Thursday, 24 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I ask the Minister how social housing schemes are progressing in County Clare. Some 18 months ago, as mayor of Clare County Council, I signed a number of contracts in conjunction with the then Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, to deliver social housing. I want to know how that is progressing. Has the Minister any other good news this morning?
There is lots of good news. To answer the Deputy's question, there is also good news for County Clare because we have a housing plan backed with real resources and the largest housing budget in the history of the State, which the Deputy supported, underpinned by investment of €3.3 billion in housing programmes in budget 2021. We have a national target of 12,750 social homes, 9,500 of which are new builds. There will be an impact due to Covid but we are doing our best to make up as much lost ground as we can. In County Clare, the council set a target for this year to deliver 227 new social homes, with 195 new builds. That shows the emphasis that the Government has and that Deputy Crowe had as mayor in pushing towards new builds and increasing our housing stock.
The social housing construction status report is published each quarter and provides scheme-level data on newly built social housing in every local authority area, including Clare. Details about the stage of each project can be found in the status report. The most recent report covered the period until the end of the first quarter of 2020 and provides details of 47 separate social housing schemes across Clare. Since 2016, 245 homes have been completed in 29 schemes. The report also shows that 177 homes are in progress across nine schemes right now, with a further 128 in Clare at various stages of the design and pre-tender process. It is a significant pipeline of homes that we will increase further in the housing for all plan which the Government will publish in the coming weeks.
It is good to see progress. I thank the Minister. I am sure that we would all agree that this cannot happen quickly enough. I pay tribute to Anne Haugh, the director of service for housing, and her team. It is a tricky area to work in. We, as Deputies, bombard them with representations from people who need and are desperate to get housing. A few things need to be looked at urgently, including social housing income bands. Eligibility limits need to be urgently reviewed because Clare is currently in the lowest band, which is band 3. A review of housing assistance payment, HAP, maximum rent payments is needed. Housing assistance payments in Clare were the third lowest in the country, at €550, with two parents and three children. In Ennis, the average private rental cost is €1,000. In the south of the county, in places such as Westbury, a three-bed semi-detached house, which is a modest house, has a rental cost of €1,400. HAP does not correlate to the market values for renting.
I thank Deputy Crowe. There is a committed and dedicated housing team in Clare County Council. I intend to visit in July to look at some of the schemes myself. I look forward to meeting the Deputy there. We need to increase new stock. We have outlined that and will be ambitious. We also need to look at existing stock. Clare County Council, through the work of its housing director, chief executive, and teams on the ground, was successful last year and brought 77 vacant homes back into use with funding of €1.5 million that I provided. Those are 77 homes that were not in use and are now back in use. This year, Clare County Council is targeting 119 vacant homes to bring back into use for people on the social housing list, with funding of €1.7 million which the Government provided for Clare. We need to and will build more homes but we need to better use the existing stock. In less than two years, we will have brought back nearly 200 vacant homes in Clare for the use of our citizens and that is good.
I thank the Minister. Returning the voids to use and getting people into those homes is important. It is awful to see a house boarded up or lying idle. On the theme of housing in Clare, I raise the issue of Traveller accommodation.
The issue of Traveller accommodation has received a great deal of coverage in recent months. At times, the media and many people round on the local authorities and criticise them in that regard. I want to put that in context in County Clare. Fifty per cent of the homeless people in Clare are Traveller families. This area is hugely resource-intensive and the council has been seeking the assistance of the Department by way of submissions for funding, in particular for a housing welfare manager to oversee the homeless action team. I hope the Minister will consider that. He knows this sector well. It is resource-intensive and without the right supports it flounders. Building houses is one response. Addressing the plethora of issues in terms of sifting through applicants and drilling down into their familial issues requires resourcing. I hope the Minister will make some positive announcements in that regard very shortly.
Deputy Cathal Crowe referred to the contract that he signed as mayor of Clare. I recall thinking at the time that the houses were among the most expensive social houses ever built in Clare, but he explained that was because of the increase in build standards required - be that as it may. My question to the Minister relates to how much more expensive the building of these houses has become as a result of materials inflation, which is an issue I raised earlier. This affects one-off builds, but it also affects the capacity of local authorities to deliver houses. There is huge material inflation, especially, but not just, in timber. The Minister may not have this answer off the top of his head, but how much more will the houses for which Deputy Crowe signed the contract when he was mayor of Clare cost because of inflation, because of Covid or for any other reason? We all know that house building is becoming increasingly expensive.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the director of services at Clare County Council, Anne Haugh, and all of the team in the housing section who do Trojan work for the people of County Clare. I welcome that the Minister will visit County Clare in July. There is a particular need for an affordable housing scheme to be rolled out throughout the county. I ask the Minister to reference that in his remarks.
We have very strong representation from the banner county this morning. It is good to see the Deputies working together to deliver homes for our people.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is doing Trojan work in the area of Traveller accommodation, with a budget of €15.5 million that will be and is being spent, all of it being used on the capital side. We want to see our local authorities using the funds that are being provided by the Government to deliver Traveller-specific accommodation. The Minister of State is dealing with that matter on a daily basis across all local authorities, including Clare County Council.
On the question posed by Deputy McNamara, there have been material increases in timber, plastics and metals, some of it Covid-related and some of it Suez- and supply chain-related. This is being monitored by the Department's market surveillance unit. The increases we are seeing could be temporary, but we are monitoring the situation. The Deputy asked if this has an effect on delivery. There is no question that it does.
Deputy Carey raised the issue of affordable housing. The Deputy will know, because he has been an ardent supporter of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, that the Bill comes before the Dáil today. It is the most significant affordable housing Bill in the history of the State and will impact positively on County Clare.