Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (41, 80)

Bernard Durkan


41. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which the housing needs reflected in the waiting lists of the various local authorities are being met in line with requirements; the extent to which waiting lists have been reduced; if adequate provision of emergency housing accommodation has become or is becoming available; whether there is a need for an emergency housing plan which employs rapid build housing techniques, with particular reference to the need at an early date to achieve targets in line with the urgency of the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9708/18]

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Bernard Durkan


80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the degree to which he expects to meet the most urgent and pressing housing needs in the shortest possible time, with particular reference to the housing crisis and rapid, modular and traditional local authority builds; his plans to invoke emergency legislation to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9707/18]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I have tabled this question to evaluate the extent of the expected demand for local authority housing, particularly in the counties adjoining Dublin city and county. I compliment the Minister and the Department on the efforts they are making, but I am concerned that the tide is so great that they will fall short of the target by a long shot. I ask for particular steps to be taken to address this issue.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 80 together.

Implementation of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan is well under way and making significant progress. This was evident in the social housing output indicative figures published last month, which showed that nearly 26,000 households had their social housing needs met in 2017. In 2017 some 85,799 households in the country were assessed as being qualified for social housing support, which represented a decrease of 6.3% on the comparable figure for 2016. This shows that small progress is being made in the right direction. There will be no let-up in the Government's focus on the issue. The resources provided through Rebuilding Ireland are allowing us to respond in a significant manner. Over €1.4 billion was provided for investment in housing in 2017. The 2018 budget provides over €1.9 billion to tackle housing matters. Taxpayers' money is being spent to try to address the problem. This investment will yield substantial delivery activity and ensure we make further significant progress towards meeting the overall target of delivering 50,000 social homes by 2021 through construction, refurbishment, acquisition and leasing. That number is alongside an accelerated roll-out of the housing assistance payment scheme to meet the needs of 80,000 households.

New rapid delivery construction is a vital part of the programme and nearly 200 new homes were delivered in this way across the Dublin area in 2017. An additional 20 rapid projects involving in excess of 500 new homes are being advanced, many of which are scheduled for delivery in 2018.

The Deputy has issues regarding other types of housing and we are prepared to meet anyone for discussions. We have met many people involved in different types of construction to discuss various types of housing in which we could invest, provided they meet regulations and are finished to a high standard. New social housing construction schemes are being added continually to the pipeline, both through the local authorities and approved housing bodies. More than 3,800 houses are under construction on approximately 120 sites, and a total of 12,000 houses are planned on 700 sites. With sufficient drive, we will be able to deliver housing to help provide housing solutions every year.

Last year, more than 4,000 people left homelessness. We acknowledge, however, that this is not enough to deal with demand. However, we are beginning to move in the right direction and houses are being delivered. Last year, through the various methods of delivery, more than 7,000 new social houses were added. Together with private sector support, this helped 27,000 people find housing solutions. We will match and increase this figure in 2018.

Notwithstanding the progress being made, we must continue to drive on the process. We are allocating additional funding to do this in the coming years. If we can drive on the various schemes in place through local authorities and other partners and apply the necessary urgency to complete schemes as quickly as possible, we will be able to solve the housing problem.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I acknowledge that he and the Minister are making genuine efforts to deal with this issue. However, they should bear in mind that I have spoken to their predecessors going back as far as the former Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Mr. Michael Finneran. I indicated to the then Minister of State that the problems we are currently experiencing were rapidly approaching. Despite the efforts being made, we have our fingers in the dyke and without an emergency intervention, we will find ourselves in a worse position one year from now and in an intolerable position in two years.

To appreciate fully the difficulties being experienced, one must encounter daily the deprivation that affects entire families and individuals, young and old, who have nowhere to go and must sleep in the open air. This is not a political issue but a reflection of society. Despite the degree of sophistication Ireland has achieved nationally and internationally, we find ourselves apologising to people who are homeless. In view of the seriousness of the matter, what new interventions are likely? Is it expected that we will be able to deal with homelessness in the short term?

We all share Deputy Durkan's concerns and we all want to try to solve the housing problem as quickly as possible. Most Deputies daily meet people with a housing need, whether in our clinics and offices or, as I do, on visits to projects. Members from all parties are committed to delivering a minimum of 50,000 houses over the next three or four years through Rebuilding Ireland. We want to go beyond this objective by meeting the commitment given in Project Ireland 2040 to build upwards of 12,000 houses annually thereafter. This should address the social housing requirement in the years ahead, provided sufficient land is also made available to deliver affordable housing. We believe that will be possible.

Rebuilding Ireland is a five-year programme, which commenced less than 18 months ago. Many people judged An Action Plan for Jobs after 18 months when they argued the plan was not working. The plan delivered a couple of hundred thousand jobs in three or four years and helped to solve the unemployment problem. Likewise, if we stick to the action plan for housing, introduce new schemes to deliver affordable housing and increase investment, as the Minister has done, we will achieve the progress required to ensure the housing problem is tackled in the years ahead.

All of our solutions are based on supply. Last year, commencement notices and planning permissions increased threefold and 50% year on year. It is hoped that a minimum of 20,000 new houses will be built this year. The construction sector is of the view that 23,000 new units will be provided this year. We have also made significant funding available for social housing to help tackle the housing problem.

I want to believe what I am hearing and I know the Minister of State spoke with great honesty, but as a long-time Deputy, I have seen too much evidence to suggest the Minister and Minister of State, other Deputies and, more important, the homeless people we represent will be disappointed. I ask the Minister to have a further re-evaluation of this issue done with a view to identifying the number of people becoming homeless daily. While family hubs and similar initiatives are a help, they are emergency measures which do not solve the problem. Children, families and older people are in the worst possible position. Despite having worked hard for a long time to address this issue, I believe the problem will get worse. I know that is not the intention. Direct build and rapid build projects must begin now, not in six months or one year.

Deputy Durkan and I are on the same page. We want progress to be made as quickly as possible. The Minister and I visited County Kildare recently where we met the Deputy at the opening of two new housing projects. Kildare County Council is committed to delivering more than 2,600 houses in the next couple of years, which will make a significant contribution towards solving the county's housing problem. We ask all local authorities to avail of the new delivery mechanism for getting on site and to use the rapid build programme to try to bring greater urgency to the delivery of housing.

Compared with two years ago, local authorities now have the staff and funding they need. In addition, sites have been identified and planning permission has been granted. More than 12,500 houses are already in the system. Local authorities delivered more than 7,000 houses last year and will deliver more than 8,000 this year.

I am much more hopeful than Deputy Durkan because I track the figures daily. We have systems in place to accelerate the process. We changed the planning process and funding arrangements and many partners have bought into the process. There is also greater engagement from the private sector through turnkey projects, enhanced leasing arrangements, the mortgage-to-rent scheme and various other schemes. If we can press ahead with these schemes and the initiatives to bring vacant properties back into use, I have no doubt we will get ahead of the curve. While it is disappointing that a large number of people are being declared homeless every month, we are now delivering the housing units that will help us to get ahead of the trend very soon.

We will take one further group of questions. With the agreement of Deputies, we will move straight to the answer and take one question from each of the Deputies who tabled them.