Thursday, 11 November 2021

Ceisteanna (8, 66)

Francis Noel Duffy

Ceist:

8. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the establishment of the commission on housing and its terms of reference; when the membership of the commission will be appointed; the sectors he will target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54956/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Lawless

Ceist:

66. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of his work to establish a commission on housing. [55204/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Housing)

In response to a parliamentary question I submitted in June, the Minister stated that he intended to establish the commission on housing formally by September and, once terms of reference were finalised, hold a process to invite expressions of interest for membership of the commission. In light of the urgency of the need for rental protections and regulation in the rental sector, I would be grateful if the Minister would update the House on the establishment of the commission and its terms of reference.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 66 together.

As the Deputy rightly stated, the programme for Government committed to establishing a commission on housing. The Deputy was central to those negotiations. It is in the programme for Government. The commission will examine issues such as tenure, standards, sustainability and quality-of-life issues in the provision of housing, which is really important, and will take a longer-term view on matters. The programme for Government also commits to holding a referendum on housing and we are going to do that.

Housing for All, which was agreed by the three Government parties and published in September 2021, commits to the establishment of a commission on housing, with the timeline being this quarter, that is, quarter 4 of 2021. It notes that the commission will work on the referendum on housing, which it will. The establishment of the commission presents an opportunity to build on the policies set out in Housing for All, taking a long-term strategic view on these aspects of housing over an extended time horizon, as well as the issues identified as being suitable for in-depth examination. I envisaged that the commission would bring together experts from various housing-related sectors and play a role in the State achieving good quality, affordable homes for all, which is what we want.

The chairman designate whom I have appointed to the commission is Mr. John O'Connor, an eminently qualified and well respected public servant with decades of experience in housing. I announced his appointment in May. The draft terms of reference have been prepared by me and the chairman. I have been directly involved in that regard. The necessary administrative arrangements for setting up the commission, which relate to the staff needed to support it, have also been progressed. A memorandum for Government seeking approval to establish the commission with the terms of reference has been circulated to other Departments to get observations and with the intention that I will bring the memorandum to Cabinet in the coming weeks, as I will do. I will then be in a position to publish the terms of reference and speak further about the intended process for appointing members.

The plan is for the commission to work to bring forward proposals on the referendum on housing that I mentioned. The commission will establish a sub-committee with appropriate expertise to examine the complex constitutional questions arising and examine the various proposals that have been made in respect of potential wording for an amendment to the Constitution. It will advise the Government in an independent and objective manner with regard to the critical factors for consideration and will make recommendations to me as appropriate on the wording. The commission will be established as planned in quarter 4, before the end of the year, once its terms of reference and membership have been finalised. It is a really important step forward for the country and the Government and we are seeing another commitment we made in the programme for Government being met.

We have received assurances from the Minister and the Department that one of the first priorities of the commission on housing will be to progress the referendum on the right to housing. In light of the delay in establishing the commission, will the Minister indicate when we will be at the ballot box to vote in a referendum on the right to housing? Furthermore, I understand the commission will examine issues such as tenure, rental protections and accommodation standards, as the Minister mentioned. As most of these issues are hashed out and discussed in detail with the relevant stakeholders and experts at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will the commission have regular engagements with the committee? Will that be included in its terms of reference?

We are on track to get the commission up and running on time. There has been a lot of work in this. Obviously, we want to ensure the commission is populated with the right people with the right expertise and that we have a cross-section of knowledge and expertise feeding in. It will meet formally once a month, with 12 meetings each year. Work will also be done within the subgroups. I expect the Chairman of the joint Oireachtas committee, Deputy Matthews, has no question regarding the fact that if the committee wishes to engage with the commission, it will do so. My focus is getting the commission up and running. Its chairman is in place already.

Mr. O'Connor has done a lot of work with me on the terms of reference. We have circulated the memorandum for observations. The commission will meet before the end of the year, even if it is just an initial meeting. We want to set out its work programme. I cannot go into the detail of the terms of reference as they have not been published, but they will certainly be broad enough to give the commission the latitude to tackle issues the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage or I believe they should. The referendum on housing is a commitment that we made and it is one that I am committed to. The commission is the right place for that work to be finished off, and then we can move towards a referendum.

Will the commission consider how rental units are regulated, as they are in other jurisdictions, to ensure that if a landlord wants to sell a unit, the tenants can remain in situ? I know that with the build-to-rent legislation, which I do not necessarily agree with, the units remain rental units, so if a landlord sells the unit, the tenants can stay. Will the commission consider the issue of the regulation of rental units going forward?

Will the commission consider the capacity of local authorities to deliver? Waterford is the only local authority that delivers on the repair and leasing scheme. In respect of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, only the Louth local authority delivers on that. Only one third of money due under the vacant site levy is collected by councils. They are slow to get projects on-site. That problem needs to be addressed. It may be about capacity or power. Will the commission examine the issue?

I thank the Deputies. The commission will be independent of my Department and independent of Government. I do not want to set its work programme. However, the terms of reference will be broad enough. The Deputies will see that. I expect that the commission will look at areas such as standards, delivery, cost and constitutional reform, where it is required. The terms of reference will be broad enough for the commission to set out its work programme.

On Deputy Bruton's point regarding delivery, I am acutely aware of the issue. We need to be across all streams, such as repair and leasing and CPOs, as referenced by the Deputy. We are going to co-ordinate CPOs through the Housing Agency, which will manage that for local authorities. There will be a new fund for CPOs of vacant properties. I do not want the commission to be a shadow Department. There is other work it can do and it can take a longer-term view. The delivery issues are real and the Ministers of State and I are acutely aware of them. We are focused on addressing them. We have given additional resources to the housing delivery co-ordination office. Experienced people are now co-ordinating with local authorities on the delivery not just of new builds, but also on refurbishments and repair and leasing.