Housing Provision 24.9.14

Housing Provision: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Unrevised

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne In Herberton, a further 24 units will be purchased and managed through funding itself. In Camac Crescent, Inchicore, 20 units have been acquired under leasing by the National Association of Building Co-operatives, NABCO. Moreover, on James’s Street, 22 units have been acquired under leasing for Clúid Housing Association and Simon housing association. In St. Catherine’s Gate, 22 units are being acquired by Clúid Housing Association. The council has purchased three second-hand houses, two of which are occupied while the other is being refurbished at present and there are more on the list. In addition, as Members are aware, the St. Teresa’s Gardens complex is being de-tenanted and money has been allocated by the Government to build new units there. Three of the original flat blocks in the complex are being refurbished for accommodation for those who wish to stay in the area and who may wish to transfer into the new building when it happens. In further good news, the number of housing units refurbished in Dublin South Central from January 2014 to date is 158, of which 137 are currently occupied. While this is good news, all Members, including Deputy Ó Snodaigh and I, are aware that many people still are coming into their clinics on a daily basis to inquire about housing. They are now getting into a state of actually being desperate. Members must reconsider how they will quantify and make available proper housing units, by which I do not mean single rooms or bedsits, but proper housing for families.

Deputy Seán Kenny: Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny First, I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, on his appointment and I wish him success on dealing with the housing brief. I believe the Government understands the problems people are facing in respect of housing, from those who are living with the threat and reality of homelessness to families who cannot find affordable properties to rent or to purchase. The housing challenge is significant and the Construction 2020 target of tripling annual housing output over the next six years, as well as the Housing Agency’s estimate of approximately 35,000 additional residential properties being required over the next five years to meet social housing need, show the scale of the challenge before Members. While it is important to recognise these issues, it is just as important not to panic people with regard to the housing market. The price of property in Dublin fell by more than 50% from the peak of the boom and it remains significantly below those peak rates. As for immediate action, 6,000 households will have their social housing needs met this year. I believe that claims of another property boom are exaggerated. The recent story from Swords of people camping out overnight to place a deposit appears to have been a once-off event. Moreover, I understand that on the day on which sales of that development opened, the houses did not sell out on the first day and it may well have been something that was hyped up by the developer.

The social housing strategy under the stewardship of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, is in preparation and will be finalised and published with budget 2015. While I do not intend to start pre-empting the final strategy, clearly it will need to address supply by coming up with solutions that must include a more ambitious building programme, as well as the facilitation of increased private sector construction. It must also examine funding solutions, including the best mix of State funding, private finance and European Union sources of funding. New social housing stock is being added, old stock that needed refurbishment is being reactivated and it will continue to add to the stock. Through a considerable refurbishment programme, almost 2,000 social housing units have been put back in use in 2014 and a further 1,200 social units will return to use in 2015, with more units to follow thereafter. The social housing strategy will provide the Government with a programme to continue this work. Significant development on new builds has started already and new social housing developments are starting all around the country. In Dublin, for example, 38 new units are being built in Glasnevin. Moreover, new public housing initiatives are being progressed by Dublin City Council with the voluntary sector and with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I refer, for example, to two large schemes of 50 and 130 units, respectively, in which a mix of private rented and socially rented units are being provided side-by-side in my own constituency on the Dublin north fringe. This is the kind of innovation that is needed and with which we must continue.

The Government’s commitment to tackling homelessness is laid out in the homeless policy statement published last year, which outlines the Government’s aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. This means a transition from a shelter-led to a more sustainable housing-led approach, which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. In the past two years in Dublin, approximately 1,500 people have moved from homeless services to independent living with necessary supports. This shows what can be done. There is much more to be done and I fully recognise this is a challenge. This is why an oversight group was established to review the approach advocated in the homeless policy statement to identify obstacles and to propose solutions to them. These in turn led to the approval by the Government in May 2014 of a major implementation plan containing 80 actions that will contribute to the delivery of 2,700 units of accommodation by the end of 2016. These actions include ensuring that vacant properties are brought into productive use as quickly as possible and prioritising vulnerable groups, including homeless households, for housing, as well as bringing other suitable vacant residential properties in State ownership into use as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, I wish to raise the question of the repossession of buy-to-let properties by banks. People who are renting such units and who are being made homeless as a result of their repossession by banks should be allowed to remain in situ when the property is being purchased by another investor and I believe legislation to protect tenants in this position should be considered. I support the work of the Government and I will play my part in ensuring that the housing crisis is tackled and resolved.

Deputy Tom Barry: Information on Tom Barry Zoom on Tom Barry First, I wish to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, on his appointment. I have no doubt but that he will do an outstanding job. On reading the motion before Members this evening, one would be forgiven for thinking it is a motion for Dublin, because “Dublin” appears four times within it. For those Members who are from Cork and other counties, it may be a little restricted in its viewpoint. Perhaps I am picking it up wrongly but it appears as though people are almost revelling in other people’s despair. However, I refer to one really important point that is nowhere to be seen in this motion, namely, oversight. Is there sufficient oversight in respect of those who have got houses and are such houses being taken and maintained in the true spirit of the scheme? The household benefits package, of which all Members are aware, provides various items such as electricity and gas to people. I have come across a case in which a person approached me seeking a cheque back in respect of their electricity. Basically, up to now, one would use one’s electricity units from one’s household package and if they were not used, one was away whereas if they were used, one paid for the balance. However, if one is not using them, one gets back a cheque. The aforementioned person obviously was not living in the house, yet was getting back a cheque, from taxpayers’ money that is paid to the ESB with no oversight. Bad enough as that may be, what is worse is the person obviously was not living in the house. If this represents – as it could – 5% of the housing stock, why are Members not talking about oversight?

There is no point in building many more houses unless Members ensure those people living in them are living in the true spirit of the scheme and actually are the people dwelling in them. One could build up many scenarios on top of this, whereby somebody could be subletting a house they had been allocated because they are living with someone else. The nuclear family with which Members once were familiar has gone and there now are many different facets to families. Moreover, lest anyone has any doubts in this regard, I am talking from a factual position. Consequently, I believe this motion requires oversight. Members should not misunderstand me, as everyone wishes to cure the housing crisis. I certainly wish to ensure that the housing crisis is dealt with in the true spirit in which it is intended and that the solution serves those who it is intended to serve.

Finally, the motion mentions how people should be kept in warm environments. I note there is no mention of renewable energies, of district heating or all the fantastic things that can be done, particularly in Government schemes, to provide native fuels from indigenous industries and to boost farming. I have come from the ploughing championships where there are many people who would love to provide Irish forestry to provide heating. Members must consider this issue in a holistic fashion and not simply in a knee-jerk reaction. I also note that housing is relevant in Cork, Sligo and Mayo and not simply in Dublin.