Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the County and City Management Association

I remind members and witnesses to turn off mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode. They interfere with the recording and the broadcast of the meeting.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I welcome, from the Department, Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa, Ms Sarah Neary, Mr. Philip Nugent and Mr. Colin Ryan, and, from the County and City Management Association, Mr. Eugene Cummins, Mr. Billy Coman, Mr. Owen Keegan, Ms Catherine Keenan, Ms Margaret Geraghty and Mr. Dick Brady. Their full submissions have been received and circulated to members.

I remind colleagues that this is the final session of public hearings in regard to our deliberations. Some witnesses have come before the committee on previous occasions. The context in which they are here today is their role in the provision of front-line services that are coming directly through their organisations. Issues which have arisen in previous weeks have caused members to have follow-up questions.

I invite Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa to summarise the Department's submission and Mr. Cummins to do the same on behalf of his association. We will take questions from colleagues at that stage.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting us to attend today in order to discuss issues relating to housing and homelessness and to answer any questions they may have about the Department's functions, operational plans or administrative procedures. I am the assistant secretary with responsibility for social housing policy. I am accompanied by Ms Sarah Neary, principal adviser in the architecture and building standards unit, Mr. Philip Nugent, principal officer with the rental and approved housing body regulation unit, and Mr. Colin Ryan, senior adviser in planning.

The committee will have heard from the Minister this morning about the Government’s intention, in line with the commitments in the programme for a partnership Government, to develop and publish an Action Plan for Housing, within its first 100 days in office. The level of ambition set for the Government's plan is high, rightly so, as we are now facing an acute crisis in housing in many parts of the country.

In recent weeks, the Taoiseach announced the establishment of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department has been re-organised to focus intensively on the challenge of tackling the housing crisis. We have recruited additional specialist and administrative staff to cater for the increased activity and we have assigned additional resources at senior management level specifically to housing. In recent months, the Department has engaged in an intensive process of information sharing and consultation with local authority staff and approved housing body staff across the country to jointly develop our skills and capacities so that we can work together more effectively to expedite the social housing programmes. We have also assigned resources to a special cross-divisional team on housing, combining specialist and administrative skills, to consider the current challenges from the perspective of planning, land management and the private housing market and to identify potential measures to stimulate increased activity in the housing sector generally.

Rather than cover the same ground as the Minister did this morning, I think it might be helpful to the committee if I were to provide it with information on some of the Department's administrative procedures and policies which have been the subject of debate and comment in recent weeks.

A recurring theme in the committee's discussions about social housing has been the question of the time involved in the Department's approval process. I would like to take the opportunity this afternoon to clarify, first, what these approval processes are and, second, to outline the measures we are taking to improve them to enable social housing construction projects to be accelerated, in as much we possibly can, consistent with our obligations under the public spending code.

Like all Government capital expenditure, social housing projects funded by the Department must comply with the Government's capital works management framework, CWMF, the strategic objectives of which are to ensure greater cost certainty, better value for money and financial accountability at all stages during project delivery. Working within the scope and objectives of the framework, and with a view to supporting the earliest possible delivery of targets under the social housing strategy, the Department has streamlined the nine approval stages of the CWMF to only four approval stages for capital-funded social housing construction projects, in consultation and agreement with the City and County Management Association, CCMA, which is also represented today. The process facilitates local authorities to forward design proposals and costings to the Department sequentially, as they are advanced through the authorities' planning work.

A summary of the four stages of the Department's approval process is as follows: Stage 1 is capital appraisal to establish the business case and suitability of the proposed location. Stage 2 is pre-planning outline design and cost check. Stage 3 is a pre-tender cost check and stage 4 is tender approval. Those stages are considered the minimum required for complex construction projects, in order to allow the Department's Accounting Officer to make the annual declaration as to the proper management of public funds to meet the requirements of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and to allow an efficient and proactive check on the achievement of quality housing, sustainable communities proofing and prudent cost control as each project progresses.

At the request of the CCMA, the Department also introduced a new procedure in January 2016 to facilitate a further streamlined mechanism of funding approvals on a pilot basis for social housing construction projects of up to 15 housing units with a maximum all-in budget of less than €2 million. This mechanism is most suited to one-off and small-scale housing developments where the cost can be reasonably accurately determined. Local authorities opting for this process provide a more in-depth capital appraisal proposal than is ordinarily provided to allow us issue an approved budget for the project.

As the Minister has mentioned on a number of occasions, we are currently reviewing our procedures in the Department to see whether the approval process can be further expedited in a manner consistent with the need to ensure quality and value for money in the delivery of social housing projects which are fully funded by the Exchequer. The Department recently put arrangements in place to send specialist teams to visit local authorities and engage intensively with them about their plans and projects. Such meetings can increase mutual understanding and dramatically reduce the potential for prolonged correspondence about technical details, which might have taken weeks or months in the past. Since January, teams from the Department have visited and met almost all of the local authorities, with dates already set for the next round of meetings to be held in June and July. Already, we have received positive feedback from local authority staff and management about this approach and, as a result, we expect to see a much smoother passage of projects through the stages of the approval process in the coming months.

Another theme which has been mentioned in the committee’s discussions on social housing is the Department’s requirements regarding sustainable communities. The policy of sustainable communities is in part a response to the evidence from a considerable body of international research into the social isolation, lack of educational achievement and financial progress experienced by families isolated on large mono-tenure social housing estates. In Ireland, remediation of such housing schemes has necessitated substantial investment of Exchequer funding in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and other urban centres. This work is ongoing and regeneration projects will continue to be a feature of our social housing programmes for some years to come.

To avoid repetition of this phenomenon, which some commentators have referred to as the "ghettoisation" of vulnerable families, consistency with the mixed tenure neighbourhoods promoted by sustainable communities requires us to limit the size of any social housing development to a number appropriate to the size of the town or city, as well as ensuring it is well connected to and integrated with the wider community. The Department’s guidelines are framed to provide prudent guidance, though they do allow for some element of flexibility. A number of local authority development plans have also incorporated the concept that the proper planning and sustainable development of a town requires promoting mixed tenure communities and thus would not support any further large mono-tenure developments.

In short, the idea behind sustainable communities is to create neighbourhoods in which people want to live, and which address the three pillars of sustainability - environmental, social and financial. In Ireland, this concept was incorporated as a fundamental element of housing policy in the 2007 policy document, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, and reaffirmed in the 2011 housing policy statement. The Social Housing Strategy 2020 states that the delivery of social housing under the strategy will be carried out in a way which is consistent with this key principle of developing sustainable communities. The Department’s guidance on sustainable communities finds its corollary in other measures, such as the Part V requirement under the Planning Act, which is also designed to promote socially integrated communities.

I am sure the members of this committee are very familiar at this stage with the objectives of the social housing strategy, that is, to provide 35,000 additional social housing units by 2020, with another 75,000 social housing clients provided for through the private rented sector. The three pillars of the strategy – the provision of additional units, the expansion of provision through the private rented sector and a progressive programme of social housing reform – are also well known. At the heart of this is the strategy’s vision, which is set out on its very first page, that every household in Ireland will have access to secure, good-quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community. We in the Department are absolutely committed to playing our part in bringing this vision to fruition. Together with my team, I look forward to discussing this and other matters further with the committee this afternoon. We will be happy to answer any questions members may wish to ask.

I thank Ms Nic Aongusa for her opening statement. Before we turn to questions, I invite Mr. Eugene Cummins to make his opening statement on behalf of the County and City Management Association, CCMA.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

I thank the Chairman and members of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness for inviting us to appear. We are pleased to be before the committee again this afternoon to further assist it in its examination of the issues and challenges facing us all with regard to housing and homelessness. As the Chairman noted, my name is Eugene Cummins and I am the chairman of the CCMA housing committee. I am accompanied by my colleagues, Mr. Owen Keegan and Mr. Dick Brady, chief executive and assistant chief executive, respectively, of Dublin City Council, Mr. Billy Coman, director of services of South Dublin County Council, Ms Catherine Keenan, director of services of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Ms Margaret Geraghty, director of services of Fingal County Council.

As previously stated on 26 April, local authorities are fully committed to social housing provision, social housing accommodation and addressing homelessness. The points we made at that time still stand. The local authorities will continue to work with a range of stakeholders, including the Housing Agency, approved housing bodies, the private sector, Departments and all communities to deliver sustainable housing. In addition to the points made on 26 April, I will take this opportunity to highlight some key issues that must be addressed. First, on private sector engagement, the immediate concern for local authorities is the absence of the private sector in significant numbers from housing construction. As we all are aware, the key issue with regard to housing in Ireland is supply of housing stock and, quite simply, supply does not equal demand. This is leading to difficulties for families and individuals who wish to either buy or rent their homes. If more people could access housing that is affordable, which is the preference of the majority of people, then the pressure on social housing would ease. As previously stated, unless the private sector returns to building properties in significant numbers, the problem, including homelessness, will get worse.

In respect of sustainable communities, it is acknowledged that local authorities and the State own a sizeable landbank but social housing can only be built, for the most part, on a small percentage of these sites. We have learned from past mistakes that building large social housing estates is not the way forward. Building sustainable communities is the way forward with mixed tenures and properly planned communities in which all supports, services and facilities are available, such as schools, parks, amenities, community facilities and transport services, as well as commercial facilities such as retail, leisure facilities and cultural services. This is wholly consistent with the statement on housing policy, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities. Local authorities work with our partners in Departments and State agencies to deliver these objectives. Importantly, and as already highlighted, we work in partnership with the private sector to deliver a suitable mix of housing tenure and a range of services in mixed use schemes. Our focus on sustainable development will not delay the delivery of our targets but reiterates the need for a partnership with the private sector to achieve sustainable developments for future generations.

As for delivering targets, local authorities met their targets as per Government policy set out for 2015 in the Social Housing 2020 strategy and we certainly are up to meeting the challenge in coming years but this will require the active participation and engagement of the private sector. I also wish to highlight that the rates of vacant units are now as low as 1% to 2% in many cases. In addition to the voids, the housing strategy being advanced includes a mix of construction and housing support though the housing assistance payment scheme, HAP. While working within current planning and budgetary frameworks, we are committed to doing everything we can to achieve the targets set out for us by the Government.

In respect of the statutory framework, local authorities, like our partners in the various Departments, are obliged to adhere strictly to procurement rules and the legislative provisions of planning law. In general, there is no magic formula for significant time savings. However, we will continue to work with Departments to explore any area or process that may have the potential to save time in contract delivery. As for risk appetite and as previously stated, we must and will deliver our social housing objectives in partnership with a range of Departments, State agencies and the private sector.

No projects, including housing initiatives, are without their risks. Anyone involved in a capital project, from a small extension to a home to a major urban renewal scheme, knows that despite all efforts to manage or mitigate risks, cost certainty can only be achieved at final account stage. Consequently, financial risk - overruns - must be shared by all stakeholders.

We have worked and will continue to work with the various Departments, approved housing bodies and the Housing Agency to deliver homes for those on our housing lists in sustainable communities and within the legislative framework of planning and procurement policies. Delivery of a mixture of private and public mixed tenure will undoubtedly need an increase in private sector construction. Housing is a priority for local government. We are committed to achieving our housing targets. The local government sector will continue to be available to this committee to assist with its deliberations.

I thank Mr. Cummins for his opening statement. Some of the witnesses have been here before and as this is our final meeting, issues that have arisen over a number of weeks during our deliberations and consultations with others have prompted further questions around areas relating to local authorities, land banks, the planning process, the delivery between the Department and the various local authorities. While some of these issues have been addressed in the opening statement, I am sure a number of colleagues will want to probe them in more detail. To the colleagues who have questions, I wish to state that in addition to the CCMA, which was here previously, representatives from each of the four Dublin local authorities are at this meeting. A number of people have indicated and I will take a couple of them together. If the questions are general, they can be general and if members wish to direct them to somebody specific, they should identify who that person is. I call on Deputy O'Dowd.

On a point of procedure, Mr. Cummins appeared before the committee previously but I think people would like to hear what each local authority's plans are.

Deputy Coppinger will get an opportunity to address those questions to the local authorities.

I just thought they might be able to tell us.

At this stage, I am going to take the questions.

Part of the problem has been a lack of a local authority building programme, possibly over a nine or ten-year period when housing ceased to be built. I live in Drogheda and was a member of Drogheda Borough Council for more years than I care to remember. We were always building houses and then we moved away from Department-sanctioned funding by the local authority to housing associations. I suppose the advantage from a local authority perspective was narrow in that it did not have to be responsible for maintenance. In many cases, the local authority did not even have to select the tenants once they came off the housing list in whatever order the housing association wished to take them. That is when we lost the capacity to deal properly with the problem because the local authority no longer had the skills and was now longer involved.

In respect of the social housing plan and the different percentages in some counties whereby some will build 50% of their need while others will build 25%, there is no equity within that plan based on the applicants per local authority area. In other words, if one can build 50% of the need in Longford, one might only have to build 100 houses whereas in Dublin, the number will be in the thousands. Is there a need to look again at that programme to ensure that, say, 50% of all houses needed will be built in a certain timeframe and drill down from that because I believe we will have huge areas that will probably not be built on because local authorities will not have the capacity to deliver?

My second question goes back to affordable housing and the mix. I respect what Mr. Cummins said and I am not splitting hairs or taking personal issue with him. He said that given all the land in local authority or State ownership, he could see local authorities building on only a small portion of the land. I think those were the words he used. That would concern me greatly because who builds on the rest of the land? I appreciate that Mr. Cummins said that we would have integrated housing that would not be just social housing but I think we need to move away from that and build proper social and affordable housing together that people can afford to buy or live in.

I do not have a rule book in my hand regarding standards but a significant portion of State land must be built on because it is much cheaper for the State to use its own land than to go to the private sector.

Why did the four Dublin local authorities refuse all the houses offered to them by NAMA? There were 6,000 houses in the State and I can give Mr. Cummins the figures for Dublin because he may not necessarily have them. The number of houses that were offered equalled the number of people who were homeless in the city and, therefore, in theory, they ought to have been housed. The houses that the councils refused to accept were returned to the hands of private landlords and, as Deputy Butler said, the people living in them are local authority housing applicants on HAP and rent allowance. That does not make sense. The local authorities erred significantly in refusing those houses and I would like to know why they did not accept them.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I will make a number of comments and then ask two key questions. I appreciate that people like me know far less about the how the procurement and tendering process works than the witnesses but from the outside, I see competent officials in local authorities and in the Department who have to continually go back and forth through that still very long four-stage approval process to take decisions. Why can that decision-making process not be located in one of those competent bodies rather than both? There must be the capacity for an approval and procurement process that is substantially shorter than the existing process, which would still allow officials to meet all the requirements in terms of quality build and quality approval of taxpayers' money. I cannot understand how that is not possible. The fact that two different arms of the State have to go back and forth is the key part of the problem. I acknowledge the Minister is examining this but the more I hear from him about shortening the Part VIII process, as his first pronouncement, the more I wonder why he cannot focus on prioritising the shortening of the approval and procurement process. I urge action in this regard.

Ms Nic Aongusa referred to the considerable body of international research on mono-tenure estates. This is more frustrating for me because I do not believe there is a considerable body of research and that has clearly been Government policy for quite some period. However, research by some of the State's most respected housing academics, Professor Tony Fahey and Dr. Michelle Norris, in a seven-state study from ten years ago and a follow-up study, shows that there are strong merits to as well as issues in respect of mono-tenure estates. However, those issues have less to do with the tenure mix and more to do with investment and social and economic infrastructure. The difficulty is there is a huge housing need, particularly for those people for whom the market will never provide housing and for whom social housing is the option. If there cannot be large-scale social housing build because of the constraints of the sustainable communities approach, then there will be large numbers of small infill projects - the majority of new builds under the current strategy are small infill projects in areas that have high concentrations of social housing and, therefore, are in breach of the sustainable communities ethos - or there will be smaller numbers of Part V units on private housing estates because of the new regulations. Since this model was introduced, there has been no research to prove that putting 10% or 15% of lower-income families on large or private estates creates integration. Many of us argue there is much less integration on those estates because of the way they are designed. I cannot see how with the constraints of the sustainable communities approach and low levels of investment in public housing this problem will be tackled.

The focus that Mr. Cummins placed on the private sector is part of the problem. The whole reason we call it the social housing sector is because the market cannot meet the needs of those people. For us to think that the market will be key to reducing that acute level of housing need is symptomatic of the problem.

We have a high level of need and we have plenty of available, good quality public land. We have low-cost finance and enormous expertise in our local authorities, in the Department, the Housing Agency and the Housing Finance Agency. The key is how those groups of people are put together to deliver. We can have private builders but not the private sector driving it. Surely we can have mixed tenure local authority estates where local authorities provide the land and set out the broad parameters on the basis of what is needed. They can be mixed tenure with some private, some cost-rental and some social housing. They can be funded, as the NTMA told us on Tuesday, off-balance sheet through a National Asset Residential Property Services, NARPS-type vehicle or through 100% Exchequer funding. It should be done in that way.

I will give the example of the Grange site and I have poor Billy's head twisted on this. South Dublin County Council has 44 acres of land. We could have a mixed tenure, local authority housing estate of 800 units there with spaces for schools and community facilities and it could be delivered by a competent local authority through a NARPS-type vehicle. What will we get instead under the existing Government strategy? We will get 100 houses in five years' time. I do not want to be awkward about it but if we continue with the same failed strategy that has got us into this mess, things will not change. Can we not start to look at mixed tenure, local authority or approved housing body led estates on a large scale with the funding that only a few days ago NTMA and Department of Finance officials told us is available? If we started to insert that into social housing strategy, we could look at producing a much larger number of units, greater levels of income mix and we could seriously start to tackle the social housing waiting lists.

The reason I want to comment at this stage is because it directly links to the two previous contributions. I also listened to what Deputy Coppinger said to the Minister. There is probably almost total agreement on this point. I thank the witnesses for making their contributions. In the contributions we heard about sustainable communities and the 10%, and the word "ghetto", with which I have a real problem, was used at one stage. What we built in the past failed the people we built it for, not because it was a mono-tenure development but because we built sprawling developments on the edge of cities and then singularly failed to provide anything at all in terms of a proper development, such as schools, churches, transport, shops and the most basic things that communities need. We seem to be using that now as an absolute mantra to try to stop any new thinking in terms of building. Deputy Coppinger and I do not agree on a lot of things but I was totally caught by her contribution earlier on, which Deputy Ó Broin echoed. To get 10% as 35,000 houses, we would have to build 350,000.

I think it is 1 million.

Nobody could tell us that makes sense and is credible because it is not. I would challenge the Minister if he were still here or anybody else to explain that to me. There needs to be a very major change and I hope that is what this committee will lead to. I echo the points and questions raised by Deputy Ó Broin. We both know Mr. Billy Coman very well. Well-led systems have been established by local authorities in the past. There are incredibly competent people in the sector but there needs to be a change and a break on it. Something needs to done between the Department and the County and City Management Association because it is as if they do not trust each other to deliver a project. I cannot see how it makes sense for there to be checking back four or five times to get basic projects over the line. That has to be changed and there has to be a simple solution.

May I ask a question about that?

Does Deputy Coppinger want to reply to that and then come back in?

It is very disheartening to hear local authority managers arguing against social housing on the scale that is needed. That is how it can be interpreted.

I know some of the witnesses personally and have had dealings with them. I do not believe that is their belief, but it is as if they have absorbed this philosophy that is coming. Some 390,000 local authority houses were built in the last century. There are quite low levels of social problems actually. People keep on mentioning a handful of estates, for example Ballymun. I totally agree that social problems occurred, mainly because of isolation and lack of facilities. When I moved to Blanchardstown it was not possible to buy a pair of socks in the area until the town centre was built 20 years after the houses went in.

This is a real problem. Let us say there are 100,000 on the social housing list - apparently it was claimed yesterday that the figure is 140,000 - this would mean we would need to build 1 million houses to get rid of the social housing list. What level of social housing is acceptable to the Department and to the managers? On Monday a Fianna Fáil motion in Dublin City Council proposed having one third of houses as social houses in an estate of 40 houses or more. The immediate suggestion is that having anything more than 40 local authority houses is a major social problem. We would have to build 3,000 estates to sort out the social housing list. This is not doable.

I would like to hear more detail on the international research the witnesses cited. I do not believe the problem is mono-tenure but mono-income. I think Fine Gael took the decision to introduce tenant purchase and the €5,000 grant. It meant that every worker who had a good income sold their house and moved out of the estate. That turned the local authority houses into mono-income and destroyed many communities. That was the problem.

We need to reconfigure public housing. I do not really like the term "social housing"; I prefer council housing or public housing. We need to have a diversity of incomes among those living there. If people think we will solve the social housing problem by building 30 houses here and 20 houses there, they can forget it. Housing problems in the 1970s and 1930s were solved by building on a large scale. There would be economies of scale, which is really important for the cost. We know we have to do it - we have had the Housing Agency in. Direct build is very important. The Department mentioned four stages, two of which relate to tendering. How much time does that add on to the timescale needed? I know it is dreadfully old-fashioned, but if we had direct-build local authority workers, we could cut out the tendering and pre-tendering processes.

I am concerned about the stigmatising of estates. The word "under-class" was used earlier. I am sure it was a mistake on the Deputy's part. It is very dangerous to say that people are an under-class if they cannot get a house.

It is people who are not treated properly and are not respected. That is what I mean.

I raise another matter on which Mr. Brady may wish to comment. I live in a mixed-tenure estate. I do not know if other people do. There were 200 private, 400 affordable mortgage and 100 for local authority tenants. It works very well. I favour affordable mortgages because people have an issue with wanting to buy their houses. I think Mr. Brady or whoever is in Fingal now would back me up on this. Most of the people who have bought the affordable mortgages have sold those houses and now they are privately rented. There are hardly any of us original residents now. We should consider introducing a rule that if people with an affordable mortgage want to sell they must sell it back to the local authority or something. What is happening is that they are just selling it on. The private rented sector is a bigger problem than local authority tenants.

I have a question for the representative of Fingal County Council, which might be taken later.

A whole range of questions have been asked. Some of them are general relating to the procurement process between the Department and local authorities, and others were specific. Perhaps the officials from the Department might answer first.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

I will respond to a number of the questions directed to the Department and will then ask my colleague, Ms Sarah Neary, to respond to Deputy Ó Broin's point on the approval process and the reason we have different roles for local authorities and the Department.

Deputy O'Dowd spoke about the lack of local authority build and skills in this regard. By way of background, as stated by Deputy Ó Broin, there had been little construction in the local authority sector for many years at the time the local housing strategy was launched. During the past 18 months we have been working intensively on rebuilding capacity, strengthening governance, streamlining our systems and procedures and ensuring we put in place the right people and resources to deal with our vastly increased workload.

As I said earlier, we now have the resources to enable us to visit local authorities, work through proposals with them and thus get projects through the approval process in a much more timely fashion. We have seen a noticeable pick-up in the throughput of projects through the approval process. That there are four stages in the process does not mean it is lengthy. Some of the stages can be quite short, depending on where the project is at. Ms Neary will elaborate further on that issue.

Deputy O'Dowd also mentioned an issue which was raised earlier with the Minister, namely, the percentage of housing waiting lists that will be tackled by the capital projects that have been approved for 2015-2017. From the outset we have told the local authorities that we will be monitoring spend on capital projects and reviewing it on an ongoing basis such that, for example, funding for projects that are not being proceeded can be moved to other projects and so on. The target set for the first phase of 2015-2017 is 22,882 units in respect of which, as set out by the Minister, €1.5 billion has been provided. The national average is 25% of the waiting list. As stated by the Minister, his ambition is to do more and, as such, this is only a first step.

That is based on the assumption that housing demand will not increase. In other words, that the level of demand will remain static at 2014 levels, and we know that will not be the case.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

I would like to make a couple of points in regard to waiting lists. First, the figures we have, on which the targets are based, are from the housing needs assessment of 2013, which recorded a housing need of 89,000. The social housing strategy commits to a new housing needs assessment this year. That process is now under way. We will have a comparable figure, whatever that is, for 2016 by the end of this year. Second, we know that approximately 50% of that 89,000 were already in housing paid for by the State by way of rent supplement. We have found through the experience of choice-based letting in Cork that some of the people on the social housing list are not actively seeking a social housing unit. One of our objectives is to encourage local authorities to adopt choice-based letting in order that we can get a more real figure for the actual social housing need - the net need. There are a number of different things we want to do to get a more accurate figure on waiting lists.

On the point that if we only have sustainable communities in Part V we will never meet need, it must be borne in mind that the social housing strategy is not just about local authority build. What we are speaking about today and the topic in which there is most interest is construction by local authorities, but the social housing strategy has multiple strands.

We have approved housing body builds as well, for example. Approved housing bodies can build under the capital assistance scheme and they can also get a capital advance leasing facility and raise funding from the private sector. Therefore, that is off-balance sheet, which goes to another issue about which we were speaking. Crucially, approved housing bodies can do mixed tenure developments and some of them already have done so. They can have a mix of affordable and private properties.

It is a pillar of the social housing strategy to provide 75,000 units through the private rented sector and that is why it is crucial for us that the private rental sector would come on stream. We are also actively considering an affordable rental scheme, which the Minister will be bringing forward to Government very shortly to provide for that cohort of the population on low incomes who do not qualify for social housing. That is so there is something there for them.

Ms Sarah Neary

On the approval process, I will begin by describing how all construction projects follow the same sort of format and stages. There is concept and then preparing and going through the planning process. There is detailed design, tendering process and assessment, which comes before getting on-site with boots on the ground. That process is followed by all local authority social housing projects as well and the approval process with the Department knitting into those stages at key points. The process has been reduced from nine stages under the capital works management framework to a four-stage process that we agreed with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, to work as effectively and as efficiently as possible, reflecting the normal process for construction process.

Going back to the framework of construction projects, the Department has approval stages after capital appraisal. The local authority prepares a capital appraisal and it establishes the need and particulars of the project, including type and number of units, as well as how it integrates with the local community, cost, the programme and the delivery mechanism. The Department reviews that, including need, optimisation of land, integration into the community from the perspective of the sustainable communities programme, suitability of the site and the accommodation to match that need. The value of this, separate from the requirements under the capital works framework, the cost certainty, value-for-money and accountability side, is that it adds a national consistency to standards, the housing itself and the cost. It gives a national perspective.

The second stage is when there is more detail on the project in preparing to go to planning, and that is both a design overview and a cost review. The project then goes through the planning process, generally Part VIII and a detailed design process. They take time and they are with the local authority. There is a pre-tendering cost assessment. We do not go back reviewing designs and it only relates to cost; that is a relatively quick process. The tendering process is next and after that there is a tender assessment, which is reviewed by the Department purely on a cost basis. The project then continues to site. This is a normal enough process for the construction process.

I apologise for interrupting but could the witness put a timeframe on that process? I am not being in any way critical of the steps. We are listening to people explaining the difficulty in the process so what would that take in time? I know this is a new system so the question is how long did the old nine-step process take?

Ms Sarah Neary

To put this in perspective, we are talking about hundreds of projects, some big and some small. Some are apartments, some are houses and some have times that are easy to predict because of their size.

There is a whole committee waiting for this answer.

Ms Sarah Neary

I do not think one could specify a set period for a typical construction project because they are not typical; each one has its own character. However, I would say that-----

Ms Neary could give an average.

Ms Sarah Neary

I would say that on average it is 18 months to two years for that process.

The Chairman said that he was not critical of the process. I return to my point: I am highly critical of that process. I am really sorry. As I said, it is as though the Department and the local authorities do not seem to trust each other. If the Department seems to second-guess at every stage what I presume another arm of the Government, namely, local government, is doing, it is as though the Department thinks that although South Dublin County Council for example - I am going to use it because it is my own former council - has carried out this project and must have done all that assessment itself, we will do it all a second time and then we will do the cost assessment a second time and so on. That process makes absolutely no sense to me.

Does Mr. Cummins wish to comment on this as well?

Mr. Eugene Cummins


Ms Sarah Neary

At the end of the day, there is the capital management framework process. It is about cost certainty and value for money. It is also about accountability for Exchequer funding, as Ms Nic Aongusa said.

Do local authorities not do that?

Ms Sarah Neary

It is 100% Exchequer funding from the Department.

Does Ms Neary believe the Department needs to double-check everything because the local authorities have no checks?

Ms Sarah Neary

The point I would make is that the detailed work is done at local authority level and that takes a significant period. The approval process is only looking at that in a short space of time and at a high level, and is making points at national level. It is knowledge-sharing, it is providing consistency across the country in terms of the housing, the standards applied to it, the costs around it and value for money.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

I imagine that some of the commentary about the delays in the process is a reflection of where we were about 18 months ago. As I have described, we have spent the last 18 months strengthening our capacity, recruiting additional resources and streamlining processes so as to enable the whole process to go much more smoothly and much quicker. The Minister has already said that he is determined to improve it further and we are already doing that. I have seen a significant improvement in the throughput times relating to the various stages in the past six months. That is partly because we held nine seminars and workshops around the country in the first three months of this year at which our professionals, quantity surveyors and architects met local authority and approved housing body staff and explained to them the procedures and what was required for each approval stage. For example, if a local authority has new staff who have not worked in housing before and they send something in for a stage 2 without the correct documentation, that causes a delay. We have taken the approach that communication is at the heart of this, along with collaborative work with the local authorities. We have been focusing on that. Between January and March, we had nine workshops and seminars. Since March, our teams have met with virtually every local authority and we have meetings arranged for June and July as well. I would be fairly confident that there will be a significant reduction in the time it takes for projects to go through the various stages.

The National Building Agency, NBA, used to deal with that for local councils. I sat on the NBA, which handled design, building and the whole lot - it was a one-stop shop. It got the contract and it delivered. Why does the Department not do that? Why have all this other stuff going on?

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

The process is that the local authorities have the responsibility for assessing housing need and so on.

I accept that, but what is wrong with the NBA doing all that? It did it very efficiently, quickly and professionally. A local authority essentially rubber-stamped it - it got the land and that was it.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

The NBA, as it was then, was incorporated into the Housing Agency.

Why does the Housing Agency not do this?

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

The Housing Agency has a different role. It is about capacity and staffing. In my view, the same objective can be achieved through the Department and the local authorities working proactively together.

Mr. Cummins wants to come in on this point.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

It is important to highlight that the scale of the problem is enormous. There is a huge shortage of housing and I do not have to tell anyone here that. At the time that NBA was assisting, the scenario was different, as was the scale. Indeed, it was a different society. The private sector was engaged and local authorities were building houses and had been doing so for decades. The problem was not of the same scale as it is now.

On behalf of local government, I would like to say that we are in the business of providing social housing for those people who are not in a position to meet their housing needs from their own resources. I would not like anyone to think, in terms of our comments on the private sector, that there is any attempt to transfer ownership of the responsibility for providing social housing to the private sector. Clearly, it is our problem in terms of meeting the housing needs of those who cannot do so themselves. The main point is that we need the private sector to build houses for those who are able to afford them, as it did in the past, which will free up units in the private rented sector for HAP housing, rent supplement, leasing and so forth, as happened in the past. It is important to point out that local authorities managed this issue in the past when we were building estates but the scale of the problem that exists now is beyond the capacity of local government.

That is because the local authorities were ruled out-----

Deputy Durkan, please-----

I am sorry Chairman-----

I will come to the Deputy in a moment.

I know, but, unfortunately, I have to be in Dáil soon.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

There is no doubt that the fact that local authorities have not been building social housing for quite some time is adding to the problem. So is the fact that the economy has improved and people are coming back from abroad, finding jobs and displacing those who were able to afford to rent in the private sector heretofore. There are now more people competing for private rented properties, the population has increased and then there is the absence of the private sector in terms of building houses. I must emphasise, while in no way trying to downplay the duties of local authorities, that we must partner with the private sector and others to provide the level of housing that is required. As Ms Nic Aongusa pointed out, it is not just about building. It is also about leasing and private rental, as set out in the social housing strategy.

While I have the floor, I would like to speak about the 10% issue. The State has in its ownership large tracts of land but we are not saying that on every piece of land, only 10% of units can be used for social housing. It totally depends on where that land is located. For example, a fairly sizeable site in the middle of Dublin city could be fully built out with social units because, in the overall context of the city or the particular area, there is mixed tenure there already. However, in a smaller town building out a complete site for social housing would lead to the problems with which we are all familiar. I want to emphasise that it is not 10%, full stop.

Approved housing bodies and local authorities are in the business of providing social housing but are not in the business of providing shops, hotels, restaurants, churches and so on. We need the involvement of the private sector, which worked in the past. There are lessons to be learned with regard to credit but it did work in the past and proved to be a very effective solution in terms of meeting the needs of society.

What does Mr. Cummins mean by "worked in the past"?

Mr. Eugene Cummins

We did not have this enormous problem in the past.

It did not work in the past.

Is Mr. Cummins saying that the private sector not being involved is the problem, rather than the local authorities not being involved?

Mr. Eugene Cummins

Sorry, Deputy-----

I am just trying to clarify what Mr. Cummins is saying.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

The point I am making is that a problem this big has not arisen in the history of the State. It has arisen for many reasons, of which we are all aware. When we did not have this problem, the private sector was fully engaged, working with the local authorities, paying development contributions and-----

I am sorry to interrupt but I have to say-----

I will come to the Deputy in a moment.

Unfortunately, I must take the chair in the Dáil. I want to say this before I leave-----

Deputy, please allow Mr. Cummins to finish.

May I say this before I leave that I disagree entirely? The failure of the system goes back at least ten to 15 years when responsibility was transferred from the local authorities for carrying the burden of local authority housing. While that policy continues in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government we will never resolve the problem. I do not want to dwell on the situation where people were not eligible for a local authority house because their income was too high and were not eligible for a local authority loan because their income was too low. One has only to ask my constituents and those of my colleagues what they thought about the system that operated then. I am sorry, Chairman, I am not going to delay the meeting, and I know I am barging in and barging out again but I disagree fundamentally with the assessment as put forward. I listened to it on the screen from the other side of the House. Until such time as there is a major departure from the Department's policy of reliance on the local authorities or private housing bodies or the private sector we will not solve the problem. It is important to remember that for a number of years the Department of Social Protection carried the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for local authority houses but should not have done so. It was not the desired policy of anybody and certainly we were not consulted about it. My final point on the issue is simply this: it was only supposed to be a temporary solution to replace the local authorities through the Department of Social Protection but it went on forever. I appeal to the Chairman not to allow us continue down that road because that will not solve the housing problem. Approximately 2,000 families are homeless around the city and there are others all around the country. We have had much repetition of the obstacles that affect the problem and we know what they are. I believe I know the obstacles and the Chairman believes he knows them. Please, can we focus on them? I am sorry about that, Chairman.

I ask Deputy Durkan not to move for one moment as I want to clarify one point. It is not "we" or "them". This committee collectively during the next two weeks will make our recommendations. We will formulate a report based on the evidence. That is the purpose of the witnesses appearing before us today. The Deputy does not have to ask me what to do. We collectively as a committee will make our recommendations.

I am aware of that.

Members will make up their own minds in due course based on the evidence they have heard as to what those recommendations might be. I ask Mr. Eugene Cummins to bear with me for a moment. A number of members have raised questions. The Department has had an opportunity to respond to some of them. Mr. Cummins is in possession. I would also like the four Dublin local authorities represented here to respond to the issue as they see it.

Let us finish the questions as there is only myself and Deputy Moran.

Actually Deputy O'Sullivan is the last.

I wish to make one point whenever the Chairman can call me.

I call Deputy O'Sullivan.

This is unfair. Deputy Durkan came in and we did not get a chance and Deputy Wallace has had to go.

I feel like walking out as well because-----

I ask the Deputy to proceed.

I thank the Chairman. I am trying to get a sense of how quickly, between everybody, we can see a major difference when it comes to housing and to making a dent in the list. Earlier, the Minister told the committee that 4,400 housing units are under construction in Dublin, that there is planning permission for another 27,000 and that another 80,000 could be built on zoned land for which there is planning permission. We are told that the capital is available. What timeframe is being worked towards where we will see a difference and a dent in the list? That is the first question.

How many Part V applications have been submitted and how quickly can they be moved along? We know about the need for one-bed and two-bed accommodation. How can we ensure with private developers that a sufficient number of these units will be built to satisfy the need?

On the issue of emergency accommodation, I would ask that no emergency hostel accommodation is closed down until an alternative is in place, as that happened recently. When we were in Focus Ireland yesterday, something we all know was brought home very clearly, that is, the bureaucracy involved in HAP which is preventing people from availing of it.

I thank the Deputy. I shall return to Mr. Cummins. Deputy O'Sullivan asked a number of specific questions on Part V. I am not sure whether each local authority will respond or whether the Department has centralised figures on what is going on.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

I thank the Chairman. I wish to make two points. On the procedures in place in regard to procurement, we are totally under the control of auditing procedures, the Comptroller and Auditor General, external auditors and internal auditors.

We have to justify all decisions we make in terms of financial spend, so the process is cumbersome but it is a continual checking and auditing and we have to justify spend. I will now ask my colleague-----

If the witness does not mind I will bring in Deputy O'Dowd here. Please be brief, Deputy.

The National Building Agency, now the Housing Agency, to my absolute knowledge and experience was very efficient when it was building houses. It did a fantastic job and we never had a complaint. That is my personal view. I am not trying to trap him into an answer but would Mr. Cummins agree that a one-stop-shop could work? All the experts from the Department, the Housing Agency, the local authorities and specialists would be in one office in one building and deal with all these issues. There would only be one review and one costing done, all of the checks and balances would be done and that would be it. Otherwise I feel, and I am not being disrespectful to the witnesses, bureaucracy would take over. That is what I would like to see.

While he is answering on that point, Mr. Cummins also raised the specific point that the council is subject to audit control and so forth. That made me think about local government with its local government auditor and the Department being subject to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Is it an issue that both have to satisfy two different comptrollers and is that adding to the bureaucratic process? Am I making myself understood? Local government has a local government auditor and the Department is subject to the audit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, both independent, separate and stand-alone. Is that a cause of duplication?

Mr. Eugene Cummins

I do not think it is a cause of duplication. It is the way business is done, the way accounts are presented and the way business cases are assessed. That is the system to which we work. We do not have a particular problem with it but we have to justify our decisions. It is not a matter of getting a blank cheque from the Department and going away and building houses. We cannot do that. We have to have approval, and indeed the Department would have to satisfy its own finance department in relation to agreeing costs.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

Having listened to the discussion and concerns about the delay in the approval process, I believe that at the heart of the matter is an understandable concern on the part of the Deputies over when houses will come on-stream. It must be borne in mind, as Ms Neary has said, that 18 months is the total length of time for the process. However, the announcements made this time last year by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, represented stage one approval for more than 3,500 social housing projects. There were other smaller numbers of social housing projects that had been approved in 2014 under the then Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. To give some hope, we are now in the process of collecting information from local authorities about live projects and what is happening. The figures indicate that by the end of 2016, a total of 1,300 units will be started on 74 projects. Construction will be starting on site for that number of projects. During 2017, construction will start on site for 1,900 additional units. We will also have a smaller number, a couple of hundred, social housing units completed, but they are units that were approved in 2014. The large number of units which were approved in 2015 are starting on site, many this year, and more by the end of 2017. They are happening and the process is going through.

I need to get a number of other replies.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

I would ask Mr. Keegan to comment.

Mr. Owen Keegan

I assure Deputies that there is huge enthusiasm among local authorities to build social housing. We were out of that market, not of our choice, for a number of years. We are back in that market and we are very enthused and delighted to be back in it. In our own particular case we have a target under the social housing strategy to deliver 3,300 units. We will far exceed that target, in fairness with the full support of the Department. As more funds become available for social housing, we have a huge list of potential schemes which we will be forwarding for approval. These are not just infill schemes. There are a lot of big schemes also. With regard to the process, concerns have been expressed about delay, and that is very understandable.

However, some of the things we have done, again with the support of the Department, include the use of emergency planning powers to accelerate schemes. We have used the accelerated restricted procedure, which is a shortened procurement procedure. We have piloted rapid-build and we are about to pilot multi-storey rapid-build. In respect of the formal approval process, we very much welcome the initiative for the smaller schemes and we hope to work with the Department to get a truncated approval process for the bigger schemes, but there is a lot happening in that space.

A question was asked about the refusal of NAMA units and I will ask Mr. Brady to reply to that one.

He can deal with Dublin City Council specifically and I will then ask the others to follow up in respect of their local authorities.

Mr. Dick Brady

The first thing to note is that a figure of 6,000 units gets quoted regularly. My understanding is that it would be significantly less than that and somewhere in the order of 4,000 units would be more to the point. I cannot be more specific than that because of the way in which the NAMA units were presented to us in the first place, which was interesting in itself. They were presented to us through the Housing Agency, which had signed a confidentiality agreement, so the first round of offers were numbers plus general areas, to which the local authorities went back and replied in respect of numbers and general areas. We did not get addresses in the initial phases because NAMA did not own the properties. They were still in receivership. It owned the loans or whatever but it did not own the properties, so it could not, due to confidentiality reasons, release names to third parties. Until such time as it did deals with the owners, we could not get addresses, which is why I say I am not sure the number is 6,000. It certainly is a lot less and I think it would be closer to 4,000.

On our own position and the reasons we refused such accommodation, the first reason was that tenants were already in the properties. Second, the units did not meet construction standards. We were not happy with the units. Third, there may have been legal issues in respect of the properties. The other big reason, after the first round, was that NAMA itself withdrew properties. In the city council's case, it withdrew somewhere in the order of 200 properties. These properties were not being given to us gratis. In other words, we had to pay for them, whether that be by means of leasing arrangements through NARPS or purchase. They, therefore, had to demonstrate value for money and in some instances they did not demonstrate value for money. There were other reasons relating to due diligence that crept into the matter. The final issue would have been an already high concentration of units in an area. We would have had lots of units in areas already and, on that basis, we did not take them. We are now in 2016 looking back at something that started in 2011 and the policy context in which we were operating at that stage, and to some degree still are, was set out in Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, which deals with, as Bairbre Nic Aongusa has already stated, and talks about social sustainability etc. Those are the main reasons we refused units. However, I can also say that we accepted some units in all of the developments, by and large, that we were offered.

Would the representatives from the other local authorities like to comment on the NAMA and other issues?

Mr. Billy Coman

I will start with the properties that NAMA offered us. In the case of South Dublin County Council, we were offered 591 units, of which 507 were in the one development.

It was a large development but there were issues with the construction. Subsequently, it cost in the order of €10 million to repair and bring back the units to lettable standard. We were in discussions for a long time with the developer in respect of the finish prior to NAMA taking over. The project came into receivership. Subsequently, we took 65 of those units. Effectively, they were in two blocks. Luckily, we did not take any before the failure or before the construction was found to be defective. Members will note from the documentation that 591 were offered, with 507 located in one development. We are in the process of completing 149 units. The major difference was the development in question.

Questions were asked, by former colleagues - if I can put it that way - about the position in South Dublin County Council. I will bring it back to a local level in terms of South Dublin County Council plans. The number under build completion in the coming weeks will reach 15 units. Some 177 units have gone through a number of stages, including stage 1 and stage 2, while a number have gone through stage 3. I have reported to the council on the status. I have received great support from the elected members in the chamber on the Part VIII projects I have brought to them. A further 280 units have been scheduled in the coming months. In addition, I should mention the Clonburris strategic development zone. This will bring in the region of 8,000 to 10,000 units. These will not all be social units - that is the total for the entire development - but a number will be for social housing use.

These are part of the first 500 bundle under the public private partnership. We are working with the National Development Finance Agency and the National Treasury Management Agency and there will be 100 units in this case. Earlier, Deputy Ó Broin mentioned the Grange development. The 100 units will be a part of that. We are working on the master plan for the development of the rest of that site and we hope to finalise matters in the coming months. It should provide in the region of 750 or 850 units. That will be a mixed development. A number of these will be social housing units. It will be a mix and part of the mix is going to include affordable rental. Several Deputies mentioned this point. Those in a certain cohort are earning too much to be on the social housing list but not enough to be in the private market. They have to be catered for, and we hope to cater for them in the master plan for the Grange.

We should not lose sight of several points. We have plans for 80 to 100 step-down units. This is accommodation for our elderly or those in old age. The idea is to bring them back into a safer community, closer to services and facilities. We are in the process of planning three projects in that area.

Part V plays a role and has done for a number of years. We have already committed to 33 units. It may sounds like a small number but we hope to get in a further 113 units during 2016 and 2017.

Approved housing bodies have a role to play as well. It is fair to say that local authorities are only part of the solution. There are a number of solutions to the process and the crisis and we need to close off the circle. The public and private sectors are involved, but everything must come together. A number of things have to be brought in to close off the circle, but they must come in together.

There are other plans involving approved housing bodies. A total of 162 units have been provided to date under the capital advance leasing facility and payment and availability agreements. Furthermore, we have supported the capital assistance scheme. We are working with approved housing bodies on a number of other projects. This is taking place through the agreed protocol of co-operation, collaboration and communication between approved housing bodies and local authorities for the Dublin region. I know Deputy O'Dowd has certain views about approved housing bodies. To be honest, however, from my experience I have found they have very much come up to the mark.

I think Mr. Coman is referring to Deputy Durkan.

Mr. Billy Coman

I am sorry. I will withdraw that remark.

I favour them, although I accept that I might look like Deputy Durkan.

Mr. Coman has escaped the wrath of that Deputy.

Mr. Coman is lucky Deputy Durkan is not here.

Mr. Billy Coman

I got it the last day so I knew what I was facing. I waited until he was gone.

We have to work very closely with him because they have the wherewithal to get into the private financing market to produce social housing units. Nominations for approved housing bodies come from local authorities. There is no intention to change that in any way.

There is a lot of discussion about the capital side. The revenue side is also relevant, as are the revenue options open to local authorities. In South Dublin alone, 1,017 cases were dealt with in 2015 through the various revenue options that were open. We cannot lose sight of that. Addressing the homelessness crisis involves putting roofs over people's heads.

In 2015, 33 acquisitions were completed. We are already close to completing 42 this year. Our target is 70, and I expect that we will exceed it. They may sound like small figures, but when they are all put together, they can make a big difference, in particular in terms of the strategic development zone, SDZ, the future Part V housing that has come our way and the master plan for The Grange.

I refer to community needs and infill. That creates a lot of anxiety among communities, but infill is going into places where there are elements of anti-social behaviour. Infill is also going into estates where major investment has been provided through the RAPID programme over the years. Deputies who are familiar with South Dublin will agree that a large number of community facilities have been put in place, such as community centres, leisure facilities, horse projects and AstroTurf pitches. They have primarily been provided in what have been called disadvantaged areas. That deals with the poverty element, but we are bringing infill into areas where facilities already exist and will help them.

Deputy Coppinger took me up on a point at a previous meeting. I was never a fan of the 5,000 and I identified-----

Mr. Billy Coman

It is the 5,000 incentivisation. I am not a fan of it because I saw the damage it did. I will not use the term "incentivise". Let us kick-start a private development because it is part of the solution. We have to consider innovative ways of trying to make it happen.

We can gain from Part V units that are built to rent. Perhaps local authorities could play a role in that, along with the Department. Collaboration with the Department has improved. A number of staged approvals have happened more quickly in South Dublin, but we need to work much more closely together to speed things up. It takes time to build units and not everything can happen within 12 months.

I thank Mr. Coman.

Ms Catherine Keenan

I am speaking on behalf of Dún Laoghaire. In terms of the NAMA housing office, we were initially offered in the region of 300 possible properties, but the eventual offer was 190 units of which 112 have been completed and contracted to date. As is the case with other bodies, some properties were deemed unsuitable in terms of location, tenants already in situ and various different issues. The majority of the 112 units were taken up.

In terms of the delivery of units, we are currently on site with 54 units which will be built by the end of the year. Another 140 are planned for 2017. Some 124 will be leased through Part V and will come on stream in January 2017. At the moment, eight Part VIII units have been approved, of which three are out to tender and others are in preparation for tender. We are working very closely in all of those areas.

We are conscious of the need for one-bedroom units. A downsizing campaign is under way. A high-class brochure was sent out to all of our elderly citizens, in particular those living in one-bedroom units. We have received correspondence from about 14 people who wish to downsize. The figures sound small, but every bit helps in terms of getting families back into properties. There are currently 34 one-bedroom units being refurbished.

A further 49 are coming on stream.

The approval process has improved for us and we have no problems at present. We are working very well and approvals are coming on stream quickly now.

I call Ms Geraghty to speak on behalf of Fingal County Council.

Ms Margaret Geraghty

In response to the question on NAMA, Fingal County Council was initially offered 279 units by NAMA, of which 162 were subsequently withdrawn by it. We confirmed availability for a majority of the remaining 158 units. The units we turned down were in one specific scheme where we already had a significant amount of social housing across various delivery mechanisms, and in a scheme where the management fees, on an annual basis, ran into several thousand euro. Of the 158 units for which we confirmed demand, at this point 105 have been completed and are occupied and the remainder are awaiting completion.

Fingal County Council's target under the social housing strategy from 2015 to 2017 is 1,376 properties, with a funding envelope of €81 million. To date, we have delivered 522 social housing units under the strategy and within that we have completed two of our own direct-build construction schemes, one which we have just tenanted and one which will be occupied by the end of June. We have approved or agreed, with the Department and through various other initiatives, a further 668 properties. In terms of reaching our target, at this point we are in excess of halfway. Subject to funding being available to us, we have examined the various mechanisms of delivery in respect of private developments where Part V will apply with the affordable housing bodies and under the various leasing schemes. We believe we can stretch the target to closer to 2,000 units over the three-year duration of the strategy, should funding be available.

What the council is doing in terms of construction and acquisition represents approximately one third of our target. Another third of the target is largely made up of our collaboration with the various affordable housing bodies and then there is direct engagement with private landlords on RAS properties and developers who might offer us opportunities to purchase houses. To date, we have brought nine projects through the Part VIII planning process, one of which is a rapid-build project which the councillors approved last month. We have eight further projects to bring to the council during 2015, including four rapid-build schemes.

Beyond the initial three-year strategy, we have a number of sites in council ownership that require infrastructure on which we plan to start the process of preparing master plans this year with a view to being able to bring developments on stream at a number of other locations. Remediation works are required and road access is needed for some schemes, as well as upgrades to existing infrastructure. We are doing master plans on sites that are bigger and where we would envisage them delivering mixed tenure developments. Again, we will seek to have collaboration with affordable housing bodies in that regard. We will be looking at a mixture of social housing, affordable rental, some private development and housing for senior citizens also. Within Fingal, we have a very young and rapidly growing population but we also have an ageing population.

An analysis suggests that bringing forward and developing a senior citizens programme would allow us free up under-utilised stock of which we have a good deal currently because of the absence of choices for people to downsize and move on. That is something we are examining. We also have potential to develop a number of small infill schemes in some of our existing estates, which would be suitable to one or two-bedroom properties. That would allow for downsizing to take place and for people to remain in their existing communities.

In terms of private development in Fingal, some developers have schemes under construction but what is on the horizon is still quite small in terms of the Part V units we expect to be delivered up to 2017. With affordable housing bodies it is somewhere in the region of 300 Part V units. Our door is open, and we have met a number of developers who are interested in how they might collaborate with the local authority to front-load some of the development, or Part V delivery, which supports their ability to raise funds. That is something we would be keen to explore further.

Following an analysis of the income profile of people on our housing list, we see there are opportunities within our scheme for people currently on the social housing list who may be in a position to avail of an incremental purchase scheme. In some cases we believe a build to buy model might be something we can examine also.

Our relationship with the Department is positive and strong. It is important to note that in a situation where we brought forward proposals for acquisitions or otherwise, we have benefited from funding at short notice to conclude those.

As is the case with the other Dublin local authorities, our relationship with the affordable housing bodies is also strong. They are very proactive in Fingal. Not all the projects we would like to see come to fruition do, but they are working with us and have a significant role to play in that regard.

To conclude, we will meet our targets. In fact, there is opportunity to go beyond meeting our targets and I am optimistic, with the working relationship we have with the Department and the affordable housing bodies, that we can do so.

I thank Ms Geraghty. I was encouraged to hear her say that, in terms of acquisitions, the response on the part of the Department was quick. A number of Deputies are offering to put supplementary questions. I ask them to be direct.

Two questions I asked at the start of the meeting were not answered. I asked many questions and it is understandable that they slipped through. The first question is to both the Department and the housing managers. Is it not possible for us to consider large-scale, local authority-led, mixed tenure, mixed income estates on local authority land, funded through a NAMA NARPS-type vehicle? I point to the Grange as one possibility, but is that not something the Department can actively consider? I ask this because it is somewhat simpler than having to come up with a complex arrangement with the private sector.

With regard to sustainable communities, it is not that I am opposed to infill schemes. As Mr. Coman knows, I strongly supported a number of them. It is that on the one hand the Department's policy is that it cannot have large-scale local authority build because of the requirements of sustainable communities but the vast majority of the new build in local authorities is infill in areas where there is already a high concentration, which seems to be a contradiction. The representatives from the Department might share what they seem to believe is the large body of international research on it because I have yet to come across it.

In terms of my supplementary question, I appreciate that it takes the resources and staff at both departmental and council level to speed up the approval and procurement process. What is Ms Nic Aongusa's hope in terms of the eventual length of time for that? If it is 18 months to two years on average currently, would she put a timeframe of six, nine or 12 months on it when all the changes she outlined are fully implemented?

Nothing I have heard has convinced me the thousands of homeless families would be happy about these houses not going into local authority ownership. I am not here to criticise and I do not make judgments but I am deeply concerned about this. I stress again I am not being personal in this regard but at its core, the need of people who are homeless or in housing is greater than any other issue.

The other point I wish to make is those houses were built and while it was necessary to have work done to some of them, it would be far cheaper to be in those homes today than to construct ab initio, that is, from the beginning. Moreover, most families living in those homes at present are in receipt of rent allowance or housing assistance payments whereas they could be paying rent to the council and would be in their permanent homes as opposed to waiting, as may be, for a long time.

Finally, given all the expertise in the local authorities and the Department, they should all get together as a one-stop shop and agree to look after the greater Dublin area for housing. They should put all their resources into it and should second their experts to it and then should let them proceed. Other than that, there merely will be disparate actions and a lack of policy clarity or certainly not the same policy everywhere, as well as a lack of the drive and energy that must be put into this problem.

I did not find the replies that came through today to be particularly satisfactory. As for the 18-month process, I find it particularly disappointing that in his contribution, Mr. Owen Keegan alluded to how he has, in the exact phrase used, a huge list of schemes he would like to bring forward. The huge list of schemes about which Mr. Keegan spoke would require an 18-month process and are not even launched yet. I make the point to everybody - but to the Department in particular - that to my mind, there is no reason there cannot be a one and two-stop shop process at a maximum with an initial joint approval of the scheme by a local authority and the Department, if it must be jointly approved, followed by an approval after which one could just run with it.

Fundamentally, having listened to the replies given by both sides today, I have heard the point I made earlier, namely, that regardless of whether it is the Comptroller and Auditor General, the local government auditor or whatever process it might be, there simply does not appear to be a willingness to give someone the authority to do the job without people wishing to be involved and to second-guess. Anecdotally, I am afraid I have heard that material comes into the Department and takes weeks to come back. This is something the Department really must solve because allowing for the level of the crisis we face, it simply is unacceptable to be advocating or outlining that something may take 18 months.

While I should confirm I am not in Deputy Durkan's league, the approved housing bodies are not a solution to the problem. They are a contributory element but never will be at the level of being able to provide a solution. I worry greatly when I hear references to them as contributing in a significant way because it is not even a matter of whether they are provided with finance or whatever. They do not wish to gear up to the level and size that is necessary to tackle this problem. The only bodies capable of tackling it are the local authorities. I have no doubt but that the Minister, in conjunction with the feedback he gets from this committee, will put in place a process but I believe there must be a complete sea change. I revert to the point that the sustainability issue appears to have come around to the heart of this and note that from the initial contribution made by the witnesses to a point later on, they did appear to move on what sustainable development should be. However, it will be necessary to go back to building much larger quantities of houses while acknowledging the need to do it right.

I appreciate the comment made by the manager but when I spoke about a community being built and the need for schools and churches, I was not necessarily asking the local authority to build them immediately. I was talking about the fact that in the past, the local authorities built the houses and then walked away from proper planning and development of the community. Nobody is asking that everything be built by the local authority but it needs to be managed, planned and put in place. I believe the public and private sectors can build modern communities on a scale and size necessary to solve it but the primary driver needs to be the local authority sector and it needs to want to do it through a much faster process than I heard indicated today.

I have never liked the fact that in the Dáil, the Government frequently blames local authorities for the lack of house building or the housing crisis. Ministers say that they have given local authorities the money and that the Taoiseach has told them to go and work away with that. However, I must say that I am very disappointed by what I have heard today. Basically, local authority managers are saying that they are meeting all their targets and are going to exceed them. Homelessness is doubling. The fact that local authorities are ticking their boxes is no comfort to people out there. Local authorities were once the vehicle for social and affordable housing. It was not just social housing. There was an affordable mortgage scheme for people who were not on the list. It now seems that they are being sidelined by these approved housing bodies. I know the situation in greater Blanchardstown well. There is an acute homelessness problem there because I think it is probably the youngest area in western Europe and it is certainly the youngest area in the country. We also have the highest ethnic mix, which leads to much homelessness as many non-nationals become homeless because they are so reliant on the private rented sector. Representatives from Fingal County Council said it is meeting its targets. The council owns 15.5 acres in Blanchardstown that is zoned. That is all. There is nothing else left. Everything else is in the hands of either NAMA or private developers. No wonder Fingal County Council is meeting its target because it is 1,376. There are 10,000 people on the housing list. My point is that housing targets are being deliberately set low either by central Government or the councils.

I feel sorry for the managers. Obviously, they cannot come in here and give out about the Government but I would love to hear them say that they want more money and to be able to build more houses. Instead, I hear that one third will be construction or acquisition, roughly one third will be roughly approved housing bodies and one third will be private sector. The role of the local authorities is shrinking. How will we house the 100,000 families on the housing list if the local authorities are happy with their shrinking role?

Laying the Foundations is the most up-to-date document. Dublin is where most of the homelessness is found. Why are the targets for Dublin so low? That is where most of the homelessness is found. Fingal County Council will meet 10% of its target. That is what the target is - housing 10% of the people on the list. It is a similar case with Dublin City Council. It really is a joke. We are meant to have the largest housing crisis and the largest response yet we are setting a target of 10% of people on the list being housed.

In respect of acquisitions, Deputy O'Dowd made a point about some of the NAMA offerings. This will become an issue. Everyone is well aware of Tyrrelstown. The tenants have appeared before us. I see another mass eviction on the cards in a Dublin City Council area. I ask the managers to be much more open than they seem to be in respect of acquiring units with people in situ.

Many of them are on the housing list and they pay a huge amount in rent, but to turn down offers of 100 or 200 units because people are living in them is not good enough anymore, given, and it is not the officials' fault, the Government encouraged this policy of vulture funds and investment funds buying property en masse. I read earlier that estate agents are advertising for sale properties on Gardiner Street on which the rent can be increased by 49%, and Deputy Wallace mentioned another site earlier. That is what estate agents are offering as the carrot. We have to be open to purchasing these types of units compulsorily or purchasing them through local authorities or agencies. Similarly, I hope Fingal County Council is seriously negotiating to purchase the houses in Tyrrelstown and not just thinking that this will do nothing for its social housing list. Many of the people affected are on the list and if the council does not buy the houses, they will be homeless. I agree that issue must be examined again.

Finally, on the comments by local authority officials, I am concerned as well about speeding everything up. This is an emergency and the tendering process is a problem. If it were direct build, it could be shortened. However, I refer to this idea of a master plan. I have been on councils and I have sat through discussions on development plans. I do not say we should have shoddy planning by any means but a master plan could take ages. If that is the last site that can be developed by the council in greater Blanchardstown, with a population of 100,000, I would worry about devising a master plan, which could take ages. The development of these sites has to be speeded up.

It will not be easy to solve the problem. I am a realistic person. I am from the Longford-Westmeath constituency and I know how hard it is to get over the hurdles the county manager-----

Is there a mobile phone on somewhere?

It is not mine. I would like to put a question. Much of the focus is on the cities but we cannot forget rural areas. Have the officials put forward proposals to buy land for local authorities that do not have land? Has the land of State bodies such as CIE, which has huge landbanks, been considered? This land could clearly be used for social and affordable housing and even for private housing.

We can all start preaching and practising but the local authorities have been starved of money in recent years. The four CCMA representatives read out exactly what I would find on their website regarding what they tell local authority representatives. We are legislators and we need them to tell us what they would like us to do to speed up the process. We are the people who have to make the decisions. We can all come in here and criticise one another but we are here together as a group trying to find a solution to a difficult problem. Will the local authority officials give us an indication of what they would like us to do to speed up the process? We would appreciate it.

Ms Nic Aongusa in her opening contribution referred to the fast-track scheme for developments of up to 15 housing units and a budget of less than €2 million. How frequently is that used? It has been indicated by the Minister that there is capacity to increase the size of the scheme. Have local authorities concerns about entering the scheme whereby if there are unforeseen eventualities, they cannot go back to the Department for additional funding and so on? How is the scheme working? If it were expanded, would it address the concerns local authorities have in respect of risk and so on?

Do local authorities conduct an audit of vacant or unused private accommodation? The committee has been presented with evidence of the number of unoccupied private properties.

It would be remiss of me not to relay a comment, having met a group of homeless people with Focus Ireland yesterday. One of the comments they make is about the great difficulty they have accessing the phone service for homeless people. They all tell their own story but one of the comments they make is that when they are dealing with local authorities they would like to try to have a relationship with an individual rather than meeting different people and starting their case every day. I know it is not always practical. They were just some of the things relayed to us yesterday and I thought it would be remiss of me not to mention it in this forum today. What was the point of meeting them if we did not identify some of their issues?

The witnesses have heard a whole range of supplementary questions so perhaps we will start with the Department.

Mr. Dick Brady

I would like to come back to the point about the homeless families that members of the committee met yesterday. I could not let it go without saying that my staff are dealing with homeless families and individuals on a daily basis and as far as I am concerned are dealing with them in the most humane way possible. There may be issues with some of the services but I can safely say that the people we have working in the homeless area are extremely well trained, well motivated and they go the extra mile or whatever it takes in order to be humane and treat the citizens of this city who happen to be homeless in the best possible way.

The issue on phone services is that there is a limited amount of accommodation and when people ring we have to go and find the accommodation. For people on the end of the phone that is an absolute travesty but until such time as we crack the main problem here, which is supply, we will have an over-reliance on a homeless system which was never designed to deal with the level of service users that are coming to us at this point in time.

Could Mr. Brady end the self accommodation thing, which is torture for people, if he had more staff? It is really difficult for people to source their own accommodation like that.

Mr. Dick Brady

The issue on self accommodation is not necessarily one of having staff, it is a question of people coming to us at a certain time of the day or night when we have not got anything left on the books. We will continue to try but people themselves can also help by finding a hotel for the evening. That is a first night situation and we generally catch up on accommodation the next day. It is an emergency situation that needs to be worked on in order to ensure a family and children do not find themselves on the side of the street at night but unfortunately that is the position.

I thank Mr. Brady. There were a series of supplementary questions. I will start with the Department and finish with the local authorities.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

In response to the question from Deputy Ó Broin about why we could not have a large scale, local authority led, mixed income, mixed tenure development, I would say that the Minister has indicated he is open to all suggestions in terms of the action plan for housing so we will certainly bring it back and put it into the mix. On the research, I do not have the details of the international research here now but what I would say in response to all of the concerns that have been voiced here about sustainable communities is that the concept is not intended as a straitjacket, it is a guideline to be applied pragmatically and what we really want to do is avoid over-concentration of monotenure and mono-income estates, as Deputy Coppinger mentioned. I acknowledge that there are successful examples of local authority housing estates, which have worked well. It is not just about planning and infrastructure, it is also about management of housing estates and we are very much aware of that.

In many cases where the local authority housing estates have been successful, they have been in a broader context of being surrounded by other mixed-tenure and mixed-income areas.

Regarding the 18-month to two-year process, rather than putting a timeline on how long the approval process might take, I would be more focused on outcomes. My hope would be that we will achieve the targets. I am confident we will achieve the targets I outlined earlier - the numbers of starts that will be in place at the end of this year and the number of those that will be in place by the end of 2017, as we foresaw and as we funded back in 2015.

Regarding how many projects are approved, our records show that there are 16 live capital projects in the Dublin City Council area, for example, with over 600 units under way. Deputy O'Dowd said the needs of people who are homeless are not being acknowledged. However, in fact all our efforts in terms of social housing strategy are about meeting the needs of people who are homeless.

Put them in the houses that are offered; that is the rhetorical question.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

Ultimately it is a question of supply.

The supply is there and they did not use it.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

The other thing we have done to address homelessness is the rapid-build approach where we have additional units over and above the units in the capital programmes of the four local authorities.

On the question of the one-stop shop, the idea of having a single authority to address housing was considered. Informally we discussed it in the Department. We considered the length of time it would take to put in place the structures for a new organisation. With agreeing budgets, agreeing structures and pulling staff in, the experience in the public service is that there was a risk that all the energy would go into creating the new structure, rather than getting on with the job.

Instead the Department without the need for formal structures has a cross-divisional team which is pulling together internally the expertise across the Department to focus on the measures required for the housing action plan and also, of course, as the Minister mentioned, pulling together all the resources across Government in the Cabinet sub-committee and the senior officials group. That is the way we are going. While I appreciate what Deputy O'Dowd said about the NBA in the past, the NBA as it existed no longer exists.

The skills are still there. It is the skills that we are talking about.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

We are pulling together the skills.

Deputy Brophy talked about anecdotal evidence of very long delays. We have outlined how we want to improve things and we are in the process of doing so. I think we got some acknowledgement from the local authorities that projects have been progressing. If there is any project about which he has concerns, I would be happy to take details from him at any stage and we can follow it up.

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Philip Nugent, to comment about the AHBs and their capacity or otherwise to contribute to developing and delivering on the social housing strategy. I think they have capacity and the capacity can be built, but I would be the first to acknowledge that they do not represent the entire solution. The reality is that there is no magic bullet here; we need to go for a range of different proposals and solutions.

Deputy Coppinger mentioned that local authorities are frequently blamed for lack of progress. I wish to put on the record that we are not blaming local authorities for lack of progress and I did not blame anybody.

I was not talking about Ms Nic Aongusa, but about the Ministers.

Ms Bairbre Nic Aongusa

Nor do I believe local authorities are being sidelined. Clearly from the time of the social housing strategy, local authorities are back centre stage in building social housing. Again the reality is that they do not represent the entire solution; it has to be multifaceted.

While, as officials, we do not comment on the merits or otherwise of policy, a number of comments were made about the policy of relying on the private sector. Something the committee should take into consideration if it is making recommendations is that the social housing strategy we had of local authority, approved housing body and private sector housing, was in part as a result of the availability of funding. We have a limited amount of Exchequer funding. The members will have heard from my colleagues in the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about the constraints on Exchequer funding. So the approved housing bodies can be off balance sheet. The private sector can do its piece. We have a limited amount of Exchequer funding.

All of those things need to be taken into account in consideration of that particular issue.

Deputy Moran asked whether local authorities could buy lands, including Iarnród Éireann. My colleague, Mr. Colin Ryan, will speak about our land strategy because we have been examining those issues.

The Chairman asked about the Department's €2 million scheme and the extent of its utilisation. It has only been in place since January so it is early days yet. We have had a number of inquiries from local authorities. The reaction has been mixed. Some local authorities do not see it as an option but other local authorities have welcomed it and are interested in using it. To date, we have had no formal applications.

Mr. Philip Nugent

As Ms Nic Aongusa said, what we need is a multi-strand approach to what is a massive supply challenge. This means we need all hands to the wheel. We need the local authorities in the game, the private sector delivering and we also need approved housing bodies, AHBs, to deliver. Approved housing bodies traditionally have been reliant on a 100% capital funding model. The 2011 housing policy statement envisaged an enhanced role for AHBs, which required them to move quickly from being 100% capital funded to a long-term finance model. To be fair, the State asked them to move in a truncated timeline of a couple of years to a process that has taken 20 years or more in other jurisdictions. It is important to acknowledge the very quick transition that many of the AHBs have made. It is true that AHBs are not a panacea in that they will not on their own deliver the level of units required. At the same time, they have the capacity, and have shown this in the past, to deliver thousands of units annually and we should accept those thousands of units. The AHBs have an important role to play. It is worth acknowledging that the larger AHBs, in particular those that have engaged with the HFA funding model and have achieved certified borrower status, have a significant contribution to make.

Mr. Colin Ryan

On the land issue, there are a number of strategies that have to be examined in the context of the release of land, in particular by CIE and other State agencies and bodies, which issue was raised earlier with the Minister by Deputy O'Dowd. The Minister has given an undertaking to look at how that can be brought to bear at appropriate locations. While there are issues around commerciality and location the matter is currently being followed up.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

On the Chairman's question regarding the housing units and the €2 million scheme and if the local authorities have any concerns in that regard, in response to an earlier question on risk appetite I made the point on behalf of my colleagues throughout the country that financial risk and overruns must be shared by all stakeholders.

The concern is that local authorities on signing up to the scheme are taking the burden of the risk.

Mr. Eugene Cummins

In some cases. In others, that will not be the case. It is important for everybody to accept that there is a risk appetite that has to be borne by everyone. The entirety of risk cannot be transferred to the local authorities. We have discussed that issue with the Department.

It is important to highlight what we do not want. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. We certainly do not want families being reared in one bedroom and two bedrooms in hotels. I can assure the committee that we are aware of what such people go through. As Deputy Coppinger knows, what they go through is most disheartening and upsetting. What we want is to see all the players involved again in the business of providing houses, including the banks.

Deputy Moran made the point that local authorities are not awash with money. In terms of buying land, the Department is working with us. In terms of identifying sites and land on which social housing can be built the Department is working hand-in-hand with us. In the next few days we will be bidding for land in Roscommon even though demand there is not huge.

There are certainly significant numbers of unoccupied private properties around the country, including the holiday homes with which we are all familiar. Each local authority would not have a separate audit of them but we do have an idea of the numbers because of some work done by the Housing Agency. In the next few months, as the census results return, we will have a complete picture of that and we may be able to have some action on it at some stage. Deputy Coppinger commented on the shrinking role of the local authorities. Our role relating to social housing provision did shrink some years ago but that is clearly not the case now. The provision of social housing is a primary function and purpose of all local authorities in the State.

Mr. Owen Keegan

The only point I wish to make is in response to Deputy Ó Broin's suggestion on whether we would be prepared to bring forward complete development of sites. We have identified a number of sites in our ownership, properly zoned and serviced but that need site development works. Our members have stated there must be a 30% social housing element and it looks much more possible we will get funding for that. There is then the question of bringing forward the balance of that site. We see that as a combination of cost rental and affordable units. We will certainly look at that.

Thank you. That concludes our meeting. I thank the officials from the Department and I know some of them had a very long day because they were here this morning. I also thank the members of the County and City Management Association for their attendance, presentations and, to be fair, their direct and honest answers with the committee. They have been very helpful and informative.

To my colleagues on the committee, that concludes our session with witnesses and next Tuesday morning we will meet at 10.30 a.m. to start drafting a report. I thank everybody who has attended.

The committee adjourned at 5 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 7 June 2016.