Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 27 September 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness: Discussion (Resumed)
Apologies have been received from Deputy Coppinger; Deputy Mick Barry will substitute for her. Apologies have been received from Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors 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 airplane, safe or flight mode depending on their device. It is not sufficient to just put phones on silent as it will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
No. 1 on the agenda is the update on Rebuilding Ireland. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his officials, Ms Mary Hurley, Mr. John McCarthy and Mr. David Walsh. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, will join us shortly.
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 Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to make his opening statement.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear again before it, this time to give it an update on the progress made on the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland. I am joined this afternoon by Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department, and assistant secretaries, Ms Mary Hurley and Mr. David Walsh. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, will join us shortly.
Rebuilding Ireland is many things but at its core it is a delivery plan with the single objective of delivering more for citizens. I have said many times that the housing challenges Ireland faces cannot be solved overnight but that is not to say we are not dealing with the day-to-day priorities or ignoring the significant issues. We are endeavouring in everything we do to provide ongoing support for our most vulnerable citizens in every way possible while managing long-term programmes to create a sustainable pathway to a stable and consistent housing sector. Nowhere is this more evident than in homelessness. The first six months of this year saw 2,332 adults exiting homelessness into independent tenancies. To date, 3,600 households have been assisted under homeless HAP and over 200 Housing First tenancies have been established but more needs to be done and more will be done.
It is a complex issue with many contributory factors and supply is a key factor. Increasing supply of appropriate and secure accommodation is the main objective and so too is ensuring that while we await that supply coming on stream in a sufficient quantity, we have a robust system of response in place to meet the needs of citizens who, for whatever reason, find themselves presenting as homeless at our local authority housing desks and in Parkgate Street.
This means continuing to provide shelter in the most appropriate accommodation available. We know that hotels are not that, which is why I recently wrote to the Dublin local authorities requesting that they expand their hub programmes so the short-term emergency accommodation we provide is as suited to the needs of families and individuals as possible.
The key remains supply and the accelerated delivery of social housing. A need for linkage between the strategic and operational is an essential component of a successful plan, which is why housing summits have become a central part of how my Department engages with the critical partners for delivery. In July we hosted a third summit for local authority chief executives and held very meaningful discussions on both strategic and operational issues, bringing forward a number of key actions.
In recognition of the approved housing body, AHB, sector as a major stakeholder not only in social housing delivery, but also in terms of tenancy management and services to the homeless and other vulnerable members of our communities, I invited chief executives of a number of tier 3 and tier 2 approved housing bodies to attend a dedicated AHB summit on 17 September. The theme was collaboration between AHBs and local authorities, as well as collaboration with the market and the development sector.
Working together is achieving tangible outcomes. Up to the end of the second quarter of 2018, Rebuilding Ireland has delivered more than 57,000 housing solutions across all delivery streams. By the end of this year I expect that number to have grown to approximately 70,000 and we are on course to achieve that. We committed to supporting 137,000 households into appropriate accommodation under build, acquisition and leasing programmes, as well as HAP and RAS, over the six-year period, and by the end of tier three we will have achieved more than 50% of our target. The need to continue to intensify and accelerate new build activity is to the fore of our strategic planning. The early years of Rebuilding Ireland focused on harnessing existing capacity and more immediate solutions while, in parallel, progressing local authority and AHB capacity to build more, and establishing solid project pipelines. Those pipelines are now in place and growing, as evidenced in the quarter two construction status report which has just been published. Since the end of 2016 the number of schemes and homes in the programme has doubled. Activity onsite has also increased significantly, with 1,074 homes going on site in the second quarter of this year alone, which is a 239% increase on the number of homes that went on site in the same quarter last year. There is no room for complacency, however. We have committed to exponential growth and we are striving to achieve this.
As Minister, I have also been clear that we need to address issues of housing affordability, recognising the pressures that exist for low to middle income households, particularly in Dublin and certain other of our main urban centres. Back in 2011 all affordable housing schemes were stood down, given the prevailing economic position in the country. As members know, given the collapse in house prices there was an overhang of unsold affordable homes at that time. This time around it is important that we only target affordable housing interventions in areas that require them, based on a consistent approach to economic assessment.
In terms of affordable purchase, I have commenced the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the effect of which is to place the new scheme for affordable purchase on a statutory footing. From engagements with the local authorities in Dublin, the wider greater Dublin area, as well as Cork and Galway cities, their initial estimates suggest they have lands with the potential to deliver some 4,000 new affordable homes. My Department is continuing to work with the key local authorities and the Housing Agency to identify sites which would see the level of ambition increase to at least 10,000 new affordable homes from local authority owned land, and that analysis is progressing well.
With regard to cost rental, I am determined for it to become a major part of our rental landscape in the future. It is clear there is a gap between social housing and the rental market that needs to be filled, making a sustainable impact on housing affordability, national competitiveness and the attractiveness of our main urban centres as places to live and work. The Housing Agency, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and a number of approved housing bodies have signed the agreements on our first cost rental pilot at Enniskerry Road, and tenders issued last month. In parallel, Dublin City Council, my Department and the National Development Finance Agency undertook detailed modelling and financial appraisal on a major site at St. Michael’s Estate in Inchicore which Dublin City Council will now develop as a major cost rental project.
In order to support local authorities to get their sites ready for affordable housing, I have decided to provide additional funding for enabling infrastructure via the serviced sites fund. Given that housing-related infrastructure will now be able to avail of funding under the €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund, I am redirecting the €50 million funding for phase 2 of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, to the serviced sites fund, thereby increasing the scale of the fund from the previously announced €25 million to €75 million. When local authority co-funding is included, an overall minimum investment of €100 million will be provided to those sites that require infrastructural investment in order for them to be brought into use as affordable housing. A total of €15 million Exchequer funding has been allocated for 2018, to which the local authority minimum contribution of €5 million will be added. This should enable the provision of infrastructure for around 500 affordable homes initially, based on a maximum level of €40,000 infrastructure investment per home.
One of the most significant actions taken since I last presented to this committee was the formal launch of the Land Development Agency, LDA. This will be a commercial State-sponsored body, acting within a clear Government policy framework, including that all public land disposals must deliver at least 40% of any housing potential on such lands in the form of social and subsidised or affordable housing. The LDA will establish a national centre of expertise for State bodies and local authorities, using experienced staff with expertise in project management finance, planning, development and procurement. For the first time, the Government will create a State body to deliver on the key principles of the Kenny report of 1973 and NESC’s latest research, targeting land management and housing delivery that is intended to underpin the delivery of 150,000 new homes over a 20-year period, or around 25% of all housing needs envisaged by Project Ireland 2040.
In terms of furthering our ambition to maximise utilisation of vacant housing stock, my Department published the National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy 2018-2021 in July. It builds on significant work already begun in 2016 and 2017 by various stakeholders, including the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies, in order to meet our Pillar 5 goals. The strategy sets out a number of concrete actions, including the adoption of vacant homes action plans by all local authorities and the appointment of vacant homes officers, funded by my Department, to co-ordinate local actions addressing vacancy. It also provides a clearly signposted source of information for owners of vacant homes, including the funding options that are available to assist in bringing vacant homes back into productive use.
In regard to the rental sector, as previously stated, the Government approved the drafting of a new Bill to amend the Residential Tenancies Acts. The proposed changes will further empower the Residential Tenancies Board by giving it the necessary powers and resources to protect both tenants and landlords in the residential rental sector, particularly with regard to enforcement. These changes will further strengthen the effectiveness of the rent setting and rent review laws by empowering the RTB to investigate any contravention of the law around rent limits in rent pressure zones and to take enforcement action, if necessary, including the imposition of sanctions on landlords in breach and initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint to be made. The progress of the residential tenancies Bill will influence the framework as each proposal will require a lead-in time for the RTB to put systems and resources in place for effective delivery. My Department is working closely with the RTB to identify capacity and what functions will need to be developed to implement the legislation. The proposed new powers for the RTB are a crucial first step in expanding its overall role and function as part of a multi-annual change management programme to proactively enforce tenancy law and assume more the role of a regulator within the rental sector.
My Department is working with the Office of the Attorney General in drafting this legally complex Bill and I hope to bring it to Government shortly. Following the pre-legislative scrutiny process, the committee has issued a report highlighting a number of recommendations, including the introduction of tax incentives for small-scale landlords. My Department is considering the report with a view to making any necessary amendments to the existing Bill or for consideration for inclusion in a separate planning, housing and residential tenancies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which my Department is also working on.
With regard to short-term lettings, I am currently considering the report of the working group and the recommendations from the Oireachtas committee's report on this issue. I intend to shortly announce the initial measures and actions that can maintain or return to use properties for long-term rental purposes in our cities and urban areas. This approach recognises that the introduction of a new regulatory system will take some time to be designed and come into effect.
As the committee will be aware, I have circulated a range of documents to it over the course of this week. I am more than happy to answer any questions in regard to those documents and, indeed, in regard to the continuing progress we are making under Rebuilding Ireland.
I want to add two further points. First, I have just come from a meeting on the homeless figures for August, given we have been trying to make sure they could be published in advance of the committee hearing today. My apologies for giving the numbers to the committee orally but those numbers will be published imminently. For August, the number of presentations was 238, which is down on July; 114 families were prevented from entering into emergency accommodation; and we had only 83 exits from emergency accommodation in that time. Much of the reason for this is that our focus and our resources were put into protecting people in existing emergency accommodation ahead of and throughout the papal visit. The total number of people in emergency accommodation in the State following this work is 9,527. People will know this is down on the number in July and, in conjunction with the publishing of these numbers, I will be making available a summary of the recategorisation survey that was conducted over the past four months. That recategorisation survey identified 741 homes that were being classified as emergency accommodation when they are not. Those numbers have been removed from the total number of people in emergency accommodation but they were removed at various points in time over the past four months, so I cannot be clear on how many have actually come out of the August number. Nonetheless, we now have a clear number in terms of the total number of people in emergency accommodation in the State, which, as of August, is 9,527. Furthermore, I have requested the CSO, and it has agreed, to become involved in the preparation and compilation of our homeless numbers to get better accuracy on this data because we continue to struggle to get accurate data, month in, month out.
Second, I have documentation for each member in regard to the number of builds that are happening in local authorities at the moment, both social builds and private builds. I thought it might be useful to give people an accurate picture of what is actually happening on the ground in their local authority as we talk about ramping up supply and what more needs to be done. That is being distributed at the moment.
While we have to welcome the fact that the numbers of homeless are down it is unacceptable for anybody, a child or parent, to be homeless. We all need to work to make sure no one is homeless. It is frightening to think people are still homeless.
Rents are rocketing up. When I asked the Minister about the rent pressure zones he said he thought it would be illegal to put the rest of the local authorities that were not in the rent pressure zone into it because some are affected and some are not. Will he consider that again because I believe he spoke about it last week or there was documentary on the radio saying that rents are high in every area? The housing assistance payment, HAP, for Carlow County Council is €548 but it costs €1,000 a month to rent a house in County Carlow. There is a balance to be found there. I know there is only a 20% leeway but that is unacceptable. We need rent caps in each county, whether Dublin county or city. There should be a different strategy. In Dublin, the HAP is almost €1,200, which is fine, but the Minister is forgetting rural areas. Although I welcome his opening speech today everything was based in Dublin and Cork. He needs to consider the rural areas. Will he consider a different strategy because I do not think the rent pressure zones are working?
I was speaking about the HAP and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, payments. This is an important time because within two weeks we will have the budget. What are the Minister's full proposals in the budget to help rural Ireland? What exactly will the Minister do for local authorities? Will he give them extra funding this year under the scheme? He says there is money there and I welcome that but will he give extra funding to local authorities that have been crying out for it to put towards housing and other projects? I welcome the fast track planning and rapid build but there is so much red tape now between the Department and local authorities that the timescale of two or three years is too long. I understand everything has to be transparent and above board but because there is such an urgent housing crisis is there any way the Minister could rush local authority houses that need to be built?
I am very concerned about mortgages. They are the way forward for people who do not qualify for a mortgage from a bank or building society. A person has to bring a refusal from each to the local authority but the Minister is not supporting it enough. His timescale is wrong. I brought this up with him six months ago when he told me there is only a six-week delay in applying for a mortgage. That is not true. There is a 12 month delay. I have dealt with 12 mortgages since then - I can name the people - and it is between six months and a year before I hear back. It goes to the Department, then it has to go to the credit committee in the local authority then back to the Department. That is unacceptable because a person who applies to a bank for a loan will know within two to three weeks exactly why they do or do not qualify for the loan. That is the way forward.
I am so disappointed with the Minister because he has said on several occasions that he is aware that the housing crisis is not much better but there is a small improvement and that has to be welcomed. Carlow County Council has one of the lowest caps to qualify for the housing list, at €27,500. Compared with Laois and Kilkenny we are failing the people of Carlow who do not qualify. I know a woman who was €50 out to qualify for the local authority housing list. I was devastated and so was she. There is no appeal. That is unacceptable. The Minister and his staff have given me a commitment that would be addressed in September, that the cap for Carlow County Council would be increased. This is part of the housing crisis and homelessness. It is not being addressed. We are falling down on areas like that. We all have to worry about people who are homeless. I could name at least 20 people in my area who are couch-surfing. They have nowhere to go because we cannot get them on the housing list. There is no room at home for them. These are the people who are falling through the net. The Minister needs to give me a commitment today that the cap for Carlow County Council will be sorted in the next few weeks. I will not leave here today until I get a commitment from him.
I have loads more questions but the ones I asked were on the cap, the mortgages, central Government funding to the local authorities for their budgets, and whether Carlow County Council will get any extra help in the next budget because the budget plays a massive part in our local authority.
The Senator has raised several topics because she is so well informed on this issue. I appreciate the time she gives to it and thank her for recognising the improvements.
I will work backwards through her questions. Several documents have been published this week, ahead of this scheduled meeting but also because it is the end of quarter 3, we are looking back to quarter 2 and this is the traditional time to publish the figures. I had hoped that the work on the social housing eligibility criteria would be completed in September. That was always the intention. I am not doing it. The Housing Agency is leading on that. We are almost at a point of completion. There will be much work to do in October for further publications which have gone a bit over time. I cannot give any commitments on it until it is completed by the Housing Agency and has been given to me but everyone has heard the concerns the Senator has raised several times in this committee.
More than 1,000 homeloans have been approved by the housing agency and they go back to the credit committee. We and the housing agency are turning them around very quickly but there are delays in the local authorities' credit committees. There is also an inconsistency in how the credit committees make decisions. On foot of recommendations from colleagues in my party earlier this month I am doing an assessment of the rebuilding Ireland homeloan. It is being done independent of my Department so that we can get an independent view, closer to that of a local authority to get a better understanding of what fixes can be made. I have done several round tables with the key players but we are still finding kinks in the system. This review will hopefully work them out.
I have sat in local authority chambers where members have told me that a project has been with my Department for four, six or eight months and they have not got it back and when I have asked my officials about it they say it was received only a week before. I am tired of this buck passing between local authorities and my Department back and forth. That is why I published-----
Whenever there is a problem there is always a bit of blame to go around. That is why I looked for full transparency with local authorities at the beginning of this year, asking them to publish their targets for the year, making sure we had a layer of accountability that we had not had previously and that we could work to those targets throughout the year so that the members, as elected representatives, could see what their local authorities should have been doing and ask why they were not doing more. If they then said the Department has not given approval the members could ask me why it had not been approved. I could say it was an issue with a particular design or the financing or whatever it might be if there was a delay. That is the purpose of that programme and, in fairness to many colleagues, the number of requests that have come to the Department through written correspondence asking about a particular site has increased and from time to time that can help expedite things. I encourage members to look at the targets for their local authority areas and the details I have given them today and see where they can help if there are logjams in the system because we can all play a role in this.
The four-stage approval process is 59 weeks. That was agreed with the local authority managers. Where it works it works very well. It is very close, if not similar, to what happens in the private sector when it comes to design, planning, procurement and all the things that have to happen before going on site. We are not too far off where we should be but we can work it better and I am considering aspects of it again. Conversations are happening between me and other Ministers on this issue because I have heard it from enough people that I recognise we can look at it again.
An important point to make is that if we rush the development of any housing scheme we would not want to risk a problem arising in ten years time where it would need to be rebuilt, redeveloped or discover we have made a fundamental mistake in the planning, design or outline in that we have located the playground where it does not allow for passive supervision and, subsequently, find there is concern about anti-social behaviour or something happening behind people's houses rather than in front of them. One encounters all these different issues as one visits housing schemes up and down the country and finds the different ways they are designed are for very good reasons, and we want to take care in that respect and we do that.
Regarding the budget, I cannot tell the Senator what my full proposals are. There have been enough conversations in the media to get an idea of what we would like to achieve. We in the Department have moved away from the big bang budget day where the budget is a big surprise and a big review on the day by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. We have a multi-annual budgetary framework for Rebuilding Ireland whereby we already know what funding is programmed into it and pretty much the funding for which programmes next year and the year after because it is a five to six-year plan. In respect of Project Ireland 2040, we have also taken that view in terms of long-term planning. The Senator knows there is a €4 billion urban regeneration fund. She will know the closing date for applications is tomorrow. We will announce people on foot of that in October with respect to the drawing down of €100 million in funding next year. We do not need to wait for the budget to be told that. That said, there will be a few items that will be covered in the budget regarding the way we will be spending money and some new initiatives. Those negotiations are currently ongoing. Anything that I can say publicly before the budget, I will say, but certain matters have to remain until the last minute because some decisions are only made at the last minute when we can get a proper idea of where the resources are going to be allocated as per priority not only within my Department but between other Departments and the Government.
I welcome the Minister, the Secretary General of the Department, Mr. David Walsh and Ms Mary Hurley. I acknowledge and congratulate Mr. David Walsh on his appointment as chairman of An Bord Pleanála. We will miss him but I hope he will not forget everything we have said to him during the past two years. I look forward to engaging with An Bord Pleanála. I would add there has been slippage on its part in terms of Rebuilding Ireland. We still have no i-planning system in this country despite my having a circular from the now Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, that this would happen within three to four months of that strategy. A great announcement in Rebuilding Ireland was that we were going to embrace technology. I am not asking the Minister to take notes to respond, and that is not out of rudeness on my part, but I want to use my time in the form of a monologue, for want of a better word, because w will have many opportunities to talk and he will have many opportunities to come to both Houses of the Oireachtas and we can engage in that way. We need to examine planning in terms of An Bord Pleanála because commitments were given about engaging in a process, particularly regarding fast-track planning, student accommodation and a range of matters, but that contract with and commitments to the citizens have not been fulfilled. I happen to live in Dublin but I would not want to be living down in west Cork and trying to engage with An Bord Pleanála or to go into look at bad etchings and drawings in planning authorities before I prepared some submission to the board. In any event, I wish Mr. David Walsh well in that job.
I acknowledge the strong and robust account the Minister gave of himself in the Dáil during the week. It was impressive. I took the time to look at the coverage of it and to listen to it. He is very capable of defending himself and he did it in a professional and robust way and I have no doubt about his personal commitment to housing and addressing homelessness. I acknowledge that and I like to be positive. As I was coming into this meeting, it struck me that I am not a member of the Minister's party or any political party, I am Independent. That does not mean I am against Government or Government policy, or against anybody. I am against something when I believe it is wrong and I advocate and support something that I believe is right. That is the way I motivate myself in my personal, political and business life. I acknowledge the Minister gave a good and strong account of himself; he demonstrated his knowledge of this brief and that must be respected.
We have 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation despite all our best efforts, promises about hotels and emergency accommodation in hubs, some of which are very good and some of which are not great, and I have been to many of them. We also have 3,600 children who are homeless. That is the factual position. Many figures are bandied about regarding the number of households on social housing. Today the nearest figure we can be precise about is approximately 85,000 householders. I have spoken to a number of non-governmental organisations today and I acknowledge the great work they are doing. Let us not get caught up in the semantics of the numbers because we are talking about homes and people's lives. I use this opportunity, on behalf of us all, to acknowledge the great work of Focus Ireland and many of the non-governmental organisations and the many positives developments that are happening. There are many positives in terms of the people who have been lifted of the streets, given housing and other forms of holistic support, which are important. The day of the blame game is over with respect to who is for and who is against a measure, who did not do wrong and the numbers.
I welcome the Minister's announcement regarding the Central Statistics Office, CSO. I suggested that to him last year in this very room and told him we needed somebody independent to validate our figures and somebody took exception to that idea. They thought I was having a pop at them. I am not having a pop at anyone. We need to validate our housing figures and to stand over them. That is important. We have 85,000 householders on our official social housing waiting list. I do my own statistics across the 31 local authorities with key councillors with whom I have built relationships.
Also, I acknowledge we had representatives of four councils here last night and I was very impressed by them. They had various views on the issue. The point that emerged from last night's meeting is that they are sick of being blamed and I am sick of people blaming the Minister and vice versa. Therefore, we need accountability. If the Minister is brave enough to have another one of his great housing forums or meetings, he should have the next one with us. Furthermore, I do not believe he is tapping into the resources around this table. We have a wide experience in local government. Everyone here has been involved in local government. I read a note about the Land Development Agency that I received after the event. I speak to media journalists who report on this specialist category of housing, planning and local government who regularly contact me to tell me they have been tipped off and briefed about matters - that is the truth, let us call a spade a spade - about which we, the members, have not been told. We had to request this after the event. I see people surrounding the Minister at various gigs and openings in regard to policy and I ask myself why are they there. I am not convinced he or his Department is tapping into the enormous skills, expertise and talent around this table, and that is a challenge. I ask him to reflect on that and to use us and have dialogue with us. I do not want to be hounding anyone in his Department and I do not want anyone hounding me, but I believe we can have a constructive exchange and be in a partnership in this respect.
I wish to touch on three or four issues. From statistics I received today, I note 70,000 borrowers are in mortgage arrears with 30 being more than five years in arrears. We have a crisis across the whole spectrum in terms of mortgages, rent and affordability to purchase and to rent. I want to put a few points to the Minister and he might not be able to fill me in on some of the detail because I am aware from having been in communication with him that some of it is sensitive. There are 158 acres in Thornton Hall. It is a scandal. Either the Government does something with it and puts it to use, or we should consider alternatives. I do not know if the Government has considered moving an Army barracks or some other facility in Dublin to Thornton Hall. I visited it, saw the services on that site and it should be used.I will leave it at that. I do not want to engage on it because there are sensitives around these issues and I like to be responsible. What is happening with Shanganagh Castle? I have heard that the council is frustrated by the Minister's Department and I have heard from his Department that the council is not providing the data. That is a big issue and it has the potential to create many homes. I will not go on about the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. The Minister knows the story there. I would ask him to engage with the local authority. He should not undermine local democracy but support and work with those in it to get things done.
I have been reliably told by independent experts and people who validate this area that there are 3,008 ha of State owned lands, of which I have seen some maps, across the country which are serviced and ready to go. We need to know about them. We need to do a full inventory of the lands in State ownership and to have housing built on them or we need to develop imaginative partnerships. I do not have a problem with partnerships. We just want homes built. We have a crisis. It is deeply dividing people and society. We talk about reclaiming the city and members of the Garda have advised me that they believe there will be more of these events. People are angry. We must understand they are angry and we must empathise and sympathise with them but, more important, we have to stop the platitudes and get on and deliver something.
The Minister's status report is good and I acknowledge a good deal of work has gone into it. I am not too sure of the format for going forward because the Minister has achieved a lot of things. Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy said at a conference I attended last week that we are worse off in many ways in terms of the figures than we were when we started the Rebuilding Ireland programme. I do not want to get into the figures but we need solutions and to work together.
A recent report from National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, on its 2017 accounts includes an attachment setting out a note on the social housing status to the end of March 2018, which I will make available. It states that 2,474 social housing units have been delivered, providing approximately 8,000 homes.
The more alarming fact is that we are told that NAMA offered 6,984 residential properties for social housing purposes, but demand has been confirmed by the local authorities for a mere 2,717 of them. There are likely to be complexities around that - nothing is ever simple - but we must remember who the owners of NAMA are and who is responsible for it. I know that it is a separate vehicle, that the Minister cannot interfere, and what the standard responses are. However, we owe it to the ordinary punter, the ordinary man and woman who work and pay their taxes, and those who do not work because they cannot get a job for whatever reason - and I make no judgment about them - that we use the assets of NAMA to help us out in this housing crisis. We owe it to the public, the taxpayer and this country.
I thank the Minister for indulging me and allowing me to have my say. I am not being rude and I want to hear what the Minister has to say; I am not doubting his commitment. I know there are blockages and that the Minister is also frustrated, as are his officials. I want to acknowledge their work. We have to be patient, but we are all in an understandable hurry to resolve this crisis. I have to leave because I have to attend at the Oireachtas audit committee, which has a very long and interesting agenda today, and I want to play my part there as well. I am not leaving due to rudeness, but there are some points the Minister might reflect on. Perhaps we can have ongoing dialogue on them.
I thank the Senator for acknowledging the hard work of the officials; it is very much appreciated. I also thank him for the congratulations he offered to Mr. David Walsh. I cannot think of a better person to lead An Bord Pleanála into the future. I wish him well too.
The Senator is correct to note that people are angry and hurt. They are right to be. We have to continue to make progress and to look at what is working and continue that work, as well as looking at what is not working and consider how we can fix it. The Senator has challenged me to have a housing summit with the Oireachtas. We will do that after the budget. We will announce further initiatives in the budget concerning what we are doing with our money. We can then get together in the format suggested. We might include some of the stakeholders as well. We should put every available resource into dealing with this crisis. When I attend a constituency I invite any member who is there. The Land Development Agency proposal, unfortunately, was leaked out of different part of Government, and we had to try to keep it as close to our chests as we could because there are vested interests in all of these things. There are certain Departments and agencies which do not want to give up their land for housing. However, we are going to take that land and use it for housing because we have to. By 23 October other Departments will have to provide Cabinet their proposals for lands to be made available to the agency initially. We already have the first tranche done, and Dundrum is a part of that, and we are negotiating for further tranches. The Departments we have engaged with to date have been superb in terms of their willingness to come forward with public land for new housing for the public. That is a big piece of work that has to be done.
The Senator mentioned different sites. I will not go into that because time is limited. On the NAMA offers, unfortunately not all the houses offered were suitable for local authority housing. I answered a parliamentary question in the Dáil today which provides some numbers about what the housing agency is trying to do with its €70 million acquisition fund. It gives a breakdown of the bids in place. There are roughly 1,000 in the system at the moment, out of the 1,600 we hope to have by 2020.
The homeless figures are on the website but the report on the reclassification is not. I am not going to ask any questions about that because I have not read the report. I ask that the Minister gives the committee a commitment that when we have had time to read and digest that report he will come back to us to deal with that issue specifically, because he knows that we are very concerned about it.
I welcome the Department and the Government's continued commitment to Housing First. It is the correct approach, and is one of the things we agree on. I also believe it is good that we have a strategy, and that somebody is leading it. There is a target to have approximately 600 Housing First tenancies over three or three and a half years. We know there are approximately 3,500 single individual homeless people. Housing First is not appropriate for all of those people, and I accept that. I have read and understand the methodology that is used to identify the 600. It seems to me that 600 over three years is a very low target. Clearly, those 600 identified individuals are those with the greatest level of need and who have been in emergency accommodation the longest, and therefore should absolutely be prioritised. Does the Department have a figure for how many more Housing First properties will be required, based on the knowledge we have of single people currently in emergency accommodation? Can the Minister tell us why the targets are as modest as they are? Notwithstanding the fact that it is good to have them, they are nonetheless very modest.
We received the report on pillar two today. One of the worrying things about the quarter two social housing output is that if one looks at the local authority, approved housing body, AHB, and Part 5 properties, it can be seen that around 1,051 units have been delivered over six months. The target is 4,969 over the year. It is not unreasonable to be concerned. The Department and the local authorities have a long way to go to meet that target. Is there anything the Minister can say to reassure members that the target will be met? If we were 33% or 45% of the way along that would be fine, but there is a long way to go. While the Department is ahead in terms of acquisitions, the acquisitions target was always very low, at 900. I welcome the extra acquisitions, but it is still a low number.
On voids, Mr. Brendan Kenny was here yesterday - the Minister was not here - and he told us categorically that there are no more long-term voids and that all they have is expensive casual re-lets which the council do not categorise as additions to the stock. However, 387 voids are included in the figures provided by the Minister, including 184 from Dublin City Council. We are getting conflicting information here. Dublin City Council tells us that those properties are not voids and should not be counted as additions to the stock, yet the Minister tells us that they are voids and they should be counted. I am genuinely concerned because I believe they are being incorrectly categorised.
I also have a concern about Part 5 properties. Looking at the quarter two social housing construction report and the quarter two housing supply co-ordination task force, the figures on Part 5 properties do not match the figures on the private builds. Perhaps I am reading the two reports incorrectly, but rather than social housing Part 5s being at around 10% of the total outputs, which is what should be happening, they are actually at 28% when the two sets of figures for quarter two are compared. Maybe it is an accounting error and perhaps it is unfair to ask the Minister to give a detailed response to that, but I would appreciate it if he could get back to me on that.
Can the Minister give us a quick update on where we are with the AHB redesignation? There is a lot of concern in the AHB sector about that issue. Can the Minister give us some indication as to what the plan is and how it will be rolled out?
We dealt with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, quarter two index report today. I know the Minister is going to bring forward legislation, and if it does what he says it will do he will certainly have the support of my party, and we would be happy to expedite it. However, it will only provide protection in the first instance for just over half of the total number of tenancies. Some places are not covered by the rent pressure zones, RPZs, but it can be seen from today's report that places such as Limerick, Waterford and Sligo town are all experiencing unsustainable rent increases. What is the Minister going to do for people in those places? How is he going to respond?
In terms of pillar four, affordable housing, while I have welcomed the approach taken at St. Michael's Estate as a significant change in direction in terms of Government policy on these matters, I keep hearing the Minister mentioning a rent coming in at 10% to 15% of market rates. That is worrying, because it is not going to be genuinely affordable for the income cohort that exists. It is also not the same as what Dublin City Council is telling us; it is seeking to overlay the cost of providing those units - the financing and maintenance - with the income of the tenants, which might mean a number of income bands to make sure that not only those at the top end of the affordable income cohort benefit. I believe that linking it to market rents is the wrong way to do it, and I would appreciate some clarity on that.
In terms of the vacant home tax, can the Minister confirm that the Government, on the back of the Indecon report, is not considering implementing such a tax? If it has not made up its mind, I say to the Minister that in the context of the very low uptake on the repair and leasing scheme, despite the fact that there is a very good carrot - albeit underfunded, in my view - he should consider the stick of a vacant home tax on properties that are being sat on speculatively by individual owners of funds. I am not referring to properties stuck in probate or fair deal arrangements. Without such a tax, the repair and lease scheme and similar schemes will continue to dramatically underperform.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. I asked officials to drop down the recategorisation survey summary, so it might be dropped down shortly and I can then pass it around. It has been published. I just asked for it to be printed as I left the meeting.
Regarding Housing First and the targets-----
I think so. To go back to Senator Boyhan's points, we need to move away from confusion about numbers to look at who we are trying to help and how we help them. The recategorisation was certainly a very important part of that work. I did not get to clarify earlier the work the CSO will do. It is not that we are taking responsibility away from ourselves for the CSO to do the work. This was a very successful exercise when we did it with build because we can now have confidence around the build number and can speak to accurate, independent data. The CSO will help us with our counting, analysis and categorisation, that kind of work, so the responsibility will be kept with me, with this Department, as it should be.
Sam Tsemberis, whose surname I always mispronounce, from Canada is the leading expert internationally on Housing First. He was over for the launch yesterday morning. We need to be careful in rolling out Housing First in the right way. We absolutely know what works now. There is an 85% retention rate and more than 200 homes have been secured. Bob Jordan is absolutely the best person to be the national director. He has put together a fantastic plan for the country. We have 200 homes already in place, 600 more coming and about another 200 earmarked for people who may be coming out of prison and might have severe difficulties as they do so in establishing a tenancy or getting back into a normal life. It is therefore actually a larger figure than 600. The advice I have been given is that we need to roll this out carefully and slowly to ensure we do it right. One of the difficulties that has been established in other countries is that some NGOs, for all the good will in the world, have said they are doing Housing First or housing-led initiatives but have not really changed their models or approaches, which has not had the desired impact in terms of the kind of approach that sees people into a home and the services come to them. I trust Bob Jordan's plan on this and his expertise in terms of the targets we have. Initially, they are minimum targets. I was with members of Dublin Simon Community on Tuesday morning. They were talking about the new capacity they are bringing into the system and how they will ensure there are enough one-beds and two-beds for Housing First. Bob Jordan also spoke at the housing summit and reinforced the point I was making, that as one builds, one should think about studios, one-beds and two-beds for Housing First. As we build more, we can expand these targets. We just want to ensure that when we have a programme that works so well and is designed to best international practice, we roll it out in the right way.
On the construction side of things, one looks at the build figure for local authorities and housing bodies and sees 1,000 in six months and we must do 3,000 more in the second six months of the year. We must get there. Last year we saw a step up in delivery over the course of the year that saw a slow first quarter and second quarter, a jump in the third quarter and a lot of delivery in the fourth quarter. It is really the way in which the delivery programme is designed as well as funding being released. It has that kind of ramp up quarter on quarter, particularly in the final quarter of the year. This is what happened last year. I saw the numbers and have communicated to the local authorities that we must get to these targets. That is an absolute necessity.
Regarding voids, I have not seen Mr. Brendan Kenny's contribution to the committee last night. I beg the committee's pardon but I was in other meetings. When we talk about voids, we are not talking about them being new builds, but the recommendation did come from the Oireachtas that they would be counted as part of the 50,000 we would have in terms of the targets for the joint Oireachtas committee. We have done a huge amount on voids over recent years. We know that voids as a low-hanging fruit are now almost coming to an end. We gave a significant amount of additional funding to Dublin City Council, Mr. Kenny's own council, earlier this year to expedite its void programme, so it might well be the case - again, I have not seen Mr. Kenny's remarks - that because that work has now happened, the council does not believe there is much left in its own pipeline under void delivery.
Regarding Part 5s and their not matching, there are unfortunately still some sites that qualify under the previous law before it was changed, whereby they had a buy-out option. There is also a phasing issue now, whereby we are trying to expedite the delivery of Part 5s upfront first and we have been able to allow and release funding in that way. This might explain the mismatch Deputy Ó Broin sees in the two numbers. As we get into the year-on-year cycles, however, those numbers will certainly correlate.
Work on AHB reclassification is ongoing. It is being led by the Department of Finance because we are treating it as an accounting issue and not an issue that will get in the way of our build targets. I reaffirmed this to the housing bodies at the recent housing summit.
Regarding the Residential Tenancies Board and the new proposals, I reiterate the point, which I know everyone understands, that when this Bill hits the floor, we must move on it quickly. We saw the delays we had in the last term. It was so frustrating to see important legislation delayed by filibustering and people with spurious contributions to make time and again. We have a real change that we can make for many people. We must get the rent Bill enacted before the end of the year.
The RTB has raised the qualifying criteria for rent pressure zones. In Limerick there have been massive increases in rent but, because rents in Dublin continue to increase, Limerick will never hit that average, that second qualifying criteria. This comes back to Senator Murnane O'Connor's point earlier about whether we can change these things. I have heard from the RTB that the qualifying criteria, as established in legislation, are not helping cities such as Limerick that are seeing exponential rent increases. I recognise this point. However, we have a second rent Bill coming in which we want to do some more complicated things. I know people will come forward with amendments to our rent Bill, but let us not table amendments that might require further advice from the Attorney General or further legal consultation that could potentially slow down the Bill. Let us get the good things that we can get done and then let us move to the second pieces insofar as we can.
I asked an official in my Department earlier today for the presentation made when we did St. Michael's but I have not seen it yet. The Deputy has the document. I do not know whether it contained the financial modelling we did in respect of pay scales, what percentage of a person's income it would be and then whether an apartment the payments for which he or she could meet would actually be delivered. Certainly, as we worked on this proposal, looked at the number of homes that would be provided, how they would be subsidised and the level of finance, it was to ensure that affordable meant affordable. A piece of modelling was done, so perhaps Mr. Kenny was talking about that. There is a discount of between 15% to 25% on the market price which one needs to achieve, balanced against what that means for a single earner or a couple and the qualifying criteria and then this maximum of 35% of their income going against their rental payments. The NDFA led on this financial modelling. I have seen it and it stacks up. We will have to remodel it once we have the final approval from the council. As it does that final approval, the number of affordable homes will achieve that level based on those two criteria. That is what we are trying to achieve.
We had priority questions this morning and I covered some elements of this so I will focus on some of the things I did not get to go through. I was interested in the Minister's comment on the local authorities and improving transparency. We would all agree with his comments but I think what we also want is an end to the buck-passing between his Department and the local authorities and vice versa. If we continue to blame one another, we will not get anywhere. I have a major concern, which I share with Deputy Ó Broin, about reaching the figure of 4,000 on social housing by the end of the year. I hear what the Minister is saying, that he made a personal commitment to attaining this. Is his Department looking, or will he look, at raising the cap on local authorities? There is an average bill of about €210,000. This is the Minister's figure, which I got from responses to parliamentary questions. Basically, therefore, anything over €2 million goes to his Department for approval. We have county architects drawing up very good schemes that are being sent into the Department to be looked at by people who are their juniors and who are checking them and sending things back and forth. If there is a local authority cap of €2 million in, let us say, Fingal, my area, any scheme of eight or nine houses or more will probably go into the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It would be the same in the four Dublin local authorities and, I imagine, Cork and Galway. I really do not think we will get the supply of social and public housing up unless we do something with that cap. I take the Minister's point that he does not want to rush. His Department could never be accused of rushing things, based on output. This needs to be looked at and tried. He could raise the cap. If he went to €10 million on the cap, he could probably allow estates of up to 40 or 45 houses be built and let the local authorities get on with it. If they are not doing so and he has given them the autonomy to do so, then he can beat them up about it. We will not get anywhere near our targets if we continue with the same processes and procedures. Has the Minister - his officials may have a different view - given consideration to looking at the criteria as to what needs to be checked?
I ask the Minister sincerely to do this, if he has not done so.
I would like to speak about affordable loans. The Minister has made an interesting point about credit committees. I would agree with much of what he has said. Two thirds of applications have been refused under the Rebuilding Ireland affordable loans scheme. As of June, approximately 134 loans had actually been drawn down. It is much slower than any of us would have wanted it to be. I have been in contact with people who have applied under this initiative. It is seen as a good initiative. When two thirds of applications are refused, often for technical reasons, there is a problem. Can the Minister confirm that common underwriting criteria are being used across our local authorities when these mortgages are being underwritten? I do not believe common underwriting criteria are being used. I have seen one local authority deal with overtime and bonuses differently from another local authority. It generally always seems to be at the expense of the applicant. If their overtime payments or bonuses put them over the limit to apply for the affordable loan scheme, they are out. If the reverse is the case, it is deemed that they are not getting enough for a mortgage. There is a job of work to be done here. There should be uniformity in mortgage underwriting, particularly around basic criteria with regard to matters like salary. That needs to be done, but it is not being done. We are way off our target and some of that has to do with what I have said. I agree with what the Minister said about committee delays. Does each affordable loan application, regardless of whether it relates to south Dublin, Galway or Fingal, go back to his Department for a check or a validation, rather than for a decision?
I agree with the Minister that there is a need for HAP, as we have discussed previously, but we are over-reliant on it. Some €152 million was spent on payments under the scheme in 2017. That figure will increase to €301 million this year. Does he have a projection for next year? The amount we are spending on HAP has doubled in the past year. If we compare the amount spent on payments under the HAP scheme with the figure for capital expenditure, we will see that if the rates keep increasing as they are, we will spend almost €1 billion a year within four years. We are creating a monster, out of necessity in many instances. If we do not increase supply to move people out of HAP and into public housing and permanent housing, we will have a big problem. If new mechanisms are not found, the HAP budget will keep eating into our capital budget. The figures are astounding. Has the Minister a view on how we can put more money into capital rather than current expenditure? Payments under the HAP scheme are putting phenomenal pressure on the Department and on the Exchequer. I disagree with the fundamental plank of Rebuilding Ireland, which is that someone's housing need can be met under HAP. Perhaps things are different in the case of long-term secure leases, but we have a problem in cases of 12-month leases. We should not remove people who get HAP tenancies from the main housing list and put them on a transfer list.
I have a few more questions. We discussed affordable housing earlier, so I will leave it at that but we have questions about it.
We need to look at the repair and lease scheme because there was a target of 800 units but just 15 units have been delivered. Are the local authorities to blame for that? Perhaps the criteria are at fault.
When does the Minister propose to introduce the LDA legislation? How long does he think it will take? I have many concerns about the proposals, which will be debated when the legislation is published. When will that happen? When does the Minister think the agency will be established? When does he think it will deliver its first home? I will leave it at that for the moment.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. I will run through them as quickly as I can in the time available. I have spoken on the point that was made about passing the buck. I recently communicated with local authorities about emergency accommodation. That intervention was about looking at the number of families in hotels without seeing a corresponding programme to get them out of hotels and into hubs. I have been defending local authority builds for the past 14 months and I will defend them again today. Some local authorities are doing great work and some are not. I had similar concerns last year about how our build trajectory was going, but we were just 8% off our build target at the end of the year. We exceeded every other target we had in areas such as acquisitions, leasing and voids. A significant volume of work was done. Along with my officials, I will continue to drive the local authorities until the end of the year to ensure we hit our targets for this year.
I am looking at raising the cap on the one-stage approval process. It has been suggested that everything is too slow in the Department. My officials work incredibly hard. When we are building houses, they have to be safe. They have to be planned well. People have proposed certain shortcuts to me. They have said that every social housing scheme should be designed the same, on the basis that everything could be done much more quickly if there was just one design plan.
That is one I am looking. The point I would make about slowness is that if we are building 20 homes, we need to ensure they are still standing as safe and secure structures 70 years from now. This is not something that can be rushed. Approximately half of valid applications for home loans have been approved by the Housing Agency.
More than 1,000 loans have been approved. If they were all approved by the credit committee, we would have almost exhausted the first tranche of €200 million. A significant number of loans have been approved by the Housing Agency. The problem is with the credit committee. That is why we are assessing what is happening. Perhaps drawdown is not a fair measure. This was not opened until February. As anyone who has ever bought a home will be aware, a great deal of time can be lost after mortgage approval is secured while one goes looking at houses and gets into the process of going "Sale Agreed" and everything else. It can be six months before the mortgage is drawn down.
Yes, but it is not underwriting them. It does the due diligence and the financials. The credit committee makes the decision. We need to make sure each credit committee applies the rules in a consistent way when it is making decisions. There is a need for consistency among local authorities. This is not the only area in which they are inconsistent. We can achieve consistency with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan because it is a simple and straightforward product. I have had meetings on it. An independent assessment is happening now. We are working with the Department and people outside the Department to see how we can achieve that consistency.
Some 26,000 households were supported last year, many of them because of HAP. We need to have HAP at the moment. In 2020 and 2021, we will put more people into the stock of social housing than we will into HAP. We will finally start to turn the current situation on its head. Members will be familiar with the commitment in Project Ireland 2040, beyond Rebuilding Ireland. Essentially, for every five homes built every year, one-----
In 2020 and 2021, we will house more people through the stock of social housing than we will through HAP. We will start to rebalance back in favour of controlled social housing, rather than using the private rented sector for private supports. We will still have HAP because people like HAP. It has been successful for many people. We will turn that balance on its head. Between 2021 and 2027, for every five new homes built in an estate, between one and two of them will be social housing homes. I got that important commitment into the national development plan. I cannot give the 2019 budget figure for HAP. If the Deputy wants to come up with a figure and give it to the Minister for Finance, I will support him.
There will be existing tenancies and new tenancies as well. People should be careful on this. If the State is paying one's rent, one's housing need is being met. That is what is happening with HAP. People are successful in HAP. I have provided reports on HAP that set out the number of exits out of HAP and the different reasons tenancies are not working out. HAP has a flexibility. People are working and have good relationships with their landlords. HAP works for many of them. I disagree with the Deputy that the great supports provided by the taxpayer in the HAP area are not meeting people's social housing needs.
That is a different point. It is not sustainable to rely on HAP for our social housing supports, as we are doing at the moment. That is different from suggesting we are not meeting people's housing needs.
I heard that there was a good programme on the repair and lease scheme the other night. I did not see it, but I understand it covered some properties I have inspected. The scheme is important in the context of the discussion we have been having about vacancy. I do not know whether the committee has had an opportunity to debate the latest Indecon report, which is incredibly interesting.
The true level of vacancy in Dublin is 0.6%. That is not based on the numbers provided by the CSO, which include houses for sale or rent, those undergoing renovation and the homes of people in nursing homes.
The repair-and-lease scheme is fantastic but its criteria are restrictive. To qualify, a person must have a second home in which he or she does not live and which is in a state of significant disrepair such that it cannot be inhabited. The person must not be able to afford its renovation and must be prepared to lease it for at least five years. It is a good scheme but the number of people who can avail of it might not be as significant as we first envisaged. I have been speaking to Deputies from outside of Dublin regarding vacancies in their local authority areas which are near or a short commute to urban centres and what we can do in terms of pairing people up with such vacancies. There is something else at which I am looking relating to the repair-and-lease scheme because it is a good programme but is not delivering in the way we thought it would. It is possible that there is less demand for the scheme than we anticipated when we originally looked at the numbers two years ago.
On the Land Development Agency, the general scheme of the legislation will be published later this year. The agency is already working. It has been set up under a different Act on an interim basis in order to be able to work on the sites that have been identified, negotiate with Departments and get additional sites into the pipeline. In answer to a parliamentary question on the issue in the Dáil this morning I stated that we can have it established by Easter of next year. It will then move to its second phase of funding, which is the capitalisation under ISIF. It will receive €20 million in initial capital under the urban regeneration fund to allow it to fulfil its role between now and then. I look forward to an exciting debate on the legislation. People have differing views on the matter. It is a very important development.
I do not know. We are in the middle of a very serious crisis. It is fundamentally linked to a lack of houses being built but the building of new homes is ramping up. As I stated in the Dáil earlier this week, the increase in the number of families presenting as homeless will continue. It continued to increase in August but was slightly down on July, which is to be welcomed.
We must continue to be fully committed to finding solutions for such families who are, through no fault of their own, presenting. The crisis is linked to events in the private residential sector, which is why I strengthened controls in that area, fundamental issues of supply and issues such as short-term lets which are taking away from the long-term letting market. We must continue to drive action on all of those things. Rebuilding Ireland is a five-year plan but, as stated earlier, we are ahead of our targets on the supply side and, outside of what the Government is doing, the private sector is ahead of what we expected it to deliver.
It depends on how one defines a housing crisis. One might define it as having families in emergency accommodation. Very regrettably, there will be families in emergency accommodation for quite some time to come because we must build houses or find houses on the rental market for them. At the same time, we must strengthen the rental market to try to prevent from people falling into emergency accommodation. It will take a few months to pass laws in that regard and for those laws to bed down.
There are many ways to measure the crisis. One could measure it in terms of housing output. Some 4,500 new homes were built in the last quarter. At a steady state and disregarding pent-up demand we require approximately 6,000 homes per quarter. Taking pent-up demand into account, we probably need approximately 8,500 homes. We are not too far off what we need to produce in housing supply per quarter. We will reach a point in the coming year at which sufficient homes will be built per quarter to meet stable state requirements and pent-up demand.
Deputy Barry is quoting the Minister for Education and Skills out of context. That comment was made in the context of the jobs plan. When Fine Gael entered office, we stated that we had a five-year programme to fix jobs in our economy. There was a structural problem in the economy after coming out of the crisis years. We are still dealing with the legacy of those years in our banking and housing sectors. The Minister for Education and Skills was making the point that we stated it would take five years to implement that plan but it took less than that. We did more in that time than we had said we would. However, during that period, other parties in the Dáil voted against us on every measure we took to create those jobs. We are two years into Rebuilding Ireland and I am 16 months into my term of office. I do not think the Minister for Education and Skills was saying it will take another five years to tackle the housing crisis but, rather, was comparing the five-year Rebuilding Ireland plan and how it is currently being judged to how the Action Plan for Jobs was judged two, three or three and a half years into it. It was ultimately successful.
Perhaps the Minister should check the Official Report for what the Minister for Education and Skills actually said.
I ask him to imagine a 25 yer old woman sitting across the room from him as opposed to a group of members. Fine Gael entered office when she was 18 and has been in power for seven years. In spite of the woman having educational qualifications and ambitions for what she wants to do in life, she cannot afford to buy or rent and is forced to live at home with her parents. She is sick of the discussion of this issue and is seriously considering becoming involved with the Take Back the City campaign. Fine Gael has been in power for seven years, since the woman was 18. What would the Minister say to such a woman if he were looking at her across the table?
I do not need to imagine such a situation. Every week I meet people who are at the coalface of this crisis and suffering because of it. I meet them because I am the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and have responsibility for fixing the crisis.
I am answering the Deputy's question. If he wishes to engage in false theatrics, that is his decision. I will just answer his question. I know that people are suffering. That is why we are trying to help them. The Deputy is incredibly wrong if he thinks that in 2011 people were predicting that we would be where we now are. If he thinks-----
In 2012, house prices were still falling, plunging hundreds of thousands of people into negative equity. We had 3,000 ghost estates. We had a massive deficit which we had to correct to get us to a stable state. If the Government proposed borrowing billions of euro at that time - which it would not have been able to do - to build housing, it would not have lasted in office. In 2014, we exited the bailout and everyone said there would be a second one. We are only now managing to correct that deficit. In spite of that, two years ago we embarked on a very ambitious plan to rebuild housing and that is what we are doing. We are playing catch-up. This crisis was more than a decade in the making and we have gone from crisis to crisis in housing in this country for decades. That is why this Government, as well as implementing immediate responses to the crisis, is also planning for the long term through proposals such as Project Ireland 2040 and the Land Development Agency in order to ensure that no future generation suffers from the kind of crises that afflicted the past two generations - which I straddle - while also helping to protect those generations to the greatest extent possible.
It is important that people in a functioning democracy protest, take to the streets and get outraged about what is happening in the Oireachtas because it means they are paying attention and they care. Too often in our past, particularly in the years leading up to the crisis, too few people were paying attention inside or outside these Houses to some very bad decisions that were being made. Since the crisis, we have had far greater political engagement as well as public engagement on political events. Great changes have been brought about by the people through the referendums on marriage equality and the repeal of the eighth amendment. Very important things have happened. I hope that people continue to engage on this matter because it is important that we all understand where we have come from and where we need to go.
I suspect that the Minister's reply would not cut it with the young woman I asked him to imagine. He addressed the issue of protest. I think such a woman would seriously consider going down that road after seven years of Fine Gael having been in power.
I will move on. The Minister mentioned that the new figures indicate that 9,527 people were officially homeless in August. How many people have been recategorised since the process in that regard began several months ago?
I have a summary of the survey that was conducted which I can distribute to members after the meeting because I asked for copies of it to be printed. The Deputy will recall that in February or March I was concerned by the high number of what were considered to be new presentations over that period.
When we made a deeper dive with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, we encountered this error whereby people were categorised incorrectly. The number of those categorisation errors was reflected as we uncovered them in the March and April reports. I then asked for a group of people to go and do a much more detailed survey of each local authority to try and get a proper understanding of how we were counting people and where they were.
I have that in the surveys. In the examples of March and April, it was approximately 800 people and we did not know when those errors had occurred or when individuals had been incorrectly categorised. These were people in their own homes as renters who never went into emergency accommodation-----
If the Deputy wants to carry out this act and play it up for the cameras that is fine. I will answer the question as the Deputy asked it. These were people who never left their own homes and who were never in emergency accommodation. As a result, they should not have been counted as being in emergency accommodation. When I discovered that, I questioned how much more of this was happening. A survey had been completed and a summary was given to me. It reflected a number which I provided earlier-----
I gave the Deputy the number. Did he not get it? The recategorisation survey summary indicated that 741 people had been identified who were in homes and who were counted as being in emergency accommodation when that was not the case. That is in addition to the recategorisation errors that were discovered in March and April. I have a survey summary which is to be published because I literally left the meeting to come down here to this committee. The committee will get it at the end of the meeting.
The spend on HAP last year was €149 million and this year it is €301 million. It has more than doubled. The people who will join the Raise the Roof protest outside of the gates of Leinster House at 12.30 p.m. next Wednesday have a simple and extremely modest demand that the capital spend of €2.3 billion be doubled. Why is the Government doubling the spend on HAP, which will end up in the pockets of landlords, rather than doubling the capital spend in order to provide social homes to people who will have them from there on in?
What do we do for the people who need our support when we do not have the homes built for them yet and we cannot get them built in four months time? Do we tell them to get lost or do we offer them HAP, whereby, with the help of the place finder service, they will find a home where they will be safe while we build homes at the same time? We cannot just cut off HAP and put it into building because those people would have nowhere to stay if we did so. We will continue to support people with HAP and we will continue to build as well. Last year, I redirected 30% of the funding under Rebuilding Ireland towards building and acquisitions.
Some 30% of the funding from Rebuilding Ireland was redirected last year as a result of my decision to build more and increase the stock of social housing. The capital funding for local authorities will increase next year as per the programme of funding under Rebuilding Ireland. The HAP spend will go up as well because I will not abandon people who need our support. We will help them into private tenancies and build homes for them as well.
I welcome the Minister and, like Senator Boyhan, congratulate him on his words in the Dáil on Wednesday night. He brought a lot of clarity to people's minds on where we are with this crisis, what has been done, where we are on the road to fixing it and what the plans are to deal with it. People are more interested discovering what is happening. I have often said that houses take time to build. We do not have enough of them but they are being built. Some 4,500 were built in the last quarter, which speaks volumes.
I have a few issues I wish to raise with the Minister. Does he have any plans for a tenant purchase scheme? I am not convinced that such a scheme is necessarily the right way to go but it has been flagged. What is the current position regarding such a scheme?
On HAP and the cap relating to social housing, I agree with what others have said on this. In County Clare, it is €25,000 for a single person and €30,000 for a couple. That needs to be increased significantly. There are people who are falling beneath the threshold due to very small figures. We need some flexibility. In the first instance, the cap needs to be increased to a realistic level, especially considering the way rents are going. We also need flexibility so that individual cases and circumstances can be taken into consideration, particularly where there are children with illnesses involved. Flexibility at local authority level needs to be looked at and I do not know if there have been any moves to do that or if there are any plans to do so moving forward.
On Traveller-specific accommodation, I have a sense that local authorities are not making cases to the Department to purchase houses for large Traveller families. There is a housing crisis within the Traveller community and it requires special attention. There are families with six, eight and ten children in Traveller communities in local authority areas who are on the housing lists and need to be accommodated. Again, flexibility is needed on the part of local authorities and the Department in the context of how the former can apply to the latter for funding to purchase houses for members of the Traveller community. A much more focused approach is needed to deal with that.
I agree with vacant home taxes. We need to adopt the stick more than the carrot in our approach. The scheme to fix up and rent out properties is good but there are many properties out there where if there was a vacant property tax, the minds of the owners would be focused. It should be looked at in the upcoming budget. We also need to look at a levy for holiday homes and properties that are never rented out. If an individual can afford to have a holiday home then he or she should be in a position to pay a special levy on that property which could then be channelled into the pot for helping to deal with the crisis that exists. There are thousands of them out there. I have spoken to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about this in the context of something to which consideration should be given. Not too many people advocate for more taxes but, in this particular case, the possibility should be examined.
On the turnaround time between local authorities and the Department, the objective is for 59 weeks from the inception of the discussions on a scheme of houses to getting said scheme shovel-ready. In order to achieve that target, there has to be better synergy between local authorities and the Department. There are too many instances of one side referring back to the other for more information and when schemes are sent up by the project teams and the various local authorities they are being filleted. There should be some sort of standardised specification because local authorities are finding it very difficult to meet the 59-week target timeframe because of the amount of intricacies coming from the Department. That is what I am being told by those at local authority level in any event.
I thank the Senator for his contribution and for his help during my recent visit to Clare. During that visit, we visited a number of different sites to see what is happening. It was good to see the proposals for housing there.
We have been working on the tenant purchase scheme and will come to a conclusion on it very shortly. I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy English, about it yesterday. I understand the points that have been made by academics in this area, and that by the Taoiseach yesterday, in the context of losing social housing stock while we are trying to increase it. However, I think the aspiration to home ownership must be there for all our citizens and we are trying to find the right balance. The current scheme does not have the right balance.
As stated earlier, the Housing Agency is carrying out a review on HAP and social housing eligibility. It should have been concluded by now but it needs a bit more time and will be done shortly. In the Senator's own area of Clare, 1,272 homes have been the subject of HAP, with 22% available at discretion, which is a 20% uplift and amounts to 283 homes. On average, the rate of discretion was 18.7%, which is quite high as compared to other local authorities, and that will contribute to pressures around HAP in the area. I have a more detailed report which we gave to the committee and which I am sure the Senator has on file.
We are encouraging local authorities to pay more attention to Traveller-specific accommodation. A number of families are in emergency accommodation - too many. Local authorities are having problems in placing families owing to objections being raised locally and we are trying to deal with that as best we can.
I am dealing with one case involving a family of six, four of whom have special needs. There does not seem to be any movement on the part of the local authority to purchase a house for them because what would be required is outside the thresholds. I am looking for the Minister to direct local authorities to be flexible and to think outside the box. If a property is €50,000 or €100,000 more expensive than permitted, if it accommodates a family of seven or eight people it should be looked at seriously.
I cannot direct local authorities on allocations but if the Senator has a particular case in mind, he might bring it to my attention privately. The vacant home tax was something I wanted to do when I came into office. When we looked at the detailed data ourselves, using people in the Department and local authorities who had advanced vacancy research, it was clear that it was not the low-hanging fruit we originally thought . Apart from that, tens of millions of euro are available in the Department to open up vacant homes and get them used again, which is happening but not as quickly as we hoped it would. The recent Indecon report recommended keeping the possibility of a tax under review and I will do that but there will not be a vacant home tax in the next budget.
A levy on holiday homes was proposed, which means more taxes and I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will appreciate the suggestion. The LPT is already paid on holiday homes and there are no proposals for any increased levy. A period of 59 weeks for shovel-ready sites is quite good for big developments. As I said earlier, I am looking at stage 1 at the moment but 59 weeks for the planning, design and procurement for 40 or 50 homes is quite good. There are 4,600 social housing homes under construction and 1,500 are about to go on site. We have designed this with local authority chief executives and those who know what they are doing are working to a 59-week timeframe, though not every local authority is working at the same speed. That is why we hold housing summits and why we have increased staff in the housing sections of local authorities by about 700 people in the past two years. We are constantly approving more project officers and programme managers and they are being billed to our Department because we have committed to paying when an authority has a site on which it can build a lot of homes.
There was an additional allocation for certain local authorities in recent years for housing adaptation grants, perhaps because others had not spent their allocation by September or October or because more money was found within the Department. Is there any proposal to give a top-up to local authorities for 2018 which have lists of people looking for housing adaptation or elderly aid grants? Is it planned to increase funding further in 2019?
The HAP place finder process is a huge benefit to any county that has it. Some 14 local authorities have indicated that they wish to set up a HAP place finder process. How many of these are up and running?
Has the Department received any applications for the mortgage-to-rent scheme? Has there been any take-up of the rural housing relocation scheme? Is it a worthwhile scheme? Have any other ways been considered to facilitate relocations?
A review of rental pressure zones started last summer. At what stage is that and when will we see some amendments to the criteria? Did I miss something during the summer? A number of landlords at the bottom end of the market want to stay in it but, because the rent they get is so low, have no option but to find ways to get out. We could keep some landlords in the market with some subtle changes.
The Minister spoke about repair-and-lease scheme and it is disappointing that it has not been taken up. There might not be many vacant properties around Dublin but there is a huge number of them in all rural towns. I do not know if the scheme was not sufficiently promoted or enough information given about it. I see vacant properties every day in which we could have families living. I do not know what we need to do to get to that position, though I know there are complications with the planning process and other regulations.
I congratulate Mr. Walsh on his appointment and the next question is for him. How many housing developments have progressed through the fast planning process? How many have been granted and how many refused? In respect of student accommodation, there was a target of just over 8,600 and there were 3,000 up to May this year. Is the Department confident of hitting the target? The Department said it would review the differential rent scheme for social housing but I do not see any update on that.
There is a four-stage process for the approval of social housing projects but how many have got through the process in 59 weeks? What is the average time it takes to go through the four-stage process? The quarter 2 figures for 2018 have just been released and 143 projects are at stage 1. One has been there since 2013, two since 2014, 19 since 2015, 13 since 2016, six since quarter 1 of 2017 and 11 from quarter 2 of 2017. A total of 36% of the total number of projects have been sitting at stage 1 appraisal for over a year. I understand a review was carried out and a document published, which I could not find. From my interaction with my local authority, I understand it can be tweaked. Can the witnesses give me an update on that?
I have a question on the national planning framework, Project Ireland 2040, relating to housing development, the housing crisis, the proposed regional strategy that is coming down the road and the impact it will have on my county and on Kildare and Meath.
I will give the example of Wicklow town which has invested more than €100 million in critical infrastructure to allow housing development to happen, including the port access road, upgrade of the waste water treatment plant and the water services. With all the infrastructure that is there, we do not need to go to the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF, for it. Our population target and the national spatial strategy was 26,000 and under a county development plan launched last year it was 26,000. It will now be 17,000 under the roadmap that has been issued by the Department. That means Wicklow town will not be able to grant planning permission for a home until 2026 and we have the critical infrastructure there already. If that is what is happening with this roadmap, it needs to be revisited before the draft document is published.
I will return quickly to the housing adaptation grants. Some 10,000 will be done this year but I cannot give the figure for funding for next year because it is part of budget negotiations. I apologise for that. It is not the case that I am trying to withhold the information but it is sensitive at the moment.
I will work backwards through Deputy Casey's questions. In 2040 we will have 1,000,000 more people and 550,000 new homes. The Land Development Agency will be a big part of that. There will be €11 billion in funding for 110,000 social housing homes. The Deputy knows all of those numbers. The population projections the county development plans have been based on since 2006 massively overstated the potential increase in population in terms of what will actually happen. We have done very detailed and consistent modelling on what we think the projections will be over the next 20 years but what we have done in terms of designing the strategies for each part of the country is to take what we think the likely population increase will be and to take the massively overstated 2006 figures and come to a midway point. We would use that midway point as a guide as we transition. We will review our population targets every time there is a census to make sure that changes are happening in line with what we expected. In 2021 we will be able to see if we are growing the way we thought we would or if we are growing more than we should be. The key thing about Project Ireland 2040 is to grow in the right places rather than just growing. If Wicklow can achieve the kind of growth that has been set for it in terms of it reaching its targets, that will be something we have not seen in Wicklow for quite a while. Our officials continue to engage with each local authority and with the regional assemblies to make sure people understand what we are trying to achieve here. It is different from before but we are putting in more than enough head room in case the increase in population is greater than anticipated in counties such as Wicklow.
On the four stages, if there are projects that have been ongoing for two to four years that are still at stage one or stage two then there is a problem with that project, not with the process. Otherwise it would have progressed. We have these checks and balances in place for a reason. They are not just sitting at a desk somewhere-----
The project would have come from the local authority. Somebody was telling me about a particular design scheme going back and forth 11 times between the Departments. I launched those houses and they were fantastic so it was obviously a good thing that they went through the checks and balances that they did so that we could get these great new homes built. There is a reason we do these things the way we do. There is a reason we worked with local authority chief executives to get the process down to 59 weeks because we saw that it could be improved and there is a reason I am now looking at the threshold for the State approval process to give greater flexibility to local authorities for smaller schemes.
The differential rent review has almost been completed and it will be brought forward shortly. I am confident we will meet our targets on student accommodation and it is quite important that we do because it takes pressure off other parts of the housing system. On the fast track process, 5,443 residential units, 2,665 of which were homes, have been granted permission. There were 2,778 apartments as part of that 5,443 and 4,479 student bed spaces. A total of 1,575 residential units were refused permission which consisted of 906 houses and 669 apartments. The fast track process has been very successful for getting large scale developments approved more quickly through the planning process which is great.
The repair and lease scheme or something like it will be great for the regeneration of towns and villages. There is a reason it is not working in towns and the villages. The urban and rural regeneration funds of €3 billion for the next ten years under Project Ireland 2040 might be the way we get there. I have been at some schemes that were privately led by people who are publicly known who have themselves taken on a property as their homes and encouraged a friend to do the same in the village. They have then turned a building into a business hub or a place where start ups can go. We have asked the local authorities to look at all of these initiatives to see how they can help. As I explained earlier, the repair and lease scheme requires a particular set of conditions to exist for an individual who owns the property before they might wish to bring it forward. We initially spoke about ten years for social housing and nobody came forward. We brought it down to five years for social housing but in certain parts of the country there might not be enough of a demand for social housing so it would not work under that scheme so we have to examine if there is something else that we can do instead. At the moment I have asked the Attorney General to look at the compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers to see if we can CPO local vacant homes and then sell them. We are not looking to CPO them for social housing but to sell them. Some local authorities are doing it but not all of them so I am getting advice from the Attorney General and we will issue that advice to every local authority to use their CPO powers. It is not a question of actually using the CPO but the threat thereof will get the house back onto the market for anyone who is able to buy it and that is what we want to achieve.
The rent pressure zone, RPZ, review was published in either May or June of this year. That is on our website. I made a note here that the potential loss of landlords is a concern because the Deputy said it as well. I have to find a balance in everything that I do so that when we strengthen protections for renters we also have to make sure that we are getting more people in to invest in rental property. This is not just people in Ireland buying one or two properties but institutional investors as well.
I have been talking to the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, about rural relocation. It is something that Deputy Harty brought to my attention in my first few weeks in the job. The previous scheme was not that successful unfortunately because many people fell out of it and went back to the cities that they had come from. Much can be done and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, brought a proposal to me that I referenced earlier on as well that officials are looking at whereby people could live a short commute to somewhere like Tralee in a house that is currently vacant but in decent condition and some money could be made available to refurbish the house and bring it back into use. This would not necessarily be for people with social housing needs but for anyone and we are looking at that.
There have been 72 mortgage to rent scheme applications approved so far in 2018 but there are currently 845 in the system. On the HAP place finder service, 23 are now in place following requests from local authorities.
I am part of the National Homeless & Housing Coalition which is involved in organising the protest next Wednesday which I hope will see a large turnout of people who are fed up with this housing crisis and the way it is affecting them. I was involved in the set-up of that coalition about three years ago. It arose from absolute frustration at the way in which the crisis was continuing to get worse and how nothing the Government did seemed to do anything except make it even worse. It has continued to get worse since that point. I do not wish to speak too much about the past because we have to speak about the future and solve this problem but it does not give me a lot of confidence when the Minister makes statements such as nobody could have predicted in 2011 that this was going to happen. That frustrates the hell out of me and it suggests to me that the Minister and this Government have learned nothing because we did predict it and we said it very openly in the Dáil in 2011 when the Department produced a document explicitly saying that there would no longer be big capital public housing projects. Anybody who doubts that should Google the Department of Local Government and the Environment June 2011 housing policy and they will find it. I remember holding a briefing in Buswells Hotel where I had to try to explain to journalists who did not know anything about this stuff at that stage what the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, was - we did not have HAP then but we had RAS. I tried to explain to them that this statement meant that the Government was formally abandoning the direct construction of council housing in favour of outsourcing it to the private sector through RAS or a new similar scheme.
I will send the Minister the press statement I sent out that week, where we warned that this policy would cause a housing crisis. One did not have to be a prophet to work this out, because even then there were 96,000 families on the housing list. It was obvious that if the local authorities did not build council houses, there would be more demand. Another point made by Members in the Dáil the following year was that the decision to allow NAMA to unload vast amounts of property to vulture funds was going to be a disaster. I really think the Minister should withdraw that statement and recognise that it was a mistake to make a formal decision to stop building council housing. Would he agree in retrospect, even if he did not see it at the time, although some Members warned about it, that it was a mistake for NAMA to flog off all those lands and assets, given that we now see a very significant portion of the people who bought those lands and property assets from NAMA, sitting on land, speculating and flipping land and ratcheting up rents and property prices through their activities? The reason it is important to make this point is that while the Minister now states that we are now going to ramp up the level of direct construction of council housing and so on, the proportion of social housing solutions in the Rebuilding Ireland plan that are dependent on the private sector still remains the overwhelming majority of those targets. Approximately 90,000 out of 137,000 houses in the Rebuilding Ireland plan will be RAS, HAP or houses for leasing. In what sense has the Government broken from the policy that was started in 2011, if that is what its plan is?
Does the Minister have anything to say about the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, report from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that is warning that not only will that not deliver secure social housing for people but will deliver very precarious housing from which people can be evicted and will cost the State an absolute fortune as the bill for housing under RAS and HAP to private landlords who we can see are jacking up rents month after month, gets bigger and bigger and becomes a massive hole in the public finances?
What were people predicting in 2011? First they were predicting that NAMA had overpaid for the loans and it would make a massive loss on the €32 billion in bond holder money it was covering. They were also predicting that the ghost estate would have to be bulldozed, the recovery in jobs would take more than ten years and there would be a second bailout.
I congratulate the Deputy on being able to see the future so well, if he was not predicting all of that. All I can remember from the left at the time was doomsaying that things were only going to get worse.
I am speaking about the context of 2011, because it is very important to remember the context in which we were in. We cannot pretend that we came to this crisis from a perfect position because we did not. We came to the current crisis in housing from a national economic crisis and a previous housing crisis. One lead directly into the other. We have to understand that.
We have had a really good debate in the past two hours, where nobody interrupted. I really do not want that to start now. I request Deputy Boyd Barrett to allow the Minister to answer without interruption as he allowed him to ask his questions without interruption.
We all knew that the cuts that were made to the capital budget at the time would create future risks for this country, but we had to do it to protect current spending, people's salaries, their pension payments, their social welfare protections. That was a decision that was made at the time. I was a backbencher in government and I stood fully behind it. It was the right decision to make when one looks at what has happened. Unfortunately, there has been under-investment in housing. The Fine Gael Government in 2011 did not make the decision to almost exclusively outsource the social housing bill to the private sector. We are the Government which has corrected that decision and brought that responsibility back into the State and the allocation of taxpayer's resources. That is why we sit here and talk about how we are going to spend €6 billion.
I thought we would talk about more than €11 billion in the national development plan for increasing the stock of social housing. We cannot rely exclusively on one stream of delivery for anything or else we will become over exposed potentially in a future crisis. It is very important that we do that. When we look at increasing the stock of social housing and the 50,000 we have, a multiplicity of streams are available, direct build, local authority housing, housing bodies, acquisitions, regeneration and long-term leasing.
Fair enough. I want to ask another question. Will the Minister outline the attitude of the Government to building council housing estates? I just mention in passing that Mr. Brendan Kenny of Dublin City Council said that there was no doubt that it was quicker to build just council estates than to have to do this mix that the Minister insists on, because one had to get the money from one place instead of having to go to borrow money as well for the private and affordable bits. Why does the Government have the attitude that one cannot just build a large council estate? Will the Minister explain that to me? If the Minister thinks there is a problem with building council estates, as we have in the past, is there a problem with building private estates, where there are loads of rich people all hanging out together? To me it is just blatant snobbery.
Let me interject before the Minister responds, because he was not present yesterday when the four committee members were present to hear Mr. Brendan Kenny say, and this is not the full context, that the funding source for social housing is one source of funding, affordable is separate. Building 1,000 social houses would not be the right thing to do but it would be easier from a financial point of view.
I thank the Chairman for clarifying that. It is very helpful to put things in context. I know that Deputy Boyd Barrett did not want to do that.
I believe in mixed communities. That is a principle for Fine Gael building into the future. We want to build sustainable mixed communities. We do not want to divide or segregate people. We want to unite and support them. That is what we are doing. When one looks at the ambitions around the Land Development Agency, for the first time in the history of this State, any State land that is going to be brought forward for the development of housing will have locked into it at least 10% social housing and at least 30% subsidised housing but across the portfolio of lands, 50% will be social and subsidisied-affordable. It does not mean that other 50% will not be affordable. It will depend on where it is being built and the point in time in the market, and we are talking about the next 20 years. We are bringing forward massive tracts of public land that might never have been made available for housing for housing for the general public. That is a good thing and that is what Fine Gael is doing in government.
I thank the Minister for the answers he gave to the previous questions, some of which were interesting. I have a few follow-up questions. The homelessness figures for this month and last month are now on the web and I have had two quick reads of the reclassification report. My questions are factual and we will come back to the substance of this at a later committee meeting. There has been a decrease in the number of adults in emergency accommodations from July to August of 190 and there has been a decrease of the number of children in emergency accommodation by 80, according to the figures published. If I am reading the reclassification report right, it states that somewhere between the survey and now, an additional 741 adults and children have been recategorised as not being in emergency accommodation. The Minister in his opening remarks said there were 238 new presentations in August and 83 exits. I believe that is in Dublin as opposed to State-wide. Can the Minister confirm that at least some, and possibly all, of that 270 decrease is as a result of the recategorisation of people as not being homeless because of his view of the accommodation there are in? I know he does not have the exact number but some, and possibly all or much, of the 270 decrease in the number of adults and children is as a result of reclassification rather than exits from homelessness in August. Ms Mary Hurley does not have the detailed breakdown of the months that those 741 came out but she has given a commitment to provide us with that information when she has it, which would be useful.
My second question relates to categorisation. I will not get into the politics of that, as we will do so at a later stage. In the Minister's recategorisation report, his argument is that he discovered there were families in accommodation that was owned, rented or leased by the local authority and, therefore, in his view, that is not emergency accommodation, and I understand his argument. How are those units different from hubs or the likes of Tallaght Cross, which are owned or leased by the local authorities? I am not clear on how the Minister is making that distinction.
The RTB made an important determination in respect of student accommodation a few weeks ago. I have just emailed it to the Minister and I do not want him to comment on the determination now but he needs to pay attention to it. It was one of the court cases in Galway regarding the significant rent increases that are occurring now. While the determination found that the individual who took the case did not have standing because they were not in a tenancy at the time and, therefore, not subject to the RPZs, there were two important findings in it. The first is that it states the student licences that exist in that location are regarded as tenancies by the RTB and, second, that if somebody had a tenancy now that was subject to something more than the 4%, they would be covered and protected by the RPZ legislation. I ask the Minister to study that determination with his team in advance of whatever he and the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, will bring forward at a later stage regarding student accommodation because that determination has a material bearing on the conversations we have been having. It basically states that student licences in purpose-built student accommodation are regarded under the terms of the Residential Tenancies Acts as tenancies and have the RPZ protection.
I also wish to ask about the four-stage process.
Finally I wish to raise the four-stage process. The one thing I do not agree with is the idea that the process cannot be improved. We heard from officials yesterday and many have spoken to officials about this previously. An argument is made by some senior officials in local authorities that we could move towards a two-stage process. We could have less duplication and back-and-forth between local authorities and the Department in regard to design and cost approvals. That could shorten the process, particularly in light of the fact that the market ultimately determines the cost in the tender process, whatever about the cost approvals between the Department and the local authorities.
I talk about procurement rules with professionals and academics in the field. They are far more expert about this than I am. They strongly advise that within the legal framework in which the Government has to operate there must be a way for localised or regionalised framework agreements, like those that currently operate for maintenance contracts, to be applied to small and medium-sized social housing builds. That would mean every single project would not have to go out to a new round of tenders. We could have a group of contractors sitting on the shelf to whom works could be handed out. Whether or not that is possible I do not know, and I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts.
We will have a dedicated session on the Land Development Agency, LDA. The Minister knows my view. I would like to see council-led mixed-income and mixed-tenure estates. We do not disagree on the mixed-tenure element. My one concern is that if, in the round, only 10% of what the LDA delivers is social housing, we will be unable to meet the level of social housing output that is required. I would like to know the rationale for setting the figure at 10%. This is a factual question, not a political argument. I know that some sites might have more or less, but all of the documentation and commentary in the public domain indicates that the target is 10%. Given the level of need and the ambitious targets for social housing delivery that the Government says it has under the national development plan, surely the minimum requirement should be more than 10%. Otherwise, all we are going to have is 10% of the big sites and a small amount of infill on council sites. Therefore we simply will not have the capacity to meet the limited targets that the Government has set for itself.
I thank the Deputy. I will address the recategorisation summary which I received earlier today and which has been published. The report says that 741 individuals were recategorised. It outlines the parts of the country where that has happened. I do not know exactly when it happened. I have said this before when this issue has arisen and in regard to the collection of homeless numbers in general. We are not dealing with a perfect system for collecting and reporting data. I am not criticising anyone in the local authorities by saying this. The pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, is complicated to use and was never designed for this type of thing. We have recognised that we could be capturing a lot more data as people come in so as to put even better preventative measures in place. Work is now underway to do that and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, is helping, which I think is very important.
The number of presentations was down in July. Some 238 presented and 114 were prevented. The figure of 83 exits refers to Dublin only. It is not a national figure. The total number of people who are in emergency accommodation is lower than we thought it was. It is 9,527 individuals, including adults and children. I do not know exactly when the recategorisations happened so I cannot comment on that. However, we are endeavouring to constantly improve what we do. I have spoken about the publication of these numbers before. I had a discussion with my officials about this. Making sure that we are publishing accurate numbers is very important. A huge amount of time and resources goes into that. I need to work with the people in my Department and those in local authorities to see how we can improve the collection of data so that it is more efficient, better data is collected and the published numbers can be fair month-to-month comparisons. It is very difficult to do that when recategorisation work is under way. We have discovered people living in homes who are being counted in the wrong way.
In relation to the report itself, I note that there are three categories of home. One is local authority-owned, one is owned by an approved housing body, AHB, and one is leased by the local authority or the AHB. People living here have their own homes, their own doors and their own keys. It is very different to a family hub. Deputy Ó Broin has been in family hubs. He knows the type of setting we are talking about.
The Minister would accept that this is very similar to Tallaght Cross. In Tallaght Cross people have an apartment and a key. They have a nine-month, 12-month or 18-month licence agreement. There are 65 of those units. I am not looking to have a political row. I am trying to understand the rationale.
I do not have a list of these homes. In certain cases they are individual homes, so if I provided a list the public would be able to know who is living there. When someone has a place to live for two years with their own door and their own key, they are in a home. That is not a person in an emergency.
I am not having an argument with the Minister about that. This is quite important. My question is purely factual so I can understand the logic of the report. Tallaght Cross contains 65 units that were purchased from a debtor to the National Asset Management Agency NAMA by South Dublin County Council. South Dublin County Council took a decision to use them as emergency accommodation. It is managed by Túath Housing. Families that present as homeless are placed in Tallaght Cross and have a licence agreement. It is emergency accommodation. However, that licence agreement runs for six, nine or 12 months, during which time Túath works with them to place them in housing assistance payment, HAP, accommodation or a council home. I am trying to understand the difference between that arrangement and the one by which Waterford County Council used some council stock to do something similar; or the arrangement by which Louth County Council used private rental stock to do something similar. Can the Minister explain to me the difference as he understands it?
I have visited a number of other locations but not Tallaght Cross. From my understanding it is not a hub. It is not a precarious tenancy at all. The landlord is the local authority. It is an arrangement with Túath. People there are in their own homes and are going to be in their own homes for quite some time.
I ask the Chair to let me press one thing. I refer to the decrease in the August figures by 270 adults and children. There are 190 fewer adults and 80 fewer children in emergency accommodation. Is it fair to assume that there is a possibility that some of those have not exited homelessness, but have been recategorised under the change in counting method? People will see those figures published today. If that is just a straight reduction and those people are now in full-time tenancies, that is good news. However, if people have been recategorised and are still not in permanent tenancies that is something different.
This emphasis on permanent tenancies might be a bit of a misdirection. Often the people who are actually in those homes the Deputy has identified are in more secure living arrangements than people in the private rental sector. They will never exit those arrangements and move into homelessness. They will never find themselves in emergency accommodation, because the local authority's duty of care as a landlord means that it cannot allow that.
The second point I would make is that the overall number of people in emergency accommodation is lower than we thought it was. A significant number of people were in homes and not in emergency accommodation. That is about as clear as I can be on it.
In relation to student accommodation, we are finalising the rent Bill at the moment. We will publish the Bill and on Committee Stage we will bring an amendment addressing student accommodation. We have time to work on that amendment. The Deputy and I have had meetings on this. I know how interested he is in it.
I will also address the shortening of the approval process. Though some people say summits do not achieve anything, one of the outcomes of the housing summit is that we are going to agree an internal specification for social housing. A standard internal specification will shorten timelines. I will not agree a standard external specification, but why not agree an internal specification? Perhaps Deputy Ó Broin has visited some of the new social housing builds recently. They are fantastic.
The Deputy mentioned a proposed two-stage approval process. We can do more with a one-stage process. I will not say any more than that.
One of the first meetings I had as Minister was with the Attorney General. I said I needed to get a shortcut in procurement law. I have gone to him twice and I have been told that we cannot do this. That is his advice based on European Union procurement law and I have to accept it. We have put procurement frameworks in place.
I wish to ask a practical question. This is merely a factual query. If a local authority wishes to have a tender arrangement with say, maintenance contractors, it puts out a general call, a bunch of applicants come in and it makes an agreement with three contractors, each of which has a contract for three years or five years. The authority hands out the jobs as they come. Is the Minister saying that the Attorney General has said that this type of arrangement is not possible for large-scale builds?
No. Because this crisis was of such significance I wanted to park procurement law. I tested this with the Attorney General. I asked if I could suspend procurement law if we declared an emergency.
The answer was "No". The emergency had to be akin to a natural disaster.
We have set up the under the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, a mini procurement framework, particularly around rapid build, where we pre-procure a panel and then say to the local authorities, use rapid and use this panel. We are putting in place - if it has not already been put in place - a new one for multi-storey rapid build.
All I would ask the Minister to do, because these are positive developments, is to apply exactly the same framework agreement on a regional basis for the new builds. For example, there would be one for Dublin and one for the south west. That would mean that not every individual job for an infill development of ten, 20 or 50 houses would have to go out to tender. One could have the same process. All I ask the Minister to consider doing, because again this is what the officials are telling us, is to have these on a regional basis rather than in the centralised way he has for new builds. That could save a lot of time in terms of the tender process, and I believe that is worth exploring.
There is a shared services model which we pursue with local authorities. There are regional procurement frameworks in place for other types of services. I do not know if they are possible for capital construction but I will take a look.
On the Land Development Agency, LDA, it is likely to take a similar approach, in terms of having a pre-approved procurement framework for certain aspects of its work. On the social aspect of that, local authorities will also be building social housing on their own land, in conjunction with the LDA building on State land.
What we have tried to achieve and what we are doing on social housing, the first focus of Rebuilding Ireland was the work done on putting in place planned preparations for massive social housing and building a framework to do that social house building. What we have been talking about for the 14 months that I have been in the job, and in addition to that, is to do even more on subsidised housing. This a general and wider type of housing which has affordability. When I came to the LDA and we were designing it, I wanted to ensure that as a big gun with big firepower, it would be delivering more on the affordable side. It is up to every site to determine what mix will be obtained. On certain sites it could be 30:20.
This is a factual question. A number of the local authorities as well as Mr. Brendan Kenny from Dublin City Council have said that past 2021, if they meet all of the social housing output targets, land is going to become a real issue for them. Some local authorities are in a better position than others. My concern is that if we max out all the land on the existing social housing output programme, particularly through Part 8s, infills, etc., and if the Minister sticks to the 10% on the larger-scale sites that are LDA, then we are going to have a big problem post-2021. This will be just in terms of meeting the Minister's own targets, which I believe are too modest in the first place. All I am urging the Minister to do, and we will come back to this in the legislation, is to think very carefully about whether an overall 10% - we will get into an argument as to who does the development at a later stage - is in any way appropriate in terms of his obligations to meet his own targets in the national development plan up to 2040. By my calculations, this is going to hamper the Minister in delivering even those targets.
In terms of what I have seen - and I am trying to remember from the top of my head - I believe we have identified enough land for social housing for local authorities to take us to at least 2023 under the national development plan ambition that I put into that plan. I am going to have to ensure that I can meet the targets that I put into Project Ireland 2040. The most important thing is that those home are delivered into the stock of social housing. As long as I am in this job and responsible for this, I will make sure that those commitments that were put into Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, which are so important in terms of social housing delivery, are met by ensuring everything is done in tandem with that.
I wish to follow up on that point. I can see where Deputy Ó Broin is coming from with the 10%. There is also a growing crisis in middle Ireland and the affordability of houses. The only way to deal with that is to crack on with the construction of houses. When the legislation is brought forward, we can tease this out in far greater detail.
Returning to the question I asked earlier about the housing aid for the elderly and so on, I asked would there be a supplementary budget this year for local authorities, based on other local authorities which may not have spent their allocation. That is a worthwhile consideration. There are certain counties where it would be very desirable if there was as a supplementary budget as in other years. Would the Minister's officials be able to consider this?
There will not be a supplementary budget, because we can move money around, as necessary, depending on how we are meeting our spend, per year. We constantly do a performance review on what spending we are doing to see if we are on-profile to meet the allocation we have been given and that we spend the money that we have for the year. We must not overspend because then we would be in a difficult position, but we must not underspend when we are in a crisis. If certain local authorities have not been able to utilise its grant as efficiently as we would like, we can allocate additional money to other local authorities that might have a greater call on it. We are doing some work on this at the moment.
Many of the housing schemes I have visited are adaptable. We have future-proofed them to look after that person when they reach an older age and they might not be as mobile, or, if someone were to have a child that might have particular needs. They are future-proofed by having wider doorframes and by having particular types of bathrooms that can be easily adapted or do not need to be, because of the way they have been designed, in being washrooms as well. I am very pleased with some of the foresight local authorities have had in designing some of these houses. That does take a little more time.
As to our current targets around disability and what we are trying to do, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and myself are in constant discussion about this. We are constantly trying to figure out whether we can achieve more or do better with the allocation of funds and resources we have. He made an announcement recently - in the last three months, I think - on disability itself and housing insofar as new funding was being made available for this. At the moment we are looking at funding for next year.
Another issue that has been brought to my attention concerns some of the homeless charities, including Simon and Focus Ireland, in particular, which have charity shops. They are registered charities but they are paying rates on these charity shops. Would the Minister consider an amendment to the upcoming legislation that would exempt the charity shops of proper registered charities from rates? One would only be talking about a €2 million to €3 million of a loss to local authorities but this would greatly equip and enable those particular organisations to continue the good work they are doing.
The Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, is reviewing rates legislation at the moment, which is his responsibility in the Department. We want to bring forward legislation on that soon and will look at that in the fullness of time. I will declare very quickly a conflict of interest in that regard because a family member of mine works in one of those shops. The Minister of State will be responsible for all of that.
On the latest figures, there were 1,151 units built by the local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, at the end of the second quarter and 1,181 acquisitions. In terms of build, the proportion of the output that is build, as against housing assistance payment, HAPs, rental allowance scheme, RAS, and leasing, is about 10%. Is that not a fairly miserable output in terms of direct build? Even if one includes the acquisitions, about 80% of the Minister's social housing output is still dependent on the private sector. It does not really give much credence to the suggestion that we are weaning ourselves off dependence on a private sector, particularly given that the private sector, as we see, is jacking up rents.
That will clearly inflate the cost the State has to bear to pay for social housing that is dependent on this sector.
The next issues relates to that and this is where it comes down to the human level. The Minister made the statement earlier that if the State is paying the rent of a person, his or her housing need is met. Does the Minister honestly believe that is a fair comment in respect of the many people who find themselves in HAP or RAS arrangements and who then discover the landlord is pulling out of them, which is happening regularly? Such people do not feel their housing need is being met because it is not; HAP is not secure. One could argue that RAS provides some security, although we have had extreme difficulty in my area because landlords pulled out of RAS arrangements and the council said a new arrangement could not be found. When somebody is in a precarious HAP arrangement and where there is plenty of evidence of landlords pulling out of them, how can the Minister make that statement? Is it not a bit of an insult to the people who find themselves evicted and then in hubs or emergency accommodation, having supposedly had their housing need met?
The Deputy must be so careful with the way he speaks about certain schemes that are in place to help people. There is a risk of people undermining genuine supports that can help people insofar as they may not take up a HAP offer and find themselves in emergency accommodation when they could have been in a rented home. I have met many people who have been badly affected by this crisis. HAP has not worked for some people but more than 40,000 tenancies have been created under the scheme, with 17,000 created last year. HAP is working for tens of thousands of people and it is a good support. It does not always work and, as in the private rental sector, not every tenancy will work out, but for the vast majority of people who are able to rent, it works for them.
We face challenges because there is not enough rental stock or enough time being given to people when a notice to quit is served. There are issues around rent transparency and greater enforcement of RPZs. We are trying to address those in the upcoming Bill and adding them to what we have done to try to strengthen and mature our rental sector. HAP must continue until we build more homes and it is working for people. The placefinder model is working for people and the uplifts are working. There are 20% and 50% levels for homeless HAP, along with a deposit and the first two months of rent; these supports are real and they are making a difference for tens of thousands of people.
That is not much consolation for the people who find themselves in that difficult position. The Minister should not get me wrong. If HAP arrangements are found or if the options are provided when I have desperate people coming into my clinics, I ask them to seriously consider them.
If a family has been on a housing list for 15 years and is in a hub, and they are not willing to put themselves in a precarious position again, they have an entitlement to say it is not good enough. I do not encourage that as people must make those personal decisions that have an affect on their families. It is insulting to tell them that if they make a decision not to put themselves through a similar experience, there is no right or entitlement to do so. We will leave that pass. As long as there is a reliance on HAP, we will continue to have a significant minority of people who will find themselves in trouble again and again. That is indisputable.
I will come back to the build point as the Deputy spoke about an over-reliance on HAP. It was the first question he asked. If the output for the first six months of the year for local authority building was maintained for the rest of the year, it would not be good enough. I know from my experience in the job last year how the programme was delivered over the course of the year and ramped up significantly quarter on quarter. This year we will do ten times the number of local authority builds that we did only two or three years ago. It is ramping up significantly and over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, we will increase the stock of social housing homes by 50,000. That is real and it will help people. It will take away from the over-reliance on HAP currently. HAP will always be there and that kind of support in the private rental sector - using taxpayers' money to give people State support - will always exist but it should not be there to degree it is now. We did not come from a perfect State and we came from a crisis to a crisis. We cannot forget that or we will make the same mistake again in future.
That debate will continue but as long as we rely on HAP, we will have problems. My next question relates to my earlier contribution. I will outline a concrete example, which is important. It relates to Cherrywood. That development could solve the housing crisis in the greater Dún Laoghaire area. At the weekend we had evidence it would not be able to do that because of the approach of the Minister and the Government over the past ten years. NAMA sold it to Hines, a supposed developer, and at the weekend that supposed developer announced it would sell 73 acres of the land. It has walked away with a fortune, although I do not know exactly how much that is.
Fine, although it was in the newspapers on Saturday, so it is in the public domain. The company bought the Cherrywood land from NAMA at a low price and now it is being flogged, with no houses built. The company is walking away with a fortune and no houses have been built. Does it bother the Minister that land acquired from the State is being flipped and the company will walk away with a massive profit on a site we could use for public housing? Would that lead the Minister to conclude that perhaps the State should consider taking back the site? There is a miserable 10% that we hope to get so we might at least take our 10% upfront in land and build on it ourselves so we are not reliant on Hines or the next developer who buys on it for speculation purposes.
Perhaps the Deputy could allow me to finish, without interruption. I have not asked any questions because I have given my time to the Deputy as a non-member of the committee. We are so close to the end of this meeting, which has been amicable. The Minister and members are fully aware of who they can and cannot mention. I have warned the Deputy. He should finish asking his question and we will finish with the Minister.
Does it concern the Minister that this could happen to the strategic development zone and land previously in State ownership? It has such an importance for delivering housing. When that flipping of land occurs, does it prompt the Minister to think we cannot afford to way to get the public housing we want on that land for whenever the next developer decides to build or not, given there is clear evidence of speculation on this land? Should we not take as much as we can get now and build ourselves, or God knows what will happen on the site? We might never get stuff or it might be drip-fed. It will certainly be way down the line if we are dependent on whoever fancies buying the land for whatever purpose.
In fairness to Senator Conway, he was just trying to make sure nobody might accidentally or intentionally abuses privilege, as has happened before in committees and Chambers. I can answer the question.
I am bothered when I do not see houses being built on sites that are ready for such building.
The Deputy knows there are more complications with this land than might perhaps be evident in his question, such as there being a number of landowners on a large site. Significant investments have been made in that site. It was not all taxpayer money. Investments have been made and investments can be returned. That is how these things work. I am bothered when houses are not being built. This is exactly why I brought forward the LDA. We all need to park our ideology at the door whether one is on the left or the right. The Deputy opposes the private sector building houses at all. If we did not have people building houses-----
No. We will get the uplift. We will get the profit and we will reinvest it in affordability on those sites. We will be the developer. We will do the master planning and all of that to get a great return for the taxpayer on public land and everyone will have a chance and a right to buy houses on that land.
I thank members for the white smoke. It was nice to have an amicable meeting. I thank the Minister and Ms Hurley, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Walsh. They are all regular visitors to the committee. I thank them for their ongoing engagement and for the volume of information we were given a number of days prior to the meeting.