Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Affordable Housing: Discussion

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach and I welcome in particular the Dublin city manager, Mr. Owen Keegan, the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council county manager, Ms Philomena Poole, Mr. Brendan Kenny, and Ms Catherine Keenan. Our paths have crossed. I am familiar with them and, I am sure, they are with me.

I acknowledge the enormous work of housing authorities and their personnel, which we do not say often enough and despite what others may say. While many of us are passionate and make strong cases for people who are on social housing lists and are seeking affordable housing, we all have personal experiences and stories and we bring them to the table. In all of that, exchanges can be quite heated but people are always motivated by trying to help others, which is important. On the other side of that is the front-line staff housing, which I acknowledge. That is sometimes lost on me, speaking for myself, but in the heat of the moment we all want to do things. I am constantly being contacted by people outside of Dublin with major issues that go way beyond housing needs. There are complexities around housing needs and homelessness, as our guests know well. I wish to put on the record today the enormous work being done under very difficult circumstances. It is not a nice place to be at a hatch turning people away all the time.

I want to keep to broad brush strokes and am conscious that there are two local authorities here. The one thing that we all agree on is at that the cost of land is a barrier to affordability. Affordable housing is what is on the agenda here today. We are conscious that there are landbanks in both authorities present. I am particularly interested in a number of matters, one of which is that I have been constantly tracking the auditors.

The local government auditor recently appeared before the committee and addressed concerns related to how we documented, mapped and took account of State properties, particularly in each local authority area. What progress has been made in that regard? Is there potential to submit or surrender this land or make it available? I have no ideological hang-up about who builds houses, whether they are public, private, social, affordable or co-operative development. All present accept that we need more housing. We know that the Government has stated that at least 30% of land released from central bodies and local authorities such as those of the delegates should be set aside for affordable housing or developments that have an element of affordable housing, with an additional 10% to be developed under Part V. Where possible and practical and with the co-operation of all parties involved, that percentage could be increased. What are the possibilities in that regard?

I ask the delegates to outline their views on their councils' experiences in interfacing with NAMA in the release of properties that could be made available for affordable housing. Many figures are bandied about, but what are the practicalities? The audits have been undertaken; the councils have looked at properties and properties have been rejected. I do not wish to rehearse these arguments because the delegates know them as well as I do.

On the practicality and affordability of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, I wish to focus on the Cherrywood strategic development zone, SDZ. I do not consider any of the properties in that development to be affordable. I have no difficulty with the fact that it is a private development, but I do not see how affordable houses will be delivered there.

On land banks, IDA Ireland, Irish Rail, the HSE and the port companies hold substantial amounts of land. I am familiar with the port companies in the representatives' administrative areas. Clearly, the councils do not have control over all of these lands, but they have some input in terms of planning and, I am sure, knowledge of them. Do Mr. Keegan and Ms Poole as chief executives see potential in that land or how can we have a multi-focused approach to harnessing some of it? The more land we have, the better. If we can reduce its cost, we can reduce the cost of developing houses and, ultimately, properties to purchase or rent. It goes back to the issue of affordability.

I will finish on that point. I have asked broad-stroke questions which are central to how we can address the issue of land costs and the barriers impacting on affordability.