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Thursday, 5 May 2022

Written Answers Nos. 51-81

Questions Nos. 51 to 62, inclusive, answered orally.

Ukraine War

Questions (63)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

63. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he envisages a similar relaxation of guidelines for persons erecting temporary or modular structures in view of recent discussions regarding the possibility of relaxing planning guidelines to tackle the accommodation for refugees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22160/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Russia’s illegal and immoral war on Ukraine has forced more than 5.5 million Ukrainian civilians to flee their homes and seek refuge in EU and other neighbouring States. It is anticipated 10 million may ultimately leave Ukraine, with more than 100,000 of these possibly arriving in Ireland. This will present the State with a challenge of unprecedented immediacy and magnitude, requiring an equally unprecedented and extraordinary emergency response to accommodate those already here and those yet to come.

My Department is leading cross-government consideration of options to meet the longer-term accommodation requirements of Ukrainian refugees, including temporary emergency accommodation and measures to facilitate its delivery. Planning legislation provides for emergency situations of this nature and the provisions – used previously to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis and COVID pandemic – may allow buildings to be built or commercial and others converted to accommodation for Ukrainian refugees, on a temporary basis. Where development is required which is intended for longer-term use, separate emergency provisions may allow, on a case-by-case basis, for the use of Ministerial orders.

Generally, emergency provisions are not appropriate for the delivery of domestic housing, which requires a more strategic, long-term approach as provided for in Housing for All. That said, where suitable accommodation is developed as part of the humanitarian response, it may be turned to social and affordable housing when the humanitarian crisis is resolved.

Housing Policy

Questions (64)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

64. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will immediately introduce a ban on evictions as was done during Covid considering the escalating housing crisis and the urgent need to also put roofs over the heads of those fleeing war; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22194/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Having regard to the manifest and grave risk to human life and public health posed by the spread of Covid-19 and in order to mitigate, where practicable, the effect of the spread of that disease, the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 provided for a temporary moratorium on tenancy terminations, other than in exceptional and limited cases during the emergency period from 27 March 2020 to 1 August 2020.

To deliver on the Housing for All commitment, and cognisant of the high demand and pressures in the residential rental sector, the Government has provided for Tenancies of Unlimited Duration through the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2021 to enhance security of tenure for tenants.

All new tenancies created on or after 11 June 2022 will become tenancies of unlimited duration once the tenancy has lasted more than 6 months and no valid notice of termination has been served on the tenant. A landlord may also consent to an existing tenancy being treated as of unlimited duration. Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2021 continues to provide that a landlord may validly terminate a tenancy on one or more of seven grounds. This provision respects the landlord’s constitutionally protected right to terminate a tenancy.

In line with section 16(3) of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019, a review of Termination Notice periods under section 66 of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2021 is currently in progress. 

I have no plans to introduce a ban on evictions, as to do so would constitute an unjust interference in landlords constitutional property rights and would almost certainly deter landlords staying in

the rental market. 

Rental Sector

Questions (65)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

65. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will support legislation to close a loophole which results in a section of the Carrigaline local electoral area not being prescribed as a rent pressure zone whilst the majority of Carrigaline is so prescribed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22208/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I am very much aware of the issue that Deputy Ó Laoghaire has raised.

The Ballincollig-Carrigaline Local Electoral Area (LEA) was designated a Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ) on 27 January 2017 under section 24 of the Residential Tenancies Acts (2004-2021).

New Local Electoral Areas and Municipal Districts were signed into law on 31 January 2019 for Cork City and County (which took into account the expanded Cork City boundary) for the May 2019 local elections.  The new LEAs and Municipal Districts see the old Ballincollig-Carrigaline LEA being split, with Ballincollig becoming part of Cork City Council. Carrigaline and its hinterland are now contained within its own LEA and Municipal District, which is wholly within the remit of Cork County Council. 

The areas within the new Carrigaline LEA which were designated as a RPZ under the old Ballincollig- Carrigaline LEA remain designated as a RPZ under section 24A(6) of the Residential Tenancies Acts, which provides that  “Where a local electoral area is prescribed by order as a rent pressure zone and, subsequently, any local electoral areas are duly amended in a manner that affects the area of the local electoral area so prescribed, then the order shall continue to have effect as if the local electoral area concerned had not been so amended.”

Therefore, under Section 24A(6), areas already designated as RPZs will remain designated and areas that are not designated nor due to become part of Cork City Council will retain their current undesignated status.  Areas within the new Carrigaline LEA that were not previously designated as a RPZ remain undesignated. This is clearly in keeping with RPZ designation criteria and is not a loophole in the process. 

The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 provides that any area falling within the new Cork City Council boundary, which was not already within a RPZ, became an RPZ from 31 May 2019. 

At the moment, while rental inflation in the Carrigaline LEA has been above the Non-GDA Standardised Average Rent of €1,058.95, the LEA has only been above 7% in 2 of the last 6 quarters, thereby not satisfying the criteria for designation as an RPZ at this time.  The Housing Agency and the RTB will continue to monitor this carefully and if the Carraigaline LEA meets the designation criteria it will be designated as an RPZ. 

Housing Policy

Question No. 67 answered orally.

Questions (66)

Brian Stanley

Question:

66. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the correct procedures and rules regarding the allocation of social housing by approved housing bodies; if the nomination of new tenants is made by the local authority; and if not, if the nomination is made by another body. [20734/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Households wishing to obtain social housing support from a local authority or an Approved Housing Body must first apply to the relevant local authority for a social housing assessment. Where the household is deemed to qualify for support it is placed on the housing authority’s waiting list and offers of suitable accommodation are made in accordance with the authority’s allocation scheme as it becomes available.

Local authority allocation schemes are made by the respective elected members in accordance with section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Allocation Regulations. The schemes specify, among other things, how dwellings are allocated to households on the housing waiting and transfer lists and the order of priority for such allocations. In accordance with the 2009 Act, allocation schemes shall apply to dwellings owned or under the control of local authorities, as well as dwellings provided by Approved Housing Bodies with Exchequer funding.

Where a vacancy arises in a dwelling owned by an Approved Housing Body, the relevant local authority may nominate a suitable household from its housing or transfer lists to the Approved Housing Body, having regard to the order of priority set out in its allocation scheme.

Question No. 67 answered orally.

Local Authorities

Questions (68)

Alan Dillon

Question:

68. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide an update on the number of appointed full-time vacancy officers and town regeneration officers across local authorities; and the extent to which these roles will play in supporting the housing supply throughout the country. [22199/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Town Centre First, jointly developed by my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development, sets out 33 actions which will provide a co-ordinated framework across established national policy objectives (in particular the National Planning Framework, Housing for All and Our Rural Future), to address the decline in the health of our towns and sets out actions to regenerate and revitalise them.

A key element of the Town Centre First policy will be the development of Town Centre First Plans. These Town Centre First Plans will assist towns in accessing a range of potential funding programmes available for town regeneration across a number of government departments and agencies. This work will be supported by a network of Local Authority Town Regeneration Officers, which will be funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development. I expect that the recruitment process for the Town Regeneration Officers will commence in the coming weeks.

Local Authorities are also continuing with the process of the delivery of the Vacant Homes Officer position on a full-time basis. Since 2018, my Department has provided funding to each local authority of €50,000 per annum which is to be increased by 20% to €60,000 per annum to support the work of a Vacant Homes Office and to facilitate the transition to full time Vacant Homes Officers. As this process is ongoing, I will have a full position from local authorities following the delivery timeframe of the end of June.

Housing Policy

Questions (69)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

69. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he will increase the income thresholds for local authority housing applicants in order to ensure that urgent progress is made to enable those being excluded on income grounds from local authority housing lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22130/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations.The Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy.The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. A general increase of €5,000 was also introduced prior to the new system coming into operation.Housing for All – A New Housing Plan for Ireland was published in September 2021 and, as part of a broad suite of social housing reforms, committed to reviewing income eligibility for social housing.The review, which examined, inter alia, the efficiency of the current banding model and income limits applicable to local authorities, has been completed. I am currently considering its findings and expect to decide on proposed changes and recommendations shortly.

Emergency Accommodation

Questions (70)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

70. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide a report on the vacant buildings his Department has already identified that might be used for emergency accommodation and if he will commit to continuously publishing this list as it is updated on a weekly basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22196/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) is responsible for meeting the immediate and short-term accommodation needs of persons arriving in Ireland from the conflict in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, my Department is focusing on the medium and long-term accommodation challenges and is leading cross-government efforts through a Housing Taskforce established by Government for this purpose. All options are being examined by the Taskforce, including refurbishment and reconfiguration of vacant buildings.

As part of this work, my Department requested central and local government to identify and inventory public or private owned vacant buildings that may be used or configured for multi-occupancy accommodation in the medium to long-term term. 

More than 500 vacant properties have been identified and notified to my Department to date. Some 90 or so, capable of accommodating around 5,000 persons, have been deemed suitable for almost immediate occupation and my Department has passed these over for use in DCEDIY-led response efforts. The remaining properties, and those still being returned by local authorities and Government Departments, continue to be screened and validated.

It would be inappropriate to publish the list of buildings given most are privately owned.

Housing Policy

Questions (71)

Thomas Gould

Question:

71. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the targets for the return of social housing stock; and the targeted average timeline for return. [22133/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock is the responsibility of each individual local authority under Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966.

Since 2014 however, my Departments Voids Programme has supplemented the local authority own resources available for the preparation of vacant properties for re-letting. The funding was introduced originally to tackle long term vacant properties and is now increasingly targeted to support authorities to ensure minimal turnaround and re-let times for vacant stock by focusing only on work necessary to comply with the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations, 2019. 

From 2014 to 2021, expenditure of some €261 million was recouped to local authorities under the Voids Programme which funded the return to active use of 18,527 properties nationwide. Targets and timelines for the return to use of vacant stock are not set by my Department as there is already a  requirement on local authorities to return all vacant properties to use as quickly as possible. This is however monitored and reported on annually by NOAC.

My Department will continue to support local authorities with voids and with the  transition to a planned maintenance approach to stock management and maintenance over the coming years. Funding allocations under the Voids Programme for 2022 will be announced shortly. 

Housing Schemes

Questions (72)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

72. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to increase the maximum rent payment under the HAP scheme in view of the fact that many HAP applicants cannot afford the rents being sought on the open market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22158/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Programme for Government commits to ensuring that Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) levels are adequate to support vulnerable households, while we increase the supply of social housing. Maximum rent limits for HAP were set for each housing authority area in 2016, in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection (DSP). In reviewing the rent limits, my Department worked closely with DSP and monitored data gathered from the Residential Tenancies Board and the HAP Shared Services Centre.

Local authorities also have the flexibility to agree to a HAP payment of up to 20% above the maximum rent limit, because of local rental market conditions and up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of, homelessness.Under Housing for All, my Department was tasked with undertaking an analytical exercise to examine whether an increase in the level of the 20% discretion available to Local Authorities under HAP is required, in order to maintain adequate levels of HAP support. The Housing Agency undertook to carry out this analytical exercise on behalf of my Department. The review was submitted on 20 December 2021. It is undergoing analysis by my Department and I expect to receive recommendations following that analysis.

Derelict Sites

Questions (73)

Steven Matthews

Question:

73. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views regarding the imposition of a derelict sites tax in place of the existing levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21261/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Addressing vacancy and dereliction, and maximising the use of the existing housing stock, is a priority objective of the Government, as evidenced by the recently published Housing for All - A New Housing Plan for Ireland where one of the four pathways in the plan is specifically dedicated to this area.

My Department continues to liaise with local authorities on the implementation of the Derelict Sites Act with a view to improving its effectiveness.

My Department initiated a review of the Derelict Sites Act in November 2021 to identify potential improvements to the legislative provisions and the way they are applied and will be engaging further with local authorities in this regard in the coming months.

There is currently no proposal to replace the derelict site levy with a tax. However, action 15.2 of Housing for All commits to the introduction of a new tax to activate vacant land for residential purposes, to replace the current Vacant Site Levy. In this connection, the new Residential Zoned Land Tax was introduced by the Minister for Finance in the Finance Act 2021. The purpose of the proposed measure is to incentivise the activation of land which is zoned and serviced for residential development, but remains undeveloped, thereby assisting in increasing housing output, rather than to raise revenue.

The Department of Finance is also giving consideration to a vacant property tax in the context of the replacement for the vacant site levy and is assessing the current Local Property Tax returns to ascertain the present vacancy situation. Once collated and analysed, this data will provide a new data set on vacant homes.

Housing Policy

Questions (74)

Brian Stanley

Question:

74. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his position regarding the charging of hello money to new tenants of social housing provided by approved housing bodies. [20735/22]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Households wishing to obtain social housing support from a local authority or an approved housing body (AHB) must first apply to the relevant local authority for a social housing assessment. Where the household is deemed qualified for support, it is placed on the housing authority’s waiting list and offers of suitable accommodation are made in accordance with the authority’s allocation scheme as they arise.

The allocation scheme is made by the elected members under section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and in compliance with Social Housing Allocation Regulations made thereunder, and specifies, among other things, the manner of, and the order of priority for, the allocation of dwellings to households on the housing and transfer lists. Under section 22, an allocation scheme shall apply to dwellings owned or under the control of a local authority, as well as dwellings provided by an AHB with Exchequer funding.

Where a vacancy arises in a dwelling owned by an AHB, the relevant local authority may nominate suitable households from its housing or transfer list to that body, having regard to the order of priority set out in its allocation scheme.  

If an AHB is in receipt of funding under a relevant Exchequer funding scheme, they must comply with the terms and conditions of that scheme. Under such funding schemes (made available through local authorities), the AHB is required to make the property available for social renting for the duration of the mortgage or, as the case may be, the availability agreement. 

It is a matter for the governing board of an individual AHB to determine how property, which is solely owned by the AHB without any mortgage or debt funding in place, is allocated to tenants in accordance with their constitution. All AHB tenancies are registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) and therefore this channel should be the primary recourse in terms of procedures in any tenant/landlord matters.

As provided for in the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Act 2019, the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority (AHBRA) was formally established on 1 February 2021. One of the objectives of AHBRA is to provide further assurances to investors, tenants, the Government and to the sector itself that social housing providers operate in a well-regulated and stable environment.

The Regulator can cancel the registration of an AHB on a number of different grounds. If the Regulator considers it necessary for the protection of tenants of dwellings, the Regulator will, by notice and with consent, require an AHB to transfer such dwellings to another AHB identified by the Regulator or to a Housing Authority if the Regulator considers it appropriate. The Regulator can also seek a High Court Order if it is necessary for the purpose of the protection of the tenants of dwellings provided or managed by an AHB.

Housing Policy

Questions (75, 77, 78, 81)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

75. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the review of the income guidelines for eligibility for local authority housing first commenced; the reason no decision have been made to change these limits to more realistic levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22157/22]

View answer

Matt Carthy

Question:

77. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he intends to publish and act upon the review completed in November 2021 into the current banding model and income limits applicable to local authorities regarding housing supports. [22021/22]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

78. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when income eligibility limits for social housing for areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan will be increased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22145/22]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

81. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will report on the review of income limits for eligibility for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22193/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 77, 78 and 81 together.

Housing for All – A New Housing Plan for Ireland was published in September 2021 and, as part of a broad suite of social housing reforms, committed to reviewing income eligibility for social housing.The review, which examined, inter alia, the efficiency of the current banding model and income limits applicable to local authorities, was completed in Q4, 2021. I am currently considering its findings and expect to decide on proposed changes and recommendations shortly.

Regeneration Projects

Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 75.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 75.

Questions (76)

Thomas Gould

Question:

76. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide an update on the timeline for completion of the regeneration of Knocknaheeny. [22134/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The detailed advancement of housing and other works under the Cork North West Quarter Regeneration (CNWQR) programme is a matter, in the first instance, for Cork City Council.

The Cork City Northwest Regeneration Masterplan & Implementation Report was published in 2011. The strategy outlined a departure from previous policy, with a proposal to carry out wholesale demolition of the housing stock in Knocknaheeny that has not been the subject of previous refurbishment works. 

To date 100 units have been delivered in phases 1B, 2A and 2C of this programme.

Currently Phase 1C (41 units) and Phase 2B (38) are at the preconstruction phase with Part 8 planning achieved with completion expected in Q4 2023.  Phases 3B (62 units) and 4A (43 units) are currently at the project planning and design phase and are expected to complete in Q2 of 2025.

My Department awaits funding submissions and programme dates for the remaining phases.

The CNWQR programme runs until 2027, and it is envisaged that projects will be ongoing until this date.

Question No. 77 answered with Question No. 75.
Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 75.

Emergency Accommodation

Questions (79)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

79. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will investigate the empty seamark buildings on Merrion Road and see if they could play a role in providing emergency accommodation or could be retrofitted for social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22197/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) is responsible for meeting the immediate and short-term accommodation needs of persons arriving in Ireland from the conflict in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, my Department is focusing on the medium and long-term accommodation challenges and is leading cross-government efforts through a Housing Taskforce established by Government for this purpose. All accommodation and housing options are being examined by the taskforce, including the potential to refurbish and reconfigure vacant buildings.

As part of this work, my Department requested central and local government to identify and inventory public or private owned vacant buildings that may be used or configured for multi-occupancy accommodation in the medium to long-term term. Data continue to be returned on foot of these requests. My Department continues to work through these and, with a primary focus on public owned or controlled buildings and land, incorporate them into its considerations of the development of medium and longer-term accommodation and housing solutions.

If recourse to privately owned buildings is needed following this process, the Housing Taskforce will engage with the market as appropriate.

More generally, the delivery of domestic social and affordable housing requires a more holistic approach. To this end, the Government has developed a multi-faceted approach to address vacancy and make better use of our housing stock in Housing for All: Pathway 4: 'Addressing Vacancy and Efficient Use of Existing Stock’. This includes measures such as the Croí Conaithe (Towns) Fund and a programme of Compulsory Purchase Orders to bring vacant units to the market for sale.

That said, where suitable accommodation is developed as part of the humanitarian response, it may be turned to social and affordable housing when the Ukrainian crisis is resolved.

Local Authorities

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 75.

Questions (80)

Brendan Smith

Question:

80. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he will allocate funding to local authorities for the 2022 Voids Programme in view of the importance of this scheme in bringing back to habitable use vacant council housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22146/22]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, the implementation of a planned maintenance programme and carrying out of responsive repairs, are matters for each individual local authority under Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966.

Since 2014, Exchequer funding has also been provided through my Department's Voids Programme to supplement the local authority funding available for the preparation of vacant properties for re-letting. The funding was introduced originally to tackle long term vacant units and is now increasingly targeted to support authority's to ensure minimal turnaround and re-let times for vacant stock. 

From 2014 to 2021, expenditure of some €261 million was recouped to local authorities under the Voids Programme which funded the return to productive use of 18,527 properties nationwide. Local authorities also provide significant funding from their own resources to address the level of vacancy within the social housing stock.

My Department will continue to support local authorities in their work in this area. Funding allocations under the 2022 Programme will be announced shortly.

Given the very significant investment into the Voids Programme over recent years, particularly in 2020 and in 2021, local authorities should now be in a strong position to begin the transition to a strategic and informed planned maintenance approach to stock management and maintenance. To that end, my Department and local authorities are working to transition from a largely response and voids based approach to housing stock management and maintenance, to a planned maintenance approach as referenced in Housing for All, policy objective 20.6. This will require the completion of stock condition surveys by all local authorities and the subsequent development of strategic and informed work programmes in response. My Department will support these work programmes by ensuring that the funding available under the various stock improvement programmes is aligned with this approach.

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 75.
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