Thursday, 8 July 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
It is an issue concerning a voluntary housing association in Kildare that could have wider implications for others across the country. While I have no evidence to suggest anything untoward has happened, I am a little uneasy with a recent discussion with the local authority in respect of this association and similar housing associations.
Voluntary housing associations are financially supported by the State under the capital allowance programme with free sites made available to them. After completion of the estate, the association is required to establish a company to run the association, have an AGM, publish an annual report and liaise with its tenants regularly. Up to 10,000 houses are held under such schemes.
In the scheme in question, several tenants have become uneasy. In the beginning everything went to plan with all instructions carried out in accordance with the rules and articles of association. In the meantime a reluctance seems to have emerged on the part of the company to meet with the tenants and the local authority. I have insisted on such a meeting and called for an audit to be carried out on the association’s activities to protect the Department, the local authority, the company and the tenants.
Will the Minister of State arrange for the association in question to meet with the relevant officials in the local authority and the tenants to address various questions that have emerged? These include the possibility of an audit of the association’s activities in the past seven years, when it last held an AGM, whether it has responded to tenants properly, whether it has reviewed rents annually and maintained the properties to the required level. While I accept all of these may have been already addressed, it must be remembered that as associations receive funding from the Exchequer, it is incumbent on them to be transparent in answering such questions.
There are arrears in the case of some tenants which one would expect if there were no rent reviews in the good times and then unanticipated rent increases in the downturn. I hope the Minister of State will be able to get the association to address the tenants’ concerns and ensure the sector does not fall into disrepute when there is a reluctance to give information when requested.
The sector has a proud record of achievement in the provision of rental accommodation to substantial numbers of vulnerable households over the past 20 years or so. Since the 1980s, more than 23,000 homes have been delivered through the capital assistance scheme and the capital loan and subsidy scheme. These capital funding schemes provide 100% funding for the provision of accommodation for people with special housing needs and low-income families respectively. Both schemes are administered by housing authorities and it is a matter for each authority to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the schemes.
The detailed requirements and relevant guidance are set out in the Department’s memorandum, capital funding schemes for the provision of rental accommodation by approved housing bodies. As outlined in the memorandum, housing bodies seeking funding under the schemes must have approved status under section 6 of the Housing Act 1992. Such a body must have as its primary objectives the provision of accommodation for low-income families or persons with special needs and must have in its memorandum of association or registered rules, as the case may be, provisions prohibiting the distribution of any surplus, profit, bonus or dividend to members and requiring that the assets of the body be applied solely towards its objectives.
In order to ensure that the voluntary and co-operative housing programme is best positioned to deliver on housing need, my Department commissioned an independent report by outside consultants on the future policy and direction of the programme. The report, which I launched late last year, contains recommendations to identify strengths and weaknesses in corporate governance practices, including the examination of current practice with regard to monitoring and regulation of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector.
Stakeholder consultation on the implementation of the principal recommendations of the Grant Thornton report is now well under way and is being done through the working group on voluntary and co-operative housing, which is representative of the Irish Council for Social Housing, the National Association of Building Co-operatives, the County and City Managers’ Association and my Department.
This brings me to the housing association specifically raised by Deputy Durkan. Léim an Bhradáin Housing Association was granted approved status by my Department in 1997. This housing body was properly established, is still effective and has submitted up-to-date returns to the Companies Registration Office. In 2000, my Department approved funding of over €3 million under the capital loan and subsidy scheme for the provision of 32 houses by this approved housing body.
I am sure Deputy Durkan will appreciate that my Department’s primary role in voluntary and co-operative housing is to ensure sufficient funding is provided to meet ongoing demand for new projects. Approved housing bodies are the owners of the accommodation financed under my Department’s capital funding schemes and are responsible for the proper management and maintenance of dwellings, the fixing of rent and compliance with all relevant statutory requirements. It is the responsibility of the body to ensure that proper procedures and governance arrangements are in place to achieve compliance with the terms of the capital funding schemes.
I understand officials from Kildare County Council have been engaging closely with this approved body. I draw the Deputy’s attention to my earlier comment that it is a matter for the housing authority to confirm compliance with the terms and conditions of the scheme and to have suitable liaison arrangements in place to oversee the administration of the schemes.
I understand an AGM was held recently. Kildare County Council is in discussions with the body and is seeking the information to which it is entitled. I hope there will always be a co-operative approach among tenants, bodies and local authorities in such situations. I am supportive of this type of scheme and I would not like to see anything untoward happening in any area, although I am not saying that is the case here. I have confirmation from Kildare County Council that it is in discussions with the association. If anything further comes to the attention of my Department, I will be only too willing to pass it on to the Deputy.
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