Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Ceisteanna (56)

Barry Cowen


56. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount, location and criteria involved in the recently announced affordable housing scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4830/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Housing)

Last week the Minister announced the affordable house scheme, which was long overdue. The details and the specifics pertaining to this scheme have not been much elaborated on in the public domain. Perhaps the Minister will inform the House what local authority areas have been identified for such a scheme, which approved bodies have been sanctioned to handle and provide for such a scheme on behalf of the Department and the State, what is the specific income criteria for the scheme and how many units are expected to be provided under the scheme this year and in the coming years.

The Government is committed to helping people to achieve the aspiration of home ownership. We recognise that buying a first home is always a challenging prospect but has become increasingly difficult in Dublin and other areas. Building on other initiatives already under way to improve affordability, I announced a number of new affordable housing measures last week. Together with the new Rebuilding Ireland home loan, a national scheme for affordable purchase is being reintroduced, targeted at households with annual gross income below €50,000 for a single applicant or €75,000 for joint applicants.

The new scheme will be governed by the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which will be commenced shortly. I will then develop detailed regulations covering the operation of the scheme, including eligibility criteria, and I will be happy to consider any views that Deputies may have in that regard.  Once the regulations are in place, the elected members of each local authority will decide on the arrangements under which eligible households will access affordable properties becoming available.

The new affordable homes will be delivered by and through local authorities, primarily using sites from their landbanks to leverage the construction of homes for sale at affordable price points. This means that local authorities will now have more options for the development of their sites for mixed-tenure social and affordable housing. Local authority chief executives welcomed these affordable housing measures at the housing summit on 22 January.

The first such homes are being procured by Dublin City Council at O'Devaney Gardens and I have asked all local authority chief executives to submit, by mid-February, an outline of their respective affordable housing programmes from their lands, with a particular emphasis on Dublin, Cork and Galway where the affordability challenge is greatest.

I thank the Minister for his response. It would appear that information is not readily available to add weight to the announcement made. The Minister is simply saying that he hopes there will be recommendations made to him by the relevant local authorities in Dublin, Cork and Galway and that he, in turn, is in the process of developing the criteria that will be applicable. At this stage can the Minister even give an estimate? Is the scheme confined to Dublin, Cork and Galway? Will approved housing bodies have a role? When does the Minister expect to be in a position to inform the public about the income criteria that might be applicable? How many units does the Minister envisage being made available as designated affordable units to the cohort of people who find themselves not able to get on a housing waiting list and who cannot afford a mortgage but who may have a possibility of getting one under this scheme? The Minister needs to put meat on the bones of the announcement he made last week so that people can adjudicate on it and the public can be safe and secure in the knowledge that there are prospects available throughout the country under this scheme.

The Deputy asked about the numbers. When I announced the scheme I said that we had identified land and finance for at least 3,000 homes under the affordable purchase scheme, but our ambition is for 10,000 homes. Asking local authorities to identify more land that could be made available for those homes was part of our engagement under the housing summit. The way the scheme is being set up, with local authorities taking an equity stake rather than the discount taken, it will produce a rolling fund for the affordable scheme so they can continue to reinvest in affordable housing.

I will explain how we got to the figure of 3,000. Under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which is the current scheme we are progressing through, between 1,700 and 1,800 homes will be made available. With the €25 million secured in the budget for this year and next some 600 to 800 affordable homes will be made available under the affordable purchase scheme. Some 120 homes in O'Devaney Gardens and 450 units in the Poolbeg strategic development zone project, SDZ may come under the affordable purchase scheme. We also looked at areas such as St. Michael's estate and Oscar Traynor Road, which provide potential for another 210 homes under the affordable purchase scheme. This significant number of units has been identified but the ambition is for more.

We also need to be realistic. If we look back to 2007, we see that the Part V affordable scheme delivered over 3,000 homes in that year but it was the only year it went over 3,000 homes. That was during a year when we were building more than 70,000 homes across the State. As we reintroduce affordability, we need to do it in a way that we can scale up quickly while being realistic in our ambitions.

Deputy Cowen asked about the criteria around accessibility. The income limit for a couple is €75,000 and it is €50,000 for a single person. The scheme will be administered through the local authority. I will use the provisions under the 2009 Act and will set regulations off the back of that. As I have said at the Oireachtas joint committee, I welcome contributions. I am hearing differing opinions as to how people might access this scheme. When I spoke with residents about the Poolbeg SDZ, they said they wanted provisions made for local people to be able to access the affordable housing scheme. When I spoke with people who were not from the area, they said they wanted to make sure they also had access to the scheme. I have met with housing bodies, such as Ó Cualann, to see how they had set eligibility criteria for co-operative housing schemes. We need to bring about a general scheme that will work for the whole country and all these sites. We are not just talking about Dublin, Cork and Galway. I have tasked all local authorities to come back with relevant sites to do this. I welcome any input. We have some time to get the scheme and the criteria right and for the local authorities to roll it out.

I welcome the elaboration. Will the equity stake in the lands constitute on-balance sheet expenditure for the Government?

Does the Minister intend to extend the scheme to private lands and, if so, what is the timeframe for that process?

The Deputy asked if housing bodies would have a role. They will have a role in this but it will depend on how the relevant local authority wants to build out the land and the purpose it wants to put it to under the affordable housing scheme. Ó Cualann is a housing body and Dublin City Council has worked with it already. As such, we know this can work and we know how it could work in future.

On the use of private lands and affordability, we have been able to achieve a greater allowance for affordability on sites which are not necessarily State owned, such as the Poolbeg SDZ. That is a welcome development. From the conversations we have had with local authority chief executives on certain sites that might be coming in as part of developments which are on stream at the moment, there is a prospect of bringing in affordability there as well. One of the challenges I have put to the local authorities with the Minister of State, Deputy English, is that where we have identified land for social housing we then need them to identify what land they can use for affordable housing also.

The Deputy referred to the equity stake. As it is an equity stake, it will come on balance sheet for local authorities and therefore for the general Government debt. However, it has already been counted in the context of the money provided in the budget for the €25 million site service fund.