Dáil Éireann Debate

Tuesday, 6th October – Voids Housing Programme

Local Authority Housing

Question:

33. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if it will be ensured that substantial financial provision is made for the voids programme in 2021 due to the valuable and important work being undertaken under the programme in 2020 and the need to make further progress in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28448/20]

Deputy Brendan Smith

It is disheartening to see council housing stock that is vacant, boarded up or both, when many people remain on our local authority housing lists. I compliment the Minister on making two substantial financial allocations to our local authorities for this year’s voids programme. Those allocations will make a real difference in the two local authorities in the constituency I represent, namely, Cavan County Council and Monaghan County Council. Bringing houses back to habitable use will make a difference to each estate. Most importantly, it will give individuals, families or both a new home before the end of the year. I am anxious that the voids programme will be strengthened even further for next year.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien

I thank my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, for raising this matter and agree with him completely. It is a frustration for all of us to see housing stock that is not in use and that is why, in July this year, I announced €40 million in funding and a targeted approach for all 31 local authorities to bring voids, which are vacant stock, back into use. We set each of the local authorities a target and asked them to make their submissions to the Department.

I am pleased to tell the Deputy that 2,411 properties have already been returned by local authorities and are currently being worked on. I have instructed each of the local authorities that, under this funding, any property that is brought back into stock must be occupied or allocated by the end of this year. Some of these properties are long-term voids that have been out of the market and out of use for over 12 months. There will be a targeted approach to this. I have a housing delivery team that I chair each week and we get a report on voids every week. Our housing delivery office is in contact with all local authorities. I know the Deputy is already doing this in Cavan and Monaghan but I ask all Deputies to be aware that this scheme is in place and to put positive pressure on local authorities to bring vacant units back into the housing stock.

We also need to look at the mechanism by which properties are brought back into the housing stock. The de-tenanting of properties needs to be looked at. We need to examine how long a property remains vacant when someone moves on or the property is handed over. We also need to look at the work that is required to give that property to a new tenant because sometimes it is far too extensive. We must look at other certifications in those situations.

We have made a good start. I am trying to negotiate funding for another voids programme for next year but I encourage our local authorities to deliver on the targets I have set this year because it will mean 2,500 families who would not get a home without this stimulus measure will get one. It is the largest voids programme that has been introduced in a long number of years.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister for his reply. This was the first issue about which I spoke to the Minister when he was appointed. I and Fianna Fáil councillors in Cavan and Monaghan are constantly in touch with the housing divisions in both of our councils. We are working with council officials to ensure that we get maximum turnaround.

Each of us in this House and everybody in society wants to see more public housing becoming available. There is a quick turnaround in upgrading voids because, by and large, those houses are in areas where housing is needed and services are already in place. It also helps employment, in that it makes work available for small-scale building contractors.

There can be a quick turnaround in returning these houses to habitable use. It also is important that tenants who are frustrated at living alongside dilapidated houses for some time are given consideration. We all know of the pride that the vast majority of people take in their houses and estates. When we go to the annual local authority estates award ceremony, it is heartening to see the interest that people take in their homes, estates and communities. For a quick turnaround and provision of more housing to ensure we are using existing public housing stock, the voids programme is a great investment. I sincerely hope the Minister can strengthen what has been a good programme in 2020.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien

I thank the Deputy. He has raised the important point that the voids programme provides local employment. The programme provides housing for local people and a lot of the work involves smaller local contractors. The scheme that the Government brought forward in July created 750 jobs across the country. We need that to be sustainable into the future.

I mentioned earlier that we need to revise how local authorities assess properties before they are re-tenanted. That needs to be done and I am asking officials to do it now.

I am committed to driving on with another voids programme next year. We are now in the middle of negotiations for budget allocations that will be announced next week. This has been one part of that. We have existing properties and, while we want to increase our housing stock and are committed to doing that as a Government, as am I as a Minister, we need to make sure we are using our existing homes well.

This year 2,500 people will be in homes who would otherwise not have been. That is something we need to build on, if the Deputy will excuse the pun.

We also need to make sure there is a targeted approach to this and that each local authority has a specific target. That has worked very well. They know exactly what they have to deliver, how they draw down the money and that we will work in co-operation with them. I commend them on the work they have done and the manner in which they have responded to my request to get these properties back into use.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister. I work closely with all of the councillors in counties Cavan and Monaghan, my Oireachtas colleagues and the officials in the housing divisions in both councils. I know they value the two allocations that were made in the latter half of this year. They have a substantial programme of work for next year once the funding is made available. It is both good value and is visible to the public at large, because nothing is more frustrating for a tenant in a local authority estate than seeing houses lying idle that to a layperson’s eye appear to be good structural homes that need very little upgrading and modernisation. We all know of top-quality young people and families who need their own homes but are living in hovels and, in many instances, are paying exorbitant rents. I have seen the quick turnaround that can be achieved through maximising the potential of the voids programme. I look forward to an even better voids programme in 2021.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien

To conclude, it is a priority. We want to build more new homes. Covid has had an impact on output this year. I mentioned to colleagues earlier that between 16,000 and 18,000 house completions will happen this year, half, or even less, of which will be local authority completions between acquisitions, leasing and builds. There is even greater pressure to use the existing stock we have in a better way.

The frustration people feel when they see empty homes although they have been waiting for eight, nine or ten years on a housing list is palpable. I have visited many fine local authority developments that need to be refurbished. I recently visited one not too far from here, St. Mary’s Mansions, which is a magnificent scheme run by Clúid. Fifty-six 70-year-old apartments have been fully refurbished and another two floors have been added to the building to create 80 apartments. People are again living in quality public housing in the centre of the city. That is what we want to see. We need to use the existing stock we have better.

Local authorities have responded. The local authorities in Cavan and Monaghan have responded very well to this, as have others. I encourage them to do as much as they can between now and the end of the year to bring these properties back into use.