Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 6 March 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness: Discussion
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 aeroplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device. It is not sufficient to place phones in silent mode as they may maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
No. 1 on our agenda is an update on Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. I welcome to the meeting the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his officials.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the joint committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. 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 thank the Department for inviting members of the committee to a briefing last week. Most members found it very useful. The ongoing communication between the Department and the committee is of great assistance in the context of these proceedings.
I call on the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the Chair and members for the opportunity to appear before the committee to provide an update on the progress made in terms of the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2018. I am joined by Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General, and assistant secretaries Ms Maria Graham, Ms Mary Hurley and Mr. Paul Lemass.
As I have stated on many occasions, supporting families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness remains a crucial priority for the Government and for myself as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. We all know, of course, that the key to addressing homelessness is the accelerated delivery of social, affordable and private housing and the reform of our rental system. Although more than 5,100 adults exited homelessness into independent tenancies in 2018, we are all agreed that the number of families and individuals living in emergency accommodation remains unacceptable. That is why I and my Department continue to focus on preventing as many families and individuals as possible from entering emergency accommodation and are relentlessly focused on exiting as many families and individuals from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible. There was a decrease in the number of people in emergency accommodation last December, which was understood at the time to be partly due to seasonal reasons. However, it was followed by an increase in January. That said, there are some positive movements when it comes to families in emergency accommodation. For two months now, more families have been exited into tenancies than have entered emergency accommodation. I recently approved the appointment of 15 outreach officers who will work with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. The recruitment of these officers will further support families and individuals to exit emergency accommodation into independent tenancies.
In tandem with the delivery of permanent social housing, we are working to deliver a range of initiatives and emergency accommodation to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness. This includes the development of a range of family hub facilities. By the end of 2018, there were 26 family hubs operating nationally, comprising 22 in Dublin and one each in Kildare, Cork, Limerick and Louth. In terms of rough sleepers, an additional 300 permanent emergency beds were delivered during 2018 which have meant that there is now spare capacity and shelter for anyone who wishes to avail of it.
Separately, my Department has been working intensively with the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection on a range of inter-agency actions in order to ensure the correct supports are in place for rough sleepers and homeless individuals. This includes appropriate health supports, such as the wraparound supports required for the Housing First programme which offers longer-term solutions for our vulnerable rough sleepers.
On social housing delivery, it should be noted that significant progress was made in 2018 in terms of supporting new households. Some 27,103 households had their housing need met; 8,422 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes, representing an increase of 7% or 553 new homes on what was planned for the year; 4,251 new build homes were delivered by local authorities and approved housing bodies, representing 96% achievement of the new build target with nearly 2,000 more homes built compared with the previous year; and the number of new social housing homes built in 2018 was eight times greater than the number built in 2015.
At the end of 2018, Rebuilding Ireland had delivered over 72,049 housing supports across all delivery streams. We committed to supporting 137,000 households into appropriate accommodation under build, acquisition and leasing programmes over the six-year period of the plan and, by the end of the third year, we have achieved more than 50% of our target. The Government is on track to deliver on the Rebuilding Ireland targets and funding is in place to secure this delivery. Indeed, by the end of 2019, we estimate that Rebuilding Ireland will have supported 100,000 households.
The build pipeline now in place is expanding, as evidenced in the quarter 4 construction status report for 2018 that has just been published. The number of schemes and homes now delivered or in the pipeline is 19,134, including nearly 5,000 homes on site and under construction and a further 2,569 homes at the final pre-construction stage. The delivery of our social housing build targets under Rebuilding Ireland is currently on track.
We have also seen positive news from the Central Statistics Office in the past month regarding the number of new homes built last year. There was a 25% increase on 2017, with more than 18,000 new homes being built. In addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 last year. This does not include the 3,742 bed spaces completed in the student sector in 2018.
Rebuilding Ireland is substantially increasing the supply of new homes and we need to drive new builds higher again this year. We also know that this increase in supply is contributing to the moderation in the growth in house prices.
As Minister, I have frequently stated that we need to address issues of housing affordability, particularly in Dublin and certain other main urban centres. On 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. I expect the associated regulations and guidance to issue to local authorities shortly.
I approved funding of €43 million under the serviced sites fund in December. This will enable the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands in Dublin and Cork, as well as more than 700 social housing homes. I envisage that the infrastructure works on approved projects will begin shortly, with the delivery of affordable homes from 2020 onwards. I will issue a second call for proposals under the fund shortly. A total of €310 million is available under the fund out to 2021.
Acknowledging that renters in Dublin and other urban centres are also currently facing significant affordability challenges, I am committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit cost rental sector in Ireland. Progress is being made in terms of advancing the Enniskerry Road and St. Michael’s Estate pilot projects.
Tackling vacancy remains a key objective in 2019. In terms of furthering our ambition to maximise the utilisation of vacant housing stock, my Department is now providing funding for a vacant homes office in each of the 31 local authorities. By the end of 2018, all 31 local authorities had appointed a vacant homes officer and submitted their vacant homes action plans. These vacant homes officers create a central point of contact for owners of vacant homes and provide them with information including the funding options that are available to assist in bringing vacant homes back into productive use.
In regard to the rental sector, I recently published the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 with a view to it being passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas in the current term. The Bill provides a number of key measures and reforms designed to enhance enforcement powers for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the rent pressure zone arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures. My Department is working closely with the RTB to ensure that adequate resources are provided to tackle any capacity constraints.
In addition, the committee recently undertook a review of the proposals I announced to address the short-term tourism-related letting of properties through amendments to planning legislation. As the committee is aware, I propose to regulate short-term letting through the existing exempted development regime by facilitating unlimited home-sharing and the letting of a person’s entire home for a maximum period of 90 days per year without the need for planning permission. In addition, if a person wishes to let a second property that is not his or her principal private residence, he or she may only do so if planning permission is obtained. This will be underpinned by complementary amendments to primary planning legislation.
I thank the committee for its consideration of the proposals at a meeting held with my officials in January and the subsequent observations provided early in February, which are being examined. I look forward to further engagement with the committee as these important legislative proposals are advanced. As I have stated previously, the Government will continue to be strategic and proactive in putting in place plans that learn from the near decade-long banking and construction and housing supply collapse that is at the root of our housing issues.
We published Project Ireland 2040 just over a year ago as the overarching policy and planning framework for investment in and development of our country. Project Ireland 2040 loudly signalled the Government's intention, and reflected a public mood, to shift away from "business as usual" sprawl-based development patterns and adopt more compact, sustainable and community centred development approaches. In simple terms, our cities and our towns must grow upwards, not just outwards, if we are to meet the many housing, transport, climate and economic challenges ahead. Consequently, I have published new statutory guidelines on apartments and building heights that, together with the strategic housing development system operated through An Bord Pleanála, have kick-started a major increase in housing delivery and interest in apartment development in our key urban centres.
Project Ireland 2040, through the national planning framework and the national development plan is being implemented in order that we plan proactively and prudently for a population increase of 1 million people, together with 600,000 new jobs and more than 550,000 new homes. It is not just about top-down national planning but also about strengthening the regional and local level planning tiers. The regional assemblies are at an advanced stage in completing regional spatial and economic strategies for the three regional assembly areas. The finalisation of these strategies later this year will prompt reviews and updates of individual county and city development plans. Through this process, Ireland will have one of the most the most up-to-date and nationally and regionally co-ordinated planning processes in the EU.
Vision and ambition is one thing, but people also want and deserve proper oversight and delivery. This is why the Government has moved to put in place an independent office of the planning regulator to see that the planning process properly implements Project Ireland 2040, as well as a Land Development Agency to make sure the planning process is enabled by strategic land management capabilities to develop in the right places. These organisations will be critical and will make a key contribution to the delivery of housing and the shaping of our country over the next number of years.
I thank the committee for the invitation today and I look forward to working with it throughout 2019. With regard to the rent Bill I have referenced, following the session we had in recent weeks, I would like, if there is time at the end of this engagement, to talk through in private session some of the proposed amendments that will be tabled on Committee Stage.
The committee will agree to that if there is time at the end of the meeting. For the information of non-members of the committee, normally at these meetings each member gets five minutes and it is up to them how they use them.
I thank the Minister. There were eight pages in his statement and I will take the points raised in order. I thank the Minister and his staff for their attendance. I particularly welcome Mr. Paul Lemass. He will be a fantastic addition to the Minister's team.
The Minister stated he has commenced the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the effect of which is to place the new scheme of affordable purchasing on a statutory basis. Can the Minister confirm the exact date when the associated regulations and guidance will be issued to each of the 31 local authorities?
In December, the Minister approved funding of €43 million for the serviced sites fund and has told us today this will enable delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands in Dublin and Cork, as well as 700 social homes. Will the Minister give a commitment on when the infrastructural works will commence and the date on which these affordable homes will be complete? When will the Minister issue a second call for proposals for the serviced sites fund?
The Minister mentioned his commitment to the introduction of a not-for-profit cost rental sector in Ireland. Will the Minister elaborate on the current status on advancing the Enniskerry Road scheme? I am blue in the face hearing about Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. What exactly is happening there? When will we see houses built there? We have been speaking about this for three years and, from what I can see, nothing is happening. I went there yesterday to look. The Minister also might elaborate on the St. Michael's Estate project.
The Minister mentioned the vacant home officers of the 31 local authorities. Having spoken to some of the local authorities, I am not convinced they really know their functions. At some stage in the coming week, will the Minister provide us with a list of the 31 officers?
The Minister spoke about the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. We must be realistic. I will raise this in the Seanad today. In the Seanad we are being told we have no business but the Minister can initiate legislation in the Seanad. That is an option for the Minister. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of Ministers to initiate legislation in the Seanad. Perhaps it is an option when we see the schedule in the Seanad. Will the Minister provide information on a timeline for the legislation on the Land Development Agency?
I do not expect the Minister to answer all of these questions now and he may come back to me. With regard to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, yesterday people woke up to hear on "Morning Ireland" about what appears to be a crisis of funding for this initiative. These are people who are barely over the threshold. They get up very early in the morning and they work all day. They want to provide housing for themselves. Perhaps there was a deficit of information on "Morning Ireland" and the Minister can enlighten us. Will all of the loans be approved? Can we give hope to people? It is their last and only hope to provide a home from themselves. I would have thought the Minister was hot and strong on this particular issue and I am interested to hear what he will say on it.
For months, I have been asking about a local authority land inventory. Will the Minister elaborate on this? What is the current position with regard to progress on the national affordable housing scheme?
The Minister mentioned the Dundrum Central Mental Hospital twice and spoke about the need for a master plan. Will the Minister tell us about this? What is happening out in Shanganagh in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area? For three years, we have been told houses will be built there. Senator Michael McDowell was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when it was disposed of to the local authority. We need progress on it.
These are a few questions for the Minister to be going on with it. I appreciate he might not have answers to all of them to hand but in the coming days officials in the Department may be able to give a more detailed response to some of them.
I thank the Senator for his questions. I thank him for welcoming the staff. He will also know Maria Graham, who has moved from the water team to the team dealing with housing and planning.
With regard to affordability, we are about to finalise the regulations to give the scheme of priority for access for people who apply to a local authority. I am waiting for feedback from a couple of key people to finalise this. Once it is finalised, which I hope I can do this week, I will write to each local authority. We are there or thereabouts on it. If not last week it was the week before that I spoke in the Dáil and listed the proposed scheme of priority with regard to someone's connection to the area, someone working in the area or someone whose children are being educated in the area. These are the various ways in which someone would access the scheme and how they would be weighted accordingly when the scheme is open. We are doing a final piece on this following what I said in the Dáil.
Absolutely, I can do that; it is no problem.
The serviced sites fund of €43 million for 1,400 homes was allocated at the end of last year. We will do a second call, I hope in the last week of March or the first week of April. That is the current timeline for the second call. In Dublin and Cork, where the money has already been approved, we will see work getting under way this year and completions in 2020. For the second call I hope to get the regulations finalised this week and issued next week. I will be out of the country on Government business for St. Patrick's Day and will return for a Brexit Cabinet meeting ahead of the Council summit towards the end of March. After that, I would like to have a second call so it will probably be the last week of March or the first week of April.
With regard to cost rental and what is happening in the various sites the Senator asked about, we are expecting the procurement for St. Michael's Estate to get under way in the first quarter of this year. I was out with the local community very recently speaking about the plans in more detail. Dublin City Council, as local authority, will take the lead on this and has set up engagement with the community through a forum. It is progressing very well. I continue to tick-tack back and forward with the European Investment Bank on cost rental as a whole and I will come back to this.
With regard to Shanganagh, we are still working with the local authority and the National Development Finance Agency to compare the various development approaches for the site that have been presented. A project board is in place and we are getting there or thereabouts.
A valid tender for the Enniskerry Road project has been returned by the three main contractors from a list of six that pre-qualified in the restricted tender process. That is the stage we are at in respect of the Enniskerry Road project.
We are engaging with the European Investment Bank, EIB, because it is our intention that EIB funding will be made available, certainly in the case of St. Michael's Estate. The EIB has stated the scheme which has been presented would be valid for an application. The EIB is engaged in a three-stage research programme in relation to cost rental in Ireland. We know that there will be more than one scheme. Our ambition is for cost rental to be as big a part of the rental sector as it is in any other European country, but it cannot be done quickly. We will have to build up to it over a number of years and it is important for us to get it right as we do. Research is ongoing. The National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, has modelled how its cost rental proposals might work. We are talking about a below market rent of between 15% and 25% in the initial years. Market rents will continue to increase over a natural horizon, but cost rental rents will not. Over a time horizon of between ten and 15 years, we are talking about rents that potentially will be as low as 40% below market rents. When we can get cost rental at scale, we will really start to see significant benefits for a large proportion of people who are renting. That is what is happening on the cost rental side.
Each of the 31 local authorities has submitted a vacant homes plan. I can make the plans available to the committee in order that members can look through the ones of relevance to their local authority area. When I was in the Seanad three weeks ago, I went through exactly what was happening in Senator McFadden's local area. I set out the interesting work the officer in her area had been doing, for example, in inspecting homes to see how many of them were actually vacant. The picture that emerges from this work is very different from the high level work. We know that the CSO number does not really give a true picture of vacancies because it includes homes that are for sale and for rent and holiday homes. The CSO has been helping the Department to drill down to get a more accurate picture of what is happening in respect of vacancies. Officers have been appointed in all 31 local authorities and funding for 2019 has been provided for them. I will provide the information for the committee separately.
The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 has been initiated in the Dáil. The debate on Second Stage has been concluded. We hope that having been passed on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil, the Bill will be brought to the Seanad in the sitting week ending 19 April.
I understand the committee will soon engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the heads of the proposed Land Development Agency Bill. We are almost there with it. We are completing some final technical discussions on it with the Office of the Attorney General. When we have finalised it, we will be able to bring the Bill before the committee. Two important aspects of it need to be noted. First, the LDA is up and running and working on site. Second, if we want to get a significant capital provision of €1.25 billion for the LDA from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, it needs to be on a statutory footing.
I refer to the inventory of State lands. Approximately 1,700 ha of local authority and Housing Agency lands have been mapped. The map is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website. There are two sets of data - one for publicly owned sites and one for lands committed to social housing. Local authorities are responsible for updating their land data on a quarterly basis and they are doing so. The LDA is also looking at the public land bank. It is assessing what the public land bank might be able to deliver separately from local authority land. That work is continuing and the Rebuilding Ireland element is available online.
A key site at Dundrum hospital has been identified by the LDA which will be responsible for drawing up a master plan for the site. We have a dashboard for the eight sites identified by the LDA. Between 12 and 15 further sites will come into the LDA pipeline during the second phase. Under the current dashboard for the progression of projects, the initial design and development phase on the Dundrum site will come to a conclusion later this year - perhaps in the third quarter - with the detailed design and planning phase commencing shortly thereafter and a planning application being lodged at the very beginning of next year.
I have three questions. Since the Government took office, the level of homelessness among adults and children has increased by 61%. At a time when the Government is claiming that more money is being spent on social housing than at any other time in the history of the State, the level of homelessness has increased by 61%. Since the Minister was appointed to this portfolio, it has increased by 25%. It has increased by 10% in the past 12 months. Notwithstanding everything the Minister has just said, on this key indicator, the problem is continuing to get worse. Is it not time to accept that Rebuilding Ireland, as set out, is failing in dealing with homelessness? If the Minister does not start to do things differently, for example, by putting some new interventions and investments on the table, the problem will continue to get worse.
My second question is related to the cost rental and affordable purchase schemes. Essentially, the serviced sites fund has been in place since the original €25 million was announced in October 2017. A year and a half has passed and no new homes have been delivered. If I understand the Minister correctly, he is saying no affordable homes will be delivered under the scheme next year. He has referred to 2020. Will he confirm the position in that respect? The cost rental scheme has been Government policy since 2014, when the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, introduced the social housing 2020 plan. It was detailed in Rebuilding Ireland. I think the pilot scheme was meant to be brought forward at the end of 2016 or in early 2017. Will the Minister confirm that even though this has been Government policy for five years, no cost rental units will be delivered this year? The issue of pricing is really important in that context. If the price is 80% of market rent, whenever we get to see the cost rental scheme, it will not be affordable. There is no point telling people that it might be affordable for them within five or ten years of being in cost rental housing. Other European countries find ways to ensure the entry rents for cost rental housing are at genuinely affordable levels. In Dublin it would have to be somewhere between €700 and €800 a month. The only way to do this is to extend the loan repayment period. Will the Minister give us a guarantee that the entry rents on Enniskerry Road, in St. Michael's Estate, Ballymun or the Cork city projects, to mention some examples, will be affordable at that point? If they are not, they will not address the problem.
My final question is related to the overall output of public and private housing. According to a useful table on page 30 of Rebuilding Ireland which sets out the expected or projected total output of public and private housing, it was expected that just under 14,000 homes would be built in 2016 and just over 18,000 in 2017. The figures included in the graph for 2018 and 2019 were 22,000 and 25,000, respectively. The Government is approximately 13,000 homes behind the targets set out in the table. Does it expect to make up the 31% shortfall in the final three years of the plan, or has it revised its targets downwards? A 31% shortfall is very significant in the context of the overall level of housing need.
Everything we do in housing policy, including every bit of money we spend, is having a very direct impact on the level of homelessness. We are preventing people from moving into emergency accommodation or helping them to move out of it. We are putting actual supports in place and supporting the building of more homes that people can live in or rent. We saw very big increases in the numbers of people entering emergency accommodation in 2016 and 2017. The Deputy is familiar with the figures for 2018, when we saw an increase that was nowhere near as big as the increases in 2016 and 2017. This shows that policies are working. If policies were not working and new homes were not being provided, the increase last year might have followed the trend in 2016 and 2017, when there were quite significant increases in the numbers of people moving into emergency accommodation. Every time a new person moves into emergency accommodation, it marks a step in the wrong direction. The fact that the large increases in 2016 and 2017 were not seen in 2018 shows that the underlying measures we have put in place to increase the social housing stock and the housing stock more generally, when taken with other measures such as the introduction of rent pressure zones and the recruitment of more prevention officers, are having a tangible impact. In more recent times the number of people entering emergency accommodation has been smaller than it might otherwise have been. In the past two months we have seen something interesting which will represent significant progress if it can be repeated as a trend for the rest of the year.
More families exited emergency accommodation than entered it in Dublin. If we can continue to have more families leaving than entering, we can start to drive the numbers down. More importantly, we can know we are succeeding in creating overall sustainable solutions to homelessness for people in emergency accommodation.
We need to keep looking at new measures. In the course of last year, we had to bring about a Housing First national plan and a dedicated national housing officer, which we have done. We had to allocate additional funding. We are doing that and will continue to do that this year, increasing spend on things like hubs. We also need to look at policy changes and the rent Bill will have a positive impact on the rental sector and prevent people entering emergency accommodation.
At the first housing summit in 2017, I set up an inter-agency group to work between Departments to ensure co-ordination in supporting people in emergency accommodation, whether supports for health or social protection, or supports for families that were not aware of their housing rights and were trapped in emergency accommodation. That work produced a very good report in June of last year and, since then, we have been working to its recommendations. The Taoiseach recently brought a memo to Cabinet outlining some of the proposals that are moving forward now in each of those spheres.
We do not rest on this. We continue to bring new policy interventions where we think they will help. We continue to increase funding where it will help. We continue to listen to the experts and our partners in the NGOs. We are spending taxpayers' money to provide solutions and will continue to work on this until we have helped people out of emergency accommodation. More than 5,000 people left emergency accommodation last year. That is huge but it is not enough. We need to do more.
The figures for families leaving emergency accommodation in the past two months are important. Can we continue to drive what we have seen over the past two months for the rest of this year? Can we continue what happened in 2018 into 2019? In 2018, there was a significant change in the size of the increase in numbers entering emergency accommodation. That had been a worrying trend through 2016 and 2017.
I have two quick points. What the Minister is saying about family presentations in Dublin is not accurate. There is no such trend. The figures from January to December last year went up and down. There were 60 families presenting in one month and 40 in another. That figure dropped to 30 and then rose again. There is no trend. It is correct that the last three months of last year were better than some of the other months but the overall picture is up and down so I do not accept that there is a general trend of a reduction in the numbers of families presenting for emergency accommodation.
Can the Minister confirm that the 5,000 exits from emergency accommodation are actually exits from emergency accommodation? Are some of them preventions, through homeless HAP, before people go into emergency accommodation?
This is the point I am making. The trend goes up and down and up and down. It is not correct to say that, in the last number of months, there has been a trend of reduced presentations to emergency accommodation.
I made a point about the past two months. I am not saying it is a trend but, if it continues to be a trend, it will be positive. I made a point about the 12 months of 2018 compared with the previous year and the year before that. The statistics show that, in 2016 and 2017, there were huge increases of people entering emergency accommodation. The net increase in 2018 was significant but it was nowhere near as large as the two previous years. That shows a trend that the number of people entering emergency accommodation is reducing over those three years. That is what it shows.
Yes. House prices are still increasing but nowhere near as much as they were as a result of the supply increase in social housing and the economy generally. For the same reason, we did not see as many presentations into emergency accommodation in 2018 as we saw in 2017 and 2016. My point about the past two months is not that it is a trend but, if those figures repeat and more people are exiting than are entering, that will be significant over the course of 2019.
The figure is 5,100, off the top of my head, for exits from homelessness so it includes preventions and people leaving emergency accommodation.
So it is not correct to say that those are all people who have left emergency accommodation. Some have left emergency accommodation and some were prevented from becoming homeless through access to homeless HAP.
I can provide it for the Deputy.
I will address the Deputy's question about affordability. We all know the Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance which is still doing what it does in providing affordable housing.
I will come to that. It is important to note that this is happening and a local authority is doing it. It does not mean that other local authorities cannot be doing it but, to help them, we set up the serviced sites fund and put additional money into it, following our engagement with Fianna Fáil in advance of the budget for this year. That is €310 million, as the Deputy knows. Money has already been allocated in the first round of funding and more will be allocated. We hope and expect work to commence this year although we will not see completions on local authority land from that fund this year, as it stands.
There are two things that are different about what we are now doing with the cost rental scheme. Cost rental might have been an ambition or an idea but we are now trying to do it at scale. After we met with Dublin City Council, I identified St. Michael's Estate as a site we could do at scale and deliver in an urban area where there is high demand for housing but it is out of reach for many people. The other difference is that we are partnering with the European Investment Bank, EIB, so this is a real, long-term scheme. This is not just a pilot scheme to see if it can work here. We are asking how to change the rental model in our country using a site where we can do it at scale and using a fund of finance we can afford and which is open to us because of the type of project we are doing. That makes it different and the key thing is to get it right. We have dedicated resources in the Department and Dublin City Council for it. As I said to Senator Boyhan, we are going to see more progress in the first quarter of this year but I also want to allocate more resources to it because of the importance of the project. We are discussing that at the moment.
What is affordable and what is not? We have looked at different models from the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, as to people on different salary scales, calculating one third of their income and what kind of rent that might allow them to pay. We are trying to lock that in on each of the affordable sites that we are looking at. Nothing is final here because we are still progressing things. It will depend on the number of units, the different facilities that will be provided, who is involved, whether an assisted housing body, AHB, or a number of them and the level of financing from the EIB. There is no point in doing this if it is not going to actually be affordable. There is no point in starting this and saying that it is not affordable now but it will be 40% below the market rent in ten years' time. That is exactly what we are looking at now. We do not have final figures because the schemes are not yet at that stage. The NDFA has done a lot of work on this and, from what I have looked at, we are talking about affordable rent for people at particular salary points for individuals and couples, who can apply and the different thresholds that we can put in.
I looked at the table and it is not of great quality.
This is about the increase of the level of activity to meet the 25,00 unit target by 2020 or earlier, taking account of the backlog in supply experienced to date. This is under pillar 3 and building more homes.
There were 18,000 new builds last year but the Deputy is not counting the unfinished housing estates which were completed and homes coming out of vacancy. The targets under Rebuilding Ireland include different homes coming into use including new builds.
No. The overall targets under Rebuilding Ireland were always new homes becoming available for use because that was the dataset we were using at the time. I brought in a new dataset from the CSO which broke it down to also include new builds. It is too early in the year to know the figure for new builds this year but I anticipate somewhere between 22,000 and 23,000. We are looking at planning applications, commencement notices and how they flow through the system. I am confident we will hit 125,000 new homes available, as outlined in our overall targets under Rebuilding Ireland, for the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.
We are approximately 45 minutes into the session on the progress report on the Rebuilding Ireland strategy. I will start my contribution by making a point that has not yet been made. The number of people living in emergency accommodation is greater than at any time in the history of the State. In his presentation the Minister mentioned that the number had reduced in December, that the reduction had been expected because of seasonal factors and that it had increased again in January. According to the latest figures, there are 9,987 persons living in emergency accommodation. This means that officially there are approximately 10,000 people homeless in the State. Deputy Eoghan Murphy is the first Minister in the history of the State to be in office when the number of homeless persons is approaching 10,000. Since he took office, the number has increased by more than 2,000 or 25%. In my area, the Cork-Kerry region, the number has passed the 500 mark for the first time ever. All of the information we have available tells us that the main source of homelessness is people exiting the private rental sector. What action does the Minister intend to take to stem the flow into homelessness from the private rental sector? The Anti-Evictions Bill is before the committee. It would ban the sale of a property being used as grounds for eviction, as is the case in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. It would also ban renovation - so-called reno-victions - being used as grounds for eviction. Will the Minister support the Bill and get behind it? Will he admit that it would be the strong radical action needed to stem the flow into homelessness from the private rental sector?
On the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, we learned yesterday that the scheme had been frozen, pending the outcome of negotiations between the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Public Expenditure and Reform. It is madness in the midst of the greatest housing and homelessness crisis in the history of the State that a scheme such as this would be frozen for any length of time. We all know the story. In many circumstances it is people on low incomes and those living in precarious renting conditions who are availing of the scheme. I have two questions for the Minister in that regard. Why was the scheme frozen on the quiet, without reference to the committee or the Dáil, and when will it be unfrozen? I am aware that there are discussions under way, but people want to know that the scheme will come into play soon, rather than in a number of months. Will the Minister give an indicative date for its reopening? People are looking for it to happen straightaway.
On the increased use of the HAP scheme, as opposed to new housing provision, the reports tell us that the 2018 figure for active HAP tenancies was 12,215 and that the corresponding figure for new local authority builds was 2,022, giving a ratio of 6:1. However, new local authority builds include turn-key housing. I welcome such provision, but, as far as I am concerned, the only way out of the crisis is through increased public housing provision on public land. The current figure in that regard is less than 2,022. In Cork, taking city and county areas together, in 2018 the number of active HAP tenancies was 1,130, while the number of new builds, including turn-key housing, was 235, giving the same ratio. According to research carried out by academics in Maynooth University, over a period of 30 years the cost to the taxpayer of 87,000 HAP tenancies will be €23.8 million more than the cost of providing a similar number of council houses. Does that policy need to be turned on its head such that the number one priority will be the building of social housing on public land?
I thank Deputy Barry for his questions. He is right that under my watch as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of people living in emergency housing has increased. It is my responsibility to put in place every support I can to prevent people from ending up homeless or in emergency accommodation and to try to remove people from such accommodation as quickly as possible but also in a sustainable way. This involves taking action across a number of areas as we rebuild the housing sector, not in the way it was previously but in a way such that it will not break again. We also face other challenges such as immigration, people coming home and landlords leaving the private rental sector. For as long as they continue to leave it people will continue to present to homeless services. I hope we will be able to keep them from moving into emergency accommodation.
A lot of the work the Deputy is doing could make things more difficult in keeping landlords in the private rental sector and getting more of them into it. According to the local authorities, over the course of 2018 the number of families in emergency accommodation stabilised. Thankfully, the increases in 2018 were not as large as in the previous two years. It was due to the local authorities building more homes, the increases in the numbers of HAP tenancies, the rent pressure zones and the new homes being provided more generally. Rebuilding Ireland is enabling all of these things to happen, but we still have a huge amount of work to do. Under section 34 of the new rent Bill we will extend the notice to quit period significantly, strengthen rent pressure zones and provide for the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, to commence independent inspections to ensure landlords are not abusing RPZs and provide a substantial definition of renovation such that people will know exactly what the case is and there will no longer be so-called reno-victions. We are hoping to bring forward new actions in the area of social protection to deal with such matters as rent arrears and justice for families trapped in emergency accommodation, including those with complex needs, to enable them to exit emergency accommodation and receive the proper long-term health and care services they need. We also hope to have additional prevention officers. As I mentioned, 15 new resource staff have been hired in Dublin. These are all of the good things that are happening across the area between our partners in the NGOs, the local authorities and my Department. We are doing everything we can to continue to enable people to exit from emergency accommodation and prevent them from entering it.
To answer the Deputy's second question about the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, I am genuinely surprised by how the matter was reported yesterday. The scheme is not closed.
Funding has not run out and I have been very clear on how this has been progressing. In January I notified that we had reached about 50% drawdown on the find and we remain at about that level. In February, I notified the Dáil that we would require further tranches to continue the fund and I was in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on that. Last week on 26 February, I repeated that statement of 5 February and indicated that local authorities had used up their allocations in certain areas, that ten had received their extra allocations and that discussions for 2019 were are ongoing. Here we are today just a few days later at the committee, having also discussed it yesterday in the Dáil. I have put all this in the public domain as has become apparent.
Just to be clear on this, people can still apply for Rebuilding Ireland home loan; funding is still available. We are almost at our limit but we are not at the limit in terms of the amount approved and what might be drawn down because there is a difference between the two. It needs to be constantly monitored as the local authorities are doing because they administer the loan in co-operation with the Housing Agency. That is why I am in early discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. While we are only at approximately 50% drawdown, based on the amount that has been approved, we are potentially almost at a drawdown limit if that continues through into the rest of the year.
We have been engaging with the local authorities that have reached their limit. Some got additional allocations in 2018. We are watching the rate of drawdown. Applications to those local authorities can continue. The reality is that the scheme will need more funding to be made available and that is what I am discussing with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I repeat that the scheme is not closed, funding has not run out and applications can continue.
No. Applications can continue to be made. We have not reached the drawdown limit. As per the latest status I have in January, we have only reached €107 million of a €200 million fund. Based on the estimates for loans approved, that equates to about €186 million that will be drawn down.
Kildare County Council is one of the ten local authorities that reached its limit and so we have reallocated resources to Kildare over the course of 2018. We are now engaging with Kildare County Council and the other nine local authorities that have reached their allocation limits about ensuring that they will continue to receive applications while I continue my discussions with the Minister about more funding to be made available with potential drawdowns almost being at the limit of drawdowns at €200 million but not there yet. There is a time lag between an approval and a drawdown and it might never become a drawdown for various reasons. It is not a perfect science in terms of knowing at a point in time exactly how much will be drawn down four months hence. That is why when we got to 50% of drawdowns we began our engagement with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, aware of how this had been more successful than had been anticipated.
We had to delay one particular meeting on it because a motion of no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Harris, had been tabled and we had to attend in the Dáil. Another meeting was delayed due to a Brexit meeting. However, this is something we have been discussing. It has been on the radar of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department since the end of last year when we saw that this was more successful than other people were saying. We were saying it was successful if one looked at how the actual application of the drawdown works.
We have been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The scheme has not run out of money. Drawdowns are still being made. We are trying to put in place further funding for the scheme. That is what I have been telling the Dáil since, I think, December. Certainly since the beginning of the year we have been quite clear on that.
I have a question on HAP before returning to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. In his opening statement the Minister said that 27,103 households had their housing need met. What percentage of them were met by short-term housing assistance payments? I have repeatedly said that I have a grave concern about the absolute over-reliance on HAP and deeming that people's housing needs have been met. I do not necessarily expect the Minister to agree with me, but the figures bear that out.
People deserve clarification on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. I ask the Minister not to treat people like fools. Does he think it is correct that the general public and the Oireachtas have to find out that the scheme is effectively oversubscribed through a freedom of information request by RTÉ? That is not the correct way of doing business.
It is. I have a copy of the memo here. I also have copies of replies to parliamentary questions I tabled in the intervening period. The Minister can come back in at the appropriate time because I want this cleared up.
There are hundreds of very concerned people and their concerns need to be addressed very clearly. A memo to the Minister's press office - coincidentally and ironically at the same time - states that as the approval level has exceeded the estimated 1,000 over a three-year period, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has been advised that no further approvals should issue for now. Is the Minister saying that memo is incorrect? Did he receive that memo on 31 January? If he received that memo on 31 January why when he responded to Oral Question No. 59 on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme from me on 20 February did he not make any reference to the fact that the scheme was oversubscribed and that he was entering into discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or anybody else?
I know the Government has sometimes shown it lacks a grasp of simple maths.
I do not want to waste my five minutes on this; I just want to go through some simple maths. According to the Minister's figures, 575 loans totalling €107 million have been drawn down. A further 1,085 loan applications have been approved and those drawdowns have not taken place yet but could take place today or tomorrow. What is the potential liability? Does the Minister have an actual figure for the loan amounts for those 1,085 mortgages that have been approved? Based on the average mortgage granted to date of just about €195,000, potentially that would come to about €217 million. There is €93 million left in the pot. By the way people did not apply to this fund for fun because it has been very onerous and it has been managed differently in different local authorities. If all those loans are drawn down, there would be a shortfall of €124 million based on a €217 million for 1,085 mortgages.
Does the Department also have a handle on all those applications to be processed by local authorities on which no decision has been made? The Minister has said today that the scheme is not frozen. From that I am taking it that he is still asking people to apply to the scheme. Will he give a commitment to those 1,085 applicants to whom loan offers have been issued that they will have no difficulty getting finance through this scheme? Can he give a categorical commitment to those who have made applications and will continue to make applications that they will not have any difficulty? As Deputy Barry alluded to, some local authorities have started to refuse applications as of this morning. This is serious. The Minister needs to get his story correct and provide clarification to the public as to what is happening. How were the Minister and the Department managing the scheme demand? If the Department was a business, it would be insolvent.
I heard some statement from the Department about duplicate mortgage applications, with up to 20% of the 1,085 having also applied in Fingal, Kildare and Dublin city. People did not apply for fun. These are mortgage applications that are quite onerous. I doubt the figure of 20% of duplications is anywhere near correct. The Department needs to give a very clear indication that if all those 1,085 mortgage applicants who have been approved under the scheme draw down their mortgages, that money is guaranteed and the funding will be met in respect of any applicant who meets the criteria.
Can the Minister give those guarantees? It is very important that he does.
I have had numerous emails and telephone calls from people, as I am sure the Department has had. This confusion should not have arisen and the Minister must take responsibility for that. Why is it that an internal memo in the Department, dated 31 January, is effectively saying no more approvals should issue for the scheme. That is what it says very clearly in the memo, which is headed "Rebuilding Ireland home loan" and marked for the press office on 31 January. Is that incorrect? Basically, we are saying that approvals should issue. Why were I and other Deputies not informed of this issue in response to Dáil questions as late as two weeks ago?
One important thing is that any loan approval that has been given will be honoured - of course it will be. Applications are still being received and it is a matter for the Housing Agency and the credit committee of each local authority how they deal with those applications and whether they give approval or not. That is what is happening and it is continuing. I have been very clear with the House all along about this loan. I notified the House that we were reaching 50% of drawdown and that I would be engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on a further tranche and further funding.
In January, either in response to a parliamentary question or when speaking in the Dáil, I said we had reached about 50% drawdown, which suggested we had been more successful than we anticipated, given €200 million was the tranche for three years. At the beginning of February, in reply to a parliamentary question, I reiterated that point and said it required further funding to continue and that we were in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which my officials have been. Only last week, in reply to a parliamentary question on 26 February, I repeated what I said on 5 February, and I indicated that certain local authorities that used their allocations over the course of 2018 had received extra funding and that the discussions around the 2019 allocations were ongoing. That was just last week and here we are in committee today. The timing of the freedom of information release yesterday has nothing to do with my Department because that is not a memo from my Department.
The Deputy waves this memo and says I have been causing confusion. I am telling him I do not know what the memo is and that it did not come from my Department, and that is what I have been informed.
I will finish answering the question so we are sure of where we are. I have just answered the point on the memo. There is a time lag between approvals and drawdown. Not every loan that is approved will be drawn down, for various reasons.
In Dublin a lot of approvals have been given where people could not find a house that was affordable under the scheme and so the loan was not drawn down. Different things happen in different parts of the country and people's circumstances change even in that six-month window. I accept there is duplication in the system because people apply to different local authorities depending on where they might want to try to buy a home. A process is managed between the Housing Agency and the 31 local authorities to make sure the approvals given are drawn down and what the anticipated drawdown is. It is a constantly moving picture; there is never one point in time at which one can be exactly sure of who is about to go sale agreed, who is about to draw down or what new approvals are to be given by a credit committee. However, we have oversight of all of it, which is why we can tell that, today, 1,660 approvals have been given, which is roughly to the value of €310 million. As I have said, if all of those were called upon tomorrow, all of those would be honoured.
Yes. However, we estimate about 20% of these are duplicates, which further brings down the number that could be drawn down. We also reckon, due to historical data to date, that the conversion rate would be below 75%, which brings us to a potential drawdown level in terms of approvals already given of €186 million. However, the actual drawdown level is €107 million. That is why we began early engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about further funding being required.
I made it clear. When it became clear how this had improved over the back end of last year and we reached 50% drawdown, I was very clear in saying it had been more successful than anticipated. I have been saying this until I am blue in the face and the Deputy has been ignoring me.
With regard to people who are applying or who have applied and are now in the system and meet the criteria, will they be given loan offers or have they been told by the Department to hold off until its discussion with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance happens? That is important.
With regard to whether people have heard from their local authority that it is not accepting applications, an engagement began this morning to contact those ten local authorities to make sure they can still accept applications despite the confusion that was caused.
We are in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is true to say the scheme will require more money because it has been more successful, and that is what I am discussing with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform at the moment.
The committee has been reviewing Rebuilding Ireland for just short of three years. I want to start with homelessness. I do not need to refer to the famous quote by the former Minister that nobody would be living in a hotel by June 2017, although we are almost two years on from that. However, I want to refer to various quotes from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. In May 2017, he said: "I am considering new policy options and responses to ensure that we can quickly realise the target of no new families presenting as homeless being accommodated in hotels". On another date, he said: "...it would seem that the presentation of new families in to emergency accommodation is stabilising." He also stated:
The decrease in the number of adults who are homeless is very welcome. I want to thank our new national director of Housing First for hitting the ground running.
We are seeing an escalation of homelessness year on year, no matter how the Minister presents it. What has happened according to the figures he has given us today? He said 5,100 adults have exited homelessness but homelessness has increased by 526 in the same period. Some 108 adults per week are being declared homeless, or 15 every day, yet the Minister is saying the homelessness crisis is stabilising. I do not know how he can make that out. We are still seeing an increase in the number of families and children on a year to year basis, and because I do not have the figures for how many have exited homelessness, I do not know how many new presentations there are. However, what the Minister is saying is that 5,626 adults entered homelessness in 2018 - they are his figures, not mine.
Pillar 1 of Rebuilding Ireland deals with homelessness. Within this, the Minister has 32 of the 38 actions listed as completed and only six as uncompleted. One of those is rapid build, where only 423 houses have been delivered out of the promised 1,500. It is time to declare that Rebuilding Ireland is failing in regard to homelessness. I appreciate and understand the massive effort that everybody is putting into it but it is not working. Homelessness is not stabilising and, in fact, it is increasing year on year, month on month.
I want to raise several other issues.
I am trying to focus on the tendering process. How many projects have been stalled, cancelled or just stopped because of on-site issues or issues with the procurement process or the contract? How many have not, for whatever reason, been completed? Where does the responsibility for contract approval move from the Department to the local authorities? It is my understanding that much of this happens because a bond is not in place but a project is allowed to commence before it is in place. In my constituency, this has led to a number of contracts being terminated and people are now off site. Is there an issue nationally where a number of projects have been cancelled or stalled because of contractual issues?
I raised short-term letting platforms at my very first committee meeting with the former Minister. I was very disappointed by the presentation we received on the previous occasion because it only dealt with the planning process. It did not deal with the regulation required in respect of the short-term letting platforms and, honestly, we need a combination of both if this is going to work. I have serious questions about the effort and time going to be required from a planning perspective to regulate this sector and how we will ever prove whether a person has been offering short-term lets for less than seven years. If people have been offering short-term lets for seven years, we are precluded from going after them.
To repeat what I said earlier about homelessness, there are more people in emergency accommodation today than there were a year ago. It is very difficult for those people who have gone into emergency accommodation in the past year. In the same period, thousands of people have left emergency accommodation and others were prevented from entering it as a result of the solutions we put in place. We need to put in place more solutions and I have already outlined some of what we are doing and further improvements we are making to try to make the policy response better. We are trying to give more tools and resources to partners in the non-governmental organisation sector working with local authorities to help people either by preventing them from entering emergency accommodation or bringing them out of emergency accommodation. We still have a way to go with the work we are doing.
Programmes such as Housing First work. The latter programme demonstrates a retention rate of 85% when people go into it. Such people are not falling back into homelessness. Family hubs work as the average time there is only six months; people spend much longer in hotels. There is a great retention rate as I do not believe one family has returned to a family hub after leaving for a tenancy. The Deputy said over 5,000 adults entered emergency accommodation last year but that number is not correct. I am not sure where-----
Some 6,363 adults were homeless at the end of 2018. At the end of 2017, the number was 5,837. That is a difference of 526, which can be added to the 5,100 that the Minister claims have exited homelessness and which have been replaced by another 5,100 who are now homeless. Those are the facts.
I am sorry but the number of 5,100 takes account of exits and preventions. I am not disputing the fact that there are more adults, children and families in emergency accommodation because we still have a crisis with homelessness. It is why we continue to develop new policy responses and allocate new money. The inter-agency group work is so important to ensure that our response is the right one. Where somebody has a medical health need, we put in place a medical health response; where somebody has a rights need, we must ensure to have the right response in terms of meeting that; and where somebody has an issue that could be simply and cheaply addressed if we catch it earlier, we must do it that way rather than allowing those people to find themselves turning up at the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. We continue to have to do new things in that regard.
The Deputy mentioned rapid-build, modular and prefabricated buildings but it is no longer a specific response for homelessness. It is happening in private and social housing across the country. If the Deputy has additional solutions or more suggestions, we will hear them.
We have been waiting and the residential tenancies Bill has only just come before us. All of the members of this committee have stated that we will scrap all our Bills to help the Minister get his across the line.
Sorry, but we do not control the Dáil schedule and other difficulties have led to its delays. We want to get the right Bill with the right impact. We want it to help. Everybody has been working very well on the rent Bill. We want to help people out of emergency accommodation and we will do everything we can as long as it does not make the position worse or where unintended consequences would make things too risky. We are open to continuing suggestions and that is why there will be more funding this year. It is why the rent Bill is there and we have hired more prevention officers for the local authorities in Dublin. It is why we have the inter-agency group and new proposals brought to the Cabinet by the Taoiseach only a couple of a weeks ago. We have to continue to do more and I am open to all suggestions to help us do it. The numbers are not yet going in the right direction. However, as I said earlier, the increase we saw last year was not as huge as it was in the preceding two years. This lends to what the Dublin local authorities have been saying, which is that the position for families has stabilised. That is a positive. It means we might be able to continue what we saw for the past two months, which is more families exiting than entering homelessness. That is what we want to see and how we will find ourselves getting families out of emergency accommodation and driving down those numbers.
The Deputy mentioned the four-stage approval process. Right now there are approximately 5,000 houses being built on just under 200 sites. We have a unit in the Department working with each local authority on any site-specific issues. The bond element is a crucial stage in the planning process in terms of the interaction between my Department and each local authority. No national issue has been brought to my attention relating to that stage not being followed or something happening. If the Deputy has a specific site or sites in his own local authority area where there are issues, he can share them privately. It has not been raised with me as a national issue.
I am not aware of any. The housing office works with the local authorities to deal with site-specific issues. We have a pipeline indicating all the different stages of the approval process. For example, there are currently 5,000 houses being built on various sites. I gave figures earlier and approximately 1,700 are about to go on-site. We can see through this how we will meet our targets for builds each year. We are about to give the 2019 targets for local authorities. We are doing it with a view of the sites they have and we know they can be delivered.
The answer is that there is no trend. We have many sites under construction and individual sites will have particular issues.
With regard to short-term letting, I indicated previously that I am responsible for the planning system. We will get at the short-term letting issue through change in the planning laws. However, I also indicated that further work will be necessary, after we have made these planning changes, to regulate the sector because there might be a point three to five years hence at which it might be decided to regulate it in a different way and allow people to have a second property to be let on Airbnb in a place such as Dublin. The regulation of what is a tourism activity would not fall to my Department so I am using the tools available to me, as Minister, to ensure we can get a significant number of homes back into use, basically not allowing people to "home share" a second property in high-demand areas. We can do that through the planning laws and we believe we can monitor it very effectively, but there will be a point in time, because this is a dynamic part of the economy, where it needs to be regulated as a tourism activity, bearing in mind hotel nights and everything else happening in the economy for tourists. That second phase is necessary, but my immediate goal is to get the properties back into use and we can do that through the planning laws.
I wish to drill further into the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. The Minister stated that moneys are still available and that the approval of those who have already been approved will be honoured. How much is available and how much does he intend to request to support the scheme? The scheme appears to be very successful by all accounts.
The Minister said there are some difficulties in terms of duplicates, with 20% across local authorities. It appears incredible that the application process would not identify the applicants through a PPS number. That would do away with the duplication. Given the success of the scheme, when does the Minister plan to review it?
I also have a question on the differential rent schemes. The Minister said there would be a review of that over two years ago. When will there be a review?
In the past few days, we have heard from the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and seen the reports from PwC regarding the preparation of the industry for Brexit, which is 23 days away. There are concerns about the cost of materials, supply chain difficulties and delays, difficulties in the area of existing contracts and the problem of sourcing talent. With regard to Rebuilding Ireland, how is the Minister preparing for that and what provisions is he making? Should Brexit happen, and currently it appears very likely, how will it impact on the dire situation we are in at present in respect of homelessness, building, rents and so forth? What provisions is the Department making in this regard?
The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme has a tranche of €200 million over three years. At the end of the first year, €107 million - roughly half the total amount - had been drawn down. If it is to proceed on that basis, we would do in two years what we had hoped to do in three. We would reach the end of the scheme a year early. The reason I have entered into discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is that given the number of approvals and what we think will be drawn down from the approvals already given, we could be at a point six months hence whereby we are almost at the ceiling in terms of the €200 million tranche. Those discussions are ongoing.
Duplication is allowed because it depends on the local authority to which one is applying. We keep dynamic control on this. We can look at a local authority and see the duplicates, depending on what gets approved and what gets drawn down. We can also see if there are areas that might be approving many but they are not being drawn down. That has allowed us over the course of 2018 to say, "You can approve more in this area because these guys are approving so many, but they are not being drawn down. You have more flexibility on draw down". It is managed in a very dynamic way and that is what gives us the ability to see that it has been more successful than anticipated. Some 50% of the fund has been drawn down but we have approved enough that we can reach 100% in the next six months, so now we are engaging with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss funding being made available. That is what is happening at present.
I commenced a review of the scheme last autumn. We got independent people to work with the Department. It has proposals on certain matters such as making sure there is consistency in how applications are treated across local authority areas and trying to further improve the timelines between an application being made and approval being given. There are other ideas rather than recommendations about the scheme and how it might be changed into the future, depending on if the policy direction will go that way. I have read that report and have referred back with further questions on the review. It is something the Department continues to consider as it examines the operation of this very successful home loan scheme.
With regard to differential rents, there are a number of matters in social housing policy that will be reformed in the coming period. We are trying to tie them together so we can do it all at the same time in order that people can be clear about what changes are coming. We are working on them at present. We had a timeline to tie them together this month, but that is becoming increasingly difficult due to different things, and not just Brexit, that are happening this month. If it is not March, I hope it will be April. There will be a few items in that relating to social housing policy which the committee will wish to discuss.
Regarding Brexit, there is no need to discuss all the work the Government has been doing in the last number of years to prepare for it. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation leads on matters such as supply chain issues and certification. That work is being progressed through that Department. We have also been in consultation with the CIF and there have been a number of stakeholder engagements to ensure such issues will not interrupt our capacity to build in terms of products and materials. That said, it is unknown whether there will be delays in the transport of materials and goods because of what might be happening in ports. We have put in place special provisions in respect of planning and working with the Office of Public Works to ensure there will be no unnecessary delays on our side in a no-deal scenario, but we are dealing with the unknown.
When one looks at housing demand in general in Rebuilding Ireland, it is difficult to know what might happen in a no-deal Brexit scenario. The forecasts from the Department show a slowdown in growth next year. It will be roughly the same this year but will slow down next year, although it will still be growing. Does that mean the demand for houses decreases and that house prices and rents dramatically decrease because the economy is not growing as much as people thought it would? We do not know. Alternatively, even if that might be happening in the economy, there will be more immigration into the country because of Brexit and, therefore, more demand for housing? We must keep a close eye on this. We will have to watch all the different factors and indicators to try to see what is happening. In the period from 2007 to 2011 there was a very dramatic swing of 103,000 people in and out of the country. It was huge. The important issue is to ensure that we can respond as best we can to anything like that, but also to ensure there are no knee jerk reactions in respect of the long-term plan and that we ramp up the delivery of housing in a sufficient way and so forth.
It remains an evolving and dynamic picture. We hope to have an answer to some of these questions in the coming weeks, but we continue to examine it in great detail.
Some 72% of construction industry firms indicate that they are not prepared. The Minister says he will respond. I accept it is very close timing but we must be prepared. The onus is on his Department to support the industry to prepare.
Absolutely. We have a responsibility to support the industry but the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has the lead in ensuring that the different industry stakeholders are Brexit ready. It has been doing a great deal of work in that regard.
For our part, we have supported them in doing that. I have had discussions with the Construction Federation of Ireland. It is also about ensuring that the supply chain is secure in relation to CE standards and so on, and that all this is being progressed by the relevant Departments in terms of any necessary primary or secondary regulations. Housing is the only area in which the Department is involved in Brexit planning.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. Listening to some of the contributions, one would imagine that the Minister is going around knocking down houses and closing them up rather than building them and providing the most money for housing and the most support for families that I have ever known in my time in public life, which is a long time. The reason he has had to do this is that the economy collapsed and there was no housing built for years. He cannot be criticised for investing the greatest level of funding ever provided for Rebuilding Ireland and putting people into homes. I meet homeless families and I wholly agree we need to do more, however the work which the Minister is doing cannot be denied and it has had some success, such as the 5,100 adults who left homelessness. I recognise others became homeless, but we must acknowledge the work the Minister is doing. Some of the statements and queries made here were unfair and unreasonable. There was a question about whether the Minister knew of any construction projects that he had stopped or that had been stopped. How can the Minister be expected to know that? If members know about things which are happening they should inform the Minister and he can deal with it. When I look at County Louth, I see more and more houses daily. When I am on the road, I am seeing white vans again after they were absent for many years. I see delivery trucks laden with construction material and cement trucks day and night, every day. On my way here this morning, having left home at 6.30 a.m. to get to this meeting on time, there was a massive cement truck which was absolutely laden down with the cement which I was glad to see. There are many positive and good things happening and I want to acknowledge them.
People have expressed concerns to me about Rebuilding Ireland loans. One family's appointment was cancelled three times. That is not the Minister's fault, and I am not putting it at his door. Eventually they were told that there was no funding. The partner of the person who came to me works in County Dublin. They were told this week that funds are available in Fingal, although they are not available in Louth. That creates a problem. The Minister said that ten local authorities have reached their allocated quota. Is it reasonable to ask that loans be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis so that no matter where applicants live in the country, if they pass all their assessments, they are given their loan? If it is the case that some counties have not had the same number of applications and have money available, that money should be allocated to others who have been passed over. The loan is very important. It is for those who cannot go onto the housing list because of their income, but whose income is not high enough to get a loan from a building society. I welcome that the Minister is providing money, and has done so, and has stated that further tranches will be needed and that this is done in a transparent and open way.
I have looked at the figures in the HAP update for 2018. Apart from Cork County Council, the highest number of HAP tenancies are actually in County Louth. That is amazing, I had not realised the number was so large. That is significant. The Minister had a rent pressure zone in Drogheda. It suggests that rents are far higher for many people. Has there been any analysis on HAP allocations? Very good local authority officials are administering it. Some people complain about the number of HAP tenancies but if they did not exist some people would not have roofs over their heads at all, and they would be homeless. The reason people are put on HAP tenancies is that they cannot meet the rent at a given time. Is there analysis? Some counties have very low figures, although they contain significant urban areas. Are there significant policy differences around the country?
It is important that every Minister appears before the Oireachtas. They should be, and are, put through their paces on what is or is not happening but we must acknowledge the excellent work that is being done. The numbers of planning permissions are increasing all the time and the number of new starts are growing. I spoke to a block layer earlier. He is paid a €725 retainer weekly to work on a building site and gets €2.20 for every block that he lays. Is a skills shortage coming? It is anecdotal, perhaps, but it seems very hard for people to get tradespeople or there are significant delays. That bring us back to the issue of Brexit. Have we any indication that a skills shortage coming and how Brexit might affect skills shortages?
I thank the Deputy for acknowledging what is happening and the good work the Department is doing with local authorities. More money has been spent this year on housing than any previous Government spent in a single year. There were more new homes built last year than have been built in any year in the last decade. I have had the privilege in my job to meet families who have exited emergency accommodation, whether a hotel, a hub or a hotel hub, into a home. One can see the benefit of the work that all of us across the Houses are doing to help people out of emergency accommodation, either in supporting Government proposals or in bringing forward their own. Having been in Donegal, Mayo, Carlow and Kilkenny, in recent weeks I have had the chance to cut ribbons and hand over keys, this re-enforces the importance of what we are doing as a Government. It also reinforces the importance of a stable Government to be able to do these things. We have this and it is important that we use it to our advantage to continue the drive. It also reinforces successes in housing, where we have successes, and continue to seek additional supports where needed to help people particularly in relation to emergency accommodation.
There were several questions about HAP which are all related. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked about the number of HAP tenancies last year and the breakdown between HAP and social housing stock. Some 8,400 homes came through social housing and the rest came through HAP and-or RAS, the RAS number being smaller than that of HAP. Some of the important things that we see, and this bring us back to Deputy Barry's questions, is that in 2018 and 2017 the same number of houses were supported through HAP. The increase in supports came through an increase in stock. We anticipate that this year new HAP tenancies will be less than last year because we will provide 10,000 new homes into the social housing stock. In 2021, more households will be housed in social housing stock than in HAP-supported tenancies. We are rebalancing and that is important.
A social housing home is a social housing home, whether it is built on local authority land, delivered by a housing body on local authority land or on the housing body's land or on private land, if it is social housing stock. One in four new builds last year was for social housing. That will continue again this year at a level of one in four or one in five, which is huge. I do not have any ideological objection to what we do. I will use every resource available to increase the stock of social housing. That is appropriate. I will not let ideology stand in my way. That comes back to the Deputy's point. If we did not have HAP, where would these people go until the homes are built?
That is why we have HAP and why it is such an important resource. A detailed report on HAP providing information on what is happening nationally and in each local authority area was sent to the committee. I am not sure if Deputy O'Dowd has had a chance to go through it. It contains a couple of graphics illustrating this issue which are helpful in terms of planning-----
I will see what additional information can be provided for the Deputy.
On the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, I do not wish to go over old ground but it is important to note that allocations were given to each local authority. However, where there was more demand or more successful drawdowns in another local authority area, allocations were reprioritised, as I referenced earlier. It was important to do that because we did not want money sitting there and not being drawn down when someone could use it for-----
The threshold has been reached in County Louth but not in certain other counties. It should be a case of first come, first served. If a person has gone through the hoops and met all the requirements, he or she should be able to get the loan even if that means drawing from the funds of other areas that have not had the same level of applications.
-----is allocated more money from other local authorities in which loans were not being drawn down to the same extent. That was done in 2018. We were able to be dynamic in managing that fund. As I stated in reply to a parliamentary question last week, several local authorities used up their allocation for 2018 in spite of being given additional resources. The allocations for 2019 depend on discussions I was to engage in with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. Although officials have been engaging on the matter, unfortunately, my discussions with the Minister were delayed for a couple of reasons and only commenced this week. However, the scheme is open, applications are still being accepted and funding has not run out.
The ten relevant local authorities were contacted before I issued that reply to the parliamentary question to tell them that we were about to enter negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform-----
That is not the case now because those negotiations have commenced. The meetings did not take place until all local authorities had been told this was about to happen. Those discussions have commenced. The key thing to note is that at the end of year one 50% of the fund had been drawn down but we had expected that 30% would have been drawn down. The second key point to note is that at the end of year one we realised that the fund was going to be drawn down more quickly than anticipated and that is what I stated in the Dáil in January. That is why we have commenced these early discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. However, looking at the potential drawdown rates based on approvals given to date, the Department notified all local authorities that further funding would be required in the course of this year and that discussions in that regard were about to commence. Those contacts was made over the course of the past two weeks. To be clear, those discussions are now happening. The fund is still open and applications are still to be received. We will conclude the negotiations or discussions as quickly as possible in regard to more money being made available. I think I have addressed all the questions posed by the Deputy.
The next contributor will be Senator Murnane O'Connor. I am yet to speak, as is Deputy Boyd Barrett, and there will then be another round of questions. I propose that we take a five-minute break on conclusion of Senator Murnane O'Connor's questions because although members may leave the meeting at any stage, the secretariat and the witnesses may not.
A vote is upcoming in the Seanad. The Chair is doing a very good job. However, it is important that it be noted that the same speakers are called first every time. Senator Grace O'Sullivan and I are constantly last to speak.
Many of the concerns I want to address have been raised and the Minister has addressed some of them. The biggest issue is that he must see there has been a change in circumstances. There is such demand for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme because there is a new homelessness. I previously raised this issue with the Minister and I did so with the Department two years ago. Certain people do not qualify for local authority housing lists. There has not been a review of the threshold for local authority housing lists in seven years. I know I constantly bring that up, but it is an unacceptable state of affairs. We are here today while people are panicking. More than 500 people have been approved for the scheme but have been left in limbo. Can the Minister guarantee that those 500 persons who have been approved for a mortgage under the scheme but have not received payment will get their money? Yesterday, the Taoiseach stated that he had to consult with the Central Bank to see if it was comfortable to go beyond the current €200 million fund. However, he did not make any commitments in that regard, which is of concern.
The Minister addressed affordable housing this in his opening speech. He stated:
On 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. I expect the associated regulations and guidance to issue to local authorities shortly.
What is the timescale in that regard? The lack of affordable housing is a very serious issue that was raised by other members. Each of the 31 local authorities now has a vacant homes officer. What is the role of those officers? I seek clarification for the members of the committee who have many concerns regarding vacant homes. As the Minister knows, this is a big issue and timescale is the most significant element of it.
The Minister has discussed Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework on many occasions, referencing regional assemblies and the spatial and economic strategies, which are welcome. However, as I have stated on several occasions, it is very difficult to justify the inclusion of rent pressure zones in the 2040 framework plan when they are not in place in local authority areas such as Carlow and neighbouring counties. There is no balance. Not matter how the Minister tries to explain it, there is no balance in one county having rent pressure zones but a neighbouring county not. County Carlow does not have a rent pressure zone. This is a massive issue.
The problem has gotten to the stage that I suspect the figures for homelessness are wrong. Many people are being taken off housing lists. The Minister stated that he expects demand for HAP to drop. The reason for that drop is that, for example, the threshold for HAP in my area of Carlow is €27,500 and many people do not qualify for it. This is why the mortgage schemes are so important. People are becoming homeless because they do not qualify for the local authority housing list. They must pay €1,000 rent per month because they do not get HAP as they are not on the housing list. The result is that they cannot save for a mortgage, which puts them in no-man's land. These are people who go to work early and do their best, but do not fit in anywhere. This is where the system is failing. It is an area we badly need to address. I acknowledge that I always focus on my area of the country.
On local authorities not meeting targets set by the Department, I was in contact with the Department last week and it was very beneficial. I wish to compliment the official I dealt with and her team. I learned a lot from the meeting and the concerns I raised were addressed. Every local authority is given targets for 2017, 2018 and 2019. What happens when they do not meet those targets? For example, I raised with the official the issue of 63 houses that were a target for Carlow County Council two years ago.
We are still trying to sort these issues out. When the Minister comes to Carlow, it is a bit like Groundhog Day. We announce these, the Minister comes, turns the sod and then opens them, which is very welcome. We are getting project after project, but they were in 2017 and 2018 and now they will go to 2019. Is there a system in place such that the Minister can address this with any local authority? I am not just referring to Carlow because my colleagues in Carlow are great and I work well with them. What is the timescale? When the Department looks for figures and the progress report on each local authority, what timescale is given to local authorities? Does the Minister say that projects have been on the agenda for three years and ask why they have not been done? Does he ask why what accountability has been provided for? We are dealing with people's lives and homes. One's home is one's castle. If one cannot get things right with local authorities, that will not work with the public. The Minister's main route to getting figures is from the 31 local authorities. Will he address that for me?
Overall, our homeless figures are wrong. Many people are living at home, sharing, and are not being put on local authority housing lists. I have a significant problem with homelessness. What qualifies as homelessness when a person goes to a local authority? It appears that some local authorities can determine that people are homelessness while others do not. There is significant confusion. I have an issue with the housing assistance payment, HAP, but, as the Minister said, it keeps people from being on the streets and we need to address it further. County Carlow borders counties Laois and Wicklow. People come to me who cannot find a house in Carlow and have to go to Laois, despite being on the Carlow local authority housing list. They might only go two miles, not five or ten, but they do not qualify to get HAP and are told to go to another neighbouring county. When people go to a neighbouring county, they will be told they cannot go on the housing list because they do not have a connection with the county. Many issues are not being sorted. Will the Minister and his Department try to make a policy that will balance out every local authority? These issues are becoming serious and people are becoming homeless through no fault of her own. We have to look after everybody. Everybody deserves a home whether or not he or she works but it is harder for people who are trying to get on the housing list and do not qualify.
Well done to the Senator and her colleagues in the area for supporting it. There are a couple of interesting things about the numbers relating to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. Some 70% of people who have been successful in getting approval are earning less than €50,000 and effectively eligible for social housing. This is a real support for people who are not taking up social housing but are using this loan to get their own home, which is very important. No one is in limbo here. As I said earlier, we will honour any approval that has been given. When one looks at the number of approvals and the expected conversion to drawdowns, we are at between approximately €180 million and €190 million, so we will reach the limit of drawdowns in six months and that is why we will go for early engagement with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about this. No one is in limbo. The scheme has supported more than 500 people to date to support to drawdown money and buy their homes. The help-to-buy initiative has helped get 10,000 people into homes, which is great. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan can do more and the money is there to do more. As I said, the scheme is not closed and the funding has not run out.
To get a picture of the ratio of approvals to drawdowns, we monitored this and could see when we hit 50% at the end of the first year that the scheme would be more successful than anticipated. We then commenced discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and these are ongoing. The Central Bank has to be consulted. That is not my function but a function of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because it is a mortgage product that occupies an interesting space and is outside part of the Central Bank's macroprudential rules. The Central Bank would need to be aware of any activity like that on the mortgage market. It is a tiny percentage of the mortgage market and a small percentage of the first-time buyer mortgage market. The Central Bank needs to be informed of it, whether there is a change to the policy, which there has not been, or as new funding is approved, an issue that is being discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. As I said, the reality is that the scheme requires more money to be made available to it because of the activity involved.
With regard to affordability, we have already had workshops and been in touch with key local authorities to approve the first round for the serviced sites fund, the €43 million that I mentioned. Two or three weeks ago, I announced the regulations coming under the affordable housing legislation in the Dáil. Fianna Fáil's housing spokesperson has been reviewing them. I expect to be able to conclude today following his review and the review of other Deputies who participated in parliamentary questions that day and may come back to me with suggested changes. The local authorities will decide when they open the scheme, which will be based on when they believe homes will become available. The regulations will be clear about what they can and cannot do. The Senator might have missed that, either at the end of March or beginning of April, we will have a second round for the serviced sites fund. We have already received the economic appraisals from the majority of local authorities about the affordability challenges relating to home-building and home-buying.
Each of the 31 local authorities has provided its vacancy report. We have vacancy officers in every local authority now, with funding provided to them. A pilot project was carried out in six local authorities, namely, Cork city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Limerick, Mayo, Meath and Waterford. They have surveyed more than 7,000 properties and the number of potentially vacant homes identified in that detailed survey, with people going out to look at a property twice in a period, is just over 400. We can drill down into the numbers that were first announced. The numbers were not incorrect but the definition of vacancy was much broader than what we would consider to be a vacant home that could be brought back into use. That speaks to the vacancy rate in those areas being between 5% and 6%. This does not mean that we cannot take action. We are addressing this. I spoke about the thousands of homes that came out of long-term vacancy last year. These properties are not the low-hanging fruit that we thought they were. We have resources in place and we are getting hard data back. More than 2,000 homes have been recorded on vacanthomes.ie, which is run from Mayo, and involves individuals passing a house, thinking it is vacant, and sending a geolocated picture to the Mayo local authority, which then gives it to the relevant local authority elsewhere in the country. Significant work is being done to address vacancy. As I said, we will send the vacancy report for each local authority area to the committee so it can view that in more detail.
I will try to send them to the Deputy's but he has a tricky email address. He will definitely get an email.
Senator McFadden asked me to give her the detailed numbers on cumulative vacancies and break through what our vacancy team had done. We are happy to provide that information to anyone. We have done work on rent pressure zones relating to the current rent Bill. I cannot say more than that I understand the Senator's point. The social housing review on income eligibility has been done. We await that work. Many things that we are trying to investigate are made more challenging by the housing shortage. The housing market is still dysfunctional in many areas. It is difficult to get a proper grasp of what the need might be and what the eligibility criteria should be. That work is progressing.
I thank all those who came to the Custom House for the deep dive relating to targets. I thought it was helpful for everyone involved. Local authorities have been given resources, policies and money. I committed last year that we would have targets for each local authority by each stream of delivery and that we would publish the targets and delivery. There would be full accountability and transparency. We can see now who is overperforming, who is underperforming and what we need to do. When we have encountered significant problems with a local authority and it needs to do more, we step in to help. We established a taskforce some years ago for Cork city and county.
The task force has shown great results in terms of the increase in housing being provided now for those two local authority areas. The person who chaired that task force will chair the Galway city and county task force because it needs help. These are the kinds of things we can do.
The housing unit in the Department tries to troubleshoot particular issues. While one local authority may resolve successfully a problem it encounters, another local authority might know nothing about the resolution to that problem. The housing summits help to share that information, as does our housing team which is always doing this work. Local authorities are responsible to their elected members. Are the elected members playing ball with the local authority in terms of Part 8 planning applications? Are they playing ball in helping to progress the right types of housing schemes or the right types of social mix for housing schemes? All of these issues come into play at local authority level. Our responsibility is to make sure the local authorities have the policies, resources and money they require, to help address snags where they arise and to provide extra resources where they are needed. Local authorities are building houses. They achieved 96% of the target, which is huge. An extra 2,000 homes were built in 2018 compared with 2017.
The projection for social housing from before Rebuilding Ireland until now is huge. While we need to more, we are moving in the right direction. We will continue the work of the housing summits that we have had this year by holding further summits. We will publish targets for 2019 very shortly and we will continue to work, on a quarterly basis, driving those targets through to delivery.
Deputy Boyd Barrett and I have yet to contribute and Deputy Darragh O'Brien wants to raise an issue. We will also need ten minutes at the end to discuss rent issues. I propose, therefore, that we suspend for a few minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Minister, Ms Hurley and the team for their attendance. I would like to make many points but, given the time available, I will condense them into one central point. The net effect of the failure of policies to deal with social and affordable housing and spiralling rents and property prices is social cleansing, particularly in Dublin. The Government's policies, which are reliant on the private sector to resolve this crisis, may have a marginal effect in some areas. For example, we have heard there has been significant take-up of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme in County Louth. In areas where property prices are low, one can see how acquisitions, the use of funding from the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which is linked to getting a certain amount of affordable housing, and strategic housing developments could work to some extent.
There are many policies, including Part V, but none of them will work or works in the areas where the crisis is most acute or where rents, property prices and site values are highest and rising fastest.
The Minister will not be surprised to learn that I zoned in on that because next Saturday there is a protest in which I am involved, which is one of a series of protests organised by the National Housing and Homeless Coalition. It is a specifically Dublin-based protest as part of a series of regional protests that we are organising. We decided to zone in on what is happening in Dublin and the evidence confirms what I am saying. In all the different areas the crisis affects, average asking rents for all of Dublin rose 82% between 2011 and the end of 2018, while the number of children in emergency accommodation has risen 270% in Dublin from 726 to 2,686. The number of families in emergency accommodation has increased 278% from 231 to 1,252, while average house prices in Fingal, in the past year alone, have risen 17%, which is an increase of €55,000, and they have risen 17.5%, 15.8%, 13%, 13% in Dublin city, south Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and all areas of Dublin, respectively. Some 31,196 people are on the housing lists of the four Dublin councils, although that is an artificially low figure because it does not include HAP, RAS or other measures.
If we drill down a little further, the Minister might confirm whether Dún Laoghaire had one of the lowest approval rates for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. Some 20 out of 99 applications were approved, although I would be interested to know the figures for drawdown. I had heard that as few as three applications were drawn down but I could be wrong. Average house prices in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are now €620,000 but the Rebuilding Ireland home loan has a limit of €320,000 and, therefore, it will not work in Dún Laoghaire. It is no wonder that there is no drawdown and it is not catching in Dún Laoghaire because it cannot. Average house prices in Dublin city are €451,000 and, therefore, it will not work there either and we should forget it.
On social housing for Dún Laoghaire, the target between 2018 and 2021, when Rebuilding Ireland expires, is 1,563. Only six units in Dún Laoghaire have thus far received Part 8 approval for that period. Proposed beyond that, rather than already with Part 8 approval, there are 13 in Rockfield Drive and 100 in Ballyogan Court, while there are 208 AHB units. It is a tiny fraction. In Shanganagh, although 540 have been approved, we do not know how much of it will be social housing. We would like it all to be social housing because we will not meet the target otherwise. Even with the figure of 200 which has been discussed, nothing has happened anyway. I brought reporters from RTÉ to Shanganagh approximately five years, showed them the site and said there should be public housing on it. We pushed and pushed, had motions passed - la-la-la - but nothing happened. If one visits the site again, it looks exactly the same as it did four years ago and nothing has happened. There is not a prayer of reaching the target in Dún Laoghaire, which is linked to the fact that we cannot get the acquisitions there. Although the Minister is welcome to tell the committee his explanation, I think Shanganagh is delayed because of the affordability that the Government wants, given that it will not build all social housing at Shanganagh. The Government cannot do the maths in Dún Laoghaire because the market prices are so high that even the Government's discount on market prices would not bring it anywhere close to affordability. It just will not work. We do not know how much LIHAF-related affordable housing we are getting in Cherrywood. I attended the Hines site and was told that it was costing €400,000 a unit to build. How will that be affordable? It will not work.
Against that background, about which I could say more, surely the only answer in places such as that is to build public and affordable housing on public land ourselves at cost price, where we are not in any way dependent on the market. Instead of that, however, in the past few weeks, DLR Properties, which is a corporate subsidiary of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown - a council controlled by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil - sold Johnny Ronan a site that has the capacity to deliver 380 units. The Government allowed that to happen. For what price is Mr. Ronan going to sell them? What will happen then? We probably will not get any back under Part V because it will be too expensive for the council to buy. We will get nothing from it. On the strategic housing development, the latest project proposed is 270 units in Temple Hill in Blackrock. How much will they cost? The council will not be able to afford to buy them back. None of the measures that the Minister proposes will work in places such as Dún Laoghaire, other parts of south Dublin, large swathes of Dublin in general or the larger urban centres. I would like to hear the Minister's response.
The Deputy made a number of valid points about how the challenge of housing is different in Dublin from the rest of the country. He referred to the failure of policies on social housing and affordability, yet 10,000 more people have been able to buy a home thanks to the help-to-buy scheme, more than 500 people have bought a home thanks to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, while more will get to buy a home through that scheme. Last year, the bill for social housing was €1.4 billion, which is significant. I do not know if we have ever produced social housing at that rate versus the size of the economy. We have also seen that house building has started to put downward pressure on price increases, while RPZs have put downward pressure on rent increases. That is happening to house prices in some areas of Dublin, where people suspect that house prices are falling, particularly in some of the wealthier areas. I acknowledge that the Deputy's constituency suffers from that and housing in Dún Laoghaire can be out of reach because it is so expensive.
HAP allows us to do something that we could not do through social housing builds traditionally, namely, create a genuine social mix in buildings, apartment blocks or estates, where social housing was not provided at scale at all, and it is beneficial in that regard. While it is true that HAP is more challenging in Dún Laoghaire than in other constituencies, it uses the uplift more than other constituencies, although the uplift is a resource and it is good that is used. We have also provided additional placefinder support in Dún Laoghaire to help in that regard. As the Deputy acknowledged, Rebuilding Ireland is making an important improvement, although he does not believe that it is making enough of an improvement in Dublin. Dublin has different pressures from other parts of the country but part of the reason we are making the changes that we have made to apartment building was to ensure that more apartments would be built in Dublin, leading to more places and a greater supply of affordable rental properties. We are examining cost rental in Dublin because of the rental challenges we face in Dublin. The changes that will occur due to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 will have a very positive impact for people renting in Dublin.
One in two houses bought in Dublin last year cost less than €350,000, although that is still very expensive and different from the rest of the country, where it would have been less than €250,000 outside of Dublin and the greater Dublin area. There is a different price pressure, therefore, but that is why Dublin was successful in the first round of funding of €43 million for the serviced sites fund. While Dublin is not being prioritised, the funding is somewhat self-selective and self-prioritising because of those pressures, which is also why a large amount of LIHAF funding is going to Dublin.
I recognise the Deputy's frustrations regarding Shanganagh, but consider Cherrywood, which will be the largest town in Ireland when completed.
It is a reverse of our approach to planning. Normally, we would have built houses and then wondered about where we would put the roads, Luas stop and schools. The reverse is happening in Cherrywood. As it is built, it will rise quickly. That is exciting and will have a positive impact on the Deputy's constituency. Where new homes, in particular apartments, have been built in his constituency, they have had a downward pressure on prices in the area. I know that because I have looked at the information.
The number of families in emergency accommodation is higher in Dublin because the pressures are more acute here. That is why we are investing more resources in Dublin than in other parts of the country. It is also why the majority of hubs are in Dublin. We are undertaking these measures in recognition of the fact that Dublin is different from the rest of the country and that some solutions will be more successful more quickly in other parts of the country by virtue of their size or the pressures they face, for example, numbers on the housing list, the number of jobs created, etc.
We are not just planning for tomorrow, but for beyond tomorrow. That is why Project Ireland 2040 is so important. If we are to ensure that we do not repeat the stark mistakes of the past ten years and two housing crises, one begotten by the other, then we must plan differently. That means more compact growth, thousands of more apartments and doubling the populations of our other cities, not just Dublin, if we are to avoid the pressures of today in ten or 15 years time after we have come through the current challenge. That is why the likes of the LDA and Project Ireland 2040 are so important. They will take State land that was not earmarked for housing and bring at least 40% of that forward for social and affordable housing in places where there might have been no housing at all. The LDA is already considering eight key sites, comprising approximately 150,000 homes, in strategic high-demand areas. These are all the things that we are doing under Rebuilding Ireland and Project Ireland 2040 to deal with the pressure points the Deputy outlined in his contribution.
I will make a couple of observations and ask some questions. I am a glass half full rather than half empty type of person, and I would rather consider what we are doing and where we can improve on that. I commend the help-to-buy scheme. The Government got a lot of backlash over it, with claims that it would be an inflationary mechanism. We have proved that it was not, given the Central Bank limits and rules on purchase prices, first-time buyers, etc. I commend the Minister, as 10,000 people have homes today who might not have otherwise.
Any proposed policy has to be evidence based and the Minister has to show us from where that evidence comes. That is not always the case with Bills from the Opposition or other parties. A policy has to go through various legal rounds before reaching the public domain. The forthcoming rental Bill has had to go through that rigour.
Unintended consequences have been discussed. A number of Bills have been before the committee. I have agreed with some and disagreed with others. The latest one is the anti-eviction Bill. I see that Deputy Barry has returned. Bills like this create instability and uncertainty in the market. When we create uncertainty through policies that have not undergone the legal examination that a Government Bill is subjected to, it creates uncertainty for landlords who own one or two properties and are vital for putting roofs over people's heads, causing them to withdraw from the market. That is why the Houses must be careful with the Bills that we introduce.
I may get parochial about the Shanganagh site. I did not bring cameras there, but anyone who wants to do so can. That is his or her own choice. With Councillors John Bailey, Shane O'Brien and Michael Merrigan, I instead brought an actual proposal. Regardless of whether plan A, B or C is chosen, a proposal with a breakdown of what can be delivered on the site is far more deliverable than bringing a camera there. My way of coming up with solutions is to make proposals rather than talk about them. The figures are being finalised in respect of that case.
Dún Laoghaire faces more complications in terms of the cost of land, but it is achievable. It might just take us longer. I would rather build a housing market in our area and across the country that is on solid foundations than one where people want to run before they can walk. This has to be sustainable and lasting. We must show continuity and consistency in the construction industry. We must ensure that the mistakes of the past do not happen again. I was a member of the local authority from 2004 to 2012. With the withdrawal of Government delivery of social housing, there was a direct move to Part V and private developments. That is not the policy in Rebuilding Ireland. We have moved far from the previous situation.
Regarding Brexit readiness in the construction industry, I commend the committee on its report. We engaged with many stakeholders. Ms Sarah Neary from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government worked with us on it. She has done a great deal of work on ensuring that materials in the UK and Ireland have the same markings so as to offset possible delays owing to standards in the event of a hard Brexit. I commend the Department on taking on board the recommendations.
The older people policy is a pivotal part of delivery. In fairness, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has been at the forefront of delivering right-sized housing for people in receipt of social housing. We now need to move to the private stock. I thank the Department for taking on board in its own report all of the committee's recommendations and for acknowledging us.
Going around in circles talking about HAP gets tiring. Never have I heard a tangible alternative to it. At some point, we must call that out. If someone criticises something, he or she must come up with a solution. It might not be the solution, but that person has to meet people half way. It is very easy to be critical all of the time if people do not have to come up with solutions as well.
I commend the success of the Rebuilding Ireland loan scheme. Far more people have availed of it than we envisaged, yet others are trying to turn that into a negative. I do not get it. I am not referring to Deputy O'Brien.
I am always careful not to mention names. That the loan scheme has been a success should be acknowledged. We should recognise that there will be a larger demand for it, that the Minister will be seeking further funding and that there will be continuity. Rather than the negative spin that is a constant when discussing housing, the scheme should be commended.
Since the outset of Rebuilding Ireland, the committee has done a significant amount of work. The Department has taken some of that on board. Perhaps the criticism stems from the amount of information that we get from it. That the Department provides so much detail and information opens the Minister up to wider questioning. I commend the Minister on the amount of information we are being given, including the briefing that was provided to us in private session last week.
Regarding delivery, targets are always to be surpassed, not met. Some are surpassed and some are not. I welcome that the Minister is examining those that are not and that extra support will be provided in this regard. The background to all of this is how, in the first year or so, the Government needed to get staffing back in place within the 31 local authorities, get the construction industry back up and running, and give certainty to the financial sector. We have a skills shortage and are still not half way through Rebuilding Ireland. I have criticised certain aspects of Rebuilding Ireland, but I must recognise where work has been done and that information has been shared with us.
The period in question has seen various protests. I was in favour of water charges and Dún Laoghaire had a high compliance rate. Where infrastructure needs to get up and running on sites, many of the deficits are found in water services. They have to be paid for somehow. No one ever links the two. When we make criticisms about sites sitting around because of water deficits, maybe these people should reconsider the water charges that they wanted to abolish. Climate change is coming down the road as well.
Those were more observations than questions, but the Minister might comment on them.
I thank the Chairman for those observations. I thank her for recognising all the work of the Department. Transparency fuels accountability. The Department is probably unique in inviting in committee members to go through the figures in detail so everyone can have the same knowledge of these issues as departmental officials. We all share the common goal of meeting this challenge head on and resolving it.
The Rebuilding Ireland home loan has been a success. It is another measure that has been successful under Rebuilding Ireland but some people do not want to recognise that. When people say they would throw out Rebuilding Ireland, I wonder whether they would throw out the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. I do not believe so. Would they throw out rent pressure zones, the social housing building programme or the 21,000-plus new places available to live last year? I do not believe so. Would they throw out HAP? I do not believe so, even though they criticise it. Therefore, the Chairman was right to make her points. It is not to say the work is complete; it is nowhere near it. We are only half way through but progress has been made quickly. We are playing catch-up but we are catching up. We are going to continue to do that as best we can, and with the support of this committee. We will talk about the rent Bill shortly. We will have very positive engagement. It is a real model for how we can get something done in the best interest of everybody.
With regard to evidence-based policy formation and the rigour of the rent Bill, the Chairman was dead right to make her point in this regard. It is important. The anti-eviction Bill and the anti-eviction measures that have been mooted without any proper investigation have spooked landlords at a time when we are losing landlords and when more people are presenting at emergency accommodation. One has to see the connection between the two. There is a law and there is an unintended consequence that people are not bearing in mind when they make pronouncements. I really wish they would do so.
On the Shanganagh proposal, it was shared with me. The Department began to look at it. We are making progress but I accept it has been too slow. There is a multi-stream approach to social housing. If we just had local authorities building social housing on local authority land and a local authority went bust or something else happened, social housing building would stop. That is exactly what happened in the past. Building was essentially outsourced to the private sector through Part V. That stopped and social housing almost ground to a halt. We are rebuilding it using a number of streams of delivery. I refer to build delivery but also to other resources, such as acquisition and leasing, which will protect our ambitions in terms of increasing the stock of social housing.
The Brexit report produced by the Oireachtas committee was very welcome. Well done. I am thankful for the acknowledgement of Ms Sarah Neary's work in this area.
With regard to delivery, we want local authorities to exceed targets. I want to be battling in regard to additional financial resources each year. That is the position I was in last year. I was looking for more money because we were delivering more and we exceeded the targets we had for social housing supports last year. We will continue to do that this year.
I am conscious of time so my question will be really quick. I raised it with the Minister's officials. I acknowledge that the meeting last week in the Customs House was useful. I raised IORP II. The Minister mentioned long-term leasing. The question may not be for answer now. I am genuinely concerned that we are not seeking a derogation. There have been great successes with self-administered pension schemes and small schemes providing stable 20 or 25-year leases. I really believe IORP II will have an impact. It is not within the remit of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government but pertains to the Department of Employment and Social Protection. I was surprised last week that there was not much engagement between the two Departments in this regard because I believe the measure will have an impact. That the Minister for Employment and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, does not appear to be open even to considering a derogation of the kind sought under IORP I and that made sense will affect long-term leasing figures. I do not necessarily want the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to respond now but I have a genuine concern.
I wish to refer to comments made by Deputy O'Dowd, who is now gone. I was not asking the Minister about a specific project. I was trying to ask a general question about a concern I have over the tendering process. When we use the most economically advantageous tender, we are, in fact, looking at the lowest tender in most case. s At a time when housing costs are escalating and there is a considerable labour shortage, we will run into problems on sites. All I was asking was whether there are sites in trouble. When I was pushed, I gave specific examples concerning Wicklow but my question was originally intended as a general one.
I meant to mention on the last occasion the Home Building Finance Ireland fund the Minister announced in January. Is it capped at €750 million? Are there associated criteria?
On the Rebuilding Ireland home loan issue, the Minister clarified it was not a Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government memo but a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform memo. With which Department is the memo associated? If it was a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform memo, was it issued without reference to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government given that it dealt with an issue that was central to the latter? When the Minister was asked under questioning earlier whether he saw the memo, he said "No". I want to give him an opportunity to reflect. Is he sure he wants "No" to be the answer to that question? If he did not see the memo, was he aware of it before yesterday?
In response to my point on areas in Dublin with high rents and high property prices, the Minister acknowledged there are specific problems but he did not respond to the specifics when I cited examples showing why many of his policies cannot work. Does he acknowledge, for example, that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan cannot work on any scale in Dún Laoghaire when house costs are in the region of €620,000. The limit is €320,000. Does he acknowledge that there is a difficulty having an affordable scheme based on the principles he has outlined in Dún Laoghaire and other parts of south Dublin because the market prices are so high? Does he acknowledge that when the LIHAF is linked to getting a certain amount of affordable property back from private developments, much less will be obtained for the funding in areas such as Dún Laoghaire? Does he acknowledge that Part V is far less likely to work in areas such as Dún Laoghaire?
I thank the Deputy for raising it. We will engage on it.
On Deputy Casey's question, I confirm there is no trend. He asked about Home Building Finance Ireland and the funding of €750 million. The institution can actually recycle that sum as loans are repaid to it. I had a discussion on this yesterday. A significant number of applications have already been made even though the scheme has been open for only a few weeks. We brought about Home Building Finance Ireland because we saw a gap in the market in terms of finance. It will lend on commercial terms to small builders throughout the country who are building starter homes. The number of applications looks quite positive. We want the body to lend, and I have been quite clear that local authorities should make local builders aware of it. There is a roadshow about to commence with the Construction Industry Federation to get the word out that the bank is open and seeking to do business. This is good.
On Deputy Barry's question, all I can say is that the memo is not a housing memo. I cannot tell the Deputy what is in it because I have not seen the memo. I have not seen the document the Deputy is referring to so I cannot say whether I have seen it or not. The Deputy asked his question with a degree of suspicion, which I believe is really unwarranted. I do not understand what his point was. I have not seen the document so I cannot say whether I have seen the document the Deputy has in his hand.
I have a number of specific responses on Deputy Boyd Barrett's lengthy intervention. Cost rental will happen in Dún Laoghaire. LIHAF is happening in Dún Laoghaire. That will introduce both cost reductions and also affordable homes.
There are pressures in Dún Laoghaire. I mentioned them in regard to the HAP and how there is more of a HAP lift than anywhere else. The HAP uplift is used and HAPs are received.
Rebuilding Ireland is a very complex plan because of the complexities in rebuilding the housing sector and building homes across the country.
Where we buffer up against more acute challenges in a particular area we dedicate more resources, which is what we have done in Dún Laoghaire.