Minister Eoghan Murphy’s Housing Agency conference speech

Published on Thursday, 29 Jun 2017
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Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at today’s conference.

You’ve all been at the coalface of this issue – this challenge – for far longer than I have and are experts in your various areas.

But no one in politics – no one with a sense of civic duty – has been blind to this growing crisis or the need to get on top of it.

I’ve had a particular perspective from my time in Finance this past year as new initiatives on the housing & homeless front have come through.

From my time on the Banking Inquiry I’ve also a good store of knowledge, I believe, of how we got things wrong in the past as we sought to meet the housing needs of our growing population.

I’m excited now to take this direct role as we begin our review of Rebuilding Ireland.

Of course it can’t be all about the finance of things – finance solutions can be found.

The measure of us – of me – will be how we spend our money, as much as the amount we spend and on what.

I know today that you are looking to the longer term, but if I may I would like to talk about a few shorter-term issues before moving to areas like sustainability and 2040 and so on.

Review

I’ve been asked by Taoiseach to review Rebuilding Ireland.

Even if there wasn’t a new Minister in the brief, good practice to review policy from time to time, especially policy as important as this. Of course we have quarterly reports, but this is a more holistic take, going back to some initial assumptions.

Taoiseach has said:

Review within 3 months

Identify additional measures

Assess need for greater quantum of social housing build

Consider a vacant homes tax

Look at new measures to support and/or encourage landlords.

I don’t intend to start from scratch in terms of reviewing the current plan. It’s an excellent piece of work and Simon deserves credit for it.

My intention is to explore new/additional initiatives & my focus will be very much on direct supply-side measures.

I won’t be impeded by ideological forces. And I won’t be deaf to good ideas no matter where they come from.

This is, I believe, an emergency and it requires some bold initiatives.

Homeless Families

Where do you start?

Well the most immediate concern for me is Homeless families.

Target for this year was ambitious but necessary – drove a huge effort to help these families (1200 in a year).

The target now is to prevent families from entering hotels – other accommodation, including hubs.

Hubs are better than hotels – extra €10m for 200 families.

First response, not the last.

Second target – families out of hotels. Good progress has been made this week with the 650 or so families in hotels at end of May – they will know where they are going, some are already there.

Don’t know the numbers yet for June – but March to May saw spike (600 – 50/50 split)

Exceptional cases will need tailored solutions.

Apartment living

Apartment living has also become an immediate issue in the wake of Grenfell.

Apartment living is essential if we are to be able to leverage public money & resources properly. If our cities are to continue to work and grow. We need higher density.

But did the failures of builders in the boom time put people off buying apartments? And thus, new builders building more apartments?

Will Grenfell have a similar impact?

Good progress has been made since 2014 with the new Building Control Regulations and the new BCMS.

I’ve now established a Task Force in the wake of Grenfell to priorities Life Safety and Fire Safety inspections.

This has begun with inspections of Local Authority multi story, will continue with cladding inspections on all buildings over 18m, and we are working on a plan for all public and private buildings.

In the coming weeks I will meet with all Fire Authorities.

We’ll have a chance to look at resource needs and a risk based inspection approach and other ideas.

The Numbers

Another immediate issue is the numbers.

The trend is in the right direction:

  • Planning permissions – circa 40% in January 2017 year on year
  • New home commencements – circa 40% in March 2017 year on year
  • ESB connections – circa 33% in March 2017 year on year

But we are going to stop referring to ESB connections as “completions”. ESB numbers are good because they do represent new tenancies, including house completions.

But it’s not accurate enough.

My Department is engaging with ESB to see if we can get better information from them.

And two groups, one in the CSO and one in my own Department are looking at how we can improve our numbers – how we can more adequately capture the completion of new homes.

Vacant Homes

Moving to the nearer term, I have the first draft of the vacant homes strategy and have reviewed it.

It’s very good.

But it’s not ambitious enough.

I’ll be using the current review of Rebuilding Ireland to see what new ideas we can bring to bear.

More than likely this will require engagement with the Minister for Finance.

If budgetary measures are needed this may delay the publication of the strategy.

But this won’t delay the commencement of work.

There’s a lot of information to be gathered in order to have a targeted, effective approach.

But existing property interests should note that changes are coming.

Build more and right mix

The state needs to build more, I think that’s clear.

But one of the risks we face, in any emergency, is to ensure our response does not build in problems for the future.

Invariably though this is always the case, to some degree.

We have to ensure that as construction activity ramps up – and it is increasing – that we achieve the right social mix, the right mix of use, the right mix of sustainable and safe materials in construction - and that we have mitigation measures to the forefront.

Sustainability

The Built Environment is a key sector in the National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan.

The Delivery of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings is important.

The Government will lead the way - we have set ourselves a deadline for new public buildings to achieve Nearly Zero Energy status 2 years ahead of private buildings.

Spatial planning will of course also have a key role here and I will come back to this in a moment.

Disability

Good progress continues to be made on the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016, which has been extended to 2020.

This reaffirms the Government’s commitment to protect the interests of the most vulnerable in society to ensure that they are not left behind.

The past year has seen some real achievements that will contribute significantly to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the years to come.

All 31 housing authorities have established Housing and Disability Steering Groups and each one has prepared a local Strategic Plan which identifies the housing needs of people with a disability, both current and emerging over the next 5 years.

For the first time people with disabilities will be able to see exactly how their housing needs are being addressed in their local areas.

Since 2013, the Department has provided €1m each year for the leasing or purchase of accommodation to support people with disabilities to move from institutional care to community based living arrangements.

Funding is also available under the Capital Assistance Scheme which provides funding of up to 100%.

Mental Health

Mental health funding has also been agreed in principle for the cost of necessary tenancy sustainment supports - in order to progress the transition of persons with low or medium support needs from HSE mental health services to community-based living.

This will be subject to the satisfactory review of a Pilot project which is expected to be completed later this year.

Ageing Population

The ageing of our population represents one of the most significant demographic and societal developments that Ireland faces in the years ahead

The number of people over the age of 65 expected to reach 1.4 million by 2041.

Across this same period, the number over the age of 80 is set to quadruple, from 128,000 in 2011 to some 480,000.

The implications for public policy in areas such as housing, health and urban and rural planning are considerable.

Government policy as expressed in Rebuilding Ireland is to support older people to live in their own home with dignity and independence for as long as possible as this has the best outcomes both for the individual and for society as a whole.

Rebuilding Ireland aims to ensure that older people have a range housing of choices available to them

There is an overall commitment to examine the potential of targeted schemes to meet differing housing needs.

In terms of cost effectiveness, home care costs in Ireland are estimated to be consistently lower than hospitalisation.

For many, living in adapted or specialist housing reduces reliance on health and social care services and can result in improved health status and lower rates of hospital admissions, while also contributing to a greater sense of well-being among our older population.

National Planning Framework – 2040

Looking now to the longer term horizon, the first draft of Ireland 2040 will be finalised this week.

This will then go across Government for consultation.

Public consultation and consideration by the Oireachtas will begin after next month and will conclude in the Autumn.

We have to deal with an expected population growth of 1m people between now and 2040.

We’ve got some fundamental questions to ask ourselves about the future of this country.

How do we achieve parity of growth?

How do we bring government resources to bear?

Many people and organisations - some 600 + - have already made initial submissions to the draft.

But now we come to the business end of things.

We have to get this right: the new plan will replace the 2002 national spatial strategy and will underpin every regional, city and local area plan for the next 20 years and more.

I’m very much looking forward to this process.

Conclusion

We need to deliver on our plans and deliver in such a way that it will meet the needs of our people now and that responds to future demographic change.

We have already made significant progress to date but there is more to be done and I believe we can achieve our goals by actively working together in partnership.

I hope you have all found this to be a productive and rewarding conference.  Rather than hold up your lunch any further, I would like to close this conference by thanking the Housing Agency for organising today’s event, and all those who presented and participated today.

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