Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Local Authority Housing.
Question 77: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action plan he has to increase the output of local authority social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16644/05]
The Government has responded actively to increased levels of housing need by significantly expanding social and affordable housing output. In 2005, the Government allocated record levels of funding to local authorities for their social and affordable housing programmes. Total capital spending on social and affordable housing output in 2005, including non-Exchequer finance, will amount to some €2 billion and will assist in meeting the housing needs of over 13,000 households. In addition it is anticipated that a number of households in private rented accommodation will transfer to the newly introduced rental accommodation scheme.
In recent years the Government has placed a particular emphasis on the delivery of targeted schemes of affordable housing and expects output of approximately 12,000 units from these schemes in the next three years. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has initiated the development by local authorities of new five-year actions plans for social and affordable housing. The preparation of these plans will sharpen the identification of priority needs, helping to ensure a more co-ordinated response across all housing services, including those to be provided by the voluntary and co-operative housing sector. The plans will also help to ensure local authority housing provision will continue to increase on a sustained basis. My Department is giving strong encouragement to local authorities to press ahead with the implementation of these action plans which are being underpinned by substantial levels of Government funding.
I do not accept that the Government has responded adequately to this matter. The Minister of State referred to five-year action plans which are all plans but little action. Will the Minister of State accept that over the last eight years the Government has not only refused to deal with the soaring price of private housing, but it has also failed to put roofs over the heads of the most vulnerable people on low incomes? Will he inform the House of his intentions regarding the Housing Finance Authority which advances funds to local authorities to meet housing targets? The authority's annual report shows that the funding it made available to local authorities fell last year for the second year in a row. Only €494 million was allocated in 2004 compared to €505 million in 2003 and €761 million in 2002. The 2004 allocation would not build half the houses the 2002 allocation built. This drop came at a time when over 100,000 individuals were waiting for council houses, 1,200 alone in Galway city. Why are the local authorities not building more houses?
The Deputy's last comment answered his earlier question. In order to have action, there must be plans. Houses cannot be built from thin air and local authorities need certainty in what they are doing over the next several years.
The Government has asked local authorities to draw up action plans to bring certainty to the area. The action plans are based on local needs. There is certainty in the funding which is now being provided. With five year capital envelopes, we can tell them how much their funding will be. Last week, €922 million was allocated for social housing in 2005. The local authorities have been told to push ahead because they now know how much funding will be available for this year and the years after. In the past some local authorities were good and some bad. However, even the bad ones would use the excuse of uncertainty regarding funding. This year €2 billion has been allocated.
The Deputy quoted from the Housing Financing Authority's report. While I am not sure in which context, it mainly refers to affordable housing. Until recently, all affordable houses were financed through the local authority system and Housing Finance Authority loans. Now, thankfully, other financial institutions are entering the market. I welcome this as we may not need to borrow so much from the Housing Finance Authority in the future. The €2 billion allocation is an extraordinary figure and we expect construction to begin on 6,000 houses, meeting the needs of 13,000 people on housing waiting lists.
The figures were quoted from the Housing Financial Authority's annual report. If local authorities have agreed to the action plans, why are no more houses being built? The buck stops with the Minister of State. Does he agree the number of private house completions has now peaked? In the coming years there will be possible repercussions for employment and economic activity in this sector. Does the Minister of State see a role for the social housing programme in stemming such a slowdown? Is there a role for private sector construction firms in providing public housing that cannot be met by the public sector? When will the Government's commitment on social and affordable housing in the national development plan be met?
We are ahead of our commitment in the national development plan. Expenditure stands 7% ahead of the commitment, with an allocation of €2 billion for this year. The number of units estimated to be built has not been fully reached, but on money invested, we are 7% ahead.
The Department simply provides the resources to the local authority. The local authority then constructs the units. When a local authority puts this out to tender, all private developers may apply. I accept that some developers have tendered solely for public jobs. Most local authorities, including Galway City Council, would welcome if those developers traditionally in the private market submitted tenders for public housing. A great deal of money is being spent, not just on new building but on central heating, for example. The local authority in the Deputy's area received a significant amount of money today for a central heating installation. We are providing good money, and the action plans drawn up by the local authorities will be implemented with Government money.