Thursday, 6 April 2017
Local Authority Housing
9. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the number of local authority new housing starts initiated by each local authority in the past 12 months; the number of local authorities, if any, awaiting the start of such housing starts; the extent to which the seriousness of the housing shortage has manifested itself in terms of homelessness in each of the local authorities; the degree to which each authority has successfully sourced alternative or emergency accommodation in the same period; if it is expected they will take emergency steps such as the provision of modular housing in order to address the emerging situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17110/17]
My question relates to the ongoing, in fact burgeoning, housing shortage in County Kildare with particular reference to the urgent need to deal with recurring homelessness. We must deal with people who find themselves homeless as a result of a variety of issues and have no place to go, with families having to book and rebook into hotels. In some cases, families with children who have special needs have to vacate at the drop of a hat.
I thank the Deputy for the question. My Department published a comprehensive list of all social housing construction schemes that were advancing nationwide at end of the fourth quarter of 2016. Over 500 approved schemes were listed that, when completed, will deliver about 8,500 new social homes. The schemes listed include those that are being designed, those currently on site and those completed in 2016. It showed that just over 650 new social houses were built in 2016 and a further 90 schemes, delivering over 1,800 newly built social houses, went on site last year. I am keen that those schemes, which are already approved by my Department, are advanced as soon as possible by the local authorities and approved housing bodies. I have assured them that funding is in place to support this delivery. I have also continued to approve further schemes which are adding to the already strong pipeline.
Local authorities are taking other actions to respond to housing need and meet the needs of homeless people within their areas. These include targeted acquisitions, the new repair and leasing initiative, and rapid-delivery housing. On the latter, my Department is working closely with local authorities and, as well as the 350 rapid-build homes at various stages of progress at end of last year, a further 650 will be advanced in 2017, followed by 500 additional units in 2018.
It should be noted that official homelessness data reports are produced using the pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, the single integrated national data information system on State-funded emergency accommodation arrangements overseen by housing authorities. These data reports are published and made available on my Department's website each month.
As late as last week, as the Deputy knows, we announced a significant funding package for parts of County Kildare to cover infrastructure that is needed to open up housing sites in the right locations. That will certainly help to accelerate some of the projects the Deputy has been advocating.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge the work done to date. I realise the amount of preparatory work that is required before the houses are delivered. However, the housing shortage in County Kildare is reaching a position we have not experienced previously. Numerous families are apparently becoming homeless at the same time. On a daily basis, three, four, five or six families report to the local authority begging for accommodation. The local authority is not in a position to build houses overnight.
Using Kildare as an example, perhaps the Minister might make contact with each of the local authorities with a view to identifying how, using modular houses or by whatever means, they can expand the number of houses available in the short term. The problem is with the short term; in two years, we will not have the same problem because building will have caught up with it. However, at the moment we have a serious situation that I have not experienced in my lifetime heretofore. We have all spoken about this issue in this House with the Minister and his predecessor. I am appealing to the Minister to contact the local authorities with a view to identifying how quickly and how many they can deliver.
The Deputy is right that this is all about delivery. I have said on numerous occasions that if I come to the conclusion that local authorities are not able to deliver social housing at the pace we need it, we then need to look at new structures, such as a national housing authority or something like that.
At the moment, to be fair, the vast majority of local authorities are seriously ramping up their delivery programmes. We should not forget there was virtually no money for social housing for quite some time because the country had no money. We did not have the capacity to borrow money to spend on social housing because there were strings attached to how we sourced finance. We are no longer in that position. We have an obligation to increase our housing stock significantly. I intend doing that as fast as we can while ensuring we have good-quality social housing. That is why we significantly increased funding this year over last year. We have seen a 50% increase in housing funding in one year. We will see another dramatic increase next year and the year after. We are ramping up. It takes time to get sites that were dormant up and running and building through tendering processes and all the rest of it. However, that is very much under way now.
I acknowledge all the work that has been done and has to be done still. Some of these things are sent to test us from time to time. The manner in which we deal with emergencies is indicative of what can be done for society at any particular time. I agree that the Minister and his ministerial colleague are doing everything possible to do that now.
The problem is with the urgency. There is an urgent requirement to contact each local authority, particularly in the greater Dublin area, to identify precisely what they can deliver in the next six months. I am told by people who are in the business that they can deliver a modular house on site within three months and that there are serviced sites available. In view of the emergency nature of the situation that is now unfolding, I impress on the Minister to do that now rather than wait until it is forced upon us. The emergency will get to such an extent that it will not be possible to tolerate the degree of pressure arising from those on the waiting list who are out on the road with no place to go.
Regarding the planning system, how that is handled is very patchy. A person presenting as homeless can wait for three weeks to be processed. A lot of homelessness is hidden because family and friends are helping out. In areas outside cities that would not previously have experienced front-line homelessness, the services are very underdeveloped.
In response to Deputy Durkan, we now have a framework for rapid-build housing. I understand that Kildare County Council has been asked to fully exploit the potential of rapid-build housing, but it needs to come back with projects. We now have a central tendering list that has been agreed for companies that have the capacity for modular construction, which is essentially offsite construction, and then they put very good quality houses together. We will see a considerable amount of private and social housing built through offsite construction. I know of at least one facility in County Kildare that has the capacity to do that.
If there are opportunities for Kildare County Council to build social housing projects in a more rapid format, the framework is there to do it now. We will approve the projects if they are good enough and if they are cost effective. There is no excuse now for local authorities not to use rapid-build technologies to build social housing. There is a framework to do it and we want to support it.