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 Header Item Water Services (Continued)
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy] I think we will be looking at four sections. I am in the hands of the Office of the Attorney General regarding getting the wording right and having it ready for a future referendum. It was certainly not believed there was enough time to finalise the wording, have a proper and full debate on the issues and then hold a referendum in May. We want all sides in the House to agree the wording of the proposal and we want to have a good campaign so that the public understands the importance of what is being proposed. We do not want to do anything that might cause risk and that includes rushing the referendum.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I do not think that would be rushing it. I understand it is complex. All of us understand that. What I am trying to understand, however, is how complex this is. I am also trying to get a good handle on the proposed timeframe. When does the Minister envisage that the proposals will be finalised by the Attorney General? The Minister mentioned that he is in the hands of that office. This is important. The Office of the Attorney General has many important issues to deal with. I would have thought, however, that one absolute priority would be to ensure water resources in Ireland remain in public ownership and that question is put to the people.

Does the Minister believe we will be able to hold a referendum this year? I have met officials from unions, such as SIPTU, representing water services workers in local authorities. They are, understandably, watching closely in the context of the proposed transfer to Irish Water to ensure water remains in public ownership. I am trying to understand when that will happen. I have not got that answer so far this morning from the Minister. What is his best guesstimate, if that is the case? Has the Attorney General actually prioritised this matter?

If not, will the Minister seek, through Government and in conjunction with his Cabinet colleagues, that this issue be made an absolute priority within the Office of the Attorney General? All of us understand the pressures of Brexit, so we do not necessarily need the answers on that element. We have our omnibus legislation prepared and ready to go and the Opposition has ceded time on that. That is fine. When, however, can we give people an indication as to when this referendum will take place?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy This is very important to the Government. Commitments were made and I intend to honour them. It is not, however, as urgent as other things because there is not currently a risk to the public ownership of our water supplies. We are committed to bringing forward a referendum to ensure our water services remain in public ownership. The difficulty has been in finding language that mitigates the risks identified regarding group water schemes, private wells and Irish Water. Many attempts have been made to find the appropriate draft language.

It took some months to do that, longer than I thought. I have also met with the unions on a number of occasions and shared those 14 tests, and I can share them with Deputy O'Brien as well. When I met in March with a number of people on this issue, I expected that other proposals and other ideas for language and wording that would have cross-party support in this House would come forward. They did not, however. Some very smart people are trying to work out a solution to this issue and we now have Government approval on proposed wording. I brought that proposed wording to the Office of the Attorney General in November and he is working on that.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Does the Minister have any idea when that will be done?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy At the moment, I cannot-----

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Is the Attorney General going to come back to the Minister?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy This issue is, of course, important to me. My engagement with the Attorney General at the moment focuses on Brexit and rent legislation and the Attorney General is also dealing with a number of other issues. That is not to say this matter is not important. It has, however, taken some time for us to bring the wording to the Attorney General. His team is now working on that wording. As soon as that is ready, all of us will have wording we can campaign on to ensure the referendum is successful.

Social and Affordable Housing

 21. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when the new affordable housing scheme will be published; the income limits of the new scheme; the local authorities which will be using the scheme; when it will be available for applications; the targets for the number of affordable rental and affordable purchase homes to be delivered in 2019, 2020 and 2021; and the number of such homes to be delivered in the Ringsend SDZ and the various pathfinder sites across Dublin city and county. [8670/19]

 22. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when he will publish regulations for the affordable purchase scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8292/19]

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin Will the Minister give the House an update on the affordable housing scheme that his Department officials have been working on? I ask, in particular, for as much detail as possible of income limits, eligibility, price, if such information is available, for renters or purchasers, and a timeline as to when the scheme will be introduced. There is a degree of frustration among councillors in Dublin City Council, for example, keen to progress a number of affordable housing projects. Those councillors are being advised by officials that the absence of a statutory scheme is slowing down progress. Any update the Minister can provide will be most welcome.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 22 together.

Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides a new statutory basis for the delivery of affordable housing for purchase. The Act itself contains significant detail on the new arrangements, reducing the extent to which regulations are required. Insofar as regulations are necessary, the most immediate requirement is for regulations dealing with the making of schemes of priority by local authorities. I will be signing regulations dealing with that issue shortly which will allow local authorities to finalise their schemes of priorities by June, as required. Further regulations and detailed guidance will issue to local authorities in the coming weeks.

The new affordable housing scheme is targeted towards low to middle income first-time buyer households, with incomes of up to €50,000, and €75,000 in the case of single and dual applicant households, respectively. The priority areas for the operation of the scheme will be influenced by the economic assessments local authorities were asked to carry out on affordability issues in their areas. The examination of assessments submitted will be finalised shortly. The new scheme will be set in the context of moderating growth in house prices and rental levels in the market and will complement other key Government affordability initiatives. These include the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, which has seen 575 loans to a total value of some €107 million drawn down to date, and the Help to Buy scheme, under which there have been nearly 10,000 applications, to a value of some €142 million, approved.

The affordable housing scheme will be open to applications as projects are delivered. In that regard, significant delivery is to be achieved through the €310 million serviced site fund, SSF, under which at least 6,200 affordable homes are to be supported over the next three years. An initial ten projects have been approved for €43 million of funding under the first call for proposals under the SSF. A second call will issue shortly and the first homes are expected to be delivered next year. In addition, some 2,350 affordable homes will be delivered on mainly publicly-owned lands being supported through the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, while 5,600 further homes will benefit from a LIHAF-related cost reduction. The work of the Land Development Agency will also be of crucial importance in delivering more affordable housing. The initial portfolio of sites the agency has access to will have the potential, over the short to medium term, to deliver 3,000 affordable homes in line with the Government policy of achieving 30% affordable housing on State lands generally.

In parallel with this, the Dublin local authorities continue to progress a number of other significant housing projects on publicly-owned lands, including the redevelopment of O'Devaney Gardens and a site at Oscar Traynor Road in Dublin city, yielding some 250 affordable homes, and 380 cost rental homes to be delivered between projects at the former St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and at Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The timing of delivery under these projects is contingent on the completion of planning and procurement in the first instance, but the local authorities are working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible.

In relation to the Poolbeg West strategic development zone, SDZ, the planning scheme for the area included provision for approximately 550 affordable homes. Delivery of these homes was to be arranged by agreement between Dublin City Council and the landowner and I understand that discussions in this regard, although not yet complete, are at an advanced stage.  As Deputies will be aware, there is currently an appeal to An Bord Pleanála in relation to the planning scheme for the SDZ.  Progress on development of the site is therefore dependent on the timing of the board's decision.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin Last year, the ESRI, in conjunction with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, published important research on housing affordability. While it was found that overall 32% of renters and mortgage holders were having affordability issues, in the bottom 25% of income earners, it was found that 75% of those households were struggling with rent and mortgages. That demonstrates the scale of the problem. The research also clearly identified that this was not a recent phenomenon but something in place since approximately 2002, the date to which the research dated. We need to hear as well when these units will be delivered. For example, could we start to have annual targets, as we already have with social housing, for cost rental and affordable purchase? Could that also be broken down by local authority?

We need to start knowing the prices as well. For instance, we are hearing the price for Enniskerry Road will be 80% of market rent. That is nowhere close to affordable for the income brackets outlined in the new affordable housing scheme. The Minister might also clarify another issue I am concerned about. I welcome the affordable housing scheme the Minister is going to publish. Will it, however, only deal with purchase and not cost rental? My understanding is that local authority managers would like some clarity on that matter as well. At this stage, we would like to know when the units will be ready, what local authority areas will they be in and what will the price be to rent and buy.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy On the first part of Deputy Ó Broin's question, if we examine the different schemes in place now, we are talking about delivering about 29,000 affordable homes. That is growing and work is happening in the Department to build that pipeline out. I refer to a pipeline similar to what is in place for social housing targets under the Rebuilding Ireland programme. We are going to do that. We are going to have targets for local authorities for the delivery of affordable homes to purchase and to rent. It will draw in the schemes currently in operation. That is happening now and it is going to be more ambitious than the 29,000 affordable homes currently in the system.

I turn now to cost reduction for renters. On cost rental we are talking about 15% to 25%, depending on how the scheme has been funded, what land was used, the interest rate at which the finance was secured and other factors that also play a part. That will be over the lifetime of a person's tenancy, whether that is five, ten, 15 or 20 years.

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