Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters
We move now to Topical Issue matters. Deputies Christopher O'Sullivan, Stanton, Martin Kenny and Verona Murphy are all involved. I call Deputy O'Sullivan to discuss the need for significant increase in accessible housing in the local authority housing stock.
I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister of State. The issue I wish to raise is the lack of existing housing, particularly social housing, for people with disabilities and particularly the cases that have been presented to me regarding those who are wheelchair bound.
It became very apparent over the summer recess, in particular, that more and more people are in positions where they are seeking social housing that requires accessibility. The simple fact of the matter is that those houses are not there. There is a chronic shortage of social houses for people with accessibility issues or who are wheelchair bound and it is something that we need to address.
I will give an example of the types of situations from people who are presenting to my office in Cork South-West. One individual, a young gentleman, is wheelchair bound and is currently renting, and is also on the social housing list. That is a key link. So many people with disabilities are on low incomes and because that is intrinsically linked, unfortunately, in today's society, we have issues where many people with disabilities are on the social housing list. The housing stock is simply not there, however, and it is not adapted to care for their needs.
A perfect example is in Clonakilty, where we currently have 100 social houses being built along with Kinsale, where there are a further 50 houses. There are about another 50 houses in Skibbereen and more in Dunmanway. In one of the social housing developments in Clonakilty, which has more than 50 units, only six of those units have downstairs toilets and only one of those 50 units has a disabled or accessible toilet. Considering more than 640,000 people in Ireland have a disability, which is one in seven people, the ratio of houses within our social housing stock that are accessible to wheelchair users is nowhere near high enough. People like the gentleman about whom I spoke earlier are, therefore, in serious trouble and in dire need of housing.
I appreciate the Housing for All document, which is a plan that I believe in and will back fully. I know it will be implemented and it has good, strong sections on housing for people with disabilities. However, I firmly believe that in the interim, to look after the situations like those I described, we need to provide our local authorities with capital funding in order that they can either adapt their existing housing stock as houses become vacant, or acquire houses on the market and adapt them on a case-by-case basis for people with disabilities, particularly those who are wheelchair users. I urge the Minister of State to work with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to ensure that local authorities are provided with that funding to allow adaptation of existing stock.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this very important issue. The recent launch of Housing for All demonstrates the absolute commitment of this Government to ensure that affordable, quality housing is available to everyone in Irish society, including those with disabilities and our older people.
The commitment was also reflected in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, in which we set out to ensure that there is an appropriate mix of housing design types provided within social housing, including universally designed units and accommodation for older people and people with disabilities. Local authorities are responsible for the planning and provision of social housing in their areas and, therefore, decide the number of specific types of dwellings to provide in their developments based on identified need. At national level, we are determined to ensure that they will have the funding and resources to deliver the housing that is needed and that houses provided will meet the standards of those who need them most.
We are ensuring that the ambition of Housing for All is translated into clear, target-driven local authority delivery action plans. The housing delivery action plans will set out how dedicated social housing provision for older people and people with disabilities will be delivered and including social housing delivery partners, matching the scale and extent of housing need identified and having regard to the forecast in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage's July 2021 disability capacity review.
It should be emphasised that social housing in Ireland is built to an exceptionally high standard and that is evident right around the country. The design standards are set out in Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities: Design Guidelines. In preparing these guidelines, particular account was taken of the objectives of Government policy on sustainability, including access for people with disabilities and meeting the varied needs of occupants through their lifetime. The design approach on social housing seeks to eliminate barriers of accessibility for all users, particularly older people and those with mobility impairment or other disabilities. Where units are being designed for those with disabilities, the guidelines refer to the National Disability Authority publication, Building for Everyone: Inclusion, Access and Use.
More recently, the Housing Agency published a roadmap entitled Designing Housing to Meet the Needs of All, which has specific regard to the principles of universal design. Of course, all new buildings and extensions or material alterations to existing buildings must comply with the legal minimum performance standards set out in the building regulations, of which part M aims to ensure visibility for all.
To further explore the potential design of accessibility in new housing units and housing more generally, the National Disability Authority is currently preparing policy advice and completing a cost-benefit analysis of achieving universal design solutions in housing action under action 97 of the National Disability Strategy 2017-2021.
My Department is participating in a technical group convened to undertake the development of a comprehensive economic and social evaluation of universal design models. Recently I attended the Oireachtas committee dealing with housing for people with disabilities and-or older persons and the challenges they face. We have significantly increased funding in our local authorities through our mobility grant mechanisms and through those for our older persons to try to support independent living and accessibility in people's homes where they most need it and where the most vulnerable need to be protected. I assure the Deputy we are fully committed to this.
As I go around the country to see the new housing builds, it is incredible to see the future-proof mechanisms attached in each to try to prepare for the future, as families and our needs change. I hope more people have that opportunity to be independently housed in their own homes for longer.
I appreciate the Minister of State's response and I can hear his dedication to ensuring people have the option of independent living in accessible houses. However, we are still in the situation in which we are. The development I referred to in Clonakilty will provide secure housing for so many vulnerable people on low incomes. Out of the 50 houses, to have only one adapted toilet is not good enough. Perhaps local authorities need to be explicitly instructed to ensure that when they are building social housing developments, a much higher percentage of those houses are accessible to reflect the number of people in Ireland living with disabilities or who are wheelchair users. That needs to happen. I gave the example of that young gentleman who is renting and who cannot avail of those mobility aid grants. There is also a woman who is, again, a wheelchair user. She is living in an isolated rural part of my constituency and her children are moving on to college. She has a feeling of isolation and desperation. The option for her to move into a town such as Clonakilty, Kinsale, Bandon or Dunmanway is not there because the houses are not there.
I completely back the long-term plan and strategies for housing provision, but in the short-term period, there are instances in which people are desperate for accessible housing. I urge the Minister of State to make funding available in this budget for local authorities, before those bigger-scale developments happen, for the acquisition and adaptation of existing houses. That would take pressure off.
There is a commitment of €4 billion in multi-annual budgets in our national development plan, which was not there before and is backed up by the Housing Finance Agency and the Land Development Agency. That will be key to unlocking many of these developments to which the Deputy referred. I assure him the grant mechanisms will be supported to ensure local authorities have the resources to discharge their duties. I am also progressing with our new disability strategy, which had almost 1,600 submissions, of which 28% were from people with disabilities and lived experiences, which are so important. As the Deputy quite rightly referenced, we have a huge amount to do in terms of right sizing and giving people opportunities to live in homes that are suitable to meet their needs, especially the most vulnerable in our society. We now have the housing needs and demands assessment tool in the Department, which will assist local authorities in identifying the need they must supply into their functional area.
Obviously, it is disappointing to see that there is no future-proofing in a 50-unit housing estate. If the Deputy wants to bring the details of that estate to my attention, I will have that investigated, because it is important the signal goes out from the Department that you need to future-proof developments and the vulnerable must be protected. When housing allocations are appointed to tenancies, policies are in place for the quota that should be allocated for those with disabilities and the most vulnerable. We would be keen to follow up on that, if the Deputy wants to forward the details to me.
I assure people we will shortly have the strategy from 2022-2026. We have done a huge amount of engagement on it. The money is there and we want to ensure people can live in their homes longer and that the most vulnerable are protected.