Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Questions (65)

James Browne


65. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to reduce the social housing waiting lists particularly in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15745/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to reduce the social housing waiting lists, particularly in County Wexford.

Rebuilding Ireland aims to deliver 50,000 additional social housing homes through build, acquisition and leasing programmes and aims to support some 87,000 additional households through the housing assistance payment scheme and the rental accommodation scheme, over the six-year period of the plan. A significant part of that will have an impact on Wexford. Very significant progress has been made in delivering on Rebuilding Ireland's targets, including in County Wexford. This is reflected in the reductions recorded on the housing waiting lists, with the number of households on Wexford's list reducing by 567, or over 20%, between 2016 and 2018, with just under 2,000 additional housing supports provided in the county since 2016. The target for 2019 is for the delivery of an additional 931 housing supports in County Wexford, comprising 353 homes through build, acquisition and leasing programmes and another 578 households to be supported through the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme, which will have a significant impact on further reducing Wexford's housing list.

A substantial focus of all stakeholders is to increase supply through new build activity. Wexford County Council has a social housing construction programme of 58 projects, yielding almost 700 homes over the next three years. This pipeline continues to grow with regular approvals for new schemes. We continually ask every local authority to increase its pipeline. We visit them through the housing delivery office and the Minister and I meet the different local authorities either on site in the area or in meetings here in Dublin. We constantly request them to increase the pipeline and add more projects through that so it is not limited to what I have outlined but that is where it is at this moment in time. I am confident that these actions, targets and resources available under Rebuilding Ireland provide a strong platform for continuing to reduce the number of households on waiting lists in Wexford and across the country. We have set targets with local authorities but we are asking them to go beyond those targets. We see them as a minimum, not a maximum and in fairness, when it comes to targets, Wexford County Council has gone above its targets. We will ask it to continue to do so and we will make sure that taxpayer's money is there to fund it.

In fairness to the housing section in Wexford County Council, it is doing its best in the circumstances and it is always available but I have a number of serious issues to raise on social housing. For example, in those numbers the Minister of State gave, more than 60 houses are shovel-ready to go in one housing estate in Enniscorthy but it has been held up by seven and a half months because Irish Water will not give the go-ahead. That is more than half a year lost waiting for Irish Water. There are similar problems with other estates in County Wexford. A utility body is holding up necessary social housing. Wexford County Council has already run out of money to purchase houses for people. I am particularly concerned that this will affect people with disabilities. The average wait for somebody with a serious disability, even with something such as a broken back, to get an adapted house, is over two years. As I have real concerns in that regard, I ask the Minister of State what he will do in those areas.

We are available to meet Wexford County Council on any occasion and in fairness it is quite active in meeting with us. The specific questions the Deputy has asked have not come to our attention. I can confirm that the budget for acquiring houses is not gone. I am surprised that this is the impression that has been given. We are encouraging local authorities to build more houses and to get involved in all the schemes but naturally, when there is good value to be achieved in acquisition, we are willing to do that. I am not sure what information the Deputy has but if Wexford County Council has any particular schemes it wants to get involved in or houses it wants us to buy and if it recommends good value, we will work with it on that but we are very strong in our encouragement that it build new houses, as well as carry out leasing and so on.

Acquisition makes sense sometimes and we certainly fund it when it is requested, explained and backed up with information. I am not sure where that is coming from.

In respect of the two-year wait for someone with a disability, that should not be the case. I have been in a lot of houses that Wexford County Council has specifically designed and built for people with special needs - some families needed a lot of additional help - and there was some great success there. I am surprised that the Deputy has examples of houses that are needing two years because there are plenty of mechanisms to fund housing like that. Wexford has been involved in a couple of cases. The issue with the one site the Deputy mentioned in Enniscorthy was not raised with me directly through the delivery office. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have met Irish Water on numerous occasions and we went through different changes in work practices as well. There should not be delays on sites. If there are, we certainly will dig into that.

The issue is not with Wexford County Council but with Irish Water, which seems not to be getting back to developers who have shovel-ready programmes. Approved housing bodies are agreeing to purchase houses off-plan but they cannot get answers out of Irish Water. Wexford County Council is stepping in where it can but it simply should not be the case that houses are being held up, especially where these housing developments are in towns and connected to mains water. It is not a big decision to make.

On the disability issue and people with serious disabilities trying to get housing, Wexford County Council is doing its best but it is a simple supply issue. There is a backlog of people with disabilities waiting and there is a considerable delay; the current wait is for two years. The reply I have from Wexford County Council, and perhaps I was not clear in this regard, is that Wexford County Council is not purchasing any second-hand houses as its allocation for 2019 is already used up. That is the reply I have from Wexford County Council. I appreciate the Minister of State may not know off the top of his head but I would appreciate it if he could come back to me.

I did not hear the very last thing the Deputy said but funding is available to local authorities, when they ask for it, to fund certain projects. Wexford County Council went way beyond its targets last year, thankfully, and successfully did so in respect of both its build and its acquisition. We encourage that when it makes good sense and is good value. Certainly if there is targeted housing for someone with a disability, that is something we encourage. We have also encouraged local authorities to work with private sector housing if there are already social housing tenants in those houses.

I am surprised at the reply the Deputy received. I did not fully hear the wording of what he read out. It was a little bit different from what he said at the start but we will certainly check it out. The Deputy can be very clear that we will talk to Wexford County Council. In respect of any delays on sites, we have a housing delivery unit that troubleshoots where there are problems on certain sites. The Deputy is bringing it to my attention now and it is news to me that there is a delay of six months. It is a little bit different now as the Deputy is saying it is a private site, not a council site, for a turnkey. That is fine, we will check it out. I would just say that the local authority has not come to us with a site that was delayed for six or seven months. Measures were put in place with Irish Water last summer by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to make sure this would not happen as it caught up and it should not be happening again.