Tuesday, 15 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Social and Affordable Housing Provision
49. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of direct-build local authority houses envisaged for completion, ready for occupation or both in 2019, excluding those that will be built by approved housing bodies; his plans to utilise public or private lands for the provision of sufficient housing starts by the local authorities with a view to ensuring that the annual increase and requirement for such housing is being adequately met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1421/19]
This question seeks to ascertain the precise extent to which it is expected to have available a specific number of local authority houses. I refer to local authority houses only. This is to determine the degree to which the waiting lists can be reduced and the extent to which the market is moving, growing or fluctuating on an annual basis.
The implementation of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland plan is well under way and significant progress is being made. In particular, the social housing construction programme has expanded significantly, comprising over 17,500 homes at the end of the third quarter of 2018, over 40% up on the position at the end of the third quarter of 2017. While final 2018 delivery data are not yet available, I am satisfied that further substantial progress was made on the social housing build programme last year.
I am determined to keep this momentum going across all areas of social housing delivery in 2019, including local authority builds, approved housing body builds and new homes secured through Part V delivery. Over 6,200 new-build social homes are targeted for delivery this year. The latter is 40% higher than the corresponding target for 2018. Specifically, local authorities will contract for the delivery of over 3,000 of these newly constructed social homes, while approximately 600 more are expected to be added to the stock of local authorities through Part V construction.
The Rebuilding Ireland land map shows that a significant quantum of land is available to local authorities to support social housing delivery, although the position in individual authority areas varies significantly. My Department engages closely with local authorities on opportunities to acquire additional lands. In addition, turnkey developments and delivery through Part V provide opportunities to secure new-build social housing in areas where local authority access to land is constrained. The work of the newly established Land Development Agency will also be important in harnessing public lands for housing development.
Is due cognisance being taken of the fact that when a private sector company builds houses for letting or reletting, it has to make a profit? This increases the rent chargeable to the tenant and, as a result, makes the economy less competitive because it is costing more. Is it recognised that it is necessary to provide local authority direct-build houses in the shortest possible time in order to ensure that fewer players are involved in the production of the houses? A contract could be given to the private sector to build a specific number of houses within a specified period. This would contribute quite substantially to the future competitiveness of the economy.
The Deputy is absolutely correct in terms of that approach. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government has taken the view that the State needs to be directly involved in the building of houses. In the context of social housing units, the first priority was to get that stream under development. Then we want to see things like cost rental and we have the affordable schemes under way as well. At the same time, we are ensuring that construction is increasing throughout the country. There is no point talking about the price of a home if homes are not actually being built. That is why this year, the stock of social housing will increase by 10,000 homes, the majority of which will be directly built by local authorities either working with housing bodies or contracting directly with builders. Over 3,000 of these will be local authorities contracting with builders to build social housing homes on their own land or, when they do not have access to land but it is in the right area, to do turnkeys. By "turnkey", I refer to a process, where the land is there and we know we need social housing, even before planning has been granted, of engaging with a developer to build on that site. Some 10,000 new homes will come into the stock of social housing. When we have the data for 2018, we will see that between one in four and one in five homes that were newly built in that year will be social housing homes, as the Taoiseach pointed out earlier. That has not happened in this country for a very long time. It will continue this year and into next year.
That is why we have a problem; it did not happen for a very long time but it needs to happen now. I acknowledge what the Minister is saying and hope that it progresses satisfactorily. There have been more than 100,000 people on local authority waiting lists for as long as I can remember and only when the economy goes down does that figure go down. In the current economic climate, is due regard being taken of the need to provide for a sufficient number of direct-build local authority houses? They should be provided in such as way as puts them beyond the need for anybody to have an ongoing profit or whatever. This would create stability among a certain cohort who are looking forward to that kind of alleviation.
The Deputy is absolutely right to raise the prospect of future shocks to the economy or what might happen to the construction of social housing units during a downturn. One of the things we have tried to do and have done successfully in Rebuilding Ireland is to ensure that, regardless of what happens to the economy in the future - for example, if there is a slowdown in growth or if something else happens - the State will always be providing public housing. We have the different streams of delivery so that if, for example, an approved housing body gets into difficulty and can no longer provide social housing homes, the slack can be taken up by another approved housing body, a local authority or by way of Part V. There will always be social housing homes being built regardless of what is happening in the wider economy. We did not have that with the crash, not just because our construction industry fell apart but also because at that time social housing output was almost exclusively outsourced to the private sector. When the private sector collapsed, with it came the collapse of social housing.
What we are doing differently now is seeking to make sure that regardless of what is happening, social housing is always being done. We have the provision of ring-fenced funding for the first time under Rebuilding Ireland, which had not happened before with the housing programme. This year, we will spend more money on housing in general than has ever been spent previously in the history of the State. With things like cost-rental, by actually getting those models up and working and financed by bodies like the European Investment Bank with super-low finance, we will be able to ensure that a much bigger section of housing that is being delivered to rent is being delivered for cost rental, not for the profit but actually to deliver sustainable housing solutions using public land. That is one of the things the Land Development Agency will be doing as well.