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Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 801 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe] The extraordinary and bitter irony for a country which went through a housing boom is that we still have more than 100,000 people on our public housing lists. This shows the manifest failure of housing policy during the period under the previous Government. In many of the communities I am so privileged to represent I meets residents and constituents who have been on housing lists for between five and eight years looking for a particular form of accommodation. Dublin City Council is doing its best. These are individuals for whom rent might not be an option and for whom purchase is not an option, and they now find themselves locked in very long waiting lists despite the huge effort of the city council to deal with it. The Government and the Minister of State are already examining the role voluntary housing associations, such as Clúid, can play in this and how we can support them in their work.

I am still certain that in the model for future public housing provision in our cities and counties local authorities will continue to play, and must play, a role in building housing stock themselves. When we get to better days, as I am sure we will, I hope we will examine the type of financial support we can give to voluntary housing associations and local authorities to continue their work in dealing with the 100,000 people who have been left on these lists despite homes being built throughout the country for years. We have a duty to support them. I acknowledge the work done by our local authorities in trying to rise to this challenge.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews Deputies Eamonn Maloney and Michael McNamara will share the next speaking slot.

Deputy Eamonn Maloney: Information on Eamonn Maloney Zoom on Eamonn Maloney I welcome the Bill as other speakers have done on all sides of the House. As a former member of a local authority for 11 or 12 years of my life, I am aware that the amendment being introduced by the Minister of State has been spoken about for years but nothing has been done about it. The principal activity of local authorities is the provision of housing for those who cannot afford housing themselves and surely it is a responsibility councillors should have in their gift. In many respects it is good they have this and I commend the Minister of State for it and for the introduction of the Bill.

Other speakers have gone into the details of the legislation, including Deputy Donohoe, so I will not do so. The great advantage of technology is that one does not need to be in the Chamber to hear the debate and one can listen in one's office to the contributions being made. I was close to jumping out the window at one stage when I heard Sir Richard Boyd Barrett blame the Minister of State for not building any houses. I do not know how the Minister of State replied but I did not realise she was responsible for the collapse of the Irish economy. If one bases one's economics on a Ladybird book one will have difficulty.

Unlike some who get into a false rage about local authority estates, I was born in one and live in one and I am proud to do so. The last thing I need is a critique from people about what it is like to live in a local authority housing estate. Having said this I know if things were different it would be to the great credit of both parties in the Government if the Minister of State could announce we were commencing a great programme of building local authority houses, but the country is bankrupt. People prostitute the issue of homelessness and the thousands of people on the list, which was discussed eloquently by the previous speaker, but the lists have spiralled out of control and there is a reason for this. I do not think the finger can be pointed at the Minister of State. It is a difficult situation and I look forward to the days when the country gets out of the mess it is in and is in better shape economically. Those of us who support the Government look forward to the day we can take people off the list and provide social housing.

Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara I concur very much with what Deputy Donohoe said and it is something I have spoken about directly to the Minister of State in the Chamber. Along the lines of what Deputy Donohoe stated, at a recent meeting with Clare County Council officials I was very pleased to learn the inspection regime is being stepped up there. County Clare is not unlike anywhere else in that quite an amount of private rented accommodation is inadequate in the extreme. I sat as an adjudicator on the Private Rresidential Tenancies Board and while at times I was shocked by the evidence of what tenants had done to properties, I was equally shocked by some of the entirely inadequate properties being let to tenants, in particular under schemes funded by the Exchequer and often paid for by the HSE. I am glad that not only in this august Chamber where it is easy to discuss these matters, but on the ground the inspection regime is being stepped up.

Deputy Maloney mentioned we would very much like to see a greater number of houses being built by local authorities and everybody would agree, whether on the left or right of the Chamber, that this would be socially beneficial. I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of State to the fact that there is insufficient money to renovate and repair existing housing stock in Clare which is lying idle. There is not a lot, it has to be said, but there is some and these are times of pressure on State resources. Clare is rarely exceptional in any instance and has been described as a bellwether constituency and county. I know the Minister of State is very well acquainted with it. It would be good if money could be made available for this housing stock. It would also be good if money could be made available for building, but at the very least perhaps money could be made available for the repair and renovation of existing housing stock to ensure people move into it.

I wish to discuss the great difficulty housing arrears cause local authorities with regard to their budgets and financing. I am aware the Department has sought to address this since the Minister of State has taken up her role, and an amendment to the household budgeting scheme to provide for mandatory deduction of local authority rent was introduced in December. This will help local authorities address their concerns regarding the build-up of rental arrears. The mandatory provision provides local authorities with strengthened power to help manage their tenancies, as when the provision is commenced customers will have to obtain written permission from the housing authority prior to cancelling the household budget rent reduction. The requirement to enter into a household budget rent reduction scheme is nothing new but many local authority tenants entered into it when they entered into their tenancy but then cancelled it and commenced building up arrears. They will no longer be able to do this. The difficulty still arises with existing tenancies, of which there are many with considerable arrears. We all appreciate many people in local authority housing are in considerable difficulty but some people take advantage of the situation.

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