Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Pyrite Remediation Programme

Darragh O'Brien


40. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of homes that have accessed the pyrite remediation scheme; the number of applications refused; the number due to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1587/19]

I tabled this question to seek an update on the progress of the pyrite remediation scheme, which we have discussed on many occasions. I want to get a picture of the number of applications refused and the number completed, and also what plans there are within the Department to expand the scheme and to carry out a formal review of it. I am conscious it has helped some 1,000 homes to be remediated but a lot more needs to be done. I ask that the Minister of State provides an update and explains what plans there are within the Department to expand the pyrite scheme.

The pyrite remediation scheme is a scheme of last resort for affected homeowners who have no other practical option to obtain redress and it is limited in its application and scope.

The full conditions for eligibility under the scheme are set out on the Pyrite Resolution Board's website.

The latest figures available indicate that a total of 2,243 applications relating to the pyrite remediation scheme have been received to date. Some 1,801 of the dwellings to which these relate have been included in the scheme and the applicants have been notified accordingly. A further 94 applications have been validated and referred to the Housing Agency for the assessment and verification process, while another 199 are at the initial application and validation stage. There were 149 unsuccessful applications under the scheme. Of the 1,801 dwellings included in the scheme to date, 174 are at remedial works planning stage, 27 are at tender and tender analysis stage, 268 are under remediation and 1,332 have had remediation works completed.

A sum of €32 million is available to fund the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme this year. This allocation will facilitate the remediation of some 460 additional dwellings and is a clear signal of the continuing importance attached by the Government to addressing the issue of significant pyritic damage in private dwellings.

Sorry, I did not catch that.

We expect 460 homes to be dealt with by means of the 2019 budget. That will probably deal with most of the applications that are on hand or coming through the system.

The Deputy asked what we are doing to reform or expand the scheme. This is the largest sum of money we have ever invested in the scheme. We want to deal with all of the applications as quickly as possible. A great deal of progress has been made and the problems with many homes have been rectified. People are very happy about that. Sufficient money has been allocated next year. This is the largest budget - €32 million - ever provided in respect of the scheme and it will fund all of the 460 houses coming through the system. There are no plans to expand the scheme per se. Naturally, we are always trying to bring more clarity. The issues that have arisen have been dealt with and the advice has been passed to the board. Hopefully, the board will progress some of them also.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. There is no doubt that a number of homes have been remediated. The Minister of State has gone through the figures in that regard. We have set the bar very high, however. The homes that have been remediated are in category 2 whereby the pyrite level is above that set down in the Pyrite Resolution Act but many other homeowners have been left in limbo. The Minister of State will be familiar with these people because some of them reside in his constituency. They have no last resort in circumstances in which their insurers, Home Bond and others have walked away. I refer to those whose homes which have category 1 pyrite damage. Such damage is not sufficient to qualify for inclusion in the scheme but it nevertheless renders people's homes valueless. Those to whom I refer cannot sell their homes. Are any measures being considered in this regard? I hope we will look at expanding the scheme to deal with these people and give them some hope. At the very least, we should consider that where such individuals carry out remediation work themselves, they should get the tax back or be permitted to write off the costs against future income. There are thousands of people who have been unable to access the scheme. Respectfully, I note that the reason there were only 149 unsuccessful applications is that people with category 1 damage are not applying to the scheme because they know they will be refused.

The Deputy highlights a difficulty. The recommendation and plan was that the scheme should be there to fund homes which had significant damage and required immediate attention. That is happening. There is also the issue of a number of houses which have signs of or which have tested positive for pyrite but where there is no significant damage. We have had this conversation and we have put this on the table in other places. It is clear that to spend up to €70,000 on a house which is not yet showing damage and which does not yet require attention is not the best use of money for which there are competing demands. As the Deputy states, however, there is a category of people who are in limbo. We have discussed the matter ourselves. I have been unable to find a way to deal with that matter but we are open to suggestions. We do not plan to reopen the scheme to do that but we have tried to work through different solutions with different people. The issue relating to the date has been addressed through legal advice and I have met the chairperson of the board and her staff in order to provide clarity. That will help some of those who have made appeals and who ought to have known the closing off date of 2013.

Are they being allowed in now?

The Deputy will have a further minute to ask questions.

We have brought some legal clarity to that and this will help with some of the cases to which the Deputy referred.

We are going to adhere to the times today. Deputy Darragh O'Brien has a minute to ask a further question or questions and the Minister of State will have a further minute to reply.

Tá an-bhrón orm, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

We will set a good example.

We will do our best; it is the first day back. I would be interested to hear more about the extension of the date to allow in applicants who purchased homes after the initial date. I have met the Minister of State to discuss that matter, as have other Deputies. Unbeknownst to those people, they bought homes with category 2 pyrite damage but they cannot get into the scheme. Our work will remain incomplete if we fail to provide some option for those with category 1 pyrite damage because they have nowhere else to go. It is a last-resort remediation scheme, which I debated prior to its implementation with the then Minister, Phil Hogan. I was involved in putting the scheme together with the Minister of State, Deputy English, and others. It was always intended to review the scheme with the potential to expand it. While category 1 damage is not deemed significant within the meaning of the scheme, the home is nevertheless worth nothing and one cannot move on. I know the Minister of State understands that those people are left in limbo. A formal review of the scheme through the joint committee would be a way to proceed. We must look at other options here because there are hundreds of households with nowhere to go. Time does not permit further questions on the fact that no appeals have been granted.

No. I call the Minister of State.

There are no plans for a formal review. I am not sure that such a review would solve the problem.

The issue, as we have discussed here and elsewhere, including at meetings with residents, is the difficulty in justifying that level of expenditure on houses which do not necessarily require it at present. We are conscious, however, that people are left in a situation whereby they may not be able to sell their homes. While we are open to teasing this out, I have asked many Deputies whether they could justify spending that money and they have said they could not. As such, we need to find some other solution. I am happy to engage around that but I am not convinced a formal review of the scheme will solve it. We all worked hard to set up the scheme in the first place in 2011 to 2013 and there was a hope then that a levy could be put in place in order to secure funding for this matter. That was not possible and we have had to rely on taxpayers' money to fund remediation in recent years. While some great work has been achieved, there is a category of people who do not necessarily have severe damage now but who nevertheless have a problem in that they are stuck with owning the house. I am happy to engage with the Deputy on that in the months ahead. The money has been set aside to finish dealing with the houses that have passed the testing to date.

On the legal issue, it is not that we have extended the date but that we have addressed the category of persons who ought to have known. The Department took legal advice from the Attorney General and provided it to the board which will proceed to decide cases on the basis of it.

Can the Minister of State circulate that?

I cannot give the Deputy the legal advice, but I can circulate the opinion we have provided to the board.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


41. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he will take to increase the delivery of both social housing new builds and affordable private market homes for 2019 (details supplied). [1627/19]

Darragh O'Brien


42. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of affordable housing targets for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1588/19]

The housing supply co-ordination task force report for quarter 3 was published on 20 December last. While it indicated that there were some positive signs, there were also worrying data contained in the report, in particular a 50% reduction in the number of houses under construction in Dublin city compared to quarter 3 of 2017. The reduction was 20% when the city and greater Dublin region were taken together. Is the Minister concerned about this and can he provide the House with an explanation as to why it is the case? Is it something that will be rectified in quarter 4 report when published?

Before the Minister replies, I note Questions Nos. 41 and 42 are being answered together. Only the person who tabled the first question is given an initial 30 seconds but each Deputy will have a full allocation of time for supplementary questions.

I thank Deputies Ó Broin and Darragh O'Brien for Questions Nos. 41 and 42 which I propose to answer together.

In the first nine months of 2018, some 18,781 additional social housing solutions were provided across all local authorities, representing 74% of the overall 2018 annual target of 25,469. Within these overall numbers, the 2018 build target was for the delivery of 4,969 social housing homes, 2,369, or 48%, of which had been delivered by the end of quarter 3. My Department continued to work intensively with local authorities and approved housing bodies over the course of quarter 4 with a view to maximising delivery to year end and I expect to be in a position to provide indicative full-year delivery data in the coming weeks. I will also be setting 2019 social housing delivery targets for each local authority. I am satisfied that the significant expansion in the social housing construction programme over the course of 2018 provides a strong platform for increased build activity this year.

Affordable housing is being facilitated through a range of measures. Under the serviced sites fund, €310 million will be made available from 2019 until 2021 to fund the provision of facilitating infrastructure on local authority sites to support the construction of over 6,000 affordable homes. In response to a first call for proposals under the fund, I issued approval last month for funding for infrastructure projects costing €43 million. This funding will support the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes.

I expect to issue a second call for proposals under the fund shortly.

Dublin City Council is working to deliver almost 250 affordable homes at O'Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road, with some 380 cost rental homes being progressed through pilot projects at St. Michael's estate in Inchicore and at Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, will also yield an affordable housing dividend, with some 2,350 affordable homes being facilitated on sites benefiting from LIHAF funding. A further 5,600 homes will benefit from a LIHAF-related cost reduction. To support further delivery, the Land Development Agency, which was established late last year, is actively pursuing the development of an initial tranche of eight sites yielding 3,000 homes, 30% of which will be affordable homes. The timescales for the delivery of affordable housing will be one of the issues I will explore further as part of my next engagement with chief executives of local authorities in the coming weeks. In 2019, record funding of €2.4 billion is being made available to support activity in respect of housing programmes generally. I am confident that this will underpin a further significant increase in momentum across all local authorities this year.

The most recent data show the continuation of some very positive trends with regard to broader housing supply. They indicate that we remain on track to reach the 25,000 target for new home delivery by 2020 as envisaged under Rebuilding Ireland. Planning permissions were up 62% in the year to the end of September 2018. Commencements have more than doubled since the end of 2015, with over 21,000 commencements in the year to October 2018. According to CSO data, some 20,396 new homes became available for use in the year to the end of September 2018. House prices and housing affordability vary significantly across the country. In the year to October 2018, the median house price nationally was €244,999. It was highest in Dublin, at €365,000. Median prices were as low as €100,000 in some areas. In terms of supporting home ownership, nearly 9,500 applications have been approved under the help to buy scheme. It is estimated that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which was introduced last year, saw over 500 loan drawdowns by the end of 2018. Delivery across all parts of the housing spectrum will continue to be afforded the highest priority by the Government over the course of this year.

Every new home that is built is welcome. Any increase in supply is also to be welcomed. I think the Minister is guilty of presenting too rosy a picture. I would appreciate it if he could address two specific issues, the first of which is private housing output. One of the most worrying aspects of the recent report of the Housing Supply Coordination Taskforce for Dublin is the indication that in the third quarter of last year, there was a 50% decrease in total construction activity in Dublin city and a 20% decrease in such activity in the Dublin region as a whole. I would like the Minister to explain this very worrying development. Does he think this trend will continue?

The other issue I would like him to address is the social housing supply pipeline report, which we have discussed previously at the joint committee. According to the report, just 35% of last year's target number of new-build social houses had been built by the end of the third quarter of 2018. I am not a great fan of the leases that represent a large component of the Minister's targets. The report in question indicated that just 20% or 25% of the leasing target had been achieved. Can the Minister guarantee that all social housing targets will be met in full by the end of this year? Will he respond specifically to the concerns that have been expressed about private sector output in Dublin city and in the Dublin region?

The report mentioned by the Deputy in his first question represents a snapshot in time, rather than a trend over a 12-month period. There was a reduction in the statistic in question because completions were up, which is a very welcome development. As I said in my initial reply, over 25,000 new homes were made available to live in over the 12-month period up to the end of September 2018. There is no getting away from the fact that this marks a dramatic improvement on what was delivered in the previous 12-month period, up to the end of September 2017, and in the year before that. It is not about painting a rosy picture; it is about speaking to the facts which show that supply has been increasing dramatically.

The Deputy also asked about the information that is available with regard to social housing completions up to the end of the third quarter of last year. Between 35% and 40% of the build programme for the year had been completed by that date. Significantly, this marked an 80% increase on what had been achieved by the third quarter of 2017. This shows that local authorities had done a significant amount of additional work in a similar time period. We also saw that much more activity was happening in the fourth quarter of 2017. A big number of completions happened in that quarter. Similar questions were asked about third quarter data in 2017. We saw a dramatic increase in completions in the fourth quarter of that year because of the way the build programme is programmed and budgeted towards a strong level of delivery at the end of the year. As I said in my initial reply, in a couple of weeks I will be able to verify exactly what the 2018 output was in respect of build, acquisition and leasing, as well as other targets under Rebuilding Ireland.

The questions being asked by my colleague and me are probably being asked in the dark. The Minister has said it will probably be another two weeks before we know to what extent the 2018 targets were delivered on in that period. I would like to know what indications the Minister may already have. He has spoken about the delivery of housing solutions in the social housing category. One of the features of Rebuilding Ireland is an over-reliance on the housing assistance payment and on short-term letting as ways of deeming that people have had their housing needs met. Rental solutions and housing assistance payments were used to deliver two thirds of all homes delivered up to the third quarter of last year. I ask the Minister to provide an update on that.

I would like to ask a specific question about affordable homes. Has the Minister set a target for 2019? What will that target be? When will he publish the criteria governing how people can apply for an affordable housing scheme? Will such applications be made? When will such a scheme open?

The Deputy asked about the 2018 output. At the moment, we have an indicative idea of returns from some local authorities. We are compiling those returns with a view to publishing them before the end of the month. I can give that commitment today. I expect we will see in those returns that some local authorities have exceeded their targets for the year across the different streams, and others have not done so. The reason I said at the housing summit in January of last year that I would commit to targets for each local authority was that I wanted full transparency on exactly what is happening. We know from the work we have done here in this Dáil that funding has been made available, the policy is there and the resources are there. Some local authorities have been very quick to ramp up their delivery of social housing, but others have not been as quick. In a couple of weeks, we will publish the outputs against the targets that were published last year. This will enable us to see exactly where each local authority is succeeding - for example, on the builds side. Some local authorities might be doing more leasing than other local authorities. We will be able to see where other local authorities are not as successful. I hope this type of transparency will enable us to help local authorities that are not doing as well to up their games and match those local authorities that are doing well, for example in the context of the increase in social housing we are now seeing.

I expect that because of the increase in social housing stock that happened over the course of 2018, we will find that fewer housing assistance payments were made in 2018 than in the previous year. Again, I will be able to verify that very shortly.

The Deputy's final question related to affordability schemes. It is important for those schemes to open in a time horizon that is significant to the actual houses that are being completed.

The first few sites have been awarded in those local authorities. The second sites are now going through a process. Other local authorities are doing economic analyses of the affordability requirements in their own areas. As they come through, the Department will be able to work with local authorities on individual schemes.

The quarter-on-quarter comparisons are a valuable way of looking at this issue, particularly because building is affected by the climate. That is one of the reasons the task force report makes such comparisons. It is a concern that the total level of construction in the city of Dublin, where housing need is greatest, is 50% lower than it was this time last year. I am not clear on why that reduction is the case. Rather than dismissing the question, it would be better for the Minister to give us an explanation, if he has one, of why there has been such a dramatic reduction by comparison with the same quarter in the previous year. It is clear from the CSO figures that the total number of completions did not increase significantly in the third quarter of 2018 by comparison with the third quarter of 2017. The number of units was 900 in each year. While 900 extra homes is welcome, I do not think the Minister can call it "dramatic". I will ask the same question again. Is the Minister concerned about the central figure which shows that the total level of construction of new homes in Dublin city was 50% lower in the third quarter of last year than it was in the same quarter the previous year? The year-on-year reduction in the Dublin region as a whole was 20%. Does he have an explanation for that? Is he confident that the drop in total construction is a one-off? Is he confident that when we see the figures for the fourth quarter, we will see a levelling off or possibly an increase?

I want to follow up on what has been said about the timeframe for the affordable housing scheme. As the Minister knows, one of Fianna Fáil's major requests with regard to the housing budget prior to budget 2019 was that an affordable housing scheme would be established. Since 2012, house prices have exploded by approximately 90%. The average house price in Dublin is approximately €368,000, which is six and a half times the average household income. This shows that an affordable housing scheme for working people is urgently needed, especially in our urban centres. Such a scheme would be of particular benefit to first-time buyers because it would give them some hope. I am trying to get a handle on whether the Government has set a delivery target for 2019. I understand that it takes time to get sites. I also understand that a number of local authorities responded to the first call, although some of them did not. Questions need to be asked about why some of them did not respond to the call for housing.

I want to get some specific targets and timelines regarding when we will see delivery of affordable homes for working people.

I thank the Deputies for those questions. It is important to note that while the Government supports subsidised housing schemes or affordable schemes, this does not mean that there are not affordable houses currently available in the market separate from those schemes. If we note the number of transactions in housing up to the end of October 2018, including first-hand and second-hand homes, there were 53,000 transactions. One in two of those transactions would have involved amounts of less than €250,000. Obviously, as we look more towards somewhere like Dublin, one in two of such transactions would have been for less than €320,000 - the median price. There are more challenges there and that is the reason we directed the first call at those local authorities in whose areas the affordability challenge is the greatest. There are targets in those first schemes that were approved and we are now working with the second tranche in order to get them in line in terms of providing those schemes and getting houses built. We are also looking at other ways of being able to deliver the serviced sites fund in a more truncated timeline than had previously been envisaged, even when we were having our discussions on the budget. Affordability is a key concern for everyone in the House. There is more that we have to do and we are constantly examining the position in order to see how we might improve matters.

I do not have the quarter 3 report in front of me. However, I recall thinking at the time that the way in which the material it contains was dealt with was funny and that perhaps it might have been misleading because what it seemed to imply was that construction in Dublin was down when this is simply not the case. Construction, planning permissions and completions are up. My understanding is that the reason matters looked like that in quarter 3 was because more completions had been done and therefore those active sites had closed. I put a caveat on that because I do no have the report in front of me, but it is true to say that when we look at construction in 2018 and when we have the final figures for quarter 4, we will see that it is up dramatically in every part of the country on what it was in 2018, particularly in Dublin. Planning permissions continue to increase as do commencement notices and completions. We like to use the new CSO completions data which I requested when I first came into office. We will have those figures. The Central Bank is estimating 19,000 completions for 2018. We believe the figure will be between 18,000 and 20,000. We will wait for those final figures and the number will be up again in 2019.

Social and Affordable Housing Data

Jan O'Sullivan


43. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of social homes completed in 2018 by local authorities and approved housing bodies; the number of void units restored and reallocated; the way in which he plans to ensure that the system delivers the number of homes that are needed annually to address the crisis in homelessness and housing need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1694/19]

My question is specifically regarding the delivery of social homes. It refers to the delivery report for quarter 3. I know the Minister does not have final figures for the end of the year. I am seeking to find out the number of social homes delivered in so far as he can tell us, also the number of void units restored and reallocated, and what he intends to do to ensure this year the required number of social homes for people on housing waiting lists will be delivered.

I thank the Deputy for her question. Over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government is committed to meeting the housing needs of more than 137,000 households. With funding of more than €6 billion in place, significant progress on implementation of the plan has already been made.

The most recent data available, which are published on my Department’s website, show that by end September of last year, more than 63,700 additional social housing solutions had been provided; 18,781 of these were delivered in the first nine months of 2018 alone, representing 74% of the target for the year as a whole. This included more than 4,500 build, acquisition and leased homes delivered by local authorities and approved housing bodies. Regarding the voids programme, some 605 voids were funded by my Department in the first three quarters of last year. The issue of efficient tenanting of social housing is, of course, a matter for each local authority.

Data in regard to fourth quarter of 2018 are currently being compiled and will be published shortly. I am satisfied from the information currently available that it will show a strong performance versus our overall national target for the year.

The picture will vary from one local authority area to another in terms of what was achieved. Last January, I committed to publishing individual targets for housing delivery in each local authority area in 2018, to enable greater transparency and accountability when it comes to increasing the stock of social housing. The Government has committed more than €6 billion to Rebuilding Ireland and it is vital that taxpayer funding is used efficiently and transparently to deliver new homes.

Targets for 2018 were published and, in conjunction with delivery information for the fourth quarter of last year, I will shortly publish full-year delivery details by local authority, measured against the targets set at the beginning of the year. Following another housing summit later this month, this process will be repeated for 2019.

With the policy, resources and funding in place, it is up to local authorities to ensure delivery. I will continue to work with them to ensure the accelerated delivery of much needed homes for our citizens.

From the information he has to hand, does the Minister believe the targets will be achieved? In response to a previous question, he indicated he had got some information back. Does he expect the targets specifically for the building of social housing, as opposed to all the other delivery methods he talks about, will be achieved, both by local authorities and approved housing bodies?

The Minister has shown initiative regarding, for example, St. Michael's Estate. He has just said he expects there will be fewer HAP scheme solutions in the coming year. That is welcome. Will he use the public land available in the context of providing solutions such as cost-rental in order to increase the number of social houses that are being built and move away from reliance on the private sector? Such reliance developed largely because there was not the capacity to build social housing, but we should be over that now. We should be at a point whereby councils can deliver with the support of his Department. Will he ensure that there will be no obstacles or delays in the context of delivering the kind of social housing that most people who come to our clinics want, namely, secure council homes as opposed to insecure private sector homes?

I thank the Deputy for her question. Every delivery mechanism that increases the stock of social housing is important. That is why we have a number of such mechanisms. In the event that a particular mechanism is not successful in a given period or year, we can then make up the shortfall using other delivery streams. It is important to have that kind of redundancy in place. If there are shocks that we have not anticipated, that might potentially take one stream of delivery away but we have others on which we can rely. As a result, we will never be in a situation where there is nothing happening in the context of the delivery of social housing.

What I expect to see with, for example, voids - we discussed this matter at a meeting of the relevant joint committee in December - is that we will exceed our target. However, we will still only count the number we identified in the context initially. This means that even though we will complete work on more voids than originally envisaged, we will not count above the ceiling we have in respect of our target. I also indicated to the joint committee that we will probably exceed our target for acquisitions. I know that we will do so because I had to allocate extra funding towards the end of the year when I received additional supplementary funding approved by Cabinet in respect of further acquisitions. Part of the reason for this was that leasing was not happening in some areas in the way we hoped.

When the numbers have been finalised - this will certainly happen prior to the housing summit, which is scheduled for the end of the month - I will provide the Deputy with a breakdown of the targets per local authority in order that she can see which local authorities exceeded their targets and which did not. We can then have a conversation on the reason this might have happened.

What does the Minister intend to do about the councils that are not reaching their targets? If there are targets, they should be reached. If the problems are in his Department as opposed to with the councils - which is what some of them would argue - we need to know. If the problems are with specific councils, we need to know that as well. Either way, we need to see social houses built because whatever he may say about acquisitions, leasing and so on, ultimately, what we need to see is more houses built through the public sector through using public land. The private sector will deliver a certain amount but, ultimately, what he can control is what is built on public land with public money.

Will the Minister be open, for example, to increasing the number of sites used for cost-rental? Will he be open to extending the number of public affordable and social houses that will be built on the land owned by the State as opposed to the private sector? That is what we have put forward in our proposals, namely, that we have a lot of public land and we should be building social and affordable housing on that public land as opposed to facilitating the private developers building on that land.

I thank the Deputy for that question. She is absolutely right regarding what I can control. That is why I wanted to bring transparency in terms of what local authorities are doing when it comes to social housing delivery. We secure funding and put the policy in place and then the local authorities are given the resources. Ultimately, it is the local authorities that are responsible for delivery. We work with them in order to facilitate this. By having targets for each local authority area across the different streams and then publishing the actual output against that, we can see what they have done.

We have held a number of housing summits. On this occasion, the summit will be a little different. It will be held on two separate half days. Those who are performing very strongly will attend on one of the days and those who are not performing as strongly will attend on the other. The authorities that are not performing as well as others face different challenges and needs in terms of what must be worked through. By using mechanisms such as those to which I refer, we can work with local authorities to overcome some of the kinks that might still exist in certain areas.

The data for the third quarter show that it was up by 80% on the third quarter of 2017. They are increasing the number of social housing homes being built and I expect them to continue with a great drive throughout 2019, as I expect them to have done in the final quarter of 2018. I want cost rental to be a major component of our rental market. It cannot be put in place overnight but we are working on a project on St. Michael's Estate and will talk with the European Investment Bank, EIB, again in December about funding for this. I met LDA officials in their offices to talk about how I think some of those key sites which are close to the core urban centres could be appropriate for cost rental. Public land for public housing is at the core of our policies.

Social and Affordable Housing Funding

Darragh O'Brien


44. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the development of a special purpose vehicle, SPV, by the Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, for the investment of funds in social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1589/19]

The credit union movement has for over five years been advocating using its €10 billion or so in assets in investment in social good, particularly in social housing. It is a policy that my party and I support. I raised this with the Minister in September. Is the SPV, which was approved by the Central Bank in February 2018, open to accept funds from the credit union sector? Have any of those funds been received? Have those funds been invested in social or affordable housing?

The Government is committed to this. It was an action in Rebuilding Ireland, whereby we would work with the Central Bank and Department of Finance to make this an option. Work was completed a year ago, in February 2018. The Central Bank made a recommendation about how credit unions could invest their available funding into the social housing sector. That has been provided for and work since that has been funded to try to develop the mechanisms to make that happen. Supported by funding assistance from my Department's innovation fund, work has been undertaken by the ICSH to support six of the larger approved housing bodies, AHBs, to access private finance.

This work is being undertaken by the ICSH in three phases, the first two of which, are designed to test the market interest in investing in social housing and the appetite among AHBs for private finance, have been completed. While the ICSH had hoped to complete the final phase of the work, focused on the structuring of SPVs, by late autumn last year, this work is ongoing. We had this discussion in late autumn of last year when we said it was nearly complete.

I understand that one of the issues that has given rise to the delay in concluding the work is the need to take account of other private finance arrangements and vehicles that certain AHBs have put in place in parallel. Three AHBs have been successful in accessing private finance from financial institutions to deliver new social housing. These financial institutions have their own specific requirements for lending and investing. One of the institutions included a requirement that the AHB concerned establish its own SPV, while the other two arrangements did not seek the establishment of such a vehicle, working instead through bilateral loan agreements with the AHBs. I expect that the ICSH will have concluded phase 3 of their work by end of quarter one this year. I certainly hope so because, like Deputy O'Brien, we would like to see the credit union money that is available being invested in social housing where it gives good value and can benefit projects. When we discussed this last autumn, I made it clear that the credit union sector was ready and available and had a vehicle ready for investment to happen and was engaged with the AHB sector to invest money.

I thank the Minister of State for the clarification, which was needed. That is a different response from the one he gave on 27 September.

It is the same response.

I would check the record if I was the Minister of State. He effectively said that the work was complete and he was ready to launch the SPV at that stage. That is a different answer from the one on 27 September. It was nearly put back on the credit union sector at the time and he nearly apportioned blame to it for not seeking to enter the SPV and move forward. That is a very different response to the one he gave on 27 September. I welcome that clarification. I take it that this is the up-to-date and the correct version of where we are, not the one he gave me on 27 September. When will the project be completed, when will it be launched, how much of it will be used and will the credit unions, under Central Bank rules, be eligible to invest in this special purpose vehicle?

I refer to what I said last year. I do not have the exact words in front of me but I was clear that we are not launching an SPV. We cannot do that and it is not our job. We have helped the sector to develop the SPV. We have given advice to the innovation fund. It is up to that sector. One of the credit union representative bodies has an SPV ready to go. That is what I said last year and have said again. It is called the Credit Union Development Association, CUDA. The Deputy can contact it himself and the representative body will tell him all about it as well. It has an SPV ready for investment. That is what I said last autumn and I am happy to repeat that. It is open for business and would like to invest some of the money from its membership into social housing. The SPV being designed by the ICSH is being worked on. It hoped to complete it last autumn. It will be completed in this quarter and will be available for credit unions in general. I was clear last year that one of the credit union representative bodies, CUDA, is ready and able and wants to invest. The Deputy can check the record.

I certainly will. I wrote to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, at the turn of the new year, seeking clarification on exactly where that was. I have listed a number of questions that need to be answered. I ask the Minister of State to clear up this confusion. The position that he has outlined is being contradicted by others-----

That does not contradict what I said.

The Minister of State does not have to say anything.

I said the same thing.

Be reasonable about this. I ask Deputy O'Brien to make his point.

It is not true. He cannot keep saying that.

I can because it is true.

We will start the clock again at one minute. Deputy O'Brien is entitled to make the point and the Minister of State is entitled to answer it.

He cannot keep saying that I said something else.

I am surprised that the Minister of State does not have more respect for the Chair.

With respect, this is the third time-----

It would be sad if I had to stand during Question Time. Any Member has a right to make a point. The Minister of State will have a right to answer. Please do not interject. I am only complying with the rules of the House.

If the Minister of State interjects, I will move on to the next question. I am always reasonable.

I ask the Minister of State to watch the clock in future.

I am seeking answers and clarification. Not one cent of credit union money has been invested in social housing. As the Minister of State said, this was proposed in Rebuilding Ireland and the programme for Government. It was also mentioned in the confidence and supply document and I want it delivered. Most Members want a new stream of funding that will help to build the Minister's social homes and ramp that up. We need clarification. That is why I wrote to the Minister in the new year, asking a series of questions. To be helpful with this, and not to try to get the Minister of State excited again, will he meet representatives of the credit union sector and the Irish League of Credit Unions to clarify where he sees this process going? We all want to see this delivered. I want this model of funding for social homes to be delivered. Fianna Fáil wants it delivered but there are many unanswered questions, which require clarification.

I am happy to meet representatives of the sector. We want the money invested in it and I cannot be any clearer than that. It is in black and white in Rebuilding Ireland that we want this to happen. We worked hard to make it happen. It should be happening. There is money to be invested. Mechanisms have been designed by one credit union organisation and a SPV is ready to go. I made an appeal to AHBs, if they want to use that money, to engage with that sector. Another model is being designed in conjunction with the ICSH which we cannot implement as a Department and Government. We cannot design it for the credit union sector. It has to design its own. That work has been ongoing. It was not completed last autumn and is still not complete. It expects to complete it this quarter. That is one process. There is another process which is ready. I wish the Deputy would not repeatedly say that I gave the wrong impression last year. I said last year, when I was speaking to the sector, that there were mechanisms to draw down credit union money. I encourage that they be used. I would be happy to meet them. We have met them before to help them through this process.

That would be helpful.