On Tuesday November 11th, Senator Katherine Zappone raised the issue of social housing in the Seanad. She asked the Minister to outline when South Dublin County Council (SDCC) and other local authorities can expect to receive details and guidance on the timeline and funding in relation to the recent budget announcements and the proposed housing strategy.
In her speech, the Senator noted that 143 South Dublin families have been placed into or assessed as requiring emergency accommodation in 2014. In October, there were 25 South Dublin families living in Hotel accommodations across the Dublin region. At the same time, the SDCC is awaiting approval from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Governance for up to 500 new social housing units.
The Budget 2015 provided a much needed investment of €2.2 billion in social housing over the next 3 years and €10.5 million increase in funding for Homeless Services and Accommodation. Last week, one day after Senator raised the issue in the Seanad; an additional €4 million was allocated to Dublin City Council, which oversees the provision of homeless services for all four local authorities in Dublin, including SDCC. This will be in addition to the Council’s normal homelessness allocation for 2014.
Senator Zappone welcomed the Minister’s decision to provide additional funding for homeless services in Dublin.
However, she reminded the Government that the promised strategy on social housing needs to be a top priority: “Dublin’s homeless families must not be left in limbo over the winter by delays in the Government’s social housing strategy. The Local authorities urgently require the promised resources in order to move ahead with their programmes to house families and individuals who are presently facing a winter in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough.”
Below the remarks by the Senator and Minister Ó Ríordáin,
Senator Katherine Zappone: I welcome the Minister of State. I have raised the question to ask for an outline of when South Dublin County Council and other local authorities can expect to receive details and guidance on the timeline and funding in relation to the budget announcements and, of course, the proposed housing strategy itself. During the first eight months of 2014, 97 families were assessed and placed into emergency homeless accommodation by South Dublin County Council. An additional 46 families were assessed as requiring emergency accommodation and have been referred to the centralised placement service for placement. As of October 2014, there were 25 South Dublin County Council families that were placed in hotel accommodation across the Dublin region. The Minister no doubt agrees hotel accommodation is not an appropriate form of accommodation for families. However, in the current situation, when one family a day is becoming homeless, the local authorities have no other options.
The same is happening throughout the country. The Minister is aware that nationwide, 90,000 people are waiting for social housing. The level of deficiency in what is a basic human necessity requires a substantial investment. Therefore, I welcome the provisions in budget 2015 that provides that headline investment of €2.2 billion in social housing over the next three years and a €10.5 million increase in funding for homeless services and accommodation.
I also welcome the budget announcement to establish off-balance sheet vehicles through public private partnerships to channel further investment into the provision of social housing units. This level of investment and the various innovative supply side measures are needed if we are to resolve the housing crisis and in that respect I commend the Government. Notwithstanding this, until such time as it announces its comprehensive social housing strategy, South Dublin County Council will continue to await details and guidance from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the budget announcements and proposed housing strategy. The council has 260 units spread across a number of proposed developments, for which it is awaiting departmental approval. It is also in the process of finding other suitable sites and hopes to increase the number of new social housing units to be built, subject to approval, to 500 in the first quarter of 2015. Achieving this target will depend on the council obtaining the information it requires from the Department. For this reason, I ask the Minister of State for urgent clarification on the timeline and funding for the promised social housing strategy to enable local authorities such as South Dublin County Council to proceed with their local plans and ensure they have sufficient resources to house individuals and families who are sleeping rough or facing a winter in emergency accommodation.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality , Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin:
The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, had intended to come to the House to speak on this matter but declined to do so because he had made a firm commitment not to speak English today as part of the Gaeilge 24 challenge. I am speaking on his behalf and that of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly.
The social housing strategy which is being finalised is being developed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, with input from key personnel in the Housing Agency and National Economic and Social Council, NESC. The strategy will provide the basis for an enhanced approach to social housing provision and contain clear actions to be taken to increase supply and, most importantly, reduce the numbers on waiting lists. The measures in the strategy will complement budget 2015 which provided for a multi-annual approach to the provision of social housing, with a considerable increase in Exchequer investment and proposals for innovative funding approaches to increase supply. The strategy will be submitted to the Government for approval in the coming weeks and published thereafter.
As Senators will be aware, the specific provisions to be made in 2015 in respect of the various funding schemes and programmes, including the breakdown of the social housing investment programme, will be published in December in the 2015 Revised Estimates Volume. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will then work with all local authorities to agree individual allocations across all social housing activities, especially in new building projects. This planning will be based, first and foremost, on social housing need in each area, taking account of projects local authorities have already commenced. Thanks to funding announced by the then Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in March this year, a local authority housing construction programme, with an associated cost of €68 million, has been initiated. The programme will deliver 449 new units of accommodation for people on housing waiting lists by 2016. A simultaneous announcement of a further €46 million in capital investment for approved housing bodies will provide for a total of 416 units of accommodation for people with special housing needs, including the elderly, persons with an intellectual or a physical disability and homeless persons. These investments marked the return to new mainstream social housing construction after a number of years in abeyance. Senator Katherine Zappone has shown a particular interest in South Dublin County Council where funding of more than €5.3 million has been allocated under these programmes and is expected to deliver 32 units of accommodation.
Social housing is a priority issue for the Government, as demonstrated in the investment in new housing infrastructure announced in budget 2015. The combined capital and current housing allocation for 2015 will result in an investment of almost €800 million and provide more than 7,500 new homes across a range of housing programmes. The net effect of new building activity under way and the further allocations to local authorities that will follow the publication of the social housing strategy and Revised Estimates Volume will be to produce a pipeline of new social housing which will stretch out on a multi-annual basis.
Senator Katherine Zappone: I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am sure the information he provided will be helpful to South Dublin County Council and other local authorities. As I indicated, I appreciate the overall investment in social housing and the information provided by the Minister of State on how it will be broken down. I am aware that the Revised Estimates will be announced in December. According to the Minister of State, this will give local authorities certainty about the amount of money available to them. I hope the Revised Estimates will be published in early rather than late December. Perhaps local authorities might be given an early indication of the figures, given that they are ready to go but must wait for the detail from the Department. That is certainly the position in the case of South Dublin County Council. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be homeless or live in emergency accommodation as winter approaches. The sooner we establish what will be the specific allocations for the various local authorities, the better because it may give a glimmer of hope to people in that position.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: I appreciate the Senator's comments and will convey the case she made to the Minister. No one in either House or in government is under any illusion about the seriousness of the housing crisis in Dublin and nationwide. It is fair to use the label "crisis". The Government's response in the budget was substantial and the investment announced in public housing, the first such announcement in a long time, is a statement of its intent. I appreciate the Senator's comments and her motivation in making them. I will convey the points she made to the Minister.
Senator Katherine Zappone: Go raibh maith agat.