Closing Contribution on SF Private Members’ Bill

Action Plan for Housing, Housing and Urban Renewal

Private Members’ Bill

Sinn Féin Eoin Ó Broin, T.D., and Kathleen Funchion, T.D.

 Residential Tenancies (Student Rents, Rights and Protections) Bill 2018

 Closing Contribution by Minister of State, Damien English, T.D

Tuesday, 29th May 2018

Ceann Comhairle,

  • On behalf of the Government, I wish to thank Deputies Ó Broin and Funchion for tabling their Private Members Bill to propose extending the protections of the Residential Tenancies Acts, which currently apply to dwellings under certain tenancies, to also apply to dwellings provided under a licence agreement for student accommodation.
  • While the Government cannot at this juncture endorse this specific legislation, as it is premature until such time as the legal considerations and implications are more thoroughly evaluated, we can readily acknowledge and welcome the broad spirit and objective of the Bill, as a genuine attempt to improve the situation for students at a time of under-supply in the residential rental sector.
  • It is in the interest of Government to ensure student accommodation is affordable, and not subject to excessive increases.
  • The existing Government financial support for students is finite in terms of taxpayers’ money. Do you propose cuts to the maintenance grant? Do you propose cuts to grants and funds for mature students in third level education? Or do you propose to cut the wages of our lecturers in the third level sector?.
  • Equally, parents’ or students’ own resources are hard earned and should not be swallowed up either. Students should not have to face entering the work-force with a massive debt to re-pay. We need affordable rents across the country and not just for students.
  • Unreasonable accommodation costs have the potential to prohibit individual students from pursuing studies in their preferred field because their choice of course might not be on offer close to where they live. Location comes into play and for some, an educational course in Dublin is becoming less attainable for financial reasons, predominantly because of high accommodation costs.
  • We need to provide certainty to students whose finances are tight and finite and help limit their financial burdens.
  • As Minister Mitchell O’Connor highlighted earlier, the Government published its National Student Accommodation Strategy (NSAS) to increase the supply of student accommodation and increase the take-up of digs accommodation. The Government has set a target to see an extra 7,000 bed spaces built by the end 2019 and a total of 21,000 additional beds by 2024. We are currently on track to exceed these targets.
  • A greater supply of student accommodation to meet demand has the potential to ease overall pressures on the rental market, including moderating rent increases, on the basis of increased competition and choice.

Sinn Féin’s Private Members Bill

  • However, I do not believe that Sinn Féin’s Private Members Bill will achieve the outcome of having all student accommodation subject to ongoing regulation. I do believe that this is the right outcome to seek, but this Bill won’t deliver that.
  • The Sinn Féin Bill proposes to apply the protections afforded to tenancies under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016 to students living in student specific accommodation under licence agreements.
  • The Bill focuses, in particular, on ensuring that the annual rent increase limit of 4%, as it applies to certain dwellings in Rent Pressure Zones, will also apply to student specific accommodation provided under licence.
  • However, a licensing framework might best suit the business model of student-specific accommodation providers, rather than trying to bring them in under the provisions of Residential Tenancies Acts which do not naturally fit with students, who generally occupy their accommodation for around 8 months of the years.
  • There is a risk that the expected supply of student accommodation coming on stream could be negatively affected by the proposed application of the Residential Tenancies Acts to student specific accommodation provided under licence agreement.
  • We need to explore how we can legally protect all students from high accommodation costs, whether they live in public or private accommodation and whether they have signed a tenancy or licence agreement.
  • We need to provide students with a choice on where they wish to live during their college life. Students should not be forced to take whatever accommodation they can get, come August. They should get value for money and reasonable accommodation that best suits their needs.
  • It’s also worth pointing out that the 4% RPZ limit, if applied to student accommodation, would not be retrospective and would not cover new properties.
  • The measures proposed by Sinn Féin cannot be supported at this juncture, on the basis that a more thorough analysis of the impacts by the Department of Education and Skills and the Minister’s Department, as to whether amending the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016 is the best approach to regulate student specific accommodation provided under licence.
  • It may well be that bespoke legislation, subject to further legal advice, might better achieve the intended purposes of the Bill, without adding significantly to the already very heavy workload of the Residential Tenancies Board.
  • The Department of Education and Skills (DES) is liaising with officials from my Department, including through the forum of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Student Accommodation which is convened by the DES, to examine the wide range of student accommodation types (and ancillary services) available with a view to considering how best to regulate pricing arrangements.
  • While Government is not in a position to support the Sinn Féin Bill at this stage, we do not oppose it. The Departments of Education and Skills and Housing, Planning and Local Government will consider the Bill’s proposals further.
  • In the event that it is considered that there is a policy-based case for legislation in this area, proposals will be brought forward, either in a standalone Bill or in the context of the second of two Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bills envisaged this year.

Thank you.

Minister Damien English introduces New Planning Regulations

Action Plan for Housing

Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English, T.D., today (8 February 2018) signed three new sets of exempted development regulations.

The Planning Act provides that the Minister may make regulations to provide that certain classes of development be exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission, thereby streamlining and creating efficiencies in the planning system but also reducing the regulatory and administrative burden on those undertaking such works.

As required under the Planning Act, the regulations received a positive resolution from both Houses of the Oireachtas on 25 January 2018.

The new regulations now provide for the following exemptions:

  • development by Irish Water related to the provision of water services and the undertaking of normal day to day activities relating to same, such as maintenance type works,
  • the change of use, and any related works, relating to the conversion of vacant commercial premises – including “over the shop” type premises – for residential use, on foot of the commitment in Rebuilding Ireland in this regard, and
  • amending existing provisions relating to certain works by statutory undertakers in providing telecommunications services, to support the rollout of the National Broadband Plan and extended mobile phone coverage.

Minister English said “Following detailed engagement with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and with Oireachtas members last week, I am pleased to sign these regulations and bring the new planning provisions into force.”

“These are important regulations which are intended to benefit and have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives. For example, reliable mobile and broadband service across the country is essential in our modern lives and the regulations will assist in the accelerated roll-out of the National Broadband Plan and support the provision of enhanced mobile phone services, particularly in rural and remote areas. The regulations will also support Irish Water in the efficient delivery of the vital service that it provides and allow it to respond quickly in emergency situations to ensure the continued supply of essential water services”, he continued.

Minister English highlighted, “The regulations relating to the change of use of vacant buildings for residential purposes are vitally important and have three-fold benefits – firstly, facilitating the bringing on stream of urgently needed housing supply in high demand areas; secondly, maximising the use of vacant underutilised spaces; and thirdly, rejuvenating and breathing new life into inner-core urban areas in towns and cities. I hope that as many property owners of vacant premises around the country will utilise these provisions as soon as possible.”

The new regulations will be available on the Department’s website and on the electronic statute book.

ENDS

Speech at Launch of Advanced Leasing Arrangements, Mont Clare Hotel

Action Plan for Housing

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Introduction

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this morning to officially launch the new enhanced arrangements for long term leasing of private property, to provide additional social housing homes. This important initiative is just one of a large number of actions being taken to implement Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.

As I am sure you are aware, Rebuilding Ireland is the Government’s Plan to deal with the housing shortage in this country. Taken together, it comprises a €6 billion, multi-annual action plan, which seeks to increase the overall supply of new homes to 25,000 per annum by 2020; deliver an additional 50,000 social housing units in the period to 2021; and meet the housing needs of some 87,000 households through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

Strong progress on the implementation of this plan is already being made. On the social housing construction front, we have a programme of works on 770 sites that will deliver over 12,300 new homes, with the number of schemes in the programme continuing to grow on a weekly basis.

Clearly, we want to see a greater emphasis on direct building of social housing than was envisaged originally under Rebuilding Ireland. In this regard, we will see almost 5,000 new social homes built in 2018, including 3,800 by local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).

In addition to the established Local Authority and AHB direct-build programme, activity continues apace across a range of other measures. These include social housing homes through local authorities and AHBs; the Housing Assistance Payment scheme; and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

Recognising that measures introduced to date are beginning to have an impact, and will have a greater impact in time, on 22 January my colleague Minister Murphy announced a further package of initiatives to help alleviate affordability pressures faced by households, particularly in areas of high housing demand and high accommodation costs. This included the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, along with an Affordable Purchase Scheme, and an Affordable Rental Scheme.

Background to Enhanced Leasing Scheme

It is among these broader efforts that the Enhanced Long Term Social Housing Leasing Scheme must be viewed. As the latest element of Rebuilding Ireland housing policy, I am delighted to launch the scheme this morning.

The enhancements made to the Leasing programme represent a strategic policy approach, signalled in Rebuilding Ireland, to harness the capacity of institutional investment, and the increasing activity in the wider construction market, in order to achieve the delivery of high quality social housing homes, in places where people want to live.

Over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, 10,000 new social homes are targeted for delivery using a leasing model. We don’t expect all of the 10,000 new units to be delivered using the new leasing arrangements but the Government is committed to providing the resources necessary to achieve our ambition in that context.

The existing Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), administered by my Department, already provides a means whereby properties can be leased by Local Authorities from private providers. However, we would all acknowledge that there are limitations to the scheme as it currently exists, particularly if we are looking at targeted new build units and delivery at scale. It is for this reason that we been working on improvements to make the leasing scheme more attractive to private investors, who can provide social housing for leasing to local authorities on a larger scale. A core necessity as part of the development of these new arrangements is to ensure that the contracts that underpin the security of these units do not have a negative impact on the General Government Balance. In other words, that we are actively benefitting from the institutional investment in such a way that does not limit our ability to continue to invest in our local authority and approved housing body building programmes.

Officials from my Department, together with the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA), the Housing Agency, representatives of the local authorities, and their legal advisors Eversheds Sutherland Solicitors, have worked closely to finalise the details of the scheme. Through their work in bringing the initiative to the market and undertaking the market testing of outline provisions of the lease, the NDFA has established that there is a demand among potential investors for what is being proposed.

Objectives & Operation of the Scheme

The main objective of this scheme is to have about 2,500 units leased for social housing by the end of 2021.

It will mainly target newly built or yet to be built houses and apartments for leasing. Private or institutional investors will finance 100% of the cost of purchasing or constructing residential units and they will retain ownership of the property during and after the term of the lease. The lease will be for a period of 25 years.

The scheme will be governed by my Department and operated by Local Authorities. It will be funded through the Department’s Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), which provides financial support to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies for the long-term leasing of houses and apartments from private owners and developers. The Department will recoup to local authorities the cost of meeting the contractual costs of each leased unit. Properties made available under the scheme will be used to accommodate households from local authority waiting lists on a long term basis.

The Housing Agency will administer the scheme on behalf of the Department. It will assess proposals from prospective providers and their capacity to deliver the required number of properties. Following the assessment, the Agency will act as the point of contact between the provider and the local authorities. The Local Authorities will determine the suitability of the proposed properties, having regard to the standard of the properties, the requirement for social housing in the area, and the criteria set out in each authority’s Development Plans.

Providers will be invited to indicate their capacity to fund the purchase or construction of a minimum of 20 properties in a Local Authority area for the purposes of scheme. Alternatively, they may propose vacant properties in their existing portfolio if these units are either new to the housing market, or have not been leased or rented in the previous two years.

The Local Authority will retain their important role as landlord to the tenants, an area in which they have decades of experience. Tenants will be nominated by the appropriate Local Authority in accordance with their accepted allocation scheme.

The provider will be required to assist the Local Authority in managing the tenancy, and they may engage a property management company or Approved Housing Body to provide facilities management services to the tenants on their behalf.

Conclusion

The delivery of this project has involved the cooperation of a range of State bodies and agencies. The role of the NDFA as financial advisor to my Department in this work has been an important one. The Housing Agency has also had a major input into developing the scheme, in consultation with the local authorities. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their involvement and expertise in this process, as well as Eversheds Sutherland, and also my Department’s officials, for their work in bringing this scheme to fruition.

I believe that the changes being unveiled today in this Enhanced Leasing scheme will allow potential investors from the private sector to assist in the delivery of housing services and supports. The details of the scheme are now on the Housing Agency’s website which contains the Call for Proposals and the related legal documents. Jim Baneham, who is here today on behalf of the Agency, will give you the details in his presentation.

This initiative is another important policy instrument that will help us to meet our ambitious goals for improving the delivery of social housing as set out in Rebuilding Ireland.

Combined with other recently announced initiatives; the additional measures announced under Budget 2018; and those announced just last week; Rebuilding Ireland continues to provide a robust framework to address the housing and homelessness challenges we face.

Our focus will remain firmly on implementation and delivery to ensure that the range of objectives and targets set are achieved.

Once again, thank you all for coming, and I hope you find the material presented at this morning’s event informative.

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

Action Plan for Housing

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.

Speech to Strategy for the Rental Sector – Stakeholder Consultation Workshop

Action Plan for Housing, Budget 2017, Housing and Urban Renewal, Wesmeath

Strategy for the Rental Sector – Stakeholder Consultation Workshop

Welcome speech by Mr Damien English T.D.

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal

20 October 2016. Morrison Hotel, Dublin 1

Introduction

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start by welcoming you and thanking you for joining Minister Coveney and myself this morning at this very important Stakeholder Consultation workshop on the development of a Strategy for the Rental Sector. 

Rebuilding Ireland and Rental Strategy

The Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness was launched in July 2016. Its vision is that to the greatest extent possible, every household in Ireland can access secure, good quality and affordable housing suited to its needs and located within sustainable communities. This is a vision that I fully support. The residential rental sector has a vital role to play in achieving this vision.

The residential rental sector is an essential component of the housing sector, and its vital role needs to be recognised and planned for. It has gone through considerable change over the last ten to fifteen years, doubling in size and providing long-term homes for more people.

This is why Rebuilding Ireland also commits to developing a real and meaningful strategy for the rental sector. This strategy which will be published by the end of the year, will lay out measures to address immediate issues affecting the supply, cost and accessibility of rental accommodation. It will also include measures to support the development of a viable and sustainable rental sector that can provide choice, quality, value and security for households and secure, attractive investment opportunities for rental providers.

Todays’ Stakeholder Forum

The purpose of todays’ event is to allow each of you as key stakeholders in this area to be provided with an opportunity to feed into the strategy and talk through the wider issues affecting the rental sector.  For example some of these are:

  • The growing numbers of families entering homelessness, often from the private rented sector
  • Rents are back at boom time levels;
  • The number of homes available to buy and rent is well below demand;
  • We are building less than half the homes we need and have done so for a number of years;
  • We have thousands of vacant houses and significant numbers of undeveloped sites, and,
  • Thousands of families, owner occupiers and landlords, are in mortgage arrears.

Round Table Discussion

As you signed in today you would have each been given an assigned table number, each table will be facilitated in the discussion around a range of issues by a moderator and a note taker. Key themes and questions have been assigned to each table and an hour and a half will be given to the discussion after which each moderator will be given 5 minutes to report back with the views of each table.

Today is not a negotiation among or with the different stakeholders, it is an opportunity to express and exchange opinions and to build understanding of the different needs and points of view. So while we are not trying to reach agreed positions on all the issues being discussed today it would be hoped that each table’s response would reflect a number of points of agreement and the key issues of ongoing debate. We have also assigned note takes to each table who will record a fair and accurate summary of the groups’ discussion; these notes will be collected by Department officials at the end of the session and will also be considered by working group tasked with assisting in the preparation of the strategy.

Written Consultation Process

While work has started on the development of the Strategy, this needs to be informed by the views and suggestions of as a wide range of groups and individuals as possible. I would like to invite you all to help inform this process by making a written submission. Following today’s event we will launch an on-line consultation guideline: this will provide you with the opportunity to make the written submission. The purpose of today’s discussions is to help inform those submissions. The document will be available on my Departments’ website or in hard copy, and submissions can be returned to my department up to Monday, November 7th to feed into the drafting process.

Conclusion

Thank you all for attending today and I wish to acknowledge the valuable contribution many of you present here today and the organisations you represent have already made. I hope you all have an interesting and engaging morning.

I will now hand over to my colleague Minister Simon Coveney to set the scene for our discussions today.

Visit to Monaghan County Council

Action Plan for Housing, Housing and Urban Renewal, Jobs, Rebuilding Ireland

Speaking Points  by Minister of State English  at Monaghan County Council

Friday, 7th October, 2016

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Monaghan Co. Cllrs.

A Chathaoirligh, elected Members, esteemed colleagues: good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for affording me this opportunity to address you today.

Homelessness and the acute shortage of homes available to those who need them is one of the greatest challenges facing this country today.   It is having a profound effect on the daily lives of many individuals and families who feel they have been failed by the system and who urgently require homes.

The Government and I have made it our number one priority to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis and under Rebuilding Ireland we have set out a broadly-based and comprehensive set of action to do just that.

Shortly after its publication, my colleague, Minister Coveney wrote to all elected members and all Chief Executives in relation to the implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland

As I see it, local authorities are absolutely central to that implementation, given your role as the main vehicle of governance and public service at local level.

One of the biggest challenges we face is getting house building, and supply more generally, moving again. Planning powers, in particular, at the disposal of local authorities can be employed to encourage and facilitate good quality housing, at affordable prices, in high demand areas.

It is imperative that local authorities do all within their power to get all suitable potential sources of housing supply to be activated as quickly as possible.

Both Minister Coveney and I will be visiting as many local authorities as we can over the weeks ahead to outline what we need and expect to see in terms of implementation and to hear from you the specific challenges that are faced locally in delivering on the Plan.

So where are we now?

At the last summary of social housing assessments, the housing waiting list in – Monaghan County stood at – -696 (of course we’ll have updated figures when this year’s summary is published towards the end of the year);

In contrast to this the total number of new houses completed last year in the county was just 192 homes, over 70% of which were individual one-off houses. Only 85 new units have been completed in the first eight months of 2016.

We are building considerably less new homes than we need and have done so for a number of years;

Almost 13% of housing stock in the county was reported as vacant in the 2016 Census and,

Meanwhile thousands of families and individuals are in mortgage arrears or facing increasing rents.

Failure to address the housing challenges we face, threatens our future growth and prosperity.

It’s time to do something serious about this, that’s my mandate from Government, as Minister of State with responsibility for Housing and Urban Renewal, and that’s what we’re here to talk about to-day. 

Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing & Homelessness

Rebuilding Ireland sets out a practical and readily implementable set of actions that will increase housing supply to create a functioning and sustainable housing system that is capable of:

  • Producing a minimum of 25,000 housing units nation-wide every year by 2020;
  • Performing post-2020 in response to contemporary housing needs
  • Delivering more social housing, much faster, and putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future requirements for social housing supports.

Accelerating delivery to this level is essential if we are to –

  • Address the unacceptable level of households wishing to avail of social housing support and those families in emergency accommodation;
  • Address the growing affordability gap for many households wishing to purchase their own homes;
  • Support the emergence of a rental sector which provides choice, mobility and quality accommodation in the right locations;
  • Position the housing sector such that its contribution to the national economy is steady and supportive of sustainable economic growth; and,
  • Ensure that measures intended to remedy the current supply difficulties also contribute to longstanding objectives in the housing sector, such as the need to support urban development and achieve sustainable communities.

Rebuilding Ireland balances delivery on these fronts with the necessary financial resources (€5.5bn investment by 2021) and structural reforms.

We know that to deliver more quickly we need to look at the States procedures and processes be they planning, approval of social housing or otherwise and we’re doing that.

In terms of improving the viability of construction, it is important to recognise the reforms already in place. These include

  • Reduced development contributions;
  • the vacant site levy;
  • Part V;
  • apartment guidelines;
  • financing under Activate Capital, and,
  • Planning and Strategic Development Zones.

It is estimated that such measures taken to reduce input costs have decreased the cost of building new residential units by between €20,000 and €40,000, depending on whether apartments or houses are being constructed.

The Minister for Finance has indicated that fiscal measures to support the Rebuilding Ireland programme, and importantly measures for first-time buyers, will be included in the Budget next week

A €200 million Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) will provide much-needed enabling infrastructure on key sites to open up lands for early development. There will be 3,000 new homes delivered on State lands as pathfinder mixed housing developments.

In terms of improving the functioning of the rental sector in the first instance we had to protect the most vulnerable and the increases in rent supplement and Housing Assistance Payment limits will do that.

In the longer term we need a really good and attractive rental option and the publication later this year of the comprehensive rental strategy currently being developed by the Department will chart a course to achieve a vibrant and attractive rental tenure option.

Rebuilding Ireland is a holistic Plan, an all-Ireland Plan, a plan that includes rural Ireland

Since taking up this Ministry, I have seen first-hand the negative effect the housing shortage is having on people and their families and how the whole system is struggling to cope and devise solutions.

Rebuilding Ireland is, I believe, a really good starting point to resolve these problems. Our commitment of €5.35 billion will go a long way to providing much needed social housing and the €200m infrastructure fund should encourage the production of thousands of homes for the market.

It’s a whole-of-Government initiative, and a national plan that needs to have an impact at all locations and all scales of development. Revitalising our rural towns and villages is as important as the plans for the main urban centres.

I lead the Urban Renewal Working Group, and I am committed to the re-building of our communities by addressing not just the physical environment but also by investing in social and economic development and in this context, we intend to introduce a new Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Using the €30 million available to local authorities this year, the Scheme will seek to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of our towns and villages as places to live and work. My aim is use housing and community schemes in a collaborative way to improve city, town and village centres.

We will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to co-ordinate their schemes with ours and to bring forward joint demonstration projects, where we can.

My Department recently implemented a new Exchequer funding programme to support local authorities in remediating more seriously derelict social houses.

Funding is provided on the basis that the units are occupied immediately following works , and on the basis that no previous public funding has been provided in recent years for similar works on the units

In addition we have given the Housing Agency €70 million to acquire up to 1,600 vacant properties, in respect of which it is making great progress. The agency has been offered more than 700 properties and such units can be added to the stock of social housing.

The introduction of a Repair and Leasing Initiative (RLI) will enable local authorities, having identified appropriate vacant privately owned properties in their functional area, to enter into a long term lease arrangement with property owners.

The RLI will allow local authorities to provide up-front grant aid to prospective landlords to meet reasonable renovation works to upgrade the properties to current rental standards. On the provisio that the landlord enters into a leasing arrangement with the local authority under SHCEP.

Conclusion

So that’s my take on what needs to be done to fix our broken housing model.

I really want to hear your views to make sure we have all the facts and that we are heading in the right direction under the Rebuilding Ireland

Returning to a normally functioning housing and construction sector is critically important in order to support economic growth, social progress and environmental sustainability. Our engagement here today forms an essential element of this broader policy context.

While the Government is acting, the challenge does not stop there. It is vital that as the 84 actions to facilitate house build are implemented that local authorities, approved housing bodies, builders and developers proactively respond to the housing supply challenge.

I know from talking to you and other Councils around the country that you are up for that challenge and will not be found wanting.

Speech to Kildare County Council

Action Plan for Housing, Housing and Urban Renewal, Speeches

(Check against delivery)

Tuesday, 27th September 2016

With Mayor Ivan Keatley, Kildare Co. Co.

With Mayor Ivan Keatley, Kildare Co. Co.

A Chathaoirligh, elected Members, esteemed colleagues: good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for affording me this opportunity to address you today.

Homelessness and the acute shortage of homes available to those who need them is one of the greatest challenges facing this country today.   It is having a profound effect on the daily lives of many individuals and families who feel they have been failed by the system and who urgently require homes.

The Government and I have made it our number one priority to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis and under Rebuilding Ireland we have set out a broadly-based and comprehensive set of action to do just that.

Shortly after its publication, my colleague, Minister Coveney wrote to all elected members and all Chief Executives in relation to the implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland

As I see it, local authorities are absolutely central to that implementation, given your role as the main vehicle of governance and public service at local level.

One of the biggest challenges we face is getting house building, and supply more generally, moving again. Planning powers, in particular, at the disposal of local authorities can be employed to encourage and facilitate good quality housing, at affordable prices, in high demand areas.

It is imperative that local authorities do all within their power to get all suitable potential sources of housing supply to be activated as quickly as possible.

Both Minister Coveney and I will be visiting as many local authorities as we can over the weeks ahead to outline what we need and expect to see in terms of implementation and to hear from you the specific challenges that are faced locally in delivering on the Plan.

So where are we now? At the last summary of social housing assessments, the housing waiting list in -Kildare County stood at – 5,454(of course we’ll have updated figures when this year’s summary is published towards the end of the year);

In contrast to this the total number of new houses completed last year in the county was just 767 homes, nearly 30%of which were individual one-off houses

We are building considerably less new homes than we need and have done so for a number of years;

Almost 6% of housing stock in the county was reported as vacant in the 2016 Census and,

Meanwhile thousands of families and individuals are in mortgage arrears or facing increasing rents.

Failure to address the housing challenges we face, threatens our future growth and prosperity.

It’s time to do something serious about this, that’s my mandate from Government, as Minister of State with responsibility for Housing and Urban Renewal, and that’s what we’re here to talk about to-day.

Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing & Homelessness

Rebuilding Ireland sets out a practical and readily implementable set of actions that will increase housing supply to create a functioning and sustainable housing system that is capable of:

  • Providing homes for families in emergency accommodation;
  • Tackling the underlying causes, addiction and otherwise, of people living on our streets;
  • Producing a minimum of 25,000 housing units nation-wide every year by 2020;
  • Performing post-2020 in response to contemporary housing needs
  • Delivering more social housing, much faster, and putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future requirements for social housing supports.

Accelerating delivery to this level is essential if we are to –

  • Address the unacceptable level of households, particularly families in emergency accommodation;
  • Moderate the rental and purchase price inflation, particularly in urban areas;
  • Address the growing affordability gap for many households wishing to purchase their own homes;
  • Support the emergence of a rental sector which provides choice, mobility and quality accommodation in the right locations;
  • Position the housing sector such that its contribution to the national economy is steady and supportive of sustainable economic growth; and,
  • Ensure that measures intended to remedy the current supply difficulties also contribute to longstanding objectives in the housing sector, such as the need to support urban development and achieve sustainable communities.

Rebuilding Ireland balances delivery on these fronts with the necessary financial resources (€5.5bn investment by 2021) and structural reforms.

A key feature of the Plan will be highlighting ‘pathfinder’ projects, innovative and effective solutions to problems and approaches to projects that can be replicated in other local authority areas. I would encourage -Kildare to come forward with an exemplar in this regard.

We know that to deliver more quickly we need to look at the States procedures and processes be they planning, approval of social housing or otherwise and we’re doing that.

In terms of improving the viability of construction, it is important to recognise the reforms already in place. These include

  • Reduced development contributions;
  • the vacant site levy;
  • Part V;
  • apartment guidelines;
  • financing under Activate Capital, and,
  • Planning and Strategic Development Zones.

It is estimated that such measures taken to reduce input costs have decreased the cost of building new residential units by between €20,000 and €40,000, depending on whether apartments or houses are being constructed.

The Minister for Finance has indicated that fiscal measures to support the Rebuilding Ireland programme, and importantly measures for first-time buyers, will be included in the Budget in October.

We have responded in particular to the calls for funding to address infrastructure blockages, through the establishment of a €200m Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund to support enabling infrastructure to release lands for housing development. A call for proposals for suitable projects issued from my Department on 26th August and proposals are due back on 14th October. We anticipate that this fund has the potential to release the delivery of at least 15,000 to 20,000 new homes, which would otherwise not be delivered.

In terms of improving the functioning of the rental sector in the first instance we had to protect the most vulnerable and the increases in rent supplement and Housing Assistance Payment limits will do that.

In the longer term we need a really good and attractive rental option and the publication later this year of the comprehensive rental strategy currently being developed by the Department will chart a course to achieve a vibrant and attractive rental tenure option.

Rebuilding Ireland is a holistic Plan, an all-Ireland Plan, a plan that includes rural Ireland

Since taking up this Ministry, I have seen first-hand the negative effect the housing shortage is having on people and their families and how the whole system is struggling to cope and devise solutions.

Rebuilding Ireland is, I believe, a really good starting point to resolve these problems. Our commitment of €5.35 billion will go a long way to providing much needed social housing and the €200m infrastructure fund should encourage the production of thousands of homes for the market.

It’s a whole-of-Government initiative, and a national plan that needs to have an impact at all locations and all scales of development. Revitalising our rural towns and villages is as important as the plans for the main urban centres.

I lead the Urban Renewal Working Group, and I am committed to the re-building of our communities by addressing not just the physical environment but also by investing in social and economic development and in this context, we intend to introduce a new Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Using the €30 million available to local authorities this year, the Scheme will seek to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of our towns and villages as places to live and work. My aim is use housing and community schemes in a collaborative way to improve city, town and village centres.

We will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to co-ordinate their schemes with ours and to bring forward joint demonstration projects, where we can.

Conclusion

So that’s my take on what needs to be done to fix our broken housing model.

I really want to hear your views to make sure we have all the facts and that we are heading in the right direction under the Rebuilding Ireland

Returning to a normally functioning housing and construction sector is critically important in order to support economic growth, social progress and environmental sustainability. Our engagement here today forms an essential element of this broader policy context.

While the Government is acting, the challenge does not stop there. It is vital that as the 84 actions to facilitate house build are implemented that local authorities, approved housing bodies, builders and developers proactively respond to the housing supply challenge.

I know from talking to you and other Councils around the country that you are up for that challenge and will not be found wanting.

ENDS.

Address by Minister of State English to Westmeath County Council

Action Plan for Housing, Housing and Urban Renewal, Wesmeath

19th September 2016

img_0195img_0197 img_0199 img_0200

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Cathaoirleach, Chief Executive, members of the Executive and Councillors.

Before I move into my main remarks about the Action Plan for Housing – Rebuilding Ireland, I want to say a few things on a personal level.

It is an honour to address Westmeath County Council as Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, but more importantly as a T.D. representing North Westmeath.

Your Chairman, Cllr. Frank McDermott, who invited me here on his first day in office, has been a good friend and support to me in my work for Westmeath over the years.

All of the Oireachtas Members who represent Westmeath are also a pleasure to work with, and are regularly raising issues of concern with me and with other Ministers on your behalf as a Council, and on behalf of your constituents.

They got a good grounding in this chamber and I know that time and that experience will serve them well as the years go on.

I know from my own experience representing North Westmeath since 2007, and from reading the local newspapers, that Westmeath County Council is forward thinking and progressive in how it does its business.

Much of the credit for that is down to you as Councillors, working locally on the ground, and working together here in the chamber with the Executive for the common good that sets a positive tone for the County.

I am optimistic that you will channel that same spirit and that same character in playing your part to help Re-Build Ireland, and help provide a quality home near to a quality job for all those who need it.

That is why I am here today. I want to have a conversation with you, as well as telling you our own plans. I want to hear your feedback, your ideas or indeed your concerns.

Housing Shortage

The acute shortage of homes available to those who need them is one of the greatest challenges facing this country today.   It is having a profound effect on the daily lives of many individuals and families who feel they have been failed by the system and who urgently require homes.

The Government and I have made it our number one priority to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis and under Rebuilding Ireland we have set out a broadly-based and comprehensive set of action to do just that.

Shortly after its publication, my colleague, Minister Coveney wrote to all elected members and all Chief Executives in relation to the implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland programme.

As I see it, local authorities are absolutely central to that implementation, given your role as the main vehicle of governance and public service at local level.

One of the biggest challenges we face is getting house building, and supply more generally, moving again. Planning powers, in particular, at the disposal of local authorities can be employed to encourage and facilitate good quality housing, at affordable prices, in high demand areas.

It is imperative that local authorities do all within their power to get all suitable potential sources of housing supply to be activated as quickly as possible.

Both Minister Coveney and I will be visiting as many local authorities as we can over the weeks ahead to outline what we need and expect to see in terms of implementation and to hear from you the specific challenges that are faced locally in delivering on the Plan.

So where are we now?

 At the last summary of social housing assessments, the housing waiting list in Westmeath County stood at 1,893 (of course we’ll have updated figures when this year’s summary is published towards the end of the year);

In contrast, to this the total number of new houses completed last year was just over 200 homes, 70% (143) of which were individual one-off houses.

We are building considerably less new homes than we need and have done so for a number of years;

Almost 12% of housing stock in the County was reported as vacant in the 2016 Census and,

Meanwhile many families and individuals are in mortgage arrears or facing increasing rents.

It’s time to do something serious about this, that’s my mandate from Government, as Minister of State with responsibility for Housing and Urban Renewal, and that’s what we’re here to talk about to-day.

 Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing & Homelessness

 Rebuilding Ireland sets out a practical and readily implementable set of actions that will increase housing supply to create a functioning and sustainable housing system that is capable of:

  • Providing homes for families in emergency accommodation;
  • Tackling the underlying causes, addiction and otherwise, of people living on our streets;
  • Producing a minimum of 25,000 housing units nation-wide every year by 2020;
  • Delivering more social housing, much faster, and putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future requirements for social housing supports.

Accelerating delivery to this level is essential if we are to –

  • Address the unacceptable level of households, particularly families in emergency accommodation;
  • Moderate the rental and purchase price inflation, particularly in urban areas;
  • Address the growing affordability gap for many households wishing to purchase their own homes;
  • Support the emergence of a rental sector which provides choice, mobility and quality accommodation in the right locations;
  • Position the housing sector such that its contribution to the national economy is steady and supportive of sustainable economic growth; and,
  • Ensure that measures intended to remedy the current supply difficulties also contribute to longstanding objectives in the housing sector, such as the need to support urban development and achieve sustainable communities.

Rebuilding Ireland balances delivery on these fronts with the necessary financial resources (€5.5bn investment by 2021) and structural reforms.

A key feature of the Plan will be highlighting ‘pathfinder’ projects, innovative and effective solutions to problems and approaches to projects that can be replicated in other local authority areas. I would encourage Westmeath to come forward with an exemplar in this regard.

We know that to deliver more quickly we need to look at the States procedures and processes be they planning, approval of social housing or otherwise and we’re doing that.

In terms of improving the viability of construction, it is important to recognise the reforms already in place. These include:

  • Reduced development contributions;
  • the vacant site levy;
  • Part V;
  • apartment guidelines;
  • financing under Activate Capital, and,
  • Planning and Strategic Development Zones.

It is estimated that such measures taken to reduce input costs have decreased the cost of building new residential units by between €20,000 and €40,000, depending on whether apartments or houses are being constructed.

The Minister for Finance has indicated that fiscal measures to support the Rebuilding Ireland programme, and importantly measures for first-time buyers, will be included in the Budget in October.

We have responded in particular to the calls for funding to address infrastructure blockages, through the establishment of a €200m Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund to support enabling infrastructure to release lands for housing development. A call for proposals for suitable projects issued from my Department on 26th August and proposals are due back on 14th October. We anticipate that this fund has the potential to release the delivery of at least 15,000 to 20,000 new homes, which would otherwise not be delivered.

In terms of improving the functioning of the rental sector in the first instance we had to protect the most vulnerable and the increases in rent supplement and Housing Assistance Payment limits will do that.

In the longer term we need a really good and attractive rental option and the publication later this year of the comprehensive rental strategy currently being developed by the Department will chart a course to achieve a vibrant and attractive rental tenure option.

Rebuilding Ireland is a holistic Plan, an all-Ireland Plan, a plan that includes rural Ireland

Since taking up this Ministry, I have seen first-hand the negative effect the housing shortage is having on people and their families and how the whole system is struggling to cope and devise solutions.

Rebuilding Ireland is, I believe, a really good starting point to resolve these problems. Our commitment of €5.35 billion will go a long way to providing much needed social housing and the €200m infrastructure fund should encourage the production of thousands of homes for the market.

It’s a whole-of-Government initiative, and a national plan that needs to have an impact at all locations and all scales of development. Revitalising our rural towns and villages is as important as the plans for the main urban centres.

Urban Renewal

I lead the Urban Renewal Working Group, and I am committed to the re-building of our communities by addressing not just the physical environment but also by investing in social and economic development and in this context, we intend to introduce a new Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Using the €30 million available to local authorities this year, the Scheme will seek to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of our towns and villages as places to live and work. My aim is use housing and community schemes in a collaborative way to improve city, town and village centres.

We will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to co-ordinate their schemes with ours and to bring forward joint demonstration projects, where we can.

Conclusion

So that’s my take on what needs to be done to fix our broken housing model.

I really want to hear your views to make sure we have all the facts and that we are heading in the right direction under the Rebuilding Ireland programme.

Returning to a normally functioning housing and construction sector is critically important in order to support economic growth, social progress and environmental sustainability.

Our engagement here today forms an essential element of this broader policy context.

While the Government is acting, the challenge does not stop there. It is vital that as the 84 actions to facilitate house build are implemented that local authorities, approved housing bodies, builders and developers proactively respond to the housing supply challenge.

I know from talking to you and other Councils around the country that you are up for that challenge and will not be found wanting.

ENDS

Dáil Statements on the Housing Strategy

Funding, Housing and Urban Renewal, Jobs, Meath, Navan, Rebuilding Ireland, Wesmeath

Wednesday, 20th July

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Closing Statement by Minister of State Damien English

I want to thank everyone for your contributions today and yesterday on the new Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – Rebuilding Ireland. Judging from the feedback here in the House, and from what I have seen and heard in the media and elsewhere, the Plan has been broadly welcomed. It is regarded as an ambitious and comprehensive starting point in the Government’s efforts and resolve to really deal with both housing and homelessness.

I must say that I have found the debate around housing and homelessness to be very well informed. I think members of this House, from all parties and none, have rightly prioritised these linked issues as the number one societal challenge facing the country. The setting up of the Special Oireachtas Committee, its sessions and its Report has helped to inform the debate.

 

Minister Coveney and I have also met with a very broad group of stakeholders in these areas. We hosted two very-well attended stakeholder forums, both of which generated constructive debate and feedback. This process has greatly added to our understanding of the housing system and how its difficulties are leading to homelessness for many people.

The housing system is a broad and inter-connected set of markets and sectors. Importantly, each sector and market impacts on a different group in society. In developing the Action Plan, Minister Coveney and I were acutely aware of the need to deal with each part of the housing system individually, but also to address the inter-connectivity and cross-dependencies as part of shaping the overall solution – to build more homes. In taking this approach, we have the dual objective of repairing the broad housing system, while at the same time providing real solutions for people.

 

For this reason, I was most pleased with the responses to the Plan that referenced the fact that, for the first time, Government was looking at housing in its entirety. That is really at the heart of this Plan. To really restore the housing system to a sustainable level, you need to deal with all the component parts. We looked under the bonnet of each sector and market of housing, and came up with key actions to help repair what is broken or what can be done more effectively in each.

It was through this analysis that we arrived at the five key Pillars:

  1. Addressing Homelessness;
  2. Accelerating Social Housing Delivery;
  3. Building More Homes for the wider housing market;
  4. Improving the Rental Sector; and
  5. Making the best use of the housing we have.

 Homelessness:

On homelessness, we have set a very clear target to have no families in hotels by mid- 2017, except in very limited circumstances. Long-term hotel accommodation for families is not acceptable and we will end it. The challenge here is to provide alternatives and trebling the Rapid Build programme to 1,500 homes is the key action.

 

In the meantime, we are going to ensure that services for families, and particularly children, in hotels and other emergency accommodation is far better including:

  • Enhanced liaison on family support, child welfare and child protection, including Family Resource Centres;
  • Access to early-years services;
  • School Completion Programmes;
  • Enhanced locally available practical supports for daily family life;
  • Access to free public transport for family travel and for school journeys; and
  • Practical supports and advice for good nutrition for those without access to cooking facilities.
  • The other side of homelessness is rough sleeping which is often compounded and tied in with mental health and addiction issues. This is a complex area that really requires close co-operation with both the Department of Health and the HSE. For that reason, we are trebling the funding for mental health and primary care services for homeless persons from €2 million to €6 million in Budget 2017.

In examining the social failing that is homelessness, one point was made again and again – that prevention is far better than cure. We are therefore targeting families and individuals worried about, or at risk of, homelessness with a new awareness campaign. For the families and individuals in mortgage arrears, we are providing more and better services, including free expert legal and financial advice and supports.

 Social Housing:

The link between a lack of sufficient social housing and homelessness is clear. The lack of social housing options is also putting pressure on the rental sector, with a third of renters now supported by the State. Again, the target here is very clear – 47,000 new social housing homes by 2021 at a cost of €5.35 billion. It’s worth clarifying these figures once and for all:

On the money side, the Social Housing Strategy 2020, published in November 2014, committed to the delivery of some 35,600 social housing units in the period 2015 to 2020, supported by investment of some €3.8 billion.  The social housing element of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan proposes a significantly increased level of ambition, aiming for the delivery of 47,000 social housing units, through build, refurbishment, acquisitions and leasing, over the 2016 to 2021 period, supported by Exchequer investment of some €5.35 billion; a further €200 million is being provided for the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund.

The €5.35bn investment proposed for the social housing area over the 2016-2021 period comprises some €4.5 billion in capital funding and €844 million in support of programmes funded from current expenditure.  In terms of capital funding, the €4.5 billion being provided, represents a very significant assignment of resources towards addressing housing needs.

In summary, Minister Coveney has secured €2.2 billion of the available €5 billion capital fiscal space over the 2017 to 2021 period, €2 billion of this funding is being assigned to support the delivery of the 47,000 social housing units as set out in the Action Plan; and €200 million is for the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) which will provide much-needed enabling infrastructure on key sites to open up lands for early development.

This reflects a very clear demonstration on the part of the Government of the high priority that it assigns to tackling, in a comprehensive manner, the range of interlinked housing issues outlined in the Action Plan.

In relation to the output numbers

Of the 47,000 units, over 26,000 units will be built exclusively for Social housing, 11,000 will be acquired from the market, a portion of which will be newly built units and approximately 10,000 units will be leased by LAs and AHBs.

Building More Homes:

When the housing market is working well, there is a good supply of a range of new and second-hand homes for purchase, which cater for the entire span of the market from starter homes upwards. At the moment, we are producing half the 25,000 houses a year we need. Similarly, due to this shortage of new homes, the second-hand market is half what would normally be seen. The key graph on output is on page 30 of the Plan. It shows output predictions with the various elements of the Plan implemented versus the “business as usual” without these measures. If we don’t act decisively, we predict a continued scraping along the bottom in terms of output, or making small increases as the market slowly recovers. All the while, pent-up demand and our growing population is flying ahead.

We must get production of housing for starter homes and trade-ups back on track. At the moment, the landscape facing potential first-time buyers and expanding families looking for a bigger home is really challenging. A significant amount of analysis has been undertaken on the housing market, and the Plan addresses three key elements:

  1. Land,
  2. Costs, and
  3. Realisable demand.

In terms of land, the State has to be more active, at both central and local levels, in terms of deciding where our new houses are going to be. We also have to work to keep the cost of land down, as it will impact on the eventual sales price and the affordability of these homes. In the Plan, we are going to champion the best use of State lands for housing. We will take immediate action to boost supply, as well as taking the more strategic view under the new National Planning Framework.

However, contrary to some views expressed across the floor, we are not “giving away” publicly-owned lands to private developers to make exorbidant profits on – we are looking to extract the maximum value for the State in terms of securing social units at a reduced rate, tying in developers to provide a minimum percentage of homes at affordable prices, as well as balancing these mixed-tenure developments with other private housing.

We have very good data on local authority sites and we are going to work with them to help bring housing on stream quickly. And we’re also in discussions with other State agencies and entities about the potential of their lands, many of which are in prime locations that are already well serviced. This will also create opportunities for builders and land owners. This is an area where a key link with social housing exists. How do you create truly integrated communities? You plan and build them like that.

Using incentives such as the €200m infrastructure fund and the new affordable rental model, we are going to run competitions for the best new developments. These will be attractive places to live and at affordable prices and rents. Private, rental and social housing will be designed and built together. We are going to challenge local authorities, land owners and developers to be innovative and to deliver quality product, at affordable prices and at scale.

After land, construction, finance and taxation are the significant costs of delivering a house. We are dealing with part of these costs through the €200m Infrastructure Fund, which should help to reduce some of the up-front costs for builders and have a knock-on impact on the price levels they’ll be setting. The NTMA and ISIF will also prepare an offer for developers to facilitate on–site costs. This is separate but complementary to the €200m Infrastructure Fund. Again, given the cost reductions, housing at more affordable prices should be achievable.

We will also reduce costs by taking some time and risk out of the planning process. Housing development proposals of over 100 units will go straight to An Bord Pleanála for priority decision within the 18-week statutory period. This is not, like some have said, to silence or dismiss local views and input in considering these applications – indeed, all developments will need thorough pre-application consultations with the relevant local authority to understand how this proposal will fit within the wider strategic context of local plans, and individuals will of course be able to submit observations on any applications to the Board, just as they can do under strategic infrastructure planning applications.

We are very focussed on supply but realisable demand is a key component of the equation. In our extensive engagement with stakeholders, the ability of people to secure the funding to buy homes and the length of time this takes was raised again and again. Simply put, the increased uncertainty around buyers, particularly, first-time buyers, leads to house builders being more cautious in terms of the amount of product they build and sell at any time.

 

In order to incentivise supply of starter homes at scale, the Government will bring forward in Budget 2017 a Scheme to help first-time buyers. It will be back-dated to the announcement yesterday and therefore builders and buyers can factor it in now – there is no need or value in stalling plans to build or buy – decisions that people take today will be able to reap the benefits of these measures from the Plan launch date (19th July).

I’m personally very committed to growing jobs in construction and encouraging young people to get an education in construction skills and disciplines. We are going to work very closely with SOLAS to this end. There are great opportunities and we need to ensure that the system can adapt and accommodate the likely increased demands for these professions. I’d also be very hopeful that people that had to emigrate might be encouraged to come home, once we get building at scale again.

Rental Sector

As Minister Coveney said yesterday, there wasn’t time to develop a full rental strategy in this Plan, so it will follow later in the year. We will bring early actions through to ensure where sales of large-scale single developments take place, tenants will have the right to stay in their homes. We’ll also ensure that the resolution service is fair and balanced between tenants and landlords.

As I mentioned earlier, we are also going to deliver a new affordable rental scheme as an early action. The Scheme will help low-income families and individuals with rental costs and will also help boost supply. The use of affordable rental on multi-tenure sites will be encouraged as part of the bid process for the €200m Infrastructure Fund.

 

When we examined the rental market, the link to student demand for accommodation was raised. Where there is an unmet demand for student accommodation, it displaces into the rental market which is already creaking in places. We are targeting the production of an addition 7,000 student places by 2019, in partnership with the Department of Education and the Higher Education Institutes, and other stakeholders.

Vacant Housing:

Another consistent message we received from stakeholders was that the Plan needed to tackle vacant properties. These vacant properties are having a very negative effect in urban and rural locations around the country. This was one area where there was broad agreement that vacant properties, particularly, in our cities, towns and villages need to be tackled.

 

Again, we are going for a two-pronged approach of immediate action to boost housing supply and a longer-term strategic approach. In the short-term, we are going to provide the Housing Agency with €70 million in ring-fenced funding to initially buy 400 vacant distressed properties from bank and investment portfolios. The Agency will then sell on the properties to local authorities or approved housing bodies and use the funding to buy more homes. We are targeting the provision of 1,600 by 2020.

We are also introducing a new Repair and Leasing Initiative. This will allow local authorities to provide grant funding to property owners to bring vacant properties up to standard. The local authority can then lease the properties for social housing. The grant being offset against lease costs.

 

Importantly, a lot of the problem vacant units are not houses but commercial properties. To deal with these, we are going to look at the Planning Code to see if we can make turning these units into residential simpler and faster.

I have a particular interest in urban and village renewal, given my areas of responsibility. I will lead an Urban Renewal Working Group to bring forward plans to use housing and community schemes in a collaborative way to improve city, town and village centres. We’ll also work with colleagues in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to co-ordinate their schemes with ours and to bring forward joint demonstration projects.

 Conclusion

While the Plan was broadly welcomed, there was also a consistent message that implementation is the key. I agree with that, as does Minister Coveney. As we were developing the Plan, we had already started on implementation.

We are putting in place a new Housing Delivery Office. This Office will support and assist the excellent staff in my own Department who have been working tirelessly to put together this comprehensive Plan and who will be central in delivering the key aspects across all five Pillars. There is a huge challenge ahead for all of us and I want to make sure that we have the system and supports in place in my Department, in local authorities and in the various agencies and bodies to ensure that projects and programmes are delivered.

 

What people want to see most flowing from this Action Plan is increased delivery of housing on the ground. The Action Plan for Jobs is a very successful model where time-bound and clearly assigned actions were a key feature. The Actions in this Plan are equally time-bound and assigned. Progress will be reported in monthly and quarterly Reports on progress under each of the 80+ actions, as well as progress on the pathfinder projects to test and demonstrate the Action Plan’s effectiveness. The reports and key statistics on progress will be available on the dedicated website www.rebuildingireland.ie

 

Thank you.