Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Housing Provision: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


The following motion was moved by Deputy Dessie Ellis on Tuesday, 23 September 2014:That Dáil Éireann:notes that: - the State is in the midst of the most severe housing crisis in its history, due mostly to a drastic shortage of social housing; - 89,872 households, representing well in excess of 100,000 men, women and children are currently on local authority housing waiting lists, a rise of 30% in just five years; — approximately 74,000 households are in receipt of rent supplement at a cost of €344 million in subsidy for private landlords, more than a third of whom are in Dublin; — 2013 saw a decrease of 36% in the construction of new housing; — the latest reports from both the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and Daft show private residential rents in Dublin have risen by 26% since the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition took office in 2011 and that this trend is continuing; — homelessness services are reporting unprecedented need with rough sleep numbers in Dublin trebling last year, resulting in 139 people sleeping on the city's streets during harsh winter conditions with many more forced to live in emergency or temporary accommodation; — more than €1 billion has been cut from the housing budget since 2008; — City council inspections have found that the vast majority of rental properties in inner city Dublin do not meet minimum standards for human habitation; — the Government has failed to deliver less than a quarter of promised National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, housing after three years in office; — the Government is also currently failing in its stated policy objective to end long-term homelessness by 2016; and — the rental accommodation scheme has failed to deliver adequate numbers of homes and to protect those it has housed from eviction; recognises: — the great work done by many voluntary and co-operative organisations across the State to provide housing where the State has failed or refused to do so; — the vital role played by homeless agencies and charities in providing for people experiencing homelessness and lobbying for policies to end homelessness; — that the Government has failed to prioritise the housing of citizens in need and are repeating the failed policies of its Government predecessors; and — in solving the social housing crisis and ending long-term homelessness it is essential that the quality of homes provided are built to the highest standards - being warm, spacious and secure; concludes that: — the solution to the housing crisis needs to become a political priority for this Government which is underpinned by credible Government initiatives to build and deliver more social housing; — alternative funding models must be used to allow local authorities to build new homes as and where needed; — NAMA must be given a deadline for delivery of promised housing and this process should be overseen by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht; — soaring rent rates need to be tackled; and — the Government has a responsibility and duty to prioritise housing in the remainder of this Dáil term; and calls on the Government to: — introduce legislative change to allow for the initial use of €1 billion from the Strategic Investment Fund to deliver at least 6,600 additional social housing units over the next two years; — ensure that all new housing provided, whether for emergency accommodation or for long-term housing, meets the standards as laid down in regulations and efficiently provides warmth, space and other essential utilities required of a modern home; — further prioritise local authority construction as a method of providing homes for those who need them; — take urgent action regarding spiralling rents by implementing a system of rent control that guarantees a fair rate of return for landlords that is linked to both the consumer price index and the quality of the property; — enable local authorities to establish independent housing trusts allowing them to source financing independent of the national debt in order to build and maintain new social housing; — ensure that recipients of Housing Assistance Payment will not be removed from housing waiting lists; — amend equality legislation to disallow the practice of landlords discriminating against recipients of rent supplement and immediately reform the operation of the scheme to ensure recipients seeking rental properties are not unnecessarily disadvantaged; — broaden access to the mortgage-to-rent scheme; — commit to ring-fencing funding for housing and homelessness services for the lifetime of this Government; — introduce a deposit retention scheme under the supervision of the PRTB; and — set a date for a referendum on the Constitutional Convention's recommendation that Bunreacht na hÉireann should include a right to housing cognisable by the courts. Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "acknowledges that the economic downturn and contraction in construction activity since 2008 have created significant difficulties for many communities and individuals across Ireland; recognises the high priority which the Government has assigned to housing and homelessness issues, particularly in the Housing Policy Statement of 2011, the Homelessness Policy Statement of 2013 and most recently in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014 - 2016 published in July of this year; notes that:— current house completions data (5,824 units completed by end July 2014) show that nationally there is a 32 per cent increase in output over the first seven months when compared to equivalent figures in 2013 (4,405 units completed) and that new Dublin house completions over the first seven months of the year are up 150 per cent on equivalent figures for 2013, increasing from 678 units to 1,693 units; — by using the outturn to date, it is currently estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 units will be completed in 2014, representing an annual increase of approximately 25 per cent; — the 89,872 households on social housing waiting lists, as recorded by the statutory Summary of Social Housing Assessments as at May 2013, represents a reduction of 9 per cent on the 2011 assessment total of 98,318; and — within the funding constraints of recent years, the Government has responded in a variety of ways to meet emerging housing needs, including through the expansion of more flexible revenue-based funding and delivery mechanisms including leasing and the Rental Accommodation Scheme;recognises that, with the more limited resources available, the main focus in terms of housing supports provided by Government must be on meeting the most acute needs of those unable to provide for their accommodation from their own resources; welcomes the total €647 million housing allocation for 2014 which will result in an investment across a range of programmes and will support the delivery of over 6,000 units this year; welcomes the provision of a €30 million funding stream to bring vacant and boarded up local authority units back into use, which will provide some 1,960 homes for families on housing lists; recognises the Government’s enactment of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, which provides a legislative basis for the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), which will be of significant benefit to long-term recipients of Rent Supplement; further notes:— the Government’s commitment that HAP recipients will have access to other social housing supports offered by local authorities through the transfer system; — that in February 2014 the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government broadened the Mortgage-to-Rent Scheme to provide for local authority borrowers which aims to ensure that local authority homeowners in mortgage distress can remain in their home; and — that the Department continues to work closely and successfully with the National Asset Management Agency, the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies in relation to the delivery of social housing;recognises the voluntary and cooperative organisations’ ongoing work in providing social housing using funding sources under the various Government schemes; welcomes the Government’s commitment to end long-term homelessness by 2016; supports the adoption of a housing-led approach to tackling homelessness, which involves access to permanent housing combined with appropriate ongoing support, as a core aspect of the Government’s Homelessness Policy Statement; welcomes the ring-fencing of Government funding for homeless services in Budgets 2013 and 2014, in support of the discharge by local authorities of their statutory role in the provision of accommodation for homeless persons; supports the Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness which will deliver 2,700 units for homeless households by end 2016; notes that the official Dublin rough sleeper count identified 127 individuals sleeping rough on a given night last April – a decrease on the figure of 139 recorded for November 2013; acknowledges that a regional ‘Housing First’ service will commence shortly in the Dublin region which will have a focus on delivering new tenancies for homeless people with a history of rough sleeping and high level needs; recognises that the private rented sector is an important element of the housing market, with approximately one in five households now renting their home in the private sector; recognises that resolution of the housing supply situation is a key element in restoring stability to the rental market; acknowledges that the growing evidence of increasing rents, particularly in Dublin, is a cause for concern but notes that, on average, rents in Dublin are still 12.7 per cent lower than they were at their peak in the fourth quarter of 2007, while rents nationally are almost 19 per cent lower than their peak in 2007; notes that the study commissioned by the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) on rent stability in the sector will be presented to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in the coming days; recognises that the introduction of any rent stability measures will require careful consideration by Government; agrees that the overriding objective is to achieve stability and sustainability in the market for the benefit of tenants, landlords and society as a whole; notes that the Government will be introducing legislative provisions for a Deposit Protection Scheme, to be operated by the PRTB, at Seanad Committee Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, which will eliminate the practice of landlords illegally withholding deposits and contribute to the ongoing regulation and development of the rental market; welcomes Dublin City Council’s ongoing inspection programme for rental properties which is proving to be very effective in targeting non-compliant properties, enforcing minimum standards legislation and bringing properties into compliance to the benefit of over 3,000 tenants since March 2012; acknowledges the complex issues of law involved in preventing discrimination by landlords against recipients of Rent Supplement but welcomes that options, including that of legal remedy, to address the practice of discrimination in such instances are currently being explored by the relevant Departments in consultation with the Attorney General; acknowledges that there are, approximately, 74,000 rent supplement recipients, for which the Government has provided over €344 million for 2014; and welcomes the Government’s commitment to:— address the challenges in the property and construction sectors, including developing an overall strategic approach to housing supply through the implementation of the actions in Construction 2020 – A Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector; — ensure that all new housing provided, whether for emergency accommodation or for long-term housing, will meet the requirements laid down in the Building Regulations and best practice as set out in the Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities guidelines to support the delivery of quality homes which will fully meet the needs of occupants; — develop and publish in the coming weeks a Social Housing Strategy which will set out a series of actions to address the supply of social housing over the next five years; and — identify and facilitate the most appropriate models to maximise supply, management and maintenance of social housing in the longer term in order to deliver the key social housing objective of providing both for those households who cannot afford to house themselves and those who struggle to afford housing in the private market." - (Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government).

6:25 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The members of the technical group are sharing time. Deputies Catherine Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Thomas Pringle have two minutes each.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate and thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion. We are in the middle of the worst housing crisis we have ever experienced. As Fr. Peter McVerry said, the social welfare system is one of the major causes of homelessness. I have seen working families forced into homelessness and I have also seen homelessness masked when family members take in other family members and families are divided. Some 90,000 families and individuals are on the housing waiting list and over 6,000 of them are in Kildare - this makes Kildare one of the worst affected counties in the country. There must be short, medium and long-term solutions to this problem. In the short term, councils will have to buy houses as, in future, children will pay the price for the difficulties we are creating. Children are living in houses where stress is rife as the occupants spend their waking hours searching for alternative accommodation rather than employment. This is unacceptable. Schools do not know whether some children will continue to attend as their families seek alternative accommodation. The situation is intolerable and is getting worse by the week in my constituency - I do not doubt that the same applies to other parts of the country. The Government must stop sitting on its hands and do something that will make a difference for people. There must be a short-term response, as well as medium and long-term responses.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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This crisis is dire and is getting worse. The most frustrating thing is that the Minister has been warned for over three years that the crisis was coming. I have reviewed comments I have made in the Dáil since 2011 and I gave dozens of warnings on this. I am sure others can say the same. In July 2012 I said "it is not an exaggeration to say that the Government's new housing policy and cuts to rent allowance will lead to a new era of homelessness and a return to slum landlord and tenement conditions". The Government denied there was a problem at the time and only now admits that one exists. The Government said reliance on rental accommodation schemes, RAS, and the private rental sector would solve the problem. This approach has failed catastrophically and the Government has shown contempt for the warnings given. The Government's approach exhibits catastrophic errors of judgment and now that it has finally acknowledged the issue the problem continues to worsen.

In the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area in the past six months some 99 houses have been allocated and 600 people have joined the waiting list. In other words, six times more people have joined the list than have been allocated houses. We are digging a hole from which we will not be able to emerge if we do not face reality and build social housing and take emergency measures in the interim.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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Anyone with an ear to the ground knows that Fr. Peter McVerry's statements were correct. Far from addressing the crisis in homelessness, this Government is the biggest contributor to the problem through paltry rent allowance. The system that sees people become paupers while trying to make up the difference between the rent supplement and the rent cannot be allowed to continue, given the backdrop of rising rents. If the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, is serious about tackling homelessness he must answer the call of Fr. Peter McVerry and move immediately to increase rent supplements. This is the most immediate and effective way to stop the rise in homelessness in the short term - it is not enough but it is a necessary immediate response. If the Minister of State does not do this we will face hundreds of thousands more people in similar difficulties in the coming months.

The Minister of State must address the issue of empty State properties and dwellings as it is a crime that otherwise decent dwellings are idle. Properties that come to mind include the Curragh Camp, where families are being driven from houses that are fit for purpose and could be improved with a little work. This is occurring while Kildare County Council has 8,000 people on the housing waiting list. The only way to deal with this problem is by building houses.

This is not the first housing crisis the State has faced as one occurred previously in the late 1940s. At that time the State had the vision and commitment to build houses in places like Finglas, Ballyfermot, Cork and Limerick and housed thousands of families. It was not a case of fighting for crumbs but a real house building programme. There were radio advertisements in Britain appealing to workers to come home to help build these houses, thus addressing emigration, unemployment and social need. The Department of Local Government linked up with the Department of Health under Noel Browne to engage in a programme of hospital building and succeeded in the eradication of TB. Building a social housing stock is an investment for the future - it protects communities against homelessness and it creates good, stable family environments. We can do this but we have not yet done so because the Government has chosen to rely on a failed model of privatisation. This must stop and houses must be built.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I have been involved in the construction industry for most of my life and for most of that time there has been no housing strategy. I am not sure that one will be introduced in the near future. I can think of four important elements to a housing strategy: quantity, location, quality and affordability. There have been huge housing problems in this country for some time because there was insufficient control over where houses were built - houses were built in the wrong places and too few were built where they were needed. In the history of the State there have been times when too many houses were built and times when too few were built in the right locations. Quality has often left much to be desired because of a lack of supervision and oversight to ensure building regulations were applied. In other words, the regulations are fine but the level of State oversight is not. In terms of affordability, a right to a house is a social right so a person who cannot afford to buy a house must be housed by the State. Almost 100,000 people are waiting on houses at the moment. Houses are too expensive in the private sector because of a lack of regulation - things are left to the markets. A new tax must be introduced on zoned development land that is banked. Some developers buy land, get it zoned for development and then hold it as a land bank, sitting on it and controlling the price of land.

This is a massive problem and contributes more to the overpricing of houses than anything else. It is usually in the hands of very few people. We will see this over the coming years because much development land and idle sites were sold by NAMA and the banks in big parcels to very small numbers of people and too few people will control it and there will be a cartel once again.

6:35 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the housing crisis we have in the State. There is no doubt there is a crisis and we see the levels of homelessness increasing throughout the State, not only in our cities but throughout the country. This crisis has been created by the Government because it has continuously slashed the capital budgets for housing delivery and continuously rejected any form of stimulus as part of a solution and reaction to the recession in which we have been gripped, and has pushed the direction of housing solution into the private sector. This is a catastrophic failure as 90,000 families are on housing lists throughout the country and there is a crisis in every county.

The Government should be rolling out a capital programme encouraging local authorities to establish housing associations so they can do the off-balance-sheet borrowing to deliver a housing programme because local authorities have the expertise, architects, engineers and ability to oversee and they are geared up to be able to deal with the crisis once and for all. It is startling when one sees figures such as that in 1954 the State built 7,000 houses when we were far poorer than we are now in a recession as deep as what we have now. The State lived up to its responsibilities and provided housing for our citizens. Over the past three years the State has built three houses in Donegal, which has a waiting list of more than 4,500 people. It is an absolute disgrace and the Government should roll out a capital building programme because the local authorities are the solution.

As Deputy Clare Daly outlined, the rent allowance caps must be increased because there is no way we should allow to continue what is in effect a black market for landlords whereby tenants dependent on rent allowance must hand over cash payments of which there is no record to make up the rent because they cannot get a property unless they do so. The Minister of State is quite happy to stand over this system and see it continue.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate and I agree entirely with the previous speakers. Deputy Wallace stated a great surplus of more than 300,000 houses was built in the wrong place and as a result the construction industry collapsed and, as Deputy Wallace well knows, most of the developers went into debt and into NAMA. This was the situation the Labour Party inherited when it came into government. I agree entirely with Deputies Daly and Pringle that the State has an onus to provide social housing, and very often local authorities are the vehicle which should do so. For this reason I am delighted Sinn Féin has tabled the motion and I applaud Deputy Ellis for doing so. However, the most recent action by the Sinn Féin councillors on Dublin City Council was to reduce the property charge by 15% and remove €12.3 million from the budget which could well have been used as a stimulus to provide services, particularly housing services given the degree of homelessness and the housing need which exists. Effectively this will put money into the hands of wealthy homeowners, such as people in Dalkey in houses worth €700,000 who will have their bills reduced by €200, while somebody in my constituency, in Cabra or the inner-city where houses are worth €150,000, will see a reduction of less than €35. Perhaps this is the new meaning of a wealth tax, whereby money goes back to the wealthy rather than to the less well off and more vulnerable. Perhaps this could have been examined and a good example could have been set by the councillors to ensure the money was used to good advantage in providing local services. The democratic purpose of the local authority could have been enhanced.

I disagree with the policy articulated by Deputy Ellis on prefabs whereby he indicated Sinn Féin is in favour of constructing prefabs throughout the city.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should not believe the newspapers which tell complete and utter nonsense.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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This would move towards ghettoisation. At present those who are homeless and in a needy situation end up in hotels and bedsits. This has gone on for decades and it remains the situation. One can imagine what a prefab would be like, with shivering in the winter and sweating in the summer and the toilet conditions. It is certainly not the way to go.

Much of what is being asked for in the motion is being implemented. The Minister is putting together a local authority housing construction strategy which will be launched in the budget, as he indicated yesterday evening. It will be a substantial programme. We will have to wait to see the detail, but it will be announced in several weeks. It has been confirmed the recipients of the housing assistance payment will not be removed from housing waiting lists, despite rumours put out by Sinn Féin throughout the city. Legislation is on the way to create a tenancy deposit scheme and the rent allowance is being reformed whereby local authorities will take responsibility for it rather than the old system of it being left to the landlord and tenant, which was not working.

I will give an indication of what social housing has been delivered by the local authority in my constituency even in these difficult times. This includes a total of 53 housing units in Sean Tracey House, off Sean McDermott Street; 100 housing units in Peadar Kearney House on Railway Street; and 100 senior citizen units in Father Scully House on Gardiner Street. A number of other social and voluntary housing projects are planned, such as Croke Villas in Ballybough and the conversion of four derelict houses to nine apartments; a new senior citizen complex at Dunmanus Court with between 40 and 50 units; the redevelopment of St. Bricken's senior citizen complex in Arbour Hill; 35 apartments on North King Street; and NAMA has indicated it will give 57 units for social housing in the area also. Dublin City Council has been given the necessary funding to deal with all of the voids and vacancies in the area.

A considerable amount of work is being done at present considering all that happened under the previous administration, as Deputy Wallace well knows, is public private partnerships were given under the aegis of a particular developer, who had everything on the north and south sides of the city, and they all collapsed. Not a single house was built on any of them. We are remedying this at present.

I welcome the social housing strategy being developed by the Minister and I look forward to its delivery in budget 2015. I recognise there is a housing need and a housing crisis, and that housing must be the priority for the Government as the recovery begins.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputies Coffey and Kelly on their elevation to their new positions and I wish them all the best. They have a difficult task ahead. As Deputy Costello mentioned the housing situation is in dire crisis. When I considered what I would say on housing I looked at the figures thrown out by Deputy O'Brien of Sinn Féin yesterday evening. He mentioned that Sinn Féin can identify €1 billion which could be spent on building 6,600 social housing units. This is part of the fantasy budget Sinn Féin goes on with.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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It is from the answers to parliamentary questions. It is from the Department of Finance.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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He never told us where exactly this money comes from. Is Deputy Ellis telling me it is coming from the Northern Bank again?

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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Ah here.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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If that is the case we cannot handle it all of the time.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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You should be ashamed of yourself. Cop yourself on.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the social housing strategy and I look forward to the report when it is published. We need an overarching strategy for all housing.

I agree that Construction 2020 has some valid points, but we need to build houses across all sectors. That is the problem at the moment. The rental market is increasing because there is a lack of housing for younger couples to purchase at the moment.

When considering the report on the social housing strategy the first thing the Minister of State should consider is the removal of Part V. This was introduced by the then Minister, Mr. Dempsey. It was voted in by most local authorities. I opposed it totally on Kildare County Council; Deputy Catherine Murphy supported it. It provided for the handing over of construction of social houses to private property developers. Since the collapse of the construction industry no social houses have been built anywhere in the country. We need to remove that stipulation and get local authorities back to building houses again, as they should have been doing all the time.

The windfall tax was imposed by the Green Party when in government. It was initiated at 80% and there have been no returns on that at all. It needs to be scrapped because we need to move land from whatever source into building houses again.

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, when she was Minister of State with responsibility for housing, with regard to getting local authorities to be more active in progressing the land banks they have. Local authorities usually wait for money to be allocated to them and then go through the planning process themselves. The Minister of State should encourage them to go through the planning process and have the land available for building so that when the money is allocated they can start straightaway. In my constituency, Kilcock was the only shovel-ready project available for money that was allocated previously. I encourage the Minister of State to write to local authorities to be more proactive in preparing their available land to be shovel-ready.

Under the land aggregation scheme the Housing Finance Agency purchased land from local authorities. There are 35 sites around the country in which the legal transfer has not occurred between the local authority and the Housing Finance Agency, including four in my county. Every council official looks out the window and sees a 14-acre site which the local authority in Naas has been paid for but the land transfer to the Housing Finance Agency has not legally happened. Those are land banks that are available but they are in a legal quandary meaning that social housing cannot be built. I encourage the Minister of State to be proactive with local authorities to get that moving as quickly as possible.

I wish the Minister of State the best of luck, but we have to look at this from an overall viewpoint. We do not just have a problem with social housing; there is a housing issue for all people as to whether to buy, rent or live in social housing.

6:45 pm

Photo of Derek NolanDerek Nolan (Galway West, Labour)
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There is no question that we are in the middle of a housing crisis - a private housing crisis, a rental crisis and a social housing crisis. Debating housing is a very good start to this new session because it needs to be one of our national priorities. As I am sure is the case with all Deputies, not a week goes by that I do not have people on housing waiting lists coming into my office, talking about their family situation, waiting eight, nine, ten and sometimes 12 years on housing waiting lists for a social house. Unfortunately we are picking up the pieces of a housing crash and a policy that existed under the previous Government of not building any social housing and just handing it over to the rental market, and unwinding that is proving very difficult.

I must agree with the concept that social housing is interlinked with the private house-building market. There is no problem in housing that does not have a knock-on consequence for another sector. So if people cannot buy a home, they have to rent a home which increases rental rates. If people cannot afford rent, they need social housing and that puts pressure on the social housing market. Every one of those facets feeds into the lack of supply and causes a problem. I agree we need to take a much more holistic and comprehensive approach.

I acknowledge that the Government has many policies and that the Ministers will be coming back with a social housing construction programme, which I welcome. The signal it sends that the Government believes in building social housing is important. I look forward to championing and seeking funding for my constituency in Galway West for that housing.

We need to take a broader look at the housing market. Treating it as a flexible market, as we do, open to market forces where supply and demand are always paramount will always leave us with problems in the housing market. If we hand over responsibility and say that housing is not a right and is not something that everybody requires but is something that the market will provide and we allow market forces dictate, we will repeat the problems we had in the boom with an improved economy because speculators with money, developers with wealth and people with connections can control that vital housing market again.

Housing is something that everybody requires; there is not a citizen - a child, adult or old person - who does not need a roof over their head, irrespective of whether that is provided by themselves from their own endeavour and income or through a helping hand from the State. We cannot allow it to go back to a private market that will profiteer and take advantage of shortage of supply.

First we need to decide as a society how much an average working person should have to pay for their home. Should they have to borrow ten times their income as happened during the boom? Should a couple who have just had their first child have to mortgage themselves for 35 years and cripple themselves with debt? We have not resolved that question. We have not said what we want the ultimate outcome of a housing policy to be.

When we decide what is equitable and what a fair housing model is, then we can decide what the public sector should provide for those who cannot reach that average level. If cost is an issue and we are going to make sure that cost matters, we can then step in to prevent someone who has land on the outskirts of a city which he may have inherited from a parent who died 30 or 40 years ago suddenly becoming a millionaire overnight because the land is rezoned as it is required for residential purposes allowing him to sell it off to the highest bidder who then builds houses and charges young couples vast amounts for those houses.

Is that what we want to do or do we want to change it and say that housing is a right and we will control the price of building land and buy up land banks? Will we say that no more will we hand it over for speculators and people who can make a quick buck in order to ensure that everybody in this society who goes to work knows that they will be able to afford a home? We would then be able to step in and support those who are unfortunate not to be able to work or who are in low-paid sectors of society. However, until we make that decision as a society we will be chasing rather than leading and we will be catching up rather than providing a proper housing system.

Much of what the Government is doing is very good. We need a small change of mindset to take it even further and to reach the point where we can be absolutely certain that housing is no longer a variable issue, but something in which we can be concrete.

I am happy that Sinn Féin raised the issue because it is good to have it discussed in this House. However, just last week Galway City Council faced a motion from Sinn Féin councillors to reduce the local property tax. Sinn Féin cannot complain about local authorities not having funding to provide the important things we need, such as housing and refurbishing houses to look after extensions for people with disabilities, while at the same time appealing to the same gallery and promising to reduce the amount of money in our coffers. It does not make economic sense; it is just cheap populist politics.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to be able to speak about this matter. I totally agree with Deputy Costello's earlier comments that what the council did was very shortsighted.

In 2014 more than €640 million has already been allocated for housing with €334 million being given in rent allowance. I do not think it is right that anybody should be blackmailed into handing out more money to cross the palms of greedy landlords. In March the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government announced the approval of 56 social housing construction projects with an overall value of €68 million for the local authority.

I am delighted Deputy Ó Snodaigh has come into the Chamber because he will know of the good news in Dublin South Central. Last week a new 75-unit development was opened in Thornton Heights which was long awaited. There is an emphasis on new people coming to Inchicore to live, all of them very welcome. Another 36 units in one of the apartment blocks beside it are being given over. There are 19 new units in Bluebell being given over for local authority housing and they may be managed by the council, but we are not sure about that yet. In Heuston South Quarter 16 units have been acquired for people to be managed by the city council and Circle Voluntary Housing Association. In Herberton alone 40 units have been acquired for the de-tenanting of Dolphin House until development starts there.

8 o’clock

In Herberton, a further 24 units will be purchased and managed through funding itself. In Camac Crescent, Inchicore, 20 units have been acquired under leasing by the National Association of Building Co-operatives, NABCO. Moreover, on James's Street, 22 units have been acquired under leasing for Clúid Housing Association and Simon housing association. In St. Catherine's Gate, 22 units are being acquired by Clúid Housing Association. The council has purchased three second-hand houses, two of which are occupied while the other is being refurbished at present and there are more on the list. In addition, as Members are aware, the St. Teresa's Gardens complex is being de-tenanted and money has been allocated by the Government to build new units there. Three of the original flat blocks in the complex are being refurbished for accommodation for those who wish to stay in the area and who may wish to transfer into the new building when it happens. In further good news, the number of housing units refurbished in Dublin South Central from January 2014 to date is 158, of which 137 are currently occupied. While this is good news, all Members, including Deputy Ó Snodaigh and I, are aware that many people still are coming into their clinics on a daily basis to inquire about housing. They are now getting into a state of actually being desperate. Members must reconsider how they will quantify and make available proper housing units, by which I do not mean single rooms or bedsits, but proper housing for families.

6:55 pm

Photo of Seán KennySeán Kenny (Dublin North East, Labour)
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First, I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, on his appointment and I wish him success on dealing with the housing brief. I believe the Government understands the problems people are facing in respect of housing, from those who are living with the threat and reality of homelessness to families who cannot find affordable properties to rent or to purchase. The housing challenge is significant and the Construction 2020 target of tripling annual housing output over the next six years, as well as the Housing Agency's estimate of approximately 35,000 additional residential properties being required over the next five years to meet social housing need, show the scale of the challenge before Members. While it is important to recognise these issues, it is just as important not to panic people with regard to the housing market. The price of property in Dublin fell by more than 50% from the peak of the boom and it remains significantly below those peak rates. As for immediate action, 6,000 households will have their social housing needs met this year. I believe that claims of another property boom are exaggerated. The recent story from Swords of people camping out overnight to place a deposit appears to have been a once-off event. Moreover, I understand that on the day on which sales of that development opened, the houses did not sell out on the first day and it may well have been something that was hyped up by the developer.

The social housing strategy under the stewardship of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, is in preparation and will be finalised and published with budget 2015. While I do not intend to start pre-empting the final strategy, clearly it will need to address supply by coming up with solutions that must include a more ambitious building programme, as well as the facilitation of increased private sector construction. It must also examine funding solutions, including the best mix of State funding, private finance and European Union sources of funding. New social housing stock is being added, old stock that needed refurbishment is being reactivated and it will continue to add to the stock. Through a considerable refurbishment programme, almost 2,000 social housing units have been put back in use in 2014 and a further 1,200 social units will return to use in 2015, with more units to follow thereafter. The social housing strategy will provide the Government with a programme to continue this work. Significant development on new builds has started already and new social housing developments are starting all around the country. In Dublin, for example, 38 new units are being built in Glasnevin. Moreover, new public housing initiatives are being progressed by Dublin City Council with the voluntary sector and with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I refer, for example, to two large schemes of 50 and 130 units, respectively, in which a mix of private rented and socially rented units are being provided side-by-side in my own constituency on the Dublin north fringe. This is the kind of innovation that is needed and with which we must continue.

The Government's commitment to tackling homelessness is laid out in the homeless policy statement published last year, which outlines the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. This means a transition from a shelter-led to a more sustainable housing-led approach, which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. In the past two years in Dublin, approximately 1,500 people have moved from homeless services to independent living with necessary supports. This shows what can be done. There is much more to be done and I fully recognise this is a challenge. This is why an oversight group was established to review the approach advocated in the homeless policy statement to identify obstacles and to propose solutions to them. These in turn led to the approval by the Government in May 2014 of a major implementation plan containing 80 actions that will contribute to the delivery of 2,700 units of accommodation by the end of 2016. These actions include ensuring that vacant properties are brought into productive use as quickly as possible and prioritising vulnerable groups, including homeless households, for housing, as well as bringing other suitable vacant residential properties in State ownership into use as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, I wish to raise the question of the repossession of buy-to-let properties by banks. People who are renting such units and who are being made homeless as a result of their repossession by banks should be allowed to remain in situwhen the property is being purchased by another investor and I believe legislation to protect tenants in this position should be considered. I support the work of the Government and I will play my part in ensuring that the housing crisis is tackled and resolved.

Photo of Tom BarryTom Barry (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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First, I wish to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, on his appointment. I have no doubt but that he will do an outstanding job. On reading the motion before Members this evening, one would be forgiven for thinking it is a motion for Dublin, because "Dublin" appears four times within it. For those Members who are from Cork and other counties, it may be a little restricted in its viewpoint. Perhaps I am picking it up wrongly but it appears as though people are almost revelling in other people's despair. However, I refer to one really important point that is nowhere to be seen in this motion, namely, oversight. Is there sufficient oversight in respect of those who have got houses and are such houses being taken and maintained in the true spirit of the scheme? The household benefits package, of which all Members are aware, provides various items such as electricity and gas to people. I have come across a case in which a person approached me seeking a cheque back in respect of their electricity. Basically, up to now, one would use one's electricity units from one's household package and if they were not used, one was away whereas if they were used, one paid for the balance. However, if one is not using them, one gets back a cheque. The aforementioned person obviously was not living in the house, yet was getting back a cheque, from taxpayers' money that is paid to the ESB with no oversight. Bad enough as that may be, what is worse is the person obviously was not living in the house. If this represents - as it could - 5% of the housing stock, why are Members not talking about oversight?

There is no point in building many more houses unless Members ensure those people living in them are living in the true spirit of the scheme and actually are the people dwelling in them. One could build up many scenarios on top of this, whereby somebody could be subletting a house they had been allocated because they are living with someone else. The nuclear family with which Members once were familiar has gone and there now are many different facets to families. Moreover, lest anyone has any doubts in this regard, I am talking from a factual position. Consequently, I believe this motion requires oversight. Members should not misunderstand me, as everyone wishes to cure the housing crisis. I certainly wish to ensure that the housing crisis is dealt with in the true spirit in which it is intended and that the solution serves those who it is intended to serve.

Finally, the motion mentions how people should be kept in warm environments. I note there is no mention of renewable energies, of district heating or all the fantastic things that can be done, particularly in Government schemes, to provide native fuels from indigenous industries and to boost farming. I have come from the ploughing championships where there are many people who would love to provide Irish forestry to provide heating. Members must consider this issue in a holistic fashion and not simply in a knee-jerk reaction. I also note that housing is relevant in Cork, Sligo and Mayo and not simply in Dublin.

7:05 pm

Photo of Brendan  RyanBrendan Ryan (Dublin North, Labour)
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In March of this year, I stated in this Chamber that the Government's priority for the remainder of its term must be the resolution of the housing crisis. While many of the housing issues which hit us in 2008 like a tsunami, such as mortgage arrears and negative equity, are still with us, there can be no denying that the most serious aspect of the housing crisis at this time is homelessness. For nearly a year, I have chaired an internal Labour Party committee on housing which works to deliver proposals to our members at Cabinet. As a party that has social housing as a core value, we are striving to fix this crisis. However, as the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, observed last night, there is no magic wand.

The motion put forward by Sinn Féin is laudable in its intent but deliberately unrealistic in respect of how its objectives can be achieved. It does a disservice to the seriousness of the issue and its only purpose is further to inflate Sinn Féin's populist credentials. Moreover, some of the measures called for in the motion have already been initiated by the Government. Deposit retention legislation, for example, is already in train. The call for new houses to meet the required building regulations and standards is already happening. In my own constituency, the first new homes built in Swords in more than seven years are in compliance with the new building regulations, including efficiency levels for warmth, energy efficiency and generous amount of space. I am also pleased that the local authority will receive units in this new Swords development for social housing, in compliance with the Part V regulations.

In our struggle to secure more units for social housing, it is good news when any new homes become available. The Part V provisions must continue to deliver housing units rather than cash in lieu to local authorities. We are also seeing the first local authority houses being built in Swords and Balbriggan since the early 2000s. While I accept that the numbers are insufficient, it is a start and a move in the right direction. The Labour Party in government always oversees the construction of new social houses. While I accept the context for this motion and acknowledge that there is indeed a crisis, I cannot accept a motion that is ultimately designed to fail, from a party that has no track record in delivering any housing in the history of the State.

I am incredulous that Sinn Féin is calling for a ring-fencing of funding for housing and homelessness services for the lifetime of this Government, when its own members on Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council voted against Labour Party proposals this week which would have contributed much needed emergency funding for homelessness in the Dublin area. When Sinn Féin's own councillors had the power within their grasp to help those in homelessness situations, by just a little, they chose populism over action. My party colleagues and I will work with anybody to solve the housing crisis, but Sinn Féin members have proven they are more into playing politics with the problem than solving it.

I will be supporting the Government's amendment and am encouraged by its content. Particularly welcome is the indication that work is being done to prevent discrimination by landlords against recipients of rent supplement. This is an issue our internal committee has raised. I urge the Minister to encourage the Attorney General and all relevant Departments to report to him in a very short timeframe on this matter. The "No rent supplement need apply" advertisements are plain economic discrimination. There are people on rent supplement who would be able to meet an asking price for rent in the current market but are not even being entertained by landlords. That is not acceptable.

Tenants must have rent certainty in order to plan for their future. Rent control in the form of linking rents to the consumer price index must be given serious consideration. With the possibility of financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation being phased out, it might now be time for social emergency measures in the public interest, SEMPI, proposals. One such measure could be a change in landlord-tenant legislation which would extend the rent review from one to two years, thereby giving greater certainty to tenants. Realistic funding for the rent supplement scheme for 2015 must be provided in next month's budget to take account of increasing rents. I look forward to the publication of the social housing strategy in the coming weeks, which will set out measures to be taken in the next five years to address the supply of social housing.

The Minister is aware of the recommendations of the Labour Party housing group. Those recommendations are multifaceted and cover the range of need across this crisis. I am confident they will form part of the strategy. Our core recommendation is that we need a greater and regular supply of social housing units. That aspect simply must be addressed. With the private housing market beginning to stir, we need to ensure maximum developer compliance with their Part V obligations. We cannot, however, return to the failed Fianna Fáil strategy of allowing private developers to deliver our social housing. The privatisation of social housing did not work in the past and will not work in the future. Social housing provision is best delivered from the State through local authorities. This is what I stand for and what the Labour Party stands for, and it must be delivered.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Deputies Sandra McLellan, Peadar Tóibín, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brian Stanley, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Pearse Doherty are sharing time and have five minutes each.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I take this opportunity to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, well in his new role. I begin by reminding Deputy Anthony Lawlor that what he described as fairy tale economics were costed by the Department of Finance. His constituents would be far better served if he used his time to address the housing crisis rather than trying to score cheap political points.

This Government has carried the mantle laid down by its Fianna Fáil and Green Party predecessors in government. The austerity-driven agenda that promotes privatisation over socially beneficial and progressive policy has led us to another crisis. It is a crisis that is detrimental to communities and families all across the State. We are talking about real people experiencing real hardship. We have heard of people living in their cars, families living in hotels with no cooking facilities, people moving from couch to couch and, in some cases, finding themselves on the streets, sleeping in dangerous alleyways with nowhere else to go. We have heard of people living in ill-suited and cramped temporary accommodation with no idea when or if they will find somewhere permanent to live. These are people in desperate circumstances, whose lives have changed because of the policies enacted by this and previous Governments. They are paying the cost of the financial crisis while those at the helm have escaped relatively unscathed.

The average rent across the State is a staggering €915 per month, which is nearly twice what the average worker is taking home per week. Coupled with a generally high cost of living, especially in urban areas, these rents are making life very hard for people and have left many with no choice but to seek emergency accommodation. A significant increase in the number of local authority homes and the imposition of rent controls are a must. There can be no delay with these measures as rent prices are spiralling out of control. A long-term housing plan is a necessity to help struggling families keep a roof over their head.

The Government's relative inaction on this issue is astounding and disgraceful. Consistent refurbishment and renewal of existing social housing and long-term investment in new building projects led by local authorities would go a long way toward curbing the crisis. We cannot, nor should we ever have, relied on private landlords to plug a hole in the housing shortage. Landlords in pursuit of profit are not the people in whose hands this issue should lie. The Government, elected by the people of this State, is best equipped to resolve the crisis and is mandated to do so. The private rented sector is not the solution to the current housing crisis. It has not delivered an adequate number of homes, has failed to offer protection to tenants and has only led to economic instability.

I will give some examples to show the extent to which people are suffering. A constituent in my area who had three children was housed by a voluntary housing body. Due to her growing family - now comprising six children - she requested a transfer to a more suitable home. Unfortunately, the voluntary housing body was not in a position to provide an alternative housing arrangement for her as its housing stock is very limited. When she wrote to the local authority whose list she had been on previously to request that she be transferred elsewhere, the response was that the responsibility to house her now lay with the voluntary body. This is a case of someone living in an unsustainable environment and whose housing needs are not being met. There should be provisions in place to ensure people like this are not left in limbo.

Another constituent who was availing of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, was asked if she wanted to remain within it. She had been living in her home for four years and her two children were attending school in the local village. When she expressed her intent to stay under the scheme, she could not secure a guarantee that she could continue living in the house, as the landlord wished to sell it. This person was told that she may not be able to stay in the village she had lived in for four years because of the difficulty in acquiring similar accommodation. Uprooting two children and being forced to move out of the community is not an acceptable or sustainable practice. Will the Government claim this is an acceptable way for this person to live her life, without stability and permanency? Constantly on the move from house to house, place to place, unable to set down roots and never having a home?

Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. Many families find themselves in similar situations. The State is in the midst of the most severe housing crisis in its history, with 100,000 people languishing on housing lists. Local authorities must build an adequate supply of housing which is maintained by those councils and let out to members of the public at an affordable rent. I urge colleagues to support this motion.

7:15 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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I wish the new Minister good luck and sympathise with the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, for having to listen to the last two Government speakers. I promise that I will not hurt his ears in such a manner. It sounds like Deputy Tom Barry took some bovine fertiliser home with him from the ploughing championships.

The housing situation in this country is in crisis - from mortgage distress to runaway rents to house purchases becoming ever more unaffordable to street homelessness. Hundreds of thousands of families are affected. Although the size of the problem is unprecedented, the ingredients are not. Since the 1980s, Governments have reduced the capital expenditure going into the housing stock and this has made a massive and long-term difference. Social housing was back on the agenda during the tiger years but, unfortunately, that was scuppered by the lobbying of the Government by private interests. One would think the idea of State provision of public housing was a radical one among those on the Government benches. It is not a radical idea. It is a sensible and long-term policy that has social, economic and commercial value. Many of our parents and grandparents would not have been able to access homes but for the provision of large-scale social housing in the early part of the previous century.

The size of the crisis is breathtaking. In my county of Meath, approximately 450 people presented themselves as homeless to the local authority last year. That figure will be approximately 700 people this year. There are approximately 4,000 people on the housing waiting list in the country. Last year, Meath County Council was in a position to provide three new properties in the county. This is an unbelievable situation. The majority of the people on the housing waiting lists and those who are homeless in Meath are so because of the votes of Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies from the county over the past three years - the people who are meant to represent them.

The crisis has been exacerbated by a major rent supplement rate and rent mismatch. Right now, the upper rate for rent supplement in Meath is €650 per month. One will not get a three-bedroom house in much of the county for less than €1,000 per month. The emergency accommodation for the whole year in Meath is gone.

We should translate these numbers and statistics into human experience. Every morning people in Meath and elsewhere have no idea where they or their children will sleep that night. Every day parents get their kids ready to go to school but they have no idea if they will be able to bring their kids back to their home. I have heard of parents who are languishing in emergency accommodation try to convince their kids that they are on some kind of special holiday in order to keep some level of morale alive in the home.

A good home is the foundation of everything. If one does not have a good home, one does not have stability and good health and one will not be able to educate one's children properly. As a father, never mind as a public representative, I cannot get my head around this Government's inaction on this issue.

The idea of a stimulus has become intellectually unfashionable within the parties opposite, despite the fact it is a key component of recovery. The truth is that we have a severe humanitarian housing crisis in this country. When one hears of humanitarian crises, one tends to think of developing countries or, as they were known, Third World countries. It is the case that tens of thousands of skilled workers are languishing on the dole. It is also the case that we have the necessary capital in the Strategic Investment Fund. Put them all together and one has a stimulus plan which would develop the necessary housing to fulfil the needs of these families and one would have a jobs programme which would put people back to work and which would have a major impact on the development of the country. All that is missing is a Government that gives a damn about this issue.

What we have in the Sinn Féin policy is a way to repair the damage that has been done by this Government and previous Governments. It sets out a sensible way to achieve these policies which will effectively deal with the housing crisis in the long term.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom díriú isteach go háirithe orthu siúd atá gan dídean, nó nach bhfuil aon teacht acu ar tithe inar féidir leo cónaí go leanúnach. Those who are homeless or who are on the homeless list illustrate the chaos and the crisis we face in regard to housing. I heard a Deputy earlier bemoan the fact the motion mentioned Dublin. Dublin is an example of many other urban centres. The crisis in Dublin is at such an appalling scale that we do not want it replicated elsewhere.

I have met quite a number of young families living, if one could call it that, in homeless accommodation, accommodation provided by Dublin City Council's homeless agency. Many of these are young families get up in the morning and must leave that accommodation, whether it is bed and breakfast accommodation, a hotel or a hostel. It is often a hotel room. I mention the level of distress of having to get all one's belongings together every morning and of having to go to reception to see if one is allowed to stay another night or whether one must go to the car park, if one is lucky enough to have a car, to telephone the homeless agency to ask it to telephone the hotel to find out if one can stay. Sometimes people are told they cannot stay at the weekend because there is a wedding and the hotel is booked out.

Often these hotels are not located where the family comes from, so their whole support network is missing. I dealt with a case in recent weeks of a family living in an airport hotel. The family is from the west of the city and the children go to school in Tallaght. This is absolutely crazy. The family is living on social welfare so how are they expected to get from the airport hotel to Tallaght every morning to deliver the children to school? How are they expected to feed those children because one is not allowed to have a microwave in the hotel bedroom? There are no cooking or washing facilities, so the family must depend on takeaways. These particular hotels have no takeaways or launderettes nearby, so they must make bus journeys if they are lucky enough to have the stability of staying in the hotel for one week.

I refer to other hotels which have been contracted to provide these services. One hotel is in such a dilapidated state, it should not be recognised as a hotel. Children are running around the corridors morning, noon and night because they have nowhere else to go. There is no playground or yard and they cannot go out to the front of the hotel because it is on a main road. That is how ridiculous the situation is because this Government and the previous one did not invest in social housing.

In the past, homeless services were mainly aimed at middle-aged single men or single women or at those who had problems with drug abuse, alcohol abuse or mental health illnesses or a combination of all three. What we are finding now, because social housing is not available, is that people who were previously in rented accommodation are ending up on the street because there are no properties in this city - I am talking about this city because it is the one about which I know - under the threshold for rent allowance. I am not an advocate of continuously increasing the rent allowance. I would much prefer, and I have argued for it for ten years, that the money that goes to rent allowance should be spent building social housing for the local authority. That needs to happen but what is happening now is that families cannot access houses or two or three-bedroom apartments on rent allowance. They cannot access it under the leasing arrangement which also subsidises private landlords and which is supposed to be available.

They will not be able to access it when the much promised housing assistance payment scheme comes into being. In the Dublin City Council area the rental accommodation scheme has collapsed totally because landlords are so greedy that they are selling their properties from under their tenants or else refurbishing them and charging higher rents. This is a crisis and it needs to be addressed now rather than in one or two years' time.

7:25 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I will speak on the failure of the rental accommodation scheme and social leasing to provide safeguards for tenants threatened with eviction. The previous speaker referred to houses being sold and the tenants being forced to move out. The real beneficiaries have been the landlords. I have nothing against leasing and rent subsidies as short-term measures but they have been put at the centre of housing policy for this Government and its predecessor. The economics of RAS and social leasing are crazy, and it is clear that investing in social housing is a better option both for the public finances and for those in need of housing. After ten years of leasing schemes, local authorities have not added a single brick to their housing stock. Tenants have to find a new home if they manage to get ten years. In County Laois they are not even getting ten years. A considerable amount of the taxpayers' money has been wasted in paying rent to landlords and, most important, tenants have not enjoyed security of tenure. Waiting lists are too long. If the waiting list in County Laois included everyone who qualified, it would contain approximately 2,000 people but the number is currently in excess of 1,400. Housing provision in the county has collapsed. Two new houses were provided last year, which means County Meath beat us by one house. No new local authority scheme has been built in the past 11 or 12 years. Officials report that people are presenting to them every day as homeless.

There is a problem with vacant houses in local authority housing estates. Speculators and would-be landlords purchases houses which were built by the taxpayer in the first place to rent them out. They subsequently got into trouble, with the result that the houses are abandoned and, in some cases, sold at knock-down prices. Local authorities would like to purchase some of these houses because not only could they provide a home for somebody but also they could deal with dereliction and their use as places for anti-social activity. Renovating the houses would also create jobs.

Embarking on another private sector speculative boom is not the way to address the housing crisis. The private sector can play a key role where there is proven demand but a large part of the solution has to be a new local authority house building programme. In earlier recessions, Governments, including the coalition Government in the 1950s of which the party of the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, was a member, embarked on major house building programmes. In the 1980s, during another recession, we saw further house building programmes. We need good quality local authority housing, the construction of which could create a stimulus at a time when the economy is, we hope, coming out of recession.

Deputy Lawlor put forward the segregationist view that we should abandon Part V. While Part V has its problems, it is irrelevant beyond the Pale and major cities because houses are not being built. When house construction restarts, we cannot allow developers to buy their way out of providing social housing within estates by offering money or land swaps to the local authority. Furthermore, social housing cannot be shoved into one corner of an estate. I could take the Minister of State to a couple of places in County Laois where developers got away with murder in terms of building lower quality houses for the local authority and shoving them beside each other. In one estate, the fronts of the houses are less than three metres away from the adjoining units and are separated only by a narrow walkway. The sun never shines on the fronts of those houses because they are too close together. That scandalous situation must never be allowed to happen again.

We still have to deal with ghost estates, many of which are where they are not needed. We will have to be imaginative in this regard. There are three ghost estates in the small village of Borris-in-Ossory, County Laois, at various stages of completion. Local authorities must be empowered to acquire such estates, irrespective of whether they are in NAMA or in receivership, through site resolution plans. The current situation constitutes a crisis. We need big initiatives, and the time for action is now.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún agus an díospóireacht seo ar an ngéarchéim tithíochta atá ar siúl faoi láthair. Ní fiú rún ná díospóireacht ná plé ar an gceist seo muna bhfuil an Rialtas chun polasaí nua a chur i bhfeidhm agus tithíocht shóisialta a bheith mar phriaracht acu.

I recall throughout the so-called Celtic tiger period, first as the sole Sinn Féin Deputy and later as the leader of our Dáil group of five, that I repeatedly pointed to the refusal of Fianna Fáil-led Governments to provide local authority homes for the growing numbers of people on the housing waiting lists of councils throughout the Twenty-six Counties. In that era the number of local authority homes constructed as a proportion of overall homes built was the smallest since the foundation of this State. We were not alone in our stand for social and affordable homes, and the Labour Party was very vocal in this regard. It was especially disappointing, therefore, to see the Labour Party in Government from 2011 continuing the very same policies that have now given us the worst housing crisis since the 1960s.

Addressing a conference on housing organised by the IMPACT trade union last Saturday, the Tánaiste spoke as if her party had only entered Government since her advent as leader. She referred correctly to the almost total reliance on the private housing rental and housing purchase sector by the previous Government but she omitted to say that the self-same policy was continued by the Labour Party in Government. In 2011 her colleague, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Penrose, published a housing policy statement which again relied on rent supplement, re-named and re-jigged as the housing assistance payment, and on the rental accommodation scheme to meet the massive need for social housing. What was absent, and what is still absent, is a comprehensive strategy and investment programme to construct local authority houses and apartments. The rent supplement scheme has poured millions of euro into the hands of private landlords. It is now in crisis, especially in Dublin, because rising rents are pricing those on rent supplement out of the housing market and into homelessness. Similarly, the rental assistance scheme has virtually collapsed.

This Government-made housing crisis is causing misery on a major scale. We have people living in overcrowded conditions, in run-down accommodation and in emergency accommodation in hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts, sometimes with whole families in one room. Last week one of my colleagues on Dublin City Council described the plight of a family accommodated in a hotel room near the airport who have to cross the city five days a week to bring their children to school on the south side of the city. Another colleague has described the plight of tenants priced out of the market by landlords who are in NAMA. This is the same NAMA that is supposed to be releasing housing stock for social housing. Instead it is facilitating rack-renting landlords and selling off property in blocks to international speculators with no guarantee that the speculators will not sit on the property and allow prices to continue to soar before selling or renting at inflated prices.

There are reports that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will look for a further €250 million in the forthcoming budget. While this is a considerable sum, it is not nearly enough to plug the gap left by years of Government inaction on this issue. What ratio will be ring-fenced for new council builds? Sinn Féin has been accused of fantasy economics but this lazy accusation is just to hide the fact that while the Government might have a plan on housing, it is grossly inadequate.

The most recent assessment of social housing need, published in 2013, indicated that 89,000 households were in need of housing, and of these, 44% were single person households, 30% were single persons with children and 72% of the total sourced their income solely from social welfare payments.

At the same time, the rate of house building has decreased. The most recent figures on house building from the Central Statistics Office in September of this year indicate the overall volume of residential building decreased by 8.8% between the second quarter of 2013 and the second quarter of 2014. The number of social housing completions for the year 2013 was 504, representing 6.1% of all housing completions that year. This can be compared to 2011, when there were 1,231 social housing completions, which represented 11.7% of all housing completions. Considering rented accommodation, we see that in 2013, 17,849 private rented dwellings were inspected by local authorities, of which 9,952, or 55.8%, were found not to meet the regulatory requirements, with 2,862 improvement notices being served on landlords. The statistics on the position facing us today are absolutely shocking.

In the short time I have to complete my contribution, I wish to address a related issue, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's fixation with a phased approach to remedial works in local authority housing schemes. One such example of this is the years of delayed completion of the remedial works at the Mullaghmatt housing estate in my home town of Monaghan. Sections of the 187-house development which dates from the early 1970s have been completed for a number of years now, while other sections are only under way after a lengthy time lapse. There still remains a body of houses to be addressed, which is only indicative of what is happening in other parts of the country; they all need proper address. The phased approach has turned this long-neglected scheme into a permanent building site, leaving some homes completely transformed while many more residents look on in envy and wonder when will their section be reached.

I know all the arguments for a phased approach but I also know the arguments for not taking this piecemeal approach. Families have had to endure for years the failure of local authorities to address the deficiencies in their home, including unsafe wiring, fractured chimney breasts, poor spoutings and draughty doors and windows. Many people complain of draughts, with colds and other ailments regularly presenting. Others, who some may say are lucky, have had their homes transformed, including outside painting and curtilage work. The contrast between the homes which have been done and those not yet seen to is considerable. There should be credit for what is done but there can be no credit for any system that allows so many languish in waiting. If we do not have a single run at such works, we need a joined up phase-after-phase approach, with all provisions in place to allow for a seamless transition from one phase to the next. The people of Mullaghmatt and all such schemes across the State deserve no less.

Accordingly, with the already signalled phases four and five yet to be reached, I appeal to the Minister and the Minister of State to familiarise themselves immediately with the remedial scheme and ensure phases four and five can be approved and taken together. The families have had to wait far too long, and there should be no gap in time between the completion of phase three and the commencement of phases four and five. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, in particular, as I did to his colleague, the former Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. She kindly visited the scheme in question and endeavoured to help resolve the outstanding issues. I hope these works will be stretched no more and that phases four and five will be approved as a single last push to completion. That would give the community of Mullaghmatt the estate it deserves and wants, with the peace that will come with the departure of all the paraphernalia of a building site.

Our motion seeks to put in place a real strategy for housing with investment that will see people housed, increase the housing stock of our local authorities and provide a vital boost to our economy. It makes absolute sense. It is the least that is now required to address the crisis and we demand that this Government take action in this forthcoming budget. Iarraim ar Theachtaí Dála tacú linn sa mhéid seo. Ba chóir go mbeadh pobal na tíre seo in ann glacadh leis go mbeidh tithíocht chuí ar fáil dóibh. Cinnteodh ár bplean go mbeadh an tithíocht sin ar fáil dóibh.

7:35 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Members opposite and those on this side of the House for their contributions to this debate. Housing is clearly a subject that arouses great passion and interest in all of us, as it should, due to the seriousness of the issue. In the very limited time available, I will briefly pick up on some matters raised by Members during the debate. I assure Deputies that all the contributions have been noted, especially those which were realistic and constructive. Many constructive points were made, although many more were made just to score political points on this very sensitive issue.

A number of Members expressed satisfaction with the extent of NAMA's involvement in the provision of social housing. NAMA continues to engage proactively with my Department and the housing agency on the provision of social housing. Over the past three years it has made approximately one third of all housing units under its control available to local authorities for consideration for social housing. That is almost all of its unoccupied housing stock. It must be recognised that many of the properties concerned require, for legacy reasons, substantial work or are located in estates that require substantial work before they can be occupied by individuals or families. There are no shortcuts in terms of undertaking and completing this work to the highest standard. In this regard, NAMA has funded approximately €20 million in capital expenditure in delivering social housing units to date. NAMA has also adopted measures to help streamline and expedite the social housing delivery process, including the establishment of a new subsidiary, the National Asset Residential Property Services Limited, to facilitate these transactions and standardise lease terms.

Of the current 1,971 available and confirmed demand properties, 736 had been delivered for social housing use at the end of June 2014. This figure included 531 complete and operational units and 205 units where contracts had been signed and final completion works were under way. A further 603 properties are considered as being active transactions, whereby terms are agreed or active negotiation is ongoing by all parties concerned, or where a detailed appraisal making a decision on the most likely delivery mechanism is being carried out.

I will respond to some of the issues raised by Deputies relating to the housing assistance payment, HAP, and transfer lists. Section 22 of the Housing Act 2009 provides that a housing authority can determine the order of priority in which it makes allocations to individual households in accordance with its allocation scheme. This includes reserving dwellings available for allocation in an area in respect of households transferring from other forms of social housing support, of which HAP will be one. In that regard, social housing regulations which commenced on 1 May 2011 set out the conditions that housing authorities must take into account when making allocation schemes. All housing authorities were required to make an allocation scheme under these regulations on or before 13 June 2011. The regulations require authorities to set out the manner in which they will allocate dwellings to households on the waiting list and households approved for transfers. Given the assertion of a number of Members that certain local authorities do not have transfer lists, our Department officials will contact each local authority again to ensure they are implementing regulations correctly.

The quality of private rented accommodation was raised by a number of speakers. This Government is committed to ensuring that rental accommodation is of good quality. Regulations are in place setting out the minimum standards for quality accommodation in terms of basic requirements regarding ventilation, heating, lighting, fire, fire safety and sanitary facilities. Minimum standards are necessary as a protection to all consumers and especially the most vulnerable. New standards were introduced in 2008 and for some of these, landlords were allowed a four-year phasing-in period to facilitate any improvement works required, including those relating to sanitary and heating facilities and food preparation and storage.

Responsibility for the enforcement of minimum standards rests with local authorities. With inspections carried out under the Dublin City Council inspection programme for the past four years, it is worth noting that although much is heard anecdotally about inspection failures on grounds such as inadequate sanitation, a recent inspection programme found that a property is six times as likely to fail an inspection on the grounds of fire safety than sanitation grounds.

This serves only to emphasise the value of, and necessity for, these inspections. The majority of landlords have brought their properties into line with the minimum standards. Any remaining non-compliant bed-sits are failing on multiple grounds, including fire safety, and many are simply not fit for habitation.

Deputies were also concerned about the rights of private tenants. The Minister and I share these concerns. The programme for Government includes a commitment to establish a tenancy deposit protection scheme. On foot of this commitment the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, commissioned research on such a scheme and reported to our Department with recommendations. All the options in the report were considered in order to determine how to offer the greatest protection to tenants at least cost to the Exchequer. Government approval was secured for the establishment of a tenancy deposit scheme based on a custodial model to be operated by the PRTB. It is my intention to introduce the legislative amendments relating to the scheme on Committee Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 in the Seanad.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 sets out the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants in the private residential rented sector covering security of tenure and the termination of tenancies. The provisions of the Act do not extend to the circumstances under which a landlord seeks a tenant for a property. Like many Members I have noticed the practice of including phrases such as “rent allowance not accepted” or “no rent supplement” in advertisements for rental properties. The practice of discriminating against a person on the grounds that he or she is in receipt of rent supplement but is otherwise a suitable tenant, while in my view indefensible, is not expressly prohibited under the Equal Status Act 2000. Quite apart from the discriminatory tone this a very real cause for concern given the difficulties being expressed by families seeking accommodation. There are complex issues of law involved in this but I can advise that options including that of legal remedy to address the practice of discrimination in such instances are being explored by the relevant Departments in consultation with the Attorney General.

The Minister and I agree that we need short, medium and long-term responses to the housing challenge. We went from one extreme in this country to another in terms of housing output from building too many to building too few. I can assure Deputies that housing is and will remain a priority for the Minister and me. We need to address housing supply to normalise the market and make it more sustainable. Prefabs are not the answer to this. They are not a sustainable solution. The social housing strategy will deliver a mix of housing investment options, including local authority direct build but also other investment mechanisms to deliver mixed housing models to meet the varied demands in modern society. The Construction 2020 strategy will also contribute significantly to the housing supply deficit. Deputies have mentioned vacant local authority houses. We need to turn these around far more quickly and re-let them. We also need to utilise and stimulate the use of vacant properties in town and city centres.

7:45 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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When a visitor to Russia asked Mikhail Gorbachev why he introduced perestroika he replied, “Look around you”. Perestroika was to involve the reconstruction of the Russian economy and society. We need to look around us, outside this Parliament building. If the Minister of State looks around he will see the problems. If we got an agreement that many of the Members who are absent now would walk around with open eyes to see what is going on we might have a perestroika-Coffey moment. It is important to do this. It is generally accepted that there is a crisis. What do we do about it? We are putting forward genuine proposals that we hope Government or someone will listen to. We are not the only ones putting forward solutions to the problem.

Figures have been given for the number of households with housing needs across the State. We know from our constituency offices about the extent of the problem. This week three homeless families came to my constituency office. There was a time when one could tell people to go here or there, or get rent allowance but there is nothing I can say or do now. My job is to be a problem solver for many of these people. I am trying to give them some direction but I cannot direct them anywhere. I can direct them to homeless services but the services are not there. This is a huge problem.

One family is living in a tent in the Priory in Tallaght village. Other families are living in cars. Another family with a one-month old child is couch-hopping, staying with relatives or friends but they have nowhere to go. The stock answer is to get rental accommodation but there is no rental accommodation for that family in my constituency. I challenge anyone to get that funding through rent allowance or anything else.

The Minister of State may say we are foolish but we have identified a possible funding avenue. There is a housing crisis. How do we solve that problem? We need to build more housing. It is a matter for us all, if this House were to do nothing else, to come up with some solutions that will work. There are empty houses in Tallaght. They were built by Respond! Housing Association with the local council. There is an argument between the association and South Dublin County Council. There are units which have been vacant for over two years, maybe even three years. At the same time people are walking up and down the streets. If the Minister of State could do something about that it would be a positive and practical step. The houses are in Gleann na hEorna.

The rent supplement is not enough in my area. In one area the waiting time is four years for a family to be housed. In South Dublin the waiting time is eight years. Someone who comes to me with a child under four has not been long enough on the list and has no chance. There is a big problem for single men who have split up with their partners. They have nowhere to go. I can tell the Minister of State about any number of cases of people in these awful situations. One woman, aged 73, who is estranged from her husband, has nowhere to live. I know someone living in a converted garage paying €650 a month after losing the family home.

Perhaps we could have a perestroika-Coffey moment. The Minister of State should walk around the city to see what is wrong and maybe collectively we can come up with answers.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I notice in the Government amendment to the motion that the Minister and Minister of State commend themselves for the high priority they have afforded the housing crisis. If it has been a matter of priority in their own heads that has not been evident to the rest of us.

In the course of this debate people have set out, based on their constituencies and experiences, the grinding misery experienced by so many citizens. Some of them are rough sleepers, they are the most visible of our homeless population. The misery is also real for people without a roof over their head or a home to call their own, couch-hoppers, staying with family or friends, very often with large families of children in grossly over-crowded conditions. That is the case in my constituency.

9 o’clock

I have lost count of the number of people who have come to my clinic - I am sure other clinics are no different - with tales of sleeping in box rooms with young babies and one, two or three other children. The consequences of being crammed into such conditions can be very serious for families and small children. The Minister and the Minister of State have said they are attaching a high priority to meeting the housing needs of such people. I do not think they are. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, said there are "no shortcuts" in finding solutions.

7:55 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I said there are "no shortcuts" in standards.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Certainly, there is no urgency in the approach of this Government. The funding of social housing has been addressed many times by Deputy Ellis. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, was being disingenuous last night when he used the usual lazy refrain of "fantasy economics". I suggest that for many families, his brand of economics is nightmare economics. We have made one proposal that involves the use of the strategic investment fund for housing. We have specifically and consistently identified that €1 billion needs to be invested as a matter of urgency if we are to begin addressing this crisis. We reckon that would fund approximately 6,600 housing units. If this issue had been seen as a real priority and as a matter of real urgency, that €1 billion would have produced many more housing units.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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I made that point on the radio today.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The crisis in housing, like the crisis in homelessness, is not new. Local communities have often had to cobble together responses to these crises. The members of a voluntary group that has come together in my constituency - Inner City Helping Homeless - speak to, care for and feed rough sleepers in the north inner city every night. That is an example of the non-statutory response that is being led by people who have a real sense of the scale of the crisis and an urgent wish and desire to address it. I suggest that the Government might take a leaf out of its book.

I will conclude by speaking about the local property tax issue that was raised by Labour Party Deputies, in particular. They mentioned that Dublin City Council has agreed to implement a 15% reduction in the tax on the family home. I remind them that Sinn Féin's manifesto in the recent local elections included a commitment to achieve the maximum possible reduction in this unfair tax in order to give some breathing room to struggling families and households. We kept our word. It might come as a shock to Labour Party Deputies that we set a premium on keeping our word. It might be worth remembering that the Labour Party made a similar commitment in its manifesto last May. It committed to "work with our local communities to implement the maximum possible reduction" in the unfair tax on the family home. True to form, the Labour Party then walked away from its commitments. We should not pretend for a moment that the housing and homelessness crises were created by councillors - democratically elected representatives - taking a democratic decision to ease the burden on struggling families. This crisis has been with us throughout the duration of this Government's term in office, but it has singularly failed to address it.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister mentioned yesterday that the number of people on the housing waiting list has decreased from 98,000 to 89,872 since 2011. He neglected to mention that since 2011, anyone coming into the rental accommodation scheme has been removed from the housing list. The number of people participating in that scheme now stands at 36,000, which represents an increase on the figure of 15,000 in 2011. That figure is quite revealing. While the numbers have moved around, they have risen overall. Despite the decision to remove rental accommodation scheme tenants from the waiting list, the overall figure has increased by approximately 29,000. Since 2011, the entire number of households that are not housed or inadequately housed by the State has increased by approximately 40,000 to approximately 125,000. Given that 1,500 adults and 640 dependent children are in emergency accommodation in Dublin, it is clear that the position is not improving at all. If this is not a crisis, I do not know what is.

Contrary to what the Minister claimed last night, our proposal does not represent "fantasy economics". It is a real proposal based on existing money that has been identified. We are not proposing that it should be spent on anything else. We have isolated €1 billion from the strategic investment fund for social housing investment. All we can do is make proposals - it is up to the Minister and the Minister of State to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves, rather than resorting to the kind of constructive debate reserved for cranks in the comment section of thejournal.ie. The Minister said last night that significant new builds are absolutely required. It has been reported that he is asking for €250 million in the forthcoming budget.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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While such a sum of money would be welcome, it would be too little, too late. The Minister said last night that the Government is pursuing a housing-led approach. To illustrate this, he outlined figures setting out the number of houses being provided. He later listed some of those figures again, either to confuse or to emphasise. The former Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, used to do the same thing. She repeatedly announced NAMA's undelivered promises as if they were new and repackaged adaptation cuts and funding boosts, but they turned out to be a little less severe. The only people who have a roof over their heads as a result of spin and misinformation are spin doctors. They certainly are not going without while the Labour Party is in Government.

A housing-led approach requires new homes. The stable and secure homes that are required can only be provided in sufficient numbers by local authorities. That is why an investment of €1 billion is needed. It is why we need to establish local authority housing trusts. The Minister failed to address this point today and the other day. If these things are not done, all of the Government's policies and approaches will be worth nothing. When the Simon Community launched its annual review, it made it clear that not enough housing is being delivered. Sam McGuinness of Dublin Simon told journalists that "the 2014 target of 1,100 tenancies for Dublin has been reduced by 30% because of the complete collapse in the private rented and social housing market, with additional housing extremely slow to come on stream" and that "temporary accommodation has become a long term solution as at least 50% of people are now stuck in emergency shelters for more than six months, with little or no hope for the future". According to Simon, "the plan to end long term homelessness by 2016 is now clearly unachievable". It is a fantasy, as a result of the failures of the Government that set the deadline in question.

Homelessness is not going away. It is worse than ever before. The Government should listen to all the agencies that are making it clear that there is a real crisis. It seems to be going around with its head in the sand. Peter McVerry has referred to this problem as a tsunami. While we have no real idea of the scale of the problem due to the hidden nature of much homelessness, we do know that 10,000 people contacted Focus Ireland last year for help. That is just one organisation, and those are just the people who asked for help. We know that 158 people slept rough in Dublin last week. We do not know how many people we missed on that count because they were lying in cold squats, closed parks, wastelands, abandoned buildings, containers, dumpsters and cars. I suggest that 158 is the bare minimum number of people who slept on the streets of our capital city that night and are doing so every night.

These figures are not distortions. They are not spin. They lay bare the truth of this crisis. The Government should be truthful and join us in looking for solutions. It should engage with our proposals, even in a critical manner, but it should not be flippant. We need to be bold and ambitious. We do not want to be back here in six months' time, or a year from now, discussing the same problem again.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 41.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Dessie Ellis.


Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 40.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Dessie Ellis.


Question declared carried.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 9.30 a.m on Thursday, 25 September 2014.