Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Housing Issues

5:55 pm

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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The Tánaiste is a former Minister with responsibility for housing. The situation in Galway is at crisis levels. The reality is that the population of Galway is growing naturally by approximately 1,000 a year. If that is divided in terms of housing requirement, we estimate we need approximately 350 houses to be built per annum. Currently, the latent demand for housing, in other words the backlog, is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 units. Between private and public construction fewer than 300 houses will be built in Galway this year.

I hold a constituency clinic in Galway every Monday afternoon and throughout each week I am contacted by people who need emergency accommodation. Not even emergency accommodation is available in Galway currently. There is a three-week waiting period for emergency accommodation which, by its own definition, is an emergency. People are being told to self-fund, to sleep on a sofa or to live in their cars.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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They are not being told to sleep in a car.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will hear the Deputy first.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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They are not being told to do that.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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What they have been told is: "We cannot do anything for you." I ask the Tánaiste to give me the options for them.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I will when I respond.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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There are no options. These are families, decent people. Landlords want to take over their properties. They are putting people out of them and giving them notice to leave. People are scared. One person has contacted me every week as they are due to leave the property they are in next April, and that person knows there is not a housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancy available in Galway. One cannot get a HAP tenancy. Landlords are not taking HAP tenants because the market is so strong. This crisis needs to be dealt with now.

6:05 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The people of Galway are being told that there is no place to accommodate them, and that is a fact. The assistant CEO of COPE in Galway said that the homeless crisis in Galway is "unrelenting" and that, in his 20 years in his role, it is the worst he has ever seen. I have less than two minutes so I will not elaborate further. His comments can be read in today's newspapers.

There are people in Galway who have been on housing waiting lists in the city since 2002. The HAP scheme is the only game in town in Galway. The last time the local authority built a house was in 2009. The authority has recently acquired some houses, and earlier this year it completed 14 houses, but these were the first since 2009. In recent days another young man died on our streets in the curtilage of the city council offices. He is the second man to die on the streets of Galway in ten months, bringing the total to 25 people in the past 15 months.

Coincidentally, nine months ago almost to the day, the Tánaiste was in the chair when I raised this matter on Leader's Questions. He said then that while he and I often disagreed, he agreed with me about the crisis in Galway, the difficulties with developer-led development, and the lack of local authority housing. He also agreed with me about the acute need to declare an emergency, to put a master plan in place and to ascertain from the local authority where the difficulties lie. Here we are, almost nine months later and none of that has happened. I could repeat the same speech again but will not do so. Since I made that speech, two more people have died, bringing the total in Galway to 25.

I do not like to exaggerate. I like to stick to the facts. We have the most acute housing crisis in Galway. It is worse than Dublin. People have been waiting since 2002.

I will finish with an email I received today from a parent of three children, two of whom are severely disabled. They will be put out of their home in six months but there is no property available to them. It is impossible to get a HAP property in Galway, as the Simon Community has pointed out repeatedly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the Deputies. This week we learned of the tragic death of a man on the grounds of Galway City Hall on Monday, 15 October. I join the Taoiseach and others in this House in extending my sympathies and condolences to the family of the man who died. Clearly, this is a very difficult time for those involved, and I ask that we respect the privacy of the family and do not speculate on the circumstances of the deceased or the cause of his death.

As to the need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to visit Galway city and to see the housing situation for himself, I assure the Deputies that he is fully cognisant of the housing issues and pressures in Galway city. The Minister recently visited Galway and held discussions with senior officials in the council on homelessness and wider housing issues.

The Government is increasing the funding to all local authorities to provide services to those experiencing homelessness. This year the estimated expenditure on homeless services for the west, of which Galway City Council is one of four local authorities, is €5.2 million. This will increase further in 2019.

Supporting rough sleepers is a particular priority. Last month, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Health jointly launched the national implementation plan for Housing First. Many of those rough sleeping have requirements for significant health supports. As such, Housing First is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Health, the HSE and the local authorities. Housing First recognises that a stable home environment is critical to the success of all other interventions, and by providing the necessary supports alongside rather than in advance of a home, we can empower people to tackle the issues that resulted in them becoming homeless in the first place.

The implementation plan will see this highly effective programme to reduce and end rough sleeping and long-term homelessness extended nationwide. The plan sets an overall target of more than 660 tenancies, with individual targets for each local authority. It is one of the most significant responses by the State to date in dealing with long-term homelessness. Under the plan, 30 Housing First tenancies will be created for Galway city over the next three years, with a further 19 tenancies in Galway county. A tender process is under way in Galway to deliver these tenancies.

Supports for families experiencing homelessness in Galway city are also being reinforced. Galway city’s first family hub is due to open in early 2019. Galway City Council has also identified a site for the roll-out of a modular hub development to be operational in the first half of 2019. It is expected that 15 families will be accommodated for up to six months at a time on this site, if necessary.The principal advantages of these units are that they are quick to erect on site, portable and redeployable elsewhere. A place finder service has been put in place, with a dedicated officer funded by the Department, to support households experiencing homelessness in identifying and securing a property in the private rented market.

The long-term solution to homelessness is increasing the supply of homes, as I am sure the Deputies will agree. A range of measures are being progressed in this regard under Rebuilding Ireland to accelerate all types of housing supply, including social, private and affordable. By 2021, 50,000 new social houses will be provided and housing output generally will be progressively increased towards the target of producing 25,000 houses per year. Galway City Council has a target to deliver 145 new social homes in 2018 and about 1,100 between 2018 and 2021 through build, acquisition and leasing initiatives. In addition, in 2018, a further 254 families or individuals will be housed through the HAP or the rental accommodation scheme. This will bring the total delivery of social housing supports in 2018 to approximately 400.

Despite all of those numbers, I am well aware of the pressures in Galway. Those pressures were there when I was the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and they persist. There are pressures in other cities too. What we are doing is ensuring that, from a financial perspective, local authorities are supported. There should be enough emergency accommodation in every town and city in the country for individuals and families who find themselves homeless but, if there is not, we are committed to putting the resources in place to provide such accommodation.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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There is not enough accommodation. We are not making this up. It would make one cry, listening to the people coming into one's office.

I do not want the Tánaiste to get the impression that a large number of the people coming to us looking for somewhere to live are rough sleepers. Rough sleepers are a small subset of people who need special attention, and I am very well aware of that. The majority of the people with whom I am dealing do not have social or addiction issues and are not rough sleepers. They have never slept rough but simply have nowhere to live because we are up to 3,000 units short of the demand in Galway.

There is no emergency accommodation because Galway is a big tourism town, as well as being a university town and a town with a large institute of technology, GMIT. There is no property available to rent. The HAP scheme is not the most lucrative market and there are other markets available to property owners. There are approximately 19 tourist accommodation providers in the city, for example, apart from Airbnb. There is obviously a strong market in the tourism sector.

We have been told that 1,100 social houses will be built by 2021. There is one simple step that could be taken tomorrow that will speed up that process. It is the same step that the Government took when it created Irish Water. It provided the money to the utility and allowed it to get on with the job. I cannot understand why local authorities are not being given money at the beginning of the year and being told to do the job. They should not have to keep going back to the Department for approval time and again, which means that it takes them an average of 59 weeks to get permission to build a house.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I hope the Chairman will show leniency, given the seriousness of the subject.

While I believe the Tánaiste is genuine and interested, I do not think he realises that it is his Government's policy that is causing the problem. The Government is an integral part of the problem, not the solution. Homelessness in Galway is out of control. These are not my words. I have referred to the comments by the assistant CEO of COPE. He said that the official figures grossly underestimate the numbers of homeless. On Monday of this week, 13 people presented as homeless to one COPE centre in the city. If the Government keeps going down the road of reliance on the market and keeps talking about social housing in the context of HAP, it is not going to learn and it is not going to sort out the problem. We do not want hubs. Obviously emergency accommodation is necessary, but what we want is a long-term solution.

What land does Galway city own? Can the Minister tell me that? What is the difficulty with building on that public land? There are 14 acres at Ceannt Station, eight of which have gone to a private developer without a master plan. There is land at the docks and on Dyke Road, not to mention institutional lands. Where is the overall plan and commitment to build public housing on public land to stop this scandal? We are talking about homes.

Airbnb is a huge part of the problem. The Government has refused to regulate it. We are losing streets and houses to Airbnb in Galway.

6:15 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The one thing the Deputy and I agree on is that we need to get more homes built. They need to be social homes, affordable homes and private homes. Student accommodation also needs to be built because Galway is a big university city. Much of the accommodation that is currently rented by students could and should be available to individuals and families.

All of those things are happening. They are not happening fast enough, but they are happening. Much more student accommodation is being built in Galway. Social houses are being built there. The Deputy is right to quote often the statistic that very small numbers of social houses were built over the past ten years.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Nothing was built.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is changing. The Government does not have an ideological attachment to a reliance on the private sector to solve social housing need. Quite the opposite is the case. It has committed tens of millions of euro to roll out one of the most ambitious social housing building programmes the State has ever seen. That is happening. It takes time to build houses and, in the meantime, we must rely on HAP and RAS because there are properties available in which families can be accommodated. We are also looking to switch people from rent allowance to HAP because it is a more secure form of tenancy.

It takes time to build the number of houses we need to solve the problems in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and elsewhere. There is a dramatic increase in the number of social houses being delivered and the number of private houses, many of them affordable, that are being delivered as well. The Government is trying to deliver mixed tenure communities with many extra social houses. In the next few years, 50,000 houses will be provided under the Rebuilding Ireland scheme, which will then go on to provide more than 100,000 houses. That needs to be accelerated, particularly in pressure points like Galway.