To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the potential for small self-administered pensions to partner with the State to assist with the long-term lease scheme for social housing; if she has considered the impact that a the lack of derogation will have in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Housing policy is a matter for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Any questions or suggestions in relation to the long-term lease scheme for social housing should be directed to his Department.
Transposition of the IORP II Directive will support positive reform of the Irish funded occupational pension sector. Transposition will raise governance standards, improve trustee qualification and suitability, and increase supervision through enhanced powers for the Pensions Authority.
While the Directive provides for the possibility of derogation from specific Articles for smaller schemes, I believe that members of smaller schemes should get the same protections and oversight as members of large schemes. Money saved for pension purposes should be properly protected to ensure that people have adequate income for their retirement years. It should be noted that Member States must apply certain provisions concerning investment rules and the system of governance to schemes which have more than 15 members.
Article 19 of the Directive sets out the investment rules for occupational pension schemes. Assets must be predominantly invested on regulated markets, i.e., at least 50%. This allows adequate scope for investment in instruments with a long-term economic profile and non-listed undertakings such as property and infrastructure.
Small self-administered pensions may continue to invest in the Irish economy, including property, but their investments must be properly diversified to avoid excessive reliance on any particular asset and so minimise risk in the portfolio as a whole. Such diversification has been proven to reduce investment risk.
The value of investments held in many schemes fell substantially during the financial crisis. This emphasised the need for stricter regulation and greater protections, especially for small schemes investing in riskier unregulated markets. Concerns in relation to this sector are particularly around the protection of the consumer and the money they have invested, the riskiness of investments, the charges that apply, and the standard of governance. Accordingly, the Government has decided that the provisions of the Directive should apply to all funded occupational pension schemes.
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of applications for the Project Ireland 2040 urban regeneration fund; the status of the applications; the value of grants that will be issued in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) was launched as part of Project Ireland 2040 to support the compact growth and sustainable development of Ireland’s five cities, regional drivers and other large urban centres, with €2 billion available to 2027.
A total of 189 applications were submitted to my Department under the first call for proposals. Following a three-staged assessment process, I announced 88 successful proposals in November 2018, details of which are published on my Department's website.
The projects involved fall into two categories: Category A - projects that are 'ready to go' - and Category B - projects which are at an earlier stage (Master Planning/Feasibility) and which will assist in forming a future pipeline of projects. Successful bid proposals have been approved in principle, subject to final agreement of technical details with my Department, and the funding allocations should be regarded as an initial investment of support for the projects.
My Department has been actively engaging with successful applicants on the detailed progression of their proposals in 2019. This process will be finalised shortly, following which project conditions and formal grant agreements will be concluded.
Funding of €100 million has been allocated in respect of the 88 successful proposals, combining both category A and B projects. In terms of 2019 spend, while an initial allocation of €71 million was provided for the URDF as published in my Department’s 2019 Estimate, it was determined in the context of the accommodation of increased costs of the development of the National Children’s Hospital, that €13 million of drawdown under the URDF could be re-profiled from 2019 to 2020 without any delay in the progression of successful proposals. I am satisfied at this point that the revised allocation of €58 million in respect of URDF grants for 2019 will be spent in full.
It is expected that a second call for proposals for 2020 funding will be launched later in Q1 2019 and a workshop for applicants will be organised in advance. It is envisaged that this application period will run until summer 2019.
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of applications made since the introduction of the mortgage to rent scheme; the number of applications successfully granted since the introduction of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Since the introduction of the Mortgage to Rent (MTR) scheme in 2012, a total of 4,475 cases have been submitted under the scheme to the end of 2018. Of the 4,475 cases submitted, 3,043 were ineligible or terminated during the process. Of the remaining cases submitted, 445 have been completed, and the remaining 987 applications are being actively progressed.
The reasons why a case may not have progressed are varied and can depend on the household, the property, the ability of the Approved Housing Body (AHB) sector to increase its involvement in the scheme, the sale of the property not being agreed between the lender and AHB or a MTR application being withdrawn by either the lender or the borrower. The Housing Agency publishes, on a quarterly basis, detailed statistical information on the operation of the MTR scheme, which is available on the Agency's website at the following link:
A Review of the MTR scheme, published on 8 February 2017, introduced a range of amendments to the eligibility criteria and administration of the scheme in order to improve its operation. The Review, which is available at http://rebuildingireland.ie/news/changes-in-mortgage-to-rent-scheme/, explored the avenues and impediments to participation in the scheme and recommended a number of actions to make the scheme work better for borrowers. My Department and the Housing Agency are working with all stakeholders to ensure that the actions set out in the Review are being effectively implemented to benefit a greater number of households. The eligibility requirements of the scheme were widened to include a greater number of borrowers and a larger number of property types. Increasing awareness and understanding of the scheme has been a priority and a new website - www.mortgagetorent.ie - dedicated to guiding and advising borrowers has been developed. In addition, new structures and arrangements have been put in place to encourage a greater number of entities to take part in the scheme.
The implementation of the resulting actions from the Review means that MTR is available to provide a long-term solution for more households in mortgage distress, where appropriate.
Where MTR is not an option, it is a matter for the borrower to discuss with their lender if there are other options available to resolve their mortgage arrears situation. Likewise, the borrower, if eligible for social housing support, may also be able to consider other social housing options, including accessing the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).
The Abhaile service is a national mortgage arrears resolution service, provided free of charge to mortgage holders in arrears and its aim is to help these borrowers to find the best solutions and keep them, wherever possible, in their own homes. The unique element of Abhaile is that it brings together, for the first time, the full range of supports and services required by borrowers in home mortgage arrears. A dedicated adviser will work with the borrower and their lender to find the best solution for their particular situation. The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) acts as the gateway for the service and can be contacted by telephoning (076)1072000 or by accessing their website at: www.mabs.ie/abhaile
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government when he will publish regulations for the affordable purchase scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides a new statutory basis for the delivery of affordable housing for purchase. The Act itself contains significant detail on the new arrangements, reducing the extent to which regulations are required. Insofar as regulations are necessary, the most immediate requirement is for regulations dealing with the making of schemes of priority by local authorities. I will be signing regulations which will deal with that issue shortly, which will allow local authorities to finalise their schemes of priorities by June, as required. Further regulations and detailed guidance will issue to local authorities in the coming weeks.
The new affordable housing scheme is targeted towards low to middle income first time buyer households, with incomes of up to €50,000 and €75,000 in the case of single and dual applicant households, respectively. In terms of the priority areas for operation of the scheme, this will be influenced by the economic assessments which local authorities were asked to carry out in relation to the affordability issues in their areas. The examination of assessments submitted will be finalised shortly.
The new scheme will be set in the context of moderating growth in house prices and rental levels in the market and will complement other key Government affordability initiatives. These include the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, which has seen 575 loans to a total value of some €107m drawn down, and the Help to Buy scheme, under which just under 10,000 applications, to a value of some €142m, have been approved.
The affordable housing scheme will be open to applications according as projects are delivered. In that regard, significant delivery is to be achieved through the €310 million Serviced Site Fund, under which at least 6,200 affordable homes are to be supported over the next three years. An initial 10 projects have been approved for €43m of funding under the first call for proposals under the SSF. A second call will issue shortly and the first homes are expected to be delivered next year.
In addition, some 2,350 affordable homes will be delivered on mainly publicly owned lands being supported through the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, while 5,600 further homes will benefit from a LIHAF-related cost reduction. The work of the Land Development Agency will also be of crucial importance in terms of delivering more affordable housing; the initial portfolio of sites that the Agency has access to will have the potential, over the short to medium term, to deliver 3,000 affordable homes in line with the Government policy of achieving 30% affordable housing on State lands generally.
In parallel with this, the Dublin local authorities continue to progress a number of other significant housing projects on publicly owned lands, including the redevelopment of O'Devaney Gardens and a site at Oscar Traynor Road in Dublin city, yielding some 250 affordable homes, and 380 cost rental homes to be delivered between projects at the former St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and at Enniskerry Road in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. The timing of delivery under these projects is contingent on the completion of planning and procurement in the first instance, but the local authorities are working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible.
In relation to the Poolbeg West SDZ, the Planning Scheme for the area included provision for approximately 550 affordable homes. Delivery of these homes was to be arranged by agreement between Dublin City Council and the landowner and I understand that discussions in this regard, although not yet complete, are at an advanced stage. As Deputies will be aware, there is currently an appeal to An Bord Pleanála in relation to the Planning Scheme for the SDZ. Progress on development of the site is therefore dependent on the timing of the Board's decision.
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government when a referendum will be held regarding the State affording constitutional protection to the supply of water services; the status of preparations to hold a referendum in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025. There is widespread support for this view, and the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in April 2017 supported the concept of a referendum. The Committee recommended that the wording be carefully scrutinised so as not to impact upon the status of group water schemes and individual domestic water supplies.
Provisions in respect of the holding of a referendum are contained in the Private Member's Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins currently at Dáil Committee Stage. Detailed examination of the wording of this Bill, which I have undertaken in consultation with the Attorney General, indicates that it would give rise to unacceptable risks. I have articulated these concerns in my engagement with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser has separately and independently advised the Committee in relation to the Bill.
I have sought to bring forward amendments to the Bill and on 11 November last I received Government approval for the priority drafting of proposed amendments to the Bill. These focus on retaining the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership. I have written to the Chairperson of the Committee on this matter as recently as 21 January 2019 and will continue to keep the Committee updated on progress made on the drafting of the proposed amendment.
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of applications to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme processed by the Housing Agency; the number recommended by the agency; the number refused; the number sent back for further information; the amount recommended; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Housing Agency provides a central support service which assesses applications for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan on behalf of local authorities and makes recommendations to the authorities to approve or refuse applications. Last year, I asked the Agency to compile figures on its processing of applications. The most recent figures, as at the end of January 2019, indicate that the Agency had assessed 3,916 applications since the scheme began. Of these, 667 were deemed invalid, 1,660 were recommended for approval and 1,598 were recommended for refusal. The data provided does not include figures on the number of applications returned for further information.
Each local authority must have in place a credit committee and it is a matter for the committee to make the decision on applications for loans, in accordance with the regulations, having regard to the recommendations made by the Housing Agency.
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of staff engaged in the Housing Delivery Office per annum since its establishment; the average length of service in the office; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
In line with the commitment under Action 2.9 of Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, a dedicated Housing Delivery Office (HDO) was established within my Department, in August 2016, to support the accelerated delivery of housing across the social and private sectors, and tenure spectrum, in an integrated and timely manner. Working with the broader Housing and Planning Divisions in my Department, other key agencies, local authorities and the construction sector, the HDO supports the roll-out of complex projects, including identifying and resolving barriers to delivery, and monitors progress across key sites as they progress.
At the time of its establishment, the HDO comprised a team of 4 people with extensive expertise in project management, finance, planning and local government, including staff seconded from the local government sector and the National Development Finance Agency.
Having carried out a range of initial initiatives, and taking account of the fact that some assignments to the office were time-limited, the HDO was refocused in September 2017 to work more closely on supporting local housing delivery and land management. In that context, the current team of 3 comprises 1 civil servant and 2 officers with experience of housing delivery and the local government sector. These officers have service ranging from 8 to 27 months in the HDO. In addition to this complement of staff the HDO draws on supports from other relevant Business Units in my Department and other relevant public bodies and this can give rise to movements of staff resources between these connected areas from time to time.
As with all critical areas of activity in my Department, the resources available to the HDO are kept under regular review in the context of the ongoing evolution of the Office’s role.
The new guidelines being issued in regard to local housing assessments needs in each local authority
To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the new guidelines being issued in regard to local housing assessments needs in each local authority as outlined under the national planning framework; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
One of the important components at local authority level in determining both supply and demand for housing will be the preparation, in the context of National Policy Objective 37 of the National Planning Framework (NPF), of a "Housing Need Demand Assessment" (HNDA) for each local authority area in order to correlate and accurately align overall future housing requirements, as an evolution of their existing Housing Strategy requirements under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. This will assist local authorities in ensuring long-term strategic housing needs are met across all types, tenures and locations across their functional areas, both urban and rural.
My Department intends to provide further guidance to local authorities in this regard later this year, to support their HDNA work as part of the review of their Development Plans, which will fall to be completed once Regional, Spatial and Economic Strategies have been adopted.
My Department is also considering how the aggregate view of HNDAs will feed into national reporting, including in particular in monitoring and assessing delivery and performance in line with NPF objectives.
All Parliamentary Questions I make about Housing, Planning and Local Government and their answers can be viewed in this section