Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

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Introduction

A Chathaoirleach, I’d like to thank you and the members of the Seanad for the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s progress in responding to the housing challenges and highlight the actions we have taken and are taking to increase the social housing stock, meet the needs of those on the waiting lists and those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as drive the increased supply of new housing across all tenure and maximise our existing housing stock to meet current and future needs.

I want in the first instance to acknowledge the delivery of almost 26,000 social housing supports, by local authorities and approved housing bodies and other housing stakeholders, to those who needed support and help in 2017. We have over-achieved most of our targets, but need to maintain and build on this progress in 2018 and beyond.

I also want to acknowledge the hard work across the country in terms tackling homelessness. It was encouraging to see the reduction in homeless numbers in December. We must, however, do more and especially advance additional preventative measures.

2017 outcomes

I’d like to briefly highlight some key outcomes from the range of actions that we have taken under Rebuilding Ireland:

  • 25,892 is the number of new households that had their housing need met in 2017. To put it another way, 100 new households had their social housing need met each working day of the week last year.
  • The Government exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports last year by 23%. That’s more than 4,800 additional tenancies.
  • Comparing with 2016, last year we increased our social housing supports by 36% or 6,847 more households supported.
  • Over 7,000 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes in 2017. This is a 40% increase (almost 2,000 new homes) on what was planned for the year; and it’s a 24% increase over what was achieved in 2016.
  • We came in slightly shy on our LA and AHB Build target for the year, but hitting 92% or our target – 2,245 newly built homes – is still a very positive result.  In fact, it’s over three times the level in 2016.
  • Furthermore, when we look at the combined delivery for both built and acquired social housing homes in 2017, the delivery was 4,511 new homes. That’s 22% (or 827 additional homes) more than had been originally planned.
  • We have changed the delivery mix for 2018 though, meaning we will be aiming to do more on the build side and less on the acquisitions side. But where buying makes sense, and where it’s not competing with young families or couples in the market, Local Authorities will continue to do it.
  • Construction figures from September of 2017 show 3,700 new social housing homes being built across 190 sites. These are being added to on a weekly basis.
  • Activity under Part V in 2017 reflects the overall increase in activity in the wider residential construction sector. The 388 homes delivered represent an almost six-fold increase on the number of new social homes delivered using this mechanism in 2016.
  • The target for HAP of 15,000 was exceeded by nearly 3,000, with 17,916 new HAP tenancies established in 2017.
  • Overall, some 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved in 2017; this is 33% higher than in 2016.

Looking across the residential sector more generally:

  • In 2017, over 17,500 new homes commenced construction. This is an increase of 33% on 2016.
  • Last year, we saw over 9,500 registrations in larger developments, a level not seen since March 2009.
  • Over 19,000 homes were connected to the ESB network. This is an increase of more than 29% on 2016. This number includes newly built homes and those lying empty more than 2 years.
  • In the year to the end of September 2017, planning permissions were granted for more than 18,000 new homes.
  • As of 31st December, 2017, An Bord Pleanála had received 13 applications for large scale developments under the new fast track process which I signed in to law six months ago, including 1,900 houses, 1,750 apartments and over 4,000 student bed spaces, all due for decision in 2018.
  • And we’ve recently had the first positive decision under this scheme, which is welcome news.

Of course in recognising these positive developments in 2017, that’s not to say that our work is finished – not by a long shot.

And I’m not saying that all is now well with our housing system and that further interventions will not be needed to continue to repair our recently broken housing system. There is more that we need to do and both Minister Murphy and I know that.

It’s also important to note that Rebuilding Ireland is a 5-year plan, and we are only about 18 months into that plan.

These figures tell us that Rebuilding Ireland is working, that we are moving in the right direction – and we are moving there more quickly than had originally been planned.

People can have confidence in the work that we are doing to repair a recently broken housing system and to get tens of thousands of new homes built.

I’ll continue to drive that work, because it needs to be driven, and further interventions will need to be made, over the coming months and years, until Rebuilding Ireland is completed.

As a Government we are fixing our housing problems – as quickly as they can be fixed; and we are doing it in a sustainable way that won’t expose us to the risks and mistakes of the past.

There is more work to do, clearly. We have even greater ambitions for 2018, particularly on the build side.

Housing Summit with LA CEs

Minister Murphy and I hosted a valuable all-day Housing Summit with all 31 Local Authority Chief Executives last week, and discussed how each authority will implement the target number of social houses to be delivered in each Local Authority area out to 2021, with a particular focus on 2018 delivery and accelerating delivery across the country.

The targets for delivery in each Local Authority area are based on the Social Housing Needs Assessment and waiting lists, which were published earlier this month.

The targets also take account of two changes in the latter half of last year: the move towards a greater percentage of build by Local Authorities; and the additional €500m secured in last year’s budget for the capital plan.

Each Local Authority Chief Executive is now required to furnish a report by mid-February, confirming and setting out how their Local Authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. The targets and details of the delivery programme of each Local Authority will then be published on an ongoing basis, with this transparency helping to achieve greater accountability and drive delivery.

Better coordination & support

In terms of improving coordination and sharing of best practice across the local government sector, my Department’s Housing Delivery Unit is now up and running and working on the ground with Local Authorities to support and accelerate delivery.

We do not need a new agency or quango to accelerate the building of homes – but we do need better coordination of resources, and ensure that the right people with the right skills are in place within my Department and across local authorities to deliver on these ambitious targets.

New leasing Initiatives

Tackling vacancy continues to be a key focus and we have agreed a range of improvements to the existing Repair and Leasing Scheme, which has not been successful to date. There is also progress at local level in developing Vacant Homes Actions Plans and targeting vacancy hot-spot areas is advancing, especially in our cities and urban areas.

I also outlined at the LA Housing Summit details of an enhanced scheme for long-term leasing of private dwellings for social housing.  It aims to supply at least an additional 2,500 social housing homes by 2021.  The Scheme will allow the private sector to invest in providing housing which can then be leased to local authorities for up to 25 years for use as social housing. This leasing initiative was launched earlier today and I expect to see a lot of interest to deliver new homes quickly and cost-effectively.

Affordable Housing

There was an extensive discussion in the Dáil last night around the challenge of affordability and what actions are being progressed. As tens of thousands of new homes are built across the country over the coming years, we must ensure that they are affordable.

Given that our residential construction was on its knees following the crash, we first needed to remove costs and obstacles for builders to make projects viable, so they can deliver more affordable homes.

To achieve this, we have taken action by:

  • streamlining planning with a new fast-track process for large developments;
  • a dedicated €200m infrastructure fund;
  • new apartment guidelines to remove unnecessary costs; and,
  • Home Building Finance Ireland HBFI, a new State-funded bank to provide competitive loans for builders,

These actions and others have resuscitated the residential construction industry and facilitated the construction of thousands of new homes at more affordable prices. The Help-to-Buy Scheme is also great help to many in securing a deposit, with nearly 5,000 approvals so far.

Still, as a Government we are going to do more on housing affordability.

As Minister Murphy announced on 22 January and reiterated last night, initially we are doing this in three ways:

  • The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan;
  • An Affordable Purchase Scheme, and
  • An Affordable Rental Scheme.
  • The measures are targeted at households with low to moderate incomes with a maximum of €50,000 for a single applicant or €75,000 for joint applicants.

Conclusion

We have made strong progress across a wide range of areas during 2017 – we are not there yet but the signs and data trends are very promising.

Rebuilding Ireland is working.

Social housing provision is ahead of target.

The Government is committed to delivering on the new affordable housing schemes.

Myself, Minister Murphy, our Department and our delivery partners will continue to do all in our power to drive on that delivery.

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