Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Ceisteanna (26)

Eoin Ó Broin


26. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason 428 fewer real social houses, that is, units owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies, were delivered in 2018 than were delivered in 2017 and his views on whether this drop indicates a problem with the speed and scale of real social housing delivery, particularly within the local authority sector. [19985/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

The Minister is very fond of quoting the report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness and its key recommendation for the State to deliver 10,000 additional real social houses every year over five years. That report defines real social houses as units owned by local authorities or approved housing bodies. The real social housing output last year was around 6,297 units. These are units built or bought by approved housing bodies or local authorities. However, the most recent real social housing target for 2018 is 428 fewer, standing at 5,869. Can the Minister explain and justify the drop?

I note the reference in the Deputy's question to "real social housing" units after which he then proceeded to outline an entirely unreal comparative analysis. Therefore, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I am happy to outline the actual comparison between social housing delivery in 2017 and the corresponding targets for 2018.

In 2018, local authorities will deliver 2,319 new-build homes, approved housing bodies will deliver 1,500 and 590 will be delivered through the Part V mechanism. This will bring to 4,409 the number of new-build social housing homes to be delivered this year. That is a 92% increase on the comparable 2,297 new-build homes delivered in 2017, of which 1,014 were by local authorities, 761 by approved housing bodies and 522 through Part V. This increase reflects the changing composition of the overall social housing programme as we increasingly deliver more and more new builds while acquisitions and the voids programme become less significant delivery streams.

In addition, it appears that the Deputy's analysis excludes homes delivered through long-term leasing in secure tenancies for up to 25 years. Such homes are very much a real home for the individuals and families that they accommodate and 2,000 such properties are targeted for delivery this year, well over twice the level achieved in 2017.

In addition to the 4,409 new-build homes and the 2,000 leased homes, 560 void homes will be brought back into stock and 900 new homes will be acquired bringing to 7,869 the number of new social housing homes that will be delivered in 2018. This is more than 50% higher than the target for 2017 and more than 11% up on the 2017 output. This is before any account is taken of the housing assistance payment or rental accommodation schemes. In setting local authority targets for 2018, I have been explicitly clear with local authorities that these are minimum targets and that where additional capacity to deliver arises, we will work in partnership with local authorities to drive that accelerated delivery.

Part of the problem is, precisely as the Minister says, an increasing reliance on leased properties instead of real social housing. The reason I use the phrase "real social housing" is because it was used in the unanimously endorsed report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. The Minister claims to be meeting the committee's recommendation when the figures very clearly show that this is not the case. My concern is the dramatic increase in the Department's long-term leasing targets from approximately 798 in 2017 to in the region of 2,000 this year. This is to the detriment of the provision of real social houses, namely, units owned, built or bought by local authorities and approved housing bodies. This means that an over-reliance on the private rental sector, be it via leasing or involving the housing assistance payment or the rental accommodation scheme, will jump from 75% of total so-called social housing delivery last year to 78% this year. Every time we say that the Government is over-reliant on the private sector, the Minister says this is not true. However, this year, which is the first full year in which he will be Minister, the actual number of real social houses owned by local authorities or approved housing bodies will be fewer than last year. This is a significant fact, one for which the Minister is responsible and one he has yet to adequately explain.

I do not know why Deputy Ó Broin wishes to misrepresent the progress that is being made when it comes to building social housing homes. He is not comparing like with like. He includes things such as voids when he wants to and then excludes them when he wants. This gives a very unfair impression of what is actually happening. Of course, we are building more units this year. We spent everything in our capital and current budgets last year. We were doing so much that I had to get additional money from the Minister for Finance to build more homes and that is what happened. This year, we again have a dramatic increase in our capital budget that will build more homes - real homes coming into the social housing stock. These are homes built by local authorities and approved housing bodies and homes delivered through the Part V arrangement.

We will also acquire homes. That figure is down. Again, the Deputy looked for it last year and I agreed that we should be acquiring less and building more so we are doing that. When we do that, the Deputy says our acquisitions target is down. Of course it is down. That is the case because we are building more. The number of voids is also down because we have managed to achieve a huge amount in terms of taking vacant, sometimes derelict, social housing units and bringing them back into use. As we do more of that, fewer voids will be brought back into use. However, even when one takes the total sum of what we hope to achieve this year, it is up on last year in terms of real social housing units for people to live in.

We still rely on the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme because we have not yet built enough social housing units for people on the housing list but as we move to 2020 and 2021 under Rebuilding Ireland, more people will be accommodated in new homes coming into the social housing stock than will be accommodated in the private rental sector. Our ambition does not end at the end of Rebuilding Ireland. It follows through into Project Ireland 2040 out to 2027. Between now and that date, at least 112,000 homes will be built. These are social housing units for the social housing stock.

First, I never called for the Government to acquire fewer units for local authorities. What I wanted it to do was to continue to acquire and to increase building. I keep coming back to the report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness because that cross-party report set out the minimum that this House believed the Government needed to do to tackle the social housing crisis. Again, we talked about increasing the stock of real social houses owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies by a minimum of 10,000 units per year for five years.

Last year just over 6,000 were produced and it will be less than that this year. There is no confusion; it is very clear. The number of real units delivered this year will be less than last year. I accept the number of leased units, housing assistance payment, HAP, units and rental accommodation scheme, RAS, units will be higher but that is part of the problem. There is an increasing over-reliance with up to 78% of leased or subsidised private rental accommodation rather than doing what the all-party Oireachtas committee recommended, which was to deliver an increase of real units. The Government is not even coming close to the target we set at that time.

The Deputy is absolutely correct. The call to acquire fewer homes by local authorities was my call because I did not want them competing with young families in the market in high-demand areas. Where it still makes financial sense to do it and it is not a high-demand area, local authorities can still make acquisitions and that is why this year, in the region of 900 more homes will be acquired into the social housing stock, the permanent stock, under Rebuilding Ireland.

The Oireachtas joint committee referred to 50,000 new homes and therefore it always presupposed a reliance on the private sector for another type of solution for people who needed social housing support. It always presumed that. It always presumed an over-reliance on the private sector under the programme of those 50,000 homes being brought into the social housing stock. The actual output figures for 2017 - I am only talking about local authority build, housing body build and Part V build - show that 2,297 homes were delivered. When we look at similar targets for 2018, the figure for local authority build, housing body build and Part V build is 4,409, which is a dramatic increase on the previous year. The numbers are increasing not decreasing.