A Government decision to wind down schemes where local authorities can lease homes for up to 25 years has led to calls for them to be continued until adequate numbers of social houses are built.
These long-term leasing schemes, where local authorities can lease homes for periods from ten to 25 years at between 80% to 95% of agreed rental values, have cost the State €290 million since they started 15 years ago.
At the start of the year, 5,982 homes were provided through long-term lease arrangements – a fraction of the estimated 220,000 homes and units of accommodations provided by Government.
When Housing for All – the State's housing plan – was announced, it was also revealed that long-term leases would be phased out by 2025.
The phasing out of these leasing schemes in the next two-and-a-half years will not see the ending of long-term leasing arrangements, but has raised concerns that their wind down may make the housing "situation worse" for people during an ongoing housing emergency.
"Moving away from these schemes in the long-term certainly makes sense but to do that you have to have a sufficient delivery of social homes. If you don't have a sufficient delivery of social homes it makes a situation worse," Social Democrats Spokesperson on Housing and Dublin Bay North TD Cian O’Callaghan said.
He said that in order to phase out long-term lease schemes "they need to be replaced with building more social homes, which is a bigger challenge in Dublin city where there is less available land".
"The Government had signalled that they were going to end this scheme, but they had promised at the same time that they would be delivering more social housing. They have failed to meet their targets on social housing," said Mr O’Callaghan.
Figures provided to RTÉ's Morning Ireland from Government show 8,000 new social homes were built, falling short of its 9,000 home target in 2022.
However, under Housing for All, the Government said it plans to increase the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 homes per year over the next decade.
It said over 300,000 new homes would be built by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes.
This includes, the Department of Housing said in a statement, "the delivery of 47,600 new build social homes in the period 2022-2026".
"I can understand them wanting to end it in terms of being poor value for money, but that can really only be done if they actually get the numbers, social homes that are delivered, up. If they don't meet their targets, get more delivery of social homes, this will result in simply more people not being able to get their housing needs met," Mr Callaghan said.
"You can't be removing the short-term bridging solutions until the long ones are actually up and running"
Focus Ireland, which works with homeless and people at risk of losing their home, said that social houses need to be built before the leasing scheme is wound down.
"This is part of Government measures to push local authorities towards building more property rather than leasing it off the market. We support that long-term objective, but they should deliver that objective of getting stuff built before they withdraw this measure because it makes it harder to access property during the period of time where the local authorities are scaling up to get stuff built," said Mike Allen, Focus Ireland's Director of Advocacy.
"We'd be happy to see this scheme continue while the local authorities scale up to actually start building, which is the long-term solution. But, you can't be removing the short-term bridging solutions until the long ones are actually up and running," he said.
In a statement the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said: "Immediately ending long-term leasing would reduce the amount of social housing units to be delivered in the short-term and cause issues for following through on commitments that the local authorities have already signed up to.
"The phasing out of leasing enables a greater proportion of social housing need to be addressed in the short run within a tight budgetary environment whilst the other benefits of Housing for All are being realised".
For that reason it is expected that by 2025 there will still be 3,500 outstanding lease agreements in operation.
Figures from the Department of Housing showed nearly €300 million was spent on long-term leases since 2008.
The Local Authority Long Term Leasing Scheme, which was introduced in 2009 and provides for the leasing of homes for periods of between 10 and 25 years at 80% to 85% of market rents, cost €221,720,837.
At the end of 2022 there were 4,137 social homes under Local Authority Long Term Leasing.
Under this scheme the council pays for the maintenance and upkeep of the leased property.
The Approved Housing Bodies Private Leasing/Standard Leasing scheme has 1,383 social homes leased.
This scheme started in 2009 and since then until the end of 2022, a total of €52,444,892 was spent on it.
The Enhanced Leasing Scheme, which was introduced in 2018, has 462 social homes leased long-term.
Between its inception and the end of last year, €15,487,629 was spent on the scheme.
This scheme stipulates a minimum of 20 properties are leased for terms up to 25 years at rates up to 95% of an agreed market rent.
In contrast to the Local Authority Long Term Leasing Scheme, the lessor is required to provide day-to-day maintenance of the property.
Government figures also showed that in 2022, 29,851 homes were completed – an increase of 45.2% from 2021 (20,560) and 41.3% from 2019 (21,134), pre-pandemic.
The 2022 total exceeds the Housing for All target of 24,600 by 5,251 (21.3%), the Department of Housing said in a statement.
It said, "The latest monthly commencement figures indicate the construction of 2,108 new residential homes in January 2023. This is the highest number of Commencement Notices received in the month of January since the data series began in 2014.
"In particular, the Government has used the past several months [during the moratorium] to increase supply. 5000 social homes were built, 600 leased, 500 bought, 1,500 voids returned to use, 500 emergency beds and 150 cold weather beds provided."
The statement added: "More than 25,000 first-time buyers bought their own home in 2022. The First Home Scheme is working with more than 1,100 approvals in eight months. Help To Buy is continuing to assist thousands of buyers with their deposit – more than 35,000 so far. Also, this year we will be building over 9,100 Social Housing units and introducing short-term letting restrictions," added the Department.
Housing for All is supported by an investment package of over €4bn per annum, through an overall combination of €12bn in direct Exchequer funding, €3.5bn in funding through the Land Development Agency and €5bn funding through the Housing Finance Agency.
Last week, Government introduced another but separate long-term leasing scheme. The Targeted Leasing Initiative "will deliver 1,000 additional long-term leased homes in the areas of greatest need throughout 2023 and 2024".
The City and County Managers Association said in a statement: "Leasing has been an important means of housing delivery for local authorities. Government policy is to phase out leasing over time and Housing for All targets are set on that basis.
"Local authorities have developed their housing delivery action plans based on these targets. While leasing is still an option, the priority is to add to social housing stock on a permanent basis. Local authorities have been given more autonomy to make acquisitions as a means of bringing social housing on stream quickly while adding to the permanent social housing stock."