Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Social and Affordable Housing Provision
1. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the progress made in the delivery of social housing units under the social housing strategy 2020; if he expects the targets for the construction and refurbishment of new units in each local authority area to be met this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9320/15]
Yesterday evening we discussed the Estimates for the Department's spend, 52% of which is on housing. It would be no harm to discuss the issue and outline the means by which the Minister expects to meet the demands placed on the Department by virtue of the announcements made in budget 2015, Construction 2020 and the social housing strategy 2020. We are led to believe the housing crisis which has been allowed to proceed unabated in the past few years can be addressed, despite the fact that it has been exacerbated by the bank veto which continues in the legislation dealing with bank mortgages and which has resulted in 100,000 being on waiting lists. The spend in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was 3.5 times the budget for this year and the next two years. Then 12,500 units were built, but the Minister says he can still achieve the target for this year of 7,500 units, not including the 8,400 provided for through housing assistance payments and transfers from the RAS. In going through the figures it strikes me as unlikely that we can increase supply. That is the big issue. Demand far outweighs supply, which is causing rents to reach exorbitant rates. With no major house building programme in the Department's proposals, there is a great danger the crisis will continue unabated. Will the Minister inform the House how he hopes to meet demand?
Social housing is a key priority for the Government, as evidenced by the additional €2.2 billion in funding announced for social housing in budget 2015 and the publication of the social housing strategy 2020 in November 2014. The strategy builds on the provisions contained in budget 2015 and sets out clear, measurable actions and targets to increase the supply of social housing, reform delivery arrangements and meet the housing needs of all households on the housing list. Importantly, it restores the State to a central role in the provision of social housing. The total targeted provision of over 110,000 social housing units through the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units and meeting the housing needs of some 75,000 households through the housing assistance payment and rental accommodation scheme will address the needs of the 90,000 households on the housing waiting list in full, with flexibility to meet potential future demand. In committing to provide these 35,000 new social housing units, at a projected cost of €3.8 billion, the strategy marks a fresh start for social housing in Ireland.
Under the relevant actions of the strategy, national targets for the delivery of social housing on a local authority by local authority basis are to be agreed for each year in quarter one 2015. This process is well under way and all local authorities have submitted delivery proposals, across all delivery mechanisms, for the years 2015 to 2017. These are being examined in my Department.
Total housing provision in 2015 will result in an investment of almost €800 million across a range of housing programmes. I expect some 7,400 new social housing units to be provided this year. In addition, a further 8,400 households will be assisted through the housing assistance payment. The social housing strategy sets out an ambitious agenda for delivery and it is one that all of the key stakeholders and I are determined to meet.
I thank the Minister for his reply. In drilling down into the real facts contained within the figures we see that 2,000 leased units under the RAS can never become long-term homes for the occupants. Some 3,000 leased units are provided by the social housing agencies for which we do not have specific delivery plans on the table. They are leased units and the legislation does not allow for their occupants to buy them and call them home. There are just 1,400 units to be built or acquired by local authorities. Local authorities are being squeezed out of the process, but they are at the coal face as they have up to 100,000 people seeking to be housed. They are the ones, the doors of which will be knocked on when the courts repossess the homes of those who have no option but to accept the bank veto rather than adhering to the intermediaries' solutions under the existing legislation. Demand outweighs supply and the Minister is not addressing the severe supply issue. All experts and stakeholders have consistently said the only way to address the issue is to embark on a building programme. As Deputy Brian Stanley said at a committee meeting last night, in the 1930s 8,000 houses were built per annum by local authorities and the State. That is the sort of measure that is absolutely necessary to address what is a calamitous crisis.
I reject completely what the Deputy is saying. This is the largest social housing fund in the history of the State. The Deputy can check the statistics and will find that that is a fact. Yesterday we discussed at length the programmes sent to local authorities. All local authorities, including the Deputy's, have come back to me with their plans under the various schemes and the Deputy knows the figures because I have published them on a number of occasions. They give a breakdown of how we are going to provide the units provided for. Depending on what stage each local authority is at, there will be a mixture of building and purchasing because in some parts of the country purchasing units is probably financially preferable to building. This will not hit supply because the properties in question are actually available. We are also delivering hugely in respect of voids, with well over 2,000 last year and a further 1,000 projected for this year. This is an area on which I have concentrated. In the next few years we will be delivering hugely in terms of supply to ensure more people will have homes which they totally deserve. As the Deputy knows, 7,536 units will be delivered, while 8,389 additional HAP places will be provided.
As the Minister said last night, many of the HAP payments represent transfers from the RAS.
We could not elaborate on the percentages last night but all of them could be transfers from existing tenants under RAS schemes. Ultimately, the Minister's ambition will be measured by the record of success, when the year concludes, on the deliverability of what is proposed. I do not agree that it is the biggest house building programme in the history of the State. I will check the facts but I am sure I am on the right side of those facts. Local authorities, in conjunction and in co-operation with the Minister's Department, should be charged with the responsibility of addressing this issue. They should be providing and building new units. This is the only way to meet the crisis. Fr. McVerry stated this recently and he is not the only expert who has stated this consistently. The only way to address the supply issue, because of the demand, is to increase the supply. It will not suffice to increase the supply of leased units. There is a crisis in that sector also. Rents would not be at their current levels if this was not the case. The Minister is looking at the existing market to fulfil a need which needs to be resolved from the outside and by that I mean constructing units. Unfortunately, the record will show that there is only provision for 1,400 units and we do not know how many of them will be built.
I am happy to stand up to scrutiny as regards the allocations we have given out. I remind the Deputy that this scenario exists because of his party's policies. We have the legacy of Part V. Over the past years this provision did not exist because there was no development. This structure was one his party put in place.
The ratio of transfers from rent supplements to new applicants in the housing assistance payments, HAP, scheme is 50-50. We are happy with the programme of work we have outlined up to 2020. Delivering on 110,000 units is a phenomenal target. There are 90,000 people on the housing waiting list. Many of these people are in key urban areas, which we will be targeting in the coming years.