funding model. This review will determine whether the funding model should be adjusted to support delivery by the approved housing body sector in a wider range of areas and what options might be available to enable this. Work is under way on this review by the Department with the support of the Housing Agency and it is on track to be completed by the fourth quarter of this year.
The Department is closely monitoring the issue of homelessness, including Traveller homelessness, in Galway city and county. I understand it is acute and a significant problem. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is working with the local authorities in this regard. At the meeting of the Galway social housing task force on 15 February, it was proposed by the Department that a subgroup on homelessness, with a particular focus on Traveller homelessness, be established and report back to the task force. This subgroup, which has held its first meeting, is chaired by departmental officials, with members also including representatives of both local authorities. The next meeting of the Galway social housing task force is scheduled for 10 May.
I might come back specifically on some of the activations on Traveller accommodation in Galway county between this year and last year and some of the funding allocated. We do have a challenge with Traveller homelessness in Galway that needs to be addressed.
I thank the Minister of State for the response. In a contribution I made yesterday I highlighted the acute situation in Galway and the extraordinary rise in rents in the county and city, which have increased by more than 115%. Homelessness is as acute. I have a serious concern that the new subgroup will be like the existing task force, which meets and monitors but the situation gets worse.
It is monitoring a situation that is becoming unbearable and unsustainable and that calls for serious reflection on our housing policies, not only in Galway but also generally.