Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for allowing me to raise the issue of unfinished housing estates and the non-engagement of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, with the planning authorities in resolving site issues. NAMA has been mentioned several times in the House today. As an institution, it seems to have an impact on all aspects of life in the country. I have been invited to residents' meetings at which I have been alarmed to discover that where NAMA is a stakeholder, it is apparently refusing to discuss its role with local authorities and residents in reaching solutions which will ensure the satisfactory completion of unfinished housing developments.
The attitude seems to be that because NAMA is a bank, it has no resources to deal with aspects of its business outside that banking role. I accept there is a rationale for this. However, it is not a satisfactory outcome for the many who invested their life savings in their home and are now living in unfinished housing estates. What about the aspirations for co-operation contained in the report of the Government's advisory group on unfinished housing developments published last May? In the section, Partnership Approach with Residents, the report states:
Many unfinished developments are having a serious impact on the living environment of residents. These developments also impact on the wider community, society and the economy. The primary objective of addressing unfinished developments should be to address the needs of residents.
The advisory group considers it imperative that stakeholders work together and co-ordinate their efforts to resolve problems associated with unfinished housing estates. It also believes that local authorities, developers, site owners, financial institutions and approved housing bodies should ensure that, where possible, residents are directly and centrally involved in resolving problems. Progress can be made where the various stakeholders work with residents and use their collective resources. All those involved should work in a co-operative and pragmatic way.
Many of the residents with whom I have spoken are in despair. They have had enough. Some unfinished housing estates are being used for criminal activity, including as hide-outs and for the sale of drugs. Every effort must be made to ensure those living in unfinished housing developments can live peacefully in their homes. The first priority is to ensure that unfinished housing developments are secured to reduce the safety risks to residents and members of the public. In this regard, residents appreciate the recent efforts by Government through the provision of scarce resources to make safe a number of sites around the country.
Residents are entitled to their rights. I ask that the Government instruct NAMA to engage with residents in compiling site resolution plans, as recommended by the advisory group.
I thank Deputy Phelan for raising this important matter.
NAMA has advised me that it has and continues to engage actively with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authorities regarding unfinished estates and on the issue of housing in general.
Following release of the report of the advisory group on unfinished housing developments last June, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing established a national co-ordination committee to oversee action on unfinished developments and to monitor and drive progress. NAMA has two representatives on this committee, which meets on a regular basis with the City and County Managers Association. The national co-ordination committee has focused its initial attention on the 243 estates categorised by local authorities as the most problematic from a public safety perspective, Category 4.
It is often assumed that the vast majority of unfinished estates are under NAMA control. However, only 29 of these estates are controlled by NAMA debtors or receivers, which is less than 12% of the total number of unfinished estates. NAMA has committed to fund, through its debtors and receivers,the cost of essential urgent works on these 29 estates, which is estimated at €3 million. NAMA advises that good progress has been made on the public safety issues surrounding these estates. Issues have been resolved in 12 estates and 11 other estates are in receivership, in respect of which satisfactory progress has been made with local authorities on agreeing site resolution plans. It is proposed to appoint receivers as a first step towards resolving safety issues in the remaining six estates.
The national co-ordination committee has now shifted its attention to Category 3 estates. NAMA estimates that approximately 14% of these relate to NAMA debtors. The next step is to clarify the status of each site and to agree a plan and timetable for optimum site resolution. As with Category 4 estates, this will involve NAMA working closely with the relevant local authorities.
On the matter of social housing in general, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, announced on 21 December last that he had agreed with NAMA that 2,000 housing units would be made available in 2012 to people on social housing lists, through leasing agreements with local authorities and volunteer housing associations. The objective behind the initiative is to provide individuals and families on social housing lists throughout the country with new homes provided by the State from properties already built but not being utilised. The agreement between the Minister and NAMA also includes a commitment by NAMA to put more housing units on the market, put aside more money to finish projects pending their sale or leasing for social housing purposes and to assign designated staff to manage legal and other problems that might be associated with completing transactions. In announcing this initiative, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, welcomed the agreement as one of the largest housing allocations made in the history of the State and a welcome boost to those most vulnerable in society.
NAMA has advised the Minister for Finance that on foot of the announcement made by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, it has provided a list of housing units to the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, which is, in turn, engaging directly with local authorities with a view to aligning the NAMA listing with their specific social housing needs. In that context, the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency is co-ordinating the response to NAMA. Where a demand is identified by a local authority, efforts will be made by NAMA to secure suitable properties for social housing. Housing units being advanced by NAMA will be provided through the social housing leasing initiative under standard terms and conditions. The local authority will have the option of leasing the properties directly. Alternatively, an approved housing body may secure the properties through direct leasing or in some cases, by purchasing property, using private or HFA finance and leasing it back to the State.
As evident from my reply, NAMA is engaging actively with local authorities on the matter of unfinished estates and social housing. Can it improve that work? Yes, it can. The Deputy's highlighting of this issue and the importance of the strategic role played by NAMA in partnership with local authorities in areas where they have a responsibility, is an important part of that communication.
While I accept what the Minister of State had to say this matter needs to be closely monitored. There are people living on housing estates, in respect of which the developer or NAMA does not engage and the local authorities say their hands are tied and they cannot do anything. These people are experiencing huge difficulties in their estates, with many undesirables, such as people involved in the drugs industry and burglars and so on moving in. Residents of unfinished housing estates are experiencing significant social problems. NAMA appears more concerned about the big developer than with residents working on the ground to resolve these issues. I will be keep a close eye on progress in this area.
NAMA's remit is to maximise disposal, in terms of value, of assets for the taxpayer. NAMA's task is in the first instance to appoint debtors-receivers, whose task it is to maintain these estates. Where this is not being done in a satisfactory manner, NAMA has the power under section 141 of the NAMA Act to apply to the District Court for an entry and maintenance order. NAMA's task should in the first instance be to persuade debtors-receivers to ensure unfinished estates are maintained.
For the information of the House and, in particular, the Deputy who raised this matter, Members of the Oireachtas can contact NAMA through a dedicated e-mail address, namely, OIR@nama.ie. If there are specific estates in her constituency or elsewhere about which the Deputy would like information, including whether a particular estate is under NAMA control, whether a receiver has been appointed or whether NAMA is considering taking action under the section 141 proposal to exact more maintenance standards and so on, she should e-mail NAMA direct at that address. That might be a useful port of call for the Deputy.
My understanding is that the chairman of NAMA recently appeared before an Oireachtas joint committee.
At the time, he made it perfectly plain to the committee that NAMA would not give land away but obviously would work with community groups with an interest in particular pieces of land that have remained undeveloped to ascertain the optimum solution in consultation with the local authority. If there are specific issues to which the Deputy refers, she might e-mail them directly to the aforementioned e-mail address to ascertain the status of those lands or estates and to establish what action can be taken.