Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

There can be no doubt that rents are too high in Ireland and that far too many people have to spend too much of their income on rent, often at the expense of other things such as saving to buy a house, paying into a pension fund or investing in their education or that of their children. It is a dual crisis; one of affordability and availability. Sometimes when you try to improve one of those things you can make the other worse. That is why we need to be careful about the policy interventions the Government makes.

On affordability, as the Deputy knows we have brought in rent controls for most renters and the maximum increase possible is 2% in any given year. That is much lower than the rate of inflation, which is running at around 6%. The Daft.ie report that the Deputy referenced acknowledges that. It says that stayers, people who have stayed put, have faced a 10% increase on average since 2017. That is about a 10% increase over the course of the past four years. These are not my numbers; they are from the Daft.ie report the Deputy referenced. It is a different picture for new tenancies, with a 38% increase in the last four years. That is a reflection of the fact that so few homes and apartments are becoming available for rent for the first time.

I refer to what we can do around availability. We can ramp up social housing and we can provide cost rental housing, which we are doing. In social housing, we anticipate that about 10,000 new social homes will be added to the housing stock this year. That is important as it gets people off the housing list but it also frees up other properties that people may rent or buy, which can also help a lot. It started before this year but for the first time we are seeing cost rental becoming available for people as an option. That is a good option because it is Government-provided rental accommodation which people can rent at a rate that is significantly lower than the market average. That is becoming a reality for people now. It has been planned for years but it is very much an option for people now and we need a lot more of that.

We have to consider what more we can do to improve the situation. It is clear that small landlords are selling up and leaving the market. I often hear the Deputy and others make out that they are making a killing but that is not the case. If that was the case they would not be selling up and leaving. We have to look at ways to encourage small landlords to continue to rent out their properties and maybe we should encourage others to rent out properties for the first time. We also need to scale up cost rental, something this Government and I are big supporters of, and provide more cost rental units for people to rent. We have set a target of at least 2,000 cost rental units per year and we believe that is achievable. We also need to increase the supply of homes for people to buy and we are seeing some good signs in supply. We will get about 25,000 new homes built this year and that will be the highest in a long time, with 35,000 under construction and 45,000 going through planning permission. We can see an encouraging pipeline coming through in additional supply. We need to do more to fast-track the planning process and reform our planning laws to make sure more developments do not end up stuck in judicial reviews, which is a big problem. We have two affordable housing schemes coming on stream this year, one that is local authority-led and one that is private sector-led. Those will allow people on middle incomes to apply for affordable housing, which will help a lot of people to buy their first homes. In addition, we have the help-to-buy scheme where people get their taxes back, including income tax they have paid for the past two or three years, something Sinn Féin opposes. That has already helped 32,000 individuals and couples to buy their first homes. These are people who otherwise might not be in homes and would still be renting. I encourage Sinn Féin to end its opposition to that scheme.

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