Thursday, 29 September 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I acknowledge that the housing shortage is an enormous challenge facing our country and people of all age groups, but particularly young people. It is the case that Ireland is a country with high homeownership. Some 60% or 70% of people own their own homes. That is a good thing. However, that is not the reality for people in their late 20s and early 30s, when it used to be. Probably only 30-something per cent of people in that age group own their own home and it would have been much higher 20 years ago. That is a breach of the social contract, in my view. If somebody works hard, plays by the rules and saves some money, they should be able to buy their home. That has become harder and harder over the past 20 years, and I acknowledge that.
The reasons for this are myriad. We have a booming population and smaller households. We had a collapse in the construction industry 12 years ago that we have still not recovered from. We are essentially running up an escalator that is moving in the other direction. We are making some progress. Approximately 25,000 new homes were built in the past 12 months, the highest figure in ten or 11 years and certainly since the current data were collected. We have had about 15,000 first-time buyers in the past year. That is really encouraging because it is the highest in 15 years. It is not enough, however. I would like to see the number of new homes being built closer to 40,000 or 50,000 and the number of first-time buyers close to double what it is now. That has to be our objective.
In the context of what we are doing about it, the response is to increase supply. We are doing absolutely everything we can to increase supply. Only yesterday, I had some discussions about that with people involved in the business. In the budget we extended the help-to-buy scheme, which helps people to buy their first homes. The Deputy will know from the independent report that it is the authors' view that the scheme has not had an upward pressure effect on house prices. That is not my view, it is the view of the independent analysis. All the more reason, I believe, to extend that, and it has been extended for two years. We are providing people with grants to do up old and derelict properties and turn them into homes. I really hope that turns out to be a big success. That also applies to sites in small rural towns and villages. We have the first home scheme. This is an affordable home scheme in respect of which we are getting really good feedback and strong interest. That scheme is helping to bridge the gap. If somebody can get a mortgage for €250,000 but the house they want or need to buy is €320,000, we can bridge the gap through shared equity. We are seeing a lot of interest in that programme. If it turns out to be oversubscribed, as it may well be, we should expand it if we can.