Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Social Housing: Motion [Private Members]
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:"recognises the high priority which the Government has afforded to increasing housing supply, through its Construction 2020 Strategy and its Social Housing Strategy 2020;
acknowledges the demand for social housing as demonstrated by the approximately 90,000 households on the social housing waiting list, at the last full and comprehensive assessment in 2013;
welcomes the commitment to undertake a summary of social housing assessments on an annual basis from 2016 onwards, to ensure up-to-date and comprehensive data on housing need is available on an on-going basis;
recalls the vision outlined in the Social Housing Strategy 2020, that every household will have access to secure, good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community;
acknowledges the Government’s on-going commitment to deliver on that vision and in particular welcomes the progress to date including, inter alia the:— delivery of over 13,000 new social housing units in the first year of the Social Housing Strategy 2020, an increase of 86 per cent year-on-year;acknowledges the other measures introduced in 2015, that complement the focused, target driven approach of the Social Housing Strategy 2020, such as:
— commitment of €2.9 billion in capital funding for the Social Housing Strategy out to 2021 under the Government’s six year capital investment framework, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021, with an associated delivery target of 17,000 units for 2016;
— approval to date of 200 projects that will deliver 5,350 new social housing units, to be constructed by local authorities and approved housing bodies, and delivered under the public-private partnership (PPP) programme;
— progress made in bringing local authority dwellings back into productive use, with 5,000 delivered over the two-year period 2014/2015, resulting in a marked fall in the number of vacant social houses;
— roll-out of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme to all categories of households in 18 local authority areas, with approximately 6,800 households having been supported by HAP since commencement of the scheme in September 2014; and
— introduction of enhanced powers for local authorities to counter anti-social behaviour in their estates which will help to create and maintain stronger, sustainable communities;— the rental sector reforms introduced to give greater protection to tenants and landlords ensuring that, in 2016, most tenants will not see their rent increase;notes, with respect to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), that:
— the amendments made to Part V of the Planning and Development Acts, under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, which means the focus of Part V will be on the delivery of completed social housing units; and
— the enactment of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015, which strengthens the status of aspects of planning guidelines issued to local authorities on planning matters to ensure their consistent application, particularly in relation to Apartment Standard Guidelines; and streamlines the process for the making of modifications to Strategic Development Zone planning schemes;— the Government has enabled and facilitated NAMA in playing an important role in the delivery of housing supply generally and social housing in particular;acknowledges that the solution to homelessness is multi-faceted, and in that context welcomes the whole-of-Government approach to dealing with the complexity of the situation, involving all key State agencies concerned, including the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Social Protection; Health; Children and Youth Affairs; the Health Service Executive; Tusla (the Child and Family Agency); the Irish Prison Service; and local authorities;
— this work has to be carried out in a manner consistent with the legislation governing the operation of NAMA;
— 2,000 houses and apartments have been delivered to local authorities and approved housing bodies for social housing use by end of December 2015;
— the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies continue to work closely with NAMA to ensure that its commitments on social housing are delivered;
— as indicated in Budget 2016, in line with its governing legislation, NAMA is aiming to fund the delivery of 20,000 residential units before the end of 2020, of which it is estimated that 90 per cent will be in the greater Dublin area and that about 75 per cent of the units will be houses, mainly starter houses; and
— NAMA will have to meet all of its statutory Part V obligations in accordance with the legislative provisions;
notes that a range of measures are being implemented by Government to address homelessness, including focusing on preventative approaches wherever possible and mobilising the necessary supports to mitigate the issues associated with an increasing volume of homeless families accommodated in inappropriate commercial hotel arrangements;
welcomes:— the increase in funding for homeless services to €70 million, announced in Budget 2016;and further notes:
— with regard to the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Pilot, the increase in flexibility in relation to rent limits from 20 per cent (above Rent Supplement levels) to 50 per cent (above Rent Supplement levels) announced in Budget 2016, which will be of significant assistance to homeless families in Dublin moving out of emergency accommodation into longer term housing; and
— the initiative to utilise rapid housing delivery as a way of significantly improving emergency accommodation and decreasing the reliance on hotel accommodation, with 500 new units to be delivered through this method in the Dublin region in 2016;— the excellent work being done through the Department of Social Protection tenancy sustainment initiatives, with approximately 4,500 tenancies protected under these initiatives in 2015 and over 6,000 since their commencement in 2014; and
— the vital role undertaken by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with homeless persons and seeks their continued engagement with Government Departments and agencies in addressing the challenges involved."
In the first instance, I thank the Deputies opposite for raising the issues of housing and homelessness, which are critical issues at the top of my agenda, and for the contributions of the speakers tonight in highlighting the challenges we all face. There is no silver bullet to deal with this extremely complex area. I thank them for once again affording me the opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to tackling these significant challenges head-on in the manner I will outline in the course of my contribution. Tonight's debate also presents me with an opportunity to outline the Government's achievements to date under both Construction 2020 and the social housing strategy. I thank Deputy Barry Cowen and his colleagues for affording me that opportunity.
The Government is committed to getting housing right and dealing with the ongoing legacy of the collapse of the property sector under colleagues opposite in Fianna Fáil. That means continuing the work to enable every household in Ireland have access to secure good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community. We have prioritised the economy and employment to great success. There are more than 135,000 additional people at work today compared to four years ago when the first Action Plan for Jobs was launched in 2012. To sustain this recovery and to remain competitive in attracting inward investment, we must all accept that we need to build, deliver and create more homes. That is to be done in urban centres as well as in rural areas given that the growth in the economy is spreading to all quarters of the country. I have had 1,250 jobs announced in my own constituency in Tipperary in the very recent past. One thing is for sure, I will not oversee a situation where we return to an unsustainable property bubble such as the one which contributed to the problems of the residential market in Ireland today, which does not operate at equilibrium with demand far out-stripping supply.
The Government is still dealing with the consequences of the disastrous handling of the property sector by Fianna Fáil and will be for some time. It is still dealing with the legacy of the Galway tent. Unlike the previous speaker stated, it is the people of this country who were misled and who are still collectively dealing with the consequences as a society. The motion tabled this evening oversimplifies the situation, which is putting it kindly. Anyone who has been dealing with the homelessness situation will know that at one glance that this is a lazy motion. It has all the hallmarks of being the work of people in Fianna Fáil who simply do not understand the first thing about dealing with homelessness or housing. Homelessness is complex and I am on the record as stating directly that emergency hotel accommodation should be only a short-term solution. I will outline shortly how we are taking a whole-of-Government and inter-agency approach to dealing with the issue of homelessness. Amazingly, the motion as worded demonstrates a misunderstanding or perhaps a wilful ignorance of NAMA's mandate, function and general property rights. I will elaborate on that point also shortly.
The roots of the current situation lie in the decision of the Fianna Fáil Government to abandon the construction of social housing units and to depend almost exclusively on rent supplement to provide social housing. That is something anyone with an understanding of housing economics will know suited their friends in the Galway tent. The privatisation of social housing was the single biggest mistake and the single greatest reason we are discussing this topic tonight. We are now trying to rectify those mistakes collectively. Through the Social Housing Strategy 2020, which was published in November 2014, my Department has returned the State to its central role in the provision of social housing by resuming a building programme on a significant and incrementally increasing scale, putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future demand for social housing supports and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer while respecting, to the greatest extent possible, the preferences of individual households. The strategy sets out a range of diverse options and provides for new schemes to ensure a greater number of people benefit from the delivery of social housing. It also provides for strengthening the capacity of our local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver homes for those who need them.
Last year was the first full year of implementation of the Government's social housing strategy. The growing economy has placed significant pressures on both our public and private systems of housing. Economic growth creates demand for housing and there is no silver bullet or miracle answer to this. However, we have moved from the sprawling, empty, unfinished estates of the collapse, which we had to clean up, to a situation where housing accommodation demand is increasing. That demand is not being met by adequate supply at present and I am determined to address that situation. I am not underestimating the challenges we face. They are enormous. With the economy so dependent on construction when it collapsed, the local authority housing system had no capacity to respond. I do not think for one second that what we have achieved so far means the job is done, but what can be said is that the public housing recovery is happening at a quicker pace than the private housing recovery. We have made a strong start by putting in place a targeted action plan out to 2020 under the social housing strategy. That requires an investment of €4 billion out to 2020, almost €3 billion of which has been committed under the Government's capital plan. Funding is now approved and sites have been selected for the construction of more than 5,000 new social homes in the next few years.
The motion tabled here tonight states yet again that 130,000 people on the social housing list. The 2013 summary of social housing assessments identified approximately 90,000 households nationally who qualified as being in need of social housing supports.