Tuesday, 17 November 2015
Housing and Homelessness: Motion [Private Members]
I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, is deputising for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. The Minister will not be available for half an hour, so I invite Deputy Coppinger to start.
Yes, but Deputy Paul Murphy and I are introducing the motion and the Minister will miss our contributions. That is extremely disappointing. It is a sign that the Government is not taking Private Members' business very serious given that there is only one person on the Government benches.
That Dáil Éireann:
declares a National Housing Emergency to use all necessary resources to resolve the housing crisis since the policies and piecemeal measures of the Government, including the recently announced rules on rents, are wholly inadequate, noting in particular:
— the massive increase in homelessness to approximately 738 families, including 1,571 children;
— the rapid growth of local authority housing waiting lists to between 100,000 and 130,000 households nationally;
— the rise in the numbers forced into the private rented sector of approximately 85,000 people in the last year and approximately 140,000 people since 2011 when this Government came to office, due to lack of affordable housing and Central Bank mortgage lending rules;
— the spiralling rents leading to widespread hardship, impoverishment and homelessness; and
— the fact that this Government has provided the least council housing of any Government in the history of the State;
— the root cause of this housing emergency is the slashing of successive capital programmes for social and affordable housing, a privatisation of housing and reliance upon incentivising private developers;
— this continued policy has seen completion of only 20 council homes in the first half of 2015 and a reduction in the Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 social/affordable housing obligation from 20 per cent to 10 per cent; and
— the cost of building homes via the private sector is approximately double what direct State building would entail, because of the layers of profit required for different companies in the process, and that homes could be built directly at a cost of around €100,000;
proposes that among the emergency measures should be:
— legislation to ban all economic evictions and repossessions where the sitting tenant has no alternative accommodation and also to remove the grounds of needing a rental property for a relative or wanting to sell it as bases for evicting tenants unless it can be proven that the landlord would otherwise suffer undue economic hardship;
— reversal of the Rent Supplement cuts that have taken place;
— a sufficient number of ‘National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) hotel rooms’, which as of last year accounted for one in eight of all hotel rooms, be dedicated to the emergency accommodation of homeless families with the necessary refurbishments to provide family living facilities including cooking and laundry;
— NAMA to be democratised and transformed into an agency to drive social and affordable home-building, using its vast land banks and billions in resources;
— the conduct of an audit of vacant properties in the State as part of Census 2016, considering that 230,000 habitable vacant properties were identified in Census 2011;
— seeking to acquire tens of thousands of vacant houses and apartments for use as social and affordable housing in order to relieve the crisis in the short term while a massive council housing construction programme gets under way;
— instigating a plan of public investment involving the councils and NAMA to build 100,000 social and affordable homes, including Traveller-specific accommodation, over the next three years, breaching normal European Union (EU) fiscal rules if necessary on the basis that this is an emergency;
— maintaining rent controls linked to the Consumer Price Index and backdated to 2011 levels to bring rents down to affordable levels, particularly in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and surrounding areas;
— based on this model, tenants to be empowered to submit unaffordable rents as well as proposed rent increases for review by a democratised and properly resourced Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB), whose prior approval would be needed for rent increases and any proposed evictions;
— providing for a write-down of mortgages to affordable levels under a banking system run as a democratic public utility, which serves the interests of society, instead of continuing with privatisation of the banks;
— reducing the official definition of housing affordability from 35 per cent of household income to 20 per cent and to establish this as a target to be achieved through a combination of the above measures, policies to increase wages, and restructuring the tax system in a progressive direction; and
— in implementing all these measures, to fulfil the human right of everyone living in the State, including travellers, refugees and migrants, to secure, affordable housing, which should be the core purpose of Government housing policy; and
further proposes that funding for the emergency measures can involve:
— redirecting the €4.5 billion NAMA plans to lend to developers to build expensive private housing for profit to directly build social and affordable housing at cost price, along with the estimated €4 billion-plus to come from NAMA sales overseas;
— €2 billion from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, to be repaid over time through increased income from social and affordable rents;
— progressive taxation on wealth, including ending corporate tax avoidance and using some of the up to €17 billion owed by Apple to the State in back taxes.
— €2 billion from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, to be repaid over time through increased income from social and affordable rents;
— progressive taxation on wealth, including ending corporate tax avoidance and using some of the up to €17 billion owed by Apple to the State in back taxes.
I propose the motion on behalf of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and I reject the Government's amendment. We chose tonight’s topic in recognition of the fact that there is no more serious and pressing issue in this country than the housing situation. We do not get much time for tabling motions for debate in Private Members’ time. We probably only get two or three opportunities a year and we felt the housing situation was much more pressing than anything else.
Unfortunately, the Minister with responsibility for housing is absent but he has also treated the issue with hyperbole and bluster beyond belief. Last year, he said absolutely everything that can be done will be done and is being done in relation to the housing crisis. He said we are going to clear waiting lists for social housing by 2020, a hugely ambitious claim under any circumstances given that the social housing lists were never previously cleared. In October last year, he said the largest housing programme, probably in the history of the State, was being undertaken by the Government. Unfortunately, for the people who are suffering the misery of the housing crisis and the rents crisis, if the Minister built as many houses as he announced they would not be in their current predicament. Never was so much promised and so little delivered.
In the first part of the motion the Anti-Austerity Alliance calls for a declaration by the Dáil, and the Minister, that this is a national housing emergency. Only then will all the resources that are necessary to resolve the crisis be deployed, including passing any laws necessary to deal with any obstacles in the way of building affordable and social homes. The Minister must recognise that nothing the Government is doing is working. We must approach the problem in the way a previous Government, for example, approached the TB crisis. TB was a scourge in this country that killed many people but it was eliminated through a determined campaign led by the Minister, Noel Browne, and his Government colleagues. It would seem that even the BSE crisis got more attention than this human emergency.
The fact that nothing is working is evidenced by two things that happened today. The first was an increase in homelessness since last month alone. In Dublin, which is the epicentre of the tsunami which Peter McVerry spoke about, 40 more families and 82 more children are homeless. They are now in hotels, sofa surfing or in precarious accommodation. According to the people who come to us on a regular basis, they are now not even guaranteed a hotel place; they are forced to self-accommodate, which means they often end up with no accommodation whatsoever. One homeless family I have been dealing with is in Kildare tonight even though they are from Blanchardstown.
In the motion we call for an emergency measure to be taken. NAMA owns one eighth of all the hotel rooms in this country. A sufficient number of hotel places could and should be refurbished to allow families to cook and have other facilities they need as an emergency measure while houses are being built. The other embarrassing episode for the Government today was the daft.iesurvey. The Government has broken another record because rents have risen more than they have since the Government came to power. The website, daft.ie, showed that rents have jumped by 3.2% in the three month period from July to September. It is the largest three month increase since 2007, since the recession kicked in. Nationally, people are now paying €82 more a month in rent than they did last year, but in Dublin it is much higher. In Dublin West, my constituency, rents have gone up €241 a month in the past two years which means people are paying €241 more per month than they paid two years ago while their income has not increased in a commensurate fashion. The Minister huffed and puffed about rent control and came back empty handed from his spat with Fine Gael.
Contrary to the Government amendment, the issue is not really that complex at all. The new type of homelessness we are talking about – whole family homelessness – exists because of a lack of affordable and social housing. There is a lack of homes affordable to people to buy or rent on the scale that is necessary. One could ask how we will achieve the necessary scale. Is it by giving more incentives to the private rented sector to build? It is clear that has not worked, although it is the main plank of the Government’s strategy. Is it by forcing more people into the private rented sector because the Government has not built council houses? That has not worked either. This is not just a legacy issue from previous regimes as the Government’s self-serving amendment argues. There are now 140,000 more people in the private rented sector since the Government came to power in 2011. That is a phenomenal rise in precarious reliance on landlords. It is not because the Government is trying to catch up now with affordable and local authority home building, which we know has not been happening. The Government has built fewer council houses than any Government ever before it, so let us just nail that one on the head.
I will provide a few brief statistics. In 1975, a total of 8,794 council houses were built, in 1985, it was 6,523 and in 2005, the total was 4,209. However, the situation in 2015 is that 20 council houses were built in the first half of the year. That is an embarrassing figure which the Government is now trying to cover up by saying that the total number of houses built will increase tenfold by the end of the year. Whoopee, we will have 200 council houses by the end of the year. It is incredible that the Government would argue it is doing more than any Government has done previously when one compares this year’s statistics to the others I have outlined. Even when the previous Government operated under the troika in 2008, a total of 4,905 council houses were built and in 2010, a total of 1,328 houses were built. To argue that the Government is doing more is an insult. It will soon be discovered that the emperor is naked because people will see the houses do not exist. Not only is the Government not building council housing, but it has reduced the obligation on developers under the Part V scheme, despite a vociferous debate in this House. That was a shameful decision to make.
One could ask what needs to be done. In the motion, we argue that this is an emergency and we need to take emergency measures. All economic evictions should be outlawed where a person does not have alternative accommodation. We need to stop the haemorrhage of homelessness. All repossessions should end as well where it involves the person renting it having to vacate the property.
The rent supplement cuts must be reversed to keep people in their current homes and to prevent any more people from becoming homeless. Is it not incredible that although there are record numbers on the streets, in hotels or in the misery of paying a huge amount of their income in rent, the State, in the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, has the biggest construction operation in the country? It has vast landbanks and vast quantities of assets, offices, houses etc., as well as cash reserves and it is not as though the agency does not have any money. NAMA should be turned into an agency for social and affordable housing.
The Minister, Deputy Kelly, told a blatant untruth today in a newspaper article in which he stated NAMA was playing its part in solving homelessness and it would provide starter and affordable homes for people. This is completely untrue as 90% of NAMA's homes will be sold on the open market at market rates, as is currently the case, and consequently this will be no different to any other type of housing estate. The Minister also argued that NAMA cannot be forced to focus exclusively on providing much needed social housing because it has a commercial mandate. However, Focus Ireland has made precisely the same point Members are arguing in this motion, which is the Government has a majority and can change NAMA's mandate at any time. It can bring a proposal before the Dáil at any time and change NAMA's constitution. The Government amendment also argues that NAMA has delivered 1,600 houses and apartments over the years of its existence, which is derisory and pathetic. How many housing units does it have? The books must be opened and the sale of NAMA's assets must be stopped immediately as they must be used as cash reserves for the building of social and affordable housing. Finally, I note NAMA has on its hands €3 billion in cash for development and has an expected €4 billion from overseas sales. Potentially, €7 billion could build 70,000 houses over the next few years were land acquired and simply used, using emergency measures and as the motion notes, there also are billions in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
Almost a year has passed since Jonathan Corrie died not far from Leinster House. In the aftermath of his death, Members were promised many things. They were promised things would change and this kind of thing would not happen again. Shortly before his death, Members were promised the largest housing programme probably in the history of the State. There have been promises, plans, announcements, press releases and press conferences but there has not been the building of homes and homeless people cannot live in promises. It is why it is entirely appropriate for all the different housing groups, different political parties, including the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and different trade unions to come together on Molesworth Street at 5 p.m. on 1 December, the anniversary of Jonathan Corrie's death, for a major national protest about this housing and homelessness emergency because since then, the tsunami of homelessness has continued and worsened. The country now faces into a month in which there will be a major crisis that will be worse than ever before because on a monthly basis, the number of homeless families and homeless children is increasing at a rate of 82 families per month. During December, hotel places will not be available because they will be booked up and hotels will not accept homeless people. Consequently, this tsunami will appear in parks, in streets and beside rivers across this city in particular and nationwide. The existing crisis of homelessness that is affecting people will become highly public and will shame the Government. Ireland is in danger of arriving at a situation like that which exists in many American cities of having tent cities, in which homeless people are forced to live in tents for long periods. This will happen unless the Government takes emergency action.
The key demand in the motion Members have tabled is simple. They are asking the Dáil and the Government to recognise this is an emergency. It must be called an emergency in the first instance and then the appropriate emergency action must be taken to deal with it because such action is not being undertaken by the Government at present. The Government's amendment refers to the complexity of the situation, how the solution is multifaceted etc. This issue is not that complex. Obviously, individual cases of individual people who are homeless can be complicated matters but the overall national housing and homelessness emergency is not very complicated. What is needed is simple and clear, namely, real rent controls and a supply of social and affordable housing for people that also will lift pressure on rents. It is quite simple and only those, like the Government which includes the Labour Party, who are completely blinded by Thatcherite dogma cannot see the action that must be taken. For all the action the Government proposes to take, it remains completely bound within the straitjacket of the European Union fiscal rules, which are an embodiment of that Thatcherite dogma. It is about the privatisation of council homes, the incentivisation of private developers to build and a sop in respect of rent certainty that does nothing whatsoever. If one desires a solution, the precondition is to state the right of people to a home comes before the right of landlords to maximise their rental income, the right of banks to maximise their returns on mortgages and the rights of developers and construction companies to maximise their profit. I believe a majority of people in this State would agree with the idea that the right to a home should come first and then the consequences would flow quite logically from that.
If one takes the issue of rent controls, Members heard the Minister, Deputy Kelly, was going to fight the fight against Fine Gael and would ensure that rent controls linked to the rate of inflation would be put in place. That was the fight, he was going to stand up to the party of the landlords and would ensure this was achieved. Instead, there now is what is lauded in the Government amendment as rent certainty. The only certainty is that people will face massive rent increases on a two-yearly basis instead of every year. It means people will not have the worries of a rent increase every year but instead will have twice the worry every two years. Members are aware that rent increases over the past three months have been at the highest rate they ever have been. In addition, they are aware the tenant associations, that is, those which are dealing with tenants, state overwhelmingly this is a joke and is not a real response to the crisis of absolutely spiralling rents people simply cannot afford. The answer is simple and has been put forward in this motion. It is rent controls linked to the consumer price index, that is, to inflation and backdated to 2011, when rents were somewhat affordable, and then empowering and democratising the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and resourcing that body to enable people to approach it to claim they deserve a rent reduction because their current rent is too high, based on 2011 rates plus inflation. In addition, there should be actual rent controls and I note many different forms of rent controls exist all around the world. The other side of that is not pushing ahead with the privatisation of the banking system but instead having a public banking system working as a democratically-controlled public utility in the interests of society, rather than in the interests of the banks' profits, and as part of that, facilitating the write-down of mortgages, both of buy-to-let landlords and of owner-occupiers who live in their homes, to affordable levels.
I wish to speak briefly on the specific question of Traveller accommodation, which is a real shame on this House, on the Government and on councils across the State, particularly in light of the Carrickmines tragedy. The funding for Traveller accommodation was cut by 90% between 2008 and 2013, which is far more than any other aspect of Government spending and even then, the councils did not apply for or take all of the funding that was available. This in part is because of the kind of disgusting right-wing racist dog-whistle politics pursued by some councillors in different local authorities, which is to treat Traveller accommodation as something that is to be avoided, as opposed to being built. This must be transformed immediately, must be resourced properly from central Government and then the councils must access those funds and build appropriate accommodation. I also wish to discuss the question of appropriate accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, quite eloquently has described the situation of direct provision as inhumane and intolerable. However, although he stated that well over a year ago, this inhumane and intolerable situation continues and remains. I have visited a number of these centres and they are akin to open prisons in which people have no sense of independence or anything else and more than 4,000 people still live in such conditions. They must be removed, direct provision must end and these people must be given appropriate housing.
New refugees coming into this State need to be provided with decent homes rather than being put into facilities akin to direct provision. This can be done. Refugees do not need to be pitted against homeless people or those in housing crises in this State. The resources exist on a vast scale to provide decent homes for everybody, as outlined in the motion. The resources exist to do all of this. It is a question of mobilising the resources to address the emergency and of turning NAMA from a life-support machine for the developers into a democratic body with a different mandate to provide social and affordable homes. It is about the funds Deputy Coppinger referred to in terms of the development levies of NAMA, the overseas properties that it controls and the strategic investment fund.
This is also about a progressive taxation system. It is about having a taxation system that taxes corporations on their profits, taxes millionaires on their wealth and taxes high earners on their earnings and the use of those resources to provide homes. One example in this regard is that of Apple. It is shameful that the Irish Government proposes to line up beside Apple against the European Commission and say it does not want the taxes that are owed to the Irish taxpayer. We do not want the up to €17 billion that we could use to build homes because the Government is more interested in Apple not paying any taxes. The resources exist. It is a question of political prioritisation to end homeless and the housing crisis over Apple not paying any tax.
It is obvious from the empty Chamber tonight that the Government does not view the current housing crisis as the emergency those of us on this side deem it to be. If one asked people to identify their two most basic needs, their response would be food and shelter. For a sizeable proportion of our population, one of those basic needs, namely, shelter, is precarious to say the least.
I support the call for the declaration of a housing emergency because that is what it is and anybody who has been meeting people for the last few years would know that. What is outrageous is that this emergency could have been foreseen. Regardless of the solution, there will be a cost in monetary terms. What has happened in this regard to date has only resulted in more stress and anxiety for families, many of whom cannot believe that they find themselves in this position. The chosen method of resolution, which is straight out of the Thatcher play book, is a market solution despite the fact there is no evidence that the market will deliver the solution.
When challenged on numerous occasions over the past few years on the adequacy of rent supplement, the Tánaiste continually replied that it was a supply-side issue, as though supply was going to increase outside of a Government response, while at the same time, the supply of housing was diminishing. Ironically, something as vital as housing has been the responsibility of a Minister of State rather than a Minister. Housing and communities require a dedicated Minister. Perhaps the ideology of the market solution, which has clearly failed, is getting in the way of that.
Between 2012 and 2013, it became apparent that there was a new category of people becoming homeless, as brought to our attention in January 2013 by the many homeless charities that appeared before an Oireachtas committee. This category is made up of functioning families who have been made homeless for no other reason than their inability to meet increasing rent costs. At the same time, the supply side referred to by the Tánaiste was going backwards. We then had the announcement of the €3.7 billion to be spent on social housing. However, when one drills down into that, the majority of the houses are to be delivered through the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. Again, a reliance on the market. The HAP scheme is wholly dependent on the private sector to build and lease housing. This will not be a once-off payment. Rather it is a payment that will recur each year and each decade. For the scheme to be successful, there will have to be sufficient private sector supply and sufficient landlords willing to participate in it. The scheme is currently being commenced in Kildare.
In the case of people at risk of becoming homeless, it is permissible to exceed the cap by 20%. I challenge anybody to find a house in respect of which the current rent supplement meets the cost of the rent, even with the additional 20%. I would be surprised if even one such house could be found. The cap, and the cap plus the 20% by which it can be exceeded, are below market rents in the area. For the past year, it has been possible to negotiate with the rents unit in relation to increases above what is proposed in these cases. I predict that, unfortunately, there will be a whole raft of new people becoming homeless in the new year.
Nationally, 40% of those at work are earning less than €12 per hour. We have precarious employment circumstances with zero and low-hour contracts. Unless this changes significantly, the prospect of people being in a position to buy a house is diminished. The solution is to build houses of the quantity required. Other than that, we will be overwhelmed by this crisis, which is what the charities are currently saying.
I support the motion. Since the Government came into office, there has been a series of crises in our society, including a health crisis, a jobs crisis and now a housing crisis. This is part of the wider social crisis emerging as a result of an austerity-led coalition obsessed with investing in the private sector for cheap jobs and not investing in its own citizens.
On an individual level, housing problems are the sum total of a person's own issues mitigated by the lack of protection afforded to them by authorities in a position to assist. On a Government level, it is a failure to govern that leaves people to their own devices on the streets. The streets are becoming homes to too many people, too many families and, tragically, too many children. It is no longer a housing crisis; it is a housing emergency that affects nearly every person in this country. Housing in Ireland is not meeting the needs our society, which says a lot about the cumulative effects of the coalition's policies.
The Government's response to all of this has been hypocritical. It has refused to intervene in the market as it upheld its position as the guardians of neoliberalism, while we are soon to face legislation which seeks to intervene in the market. This is a short-sighted idea that will intervene on a minimal level and will do nothing to relieve the housing crisis without a stream of packages to support it. The Government's solution is to freeze rents for two years. This short-sighted initiative has resulted in landlords hiking up rent even further, as recently highlighted in a daft.iereport. It is also proposed that landlords who deceive tenants into leaving a property in order to rent the property for a higher amount are to be given a €3,000 slap on the wrist. Do we seriously think that this Government will target landlords who do this? This is a cynical attempt to address the emergency, with no sense of urgency attached.If this is the best the Government can do after months of a public spat between the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and a tug-o-war between the coalition partners, how can the public have any faith in it to deliver a solution to the housing crisis?
The Government has also established a suspicious grouping within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government called the social housing clearing house group to address the funding issues around the provision of social housing on a cross-departmental level. The group is to examine and consider proposals from companies, groups and institutions with a vested interest in this issue. If that does not sound dodgy enough, the group is a sub-group of the finance work stream which forms part of the governance structures of the Social Housing Strategy 2020. The group is chaired by a senior official from NAMA and comprises officials of the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, the Housing Agency, Dublin City Council and the National Economic and Social Council. Following a call for submissions, 24 proposals in relation to the provision of social and affordable housing were presented by financial institutions, developers, fund managers, financial service providers, approved housing bodies and others. Among the bodies that presented was the Dublin Artisan Dwelling Fund. When one undertakes a search of that name on the Internet, the only reference one finds is a reference to a housing programme in Dublin city in the 1870s. Another body is named Bartra Capital. Despite the fact it was only incorporated in August of this year, it was invited to present to the clearing house group as if it were an institution that had some great proposals around the funding of social housing provision.
A proposal from the Irish League of Credit Unions to assist with financing of the social housing provision by using up to €2 billion of the deposits credit unions have with the banks was not considered by the Department. One is obliged to wonder what are the Government's priorities when it comes to providing housing. It seems reasonable to suggest that the reason the proposal was not even considered was that the Government did not want to see €2 billion coming off deposit with the banks because of the impact that might have on their capital provision.
Despite the excuses from the Government, there are several measures which could be taken immediately to address the crisis. For example, a simple temporary measure to stave off any increase in homelessness over the winter months would be to raise housing assistance payment levels to adequately reflect the reality of private rental costs. More than 2,500 people are on the waiting list in Donegal and there is a huge lack of properties available to rent within the limits of the scheme. In many parts of the county, there are no properties at all which could be availed of by those in receipt of HAP or rent supplement.
Another measure that could be taken without delay would be to encourage local authorities to establish a housing association that would cover the whole local authority area. This would allow councils to access borrowing that would be off the balance sheet, to use that famous phrase the Government is always employing. Local authorities already have the staff, including engineers, architects and clerks of works, and the resources to finance and deliver a housing programme. I have been in contact with the Donegal county manager to discuss that option but, unfortunately, there has not been a positive response. There is no reason that Donegal County Council could not participate in such a scheme other than that it simply does not want to put in the effort or the Government will not allow it.
It is imperative that the Government should take the rights of citizens to housing seriously by enshrining the establishment of those rights within the Constitution. I am speaking here about economic, social and cultural rights. Earlier this year, I brought a Bill before the House which sought to protect such rights. Even though the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, has a similar Bill on the legislative programme, my proposal was shot down by the Government. For a county like Donegal, where hundreds of repossession cases are being processed by the courts, a constitutional right to housing would mean any housing strategy drawn up by the Government would need to reflect that right. It does not mean the Government would have to buy everyone a house and bankrupt the country, as has been suggested by some Members opposite. It would oblige the Government to be more accountable in its policies, thereby ensuring austerity policies will never again target a specific sector or type of individual. Such provisions have worked in other countries like Portugal and South Africa and certainly have not bankrupted them. The Labour Party tried to introduce similar Bills in the past, before it went into government. Its Members cannot claim the proposal before us this evening is not a legitimate response to a housing crisis, let alone a housing emergency. This Bill would enshrine the right to housing in a way that could be vindicated on behalf of all our citizens.
In 2012, Focus Ireland warned that mortgage arrears and rising rents were pushing families out of rental accommodation, noting that eight families were becoming homeless every month. By 2013, that number had risen to 20 families per month, and to 40 in 2014. As we near the close of 2015, 70 families are facing homelessness every month in this State. Given the number of repossessions coming before the courts on a weekly basis, we can expect an avalanche of families losing their homes in the coming winter months. I appeal to the Minister to do what he can to stave off some of those repossessions. For now, however, the situation looks quite hopeless. Thousands of people are living in temporary emergency accommodation which, in most instances, is unsuitable, particularly for families. Some parents are living with their children in bed and breakfast accommodation and hotel rooms on a long-term basis. The other alternative is emergency dormitory accommodation in overcrowded hostels. Families in these situations often have to leave the premises during the day and wander about the place. Parents often need to travel further to bring their children to school, which has cost implications and may affect attendance rates.
An issue that has been making headlines in the media recently is the situation in regard to bed-sit accommodation. The outlawing of such accommodation some years ago left a shortfall, particularly in Dublin. The vast majority of existing bed-sit accommodation had failed to comply with fire safety regulations or had structural issues. However, in the current drastic situation in which we find ourselves, rather than having people sleeping in cardboard boxes on the side of the street or in doorways or lane ways, bed-sit accommodation seems a much better option. Some landlords have learned from the experience of a total ban. As I understand it, many owners of the properties in question have carried out refurbishment work, including structural repairs. Will the Minister consider examining the potential that is there in terms of restoring the availability of bed-sit accommodation? The 2011 census showed there were 6,259 people living in privately rented bed-sit accommodation, three quarters of them in Dublin. More than 3,000 of those units comprised just one room. Rather than seeing people out in the cold and rain, this is an area where the Minister might look to do something in co-ordination with local authority buildings inspectors. Such a move might well bring some relief to the situation in the coming months.
I recently tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister in which I asked him to consider engaging with the Irish League of Credit Unions to provide moneys for the provision of social housing. I recently attended a meeting in Tralee with credit union officials and they are very anxious to get involved. The credit unions hold in excess of €8 billion in surplus funds on behalf of members in deposits and investments. Under current regulations, however, there are limited options for the management and placement of those funds. Surely they could be better used to deliver social goals, while also protecting them? The Commission on Credit Unions, which was established by the Government, recommended that methods for credit unions to invest in State projects be devised, and this was reflected in the Credit Union and Co-operation with Overseas Regulators Act 2012. Section 43 of the Credit Union Act 1997 provides that the Central Bank may prescribe investments and classes of investments, including investment projects of a public nature in which credit unions may invest. The Irish League of Credit Unions has pointed out that if the Central Banks' guidance note on the Registry of Credit Unions were amended to facilitate investments by credit unions, credit union deposits currently held by banks could contribute to a State-guaranteed fund to assist in the provision of social and affordable housing on a basis that assures both the protection of the fund and gives a modest return.
This would be in line with the principle of existing legislation and the social ethos of credit unions. Delivering social housing is an urgent social imperative. Credit unions have funds which could be used to assist and their objective should be to engage with the Central Bank, the Department of Finance and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
In the area of provision of mortgages to credit union members, the Irish League of Credit Unions board has established a home loan working group to scope out how home loans might be made available to the credit union movement. The purpose of this is to provide an avenue to credit unions that wish to enter the home loan market in a more consistent manner, similar to the initiative already outlined. An amendment to the registry of credit union guidance notes on investment is required to allow credit unions to invest funds in a centralised entity which itself then will require regulatory approval. Then credit unions will be in a position to offer mortgages to their members.
While the Minister has already given a fairly positive response to a parliamentary question I put down on these proposals from the Irish League of Credit Unions, I urge him to go further with them.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:acknowledges that the construction sector and the housing market were profoundly affected by the economic downturn, consequently creating a significant shortfall in both market and social housing supply;
welcomes the economic recovery and increase in job creation underway for a number of years, consequent on the Government’s successful economic policies;
notes in particular that one of the implications of that recovery and growth in employment has been a resurgent demand for housing;
acknowledges the pent-up demand for social housing as demonstrated by the approximately 90,000 households on the social housing waiting list at the last full and comprehensive assessment in 2013;
recognises that the Government’s on-going programme of economic repair is accompanied by an equal emphasis on social recovery;
notes, in that context, the continued high priority which the Government places on increasing the supply of housing for both home purchasers and renters, including through its Construction 2020 Strategy, and the Social Housing Strategy 2020;
welcomes the measures introduced by the Government to stimulate, in the medium to long term, the sustainable supply of housing through the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 including amendments to the Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 social housing provisions; the introduction of a vacant site levy; and revised arrangements relating to the application of reduced development contributions;
notes the Housing Agency analysis indicates that, as a general guide for households on a moderate income, housing would be considered affordable where housing cost is below 35% of the household income;
recognises the increased and ongoing role played by the private rental sector in Ireland which has doubled from 10% to 20% of households in less than a decade;
welcomes the decisive action taken by the Government to stabilise rents and further boost housing supply in the short-term, by providing for— rent certainty, by increasing the rent review period from one to two years; increased notice periods for rent reviews and much greater protections for tenants;acknowledges, in respect of homelessness, that the solution is multi-faceted, and in that context welcomes the whole-of-Government approach to dealing with the complexity of the situation, involving all key State agencies concerned, including the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Social Protection; Health; Children and Youth Affairs; the Health Service Executive; Tusla (the Child and Family Agency); the Irish Prison Service; and local authorities, and in that context:
— a targeted development contribution rebate scheme in Dublin and Cork, focussed on large scale developments at affordable prices;
— fast-tracking of implementation of new apartment guidelines which will support good quality build, while improving the viability of this type of development; and
— legislative amendments to introduce greater flexibility and streamlining to the Strategic Development Zones provision of the Planning and Development Acts;— welcomes:recognises the Government’s commitment to the provision of social housing, by providing a comprehensive response under the Social Housing Strategy 2020, which targets the provision of over 110,000 social housing units to 2020, and in that context welcomes:— the increase in funding for homeless services to €70 million, announced in Budget 2016, which will ensure continued progress towards the achievement of the end of 2016 target of ending involuntary long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough;notes:
— with regard to the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment Pilot, the increase in flexibility in relation to rent limits from 20% above rent supplement levels to 50% above rent supplement levels announced in Budget 2016, which will be of significant assistance to homeless families in Dublin moving out of emergency accommodation into longer term housing; and
— the initiative to deliver 500 units of modular housing for homeless families across Dublin, the first 150 units of which will be delivered as quickly as possible in the Dublin City Council area, with the objective of delivering 22 units by the end of 2015;— the excellent work being done through the Tenancy Sustainment Protocol operating in conjunction with Threshold in Dublin and Cork, and of the 4,900 total cases supported with increased rent limits to date, over 1,500 were initiated following engagement under this protocol; and
— the important role undertaken by non-governmental organisations working with homeless persons and seeks their continued engagement with Government Departments and agencies in tackling the situation;— the approval, in 2015, of almost half a billion euro worth of local authority and approved housing body proposals for the construction and acquisition of over 2,900 housing units, to be delivered out to 2017;notes, with respect to the National Asset Management Agency that:
— the continued close monitoring of social housing supply delivery in 2015 with a view to optimum delivery across the suite of programmes;
— the accelerated progress being made in returning vacant local authority properties to use for households on the waiting list, with 2,500 units targeted for delivery in 2015;
— the continued prioritisation of funding for social housing in Budget 2016, resulting in an Exchequer investment of almost €811 million across a range of housing programmes, as well as local authorities funding a range of housing services from their own resources to the value of over €112 million, bringing the total social housing provision in 2016 to €923 million;
— the commitment of €2.9 billion in capital funding for housing out to 2021 under the Government’s capital plan;
— the public private partnership programme, announced in Budget 2016, which will deliver 500 social housing units in the greater Dublin area;
— the €10 million being made available from the proceeds of the sale of Bord Gáis Éireann for an affordable rental pilot scheme;
— the roll-out of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme to all categories of households in 18 local authority areas, with over 4,500 households now in receipt of the payment; and
— the commitment to undertake a summary of social housing assessments on an annual basis from 2016 onwards, to ensure up-to-date and comprehensive data on housing need is available on an on-going basis;— the Government has enabled and facilitated NAMA in playing an important role in the delivery of housing supply generally and social housing in particular;welcomes the broad strategy the Government has put in place to address the issue of mortgage arrears, including an extensive suite of interventions, such as the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, recasting of the personal insolvency legislation, the provision of advice through the Department of Social Protection-led initiatives, and the mortgage-to-rent scheme which is designed to assist borrowers in unsustainable mortgage positions to remain in their homes through the involvement of approved housing bodies.
— this work has to be carried out in a manner consistent with the legislation governing the operation of NAMA;
— 1,600 houses and apartments have been delivered to local authorities and approved housing bodies for social housing use, with NAMA investing over €40 million to make properties ready for social housing;
— the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies continue to work closely with NAMA to ensure that its commitments on social housing are delivered;
— as indicated in Budget 2016, in line with the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, NAMA is aiming to fund the delivery of 20,000 residential units before the end of 2020, of which it is estimated that 90% will be in the greater Dublin area and that about 75% of the units will be houses, mainly starter houses;
— NAMA is committed to and is firmly on track to deliver 4,500 new residential units in the greater Dublin area by the end of 2016; and
— further, in 2014 NAMA funded more than 40% of total new housing output across the four Dublin local authorities; and
The Minister had conveyed his apologies that he was unavoidably delayed. He will have an opportunity to read all of the contributions in the Official Report before he comes in again tomorrow. Deputy Coppinger will have an opportunity to come in at the end of the debate tomorrow evening.
I thank the Deputies for proposing this motion. I welcome the fact that Members have raised the issue of housing and homelessness once again, ensuring this important topic can be discussed tonight. Homelessness and housing are top of my and the Government’s agenda. Every day I am working with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to deliver real and tangible solutions for the people. Yesterday, we hosted a homeless forum attended by representatives from the NGO, non-governmental organisation, sector, the main purpose of which was to examine the winter preparations for homeless individuals and families. It was also an opportunity to discuss the broader, challenging homelessness issues. It was a good, encouraging and frank debate.
The challenges of homelessness are complex and require multiple solutions. The Government continues to apply the resources of the State to meet the various challenges. Anyone who believes that this can be solved with one single initiative, approach or policy change does not understand housing. One has to understand the link between trends in the housing market, economic growth and employment levels, as well as the recent state of the public finances. I call on the Opposition to offer more than blame, but I am doubtful that call will be heard.
I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record of the House the excellent work of the NGO sector in meeting the challenges on a day-to-day basis at the front line of homelessness service delivery. The full truth of the homelessness situation is that there are many stories of desperation. There are also stories, however, of inspiration, of hope, of people and families rising through tough times and coming out the other end. I regret the AAA, Anti-Austerity Alliance, will stick to the narrative of blame because it is easy. As regards the motion itself, it is clear the political goal of the misery merchants of the cranky austerity alliance with the triple A title, which really stands for Against Absolutely Anything or anything that does not get them headlines, is to keep people feeling like victims, to keep them in poverty-----
-----so it can politically benefit and validate its flawed theory that there is no hope for people, that communities are not capable of rising above poverty or that people cannot rise out of homelessness. The AAA Members are wrong and I saw it again just today.
Just like it did with the property tax, just like SYRIZA, just like it did on water charges, the AAA walks away from causes it leads when the going gets tough. I am delighted Deputy Paul Murphy saw sense to pay his property tax.
I noted, with great humour, that Deputy Paul Murphy had to have a meeting with his AAA colleagues to get permission to pay his property tax.
I remember when this Dáil started in 2011, there was a supposed new dawn with the United Left Alliance.
When politics is the art of the possible, the AAA hides behind ideological theory rather than deal with inconvenient facts. Constructive opposition and debate is welcome. There is an onus on those who criticise to propose something workable, however. It does not take a legal qualification to see where these proposals will fall foul of the Constitution. How exactly is it going to help those either homeless or facing homelessness by passing legislation that the AAA knows to be flawed?
Of course, the AAA has no real interest in helping homelessness, only revelling in misery. I have not seen any budgetary proposal to increase the spending on homeless services for people in dire need. The Government, however, has increased spending on homelessness by approximately 40% in recent years.
All told, this Government will provide over 6,000 new social housing units this year between building, buying, refurbishing and leasing, with another 4,000 people being newly accommodated through the HAP, housing assistance payment, scheme. When one is in government, one has to deal in solutions. Members opposite criticise. We analyse, prioritise and solve. People benefit from our solutions, not from the Members’ opposite constant opposition to everything.
It takes time, however, to solve complex problems. Houses are not put in place by waving a magic wand. It involves legal processes such as capital appraisal, planning, design and tendering.
The Government has rightly prioritised the recovery of the economy and increasing employment. The economy is now the fastest growing in Europe, with growth of 5.2% GDP seen in 2014 set to be outdone this year by growth of over 6%. This fast growth, taken together with unemployment now being below 9% for the first time since 2008, is a phenomenal achievement, and one of which I and my party are proud to have been a part.
However, it is economic growth that drives demand in housing. If we cast our minds back to 2011, rents and property values were falling, with acres of ghost estates and our young people fleeing our country in droves. We now live in a different Ireland and our housing sector, both public and private, is still catching up with the new demand. Even during the Celtic tiger years, the housing sector lagged the economy by about two to three years, the typical international experience. The houses will be built. The social housing aspect is being worked on but it takes time. In that vein and to speed up delivery, I will be reviewing the approval procedures for social housing projects in the Department.
In terms of access to housing, the simple fact is that we do not have enough housing units in the right locations. The complete collapse of construction activity during the crash has still not recovered and, as a result, housing remains the one sector of our society that has not yet repaired. For example, in Dublin, where the problems are most acute, we have a projected unit completion of private housing of 2,700 units, when the supply requirement is between 7,000 to 8,000 units. These problems in the housing sector, the lack of supply, rising rents, the problems with people falling out of the private rented market and into homelessness are all directly related to the collapse of the economy which happened under the previous Administration.
I am working to resolve those problems. This issue is, and will continue to be, my absolute top priority. It is worth reflecting on the Government’s vision for housing in Ireland as outlined in the €4 billion social housing strategy. Every household will have access to secure, good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community and the State, for its part, will put in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future demand for social housing supports, ensuring value for money for taxpayers while respecting the preferences of individual households to the greatest extent possible.
I am sure everyone in this House agrees that this is where the housing sector in Ireland needs to go. Anyone with any notion of the sector also knows that we have a long road to travel, in particular, given the lack of supply in the housing market in cities for a number of years.
In responding to the motion I will outline the Government's comprehensive policies, strategies and action plans to deal with the issue of housing. I will also outline how the strategies have been backed up with a funding commitment of €1.7 billion in successive budgets, a €2.9 billion capital commitment to 2021 and an overall commitment to deliver the social housing strategy by 2020 at a total cost of €4 billion. The action taken and the funding committed clearly demonstrates my absolute and unwavering commitment and that of the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, and the Government to tackling the housing challenge and delivering on that vision for all of Ireland's people. In plotting the response to the housing issue we need to learn from the past. We cannot go back to the boom-bust cycle that beset the property and construction sector under Fianna Fáil and ended in complete disaster not just for the construction industry but also for the entire country and generations of people to come. We cannot go back to the days of an artificial and unsustainable property bubble which led to the problems in the residential market today and with which we are dealing.
The Labour Party, the Government and I are committed to getting things right. Overall, a lack of supply lies at the heart of the housing problems we are facing as a country, as everyone knows. The lack of supply cuts across social housing and the private housing market and has had a significant impact on the private rented sector which has doubled in size in a decade. The Government's approach is comprehensive in dealing with each of the housing market segments and at all times concentrated on meeting the vision for housing for everyone.
The nature of housing provision means that the increased supply will not be delivered immediately as construction projects take time. We all have to accept this fact. Therefore, strategies and interventions must be tailored to meet the most urgent, immediate, short to medium and long-term goals and their requirements. Of course, the Deputies opposite are going to wave a magic wand and will build all the houses required instantly, without the requirement for additional architects, quantity surveyors, planners and other housing personnel. While the Government allocated more than 300 additional staff to local authorities, how much did the moralistic Deputies opposite allocate as part of their budgetary proposals to speed up delivery?
While the supply of housing is taking time, progress is being made by the Government, local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHB, sector. I met a gentleman today by the name of Patrick Kinsella. The Government, through the Peter McVerry Trust, acquired units that allowed him to get the keys to his new home, which is a five minute walk from where I am standing. He had spent more than a year in emergency accommodation. That is real progress.
On social housing, the Government has clearly and unequivocally accepted its role in putting in place the key elements required to increase the supply of social housing supports. However, it also requires a significant response from local authorities and approved housing bodies. In terms of the wider housing market, facilitating and encouraging the recovery of the construction sector and, in particular, the increased supply of residential units is the key objective of the Government's Construction 2020 strategy. This strategy which was published in May 2014 clearly sets out a cross-government plan of action to address issues in the property and construction sectors and, in particular, to ensure all critical bottlenecks that might impede the sector in meeting the forecasted residential demand are addressed.
Under Construction 2020 we have targeted a return to a sustainable proportion of GDP - 10% - from the low of 5% in 2012 for the sector, an increase in the number of construction jobs of up to 60,000 and an increase in output to the 25,000 houses required annually. While policies have been brought forward through recent legislation and again more recently through the Government;s decisions on housing supply, it is now the market that must respond to meet the demand and deliver double the current output of 12,000 houses per year. This is a significant challenge for the construction industry, given all that has happened in the past decade.
Let me talk about the most recent action we have taken to address the two key areas that require an immediate response. They are stability in the rental market and the incentivisation of extra supply of residential units. In tandem with the measures laid out in Construction 2020, the supply measures recently agreed to by the Government are designed to kick start the increased provision of housing at affordable prices in key urban areas, given the current dearth of supply which is impacting on rent levels, homelessness and competitiveness. While a number of important measures have been taken such as legislative changes around a vacant site levy, reductions in development contributions, Part V provisions and initiatives to improve financing, these measures will take time to impact fully on supply and in the interim shorter term measures are required. These measures, to which we are committed having fully in place by year end, include a targeted development contribution rebate scheme in Dublin and Cork, focused on large-scale developments at affordable prices; the fast-tracking of implementation of new apartment guidelines which, while supporting good quality build, will improve the viability of this type of development; and legislative amendments to introduce greater flexibility and streamlining of the strategic development zones provisions. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, has also indicated that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will support the delivery of housing-related enabling infrastructure in large-scale priority areas. This is in addition to the budget day announcement of the support which will be provided by NAMA within its mandate for the delivery of residential units.
On rent stability, the primary measure is to change the provisions around rent reviews in order that, instead of taking place every 12 months, they will occur every 24 months. This measure will give hard-pressed tenants certainty and stability, pending the coming on stream of supply. The proposal includes a sunset clause that will see the measure expire on the fourth anniversary of its introduction in order that the market has a clear indication that this is a short-term necessary measure. I am also bringing forward a series of amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act to improve its operation for the benefit of tenants and landlords. This series of amendments is quite sizeable.
Tenants will benefit from a number of measures, including a longer period of notification of new rent, confirmation of their rights under the Act and stronger verification arrangements where landlords seek to terminate a tenancy. Landlords will benefit from other measures, including a provision to prevent a notice of termination from being found to be invalid on the basis of a technicality and speedier PRTB enforcement by virtue of moving enforcement to the District Court. The measures will be provided through Committee Stage amendments to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. The Bill will also include provision for the introduction of a deposit protection scheme, which I am sure will be welcomed. The introduction of a deposit protection scheme is a programme for Government commitment which is being delivered as part of this package. The motivation for introducing such a scheme is to provide a safe and secure means of holding tenants' deposits and for their speedy return at the conclusion of a tenancy. The dispute resolution function of the scheme will be carried out by the PRTB. The Bill provides for a new procedure to fast-track the hearing of complaints relating to the non-payment of rents and the build-up of rent arrears. It also extends the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act to approved housing bodies and their dwellings and will afford the same rights and obligations afforded to landlords and tenants in the private rented sector to those in the approved housing body sector.
As I said in my opening remarks, the Government's response to the housing challenge is comprehensive and timely. These measures will provide much needed stability in the key rental market, while also encouraging the real upscaling of the delivery of market housing solutions that we need.
We all accept that there will be those in society who will have difficulty in meeting their housing needs. The Government is committed to helping those who cannot support themselves. We set out a plan of action to do so under the social housing strategy 2020. The State, through the Government's social housing strategy 2020, has returned to its central role in the provision of social housing through a resumption of building on a significant scale, something which was abandoned by Fianna Fáil more than a decade and a half ago. The strategy is about building sustainable communities and a comprehensive response to the need for social housing. It targets the provision of more than 110,000 homes for those in need of social housing through the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units and meeting the housing needs of some 75,000 households through the housing assistance payment and rental accommodation scheme, at an overall cost of €4 billion to 2020. This will address the needs of the households on housing waiting lists and include additional flexibility to meet future demand.
In mentioning housing waiting lists, let me take a moment to address the numbers involved because there has been a lot of commentary on this subject. The 2013 summary of social housing assessments identified 89,872 households nationally as being in need of social housing supports. These are the most up-to-date and reliable figures available. The majority of this number, 46,584, or 52%, were found to be dependent on rent supplement and, therefore, already supported in the provision of housing by the State. The results of the 2013 summary of social housing assessment are based on a comprehensive review of households on housing lists on a set date and which involved local authorities contacting individual households to confirm their continued requirement and qualification for social housing support. All households which qualified for social housing support prior to 1 April 2011 were subject to a full review to ascertain whether they met the new requirements under the 2011 regulations, while those who qualified after 1 April 2011 were reviewed so as to ensure their continued compliance with the 2011 regulations.
The 2013 figure is subject to ongoing fluctuation due to households being allocated housing and new households applying for housing support. The recent claim that the 2013 figures have since increased to a figure of 130,000, on the basis of information obtained from current local authority files, is flawed as it does not compare like with like. It is likely that the latest figures put forward are based on the figures currently held on file by individual local authorities, which were not subject to the comprehensive review applied under the 2013 summary. For example, there may well be people included in the 130,000 figure who, while still appearing on local authority lists, may have secured employment or whose circumstances may have otherwise changed in the meantime, rendering them no longer interested in, or eligible for, social housing.
I can give an example of the dangers of taking an over-simplistic approach to the social housing waiting list. Cork City Council had a waiting list of 6,440 at the last full assessment in 2013 and in response to a freedom of information request this year, it reported a list of 8,043. In August this year, Cork City Council wrote to all households on its list to notify them that choice based letting was being implemented. As a result of this process and based on the responses received, there were 5,790 qualified households identified on the council's list at the end of October 2015, with a further 528 on transfer lists. One can see the danger of trying to take one point in time on the list without cleaning and analysing the data to ensure they are accurate. I should add that Cork City Council is in the second week of the choice based letting scheme and it has assured the public that the door is open for non-respondents to re-engage and respond within a reasonable time frame. Incidentally, choice based letting is an excellent way of letting local authority dwellings and giving people improved customer service. It should be available in all local authorities. I have asked chief executives to ensure that it is rolled out nationally.
To take a snapshot of housing need in a given county at a point in time in 2015 and compare it to 2013 data, which were compiled as a result of rigorous analysis, has methodological weaknesses which would distort the overall picture of need. The 2013 figures do not include duplicate entries and those already in local authority, voluntary or co-operative housing or the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and, as such, are the most accurate that are available to date. While the approach of picking a point in time without examination and context is not the way to do it, I recognise that we must have up-to-date and comprehensive data on housing need on an ongoing basis. To ensure we have that data, the strategy includes a commitment to undertake housing assessments on an annual basis from 2016. In the meantime, throwing figures around from a flawed method is not helpful. We are working to house everybody and that will include all households identified when the more accurate housing list figure is available next year. Let me be clear that this Government is committed to providing social housing solutions to every household that is deemed eligible and in need at the end of that assessment process.
All the commitments made in the social housing strategy, both in terms of targets and funding availability, must materialise in new projects. I have made the funding available and have ensured that allocations and project approvals have been made. Following the strategy, I announced provisional funding allocations totalling €1.5 billion for all local authorities to meet an ambitious delivery target of 22,882 social housing units up to 2017. To date in 2015, almost €0.5 billion has been allocated to local authorities and approved housing bodies for the construction and acquisition of over 2,900 units. In addition, over €91 million worth of housing investment across a range of housing schemes to bring vacant social housing units back into productive use and to improve housing for people with disabilities, as well as retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency, was announced in May 2015.
I have also provided funding for more than 300 new staff in local authority housing sections across the country to speed up the delivery of new social housing projects. All the details on a local authority basis can be found on my Department's website. Again, I urge all Deputies to be fully aware of and familiar with the targets, projects and funding for their areas and to work with and support their local authorities and approved housing bodies to ensure early advancement and delivery of projects. Given the time lines for delivering newly constructed projects, the first year of the strategy on the capital side was always going to have to rely on acquisitions and returning vacant units to use. My Department is working flat out with local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver optimum output under all the capital programmes this year and the final picture in this regard will only be available at year end. However, I am confident that we will deliver in excess of 7,000 additional housing units across the range of social housing programmes this year.
While the activity in terms of housing supply is clear, both in private housing and social housing, the delivery takes time and, as I said earlier, those in most acute need are my priority. After yesterday's meeting with those working with the homeless, I am convinced that all the key players are doing everything in their power to deal with the immediate issues while the supply cranks up. The changes made in the rental market should also help to keep vulnerable households in their rented homes.
I am not prepared to leave people in emergency accommodation for a second longer than is absolutely necessary and I, therefore, secured Government approval for the delivery of 500 units of modular housing for homeless families across Dublin. The first 150 units are to be delivered quickly in the Dublin City Council administrative area. There will be 22 units by the end of December, 128 units will follow by late quarter one of 2016 through a fast-tracked procurement process and 350 units will be provided across the four local authorities in the Dublin region through a national procurement framework by mid-2016. This programme of modular housing provision is being implemented to help people in inappropriate commercial hotel arrangements. While the placement of households in these units will be on a temporary basis, such placements will offer a greater level of stability than possible in hotel accommodation while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured. Furthermore, such arrangements will facilitate more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning for access to all required services, including welfare, health and housing services.
On a broader level, the Government, through the homelessness policy statement, is very explicit in its commitment to a housing led approach to end involuntary long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. A range of actions is being taken to secure a ring-fenced supply of accommodation for homeless households and to mobilise the necessary supports to deliver on the Government's 2016 target. These measures have been identified in the Government's implementation plan on the State's response to homelessness and in the action plan to address homelessness.
The issues surrounding homelessness are often complex and multi-faceted. As such they require a multi-agency approach, and I note the very important work carried out by non-governmental organisations, NGOs, in this regard. The plans are a whole-of-government response to dealing with homelessness, and the implementation is being overseen by a group of senior officials drawn from key State agencies dealing with homelessness and the associated issues of housing, welfare, health care and so forth. In terms of funding, the homelessness budget for 2016 will be €70 million, an increase of 32% on the 2015 allocation of €53 million and a 55.5% increase on the 2014 allocation of €45 million. Preventing people from becoming homeless is the key objective and this requires a range of actions and various stakeholders to contribute towards homelessness prevention. In this regard, the tenancy sustainment services funded by many housing authorities, the public awareness campaign being implemented by the Private Residential Tenancies Board and the Department of Social Protection's interim tenancy sustainment protocol and national tenancy sustainment framework are all working to keep people out of homelessness.
In all their years on Dublin local authorities, did the proposers of this motion ever propose to introduce a 50% protocol to allocate social housing to those who are homeless or are facing homelessness, something that will take approximately 1,000 people out of homelessness?
They never did it. The homelessness debate is complex and there are major issues in many aspects of housing policy, both public and private. It will probably surprise many of the Deputies opposite to hear that more than 1,000 social units will be purchased or built directly by local authorities this year. It will also probably surprise them to hear that approximately 3,000 new leasing arrangements will be entered into for social housing tenants through leasing programmes. These programmes typically run for ten to 20 years and are often with approved housing bodies, as opposed to private landlords. It will probably surprise the Deputies to hear that more than 2,500 vacant social housing units will be refurbished this year.
While the Deputies in the Opposition opposed the establishment of the housing assistance payment, HAP, which allows people housing support while encouraging them to work, more than 4,000 new applicants for HAP will be on-stream this year who were not previously in receipt of rent supplement. That is 4,000 more people having their housing needs met. I have no doubt that in their constituency clinics, the Deputies encourage people to apply for such schemes, even though they find nonsense reasons to oppose them constantly in the House.
I am glad to have had the opportunity again to address the House on these issues, which are so important. The issues of housing and homelessness are absolutely the top priority in my Department and ones we face head-on. This country is dealing with the legacy of a property bubble that contributed to an economic crisis, which in turn led to massively reduced budgets for key social services, such as housing. Unsustainable oversupply in the wrong locations was replaced with minimal supply and pent-up demand, putting huge pressure on the private rented sector. The Government has got it right on the economy and right on employment, and we are committed to getting it right on housing. However, housing will take some time to get right and, in the meantime, we absolutely have to protect the most vulnerable. The Government’s comprehensive response, as I have outlined, deals with all the key segments of the Housing system and includes vital immediate, short-term and medium-term to long-term objectives in order to ensure we deliver as promised.
I commend Deputies Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Joe Higgins for putting down this comprehensive motion, which covers many of the issues the housing sector is facing today. The Minister talks about throwing figures around but we have to accept there is a serious situation, given so many people are in emergency accommodation and 1,500 children are homeless. There is a need for more housing and a need to accept this is the worst housing crisis since the 1930s, with increasing homelessness throughout the country, and not just in Dublin as I can give examples from County Galway, particularly Galway city.
The ESRI referred to 25,000 houses a year being needed, a figure we should highlight. There is also an issue about bed-sits which I understand the Minister is addressing. It is very important when there is a significant number of single people looking for housing that this type of housing would be available. With regard to local authorities, the Minister spoke about refurbishment and I hope this will happen. A figure was given of 2,600 local authority houses lying empty. These could certainly be refurbished or renovated, and we have given examples in Galway where this could be done.
When we hear the organisations that are lobbying us talk about the difficulties they are facing, we have to look at what can be done to help people, particularly those living in the private rented sector. I have received correspondence from Threshold outlining that it has helped over 20,000 people and prevented almost 3,000 tenant households from becoming homeless. It has pressed very hard for legislation to be brought into the Dáil and I hope that will happen. The Simon Community and the Peter McVerry Trust have referred to the challenges they are facing. Focus Ireland set up action teams in 2012, when an average of eight new families were presenting as homeless in Dublin every month. Therefore, these organisations are taking the matter very seriously.
For other areas, one need only look the figures provided by www.daft.ie, which refers to a 12% increase in rent in Galway city over a period of three months from July 2015 to September 2015. In fact, there was a 10% increase in rent in County Galway for the same three-month period. I hope the Minister will deal with the question of the supply of housing, particularly as the number of properties available for rent in Galway and other counties is falling while rents are increasing, and this is particularly the case in towns within seven to ten miles of Galway city.
The waiting list for housing in Galway is now put at 3,300 and there are 800 applicants to come into the county from the city. In Galway city itself, the waiting list of applicants for housing is over 4,000 people. I would welcome any effort that can be made to begin construction of the 54 houses that were sanctioned for County Galway this year and, if the council gets the money to purchase houses, I hope that will happen.
If we do not deal with the rent issue, many families will lose their accommodation. Many families are already stuck in mortgage debt, which means the banks will not deal with them. I hope that we deal with the question of rent supplement, which we have been pressing for some time. The motion refers to a plan of public investment involving the councils and NAMA to build 100,000 social and affordable homes, including Traveller-specific accommodation, which is very important.
Another group that is often forgotten is that of students, who have been finding it very hard every year, particularly this year, to get accommodation. We had some excellent campus accommodation but we now seem to be stopping that. Third level colleges have a role to play in developing this proposal. I understand the Higher Education Authority has reported on the issue and I do not see why we cannot have more student accommodation. In fact, a student who is today living in a city or a town with a third level college where he or she can study is very lucky. We should not lose sight of this issue.
We all know bed and breakfasts and hotels are not appropriate for families with children, and children often have to move schools as a result of homelessness. I hope the Minister will work with the voluntary housing bodies and allow the funding that should be in place to be provided in order to allow the councils to proceed with their programmes.
In my time in politics, I have never seen such a crisis in housing as I have seen in recent times. We were told five years ago there were too many houses around the country, and there were areas where this was correct, such as areas of low population. However, in the overall scheme of things, the number of empty houses in the country against the total demand for housing is quite modest. I could put down a question to the Minister and he would be able to tell me how many vacant houses are left in the so-called ghost estates. However, there is a crisis.
The reality is simple. The Galway city manager told us recently that in the last four years, we have built 252 houses in Galway, private and public, when the requirement per year is 350 houses. One can figure out for oneself just what the deficit is. Schemes of buying houses, laudable as they are, do not add to a housing stock that is inadequate for the number of people looking for houses. This has created an even bigger problem because, as a result, it is a seller's market and rents now far exceed the rent caps set by the Minister for Social Protection. The reality is that people cannot rent within the rent caps set by her. This is a kind of "no give" situation because I accept that if the rents are put up, they are put up for everybody. However, if we do not deal with the price people have to pay in the market, they will literally be homeless as a result of not being able to find the rent. More and more, there is a new version of "No Irish needed here"; it is called "Professionals only" when people are renting property.
I want to deal with another issue which is totally within the Minister's power, namely, Traveller housing. Seven years ago, Galway City Council got a temporary planning permission for a halting site at a place called Carrowbrowne. The halting site existed and the Travellers were moved in. Since that planning permission ran out, Galway City Council, which is itself the planning authority, has been acting illegally by having a halting site without planning permission. It is an interesting situation where both the Travellers and the local community have had to go to An Bord Pleanála to oppose the city council together in trying to make that a permanent site, even though everybody knows it would be totally unsuitable.
We are likely, in the near future, to wind up with a further illegality, with An Bord Pleanála turning down the final application on this site. In the meantime, year after year, the Department has sat back and allowed money to be returned to the Exchequer. The total expenditure on Traveller housing in Galway this year was on two refurbishments, at a cost of €65,000.
Does the Minister have a role to ensure that local authorities act within the law? Does he think the current situation, as we saw it in Carrickmines, is good enough? Does he now accept that the Traveller community is right that what is now needed is a national agency that will be responsible for Traveller housing? Bad and all as accommodation issues are for the settled community, they are far worse for the Traveller community as a result of the clearly demonstrated prejudices of society. As I said, this matter is totally in the remit of the Minister and his Department. I suggest that what he should do before he leaves office is to state clearly that while some local authorities have been maith go leor, generally across the system they have failed to deal in a fair and humane way with the Traveller housing issue. He should state that he supports the setting up of a Traveller housing agency, the majority of whose board would be Travellers, to provide suitable accommodation for Travellers throughout this State. A measure of our standing as a society is how we treat the most vulnerable. I hope the Minister will leave this as his legacy.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. This has possibly been one of the biggest policy failures of the Government. The Minister is fond of quoting statistics, but when we look at the hard facts, there is no getting away from the fact that there are thousands more people on the housing list today than when he came to office. There are thousands more people homeless today than when he came to office. There are 1,540------
That does not justify the fact that there are 1,540 plus children staying in hotel rooms tonight. It does not justify the fact that these children going to bed tonight do not know where they will sleep tomorrow night. These children cannot bring friends back to the place they now call home. This is what is happening at the moment. It is what Fr. Peter McVerry describes as one of the most significant humanitarian crises of our time.
One of the reasons we have such a big issue with homelessness is that the Minister has failed to deal comprehensively with the very significant increases in rents. The latest quarterly report fromdaft.ieindicated that the last quarter saw the highest quarterly increase in private rents in over a decade. This is a consequence of the Minister procrastinating and fighting with his ministerial colleagues.
These are the facts. People are now paying the highest quarterly increase in over a decade.
The Minister spoke today about solving the problem with modular type housing. I am not averse to that solution, but I find it alarming that the Minister is willing to spend approximately €70,000 per unit at a time when he has capped the refurbishment of void properties at €30,000. The regulations and criteria the Minister is placing on councils to come back to the Department at every stage in regard to the refurbishment of void houses is over bureaucratic and is preventing many of them from getting the job done. I am aware of this from having spoken to Longford County Council which has a high number of voids. The Minister cut the budget for the refurbishment of voids this year and he needs to reassess this aspect.
The Minister must agree that the mortgage to rent scheme is not being used to best effect. The number of people who can avail of this scheme is minimal. We are giving financial institutions the power to repossess houses from families and single people and are placing these people back on an already overburdened housing list. One of the reasons people do not qualify for the mortgage to rent scheme is that they are deemed to be over-housed. We are taking away family homes from people who have lived in a house for 20 years or more. They have a difficulty with the mortgage, but if their children have grown and moved out and if they remain in a three-bedroomed house, they are considered to be over-housed and are advised to sell up and apply for a council house. This is not right or fair. If people were in a three-bedroomed local authority house for 20 years and their children had grown up and moved away, we would not take that house back from them. The Minister needs to give a commitment to expand the number of people who qualify for the mortgage to rent scheme. If he does not, this will put further pressure on rents.
My final point relates to where new houses are being built. I acknowledge that some funding has been announced for new housing, albeit in terms of what is drawn down for 2015, but it is not enough. I urge the Minister not to solve one problem through the creation of another. He needs to look at the land banks when seeking planning permission. In my constituency, the local authority is seeking to put additional social housing in an area where there is already high deprivation and anti-social behaviour. This does not make for good planning and social policy. The Minister must not try to solve one problem by creating another.
I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don ábhar seo. Tá géarchéim ann i dtaca le tithíocht agus aontaím leis an rún seo.
I welcome the motion put forward by the Technical Group which raises the issues of housing, homelessness and unaffordable rents. I have stood in this House more times than I care to remember over the past five years calling for some of the measures included in this motion. It is very sad that I still have to plead the case for such measures today from a Government that has presided over such a resounding failure for the people in need of housing in this State. Inaction and spin has, for the most part, been all the Government has offered the people who have depended on it to tackle the housing crisis and I am sure that is all we will get tonight.
Government Members will try to spin the nonsense of their so-called strategy for housing. They will try to tell us of their investment in housing, of promised NAMA housing, of rent freezes and extra emergency beds. The figures do not lie and behind the Government spin it is clear the minimum has been done by both Fine Gael and the Labour Party in order to present the pretence of a desire to improve the lives of those in need of housing, of homeless families in hotels and B&Bs and of young families struggling to make their rent. The Government has failed spectacularly and the people who have suffered are the most vulnerable and worst off in society.
This motion is not perfect and Sinn Féin has some concerns regarding the potential for some of its policies to be realistically implemented. However, at its heart is a desire to do something meaningful for people and to expose the record of the Government's misinformation. Mention of breaking EU spending rules is a concern and we fell this kind of approach would not only be unnecessary to deal with the crisis, but would also be detrimental to this project. We have approximately 130,000 households in need of housing in the State. This is just less than the number of people currently housed by local authorities. This figure represents families, couples, single people and children all of whom are in need of a secure, adequate and affordable home.
It is an absolute scandal that the Government would preside over a situation where approximately 8% of the State's households are in need of housing or that it would do so for so long without taking meaningful action.
These are families who are living in cramped, damp, under-managed and overpriced private accommodation, or who are sleeping on the sofas, spare beds or floors of the homes of family members or friends. I have spoken about mothers who have had to share their parents' sofas with their children for months on end because they have nowhere else to go. Who could call such accommodation a home? What are such persons if not homeless, like thousands more who are not counted in official figures? For years the plight of the thousands suffering these conditions has been ignored.
When the Government finally admitted that there was a problem and that it had some responsibility to deal with it, the housing strategy, Construction 2020, was developed. Ministers told everyone who listened how billions of euro would be invested in housing. The original figure included in the document, €3.8 billion over six years, was presented as if it amounted to a major increase to be invested in building homes and that it would deliver tens of thousands of units. The Taoiseach regularly inflated the figure to more than €4 billion when he wanted to make it sound even more impressive. The reality, however, is much less impressive. An allocation of €3.8 billion over six years equates to an average spend of €633 million per year, almost €1 billion less than was spent in 2008 from the capital budget for housing. Since 2008 the budget has been cut severely and the money promised is not much greater than what was spent in preceding years under the Government. Moreover, much of the promised expenditure is scheduled for after the Government has left office.
It is worth noting, too, that less than one third of the first tranche of the money has actually been put towards housing construction, with €1.2 billion being earmarked for encouraging the private sector to provide social leasing, rent supplement, RAS and HAP units for rent at near market rates. Of the paltry 1,750 homes promised to be built by the beginning of 2018, just 167 are planned for Dublin. Of course, the Government press release failed to highlight this fact. The reality behind the Government's grand plan is more of the same, throwing good money after bad at the private sector in the hope the housing crisis will just go away.
Will the Acting Chairman confirm that I have 15 minutes to make my contribution?