Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I last had the opportunity to speak on this Bill I spoke about the shared ownership scheme and voluntary and co-operative housing. I said all these schemes were necessary in the broad spectrum of housing. However this Bill makes no provision for those on the margins of society. We now have an unemployment rate of approximately 300,000 and most of those people are not in a position to purchase their own homes not even when they can avail of a shared ownership scheme. Those on the housing list have very little hope of being rehoused, because of the Government's disgraceful record. The Government have made no effort, good bad or indifferent to build or provide homes for those who need them and this Government's record is the worst since the foundation of the State.

The introduction of this Bill is a flam job to try to cover up the cracks. It is full of woolly and wishful thinking.

Dublin Corporation, the largest local authority in the country, have received 435 applications for participation in the shared ownership scheme since the beginning of the year. They have given 60 approvals, but only 19 of those 60 have paid deposits. If that is the extent of the progress we have made into the middle of May, God help those who are in a hurry. The length of time it is taking to process the application and make inspections has been brought to my notice. People have found that somebody who was able to get a building society or bank loan was able to purchase the house they liked before they had even got half way through the process of getting a loan under the shared ownership scheme. It is not very encouraging that only 19 people availing of the shared ownership scheme have put deposits on their houses. I hope this is not an indication of the energy being put into this scheme.

If the local authorities are dragging their feet on the shared ownership scheme the Department should tell them they expect immediate action. I would like to see the local authorities acting more swiftly when it is indicated to them which house a couple availing of a loan under the shared ownership scheme wish to purchase.

Section 5 deals with the question of somebody applying for a house because their own is either inadequate or in bad repair. The local authority can build extensions or carry out necessary repairs This is a good idea because it preserves the existing housing stock, but it comes ill from a Government that abolished housing grants particularly for old houses. I have always argued that it is cost effective to maintain old housing stock in as good repair as possible, but that was cast to one side. Now the Government come in with this idea.

In my experience when people already in a house applied to the local authority to be rehoused the local authority would not entertain the application because they had a house, unless there was an order that the house was unfit for human habitation in which case something would be done. That brings me to the question of bathrooms. A bathroom is not a luxury today but a necessity, and the performance of local authorities in this area has been poor. They have been taking some action but it is slow. Section 5 refers to carrying out repairs and building extensions, but God help those who have to wait. I am in favour of it if it can be done quickly so that if an unmarried mother, for example, requires to stay at home additional accommodation could be provided quickly. If this cannot be done quickly, the unmarried mother may, because of tensions in the home, have to find alternative accommodation. The idea is good in that it helps people in bad housing but it does not help those with no housing.

The same thing applies to existing local authority flats. Not enough resources are being provided for the refurbishing programme. Some of the work that is being done is very good and should be speeded up. There are people in local authority areas in Dublin living in a very substandard accommodation particularly in local authority apartments. In addition the general environment in which these apartments are located is very poor. The necessity to plant trees and provide a softer environment is not taken into account. One larger block in my constituency just has one entrance and there are nearly 400 apartments in it. We all know what that sort of thing breeds. It is simply wrong. When refurbishing we should, if we are serious about it, try to break these blocks up and provide various entrances, change the names and give them a whole new look, because many of the problems in the inner city start in these large apartment blocks.

In regard to one particular block of flats I asked the Corporation, when I was in the Department, if they would not take it out of the system because there were too many blocks in the one area and people were not being given a chance. In such circumstances they are totally ghettoised; they are all of the same socio-economic group and can see no way out. This policy has ruined good housing stock in the area I speak of. Many years ago if one lived in that area one was pretty well off but now one could not give those houses away because of poor housing planning.

In refrubishing houses and flats we must think of the whole environment. When I speak of taking apartments out of the system I do not mean knocking good housing stock down but selling it into private ownership. I have seen this done in London where run-down housing was sold off to the private sector, a policy that resulted in a better social mix in the area. The whole tenor of this Bill is to try to bring about a similar situation here so that I do not argue with that. I would advocate this type of mixed housing and a getting away from the greenfield ideas.

This Bill is not about new investment or new development, and that worries me. For those who need housing the idea of shared ownership is not necessarily the panacea. They will require more assistance than that. What is required is a programme. It is time we looked at the question of involving private investment in this area of housing. I refer to the financial institutions. The alteration of the DIRT threshold to £100,000 for a married couple will bring a flood of money to these financial institutions. It is about time some of these financial institutions took their public duty seriously. Why should building societies not get involved in the development of housing with the local authorities? It need not necessarily be a financial partnership. The local authority could be involved by providing sites and whatever help was necessary and the housing allocated to people in need of local authority housing.

Subject to an income limit, a subsidy could be paid by the local authority to ensure that a project is viable but, in the first instance, the money should be put up by the building societies to develop the scheme and lend on. If we want to get away from large public housing schemes on big green field sites, there could be development in a more controlled way in smaller areas with the building societies having a vested interest. As they are in the business of lending why should they not be, for the first time, in the business of providing? This would give the building industry a much needed boost.

I have often heard the cry, "when you fellows get into Government the building industry collapses". However, that industry has never been in a worse state; it has literally been closed down during the term of office of its great advocates, and this Bill does not provide it with any incentives. I accept that where local authorities and the State step in and provide a large sum of money there have to be some controls and restrictions to ensure that the State does not have to pay out constantly. However, the financial institutions, in particular the building societies and the banks, have been well treated by successive Governments — I hope they will not invest in schemes other than housing — and it is time they lived up to their obligations and gave something back. They must realise that there has to be some give and take. I would therefore like to see local authorities, the Department and the financial institutions work out a scheme which I hope will come to fruition. I have no doubt this could be done.

We introduced the £5,000 grant which I thought was a good idea but it was derided. It was claimed that we were denuding local authority housing estates. This grant was payable to those who wished to vacate their local authority house and buy their own home. It was a worthwhile scheme. Indeed, many of those who condemned it were off the mark. We should consider reintroducing it. If people want to buy a house, depending on their income and the cost of the house, why not give them a £5,000 grant? After all, we are paying rent subsidies. We should consider all aspects of the housing programme. I am not saying "the local authority must do this" or "someone else must do that" but we should consider all aspects and use as many of the financial institutions as possible.

The shared ownership system and co-operative housing are good ideas and we should introduce an income ceiling to ensure we do not hand out £5,000 grants willy nilly but only to those who want to buy their own homes. That is what I am advocating. I want to see more people own their own homes and have a stake in society and this works well in Ireland. In any local authority housing estate one can pick out the houses that have been bought. All of a sudden the owners have a sense of pride and since it is their own they make sure it is protected and well looked after. We should encourage people to have some spirit.

With regard to private investment it is time we talked to the building societies, the banks and other financial institutions and asked them to come up with proposals. Why not put the gun to their heads, so to speak, and say to them that they are getting enough, that we are making it easy for them to raise money and that they should give something in return. All of us have our obligations and they are making plenty of money.

Reference is made in the Bill to the management of local authority housing estates. Indeed, local authorities are being given 12 months to come up with ideas to involve tenants in the management of these estates. That is a good idea and it has been in operation in some areas. Local authorities, in particular the authority in my area, are the worst landlords one could come across. They are a disgrace. Sometimes a guy who is moved into a local authority housing estate can cause havoc but he is left there while decent people are run out of it. The problem started the day caretakers were taken out, in particular from the large flat complexes in Dublin. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows what I am talking about as he served on the same local authority. While Dublin Corporation have many good points, like other local authorities, they refuse to move such people arguing that they would have to house them somewhere else. If someone wants to wreck a house and cause havoc I would let somebody else worry about him because he is not too worried about other people.

We should consider privatising the management of local authority housing estates. Private apartments, in vogue in recent years, are managed by private companies who arrange to have the grass cut and the property maintained. We should consider putting this service out to tender. If that was done right our complexes would be far batter managed at a lower cost.

With regard to minor repairs, people will have to realise that they will have to pay for them. If a tap washer goes they ring up to get someone to replace it. People have to accept responsibility for minor repairs and only call someone out to carry out major repairs. My colleagues of the Left would disagree with me but this does not worry me unduly. The estates were well managed when there were caretakers. If anybody stepped out of line they were reported and dealt with but within a short time the position went from bad to worse. We reached the stage where nobody wanted to live in those estates. That matter has to be looked at. However, asking the local authorities to come up with ideas is not the answer. They might leave the plans as they are or decrease the numbers. A special group should examine the matter to decide the most feasible project. After all, it is tax-payers' money and it must be used wisely.

While families are smaller, the same family may now be divided between two houses or apartments because of marriage breakdown. Ironically, when people had families of ten to 12 children we were building two-bedroomed houses but we are now building three and four bedroomed houses for families of two or three children. Single parent families must also be accommodated. Because of our social welfare system young people who remain at home and who are unemployed receive very little as the means of parents will be taken into consideration. If the young person moves into an apartment he or she will receive social welfare payments and will probably also receive a rent subsidy. This did not happen 15 or 20 years ago and I do not know whether the Bill will solve many of these problems. Social housing is very important and we must keep it constantly under review. At least the Bill contains some new ideas, although it does not offer hope to all.

Section 8 refers to shared ownership. In that case, stamp duty is not levied but if someone buys a house independently of shared ownership they have to pay stamp duty, which is unfair. We must look at the question of stamp duty in relation to older houses; stamp duty is not levied on a new house but that does not apply to an old house. I am referring particularly to first time buyers, not to those who are buying bigger houses. At the lower end of the market no one should have to pay stamp duty and we must make it as easy as possible for people to purchase a house. I indicated that a grant of £5,000 — or a figure to be determined — should be introduced for low income families because they cannot raise the necessary capital to enable them to buy a house. When people were eligible for the £5,000 grant it enabled them to pay the solicitor's bill and stamp duty which gave them a good start. This is important. If we do not allocate a grant of this kind we will have to help them by other means.

We must ask whether we are getting value for money. A grant of this kind might be better than shared ownership because one of the difficulties in that regard is that you take a 50 per cent equity and the local authority take the other 50 per cent. A rent subsidy is paid, depending on the person's income. There is a period within which the person must take up the option of buying the other half of the ownership. The House could have cost £24,000 which means that the person's share was a payment of £12,000. The price of the house is probably index-linked and at any rate will appreciate, which means that the person might have to pay £24,000 for the other half of the house. Perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick but that is my understanding. As I said, a grant in the initial stages of buying a house might be a better option for many people.

I accept that the question of stamp duty is not really a matter for this Bill and I know that the Department of Finance have the last say. We all want the same thing although we may be coming at the problem from different directions. We must examine all the ideas put forward.

Section 10 refers to halting sites and states that if caravans are parked within two miles of one they will be moved. I am not opposed to that but we have fallen down in relation to halting sites, particularly in the Dublin area. When I was in the Department we had prepared a plan which was just about up and running and the county council decided to make radical changes. They dispersed halting sites all over Dublin which caused many people to be up in arms; nobody wanted a site to be built in their area. We had got agreement in this regard before the plan was changed and we must pursue a policy of developing halting sites, particularly in the city, because some travelling people want to settle. They are part of our community and must be provided for.

Of course, we must also recognise that most travellers do not wish to settle; that is their culture and their right. We must provide high quality halting sites, and I compliment the Department on doing just that although they were very expensive. I have the impression — maybe I am wrong — that sites are not now being provided, especially in the Dublin area. I know sometimes problems can be caused by the provision of halting sites but we have an obligation to house these people.

Section 16 refers to notices to quit and the private housing sector. We should always try to ensure that equity, fair play and decent standards are maintained in the private housing sector. Private rented accommodation can be scarce and there is an argument that if landlords or potential landlords face too many impedients they will not want to invest in the rental sector. That should not be a reason for not making sure that there are reasonable standards.

I do not know whether it will make any great difference to provide that a notice to quit should be issued a month before it is to take effect rather than a week before taking effect, but the provision of a month's notice does appear to be an improvement. This measure will also be of benefit for landlords in that it is not unknown for tenants to pack their bags and depart overnight.

When landlords take in tenants and charge high rents they must accept certain responsibilities. After all, no matter what business you are in, if you do not look after your customer you are finished — and rightly so. In this area because of supply and demand, there seems to be an indifference towards the customer — in this case the tenant. Having rent books is a good idea because it gives tenants the feeling that they have a stake in their dwelling, which is important.

The concept of registration and inspections of rented dwellings is also a good one, but we have to lay down minimum standards. I am not pushing for luxurious conditions but I consider setting down minimum standards to be vital. It is important that rented dwellings be safe. They should not be fire hazards and there must be proper sanitation, adequate water pressure and so on. To be sure that the fabric of the roof and the materials used in construction of the dwelling itself do not allow dampness is basic. When people are paying high rents they are entitled to those safeguards.

We all know that married couples with children looking for rented accommodation will have to pay a fairly high price, and that often they do not even get that opportunity because once a child appears, easy access to rented accommodation disappears. Often couples with a child are told that a flat or a house has been taken or is not vacant. I am pleased that something is being done in this area but I hope it will be followed up.

Several years ago registrations had to be lodged with local authorities. I do not know whether that ever meant anything; it seems that people do not register. It is fine for the House to pass legislation but unless it is enforced there is not much point in it. I hope that the Bill will encourage higher standards in the private rental market.

Section 26 concerns the disposal of houses, tenant purchasing and so on. In the local authority about which I have knowledge when a corporation dwelling becomes vacant or is "detenanted" it goes back into the housing stock for reletting. It is important to retain as much housing stock as possible. I am in favour of sales to tenants but there is a need to retain a level of rented housing stock. Perhaps I am reading this provision wrong, although I do not think so, but it appears that authorities will now be able to sell houses to anybody. It is my contention that when a house in the rented sector becomes vacant it should go back into the rental market. There are people on waiting lists for a house in a particular area; perhaps a family living in Tallaght want to move to Drimnagh. Section 26 would rule out that possibility for many people on the housing lists, if my interpretation of this section is right; that is not a good move and should be reconsidered. It is possible that local authorities could use the provision as a way to get in extra money and that someone who has waited for years for a house in a particular area could be denied it. I ask the Minister to examine this section again.

While there are certain welcome measures in the Bill, the legislation will not improve the position of those on the margins unless there is an increase in the number of houses in the private rental market.

We should move from the green field developments of the past because we were creating ghettoes. The finishing of many of those schemes was atrocious, with no attention given to landscaping. Some of those developments were cold and soulless. If they had been dealt with properly from day one, perhaps they would have had a better tenancy rate and would not have suffered such disregard by tenants. That is why I am in favour of any future developments, whether carried out by local authorities, a combination of local authorities and private owners or the private sector.

There is very little talk of the National Building Agency. The agency, with some of the local authority housing and construction departments, must be redundant. The staff must spend all day looking at each other, because there does not seem to be very much building going on. They must find it a rather boring occupation to sit around recalling the great days when a particular number of houses was built each year.

With all of the expertise available, and with the building societies and all the other financial agencies gathering money, there must be some way we can come up with fresh ideas. A new approach should be taken so that prospective tenants will not feel they are part of a big local authority ghetto but that they have their own private housing area or they are buying their own homes with help from the local authority. Such a move would change the landscape of our outer city areas where mistakes were made in the past.

I accept that in the past we were in a hurry to get things done and to have houses built, but in our rush we made the wrong moves; we did not think out the developments properly. Now that we have had time to think about housing development, let us not run away from building. The building industry is on the floor and we should try to give it hope. Everybody should encourage the people in this industry because an increase in construction would be a change for the better.

We should also look at estates on the outskirts of our cities; we should employ planners and landscape gardeners to see if we can make those estates more attractive. We will always have social problems and we should work on them, but we should at least build homes in which people can take some degree of pride, not homes in soulless streets which do not provide any hope for people, streets where there is high unemployment and all the things that make places into undesirable areas. Local authorities should live up to their responsibilities in this respect. They have not done so properly in the past. I enjoyed my time as a local authority member and one thing that always annoyed me was the way in which they managed their housing stock.

This Bill covers things that were promised by the social partnership, so I am surprised that the social partners have bought this package. There are a few ideas in the Bill, but it is only tinkering with the real problem. The figure I was given was that there are 5,000 people on the Dublin Corporation list. That was some time ago, so there are probably more now. The same sort of thing applies in other local authorities. We should not go back to the stage we were at, 15 or 20 years ago, where we could offer people no hope unless they had a gang of children and they were living in atrocious conditions. I do not say that the Bill will bring us back to that but we must look seriously at the building programme. This Bill does not do that. I appeal to the Minister to come up with some proposals for a realistic ongoing building programme if we are to avoid chaos.

Rising unemployment is creating major problems. We must face those problems and give people some hope. We should include everyone in this debate in order to get the will, the finance and the ideas to provide a new system whereby people can afford to buy their own homes. This would eliminate maintenance problems and be a better way of dealing with this problem.

I welcome this Bill and compliment the Minister on its introduction. The Bill provides for the various innovations with regard to housing which are incorporated in the plan for social housing which was introduced by the former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, in February 1991.

Years ago.

The Bill is highly commendable. It aims to make sure that every family and individual has a place to live, in keeping with their needs. It further aims to ensure that housing will be located in an acceptable environment and that the price of rent is affordable. Its objective is to promote owner occupation as the form of accommodation which most Irish people prefer and aspire to. It aims to develop policy in the context of housing needs in modern society and to take into consideration the necessity to reduce or eliminate segregation, thereby ensuring a more healthy and acceptable social mix in the community.

I was pleased to note in the Minister's speech that measures incorporated in the plan are intended to supplement rather than replace the traditional local authority house building programme. This theory is an excellent one and I can readily agree with it. It is easy to agree that huge local authority estates have brought about major social difficulties. It is easy to agree with the principle of discontinuing that policy. Deputy O'Brien described such estates as ghettoes. I agree with him. I presume he was referring to cities such as Dublin. The same thing applies on a smaller scale to the building of large housing estates in rural villages, with disastrous effects. Villages in my constituency have been destroyed. The character of a village is changed because of the concentration of building. Large estates are unsuited to the original size of many village communities. I welcome the departure from that method of providing housing.

The alternative measures proposed must be expedited and must be on a scale to be able to substitute for the old system. Housing must be provided on an ongoing basis for the people who need it. So far, these measures have failed to do that. The rate of house building has slowed down considerably. It is not good enough to have a major reduction in house building without providing something in its place to ensure that accommodation is available for the people who need it. There is a serious housing shortage at present. Every necessary step must be taken to address that problem. Local authorities have built over one-third of all houses in this country, their waiting lists having come within manageable proportions. That overall position declined substantially right up to the end of 1988 so that, from 1989 onwards, unfortunately, those lists reflected the seriousness of the overall housing shortage. We must face up to the fact that it has now reached near crisis proportion. For example there is need for over 800 local authority houses in my constituency, the waiting list being of such magnitude. I am not sure what is the position in Deputy Durkan's constituency of east Kildare.

It is equally in need of attention.

We could fill 800 local authority houses in Wicklow tomorrow morning, whereas this year Wicklow County Council will build only 14 local authority houses putting the problem in proper perspective. There is no point in any of us pretending that those circumstances do not prevail. Rather they must be recognised, tackled and corrected. In certain parts of County Wicklow there are what could be described as housing black spots. One such black spot is to be found in the town of Arklow, once one of our most thriving towns nationwide. Unfortunately that town suffered enormous economic trauma with the collapse of traditional industries, leading to high levels of unemployment in the town itself and throughout its south Wicklow hinterland. If one adds to those difficulties of high unemployment the chronic housing shortage, one sees immediately a recipe for human misery. I appeal to the Minister to monitor the position very closely to ensure that these potentially excellent measures incorporated in the plan will fill the vacuum created by the dramatic reduction in the construction of local authority housing.

I am indeed grateful for the substantial expenditure on refurbishment of local authority housing in County Wicklow in recent years. The Minister provided the requisite funding for the creation of much needed employment and the upgrading of formerly uninhabitable dwellings converting them into lovely homes. This work was undertaken by teams of tradesmen and workers employed on a direct labour basis by Wicklow County Council over a number of years, and whose workmanship was exemplary, the result being highly beneficial for all concerned. Indeed such refurbishment was cheaper than building new local authority houses, having as good if not a greater positive effect.

Many of the provisions of this Bill and housing plan are meritorious and positive in content. I should like to address some of these proposals briefly. Voluntary and co-operative housing is something we should implement in a positive fashion, as is the intention, with grants being made available to voluntary housing organisations, in turn, enabling them to provide communal facilities in both new and existing housing schemes. There is a particularly good example of this to be found in Carnew in County Wicklow where a group of excellent people got together over a number of years and raised funds locally, supplemented by grants, not of any great substance, to provide a housing estate geared to the needs of the elderly, with built-in services such as the provision of a day care centre, laundry services and so on. It was an excellent community endeavour, the pride and joy of the area, on which the local people responsible must be congratulated. Anybody is welcome to come and see that development, indeed to use it as a model for other areas. This type of communal effort should be copied all over County Wicklow if not nationwide.

Another welcome innovation is that of shared ownership. However, it must be said that people have not greeted this proposal with the enthusiasm it deserves. Indeed its importance has not been sold or sufficiently marketed, for which, in a general way I contend that local authority officialdom must be blamed. I understand that some local authorities have taken the matter seriously; others less so. We all have a part to play at local authority level. This is a new concept which should be promoted because it is an excellent means of providing housing for the less well off in our society. Indeed I would appeal to the Minister to lean on all concerned, particularly on local authorities who have been backward in coming forward in this respect. This shared ownership scheme is an excellent one but we must remember that it will be as good only as it is marketed, projected and implemented. I know that many of my colleagues know of people locally who would be ideally suited to implementing this scheme. I advocate that all Members participate in this scheme, endeavouring to project its positive aspects at every opportunity.

Then there are the proposed improvement works to be implemented in lieu of building local authority houses, a matter which was raised by Deputy O'Brien with whose comments I agree. This is an excellent idea, to improve houses, adding on an additional room or two, perhaps in some cases a granny flat, to cater for an expanded family. We should remember that older people do not like to move from their customary place of residence.

We all know people who are living in unacceptable low grade accommodation with, for example, bad roofing and no bathrooms, who are looking for alternative housing. However, many of them are loath to leave their present accommodation for various reasons. While many of them move into housing estates they would prefer to remain in their present homes if they could be made habitable. However, they do not have the resources to do this work themselves. This Bill will enable assistance to be given to improve and upgrade their houses and I wholeheartedly welcome those provisions.

The Bill deals with the plight of the homeless. Obviously every citizen is entitled to a roof over his or her head. The Housing Act, 1988, empowers local authorities to provide accommodation for homeless people. Local authorities were asked to include all homeless people in their assessment of housing needs which was carried out in March 1991. Some extraordinary figures emerged. I welcome the further emphasis being placed in this Bill on the need to provide housing for homeless people. The onus will be on local authorities to house homeless people in temporary accommodation, such as hotels or guesthouses, until such time as suitable permanent accommodation can be provided for them.

They are not doing it.

I welcome the proposed mortgage allowance which will provide an incentive to local authority tenants to buy their own houses. This scheme is much better than the previous scheme introduced some years ago. As Deputy O'Brien said, that scheme led to the creation of ghettoes. Under that scheme people were paid £5,000 to move out of the local authority estate and buy houses elsewhere. Under the proposed scheme, money will not be paid directly to the tenants. As its title implies, this mortgage allowance will be used to pay off a person's mortgage over a number of years on a decreasing scale — a sum of £1,000 will be paid in the first year, £800 in the second year, £600 in the third year, £500 in the fourth year and £400 in the fifth year — directly to the lending agency concerned. This is a much better way of providing an incentive to local authority tenants to buy their own houses.

I wish to refer to local authority house purchase loans. We do not provide local authority loans to the same extent as we did in the past. For example, in 1987 local authorities lent £151 million for house purchases but in 1990 the figure was £20 million. While the housing staff in Wicklow County Council have always been very co-operative, I have always reminded them that their job is to issue loans and advise people on the pros and cons, difficulties, traps and advantages of the loans available. I am glad to see that it is proposed to increase the amount provided by local authorities by way of loans. Irish people like to own their own homes, regardless of what rung of the social ladder they are on and they should be given every assistance to do this. Local authority house loans assist many people to buy their own homes.

I welcome the sale of sites by local authorities at low or nominal costs to people who wish to build their own houses. This is a very welcome provision. I welcome the stitching into this scheme of certain criteria which have to be met to ensure that undeserving people are not given a cheap site. I commend the Minister on the introduction of this scheme.

Joint venture housing schemes have worked extremely well throughout the country, particularly in my constituency. Under this scheme local authorities and private builders get together to build housing estates. In this way houses are provided at affordable prices. However, I know of some ludicrous cases. For example, in a joint venture scheme in my constituency a builder, in conjunction with the local authority, set about providing houses on local authority land but the local authority laid down such conditions in terms of planning permission that the builder was forced to expend £8,500 per site. Other conditions were laid down, such as building walls around the estate, which were unnecessary, and the installation of smokeless fuel fireplaces. This is ridiculous and I would like to think it is just a once off event. I know from experience that joint ventures can be very positive. In many cases local authority land is lying idle and the authorities should welcome joint ventures. As well as providing employment they would provide houses at a reasonable cost for people who need them. Any encouragement from the Minister in this regard would be welcome.

The provision of rural cottages by local authorities is an excellent way of providing houses. Rural cottages have been built in County Wicklow, County Kerry and throughout the country. It is an excellent way of keeping people in their own areas. Lip service is paid to rural development but the rural areas cannot be developed unless people live there and people cannot remain in the rural areas if they do not have a roof over their heads. The tendency for a number of years has been to avoid building in rural areas and to refuse planning permission. I am in favour of protecting the environment and I agree we should be very stringent in regard to the type of buildings allowed, but there should be no restriction on the offspring of small landowners who wish to build in their own areas. We should also allow people to build who are not landowners but who want to stay in the areas their families have lived for generations. The local authority rural cottage was the ideal mechanism for these people rather than herding them into villages, towns, cities and ghettoes. Over a number of years we have been able to build a limited number of rural cottages in County Wicklow. Last year two rural cotages were built but I do not know how many will be built this year — it will be a negligible number. Building rural cottages should be part of the overall housing plan.

The measure relating to the provision of bathroom and toilet facilities is an excellent one. It is extraordinary that in 1992 many families and elderly people, some of whom live alone, do not have indoor toilet facilities, a basic human requirement. People are living in atrocious conditions. We have been talking about this matter since February 1991 but it is a very slow process and I would ask that it be expedited. Hopefully by the time we reach the 21st century these facilities will be provided in all houses so that old people do not have to use outdoor facilities, perhaps at the end of their garden.

Local authority tenants may purchase local authority houses, which is acceptable and commendable, but what concerns me is the onward sale of these houses. In latter years there has been a tendency to sell them to speculators. Local authority houses are bought by builders, renovated and sold to well heeled customers. There is something wrong with that practice. I do not know if we or the local authority can lay down conditions and say to whom the house must be sold.

This practice of selling local authority dwellings to speculators will continue, particularly in a county such as Wicklow, where it is not easy for people to find holiday homes or hideaways. The people could afford to buy a rural cottage way above the market price. They make the purchaser an offer he cannot refuse and then spend an amount of money developing the house into a very nice pad. There is something inately wrong with that practice. I am not sure what can be done about it but I would ask the Minister to consider it. I can quote instances of builder-speculators buying houses, renovating them and selling them at a profit. If these dwellings were disposed of to a person in the category we are talking about there would be no great difficulty. I am worried about the speculative aspect and about the wealthy individual who could take advantage of the situation. That should be looked at with a view to preventing the development of something which, in retrospect, would be regarded as quite scandalous. We have had enough scandals.

The purchase of existing houses by local authority tenants is a welcome process. Unfortunately there is not a purchase scheme in existence. The last scheme was an excellent one and the then Minister fondly referred to it as the sale of the century. People got very good value for money. We should give the tenant the opportunity to buy out a house after the required number of years of tenancy. I would ask the Minister to introduce a scheme as soon as possible to enable more people to buy out their houses. This is advantageous to the local authorities in that the substantial cost of maintenance is reduced. I can see no reason for not having such a scheme on an on-going basis. There may be administrative reasons for introducing a scheme, cutting it off and then deeming it appropriate to introduce further schemes. However, I believe people should be allowed to approach their local authority at any time with the intention of buying out their house.

I welcome the excellent concept of allowing local authorities to purchase existing houses instead of building new ones, but I do not know how feasible it would be or where the local authorities would get the money to do it. The social problems involved in housing have been mentioned during this debate. The purchase of existing houses would facilitate the integrating of communities and the creation of the social mix we aspire to. This new scheme would involve the local authority buying properties in a town or village as the houses come on the market. These dwellings would then be made available as rented accommodation to people who fulfil the appropriate criteria. It is a meritorious concept which the local authorities should take on board. I wonder, however, if sufficient funding is being transferred to the local authorities by the Minister to allow them to get on with this innovation.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to make these points. I repeat my request to the Minister to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme as promptly as possible. I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

I wish I could welcome the Bill, whose entry to this House has been much heralded if belated. Like much legislation it is appearing long after it has become necessary. It could be said of this legislation that nothing I can recall has been promised for so long with so little final impact.

Housing is a problem which has beset public representatives over the past four years, particularly the housing needs of the category who do not qualify for building society or other finance agency loans. In February 1991 the Minister proudly announced the initiation of the social housing plan. A huge brochure on the subject was produced which probably cost the price of at least half a dozen houses. We who are members of local authorities know too well how long we have languished waiting to see real benefits manifest to the people. Permission was given to the local authorities about a year ago to grant a certain number of loans. There is a restriction on the number of loans which may be granted and on the manner in which they may be granted.

I have the impression that this was originally a very good and useful Bill but that it has been got at by somebody and successfully trimmed and chipped to such an extent that it will be virtually impossible for it to be of any assistance to the people for whom it is intended. I have had countless arguments at local authority level and with officials as to how it might be improved and liberalised enough to assist people.

The last speaker made a number of important points. During the past four years the Government and their predecessors have demonstrated a spectacular negligence of housing needs. We can use nice phrases and talk about social housing needs, but the bottom line is that no money has been provided for housing in the past four years. There has been no intention of providing such money. There has been a spectacular dereliction of duty on the part of the Government in their failure to meet housing needs. They have abdicated their responsibilities to the people they profess to serve. I see no evidence, nor have I seen any evidence over the past number of years, which is likely to make me change my mind on the Government's intentions in that area. The reason is simple — there are obviously no votes in housing. People who have houses are not concerned about those who have not, and those who have not a house are so distressed by their problems they do not have the time, energy or inclination to create an effective lobby group. That is why the inadequate provision of housing is not being addressed at present. It is an absolute disgrace that local authorities have built scarcely a house and provided so few housing loans over the past four years compared with the previous four years.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992, was introduced with much pomp and ceremony. Following the enactment of legislation to deal with homeless persons, we enacted a housing Bill in 1988. If we badly needed to make provision to house the homeless in 1988, I wonder what needs to be done for the homeless? I can assure the Minister sitting opposite and members of both parties in Government that one cannot compare the problem at present with that which existed in 1988.

Any member of a local authority, and particularly those local authorities adjacent to Dublin, where the growing population has had an impact will tell you that the number of people who have availed of a local authority loan has decreased dramatically. I can give the classic example of County Kildare. In the period between 1982-87, the local authority allocated loans to 1,400 families who were able to house themselves under HFA or similar-type schemes. The corresponding figure for the following four years is 95. From 1982 to 1987 the local authorities in County Kildare allocated between 600 and 800 houses to local authority tenants, but the figure for the past four years is 120. I can decribe this only as an absolute disgrace. If anyone asks what has happened, have fewer people applied for loans, let me tell them that the people are on the housing list while they live in cramped and unsatisfactory housing conditions, in unsafe mobile homes all over the country. It is shameful that the Government are making no attempt to improve the conditions in which such people must live.

The only option available to my local authority is to send those in need of emergency housing to the various hostels in this city or to another hostel which is not intended to deal with this category of person. I am just one member of the local authority, but every member of my local authority has had the same problem brought to his attention. It is all very fine for Ministers to say the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions,) Bill, will solve the problem — but no resources are being provided for that purpose, and I believe there is no intention to do so and as a result the problem will not be solved. The unfortunate tragedy of our society which one day may be visited on the Government opposite is that many young people do not have a job, neither do they have a house and they have little prospect of either. The only option the Government put forward is emigration; as a matter of fact another Government Department propose to set up FÁS offices throughout Europe to cater for the number emigrating.

I wonder how young people view the workings of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Do they think legislation will be effective in meeting their needs? From my experience, if the Government's track record on housing over the past four years is anything to go by, they will be very disappointed.

I was amazed, though delighted, to hear Deputy Jacob refer to many of the points I have just made, but the place to resolve them is at Cabinet. The matter can be resolved when we vote on this Bill or on Committee Stage. This gives the Members opposite a great opportunity to put forward their suggestions and proposals. Most of the backbenchers opposite are members of a local authority and there is nothing about housing or loans that they do not know. I cannot understand why their wealth of experience cannot percolate down into the Cabinet where decisions are made.

The SDA, or annuity loan as it is called, the income-related scheme which is known as the convertible loan scheme, has been revamped. Where I live in County Kildare a local authority loan under one of these schemes is absolutely useless because it goes nowhere near meeting the cost of a house except in isolated rural areas. The Minister should increase the maximum available to a realistic level in order that people who do not have a high income or a huge amount of money saved with a bank or building society can house themselves within a reasonable period of time. This could be done if the loan was linked to their income, in much the same way as under the Housing Finance Agency scheme. If I might digress, I know there were those who said the HFA scheme was a farce; indeed Members on the benches opposite spent a great deal of time in the eighties telling people it was a farce, but a great many people were housed who would not otherwise be housed. While it is true that people might have paid over the odds, particularly if they had been unable to maintain their payments, there were safeguards. Critics will say that a number of those houses were repossessed but in the same period houses were repossessed when people had availed of bank or building society loans. That argument does not stand up.

It would be useful to look at the HFA scheme whereby a person got a loan of three times his income. The scheme needed to be fine-tuned to ensure that it worked. However, I would like to draw attention to a flaw in the scheme — and I raised this matter on the Adjournment — particularly in cases of marital breakdown. Whether we like it or not the incidence of marital breakdown has increased — in times of financial distress it increases because of the pressures in households. In a number of cases of marital breakdown the husband has left and does not maintain the wife and family. By some mysterious means the HFA decided that the mortgage repayments should be based on the theoretical income which is supposed to come from the husband, even though the husband is not supporting the family or may not have darkened the door for four or five years. The Housing Finance Agency now revamped in this Bill — have determined the wife will have to repay a loan based on her husband's income which she does not know about and which she does not receive. The reason is the agency discovered too late there were a number of deserted wives and separated households affected in this way. They decided, rather than carry the financial responsibility for it, it would be better that the local authorities would put the boot in, so to speak, and repossess the houses. A large number of those houses have been repossessed. It is unfair to women that there should be such an application of the rule. People will say not every local authority behaves in this fashion but the housing finance agency have been pressurising local authorities to behave in that way. They have succeeded in repossessing houses because of the low income of the remaining mortgage holder, the wife. In other words, a wife who is receiving between £50 and £80 per week and who has a mortgage of £25,000 to £27,000 can pay only about £10 or £15 per week. In those cases local authorities determine she should make normal repayments based on economic factors so that the agency can redeem the interest in the mortgage within a reasonable period. That cannot be done and it is morally wrong that that should take place. I raised that issue on the Adjournment two years ago but I was not impressed by the response I received. I suggest the Minister examine that aspect in an effort to alleviate the hardship caused to such people.

The convertible loan system is probably the next best scheme, after the old housing finance agency scheme, for people in my constituency where house prices range from £30,000 to £50,000. If a large family want a four-bedroom house they will have to pay £50,000 and those seeking a three-bedroom house will be lucky to get a local authority house for £30,000. If they want a house in a private estate, which they will have to aim for if no local authority house is available, that will cost between £40,000 and £44,000. We should think about extending the convertible loan scheme, bring the maximum loan permissible under it to a realistic level and extend the loan repayment period beyond the 25 or 30 years for another ten years if necessary. The downside is that people will say: "I will be dead before I own my own house," or, "I will be 80 years of age before I own my own house." That is not all that relevant because those eventualities can be catered for by way of insurance cover.

People should not be expected to live in unfit housing conditions until such time as they have a worthwhile deposit and they should not be forced to live a life of misery by virtue of the size of their mortgage repayments. It would be better to extend the mortgage repayment period by another ten years if necessary. I am aware of all the arguments that can be made about increased costs and so on but I dismiss them. It would be better to give people a good standard of housing at reasonable repayments than to penalise them by asking them to repay their mortgage in too short a time or doing without a house altogether. Those options should be examined. I know from my discussions with members of all parties on the local authority in my area that that is the general opinion and I ask the Minister to take it on board. I am being constructive now but I will be critical later in relation to other matters.

The income related loan scheme, also referred to in this Bill, is another area where there is some scope for improvement. Some people are not regarded as a good risk so far as lending agencies are concerned and they are the people local authorities must look after because of an arrangement by the Minister for the Environment in 1987. He stated that in future the banks and the building societies would look after this category; that those with an income of £12,000 or more would be catered for by a different group without account being taken of the size of the family.

I can never understand why a person with four, five or six children and earning £20,000 per year should not qualify for a loan under the heading referred to in the Bill. The simple reason is that the disposable income is so much less compared to that of a household on an income of £12,000 — which is the limit at present — and one or two children. The possibility of the person on an income of £20,000 with five children repaying is about equal to the person with one or two children on £12,000. I can never understand why that has never been taken into consideration. There is nothing in the Bill — and I have heard nothing in the debate — which would improve that. That should be taken into account as a matter of urgency.

Let us look for a moment at the proposals in the shared ownership scheme. Two people earning £6,000 each and one person earning £12,000 can qualify for virtually the maximum loan by most standards. A household with one income of £13,000 does not qualify. I cannot understand the logic of that. Let us assume that a husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend starting off to buy a house are both working. There is no guarantee they will both be working in two or three years time. If there are two or three children in the household the possibility is that only one person will be working thereby reducing the income of that household by 50 per cent. They were assessed on the basis of two incomes, of £12,000 or thereabouts, and their ability to repay was judged on that basis. Irrespective of the way one looks at the loan repayment scheme, even if the person received a rent subsidy and so on, it does not work. It defies logic. That rule of thumb is applied to the two people who at one stage happened to have an income equal to the maximum qualifying limit, £12,000, and there is a good chance that one of those incomes will go in five years and that one person will be left to carry full responsibility on one income. We are judging those people on the same basis as a couple where one income is £12,000. If that income was £13,000 it would be regarded as too high to qualify for the maximum loan. We are expecting the person who is on too low an income to carry the same loan. That is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of all members of every local authority to whom I have spoken on the matter. I ask the Minister to have regard to those aspects of the scheme either on Committee Stage or when making the regulations. It would be better if, on Committee Stage we went into more detail on this and help the people I am talking about.

The next matter I should like to refer to briefly is the jargon we get when we talk about lending to people in this income category at local authority level. Local authorities maintain that they have a dual function, the first of which is under the housing Acts to provide houses by various means, either by building houses or by providing loans for people to enable them buy their houses.

The present situation flies in the face of the Government's responsibilities under the various Acts because they have not lived up to any of them. If the Government are not going to allocate money to the local authorities to build houses, will they consider revamping the loans system to allow people to buy their houses?

I know that provision is now being made for the refurbishment of local authority houses, and I welcome it, but the number of housing units likely to benefit is nil because there is no money. It is just a policy on paper to improve local authority houses because there is no money to do it. In County Kildare we will take on five or six houses under that heading this year if we are lucky. The maximum we decided on last year was ten but we have not yet dealt with all of them; we should refurbish at least 40 of these houses each year for the next five years. However, we have no chance of doing that because there is no money. Everything in this Bill comes down to money and whether it is the old fashioned green pound or the round coin, the lack of money is the one thing that is spectacular about it.

I see no reason that a loan could not be made to a family in a local authority house that needs refurbishing or extending to enable them to improve their house, and the repayments of such loan could be added to their existing rent or repayments. It would cost £40,000 or more to provide a new house but accommodation could be extended or refurbished for much less than that and that would be a reasonable way to do it. There is provision in the Bill but I am not sure that it goes as far as I would like.

At least Deputy Durkan is acknowledging something.

I am acknowledging something, and I had to root very carefully through the Bill to find something that I could acknowledge. The proposal is there but it does not go as far as I would like. Let me give an example from a few years ago of a household which was badly over-crowded. The incoming Government had abolished all grants so there was nothing the people concerned could do except find the means to raise a loan. The local authority had no money to give them, was not in a position to build another house for them or to extend the existing house because it came under a tenant purchase scheme. After a lot of soul searching we managed to get a secured loan which required a guarantor, and this was added to the existing tenant purchase scheme loan. It worked out very well but it should not have been necessary for that person to get a guarantor at all because the local authority was already in possession of the title to the property. I give that example to keep the Minister and everyone else aware of how the local authorities operate the system. There are few facets of lending through the local authority system that we are not aware of; there are very few angles we have not thought of and very few problems will arise in the future that have not arisen in the past. Colleagues on all sides will recognise our common interest in trying to do something about this. That is one area I would like the Minister to look at and to make more liberal provisions than are in the Bill. It should not raise any problems.

There is a vast number of unserviced houses, some in rural areas and some in urban areas. In some the services have become deficient and need renewal and in others no bathroom or toilet was ever provided. Often the people in such houses are unemployed or elderly. The local authority should be able to do something about these houses and add the cost to the rent. The Minister may say that that is covered in the Bill, that I did not read the Bill. I did read the Bill but I cannot find what I am looking for. I see a watered down version of what I am looking for because again the magic words "subject to the availability of moneys" appear.

In County Kildare we tried to implement what we thought was a reasonable element in a forthcoming scheme, and again we ran into trouble because there is a limit to the number of schemes we can initiate in any one year; the limit in County Kildare in the current year will be about ten or 11. I see no reason for postponing such work for three or four years or scaling it out over a period of years. Would it not be far better and much more inexpensive to do the work in one year and not prolong people's misery? All that is happening is that we wait for three or four years but the waiting is only to facilitate the availability of money and nothing else. There are about 30,000 of those houses throughout the country and it would be far better to tackle them all in the next year or year and a half and then we would have solved our problem. I ask the Minister for the Environment to use his influence with the Minister for Finance to get him to recognise the problem and resolve it. All we are doing is prolonging it, dragging it out for a few more years when it will probably cost 25 or 30 per cent more than it would now. There is no gain there for anybody, and certainly no gain for the Government.

There are so many things one can say about housing that one does not know where to start. There are others who are ready and anxious to speak, so this is probably not the time to go through them. I and my colleagues have no other way to give voice to our frustration in this area other than under this system of debate on a Bill. I hope all the Ministers in Cabinet will have due regard to the anxiety, frustration and dismay that we have suffered over the last couple of years. Whatever else the people on that side of the House want to complain about, talk about, boast about, let nobody over there ever again tell me about housing in this country. As far as they are concerned, there is no necessity for housing; they have forgotten all about it.

Deputy Jacob referred to the sale of the century. I agree that it was a great idea. While I agree it was a great idea, the same purpose could have been achieved and more money could have been made by the Department, which could have been put to good use by providing housing for those who need it, if more thought had been put into it. Let us take as an example a £22,000 house which was sold for £10,000. What happened to most of these houses? In 1988 house prices began to rise and a number of these houses were sold at profits of between £8,000 and £10,000 within six to ten months of buying them from the local authorities. The people concerned would have been fools not to take advantage of this because a benign Government very conveniently and charitably introduced a Bill which enabled them to make a considerable profit. As a result they sold their houses and bought others.

It can be stated in a roundabout way that they generated a need for housing in other areas and that the construction industry benefited as a result, but the fact remains that a considerable number of people sold their houses, within the law, at a huge profit. Therefore, it did not amount to the sale of the century after all. All that happened is that those who had houses improved their position while no regard was had to those in need of housing. That is where the problem lies.

Deputy Jacob said that 800 houses are needed in County Wicklow but we could do with 1,000 houses in County Kildare. Fifteen houses are due to be allocated in Newbridge during the next few weeks for which there are 300 applicants. I am aware that politicians are supposed to have unusual powers when it comes to allocating housing, but they will need great powers of persuasion when they inform those people that their applications have been unsuccessful. This problem arose in every scheme in recent years and as a result at least 1,000 families in the county urgently need to be rehoused. It saddens me that there is very little I can say to them when I meet them at my clinics. There was a time when I could say that if they put their names down for a house they may get something within the next six to 18 months but during the past four years only 25 houses have been provided each year. What chance has the 1,000th person on the list got? The answer is none. Therefore this is proof that there was no "sale of the century". While it may have carried a sales buzz for some, it did not carry it for those who had no houses, and they are the people about whom we should be concerned.

I have already mentioned houses which are not serviced, and I hope the financial limits imposed on the local authorities with regard to the refurbishment of existing houses will be lifted. The theory in Departments is that if one spends £10 million this year, one will pay the same amount next year. While one may spend the same amount next year, it will not be spent on the same houses, therefore the money would not be wasted as we would be improving the quality of life for a different group of people. As I said, it appears that there are no votes to be gained in this area at present.

Isolated cottages, or rural cottages as they are known, are almost as scarce as snow in July. I recall a time when it was relatively easy to build an isolated or rural cottage but it is now almost impossible. According to Deputy Jacob, only two were built in County Wicklow last year. We did slightly better in County Kildare; we built three and we may even manage to build two this year. This will not make a big impression on the 1,000 familes on the housing list.

With regard to what Deputy Jacob had to say and I agree with him, the only people who want to crush people into local authority housing estates and multistorey blocks are the economists, those who control money and Government Departments, but the psychologists and sociologists want people to have space and room to breathe. However, they are not involved in the planning process and do not count; they only count when the social problems arise as a result of bad planning and people have to live in boxes.

The planners have influence in this area. According to them there should be no houses in rural areas; everybody should live in what they call settlements. There are ample examples in many other countries with beautiful housing which enhance the countryside, but for some unknown reason, our planners are in a whirl and no one can live in anything except what they call "settlements". Someone told them when they were going to school that this was a good idea and that it was uneconomic to provide services in other circumstances but no one in rural areas has asked anyone to provide such services as footpaths or public lighting.

The theory, which is embedded in the planning system, is that one cannot live in a rural area unless one gets a special dispensation.

Do not go down that road.

One needs to be gifted if one is to build in a rural area. If the son or daughter of a person living in an isolated cottage want to build a cottage and continue to live in the area they will have a problem. They will be told they have to live in an estate of 150 to 160 houses in the nearest town despite the fact that they have lived all their lives in a rural area. They do not want to live in an urban settlement nor do they want facilities such as footpaths, public lighting and buses passing their door every five minutes. All they want is to live quietly but sadly we will not let them do this. Perhaps the Minister will use his influence in both the housing and planning areas. This would be much appreciated by many people who find themselves in this position.

I have mentioned already that money seems to be the problem. I say this because in recent times the Minister emphasised that there are other ways open to us to house people, for example, voluntary housing. To my mind, this amounts to an attempt on the part of the Government and the Minister to achieve housing targets on the cheap and to devolve responsibility to some other group. He is saying that under this Bill authority may be devolved to them to provide housing and that they may become a housing authority, but the only people with responsibility are the Government and the Minister. The Minister should not try to get away from his responsibilities in this area, but for some unknow reason, he is slinking away quietly out the side door and attempting to hive off this responsibility to unfortunate agencies which are willing to take it on.

They should not like to hear the Deputy call them unfortunate agencies.

They are unfortunate in the sense that they are expected to resolve the housing problems to which I have referred. The Government have failed to do this and the unfortunate agencies are being given responsibilities they were never intended to have and which the Government should have taken on board, but have failed to do so.

Let me give another example. I believe the voluntary agencies have a major and useful role to play which complements the role played by the local authorities and the Department of the Environment. In this case they are being given the central role and told to provide housing because the Government have failed to do so. The Government are also telling them that they can avail of certain funds from the EC and other sources and grants from central government if they set up as a housing agency or authority. Why not give those funds to the local authorities who were given responsibility for providing housing? Members of local authorities will tell you that, over the last couple of years, the only reason they go to meetings concerning housing is to complain about the lack of it. It is a sad indictment of our housing policy.

I wish to make a brief reference to custom built houses. We have all had experience recently of having to house people who, for one reason or another, do not have a home. This could be as a result of a family quarrel, marital breakdown, damage to their home or the fact that they were in a rented house which they had to leave. Many factors govern homelessness. We have very little to offer them in that situation, we cannot even rent a house for them; the health board and the local authority are supposed to be able to provide bed and breakfast for these people. However, a circular has been sent from the Minister for the Environment saying that bed and breakfast should not be provided for more than one or two nights; if it goes beyond one or two nights special factors must be taken into consideration. The problem then arises as to whether the health board will pick up the tab. In certain situations the health board are empowered to do so, but the system is so badly administered at present that, by the time the unfortunate person who is good enough to rent a house or to provide bed and breakfast is paid, they vow they will never provide the same facility again. If the Minister does not believe me, he should check the facts.

There should be a small number of flats in each settlement, town or village, not a big conglomerate, but a small number so that homeless people of one category or another could be housed for a short time. Of course, the problem with that is you need a housing plan afterwards because it is not enough to merely house them in an emergency. There is no plan to deal with them thereafter. I suppose what I am saying is irrelevant in the sense that if you do not have a long term plan, a short term plan is not much use. It would be beneficial to have emergency accommodation built by the local authority and available in various places so that we do not have to send people to hostels. I know hostels do a good job but people, particularly from rural areas, who have never been in that situation find it is a huge shock to their system and leaves them very disillusioned, particularly if they have been on the homeless circuit for a while.

I have dealt with cases in my constituency where people had been sleeping rough for part of the time and who had been in hostels but who had never been housed, although they have families. They had great difficulty in getting bed and breakfast and greater difficulty in getting a private rented dwelling. Incidentally, we have to depend on the goodwill of landlords to provide rented accommodation to people in that category because the landlord never knows how long the house will be retained or whether it will be possible to get vacant possession. Generally speaking, people do not want to provide rented accommodation, even when the health board are prepared to pay the rent. It is much easier to rent the house to a person who has a reasonably good job.

Rent books are a good idea although they do not apply to my constituency because we do not have a problem of substandard housing. Rented accommodation available to us is high quality, new housing, which is available at a premium price. However, as I said, it is virtually impossible to acquire a house for renting to a person who is homeless. The Minister should examine this question to see if any improvements can be made. Deputy Jacob said that local authorities are bound by law to house people; they are not and they do not. They cannot provide housing because they do not have any money and that is why they have to send people to a series of hostels or provide one or two nights' bed and breakfast. They are chased from pillar to post for weeks, which is incredible. I have seen pregnant wives, perhaps with two small children, being forced on that circuit on more than one occasion; it is a sad indictment of the present administration.

I am sorry for going on so long but it reflects the frustration which I and others have felt in regard to this problem. Every time I see a letter the word "money" is written on it——

Deputy Durkan wants to raise taxes.

For some unknown reason, money raises its ugly head again and again. Of course no money has been provided and the Members of this House who are also members of the local authorities know that. The provision of housing has been neglected for the last four years; the Government parties may quibble about that but it is a fact. If the present policy continues for another two years I do not know what will happen. Indeed, I hate to think of what will happen because the serious situation which already exists will be further exacerbated. Somebody, sometime, somewhere, will have to provide houses for the people who do not have them. These people will not disappear, they cannot emigrate. We can set up as many FÁS schemes as we like in Germany, Holland or France but the people will still not go away. It is very irritating for members of local authorities to receive a circular signed by the Minister — or by someone on his behalf, but certainly approved by him — to the effect that there is a limit to the number of loans that may be approved this year and to the number of houses and reconstruction cases. This policy hampers members of local authorities.

A short time ago the Minister for the Environment referred to local authorities as development corporations. Developing what? They are unable to perform their function of developing housing and improving the environment, simply because they do not have the wherewithal that word "money" raises its head yet again.

Knowing that there are other Members who wish to speak, I shall not go through several other items I had taken note of. The Minister sitting opposite may feel that I was haranguing the Government and if I were sitting in his place I might feel that the Government were being harangued. But after the Government's performance in the past four years in the area of housing, I think they are being criticised justifiably. As a public representative, I would not be doing my duty if I did not bring to the Minister's attention all of the items I have raised in the past few minutes. I hope that the Minister, his colleagues in Government and his departmental officials take on board at least some of the points I have raised. If any Government member wants advice from this side of the House I am sure that we would all be willing to give it to them. There must be a force of people from the benches on my right hand side and from the Government back benches who have ample experience of all of the items I have talked about and who are more than willing to give the Government advice.

The last point I want to make is that one does not solve a housing problem by neglecting or avoiding it. The problem will not go away. One either tackles a housing problem head on or one prolongs it, which costs a lot more.

Three major housing decisions were taken during the term in Government of Deputy Durkan's party. The Deputy referred to and accepted that the HFA loan system was not ideal. It is to be hoped that this new legislation will be a major step towards making loan finance more equitable and more easily repaid by people in the category that benefited and took advantage of the HFA loan scheme.

The "cheapie" scheme introduced by the former Government which provided a £5,000 cheque towards the cost of building a new house had the effect — in my own constituency more than most — of turning large areas into ghettoes. That scheme creamed off all of the community leaders in satellite towns and had a negative result. In theory, this scheme of Deputy Garret FitzGerald, the former Taoiseach, was novel. The economically simplistic scheme provided that for a cheque of £5,000 a local authority house could be repossessed and allocated to another family on the housing list. In practice, the scheme was not very desirable.

The final housing scheme, which left the former Minister's successor with a hefty bill, was the house repair grant scheme. I recall that the scheme cost over £100 million and took a long time to repay. It created an amazing muddle and mess. People took on and carried out unnecessary work. Limited resources were not directed at the right quarter. Those three policies are there for constructive criticism in hindsight.

The Bill is most desirable and progressive and has a lot of potential. Because of the constituency I represent, I have probably seen more local authority houses constructed in my time in the House than have many other Deputies put together. When I rattle off the figure of 6,500 to 8,000 local authority houses constructed in my constituency in the past ten to 15 years, people have some idea of the magnitude for my area of the issue of housing, and particularly local authority housing; the future housing policy; the mistakes made in the past; and the potential for improvement in the future.

The Bill sets out, with that background and with the wealth of knowledge in the Department of the Environment, through information provided by local authorities, to make a major policy shift in the direction of competitively costed housing, the social housing programme referred to by the policy itself.

The overall strategy aims at "mitigating as far as possible the extent and effect of social segregation in housing"— a most worthy and noble objective. I wonder how that concept can be made to work in my constituency. There is at present quite an imbalance, so the intention is praiseworthy. In north Clondalkin, for instance, there are 5,000 local authority houses in one great cluster, making up three parishes. That development is predominantly local authority owned and it slides down the slippery slope of unfinished dwellings, badly maintained houses and many other difficulties.

I genuinely feel that much of the intent of the Bill will have to be given body and there will have to be real hands-on management from the Department of the Environment to local authorities which have within their boundaries some of the large urban areas. I have already said that I represent some of those areas; the Minister of State, who is from the Cork North-Central constituency, probably represents an area with a substantial cluster of local authority housing; as would you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in your own constituency. Deputy Allen and Deputy Ferris could well place a different emphasis on housing policy. Whether housing problems relate to tens, twenties or thousands of dwellings, it is probably the same specific difficulties that need attention.

During the Minister's speech he talked about participation by local authority tenants in the running of their estates. That is a welcome move. I hope effect can be given to that objective because there is a real possibility for achievement in that direction. I should like the Minister and his officials to use their good offices to try to have major problems that come into that category tackled and dealt with throughout County Dublin. The areas of Tallaght, Clondalkin, Lucan and Blanchardstown have very substantial Dublin Corporation housing schemes within the county. At the last count, based on dragging information from management at City Hall a couple of years ago, it was found that the grand total of £6 million of outstanding works in Dublin County Council area was directly attributable to a sister local authority, Dublin Corporation. That £6 million workload was never completed by the biggest house building operation in this country, Dublin Corporation. Dublin Corporation say that they constructed the houses — correctly so — out of the housing capital programme of the Department of the Environment. Having completed the housing estates, the corporation abandoned their responsibilities and have left the estates of my constituents in a sorry and unacceptable state. Some of those estates are ten, 12 or 15 years old but have not yet been taken in charge because of bureaucratic red-tape wrangling between officialdom in City Hall and county halls throughout Dublin. The participation of local authority tenants in running their own estates would be a laudable aim if houses were actually completed and handed over in a community spirit to local tenants so that they, in co-operation with local authorities, could make sure that their estates were looked after.

Throughout the Bill there is the possibility of resolving this situation. A resolution is long overdue. Action should be taken before the Bill is enacted on some of those areas where the Minister is specifying that local authority housing is the responsibility of the local authority. The duplication of responsibility between the city and the county in County Dublin is ridiculous and it costs a lot of money. Some official in the Department and management at local authority level are responsible for taking action on this matter. It should have been resolved long ago. I cannot understand the continual bleating about large bills for repairs when those responsible at managerial level have done so little over the years to resolve the matter.

Did anyone in the Department ever conclude that there are many local authority rent paying tenants who do not use the system at all for repairs and that there are others who never stop looking for repairs? Would it not be ingenious to give tenants who look after local authority housing stock some recognition for their efforts perhaps by way of rent remission for a month after a five yearly inspection, and to penalise those who are always looking for repairs with an enhanced rent? There is a substantial bill involved here. Many people are not contributing to it and some are contributing far too much.

The Minister tells us that local authority housing stock consisted of 96,000 homes, that it was a valuble asset with a replacement value well over £3 billion. The Minister also talked about securitization giving the impression that there is an intention to dispose of some of the local authority rent roll to some of the financial institutions, to building societies and so on, so that it might release a large amount of capital. That might go some of the way towards addressing the lengthy contribution to the House this afternoon by Deputy Durkan. Obviously there is a capital bill to be paid based on the fact that the £3 billion of housing stock has a running outstanding debt. If substantial moneys can be raised, in this way under the new legislation, the debt will have to be repaid and we hope surplus funds will be available. There is a suggestion, apparently, in the explanatory memorandum, which I do not have, as to how that money could be used. However it is a welcome potential aspect of local authority housing.

With regard to social segregation in housing it is hard to know how this will work in County Dublin. The Dublin local authorities have something in the region of 20 thousand housing sites. They are a major capital asset but nothing is being done with them. How one can tackle the Dublin housing list and get the combination of social integration hoped for, is difficult to envisage. I do not know how one can get that mix in any large number of housing units provided by the local authority. It is a major anomaly that under the legislation the private sector cannot benefit from construction. The Minister might consider on Committee Stage, allowing for private sector, credible, medium priced housing contractors under the auspices of the CIF to be brought into negotiations with the Dublin housing authorities with a view to providing them, for instance, with 100 sites provided they give back to the local authority the keys of 20 units. A ratio could be worked out depending on the value of the site, the value of the house to be constructed, the selling price and the potential profit. Arising from the profit made by the contractor fairly competitively priced houses could be sold. In selling houses, market forces take over and dictate strongly against the social mix we would like to see. In my own constituency, for instance, there is need for walls between estates but the problem is that there is no co-ordination between local authority housing and private housing. This arises because of a small but vocal segment of the community who create problems. I do not know how we will create a social mix unless at the outset we accept that out of 100 units, 80 will be on the market and 20 will be available to the housing authority.

There are major sites, involving millions of pounds by way of investment in drainage, roads and public lighting and all these other facilities, on the perimeter of Dublin; there are parks in my own constituency, on the outskirts of Lucan and Clondalkin, and vast spreads of local authority sites which are covered in weeds while young couples are on the housing list. This land asset needs to be considered to see how it can be best utilised but I find it difficult to see how it can be utilised properly, particularly in County Dublin, under the legislation.

The new county council structure in County Dublin should be given total responsibility within their boundaries for the existing local authority housing and for rent collecting. City Hall do not want to give up these new housing units in the county because they require the least cost in terms of maintenance and are an excellent revenue gatherer. City Hall gets a good deal of revenue from Tallaght, Clondalkin and west Blanchardstown. They do not want to transfer that housing stock out to Dublin South County Council. They want to hold on to the sites and sell them off in the normal market orientated way and get the maximum resources into their coffers. I could not criticise the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who held the distinguished office of Lord Mayor, for wanting to maximise the resources to the local authority he had the honour of representing and having whatever resources arose from the county used for some of the excellent work that has been done throughout the city.

The county pressures and problems have become so great that there is need for a hands on solution to the extent that north Clondalkin, the area to which I refer, has become the focal point of the study of the first task force on urban areas because of the difficulties that have arisen there. For example, there is the breakdown in law and order in respect of which the Minister for Justice established a task force to deal with large urban areas, on which group the Minister and his Department are represented. I look forward to their report. It would be my hope that that report would clearly identify the isolation which the vast bulk of the population out there feel, having been historically city dwellers, rehoused in the county and then left to their own devices. There are the inadequate road networks to Ballyfermot and Clondalkin, no lighting on the Fonthill Road and so on; all these inadequacies are symptomatic of the lack of completion of a major local authority housing programme. If these matters are not properly tackled by Dublin Corporation, the new county councils and the Department of the Environment, then 5,000 or 6,000 housing units — making up that £3 billion worth of assets — will rapidly deteriorate in value. There is need for a major shift in housing strategy vis-à-vis local authorities, driven by the Department of the Environment, to tidy up these loose ends.

Bearing in mind the need for local authority housing in County Dublin, there is need also for the introduction of a new tenant purchase scheme. I do not know why the Minister had this to say in the course of his introductory remarks:

While I have no immediate plans to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme, I will be keeping the matter under review.

I do not understand why I must tell my constituents — and a number of them have inquired — they cannot purchase their own homes but must continue to pay rent. Since there is no scheme under which they can do so. This begs the question: why is there not, an on-going tenant purchase scheme? Why have a sale of the century and then drop it? Is it because of the volume of paper work involved in administering the scheme? What is the reason for not selling people their local authority homes when they wish to purchase them, rather than continue to draw on their relevant authorities for repairs and maintenance? I thought the Government wanted to get rid of those costs. If so, why not sell these people their homes and thereafter allow them maintain them?

Deputy Durkan reverted continuously to the need for money, money and more money. In that respect he is correct; in the end it is all to do with money. Unfortunately, he did not say whether he was in favour of higher taxation, increased borrowing or cutbacks in other areas to provide such housing. We could all solve the problem if there were a bottomless pit of funding available, which is not the case.

Under the provisions in this Bill there is the possibility of other forms of finance being raised from the existing local authority housing stock that would go a long way towards tackling some of the ever increasing housing waiting lists. I hope there will be a major attempt made to tidy up these loose ends in addition to ensuring that this new scheme be properly implemented.

In County Dublin there has been a less then dynamic approach on the part of officialdom, managerial staff, to implement this programme. I know that the former Minister, Deputy Flynn, met senior local authority officials in his Department in an endeavour to crack the whip and get some action. I contend they are handling the overall scheme as if it were a commercial, profit-related, increasing asset rather than a public asset which should be used to maximum advantage by way of Government policy for those who stand to benefit most. We have had many examples in County Dublin where local authorities have sold off sites at premium prices with a view to yielding the maximum for their coffers, of providing housing at say £50,000 and £60,000, sold in the private sector, as has happened in my constituency. That does not help the people who cannot afford that type of house. All over that area there are millions of pounds being invested in such sites lying idle.

I hope some dynamic action will be taken from departmental level downwards in those local authority areas. With a little ingenuity some intelligent disposal, and hands on management, in co-operation with the private sector, there could be constructed competitively priced private housing units at, say, £40,000 to £45,000, in addition to a percentage of local authority units. Rather than any such action, what I have witnessed in my constituency is the disposal of a local authority land bank — I do not know where the proceeds go; there are very handsome profits made that are not reinvested in the immediate area or local authority housing — into some type of capital repayment fund.

I compliment the Minister on the overall thrust of this Bill. It would be my hope that on Committee Stage we will tease out some of the anomalies uniquely applicable to my constituency, occasioned by the pressures, numbers and vastness of the problems obtaining there. These problems are quite different from those of other Members' experiences vis-à-vis rural cottages compared with those encountered in large urban areas and their rapidly increasing numbers on the housing waiting lists.

There are now a number of categories of people appearing on housing waiting lists. One such group are single parents and the question arises whether they should be allocated a two or three bedroom unit. This causes other problems. There is also the question of accommodation for old folk. Could such accommodation not be provided in combination with the disposal of the enormous asset to be found within the private sector? I would urge speedy implementation of the aspects of the Bill that will ensure that local authorities will be responsible for everything within their respective jurisdictions. That may well mean that in the future Dublin Corporation will have to have access to housing units in County Dublin.

I contend there should be a computerised, central Dublin housing list. There is enormous potential within the boundaries of Dublin city for extra housing units, but nothing like the numbers that will be required over the next decade. That is why there are approximately 8,000 Dublin Corporation houses in County Dublin, the city being unable to accommodate that volume of housing. The same is the case in Tallaght where there are between, say, 5,000 and 10,000 local authority housing units. There is need for co-ordination of the overall Dublin housing scene, rendering Dublin south, Dublin Fingal and Dún Laoghaire Corporation autonomous local authorities. If there is some overlap of the housing lists' allocation it should be appropriately streamlined.

I commend the Bill to the House, its provisions are excellent, and I hope some of the points I have raised will be answered by the Minister when replying.

This Bill has been heralded by the Government, Government representatives, Members of the Oireachtas and councillors since first mooted by the then Minister for the Environment in February 1991; this continued right through to the publication of the document "Housing Choice" which itemised several new options under what was termed by the Department of the Environment as the plan for social housing. All of us looked forward to the publication of the Bill itself so that we could, where necessary, criticise its provisions and be complimentary where it was deserved. Some of its sections are innovative and will be commended by many of us who are members of local authorities.

For example, there are sections dealing with such basic requirements as minimum notice to quit, the provision of rent books, the standards required of rented houses in the private sector, the prohibition on distress for rent of dwelling, registration of rented houses, to name but a few. Many of us, some of my colleagues in the Labour Party but particularly Councillor Eithne FitzGerald, lobbied Ministers of successive Governments for these basic minimum requirements in the private sector to match the demand obtaining for local authority housing not being addressed by the Minister or the Department of the Environment.

Following the publication of the document on housing options, we hoped this Bill would contain provisions to deal with the housing problem. Members of local authorities — I am a member of two local authorities — have responsibility for rehousing people in need who have met all the basic criteria. Unfortunately, I see very little in this Bill which addresses that problem. If additional funding is not provided to local authorities there is no way they can address what is becoming a housing crisis. I do not think anyone would want to revert to the days of previous housing crisis. It cost successive Governments of different hues large amounts of money to deal with housing crises. People may have needed houses but Governments did not respond adequately. Every Deputy who has contributed to the debate — Fianna Fáil backbenchers, Fine Gael front benchers and backbenchers and the Labour spokesperson who represent both city and urban areas — have outlined the position in their constituencies. They have been given the true picture in regard to the housing crisis by local authority housing officers who have to answer to public representatives as to why so many people are on housing lists. We are doing very little to help those people.

I wish to refer to the reason for this problem. Towards the end of last year I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister seeking information on the number of local authority houses built in the previous three years and asking him to make a statement on the matter. The Minister replied that the number of units of accommodation added to the local authority housing stock in the previous three years was: 1,450 houses in 1988; 768 houses in 1989 and 1,003 houses in 1990. He went on to say that the number of houses expected to be built last year was 1,300. Members of this House and the Seanad, of local authorities, corporations, urban councils and county councils only have to look at the record of the previous Coalition Government, of which the Labour Party were a member, when 7,000 houses were built to realise just how bad the record of this Government and the previous Fianna Fáil minority Government is in this area.

Under a previous Fianna Fáil Government local authorities were subjected to building low cost houses. The then Minister responsible, Deputy Molloy, foisted the building of low cost houses on local authorities. It has cost successive Governments, including this Government, millions of pounds to refurbish these low cost houses to make them fit for people to live in. We are thankful that the Minister has given money to local authorities to carry out this very necessary work. Unfortunately, thousands of low cost houses were built throughout the country. I do not see anything in the legislation which will address this problem.

Deputy Durkan did not want to refer to the need for money to rectify this problem. However, money is needed to ensure that low cost houses are properly refurbished. My local authority are very proud that they managed to refurbish many of those houses with Government assistance. It is a shame that these houses were built; it would have been a disgrace if it had been decided to continue to build them as accommodation for families. Those houses had no fireplaces and the other basic necessities. My local authority pressurised and embarrassed the Government into providing funds to refurbish low cost housing in Carronreddy, Woodview in Cahir, Castle-quarter in Killenaule and other areas. That Fianna Fáil Government were so concerned about the cost of housing people in need that they thought any type of house would do. Thank God we have moved on from that. We will never again allow any Government to foist houses of that description on any local authority. I am glad the Government have given a commitment that this will not happen again.

Nevertheless this does not solve the problems in Kilkenny, Dublin and other areas. While these houses are being refurbished the occupants have to be housed elsewhere. This means that housing applicants are held on waiting lists pending the refurbishment of these houses and this has resulted in long waiting lists in all local authority areas. Two weeks ago the local authority in my area confirmed that there are approximately 270 applicants on the housing waiting list. Under the allocation given to them the county council will be able to build 25 houses only, less than 10 per cent of the requirement. This means that 90 per cent of people in need of houses will not get them. Unless the Government give a commitment, it will take another ten years before we can provide houses for those people on the waiting list. This is scandalous. No Minister, regardless of what constituency he represents, should be allowed to introduce a Bill which purports to address the housing crisis but which does not do so.

When there is a housing crisis, action groups are set up to ask members of local authorities to address the problem. When they are unable to do so other people take control of the groups and use them to create trouble. They send deputations to local authorities and Deputies' and Minister's houses and clinics. We are creating a climate which will enable these people, between now and the next general election, to harp on about the failure of the Government to provide funding for housing. In this regard, I wish to thank the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, for visiting Tipperary to talk to the representatives of Tipperary South Riding County Council, Tipperary Urban District Council and Clonmel Corporation, all of whom have long housing waiting lists. The Minister had to admit he could only offer funding for 25 houses.

On Committee Stage I will deal with the inadequacies of this legislation, its inability to deal with the housing crisis and the way it will embarrass local authorities who are unable to meet the demands made on them. People are not elected to local authorities to make excuses and renege on their responsibilities, including their responsibility to provide housing.

Debate adjourned.