I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Noel Ahern, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government with responsibility for housing and urban renewal. I am happy to address the Senator's concerns about the Government's commitments to meeting social housing needs.
The results of the 2005 assessment of housing needs undertaken by local authorities indicted that of the total of 43,413 households in need of housing, 43% or 18,902 were single person households. The previous assessment in 2002 indicated that 32% or 15,522 households were single person households. The Government has acknowledged this increasing housing need for single persons and has responded actively by expanding social and affordable housing output very significantly. A record allocation of €942 million for the local authority housing construction and acquisition programme has been provided in 2006. This should allow for the completion of more than 5,000 housing units in the year, many of which will be one and two bedroom units. These are being delivered under local authority building and acquisition programmes and dwellings acquired under Part V. However, one bedroom dwellings will not always be suitable for a single person. In some situations an extra bedroom is required to accommodate visiting family members or carers in the case of an elderly person. I will pass on Senator Browne's comments about constructing a larger living room.
Figures on the number of bedrooms provided in newly built or acquired local authority dwellings are not readily available in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister has urged the local authorities to accelerate progress on the implementation of their programmes to begin construction and secure completion on as many social housing schemes as possible in 2006.
It is not just the local authority housing construction programme that serves to meet the needs of those on the waiting lists. This year it is expected that 1,350 units will be provided by the voluntary housing sector. This will also assist in meeting the needs of those households on waiting lists, including single people. The rental accommodation scheme also uses a range of measures to provide good quality, secure accommodation and is particularly suited to dealing with the needs of single person households, the elderly and the long-term homeless. It has also provided a solution to the problems of poverty traps in the rent supplement scheme.
In the social design guidelines, the Department has advised local authorities of the need to provide a reasonable mix of dwellings suited to the different kinds of households already on the waiting list and to plan their future programmes taking account of the estimated size and type of households likely to be seeking housing in the future. In the past there may have been an over-emphasis by local authorities on the provision of three bedroom houses and larger. In many circumstances this may have militated against the prospects of obtaining local authority housing by single persons on waiting lists for long periods Local authorities have been reminded of the need to ensure the profile of house types in proposed new housing schemes should take greater account of the actual housing needs position of households on waiting lists. The action plans on social and affordable housing for the period 2004 to 2008, drawn up by local authorities and agreed with the Department, lists the number and bedroom type of local authority dwellings to be built over the period and which should reflect the various categories of needs on their waiting lists.
It is ultimately a matter for individual local authorities to decide on the allocation of houses to single persons and other categories on their waiting lists in accordance with their schemes of letting priorities. The guidelines issued by the Department to local authorities indicate that schemes of letting priorities should be equitable and balanced in dealing with different classes of housing need. The aim must be to promote equality of opportunity in accessing local authority housing based on relative housing needs; to ensure a dwelling, if suitable, is let to the person in greatest need; and that no category of need is at a permanent disadvantagevis-à-vis other categories.
The Department continues to monitor the matching of local authority house building and acquisition programmes to the range of household needs on waiting lists. In recent years local authorities have provided a wider range of house types, including an increasing number of one and two bedroom dwellings which are more suitable to single people. Local authorities must also ensure the allocation of houses has due regard to the objective of achieving good social integration and estate management.