The Deputy has raised this matter on a few occasions. I agree it is a scheme we had hoped would work better. However, it is a demand-led scheme. It was a carrot to the sector to bring housing forward by providing access to finance to bring vacant properties to the market. While my Department is currently finalising detailed output data across each of the social housing delivery programmes in 2017, it is already clear that the repair and leasing scheme, RLS, has not yet delivered the level of new social housing homes envisaged.
At the end of 2017, a total of 820 applications had been received under the scheme. Local authorities were engaging with the property owners on 573 properties, 31 lease agreements have been signed and nine homes have been tenanted.
The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has reviewed the operation of the scheme, as part of the review of Rebuilding Ireland, and has concluded that the scheme has significant potential but there are areas where it can be improved to make it more attractive and effective. We all probably agree on that. At the housing summit last week, local authority chief executives were advised that, from 1 February, a number of key changes are being made to the scheme. These include a reduction in the minimum lease term required from ten to five years and increasing the proportion of market rent available to property owners where they take on more responsibilities under the tenancy, meaning that up to 92% of market rent will be available. Previously, it was only 80%. Now, if one takes on more responsibility it is up to 92%, which is much more attractive. There is also the provision of additional funding for property owners, over and above the current €40,000 limit, where the dwelling is a bedsit type dwelling being brought into compliance with the standards for rented houses regulations and being made available for social housing.
The Minister is making €32 million available for the scheme in 2018 and I expect local authorities and approved housing bodies to continue to implement the scheme locally and to achieve the target of 800 new properties this year. At the housing summit we asked for the support of local authorities to drive this forward and I have repeatedly asked all parties in the House to help us to drive it. It is an attractive scheme and I believe we have made it more attractive. It is a good scheme to bring forward housing stock at a good cost to the State. Hopefully, there will be greater uptake in the year ahead.