Dáil debates

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Property Services (Land Price Register) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:30 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for attending this debate. I may not use the full 15 minutes afforded to me. I have heard people say that before and not necessarily stick to it, but I will do my best. I thank the people who contributed to the huge amount of work that went into drawing up this Bill. Paul Cassidy did the initial draft and Pádraig Rice did quite a lot of work on it. In addition, we had very comprehensive support from the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, which really is an excellent resource. Staff there put a huge amount of work into the Bill and I thank them for that. I am bringing this Bill forward in a constructive manner and, I hope, a helpful one. I hope the Government is able to respond positively to it in order that it may proceed to Committee Stage. I am hopeful the huge amount of work put in by the OPLA in drafting the Bill will help to see it progress. I look forward to working through any concerns the Minister might have on Committee Stage.

The Bill will play a small but significant part in helping to address the housing crisis we are facing, which is why I have brought it forward. It is substantial legislation that would help to create much-needed transparency around land transactions. While it is quite a technical Bill to amend the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, the issues around its provisions relating to land transactions are not technical. Indeed, they strike to the core of the devastating effect the housing emergency has had on families across Ireland. Rents have doubled over the past decade.

House prices have become ever more unaffordable and having risen by 15% are about to pass their Celtic tiger peak. Rents and house prices in Ireland, in Dublin especially, are among the highest in the European Union. Homelessness has skyrocketed - it increased by 22% in the last year alone. Rates of home ownership have fallen year after year. This is having a devastating effect on families.

I mention that because this Bill needs to be seen in the context of how it might address some of these issues in a small way. As we all know this from our constituency work and people we are trying to assist, it means that children are living in emergency accommodation, often hostels that are completely inappropriate sometimes with very poor standards, miles away from their schools and their friends. Their parents try to put a brave face on this and tell younger children that this is some sort of adventure to try and reduce the amount of trauma they are going through. They can only do that for a limited amount of time. Let us be very clear that our failure as a country to ensure that land is available at affordable prices for affordable housing has devastating consequences and the Bill aims to assist in that regard.

Issues with land ownership, control and costs have haunted Ireland for generations. If we are serious about tackling land hoarding, land speculation and land price inflation, we must have robust data on who is buying development land, how much they are paying for it and how long they are holding it for. There is a black hole of information in this regard in Ireland. Effective policy legislation needs to be informed by data and not by guesswork. Decisions on housing policy would be better if we had more robust data on it.

Ensuring that land for housing is available at affordable prices so that the housing is affordable is key to solving our current crisis. The Bill seeks to create a new land price and ownership database. The Bill would create a new publicly assessable and searchable electronic register that would capture and make freely available information on land transactions, including the date of sale, the location of the site, the zoning, the price paid and the ownership details. The Bill also broadens and updates the current residential property price register to include the size of property and ownership details where these properties are not a principal primary residence.

What difference will these measures make? If passed, the Bill would create transparency on land prices and give us some insight into developers' profit margins. When it comes to construction costs, we have precise data on labour costs, building materials and professional fees. However, without knowing the price developers pay for land, we cannot independently assess the breakdown of construction costs and developers' profit margins. This is extremely relevant to current concerns about measures to address construction viability.

The Bill will also help to tackle the cost of delivering housing. The cost of development land is one of the key reasons that housing in Ireland is so expensive. However, we lack independent data on land prices and the rate of land price inflation. It is a massive black hole. If we want to tackle the cost of land and implement effective policies to tackle land speculation, we need accurate data and a land price register would provide that.

Land hoarding and land speculation are two of the key causes of the housing crisis. According to the Government, 8,000 ha of zoned land is sitting unused. That is enough land to build 250,000 homes. A land price register would provide the data for setting a land hoarding tax at an effective level to help deal with that issue.

My next point goes across housing and all major areas of public policy where we need reform and solutions. While it is important to take immediate actions and while resources are often an issue, immediate responses and firefighting often in emergency situations are not enough. We must always have an eye to structural changes and reforms. That is as important with housing policy and land prices as anywhere else. Because we have been in such a crisis with housing in recent years, many of the measures and interventions have been in that firefighting and emergency mode rather than looking at structural reforms and changes that are needed.

I say this as constructively as I can. Some of the interventions in housing have had the effect of increasing land prices, increasing house prices and increasing rents. That has never been the intention, but it has happened. We have seen evidence of that with today's detailed analysis published by the ESRI and prepared by Dr. Barra Roantree and others which shows that some of the housing interventions were caught in this vicious circle of Government, for prudent reasons, not wanting to increase thresholds because it felt that would have an inflationary effect but then we see more and more people reliant on housing assistance payment, HAP, being completely priced out of the market.

I mention that because while these measures must be taken in the current crisis, they are not the long-term structural reforms we need to sort out the housing situation. Rather than creating upward pressures on rents and house prices, we need to implement policies and reforms that create some downward pressure. That is very much what is needed. More than €1 billion in State funding now goes into rent subsidies and long-term leasing which is a colossal amount even compared with a few years ago. However, those measures which are putting more money into the system and having upward pressure are only increasing. It is crucial for housing and land policy to have those long-term reforms. They need to be done now but will have a long-term effect. The number of newly built homes available to buy in Ireland is decreasing each year. Fewer than 6,000 newly built homes were available to purchase last year. We are seeing the effect of some of those policies and not having the structural reforms to make more land available at affordable prices for affordable housing.

To increase the supply of affordable homes, we should be looking at Vienna. Vienna has introduced affordable housing zoning to help ensure enough land is available for affordable homes with price caps and rent caps per square metre attached to the land. I have introduced the Bill in that spirit because the more data we have on land, the better equipped we will be to implement policies like that. My colleague, Councillor Catherine Stocker, in Dublin City Council has been spearheading the attempt to introduce zoning similar to the one in Vienna in the Dublin City Council area. We can take tangible action in the here and now to ensure that land is available at more affordable prices.

We owe it to people who are struggling to pay rents and who are being locked out of home ownership, and the almost 10,000 people who are now living in emergency accommodation to do everything we can on housing. The Bill is put forward as a small part of the solution and a small part of the structural reforms that are needed. There is no good reason for the Government to oppose the Bill. I hope the Government will agree to it moving on to the next Stage. I look forward to working through any concerns the Government might raise on Committee Stage.


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