Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness: Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government
I draw the attention of 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.
The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. 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.
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to aeroplane, safe or flight mode, depending on their individual device, and not just to silent mode.
On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and officials from his Department here today. We thank them again for the informal session we had last week which many members found very useful. I call on the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the committee members who came to the Department last week. I hope they found it useful. We are trying to ensure everybody has access to all the information they need on the action plan which will be a feature of the lifetime of this Government. The more people who know the detail of what we propose, costing, numbers and timescales for different targets, the better for everybody.
I thank the committee for inviting me here today to address it on the cross-Government action plan for housing and homelessness, Rebuilding Ireland, and look forward to our discussion. The informal meeting last week was very useful. I hope we can continue that level of engagement within the formal committee setting.
I would like first to introduce the officials accompanying me here today: Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General; Mr. David Walsh, assistant secretary for planning, housing market policy and land management division; Ms Mary Hurley, assistant secretary in charge of the housing programme delivery division, which is very important in the context of this plan; Mr. Brian Kennedy, principal officer for homelessness and housing inclusion supports; Ms Nina Murray, principal officer for housing assistance payment and current programmes; Mr. Terry Sheridan, principal officer in charge of planning policy and very much behind the complexity of the new legislation; and Mr. Barry Quinlan, principal officer over housing market policy and land management.
This afternoon I want to take the opportunity to outline the Government's approach to housing under Rebuilding Ireland, which I believe marks the commencement of a new partnership approach with key stakeholders to deliver the required actions and solutions to address the housing crisis. The Government's approach to housing, and mine, can be summarised as follows. We developed Rebuilding Ireland through a meaningful consultation which adds real value to the overall policy. We are absolutely focused on delivery through measurable and time-bound actions. We want to deliver outcomes for all households the State can help. We need to help, either directly or indirectly, to put a roof over people's heads, help them live in attractive sustainable communities and, of course, put infrastructure around those who need support while finding a home for themselves.
Importantly, the report of the special Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness has helped to inform the final action plan. This process added to our understanding of the housing system and it is my intention that a consultation will remain a cornerstone of Rebuilding Ireland throughout its implementation. In this regard, I am visiting local authorities around the country in a series of events targeting implementation of Rebuilding Ireland on the ground. Local authorities are a hugely important part of delivery, particularly of the social housing build programme. Next stop is Waterford tomorrow, where, hopefully, we will be able to focus on housing, although we will have to wait and see.
This committee has a key role to play in terms of the implementation and monitoring of Rebuilding Ireland, not least in terms of the legislative requirements needed to make key elements of the plan come to fruition. My hope is that we can come to an agreement as to how we effectively manage the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in order to get priority legislation debated through the normal stages in the Houses and passed without any unnecessary delay. I am sure everybody in this committee room wants to avoid any recurrence of what happened in Tyrellstown, for example. Likewise, we all want to strengthen the RTB. However, we need to put legislation in place as a matter of urgency to ensure a number of these early actions happen. Without stifling the deliberative process, I sincerely believe we can streamline how we do business, the result of which can only have a positive impact for citizens. I look forward to hearing the views of committee members today and their ongoing and future co-operation in fast-tracking, from a legislative point of view, the various stages we need to go through, while at the same time giving serious and robust consideration to all proposals.
As we all know, we are currently facing a national housing crisis. Since 2009, persistent under-supply, especially in Dublin, has meant the housing supply deficit is currently likely to exceed 50,000 homes. Given that we built just over 12,500 units last year, the first step is to move from current levels towards accepted long-term demand requirements of at least 25,000 housing units per annumas quickly as possible. That is the target in the plan. To be honest, I believe we need to go well beyond that - up to 35,000 units - to keep pace with a growing population and a growing economy. What has concerned me most in developing this plan is the knock-on impact caused by a growing supply gap. The effects are felt by both buyers and renters and affect the most vulnerable in society the hardest.
Of course, promoting housing growth has advantages beyond the obvious social and economic benefits. Almost 137,000 people are employed in the construction sector, an 8.7% increase year on year. While this part of our economic activity had diminished in recent years, we are thankfully now seeing this trend turning around. I am also confident that those who had to emigrate will be encouraged home once we get building on the scale envisaged under this plan, whether that is social housing or private housing.
In drafting Rebuilding Ireland, we analysed each element of housing and came up with key actions to help repair what is broken or not recovering at the pace it needs to. It was through this analysis that we arrived at five key pillars to try to bring clarity to the multitude of different actions that needed to be taken. The first pillar, which I also think reflects the priority, addresses homelessness, the second is accelerating social housing delivery, the third is building more homes for the wider housing market, the fourth is improving the rental sector, which needs quite a lot more work between now and the end of the year, and the fifth is making the best use of houses that are vacant. There are some 260,000 vacant housing units across the country, 60,000 of which are holiday homes, which leaves 200,000 other units. Many are in parts of the country where there is not a strong demand for homes but there are certainly thousands in parts of the country that have huge housing demand, in particular Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and other urban centres. The plan sets ambitious targets to deal comprehensively with homelessness, double the annual level of residential construction to 25,000 homes, deliver 47,000 units of social housing with an investment of €5.35 billion, make the best use of the existing stock and create the right conditions for a much more vibrant and responsive rental sector.
I have a long speaking note to read but I suspect members may wish to ask questions and get under the skin of some of the issues. My speaking note deals with each pillar, one after the other. I am in the hands of the committee. We can take it pillar by pillar. One of the things I would like to deal with, if members agree, is the legislation we are hoping to introduce in the next couple of weeks. Without that legislation, we cannot do some of the fundamental things we are looking to do. I mentioned this last week when we were discussing this issue. It would be very helpful to me, for lots of reasons, if we could agree to progress the legislation. There are only six actions that are being progressed but if the committee insists on a formal pre-legislative scrutiny stage, that will add about six weeks to the overall enactment process for the legislation. Hopefully, by giving people very full briefings in regard to the legislation, we can effectively have an informal pre-legislative scrutiny process. I will certainly give members everything I have once I have it cleared at Cabinet. Hopefully, we can then deal with it through the various stages. I will happily accept amendments on Committee Stage and Report Stage if they make sense. However, I believe there is an urgency with this legislation if we want to get the construction sector moving at a pace that I think is possible if we enact a lot of things at the same time in parallel. I mentioned this last week and I would like to take time at a later stage to address this particular issue. However, I am sure members will want to go through the pillars first.
We could discuss it pillar by pillar. Within each pillar, if there is legislation to give effect to what is contained within, we could take it at that stage, rather than dealing with the six now, which would be all over the place.
I have a briefing note which members can take away afterwards so they know what we are doing. There is no great mystery to most of this stuff. It is about streamlining the planning process, extensions of planning in certain circumstances, protecting tenants in terms of security of tenure when there is a sales process in a development and beefing up the RTB in certain areas to get decisions out faster. These are all practical things that have come up in the discussion of the plan. The legislation is a relatively small part. There are 80 actions in the plan and the legislation probably only addresses five or six of them. However, it is still important we get them moving, particularly the planning one. I want to talk to the committee about how we can maintain integrity in the planning system while, at the same time, getting decisions faster. That is the key issue we are looking to change in legislation.
My party is happy to bypass the pre-legislative scrutiny on the basis the Minister has outlined. However, when we are given the draft Bills, particularly the planning ones relating to An Bord Pleanála and Part 8, any research the Department has that outlines the rationale behind the particular changes the Minister is proposing would be very welcome. Some of us are not yet convinced of the need to streamline Part 8, for example, but if the Minister can demonstrate that there is a problem across the State with Part 8 applications taking longer than the eight weeks they are supposed to take, we would benefit from that research being made available.
We can talk through that. It is not a problem. In fact, what we are doing on Part 8 is not very radical. It is really about trying to get decisions two weeks earlier. It imposes a stopgap, in that it forces a decision. Part of the problem with Part 8 is that further information is requested repeatedly to try and create more time for consideration, because there might be political issues that cannot be resolved or whatever. What we are trying to do in the planning system generally, be it Part 8 or applications in general, is to force some timelines so we can get decisions, be they approvals or rejections, and to ensure we have a system that makes decisions.
Another aspect to the changes we are making is that there is a three year sunset clause here. What we are seeking to do is change the system for three years, so we can get significant numbers of new starts up and running and get the planning permissions to get that moving, while at the same time ensuring that the right decisions are made. We spent quite some time with An Bord Pleanála on that to ensure that it can do it. However, I cannot stand for having indefinite delays over and over again on planning decisions because of other issues or distractions that might be localised or whatever. There is too serious a deficit in housing supply for us not to force decisions through the system. This is about making sure we have a robust and good decision making process that makes the right decisions.
There are two matters here - the legislation and the plan. I am afraid they will get mixed up. Last week, the Minister gave the members who attended that meeting the bullet points about the plan and we have a briefing here, but I certainly cannot give a commitment for my party or group until I see the legislation. I understood we would be dealing with the legislation today, not just a briefing document. Which are we doing? The Minister started talking about the plan and now we are talking about the legislation. I have questions on the plan and questions on the legislation-----
To be helpful, we do not have the legislation yet. Legally, I cannot give it to the committee until I get the heads of the legislation approved by the Cabinet. I am giving the committee, which is very unusual, a quite detailed briefing note on what will be in the legislation, to ensure I am not doing anything that is inappropriate. I have to get it through the Government. We plan to bring it to the Government in two weeks' time. There are issues that must be followed through, tested, effectively peer reviewed and so forth to ensure that the legislation will work, because it involves change. We anticipate that we will bring the heads of the legislation to Cabinet two weeks hence and the legislation itself the week after that with a view to bringing it to the House on Second Stage subsequently. There is a decent lead-in here. I am not trying to bounce anybody into anything. We must draft it and it must be approved by the Office of the Attorney General. We have legal draftspeople in the Department who have put it together. We must now ensure that it is tested in the Attorney General's office and so forth.
The Chairman will remember we asked about this. The Minister is saying that he will bring the legislation from the Cabinet to the Dáil. Will he bring the legislation from the Cabinet to the committee first?
No. Once the heads of the legislation are approved by the Cabinet I can e-mail everybody the legislation that afternoon. There is no problem with that. I am asking that we would not have a formal pre-legislative scrutiny stage which often involves the committee inviting experts, witnesses and so forth and delays the process by at least six weeks, perhaps more. Incidentally, we will be doing that with many other legislative measures. We are hoping to bring through a great deal of legislation before the end of the year and some of it will involve pre-legislative scrutiny. We have a large foreshore legislative measure, for example. On this measure, because there is an urgency attached to it and there is an expectation built up around it where most people have accepted that what we are doing makes sense in principle, it would be helpful if we could move through the process quickly. However, everybody must make up their own mind. I will not tell people how they should respond.
The committee will decide which format we will take. We will be informed through an informal or formal briefing, according to what members wish, and make a decision as a committee. Housing is a priority for all of us and to facilitate and accelerate that, where it is required, if the committee is happy not to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on this it will help this section of the plan greatly.
To be clear, I am not seeking a decision from the committee today. I am stating how I am going to proceed. It is up to the committee to decide if it wishes to move with that proposed procedure. In two weeks' time, I hope, we will bring the heads of the Bill to Cabinet to get its approval in principle for it. After that there is a drafting process to produce the heads of the Bill that can be introduced to the Dáil on Second Stage. The committee will then have an opportunity to decide what it wishes to do.
To conclude, the housing committee met over an extended period of time and recommended a great deal of legislation, none of which is contained here. We are entitled to ask when the Minister will take on board some of the recommendations, such as a moratorium on repossessions, protecting people from sale being used to evict them and so forth.
I can deal with these are we go through the pillars. On the broader rental market, we have said we will have new initiatives relating to the broader rental sector before the end of the year. These will try to balance the need to continue to incentivise investment in rental property from a landlord and developer perspective and the need to deal with issues such as security of tenure, more predictability on rent, prices and so forth. We will do that and we will be back before the committee in that regard. However, we cannot do everything immediately. My job as Minister was to produce a strong foundation in terms of policy and budgets to try to make a considerable impact on a crisis situation in housing within 100 days. We did that before the summer, which was 74 days. I said at the time that we did not have enough time for the consultation required to get the balance right on the rental market and that we would take more time to do that. It was the right thing to do. Some of the issues the Deputy is raising are perfectly valid and require debate, but that does not mean we should delay on what has already been proposed and decided and can make an impact in various areas.
I am not pretending we have all of the solutions here. Incidentally, on the tenant protection issues, we are dealing with some early actions in the legislation relating to-----
I suggest that we take this pillar by pillar. To follow on what Deputy Cowen said, as we go through each pillar we should deal with, or attempt to deal with, the summary of the proposed legislative change. If we take pillar 1 through to pillar 5, it will give us a system or process to work through. On each pillar we can raise our concerns with the Minister and, where possible, the Minister can shine some light on the proposed legislative changes. They are what will give effect to what are the most contentious issues in this document.
I agree with Senator Boyhan. I was going to say the same but I have only one point to add. It also would be good if, after Cabinet has approved the heads of Bill, the Minister and the Department were able to come to a dedicated meeting of the committee only on the heads of Bill at that stage. That would be helpful.
I will try to stick to my speaking note and maybe we will get through them in the next few hours.
In the action plan, we have set a clear target on homelessness, which is to have no families in hotels for emergency accommodation by mid-2017 except in very limited circumstances. Long-term hotel accommodation for families is not acceptable and we need to end it. We will treble the rapid-build programme to 1,500 homes, 200 of which will be delivered by the end of this year. In the meantime, we will ensure that services for families, particularly children, in hotels and other emergency accommodation are far better and adapted to ensure that we look after the needs of families.
The other side of homelessness is rough sleeping, which is often compounded by and tied in with mental health and addiction issues, family breakdown and so on. This is a complex area that really requires close co-operation with both the Department of Health and the HSE. For that reason, we are trebling the funding for mental health and primary care services for homeless persons, from €2 million to €6 million, in budget 2017.
In examining the social failing that is homelessness, one point made to me repeatedly was that prevention obviously is far better than cure. We are therefore targeting families and individuals worried about or at risk of homelessness with a new awareness campaign. For the families and individuals in mortgage arrears, we are providing more and better services, including free expert legal and financial advice and supports. I particularly acknowledge the support I have received from other ministerial colleagues in this area.
In addition to the series of local events on Rebuilding Ireland, there will also be a series of pillar-specific national launch events. The first of these will deal with pillar 1 and is scheduled to take place tomorrow week, 22 September, in Dublin.
For the information of members, particularly those from Dublin, at present we are assessing our level of preparedness for rough sleeping demand for the oncoming winter. There is clearly a need for more emergency beds and we are assessing properties to ensure that we can accommodate that extra need. Obviously, there is a lot of detailed consultation going on with all of the different stakeholders, from Dublin City Council to the many others that are providing and trying to co-ordinate services. Some members have been involved in that. We are looking to put practical measures in place that can ensure that through the winter those who need emergency hostel accommodation can get it. I can provide details as we finalise numbers on that and the locations as to where we might be able to add capacity for those who will otherwise be rough sleeping.
I thank the Minister.
I have a couple of follow-on questions from last week. On the one-stop shop that Mr. Brian Kenny is overseeing, one of the concerns I have on the basis of the information we were given at the previous meeting is there would be, if I understand it correctly, a facility, probably in Dublin city centre, where family presenters could go to be assessed as to whether they have an emergency accommodation need and the attempt at that point would be to provide interventions to keep them in their homes. One of the concerns is that there is still a problem which I raised previously with the Minister of family presenters at local authorities who have been put out from the extended family home due to overcrowding, relationship breakdown and family stress, and those persons, because they are not able to provide any independent documentary evidence of their need for emergency accommodation, such as a notice to quit, are being turned away. I thought, from earlier discussions, that this facility would be an assessment facility to determine genuine cases of persons with a real need for emergency accommodation. It sounds more like a mechanism to return such persons to the family home, where, by and large, when they are presenting as homeless, that relationship has broken down and they need some alternative arrangement. I have some concerns with the way that is presented and I would like the Minister to reflect on that and maybe respond.
At our last meeting I raised the issue of the low number of Housing First tenancies being proposed, which was 300, up from 100, and the official who responded stated that only a small number of the homeless individuals had the level of complex needs that requires Housing First. I would not say it is 300. On the basis of the research that is out there, I would say it is far more than 1,000. The target of 300 is far too small. Housing First works. It is proven to work. There is a need for the Department to be much more ambitious in terms of the numbers based on research from the Housing Agency and elsewhere.
I asked at the previous meeting for the Housing Agency's report on the 50% priority allocation of local authority housing to homeless people. We got it and I thank the Minister for that. I am concerned by the report. It is rare that I would criticise the Housing Agency, but nowhere in the report does it provide evidence to support its conclusions. When one reads the report, it tells one that even though the ministerial directive was introduced in January 2015, the Dublin local authorities were already beginning to increase the amount of allocations to those on the homeless list. These amounted to 5.8% of allocations in 2013. By 2014, they amounted to 15% of them. However, the report refers to a concern about clusters of vulnerable people arising from the 50%, and nowhere is there evidence to suggest that this has happened. In South Dublin County Council that has not happened because of the allocation decisions of the officials. The report states that this is a problem and this is one of the reasons it recommended the ending of the directive, but it does not provide any evidence for that.
The report also talks about creating perverse incentives whereby people think they can get a local authority allocation quicker if they present as homeless, but there is no evidence of this. While it states - it is a kind of assumption - that people may think that, it is not documented in the report.
On the basis of the 2015 figures, 28.6% of all allocations in the Dublin region went to persons who were homeless. By ending the 50% priority allocation, the logic is that this will fall back to the 2014 level, which was 15%, or even back to the 2013 level. This was a really big decision - I presume by the Minister's predecessor - to end the 50% priority allocation. It is politically unpopular. Local councillors will tell one it causes significant difficulties. Given that there is an ever-increasing number of family presenters, the Minister needs to revisit this, either by asking for further research from the Housing Agency to track what happens with the allocations to those in emergency accommodation, or by asking for the evidence, if any, of vulnerable clusters and perverse incentives, because it is merely guesswork if there is no data. The difficulty is that either somebody is a priority case and is prioritised, or he or she is not such a case and is not prioritised. This is one of those areas that needs to be re-examined.
I have two quick questions. The mortgage-to-rent scheme is broken. It simply does not work. The numbers speak for themselves. I would be interested to hear what is the plan other than to review it.
On mortgage distress, there is a significant difference between what is detailed in this section of the plan and what is in the programme for Government in terms of the new model for dealing with mortgage distress. That is not the Minister's primary departmental responsibility, but are we to take it from this document that the Government has shifted from what is in the programme for Government, or are those programme for Government commitments in terms of the broader programme for dealing with mortgage distress, including the independent court and so on, still Government commitments and will they be implemented? If so, does the Minister know when?
In dealing with pillar 1, the Minister talks about trebling the amount of rapid-build and modular units. In the short time between this proposal and the completion of the units, it has not proven to be the silver bullet promised. We were told they would cost in the region of €100,000 per unit, but the actual cost in Ballymun is €240,000.
We were told they would be provided quickly, once construction commenced. They are taking six months to provide. They are no different from conventional build. Regarding cost, time and numbers, what improvements does the Minister envisage or are provided for that will ensure they can have the desired effect originally intended, which has not proven to be the case to date?
Second, with regard to the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and the reliance on that in the policy plan, as we all know, there is a fundamental design flaw with HAP. It forces families to make a perverse choice about whether to be immediately housed in temporary rental accommodation or hold out in the hope of a permanent home. The fact that they come off the waiting list again forces them to make a decision they should not be faced with, and we should not be in a position whereby we are putting this scheme up in lights, so to speak, and suggesting it will improve the position for many people, which it does not and cannot.
Regarding the supports for families, and particularly for children, the action plan lists a number of proposals that provide new supports for children. In particular, for the first time it suggests the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla can have a critical role to play in providing co-ordinated supports for the approximately 2,350 children in emergency accommodation as of July 2016. However, it would appear there is very little substance to such proposals. Tusla has no statutory requirements or responsibilities to co-ordinate welfare services for children and families in emergency accommodation. Is it the case that the Minister will put in place in-reach plans to allow it to co-ordinate and integrate all social services for vulnerable families in terms of managing them and reducing the risk of a period of homelessness, which has the potential to have a long-term damaging effect on a child's upbringing and further development.
A previous speaker alluded to Housing First and long-term homelessness. The Minister set out an ambitious target, which we welcome, support and hope to see realised, to triple Housing First tenancies in Dublin, for example, from 100 to 300 by 2017. It states that this will require co-operation of the Health Service Executive and increases in budget allocation, especially in the HSE service plan for 2017. Can the Minister inform the committee how much funding will be required specifically because the HSE budget for homelessness has been cut by 20% since 2012 and the drugs initiative budget has been cut by 37% in the past six years? What increases in HSE funding will be required for the Minister to meet the targets contained in this plan?
Regarding emergency shelters, the ambition in the plan is to greatly increase capacity in emergency shelters but there is nothing in the report on whether there will be new investment in emergency shelters or whether, as expected, new beds will come from better bed management, such as the Housing First initiative. Those are some questions on the first pillar.
We need more shelter accommodation availability for this winter, particularly in Dublin, and we will provide that. It is not easy to get good quality accommodation that can be altered and prepared for people. Last night I visited Brú Aimsir, about which Deputy Ó Broin has raised issues with me previously. It is an impressive hostel facility for people who are homeless. It accommodates over 100 people - 21 women and 80 men - and works very well. There is plenty of space and the accommodation is good quality. People are not in each other's faces. There are individual cubicles that accommodate about three people per room. There is a very good management system at the facility. There are approximately six people working and another 15 or so volunteers in the café, doing other activities and so on. We can compare that to some of the other emergency accommodation facilities that are much more confined, with beds alongside each other in much higher numbers and so on. We are trying to add to capacity but we are trying to learn from best practice as well. We are looking at a number of buildings that we hope will be suitable so that we can add the numbers we need. In response to Deputy Cowen's question, we are seeking more sheltered accommodation.
In the long term, we want to move away from the provision of more emergency beds. We need a streamlined transition so that people only have to stay in emergency accommodation for short periods - a Housing First model for many of them that they can move on through or other social housing solutions because many people who are homeless now do not necessarily need the complex supports some others require. Approximately 60% of the clients in Brú Aimsir, for example, have addiction issues, so that requires other supports and services.
Regarding the extra supports from the HSE, one of the reasons we have got agreement for next year - moving from €2 million to €6 million - is because we need more from the HSE in terms of such supports, whether it be through Housing First or in the form of supports within hostels. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has been clear with me that as long as we plan for it, we will provide the funding needed to provide basic health care for people in vulnerable positions. There will be projects and new facilities in Dublin that will be controversial, particularly around addiction and trying to manage that in a more structured way. Often, there is a lot of resistance to that, whether it is needle exchange programmes, step-down facilities, detox facilities and so on, but we have to do it. The Deputy will find me supporting organisations that are trying to take a more ambitious approach towards that type of assistance. I believe the HSE will support us as well in terms of funding.
It is probably a fair comment that while there is a good deal of aspirational talk around family supports, there is neither an itemised budget nor a response plan. I hope the Deputy will get some of that information next week. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, will be part of the official launch of the first pillar on homelessness next week. She has been greatly interested and responsive to anything we have requested from her. There are some definitive commitments, for example, all children of families in hotels will be given a free transport pass to move through Dublin on buses, the Luas or whatever. The Minister has given a commitment on nutrition plans for families, supports regarding education and so on. For a child doing his or her homework at the end of a bed in a hotel room, with all the other pressures in terms of confinement and so on, supports are needed in those circumstances, particularly for families under pressure and suffering stress, in addition to the fact that they are homeless. I will ask the Minister to outline what Tusla intends to do, but there are many commitments in principle and some specific commitments on which we will build.
I would be much more supportive of HAP than some people in this room. The numbers do not lie. We have already met our HAP targets for Dublin for this year, and there are still some months to go. Some people who might not want a council house want the flexibility of the HAP in terms of temporary rental accommodation. There are many people who would much rather the certainty of a social house or a council house. That is fine, but to say they are off the list once they are accommodated through HAP is not strictly true either because they go onto the transfer list.
Like everybody else, they will not be disadvantaged on the transfer list. We had a conversation about this last week. They are not disadvantaged on the transfer list by being a HAP tenant. They are accommodated through a rental solution rather than an allocation solution.
There is a need for some realism in this conversation. We simply do not have the social housing stock to accommodate everybody's needs. The question is whether we continue to try to accommodate the people who cannot get accommodated by allocation through rent supplement or whether we try to put something in place with a bit more certainty that is more effective than rent supplement. In HAP that is what we have been doing. That is what I have been doing. I am looking across at Senator Paudie Coffey who was very involved in designing HAP. From my experience of speaking to people on HAP, they no longer have to deal directly with landlords because the local authority does that for them. If they are lucky enough to get a job and increase their income, they can manage their transition out of HAP over time. It has much more flexibility and more certainty than rent supplement has. It is not perfect, perhaps, for many people, but it is a housing solution that makes sense in the current environment. Certainly, the transition over time on to HAP of people currently on rent supplement makes a lot of sense. I take the point that there are many people who only want to be allocated a council house or a social house and they have to make do with HAP for the moment. Until we start building, acquiring and leasing long-term large numbers of social houses, we will have to deal with the realities of where we are rather than trying to create a perfect solution for everybody. We need to be upfront about that.
The other thing we should say is that 120 people have already been transferred to social housing from HAP. It has only been available since 2014. It is not like one never gets a transfer. There have already been 120 of them.
I take the Deputy's point on rapid build and silver bullets. These clearly are not a silver bullet. The 1,500 houses on rapid build will be prioritised for homeless families and will help us make the transition for those families into permanent sustainable housing solutions. They are a hell of a lot better than a hotel room or bed and breakfast accommodation. I share some of the frustration over the 22 units in Ballymun. It was a pilot project and there were some mistakes made but there were also some really good lessons learnt from it.
There are a number of things. Procurement needs to happen a lot more quickly. We now have an Office of Government Procurement national framework which is close to being finalised. It has attracted a lot of interest from developers who have the capacity to build with rapid build methods and technology. There will be a central database of approved builders that any local authority can access in order that they will not have to go through a lengthy procurement process.
On the issue of sites and trying to manage communities that live in close proximity, there was huge resistance from the local community in Ballymun. Some of that has now dissipated and people realise that these houses look more or less the same as every other house but they are just built a bit faster. The truth is that building something in 12 weeks as opposed to six months takes some time off it but the other factors around decision-making, sign-off, funding, and procurement are the real delay factors in property. We have a number of local authorities under a lot of pressure to deliver on the target that we have set of 200 houses by the end of the year. Some of these sites are moving at the moment and some are about to get moving, but to have 200 houses built - we have none at the moment - by the end of December is a big ask. To have another 800 built by the following June or July and the remainder of the 1,500 that we have set as a target by the end of next year forces the pace all the time. In parallel with that there will be a lot of conventional build of social housing as well.
In my home city, last year in total there were 74 social houses built by local authorities. There were many social houses acquired and vacant properties brought back into use but in terms of new build there was 74. That is the figure in my head anyway. In Cork city alone we will have within the next five to six months 400 social houses under construction on 13 different sites across the city. That is a relatively small segment when one takes the whole country. That is the level of increase we are talking about. It is hoped we will see many more than that in Dublin. We are trying to get things moving here with a real focus on delivering volume and numbers with decent quality in the right places. Part of that solution is rapid build.
As far as I and the Government are concerned, the programme for Government commitments stand on trying to keep people in their homes. We have added a bit of detail and some new thinking in this plan that we think we can bring to it in terms of more supports and so on. I think one will find other initiatives happening before the end of the year that are outside the programme for Government. I have had a number of people come to me with new ideas and ways of, for example, making mortgage-to-rent work more effectively than it has in the past. Mortgage-to-rent is not the disaster that some people say it is. If one looks at local authority mortgage-to-rent figures, there are actually significant numbers. Where it has been far less successful than was expected is in the private market with people who are having homes potentially repossessed by a bank. Getting those people into a structured mortgage-to-rent scheme run by an approved housing body has proven not to be the success that many thought it would be. That does not mean we should not try to find a way of making it successful. To be clear on the numbers, 162 families have completed mortgage-to-rent and remain in their homes. Some 675 active cases are in the process and there will be a review by the end of the year to try to make the appropriate changes that can streamline and improve the outcomes there.
In terms of homeless HAP, I would make a distinction between HAP generally and homeless HAP in Dublin, which has been very successful. There have been 500 tenancies put in place under homeless HAP in Dublin so far this year, which is quite a significant number when one considers the number of homeless people. It is not enough but it is still quite a significant figure.
In terms of the 50% private allocations, it would be wrong to say that I agonised over it but I have been trying to make the right decision on this issue. The only report that was done that actually looked at it in any detail was from the Housing Agency. My experience of the Housing Agency is that it is pretty good at what it does. It genuinely cares about housing people and working with local authorities and so on. It made a recommendation. The previous Minister acted on the recommendation and I did not change it. That is the truth of what happened. I will not start running away from it and blaming the previous Minister. To be fair, we are requiring local authorities, particularly in Dublin, to prioritise homeless people and homeless families in terms of allocations. Whether we publicly set a 50% figure and whether there are implications of that which create pull factors or perverse incentives, as Deputy Ó Broin described it, I am not sure, which is why I have simply taken the advice of a body in which I have quite a lot of trust. Either way, we need to make sure that a significant percentage of the available properties coming on stream in terms of social housing are prioritising homeless people.
A fair question was asked about central co-ordination and assessment. How do we fairly, consistently and with the necessary compassion and support assess a family who declare themselves homeless? How do we ensure someone is not looking to try to access social housing faster because they are frustrated with the process or whatever? We have to trust the judgment of people who are making those assessments. There is virtually no way of setting hard and fast rules that can determine every case that comes in the door. We need to ensure we have experienced and qualified people who are assessing the needs of many vulnerable people in stressful and difficult circumstances. This will help in deciding on the best outcomes. I am unsure whether it is a good thing for a Minister to become overly prescriptive in terms of how that must work. I will gladly talk to the committee about it and hear any suggestions from committee members on the matter. However, for the most part, from what I am hearing, the right decisions are being made in allocating a new house, an emergency space or a hotel room to a family. The same apples in working with families or individuals who may be able to go home with some mediation and support. Others may have an addiction issue that can be dealt with, managed and contained within the confines of their own homes.
When we have as many people homeless as we have and as many people as there are looking for emergency accommodation and Housing First units, we have to try to prioritise and keep people in their own homes, where possible. That is what we have been talking about. This is a very practical and sensible way of responding. The truth is that for a considerable percentage of the people who find themselves homeless, it is often as a result of family break-up or tension in the home that has resulted in someone having to leave. Obviously, if it involves a domestic abuse case, we do not want to force someone back into that circumstance. However, if it is a misunderstanding or a breakdown of communication and we can intervene to try to ensure a person can go home, then I think we have obligation to try to do that to take the pressure off the system.
Someone said the figure of 300 Housing First units was not enough. That is true, but I would say it is a significant improvement on 100. The reality is we need to go beyond some of the targets we have, but we have to start somewhere. My view on Housing First is that the more houses we make available for the model, the more it will become the norm as opposed to being seen as a pilot project in certain areas. People will see the outcomes and the significant improvement in results that ensure people do not relapse into homelessness and so on. Let us get to 300 and then have the conversation about whether we can push on to 400, 500 and so on. The committee will not find me opposing that when we get there, but we have a job to get to 300 first. It involves budgets, management and co-ordination across various agencies and Departments and so on.
We have a number of further questions. We are still only on pillar 1 and we are well into the meeting. I am not trying to limit anyone from asking questions, but with the agreement of the committee we might stick to questions rather than stories, if that is agreeable. There may be a divergence from that in some cases and that is fine. Deputy Casey is next.
I will be fairly brief. We mentioned the question of Airbnb at the start of the meeting before the Minister came in. We have agreed to meet a delegation from Airbnb in the near future. However, this was not discussed at the special committee on housing. This is a solution to the crisis and I think it needs to be considered. It is disappointing that we are housing families and homeless people in hotels, yet we are facilitating domestic, foreign and business tourism in homes and houses. Within 1 km of this building tonight there are probably in excess of 200 units available, whether homes or apartments. I am not talking about bed-share, I am talking about apartments and homes. We need to look at the Airbnb phenomenon that has taken off. A number of cities throughout Europe have already banned Airbnb for apartments and homes. We need to look at this because it is an immediate solution to the homeless crisis.
Reference has been made to rapid build. I believe we are doing rapid build technology an injustice. It is being perceived as an inferior home. In fact I believe modern technology and methods of building have to be enhanced and further engaged in. In rural areas we are beginning to use rapid technologies to build houses. I am unsure whether it was red tape or bureaucracy that held this up, but I do not think the physical construction of houses was the cause of the delay.
At the committee last week we heard how rapid build only had a lifespan of 60 years. In fairness, let us consider what is required for a house that was built in the 1960s or 1970s to get the energy efficiency required for an A+ rating not to mention the ongoing efficiencies from a new build. It would probably be cheaper to knock that house and rebuild it rather than try to refurbish it. We are doing an injustice to rapid build technologies. The perception is that it is an inferior home, but it is not. I think we will depend more and more on rapid technologies as we move forward to deal with this crisis. Anything that is manufactured in a controlled environment under scrutiny will probably have a better long-term result than materials from on site.
I have three or four questions. The first relates to the local authorities. I am glad the Minister has commented on the part they play. My issue is that most people are becoming homeless because of the criteria from the Department. I will set out some examples. This needs to be looked at. Let us consider my area of Carlow and what is needed to qualify to go on the local authority housing list. If a person earns more than €27,500, he or she does not go on the housing list. Our neighbouring counties have eligibility limits of €32,000 and €33,000. We now have a predicament. People are coming to us who do not meet the criteria for the local authority housing list. They are falling out of the loop. I then bring them for a mortgage because, as we know, to qualify for a local authority mortgage, a person has to get refusal from a bank and a building society. They do not qualify for that because they are not earning enough. Now we have a situation where a local authority is making people homeless. These people do not qualify for the local authority housing list because they are barely over the criteria and there is no hardship clause. I spoke to a couple recently who earn €28,500. They did not qualify to go on the list because they were €1,000 over and they did not get a mortgage. This is making people homeless. Unless the Minister addresses the immediate criteria to help people to get on the housing list, we are going to have homelessness.
There is another issue. Recently, the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme has come into being. In fairness, I think the HAP scheme is quite good in the sense that people are getting rent allowance. There is considerable confusion and there needs to be further education on this. There is considerable confusion between the HAP scheme and the rental accommodation scheme. HAP is a good scheme and people will get their rent allowance. However, the problem is people are going on the HAP scheme now and the landlord is upping the rent. Therefore, we have people who are getting extra money on the HAP scheme because they are entitled to it, but there is also the landlord. We need to put something in place to stop the landlords from hiking the rent. It is not helping the people who are renting.
When assessments are done under the HAP scheme, it means people waiting to get their interviews to go on the local authority housing list fall behind. When all these schemes are put in place, are extra staff given to local authorities in order that there is no backing-up of people waiting for interview to go on the local authority lists? In fairness to the staff, they are now going through a new assessment of HAP. They have to do that. However, people are not being interviewed to go on housing waiting lists because there are not enough staff. These are small things but they are massive in terms of keeping things progressing. I want to know the position. When the Minister puts such a scheme in place, does he give local authorities extra staff to deal with the queue of people waiting to have their needs assessed? It is not happening.
At the time this scheme was introduced, we had the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. This is where confusion arises. Anyone involved in the housing assistance payment, HAP, knows that those on RAS were taken off the local authority housing list. Anyone now on rent allowance must go on HAP and are told they are being removed from the housing list. Those who were on RAS before 2011 have been told they do not qualify to get back on the housing list. We are making them homeless. We need to examine these issues. They are small issues but people are being left homeless. They are on RAS but do not qualify for the local authority list and they do not qualify for a mortgage.
People whose houses are in the process of being repossessed, through no fault of their own, cannot go on the housing list because their name is on a house. These people have no home because the banks have taken it, but they do not qualify for the local authority housing list. The paperwork can take up to two or three years, but the local authority tells them they do not qualify for the housing list because their name is on a house. The people have letters from solicitors but they are not allowed on the local authority housing list. These issues are not being taken into account and it is making people homeless.
I understand what has been said about the planning for 100 houses, which I welcome because it is a good initiative, but the Department must do its homework with the local authorities whereby people can qualify for the housing list, people are helped to get mortgages and help is given to those who do not qualify for the housing list because their name is on a house even though they do not actually have it. This needs to be examined, as does RAS. People who have been taken off the housing list should be put back on it. They are panicking. This is urgent.
Another element of the policy I do not understand is with regard to people who are on the housing list of one local authority area but move to another local authority area. For example, people on the Kildare list moving to Carlow are almost told they cannot live in the new area. They are asked what is their need to live in Carlow and why they want to live there. It is almost as though people must need to live in an area. If people choose to be in an area they should be allowed to be there. If they qualify for rent allowance in Kildare they will get it in Carlow. The difference is that the amount of rent allowance in Carlow is much lower than in other authority areas. That needs to be examined.
Many elements in this area have been totally forgotten. Unless the new plan is changed, the Minister will make the normal person homeless, and that is part of the problem.
I want to ask about a number of matters regarding the homelessness proposals. The rapid-build housing has been debated a lot already, and it seems the Government is proceeding regardless of the legitimate points made about the cost and the time it takes to build houses.
I was about to say those in Poppintree cost €191,000. In the estate I live in, houses are selling for approximately €190,000 and they look a lot nicer. I do not think these houses look nice; they look like jerry-built grey-red houses. In years to come, people will ask serious questions about the cost of this housing. Of this I have no doubt. Are the 1,500 units being spoken about by the Minister being counted in the social housing figures? Are they part of the 47,000?
Why is it only in 2017, according to the first box in the sheet, that the Cabinet will look to acquire 1,600 vacant units? Why not do this now? Is there a reason?
I am glad progress has been made on support for people in homelessness at present. I proposed at the housing committee that there be supports such as transport for people, but I would argue that a free bus pass is not enough. According to a survey, 40% of homeless people in Dublin are from the constituency of Dublin West, and I would well believe it because I am snowed under with this issue. There are no hotels in Dublin West so people are put into far-flung areas and must take two buses. Why does the Department not examine the idea of providing a bus to collect children and bring them to school, rather than leaving mothers to try to bring four children to different places across the city in rush-hour traffic? This should be considered. It is obvious.
Another issue is food. The Minister spoke about nutrition plans, but there is no way anybody can avail of proper nutrition while living in emergency accommodation because they cannot afford it. Good food costs money. Many children I see in my constituency who have been homeless for a year are suffering real obesity because of the crap their parents are forced to feed them. They cannot afford to eat in the hotel. They are not allowed to eat in the hotel because those running the hotel do not want them to be seen. The Minister must give allowances for food. He cannot expect people to keep children healthy. We will have serious health issues arising from this.
The Minister spoke about putting pregnant women in particular locations. I am sure he is not speaking about a Magdalen laundry. Pregnant women have specific needs. They should be able to access clean water and not have to buy it in the hotel for €5 a bottle. Any supports are welcome. Will the Minister expand on this?
Domestic violence is a big driver of homelessness. We all know families stay in their homes and women stay in danger because of the homeless situation. People are stuck in refuges and cannot move out of them and are blocking spaces for other women. What specifically is the Minister planning? He mentioned that he had something.
With regard to prevention and ending homelessness, we need to put a bandage on the haemorrhage. We need to stop more people from being made homeless, but a mortgage-to-rent scheme will add little because most of the people becoming homeless are renting. They do not have a mortgage. They are losing their rented accommodation. By far the biggest reason is rent increases. The Department is now recognising this reality and is increasing rent allowance limits. It was turning a blind eye to what technically was fraud because the only people being defrauded were the poor families themselves with the under-the-counter payments they had to give landlords. Many people not on social welfare are also struggling to pay rent. The Minister spoke about the Tyrrelstown amendment, but the biggest driver of homelessness is landlords coming to tenants and stating they must sell the property and that the tenants must leave. We all know this. It is so obvious and simple. The Minister spoke about a balance of rights. As I said at the previous meeting, there is no balance of rights here. A landlord does not have an equal right to sell a property at will and evict a family onto the street. It is not an equal right. Could the State not try to acquire these houses if the landlords really are selling them? We could introduce a law to outlaw the sale of property except under a range of circumstances.
The range of circumstances could include that a landlord - I am speaking in this regard about a landlord of a single or small number of properties rather than of the vulture-type landlord - would have to prove that he or she would endure severe hardship if he or she could not sell the property, for example, as part of a settlement in the context of, say, family breakdown and so on. The landlord could also be required to offer purchase of the house to the State such that the State could then maintain the tenant in situ.I do not believe half of the number of landlords who claim that they are selling their houses are actually doing so. What they are actually doing is displacing tenants so that they can get higher rents. We should call their bluff. We should also allow reluctant landlords to move on if they really do want to sell and in that regard put in place a State scheme to purchase those houses thereby keeping people in housing.
The only solution is to build more social housing where it is needed. I am not sure if we will get to the issue of social housing today. I do not like the cliché, "social housing provision is not rocket science", but it is not. There are concentrations of homelessness across Ireland. Ireland is a small country. It is not a massive country like China such that there is a need for a great deal of planning. The homelessness issue in Ireland should be easy to resolve. We know where are the homeless black-spots. They are in Dublin, Cork, Kildare, the commuter belt areas and, sporadically, in other locations. Surely most of the 47,000 social houses need to be in areas where they are most needed. The problem is that this is not what is happening. The Minister said he has met with many of the local authorities. Has he met Fingal County Council? Homelessness is a huge issue in Dublin. A key area in this regard is Fingal, yet there is no plan to build social housing in the Dublin 15 area, except for ten units to be provided by a housing agency. That is disgraceful. The crisis is growing and nothing is being done to address it. It is akin to a Stalinist plan: abolishing the barriers to planning permission and getting the houses built even though this will doing nothing to address the issue of homelessness because most of the houses that will be made available will be private housing that will be unaffordable. I am more interested in social housing provision being progressed and in a real plan being put in place to target that provision in areas where it is most needed.
I will respond now to the questions posed at this point. I will try to do so quickly, otherwise we will not get past this pillar. I take on board some of the Deputy's points in regard to the rental market. There is a great deal of stakeholder consultation needed to get the balance right in terms of any changes to be made to the rental market. What we do not want to do is make changes that result in no new build for rental property. We do not want to make changes that will frighten off investment. At the same time, we need to address some of the issues the Deputy raised. This plan does not go into detail in that regard but it proposes changes that I believe that are no-brainers. For example, if a property fund sells a complex to another property fund and there are more than 20 units in that development, all the tenancies should continue through that sale. The issue becomes more complex to deal with in a situation where the vast majority of rental properties are owned by landlords of one or two properties. In that regard much more difficult issues arise, such as property rights and so on. The solution is not as simple as a Minister putting in place a regulation that puts a moratorium on all evictions. There are knock-on consequences to decisions such that if they are not thought through properly they can make the overall situation worse.
On the question regarding pregnant women, that is a 2017 commitment under the plan. We intend to have a facilities that provide for ten to 12 women. The locations for these facilities are currently being identified. Services and supports will be provided by the HSE and Tusla. We are trying to do as many actions in parallel as we can. It is hoped we can move this action on early next year. On family supports, I take on board the Deputy's comments in that regard. There are a number of families dispersed across multiple hotel sites across the city. We try to locate people close to where their original communities in terms of accessing schools, services and so on. I take the Deputy's point in relation to transport and that the solution is not as simple as giving someone a bus ticket. I will discuss that issue with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who has pretty strong views on it, most of which I am sure the Deputy would agree with.
On vacant houses, we are planning to do a lot around vacant properties. We have committed €70 million to the Housing Agency. It is already negotiating with banks in relation to the acquisition from them of properties that are currently vacant and linked to broken loan books, which the agency can then subsequently lease. The agency will seek to maximise the impact, in terms of unit numbers, of that €70 million. The view is that it should be able to access approximately 1,600 new units with that level of funding. The agency will also have fund-raising capacity from the lease of properties. We are also introducing a repair-to-lease programme, which will be piloted in Carlow and Waterford. Under this programme a local authority can approach a private landlord and offer him or her three or five years' rent upfront to ensure he or she can upgrade a property to make it suitable for rent. In other words, rather just giving a grant to people with no guarantee of access to property for rent, we are linking the two. There are lots of examples of people who on the passing of their parents have inherited a family home which is no longer being lived in but they do not want to sell it. They are the type of people we want to approach. We will offer them up to €15,000 to upgrade the property in return for which we will takeover management of the tenancy on their behalf and ensure a property is maintained properly. We are not only proposing to allow local authorities to do this, we are also trying to design a scheme to allow approved housing bodies to also do that, initially on a pilot basis so that we can determine that it works.
We will provide agencies such as Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Simon Community with the resources to encourage the owners of identified properties to upgrade them so that they can be brought back into use. There is much talk about boarded up houses and empty properties, particularly in our cities. Some of them are in public ownership but most of them are in private ownership. We have done a lot in terms of reducing the number of voids. Members will be aware of the many regeneration projects that are under way, which requires properties to be vacant for a period. There are a number of properties in rural and urban locations that could be brought back into use for social housing or affordable rental accommodation and we will continue to look at ways of doing that more effectively.
In regard to rapid build, much of the private housing that will be built over the next ten years will be rapid built. Rapid built houses are not the same as modular units. Rapid build is the construction of walls, ceilings, windows and doors in a factory setting, which are then craned to sites and put together. Much of the evidence suggest that these houses meet the standards of triple A rating in terms of energy management systems in a much more consistent way than conventional build because there is far less room for variance and error. What they look like is a different issue.
That is a design issue. Whether one uses slate on the outside of a house or whether it is painted or pebble dashed is an aesthetic issue. The construct of the houses in Poppintree, which I have been in, is pretty good.
Obviously, we must make sure that we are building houses that look attractive, as well as houses that make sense from all the other management perspectives. However, the idea that we are building tenements for the future because they are rapid-build units simply does not hold water. These houses have 60-year guarantees on them and are not really any different from conventional construction.
As for the issues raised regarding staffing numbers to administer the housing assistance payment, HAP, we have a centralised HAP management office in Limerick for the entire country and there has been staffing there. On additional staff, Senator Coffey probably sanctioned some of these posts in the past 12 months but more than 140 additional staff numbers have been sanctioned across local authorities mainly in the areas of housing, engineering, planning, design and so on. To be fair, there are issues regarding the budgets that go with that. While additional numbers can be sanctioned, in most cases local authorities must find the resources to do that and I accept this can be a limitation for some local authorities. As for the thresholds that are put in place, they are linked to local rent, just as increases in HAP payments are linked to local rent. They effectively are linked to the bottom third of the rental market in any area. That was the basis for deciding what should be the increases in HAP and rent supplement.
It is up to France to collect the taxes. While Airbnb is a solution for some things, as far as I am concerned it also causes problems in other areas. We are trying to create long-term tenancies and certainty. Airbnb is a short-term solution mostly for people who are on holidays or who are staying somewhere on city breaks and so on. There are also issues pertaining to regulation, inspection, standards and all the rest of it. Basically, Airbnb involves inviting somebody else into one's own home, as opposed to putting in place a tenancy that is tested and robust. While I acknowledge there are checks and balances within the Airbnb system, I would not like to over-egg Airbnb's potential in the context of solving a homelessness crisis. While that is my honest response, I am open to persuasion on these matters. It has a useful purpose but in terms of managed tenancies and certainty for the future, there are issues in this regard.
I think most of the questions have been answered.
Four more speakers have indicated and members should be aware it is now 4.15 p.m. but we still are dealing with the first pillar. I would appreciate it were members to stick to questions but if they must diverge, that is fine. However, with the agreement of members we will take the second and third pillars together and the fourth and fifth pillars together to try to get through the process. Many of the questions were answered last week although I acknowledge members also wish to air them in public session. I call on Deputy O'Dowd.
I welcome the Minister and the officials. This is a welcome ongoing engagement that has to happen between all the stakeholders. We, as Oireachtas Members, have a very important role to play in delivering what is a very ambitious action plan, Rebuilding Ireland. I welcome also the fact the Minister is going round the country meeting local authorities, the approved housing bodies and other stakeholders. That is critical because the nub of the issue is delivery of units and output to meet the crisis and the need that we all know is there. It is important to continue with that.
All the schemes the Minister is running, the initiatives that have already been put in place and the new initiatives that will require legislative change, will require the support of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I hope we can get behind this to remove any barriers to delivery of units which cause homelessness. We all have an important role to play, hopefully in the coming weeks, not months or years, in that regard.
The housing assistance payment, HAP, and the voids programmes are already proving successful but we need to see a further roll-out of those. The purchase schemes are working for the local authorities and approved housing bodies. The building of new units is the critical area. Will the Minister elaborate on what changes have been made in the Department in the mechanisms for measuring output and ensuring delivery, whether through local authorities or approved housing bodies? I know he will be going into this under pillar 2. I recognise Mary Hurley, one of the officials who is now leading one of the sections in the Department. A lot of staff, expertise and resources were lost on local authorities. I know much ground work was done on rebuilding that capacity but now we need to support them, whether through staffing or with the assistance of the housing agencies, which have vast expertise available to advise local authorities and the approved housing bodies on demographics, house types, expertise and infrastructure. We really need to remove the barriers now and build that capacity so that we can deliver output. That is where most of the focus needs to be.
In respect of homelessness, one of the critical changes for which the Minister has managed to get cross-departmental and cross-Government support is in the area of mental health and children. I believe, as does anyone who knows the complexities of rough sleepers, that it is not just a question of giving them a house. They need critical supports for addiction problems and other issues. The increase from €2 million to €6 million will go a long way. I welcome that support from the Minister for Health. We need to align the objectives across Departments. For too long we have been operating in silos within government. For the first time, I see an alignment across Departments that can really hit the homelessness problem that we all want to resolve. That increase alone will bring vital support to help those who have addiction problems and other mental health issues to sustain their tenancies in accommodation that they may be offered. I welcome that and we need to see more off it.
I have a couple of other points to make and I will be as brief as possible. The mortgage-to-rent scheme was mentioned by the Minister. I want to be somewhat critical here due to experience. With regard to private households, the scheme is very limited in its success. There have been refusals by housing bodies, in my opinion, often for spurious reasons. One such refusal was issued on foot of a house having been modified. In that case, an extension was added to what was previously a local authority house. To me, it was a no-brainer but a reason was found to decline it. That is merely one example. Other examples relate to houses in rural areas. In my view, there is discrimination in some areas with regard to the mortgage-to-rent scheme. Whereas in urban areas they are accepted, if a person is trouble in a rural area, the application will be declined simply because the house is located in such an area. That is not good enough. I welcome the fact the Minister will review that by the end of the year. I ask him to pay particular attention to the areas to which I refer because there is more scope to keep people in their houses under the mortgage-to-rent scheme if we can make it more flexible and broader in scope and ensure that reviews are carried out in a more sympathetic way.
I mentioned the Housing Agency and I will not rehearse what I have already said. However, the agency is critically important in terms of assisting local authorities and approved housing bodies in achieving their targets.
Ultimately, it is important that, irrespective of our politics, we all get behind the ambitious programme the Minister has set out to the greatest degree possible. The funding is there for the programme. I accept that it will put significant pressure on local authorities but they need to deliver. We need to support them and local authority members in whatever way possible.
My final point relates to a new type of devolved scheme - under which moneys up to a maximum of €2 million can be disbursed - that was introduced at the request of local authorities whereby they, in cases where there is a need for smaller projects, can apply directly to the Department. It was felt there would be fewer approvals required because once an application in respect of a project was submitted and approved, it would be up to the local authority to deliver it. The downside for local authorities is that if additional expenditure is required or if unforeseen circumstances arise, they must deal with the situation. The Minister might inform the committee regarding the success of the scheme to date. It is only a new scheme but it has potential, particularly if local authorities could engage it in a proactive manner.
I had my speech ready and I was very much going to praise the Minister.
It is a pleasure to welcome the Minister. I acknowledge the important work he and his Department are doing. This is the first time I can say that I have a Minister opposite me who knows what he is doing and who is listening and consulting. The way the Minister is listening to questions at this meeting is important, as is the knowledge he has displayed in respect of his brief. He is encouraging people to work together and I very much welcome that.
I do have a major criticism, but not of the Minister or his Department. The real tragedy here is the families that will again be homeless in places such as Dublin tonight. Every one of those families would be in an apartment or a house if those units which NAMA had offered to the local authorities in Dublin had been taken up. Nationally, there were 6,700 houses offered by NAMA to local authorities and approximately 2,500 of them were taken up. The Dublin local authorities, to their shame, refused more apartments or houses than they took up. They refused 800 and took up approximately 600. That is the reality of homelessness, but it is something we must deal with. My concern is whether the Minister-----
The Minister's programme is excellent and focused and is driven by the Department. The latter must continue to be the case. Some local authorities around the country are excellent, while others have poor records. The key point is the Minister's management of the process throughout the country. There are different demands in different areas. Obviously, the level of demand and the pressures that exist in some areas are more significant than in other areas.
I want to comment on the question of the rapid-build homes. I represent a constituency in which such structures were built in the past. Some of these homes do not have chimneys or front or back gardens. A number of them literally fell apart after a short number of years because there was no proper structure to them. I visited the ones in the Fingal area. I am not a professional in any respect but, having examined them as best I could, they seem to be excellent. They seem to fit in extremely well with the local environment and are high quality in the context of energy conservation. On first inspection, I very much liked what I saw. I would agree with the proposal that we would continue to build those houses. If they have the 60-year warranty which the Minister said applies to them, then that is good enough for me and for everybody else.
There are a number of issues relating to local authorities. I agree with my colleague, Senator Murnane O'Connor. I would make two points. I agree with her passion about this matter issue because she deals with people on a day-to-day basis at her clinic. Many of the points she made are made to me at my clinic. I am sure that is the case at other members' clinics as well. In terms of the detail, it might be helpful if local authorities were to examine some of the points and have been made and communicate with us, through their representative association, on the very real problems that exist.
I have one additional problem - I do not know whether anybody else has encountered it - whereby a returned emigrant who sold his property before he left the country cannot now get on the housing list because he previously owned a home. We are trying to attract emigrants back to the country. I thank God that this year we will have more people coming into the country than left it, but they will not be able to get houses because they cannot get on the housing lists. There is an issue in this regard which we must address.
The other matter I want to address - it goes to the heart of Senator Murnane O'Connor's point - is the fundamental issue of respect for housing applicants and for families, particularly in the context of acknowledging their needs. Local authorities should not continue to conduct business through hatches at their offices because all of those in the vicinity can hear every detail of an individual's problems. People can become very distressed as a result of what happens. There must also be an adequate number of properly trained staff - the point in this regard was well made by the Minister - to deal with those who have social issues - for example, a drug addiction - or family problems. As the Minister correctly stated, it would be good if we could get those who are homeless to return to the homes they may have come but only if they feel safe in them. That is hugely important but nothing is currently being done about it. People come into my clinic and I understand the issues they face. If there was a proper, professionally-run agency to which one could direct them, it would be of great assistance. Local authorities have traditionally offered a sympathetic ear. However, that is no longer the case because of the sheer number of applicants. As a result, the matter is just not being dealt with properly. On foot of the fact that we will not solve the housing crisis overnight, we need to address the issues to which I refer and ensure that people are afforded the respect and understanding to which they are entitled.
Unfortunately, I may have to go soon. I am of the view that we may need to discuss this matter again. We may not finish our deliberations today even though that is our wish. It is hugely important that the committee engage in open discussions of this nature.
I reiterate what I said earlier, namely, that the Minister is grasping the nettle. I very much welcome that. His job is not easy and, obviously, there will be lots of criticism. However, the Minister is taking the correct route. The funding is bring provided but there is a need for empathy and the understanding. The need is being met, in terms of what we want to do, by everybody present at this meeting. The programme put forward by the Minister is excellent and it will drive a solution to this problem in an open, transparent and accountable way. It is in this room that the accountability resides. The Minister's programme is the way forward.
I, too, wish the Minister and his team well. It is important that he listens and engages. I know began to do so when the negotiations on the programme for Government commenced. This is a huge issue and we will be judged on our success or failure in grappling with it.
We have failed spectacularly, as a country, to deal with homelessness.
There are a number of blockages, one of which seems to be inertia at local authority level, whether it is through a lack of staff or a lack of other resources. There are too many stages to go through in the schemes that are on offer and I cannot understand why there cannot be a central design for each local authority, adapted to each site. There could be a standard design for a number of four-beds, three-beds, two-beds and one-beds, and there would be is no need for architects to design different schemes for different areas every time a contract goes out to tender. Other than the elevation of sites, the standards should be the same for each house. At the moment there are delays as we deal with architects. Architects have told me that when they make submissions to the Department they wait forever for an answer, causing delays of two, three or four years.
As Senator Murnane O'Connor said, the revenue limits are too low for people in employment or on low incomes. If they are slightly over the limit they cannot get it. The voluntary sector, in which I am involved, has a huge role to play. Around 2006, there was a section in the Department dealing directly with voluntary groups who wanted to build houses. These groups have a proven track record and they could deliver houses within a reasonable period, say 12 to 18 months from the time of acquiring a site. That section, however, was abolished. I do not know if that came from someone in the Department wanting to take back control, but such groups now have to go to five or six different venues around the country to visit different sections of the Department to get their approvals over the line. That is wrong.
I echo what Deputy O'Dowd said. Local authorities have lost a lot of staff as a result of cuts. They need adequate trained staff. People deserve dignity when they are standing in council offices and should not have to stand in a queue and take a ticket as if they were taxing their car. It is a very personal matter and there should be more space so that they can be listened to. In my own town, the closure of the borough council has put huge pressure on the front desk of the county council and there is not adequate space, resources or time for people. It is difficult for staff and there needs to be more sensitivity in this area.
I am committed to working with and supporting the Minister as best I can to cut out red tape. He has some responsibility for planning and there are some issues in my county in that regard. At least half a dozen young couples, with jobs and the wherewithal to build, have sites on family plots but they cannot get planning permission. Councils cannot house people, yet they are making it ridiculously difficult for people to build houses in rural Ireland. They can and are willing to house themselves. It would also kick-start the economy, especially in rural areas and small towns with small builders. We will never get started with all the draconian planning laws we have. We need good planning but there are now too many issues for people who want to build. Provided they follow guidelines, they should be allowed to do so, but it takes forever to get a pre-planning meeting and to get feedback if there are difficulties. The role of the local representative has also been cut. He or she used to be able to mediate with neighbours on different issues related to sites, but it is now more difficult. It is not that people wanted to bend laws - they just wanted to get planning permission for appropriate sites and on-site pre-planning meetings were very important for this. A lot of time was saved by finding out at the pre-planning stage that a site was not suitable. I know the Minister is to visit the councils, and he would be welcome to come to Tipperary to meet officials. The county managers' association should be required to say why they could build thousands of houses in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s but nowadays they are delivering zilch.
The mortgage-to-rent scheme has been an abject failure and the figures are dismal. Whether there is not a willingness to work with it or the guidelines are too strict, it is just not functioning. It needs to be dealt with because there are many instances in which people could be kept in their houses. Another issue is the purchase of houses by vulture funds, which is a total nonsense. I will not even get started on NAMA because it will be dealt with elsewhere, but that agency has a lot of questions to answer.
I will try to say one positive thing. I welcome the fact that there is a serious discussion about this crisis, albeit very belatedly for a crisis that has been building up for at least the past five or six years. There is a serious attempt to engage with it, but I am deeply sceptical about the capacity of this plan to deal with the scale of the problem. This is primarily because it relies overwhelmingly on the private sector to deliver public housing. I have read the Minister's plan in detail and in its graphs the biggest bar by a long mile is for HAP. The graphs make it clear that, for every single year of its projected delivery of social housing, the private sector is bigger than any other category of social housing. I do not believe that will happen. It may happen in some areas but in my area it will definitely not happen. I want to know what the Minister is going to do about areas such as Dún Laoghaire. Given the caps, even the increased ones, why on earth would a landlord who is charging €1,800 for a one-bedroom property and up to €2,500 for two or three bedrooms sign an arrangement with a local authority for much less than that? They are not doing this in any significant numbers, and when they do get involved they pull out just as quickly, as they did under the RAS scheme.
The reliance on HAP, RAS or leasing arrangements with the private sector means the quality of social housing is being degraded. When a person gets a council house there are certain standards it will have had to meet and a clear line of accountability on the part of the housing department to maintain it and make sure it does not fall below standards, but that is not true with RAS. In RAS, if there is damp or there are other problems that the landlord should remedy, the tenant is immediately in a quandary. They do not know whether to raise the issue for fear the landlord will pull out of the deal and leave them homeless. That is the reality, because the relationship is not a direct one between the local authority and the tenant any more. Many tenants suffer in silence because they are afraid to point out problems of chronic damp lest they be flung out.
I wish to ask a straight question on rapid build. The Minister said the procurement process for rolling out rapid build was not yet fully in place. Is that correct?
There is an immediate issue in Dún Laoghaire, where a Part 8 has been agreed. Clearly, the council wants a rapid build. I cannot see an argument as to why that should not be bricks-and-mortar. One could start a bricks-and-mortar project straight away and have something that is permanent, rather than having a 60-year lifespan, and an asset that is appreciating as opposed to degrading in value as is the case with a rapid build. Rapid builds are as expensive, so I do not see any advantage there. It is very telling-----
I want to add to that. In the Part 8 for the project to which I refer, in an area which needs one-bedroom, three-bedroom and four-bedroom units and where most of the people on the priority emergency homeless list are those with a need for a unit with more than two bedrooms, every single unit has two bedrooms. It makes no sense. Why is that the case? Any sustainable development will have a mix, but this project is proceeding because it suits rapid build. We are not getting the quality of a sustainable community-----
That is another question. On the 10% and 20% allocation of private developments and so on, it is becoming very irritating. There is a large NAMA development in Dún Laoghaire, the second phase of which is going ahead. Building is taking place. When it sought planning permission, there was a 20% allocation for social housing, which is being built, but we will now only get 10% of it.
It got 20% of the previous amount. The developer was in NAMA subsequently and there is no reason to believe that we could not get the 20%. The situation in Dún Laoghaire is chronic. I ask the Minister to use whatever influence or power he has to make sure we get the 20% that was originally earmarked and not just 10%.
Why, as I understand it, is the breakdown on public land one third, one third and one third? I do not understand that. Surely it is more complicated.
Houses are now being built which were originally supposed to be council houses. They could house homeless people who are on the housing list but will now be given to the private sector. Why?
Let me try to deal with a number of those questions. I refer to some of Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments. In mixed tenure development on public land we are trying to enure that we are building communities that have a mix of social, affordable rental and rented or owned private units. We are trying to ensure that the advantages of diversity and mixed tenure benefit those communities in the medium term, as opposed to doing what we did in the past where large areas of cities were all private or social housing. That does not maximise opportunities for many people, and it creates division across different societal types within Dublin. That is not good.
If we are going to add between 30% and 40% to our social housing stock over the next five or six years, which we are doing by adding an extra 47,000 units to it, then I want to make sure that, where possible, we are integrating those social housing units within mixed tenure developments that have social, affordable, private and other variables of housing mixes. That is what we are doing in O'Devaney Gardens, I hope, and will also be doing with some of the other regeneration projects that we will fund in the city and other parts of the country, and that is a good thing. Some people may have an ideological difference of opinion, which is fine and I respect that view but I do not agree with it.
One cannot force mixed tenure onto private property beyond that for which we have legislated. We have legislated for Part 5. Unlike in the past, we are not going to allow developers to buy out that obligation. Rather, we are going to require that there be mixed tenure. One will see far more than 10% social housing in many private developments because as part of the funding model many developers are now talking to local authorities and approved housing bodies about selling a higher percentage. We want to guarantee that in every new housing estate built in the country there will be social housing. It will be the first time that will happen.
We want to use large, publicly-owned land banks much more strategically than we did in the past. For example, there is the potential for about 600 housing units in O'Devaney Gardens. If we only built social houses there we would have to do it in phases over a ten or 15-year period because my Department would have to fund every 100 or 200 units we built. Instead, we will be able to build 600 housing units in one development. Half will be social housing, 20% of which will be affordable rental units for the kind of people who do not come under the thresholds in terms of qualifying for social housing but still have real difficulty accessing houses. Some 30% will be social housing comprising 200 units on the site in the not-too-distant future. This will happen under a competitive process for the design of building integrated good communities in those areas. It will transform that part of Dublin, quite frankly.
Deputy, I wish to clarify the position because we are being recorded. The Minister attended our informal session for the majority of the meeting during which many of the questions repeated today were asked on camera, which is very much welcomed. The Minister has been asked a number of questions that need to be answered. With respect, your questions were asked at the outset. Afford the same opportunity to your colleagues and allow their questions to be answered. I ask you to withdraw any remarks such as those you have just made and refrain from making them.
Just for the record for anyone who is listening, last week I was anxious to facilitate an off-the-record conversation within the Department so that people could understand what the policy document was all about.
I was there for much of the meeting - I was unable to be there for all it - and there were no time limits on it. All of our top people here were there to answer individual questions on a plan that was largely put together by them. I am the face of it but they put it together. When we are trying to be as open and transparent about the information we have to ensure everybody is informed, I do not think it is overly fair then to start equating that with a meeting that apparently I was not even at. That is not a fair reflection of what happened.
As I said, we will insist that Part V is implemented in full as opposed to the buy-out systems that were there in the past. Part V is a bare minimum. Many estates will go beyond 10% but it is up to local authorities and approved housing bodies to do the deals that are needed to make that happen. I am not familiar with the individual case in Dún Laoghaire and I am not going to talk about individual cases.
We had a lengthy conversation on rapid build earlier. I do not think anybody should judge rapid build on the basis of one 22-unit estate. One can build one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom or five-bedroom units using rapid build.
I am answering the Deputy's question. Before the end of next year, 1,500 rapid build units will be built. They will be in multiple locations, primarily across Dublin. Different local authorities in Dublin are building different numbers and that is the way it will work.
Many people thought HAP would not work in south Dublin either but 1,200 HAP tenancies have been set up there and more than 500 homeless HAP tenancies have been set in Dublin. I think HAP will work in time in Dún Laoghaire but there are other big projects and publicly owned land in Dún Laoghaire that can deliver significant quantities of mixed tenure, which will be about affordable, social and private housing on some sites, whether it is the Cherrywood development or other projects. My understanding is that there are about 400 housing units either under construction or very close to being under construction within that local authority so we are moving ahead. We recognise the need and pressures around social housing in Dún Laoghaire as we recognise them in many other areas.
In response to Deputy Mattie McGrath, it is important to say that of the 12,500 housing units built last year, more than 6,000 were one-off houses in the countryside in places like west Cork and Tipperary, so quite a lot of one-off houses are being built at the moment. We need to make sure that they are built in a way that is consistent with county development plans and local area plans. There are obviously issues around ribbon development and there are different zonings, be they A1, A2 or A3. I cannot get involved in individual planning cases but if there is a policy issue around that which the Deputy wants me to look at, I will certainly look at it.
In respect of voluntary groups and approved housing bodies, much of our new social housing will in some cases be built, leased or acquired by approved housing bodies. I opened an interesting model last week, which is the NAMA NARPS model facilitated through Respond!, that involved the allocation of new units in Cork. There are different financing and management models that will include a lot of approved housing bodies. To help them, we are setting up a one-stop-shop within the Housing Agency, particularly around procurement and legal issues, to increase the capacity and economies of scale within approved housing bodies. Many approved housing bodies in Ireland are quite small in terms of their operations. There are a few big ones but many of them are quite small, especially the specialist ones dealing with elderly care and mental health.
In respect of stages and approval processes, the criticism that many of the projects that have been planned in recent years have been moving very slowly through the system is a fair one. Some of that is financial while some of it concerns differences of agreement between the Department and local authorities around design or costing. The approval process is under review at the moment and I think we will see significant improvements on it. In fact, I think we are already seeing significant improvements on it. We are now sending multidisciplinary teams composed of a planner, a quantity surveyor and an architect down for face-to-face meetings to try to short-cut an approval process as opposed to having a back-and-forth correspondence that may go on for months. We also have a delivery unit within the Department whose job is essentially to project manage and work in tandem with the Department and local authorities to make sure barriers to decision-making are removed and that we get schemes moving as quickly as possible.
I take the points made by Deputy O'Dowd about treating people with respect. Given the pressures, the number of people on housing lists and the number of families and individuals who are homeless at the moment, there is a danger that people dealing every day with many distressed people can become hardened to that and it becomes process-driven as opposed to more personalised and compassionate. We might raise those points at a management level to see how we can deal with concerns around the respect and dignity that people need to be shown.
I take the point about people coming home and not being able to get on a housing list. To be honest, I had not thought about it before. If someone had a property and they sold it, they would have been a previous property owner and, therefore, there is a restriction. Even if the person sold the property, if the property was in negative equity and the person still had debt, effectively he or she would not have any asset left either in cash or property and he or she would be restricted in terms of getting on a housing list. That is something on which we will try to follow up.
I take the point about the NAMA offering. I think that has been a source of frustration. Some of the properties may have been in areas that were not suitable in the same way that many vacant properties are in areas where there is little demand. I find it difficult to believe that if the figures given by the Deputy are right, and I think they are pretty close to being right-----
-----less than half of what was offered was taken up. NAMA was certainly very critical of that when it appeared before the housing committee.
In respect of Senator Coffey's point, I am very conscious that many of the foundations on which we are trying build were put in place by Senator Coffey when he was Minister of State and by the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It is hoped we will now benefit from some of that work.
In respect of the devolved scheme for local authorities, to put it simply, councils do not have to get sign-off from us at every stage for any scheme that involves spending less than €2 million. They can just get on and do it. We are reviewing that at the moment because the take-up has been very low. I would like to devolve more power to local authorities to be able to make decisions, but with that devolved power comes increased responsibility in terms of the financial management of the projects. We will not have a situation where halfway through a project that should cost €4 million, it looks like the project will cost €6 million and local authorities come back to me asking for an extra €2 million. We cannot have that so we must have guarantees, assurances and checking mechanisms around making sure we get full value for money and that we have quality design and so on. The principle of giving more responsibility to local authorities around financing and delivering these projects would certainly make life a lot easier for us with regard to getting approvals faster. If we can do it, we will.
On the issue of removing barriers to output and capacity loss within local authorities, the Secretary General told me that the number is around 400 extra staff across local authorities linked to housing and planning in the last 12 to 18 months. We are trying to get more capacity in there. There is probably still some room for more, particularly in areas of real pressure like Dublin and Cork. We are reviewing the mortgage to rent scheme to try to get better outcomes with that. I think most of the questions have been covered. If I have not answered them, please raise them again.
I thank the Chairman. As we have drifted into pillars 2 and 3, I have some questions on them. To facilitate other members, I am more than happy for the answers to be given to the committee at a later stage, be they in writing or whatever. I will stick to the questions. In pillar 2, the 47,000 units is broken down into 26,000, 11,000 and 10,000. I had asked previously if it was possible for the committee to have a breakdown of projected targets for those. For example, how many of the 26,000 units does the Department expect to be Part V, approved housing bodies, council new build and acquisitions? If it is possible to have that breakdown today or at a later stage, that would be great.
With regard to the mixed tenure and the land initiatives, I believe what is being proposed on the land initiative is a really significant, big policy departure. There is a need for this committee, and maybe the exchange earlier demonstrates that need, to have a dedicated discussion on the detail of this proposal. I strongly favour, and have long argued for, a council-led mixed tenure estates. However, if it is the intention of the Department to mobilise the land as an asset to get a private developer to build, there are big questions to be asked around this. The first is whether the local authority sells the land at market value and retains the sale price to purchase another plot of land to develop another mixed tenure estate. The second is whether the local authority is obliged to use the sale price of the land to purchase the social housing units. They are two very different models. The first option obviously has the advantage that a second site could be bought and more units could be produced, including more social units. The first one is an end of the asset with regard to the social value of it. There are a lot of issues in the mixed tenure model which need to be teased out. With regard to the housing delivery unit and the housing procurement unit, I would really like much more detail about those. At the last meeting, it was said that there had been additional staff. I would like to know how many, what they are doing and how they are doing it. This information does not have to be provided today.
I had previously asked about the Irish Council for Social Housing fund which is mentioned in the plan and the blockage that is within the Registrar of Credit Unions, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance with regard to mobilising some of the Irish League of Credit Unions' money into that fund. The officials were not in a position to give us any update on that. Will the Minister indicate if he has spoken with his colleague, the Minister for Finance, and if is there any update? Clearly, there is some money that can be mobilised, which does not go on to State borrowing, from the credit unions for approved housing bodies. Where are we with that?
At the last meeting, I discussed the 400 households who are stuck in direct provision and who have the stamp 4 visas. They cannot get out of direct provision partly because of language and cultural barriers and partly because they are still stuck on €19.50 per week, even with jobseekers' allowance, because the remainder is subsidising their direct provision. They cannot save for a deposit for HAP, etc. Is there any plan to provide some direct intervention to assist these 400 families to get out of direct provision in which they should not be in the first place? This is nothing to do with the direct provision separately but it is a big concern and it was not addressed at the last meeting.
We agreed to deal with pillar 1 and we have been waiting to deal with pillar 2. Some members have been at liberty to talk about pillars two and three while others have been disadvantaged and have not been able to partake in this meeting at all. If we are sticking to pillar 1, let us have a ruling and let us deal with it and then move to pillar 2.
I have met local authorities but I have not met Fingal County Council yet. I have met South Dublin County Council, Dublin City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Cork City Council, Kilkenny County Council and Carlow County Council and I am meeting Waterford County Council tomorrow. There are only so many days in the week.
It is a bit blasé, if you do not mind me saying that. Homelessness is concentrated in a number of locations. My frustration stems from the fact that 40% of Dublin's homeless are in my constituency but the Minister has not prioritised meeting that local authority and asking why it has no plans to deal with the situation or explain what he can do to help them. It is a bit blasé for him to say he has been to Waterford or Carlow when he knows where the key problem lies.
The key solution lies with proper co-ordination, partnership and management across Dublin with the local authorities. Our officials are meeting with officials from all the key local authorities in Dublin on a regular basis to try to get solutions to homelessness. I suspect the Deputy knows that.
I have a supplementary question and perhaps the Minister could clarify an issue for me. When councils say there is no demand for housing in an area, that is not actually true if they have not tested that demand. One of the issues that has arisen is councils refusing houses from NAMA. Houses are available but the councils do not actually ask the people who applied, or they do not advertise that homes are available at a location asking applicants if they wish to take them. That is a huge issue. If one looks at the Housing Agency's map of houses in Ireland, it is very clear that a lot of vacant homes are theoretically in the west. Houses are offered to local authorities which could be available to rent but they say there is no demand in a particular area. They do not actually test that and this is hugely important.
In Dublin, there are 40,000 vacant homes. That is a huge issue. I do not know if I am crossing into pillars 2, 3 or 4. I think this is an area we should debate at our next meeting if that is okay.
The Minister did not answer one of the key points I put to him on the issue of HAP and RAS and the fact that this is leading to a degrading of the quality of what is now called social housing. With a council house, there are standards and the council is directly responsible to uphold those standards and the tenant knows who to go to. With RAS or HAP, it is much more insecure because the landlord can pull out and the tenant is in a much worse position because if there are problems, and particularly when the rental situation is as bad as it is in Dublin, the tenant is terrified to go near the council or the landlord to say there is a problem.
The Minister did not answer the point I raised regarding rapid-build housing. I can only deal with the concrete reality. Plans are one thing, and they look lovely, but then the concrete reality emerges. The first rapid-build provision being pushed by a local authority proposes that they will all be two-bedroom units. The reason it is proposing that, even though what is needed is a much more diverse mix, is that it wants to deliver rapid-build units. If the proposal was for bricks-and-mortar buildings, we would have a mixed sustainable development, which would be good in the long term. The Minister said in his response that we want to have mixed provision, build better communities and all the rest of it, but there is a proposal to build a substandard community because of the prejudice towards rapid-build housing. If there was not such a prejudice towards rapid-build and we built bricks and mortar, which the people on the housing waiting list would prefer, we would have a mixed sustainable community. Therefore, what was said was wrong, and it is being driven by the prejudice towards rapid-build housing.
The Minister said we could not have a carte blanchemoratorium on evictions, because it is complicated and there are unintended consequences. Can he explain to me why that is the case?
Why can we not have a moratorium on evictions in the current circumstances where there is an emergency? Reference was made to unintended consequences. The big consequence that is of significance and that is at the bottom of this emergency is that people are being put out of their homes. I am not that bothered about what other unintended consequences there might be if it stops people from being put out of their homes. To be put out of one's home is a disaster. Why can we not introduce a moratorium on evictions?
On mixed-tenure provision, the reality is that it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis in terms of how we can best use the strategic asset of land banks in different circumstances. Sometimes it will be a straight sale which can raise money to buy other land, as the Deputy said, and sometimes it will be to deliver and finance significant potential numbers of social housing units. It will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, working it out with the local authorities, and we will do it in a way that gets value for money.
With regard to direct provision and the 400 families that were mentioned, we will certainly have 2,000 refugees coming into Ireland in the next 12 months and within the next two years I suspect that figure will be 4,000 plus their families, which probably will increase the total to nearly 12,000 people. Obviously we will need to accommodate those people, and they are very much part of the plans. Most of them will probably be accommodated through the HAP scheme, but there will also be other accommodation solutions. When they come into the country initially they will need orientation and so on, which is what is recommended. I take the point regarding the people who have been in direct provision for a long time and the need to work with the Department of Justice and Equality to make sure we provide more sustainable housing solutions for them.
With regard to Deputy O'Dowd's point, one of the commitments in the plan is that we try to move all local authorities to what is called a choice-based letting system. It is a little like having a small version of daft.iewithin a local authority, which would enable all the people who are looking and waiting for houses to see what is available. As houses become available, they are put up on the system and one bids for them. Depending on where one is on the list, the person who is highest on the list will get the property. The advantage of that can be seen if we note the experience in Cork City Council, where the refusal rate was about 48% because people were being offered houses on the basis of where they were on the list as opposed to matching up their exact need with houses and so on. Since the introduction of choice-based letting, that refusal rate has halved.
We will come back to the other pillars the next time we meet. We want to get every local authority to work on a choice-based letting principle. That will mean that if people say they will take a house, the chances of their seeing that through and not refusing it are much higher.
I have a further supplementary question on that aspect. With respect to the so-called holiday homes that have been refused in some cases, part of the problem was that local authorities said there was no demand for homes in such and such a place. There could very well be a demand for them, but the houses might have to be surveyed to see if heating can be installed or changes can be made to them. I appreciate what the Minister has said. That is one suggestion I would make.
With regard some of the points Deputy Boyd Barrett made about HAP, all of our HAP tenancies involve an inspection of the property to make sure it meets certain standards. The whole point of HAP is to try to reduce the vulnerability of some people who may be on rent supplement, whereby the relationship is with the landlord and the local authority rather than between landlord and tenant, to try to ensure that quality is more consistent and higher. That is one of the advantages of HAP versus-----
-----rent supplement. Everyone who is renting deserves the protection of the State in term of the standards that they should expect from private rental accommodation. That should apply to social tenants in the same way as to private tenants. Obviously there is a risk there, which is the reason we have an inspection system. The figure I got is that there is an inspection always within eight months of a tenancy to make sure that what we are being told is being provided by a landlord and what a local authority is paying for is actually being delivered.
The Deputy made many comments about rapid-build provision, but rapid build is not necessarily a preference. This is about getting houses built quickly for people because we have a huge demand. The majority of rapid-build units, just as in Poppintree, will be a temporary, short- to medium-term solution while longer-term housing need is provided for, unless we decide to start using rapid-build technology to get social housing estates built faster, which I expect will probably happen because that is the way the building industry is going. It is not that with rapid-build only two-bedroom houses are built and they are the only ones being built. That is not what we are talking about here.
If one asks the families who have moved into the 22 units in Poppintree about their experience, I think one would get a pretty positive response from the vast majority of them. We are trying to get volume into the system to start to deal with the housing needs of many families in a more proactive way. Rapid build is just part of the solution and it will be a very small part in percentage terms. I anticipate that most social housing estates will be built with conventional building methods.
The Deputy spoke about bricks and mortar. There are a lot of bricks involved in rapid-build housing as well but they are pre-assembled in factories and they are brought in by crane. That is the only difference. We need to get away from labelling rapid-build housing as some kind of inferior product. If it is an inferior product, we should not be using it. That is all I want to say on rapid-build housing. It is the third time we have come back to it.
In respect of the moratorium on evictions, it depends what type of eviction one is talking about. We are looking at the broad rental market in terms of potential changes and we have said we would have a rental strategy in place by the end of the year. We are looking at issues around security of tenure and rent predictability. We are also looking at ensuring it is an attractive market for landlords because otherwise we will see a continuation of what has been happening over the last 18 months where many people have been taking their properties out of the rental market. My understanding is that over the last 18 months, approximately 30,000 housing units have been taken out of the housing market-----
The point here is that we are looking at the broader rental market and we will have new policy initiatives on it before the end of the year. Hopefully, we will be able to get consensus on some of those at least but we will have to wait and see.
That concludes this discussion. We will amalgamate this with our Estimates meeting next week, if the committee agrees. I thank the Minister and his Department for being available to the members over the summer. If members have particular questions they want answered in preparation for next week, feel free to send them to the clerk to the committee and we will seek to get answers. I thank the members for their attendance today.