The general purposes of this Bill are to continue and extend the policy of encouraging the provision of new dwellings and the reconditioning of existing dwellings by private individuals and public utility societies, with the assistance of State grants and, where appropriate, supplementary grants from the housing authorities.
Section 6 proposes that grants for the erection, purchase and reconstruction of houses and the installation of sanitary services be continued at the present rates for a further two years.
The grants under the 1952 Act terminated on the 1st April but, in order to avoid a break in building operations, it has been arranged to continue the payment of grants in anticipation of the authority sought in the Bill. The Seanad is aware from published statistics that there is at present a satisfactory level of housing activity by private enterprise. The combined total of new house and reconstruction grants allocated in the 11 months of 1953-1954 to 28th February last is higher than the total in any complete year since the war. There are indications that this trend will be at least maintained in the coming 12 months.
The Bill aims to widen the scope of the reconstruction grant provisions of the Housing Acts. It is proposed in Section 14 that even if a previous grant was made for erection or reconstruction of a house, a further grant will be available after 15 years for the carrying out of any approved scheme of reconstruction, whether or not the work includes the provision of a new roof or that additional accommodation provided is essential for the relief of overcrowding.
At present, a grant is available ten years after payment of a previous grant where a thatch roof is replaced by slates or tiles. Section 14 would make this grant available for the replacement by tiles or slates of any type of roofing. Under this section, also, the occupier of a house which had been damaged by storm, flood, fire or other causes outside his control would be eligible for a grant towards re-building it without reference to the period since a previous grant was made.
Section 12 is an important new provision. Reconstruction grants are already available to farmers of up to £50 valuation and agricultural labourers in rural areas reconstructing houses in their own occupation. Members of the working classes and agricultural labourers in urban areas whose valuation does not exceed £12 are eligible for grants for the reconstruction of houses in their own occupation. A grant of £80 is also available in urban and rural areas to persons having control of unfit houses who repair them by direction of the housing authority. All the foregoing grants may be supplemented by grants from the housing authority.
No grants are at present available in urban areas to occupiers over £12 valuation or to landlords, unless the houses are unfit for human habitation and repairs specified in a notice served by the housing authority under Section 19 of the 1931 Act have been carried out.
The Housing Acts require unfit housing conditions to be eradicated. The process is so costly both on private and public account, that it is a matter of national importance to prevent as many houses as possible from becoming unfit. It is also important to discourage haphazard tenementing which quickly adds to the liabilities of the local authorities for the relief of overcrowded and insanitary conditions. In the case of single family houses the state of repair may be reasonably good, but the houses may lack amenities with the result that the owners or occupiers are not inclined to maintain them. The improvement of such houses would be a desirable contribution to better housing standards.
It is proposed in Section 12, therefore, that a grant from State funds not exceeding £80 per dwelling, or one-third of the cost of the works (excluding decoration) whichever is the smaller should be payable to the person executing repair or improvement works whether or not he is the occupier. The grant would be payable for each separate dwelling in the repaired house. The housing authority would be free to pay a grant not exceeding the amount of the State grant, and rates remission would be available. The existing provisions relating to grants for the reconstruction of houses of up to £12 valuation and for the repair of houses by direction of the housing authority would no longer be required as the new grants would embrace the type of reconstruction and repair work hitherto covered by these provisions.
There has been an insistent, though small, demand for lump-sum grants for houses built for letting in place of the grants payable by annual instalments over ten years under Section 19 of the 1948 Act. Section 13 of the Bill would give a trial for two years to the alternative form of grant, which would be of an amount equal to that payable for an owner-occupied house. The housing authority would be empowered to allow rates remission of two-thirds for seven years where a grant is paid under this section. Houses qualifying for these grants would be subject to the same conditions as to resale which apply to houses for which letting grants under the 1948 Act are paid.
Section 7 makes it clear that the recipient of a grant for an owner-occupied house must occupy the house as his normal place of residence, not, for instance, as a holiday or summer home. Section 8 makes it clear that letting grants under the 1948 Act may be made to a local authority—for example, a mental hospital authority— though not to a housing authority providing houses which are otherwise subsidised by the State.
Sections 9, 10 and 11 propose to give effect to representations made to me that housing authorities should have discretion to make supplementary grants of amounts less than the maxima specified in certain sections of the 1952 Act, rather than that some authorities should feel obliged to make no grants at all on the grounds of cost.
Some further amendments of the supplementary grant provisions of the 1952 Act are desirable. In the Dublin City and County areas, for instance, a high proportion of the applicants under Section 11 have been clerical and similar workers whose incomes exceed £416 and thus render them ineligible for grants under Section 10 of the 1952 Act. Many of these applicants have been rejected by the housing authority on the grounds that they are not of a class whom the corporation or county council, for example, ordinarily re-house.
It is proposed to increase the family income limits in the four county boroughs, the borough of Dún Laoghaire, Dublin County and those portions of Cork County which are included with Cork City for the purpose of the higher loans to borrowers under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. Housing authorities in these areas would therefore be enabled to make to any person having a family income of less than £10 per week at the time of his application, a supplementary grant graded according to the amount of such income.
No change in the valuation limits set out in Section 9 of the 1952 Act is proposed, as the £35 limit brings in the vast majority of farmers.
Doubt has been expressed as to whether a housing authority which benefits by the surrender of a tenancy can pay a supplementary grant if the tenant builds his new house in the functional area of another authority and it is proposed to clarify the matter in Section 11.
Section 8 of the 1948 Act which prohibits the demolition in whole or in part or the use otherwise than as a dwelling-house of any habitable house, unless with the permission of the housing authority, or on appeal, of the Minister, is extended to 31st December, 1956, by Section 15 of the Bill.
The Rent Restrictions Acts by virtue of Section 3 (2) (c) of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1946, do not apply to houses provided by a local authority, of which the local authority is for the time being the landlord. By virtue of Section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, the Landlord and Tenant Acts do not apply where buildings on any land or premises are provided by a local authority, if such property is held by the local authority in fee simple.
Housing authorities from time to time acquire private dwellings and other buildings for reconditioning or conversion under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts and the Labourers Acts. House property also becomes vested in a housing authority as a result of boundary extensions and otherwise. Arising from a number of court decisions, considerable doubt exists as to whether the housing authorities can be deemed to have "provided" the houses acquired by or transferred to them. It is proposed to remove these doubts in Sections 16 and 20.
Section 17 of the Bill makes provision for the continuance of the Labourers Acts until 31st December, 1960.
Section 18 of the Bill incorporates the principle of the Labourers Bill, 1953, introduced in the Dáil by Deputy Lehane. I would like to have been in a position to propose a wider measure of amendment but the subject requires further detailed examination owing to the complexities that exist in all matters pertaining to land law.
Section 11 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, enables housing authorities to treat as absolute owners for the purposes of compensation for acquisition of land, certain persons who have been in possession of the land for not less than six years. The section applies only where the compensation payable does not exceed £60. Because of the fall in the value of money since 1906, it is considered reasonable to increase this sum to £250.
Sub-section (8) of Section 11 enables housing authorities to pay into the Circuit Court compensation not exceeding £100 in certain cases where there are title or similar difficulties. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court generally in similar matters has recently been increased to £600 and it is proposed to amend sub-section (8) accordingly. The amendment proposed would apply also to operations under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts, to which the 1906 Act provisions were applied in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931.
Section 17 (2) (d) (iii) of the Labourers Act, 1936, provides that a vested cottage "shall not be alienated otherwise than by operation of law or by sale with the consent of" the housing authority. There is doubt as to whether this empowers a tenant-purchaser to dispose of his interest by will or bequest, and Section 19 of the Bill is designed to clarify the point.
Where advances under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts are made to farmers, some local authorities are prepared to take a charge on the entire holding, while others insist on subdivision for the purpose of protecting their charge in the event of sale of the holding. One of the principal objections to subdivision is that it divorces the occupier's residence from his holding and another objection is that the grant of the advance under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts is delayed.
The proposal in Section 21 is that protection should be available to local authorities in respect of advances on holdings in the same way as protection is afforded in respect of Charging Orders under sub-section (5) of Section 9 of the Housing (Gaeltacht) Act, 1929, in order to encourage local authorities to take a charge on a complete holding without insisting on subdivision. At the same time it would facilitate farmers who object to subdividing their holdings to avail of the Small Dwellings Acts procedure for the erection of new houses.
The time is approaching when the housing code seems incapable of much further expansion or amendment except in matters of detail. The foregoing is a brief summary of some important aspects of housing policy which require early attention and which I, therefore, commend for the consideration of the Seanad.