Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (25)

Seamus Healy


25. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will immediately fund local authorities to enable them to commence an emergency local authority house building programme of a minimum of 10,000 new builds per year on public land. [45493/19]

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Oral answers (21 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Successive Governments have not only failed to solve the housing crisis but have created a housing emergency. I ask the Minister to fund local authorities to build a minimum of 10,000 houses per year on public land as the key driver to tackle the current housing emergency.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Over the course of the six-year Rebuilding Ireland action plan, the Government is firmly committed to meeting the housing needs of more than 138,000 households, with more than 50,000 homes being delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes. The implementation of Rebuilding Ireland is a key Government priority supported by significant annual investment. For 2019 alone, funding of €2.4 billion is being provided for all housing programmes, with a further €2.63 billion available in 2020. This investment will see the housing needs of almost 27,400 households being met in 2019, of which 10,000 will be new social housing homes delivered through build, acquisition and long-term leasing programmes. In 2020, we are targeting the delivery of 11,000 homes through build, acquisition and leasing. More than 7,000 of these will be newly-built social housing homes, the highest number of such homes to be built in a single year this century. The delivery of these homes will substantially aid the continued reduction in the number of households on social housing waiting lists. These numbers continue to decline, with a 26% reduction since 2016.

My Department continues to engage intensively with all local authorities to keep momentum on new build output as high as possible. As part of our ongoing commitment to support structures, a dedicated housing delivery office has been established to support local authorities to maximise their delivery potential and harness the best that is available in their functional areas. In addition, in September last, my Department, in collaboration with local authorities, published the employers' requirements document. This document supports local authorities by providing guidance on the general quality of materials, finishes and fittings for use in social housing in the interest of value for money. In addition, it provides guidance on the preparation of tender documents for improved cost and programme control.

There is nothing preventing local authorities from delivering more social homes. My Department continues to work intensively to streamline and facilitate new processes. New homes require appropriate planning permissions and while this cannot be achieved overnight, dedicated efforts since 2016 will now see 2020 as a record year for social housing build output.

The picture the Minister has painted is not the picture I or the vast majority of Deputies find in their clinics. We do not expect the Minister to solve the problem overnight but his party has been in government for eight years. What has happened since 2002 is that the public housing programme has been handed over to the private market, namely, builders, developers and landlords, and we now rely on the private market to be the main driver for the provision of public housing. It is clear to any reasonable person looking at the current situation that this policy has failed utterly.

That 4,000 of the 10,398 persons who are homeless are children does not indicate a successful policy. Targets set by the Minister and Government over a number of years have not been met and we now have a very serious problem. The only way to deal with it is to ensure that funds are made available. Local authorities can only build housing if they have funds and I am asking the Minister to make funds available so that they can build at least 10,000 houses per year.

All Deputies receive numerous representations in relation to people in housing difficulty, whether they are trying to rent, buy a home or secure social housing or are at risk of going into emergency accommodation. The difficulties we have are fundamentally supply difficulties. Until we get supply surpassing demand, we will continue to have people facing difficulties in the housing sector.

Rebuilding Ireland recognises that social housing output was outsourced to the private sector in the past. I am committed to changing that and giving back to local authorities and housing bodies the mandate to drive the delivery of social housing. That is why more than 7,000 new homes will be built next year. We will actually increase the social housing stock by more than that figure through acquisitions and long-term leasing. More than 7,000 social housing homes will be directly built by local authorities and housing bodies and a small portion will be built through the Part V process. That is more than in any other year this century, including the boom years. This shows what we have done under Rebuilding Ireland in terms of giving the authority and resources back to the local authorities.

Since 2016, they have been tooling up in that regard. We can have this record year next year because of the work that has been done. After 2020 and into 2021, it will be higher again.

Obviously, the Minister does not recognise that there is a serious homelessness crisis. The figure of 10,398 does not include a significant number of other people who are also homeless. Thousands of people couch surf. They are living at home or on relatives' couches and floors. There are additional thousands in that category alone. There is also a situation where thousands of individuals and families neither qualify for the local authority housing lists nor for a mortgage. They are not included in these figures. They find themselves in the unenviable position where they have to rent for the rest of their lives at very significant rental costs. Rents, as we know, have rocketed in recent years. Thousands of families and individuals in that category are not shown in any figures, and those people are put to the pin of their collar to survive. The Minister should fund the local authorities to build significant numbers of houses - a minimum of 10,000 - on an ongoing basis to solve this problem.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-on question. It is not a question of funding. Rebuilding Ireland was a ring-fenced budget, the first time that has happened over a number of years, because of the commitment we were making to getting social housing built again. I refer to more than €6 billion to be able to do that. The situation we have in homelessness is complex. It is not just about a lack of adequate housing, although that is a very big part of it. Some 10,400 people in emergency accommodation is an unacceptably high figure. That is why we have to continue to drive the delivery of new social housing homes.

It is worth recognising also that, last year, more than 27,000 households were supported through different Government supports. We will do that again this year on top of that. Each year, under Rebuilding Ireland, we are helping tens of thousands of people who might be in housing insecurity, in emergency accommodation, or who are on the housing lists waiting for that social housing home to get into those homes. A huge amount of work is being done but much more work needs to be done. From day one, Rebuilding Ireland was always a five-year programme to get back to a sustainable level of housing output. Now, in the national development plan, which will take over from Rebuilding Ireland after 2021, we drive those targets up even further.

It is worth pointing out one factor. Last year, for every four houses that were built, one of those houses was built for social housing. It will be between that and one in three this year. That is very important because it shows the commitment this Government is making with taxpayers' money to building social housing homes directly.

We move on to other questions.

Deputy Seamus Healy rose.

The Deputy got his two supplementary questions.

Do I not have another minute? I want to ask the Minister, and I am sure he would want to respond-----

He might want to respond but-----

-----about the procedure for homeless persons being approved as homeless by local authorities.

Perhaps the Minister can-----

There is now a situation whereby persons who are homeless in Tipperary County Council-----

I am depriving other Members of opportunities.

-----must advise the council that they are homeless, make a full housing application and wait 12 weeks to be designated as homeless.

We understand the question.

Will the Minister comment on that situation because it is unbelievable?

Will the Minister communicate with the Deputy?

If the Minister thinks it is wrong, he should instruct the local authority to do otherwise.

This is unprecedented that the Deputy would have three supplementary questions.

I can communicate directly with the Deputy if there are particular issues that people in his constituency are facing in this regard. We want people to engage with local authorities early where they are at risk of homelessness. We also want to make sure there is no unnecessary delay in processing their applications, be it for the housing assistance payment, HAP, homeless HAP, the use of a HAP place finder, or getting on the housing list.