Minister unsure if target of 12,500 social housing units will be met

Too early to know full impact of Covid-19 restrictions on construction plans, says O’Brien

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that of the 12,500 social houses, 9,500 would be new-builds with 2,450 acquired through lease, with a small number of acquisitions. File photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that of the 12,500 social houses, 9,500 would be new-builds with 2,450 acquired through lease, with a small number of acquisitions. File photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

 

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said it is too early to say if the extended Covid-19 restrictions between January and mid-April would have an impact on the targets for home-building and social housing.

At a meeting of the all-party Oireachtas committee on housing, the Minister disclosed that his department had a budget of €3.3 billion for housing in 2021.

However, he said it would become known at the end of this month if the Government’s target of delivering 12,500 social housing units would be met.

“Despite the very challenging situation of a very limited construction sector for the first quarter of 2021, the reopening of activity on a broader scale now means we can work assertively to get back on track and deliver at scale.

“It is too early yet to fully determine the impact, but I will assure the committee that all endeavours will be made to make up lost ground and to mitigate losses.”

In addition to social housing, the department estimates an additional 15,800 new households will require housing assistance payments (Hap) or rental accommodation scheme payments (Ras) in private rented accommodation in 2021, bringing the total number of households in this category to over 90,000.

Mr O’Brien, and the department’s two Ministers of State, Peter Burke and Malcolm Noonan, appeared before the committee to discuss the department’s estimates as well as its progress on delivering programme for government commitments.

Mr O’Brien said that of the 12,500 social houses, 9,500 would be new-builds with 2,450 acquired through lease, with a small number of acquisitions. He said these would be larger homes and adapted homes for people who had health or specific needs.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said that the number of people in Hap and Ras was “exponentially increasing” and asked at what point would a reduction occur of those in the schemes?

He also said that when building resumed last year, public sector housing was shown to have lagged behind private sector housing and how could the Minister ensure that would not happen this year?

Mr O’Brien said one of the factors behind the disparity between social and private housing last year was that a significant portion of private home-building was once-off, which are completed much more quickly than estates, which is the means of building social homes.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan asked when inspections of emergency homeless accommodation would resume. He also said the difference of inspection report required between public providers of emergency accommodation, and private providers, was huge. Mr O’Brien said if there were gaps between the requirements he would fill them.

Mr Burke told the meeting that the draft legislation to establish the office of a directly elected Mayor of Limerick with executive powers had been approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.

He said the legislation would allow Limerick to become a “beacon” for the country for what he described as the most dramatic change in local government since the foundation of the State.

Asked about the timeline for a Dublin mayor, he said a Citizens’ Assembly would first need to be held, and then a process involving all four local authorities. He said he could not commit to date as yet as he was “very focused on getting Limerick right”.

The meeting was also told that €65 million has been allotted to provide deep retrofitting for 2,500 homes in public ownership and that €10.5 million had been earmarked for Traveller accommodation.