Sunday 26 July 2009

Call for review of Affordable Housing Partnership

THE RATIONALE for the Affordable Housing Partnership should be reviewed in light of the changed conditions in the housing market, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General has found.

In a survey of affordable housing provision, the comptroller noted that the partnership, which was set up in 2005 to speed up the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area, had been a flexible tool that helped the Department of the Environment adjust housing policy in line with market conditions.

Between 2005 and 2008, 85 per cent of the affordable homes target was achieved, and the output increased by about 4,000 housing units in the period 2006-08 by comparison with the previous three years. The department attributes almost 1,100 of this rise to the activities of the partnership, the report found.

However, the stalled property market led to a build-up in the stock of unsold affordable housing units held by local authorities from 2,200 at the end of 2007 to 3,700 early this year.

Affordable homes are subsidised by the State for eligible first-time buyers who do not have the resources to buy on the open market. The home is bought at a discount to the market price and it is a condition that the purchaser must occupy it. If it is sold within 20 years, the vendor has to pay back a percentage of the sale price (clawback) to the local authority. This clawback reduces over time.

Under a new law passed earlier this month, the current clawback provisions are to be replaced with an arrangement under which the State would take an equity stake in the property.

“Overall, the examination concluded that the AHP has been a flexible instrument that helped the department adjust affordable housing policy in line with market conditions since 2005,” the report stated. “In the light of the changed housing market conditions and the proposed legislative adjustments it now appears necessary to review its rationale and potential future contribution once again.”

In a separate report on water services, the comptroller notes that, notwithstanding the department’s expenditure on the provision of drinking water (€869 million over the years 2002-2007), results of tests carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show “little significant improvement” in water quality.

These tests, which measure whether drinking water supplies meet the minimum standards of fitness for human consumption, show that public water supplies have been static at 98 per cent of the minimum standard, while private water scheme compliance has improved by two per cent to 95 per cent.

They also detail continuing problems in areas such as E.coli contamination and cryptosporidium.

The comptroller noted that the EPA’s mandate was strengthened in March 2007 and it has become the supervisory authority for water quality with enforcement powers. This resulted in an increased emphasis on monitoring and control procedures at local authority level and the compilation of a national remedial action list of 339 public water supplies requiring immediate action.

“It is reasonable to expect that the impact of this remedial programme will be reflected in a significant improvement in the measured compliance standards for public supplies,” the report states.

Irish Times

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