Carthy slams Government Housing policy at Public Accounts Committee
Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, slammed the housing policy of successive government’s at a meeting of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee last week.
In an sometimes engagement with senior officials, including the Secretary General, of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Carthy criticised what he described as an ‘ideological’ driven approach that has prevented local councils from purchasing and building houses while spending Billions of euros in subsidies to private developers, landlords and speculators.
He also hit out at the current income limit thresholds which prevent families in need of housing support to even get on the housing list. He said that this was disenfranchising hard working families and he cited a family in Co. Monaghan that were caught up in the cycle of government housing policy.
Deputy Carthy opened up with his interaction by seeking clarification as to the additional homes that will be provided as a result of the governments expansion of the much-vaunted ‘single-stage approval process’.
Deputy Matt Carthy: I welcome our guests. I want to return to a point that had been raised by Deputy Imelda Munster with regard to the single-stage approval process. With much fanfare, the limit was increased from €2 million to €6 million. It has been indicated that there is only one project, which is in the early stages of that process. How many houses is that project expected to deliver?
Ms Mary Hurley (Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage): The limit, from €2 million to €6 million, would leave a maximum of 30 units. One of the things we have been trying to do in relation to that increased limit is to work with local authorities to bring forward applications, and there is a number of applications coming through the system.
In terms of the one-stage process, we know that there are 35 projects on site involving schemes that are under the €2 million ceiling. We know there are 20 applications in respect of €2 million.
Matt Carthy: Did the 35 projects avail of this single-stage application process?
Mary Hurley: At the rate of €2 million. Where the ceiling was €2 million, that has been raised to €6 million. What we have been doing in the Department is working with local authorities to bring forward applications. This new cap has only been introduced.
Side-by-side with that, it is probably worth noting, just in terms of the approval process and in terms of speeding projects up, that in tandem to those approval processes we have put in place frameworks. A volumetric framework has been put in place to support the deliver of the volumetric housing on a regional basis. Each region will have one of them. We have put in place internal layouts that will help local authorities design their house. We have put in place a really useful document, an employer’s requirement, which essentially sets out the quality around fixtures and fittings. In terms of approvals, the approvals are one piece but the other pieces are the supports that we provide to local authorities in trying to speed up matters
Deputy Munster spoke about the red tape. We are conscious in the Department to cut any red tape. That is why, in terms of the four-stage process, which is still there for projects over €6 million, we run a lot of those processes in tandem so that it is possible to come in with a joint stage 1 and stage 2. We are all committed to accelerating delivery.
Matt Carthy: I am a new Member of the Dáil but I was previously a member of a local authority. I was chairman of a housing strategic policy committee, SPC. I have heard this language from the Department since I cannot recall when and the problem is the outputs. Ms Hurley is talking about the different pieces. The piece the people are interested in is where are the houses. The output is getting worse as we are going on.
We are talking about all of these projects and about streamlining. We have a €6 million limit now that will allow local authorities apparently to enter and engage in a streamlined process that should be much quicker. That is the expectation. However, only one local authority is actively engaging with the Department.
Mary Hurley: No. There is one application moving through the process. All local authorities are engaged on that single-stage process and guidance issued to support them doing it. Applications are being prepared across the 31 local authorities.
Matt Carthy: How many applications are being prepared?
Mary Hurley: I do not have that figure to hand at the moment. That is in process.
Matt Carthy: It would be useful to get a sense of that.
Mary Hurley: We can certainly get that for the Deputy.
Mr. Graham Doyle (Secretary General): That changed in September, as the Deputy will be aware.
Matt Carthy: I understand that these things, unfortunately, do not happen quickly but we are in the middle of a crisis so they need to happen quickly.
I refer to HAP and the fact that 60% of outputs in 2019 were related to HAP payments. What was the budget for HAP in 2019?
Graham Doyle: One of my colleagues will get that.
Matt Carthy: Could the Department also give me the expected outturn for this year, and even for the next couple of years?
Mary Hurley: The budget for HAP in 2019 was €382 million and that provided supports to many households across the country.
Marguerite Ryan (Department): The budget for 2020 is €479 million. We expect it to come in in or around that and to deliver 15,750 additional supports this year.
Matt Carthy: And next year?
Marguerite Ryan: We expect 15,000 additional tenancies next year. It is slightly lower.
Matt Carthy: Slightly less than €479 million next year?
Marguerite Ryan: No, slightly fewer tenancies in 2021 than in 2020.
Matt Carthy: HAP, essentially, as we need to be clear because some people might not understand, is subsidising private landlords to sort the problem that was created because of a disastrous housing policy.
Graham Doyle: It is trying to bridge a gap between what an individual can afford and what is there.
Matt Carthy: It is because there is no social housing available and rent prices are too high to be afforded.
Graham Doyle: There is something in the order of 80,000 households under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. It is a question of how much social housing one can provide over a period to exit people from that and bring down that number.
Matt Carthy: When I was a local councillor in the early 2000s, a house in the area in which I grew up came on the market. Usually, in these cases, the local authority would quickly purchase the house. It was good value and a house built by the council. The Department refused to allow the council to buy it, however. It was bought for €42,000.
Since then, the owner of that house has been subsidised through rent supplement and HAP. The State has paid in value multiples of what it would have cost to build that house on day one. That was as a direct result of an ideological driven position that has been adopted by the Department. Has ideology been put aside?
Are we ready to go back to basics, namely local authorities building and purchasing homes which in turn will alleviate the pressures on rents and return them to a reasonable level? Are we at that point that we can address the fundamental core problem that lies at the heart of the reason we are in the middle of a housing crisis today?
Graham Doyle: There are 79,000 people on the HAP programme. To use that money to deliver houses, one is not going to deliver that many overnight. This is an issue which will change over time. Our objective is to bring down HAP over time as delivery comes through for exactly some of the reasons stated by the Deputy.
Matt Carthy: We are spending more money on this scheme than we are on providing houses.
Graham Doyle: We are not. One could not possibly deliver the same number of houses over people’s heads for that money.
Matt Carthy: Not in year one but over time.
Graham Doyle: Over time.
Housing lists ‘not reflective’ of real need
Matt Carthy: I want one point of clarification. In his response to Deputy Catherine Murphy, Mr. Doyle mentioned the local housing need as assessed by his Department in the Deputy’s constituency. Does that include people who are in receipt of HAP?
Graham Doyle: It does.
Matt Carthy: The figure of some 3,000 people with housing need was mentioned.
Graham Doyle: Yes, those are on—–
Matt Carthy: Does that include all HAP recipients also?
Marguerite Ryan: When a person takes a HAP tenancy, he or she comes off the waiting list. If he or she wants to go into what is called “long-term social housing” owned by a local authority or an approved housing body, then the person can go on the transfer list, which is maintained at local authority level.
Matt Carthy: So, does that 3,000 figure include those people?
Marguerite Ryan: No.
Matt Carthy: It does not include them? So, it only incudes people who have not even got HAP?
Marguerite Ryan: It is the net need.
Matt Carthy: Okay. That is crazy. That figure is not the housing need in that county. Most people who are in receipt of HAP are actually still looking for housing. That is not a long-term housing solution for those people. It should not be—–
Marguerite Ryan: The legislation from the Oireachtas says—–
Matt Carthy: The legislation might say whatever it says but that does not—–
Graham Doyle: The legislation—–
Matt Carthy: The legislation does not reflect the housing need in any county because we are talking about thousands of people who are in precarious accommodation, whatever way one looks at it, and it is not a long-term solution to their housing needs. To even suggest that it is a solution is spurious. The Chairman spoke of—–
Graham Doyle: The legislation does say that it meets the housing need.
Matt Carthy: The legislation is an ass.
Graham Doyle: I have to work to the legislation.
Matt Carthy: The Chairman referred to social mix in areas, be they geographical or otherwise. I remember a time when local authority housing estates had a great mix. There was the single parent, the person who was unemployed, the factory worker and the local small business owner such as a builder or whatever. We do not get that any more. Those people cannot even apply because of the income threshold limits.
I am currently dealing with a couple who have five children. They are in the exact same circumstances as me with regard to the family make-up. Does Mr. Doyle know what the income threshold is above which they cannot apply for social housing in County Monaghan?
Graham Doyle: Could the Deputy tell me?
Matt Carthy: It is €30,000. For that family to be able to get a mortgage of any description, their income collectively between the two parents would need to be significant.
Between €30,000 and the higher figure mentioned, what solution would Mr. Doyle’s Department see for a family in that situation?
Graham Doyle: I would be happy if one of my colleagues took that question. As I said in my introduction, I am very new in this role and I am interested in looking at some of those issues. Perhaps Ms Hurley may have some experience in this matter.
Mary Hurley: I presume the Deputy is referring to the income bands for eligibility for social housing. There are three bands. Deputy Carthy’s constituency of Cavan-Monaghan falls into band 3. That band is based on an assessment conducted by the Housing Agency. The income eligibility bands are being reviewed at the moment and issues have been raised by both Deputy Carthy and the Deputies in his constituency as to the bands in that constituency.
Matt Carthy: If I may, I will give a sense of what I am talking about. We will take a married couple, where the husband is one of the hardest workers one could ever meet and who bursts himself and is out day and night trying to look after his family. His wife is a carer for one of the children and is at home.
They are crippled by rent. Every single year their rent goes up. I have lost count of the number of places they have had to move to. They have been to every single financial institution imaginable trying to see if there is some mechanism by which they can own their own home.
It is a no-go and yet, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage says they are not in need of housing because they earn in the region of €40,000. They would be ideal local authority residents. One must remember that there is often an insinuation that people who are in local authority houses somehow get a free house. They pay rent in line with and relative to their income and it is far from a free house.
At the moment the only people who are getting free houses are the developers and the speculators who are drawing down this year €479 million in HAP payments. This system is absolutely rotten and needs to be changed.