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Minister Murphy's Opening Statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee

Published on Thursday, 12 Dec 2019
Minister Eoghan Murphy

I thank the Chair and members of the Committee for the opportunity to appear again before the Committee, to give you an update on the progress made in terms of the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland.

I am joined today by John McCarthy, Secretary General, and Assistant Secretaries Maria Graham, Mary Hurley and Paul Lemass.

At the very core of Rebuilding Ireland is the supply of new homes for individuals and families of all incomes, built in the right locations and with access to services. Tangible progress is being made.

For the first time this decade, new dwelling completions over a 12 month period have exceeded 20,000. The total for 2016, the year Rebuilding Ireland was launched, stood at less than 10,000. There is good progress on delivery of social housing also: in 2014, only 419 social housing homes were built. This year we will build more than 6,000.

This year, 27,360 housing supports will be delivered to those who need help securing a home. Most critically, this progress is sustainable. The measures that have been put in place to accelerate delivery and increase supply are solid and evidence-based, creating confidence for the house building sector across the public and private sectors.

When we talk about targets, be they social, affordable or for overall supply, we need ambition. Ambition to make the targets high and challenging, and determination to drive forward and achieve them. Rebuilding Ireland set plenty of targets, and year on year, we are rising to the challenge. Some are more difficult than others, but we have always committed to full transparency on delivery, which is why I welcome the opportunity to address this Committee.

Tackling Homelessness

Some commentators on homelessness, be they expert or not, would suggest that nothing is being done; that policy is failing completely. But that is untrue and it is unfair to the hundreds of local authority staff and our partners in the NGO sector working on the front lines up and down this country doing their utmost to assist vulnerable households.

There are a myriad of personal, situational and financial reasons for homelessness. It is a very complex issue. Resolving homelessness continues to be a key priority for my Department. There are still too many people in emergency accommodation and my Department is working closely with the local authorities to ensure that we can provide homes for each of the individuals and households experiencing progress.

While the numbers clearly demonstrate the scale of the challenge we face, the most recent Homelessness Performance Reports, submitted to my Department by the local authorities, show that we are making progress.

In the first nine months of the year, 4,389 adults, and their associated dependents, exited homelessness to a home. This figure was an increase of 17% in comparison to the same period in 2018. The increasing delivery of social homes under Rebuilding Ireland means we are seeing increased exits to local authority homes, with 873 exits, an increase of 69% on the same period last year. There were also 691 exits to AHB homes, up 46% on the same period of 2018.

Data provided by the DRHE also shows increased exits of families from emergency accommodation to homes in the Dublin region. In the first nine months of the year, 786 families exited from emergency accommodation in Dublin to a home. This was an increase of almost 50% on the family exits over the same period in 2018. We will continue to work hard to deliver homes for all families in emergency accommodation.

As we work with the local authorities to increase exits, we are also committed to ensuring the individuals and families experiencing homelessness receive the supports that they need to move from homelessness to a home, working in partnership with our colleagues across  Government departments and agencies. We are continuing to roll out family hubs to provide more appropriate emergency accommodation for families and to reduce the time spent in emergency accommodation through the provision of on-site supports.

There are now 30 family hubs, providing accommodation for approximately 690 families. These are not permanent solutions to the homelessness crisis – they reflect the need to provide suitable accommodation to vulnerable families until a permanent solution is delivered.

We are also introducing new beds for single adults to ensure that there is shelter for everyone who requires it. A new outreach team began work in Dublin earlier this year and is working intensively with rough sleepers to encourage them to avail of shelter and supports. These efforts are reducing the level of rough sleeping in Dublin, with the Winter Rough Sleeper Count, conducted at the end of November, showing the lowest of rough sleeping since 2015 with 92 individuals recorded.

There was surplus capacity of beds in the system on the night of the count and the DRHE and their service delivery partners will continue to work with these individuals to encourage them to avail of shelter.

The cornerstone of our policy for rough sleepers will continue to be the Housing First programme. Housing First is being rolled out nationally and will provide housing and health supports to rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation with complex health needs.

Housing First will allow us to eliminate rough sleeping in many areas of the county. For example, Waterford City has informed my Department that Housing First has reduced rough sleeping in Waterford from 20 individuals to 3 people this month.

Social Housing Delivery

In terms of social housing delivery, we are continuing to build on the significant progress made between 2016 and 2018 in terms of supporting new households into homes. As of quarter 3 2019, over 90,000 additional households across Ireland have received social housing support under Rebuilding Ireland. Looking at this in another way, when we set out with the Plan, there were 92,000 households on local authority waiting lists - by the middle of year 4, an equivalent number of households have been assisted.

Of course, we always knew that the number in need of social housing was not a static number, and that additional demand would likely arise as our population grows. That’s why we planned to deliver almost 140,000 social homes overall, and we are on track not only to deliver that number, but most likely to exceed it.

Building on a strong pace of delivery in 2018, in the first nine months of this year, just under 18,000 families and individuals were helped into a social housing support across Ireland. This includes almost 4,400 additional social homes provided by local authorities and AHBs under build, acquisition and leasing programmes and a further 13,600 households accommodated under HAP and RAS. And this is having an impact - the social housing waiting list has reduced by over 25%, or by 22,907 households, compared with the assessment conducted in September 2016.

I stated earlier that creating additional supply is at the core of a successful Action Plan. Our attention in terms of social housing delivery continues to be firmly placed on accelerating new builds. My Department is in constant contact with local authorities and approved housing bodies to achieve maximum output in this regard.

This year we have held a Housing Summit with local authority Chief Executives, and 7 Regional events with local authority housing delivery teams and I met with all Chief Executives again in September in relation to delivery matters following our last Committee update.

Last year, while delivering 6% above the overall target, we achieved 97% of the national target for new build activity. It is important to note that this progress has been delivered by a local authority sector which had effectively built no new social homes during the worst years of the financial crisis, and was stripped of the necessary expertise. This year’s targets are even higher and delivering well against those ambitions is important.

The targets are deliberately high because the local authority sector, my Department and I understand the urgency and extent of the challenge, and have provided the necessary resources to allow the local authority sector to deliver.

I have been clear with local authorities that risks of slippage, delay and non- delivery must be mitigated. Projects need to secure early agreement at Council, projects must come forward to my Department for approval on a continuous basis and get on site without delay. Crucially, projects must be carefully managed to completion so we can deliver the homes people need.

Delivery of homes is a complex issue and local authorities need expertise and support. That is why I have agreed with the County and City Managers Association that the Housing Delivery Office, initially launched within my Department, should transition to the LGMA, to become a resource embedded in the sector, dedicated to supporting local authorities achieve maximum potential.

Local authorities have also increased staffing numbers in their housing departments to deliver on increased demands. Since 2016, an additional 764 posts have been sanctioned by my Department, 217 this year alone. There are now almost 3,800 people working to deliver homes in our city and county councils.

Our social housing delivery in 2020 will be aided by the completion of the first homes under the Social Housing Public Private Partnership programme. Homes in the first bundle of sites will begin to become available from the second quarter, at locations such as Dunleer in County Louth and Naas in County Kildare. Just last month we signed the contract for the second bundle of eight sites under this programme. Construction has already commenced on these additional 465 homes across counties Cork, Clare, Galway, Kildare, Roscommon and Waterford. Under this model of delivery, a private partner designs, builds and manages each social housing development for 25 years; the land remains with the relevant local authority and all the homes revert to council ownership at the end of the contract.

Housing Supply

In the twelve months to the end of September 2019, 23,554 new homes became available for use, an increase of 15% on the previous 12 months.

Taking account of leading indicators of activity, such as commencement notices and planning permissions, as well as data on economic activity in the residential sector, we remain on track to reach our targets.

The latest data for the number of new homes granted planning permission is also very encouraging. In the year to end-June 2019, permission was granted for almost 32,000 new homes.

In addition, our fast-track planning process is working well. Last week, I signed an order extending the Strategic Housing Development arrangements until the end of 2021, and my officials are working on legislation to implement a use it or lose it provision where the planning permission will lapse if substantial construction works do not get underway within 18 months of permission being granted. To date, 20,242 houses and apartments have been approved under this process, and 7,890 student bedspaces.

Affordability

The Government is committed to ensuring that the new homes are more accessible and affordable. The target is for the delivery of at least 10,000 affordable homes to buy or rent via local authorities over the medium term.

Affordable homes to buy or rent are aimed specifically at lower to middle- income earners who are first time buyers. In terms of more Affordable Purchase, the primary legislation has been enacted, and the arrangements for the Affordable Dwelling Purchase Scheme are currently being drafted. To date, I have approved 23 local authority Schemes of Priority and my Department is working with the remaining local authorities to bring this process to conclusion.

Importantly, new measures introduced under Rebuilding Ireland, including the €310m Serviced Sites Fund are specifically targeted at supporting local authorities to deliver more affordable homes. Overall, thus far, I have approved funding of €127m to enable the delivery of almost 3,200 affordable homes for purchase under the scheme across 14 local authority areas. I expect infrastructure works on these projects to begin as soon as possible and delivery of affordable homes from next year onwards.

I am glad to say that one of the first sites that is benefitting from SSF investment is at Enniskerry Road in Dublin, where it is supporting the development of 50 homes under a new Cost Rental model. Builders went on site in this project in August and I have seen for myself that good progress is being made. The grant support provided by Government combined with co-operation of many organisations means that homes in Enniskerry Road will be made available at significantly below market prices for the area. Lessons learned from this development and other ‘Pathfinder’ Cost Rental pilot sites will inform the future development of cost rental in Ireland.

More recently, the sod was turned on the 2nd SSF scheme (and the 1st that will deliver affordable homes to purchase), at Boherboy, Mayfield, Cork City, where 116 new energy efficient 2- and 3-bedroom homes will be delivered in five phases; the first phase will be delivered next year and homes will range in price from €198,000 to €223,000.

It should be noted that, in addition to new homes being made available under the terms of the affordable purchase scheme and Cost Rental at prices which are a significant discount on market norms, households have also been supported through other key Government affordability initiatives. This includes for example the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan and the Help to Buy (HTB) Scheme which have helped addressed the housing needs of over 16,500 households.

Housing Legislation

I would also like to take this opportunity to inform the Committee of progress in relation to legislative developments in this sphere.

The Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019 was passed by the Dáil last week and is progressing through the Seanad.

I would like to acknowledge the positive and co-operative engagement from Members of this Committee with this important legislation. It will strengthen governance and the financial viability of the AHB sector. It will safeguard the significant public investment being made in the delivery of social housing by AHBs as well providing assurance to tenants, the public and potential investors that the sector is well regulated.

In relation to the rental sector, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 was passed earlier this year. The majority of provisions have come into operation, with the remaining provisions requiring the annual registration of tenancies to commence in early 2020. Following commencement of the relevant provisions, on the 4 June 2019, I designated a further 21 new Local Electoral Areas across 12 counties using the revised RPZ criteria. With these designations, there are now an estimated 68.4% of tenancies in RPZs.

It should be noted that it is my intention to advance a second Rental Bill shortly, which will further enhance tenancies protections, including in the context of receivership situations.

Brexit

In terms of Brexit, like all public bodies, my Department will continue to work with our partners across government and the wider sector to ensure that the necessary arrangements will be in place to deal with issues that may arise.

As I mentioned in my last engagement with you, we have been working with the construction sector, particularly in the area of construction products and the need to have Notified Bodies located in the European Union for products that are subject to CPR regulation. We will continue our preparations and work with the key stakelholders on issues arising in terms of housing provision and delivery in the context of Brexit.

Finally, I want to thank the Committee for the invitation today and I will, of course, be happy to address any questions that Committee members may have.

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