Housing Bill, 1988: Second Stage.

Question proposed: That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is the most important revision to date of the modern housing code which was set out in the Housing Act, 1966. While it takes in a wide range of measures including an important amendment of conveyancing law, provision for the payment of new house grants to previous owner occupiers following marital breakdown and other housing grants and subsidies, the main thrust of the Bill is directed towards providing adequate and appropriate accommodation for persons unable to provide such accommodation from their own resources. The Bill provides a new legal framework for the development over the coming years of social housing in its broadest sense, that is, including both local authority housing and voluntary housing.

The objectives of the Bill are, in summary: to revise and update the legal basis for the provision, improvement, management and letting of local authority housing, and to address particular housing needs such as those of the homeless, the aged, the disabled and travellers; to provide new powers to housing authorities in regard to the accommodation of homeless persons; to provide arrangements to facilitate the sale of local authority houses to tenants at prices which reflect the present condition and market value of the houses; to provide backing for a number of schemes of grants, subsidies, loan guarantees and assistance for housing introduced in recent years; to provide a simplified procedure for discharging mortgages in certain cases; to amend the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, in relation to the provision of emergency accommodation and, in particular, in response to the accommodation needs of travellers; and to repeal the offence of "wandering abroad" which is contained in the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

A number of amendments were made to the Bill by the other House and it may be helpful to draw the attention of Senators to these amendments at this stage. Section 5 has been amended to provide that the granting of assistance by a housing authority to another housing authority or to an approved voluntary body shall be a reserved function. This amendment will, in fact, continue the existing arrangements for the granting of assistance to voluntary housing projects under section 12 of the Housing Act, 1966. I am hopeful that housing authorities will take every step to ensure that the processing of applications for assistance under the voluntary housing scheme is not delayed unnecessarily under the reserved function procedure which I understand has led to some delays in the past.

Section 8 deals with the estimates of overall housing requirements to be carried out by housing authorities. The assessment of existing and prospective housing requirements is, of course, a major undertaking for which substantial preparatory work must be done in order that there is reasonable consistency between housing authorities, both in the methods used and in the judgments made, of what constitutes unfitness for example. Section 8 was amended to provide that this major national estimate of housing requirements must be carried out within one year of the commencement of the section. In addition, the report on housing requirements must now be adopted by the elected members of the authority.

Section 9 of the Bill deals specifically with local authority housing needs and provided that an assessment of the need for the provision of accommodation would be carried out within one year and that subsequent assessment would be at the direction of the Minister. The section has now been amended to provide that, after the first assessment, subsequent assessments must be carried out no less frequently than every three years. Section 9(2) has also been amended to specifically refer to "young persons leaving institutional care or without family accommodation" as a particular category of housing need. Finally in regard to section 9, the organisations to which housing authorities are required to give notice of the making of an assessment of local authority housing needs now specifically include voluntary and nonprofit housing organisations.

I think it would be reasonable to anticipate that much of the debate on this Bill will relate to homelessness. I would, therefore, like to emphasise that the Government are serious in their approach to seeking a solution to the problem of homelessness. I ask Senators to consider which is more likely to benefit the homeless — a Bill which contains far-reaching but largely unworkable provisions, or a reasonable measure that becomes the law of the land as the Government intend this Bill will do. I would also point out that, even before the enactment of this Bill, the Government have fundamentally recast the voluntary housing scheme to enable, effectively, 95 per cent grants to be made available for modern accommodation for the homeless. The Government have provided £1 million for this extension of the voluntary housing scheme in 1988 and have also given a commitment to provide a further £1 million next year and again the following year. This will allow voluntary housing organisations to plan projects to benefit the homeless with reasonable confidence that up to 95 per cent of the capital cost will be provided by my Department through the local housing authority.

The problem of homelessness is a complex one, as complex as the reasons people become homeless in the first place. The problem must be tackled with a variety of responses involving local authorities, health boards and voluntary agencies. The suggestion that one type of agency, whether it be local authorities, health boards or voluntary bodies, has, or should have, all the answers cannot be supported.

Some of those involved in the debate on the question of homelessness seem to argue that only the State or its agencies can solve the problem. I do not accept this. We must look at the problem of homelessness, as indeed all social or economic issues, in terms of what is to be achieved, not in terms of whether it should be achieved by the State, or by private enterprise, or by voluntary bodies. Senators are well aware of both the powers and the limitations of legislation as a response to any problem. In framing the homelessness provisions of this Bill, my objective has been to secure a real improvement in access by homeless persons to housing. Clearly, this required different legislative proposals to those contained in the 1985 Bill, but it also required extra resources.

I consider that it is critical to develop further the voluntary housing response to the problem of homelessness. The voluntary housing scheme, which provided 80 per cent assistance for the provision of accommodation for a number of categories of housing need, through reasonably successful otherwise, achieved little for the homeless since its introduction in 1984. The special £3 million allocation over the next three years and the increase in the rate of assistance available under the scheme in respect of accommodation for the homeless to which I have referred are positive steps in encouraging and developing the provision by voluntary bodies of modern, purpose built accommodation for homeless persons.

The basic response by local authorities to the needs of the homeless is, and will remain, the direct provision of local authority rented accommodation. There will always be limits to what a local authority can do in this way and the speed with which the authority can respond. How, for example, could an authority with no vacant dwellings respond to the urgent needs of a homeless person? I consider that the powers of local authorities need to be expanded so that they will have new options to help them meet the needs of the homeless. These new options are provided for in section 10 of the Bill. They include a new power for housing authorities to secure accommodation for a homeless person with a voluntary housing organisation and to pay that organisation in respect of the accommodation so provided. In addition, housing authorities will be able to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to a homeless person in order that that person may secure accommodation and, finally, a housing authority will be able to rent accommodation or lodgings for a homeless person.

The housing needs of some homeless persons may be best met by some form of supportive accommodation which offers a considerable degree of privacy, particularly in regard to sleeping accommodation, storage for personal belongings etc., but which also provides communal facilities such as shared dining and recreational areas. This type of accommodation would seem suitable, for example, as interim accommodation for individuals with an institutional background, prior to their obtaining fully self-contained accommodation. No doubt, there are others who would be suited by, and would wish to remain in, this type of shared accommodation on a long term basis.

It may also, indeed, be a suitable form of accommodation for young single people who are now a significant component of overall housing requirements. There is, I believe, an important role for this type of accommodation and new standards and guidelines for the development of this type of accommodation were circulated recently by my Department to housing authorities in the context of the voluntary housing scheme. These standards will, of course, also be of assistance to those housing authorities who consider that there is a need to provide directly some supportive accommodation primarily for homeless persons.

Homelessness is a very complex problem. For some homeless persons their homelessness is merely a symptom of other problems. Clearly, the simple availability of a dwelling is not the solution in these cases and a response in terms of obligations in legislation is not the right way to tackle the problem. Again I emphasise that a combined approach by local authorities, voluntary bodies and indeed health boards is required. I believe that it is necessary both to extend the powers of local authorities in this area and at the same time to increase the capacity of the voluntary housing movement to respond to the problems of the homeless.

Section 2 defines a homeless person for the purposes of the Bill. Persons who have no accommodation and persons living in hospitals, county homes or night shelters solely because they have no other accommodation and are unable to provide accommodation from their own resources are regarded as homeless. The latter stipulation has always been a requirement for eligibility for local authority housing. That part of section 2 of the 1985 Bill which referred to deliberate homelessness has been omitted from the 1988 Bill as an unsatisfactory legislative provision but one that was a necessary consequence of the proposed statutory obligation contained in the 1985 Bill.

In addition to their new powers under section 10, housing authorities will be obliged for the first time to integrate fully the needs of the homeless into the planning and provision of local authority housing. Homeless persons have not previously been identified in housing legislation. The provisions of this Bill will, however, ensure that housing authorities will, in future, be required to take into account the needs of the homeless at every stage of the planning, provision and allocation of local authority housing. Under section 9 of the Bill, housing authorities, prior to carrying out their assessments of the need for local authority housing, will also be required to notify other adjoining housing authorities, health boards and relevant voluntary organisations who will be able to bring the needs of any homeless person to the attention of the authority. Under section 11, housing authorities will be able to set aside a specific number or proportion of houses specifically to meet the needs of the homeless or other categories.

It has been suggested that housing authorities are unsympathetic to the needs of the homeless and will not operate the new powers they are being given. I would again point to the fact that housing authorities, even without these powers, provided accommodation for over 1,800 homeless persons in the past two years. I have no doubt that they will act responsibly in discharging their new powers and will seriously address the problem of the homeless in their areas both directly and in co-operation with the voluntary housing organisation and the health boards.

Finally on the question of homelessness, I believe that a board approach involving the many agencies which can help homeless persons is the correct response to this complex problem. The role of the voluntary housing organisations is especially important because of the experience and commitment they have brought and continue to bring to the care of the homeless. In the past, these organisations have been unable, due to lack of resources, to provide modern suitable accommodation and I am hopeful that the availability of up to 95 per cent capital funding will encourage voluntary housing organisations to expand and develop the range and standard of accommodation which they provide for the homeless.

A number of sections of the Bill relate specifically to the voluntary housing sector which will be of growing importance in meeting social housing needs in the coming years. Section 5 in particular provides an updated statutory basis for the development of voluntary and nonprofit housing. Voluntary housing organisations, in fact, predate local housing authorities as an organised response to the unacceptable housing conditions of the ordinary people and in the provision of decent housing at affordable rents. The quality of these dwellings was extremely high by the standards of their time and the fact that many people still live in dwellings provided by these bodies in the last century and earlier this century is testimony to their extraordinary lasting contribution.

However, the scale of the housing problem facing this country in its early years was such that the State through the local housing authorities began to play the predominant role in meeting social housing needs. For many years, the potential and indeed need for an additional arm of social housing provision was lost sight of in the mistaken belief that the State could solve all housing problems. In recent years, however, the Government have again been encouraging the provision of voluntary housing for specific categories of housing need. In March 1984, the existing scheme of assistance for voluntary housing accommodation was extended to include accommodation provided for homeless persons. However, between March 1984 and the end of 1987, only six units of accommodation had been provided specifically for the homeless.

I considered that it was necessary to encourage greater take-up of this scheme by organisations working on behalf of the homeless and, with this clear objective, I sought and obtained Government approval to modify the scheme so that accommodation for the homeless would attract in effect 95 per cent grant assistance rather than the 80 per cent that is available for the other eligible categories of housing need. The technical standards and guidelines for accommodation under this scheme have also been revised to take account of the particular needs of homeless persons.

Some £4 million has been provided this year for assisting voluntary organisations in the provision of housing accommodation including the additional £1 million for accommodation for homeless persons. This allocation compares to expenditure of just £248,000 under this scheme in 1984. There has been a great response to the special provision of £1 million for accommodation for the homeless in 1988 and already one project which will provide accommodation for over 50 homeless persons has been approved in principle.

In recent years, local authority housing has been available more or less on demand to families in bad housing conditions and new categories of housing need such as single parent families and single persons now dominate the waiting lists. In the seventies and indeed in the early eighties, single persons, unless they were elderly, had little real prospect of local authority housing. Recently there has been a dramatic change. For example, two-thirds of lettings by Dublin Corporation last year were to one and two person households and 39 per cent of lettings went to one person households.

I think it is widely acknowledged that great progress has been made on what is often referred to as the "housing problem". Nevertheless, I do not claim that the housing problem has been entirely solved. Such a claim can never realistically be sustained because housing is a dynamic and constantly evolving area of social policy. As one category of housing need is addressed, new categories emerge. At the individual level, as one household is provided with housing, new households emerge to take its place in the queue. However, an important indicator of change in the degree of housing need is the number of households on local authority waiting lists who now feel they can refuse reasonable offers of accommodation from the authority and wait for a house in a location of their choice. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the choice available to, and expected by, many applicants for local authority housing.

While the total number of approved applicants for local authority housing has fallen by one-third in recent years, this does not fully reflect the real decline in housing need which has shown itself more clearly in a situation where reasonable accommodation has to be offered to a number of applicants before it is accepted. A further consequence of the current supply position on local authority housing is the emergence of significant problems of vacant dwellings. While some vacant dwelling are, of course, inevitable and indeed necessary, particularly in the case of a larger local authority, an excessive number of vacant dwellings is a serious waste of resources and presents a serious and expensive management problem for the local authorities. It is a problem that is not addressed by simply boarding up houses and this is an area where a more positive and creative approach by local authorities could yield significant benefits.

Section 9 of the Bill provides a new procedure which is designed to ensure that the provision of local authority housing is in future more sensitively matched to the real needs of persons seeking accommodation. There is little doubt that the emergence of smaller households as the dominent element in social and indeed overall housing needs was not adequately reflected in the local authority house-building programme, either in the type of housing unit provided or in the choice of location. A local authority housing programme on a much smaller scale than that of the early eighties is now justified.

However, this programme must be targeted at the needs now dominating the waiting lists and not directed at family type dwellings. A one person household does not require a three bedroomed house or flat. When almost 60 per cent of applicants for local authority housing consist of one and two person households, this must be reflected in the type of accommodation being provided. All the demographic evidence is that average household size will continue to fall and this point must be clearly understood and addressed by housing authorities in presenting proposals for new local authority housing. Section 20 of the Bill will oblige local authorities, in providing accommodation, to take into account the range of housing needs as revealed in their assessments under section 9 and, moreover, to maintain a reasonable balance as between the different categories of need.

The new tenant purchase scheme for local authority dwellings is now in operation and is attracting a very high level of response. The major feature of the scheme is the use of market value with a flat rate discount of 40 per cent for all eligible tenants irrespective of the length of their tenancy. Tenants of dwellings which were first occupied prior to 1 January 1960 receive an additional 10 per cent discount and, furthermore, a discount of £2,000 in lieu of the first time purchasers grant in respect of new houses is also allowable in virtually all cases.

Under this scheme, the gross price of the house to the tenant is calculated in relation to market value and having regard to the structural condition of the house. I regard market value as the fairest system of assessing the real value of a house. It was introduced as an option into the tenant purchase scheme in 1986 and resulted in substantial reductions in prices particularly for recently built houses whose formula based prices could far exceed their market value. Market value also reflects accurately factors such as the age, condition and location of houses.

The continued operation of the requirement for pre-sale repairs contained in section 13 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1979, would be wrong in circumstances where house prices are being assessed on market value which takes the condition of the house into account. Moreover, the procedure can be very costly to local authorities, can result in long delays in transferring houses and can be a serious impediment to attempts to speed up the sale process. Section 23 of the Bill accordingly provides for the repeal of section 13 of the 1979 Act and also for necessary transitional arrangements to ensure that the section 13 arrangements will continue to apply as necessary to houses currently being sold to tenants under earlier schemes. Housing authorities should, of course, continue to process all applications under pre-1988 schemes, where tenants are continuing with those applications. Any necessary structural works should be carried out as a matter of priority. To do otherwise would be completely unfair to those tenants who are awaiting repairs to purchase their houses.

Section 12 of the Bill provides for the scheme of remedial works to designated local authority housing estates. For many years, the local housing programme has concentrated on the provision of new accommodation, with little if any attention being given to the need to modernise and improve the existing rented stock. In recent years, however, the easing of the pressure of demand for new construction has allowed additional resources to be released to secure necessary improvements to the existing stock. In this way, much-needed improvements to the living conditions of many tenants can be achieved, the State's investment in local authority housing can be protected and the premature loss of dwellings to the rented housing stock can be prevented.

In 1988, the allocation for this scheme has again been increased and is now £10 million compared to expenditure of £7 million in 1987 and only £1.5 million in 1986. While town commissioners legally remain housing authorities for the purposes of managing and maintaining their own housing, they do not have either the technical or financial resources to carry out necessary improvement works to their housing stock. Section 20 of the Bill provides specifically for agreements between town commissioners and the relevant county council so that the council may undertake the management, maintenance and improvement of houses owned by the commissioners.

The benefits which accrue from the injection of capital funds into the local authority housing stock through the remedial works scheme could be lost unless accompanied by improved estate management by local authorities. In this regard, the role which the tenants themselves can play is of vital importance and authorities must now make every effort to foster and develop tenant interest and participation in the running of their estates. The consultation process under the remedial works scheme should prove to be an important headline in this regard. There is already considerable evidence of a renewed vitality and pride in local authority estates which are being upgraded under the scheme.

There are a number of sections in the Bill which relate to the provision of housing, halting sites and other services for the travelling community. Section 6 provides statutory authority for the recoupment by the Minister of the salaries and expenses incurred by local authorities and certain approved bodies in the employment of social workers in connection with the accommodation of travellers. Section 13 deals with the provision of residential caravan sites and facilities. Section 9 requires housing authorities to have regard to the needs of travellers in their assessments of housing needs.

Section 27 amends section 2 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, to enable a local authority manager to undertake works which he regards as urgent and necessary to provide a reasonable standard of accommodation for any person. This measure is designed to facilitate the provision by local authorities of accommodation for travellers.

Section 24 of the Bill clarifies and consolidates the power of the Minister to make grant assistance available towards the administrative and general expenses of a small number of representative, advisory or research organisations working in the housing area. My Department have provided annual grant assistance to the National Association of Building Cooperatives, the Housing Centre and Threshold for a number of years now. In addition, a grant of £45,000 has recently been made available towards the administrative and general expenses of Focus Point in 1988. This grant is, of course, additional to the grant of £50,000 to Focus Point towards the cost of a project for the accommodation of homeless persons which was announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement. It is also quite separate from any assistance that may be given to Focus Point for the provision of additional accommodation for the homeless under the terms of the voluntary housing scheme.

While the main thrust of this Housing Bill is in the area of social housing and meeting social housing needs, there are a number of important measures related to the private housing sector. Section 14 provides a more up-to-date basis for subsidising the site costs incurred by certain persons of modest means in providing or acquiring housing for their own occupation, for example, through a housing co-operative, the Rural Resource Organisation, or joint venture housing. Under the provisions of the 1966 Act, a grant could not be made available to assist potential house purchasers in acquiring these sites but a loan charge subsidy could be given.

This method of assistance, however, was found to be unsuited to the encouragement of joint venture housing particularly where undeveloped sites were made available to a builder by a housing authority. If the authority had not incurred any borrowings on the land, which was often the situation in the case of unserviced sites, no subsidy could be paid by my Department to reduce the site cost and, ultimately, the house price to the purchaser. It was necessary, therefore, to provide for a grant system rather than a loan charge subsidy system to encourage joint venture housing and a grant of £1,000 per site is currently available from my Department in respect of local authority sites made available for this purpose. The benefit of this grant is passed on to the house purchaser.

The Rural Resource Organisation is an approved body for the purposes of section 45 of the Housing Act, 1966, and was, therefore, eligible to secure the loan charge subsidy directly from my Department. The provisions of section 14 will mean that the Rural Resource Organisation will no longer have to incur borrowings in order to be eligible for assistance with site costs and may now be provided with a straight grant of £1,000 per site.

It is an over-riding concern of housing policy to ensure an adequate supply of mortgage finance for house purchase. For many years, this objective has involved the Government in providing substantial mortgage finance through local authorities for persons of modest means. However, the development of the housing finance system in recent years, particularly the emergence of the commercial banks as major providers of mortgage finance and the availability to the building societies of significant capital repayments from loans advanced in the seventies and earlier years, has meant that house purchase finance is now readily available from commercial lending agencies. This development presented the opportunity of transferring from public to private funding a significant proportion of demand for local authority house purchase loans. Following discussions between my Department and the main commercial lending agencies, the associated banks and the building societies agreed to make £70 million available in 1988 to provide mortgage finance to persons who would otherwise require loans from the local authorities. Local authority house purchase loans continue to be made available as heretofore to applicants who are unable to secure a loan from a bank or building society.

As part of the arrangements to encourage commercial lending agencies to provide this additional mortgage finance for lower income groups, a partial guarantee may be given by a housing authority to cover, in the case of default, payment of the amount by which the loan advanced exceeded 75 per cent of the value of the house. Section 16 of the Bill provides the statutory basis for this new loan guarantee scheme and also provides for recoupment by the Minister of all or part of any expenditure incurred by a housing authority on foot of any guarantee given. In effect, my Department will recoup all expenditure incurred by a housing authority under section 16. However, experience in the operation of the scheme to date suggests that it is only in relatively few cases that the commercial lending agencies are seeking these guarantees as additional security.

Although now terminated, significant expenditure continues to arise under both the mortgage subsidy and the £5,000 surrender grant schemes. The 1988 provision for the payment of mortgage subsidy is £23.3 million and the provision for the £5,000 grant scheme is £3.5 million. Significant expenditure under the latter scheme should not arise beyond this year; however, payments under the mortgage subsidy scheme will continue up to 1992. These schemes are being given statutory backing by sections 3 and 4 of the Bill.

Section 25 provides that a new house grant may be paid in cases where a previous owner-occupier is providing a new house following marital breakdown if the person is in need of housing and refusal to pay the grant would cause hardship. This is a new statutory exception to the normal requirement that only a first time owner-occupier may be paid a new house grant. Section 4 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1979, already provides for the payment of a new house grant to a previous owner-occupier providing a new house where the applicants's previous accommodation was destroyed by fire, explosion or act of God and where refusal to pay the grant would cause hardship.

The offence of "wandering abroad" is contained in the Vagrancy Act of 1824. A number of groups have sought the repeal of this offence. In addition, its repeal was recommended by the Law Reform Commission in their report on Vagrancy and Related Offences which was published in 1985. While the Minister for Justice is primarily responsible for the Vagrancy Acts, I have taken the opportunity to include the repeal of this offence in this Housing Bill as an element in the Government's overall response to the problem of homelessness.

Most of the remaining sections of the Bill are largely technical in their nature and do not involve significant policy considerations. Some of the more important of these are: Section 7 validates certain payments made before the enactment of this Bill to the extent that these payments would have been valid after its enactment; section 8 extends to all mortgages the simplified system for the discharge of fully paid mortgages which has heretofore applied only to Building Society mortgages; section 29 deals with offences under the Act and provides for fines not exceeding £500 for knowingly furnishing false or misleading information or withholding material information in connection with obtaining accommodation or assistance from a housing authority. In concluding, I would like to make a few brief comments regarding the overall thrust of housing policy and legislation as indicated in the Housing Bill, 1988.

Since the foundation of the State, the over-riding concern of housing policy has been directed at providing new accommodation to meet a persistent and often chronic housing shortage. We can look with satisfaction at what has been achieved — over 40 per cent of the housing stock, or more than 400,000 new houses, have been built since 1971. However, as I have already indicated, as one problem in the housing area appears to have been overcome, new problems emerge. Problems such as homelessness and other special housing needs require more complex responses than merely setting a target for annual housing completions. Large scale local authority housing estates present difficult management problems for local authorities and offer little satisfaction to tenants.

The 1988 tenant purchase scheme is, I believe, an important response to the alienation of local authority tenants in that it offers them the real prospect of becoming house owners. We are all aware of the beneficial results that sales of houses to tenants can bring to the appearance, environment and, indeed, physical fabric of local authority housing estates. However, other responses, too, are required to the vandalism and antisocial behaviour which plague some local authority estates.

We require an enlightened approach by local authority housing managers to consultation with tenants and participation and involvement by tenants in the management of their estates. I will be encouraging the larger housing authorities in this direction, as the problem is clearly related to scale, with the larger local authorities having the greater problems.

The question of how many houses need to be provided annually and subsequent issues such as how many of these houses should be provided by the public, private and voluntary sectors are of fundamental importance in avoiding any recurrence of a housing shortage. Current levels of housing output, though much reduced on the levels of the early eighties are, nonetheless, very much in line with the real level of demand. If demand should rise significantly in the coming years, we will have to respond accordingly. Sections 8 and 9 of the Bill will be particularly important in helping to set base line data on overall housing requirements and on local authority housing needs.

Apart from numbers, the range, type and location of new housing are important and should be particularly targeted to meet deficiencies in the existing housing stock. Greater emphasis must be given in the coming years to the accommodation needs of particular categories such as the homeless, frail elderly persons and young persons. This Bill provides the framework for these developments. I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill will have the effect of updating the Housing Act, 1966. Since the 1966 Act was passed, over 40 per cent of our total housing stock has been built. It is ironic that we should be debating a Housing Bill today when the Government's housing policy has almost come to a standstill. The Government's housing policy, or lack of it, will result in a serious decline in public authority housing output and an inevitable increase in waiting lists over the next few years. The only thing stopping these housing lists from increasing even further is the rapid increase in emigration, especially in urban areas. I spoke to officials from Dublin Corporation recently and was told there is a continual handing back of houses in areas in Dublin where people are emigrating. That is operating as a safety valve at present on the housing list. There are 2,850 applicants on the Dublin housing list and there are 2,260 applicants on the transfer list. Were it not for emigration that housing list would increase out of all proportion.

I am afraid that by the end of the decade we will again read in the media of a housing crisis in Dublin. I say that because the Minister said that if there was a significant rise in demand in the coming years the Government would respond accordingly. If the Government's economic policies succeed — I sincerely hope they will — they will stem emigration because that is a test of Government policy. If they succeed, as well as we hope they will, people who have emigrated in the past will come back. There is no housing policy that can respond to an immediate situation. It takes two or three years, and even longer, for housing policies to get off the ground. We experienced this in 1966 and I believe we will experience it once again. This year the Minister saw fit not to give a capital allocation grant to Dublin Corporation. He provided £4 million to cover commitments we entered into last year.

It is under this dark cloud that we are debating the Housing Bill, 1988. The main provisions of the Bill are to provide for and update the letting of local authority houses to ensure that the needs of persons such as the homeless, the aged, the disabled and the travellers get due priority. Yesterday I searched for a definition of "homeless" and I came across the following: "Being homeless means having nowhere secure to go, no privacy and little or no basic comforts". It means belonging nowhere and often nobody to belong to, isolated, vulnerable and alone day and night. Homeless people are forced to stay where they can, in prisons, in insecure and dangerous flats, on the streets or in large anonymous hostels.

The newsheet, the newsletter of the Simon Community, called "No Fixed Abode" has given us the graphic details of the plight of 3,000 homeless people in Ireland who live roughly, people who live in squalor and discomfort, some sleeping rough in cars, in back streets and in dirty alleyways. We must ask ourselves: "What relief will this Bill give to the homeless?" First, it falls far short of the expectations of many people working with the homeless. I am sure Senator Brendan Ryan will put forward that view. It is completely different in many ways from the Housing (Miscellaneous) Bill, 1985.

Section 10 of the Bill gives additional powers to local authorities to meet the needs of homeless persons. Housing authorities are being empowered, in addition to their existing powers, to make arrangements with voluntary bodies for the provision of accommodation for homeless persons. This is welcome because voluntary bodies should be grant-aided in the provision of housing for the homeless. This is a line the Minister took today. However, I do not believe that £1 million per year, though a step in the right direction, is adequate to recognise the role played by the voluntary organisations and the amount of expenditure it will be necessary for them to incur to make a meaningful contribution to resolving the problem. I believe the voluntary bodies have the best expertise in housing the homeless and they should be encouraged and properly financed to carry out the excellent work they have done in the past. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them on their involvement at all levels in this area over the years.

There is a big difference between housing a homeless person who has been sleeping rough and a family who have just become homeless. The provision of housing for many people in this category is not sufficient. They must also be provided with the back-up social services. This can often be more costly than providing accommodation. If we are serious about asking voluntary bodies to carry on this work, we must be serious about providing the necessary finance and not only provide accommodation but also the back-up social services which, in most cases, are very necessary. Voluntary bodies have far more expertise in this area than local authorities and they should be given greater grant-aided assistance to carry out this work.

Of course, local authorities have a role to play in housing the homeless and I am glad to see under section 10 that they will provide assistance, including financial assistance, to homeless persons and, if necessary, rented accommodation or lodgings and contribute to the cost of such accommodation or lodgings. A very important aspect of this section is that housing authorities may make lodgings or accommodation available or provide financial assistance to a person while making inquiries to determine if that person is homeless. I notice also that the Minister may make regulations under this section. I hope he will make it quite clear to the housing authorities the obligation on them in this area and that anyone calling to a housing section who claims to be homeless will not be turned away while his case is being examined. That is a very important aspect of the Bill. I welcome the fact that the local authority will have to provide accommodation while they are examining the case.

Section 11 requires a local authority, when determining a scheme for the lettng of dwellings, to give priority to homeless persons. They must also now provide a proportion of the dwellings at their disposal for the homeless. This is a welcome move. The Bill states that the local authority "may". We must be more definite with the local authorities and say that they "must".

I welcome the new provision in the scheme of letting priorities. The housing authority may have reason to believe that an applicant has deliberately depressed his housing conditions in order to improve his prospects of obtaining a local authority house. In such a case, the local authority may disregard the present housing conditions for the purpose of determining priority. For far too long there has been abuse in this area. Applicants on the housing list have left good accommodation to live with relatives in overcrowded conditions to enhance their chance of being accommodated from the housing list, from time to time at the expense of honest people who reside in accommodation that is considered unfit and who take their turn on the waiting list. I have often seen members of the same family rehoused from the same accommodation using the same method year after year. This provision in the scheme of letting is long overdue.

I believe also that under section 9 there should be an obligation on the housing authorities in the preparation of an assessment of the estimate of housing needs and requirements to have a special category known as the homeless built into these assessments and that this should be carried out on a regular basis. The Minister said that there was an amendment in the Dáil to the effect that this should be carried out on a yearly basis.

I would like to say a few words about the increasing problem of teenage homelessness. Many young people leave home nowadays for one reason or another and find themselves without accommodation. Sometimes there are social problems and sometimes they just cannot cope with or get on with their families. It has come to my attention that the number of young boys and girls roaming the streets at night has been increasing over the past number of years.

I consider myself very privileged in the last year to have become involved in a new organisation called Teenage Care which looks after homeless boys. It is run by the Salesian Fathers. They are carrying on the work of their founder, John Bosco. They have a residential house in Dublin. I always believe in giving credit where credit is due. Due to the Minister's £1 million, they are now able to provide another house and also the Department of Social Welfare are giving them finance for a night shelter, which is essential if we are to care for teenagers properly. Initially they go into a night shelter and then they can graduate to a residential home.

It is not just the building of accommodation that we should consider but the cost of running and supervising these establishments. If we are serious about voluntary organisations looking after the homeless we must provide the social and economic back-up that is necessary for these homes. We are certainly changing the Bill from the 1985 Bill. A number of voluntary organisations are unhappy about some of these changes. If the Government are serious about their commitment to the homeless, a greater allocation of resources must be made over the next three years to provide not just for accommodation but for the support and services that are required.

The Bill's objects are housing for the homeless, the aged, the disabled and travellers. I am disappointed that the Minister spent so little time dealing with the aged. A great proportion of our people are in the senior citizen age group and these people are in need of special care and attention. I want to go back to the figures that I quoted for Dublin and I am sure the same applies to other urban areas. While we say that we have 2,850 applicants on the housing list and there are units of accommodation available, the same might not apply to the transfer list. The most important figures in relation to the Bill are the 574 senior citizens on the waiting list and the 421 senior citizens on the transfer list. Almost 1,000 people in the city of Dublin in the senior citizen category are seeking accommodation and there is no accommodation to give them.

In completing the housing programme this year with the moneys the Minister made available plus the £4 million I mentioned earlier, in my area we built two housing complexes for senior citizens, one at Woodstock Gardens in Ranelagh and one on Oxford Road, Rathmines. I never saw such competition for these vacancies. People with enormous numbers of points were refused. It shows that there is a serious demand in the city for accommodation for senior citizens. The Minister saw fit not to give capital allocation to Dublin this year and that was a mistake especially in relation to senior citizens. In future I ask the Minister to give special consideration to that category when making finance available to local authorities.

The same applies to the disabled. It has always been a policy of Dublin Corporation when building inner city housing to provide two units in each complex for disabled people in normal housing and in senior citizen accommodation. How can we provide for the disabled if there is no money for building houses? The disabled were helped in the past, but there is no provision for them this year or next year.

The fourth category is the travellers. This is a very difficult and sensitive area for all public representatives. In the past, public representatives have faced up to this problem. It is not easy as there is enormous pressure from communities. People do not want travelling sites near them. I must pay tribute to the religious orders, especially in Dublin, who have made sites available. These sites are very acceptable because they are usually well sheltered from the community but nevertheless there is opposition. I was lucky to have the support of other public representatives in my area and we stood firm against all opposition to houses for travelling people. Dublin Corporation recently had a proposal to build houses for travelling people at Finglas. I regret to say that the Minister's party opposed it in Dublin Corporation but, fortunately on the casting vote of the Lord Mayor the housing site in question was approved. It is now with the Minister's Department. I hope the corporation will be thanked for that travellers site in the near future.

One has to welcome the new tenant purchase scheme, although it gives certain advantages to people this year over people who had entered the scheme previously. It has been argued that people who bought houses under previous schemes should have the advantages of this scheme. I do not agree with that. If you buy your house under a particular scheme, that is the scheme and that is the end of it. People this year are fortunate, although there can be winners and losers as the Minister knows and as some of the people are finding out. Nevertheless there will be more winners than losers.

It is a little unfair to allow corporation tenants to purchase their houses when in urban areas local authority flat residents have not got the same right. There are many people in my area who are very anxious to buy local authority flats. This would be a very good thing. It would help to build up better communities and people would have more respect for their own property. There is a trend towards tenants associations developing in flat and housing complexes. These are a great advantage to local authorities. They help to give people a special interest in their own area. I understand that the management of the corporation are endeavouring to prepare a scheme to overcome all the difficulties relating to the purchase of corporation flats. This will allow tenants to avail of the tenant purchase scheme introduced by the Minister. I hope the Department will give them every assistance if such a scheme can be developed. There is also a question of housing maintenance. Due to cutbacks in local authority funding there has been a serious deterioration in housing maintenance especially in repairs to roofs and flats and the maintenance required to keep the housing stock in a reasonable condition. If this falls below a certain level it becomes a greater burden on the State.

Housing policies have changed radically over recent years as the demographic make-up of society has changed. We need smaller one or two-bedroomed houses. Local authorities are very slow to adapt to these changes. The elected members of Dublin Corporation have been asking for smaller dwellings for a long number of years but we never got the necessary response. We could foresee that the demand for one and two-bedroomed houses would be increasing, whereas the demands for three and four-bedroomed houses would be decreasing. The system which operates at local authority level is very slow and very difficult to change. I hope that when we start building houses again we will be building houses of that type.

It is important that the Department keep a careful eye on what local authorities do and that they make sure that the local authorities are building in accordance with the needs and the requirements as assessed. There is a demand for more local authority houses in the inner urban areas especially in Dublin.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator may continue if he so wishes. Otherwise we can suspend the House to allow the Minister to attend a division in the Dáil.

Sitting suspended at 12.5 p.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.

There is a continuing need for inner city housing especially in-fill housing. Two-thirds of lettings by Dublin Corporation last year were to one and two person households and 39 per cent of lettings went to one person households. Unfortunately that is not true of the inner city. A flat near where I live became vacant recently and I was interested in getting it for an unmarried mother and her child. I was surprised that it was accepted by a husband and wife with five children who had come from Tallaght but were sub-tenants in the area. Due to the high cost of travel and the lack of shopping facilities etc., in areas like Tallaght and Blanchardstown, people want to come and live in the inner city.

There is a need for extra accommodation in the inner city areas. I am sure that applies to other urban areas as well. The figure I will quote from the transfer list is most interesting. There are 2,260 applicants on our transfer list. These are husbands and wives with two, three and four children who want to transfer to larger accommodation but want to stay within a two mile radius of the city. They were born and reared and worked there and it is reasonable that they should expect to be accommodated there. The inner city housing programme has been a great success and because of that, there has always been a high demand for it. I do not think it is more expensive than building in a green field because the infrastructure such as schools, roads etc., is already there. This costs extra money when you build in undeveloped areas. When that is taken into account I am sure houses built in the outer city areas can be almost as costly as houses in the inner city areas.

The Minister referred to the management of local authority housing stock and housing estates. I am very disappointed at the way local authorities care for their housing stock and look after their housing estates. There is need for a radical change in local authority management in this area and there is an obligation on the Department of the Environment to set up new guidelines for the management of estates.

One thing that is most worrying, and the Minister referred to it in his speech, is boarding up houses that have become vacant. Naturally, as he said, we will always have some empty houses. What saddens me most is the vandalism of these empty houses. This is a real problem in society today and I cannot understand it. I remember in 1981-82 a young family who were successful in being housed in Tallaght crying for joy at being housed there. The situation has changed rapidly since then. Young people in these areas are allowed to vandalise what the taxpayer has built for other people. Parents who benefited from local authority housing allow their children to do this and it has always caused me great concern.

Boarding up houses has never been a success and has never been able to overcome the problem of vandalism. A new technique has been developed recently called Sitex. I have seen it and I am most interested in it. It is being manufactured in England and is now on sale in Ireland. A type of panel is sealed onto the doors and front windows of the house while it is vacant or while repairs are being carried out by the local authority. Environmentally it looks well. You could live next door to it and be very happy about having a house next door with this kind of panel on it. The good aspect of it is that when that house is finished, it can be taken off and transferred to another house. It can be rented or bought by the local authority. It has been on trial in Tallaght and has proved to be a great success. The vandals did everything they could to break through it but they did not succeed. Some of the officials of the corporation told me they regret it has come on the scene so late but nevertheless it is better late than never. It might help to combat the problem of vandalism which we have in our society. Local authority houses are costly and they should be protected to eliminate vandalism.

I welcome the repeal in section 28 of the offence of "wandering abroad" under the Vagrancy Act, 1824. I was on the Joint Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism which recommended that this should be repealed. I am glad the Minister has introduced it in this Bill.

In the Bill we are giving statutory sanction to the £5,000 grant and mortgage subsidy even though, as the Minister has pointed out, it has long since stopped. The £5,000 grant scheme was a success in its time. It operated for tenants of both local authority housing and local authority flats. I always saw a need to wind it down in relation to local authority houses but I always felt there was a need to continue it for people living in local authority flats. There are people living in flats who deserve to live in houses. Unfortunately they do not have sufficient points under the priority scheme of lettings and have to remain in flats even though their families might be too large for the flats. People in that category should be given an opportunity to live in a house. I urge the Minister to consider some kind of scheme for people who dwell in flats to enable them to transfer to houses. This would make flats available to smaller family units. That is a reasonable request to make and it is one which should be taken into consideration.

A Housing Bill should indicate precisely what the housing policy of the Government is. This Bill does not answer that question. We have to ask: do the Government intend to continue to refuse local authorities finance to provide badly needed houses in certain areas?

I warmly welcome this Bill because, while it may not be all things to all people, nevertheless, it is a considerable advance on any legislation we have on the Statute Book at present. I have no doubt that certain people involved in certain areas will be critical and will be disappointed. Very seldom is a Bill welcomed wholeheartedly as containing everything for everybody. This Bill is a very considerable advance. I have had the privilege over a long number of years of being able to help many people.

In this country, as everybody knows, there is a concept that home ownership is the ideal. Some years ago I read a thesis entitled "The Myth of Home Ownership" which advanced a considerable case for looking at the position obtaining in other countries—Sweden for example, where rented accommodation is available at reasonable rates. Our history more or less precludes such consideration. At least it did so in the past, because there was the possibility of people withdrawing from congested areas to perhaps a remote site where they could live in reasonable comfort without incurring heavy overheads. That position has now changed. No matter where people live now they must meet certain costs, for example, service costs. Somebody living in an area where services are provided by a local authority — even though they do not avail of the service — must pay for it. It would be easy to ride a hobby horse to death on this subject. I do not intend to do so. I simply want to make a few comments within the general parameters of the Bill on matters covered by its provisions.

Housing and planning overlap to a considerable extent. In some areas it is difficult to draw a distinction. I was very pleased by the Minister's introductory remarks particularly the following:

In this regard, the role which the tenants themselves can play is of vital importance and authorities must now make every effort to foster and develop tenant interest and participation in the running of their estates.

This is very important. I have made the case before on many occasions that, in relation to planning and housing people who live in certain areas do not have an input, unlike the position obtaining in other countries, taking Sweden as an example, where people are consulted about housing schemes, in-fill schemes and so on. They are asked at the earliest stage to make an input and consequently they are involved. That input sadly has been missing here. Although under the provisions of the Planning Acts theoretically people have an input to development plans that is, to a large extent, illusory. The same applies to housing in the past in respect of which, like an advertisement for a particular beverage claiming to be good for one — a particular type house was thrust on people as being the best for them, for example, two rooms downstairs, two upstairs. They had no input as regards the size of the house, its siting or into the overall planning of the area. That was a fundamental flaw. I am glad to note that the Minister has now provided or ensured that the people will be fully involved in the future. Mistakes have been made over the years not alone here, but elsewhere.

On another occasion I spoke at considerable length about schemes that were unsuccessful in other countries, apartments that had to be pulled down before the gloss on the medals awarded to their designers became dull. I have spoken about the development of shanty towns where people's industry was complemented by Government funds resulting in successful schemes. For example, there was a rather tragic mistake with regard to Ballymun. This was mentioned on many occasions. I am pleased to note that there is a great social spirit in Ballymun and that its inhabitants are coping with the problem. When I first came to Dublin around 1956, there was a very important exhibition in the building centre on the works of Le Corbusier, the master architect of high rise apartments and buildings. At that stage that was a concept accepted right across Europe. I can recall reading an article at that time on the development of Ballymun in the British architects' journal, the only criticism being that there was no lobby from an external door with direct access to a room. By and large we have benefited or learned from earlier mistakes.

Senators have spoken about the denuding of the inner city, a tragic mistake which should not be repeated. Unfortunately, that error is not easily undone. The people of the inner city were a closely-knit community who were dependent on and helped one another. They were torn from their roots and resettled in concrete jungles. That uprooting led to other problems such as bad health, drugs addiction, and so on. That was unfortunate. We had wrong concepts, indeed in some areas these wrong concepts still obtain. I could mention many. This is probably not the appropriate time but just to mention one or two, I might cite the example of a housing scheme completed in my own town of Kells some years back and which incorporated a well designed play area. Shortly after the scheme was completed there were representations from the people who lived there to remove some of the swings and other such equipment because they were causing problems.

It is agreed that generally in planning a mix is important. Invariably there is an effort to have a mix of housing of elderly people with young people or young families. I know of two cases where elderly people have pleaded to be housed away from young people because young people were behaving in a manner causing them many problems. These are some of the considerations that must be taken into account in planning, particularly that of housing schemes. It is unfortunate that many of the problems encountered in large housing schemes and associated problems arose after the implementation of the Planning and Development Act, 1963, a very comprehensive Act. Reading the relevant legislation would lead one to believe its provisions were capable of dealing with any problems that might arise with regard to planning. However, problems have arisen which I am sure will be corrected in the planning of future developments.

I should like to pay tribute also to the Irish Land Commission and local authorities who have provided housing in the past. While the Land Commission are now defunct they missed a great opportunity with regard to the provision of housing schemes for families who could live in some kind of close relationship. Local authorities missed out to some extent in that regard also.

Senator Doyle spoke about vacant houses in the city and on schemes in other areas. I agree with what he said. There has been a problem over a long number of years in regard to vacant houses in rural areas. As far as I can recall, the previous Government had some scheme in mind to tax vacant houses which never materialised. To some extent it was a pity. In the area that I know best — and I am sure this applies to every other Member of the House — over the years there have been houses which would have been suitable for people badly in need of housing. Many were allowed to deteriorate or fall into ruin. Perhaps there were reasons there. Nevertheless it was unfortunate. Had people with vacant houses had to pay a tax or a fine that would have taken care of the problem to some extent.

I am pleased to note the provision of private sites by local authorities. By and large grants given for any development may be regarded as a transfer of resources. It is important that such transfer would result in some positive development. In the past in some instances grants were of greater benefit to commercial interests rather than their immediate recipients. Much more could be done in regard to the provision of private sites. I agree with what the Minister said about changing patterns, demographic changes, with smaller families and a considerable degree of emigration at present.

The Minister said that the market value also reflects accurately factors such as the age, condition and location of houses. An auctioneer friend of mine refers frequently to lectures he received on valuations in his training days when the lecturing professor noted that there were three important considerations. The first one was location, the second was location and the third was location, in other words, that location was of paramount importance.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

May I ask the Senator to move the Adjournment and move that the sitting be suspended until 2 p.m.?

I move the adjournment.

Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.