Minister Murphy’s Opening Statement at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Check against delivery

I thank the Chairman and members of the Committee for the opportunity to appear again before the Committee, this time 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

Supporting families, individuals and citizens up and down this country, who are experiencing homelessness and whose lives are being affected by the housing challenges that Ireland currently faces, remains the key priority for this Government and for myself, as Minister for Housing. Planning and Local Government.

It is vital that we continue to address and drive the supply of housing and Rebuilding Ireland provides the framework for this.

We continue to face a serious challenge to resolve the crisis of homelessness.The numbers remain far too high and while there are some positive signs, tackling this issue will continue to be my main focus in 2019. Presentations of families to homeless services in Dublin have fallen for three consecutive months now and of those presenting, greater numbers are being prevented from ever having to enter emergency accommodation. The DRHE is allocating increased resources to outreach and prevention and we will be working closely together to accelerate this decrease.

Our delivery programme for social housing is obviously of critical importance but in parallel, we are working to deliver a range of initiatives to support those individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness. As we work to deliver the solutions to provide homes for all of the households experiencing homelessness, my Department is working closely to deliver a range of emergency accommodation facilities to ensure that we have accommodation available for all. This includes the development of a range of family hub facilities, primarily in Dublin, but also in a number of other areas outside the capital.

In September this year, I instructed the Dublin local authorities to deliver 180 emergency beds to ensure that we have sufficient beds to avoid anyone having to sleep on the streets and we will now see the delivery of 203 permanent beds before Christmas, in addition to 130 contingency beds for the cold weather period.

We know that individuals engaged in rough sleeping frequently require other supports to help them move from homelessness to an independent tenancy. So, while the short-term imperative may be to provide emergency beds, we are also committed to delivering longer- term solutions. The delivery of the National Implementation Plan for Housing First, which I launched with Minister Harris in September, is well underway. Tender competitions have been undertaken in Cork, Galway and Limerick in recent weeks for the delivery of the service in those areas.

In Dublin, where rough sleeping is most acute, the recently issued tender for Housing First includes a target to deliver 125 new tenancies in 2019 and a total of 405 new tenancies in the period 2019-2021. Housing First will deliver longterm
sustainable heath and housing solutions for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

For families, experiencing homelessness, we want to ensure that each and every family is provided with safe and comfortable accommodation and that they are supported to identify and secure an independent tenancy, whether it be in a local authority allocated dwelling or a HAP-supported tenancy in the private rented sector. Following on from the three Summits held with local authority Chief Executives and the first AHB Summit, all our efforts are clearly focussed on driving delivery forward in a meaningful way.

Working collaboratively is showing results.

To end Quarter 3 2018, Rebuilding Ireland has delivered over 63,500 housing solutions across all delivery streams. By the end of this year, I expect that number to have grown to approximately 70,000 and we are on course to achieve that. We committed to supporting 137,000 households into appropriate accommodation under Build, Acquisition, Leasing, HAP and RAS programmes over the 6 year period, and by the end of this year, we will have achieved more than 50% of our target. The Government are on track to deliver on the Rebuilding Ireland targets and funding is in place to secure this delivery.

To date, some 17,315 homes have been delivered under Build, Acquisition and Leasing schemes. The new build pipeline now in place is growing, as evidenced in the Quarter 3 Construction Status Report, which has just been published. This report focuses on LA and AHB new build projects across various programmes and demonstrates that the number of schemes and homes in the new build pipeline has more than doubled since the end of 2016 with 17,676 homes now built or progressing through the various stages of construction or approval process. I am committed, as Minister, to increase build activity at a faster pace and with the latest Construction Status report showing nearly 5,000 units on site and under construction and a further 2,652 units at the final pre-construction stage, the delivery of our build targets is on track. As we know build delivery tends to be end year focused and like last year, we will see over 50% of our build delivery come through by end year.

As Minister, I have also been clear that we need to address issues of housing affordability, recognising the pressures that exist for low-to middle-income households, particularly in Dublin.

However, all local authorities are carrying out economic assessments of the requirement for affordable housing in their areas and the viability to deliver such affordable housing from their sites. In terms of affordable purchase, I have now commenced the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, the effect of which is to place the new scheme for affordable purchase on a statutory footing. I expect the associated regulations and guidance to issue to local authorities shortly. This is not delaying the necessary assessment or the development of proposals around land for development for affordable housing.

Acknowledging that renters in Dublin and other urban centres are currently facing significant affordability challenges, I am committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit, cost rental sector in Ireland. Together with delivering more predictable rents, cost rental will make a sustainable impact on housing affordability.

The Housing Agency, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and a number of AHBs are currently assessing the tenders for our first cost rental pilot, at Enniskerry Road. I expect that project to be on site in the first quarter of 2019.

In parallel, Dublin City Council, my Department and the National Development Finance Agency undertook detailed modelling and financial appraisal on a major site, at St. Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, which Dublin City Council will now develop as a major cost rental project.

In order to support the affordable housing programmes of local authorities, the Government has committed €310 million, over the three years 2019 to 2021, under the Serviced Sites Fund (SSF) announced as part of Budget 2019. The funding is available for key facilitating infrastructure, on public lands, to support the provision of affordable homes to purchase or rent. I envisage a maximum amount of SSF funding of €50,000 per affordable home and on this basis at least 6,200 affordable homes could be facilitated.

I have now awarded funding of €43 million under the first call for proposals. The projects selected in this first call are in Dublin and Cork and will enable the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes on local authority lands, as well as over 700 social housing homes, where local authorities are bringing forward these sites forward as part of mixed tenure developments. There are also five projects that are still under active consideration, the total funding for which is €8 million, and which have the potential to deliver some 230 affordable homes.

These projects are in Fingal, Galway City, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow and my Department is working with those local authorities to make these proposals happen.

I expect the infrastructure works on the approved projects to begin as soon as possible. A second call for proposals under the Fund will be made shortly. The scope of that call will be influenced by the information received from local authorities, as part of the aforementioned economic assessments

In terms of furthering our ambition to maximize utilization of vacant housing stock, my Department published the National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy 2018-2021 in Quarter 3. My Department are continuing to work with local authorities in relation to their Vacant Homes Action Plans. This work is being supported by the Vacant Homes Officers, funded by my Department, to co-ordinate local actions addressing vacancy and to provide a clearly signposted source of information for owners of vacant homes, including the funding options that are available, to assist in bringing vacant homes back into productive use.

In relation to the rental sector, the Government has now given its approval to the publication of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018.

The Bill provides a number of key measures and reforms designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants and further underpin the operation of the Rent Pressure Zone (RPZ) arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures.

My Department is working closely with the RTB to ensure that adequate resources are provided to tackle any capacity constraints. The proposed new powers for the RTB are a crucial first step in expanding its overall role and function as part of a multi-annual change management programme to proactively enforce tenancy law within the rental sector.

The Committee is aware of the proposals I recently announced to address the short-term tourism related letting of properties through amendments to planning legislation. I propose to regulate short-term letting through the existing exempted development regime by facilitating unlimited “home-sharing” and the letting of a person’s entire home, for a maximum period of 90 days per year, without the need for planning permission. In addition, if a person wishes to let a second property, that isn’t their principal private residence, they may only do so if they obtain planning permission, this approach will be underpinned by amendments to planning regulations and complementary amendments to primary planning legislation.

Last week, I also published the Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities, under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act (2000), as amended. These Guidelines set out new and updated national planning policy on building heights in relation to urban areas, elaborating on the strategic policy framework set out in Project Ireland 2040 and the National Planning Framework, and are part of a suite of integrated measures and policy shifts to break the current patterns and development trends for our cities and towns and create more compact and integrated communities.

I have said previously that we need to shift away from the “business as usual” development patterns and create a more adaptive and forward-looking vision. Our cities and our towns must grow upwards, not just outwards, if we are to meet the many challenges ahead. Along with the Apartment Guidelines published earlier this year, these heights guidelines represent the final reforms to our planning guidelines for apartment development, which continues to increase at pace.

Finally, I want to thank the Committee for its engagement with myself and my Department to date and I look forward to continuing our very important work in 2019. You can be assured that we at the Department are all committed to addressing homelessness, accelerating housing delivery, tackling vacancy, as well as ensuring the reform of the rental sector.

Download the full Rebuilding Ireland Progress Report – Q3 2018