Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Dublin Regional Homless Executive

I welcome the officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Ms Mary Hurley, Mr. Brian Kenny and Mr. Thomas Gallagher and the members of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Ms Eileen Gleeson, Dr. Bernie O'Donoghue Hynes and Mr. Anthony Flynn. I apologise that we also have to shorten the time for the opening statements of the witnesses.

I draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call Ms Mary Hurley.

Ms Mary Hurley

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting my colleagues, Mr. Brian Kenny and Mr. Thomas Gallagher and I here today to discuss the research report of Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy. Given that there is a time pressure, I might deal with two issues. First, I will provide the committee with a quick update on the actions we in the Department have been progressing in terms of addressing homelessness and second with the issues reflected in the report.

Members will be aware that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, arranged for a housing summit in August. I will give the committee a quick update on what happened at that summit and I will provide the committee with a note after the meeting today in respect of the summit.

In respect of the actions that have been under way in respect of homelessness, members will be aware and have discussed today the budget provided for housing. A sum of €1.3 billion has been provided by the Government this year for social housing delivery, including longer-term accommodation for homeless families. Last year, 3,000 households left homelessness and moved into sustainable tenancies. In the first quarter of this year we have seen 900 additional households supported in exiting homelessness. In spite of this very significant progress in supporting households to secure longer-term housing solutions, the level of new presentations remains challenging and the number of families accessing homeless accommodation has increased in the past year. August will show a slight decrease in the number of families homeless in the Dublin region. In terms of the commitment to use only commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, which we have discussed previously, for families in exceptional circumstances, more than 1,000 families have now exited such emergency accommodation since Rebuilding Ireland was published last year. Five hundred families have been prevented from entering hotels. In terms of the 647 families who were in hotels in the Dublin region at the end of May 2017, we have been working very hard with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, DRHE, to exit these families from hotels and more than 280 of these families had existed hotels and moved into more appropriate accommodation by the end of August. We will be working in the coming period to exit the remaining families out of the hotels.

Members will have heard a great deal about hubs. I will not go into detail on them but we can discuss them after my statement. A sum of €25 million has been made available for family hubs and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy recently announced a further allocation of €20 million. This is for the capital costs around the hubs and the very much needed wrap-around supports that we discussed earlier this morning, which we are putting in place in the hubs. It is important to note that in excess of 1,000 homeless housing assistance payments have been put in place in Dublin since January 2017 arising from the recent housing summit.

Deputy Boyd Barrett and the Chairman have been very supportive of the place-finder service. Arising from the housing summit, the HAP place-finder service is now also being rolled out nationally to each of the 31 local authorities to target HAP-supported rental properties for the households in emergency accommodation which we heard about this morning. We will also have 200 additional beds in place in Dublin by the end of the year, which is on top of the 2,500 emergency beds in place nationally. We have also heard this morning some discussion of the inter-agency group established by the Minister. The group will be key to addressing some of the issues we heard about in family hubs around medical and psychological supports.

Turning briefly to the report, the Government has been very focused in terms of Rebuilding Ireland and the key issues raised in the report on addressing what is well understood as the key cause of the significant challenges in the housing sector, namely, undersupply. The Rebuilding Ireland plan and the strategy for the rental sector published in December 2016 set out a range of measures to accelerate supply. These include: the use of public land; changes to the regulatory and planning processes; funding for housing-related infrastructure; schemes to get vacant properties back into use; and a significantly increased social-housing programme, which we can discuss shortly. In addition, the Minister announced recently a change to social housing building policy which will see the housing budget being reoriented to direct-build programmes for local authorities and housing bodies. As a result, the current target for 2018 of 3,000 newly-built homes will increase by almost 30% to 3,800 such units.

HAP is a key delivery mechanism in the context of Rebuilding Ireland and an immediate and flexible form of housing support for households with a long-term housing need. Any household assessed as eligible for social housing is immediately eligible for housing support through the HAP scheme. HAP recipients can avail of full-time work and retain their housing support with an adjustment in their differential rent. Under rent supplement, these households would have lost their housing support. There are currently 27,100 active HAP tenancies with a total of 12,695 such tenancies being set up in 2017 to date. These numbers indicate that Rebuilding Ireland's target of 15,000 tenancies to be supported by the scheme in 2017 will be met. These tenancies involve more than 20,000 separate landlords and agents.

The evidence of the success of the HAP scheme suggests that many households want what HAP has to offer, namely, flexible housing support with access to long-term policies at a rent that is based on their ability to pay and the security of knowing they can work full time without losing their household support. Comments made in the report on landlords being uninterested in the scheme certainly do not tally with the overall experience of the scheme's operation. HAP addresses many long-standing issues raised by landlord groups and housing academics on the operation of rent supplement. HAP scheme payments are made to the landlord on the tenant's behalf, which is to say that all payments are made electronically directly to the landlord. In essence, the landlord does not have to collect the rent. It is important to recognise that in developing the HAP scheme, every effort has been made to provide a strong level of long-term support while allowing for far greater flexibility of support, including speed of access to the scheme comparable to rent supplement. All parties to the administration of the scheme are committed to providing prospective HAP tenants with the capacity to secure good quality, appropriate accommodation in the private market in the areas in which they want to live.

I move now to deal quickly with hubs. In respect of the comments of Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy, it is important to be very clear that family hubs are designed to be an important first response for families who become homeless and who have no alternative other than commercial hotels. Family hubs provide more appropriate and suitable accommodation for families than commercial hotels. They are not a long-term housing solution as families will move into houses and apartments that will be provided under social housing supports as supply becomes available. Housing authorities are working hard to ensure the progression of homeless families into independent tenancies as quickly as possible. Indeed, since opening in June 2017, more than 50% of the families accommodated in the Mater Dei family hub, referred to by the Chairman earlier, have transitioned to more permanent homes. Family hubs provide a more secure and stable placement for families on an ongoing basis, unlike the insecurity of hotel accommodation, especially during peak periods and holidays. These custom-developed facilities offer family living arrangements with a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured. Such arrangements facilitate more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning, including on-site access to required services such as welfare, health and housing services, cooking and laundry facilities and appropriate family supports.

The Department recognises that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to meeting housing needs. Households are different and their housing needs are different and will change over time. If meeting housing need were simple, we would have no vacant social or private units in any local authority area. We would have no households refusing offers of social housing on multiple occasions and we would not be striving to introduce greater choice and autonomy in the housing allocation process through initiatives like choice-based letting. Achieving a balanced mix of solutions must remain a priority, even in the midst of the current housing issues we face. The introduction of HAP is a major step forward in introducing flexibility to meet housing need. Many of the households in HAP today will move to other forms of social-housing support over their lifetimes as their needs change and as more units become available. Many will move out of social-housing supports as their need lessens.

I thank the committee for inviting us here today. My colleagues, Mr. Brian Kenny and Mr. Thomas Gallagher, and I are more than happy to take any questions the members have.

I thank Ms Hurley. Does Ms Gleeson mind if I ask her to shorten her statement also? I apologise.

Ms Eileen Gleeson

I will do my best. I thank the committee for its invitation to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, or DRHE, to attend this meeting to discuss the report. My submission outlines the background to the DRHE's participation in the research of Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hearne. I will respond to the policy recommendations for which the DRHE has responsibility, namely, the development of family hubs, initiatives aimed at preventing homelessness, the homeless HAP initiative, social-housing allocation policy relating to homeless persons and service-user participation. Central to the business of the DRHE is a commitment to evidence-informed decision-making. To this end, the DRHE has a dedicated research unit staffed with trained researchers who are tasked with the production of verified quality and comprehensive research and data. This information is used to inform the development of operations and policy decisions around the DRHE's response to growing rates of homelessness. Our national PASS office is the primary data source which has enabled us to track and report on the increase in family homelessness in the Dublin region.

Family homelessness became a noticeable issue towards the end of 2014. In line with other major cities, hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation was used to deal with the sudden influx of families. While the allocation of social housing to homeless households in the Dublin region increased, the rate was not sufficient to reduce or stabilise the number of housing homeless presentations. It was not until the homeless HAP pilot began to take off in 2016 that the numbers entering homeless services began to stabilise with homeless presentations being prevented from entering homelessness as a result of using homeless HAP. My submission outlines the numbers in homelessness moving to tenancies in the Dublin region and the types of tenure.

I turn to the rationale for the development of family hubs. While the development of hubs has been unprecedented internationally, the decision to proceed was based on evidence that on-site support in temporary accommodation services was a more effective model of service delivery. Emergency accommodation dispersed across the region, serviced by visiting support and support planning, has increased since the provision of the hubs. In quarter 1 of 2017, we had 2,350 cases with support planning in place. In quarter 2, following the introduction of the hubs, we have gone up to 2,550. In addition, research conducted by the DRHE in 2015 identified similar issues to those identified in the report before the committee. It highlighted the need for improved physical design of spaces for families that operated to respect autonomy and facilitate moves to tenancies within the shortest possible timeframe. As such, the DRHE began planning for the development of hubs containing the range of services outlined in my report. It should be noted that the national quality standards and departmental guidelines were being developed and actively used to inform the development of services prior to the publication of the report of Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hearne.

It should be noted that the national quality standards and the departmental guidelines were developed and were actively used to inform the development of services prior to the publication of the report compiled by Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy. The guidelines include inspection, evaluation, redress and participation, all issues which were raised by Dr. Murphy and Dr. Hearne. There is broad recognition that hubs are more favourable than hotels and are an important first response to families who become homeless and have no alternative other than commercial hotels. They are not long-term housing solutions, however. As Dublin is the first region to adopt hubs as an emergency accommodation mechanism, the research unit of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive - I am joined today by the head of research - will develop an evaluation methodology using the national quality standards framework as a reference point to monitor and inform best practice in their operation.

I want to outline briefly the features that are in the hubs. This issue was raised by Dr. Murphy. All family hubs are retrofitted to adhere to current building standards. Strict quality controls are in place to ensure all facilities are fully regulated with regard to fire and disabled access. There are space standards in place. The hubs are operated by professional staff. They are subject to service level agreements with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. All families retain their homeless priority on the social housing list. All hubs are subject to good neighbour, good visitor and child protection policies. We have a community liaison officer in place who is tasked with ensuring everyone who accesses these services is linked with local community services. All hubs have access to key workers for support planning. As I mentioned earlier, the effect of this is that support planning is now in place for more families than heretofore. There is an exit strategy. Nobody is being held in family hubs against his or her will. Everyone has a right to move on and to exit into HAP or any other form of social housing he or she wishes to use. There is assistance with travel costs. Leap cards are available to people in hubs. Free child care places are provided.

Preventing homelessness in the first instance and supporting people to retain their homes is one of the main priorities of central government, statutory services and State-funded homeless services. The four local authorities and Threshold, through the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, work in collaboration on the tenancy protection service. Since the launch of that service in June 2014, some 3,160 households have had their tenancies protected. In addition, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive appointed prevention officers in February of this year. They work with families as they present to assist them to remain in their current accommodation or to move on to alternative appropriate accommodation as quickly as possible through our place-finder service.

Does Ms Gleeson mind if I move on to questions at this point? She might be able to make some of the other points she wishes to make in response to those questions.

Ms Eileen Gleeson

Just one minute. I am nearly finished.

Ms Eileen Gleeson

We have exceeded the HAP targets for homeless families that we were set under Rebuilding Ireland. We facilitated 974 adults in moving to HAP tenancies under the homeless pilot last year. We have helped a further 841 people to make similar moves so far this year. I want to make it clear that families taking up HAP tenancies are not taken off the housing waiting list. They remain on the transfer list. Tenancy sustainment is a big part of our role. We have a huge range of visiting supports for people who move on to tenancies. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has been investing in the development of prevention of services and will continue to do so. We can verify the allocation mechanism for our social housing. It is transparent. Allocations to local authorities or approved housing bodies continue to account for significant numbers of tenancies. Overall, the infrastructure is now in place to continue to develop hubs and to ensure we capture learning and feed it back to ensure services work as effectively as possible. In line with most research and commentary on homelessness, we acknowledge that housing supply and security of tenure are ultimately the most critical issues that need to be addressed to resolve homelessness.

Along with my colleagues, Dr. Bernie O'Donoghue Hynes, who is the head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive's research unit, and Mr. Tony Flynn, who is the head of housing development in Dublin City Council, I will be happy to respond to any questions that members might have. I thank the committee for its time.

I remind members that we are under severe time pressure. I am going to confine contributions to a minute so that everybody gets in. I ask members to stick to their points, where possible, rather than elaborating on stories.

I have a few questions. When we are discussing hubs, it is important to note the concern that not all of the hubs will have the level of service and quality of Mater Dei, which many of us have visited. I refer particularly to the hubs that will be in refurbished commercial units. I think that concern is part of what is driving this conversation. There is also a fear that the significant level of public pressure that has developed on foot of the housing of large numbers of families and children in commercial hotels will diminish as more and more families move into hubs and, as a result, families could end up being in hubs longer than we might want, even if that is not what is intended. I want to make our concerns in this regard clear.

I would like to ask Ms Gleeson about the quality standards framework and the quality standards office that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the lead authorities have been working on. Can she tell the committee what level of resourcing will be required? What staff levels will be required? I am aware that a three-year rollout programme is being developed and discussed with the Department. It is all very well to have very good quality standards on paper. I am fully supportive of the work that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive wants to be done. We need to know what the Minister needs to provide in next month's budget to make the work that the executive has been doing in recent times a reality.

I disagree with Ms Gleeson in one regard. HAP families are taken off the principal housing waiting lists. They are not featuring in the figures. In all but one local authority, they do not have access to the main allocation system. Ms Gleeson is right when she says they have access to transfers, but that is a very fundamental difference.

I have a question for the officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. How many families are in hubs now? What is the timeframe for the future rollout of a number of families into hubs? Some commercial sites are currently being refurbished into hubs. Obviously, that is taking beds out of the emergency system. How many beds have been taken out as a result of that? How many adults and children are still in commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation? The idea underpinning hubs is that there will be a reduction in the number of families in commercial hotels as the number of families in hubs increases. My fear is that because of the increasing number of presentations, we will have the same number of families in hotels, albeit new ones, as well as the families in hubs.

I thank the Deputy. I will come back to him if there is time.

I will conclude with two quick questions. First, can the departmental officials tell us where the Department is at with the resourcing of the quality standards framework office? Second, the crucial problem with HAP in all local authorities other than South Dublin County Council is that it leads to families being taken off the principal choice-based letting allocation system. One local authority has made a change to ensure families do not lose their crucial places on the allocation system. Will the Department seriously consider changing the HAP rules to allow all local authorities to do what South Dublin County Council is doing? Such a move would resolve the central problem with the current approach to HAP, which was adding six years to the wait for a council house in south Dublin, in addition to the 11-year waiting time that exists anyway. I think the Department should recommend this very simple change, which does not require legislation, to all local authorities.

I welcome the clarity in the figures. I also welcome the extremely active and welcome response of the agencies and the Department. I will concentrate on questions. I presume the witnesses are aware of Louth County Council's successful initiative which involves compulsorily purchasing empty homes at an average cost of less than €100,000 per household, including all legal and reconstruction costs. Over 30 homes have been brought back into full family use within a year. Will the Department or the agencies accelerate this extremely helpful programme? I reckon it should be possible to bring at least 2,000 additional social homes into commission within a year.

I am very concerned about the second issue I would like to raise. The CSO seems to disagree profoundly with Fingal County Council on the number of empty homes in the Fingal area. The CSO is very clear on what defines an empty home or an empty property. Fingal County Council disagrees profoundly with that. According to the CSO, there are approximately 36,000 empty homes in Dublin. A gain could be made by bringing 3,000 of them back into commission by means of an empty homes tax or some other approach. Can we clarify whether these properties are vacant? The CSO has suggested that as it surveyed homes in Dublin in 2016, it found that one in every ten homes was vacant. If it transpires that there are families in these homes, it will have been a huge error. Perhaps Fingal County Council has made an error. This goes to the heart of the credibility of the CSO statistics themselves, never mind the Garda breath tests. I know the CSO figures are not wrong by 185,000. What is the real figure?

It could be a big gain for everybody, particularly families on the waiting list.

I am quite conscious of the time. By the way, it was very helpful that many of the witnesses were here at the first session because these two issues totally overlap. The witnesses might comment on the sunset clause set out by Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy with regard to the ending of hubs in December 2019 and the practicalities of that. Would they share that ambition?

On hotels, we had great fanfare when the previous Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, was in here about Rebuilding Ireland. He emphatically told us there would be no hotels in a year or so. That has not happened and we cannot go back on it. However, what is the objective of the Department in terms of a date and a timeframe for the total cessation of anyone being accommodated in hotel accommodation? Could we have a date and an ambition for, and no vagueness on, that? When is it intended to do that?

I welcome the shift back to direct building. That is important. The Minister talks about the new inter-agency homeless group. Who is on that group? What is its remit and its format? How will it actively set about its work? The witnesses might share that with us in the next week or two. Whenever they have a moment, I would like to hear more about it.

My fourth point concerns the use of public lands. I have raised time and again the lack of verifiable data on public lands. I want to zone in on local authority lands. We know from the Department's own local government auditors, who examine internally within the Custom House the returns for the 31 local authorities, that they have found substantial shortcomings in them. I mention particularly Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council because that is the one I know. I looked at the last audit report today. It is on the Department's website, which states that there is a shortcoming here and that it wants a complete inventory of the lands within the local authority. I have written to the Department about it. I do not know what is going on here. The last audit carried out, which is published online, for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is that of 2015-2016. That is really important. We need hard facts and hard data on sites. If we are serious about availing of and building on local authority lands, in particular, although I would not rule out any other State lands, we need a detailed inventory. I would like that to be prioritised if at all possible.

I know it is pre-budget so they may not wish to comment on it, but is there any intention to look at increasing the housing assistance payment or the rent supplement limits given current market rents? What is their view on it? Are they thinking along those lines? They might share that with us.

I will be as brief as I can. First, I acknowledge the work that the Department has done in terms of what it has achieved, such as 3,000 exiting homelessness. Equally, however, we must acknowledge that the cumulative effect of homelessness is continuing to rise. While 3,000 exit, another 3,000 plus replace them.

On the use of hotels as emergency accommodation, is there evidence to show that we are expanding outside Dublin and using hotels in the neighbouring counties to address the homelessness crisis in Dublin? I am getting anecdotal evidence from my county that is in fact the case and that we are now moving people out of Dublin into, for example, rural areas in County Wicklow.

I agree with the policy shift to direct building housing by the local authority. However, are we just moving the same funding from one source of supply to another source of supply? Will it deliver additional housing units or is it just that the method by which they will be delivered has changed?

Why did we create the transfer list in the first place? Is it that we are trying to present figures in a different way, which makes the crisis worse, because their long-term housing needs have not been met?

I only have the one question. It is on the issue of hubs. I want to briefly read into the record some quotes because the quotes in the report are really interesting and important and it is important the voice of the people in the hubs is heard. The researchers were told by various parents that they felt their parenting was being checked all the time, that they got warnings, that the hubs felt like institutions, that they did not need their authority taken away from them in front of their children, that they were taking the parenting role from the parent and that when someone spoke to them like this, they feel they are on the bottom.

The hub at Clonliffe Road has been mentioned more than once in this discussion. My first question is whether the witnesses feel there is a possibility of so-called good, showcase hubs being promoted whereas the reality in other hubs is quite different. On the question of a sunset clause, would Ms Gleeson and Ms Hurley comment on reports and information that we have that the State is in negotiation with owners of buildings to get those buildings for hubs and what is being discussed is five-year leases.

I agree with previous speakers on the housing assistance payment. Things need to be clarified. The HAP forms go to the landlord and then to Cork, because it has left local authorities. I have massive issues with that. All the HAP applications should be left with the 31 local authorities. When put on the HAP, there was a question on the form asking if the applicant wanted to stay on the housing list. That was on the form but many people did not understand it and did not fill it in. There was massive confusion and that needs to be sorted.

The other issue is the cap. Many people are becoming homeless because of the cap. They are not qualifying. We all want to welcome the €45 million going into the hubs in Dublin. That is fine and it is welcome. Everyone needs a home. However, it is necessary to qualify to get the benefit of rent control. A list was made recently in respect of rent control. Carlow-Kilkenny is my area. Most of us do not qualify. That is unreal. We are putting hubs in the cities, which is fine and I have no problem with the €45 million going into that. However, we need to examine the rural areas and say that they should be put into the rent control categories. What is happening is resulting in a divide. Rural areas are being forgotten and the focus is on the hubs, Dublin and the cities. The Department needs to look at other areas.

I have massive issues with the housing list. As the witnesses know, many people do not qualify for the housing list if they already have a home. However, if their home is repossessed and the house is sold, it takes a long time to get that sorted. If the person's name is still on that house, although he or she is not in it because the bank has taken it or it is up for sale and the person is renting somewhere else, he or she is not able to go on the housing list because his or her name is on another house.

We are making people homeless. We have the cap and they do not qualify to go on the housing list. We have people whose houses, through no fault of their own, are being repossessed by the bank. The process is so long that they are not qualifying to go on the housing list. Furthermore, they are not qualifying for rent allowance because the Department is now taking away the rent allowance that used to help those who did not qualify to go on the housing list. I have massive issues with that.

We were delighted to have the Minister in Carlow over a month ago. I was not at the meeting, although I am highlighting it. He announced more than 100 houses. Some of them are co-operative houses and some of them are local authority houses and I welcome that. However, the problem is that a sod has not been turned in a month and there is no timescale. We knew about these projects a year ago but the Minister announced them a month ago. We cannot get a timescale. What I am saying is that all the money we are told is there is not coming through to local authorities. That is why local authorities are not able to do the work they have to do. The powers need to be given back to the local authorities. They need to build more housing and we need to ensure that happens as I do not think it is happening.

To return to the rental accommodation scheme, which is similar to the housing assistance payment-----

If the Senator does not mind, I will bring her back in. She is the only one to go over three minutes. I do not want to cut her off but, if we have the time at the end, I will come back to her.

Those in receipt of HAP are obviously a combination of people who were on the rental accommodation scheme or in receipt of rent supplement. Some of them are in receipt of the homeless HAP.

How many more extras will we get? A target of 15,000 tenancies has been mentioned and the Department has set up 12,000 to date. How many more extras has the target taken into account?

In terms of hubs, we all accept that a hub is better than a hotel. I am interested in hearing about the long-term effects of hubs. How many more hubs are planned? Is there a deadline for moving people out of hotels? Has a new realistic deadline been set?

Ms Hurley has stated that 3,800 social housing units will be built in 2018. Is that figure not totally inadequate? It has been recognised that the big problem is building more social housing. I find it hard to believe that politicians will accept such a target. Have the local authorities advised the Minister that a State company must be established, perhaps with local authorities, to build more social and affordable housing? I would like to hear about the engagement on that matter. It is crucial that we establish such a company to address our social and affordable housing needs.

In terms of CPOs, I have talked about compulsory purchase orders to Mr. Tony Flynn and Mr. Brendan Kenny on many occasions. Dublin City Council has been slow to get CPOs and has only barely started. Dublin City Council is the biggest local authority in the count yet it has only 20 CPOs at present. It is a poor record that needs to be addressed in a big way.

Can the witnesses tell me how many people have joined the housing list over the past three years? What figures are available for same? How many new applications for housing have been made nationally? What is the pace of the new applications? Such information has not been taken into account. Anecdotally, in Dún Laoghaire, I can say that there are more applications than planned houses. That means the list of 5,000 will be longer, even with the current plans, than it is now at the end of the next year or the year after. Is the Department tracking the amount of new applications? If so, how will they impact on the list and plans to deal with the housing crisis?

Do the witnesses know how many people on average have been knocked off the list over the same period because they exceeded the eligibility criteria? Unfortunately, people have been knocked off the list due to receiving a small pay rise, working a few extra hours or whatever even though they still have absolutely no chance of getting a mortgage from a bank. What provisions have been made for them?

Can the witnesses tell us anything about LIHAF funding? How much will we get back in affordable housing? What is the latest thinking on defining affordable housing? At the end of last year the Minister issued a circular saying that the €300,000 limit must be varied because the market figures are much higher. That means affordable housing will mean more than €300,000. A huge number of people cannot afford to pay €300,000 for a home. Therefore, going above the sum of €300,000 makes the words "affordable housing" meaningless. What proportion of money will we get back for LIHAF funding? We understand in Dún Laoghaire that for €15 million LIHAF funding for Cherrywood we will get 1% of the Cherrywood development. It is shocking if that is true.

Does the Department plan to engage with NAMA given the current discussions and the Taoiseach stating that using NAMA's assets and capacities is long overdue? Has the Government engaged with NAMA about the remainder of the NAMA properties and landbanks?

The Deputy has run over time. I must cut him off because I cut off Senator Murnane O'Connor in terms of time. I will allow him to comment later, if we have time. Does Senator Grace O'Sullivan have a question?

We are here to discuss the Rebuilding Ireland policy. All we have heard about is rehousing Ireland, not rebuilding. What steps has the Department put in place to work with local authorities to build social and affordable houses?

The Minister mentioned people on housing lists. If they live in an area of high demand is there flexibility that allows them to move to an area, even a rural one, if they so choose?

To follow on from what Deputy Boyd Barrett has said, it was mentioned at the council meeting last week that no figure of 1% or a further 10% was given for the Cherrywood development. What was said was that no decision will be made on the percentage until the council negotiates with the developer but I confirm that figures have been bandied about.

I wish the officials luck in providing answers to all of the questions because they have only five minutes to respond. The secretariat has noted all of the questions. A bit like Dr. Mary P. Murphy and Dr. Rory Hearne in the last session, I suggest that the witnesses supply us with their answers as well.

Ms Mary Hurley

I can move quickly through some of the questions. Deputy Ó Broin asked some questions about hubs. At present there are nine hubs in operation that accommodate 304 families. A further 11 hubs will come onstream. They have been delayed because we want to put quality services and supports in place. Three or four additional hubs will come onstream over the next two months, which will accommodate a significant number of people. We are not showcasing. The reason the hubs have not been supplied as quickly as we wanted is because of our wish to meet quality standards.

Deputy Ó Broin mentioned the staffing levels of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE. One of the discussions that took place at the housing summit was on upskilling and putting the right people in place to support Ms Gleeson and her team with their excellent work. The Department will work very closely with Ms Gleeson to supplement the number of her staff and identify additional needs. One of the needs that has been identified is the need to appoint a director for the Housing First Service. We will move forward with that matter.

Funding has been mentioned. I can confirm that the Government has ring-fenced €5.35 billion to deliver social housing out to the end of the programme. This year alone we have spent €750 million, so money has reached local authorities. We are working to improve our systems in the Department in terms of the approval process. There is work under way with the local authorities to concertina the process.

Deputy O'Dowd had a few queries. We have worked hard with Louth County Council on compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. The county council is a fine example of making it work. There is funding available for CPOs and we will continue to work to advance the initiative.

Deputy O'Dowd mentioned the difference in the number of empty houses compiled by the CSO and local authorities. Yes, there seems to be a divergence in numbers. The Minister has established a vacant house unit in his Department. We are working on the vacant house strategy at the moment so many matters will be clarified. One thing is certain there are not the amount of vacant units that people think exist. Obviously the Department will try to maximise the use of vacant units through various social housing schemes. For example, the repair and leasing scheme, the buy and renew scheme and also making vacant units available for private use.

Senator Boyhan raised a number of queries. He said it was critical to establish an inter-agency group to address the homeless issue and provide joined-up services. We are all aware that homeless people have complex needs. An inter-agency group has been established and Mr. John Murphy, the former Secretary General of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, has been appointed to Chair the group. The Minister and I have met him. Plus the inter-agency group will hold its first meeting on 5 October. The meeting will involve engagement with a range of stakeholders that deliver services to homeless people.

The Senator mentioned sunset clauses and hubs. Our overall ambition is to move people out of hubs as quickly as possible and there is evidence of a 50% turnover in the number of families who resided at the Mater Dei facility. Some cases are a little more complex than others and it can be hard to move people on.

Members can rest assured that we will be working to get people out of the hubs as quickly as possible. Ms Gleeson and her team have put various initiatives in place and key workers and place finders to assist families. I know Deputy Boyd Barrett has raised the place finder service on a number of occasions. In the four Dublin authorities the DRHE provided a place finding service but the Minister, Deputy Murphy, has committed to a physical place finding service in each of the areas and across the 31 local authority areas.

I am sorry but I have to cut Ms Hurley off as another committee is coming in. I have a copy of the questions. Perhaps Ms Hurley can email the clerk, Ms Cashin, with responses. We will then circulate them to members. I am sorry that I am obliged to cut the meeting short. I thank Mr. Gallagher, Ms Hurley, Mr. Kenny, Ms Gleeson, Dr. O'Donoghue Hynes and Mr. Flynn for attending.

The joint committee adjourned at 12 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28 September 2017.