Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Social and Affordable Housing

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will use public land for public housing and halt the privatisation of public land banks and public housing. [17643/20]

"Public homes on public land" is the demand of the housing movement, a movement which has seen what the disaster of allowing developers to make a killing from public land means. I offer the example of the O'Devaney Gardens. This promise made its way into the Green Party manifesto and, interestingly, the Minister of State has uttered this slogan twice so far during our half hour of discussion. However, the indications are that the privatisation of public land is set to continue with the development in Killinarden under the authority of South Dublin County Council. Does the Minister mean public homes on public land? Will he commit to reversing that privatisation or is it just sloganeering?

Deputy Paul Murphy asks if someone is just sloganeering. I thank him for his question. I say that in jest and honestly do not mean any disrespect. The programme for Government commits the State to playing a greater part in the provision of affordable and social housing, with a focus on those earning low and middle incomes and the development of sustainable mixed-tenure communities.

These principles will guide our housing policy and the work of the Land Development Agency, LDA, in assembling strategic sites in urban areas and ensuring the sustainable development of social and affordable homes for rent and purchase. This will include ensuring that public housing rental stock on public land is under the control of local authorities, approved housing bodies or other similar bodies.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued an update to the public spending code in October 2019 to include a requirement that prior to seeking approval from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to dispose of lands and buildings on the open market, all non-commercial State bodies must first consult with the LDA on the appropriate disposal of those lands. I will further strengthen that requirement by way of the commitment in the programme for Government that any State lands being offered for sale will automatically be offered first to the LDA, which will be a very different agency from what was previously proposed. This will mean that if such lands can be acquired by the LDA, it will acquire them, thereby ensuring they remain in the ownership of the State and are used to provide appropriate housing. I intend for that LDA legislation to come to the House in the next session. My Department and I are working on it with Cabinet colleagues. As I said, I want to see public homes on public land.

I think the Minister engaged in a bit of a sleight of hand in his response - the same sleight of hand in which the programme for Government engages - when he said he will ensure that "public housing rental stock on public land is under the control of local authorities, approved housing bodies or other similar bodies". The point about the slogan "public homes on public land" is not primarily about who has control of public homes, although that is important. The point is that all of the public land that exists in the State should be used for public homes. None of it should be privatised at a time when we have some 100,000 people on housing waiting lists across the State. When we have enough public land to build 100,000 homes, we should be building public homes as opposed to giving developers an opportunity to profit. I will give the example of South Dublin County Council, which put the construction of 500 houses in Killinarden out to tender. Only 20% of those homes will be social housing and the so-called affordable homes are set to cost up to €290,000, which is completely unaffordable for most people.

We want to get to a stage where it is not a question of whether people's homes are public or private in this country but that they are simply people's homes. We want to ensure we are delivering both types of housing. If we look at the Shanganagh development in Dublin, nearly 600 units have been approved by the LDA and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and all of them will be social and affordable homes. That is what we want to see in most places. There may be instances where that exact model will not suit, but I am saying that this Government will be acutely focused on ramping up our public housing stock, with an emphasis on building new public homes. That is what I want, namely, a clear emphasis on building public homes for our people, like what was done by governments in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and onwards. That can be done and it is what we want to do.

At the same time, I also want to deliver affordable homes for working people through affordable purchase and affordable rental mechanisms. We have started to do that and I will bringing forward new schemes later this year. I intend that we will see homes being delivered through that model next year. I have said from the very beginning that we must work with the local authorities to get our public housing stock up. That is what we intend to do and what we will focus on.

The slogan "public homes on public land" should mean using all public land for public homes. In the case of Killinarden, even setting aside for a moment the unaffordability of the so-called affordable homes, 400 of those 500 homes will be sold by the developer for whatever price the developer wants for private profit. Does the Minister agree with that and, if not, will he halt the sale of the land? The scale of the housing crisis is such that a one-bedroom apartment in Exchange Hall in Tallaght has gone up for rent for €1,700 per month. The situation is absolutely out of control. The private market will not deliver what is needed and it will not resolve this crisis. The only answer is significant public investment in the building of public housing. The solution is to make public housing available for all as opposed to continuing to provide the opportunity for private developers to profit from the crisis that exists in housing. If the Minister is not willing to give a commitment that he will not privatise any public land, then what he is saying is just empty sloganeering.

Our job is to deliver homes for our people through various mechanisms and that is what we will do. Our focus has to be on driving down homelessness and continuing to focus on accommodation for singles. Approximately 60% of adults who are homeless are single and we do not have enough accommodation for them. That is why I put out a call this week to all local authorities - I assume the Deputy has been in contact with his own local authority on this matter - to ensure that they buy homes to put into public stock. That is being done right now. It is only three weeks into this Government and we are very focused on tackling homelessness and providing homes for those who need them most. Some 50 large families in this country have been homeless for four or five years because there is no suitable accommodation for them. We have to focus on those types of issues. I have spent the first three weeks in office meeting with people from homeless charities all over this city and county. In the next few weeks, I will be meeting people from all over the country. I am acutely aware of how important it is for us to provide homes for our people and that is what we intend to do. I say again that this will clearly be based on the principle of public homes on public land.

Shared Accommodation

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Ceist:

7. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the guidelines on shared accommodation are under review in view of the Covid-19 pandemic; and his views on same. [17649/20]

Will the Minister set out his views on shared housing, which is another controversial scheme initiated by the previous Government. Is there a review of that scheme under way, particularly in light of the fact that Covid-19 means that such accommodation will be completely inappropriate into the future?

My views on this matter are well known and I have initiated a review of the scheme. I am bound to do so and that is what I am doing. To put the issue in context, not one co-living development has been built. That said, I am aware of applications that have come in quite recently in the co-living space. I want to make sure, through the review, that there is no impact on or any unintended consequences for purpose-built student accommodation or other things. I have started that review and I do not intend it go on forever. My intention is to come back to the House on it in the autumn and to work in consultation with the joint Oireachtas committee on housing, whenever that is established.

In many aspects of Irish life, Covid-19 has ripped off the plaster. If it has particularly exposed any one issue in Irish society, it has been in regard to housing and how people are living. If we ask people to stay at home as a national call, then we have to be mindful of how people live. If they are living in overcrowded accommodation, if three generations are living in the one house, if people do not have access to a back garden, then all of the things for which people have been criticised for campaigning on over the years are now seen to have been valid complaints. The Minister says that no co-living accommodation has been built and that may be true, but he must be aware that planning permissions have been granted for such accommodation. What is his and his Department's intention in regard to this reality?

I am absolutely aware that some permissions have been granted. I looked for detailed figures on this and they show that out of 62,546 homes which were approved up to June this year, 600 were deemed to be shared accommodation. That is the proportion we are talking about. However, the Deputy makes a very fair point that there are applications coming in and permissions have been granted. As he knows, I am precluded from talking about particular applications but I have initiated a review and I am serious about it. My own views on this issue have not changed. I want to make sure, as part of the review I am undertaking, that there are no unintended consequences to proceeding with such schemes. The Deputy made the further really important point that we already have people living in shared accommodation in overcrowded apartments and houses, sometimes with three or four generations in the same home. These are not examples of the new co-living schemes but the reality of co-living for many people. We have to address that, through our building programme, by building more public homes.

We do not want to have death by review.

What is the timescale for the completion of the review? All the while, planning applications are being submitted and permission is being granted, which leads to a bigger problem. If the review and Government action are swift, we will avoid the construction of a significant number of co-living accommodation units with which we would then have to contend. In light of the possibility of a second wave or having to deal with Covid for several years, it would be absolutely irresponsible to suggest that anybody should live in this way. It was a bad idea before Covid because it is not an ethical housing policy. There is no dignity attached to it. It makes money for some people but it is not the way we should be building communities. I think the Minister agrees with me in that regard. When will the review be completed? If the Government is serious about doing something on this issue, when will it act?

The views of the Minister on this matter are well known. I will remind the House of remarks he made a year ago, almost to the day. He described the policy as "bonkers" and stated that Fine Gael was out of touch for trying to pursue it. He stated that Fine Gael should scrap co-living and that if Deputies Varadkar and Eoghan Murphy wanted this bonkers policy so much, they should live together.

The Minister is not duty-bound to carry out a review. He has mandatory ministerial guideline powers that were introduced by Deputy Kelly when he was Minister in 2015 and early 2016. He can walk into the Custom House and abolish this bonkers policy right now. There is no need for a review. All the review will do is incentivise developers to do exactly what Deputy Ó Ríordáin outlined, that is, to rush in applications to jack up the price of the land. A review is no good. In fact, it is bonkers to carry out a review of a bonkers policy. The Minister should scrap it now.

I probably should be flattered that Deputy Ó Broin takes such a personal interest in the things I say. He never misses an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon either. I say "well done" to him. It is no surprise. I must act responsibly and I will do so as Minister with responsibility for this area.

To answer Deputy Ó Ríordáin's question, which was a genuine one because he wishes to see a resolution to this issue, I have been in office for slightly less than four weeks. We have done a significant amount of work in that period. I have initiated the review. It will not go on forever. I started it very recently. I expect that we could have the work done by early autumn, probably in September.

There are other priorities which I have already discussed. I must balance the work I do. I do not have infinite human resources or time and, as such, I must prioritise issues such as public housing delivery and the affordable purchase scheme, which I very much wish to bring through, as well as the residential tenancies Bill I mentioned in response to Deputy O'Callaghan, which I hope to get up and running next week. There are some urgent matters which I need to act on immediately.

The review is under way. I intend to come back to the House in autumn with it. I will engage directly with Deputy Ó Ríordáin on it. I do not wish for the review to go on forever. Obviously, I will have to bring the results of the review to my Government colleagues.

Land Development Agency

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Ceist:

8. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the details of the land transferred to the Land Development Agency for the development of residential units; and the projects being considered by the agency for development, detailing the partners, the number of expected units, the stage of the process and targeted completion dates. [17650/20]

For the information of the House, I tabled these questions in conjunction with Senator Moynihan, the Labour Party spokesperson on housing. I ask the Minister to provide details of the land transferred to the Land Development Agency, LDA, for the development of residential units; and the projects it is considering for development, including details of the partners involved, the number of expected units, the stage of the process and the target completion dates.

I will read a prepared response as it is a very specific question. On its establishment, the LDA had access to an initial tranche of nine sites that have near-term delivery potential for approximately 3,600 new homes. The sites in question are the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, Hampton in Balbriggan, Hacketstown in Skerries, Devoy Barracks in Naas, the former Meath Hospital in Dublin city centre, St. Kevin's Hospital in Cork, Columb Barracks in Mullingar, Dyke Road in Galway and Shanganagh, which will be developed in partnership with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The establishment order of the LDA empowers it to acquire ownership of lands and buildings. However, ownership of these sites will not transfer to it until the Land Development Agency Bill is enacted. The transfer of local authority lands is a matter for local authorities under section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended. Significant preparatory work is under way in respect of the initial sites, with feasibility planning and other preparatory works already initiated. The LDA has entered into presale agreements with landowners, as appropriate, to ensure that it has full access to the sites to carry out necessary pre-construction activities. All sites are being developed by the LDA, with the exception of the Shanganagh site, which is being developed in partnership with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. All sites except Shanganagh are at pre-planning stage.

The LDA has been granted planning permission for the development of 597 homes on the site at Shanganagh. It is intended that approximately 34% of the units in the development will be for social housing, 51% will be for cost rental and 15% for affordable purchase. Construction is due to start on the site by mid-2021. The tabular statement following this statement sets out the detailed information the Deputy has requested. I have a copy of the report before me and will give it to the Deputy as well as sending it to him electronically.

Update on LDA sites (July 2020)

Location

Size

Projected number of units

Status

Partners

Shanganagh, Dublin

17.8 acres

597 units, of which 200 social, 91 cost purchase, 306 cost rental

Part10 application submitted to An Bord Pleanála and granted. Constructionanticipated to start by mid-2021. Anticipated completion of firsthomes by end 2022.

Site being developed in conjunction with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum

28 acres

1,200 units (estimated)

Pre-planningDesign team appointed.LDA expects to lodge a planning application in mid-2021 and begin construction in early 2022

Devoy Barracks, Naas

10.08 acres

203 units (estimated)

Pre-planning. Draft masterplan prepared

St. Kevin’s Hospital, Cork

14.5 acres

274 units (estimated)

Pre-planning. Masterplan prepared. SHDpre-application consultation request submitted to ABP end-May.

Meath Hospital, Dublin 8

0.75 acres

100 units (estimated)

Pre-planning.Design team to be appointed

Hacketstown, Skerries

16.8 acres

344 units(estimated)

Design team appointed and SHDpre-application process ongoing.

Castlelands, Balbriggan

60 acres

800 units (estimated)

Pre planning.Masterplan prepared, advancing planning stage design.

Columb Barracks, Mullingar

24.7 acres

200 (estimated)

Pre-planning.Feasibility stage,advancing development framework.

Dyke Road, Galway

4.5 acres

To be determined

Pre-planningAppraisal stage

I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. I appreciate that he will circulate the tabular information. I refer to the potential for different housing models. I made reference to this issue while speaking to the Sinn Féin motion on affordable housing. I acknowledge that the Minster spoke about affordable purchase previously. We previously discussed the idea of a rent-to-buy scheme and the Minister stated he would look into it. There is potential within the LDA model for that type of scheme to be pursued. We previously discussed the scheme that was abandoned ten years ago when the crash came but which had helped certain families.

The current situation is that couples and individuals in Dublin and elsewhere cannot rent and save at the same time. If they are renting, that uses up all their disposable income and they cannot save for a deposit.

Is there potential within the LDA model for a rent-to-buy scheme? I previously discussed the details of such a scheme. It could involve three years of rental, after which one would have a chance to put the rent paid towards a deposit, to keep renting or to leave the scheme. Is that type of model something the Minister could consider within the framework of his proposals?

In preparation for oral questions, I met my officials yesterday and raised the comments made last week by the Deputy regarding rent-to-buy. My officials will be in direct contact with him on the issue. I intend to meet him on the matter. As I stated in response to other Deputies, there are multiple ways of delivering affordable housing. We must be open to looking at other ideas. I spoke to my officials yesterday regarding the suggestion made by the Deputy. They will contact him directly. I intend to meet him officially on the matter if he has time to so do.

The LDA as it will be constituted under the legislation that will be brought in later this year will have latitude, subject to the approval of the House and the Seanad. I am open to considering ideas that have worked in other jurisdictions or in Ireland previously in the context of rent-to-buy and I will discuss them with the Deputy.

Can we weave that sort of model into the LDA legislation or should it be provided for in stand-alone legislation that allows for various models to be pursued? It is a model that worked in the past. It will deal with a particular issue. As I previously mentioned, throughout the country there are several generations living in the same house. Part of the problem is the lost generation of people in their 20s or 30s who are living at home. They cannot afford to rent because they are saving to get onto the property ladder.

Is it possible to be prescriptive within the LDA legislation in the context of dealing with this issue? Can the legislation provide for dealing with various housing schemes that we wish for the LDA to pursue or is it just going to be enabling legislation which will allow us latitude to pursue various housing models such as the rent-to-buy scheme about which we are so passionate?

This will be very important legislation. I assure the Minister that I have kept a very careful record of everything he stated on this issue at the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. We will compare the legislation with the comments he made.

The key issues are whether the LDA will be a designated activity company, whether it will be fully subject to freedom of information and the lobby register in respect of its commercial and non-commercial activities, and whether it will stick to the 10% social, 30% affordable and 60% private allocation that Fine Gael originally proposed. Will it have fully fledged compulsory purchase order powers? Those will be the tests. I do not expect the Minister to have the answers to all those questions now. When he will introduce the legislation?

For the second time this morning, Deputy Ó Broin is piggybacking on questions tabled by the Labour Party.

As I am entitled to do.

I am just going to answer Deputy Ó Ríordáin first because he took the time to table the question. With the LDA legislation, we will be open to that. I have circulated the Bill among Cabinet members for observation. We are already at that stage. It will come back to me and it will go to the joint Oireachtas committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. I certainly want to see affordability tied into the Bill. On the other elements, I am acutely aware of what I raised when I participated in pre-legislative scrutiny in the last Dáil. This Bill is informed by contributions by the Deputy, me and others who were on that committee. It is detailed legislation that will require much work. We have to get it right. I intend to have freedom of information, compulsory purchase order powers and things like that in the Bill. I will be consulting with the joint Oireachtas committee as well at the right pre-legislative stage. When I publish the Bill is when we will be looking for input, which is what pre-legislative scrutiny is for. I ask Members to look at it in a constructive and open way. We need a land management agency, or whatever we call it. The State needs to manage its land properly.

Vacant Properties

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

9. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he is taking to encourage the use of vacant housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17379/20]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

10. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he is taking to encourage the use of vacant housing in villages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17378/20]

There is a substantial number of vacant houses right across the country. We have a housing crisis and we have to look at building as many houses as possible but we have 1.75 million existing houses and we must do our utmost to ensure that as many of those homes are occupied as possible. The number of those vacant at any one time varies at present between 50,000 and 180,000 depending on the source. Every effort must be taken to ensure that we maximise the occupancy of existing housing.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

A range of measures to assist in meeting Ireland's housing needs by ensuring that our existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible were set out in pillar 5 of Rebuilding Ireland. An overarching action within that pillar was the commitment to develop a national vacant homes reuse strategy. This strategy was published by my Department in July 2018 and strives to provide a targeted, effective and co-ordinated approach to identifying and tackling vacancy across the country. It draws together all of the strands of ongoing work into this document.

Local authorities have been and continue to be encouraged to utilise all available supports and develop new approaches to ensuring that existing housing stock across the country is utilised to the fullest capacity. This has resulted in the development of innovative responses to dealing with vacancy, such as the website vacanthomes.ie developed by Mayo County Council in July 2017 on behalf of the local government sector. This site acts as a central portal for individuals to log possible vacant homes and has proven useful in supplementing the country-wide analysis on vacancy and in mobilising local communities to assist local authorities in developing and implementing a targeted approach. Some 4,220 properties have been registered to date. The website provides useful information for property owners on how to bring their vacant properties back into use and available financial supports.

The supports available to bring vacant stock back into use include a number of schemes developed by my Department to incentivise reactivating suitable dwellings into livable housing stock. In that regard, at the end of 2019 a total of 1,540 applications for the repair and leasing scheme had been received from property owners. Some 165 of those homes have been brought back into use and were tenanted. Since the introduction of the buy and renew scheme, it has helped local authorities to purchase 529 vacant properties to accommodate households seeking social support. In January 2017, my Department established a revolving acquisitions fund of €70 million managed by the Housing Agency, which has facilitated 840 properties being made available to approved housing bodies to accommodate households seeking social housing supports. Some 51 additional properties are currently in the process of being secured. The Housing Agency has also assisted local authorities in acquiring a further 468 vacant properties from financial institutions for social housing purposes, with a further 211 currently in the process of being secured as social housing. Therefore, in addition to the almost 700 properties brought back into use to date under the buy and renew and repair and lease schemes, more than 1,500 other vacant properties held by financial institutions have been secured or are currently in the process of being secured for social housing.

Tackling vacancy will continue to be the focus of targeted attention by my Department through the ongoing implementation of measures set out in the national vacant housing reuse strategy. That is an overarching roadmap and focal point for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives right across government to ensure we are utilising our existing housing stock to the fullest extent possible. To that end, it facilitates actions to return as many recoverable vacant properties back into viable use as possible, increasing supply of sustainable housing while also revitalising the vibrancy of our local communities.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I accept that this is a complex area and yes, there are initiatives such as the repair and lease scheme, the buy and renew scheme and the acquisitions fund. The difficulty is that there are blockages within the system at present. One of them is the fair deal, or nursing home support scheme. There are 9,000 vacant houses across the country where older people are in long-term care. If those older people lease out their home, they are penalised three times. The capital value of the house is taken into account, the rental income is taken into account, and money going through the bank account is considered as capital on deposit. Will the Minister of State give me an assurance that the anomaly in respect of the fair deal scheme will be resolved to ensure that some of these houses are made available for these schemes?

It is very clear regarding vacant houses that a blend or suite of measures is needed to ensure that we bring housing back into use. In the pilot project that was undertaken by the Department in connection with six local authorities, they found a vacancy rate of around 2.9%. That required two inspections over a six-month period. At times this can be put across as though there is a huge amount of low-hanging fruit but sometimes we will find that vacant homes are in difficult locations in which demand is not as strong for social housing.

On the powers that are available to local authorities, Waterford City and County Council and Louth County Council have been pioneers in using compulsory purchase orders to replenish vacant housing. We also have vacant housing officer roles which have been funded and put into the local authority system. In connection with Deputy Naughten's specific point, it is something we can examine and I will raise it within the Department.

Another bottleneck in availing of these schemes is probate. People in County Roscommon and the adjoining county of Galway, for example, have to wait an average of three and a half months for a probate application to be processed. If one is unfortunate enough to live in County Kilkenny, the process can take four and a half months. In Cork city it is taking two and a half months. In Waterford, which the Minister of State has already mentioned, it takes three and a half months to process a probate application. Clearly this is another impediment to the release of housing stock back onto the market. Absolutely there are complex legal processes in order for the application to be lodged with the probate office in the first place. If the e-probate system was rolled out across the country it would deal with much of the initial administrative problems and allow for these to be processed quickly. When are we going to see the e-probate system rolled out across the country?

That is an area for which my Department does not have responsibility but I take the Deputy's point, which is very well made. It is an issue that has to be tackled. Myself and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will raise that with the Department. The Deputy also alluded to that measure. There are a number of measures that need to be brought together as a blend to try to get housing stock back in use. No one wants vacant housing units. We will do all we can to ensure we achieve that. Both measures Deputy Naughten has raised are reasonable suggestions that we can work on.

That is great. I have two more measures for the Minister of State as well. The first is that his Department is spending approximately €31,000 through the local infrastructure housing activation fund and the serviced sites fund in releasing sites for housing development, mainly across the urban centres, the eastern part of the country and in our cities.

At the same time, we have a substantial number of vacant houses in many rural villages and towns. The local authorities are not interested in the context of the various schemes because there is not a demand in those locations for local authority housing. However, there are many families here in Dublin or in other cities who would relocate, particularly now that they can work remotely. I ask that we introduce a grant scheme for families whereby they could get half the amount to which I refer, up to €15,000, which would allow them to relocate from the cities into some of the villages and bring life back into those where the necessary infrastructure is already in place.

The local infrastructure housing activation fund was introduced by the previous Government. It is a key tool in the context of activating sites and is linked to the national planning framework, which is important in keeping our towns and villages vibrant.

Sometimes the issue of vacant housing can be taken out of proportion. Looking at the vacant homes register, in Roscommon in the Deputy's constituency, 72 properties are listed. While I acknowledge that we want to work to secure those properties and make them the subject of viable tenancies, we can also take the Deputy's suggestions on board and meet him to discuss them if he so wishes. It is important that we take a collaborative approach to housing. Many measures are used in conjunction with each other in order to try to tackle this issue. There is no silver bullet. When one looks at the pilot study was carried out and the information available on vacanthomes.ie - that information is independently held and is obtained, from the ground up, in constituencies - sometimes the perception is that this is a greater problem than is actually the case.

There are multiples of those 72 properties in Roscommon alone. I could bring the Minster of State to locations adjoining our constituency in Monksland where there is huge housing demand and where houses are vacant for one reason or another. If we are going to encourage families to relocate to some of these communities, we must look at the tax credit system currently in place. It needs to be modernised and updated.

Finally, across my constituency there are problems with raw sewage running down the main streets of villages, in the likes of Kilconnell and Caltra in east Galway and locations in County Roscommon. We must invest in our water and wastewater infrastructure, particularly in villages, in order that we might provide suitable accommodation for families.

I take on board the Deputy's concerns about Irish Water. I would be at pains to point out, however, that the Department has invested significant funding in a co-ordinated approach to try to unlock vacant properties. I refer to measures to deal with the ghost estates we were left with after the crash and the amount of money that was invested in unlocking unfinished estates. The latter ensured that houses were completed and are now the subject of secure tenancies. We have also encouraged and prepared vacant housing plans with local authorities and facilitated the appointment of vacant home officers to drive that. This needs to be driven at a local level where the knowledge lies. There is also our repair-and-lease scheme and the Housing Agency acquisition fund. I mentioned Waterford and Louth, where local authorities have used the compulsory purchase order process to key effect. This is a co-ordinated approach. We need to be very careful how we manage it, and we must continue to bring homes back to the point where they can be the subject of secure tenancies.

Housing Policy

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

11. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of finalising the criteria under which affordable purchase and cost-rental will be made available to applicants; and the national elements such as income limits and guidance on local elements in cases in which local authorities have discretion. [16636/20]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

15. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the initiatives to accelerate affordable housing schemes such as in a case (details supplied) in circumstances where the development of such homes has been the subject of numerous proposals and is long anticipated. [16637/20]

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

24. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to increase the supply of affordable housing in County Cork. [17636/20]

We all know how badly needed social and affordable housing is. No one should be living in homeless hubs or caught in a never-ending rental trap. However, it is extremely difficult for people who are paying high rents to also save for mortgage deposits. Covid-19 will exacerbate this problem for many people, couples and families. When will the criteria for affordable purchase and cost-rental housing be published?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 15 and 24 together.

I am absolutely committed to ensuring that affordable, quality homes are available to everyone in Irish society. This key Government goal is clearly reflected in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future.

In particular, I am focusing on progressing the affordable purchase scheme and delivery programme and moving the cost-rental scheme forward. This work will focus on our major urban areas, where people and families are facing the greatest challenge in the context of housing access and affordability.

After taking some time to review progress and consult delivery partners, I will outline my detailed plans for affordable housing in the autumn. In doing so, I will also take account of the progress made under the serviced sites fund, SSF, and other existing measures, such as the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme and the help-to-buy scheme.

Together with State-led affordable housing for purchase and cost-rental, I also plan to expand Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to deliver much needed affordable as well as social housing and protecting the 10% social provision.

I am bringing all delivery partners together to work on the expansion and acceleration of our affordable housing programmes. Local authorities, the Housing Agency, the Land Development Agency and approved housing bodies all have a part to play. They have all been most helpful to me in recent weeks since I took over as Minister.

I intend to expand the €310 million SSF, which targets local authority areas where affordability has been identified as an issue and which provides funding for facilitating infrastructure on local authority land thereby subventing the end cost of the affordable homes.

With a maximum funding ceiling of €50,000 available per home, the SSF can facilitate at least 6,200 affordable homes. To date, funding of €127 million has been allocated in support of 35 projects in 14 local authority areas, which will assist in the delivery of almost 3,200 affordable homes. Details of all projects that have received funding approval, including those in Dublin and Cork, are available on the Department's website.

In terms of affordable purchase, Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, commenced in June 2018, provides the statutory basis. Under regulations issued in March 2019, a scheme of priority is decided by each local authority detailing the arrangements for the access to affordable purchase homes. In the first instance, it is the responsibility of local authorities to identify affordability issues and bring forward sites where the provision of more affordable housing is viable. The scheme of priorities has been problematic and must be greatly improved on and that will be part of the more streamlined affordable housing approach for local authorities.

The main eligibility criterion under the Act is that the applicant must be a first-time buyer, with limited exceptions. The applicant's net household income must be such that the repayments on a 90% mortgage for the purchase of a suitable home at market value would not exceed 35% of his or her net income.

As part of my work leading up to the autumn announcement, I will be scrutinising the statutory basis of the scheme with delivery partners, particularly as it relates to viability and eligibility criteria, in order to ensure that it reflects this Government's policy priorities and delivers the outcomes we need.

The first homes that will be made available under the new affordable purchase scheme will be on Boherboy Road in Cork city in early 2021. I commend Cork City Council on its progressive work in respect of this project and utilising moneys from the SSF. Other local authorities are following suit and I will ensure that we see more and more projects like this delivered on key local authority sites.

To support rental affordability, the Government is also committed to the introduction of cost-rental housing in Ireland, where the rents charged cover the cost of delivering, managing, and maintaining the homes only. A working group has been examining the most appropriate model for delivering cost-rental, including the use of public land, appropriate Exchequer inputs and operational matters such as tenant eligibility.

The work is also being supported by research by the European Investment Bank. I expect initial findings of this group to be completed within the coming months and I have asked that this work be expedited. This will allow us to expand on the three pilot developments currently under way. I will also provide an update on cost rental in the autumn. We need options on a national cost rental plan and policy. I know I will have the Deputy’s assistance in putting that together and I hope that has answered her specific question on affordability.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Unfortunately many people of my age and indeed many of my friends cannot afford to buy their own homes despite having good jobs. If the average worker cannot afford to buy a home then we are failing them. Today a person on the average industrial wage for a full-time worker can borrow just €175,000. That is not much use to a person who may want to live in Lucan, Clondalkin or elsewhere in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm that people on the average wage will be able to buy affordable homes under his plan?

I intend that will absolutely be the case. Under the Government plan, we will not exclude couples who earn more than €75,000, unlike what other parties have put forward, which would exclude nearly half of those who need housing. We need to look at the net cost for people. The Deputy is 100% correct in that there are so many people out there who are working hard, paying 50% to 60% of their net take-home pay on rent. They are trying to save every cent, and are never going to reach the target they need to reach, first in savings, but second in income. I do not want them to be chasing an unaffordable mortgage. That is not what this Government or the Deputy wants.

In the interim we will keep other measures in place. We will keep the help to buy grant in place which helps some first-time buyers and we will potentially expand it. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan has been a really good support for people as well and it will be expanded. There are moneys there for this year and I would ask people to look at it. It is a very good fixed-term mortgage contract for 20 to 25 years. To answer the Deputy’s question, we will be ensuring that those working on average, normal incomes will be able to access our Government’s affordable housing scheme.

I thank the Minister. This is a significant issue for me and is one of the reasons I am here today. It is a massive issue for my generation. I want to work hand-in-hand with the Minister to deliver affordable homes for people across Lucan, Clondalkin and right across this country.

We will bring forward a plan in the autumn and we will be looking for input from Members of all parties and none. We do not want to delay this. People have waited too long for an affordable purchase scheme. We can deliver homes quite quickly under some of the options that I am also looking at. Fundamentally, there is a whole generation of people to whom the Deputy referred, including her friends in the constituency, who feel right now feel they have no hope of ever owning their own home. We are going to change that and I, as housing Minister, am absolutely convinced that we will. This is a priority for me on which we are working every day. This autumn I intend to launch the plan and bring it forward. Let us get moving on it to deliver affordable homes for our people.

I take it that the Deputy is satisfied with the Minister's answer.

Local Authority Funding

Johnny Guirke

Ceist:

12. Deputy Johnny Guirke asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason Meath County Council is historically the lowest funded local authority per head of population; and if he will bring funding for the local authority up to the national average. [17615/20]

I congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, on their appointments and I wish them the best of luck.

Why is Meath County Council historically the lowest funded local authority per head of population in the country? Will the Minister bring local government funding for the County of Meath up to the national average?

I thank the Deputy for his kind words.

The Programme for Government – Our Shared Future sets out a range of actions that relate to local authority funding, including a commitment to review how commercial rates will be treated for the remainder of 2020. The programme also commits to bringing forward legislation for the local property tax, LPT, on the basis of fairness and where most home owners will face no increase. It also states that those counties with a lower LPT base will be adjusted via an annual national equalisation fund paid from the Exchequer, as is currently the case.

My officials are considering these commitments and will work with key stakeholders, including drawing on the work of the local government funding - baseline - review group, as necessary. This process will give the opportunity to address any historical anomalies in local authority areas that may exist, including in County Meath.

Notwithstanding the particular challenges that individual authorities face, all local authorities are experiencing financial challenges as a result of Covid-19. In order to support the local government sector generally, my Department continues to keep local authority income, expenditure and cash flow under review and will continue to work with all local authorities on both collective and individual issues that arise, including those issues as referred to by the Deputy that face Meath County Council.

My officials are happy to work with Meath County Council, on any financial issues that may be arising. Looking at the trajectory of funding over the past number of years from 2016 to 2019, Meath County Council has experienced an increase of 130%.

The Government is very clear about this emergency. There will be an announcement later today how we will further support local authorities and give them certainty that neither their services nor their staff will be cut.

I thank the Minister for of State for his reply. I have a local government funding review here submitted by Meath County Council in 2018. The figures from that are that Meath County Council are losing out to the tune of €72 million per year by not getting its fair share of local government funding. At the moment we are getting 61% of the national average. According to figures from 2018, for example, in housing and building, we are getting 45% of the national average; on roads, transport and safety, 90%; on environmental services, 48%; recreation and amenities, 43%; development management, 62%; agriculture, health and welfare, 53%; and miscellaneous services, 77%, which is an average of 61%. These are staggering figures for our county.

Meath County Council receives €537 per head of population compared to the national average of €875. One can imagine the effect that this is having on a population of 200,000 plus and on services such as roads, footpaths, public lighting, libraries, playgrounds, recreational centres and so on. Will the Minister of State address the inequalities in funding?

Many measures can be used to measure the funding local authorities receive. On population size, this can be a crude instrument to determine what level of funding is delivered. As I said, the increase to Meath County Council since 2016 is very clear. Other avenues are available to, and are at the disposal of, the local authority to increase funding. One key issue is if the local authority takes a decision to vary its local property tax rate. If Meath County Council had raised the local property tax rate by 15% over the past six years, it would have brought in an extra €2.6 million to the fund.

We should look at the return on investment that some local authorities can get. An example is Longford, which is my constituency. It increased its local property tax which gave it access to huge funding streams from central government through the urban and rural regeneration funds.

Let me tell the Minister of State what the property tax has done for Meath. When former Minister, Phil Hogan, brought in the local property tax, he said local authorities were going to keep 80% of it. He did not say he was going to do away with every other Government grant that the local authority was getting. The people of Meath paid an additional €18 million in property tax but their services have not been increased by one cent because every other Government grant was taken away.

In 1996 the population of Meath was 110,000 people while today it is more than 200,000. This is the highest rate of population growth in the State since 1996. Expenditure per person is an agreed standard for measuring the level of service a local authority can provide. Meath County Council is under significant pressure to meet the service delivery needs of the population. How can Meath County Council deliver the services needed in the county with 61% of the national average funding from central government funds or a shortfall of €72 million per year? I am asking the Minister of State to bring local government funding for County Meath up to the national average?

I believe Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú wants to come in on this question.

I raise the issue of underfunding of Louth County Council, in particular.

I note that the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, spoke about the local property tax, but at this point if we were to increase it by 10% to 15%, we would deal only with the cost of the land banks in County Louth that were bought under instruction from Government around 2006 and 2007 in many cases. We are talking around about 50 acres. Some of these land banks have been dealt with but a significant amount are left. Last year, Louth County Council spent about €1 million to service the debt. We need the Government to meet with Louth County Council, with elected representatives and with the executive about putting solutions in place that deal with the substantial unit cost of these lands. Some of them would be perfect for affordable and social housing and affordable cost rental. We need these meetings and solutions to occur as quickly as possible.

With regard to the local property tax, it is incorrect and not factual to say that all other grants were removed from local authorities. Record streams of funding are now available to local authorities through urban and rural regeneration funds and various grants, including equalisation funds for local authorities that are short. By raising the property tax in County Longford, the council got access to multimillion euro funding. One has to examine the responsibility of councillors. With regard to Meath County Council, it is clear that there has been a 130% increase in what it has access to from central Government since 2016. A significant funding stream is available to local authorities. It is not correct to use a crude instrument such as population to determine and measure how local authorities are funded. We can all pick various metrics as it suits us to try to argue our case, but we in the Department have to be fair and ensure that local authorities are fully funded. I have given a commitment about the July stimulus package, with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, that it will be of scale and timely, and that it will respond to the challenge that local authorities face to ensure that they will not lose services or staff. I have been clear about that this morning. We also need to ensure that we support our local authorities. I will not be found wanting in that regard and nor will the Government.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.