Thursday, 5 April 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
2. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government his estimate of the total number of applicants on local authority housing lists; the amount by which he estimates the number of applicants has increased since the last assessment of housing needs, conducted in spring 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10130/01]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): The results of the statutory assessment of housing needs undertaken by local authorities at the end of March 1999 indicated a total of 39,176 households in need of local authority housing. From ongoing contacts by my Department with local authorities it is estimated that needs increased by around 15% between March 1999 and March 2000.
The next statutory assessment of housing needs is due to be undertaken by local authorities at the end of March 2002 and my Department will shortly establish a working group with key local authority personnel to devise detailed and up-to-date guidelines for local authorities in conducting the next statutory assessment of needs. I intend that these guidelines will be available to local authorities by the end of this year.
The Government is fully aware of the increased level of social housing need and priority is being given by tackling this need. I have taken a range of measures to assist local authorities to expand their housing programmes and to expand overall social housing output. This has included the introduction of a four year multi-annual programme for the period 2000-03, to assist better forward planning by local authorities and to increase output. This programme provides for 25,000 local authority houses in this four year period. In contrast, in the early 1990s, local authority housing output averaged about 1,000 units per annum.
The greatly increased targets under the multi-annual local authority housing programme together with the projected almost eightfold increase in voluntary housing output is indicative of the Government's commitment to tackling social housing need. We will do this in a way which is responsive to the volume of needs but also to the range of needs and to the necessity to secure quality social housing provision which contributes to social inclusion.
Local authorities are aware that the necessary  funding for their housing programme is in place and there is no impediment on this front. For example, capital funding for the provision of local authority housing in 2001 increased by over 44% on the original provision in 2000 and by almost 150% since 1997. There is now strong evidence that local authorities are increasing activity. I believe that the multi-annual housing programme will be implemented successfully and we will achieve targeted output over the four year period of the programme.
From details of the construction-acquisition programmes submitted by local authorities to my Department, I expect authorities to complete or acquire over 5,000 houses in 2001 and start in excess of 7,000 houses. This is the highest level of activity for many years and is evidence that the multi-annual programme approach is beginning to bear fruit.
Mr. Gilmore: On the number of applicants for local authority housing, the Minister of State has given two figures, one of which is two years out of date and the other of which is 12 months out of date. What is his Department's estimate of the current number of applicants for local authority housing? Will he accept that the draft housing strategies, which are being prepared by local authorities, show that the number of applicants has increased by about 50% since March 1999, which would put that total number of applicants at closer to 60,000 than 40,000?
Mr. Molloy: The question relates to an estimate of the number of applicants. There is only one figure, that is, the statutory assessment, which, as the Deputy will be aware, is carried out on a three year basis. The statutory assessment, which is carried out on a three year basis, as the Deputy is aware—
Mr. Molloy: The statutory assessment will be made in 2002. It is a very comprehensive, complex and detailed investigation of each applicant on the list. It is only in that way one can get an accurate figure. I have given an indication from contacts we made with local authorities that in the period I mentioned there has been an increase of 15%. From practical experience, I am aware it is reasonable to expect that figure would have increased even further since then. We will not know the exact number of people on the housing list until we carry out the statutory assessment—
Mr. Molloy: We have laid out an extensive house building programme. I referred to a local authority house building programme to build 25,000 houses over the next four years. I am satisfied that will be achieved, but it is only part of the social housing programme. We have an extensive plan for the expansion of voluntary housing output, also the affordable housing scheme is being taken up at a much greater rate than initially and there is the shared ownership scheme. Those combined will result in an enlarged output of social housing in that area. Part 5 of the Bill is due to come into force, which will give us access to up to 20% of land designated for building for the purpose of social housing, which will help greatly to speed up the implementation of the construction programme.
Mr. Gilmore: The Minister of State is attempting to talk out the answer to avoid answering specific questions I put to him. Can the Minister with responsibility for housing tell this House what is his Department's estimate of the number of housing applicants? It is a simple question to which I believe the Minister has the answer and which he should tell the House.
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