LOCAL authorities will be stripped of their housing powers under radical new measures aimed at providing social housing for the least well-off, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Government plans to set up regional housing authorities that will result in city and county council housing departments being merged in a bid to save money and become more efficient.
Town councils will lose their housing functions to the new bodies, which will arrange to rent and lease new homes. The number of housing authorities will be dramatically reduced from 88 at present.
And the housing departments of the four Dublin local authorities will be merged into a single authority under the new measures.
Housing Minister Michael Finneran last night said that the plan would result in savings. He said staff numbers would fall, but insisted the new authorities would be more efficient.
"I question the need for 88 different housing authorities to support the delivery of housing services," he told the Irish Independent.
"I think a single authority to administer housing services in the Dublin area would be more effective, similar to the single authority structure that we have in other Irish cities.
"A more efficient regional structure is needed for the remainder of the country. Such an approach will help to sustain service delivery despite reduction in staff numbers."
Senior officials in the Department of the Environment are working on the changes, which will be announced in the coming weeks and then put out for public consultation.
The plan was mooted last July in the report of the Local Government Efficiency Review Group, which said certain departments in city and county councils should be merged to make cost savings. It included 106 recommendations, to result in savings of €511m.
Back then, both Fine Gael and Labour said it was the "right time" to examine widespread reform of the sector, meaning that even with a new government the changes are likely to take effect.
The new authorities will carry out housing functions on behalf of a number of councils.
They will source homes for people on waiting lists, manage the letting and re-letting of existing local authority housing stock and carry out assessments to determine how many people need homes.
Other responsibilities include working with local authorities and the Health Service Executive to pool resources and tackle homelessness.