Thursday, 6 April 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Voluntary Housing Sector
4. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the number of voluntary housing organisations that have been provided with assistance from his Department in County Tipperary each year since 2012; the number of voluntary housing units that have been built in County Tipperary each year since 2012; the number of proposals from voluntary associations currently with his Department for the provision of voluntary housing in County Tipperary; the efforts being taken by his Department to proactively engage with and support voluntary housing associations throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17417/17]
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me back in. I was with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar upstairs. I have an interest to declare in that I am the chairperson of Caislean Nua Voluntary Housing Association in Newcastle. I believe that the whole voluntary sector has been under-utilised by successive Governments. It was not back in the good times of the 2000s. It has a big role to play and can play it. It can do it, as we did ourselves in Newcastle. I pay tribute to my board for getting sites procured and developed, with the whole lot done in 18 months. It has taken too long for local authorities to build houses, as we all know.
For the record, we would all agree with Deputy McGrath, and we think there is great potential to use approved housing bodies and housing associations throughout the country. That is why they have been allocated up to €1 billion of the spend of the €5.5 billion to make this happen. There is great opportunity in Tipperary and in many other counties to tap into and work with approved housing bodies, exactly as the Deputy says. That is something we are very strongly supporting and encouraging. Our message to all local authorities is to strengthen that relationship at management level and also at local authority representative level, and for the councils to feel part of that and closer to the approved housing bodies.
In the status report to the end of 2016 for social housing construction projects, which was recently published and is on the website, there are 16 projects of various scale for the Tipperary County Council area, either recently completed or being advanced. Three of these are being advanced by approved housing bodies to deliver 20 units of accommodation at Fethard, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir. Further projects are being added to this list on an ongoing basis, as they are developed by local authorities and approved housing bodies. Funding is in place for all of these projects and I am keen that they are advanced as soon as possible.
Since 2012, almost €3 million has been provided to 12 approved housing bodies for Tipperary projects under our Department’s capital assistance scheme, to build or acquire houses and apartments as part of sheltered housing projects, with 29 units delivered. Under my Department’s social housing current expenditure programme, two approved housing bodies are managing seven leased units in Tipperary. There are also approvals in place with two approved housing bodies, via the capital advance leasing facility, for 54 new social units in Tipperary across four projects.
Approved housing bodies have an important role to play under Rebuilding Ireland, with the capacity to contribute around a third of the 47,000 new social housing units targeted over the period to 2021, using a range of delivery methods. As with all local authorities, we would encourage Tipperary County Council to work constructively with the range of local and national approved housing bodies that operate in the county. More progress on this by the local authority can result in better social housing delivery. For example, the repair and leasing scheme, rolled out on a national basis in February, offers a significant opportunity for collaboration with approved housing bodies to maximise the potential impact of the scheme. We hope to see Tipperary County Council working with approved housing bodies on this and other social housing programmes to further improve delivery. I cannot stress enough-----
That is fine. I will stick to it. I thank the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, for coming to Clonmel this week and making that announcement of funding to extra housing units there. I am disappointed that the county council did not notify all the Deputies of the Dáil. We will be there to meet the Minister and give him a hand and turn the sod, as will the local representatives.
The Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, of which I was a member for a number of years, and Dr. Donal McManus and his team there do tremendous work. I am pleading with the Minister to use those volunteers. They can do it. Ní neart go cur le chéile. I am not talking about the big voluntary boards, though Respond! Housing Association and the others do a good job. I am talking about small housing associations throughout the country that are building ten, 15, 20 or even as few as six units. They are vital. They look after the stock as well, and have a great relationship with the tenants. The voluntary housing associations have a huge role to play. I hope that the Minister will make full use of them, because the Department was cautious of them a few years ago. I hope that has changed.
I am reminded by my colleague, Deputy Simon Coveney, that I am not often asked to speak even faster, but I will try to work on it. To be clear, we agree with what Deputy McGrath is asking. We encourage all local authorities to work with approved housing bodies and housing associations throughout the country. There is money set aside for that specifically. We need everyone on board here. Our message is for all local authorities and all parties.
We all agree with the targets set in this as a minimum. People want more, and that is fine. This money should be spent, and that involves partnership with all the local authorities, the housing bodies and the associations mentioned. Quite a bit of money has been allocated to Tipperary, and it is ahead of the targets that were set for the last three years. New targets will be set in the next couple of months. To be clear, the recent target set was for 832 units to be met by the Tipperary local authority in 2015, 2016 and 2017. It is already at 343 units, so it is ahead of the target by 30 or 40 units. That is great, and we encourage that. The funding is in place, and we cannot stress that enough. The money is there for a pipeline of projects. What is coming through the system is 130 plus 54 more from the housing bodies. We can do more, Tipperary can do more, and it is up to the Deputy, the councillors and the county councils to drive it on. The Department will do its bit.
The Deputy should be afraid to utter the word "pipeline", with all that is going on at the committee because there might be ruptures in that pipeline. I am delighted that Tipperary is that far ahead. I want more progress. There is an adage that were Tipperary leads Ireland follows. It is nice to hear we are ahead, but we are not far enough ahead and we need to do more. The happiest job I have been involved in in my political career and my voluntary career was being the chairperson of the Casilean Nua voluntary housing association. I want to salute the team of volunteer board members and the work they have done and continue to do, particularly Mrs. O'Keeffe and Mrs. O'Donnell, in running and maintaining the buildings. One of the Ministers might visit it some time. We need more of that. They can provide solutions and get around corners much more easily than Departments because people do not have to hand out money for sites and everything else. There is huge potential there. I again want to pay tribute to all the voluntary housing organisations up and down the country. They have done the work, they are able to do the work and they will do the work. All they want is more support and co-operation from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Departments it is associated with because for a while the unit dealing with voluntary associations was stood down and they had to go around the country to five or six different offices to get any project on the road.
I can speak with confidence about pipelines because the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I have been in Tipperary recently opening new treatment plants, thanks to Irish Water and the great work it is doing with the new investment plan it has, thanks to the money it has been allocated. We should compliment it on the work it is doing.
On housing, when it comes to Tipperary, it is doing well with its targets. We will increase the targets because there is increased funding set aside for social housing. There is increased demand on all of us and on all local authorities to deliver that, and there are a number of methods to do that, through various schemes. I cannot stress enough how important it is that the two new schemes for vacant properties are used, namely, the sale and lease back and the buy and renew schemes. The approved housing bodies are part of that as well.
Tipperary has been allocated up to €60 million for housing and social housing over the last two years, and it is important that money gets spent. We are changing the processes to make it easier to spend it and to deliver, so let us work on that.