Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (40)

Barry Cowen


40. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the proposed housing targets under the affordable purchase scheme in each of the years from 2018 to 2023, inclusive,; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9486/18]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Thankfully, the Minister introduced an affordable house scheme in January this year. Since 2011 Fine Gael has not delivered one such house. It scrapped the only scheme in place in 2012. Will the Minister outline to the House the targets he has set for the new scheme this year and in the forthcoming years, given that there are the same expectations of local authorities in the provision of social housing units? Perhaps we might discuss the issue then.

The delivery of affordable homes to buy or rent is a major priority for the Government, with a particular emphasis on Dublin, Cork and Galway, where people face the greatest affordability challenge. To deliver more affordable homes, the State must develop the full potential of its residential landbank. I stressed this point to local authority chief executives at the second housing summit on 22 January. I have since asked them to submit an outline of their respective affordable housing programme by early March. I anticipate that there is significant potential for the delivery of affordable homes on public lands. I expect approximately 3,000 new affordable homes to be made available under the affordable purchase scheme. As announced in budget 2018, I am providing funding of €25 million over 2018 and 2019 for a targeted programme that will support the provision by local authorities of key enabling infrastructure on their lands to make shovel-ready sites available for affordable housing. My overall ambition is for 10,000 new affordable homes for sale or rent to be provided across a range of initiatives in the coming years. When local authorities have submitted their plans to develop their landbanks for social and wider housing development and the plans have been assessed, I will be in a position to consider delivery targets for affordable housing.

The Minister's answer is somewhat twofold. In the first instance, he has confirmed that no targets have been set. We would have expected a great deal of research to go into the preparation of the scheme and a great deal of groundwork to be done to allow action to be taken immediately to match the rhetoric. However, that is not the case. It is disappointing that the Minister is awaiting the information before he sets about providing the information. I was more alarmed to hear what he said at the beginning of his reply. He said priority should be given to making an affordable scheme available in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Is that at the expense or the neglect of the rest of the country? I was in Sligo last night. I have also been in other parts of the country and spoken to colleagues throughout the country. There is an affordability issue in every constituency, although it might be spoken about more in Dublin, Cork and Galway. When an affordable housing scheme is brought before the House, it should be available to all citizens in the cohort of people who cannot get on a housing list, who cannot afford a mortgage and who cannot rent at affordable rates, let alone buy at affordable rates. We want the State to take an active participatory role in assisting such persons, but it has not done so in recent times, despite the commitment and the expectation among the public, as evidenced by the representations we receive.

One of the main aims of Rebuilding Ireland was the construction of 50,000 social housing homes and their addition to the social housing stock over the period of the five-year plan. The additional funding secured at the time of the last budget for the five-year capital plan we have for Rebuilding Ireland means that we can now meet the joint committee's recommendation that 50,000 new homes be added to the social housing stock. The affordability scheme was stood down in 2011 because it was not necessary after the previous Government - prior to 2011 - had effectively destroyed the economy. As we all know, there was a massive decrease in house prices. That is why we had to stand down the affordability scheme. At the time, affordability was not a problem. People fell into massive negative equity. We are still dealing with the long tail of the financial crisis in the banking, property, construction and housing sectors. There will be affordability where it is needed. Every local authority attended the second housing summit, at which I spoke about our ambitions for the provision of affordable housing and referred to the affordable purchase, cost rental and Rebuilding Ireland home loan schemes. Obviously, the challenge is greater in some areas than in others. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is available in every local authority. We are seeing significant demand for the new scheme across the country. I can give the Deputy a breakdown of the projects involving 3,000 affordable homes for which finance has been secured or plans are in place. It will include a breakdown of from where they will come. I note that the previous Part V affordability scheme in 2008 produced approximately 3,000 homes only. One of the problems with the scheme under the 2009 Act was that because it allowed for a mix of social and affordable homes, there was a tendency to provide more affordable homes and fewer social houses. That had a negative impact on our ability to secure the type of mix we wanted to secure. This is a different and a better way of going about ensuring affordability.

The 2008 scheme might have yielded just 3,000 units, but I repeat that, irrespective of the Minister's contention about the Government's reasons for abandoning the scheme in 2012, since 2011 Fine Gael in government has not provided one affordable unit for any citizen. That is a fact. Will the Minister elaborate on and clarify his initial comments in response to this question? I have no doubt that there are affordability issues in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Like everyone else with a representative role, I want to ensure the State will make adequate provision to ensure progress is made in making affordable units available for purchase and rent. This should not happen at the expense or neglect of certain citizens of the State. When the Minister brings forward a mechanism, an initiative and a programme for the provision of affordable units, he should do so for the whole of the State. I am very disappointed that he has made this comment. He might be able to point to the picture in front of him which relates to schemes which are proposed. I want to assure the people I represent in my constituency that the members of the local authority have as much access to the provision of affordable units as anybody else in the State. Will the Minister clarify the matter for once and for all?

We did not abandon the need for an affordable housing scheme. The Deputy's party did so when it abandoned the economy. House prices crashed and people fell into serious negative equity. The affordability of housing was not an issue in 2011. There were difficulties with ghost estates and knocking down houses that had not been completed.

What about what happened in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018?

In recovering the economy we have put in place the ability to have a five-year ring-fenced capital investment plan that will take back responsibility for building social housing which the Deputy's party abandoned.

We were building four times more than the Government.

We have done this to bring social housing units back into the stock of social housing via the local authorities and the approved housing bodies. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, scheme which is one of the key measures under which we are going to achieve the provision of affordable houses is open to every local authority in the State that applied under LIHAF 1. LIHAF 2 will present another opportunity to achieve the provision of affordable homes. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is available to every local authority. The Deputy and I need to recognise that the affordability challenges are greater in some parts of the country than in others. The affordable purchase and Rebuilding Ireland home loan schemes that were announced in January are available to every local authority. I have asked each local authority to come back to me, using, in particular, the additional €25 million secured for the serviced sites fund, to identify for the Department where it wants to build affordable houses. We are going to make progress when the numbers are made available.