Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Questions (96, 115)

Mick Wallace


96. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on whether housing policy may be contributing to the increased number in homelessness; if he will consider re-examining the recommendations made by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16354/19]

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Jan O'Sullivan


115. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to reverse the rise in the number of families and persons becoming homeless; if further measures will be introduced to assist persons to remain in their homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16331/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96 and 115 together.

The Government's Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, Rebuilding Ireland, is designed to increase the delivery of housing across all tenures to help individuals and families meet their housing needs.  The Action Plan focuses, in particular, on increasing the delivery of social housing, with a target of delivering 50,000 social housing homes in the period to 2021, while also making the best use of existing stock and laying the foundations for a more vibrant housing sector.  

Many of the measures set out in Rebuilding Ireland are in line with the recommendations made by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in 2016, including actions to provide assistance to those at risk of becoming homeless, through accelerated delivery of social housing and through increased protections for both tenants and landlords within the rental sector. These measures aim to support people remain in their own homes where possible. 

One of the measures that has been introduced is a national mortgage arrears resolution service, known as Abhaile, which is provided free of charge to the borrower and its aim is to help mortgage holders in arrears to find the best solutions and keep them, wherever possible, in their own homes.  The unique element of Abhaile is that it brings together, for the first time, the full range of supports and services required by borrowers in home mortgage arrears.  

The Mortgage to Rent (MTR) scheme, introduced in 2012 and administered by the Housing Agency on behalf of my Department, is targeted at those households in arrears whose mortgage is unsustainable and who are eligible for social housing support. Under the scheme an eligible household with an unsustainable mortgage goes from being a homeowner to becoming a social housing tenant of an Approved Housing Body (AHB).  The borrower voluntarily surrenders their property to their lender who in turn sells the property to an AHB.  The AHB becomes the landlord and the household can remain in the family home as a social housing tenant.  The tenant pays a differential rent to the AHB, based on their income, which is designed to be affordable.  The MTR scheme is an established part of the overall suite of social housing options and an important part of the mortgage arrears resolution process.  

I am also committed to strengthening and improving security of tenure for tenants.  The Residential Tenancies (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2018 was published in December 2018.  The key focus of the Bill is to deliver on a number of commitments flowing from Rebuilding Ireland and the commitments made in September 2017 to provide the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) with additional powers and resources to deliver enhanced protections to both tenants and landlords.  The key measures and reforms are designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ) arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures.  Government has also approved further amendments to the Bill, to be introduced at committee stage to extend the duration of Rent Pressure Zone restrictions to the end of 2021, and to restrict the exemption for new properties to the market to the first letting, which is to be at market rent level.  Any subsequent rent review will be restricted to a maximum 4% rent increase.  Also to be introduced at Committee stage are measures to protect tenants where a notice to quit is made under Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016. 

My Department is also fully committed to supporting individuals and families experiencing homelessness.  Budget 2019 provided an allocation of €146m, an increase of over 25% on the 2018 allocation, for the provision of homeless services by the local authorities. This funding will ensure that the local authorities can provide the best possible supports to those individuals and families experiencing homelessness, until they can be assisted to secure a more sustainable housing solution to their needs.

Rebuilding Ireland is delivering results in supporting exits from homelessness. In 2018, 5,135 adults exited homelessness into independent tenancies, an increase of over 8% on 2017.   I and my Department will remain resolutely focused on making the further progress required to address the challenges in relation to homelessness.