Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Topical Issue Debate

Local Authority Housing

4:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue. I can assure the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, that there are no constituents of mine in the Visitors Gallery and as such I will not be playing to the gallery when speaking on this issue.

I am concerned at the current housing situation in the city, in particular the local authority housing units which remain vacant owing to a lack of funding for maintenance crews. I currently have 100 files on my desk, and many more in the filing cabinets in my office, in respect of people on the city council housing list, many of whom have medical or welfare priority but have remained on the housing list for years. Many people with medical priority have been told it will be two years or more before they can be accommodated. They have been told there are no units available, yet in Dublin South-Central, which I represent, there are currently 190 units-voids, 107 of which are in need of short term repair, 21 of which are new properties and 62 of which are voids requiring long-term repair. There are 48 units in Kilmainham, where I live there, 85 in the south-west inner city, 26 in Crumlin and 30 in Ballyfermot. There are plenty of units available.

I welcome what is happening in St. Theresa's Gardens and Dolphin House in terms of regeneration and compliment the Minister of State in terms of her work on putting together a package to improve many of the units in Dolphin House, some of which are not habitable. Many of the aforementioned units are empty because the city council's budget is limited and it does not have the manpower or funding necessary to carry out the repair work. I am fully aware that city council maintenance crews are already stretched to the limit and that even carrying out day-to-day repair work has become troublesome for them. It is impossible for the council to further stretch the small resources it has.

In my view, this situation has reached crisis point. It is shocking that some of these houses and flats have been lying empty for up to a year when there are so many people in my area in need of accommodation. As I stated, some of my constituents are already on the housing list, others are homeless or are living with families in overcrowded conditions which are unsuitable to their needs and many others are in rented accommodation, much of which is in a poor state of repair. I have been told by the Minister on many occasions there we have no money. However, the State is paying rent supplement to private landlords. As stated previously, 94,000 people in this country are in receipt of rent supplement, 4,000 of whom live in the Dublin 8, 10 and 12 regions. Rent supplement will cost the Government €436 million this year. I acknowledge that the figure in this regard was much higher last year and I credit the Minister, Deputy Burton, on the reduction achieved this year. However, that amount of money would go a long way towards addressing our social housing needs. It is a massive amount to be handing over to private landlords when there are plenty of empty houses and apartments throughout my constituency and in Dublin, which are owned by the State. We need to take a more sensible approach to this problem.

There are many families who are living in poor accommodation and need to be rehoused. Some of them only require transfer to larger accommodation. There are many flat complexes in the constituency I represent, many of which are past their sell-by date owing to a lack of maintenance, which it is impossible to have addressed.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I thank Deputy Byrne for raising this important issue.

In accordance with the provisions of the Housing Act 1966, the management and maintenance of the social housing stock, including the carrying out of planned maintenance programmes and pre-letting repairs, is the responsibility of the relevant housing authority, in this case, Dublin City Council. Housing maintenance works, including pre-letting repairs, are funded directly by local authorities from their own resources, including from rental income and receipts from the disposal of properties and sales of houses to tenants. It is a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process, having regard to locally identified needs and available resources.

The Deputy will be aware that the adoption of the local authority annual budget is a reserved function. That said, my Department provides substantial capital funding to local authorities to support a wide range of measures aimed at improving the overall quality and standard of social rented dwellings. These measures include a regeneration measure for large social housing estates and flat complexes, an estate-wide remedial works scheme, a retrofitting measure aimed at improving the energy efficiency of older apartments and houses and grants for the provision of extensions or adaptations to meet the needs of local authority tenants with a disability and so on.

Given the constraints on capital budgets for new stock, my Department is now placing greater emphasis on local authority social housing improvement works programmes and on the early return of vacant units to productive use. This year, I allocated some €145 million to local authorities for works to improve the social housing stock, €90 million of which is being provided in respect of the national regeneration programme, a programme which is of particular importance for the physical and social regeneration of deprived areas in Dublin city. A total of €27 million is being provided in respect of 45 estate-wide remedial works schemes in 26 local authorities with a further €10 million earmarked for extensions and adaptations to properties throughout all local authorities.

It is now more important than ever to ensure the existing stock of local authority housing is available and in fit condition to meet housing need. Beginning in 2011, the Department required local authorities to focus the retrofitting programme on bringing vacant stock back into productive use. The 2012 programme will build on the achievements of 2011 when more than 2,600 vacant units were refurbished and made available for re-letting. While local authorities may undertake work on tenanted properties, there is a continuing focus on making vacant properties available for re-letting as quickly as possible. Grants of up to €15,000 per house are generally available for improving the fabric of the house with a further grant of up to €3,000 where additional essential works are needed. Over the course of 2010 and 2011 a total of 4,492 houses were improved. This year a total of €18 million is being provided for improving the quality and energy efficiency of older housing stock around the country.

In the case of Dublin city, I am making more than €62 million available this year to support the various housing programmes in the city council area. This includes more than €40 million for regeneration projects. This funding will meet ongoing commitments in respect of the planning and construction of projects in Ballymun and at a number of locations in the city referred to by Deputy Byrne, including St. Michael's Estate, St. Teresa's Gardens, Dolphin House, O'Devaney Gardens, Croke Villas and Dominick Street.

In addition to the substantial allocation for regeneration works, I will also provide €6 million in 2012 for city council's remedial works programme. This programme provides capital support for estate-wide works to improve the fabric of houses, improve layout and access, address issues such as anti-social behaviour and, where possible, address issues of social exclusion. For example, Liberty House and Bunratty Road Maisonettes will benefit from this allocation. I allocated a further €2.9 million to the city council for energy efficiency and retrofitting works designed to bring vacant stock back into productive use.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the budget that has been allocated and with every bone in my body I believe the Minister of State's heart is in the right place. However, properties in the Dublin City Council area are not being put back on the market quickly enough. People contact me on a regular basis to say they are aware of houses on a particular road which are boarded up. It is very frustrating for any public representative to think such houses are out there. With my hand on my heart I can state a number of properties in my constituency have been vacant for more than a year and nothing has happened to them. They need to be looked into. The local authority needs to be challenged by the Minister of State with responsibility for housing to ensure the budget which has been allocated is used immediately. This morning I spoke to the housing manager in one of the offices who told me he cannot obtain the funding to put 27 houses in his area back on the market. We are losing a huge amount of potential rent from people and we are giving out a huge amount in rent allowance.

I also have a question on the units in NAMA. I come from the inner city and I am completely taken aback by the number of apartment blocks which remain vacant with nobody living in them. I know from looking at many of them that little work needs to be done to put them on the market. Does the Minister of State have any plans to work with NAMA to do something with these complexes and make them available to local authorities so we might be able to house some of those on the waiting list and get some people out of rented accommodation which is inadequate for their needs?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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To reply directly to Deputy Byrne on this issue, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and I met NAMA recently and we are engaging with it on an ongoing basis. Originally it committed to more than 2,000 units, some of which are suitable and some are not. We will continue to engage with it until we have approximately this number of units for social housing.

I take the point that we must continuously examine ways to improve how we use the money we have. In all honesty I cannot see us having extra money in the next year or two. We must target and ensure efficiency in the money we have and ensure it is well spent. Deputy Byrne has made some very good points and I will certainly take them on board.