Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 26 Oct 2017

Vol. 960 No. 9

Other Questions

I understand Deputy Cowen is taking Question No. 6.

Housing Provision

James Browne


6. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he has taken to address the housing crisis in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45233/17]

The question is self-explanatory. Like many others, Deputy Browne is concerned about the housing crisis in County Wexford. There are statistics emanating from Wexford which suggest it has the third highest number of 18 to 24 year olds in receipt of rent supplement. House prices and rents there are soaring. Deputy Browne tabled this question in the hope that the Minister might outline some hope for the future in terms of his Department's deliberations with Wexford's local authorities.

Like many other counties around the country, Wexford has experienced a low level of construction activity, both public and private, over the last number of years. I spoke earlier about the shortage of money in the private and public sectors. Now that money is becoming available, we are trying to prioritise it for housing. A budget of €6 billion has been secured to fund housing projects, in the main, social housing, but also to open up sites for housing in general. The €1.9 billion budget for housing and homelessness is the largest we have ever seen. We recognise there is a crisis and we are trying to correct it. Like very other county, Wexford needs to gain from that and that is what we are trying to do.

The latest status report for social housing construction projects, which was published last month, contains key information on current social housing construction activity by Wexford County Council and the approved housing bodies with which it is working. It shows that 75 homes have been delivered since last year and approximately 320 additional homes are at planning, design, tender or construction stage.

Local authorities have been undertaking targeted acquisitions with a particular focus on vacant properties in order to avoid increasing pressure and competition in local property markets. Since the start of 2016, almost €17 million has been provided to Wexford County Council for that purpose. Funding of over €778,000 was provided in the period from 2014 to 2016 to return around 61 vacant social houses back into full use and a further 37 were targeted this year, although not all have been completed. Over 450 households in Wexford have been supported under the housing assistance payment scheme. It is a temporary solution but it is important that we find a home for people while we increase the supply of housing across the board, which is what we are trying to do.

Wexford County Council is in the process of finalising and submitting strategic development plans for its landbank. I look forward to its proposals for further projects to be added to its construction programme and my Department will consider them without delay when they are received. We are asking local authorities to bring forward more projects on State-owned lands through turn-key or other necessary approaches. Such plans have been submitted by many local authorities and are currently being analysed.

The figures provided by the Minister of State on what is happening or under construction in Wexford are that 75 homes have been delivered in two years and 375 houses are at the planning and design stage and will be coming on stream in the near future. There is another issue that has not necessarily been dealt with in spite of the best intentions of all concerned and Deputy Ó Broin and many others will be aware of it as it was discussed at the special committee when the Dáil was formed last year, which tried to make recommendations to ensure Rebuilding Ireland would be the sort of document we hoped would address this issue. The Minister of State and the Minister refer to 10,000 units being in the construction pipeline but only 24% of those are currently on site and, therefore, most will not be built until 2021. That has to be considered in the context of what many Members would say is the unambitious target of 26,000 units by then. The stages for approval have decreased from eight to four but it still takes two years to go from a site being declared initially to units being built. What has the Government done and what will it do to ensure the procurement process is improved? That delay is one of the greatest frustrations in this area. The Minister of State replied to a question on this topic from Deputy Mattie McGrath in respect of County Tipperary. There are similar situations in my own constituency. The first application for 30 units in Tullamore went to the Department three years ago but nobody is on-site yet. The Minister of State said money is not a problem. It is not a problem if one has to wait three years for approval but it is a problem if one is to get approval in six months. I ask the Minister of State to give some indication that progress is being made and that will continue.

No Member thinks the figures for recent years are anything to cheer about. The trend has improved and the figures are going in the right direction. Only 75 houses were delivered two years ago by local authorities throughout the country. That is not something anyone would cheer about. That figure was increased to more than 600 last year and this year more than 2,000 new houses will be built on site, as well as voids being brought back and the acquisition of new houses. Next year that figure will be 3,800 and it will increase thereafter. In terms of the pipeline of projects, we are not saying all 11,000 projects on 700 sites will be there in three or four months' time. Lots of projects that were not there a year ago are now moving in the right direction. We want to increase the number of projects in the pipeline because it will currently only deliver 11,000 houses but there is a commitment under Rebuilding Ireland to build more than 36,000 houses and we want that to happen. However, the pipeline has to be put in place because projects will not fall out of the sky.

Deputy Cowen is correct that the procedures in place to deliver houses were far too slow. That is why we made changes to the delivery model and changed from an eight-stage to a four-stage model. There is a one-stage option but local authorities do not want to use it. We have focussed on this issue in recent months and changes will be made in the coming months. There have been meetings to get agreement from all involved and the changes will improve timelines dramatically. A new delivery team to drive more urgency has been put in place, as announced after the housing summit by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. All Members agree these sites should be developed more quickly. The sites are being visited to determine what can be done to fast-track them, what the barriers are and what is wrong. Procedural delays are part of the problem and we will correct that as quickly as we can. Those changes will be made in the coming weeks.

The Minister of State said the Government is trying to correct these issues and improve delivery. I thought it had been trying to do that for the past number of years but, unfortunately, it has had no success in that regard. While the Minister of State says there are 11,000 projects in the pipeline and it is great to have so many, only 24% of them are on site and, therefore, a maximum of 2,300 of those houses will be delivered next year and the majority will not be completed until 2021 if the current rate of progress from pipeline to construction to keys continues. Unless the Government changes that trend, it will not meet the targets it has set for next year in spite of the allocation having been improved in the hope targets can be met. I hope I am wrong. I, and others around the country, should not have to raise the issue of a site in Tullamore that was identified three years ago but does not yet have any diggers on it. It has been announced before three elections now, or two at least-----

One of them must have been Deputy Cowen's.

Unfortunately, the houses have still not been built.

We all want those houses to be delivered more quickly. We have made improvements in that regard which have had an impact. There has not been enough of an impact and we are going to go even further. However, we have gone from 75 houses being built two years ago to over 2,000 this year and 3,800 will be delivered next year. There is no doubt about that. The rapid construction was not initially as rapid as all Members wanted but projects are now getting to site more quickly and more houses are being built. That is evident and it can deliver a lot more. We are confident that the changes we have made and further changes we will make to the delivery model and driving urgency will deliver these houses. However, we are not stopping at that and we want more. We have told every local authority to bring forward more proposals and plans and we will work through them. We are speeding up timelines because the process currently takes too long. Nobody is denying that. We have changed it and are going to change it again to drive the process even more quickly because it is not delivering as many houses as we need.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Private Rented Accommodation

Barry Cowen


8. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to regulate short-term lettings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45250/17]

What plans are in place to regulate short-term lettings and will the Minister make a statement on the matter? I raise this matter in the context of Airbnb and a circular recently issued to local authorities that seems to contradict recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of, for example, 90 days being a target for short-term lettings whereas the circular indicates one would have to seek permission for even two or three-day letting periods. Can the Minister comment on that circular?

Under action 18 of the strategy for the rental sector, my Department has established a working group, including major public stakeholders with a policy interest in short-term letting, to develop guidance in respect of planning applications for and changes of use of short-term lettings and to examine the need for new regulatory arrangements.  

The proposals under consideration by the working group are aimed at facilitating short-term letting of accommodation within permanent residences, which is known as home sharing, while protecting existing stock of residential property in areas of high demand, safeguarding neighbourhood amenity and consumer protection and generating revenue to address any negative externalities of short-term letting.

The working group has met four times and the work is progressing well. It has recently completed guidance for local authorities to assist them in considering planning applications in respect of short-term lettings. My Department issued a circular in that regard to all local authorities earlier this week, a copy of which has been published on my Department’s website.

I have requested that the working group report to me before the end of the year on the appropriate regulatory approach for short-term tourism-related lettings, including consideration of the scope for a licensing regime, and the identification of any necessary amendments to existing legislation that are required.

I wish to acknowledge the report prepared by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the impact of short-term lettings on Ireland's housing and rental market.  The recommendations arising from the report will be carefully considered by the working group in its deliberations.

The Minister has seen the recommendations and report of the committee. Will he comment on them?

Based on the consensus arrived at by the committee and the significant amount of work and effort that went into talking to the various stakeholders before agreeing on the set of proposals, and in conjunction with the working group the Minister has had in place, what does he see as a realistic timetable for the provision of guidelines that meet with more general approval than, for example, what is contained in the recent circular, which has definitely instructed local authorities to seek a change of use for what would appear to be non-commercial short-term lettings in which people engage regularly?

The recent correspondence to local authorities did not instruct them to do that. It clarified the position arrived at as a result of recent planning permissions and our recent history and informed them of some of the work that is ongoing. I am in favour of home-sharing, but home-sharing must mean home-sharing. It is a very important part of our economy at present and helps people to meet their mortgage repayments or other financial challenges they may have. However, in allowing it to happen as home-sharing, we must ensure that it is indeed home-sharing and is not taking significant stock out of the supply of homes, out of longer-term supply and into shorter-term lettings.

I have reviewed at a high level the report of the Oireachtas joint committee. It is a very good report with some very sound recommendations. If one considers best international practice and some of the things that have happened in other jurisdictions, again, they have looked at the 90-days-without-permission provision and the licensing arrangements, some of which are facilitated through the different platforms involved - for example, Airbnb. They have gone with a kind of "one host, one home" policy as well, which makes a lot of sense. I am considering the report of the Oireachtas joint committee. Again, there are some very good proposals in it. What we wanted to do, before the working group could complete its work and while it was still working on a memorandum of understanding with companies like Airbnb, was to make sure that the local authorities had the guidance in place before we then looked to see what we might do about a licensing system. I will consider the Oireachtas joint committee's report as guidance and will consider what has happened in other jurisdictions.

Deputy Ó Broin has a question.

I seek a clarification on the circular. I welcome the Minister's comments, particularly those in response to the committee's report. There is something I am not clear about in the circular. I refer to the conditions outlined for an individual applying for a change of use for short-term letting in an existing single apartment. Does the circular imply that all such persons in such accommodation must now apply for a change of use? If that is the case, the restrictions run contrary, as Deputy Cowen said, to the recommendations of the committee because they seem to restrict the genuine home-sharers. Furthermore, individuals applying in respect of non-exempt houses, particularly fully vacant houses, seem to be actually more flexible for what would be commercial lettings. It could be that we are reading the circular wrong, but will the Minister explain those two points if he can?

In so far as the circular is concerned, regarding individuals applying for changes of use for short-term letting in existing single apartments or individuals applying in respect of non-exempt houses, what we have sought to do in the circular is to give guidance to local authorities, in light of decisions that were made by An Bord Pleanála, as to what may be relevant for them in making an assessment themselves when it comes to any objections or section 5 declarations that might be placed regarding concerns over a short-term letting. The circular is there to guide them in that regard until such time as we can come with a proper system, whether it be a licensing system or whatever else we will do on foot of the Oireachtas joint committee's report, and, again, that consideration of what is happening in other jurisdictions.

Housing Provision

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which discussions have been entered into with the various local authorities with a view to providing rapid-build or modular housing for sale or rent to suitably qualified persons including those on the local authority housing list and others who marginally failed to qualify for local authority loans or eligibility for local authority housing on income grounds; if contracts can be entered into with the construction industry to provide such developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45254/17]

This question relates to the extent to which the Minister and his officials engage with the various local authorities with a view to identifying specific objectives in the shortest possible time. I welcome the Rebuilding Ireland proposals, the housing programme in general and the funding for it, but the most serious problem that exists is the problem now. It is an imminent problem, hence the question.

My Department has examined housing affordability in consultation with the Housing Agency, local authorities and other stakeholders as part of the targeted review of Rebuilding Ireland. The review is now at an advanced stage and I expect to be in a position to announce details of the outcome, including any additional measures, in the coming weeks.

All local authorities have been requested to prepare strategic development and management plans for residential lands in their ownership to ensure they are brought forward for development at the earliest opportunity. My Department facilitated a workshop for local authorities in July of this year to commence this process. Once all the plans have been reviewed and finalised, they will be made available publicly on the dedicated Rebuilding Ireland website, as well as the website of the relevant local authority.

Utilising rapid build and other innovative construction technologies can accelerate housing provision as timeframes are considerably shorter than for traditional build. To date, my Department's focus in respect of this form of house-building has been on encouraging its use for accelerated delivery of social housing, and considerable progress is being made in this regard.

The question of utilising rapid-build methodologies for affordable housing will ultimately be a matter for consideration in the context of individual projects. My Department's immediate focus is on considering the income limits and other eligibility considerations for such a scheme, as well as overall value for money. As I indicated earlier, I expect to be in a position to announce further details of measures in this regard in the coming weeks.

I welcome the progress to date. However, there is another issue, as I see it. There is a multiplicity of housing bodies - voluntary bodies, approved housing bodies, charitable bodies - all vying with one another to supply the housing market. To my mind, they are competing and obstructing one another because they are in the same place at the same time, increasing the cost of housing because they are competing in the same market, hence the necessity to produce a plan that is short-term, that is rapid in its delivery and that the local authorities recognise. The local authorities could then identify a specific number by which they propose to address the housing need in their respective local authority areas, as opposed to the general, broad-brushstroke approach that has been applied. It should be recognised that this is to address a housing deficit that goes back about 15 years. I believe there is a terrible reluctance to resolve the deficit and go back to direct build and provision of local authority houses on the one hand for people on local authority lists and, on the other, people in lower income groups who ordinarily were able to acquire private sites, developed sites, subsidised sites and local authority loans, all of which have disappeared in recent times. This is what I feel we need to emphasise and target.

I welcome the Deputy's contribution. He is correct to talk about a multiplicity of housing bodies in this country. We have hundreds of them. They operate at different tiers - tiers 1, 2 and 3 - tier 3 comprising the housing bodies that operate at a significant scale, that is, at the kind of scale we would like to see, although we would like them to do more, as housing bodies in other jurisdictions do. Later this month we will move to begin taking the voluntary regulation of the sector onto a statutory footing. In that process we hope to be able to entice larger housing bodies from abroad into this jurisdiction. We also hope some housing bodies will come together and work together. One of the changes we made as a result of the housing summit earlier this year - and the Deputy is right to point this out - is that local authorities will no longer compete with first-time house buyers and families looking to buy homes in high-demand areas. They will take that money and put it into building. That is important. If a local authority is not going to be competing with other householders, it does not make sense that housing bodies would compete with one another either. This is why it is important we have these managed plans for each site, per each local authority. The Minister of State, Deputy English, is responsible for working with the local authorities on each of these plans, which are being submitted to us at present, for each piece of land they have and the targets they have into 2018 and beyond so we can see how units will be built.

Regarding rapid build, there is a very quick turnaround time. My Department can give approval on the funding side within 24 hours. Then there can be a tendering process within four weeks and the house can be completed on site within six months of that process. One of the interesting things happening at present is that Dublin City Council has for the first time brought forward a multi-unit rapid framework. It hopes to deliver 600 apartments through rapid build. If this Dublin City Council project bears fruit, if it is successful and if it works to the timelines as envisaged, it will allow other local authorities to move in a similar vein and further increase our ambition for social housing.

I welcome the Minister's ambitious plans and I have no doubt but that he will see them through, and it is in everyone's interest that he does so. Each local authority, with particular reference to the numbers on the local authority housing waiting lists, needs to be asked the simple question, how quickly can it deliver, and how many units can it deliver in the shortest possible time? The six-month period is a great idea. That is what we need. All the discussions I have had with local authorities - and I am sure my colleagues on all sides of the House have had similar discussions - are vague, and they say it will take two or three years before units are built. This problem is now, not in two or three years' time. Every effort needs to be put into achieving the targets in the shortest possible time, and I know the Minister will ensure that. It will have a dual benefit in that it will reduce the pressure on people who do not own their homes, homeless people in particular, and it will reduce the price of houses generally. House prices in this country are way beyond those of most of our EU and European colleagues.

Again, I agree with the Deputy. I will talk about some of the timelines we have had in place and how we are changing them. We had the eight-stage approval process, which has changed to a four-stage process.

We are currently working to assess whether we can put in deadlines within each of those stages so people can be clear as to exactly how long procurement should take through the normal process.

Again, we have had the framework since January of this year and I talked about procurement for rapid build and how quickly that can be done. When we talk about dealing with our homelessness crisis - the Deputy mentioned modular housing, which is separate from rapid build, involves a prefabricated house and is different from a modular home - the Minister of State, Deputy English, and I are currently looking at options and a potentially quicker process that might help homeless families and assist local authorities in meeting their needs. That is something we are examining and I will not be able to speak about it until we have made a definite decision. When we do, I hope it will be a positive one because that will be another lever by means of which we can help people who need our help the most in terms of finding accommodation and sustainable homes.

Regeneration Projects Funding

Eoin Ó Broin


10. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if a project (details supplied) in Dublin 8 will be funded directly through Exchequer revenue rather than a private sector-led land initiative. [45348/17]

The Minister of State knows Sinn Féin's strong concerns about the funding model that is being used for the land initiatives at O'Devaney Gardens and St. Michael's Estate. Given the long history of failed and collapsed regeneration projects at this location and in light of the very active involvement of the local community, will the Minister of State not consider taking this out of the funding model of the land initiatives and, instead, directly fund a council-led, mixed-tenure estate, including social and affordable housing, to meet the needs of that community?

The area in question is one of three development sites that Dublin City Council intends to bring to the market and which offer the combined potential to provide over 1,600 homes and the opportunity to create three new, high-quality urban quarters. Accordingly, it is not intended to fund this project solely through the Exchequer. However, taxpayer funding will be a crucial element of the project, particularly in terms of public housing delivery. My Department looks forward to receiving a proposal from Dublin City Council in respect of this very important project very soon.

The final model for each site, including the different types of housing provision that will be included, will be the subject of careful consideration by Dublin City Council, including the elected members. They are best placed to consider the options to respond to the housing need in their area and I understand the city council has already commenced preparatory steps in regard to these developments, including consultation with local communities.

The Deputy will be aware that, in terms of housing alone, very significant investment has already been made in the St. Michael's Estate area, with over €20 million provided for the development of new homes at Thornton Heights. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to investing in the regeneration of this area. I expect that Dublin City Council will carefully consider the next steps in this regard and my Department will continue to engage with the council regarding the public housing element and associated investment. However, it is important that any future investment takes place within the context of a planned approach to securing a sustainable mixed tenure development.

It would have been in the council's own development plan that this was to be a mixed tenure development, and I presume the councillors would all have supported that at the time. There is agreement around the 30% social, 20% affordable and 50% private.

Not in the community.

It is an area of high social housing. I have discussed this in many arenas outside this House and know many members of the community favour the approach of a mixed development. I think Sinn Féin would rather it was all paid for by the State, with some houses then sold on as private houses, and that it is not against a private housing mix, although the Deputy can correct me on that. That is where we stand. Hopefully, this can move on in quarter 1 of 2018, when the local authority goes out to procurement.

It is important to remember that the origin of these schemes does not come from the councils but from a time when there was no central government funding available for any kind of scheme, whether mono-tenure or mixed. The difficulty with the funding model the Government is essentially imposing on the local authorities is, first, it does not allow the right quantity of social, affordable rental and affordable sale housing, and there is no guarantee that the affordable rental or affordable sale housing will actually be affordable. There is a real need to undertake a pilot project - we think St. Michael's is a good example - to show that a fully State-funded, council-led, mixed-tenure estate with social, affordable rental and purchase housing, at genuinely affordable prices, would not only deliver a better mix and meet the housing needs of the local community, but would deliver better value for money and greater levels of affordability. In fact, if the Minister of State asked Dublin City councillors whether they would prefer a State-funded, council-led scheme on this site or the model that has been imposed on them, they would opt for the first of those. That is why I am asking the Minister of State to consider this as a pilot and to compare this with his preferred option for O'Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road. He will find the arguments we are making on St. Michael's stack up.

This is a process we are engaged in with Dublin City Council and we can engage further with it around the percentages. I have said before that I think it is a key site for workers, given it is so close to the hospitals.

If they can afford the properties.

They can be afforded. This is a State-owned site. It is a key site and, if it is managed properly, it can deliver all the Deputy wants it to deliver. We have to try to make the best use of taxpayers' money. There is an opportunity to bring this forward, with a proper mixed tenure, which is part of a rejuvenation and regeneration of the area. As I said, it was signalled in the development plan. I believe we all want the same result; it is just a question of how it is funded. I think the funding model we have proposed can work very well on this site. I hope it progresses at speed because it was agreed last January and it is time to move it on. Again, the local authority can come back in with its proposals. If it wants to tweak it, we are willing to look at that with it.

Emergency Accommodation Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


11. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of his plans to roll out the national quality standards framework office inspection regime for emergency homeless accommodation; if all emergency accommodation, including commercial hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, will be covered by this; and if the office inspectorate will be fully independent of his Department and local authorities. [45346/17]

At the previous Question Time taken by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I asked him to consider the creation of an independent inspection regime for emergency accommodation. He helpfully pointed me in the direction of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, which is doing some work on a quality standards framework. I met the executive for a very detailed meeting and I was quite impressed by the content of what I was shown. However, three key issues remain unclear. When will this project start and what level of funding and staffing will it get? Will it be fully independent of the Department and the local authorities? Will it inspect and ensure the standards of all emergency accommodation, including commercial hotels and bed and breakfasts?

The provision of quality accommodation and related services for homeless persons is a key priority.  My Department is currently working with housing authorities to ensure that homeless services are delivered to an appropriately professional and high standard by service providers and in accordance with service-level agreements. In order to support quality standards, housing authorities have arrangements in place locally to ensure that emergency accommodation is appropriate and safe. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, for example, has an inspection programme in place which includes site visits and interaction with homeless families and individuals.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive has also been overseeing the development of a comprehensive quality standards framework, which can apply nationally.  It has been co-ordinating the development of these standards in consultation with an advisory group, which includes representation from various housing authorities, service providers, Tusla, clients of homeless services and other stakeholders. The draft standards, which give service providers a framework for continuous quality improvement, have been piloted in over 20 selected services across the country since 2016, and positive feedback has been received.

The executive is preparing a final draft quality standards framework for formal submission to my Department.  Upon receipt, along with any recommendations with regard to implementation from the executive and the advisory group, I will give consideration to how such standards, including any proposed new inspection regime or office for the inspection of emergency accommodation, could be meaningfully applied on a national basis by housing authorities.

To comment on today's homelessness figures, it is Orwellian in the extreme to suggest that there has been progress. The Minister is right the number of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin has fallen by a total of eight but the number of children in emergency accommodation in Dublin has increased by 37. That is not progress. The total number of adults, children and families across the State has increased and we now have approaching 8,500 adults and children in emergency accommodation.

I asked the Minister three simple questions. The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive has already presented the outworkings of its quality standards framework to the Department some three or four weeks ago. The questions are: when will it be set up, how much money will it get, how many staff will it get, will it be fully independent of the local authorities and the Department, and will all emergency accommodation, including commercial hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, be included? I would appreciate an answer to at least some of those questions.

We have to look at the trends on what is happening with homeless families and individuals.

Those trends are going up. There are more adults and children now homeless.

I would like to answer without being interrupted. The percentage reduction in the number of homeless families in Dublin between July and September was 3.4%. This compares with a cumulative increase of 3.2% in the three months to June and compares with the three months of July to September last year, when there was also a cumulative increase of 2.1%. We have had more families in Dublin exiting emergency accommodation than entering it for two months in a row, which is the first time that has happened in three years.

We do not separate children from their parents when we talk about meeting the needs of these families. Yes, there are more children, unfortunately, because larger families have presented as homeless and some of the families that have exited are smaller families and single parents. We treat them as a family unit and we look for homes for those families. Progress is being made and, while I recognise it is too slow, we are trying to do more work.

It is important for everyone in the voluntary sector and everybody in the local authorities who are working to do this to recognise that their efforts are helping and are making a difference.

That is not the question.

As a result of their efforts this year, today there are more than 2,500 families and individuals who are not in emergency accommodation-----

The Minister's efforts are not working.

Deputy Ó Broin will have another question.

-----and who would be, if not for their efforts. We are seeing some progress.

With regard to Deputy Ó Broin's other question I must wait until I get the quality standards framework from the Dublin regional homeless executive and the advisory group-----

The Minister has it.

-----as well as whatever recommendations are presented to me. When I have reviewed those I will have a better understanding of what will need to be put in place to make sure we can implement those recommendations.

Nobody doubts the work of the voluntary sector or the staff in councils or the Minister's own Department. I am simply saying that it is exactly the trends that matter. The overall trend is that the numbers of adults, children and families who are experiencing homelessness are up. The Minister is trying to put a positive spin on it to say that in Dublin for two months in a row the number of families has decreased. The Minister is right. It decreased by 32 families from July to August and by eight families from August to September. I welcome that decrease. The total number of children, however, who will sleep in emergency accommodation tonight in this city is more than it was one month ago. What is not working? The Minister's approach and the policies of his Government are not working.

On the principal question, it is my understanding that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has had the report from the Dublin regional homeless executive for three to four weeks. Will the Minister confirm that he has got it? Will he also indicate when he might be in a position to answer the questions about when this vital service to inspect commercial and non-commercial emergency accommodation will be set up?

The trends are important, yes. The overall trend in Dublin for families is that the numbers of presentations is down two months in a row. This is the first time this has happened in three years and this is important. When we look back to the high numbers in March, the number of people living in hotels is also down about 20%. Again, this is an important trend. The trend in numbers increasing nationally is up, but it is up at a slower percent of increase than it was in the three months previous to the last three months. That is some progress and I believe it is important too. No one is happy with the numbers of people who are homeless or the number of families in emergency accommodation but the Government is working with local authorities, NGOs, the voluntary sector, religious organisations and individual citizens to try to help these people into sustainable, secure homes. That work is achieving something and we must recognise that. Those trends point to progress, albeit too slow, and it means the Government's efforts are making a difference. We will continue to work in that direction. It is my understanding that no formal submission has been made to me by the Dublin regional homeless executive on the quality standards framework. As soon as I formally receive that submission, and when I have the recommendations, I will then be able to see how we can best implement them.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


12. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans in conjunction with local authorities and other bodies to deliver the agreed number of social and affordable homes in strategic development zones, SDZs, such as at Poolbeg and Clonburris and land initiatives such as O'Devaney Gardens and the Grange. [45349/17]

This question is very straightforward. There has been very good co-operation between the Department officials, Dublin City Council, local councillors and the local community with regard to the Poolbeg strategic development zone, SDZ. This resulted in an increase in the total amount of social and affordable housing to be made available. I welcome that and I also welcome the work of the Minister and his officials on this. The question now is how to deliver the affordable units on that site. Will the Minister give us any insight into what progress his Department is making with the city council, the community and the councillors to achieve that end?

I too want to see the optimum delivery of social and affordable housing as quickly as possible from all large strategic housing sites. In respect of local authority sites, their development, including tenure mix, is in the first instance a matter for each council and its elected members.

The Government has put in place more than €6 billion in multi-annual funding for social housing. Local authorities and approved housing bodies are currently working on a significant construction programme of more than 11,000 new homes. My Department continues to support and work with local authorities to develop their major housing development sites. At this point, all the sites have been mapped on the Rebuilding Ireland housing land map, which is accessible on the Rebuilding Ireland website, and all local authorities are in the process of finalising and submitting strategic development plans for their respective landbanks.

Housing affordability has been examined by my Department as part of the targeted review of Rebuilding Ireland, taking account of the measures already taken and those announced as part of budget 2018. The outcome of this, including any additional measures, will be outlined in the coming weeks.

Of the 3,500 homes planned to be delivered within the Poolbeg strategic development zone, SDZ, it is intended that 350 units will be delivered as social units under Part V. In addition, a further 550 will be delivered under a commercial agreement, with the majority earmarked for affordable homes but with potential for additional social housing, particularly designed for older people. In terms of other SDZs, it is open to local authorities to propose a similar approach with the planning schemes. My Department will be happy to engage on any such proposal.

The key issue here is the 550 affordable homes to be made available on the Poolbeg site because this is not public land. It is privately owned land that is currently in the hands of the receiver. The question arises as to how we ensure genuinely affordable homes. I remind the House of the price ranges I spoke of earlier of houses between €170,000 and €280,000. This would meet the needs of families on incomes of between €45,000 and €75,000. It is not clear. Dublin City Council has said to councillors and the community that because of the lack of clarity from the Department the council is not sure how these affordable homes will be delivered.

I am also interested in this because Clonburris in my constituency also has strategic development zone consultation under way. We want to be in a position to support this if we can ensure affordable housing on that site. As the Minister knows South Dublin County Council owns 25% of the land in that area. This means we could have a total public housing output of 35%, which would be very positive. We want to know how the funding will be secured to deliver genuinely affordable homes, especially for the families in the Ringsend area of the Poolbeg site, and in the context of the Clonburris site for the families in the Clondalkin and Lucan areas which I represent.

The Deputy made reference to the Clonburris strategic development zone. The Deputy is aware that on 15 December 2015, the lands were designated as SDZ and that South Dublin County Council has prepared a draft planning scheme. This consists of a written statement around the plans indicating the type and extent of development to be permitted in the Clonburris SDZ, together with proposals relating to the design of the development, transportation, provision of services, the minimisation of any adverse impacts on the environment and the provision of amenities, facilities and services for the community. This draft scheme is currently subject to public consultation, which will conclude very shortly on 3 November 2017. When we see what comes from the public consultation hopefully it can arrive at a mix - the Deputy had suggested that. This would be welcome. We could then see exactly how we could manage to put that in place.

If we look at what we have achieved in terms of the SDZ for Poolbeg and the Ringsend area, the planning scheme was approved by Dublin City Council on 2 October. I am committed to working with the council to deliver the social and affordable units on that plan. The mixed tenure is, of course, very important to everything we are trying to achieve as a Government. On foot of a material amendment, 900, or nearly 26%, of the 3,500 new homes on the SDZ lands will be delivered as social and affordable houses. It was looking at a 10% or 15% mix within that, but of the 15% affordable housing it might be more appropriate to deliver some of those as social housing, especially for older people. Again, as we build homes we must ensure that we protect and regenerate new communities. It is intended that an agreement for those additional 550 new homes, with confirmed funding, would be entered into between the city council, the receiver and my Department prior to the commencement of the development, the majority of which will be earmarked for affordable housing with some for social housing. There will be an agreement between those stakeholders, with confirmed funding behind it.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers

Urban Renewal Schemes

Barry Cowen


14. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the annual housing unit targets for the urban renewal fund announced in budget 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45249/17]

The recent budget announced an urban renewal fund whereby funds would be set aside to work with other State organisations, local communities and the private sector to address dilapidation, to provide rebuilding programmes and to help incentivise regeneration in towns and villages. Will the Minister of State indicate how much funding was put in to that fund and what targets are associated with it in the context of housing delivery next year?

The economic downturn had a significant negative impact on our urban centres. In recognition of this, A Programme for a Partnership Government set out an ambitious priority for urban renewal, with a view to breathing life back into our urban centres and helping to make them more attractive places in which to live and work. We recognise that some of these centres have declined over a long period of 20 or 30 years and not just over the last seven or eight years.

Rebuilding Ireland - An Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, published in July 2016, reinforces the Government’s commitment to the area of urban regeneration, and proposes a further range of measures.

In this context, an urban renewal working group, which I chaired and which comprised senior representatives from my Department, local authorities and other relevant bodies, was established with a view to bringing forward proposals for new urban regeneration measures. It was intended that the new measures would complement the existing regeneration programme under the Department’s social housing capital programme, as well as other relevant social regeneration initiatives.

As announced in budget 2018, a programme of €50 million in funding, supplemented by an additional minimum 20% contribution from local authorities, is being introduced to support projects and initiatives to regenerate and revitalise depopulated urban areas and facilitate more compact urban growth. While such projects may encompass a residential element, they will have a broader reach, addressing wider issues of dereliction and improvements to the public realm. An initial €10 million is being made available in 2018 to get the programme underway.

A key aim will be to maximise linkages with other programmes designed to bring vacant properties back into use, such as the repair and leasing and buy and renew schemes.

The terms of the new urban regeneration scheme will be finalised later this year, in consultation with local authorities and other relevant stakeholders, to maximise the potential outcomes from the available funding. We hope this funding will put local authorities in a position to drive urban renewal and regeneration in key areas. It will probably involve picking key projects and applying funding over a number of years to make them happen. It is not set down in stone yet. We will engage further with stakeholders and local authorities before we publish it. The €50 million is an initial contribution, and more funding will be required over the years ahead as we can make it available. Part of the work is bringing together all of the different funding mechanisms to ensure we get an impact from them in various towns, villages and large urban centres as required.

That means the funds have been allocated but there is no scheme to match them. The Government is continuing to deliberate on devising a scheme which might meet what it wants to do but one is not yet in place. No target is known as to how many houses will be delivered. The Minister of State mentioned the repair and leasing scheme, to which another €32 million is being allocated on the basis that it will achieve 800 new units in the coming year. It only got seven this year, notwithstanding the provision of many millions also. What amendments have been made to the scheme to ensure it works now in order that this time next year we can say 800 units emanated from it? Would the Government not be better advised to allow the funding to be matched with the Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill we proposed and which the House agreed some weeks ago?

The funding allocated to urban regeneration projects follows the commitment in the programme for Government. My working group has had numerous meetings over the past year and before on the changes we need to make to get this money spent. The scheme is not finalised because the money was only allocated in the budget. We had not secured it until the weeks before the Budget Statement. It is something we have been seeking for a while and it has now been secured. In conjunction with local authorities, we will now make decisions on how it will be rolled out. It is about trying to achieve an impact in key areas. We envisage local authorities picking the key areas and bringing them forward in order that resources can be focused across numerous Departments to achieve real urban regeneration. To clarify, the funding is not specifically for housing. I think the Deputy will agree with that. However, it will tap into other housing schemes and, in some cases, bring back housing units. The Deputy had a Bill here himself on other buildings where he wants to see a change of use. Part of this will be to encourage that and bring buildings back into use in key areas in towns.

There is great potential in the repair and leasing scheme. We have changes to announce around that but the Deputy does not want us to keep announcing things. As such, we cannot really announce it here tonight. Changes will be brought forward to improve the scheme. I have repeatedly asked the Deputy, his colleagues and their party councillors to help drive this scheme which has great potential nationally. There have been more than 550 applications and people have expressed an interest in the scheme. While very few applications have been completed, there is a lot of interest and the scheme has great potential. I ask the Deputy and his colleagues to help us promote it.

It is a total and abject failure. While there were 500 applicants, only seven were approved because the criteria associated with the scheme do not meet the market demand. There is no harm putting one's hands up and saying it did not work out and will be changed to encourage the market to get involved in the scheme. I have told the Minister of State that there is universal approval of the Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill we put before the House. The funds in this failed entity should be transferred and geared towards legislation that can help in that way. The Minister of State should not tell me the scheme has potential when there is a budget to deliver 800 units but only seven were delivered. It is not going to happen.

The Deputy and many others complimented the scheme when we first rolled it out as one which could work. We recognise that we can make changes and we are going to do so. The Deputy keeps telling us to stop making announcements so we cannot tell him tonight about the changes to the scheme which will improve it. It has great potential which the Deputy and I can both see. He often refers to premises in his own county which need refurbishment, and this scheme is perfect for them. However, there has been a very slow buy-in. We will change the scheme to make it more attractive which it is hoped will encourage more people in. The potential is there to achieve renewal of accommodation as well as to supply social housing.

We agree with a great deal of what is in Fianna Fáil's Bill and we are trying to bring it forward to make changes to planning around change of use. The €50 million which has been set aside will help to drive some of the ideas discussed in the Bill, with which we all agree. As I have said, €50 million will not be enough and we will need a great deal more in the years ahead to drive urban regeneration in the many towns and villages that have suffered for 20 or 30 years and not just the last ten.

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers

Housing Assistance Payment

Richard Boyd Barrett


16. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he envisages reaching the housing assistance payment, HAP, targets in Rebuilding Ireland in view of current rent prices and supply problems in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45301/17]

It is envisaged that there will be 17,000 HAP tenancies next year. How on earth is the Government going to achieve that given the extent of rents, in particular in parts of Dublin? They are far in excess of HAP limits. I do not see how the Government can possibly deliver in the areas where they are needed most the HAP tenancies the Minister imagines will be delivered next year.

The housing assistance payment, or HAP, offers opportunity to families already living in the private rental sector and who require long-term assistance with their housing needs by allowing them to increase their income without the risk of losing their housing support, unlike rent supplement. Therefore, it offers families more security and allows them to plan for their future.  HAP will continue to be a flexible support available to assist people with their long-term housing needs immediately as their need arises. There are currently more than 28,500 households and 20,000 landlords and agents taking part in the scheme. On average, more than 350 households have been set up on HAP each week in 2017.

I am aware that concerns have been expressed regarding the availability of sufficient rental properties to achieve the level of ambition set out for HAP. From experience, about one third of new households receiving HAP for the first time have transferred from rent supplement in an existing tenancy; another third are households who were not in receipt of rent supplement and so are receiving financial support for the first time and are in an existing tenancy; and the last third are households who are also receiving financial support for the first time but are moving into a new tenancy with the help of HAP support. This means that two thirds of HAP tenants are being supported within existing tenancies, while one third, or roughly 100 per week, are using HAP to secure new accommodation that they are finding on  the rental market. Budget 2018 has increased Exchequer funding for the HAP scheme by €149 million to €301 million to meet the continuing costs of existing households and the costs of meeting the additional 17,000 households, to which the Deputy referred, targeted under Rebuilding Ireland, to be supported by HAP in 2018. I am satisfied with the operation and resourcing of HAP and I am confident that we can meet the targets set under Rebuilding Ireland.

It is all very well setting out the theory and the plan. We know we have not met almost any target set by this Government over recent years.

We met the targets this year and last year.

They are not being met in my area.

They were not that ambitious.

I want the Minister to answer me, not just give me the script. While I am sure other Members will say the same about other parts of Dublin, in south Dublin in particular, there is no chance of securing significant numbers of HAP tenancies. There are 14 properties available to rent in total for everybody in the Dún Laoghaire area, the cheapest of which, a one-bed, is €1,400. The HAP limit for that is €900. The cheapest two-bed is €1,600, while the HAP limit is €1,275. The cheapest three-bed is €2,200, while the HAP limit is €1,300. The cheapest four-bed is €2,400, while the HAP limit is just €1,375. That is the reason people in our area are now in homeless accommodation or sleeping in cars.

HAP is simply not viable. What are we supposed to do where HAP is just not going to happen in certain areas? Side by side with the above, private development is taking place of houses which are completely unaffordable to people on the list. If we could get them for social and affordable housing, we might solve the problem. However, there is no effort being made to get a higher proportion of Part V provision or of social and affordable housing in the construction that is taking place. We just get the fantasy of HAP.

The housing assistance payment plan has worked to date and we have been able to secure accommodation for people who need our help using this support. Where we have encountered difficulties, we have put in place things like the HAP place-finder service which we are now rolling out nationally.

That will help with issues such as the deposit and the first month's rent, which is important. I also introduced homeless HAP, which allows for greater flexibility to both keep people in their accommodation and prevent them from falling into emergency accommodation and services and to help those who have left accommodation to return to secure accommodation through these supports. The changes we have made in rolling out HAP have helped us to make sure the scheme is working and we will continue to make changes as needed to make sure we get the delivery from the scheme that we require. Approximately 20,000 landlords and agents are working with us to help more families and individuals into HAP accommodation. What the Deputy reads on daft.ie or on the rental market is not a true reflection of what might be available in HAP supports.

The RPZs are the high-demand areas and that will help us with massive inflation in rental costs over the period of the zones. The trend in the first two quarters of data for this year tells us that rent inflation this year versus last year will be approximately half. That will help us again to meet our HAP targets going into next year if that trend continues for the final two quarters of this year and into next year.

New homes are being built. One dataset, which is not complete, shows an exceptional increase in September in comparison to the previous month based on year-on-year projections. Those new homes will come on line.

The Minister of State referred to the repair and lease scheme. It has not worked to date in the way we wanted it to and changes are coming shortly. I will announce those even though Deputy Cowen said he does not want to hear any more announcements.

Only good announcements.

It is important that we let people know exactly how the scheme will work. We will try to make sure the scheme works in conjunction with Deputy Cowen's legislation. Those leases will be for social housing, which will come on stream next year.

If HAP works in certain areas, happy days. I am delighted with anything that keeps people out of homeless accommodation. However, in south Dublin, accommodation is not available under HAP and I would like the Minister to address this. I would like Government Members to get this into their heads. There is quite a lot of expensive accommodation. Ten times more rental accommodation is available for in excess of €3,000 a month than for under €1,500 a month. There is lots of accommodation that nobody can afford but no accommodation that people on HAP can afford. That problem will be exacerbated because of the proportion of private housing being built for the market currently. Even when the houses come on stream, they will still be unaffordable because they will be priced above the HAP limits and, therefore, even the medium-term and long-term plan will not address the problem in south Dublin. Will the Minister get that into his head and then we can start to move towards solutions?

I am not sure what data the Deputy is basing his figures on. If he is basing it on the figure someone is putting up on a website as the rent they would like to get, that does not mean it will be the rent he or she will get.

Is the Minister kidding me? People are fighting each other.

Let them pay the excessive rents then. That will free up more stock for people on social housing supports to get them into those other tenancies and that is what we will do. Where the Deputy has had individual problems with people trying to access accommodation through social housing supports, the Department has worked with him to get them help and get them into accommodation. That is what is the HAP place finder is there for. It is working and that is why we are expanding it outside Dublin, which I announced at the housing summit, to help people into accommodation. As we have needed to make changes to the scheme, as we did during the year, including the roll-out of the place finder service outside Dublin and the introduction of homeless HAP, we have done so to make sure we can rely on the private rented sector until we get more homes built. If the Deputy looks at the progress under Rebuilding Ireland until 2021, in the final years our reliance on HAP will be less than our reliance on direct builds, acquisitions and long-term leasing. We are rebalancing this in favour of direct State intervention and supports for social housing tenants but until we get there, we will rely more on HAP.

The Minister will have welts on his hands from turning sods.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.