Thursday, 25 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
5. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount by which the budget for social housing has been reduced for 2010; the amount of the funding that has been reduced for each local authority; the way this compares to the 2009 figure; the number of new social homes that are expected to be built in 2010 in each local authority area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9859/10]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran): As set out in the 2010 Revised Estimates for Public Services, the social housing budget across capital and current expenditure programmes is €1,071 billion. This represents a decrease of 18% when compared to the provisional outturn figures for 2009.
The Government’s key priorities in shaping the overall housing provision for next year have been to focus the impact of necessary adjustments on the areas in which there is scope to maintain output through more flexible approaches and where the policy context supports such approaches, and to continue to direct available capital resources substantially towards the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. In keeping with this strategy, the reform programme, now well underway in my Department, involves a shift away from construction-acquisition and a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting social housing needs towards a more graduated system of supports. This refocusing in policy and financial terms is rooted in the clearly articulated rationale set out in the Government’s housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities.
While the allocations to local authorities for 2010, when finalised, will show a reduction in the provision for the main traditional local authority programme, I anticipate that, through more flexible market-based delivery mechanisms such as the rental accommodation scheme and long-term leasing, as well as the continued significant support for the capital assistance scheme in 2010, delivery across the range of social housing measures next year will be of the order of 8,000 to 9,000 units. Of this total, I expect approximately half of all units delivered to come through a combination of leasing and RAS, the other half through new builds and acquisitions.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I thank the Minister of State. The situation is extreme with close to 100,000 people on social housing waiting lists yet we are only talking about 8,000 to 10,000 accommodation places. This is completely unacceptable. The social housing budget has been drastically cut by almost 20% and long-term leasing is not achieving any value for money for the taxpayer. There should be an opportunity for equity in these homes to be purchased so that the taxpayer gets more bang for the buck. The rental accommodation scheme spent €441 million of taxpayers’ money in 2008 and with very little to show for it. These people need permanent accommodation. People in social housing do not want to be moved from house to house and from city to city. The Minister of State’s priority should be to give them permanent accommodation and to give them a place called home. I await the Minister of State’s response and that there will be an opportunity for equity to be purchased in these homes rather than the money being given to developers yet again.
Deputy Michael Finneran: The Deputy said there were 100,000 people; there are 56,000 households. Many people already are receiving supports such as the rent supplement scheme. Opportunities exist for local authorities and voluntary bodies. The Deputy will be aware that in September 2009 I extended to the voluntary bodies the opportunity to go into long-term leasing. This is proving very successful. Even though it is a new scheme, we were in a position to acquire over 2,000 homes in 2009 and we set a target of between 4,000 and 4,500 for 2010.
Deputy Michael Finneran: If those homes were to be built on an acquisition basis, it would cost in the region of €800 million and I am in a position to deliver those homes for less than a quarter of that sum. These are new homes in perfect condition which will be inspected by the local authorities and people will have a tenure of ten, 15, 20 or even up to 40 years.
As regards the final question, I have not finally decided on the matter of lease to purchase. The Deputy will be aware, as a result of a question from a Member from his side of the House, either Deputy Hogan or Deputy Deasy, I showed how flexible I am as regards the scheme when I said I would consider a build to lease arrangement. I am aware that in some areas there may not be houses available for leasing so alternatives and variants are being considered. I am already in discussions with local authorities as regards the very question raised by the Deputy, whether we should move towards lease to purchase. I am taking into consideration the views of different local authorities and those of my Department.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: While we welcome the Minister of State’s flexibility and his work in this area, much more needs to be done to get value for taxpayers’ money and to ensure we will have an equity stake — an asset — at the end of the day. We need to make sure this is not just rental money that is going into other people’s pockets without a physical asset being made available. The priority should be to ensure there will be equity. Finally, can the Minister of State give us an update on the roll-out of the incremental purchase scheme under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009?
Deputy Michael Finneran: The Deputy suggested we should have an asset at the end of the day. Those of us who spent many years as members of local authorities are aware that limited assets are available to local authorities. It is rare for houses that have been allocated to become available again. In some cases, they are retained by the second and third generations of families. There is nothing wrong with that.
Deputy Michael Finneran: Many people have tried that in the past. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, pioneered that. He pushed it through and got it included in the legislation. On the Deputy’s final point, I hope to be in a position to make an announcement on pilot areas for the incremental purchase scheme pretty soon.
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