Level of social homes being built branded as ’woefully inadequate’

Housing chief agrees capital spend must ‘significantly’ increase

‘It’s absolutely essential as we move forward to try and deliver houses and homes for people’. Photograph: iStock

‘It’s absolutely essential as we move forward to try and deliver houses and homes for people’. Photograph: iStock

 

The level of social housing built by the State has been branded as “woefully inadequate” at the Dáil’s spending watchdog as TDs criticised spending on schemes to support people in rental accommodation.

One such scheme, the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) was described as “really bad value for money” by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy while Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said long term leasing schemes paid for by the State is “nonsensical”.

The criticism came as Department of Housing secretary general Graham Doyle appeared at the Public Accounts Committee to answer questions on HAP, the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and long-term leasing.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe referred to a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which says that the Government needs to double the existing level of capital investment on housing to €4 billion to address the current crisis in supply.

He suggested that it is “implicit criticism that we have been too reliant on short term interventions such as HAP and RAS” and he asked about levels of spending on both schemes.

Mr Doyle said €382 million was spent on HAP in 2019 and €134 million was spent on RAS the same year.

Earlier he had outlined how more than 52,000 households were supported by HAP and over 18,000 had their housing needs met through RAS in 2019.

He said the capital costs of providing homes for those people through other means like building would be “far, far higher”.

Mr McAuliffe asked if Mr Doyle agrees with the ESRI that capital spending needs to double.

Mr Doyle said he wouldn’t be “pinned” to that figure but said: “I certainly agree with the premise that we have to we have to significantly increase out capital spend.

“It has been increasing but it’s absolutely essential as we move forward to try and deliver houses and homes for people.”

Slow growth

Ms Murphy compared slow growth in the number of direct build social housing units to the rapid group in the number of people being supported by HAP in recent years and she said it is “really bad value for money” and “a poor social policy.” She asked what value for money analysis the department had done on HAP, RAS and long-term leasing.

Mr Doyle said the Department must “provide housing where it’s needed as quickly as possible under the pressures the State has been under to do so over the last number of years. “These current programmes have allowed that to happen,” he said, adding: “Of course we would prefer to be delivering new build properties.”

Ms Murphy said the output of direct build housing has been “woefully inadequate” saying there “seems to be impediments to direct build which is the most cost efficient way of delivering housing stock”.

Mr Doyle insisted “Value for money absolutely is a key part of our thinking around all this balanced with the need to deliver homes for people in the shortterm.”

Mr Carthy suggested that long-term leasing schemes leads to spending of between €375,000 to €450,000 by the state on renting individual properties for people over 25 years and there is “nothing to show for it in terms of a real asset at the end.”

He said the approach was “nonsensical” and asked how the Department justifies this.

Mr Doyle said: “The Government’s objective is to focus strongly on new build.

“It hasn’t been possible for the State to provide the capital funding to build the significant number of homes involved… and it [long-term leasing] is one of the tools that allows that delivery to happen.”

Mr Carthy predicted that the combined annual cost of HAP, RAS and long-term leasing will top €1 billion in the coming years and asked if Mr Doyle accepted it’s a “flawed approach”.

Mr Doyle said: “we would certainly like to be in a position to be providing as many new build homes as possible funded by capital means.

“That hasn’t been possible over recent years and in terms of the need to provide roofs over people’s heads the leasing schemes and the current schemes you’re referring to have helped to augment delivery.”

He said “many, many people” would not have been housed in recent years without the schemes.