Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Update on Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness: Discussion
No. 7 on the agenda is an update on Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. Our second topic today is the quarterly update by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. The update is on the progress achieved during the first quarter of 2019.
I call on the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the Vice Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear again this morning and to give an update on the progress that we have made in terms of the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland to the end of March of this year. 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 experiencing homelessness continues to be a priority for this Government and for me, as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. That is why we are so focused on the accelerated delivery of social, affordable and private housing and the reform of our rental sector and planning system. This morning the Department is publishing the homelessness report for April. The report shows that in April there was an overall increase of 73 people in emergency accommodation. The report also shows that there was a reduction of four families and 27 dependants from March.
In Dublin, where the problem of family homelessness is most pronounced, we are seeing some positive results arising from the prevention work being carried out by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. In the first four months of the year, one in two families presenting to homeless services in the Dublin region were prevented from having to enter emergency accommodation. That is progress but is nowhere near enough. We are also seeing increased exits with 329 families exiting emergency accommodation to a home in the first four months of this year. So some improvements and some progress but there is still a very big challenge ahead.
The monthly homeless report does not provide enough detail as to the different challenges we are facing and different reasons people enter emergency accommodation. My Department has been working to introduce a revised reporting system in order that we can publish more detailed reports on a quarterly basis. My Department will continue to publish the numbers in emergency accommodation each month but the publication of more detailed reports on a quarterly basis will allow for better analysis and actions on this subject.
My Department has commissioned the Housing Agency to undertake detailed research on homelessness. This research will examine in detail the reasons both families and individuals present to homeless services. The research will promote continued policy development to reduce the numbers of households presenting as homeless and will ensure that the correct supports are provided to support an exit from homelessness within the shortest possible timeframe. The research will also examine barriers being faced by single adults and families in moving from emergency accommodation.
While we seek to provide homes for households in emergency accommodation, we are working to ensure that we have sufficient and appropriate emergency accommodation in place. For families, we are continuing to deliver on a programme of family hubs to ensure we have increased accommodation available that is appropriate for families and their children. We now have 27 hubs in operation nationally, providing 650 units of accommodation with further hubs being developed. I recently met the Ombudsman for Children and we discussed a number of issues that he raised in his recent report. My Department will be working with the local authorities and the various service providers to ensure that we can address a number of the issues raised. However, it is important to recognise that hubs, while a better temporary response than hotels, are just that; they are temporary. Our ultimate priority is to ensure that families in hubs are supported to exit to a home in the shortest time possible.
One of the recommendations in the report that my Department has been progressing is the introduction of a national quality standards framework for homeless accommodation. The framework has been successfully introduced in the Dublin region and will be introduced nationally over a 12-month period from 1 July. The overarching aim of the framework is to ensure that the services we provide to individuals and families experiencing homelessness are well organised, co-ordinated, integrated and focused on moving people out of homelessness into sustainable homes as quickly as possible.
The standards will ensure greater consistency in the national response to homelessness and will also support service providers by providing a clear framework for the delivery of effective services.
In terms of social housing delivery, we are continuing to build on the significant progress that was made between 2016 and 2018 in supporting new households. My Department is validating returns from all 31 local authorities and will shortly be publishing the local authority breakdown of delivery against targets for quarter 1. Indicative delivery outputs reflect that more than 5,800 additional homes have been provided in the first three months of this year across all of the various social housing delivery programmes, for example, build, acquisition, leasing, the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. This includes more than 1,200 additional social homes provided by local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, under build, acquisition and leasing programmes.
As the committee will be aware, my Department publishes a quarterly construction status report. This report is a compendium of the 31 local authorities' new build social housing activity for the duration of Rebuilding Ireland. By the end of 2018, the number of new build social homes delivered or in the pipeline stood at over 19,000 of the overall build target of 33,600, with nearly 5,000 homes on site and under construction and a further 2,569 homes at the final pre-construction stage. The 2019 quarter 1 report will be finalised in the coming days. Given the rate of new projects being added to the programme, going on site and completing, I expect this to show a very good pipeline against the overall target.
We have also seen positive news from the CSO in the past month regarding the number of new homes built in the past year. Almost 19,000 new homes were built in the year to the end of the first quarter of 2019, representing an increase of 25% on the year to the end of the first quarter of 2018. In addition, more than 2,600 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed, meaning that more than 22,200 homes became available for use in the year to the end of March, which was up 19% on the previous period. This does not include the nearly 3,600 bed spaces completed in the student sector in the year to the end of quarter 1 of 2019. We remain on course to meet our Rebuilding Ireland target of 25,000 new homes to live in by the end of this year.
Clearly, Rebuilding Ireland is substantially increasing the supply of new homes and we need to drive new builds higher again over the course of this year and on into 2020. We also know that this increase in supply is contributing to the moderation in the growth in house prices, which is important in terms of housing affordability, particularly in Dublin and certain other of our main urban centres.
In terms of our programme for affordable purchase, last June I commenced Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. This placed the new affordable purchase scheme on a statutory footing. In March of this year, I signed regulations under which local authorities made their schemes of priorities, providing the administrative framework through which homes will ultimately be made available under the scheme. To date, 26 of the 31 local authorities have submitted draft schemes to my Department. These are now being approved at local authority level. My Department is working in respect of the further regulations and guidance needed to put in place the administrative processes to complete the affordable purchase scheme. I anticipate that these will be in place in the autumn.
One of the mechanisms available to local authorities to help them deliver affordable housing options is the serviced sites fund. Some €310 million is available in grant funding out to 2021 for infrastructure, which will support the provision of up to 6,200 affordable homes. Last December, I approved funding of €43 million under the fund, which will enable the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands in Dublin and Cork. An example of the progress that can be supported through the serviced sites fund is apparent in Cork city, where planning permission was recently approved for 147 homes on Boherboy Road. This will see the delivery of social and affordable housing solutions along with a crèche and ancillary works, with work starting on the site in the coming weeks. A second call under the fund issued last month to 19 local authorities and 29 submissions from 15 of them have been received under it. These are being assessed and I intend to announce approvals under the second call before the end of June.
Serviced sites funding is also available to local authorities that wish to provide cost rental options. Acknowledging that renters in Dublin and other urban centres are also facing significant affordability challenges, I am committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit cost rental sector in Ireland. Ultimately, it is envisaged that cost rental options will be delivered as a national programme at scale and in areas of high demand. My Department has engaged the European Investment Bank on a research project to help us identify the optimum operational and financial model for cost rental in Ireland. Notwithstanding this, progress is being made in the shorter term through advancing pilot cost rental projects. This has involved many actors working together in partnership. I am glad to say that this work is now coming to fruition and we will see construction on our first cost rental development at the Enniskerry Road site beginning next month.
Regarding the rental sector, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 was passed earlier this month. I expect to sign a commencement order later this week to bring the majority of provisions into operation. The Act 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, RPZ, arrangements until the end of 2021. The duration of tenancy termination notice periods are significantly extended under the Act. For example, a minimum of 180 days' notice must be provided by landlords who terminate a tenancy of between three and seven years' duration. The Residential Tenancies Acts will now apply to student-specific accommodation let under tenancy or licence by private providers and public educational institutions. My Department is working closely with the RTB to ensure that adequate resources are provided to facilitate a smooth introduction of the new sanctioning regime and annual registration of tenancies.
As members will be aware, Project Ireland 2040 signalled clearly the Government's intention to shift away from "business as usual" sprawl-based development patterns and adopt instead more compact, sustainable and community-centred development approaches. Project Ireland 2040, through the national planning framework and the national development plan, is being implemented so that we can continue to plan proactively and prudently for a population increase of 1 million, 600,000 new jobs and over 550,000 new homes. It is not just about national strategic planning, but also strengthening the regional and local level planning tiers.
The first of three regional spatial and economic strategies to give effect to the national planning framework has recently been approved. The other two regional strategies will be approved in the coming months. Approval of the regional strategy for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly area, which includes Dublin, earlier this month means that all county development plans in the region must now commence either a variation or full review process before the end of the year. Local development plans in the other two regions will follow suit once their regional strategies are approved.
To support this, my Department is preparing updated guidance for local authorities on development plan preparation that will also include guidance on housing demand assessment. The purpose of this is to enable local planning authorities to better provide for and identify the location and type of housing that will be required in the future.
As part of this overall approach, the establishment of the Land Development Agency, LDA, last year means that there is now a delivery vehicle to work with public bodies and others in using public lands to provide housing and to act as a catalyst in stimulating regeneration and wider investment to achieve compact urban growth. We can expect to see the first homes delivered on the initial tranche of eight LDA sites by next year. The agency is actively identifying further lands and sites and is tasked with taking a long-term view on the sustainable development and management of the State landbank.
In terms of delivering more effective oversight of the planning system, Mr. Niall Cussen has been appointed as Ireland's first Planning Regulator, with an important role in ensuring that the planning process properly implements Project Ireland 2040. The Office of the Planning Regulator will independently assess statutory plans, conduct examinations and reviews of local authority and An Bord Pleanála planning functions, and drive a national programme of planning research, as well as information and education. This ongoing process of improvement, reform and institutional change signifies the critical need to respond to the challenges we face in order to 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 to attend today and I look forward to working with members throughout 2019. I will of course answer whatever questions that members might have.
I remind members that we have agreed to discuss all of the pillars at the same time. Each member will have five minutes and the Minister will have five minutes to respond. We can then go into a second round if we must.
I thank the Minister, the Secretary General and his staff for this important and ongoing engagement, as it helps us in our work and in understanding what the Department is about.
I will keep my questions brief and first address action 1.1 in Rebuilding Ireland, which deals with homelessness. It reads: "We will accelerate and expand the Rapid-Build Housing Programme to provide, in the first instance and as a priority, more suitable accommodation for families that are currently residing in commercial hotels". In that regard, the Minister might update us on the delivery of the target of 1,500 new units. I believe there was a target of 1,100 homes by 2021.
The Department organised a number of housing summits and there was considerable discussion about them in the media. How did they go, in particular the local ones? As a result of the summits, the Minister suggested that he would engage with the 31 local authorities. How has that engagement gone? What has come of it? What issues are the local authorities raising? What additional supports do they require? This is an important issue.
Regarding the affordability of the schemes of priorities, setbacks were suffered. My local authority of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council did not necessarily agree with that approach. There was ongoing engagement between the Department and the council's officials and councillors. After a second opportunity to consider the matter, the council agreed a scheme, but the process was disappointing for a number of reasons. I will not comment on them in any great detail, but the Minister might confirm whether all of the local authorities are in agreement about getting on with their schemes of priorities in respect of affordable housing.
Galway came up as an issue in the past. There were particular problems with the delivery of housing there last year. Will the Minister talk us through how that is being addressed and dealt with?
I would like to mention one or two other matters. Will the Minister confirm the status of the Land Development Agency's work on the substantial Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, which presents great opportunities for the provision of housing?
Action 3.15 relates to affordable housing schemes on State lands. As I have said time and again, there is great potential for the development of State lands such as sites owned by harbour companies, Irish Rail properties, or lands adjoining bus stations. We can use imaginative approaches to move some of the activities based on these sites, especially those in key residential areas, to other places.
I would like to ask the Minister about the potential of Thornton Hall. He might not be able to tell us too much about that site. I think there are challenges and opportunities relating to Thornton Hall.
Will the Minister reach the target of 25,000 new homes this year? He put a certain amount of pressure on himself when he set that target. Will he tell the committee whether he is confident that he can deliver on the target of 25,000 new homes this year?
I thank the Senator for his questions. He began by making a very important point about the ongoing work that is being done to review Rebuilding Ireland. As I said earlier, this is a working committee. We work through different problems and challenges we have. When issues are raised, we try to resolve them. We recently made good progress by finalising the short-term letting regulations and the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019. I appreciate the engagements we have. I hope the committee appreciates the documentation we have provided to update it on the action plan and the other reports we have given to it. I take this opportunity to thank my officials for their offline engagement as well.
The first point I want to make about the rapid-build pipeline is that rapid prefabricated off-site technology construction is not just a homelessness solution. I know that is how it was initially introduced as a concept, but it is now very much taking over from traditional building in the private sector and in other areas. What they are able to do now is fantastic in terms of the quality. It is a quicker form of development when one gets on site. There is no way to get around the procurement, planning and other things that need to be done before one gets on site. At the moment, we have more 1,100 such builds in the pipeline. In excess of 400 such builds have already been delivered. More than 200 such builds are on site. We are about to see the new volumetric programme, which is using prefabricated off-site construction technology for multi-storey developments. There are 300 such builds to go on site in the next quarter. That is where we are with this pipeline.
I thank the Senator for reminding me that we have already had two workshops, with a further regional workshop to come. They are being chaired or hosted by the Department in conjunction with the County and City Management Association. They are looking at a range of issues, including the targets of each local authority under the various streams of delivery and the appropriate use of the land that can be used. Each local authority was asked to do an economic assessment around affordable modelling. That is being addressed as well. Collaboration with housing bodies is very important because housing bodies have been raising issues concerning land. Issues like the provision of emergency accommodation and the standards of such accommodation are also being addressed. The vacancy teams that are in place are drawing up vacancy plans. The workshops give us a chance to do what we do at the summits in a more in-depth manner with each region. There are different challenges in each region.
The Senator alluded to the Galway task force, which is dealing with the challenge we have in Galway. We have taken the model we used in Cork, which has proven to be successful, and we have applied it to Galway. There has already been a meeting of the Galway task force. Ms Geraldine Tallon, who is a former Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, is chairing both the Cork and Galway task forces. The Galway task force is having another meeting in early June to look at how particular land will help to unlock the delivery problem that is being experienced in the city.
Twenty-six schemes of priority have been sent into the Department and local authorities have approved ten of them. All of the schemes in Dublin and the schemes in Galway and Cork have been approved. We want to get the remaining schemes over the line. We have an affordability pipeline in place, so it is important that they are over the line. Various local authorities have taken different approaches in line with the flexibility they have. I am open to keeping this under review. I understand what has happened in Dún Laoghaire. I have spoken to representatives from Dún Laoghaire about some of the changes they would like to see in the future. We need to see how the initial scheme will work. The scheme was developed in consultation with Members of the Oireachtas. We believe it is a good scheme of priority. If people think that further amendments can be made, I am open to them. We need to agree those schemes where houses are going to be delivered first. We need to get them working.
I have a document on what is happening with the Land Development Agency's work in Dundrum, but I cannot share it. I will give the Senator an overview of the timeline for the Dundrum site. Design development is already under way for that site. It is intended to progress to a full design competition in the third quarter of this year, to have a detailed design in place next year and to go for planning in the second or third quarter of next year. We believe we will have vacant possession of the hospital at the end of the third quarter of next year. A great deal of work is happening on the design side to get ready for the planning application to go in. We need to have engagement with local stakeholders as well. When a Department or agency makes its first proposal, it is sometimes so out of kilter with what is needed for the site that people are not open to considering any kind of reform or change in that proposal. I do not want to see that happen in this instance. We need to make sure that when we have possession of this site, we can move quickly with a development that people will support. Not everyone will support it. The Senator knows as well as I do that people object to housing in their local areas for a host of reasons or excuses, depending on the reasons being proffered. We will be as sensitive as we can to local concerns while recognising that we can deliver a great deal of affordable housing on this site.
The Land Development Agency's other function is to manage State sites better by identifying where an existing use might not be optimal. We are looking at that. When we look at certain sites, we realise that they may not require the existing function to be moved because we can build over it. That is being looked at as well. Other cities have been quite efficient in allowing an existing function to remain on a site while building above it. The changes we have made with regard to densities and heights will allow us to do that on certain sites.
Rebuilding Ireland contains a couple of commitments for the delivery of new homes. One of the key commitments is that 25,000 new homes for people to live in will be delivered in 2019. I will set out where I think we are at by going through the component parts of that cohort of 25,000 new homes. In 2018, there was a 25% increase on 2017. We have to work on projections. This is not an exact science. We are not building these homes ourselves. We change laws or regulations to allow these homes to be built separately from the homes we are building directly ourselves. More than 6,000 homes will be delivered through our own programmes. If we estimate that last year's level of activity will increase by between 15% and 25% this year, we can calculate that between 20,700 and 22,500 new homes will be built this year. I will explain what will support that. We had 22,000 commencements in 2018. In the first quarter of this year, we had 5,758 commencements, which represented an increase of 31% on the figure for the first quarter of last year. That is the range we are looking at. I think we can assume that between 2,000 and 2,500 more homes will come out of long-term vacancy in 2019. In the first quarter of this year, 559 homes came out of long-term vacancy. In addition, we will see between 300 and 500 homes coming on stream from unfinished housing estates. Anyone who has had the problem of unfinished housing estates in their constituency will know that, in many of these cases, nothing was built at all. A site may have been opened without even the floor plates being put down. That is a full bill that has to happen. We think the number will be between 300 and 500. Some 182 homes were completed on that side of the ledger in the first quarter of this year. When I step back from all of that and look at it, I am confident that we will see 25,000 new homes becoming available for use this year. Those projections are confirmed by the figures we saw last year and in the first quarter of this year.
Some €276 million was paid to landlords last year under the housing assistance payment scheme.
A total of €695 million was paid to landlords under a variety of schemes, including RAS, and commentators on housing now say it is only a matter of time before the subsidy reaches €1 billion. Will the Minister give his best estimate as to when the subsidy will reach €1 billion?
I cannot give an estimate off the top of my head as to whether we will get to that amount. The money we are providing to support people in the private rental sector is absolutely necessary because if we did not do so, those people would find themselves in emergency accommodation or worse. We can support far more people in this way now than if we were to put that money into direct build and know those buildings would be built overnight. We can actually support many more people using the same amount of money. It is my ambition and the aim of the plan before us to move to a point in 2021 when we will accommodate more new people in the stock of social housing than we will in the private rental sector. We will continue with that ambition beyond Rebuilding Ireland and Project Ireland 2040.
It relates to that particular point. What I will not speculate on is that we spent more than €1 billion on new social housing last year. More than €1 billion was spent on the stock of social housing last year. That is a fact if the Deputy wants one.
Another fact, which is set out in a Threshold report, is that nearly 50% of HAP tenants are paying top-ups to landlords varying from €20 per month to €575 per month. The report states that the average top-up is €177 per month and closer to €300 per month in urban areas and areas close to them. Threshold notes that 45% of those surveyed say that these top-ups contribute to them seriously struggling to pay utility bills, for groceries and childcare and school costs. Landlords are creaming it in this country and they are being facilitated by the Minister and his policies.
The main point I wish to raise is that of co-living. There has been a huge controversy about this recently and the idea that the Minister's co-living guidelines could potentially allow for a situation in which up to 42 people would share kitchen facilities and sleep in cubicles that would be smaller than a disabled parking space. Co-living has been described by the Minister as an "exciting opportunity" for young workers but it has been described by Threshold as opening the door to 21st century bedsits. Other serious commentators have raised the prospect of 21st century tenements developing. Co-living has an interesting history. In its modern guise, it began as a form of housing pioneered in the 1930s in interwar England by people who had a radical social intent. It was an idea of communal living which went against the laissez-fairemarket policies of the time. It allowed tenants to have democratic control over their living quarters and fed into the idea of the welfare state after the Second World War because it promoted the idea of housing as a universal right. This progressive idea has been completely and utterly turned on its head in recent times by big business and corporate interests, particularly in the United States and Britain. It is very much part of the commodification of housing. The idea promoted by the Minister and some of his Government colleagues that it might allow for a cheaper alternative accommodation for people is knocked on the head by the proposed rent of €1,300 which is linked to one particular planning application. Will the Minister comment on Threshold's proposition that what he is doing is opening the door to 21st century bedsits?
On the first issue the Deputy raised, top-up payments are allowed but three in four tenants in receipt of a housing assistance payment do not pay a top-up. Local authorities also have discretion to make a 20% top-up, where necessary, to ensure a tenant is not placed in a position of being unable to afford a top-up when more rent is required because of the demands in the market. Allowing that kind of flexibility is very important because it can be to the tenant's benefit in securing a property where he or she wants to live. The vast majority who avail of a housing assistance payment do so successfully. They enjoy the flexibility it gives which previous schemes did not give in terms of being able to work more and earn more. They also enjoy having flexibility regarding the location of the accommodation. From a policy perspective, notwithstanding that we want to provide more social housing stock, HAP allows us to do something with the existing housing stock in terms of achieving a social mix which we would not do without it. HAP will always be provided to some degree, albeit to a lesser degree in the future, because from the State's perspective, it has social benefits in terms of achieving the mix we want to see in housing.
The Deputy spoke of landlords but earlier he was looking for more landlords in the long-term rental sector. I ask for some consistency. It helps no one and does not serve mature debate to have the Deputy speak of a landlord class when 70% of landlords in this country only own one property. They are families and individuals and the Deputy is trying to paint them as something that they are not. That is grossly unfair.
Arrears and people having difficulty paying rent, whether it is a top-up or otherwise, is an issue. The Residential Tenancies Board believes it is a greater issue than serving notices of quit where the reason is sale of property. The Department and the RTB, together with some of the leading NGOs and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, are trying to get further information on the issue of arrears to see what further interventions can be made. I have discussed arrears with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and it has also been discussed at the inter-agency group, the Government group I set up in September 2017. How we make earlier interventions to help people who find themselves in difficulty or housing insecurity has also been discussed at a special meeting with the Taoiseach and other relevant Ministers. The earlier the intervention, the lower the chance that someone will have to present to the local authority or enter emergency accommodation. That is a big piece of work.
On co-living, I cannot comment on an individual planning application. I do not remember the Deputy making any objection to this proposal when I first brought it forward 14 months ago or when the regulations were brought into last year. The Deputy noted a view given by Threshold. I will note a view given by the Irish architects who welcomed it as a way of providing another layer of choice in the housing sector. There are different views on this. It is a very small aspect of what we need to do. Less than 1% of new builds in the next 12 months will be for co-living.
Co-living is not for everyone. However, a house share in a four-bedroom home is not suitable for someone coming to this country for the first time, nor is living in isolation in a studio or one-bedroom apartment. There will be more than 20,000 new builds this year and I do not know if any will be for co-living. If co-living proceeds, it will be for less than 1%. Given the Deputy's historical outline, I note that he welcomes the concept of co-living. That is what I take from his comments as he talked through the concept. I repeat, we cannot discuss an individual planning application.
We have all been out canvassing in recent months in the local and European elections. Housing was the biggest issue at the door.
As some of my colleagues have said, housing came up as an issue on every doorstep. In fairness, I did say, as a member of the housing committee, that we worked extremely hard and that the work being done had not yet come to fruition but that it would in the next while. Concerns were raised which I said I would take back to the Minister.
One of the biggest issues in my area - I know that I keep on about it, but it is important - is the threshold for local authority housing. It is eight years since it was changed. It has one of the lowest qualifying thresholds for local authority housing, at €27,500 for a family. In neighbouring counties such as County Laois it is €32,000. I will discuss the approved housing bodies in more detail, but a few weeks ago there was bedlam between neighbours, some of whom are within Carlow County Council's jurisdiction, while others fall within that of Laois County Council. Carlow County Council's rent cap is €180 per week, while Laois County Council's is €93 per week. Someone living in a housing estate and earning the same amount of money as his or her next door neighbour could be paying treble in rent. It is becoming a massive issue. On local radio I said I would speak to the Minister about it. It is a major issue when one of two households living in similar houses and earning €500 a week is paying almost double what the other is paying because they are in different local authority areas. We really need to look at this issue.
The Minister has been very fair on many of the concerns I have raised and come back to me on them. Yesterday a lady had to be taken off air on my local radio station because staff thought she was going to have a panic attack. The house in which she is living has been sold and she has not been able to find another. No one was helping her. I have been speaking to her since. We come across many situations where people believe they are not receiving help. I believe her problem has almost been sorted, but there are many more such cases that are not being highlighted on radio stations. However, people should not have to go on radio to highlight them. It is unfortunate that they do. More hardship cases need to be recognised, but this is not being done.
I ask the Minister about approved housing bodies. Paragraph 2.15 states a regulator for the approved housing body sector will be established to oversee the effective governance and financial management of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies. As I said to the Minister in the Seanad, approved housing bodies will become more involved. I have given him the details of two cases in which builders have been working with different agencies, with a total of 130 houses being built between the two. The local authorities are considering whether they will look at the houses being built. They are excellent builders who provide excellent housing. It worries me that we do not have a regulator who could remind the local authorities of how many are on their housing lists.
The housing assistance payment has been raised as an issue in terms of what it is costing the country. We need it because people need rental accommodation. There has to be a system whereby the approved housing bodies can go to the local authorities, perhaps through the builders. As the Minister knows, everything has to be above board and right. That is something for which I stand, but it is unacceptable that builders working with approved housing bodies are being told that the local authority is considering looking at the houses being built when we could have access to that number of houses. What is the up-to-date position on the establishment of a regulator? I believe that in neighbouring counties approved housing bodies provide a massive service for local authorities. They take people off their housing lists. This will become one of the biggest issues.
I would appreciate it if the Minister came back to me with answers to my questions about changing the thresholds in qualifying for local authority housing. That badly needs to be done. They are the issues about which I have massive concerns.
I thank the Senator very much for her help last week in the Seanad in getting the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill through. While we had an excellent debate and discussion on it, as all Senators are not on the committee, not all of them were aware of the amount of time we had spent on the Bill. The remarks made by the Senator were helpful in clarifying the position and we were able to meet the timelines we had put in place for ourselves.
Housing should come up as an issue as we knock on doors as representatives or during an election campaign because it is one that is affecting everyone. Some try to present it in the House as an issue that only affects those whom they claim to represent, but that is not the case. It affects everyone, either directly or a very close loved one, be it a child or an elderly relative. Therefore, we must continue to drive Rebuilding Ireland to a successful conclusion and make changes where we need to make them - if it is smart to make them - and review what we are doing all the time.
Something we are doing is reviewing the issue of social housing qualification, income thresholds, differential rents and the right to a house in which someone's parents lived. All of these issues are being looked at because we are dramatically increasing the stock of social housing from various streams. That is happening. It is important, as we increase the stock of social housing, to look at the changes we need to make to ensure the system is fair. What the Senator spoke about was fairness in the rents being paid. Some of the work on thresholds is being led by the Housing Agency; to a degree, therefore, the matter is outside my hands. The Department is, however, liaising with the local authorities on other work being done. I hope to bring together a suite of reforms to state this is what the new landscape will look like six months hence. That is being worked on. Perhaps it might be secondary to what we are trying to do on the issue of affordable housing. We are trying to get all of the pieces of the affordable programme in place, including sites and priority schemes. That is where we are at in terms of what we are looking at and some of the work I want to do later this month. In tandem with it, much work has been ongoing for quite some time and we are hoping to bring it to completion, I hope prior to the Dáil rising for the summer in order that I can have a session with the committee. If that is not the case, it will happen when we come back at the beginning of September. We are looking at the issues raised by the Senator of differential rents and income thresholds.
There are several important things to note with regard to approved housing bodies. The Senator's colleague asked about the regional workshops. They are about co-operation between the approved housing bodies and the local authorities. It is happening very well in some areas and with some approved housing bodies, but we should not see local authorities and approved housing bodies competing for a site or approved housing bodies competing with each other for a site. Neither should we see local authorities losing out on a particular site. From my experience to date, the workshops have been very strong in trying to identifying opportunities for better co-operation.
We have had a voluntary regulatory code in place since 2014. There has been pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill which will provide for statutory regulation of the approved housing body sector. It will be published shortly. It will make provision for the establishment of a statutory regulator for the sector. The Housing Agency does this work in the context of voluntary regulation. It has a good chunk of the tier 3 approved housing bodies under their code, but not all of them. The work being done means that we will not be starting from a standing position. A lot has happened. We will be able to move smoothly from voluntary to statutory regulation once the Bill has been passed.
I compliment the Minister's staff, in particular, Laurence Keating who has been excellent. I have gone to him with several issues. When people do good work, it is important to recognise it. I say, "Well done," to him. Llike the rest of the Minister's staff, he is very good, but he is particularly helpful and very good to give information. I want to give him a mention.
I normally see the staff who work for the Committee of Public Accounts and I am happy to speak to the staff here also.
The homeless figures have just been issued and have increased again. The figure now stands at 10,378. The Minister keeps saying Rebuilding Ireland is working. How does this chime with the latest figures? Will the Minister react to the figures that have just been published?
I thank the Deputy. He is most welcome to this morning's session of the committee. The figures for April are just out. As the Deputy pointed out, they have increased, which is very disappointing. However, we continue to increase the stock of social housing.
We continue to see housing delivery generally across the economy ramping up quite significantly and sustainably, which is important as well. We are now seeing moderation in house prices, which is good, and we have changed the laws around rent pressure zones, although this will still take some time to take effect. It is very disappointing to see the numbers up again. We have seen a decrease in the number of families and children in emergency accommodation month on month. It is a small decrease but it is still a decrease. In the first four months of the year we have seen more than 320 families leaving emergency accommodation, so it is important to point that while there are more people now in emergency accommodation than there were in the previous month, people are exiting all the time. Families are getting out of emergency accommodation and into homes. It is also important to note that for every two families that came into homelessness services and might have gone to emergency accommodation, we found a home for one before that happened. That speaks to the huge level of work that is ongoing in local authorities and with non-governmental organisations, NGOs, to prevent families from having to go into emergency accommodation. Roughly speaking, for every family that went into emergency accommodation in the past month, one family would also have exited that accommodation.
There is a great deal happening and the NGOs that work with us do a fantastic job. Work is done through these NGOs, and we are spending more than €120 million on emergency accommodation this year and those types of services because we recognise that those NGOs are the experts. It still a very big challenge that we face and there is no doubt about that.
The Minister uses terms like "ramping up" and "acceleration" with respect to new social and public housing, but it is a crawl at best. The evidence is before our eyes with these figures. We cannot on the one hand say Rebuilding Ireland is a success because we are building more houses and we are "ratcheting" up construction, as the Minister stated, while we get these figures month on month, quarter by quarter, indicating an increase in the number of people who are homeless.
There are a number of aspects to Rebuilding Ireland that I want to focus on very quickly. Affordable homes and cost rental scenarios are almost non-existent. Again, the Minister keeps telling us we will see progress in these areas but people do not see it. There must be a focus on social housing. In my constituency the targets for Rebuilding Ireland are woefully unambitious. The Government is missing the fact that more people are coming on the housing lists than coming off because we are building so few homes. There is no evidence of any ratcheting up of construction in the city and county where I live, that is for sure. The Minister needs to understand that unless we build more homes for people, we will keep coming into rooms like this and having these conversations about rising homeless figures. We will keep having the same conversations inside and outside the Dáil Chamber.
I ask about the Minister's plan for co-living and the comments he made in advance of the Raise the Roof rally. I commend trade unions and progressive political parties of the left, as well as others who mobilised, on the campaign to demand better housing for people and more houses. The Minister said co-living was a "choice" for people. The people who will be forced into these co-living arrangements do not see it as an option or choice. It certainly will not be a choice for the privileged or those who are doing well. The Minister said he did not want to comment on an individual planning application, which is fair enough. However, is it acceptable to the Minister that one of these co-living options will have an average rent of €1,300 per month? This would essentially amount to a bedsit. Is it acceptable to the Minister that we could have up to 40 or even more people sharing a kitchen on one floor? Is that something the Minister would want to see for one of his family members? I certainly would not. These are not choices for people and they do not aspire to it. It is a reality as there is no other option or alternative provided by the Government. Is it acceptable that €1,300 will be charged for one of these bedsit co-living options? Can the Minister stand over it? Is it acceptable that 42 or more people could share a kitchen?
It is important when having these conversations that we stick to the facts and try to step away from broad or brushstroke representations of something that are not exactly the truth. The Deputy is very welcome to the committee but he was not here earlier when I answered some of the initial questions he posed. I will go back over them. This has been a very good working committee over the past two years and there has been a very respectful tone. Please do not bring the disrespect demonstrated by the Deputy to this committee.
Rebuilding Ireland is a work in progress and it is a five-year plan. It is working and I can say that because of the increases we are seeing in the supply of new homes. There has been an increase in the number of new builds this year in the first quarter, and there is evidence for this from the Central Statistics Office, independent of the Department, relating to new buildings completed and commencing on site. We are seeing a very quick but also sustainable increase in the number of new homes being built. Before speaking about any other challenges that we face in housing, if we do not fundamentally correct supply, we will not solve those other challenges. At least we know the fundamental problem is being addressed through Rebuilding Ireland, which is important.
The Deputy mentioned a rapid increase in the stock of social housing. Since the year before Rebuilding Ireland started, we have seen an eightfold increase in the stock of social housing, which is substantial. That is significant and it cannot be dismissed as not being social housing, a commitment to social housing or an actual increase, because it is. We have an ambition of getting 50,000 new homes for the stock of social housing over the period of Rebuilding Ireland, which is very significant and ambitious. The first cost rental project and the first affordability project will go on site next month. All the work we have done in planning and preparation will begin to bear fruit in either affordable or cost rental homes. That is just as the work we did in social housing and making reforms and changes there is now bearing fruit through increases in social housing. The Deputy states that the numbers on the housing list have increased, but those numbers have decreased, with just over 70,000 people on the housing list. In the Deputy's area of Waterford, the number has fallen from 1,596 in 2016 to 1,117 now.
We are seeing progress with Rebuilding Ireland. I understand people who say Rebuilding Ireland is not working looking at what is happening with emergency accommodation. I understand their frustration, their anger and upset because of increasing numbers. However, they must recognise that other significant parts of Rebuilding Ireland, including increasing supply, making important changes in planning guidelines, fast-track processes and reforms in the rental sector, have had some impact. It is a five-year plan so we must continue to drive those reforms and make new ones where they prove necessary.
I addressed co-living earlier with another member of the committee but I will repeat my comments as the Deputy asked the same questions.
The published guidelines are quite clear and were welcomed by many sectors, including architects and others, as providing another piece in the new housing sector we are building. Looking at the tens of thousands of new homes to be built over the next 12 months, easily less than 1% will be for co-living. This is not about replacing homes or apartments with co-living but making a small addition where some people may want that choice. Not everybody coming to this country will want to move to a four-bed flat with people they do not know. At the same time, such people may not want to live in isolation in a single studio. They may also want to make sacrifices to have access to a gym or such facilities. It is for those people to decide. Our current problem is that people do not have choice in housing, but by increasing supply, we can try to increase that choice with different types of supply. These include accommodation for the elderly, apartments for families, houses for families, student accommodation and co-living, which will be a small part of the whole. The concept has been welcomed by many. I have said that I cannot speak to an individual planning application so I will not do so.
There are 10,378 people officially homeless. The numbers are up again. Normally, there is an increase in homeless numbers at the start of the year and after Christmas.
Numbers tend to go up in January and February. Traditionally, in the past, the numbers tended to go down again in March, April, May and coming through the spring into the summer, but that is not happening here. They are going up, month on month. My first two questions are as follows. Does the Minister believe that a Minister on whose watch this happens deserves to remain in office? Does he believe a Government that allows this to happen, with more than 10,000 of our people officially homeless, with the numbers going up coming into the spring, deserves to remain in power? I have one other question for the Minister but I will pause to hear his response to those questions.
I thank the Deputy for the questions. As I said earlier, we have seen an increase in the past month of 73 in emergency accommodation and we have seen a decrease of four families and also a decrease of 27 children. These are small decreases but decreases nonetheless. The numbers go up and down each month in different categories and in different parts of the country. That is why I have said before that the monthly reporting is not very helpful in terms of understanding the reasons behind each individual and each family either entering or being prevented from entering or exiting. That is why I said this morning that while we will continue to publish the numbers every month, we will report every quarter in more detail in order that we can have a better analysis of exactly what is happening.
I also mentioned that an independent piece of research will be done, separate from my Department, and we are just finalising the draft terms of reference for that research. This will mean we can look at what is happening with individual adults and families in greater detail, not just in terms of those who present and are prevented from entering, but also those who enter and their subsequent pathway to exit, what that looks like, and how sustainable it is. That is a piece of work that needs to be done.
It is very disappointing to see the numbers up again. However, it is unfair to try to characterise that as either the local authorities or the NGOs not doing a huge amount of work in that same period. As I said earlier, in the first quarter of this year, more than 320 families left emergency accommodation for homes, which is very important. When we see the numbers going up, it is not necessarily the same people in emergency accommodation. Last year, more than 5,000 adults were prevented from entering or exiting emergency accommodation. In the first four months of this year, for every two families that presented to homeless services, one was prevented from entering emergency accommodation and one entered emergency accommodation. That shows the substantial amount of work that is happening. At the same time, roughly, to take the figures for last month, for every family that entered emergency accommodation, another family was leaving.
What that tells us is that things like family hubs, which are a new support, are getting families out of emergency accommodation more quickly. It tells us that the supports we are using, from the housing assistance payment to the increase in the social housing stock, are working to get families out of emergency accommodation. However, as we continue to see things like, for example, landlords exiting the market, we are going to see continuing pressures on housing insecurity, which is very challenging. Our responsibility, as legislators, is to try to bring forward solutions that have the support of this House and that will make important changes to help people, as we saw with the rent Bill we agreed as an Oireachtas committee last week. That is an important change that will help people and it is how we try to fix this situation and do better.
That is the approach we have taken as a Government, and that is the support I have had from this committee on those measures that it has been able to support. There are differences on policy as, of course, there must be in a democracy. Rebuilding Ireland is a work in progress. As I have said, it is showing very strong results in areas like supply, but in areas like homelessness, despite the substantial sum of money that has been spent and despite all the extra resources that have been put in place, we continue to have this very big challenge. However, we continue to do a significant amount of work to get families out of emergency accommodation or prevent them from entering.
Personalising this to me is not going to help one family who are struggling in housing insecurity today or one young couple who are trying to buy a home pay their rent or pay their bills. The Deputy might be better off trying to bring forward solutions that will get the support of other colleagues in this House. If he can, they will be supported by the Government because we are a minority. The Deputy can change the law. That is the power he has as a legislator. He should please bring forward the things that he thinks can help me to get families out of emergency accommodation more quickly, and I will happily support them.
It has nothing to do with personalising it. Does the Government deserve to remain in power? There are more than 10,000 people officially homeless. The numbers are going up once again on the Minister's watch. Does he think the Government deserves to remain in power?
I assume from that question that the Deputy believes he should be in power. I would love to see his ambitious programme of 100 to 200 different actions under a cohesive, progressive piece of work that will do more than what we are doing now. Where is his coalition of people? Where is his coalition of ideas? What he was saying in asking that question was that he believes he will do a better job of this and, more than that, he believes he has the popular support from the public to get Deputies into seats, or that there are other parties in this Dáil which will coalesce with him on this issue, and not just this issue, but every other issue in government. He should stop playing to the Gallery with these questions. Let us move on to getting into the detail of Rebuilding Ireland.
If the 10,378 people who are officially homeless, or a group of them, were here, across from the Minister this morning, and were saying they are in emergency accommodation, they are homeless, they want to see change, they do not want to see it next year or in six months but they want to see a change in their lives over the next weeks and months, what would the Minister say to them?
There are more than 10,378 people who are homeless. That number is the number in emergency accommodation. It does not count the people who are sleeping rough because that is a whole separate challenge.
These are people who are not in any type of emergency accommodation and that number has fallen, which is welcome. There are a number of people who are facing a very challenging situation and there are, of course, people who are in housing insecurity and who do not know where is the next place they are going to live should they get served a notice to quit. There are also people who have moved back in with their parents because they are struggling to find a place to live.
What I would say to all of them is that the Government is working night and day to further progress Rebuilding Ireland, to get more homes built and to do things like what we have done this morning, which is, effectively, to commence the regulation and limit short-term letting from our major rent pressure zones. What we did last week was to finalise major reforms to the rental sector that are going to introduce rent caps to more areas, extend the timing of rent caps and give people who are in housing insecurity much more time, when the notice to quit is served, to find other accommodation. It is also going to allow the RTB to chase up rogue landlords where they are stepping outside the law or are in breach of the law, and a whole range of other things that will help people in the rental sector, including, for the first time, regulating many larger landlords who, because they brought new properties to the market in the last two years, were not previously covered. For people in emergency accommodation, I continue to engage, week in, week out, with the NGOs and local authorities. We have increased funding for this year for emergency accommodation and we have increased the number of placeholders. We continue to roll out the housing assistance payment.
All of these things are helping people. It is not enough but 329 families left emergency accommodation in the first four months of this year because of work that local authorities are doing, with NGOs and supported by my Department. For the first four months of this year, for every two families that presented into homelessness, one of those families went into emergency accommodation and one went into a home. A huge amount is happening and more will happen as we continue to increase the stock of social housing and continue to put in place those other supports that need to be delivered.
If the Deputy has any additional idea that can help those people, because he is a representative too, he should please bring it forward, look for the support of the House, and he will be able to get it through and we can get to work on it.
I thank the Minister for corresponding with Lucan community college's Amnesty International group of students. I presented the Minister with a series of petitions the students had collected on foot of a sleep-out they did recently, which all of the local Deputies attended. I suggest, given the really good work of that group, that the Minister might invite them in to meet him and talk through some of things they discussed with us as Members of the Oireachtas in the constituency. They had some very powerful real-life experiences the Minister would benefit from hearing.
I have specific questions but I want to respond to what I have heard so far. In my opinion, and the Minister knows this, Rebuilding Ireland is not working. Let me deal specifically with the arguments the Minister made to justify his claim that it is.
He stated that supply was finally being delivered. Progress on the central supply target of Rebuilding Ireland is far behind the target, which was for an average of 25,000 new home completions each year over the lifetime of the plan. I welcome the 18,000 homes completed last year but that is not what is in the plan. To meet that central object of Rebuilding Ireland, it will be necessary to achieve 30,000 completions this year and even more than that next year and the year after. It is unfortunate that the Minister is presenting missed targets as significant progress. The Minister is correct that the CSO data are spot on but most independent observers know that progress is significantly behind the target.
I also think the Minister's position on the monthly report is disappointing. The Minister is again correct when he states it does not give us the background detail for which many of us have been asking. The report does give us a point-in-time way of tracking the trend. I appreciate the current incumbent was not the Minister when the monthly reporting was agreed but some of the strongest advocates of monthly reporting were academics and homeless service providers. They realised the value of having that point-in-time tracker in addition to having more in-depth quarterly reports. It gives us valuable information and we are one of only two member states in the European Union to have this system in place, as far as I know. We should not underestimate its value. It does not do all of the other things the Minister mentioned but it was never meant to.
I look forward to the publication of the more detailed quarterly reports. We not know, for example, the average length of time that a family spends in emergency accommodation. We have some of that information in respect of Dublin City Council but not for the rest of the country. We also do not have information on whether an "exit", as the Minister describes it, from homelessness refers to someone leaving emergency accommodation or somebody being prevented from going into emergency accommodation through access to homeless HAP before the notice to quit expires. Those are important things that we need to understand and the sooner we get that information the better.
The Minister also referred to an eightfold increase in social housing. I commented on this issue to the Minister of State, Deputy English, during the debates on the right to housing. Other parties can speak for themselves but our party is not stating that no social housing is being delivered. We are stating, however, that what is being delivered is nowhere near enough. An eightfold increase sounds impressive, until when we realise that there was virtually nothing eight years ago. Eight times nothing is not particularly impressive.
Deputy Cullinane is correct. Real social housing need in his county and every county in the country is increasing. We define real housing need as those people who are in need of real, permanent and secure long-term social housing tenancies. Those are generally properties owned by the approved housing body sector or local government. Adding those people on housing lists and HAP to those in insecure tenancies, the numbers overall are increasing significantly. We are also concerned that the number of new households entering onto the local authority housing lists every year is greater than the number of real social housing units being delivered. That is according to the Minister's own figures. Some 14,000 households came onto the list last year, while the total for real social housing provide was about 7,000. Current provision is not catching up with either existing or new needs.
The Minister described yet another increase in the homeless figures as "disappointing". It is not disappointing; it is deeply concerning that these figures continue to go in the wrong direction despite all the actions listed and all the work of the Minister, his officials and those in the local authorities and approved housing bodies. That is so concerning that using words like "disappointing" does not capture the gravity of the situation. The Opposition parties have passed a range of measures but the Minister continues to ignore them. After the scandal revealed by the "RTÉ Investigates" Nightmare to Let programme, a motion was passed with cross-party support recommending a range of measures for improving the private rental sector. Every party on the Opposition benches supported that motion but the Minister has acted on none of those recommendations.
On 3 October last year, a significant motion was passed with a range of policy alternatives. The Minister has also set his face against almost all of those. I acknowledge that the Minister has responded to some things on which Opposition Members and this committee have worked, including short-term lettings and strengthening the powers of the RTB. Those are, however, peripheral issues. I want to respond to all of these points. I am concerned that we still do not have the full roll-out of the national quality standards framework inspections of all emergency accommodation, voluntary and private. The current inspections are not independent. I ask the Minister to comment on whether we are ever going to have fully independent inspections of all emergency accommodation.
I am growing increasingly concerned at what I am hearing about the entry rents for the cost rental model. It was originally meant to be €1,600 a month in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It is now down to €1,200 or €1,300 but is far above what the people who need much of this accommodation can afford. These projects are also taking far too long. I would like the Minister to give the committee updates on each of the individual projects under way, such as Enniskerry Road, St. Michael's etc. Turning to the co-living issue, I would have no difficulty with the concept if there was a way of controlling it and we could ensure that the idea was intended only for upwardly-mobile professionals who wanted to live in that type of accommodation for a short time. My worry is that short-term investors will build these types of projects. They will start off as the type of accommodation described by the Minister. Those short-term investors will then flip the buildings, however, to take advantage of the generous tax incentives introduced by the Government. Those developments will then become slums or tenements in the future. That is my big concern. How will the Minister prevent that from happening? I am not asking if he agrees with a particular planning application but about a later stage when these projects are sold on. How do we prevent them becoming substandard accommodation for people with no choices?
On the approved housing bodies, I am again concerned that there is very little evidence that the Minister's Department and the Department of Finance are progressing the reclassification of the approved housing bodies. That is going to have an impact on the Government's balance sheet and the ability of that sector to deliver in the future. We also heard from the Minister's officials at one of our earlier meetings that the near zero energy building, NZEB, regulations are going to be published soon. It is disappointing that a targeted phase-out date will not be included for gas boilers. I urge the Minister to reconsider that. I know there are issues regarding skills in the marketplace but I think that those regulations have to have a phase-out target date. Preferably, that would be 2021 for gas boilers. That is what is needed if we are to meet our climate change targets.
Turning to the rental stock, as the Minister is aware, we have lost 12,000 or 13,000 rental properties since January 2017 according to the RTB. We need to track the loss of properties and not landlords. That is what is really important. The vast majority of those properties, from the information that we have, were owned by one-off, accidental semi-professional landlords who had been stuck in negative equity. Those landlords are now exiting the market because there is positive equity. I have not seen or heard anything from the Minister or his officials concerning measures to try to prevent the disorderly exit of those types of properties from the market. I know that is going to be difficult. The Minister probably will tell me that increased supply from institutional investors is part of the solution. What is the Minister going to do, however, to stop the exit of these vital properties from the rental market? Clearly, that is one of the key drivers of the increased homeless figures we have seen today.
I thank Deputy Ó Broin. I am just taking a final note of his questions. I thank him for relaying that information to me from the school students. I could not find a Twitter handle to tweet them. Perhaps they are not on Twitter. I have invited students into the Department from time to time to present on various projects they have done. I am happy to have these students come in and talk through their experiences and their perspective. A number of schools and students have corresponded with me on the crisis in housing and homelessness. It is great to see that level of engagement and that demonstrates that civic lessons in schools are touching on the most important issues we face in society today. I am always happy to get correspondence and to engage with students.
Deputy Ó Broin made some political points at the beginning and I will address those. Rebuilding Ireland is a work in progress. It is not something that will transform what is happening in housing overnight. It needs to be managed and that is why we have a Minister and a Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is true that some things will not work as well as initially intended. They will need to be reformed and we have done that in certain areas.
Turning to the issue of supply, the progress being made is not behind target. I addressed this earlier. It is unfortunate that Deputy Ó Broin is trying to undermine some of the facts behind the targets. It is clear that is what he is trying to do. We remain on target for what we set out in Rebuilding Ireland, which is 25,000 new homes this year. The overall target for new homes in the period 2017 to 2021 remains on track as well. Those targets will be ramped up again as we move into implementing Project Ireland 2040, which will replace Rebuilding Ireland. Regarding the monthly reports, we will continue to publish the numbers. I do, however, want more detailed quarterly reporting. It is not possible to do that more detailed reporting each month. I understand the point the Deputy is making about having month-on-month figures. That will only tell us one thing, however, while all sorts of other information is missing.
That is why I mentioned two improvements we will make: a quarterly report; and the independent research that is happening. They will address the other issues the Deputy raised of how long families are spending in emergency accommodation and the other challenges we face. I mentioned that in the first four months of this year there had been 329 exits of families from emergency accommodation into homes. That highlights the great work being done every week to help families.
We do not have enough social housing homes yet. When I talk about the increases we are seeing in the provision of social housing it is to welcome that we are increasing. The Deputy claimed that as a party, Sinn Féin does not claim the Government is not building social housing homes. He then stated, however, that eight times nothing is nothing and therefore he does give the impression that he believes nothing is happening. He cannot take those two sides. The supply of social housing is increasing. The point about eight times is that while I accept it is coming from a low base, it is increasing quite dramatically. We cannot go from nothing happening to 50,000 homes overnight. We cannot do it in a year but we can do it in years. When people say that we built thousands of homes in the 1950s, it will be true when we look back at Rebuilding Ireland, we will say that in those years we built thousands of homes but it will not happen in one or two years. The programme and timings we have are clear in terms of increasing the stock of social housing by 50,000 homes over the course of Rebuilding Ireland.
Regarding the number on the housing list, we have a determination in law for the calculation of the social housing need assessment. The Deputy cannot say that he does not like that and that he will add extra things to it and that therefore the numbers are increasing because that is not how this works. We know where we are from a social housing need perspective with just over 70,000 on the social housing list.
The housing assistance payment, which helps people in the private rental sector, is meeting the housing needs of people. When people go through HAP into the private rental sector, they are no longer on the list. The vast majority of people who are getting that support want it and they prefer the flexibility it gives. It works for them as tenants because they do not want to live in a particular area in a social housing home. They want to live in a different area in the private rental sector with HAP support and that is meeting their housing need. From a policy point of view, it allows us to achieve a social mix in existing built areas and in newly built areas that we might not have been able to achieve. In the future it will not be used to the extent today, but it will always be there as a component of the mix, ensuring tenants can have the flexibility they might want to have.
The Deputy spoke about my reaction to what is happening in emergency accommodation. He tries to present a picture to people that I do not appreciate the gravity of this. He should stop trying to personalise it to me. He has been doing that for two years now. I am not sure if he believes it is working. All the feedback I have got from people, including over the past weekend, is that it is not. Of course, I understand the gravity of this. It is the most pressing issue we have in society today and I am responsible for getting people out of emergency accommodation and preventing them from entering emergency accommodation. If the Deputy wants to dance on top of me for the use of an individual word, he can go ahead.
I will continue to do my work to help people. I will continue to work with the NGOs and the local authorities. I have met people in emergency accommodation. I have met people coming out of hotels. I have met people in dire living situations with the outreach teams. I have also met people rough-sleeping. I have also met the people working on the front line trying to help these people and who recognise the work we are doing. Of course, we need to do more but it is not a small thing that in the first four months of this year, for every two families that presented at the local authorities, the NGOs were able to get a home for one of those families and unfortunately, not for the other family, which is what we need to change. Over the same period, for every family in April that was entering, another family was exiting. We also need to change that so no family is entering emergency accommodation. That is the work we continue to do, week in and week out, using all the levers available to us.
The Deputy talks about having policy alternatives, which he does. In certain areas he looks to tweak or change a policy. He suggests that if we are doing A, we should do B on top of it. I will come back and say why we cannot do that. Having proposed changes to aspects of what the Government is doing does not come close to being an alternative to a comprehensive plan like Rebuilding Ireland. Where there are good ideas, they get the support of the House. They get the support of the Government and my officials. I welcome the engagements we have had offline as a committee in the Department to tease through some of the issues and see where we can make improvements. When positive suggestions come from the committee, of course, I embrace them. However, I cannot do everything because I have to think about unintended consequences. I have made this point recently. People made changes in the recent past to try to improve one thing, accommodation standards, and it had the unintended consequence of people not being able to get secure accommodation.
As we look to do things in the rental sector, I have to think about other impacts it might have in respect of landlords. The Deputy spoke about the rental stock. For the past two years I have heard Sinn Féin Deputies and others hammering landlords and now they are turning around and asking what we are going to do about landlords exiting the market. While policy is important, words can do considerable damage. The proposals by some Deputies had landlords saying, "That's it. If this gets through into law, I'm not going to be a landlord any more." I am in a position of saying it will not get through into law, because it does not have the popular support of the House, but it still has an impact.
The Deputy asked what we have done for landlords. We introduced 100% mortgage interest relief for landlords in the last budget and the Sinn Féin leader, Deputy McDonald, hammered it. That is something we were trying to do to help keep landlords in the sector and Sinn Féin hammered it. The Deputy cannot continue to play both sides of this. As we want more institutional investors, larger landlords, coming into the build-to-rent sector, I have made changes to the guidelines to help them in. When someone is coming in and trying to do that, they are making a long-term play as landlords over 20 or 30 years. They are not independent landlords looking for some kind of capital appreciation on a property with a view to exiting in five, ten or 15 years. It is a much longer, more sustainable commitment. That is part of achieving more of a balance. As independent, smaller and accidental landlords leave, as is their right, we are replacing them with some other independent landlords but also with larger institutional landlords.
I am very glad the Deputy does not have a difficulty with the concept of co-living. It is important to note that co-living cannot be sold on like individual apartments can be. That is also true for the build-to-rent sector. That is one of the protections in place in that regard.
Cost rentals are taking a bit longer. If we were to start a cost-rental project and set a rent for the next 30 years and we found ten years in that the financial modelling was incorrect, it would force hundreds of thousands of people into housing insecurity. We need to ensure we are thinking about the long-term horizon. That is why the European Investment Bank is now carrying out detailed analysis of costings, as has the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA. We have also done some analysis - I have seen it for certain sites - to see if the rent equates to one third of the disposable income of a person at the entry level point in the public service and in certain other jobs. We have found that it does and we are trying to lock that into our modelling on that.
The pilot on the quality standards framework is now complete. We will roll that out over the next 12 months. In my recent engagement with the Ombudsman for Children, I spoke about this in detail. It is a very good framework. It has been developed with the experts in the sector and the NGOs. I am not against independent inspections at a future date but I want to get the quality standards framework in place first and then see what we do in that area. That is what I communicated to the ombudsman. The priority now is to get that quality standards framework out across the country over the next 12 months.
On approved housing bodies, AHBs, the Department of Finance is leading on the accounting treatment when it comes to our balance sheet of AHBs. Not all the large AHBs have been counted as per the CSO and EUROSTAT decision. Therefore this is more complex than had they always been put on balance sheet. We have received proposals from representatives of the sector as to how we can work around getting them off balance sheet. It has been led by the Department of Finance. It is not hindering development to date and I am working to ensure it does not hinder any future investment in AHBs, as we seek to include AHBs more in the delivery of social housing and other forms of housing.
The Deputy asked about nearly zero energy buildings, NZEBs, and gas boilers. Gas boilers are being phased out anyhow. There has been a decrease of approximately 30% in the use of gas boilers in homes in recent years. I have more precise statistics on this. At the moment I am engaged with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the climate action plan the Government will introduce in coming weeks, about how we ensure that as we introduce NZEBs, passive buildings and other things, we also reduce gas boilers as a solution, which is already happening in itself. As we do that, we need to have a pipeline for supply and maintenance of alternatives and that is happening.
I thank the Minister. Along with other speakers, I am also concerned about the homeless figures. There are issues there that we need to address more. We have all said that more needs to be done for people in emergency accommodation.
Another example is people who are coming to me who are not even qualifying to go onto the housing list. These people are on family income supplement. They are not qualifying. There is a lot of this throughout the country. Perhaps for the long term we need to provide for those who are barely over the income threshold. There has to be a provision for hardship cases. If a person is €10 over the income threshold to qualify for the local authority housing list, there is no discretion. The Minister can go to the Department to say it has to be changed. If a genuine family is just €10 or €20 over the cap, they are being told "No". We are not addressing the issue for this cohort. It is becoming a massive issue and may be a bigger problem going forward. The Department's figures for an average monthly spend on rent in Ireland state that rent in Carlow is €554. I can tell the Minister that the cheapest rent in Carlow for a house is €1,000 per month. A person can pay the balance with the housing assistance payment, HAP. Years ago when people were in receipt of rent supplement they could not say how much the house was costing, but now they can. People now have less and less income because they are paying a massive amount back to the landlord since the HAP is not sufficient. This issue needs to be looked at. I am shocked at the number of people coming to me who are in that position. It is just another area that needs to be looked at. I am very concerned about the issue of homelessness.
I want to know more about the funding of what I would have called local authority mortgages. In fairness to the Minister, his Department has made this a big priority and it has had a massive uptake. I know many people who will apply for this and many others who are in the system waiting for it. Perhaps the Minister will clarify what way the funding is on this. It is another area that needs to be addressed.
Nearly one year ago I brought to the Minister's attention the Danish co-housing system. It is a living solution where families get together and build several small houses together on one plot of land with shared spaces for communal laundry and cooking, and a lounge. I believe there are very good reports and statistics on this Danish model. Is there any way we could look to this in the long-term picture, especially for housing those who are homeless? These are the types of units that will happen going forward.
I thank the Senator. With regard to homelessness and the difficulties facing individuals, there are a number of different layers. I said that I had an engagement with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and we have raised it with the inter-agency group that I had set up in 2017. It has also been raised at a special meeting we have with the Taoiseach and the relevant Ministers about the issue of arrears, payments, and people who are at risk of having to enter into emergency accommodation or to present as homeless because they are not able to meet the bills. We ask if there is a further intervention we can make that would help much earlier in the timeline to keep that person in his or her home. That work is progressing. It is an important part that sometimes gets missed. Of course we focus on people who present as homeless and on those who enter into emergency accommodation, but there is a cohort behind that who are in difficulty today and whose rent is building up. They are not paying it and later they will find themselves in that line unless we can step in. The Minister, Deputy Doherty, and I are looking at that.
I have spoken already about the threshold review so will not go back over that. We have changed the qualifying criteria for rent pressure zones to exclude the greater Dublin area, GDA, and that will have an impact in those areas outside the GDA.
I will give the committee an update on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. A total of €92 million was drawn down to the end of 2018 and €145 million was drawn down to the end of April this year. The local authorities continue to accept, process and approve Rebuilding Ireland home loans because we have told them that the funding they need will be made available for those approvals they have given. That discussion on funding is almost complete. The Housing Finance Agency has an outstanding facility so there is no issue with it being able to secure the funding once I have the next figure for it. The approvals and drawdowns are not contingent on this money, and it is not even contingent upon us going to the local authority and saying the money is there. They have already been told to do what they are doing.
The Senator spoke of the co-housing model There are a lot of concepts in the mix currently, one of which is the Danish model referred to by the Senator. There is also a German model that is not too different from it. We are progressing our own pilot project that will be similar but not exactly the same. I am trying to tie together the final pieces of it. In making a deal, the key aspect is the delivery of the land. It is not about the willingness of people to engage in building such homes and it is not a design problem because these models exist elsewhere and they look really great. It is about seeing what exactly we can deliver on the land, servicing the sites and so on, with the funding we have. There is a piece of work happening in that regard. I acknowledge that the Senator had mentioned the Danish model previously. We are looking at it.
I thank the Minister for the answers. I want to come back in with three questions and will respond to some of the initial points. On inspections, will all emergency accommodation be inspected or is it still just the voluntary sector accommodation to be inspected? When I refer to "all" I mean the voluntary sector, the family hubs and the private sector accommodation.
With regard to the issue of gas boilers, I urge the Minister to go back over the transcript of a recent committee meeting here on the subject. The percentage of the total number of boilers going into new builds may be declining, but because far more properties are being built, the number of new gas boilers coming into the system is substantially greater. We are being told by industry that perhaps as many as 60% of new builds have gas boilers. The problem is that while it is not possible to phase out gas boilers today due to constraints around expertise in the industry, unless there is a phased target date by which gas boilers will no longer be used in new builds, they will be used for much longer than is necessary. We will be here in 15 years having a conversation about where to get the money to cover the costs of retrofitting those boilers. I urge the Minister to go back to look again at the nearly zero energy building guidelines and regulations before he publishes them to see if it is possible to consider a target date for the ending of the installation of gas boilers in new builds. My preference would be for 2021.
In new builds. That would be my preference, but the real issue is to include in those regulations a date by which they have to be out.
Perhaps I did not explain my question on co-living clearly enough so I will go through it again because the Minister did not answer it. Consider a situation where an institutional investor comes in and gets planning permission to build a co-living facility, as the Minister describes them, which is then inhabited by the kinds of people the Minister has said might choose to live there. If at a later stage another institutional investor comes along and purchases not just individual units but the entire block, this is the point at which many of us would be concerned. Depending on what is happening in the market and the intentions of that institutional investor, the accommodation could go from providing relatively high-end and high-cost short-term accommodation for emerging professionals to providing accommodation for very vulnerable people. It could descend into tenement type accommodation. I do not hear anything as to how the Minister would prevent that from happening. Is it a concern? Does the Minister believe it is an aspect he should be looking at?
The Rebuilding Ireland target for new home completions is very clear. It is an average of 25,000 over the lifetime of the plan. It means that we will not get 25,000 over the first or second years, but we will have to reach 25,000 by the third year and then exceed that. The Minister is behind in this. The plan may catch up, and we will have to wait and see, but it would be more straightforward if the Minister would at least admit that he is behind and that there is a lot of catching up to do.
On the legal definition of housing needs, I can argue for and make the case for any definition I choose. I do not accept that people who are in receipt of HAP have their long-term social housing needs met. I accept that HAP is a short-term benefit support, and I accept that we will always need a housing benefit of that kind, but these people have a real long-term social housing need. The best way to test if people on HAP would choose to remain on HAP or go for social housing is to put them back on the list and let them make that choice themselves. The way the system has been set up under legislation, which Sinn Féin opposed, presents a problem where people do not have the choice they would have if amendments were made to the legislation in the way I would like to do it.
The Minister often tries to deflect criticism by accusing us of personalising the issue, as if somehow I was making personal attacks on him and his character. Deputy Murphy is the Minister. He is responsible. Therefore, when people here criticise the things he does, it is because he is the Minister and we do not think he is doing the job correctly. That is not personalising the issue. It is called holding him to account. If he does not like it, that is fine, but I will not make any apologies for criticising either the things he does because I believe they are the wrong things to do or the things he says. Of course he will defend his actions and words, but if he is suggesting that somehow we should not criticise him because that does not play well with the voters, I am sorry but I have a job to do here and I will continue to do it. Where he does things wrong or says things that are inappropriate, I will do my best to hold him to account, and I think the public will thank the committee for doing that into the future.
Lastly, just so the Minister knows, some local authorities are not accepting or processing new Rebuilding Ireland home loans. South Dublin County Council currently is not.
I never said Deputy Ó Broin should not criticise me. He should not try to claim he is not trying to personalise this issue to me when he spends more of his time producing massive posters and billboards with my face on them and driving them around town-----
The Deputy is trying to personalise the crisis we have in homelessness to me rather than focusing on some of the important improvements happening or some of the changes that should be pursued. Even when I talk about why the changes Deputy Ó Broin suggests cannot be pursued, why they would not work and why they would have a displacement effect and could actually make things worse, he just ignores that and then comes back trying to dance on the pin of a head on the use of an individual word-----
This is the problem when the Deputy comes up against facts. They are quickly forgotten and he goes to mantras we have heard before. I had this in the Seanad last week during debate on the rent Bill. I had to make the same arguments again, even though I had already made them in the previous week with the same representatives from Deputy Ó Broin's party because they were not listening or did not like the facts. I am sorry if some of the facts are uncomfortable for Sinn Féin, but it is the case that we are making progress on the supply of new homes through Rebuilding Ireland. I believe we are on course to meet the fundamental supply targets we have set for new homes available to use this year and in the following years. We are not building all of these homes ourselves, of course. Reaching these targets is about pulling the right levers and making the right changes in law and regulations to allow the sector to do more, and the sector is doing more as a result of the changes we have made. This is not an exact science, however. As I informed the committee earlier, when Deputy Ó Broin was not here - I do not know if it was when he was out on the radio rather than at a housing committee meeting - we will see in the range of 23,000 to 25,000 new homes provided this year. I believe we will reach 25,000 new homes, which is the target, but this is not an exact science.
I understand the point Deputy Ó Broin makes about gas boilers. I do not want to say too much about this now because I am in discussions with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on his climate action plan, but if we are going to have a target for phasing out, we certainly need to ensure we have security of supply chain at the same time. These are the things being discussed in detail in advance of the climate action plan going to Cabinet in the coming weeks.
Regarding co-living, any time we make a change in guidelines we absolutely must ensure we do not do anything that will reduce standards or have a negative impact on people who might be more vulnerable. Looking at the rent Bill that was recently passed, all the improvements we are making to standards, such as defining a substantial improvement and linking it to measurements such as the BER rating, are very positive. I refer also to the new inspectors we will have with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, for enforcement and the increased number of inspections taking place under Dublin City Council. We are seeing a great improvement in the stock of housing coming online, with social housing being built today. The social housing being built today is phenomenal, as it should be. It is very important we do not let standards slip. Just as we have done with student accommodation, we are watching this very closely in the case of build-to-rent and co-living to ensure there will not be any unintentional redirection of a type of accommodation into something for which it should not be used.
Regarding the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, every local authority has been informed to continue to accept, process and approve local authority loans, so if Deputy Ó Broin has examples of people being refused, I ask him to share with me the emails - if he wants to anonymise the names, that is no problem - so I can get on to them and follow up on the cases myself. However, the fact that I have not yet agreed or published a financial amount that will support these loans that are being approved does not mean they cannot be approved. As I said, the Housing Finance Agency has a standing facility for the drawdown of loans that is quite significant.
Deputy Ó Broin made his point about social housing needs assessments. I made mine. We will not go back over that.
All emergency accommodation will be subject to the inspections and the standards in the framework. There is a complaint regime and process in place. I did discuss with the ombudsman improvements that might be made to the complaints regime to ensure that people feel safe and comfortable making complaints independent of the body or organisation that might be delivering the services. Accommodation site visits will commence next year. We will go to everyone, all service providers, and everyone will have to be compliant with the quality standards framework from, I think, the middle of 2020. The quality standards framework is very good, and we should not lend ourselves to the view that things may be happening in emergency accommodation that should not be happening. Again, I had an engagement with the ombudsman on this to ensure he was satisfied of certain things in the inspections he did. I am not saying we will not have an independent inspection regime in place. What I am saying is that we need to roll out the quality standards framework first, ensure that everyone is compliant, and then see where we go from there.
I will make three key points. Action No. 3.19 of Rebuilding Ireland relates to the publishing of the strategic development management plans prepared by each local authority for its housing land. The Minister might confirm whether all these plans have been completed, returned and published. There may be reasons they have not been. He may not have the information now. If he does not, not to worry. He might come back to us with supplementary information or drop the committee a note. I would have no difficult with that.
The Minister said one of the mechanisms available to local authorities to help them deliver the affordable housing options is the serviced sites fund and that €310 million is available in grant funding to 2021 for infrastructure. What is the position in this regard? He might update us with some more information.
In The Irish Timesthis morning a story was carried about a report that is to be published which is highly critical of the maintenance standards in many of our local authorities. Of course, this has an impact. When these houses eventually become available, first, they should not be at such a low standard. This is not the case everywhere, and I have not seen the report. I have just read about it in The Irish Timestoday. However, this also has the knock-on effect of turning these houses around again when they become available if they are in such a dire state. I have been in some local authority houses in my local authority area that I am amazed people even lived in for the five years prior to this. A lot of this is due to the lack of maintenance of these houses and supports for the tenants in them. As I said, I am sure the Minister has not seen the report. I am just drawing it to his attention, and perhaps someone might come back on the report's comments on same.
I thank the Senator for his questions. To respond to the last question he asked, I did not see the report, I am afraid, because we were in committee first thing this morning. The plan is, as we finish our voids programme, which is coming to its conclusion, to move that money and activity into maintenance. Maintenance of the social housing stock across the country fell through the crisis years in a big way as resources for local authorities were reduced. We are now increasing resources and funding for local authorities. As we come through the voids programme, we will be able to move that money and activity into a maintenance programme, which is very important because of the increase in the number of social housing homes that we must maintain. Of course we do so. These are people's homes, so State management in this regard is very important. We have hardwired this into all the regeneration programmes we have coming out.
Some €310 million was made available for the serviced sites fund in budget 2019, comprising €275 million from the Exchequer and €35 million from local authorities. The breakdown on this in spending, as allocated, is €100 million in 2019, €142 million in 2020 and €68 million in 2021. This funding will not all be spent in each of the years, but I have authority within my budget to carry forward money for the serviced sites fund into subsequent years as I need to do so. That funding is there to deliver at least 6,200 homes as part of that affordability pipeline, but it is not the only affordability pipeline we have. Last year we commenced the relevant section of Part 5 of the 2009 Act relating to the serviced sites fund. We introduced the regulations for the scheme of priority in March of this year. As I said earlier, 26 of the 31 local authorities have submitted their schemes to me, and ten have been approved by local authorities. I made the first call for sites from local authorities in June of last year. We finalised ten projects for 1,400 homes in December of last year worth €43 million.
We have received from 20 local authorities the economic assessments they did towards the end of last year. We issued a second in call in April and we have received 29 submissions from 15 local authorities so far. These are worth about €90 million and will help support almost 2,000 new homes. We will give sanction on those that have been successful very shortly. That is the current position with the serviced sites fund.
Work on action 3.19 of the Rebuilding Ireland plan is ongoing. In some areas, as we solve particular land issues, we are then able to update the live map we have in Rebuilding Ireland regarding what is happening with land use. In other areas, we have made greater progress in getting a proper picture of the land need. The Galway task force will do an important piece of work on that. Some land belonging to local authorities is indebted. We are also considering private land for potential turnkey solutions as these may be a cheaper and quicker way of getting social housing delivered. There are several layers to this and the process is ongoing, which is the reason it is coloured orange on the map. We are constantly publishing and updating the website map. Certain areas have a very detailed plan already in place. The Housing Agency has done its land aggregation scheme work within the timeframe. With regard to the publication of individual plans, I will check the position with the relevant section. As the Senator is aware, the housing delivery office in the Department checks weekly with the local authorities what is being delivered and where the land is coming from and does future needs assessments for land for local authorities and housing bodies. The purpose of the regional workshops is to identify the land needs of housing bodies that local authorities might be able to meet or State land on which housing could be delivered by the Land Development Agency.
The strategic development management plans were to be prepared and submitted by each local authority and then published. We need to ascertain which of the 31 plans have been submitted and when those that have not been delivered will be submitted. I would like to see a list of the plans that have been received. Is it intended to publish this information?
I will be more specific. The Housing Agency has finished its work on the land aggregation scheme, which I believe it has published. According to the report I have, all of the plans were returned by the end of September 2017. Separately, local authorities are updating the Rebuilding Ireland land map. I will get a detailed note for the Senator to confirm the position and see what we can do about publishing the plans. Local authorities believe they are meeting their reporting requirements by updating their land maps on the website on a quarterly basis.
I want to be sure that the local authorities did misinterpret something from our side. I do not want to say they are not in compliance with this action in case they had a different understanding of the position.
I said earlier I would give credit where it is due so I am more than capable of doing so. When it comes to dealing with the wider housing and homelessness emergency, however, I am truly in despair at the failure of the Minister's policies in my area. The failure of those policies presents an appalling vista. Next year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will, at best, deliver six new council houses. The Minister said all of this takes time and things cannot be done overnight but claimed the situation would improve and as we get nearer to the end line of Rebuilding Ireland, the output of directly provided council housing would ramp up relative to the reliance on the private sector. That is not happening in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown where things are moving in the other direction. The council will provide six new council houses next year. How can the Minister possibly claim that is a serious attempt to address the housing crisis in Dún Laoghaire? It is shocking that there will be just six new social houses provided. While some units may be provided by approved housing bodies and under Part V, the council's housing output next year will amount to six units. That is significantly lower than the number provided this year, which was pathetic compared with demand. The Minister should not say that it is the council's fault or that the Government is doing its best to put pressure on local authorities because Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil council.
I did not hear the Minister's response to the question on the reliance on the housing system payment as I had to pop out for a minute. Some 70% of people in receipt of the HAP in Dún Laoghaire are making top-up payments compared with a national figure of 50%. It is absolutely shocking that people are paying hundreds of euro over and above what they are supposed to pay. Does that not prove that the HAP is not equivalent to directly provided council or social housing? The Minister has always claimed the two approaches are simply different ways of delivering the same thing. If 70% of the people in the HAP scheme have to make top-up payments, they are clearly completely different. People on the HAP scheme are prey to private landlords and the extortionate rents they are charging. Moreover, the local authorities are now facilitating this extortion by approving situations where these massive top-up payments have to be paid. In some cases, the council has even suggested that people use their child benefit to make up the difference. People are now using child benefit to make up the difference between their rent and the housing assistance payment, which is directly leading to impoverishment and money being taken away from children.
On another matter, one which we knew was in the pipeline but is now an accomplished fact, as I discovered last night, DLR Properties Limited, a corporate subsidiary of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, yesterday completed the handover of part of the Cherrywood development known as TC3 to Johnny Ronan, a private developer. How can the Minister excuse that sale?
I will refer in that case to a well-known private developer, one of the people who helped with the Celtic tiger crash, who is now gaining control of a significant portion of the Cherrywood development in exchange for an office building that will generate revenue for the council when what we need is housing. It is unbelievable that the Minister would allow this to happen. This is a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil council. We opposed the setting up of that corporate subsidiary as we believed the democratically elected representatives of the council should make decisions about these matters. However, this corporate subsidiary, which is dominated by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, has been allowed to hand over what is known as TC3 to a private property developer. This shocking decision will not deliver any of the desperately needed affordable housing.
The Minister stated that the standards and quality of social housing that is being delivered must be maintained. Allow me to give him a newsflash on what is actually happening because it drives a coach and horses through his claims about social mix and the integration of people from different income streams. Cualanor-Honeypark, one of the biggest developments, was in the hands of the National Asset Management Agency but is now back in the hands of private developers. We have just discovered, on foot of representations from residents, that all of the houses built for social housing under Part V were built to lower specifications than the private equivalent in the same development. That is housing apartheid. The residents are now suffering the consequences with noise pollution and so on between units. At every level, the social houses were built to a lower specification. The attitude taken was that these were council tenants who could, therefore, be given lower quality housing.
How does that tally with the Minister's claimed aspiration for a social mix and placing people from different income brackets in together?
Those people who cannot even get on a housing list because their incomes are just above the threshold are completely in no man's land, in particular in areas like mine. I have repeatedly asked the Minister when he is going to raise the income thresholds for people who have been waiting ten or 12 years and are being whacked off the list because they get a job or a pay rise. They are trying to do well. They are not dependent on social welfare as some people might have to be. They are working and they then lose their ten or 15 years on the housing list. This is happening every week. I have asked the Minister again and again to do something about this but we are told it is being looked at and that there is a review. We are told there is this, that and the other. A whole generation of people who are working are in no man's land. There is nothing for them. There is no affordable housing and they cannot get on the council housing lists. Nothing is happening. What is the Minister going to do about it?
I thank the Deputy for the question. He talks about the failure of policy but I am not sure what policy proposal he is bringing forward as a silver bullet to the challenges we face. What we require in housing is a number of different policies because it is a very complex area. That is what we have. To pretend Deputy Boyd Barrett has some radical and different way of doing it that would have the support of the public let alone of the House is disingenuous. I admit that Dún Laoghaire is a special case. It is different from what is happening in other parts of the country. Where was Deputy Boyd Barrett when I went out to the local authority there to talk to councillors about the challenges in Dún Laoghaire, however? He was outside protesting. I was inside a democratic chamber trying to resolve issues and go through details and Deputy Boyd Barrett was outside with a megaphone trying to drown out the meeting. What use is that?
Of course there is a choice. The Deputy is involved in the political democratic process but he has to lean in and get involved. He can bring forward proposals and work with us or he can go outside and protest. Going outside to protest will not house one extra person. I guarantee that.
On the Deputy's specific question, more than 1,500 new homes will have come into the stock of social housing in Dún Laoghaire between 2018 to 2021. In 2019, we will see 650 come into the stock of social housing. Last year, 192 homes were built. I do not know why Deputy Boyd Barrett does not count Part V or housing body provision as social housing. These are homes that go to people on the housing list and they are social housing homes. The Deputy is wrong not to count them but he does so from an ideological point of view, which I just do not understand. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will deliver on its targets for this year. We have seen a drop in social housing needs in Dún Laoghaire. We saw the local authority exceed is targets last year. I was in 33 homes in Fitzgerald Park recently. They are fantastic homes. Deputy Boyd Barrett talks about quality but when is the last time he was in a new build social housing home? They are built to fantastic standards.
I spoke about the housing assistance payment at length earlier on. It is there to complement what we are doing in relation to build. There is too much dependence on HAP today but that dependence will decrease. However, there will always be a need for HAP because individuals like the flexibility it offers around where they can live and from a social housing policy point of view, it allows us to secure a mix of tenure in existing stock where we do not have it or in new stock as it is built if that stock consists, for example, of apartments. It plays a very positive role. The top-ups to which Deputy Boyd Barrett referred are being met by the local authorities in many instances because we have given them the flexibility to do so. Local authorities are meant to carry out assessments to ensure it is not possible where top-ups are being met by individuals that it puts them at risk of being unable to meet their bills or make other payments. Where that does happen, however, we are looking at initiatives and interventions we can make around arrears to ensure people do not find themselves in housing insecurity because of affordability issues where they are living.
Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to income thresholds. As I said in earlier contributions, the Housing Agency is looking at this and a review is under way. I want to make a number of social housing reforms now that the stock is increasing. I hope I will be able to bring the reforms forward as a single package so that we can have one major discussion around differential rents and other aspects of social housing policy at the same time. We are working towards that. In addition, for those who will never qualify for social housing even when the income thresholds change, if they do, that is why the affordability programme is in place. It is why we are no longer saying as a Government that we will just have a social housing programme where if one qualifies, that is fine but if one does not, we wish him or her good luck. We recognise the views of citizens all over Europe and in many modern cities are changing as to what responsibility the State has around the provision of housing. It is no longer about just social housing, emergency accommodation and nothing else. In fact, it is about looking after a middle group of people who might never be able to afford to live or rent near where they work, in particular in urban areas, unless we make the interventions we are making now. We are responding. First, we responded with rent caps and now we are responding with affordable housing and cost rental. We will continue to respond with measures around land such as we are doing with the Land Development Agency so that we can have mixed housing development in desirable areas where there is high demand.
Before it broke and became a big story in recent weeks, we had been campaigning on the basis that the site was perfect for public and affordable housing and that providing same would revitalise Dún Laoghaire, which desperately needs families and so on living in its centre. Instead, the site is going to a property developer who is just looking to maximise the profit that can be squeezed out of it and these boxes with fold-out beds for which the developer will charge €1,300.
I will provide some local knowledge to what has become a national debate on the site. People across Dún Laoghaire and from all sectors of society are raging about the proposal. It is an absolute abuse of the strategic housing development process. That one can bypass the normal planning process to do this is shocking. This is not meeting the area's housing needs. No one asked for something like this. People are asking for decent quality housing for families and individuals who cannot get anything because it is unaffordable in Dún Laoghaire, where the average property price is in excess of €600,000, rents are well over €2,000 per month on average and virtually no public housing is being provided. It is shocking. We submitted an objection to this development. As I did last week, I ask the Minister to examine whether allowing something like this is an abuse of the strategic housing development process.
The Minister did not comment on the question of whether it was appropriate in the current climate for a local authority, which is under his remit, to be exchanging land that could provide hundreds of desperately needed housing units in Cherrywood for office blocks. In the teeth of this crisis, is it appropriate that public land that could be used for housing is being given to private property developers? I believe it is shockingly inappropriate. Will the Minister please comment?
The Minister did not comment on my point about the Part V example that I gave. The Minister is not aware of that particular example, but if my assertion is correct and Part V social housing is built to a lower standard and quality than private development in the same housing development, does he view that as acceptable? It is not acceptable and represents housing apartheid. There are two tiers of housing standards. This increases the stigma and so on associated with social housing. I ask the Minister to please comment.
I thank the Deputy for his follow-up questions. Regarding co-living, I will not discuss an individual planning application. As the Minister with responsibility for planning, I must be very careful. I note that the Deputy did not object to co-living as a concept when it was introduced. Earlier today, one of his colleagues, as well as Sinn Féin, welcomed the concept and supported it. It is only a small part of the supply, though. Over the next 12 months, it will probably form less than 1% of the tens of thousands of new homes that will be built. Co-living is not a solution to our supply problem.
Regarding the question on building offices in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's area and the exchange the authority has made, I am not across the details. I will examine the issue and see what is happening. We know that there are pressures on land supplies. I want as much land as I can get, and I created the LDA to get more State lands for more housing. I cannot comment further on the situation in question, as I am not across the details.
We must find a balance between autonomy at local level and control at central government level. I believe in local government form and in devolving more powers to local authorities. For example, I am glad that the plebiscite was approved in Limerick. I have spoken to councillors re-elected in the Deputy's area over the course of the weekend. They gave out to me for taking too many powers away from either the executive or the elected representatives. I must give some degree of autonomy to the officials and councillors in how they go about their business in their local authority areas. That is not to say that it is not my responsibility. Rather, there is a balance between my role as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and their role as the relevant local authority. We are trying to strike the right balance all of the time. Whenever I go to do something that I believe would make something happen more quickly but would involve removing powers, I get blamed for undermining local authorities. When I go to give more powers to local authorities and they do not use them as the Deputy might like them to, I get blamed for not taking responsibility for local authorities. Let us find a balance.
Regarding Part V, I am not aware-----
-----of the example that the Deputy cited. The social housing that I have seen has been built to an exceptional standard, as it should be. We are not falling back into some of the mistakes that were made previously in terms of the stigmas that arose from social housing. Design, planning and forethought are going into the building of new social homes, how they look and feel, what they are like for the families moving in and the additional facilities that must be built. Now that supply is increasing, the challenge is becoming more about planning and ensuring that we are building the right types of homes in the right types of places. This is crucial, not just for meeting our current housing needs, but for ensuring that we do not make mistakes that will come back to bite us severely in the years to come.
I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for raising the TC3 issue. Last night, I was informed by a number of Dún Laoghaire councillors that the chief executive had taken the decision to do a land swap. I do not want to get into too much detail and I am conscious of what I am saying, but will the Minister examine the record of this committee? I raised this matter a number of times. I have the exact dates. I went to the trouble of finding them because I knew that this particular case would be raised. I always opposed the establishment of a company that was at arm's length from the council and in which the latter had no function.
From speaking with a number of councillors this morning, I am reliably informed that they had no hand, act or part in the decision to dispose of the land. At this committee, I requested that the director of the Local Government Audit Service, LGAS, examine the issue and the general question of having a company that was indebted, insolvent and propped up by the shareholder, namely, the council. In this case, the shareholder's agent is the chief executive. DLR Properties Limited has a board.
Many months ago, I raised questions at this committee about zoning issues. I have also raised questions with the council. This site had the potential to build hundreds of residential units. I am not suggesting that they should all have been social or affordable housing, but there could have been an imaginative mix that also included offices. It is located in a strategic development zone, the second such zone in the country. That zone could be one of the most successful, given its Luas connectivity, schools and the great infrastructure that was front-loaded into this scheme.
I am not dropping the Minister into a situation. I am on record as appealing to him about this issue. Will he speak to the director of the LGAS and examine her qualified notes in respect of DLR Properties Limited? In her 2017 report, she raised concerns about this company. The company has been raised a number of times in local government auditing reports.
Is the deal complete? We may not be able to do anything. Some weeks ago, I asked the Minister to look into this issue and that the message be conveyed to him that it would be looked into. Now, the councillors have been informed - after the election as opposed to beforehand even though this situation had been ongoing - of the swap. The bottom line is these are public moneys. This is not a company that is rich in cash. It is indebted. We are discussing taxpayers' money. There are serious issues. The council is swapping a debt for another debt or property. I do not want to go into too much detail because I am conscious that this is a public meeting, but I appeal to the Minister to seek a full briefing from the chief executive of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on the background and reasons involved and the debt to which the company is exposed. Forget about who is involved - this is all debt guaranteed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am not sure whether that is a satisfactory situation, given that the company is effectively at arm's length from the council. It has an executive and a board. As a limited company, it has its own directors. To be fair, some of them are councillors, but they are not allowed to discuss any aspect of this business with the local authority.
An alarm bell must be ringing at this meeting. Where any company that is wholly owned by a local authority yet is at arm's length from it and not accountable to it, serious concerns arise.
I ask the Minister to take a look at this TC3 issue and to ascertain its background. I will collaborate with a number of Oireachtas Members today in suggesting that if it means bringing people before a committee of the Houses, we should do so. I suggest to the Minister that he will have a number of parliamentary questions in a matter of days on this issue. There is outrage about this locally. We need answers and if it is possible, within the constraints of the Minister's position and the sensitivities around it, I seek some sort of report on it. There is a lot to be found out and to be inquired into and I ask the Minister to use his office to do so.
A lot of the issues upon which the Senator has touched, such as zonings, land disposal and the formation of companies by local authorities, are functions the local authorities have. When a local authority has a function that has not been removed, the Minister cannot just step in and interfere.
I understand the concern the Senator is raising, however. I know the Local Government Audit Service looked at the operations of these types of entities before. I suggest that the Senator might raise it as a Commencement matter, to help have a public engagement on this matter and we can speak about this specific project in as much detail as I will be allowed to at the time. That might help further some of the concerns the Senator has raised with me today. I do not have the details of this in front of me so I do not want to speak on it in too much detail. I am flagging the restrictions I have on my powers because of the autonomy that we give to local authorities but I am happy to look into it in more detail in advance of us discussing it in the Seanad.
My questions are specifically on the turnkey developments that both the local authorities and approved housing bodies are purchasing. I have some concerns that there is an over-reliance on it in specific areas because I know of some locations in my area where 100% of construction of housing is being purchased for turnkey developments for either approved housing bodies or the local authority. I am concerned about the implications that has on having houses available for first-time buyers. Another reason I have been given for this is the lack of funding available to contractors to finish out estates. The fact that such funding is not available means they are looking to the Department for a quick solution for finishing out the estates. With that in mind, I am aware that the Department established a €780 million fund for construction contractors who could apply for funding for smaller developments such as these. What progress is being made with those, how many applications have been made and how many have been awarded with funding from that capital fund for development?
I will make a couple of initial points on turnkeys. There is a misperception around what a turnkey is. People hear the word "turnkey" and they think a house is built and completed and the local authority has decided to buy it and take the keys. In most instances, a turnkey is where the land is vacant, is not being developed at all and will not be developed but for the fact that the local authority has engaged and decided that there is land in a preferable location for social housing delivery and has negotiated the delivery of homes on that land all the way from that point through planning, permission and construction. In such cases, were it not for the local authority engaging, nothing at all would be built on such land in many instances. The word "turnkey" does not mean the housing is completed and the local authority is just collecting the keys. It is a confusion sometimes because the word "turnkey" does not reflect what it is and so when we have a public debate on this issue, people think we are just stepping in front of the buyer and taking the keys but that is not what is happening. It also allows us to provide social housing homes in areas where we do not have the land in the right area, which is really important.
We have told local authorities not to compete with first-time buyers, so where it is an individual house on a road, which is an acquisition and not a turnkey, and there is an engagement from a first-time buyer, the local authority is to back off. Where there are a significant number of homes where we might not have engaged before construction commenced, local authorities are told to back off. We are trying to manage this as best we can. Turnkeys are useful because they involve land in areas where we might not have land. They can also be more efficient and we need to make sure we are providing social housing in the right places, so they have an important function.
On the overall build that happened last year, there was not an over-reliance nationally on turnkeys but in some areas there would have been more than others because that is how the market was working and that was what we needed to do. It is an important part of delivery and the only real difference between it and what might be considered local authority builds is that it is not happening on local authority land. They have the land and it is in an area we want for social housing. Maybe they have already serviced it so it can move quite quickly or maybe they already have planning so we can move quite quickly and that is why we go with the term "turnkeys".
On the Senator's second question which was on Home Building Finance Ireland, that is operational as of the beginning of this year. It does not come under my remit but I understand there will be a report in July on the first six months of its operation that will go into the number of loans that have been approved, drawn down and everything else.
We had the feedback from the committee about 12 months ago and I have engaged with the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and other bodies on this. We want to get moving on this in the autumn. We want to do this and we are going to do this and we will be addressing it in the autumn session.
This famous report. It is just a technicality, it mentions the words "ongoing", "on schedule" and "on time" and the colours and the descriptions are all the same. If it is completed there is no need to print it again. Maybe it could just be taken off because it is 42 pages.
I wish to conclude the meeting. I thank the Minister and his officials for their patience today. It has been a fairly long but intense meeting. I thank them for attending and engaging with the committee and we look forward to meeting them again shortly.