Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Housing and Homelessness: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


The following motion was moved by Deputy Ruth Coppinger on Tuesday, 17 November 2015.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

- (Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government).

6:00 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The issue of housing, which we are discussing in the context of this motion, is an important one because if people do not have shelter everything else falls apart. Without the security of a home people cannot get a job or access social welfare payments and their health and so on deteriorates. According to the housing sector agencies, particularly those that work with homeless people, the situation is worsening as we approach Christmas. It is not that there are not houses available that could be brought into use. Some local authorities have made good progress in terms of bringing voids back into use. In this regard, I point to County Laois where in terms of housing stock there are never more than four or five houses empty at any one time. The situation in other parts of the country is not as good.

Many vacant houses which are under the control of NAMA and the banks we bailed out lie idle while people are homeless, which is evident in many of the doorways only a short distance from here. We need to bring those houses into use. To do this, the process in that regard needs to be short circuited. We need to address this problem head-on. While I acknowledge that up to now the Government has been restricted in terms of what it could do in this area owing to the appalling state of the country's finances at the time it came into office, which it inherited from the previous Administration, it is now 2015 and we need to move on from that.

I would like to address the myth that there is a bias in regard to social housing. The budget of Laois County Council was recently agreed. Rental income for the forthcoming year is projected to be approximately €5 million. The cost of repair and maintenance of social housing in Laois is estimated to be approximately €900,000. I acknowledge that there are other payments to be met, including capital costs and so on. I am not suggesting this is a shining example but it shows that social housing is not a black hole financially. Financial considerations should not be our biggest consideration because, as I stated in my opening remarks, the most important issue in this regard is human well-being. We must ensure our people are properly looked after. To do this, we need to put human need before profit. We need to get our heads straight in this regard. For far too long the market and profit have dominated everything.

The previous Government provided for the sale by developers of a proportion of private sector housing to the local authorities for social housing. The changes made by this Government, in terms of the reduction in the percentage of housing which developers must designate as social housing, have led to a worsening of the situation. These changes, made by this Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, include a reduction from 20% to 10% in relation to the proportion of houses which developers must designate for social housing and the provision of an opt-out clause to allow developers to lease houses to the local authorities. We all know - I heard Members on the Government side concede this - what happens in the context of the privatisation of social housing yet this Government proposes to allow developers to meet their obligations in terms of social housing provision by way of leasing houses to the local authorities. This is not the way forward. For all its flaws, Part V at least provided for up to 25% of private housing developments to be bought by the local authorities at an affordable rate in the context of social housing provision.

I would like to focus on the issue of rents. Before one can solve a crisis one must first prevent it worsening. The high cost of rents is adding considerably to the difficulties in the housing crisis in terms of the number of additional people joining the housing waiting lists. The measures announced by Government are not sufficient to cope with the housing crisis. Since this Government came into office, rents have increased by 35% and, in some instances, by 45%. That is a fact. In the last year rents in Laois have increased by 12.8% and in Kildare they have increased by 13.4%, which are massive increases that in terms of inflation far outweigh increases in any other part of the economy. The Government's response, in terms of the measures proposed last week by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, are not sufficient to address that situation. They do not link rent increases to the consumer price index or inflation, which leaves the way open for unscrupulous landlords to continue to increase rents to whatever levels they see fit. The only difference is that they can now only do so every two years.

There is a serious problem in relation to tenants acquiring properties to rent at a price within the limits set by the Government in the context of rent supplement. According to a recent survey by the Simon Community there is no accommodation for rent in Portlaoise that is below the threshold set by the Government.

This situation is contributing to the homelessness crisis. The pipes are leaking but we are mopping the floor instead of fixing them. In fact, we are adding to the problem instead of dealing with it. The same thing is happening throughout the State; I am merely using Portlaoise as an example.

The suggestion that the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, would monitor rents in the private sector is not practical. That body does not have the resources even to carry out its own functions, despite the best efforts of staff. We have a situation where tenants who have not had their rents increased in the past year are now facing a hike before the new measures come into force. Crucially, new tenancies will not be subject to any limits in terms of the increases that may be applied above the level of rent paid by the previous tenants. The measures the Government is introducing do not give rent certainty and certainly do not amount to a rent freeze. Rents are already rising in anticipation of the new provisions. Landlords have used the time while the Government dragged its feet to protect their interests.

The solution to the housing crisis must include rent control measures that set a maximum local rent based on the size of the accommodation. In addition, rent changes must be limited to the rate of inflation and tied to the consumer price index. These measures would tackle the issue of unaffordable rents and provide stability and fairness. Some 130 years ago, people in this country were fighting for fair rents and fixity of tenure. In 2015, tenants still do not have those rights. People who are renting privately come to my office at their wits' end, particularly if they have children, because they do not have a secure roof over their heads. It is an intolerable situation. Right across Europe, people in the private rented sector have some degree of security, but not in this State. The measures being introduced by the Government do not do enough to address that problem. We are calling for effective rent control measures which link prices to inflation. The Minister of State's Labour Party colleagues have been blaming Fine Gael for the failure to introduce that measure. I do not know what goes on inside Government and I do not pretend to know. I am certain, however, that whoever is responsible for holding it up is wrong to do so. We must ensure people are paying a fair rent and have fixity of tenure. That is what the Land League fought for 130 years ago.

There are other measures that should be taken. The Government must ensure more National Asset Management Agency properties are brought into use. Although there has been some progress in that regard, not enough homes are coming on stream. We must expand the local authority house-building programme. The Government has set out an allocation of €312 million up to the end of 2017 for new builds. That will not be enough. We had substantial house-building programmes in this country in poorer times under various Governments, including Fine Gael in the early 1950s. A programme on a similar scale now would provide a significant release valve by moving people off the waiting lists. We need, too, to put in place a proper mortgage debt resolution agency. The Insolvency Service of Ireland does not have the powers that are required to be effective. Lenders still hold the cards as long as they have lent more than 60% of the value of a property. I understand a mechanism is proposed that would operate via the courts, but it is very cumbersome. We need a more streamlined process given there are more than 100,000 people with distressed mortgages.

I offer these possible solutions not by way of criticism but to be helpful to the Government. We must move on all these fronts to tackle the problem. There is no single solution that will resolve the difficulties people are facing.

6:10 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies Dan Neville, Jerry Buttimer, Derek Nolan, Helen McEntee, Anthony Lawlor, Áine Collins, Michelle Mulherin, Robert Dowds and Catherine Byrne are sharing time.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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I will focus on a specific issue, namely, the relationship between homelessness and mental health. Having a severe mental health difficulty can put people at risk of homelessness for various reasons. Without proper mental health support after discharge from hospital, a homeless person may fall out of treatment and end up relapsing. Mistrust or dissatisfaction with an overly medication-orientated treatment regime can put people off seeking report, leaving them to struggle alone. For those with an addiction and a mental health difficulty, there are often barriers to accessing mental health treatment until the addiction has been brought under control, putting this group in a potential catch-22 situation that can lead to homelessness. For others, the issue may be the need for support to maintain their housing situation and relationships in their community.

From the other direction, being homeless puts people at high risk of developing mental health distress. Homelessness exposes people to a risk of trauma, violence and lowered self-esteem, while the living conditions and chaotic lifestyle of the street make it difficult for people to access mental health services until they are at crisis point. Too often, homeless services are unable to get mental help support for clients in a crisis and are forced to turn to busy hospital emergency departments where the individual distress often cannot afford to wait the many hours it might take to get help. People with mental health difficulties are seen in greater numbers among the prison and homeless populations.

The high incidence of mental health difficulties has been documented by several organisations that assist the homeless. In 2014, Dublin Simon Community reported that 71% of people using its services had a mental health difficulty, while 22% reported a diagnosis of either schizophrenia or psychosis. These figures suggest that the move to community-based health services may have left some people without adequate follow-up support. A striking link between homelessness and acute mental distress is shown in an audit carried out between October 2012 and September 2013 by the acute mental health unit at Tallaght hospital. It found that 98% of long-stay or delayed-discharge patients had accumulated related needs during that period. Of particular concern was the finding that one person was discharged into the homelessness services every 9.5 days from Tallaght hospital alone.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Government has taken steps to end the housing crisis across the country. In the next six years, 35,000 units will be built through an investment of €3.8 billion. This year alone, some 7,400 units of social housing will be provided. These are all welcome developments. In the time allocated to me, I will focus on an issue I have raised before in the House. I have been in contact with the Minister's office in recent weeks regarding the allocation of funding to both Corky City Council and Cork County Council. Between 2011 and 2014, this Government allocated €30 million to the city council but, regrettably, not all those moneys were used. The figures in this regard are indisputable. Some €1 million for housing adaptation grants for older people and persons with a disability was not used. In the case of housing construction and acquisitions, €2 million was left unused. Of the money available for energy efficiency measures, €3 million was not drawn down.

There is a huge contrast between the two Cork local authorities in this regard. Over the same four-year period, the county council drew down €6 million more than it was allocated. An additional €2.3 million was given for housing adaptations and an extra €500,000 for the purpose of putting vacant units back in use. I have contacted the CEOs of both councils about their use of these moneys. It is important that the city CEO, in particular, should answer those questions on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who are waiting to be housed and deserve better when it comes to efforts to tackle housing shortages.

In addition, the latest figures for 2015 provided to me by the Department give cause for concern, with significant sums remaining to be drawn down.

Maybe it will be done in the next few weeks.

6:20 pm

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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No, it will not.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We need to get an explanation as to what happened in the four-year period.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Buttimer knows the explanation because his brother sits on the council.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The graph does not lie. The people on the housing list in Cork deserve better than to see moneys available being returned to central government. They deserve better than seeing the moneys not being used.

Photo of Derek NolanDerek Nolan (Galway West, Labour)
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It seems the effects of the property bubble continue to impact on our society and our citizens to such an extent that here we are eight years after the crash still trying to pick up the pieces of a dysfunctional and destroyed housing market. There is a shortage of private housing across Galway county, and in the city in particular. We never overbuilt in Galway and never had those vast ghost estates they had elsewhere. As soon as economic activity picked up, the houses that were available were snapped up. Now, one can have up to 25 people viewing a house to let any one morning. People with regular jobs want to get on the property ladder and to raise a family. Instead of being able to buy a house, they have to stay in their private rented accommodation for dear life while rents go up, because the price of a three-bed semi-detached in Galway has gone from €180,000 three years ago to €230,000, a significant increase.

The last Government, while destroying the economy and collapsing the housing market, decided not to build any more social housing. We are now finally seeing some investment in that area, albeit not at the pace or the numbers we would like. Getting it all back up and running is taking so long that we need to be cognisant that when we are putting in place the infrastructure for the future housing market we do not put back in place that which got us into the problem in the first place. To do that, we need to ensure the Government and society views housing not as a market commodity that goes up and down based on supply and demand but as a sector that is actually regulated with a cap on land prices. We must make sure land is not used to hold entire cities and counties over a barrel to get the highest price, allowing somebody become a multimillionaire overnight for selling a site while families work for 30 years to pay off a mortgage. We need to move towards a housing model that is socially sustainable and for the citizens.

In Galway city, we are facing many problems. The measures introduced to calm down the rental market and to give greater certainty to tenants will fix that. However, that is just a stopgap measure which will not fix the problem until we get private housing built properly at an affordable price. It will not be fixed until we get social housing built for those who will never be able to own their own property because of their ability or their means of payment. Until we get that right, we will be in a serious situation that will not allow us to give people the certainty of tenure they need, the home they need to raise a family, as well as a decent level of living quality. In Galway, we need to get the funding for social housing for the Knocknacarra area and builders back building. We need to stop them from sitting on sites, so they can get unrealistic prices like in the crazy times. We must realise that housing is important and a social commodity, not something to be handed back to the speculators as the economy improves.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Opposition for raising this important issue and welcome the opportunity to speak on it. However, as the Deputies who put forward this motion would agree, there is no quick fix for a housing crisis. If one looks at the experience of different countries across Europe, after an economic downturn or a crash, there tends to be a housing crisis or an issue. Unfortunately for us, because of the building practices encouraged by the previous Government, it has exaggerated the problem here.

The Government’s focus has been on securing the economy, restructuring the banks while ensuring the public finances are secure and more people get back to work. The more people we have working, the more money we have to invest in social housing, health and education. We do have a housing problem, however, with which we are dealing. It would be very unwise of us to implement quick fixes such as relaxing regulations to allow houses to shoot up like they did several years ago. If that happened, we would end up with problems like pyrite in housing estates and schools that I have to deal with every day. It is absolutely devastating for the families involved, affecting their daily lives and, in some cases, their sanity. There would be issues such as those at Riverwalk Court, where people are living in apartments that are not fit to live in, and Priory Hall. These are issues which the Government is trying to deal with through housing policy and policy to help construction.

We have a tradition in Ireland where people like to own their home. I do not believe that will ever leave us. However, I meet people every day who are just trying to get into the rental market or social housing. The Government is trying to deal with this problem. I would liken it to the Department of Health where anything that has been asked of the Minister, he is trying to deliver on. Both Ministers in this regard are trying to implement several recommendations and already several measures have been implemented. There is also funding behind this. We need a period of nine to ten months during which rents do not increase. I welcome recent measures by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in that regard. It is not right when one sees a couple paying €1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment in Rathfarnham. We are trying to deal with problems left by the previous Government, among many other issues. It will take time to resolve this.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Again, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue and I thank the Opposition for bringing forward this motion. As Deputy Helen McEntee already said, there is no silver bullet for this. If money were the solution to our problems, the Minister has certainly put a lot of money into this programme over the past several years when it has become available. People seem to forget that three years ago, the State was in financial trouble and did not have the money to construct houses. Another reason for the shortage of social housing is that the previous Administration opted out of social house building, leaving it up to private developers to provide local authorities through the 20% social and affordable housing requirement for new developments. That dried up when house building collapsed completely.

Over the next three years, the Government will invest €3.8 billion which will create a sizeable scope for building houses. The problem is that local authorities in many cases are not ready for this. Over the past five years, local authorities did not plan for when money would be available for them to build social houses. They left the lands they owned fallow too. They never put in place plans, Part 8, so that when moneys became available, there would be shovel-ready lands on which houses could be built. Kildare local authority has only one shovel-ready site for 24 houses. Local authorities must step up to the mark and get the lands they own suitable for housing so they can download the money available from the Minister. I welcome the roll-out of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. From a Kildare perspective, however, the limit of €1,000 needs to be upped because rent for a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Kildare starts at €1,500. Increasing the threshold would allow people some stability in the rental market.

If everybody is in a rush to build houses-----

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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There is no rush.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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-----then the quality of the houses that will be built could be affected.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The Government is taking its time.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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In the past, there has been neglect of housing quality standards. It is most important we do not start building houses again and neglect building standards. It is important we instruct local authorities to build houses to the standards that have been set out.

We should not be proud of the homeless figures in the State. However, the situation is worse in the Sinn Féin-controlled Executive in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The figures here have doubled in the past 12 months under this Government.

6:30 pm

Photo of Áine CollinsÁine Collins (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I too welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. There is no doubt that the whole house building process needs to be kick-started, especially in major urban areas. There is sufficient land zoned, but developers and banks must be convinced that building projects are economically viable. On 10 November this year, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Finance, Deputies Kelly and Noonan, announced a new raft of measures to obtain this objective. These measures are delicately balanced as getting it wrong would make the situation even worse.

The concept of mixed developments as envisaged under Part V of the Planning and Development Act must continue to be our paramount objective. This is why the balanced approach adopted by the Government must be the way forward. An enhanced supply of starter homes will be encouraged and there will be a targeted rebate of development contributions in Dublin and Cork and new planning guidelines to reduce the price of apartments. Combined, these new actions, along with new rent control measures, should make much needed new housing developments more economically viable.

I acknowledge and welcome the new flexibility that is to be shown in the rent supplement and housing assistant payment, HAP, schemes. Recent reports from housing departments, especially in Cork, which was a pilot area for the HAP scheme, have been very encouraging. It is proving, by far, the fastest way of allocating houses. However, all these incentives do not deal with housing shortages in our rural towns and villages. A new system must be introduced to encourage small builders to purchase and refurbish houses in the centre of these towns and villages. This will solve the dual objective of providing social housing and revitalising communities.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I commend the suite of measures put in place to tackle the housing crisis. These are solutions based on leasing, buying and building homes for people. I commend the Minister also. This is one of the most difficult social issues we have to face. I will not get into the reasons that led us to having a housing shortage and the situation we are in but not so long ago, at the beginning of the term of this Parliament, people were saying we would have to pull down houses in different parts of the country and the idea that we would embark on a massive building of houses was rubbished in many sectors.

The two year pause on increases in rent is not excessive. Any intervention in the rental market would be justified. The Ministers, Deputies Kelly and Noonan, have decided upon this course of action in respect of rent stability because the market is skewed given the lack of supply of new builds. An artificial situation has been created in the short term and we are addressing it. Such extraordinary market situations can and do justify intervention in the rental market.

I would like to see a situation where once again the general idea would be that local authorities would be brought to the heart of the delivery of social housing. Voluntary housing associations and what they deliver are currently very much in vogue but we should look a little closer at the issue. There is a lot of expertise in local authorities, which have to deal with everyone. Voluntary housing associations get to cherry pick their tenants from the council housing list and they are not shy about getting people evicted for anti-social behaviour. These people go back to the local authority looking for housing and the local authority has to pick up the pieces. These voluntary housing associations have bigger budgets for maintenance and staffing resources. My experience of the projects delivered in my county is that these voluntary housing associations seem to be able to leverage money. I would like to see those issues addressed.

A fair analysis would show that, of the money local authorities receive from tenants, as little as 20% to 25% is put back into maintenance. Therein lies the problem of long-term voids. Mayo County Council only puts 22% of the money into maintenance. It is frustrating, to say the least, to see houses lie empty for a long time after they have been vacated when they should be put back into use. These issues are the responsibility of councillors when setting budgets. I know there are demands other than housing on local authorities but if the Government sees housing as a priority and is tackling the issue of homelessness, local authorities should do so equally. This is a critical and overlooked issue. Local authorities are under pressure to deal with the homelessness problem, but are they being provided with sufficient moneys for their housing budgets in order that they can invest in maintenance and put long-term voids back on the market?

Photo of Robert DowdsRobert Dowds (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Housing is the most pressing issue this Government and country currently faces. Long before it was possible to put lots of money towards the issue, I was part of a group of Labour Deputies that was pressing for social housing to be built. What stalled everything for so long was the fact that the country was broke. It is a pity that no member of Fianna Fáil is in the Chamber to hear it, but I regret the fact that previous Fianna Fáil governments could have delivered up to 10,000 social houses. It did not deliver on them because they allowed buy-outs by developers. The situation would be a great deal eased today if those 10,000 houses had been built.

Fianna Fáil governments privatised the delivery of social housing, which was a disaster. Houses were being delivered by small, amateur landlords who had one or two houses. Unfortunately, as we know, several of them got into financial difficulty because they overstretched themselves, which they were encouraged to do by the banks. Another problem was that people were encouraged by the section 23 relief to build houses in inappropriate locations. The relief encouraged people to build houses where they were not really required and this greatly exacerbated the problem.

I welcome the fact that the Government has at last been able to put a great deal of money towards this issue. It is very important that the new incoming Government pursues the delivery of housing as rapidly as possible. It is an absolute social necessity. If housing is not delivered where it is required it will also cause damage to our growing economy. The most important reason housing needs to be delivered is its impact on people themselves. I welcome the many initiatives the Minister, Deputy Kelly and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey have introduced to address a whole range of issues. These include the delivery of social housing, the development of the housing assistance payment, the building of modular homes and so on. There are so many things being done and they will, in time, deliver results.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is clear from the contributions of previous speakers that homelessness is a huge problem. Many of us have concerns about families being housed in hotels where there is only one room and very little space available to young children to participate in normal family activities. This Government has committed €7 million to housing authorities in 2016 for measures such as housing purchase. In my constituency, St. Teresa's Gardens and Dolphin House are being de-tenanted and many people have been transferred under this scheme.

The council has been buying houses with money from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to facilitate the de-tenanting of St. Teresa's Gardens so a new build can begin.

The return of voids is also very important in my constituency. In the past couple of months, 23 flats in Basin Street flats were put back into use. Unfortunately for the people living in Summer Street flats, there are eight units there still void. They are on the top floor and must be brought into use immediately. The money has been allocated to the city council for the refurbishment of the roof but it appears to be taking some time. Perhaps the Minister could do something to hurry that up because those units could be used. The roll-out of housing assistance payment, HAP, is very important, as is the provision regarding homeless households in the allocation of tenancies under the control of the housing authorities in each council.

The only way of resolving this crisis is to build, not only social housing but also private housing. Many people are seeking to be housed whether it is in social housing or in private units. The Minister should also consider, as part of any future review of this, building more senior citizens' units. On a daily basis, I get telephone calls from people who are living in a three-bedroom house but who only use one room downstairs. They would gladly transfer to a senior citizens' complex within their community where they can live out the rest of their lives, when the units would be returned to the authority. That is an important move we should consider.

I welcome the provision of modular housing for homeless people by the Government. Some people say it is short-sighted but I do not believe it is. We have been told by the Minister and the Department that an average modular house can be of use for 30 to 50 years and that is important. However, I urge caution in this regard. There must be consultation with residents in the areas. One cannot simply walk in, take over a site and build houses. There must be consultation with residents. That is one of the huge problems that could occur, which will further delay the process with modular housing.

6:40 pm

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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In the short time I have available, I will speak about a group of people who are often forgotten, people in rural areas. One-off houses were previously the mainstay of the social housing scheme for many local authorities throughout the country but this has vanished in the past 15 or 20 years. Members of the farming community, in many cases small farmers in severely disadvantaged areas, were able to give a site to the local authority for the construction of houses. Such houses were previously called the farmer's cottage and latterly became known as the one-off rural house for social housing for people in rural areas. I encourage the Minister to re-examine that scheme. These people are bringing something to the table, and in many cases it is a valuable asset.

The Minister made changes recently to the building regulations for one-off private rural houses but this is adding to the housing problem. There are unrealistic regulations, and the Minister knows what I am talking about, in terms of planning permission and a third party organisation being given a right to object to a person's ability to build on their property. This organisation is based in Dublin 4 and has no connection to a rural area but can pass judgment on a person's wish to live in a rural location. The Department has an obligation to examine that. The organisation is funded by the Department and is allowed to travel around the country and lodge objections willy-nilly when people wish to build a house on their land. It is about time it was called to book.

I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and one of the issues that has arisen there time and again is NAMA and the allocation of social housing to the local authorities in Dublin, in particular, and in the greater Leinster area. There is no rational explanation for the refusal by some of the local authorities in Leinster and especially Dublin to accept perfectly good houses. They have been refused point blank by the local authorities while thousands of people linger on the housing lists. I call on the Department to examine this issue.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputies to give their attention to the speaker.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. This is a serious issue for people in my constituency who are awaiting a solution. To have the Members opposite skitting at it, like something out of "The Muppet Show", does not do the issue any justice.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Ask where the ministerial muppet is.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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To return to the issue I was discussing before the Members opposite decided to laugh at it, the local authorities in the Dublin and Leinster region have refused perfectly good offers. I ask the Minister to invite the chief executive officers of the Dublin and Leinster local authorities to the Department to get an explanation as to why, when thousands of people are lingering on the housing waiting lists in their areas, they saw fit to refuse these.

I will conclude with the subject on which I started. If we are to have a mix of social housing across the country, it is important that the people in rural areas, in my constituency and the Minister's, who are often forgotten and live outside the 50 km/h speed limit are not omitted in the round of social housing on which the Government is about to embark.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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I support this motion. We have listened to the Government time and again roll out different figures or the same figures to give the impression that more money is going to housing in this country. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, is a good example of the Labour Party's role in the Government. For months he has huffed, puffed and generally made a great deal of noise but then he quietly rolled over with regard to the rent caps. That is abhorrent, in view of what people need at present to resolve this issue.

Why do we have a housing crisis? One need not be an expert to understand the reason. The failure to build and maintain an adequate supply of good quality social housing is the key factor. That has been the failure of both the previous and the current Governments. When I was a member of Dublin City Council in 2010 and 2011, I tabled an emergency motion regarding NAMA handing over properties. We had a housing crisis then at that level. A member of the Labour Party, Deputy Eric Byrne, produced a leaflet in 2010 stating that Dublin was in the grip of a housing emergency. In the leaflet he said that his motion in Dublin City Council to declare a housing emergency was an attempt to shock the then Government into taking action. He is now a Member of this House and he is not prepared to stand and shout that there is a housing emergency in the country.

The crisis is the result of decisions taken at Government and local authority levels effectively to abandon social housing provision and to rely on the private sector, developers, builders and landlords. It is a disastrous policy failure that must be reversed. However, all the Minister offers is more of the same. We must build 100,000 social housing units over the next ten years. The most effective way to do that is by establishing a national housing agency and declaring a housing emergency to respond to the humanitarian crisis facing people. The Government should accept this demand and utilise it to get the funding that is required. A national housing agency would bring together and oversee NAMA and local authorities and would mobilise existing resources in terms of land, existing housing units that are vacant and suitable and, crucially, would be able to borrow to fund a programme for directly building social housing.

This would be far cheaper than relying on the private sector, which the Government is hoping will build 75% of social housing units. It will not do that. In addition, there is no guarantee that the private sector will meet the targets the Government has set. Only 20 social housing units were built in the first six months of this year. The Minister is confident that this will increase to 200 over next year. We need 100,000, not 200 in the next year.

Many Members on this side of the House gave a cautious welcome to the changes in the 2000 Act to remove the ability of developers to make payments to local authorities in lieu of providing units for social housing. The point was made by a Labour Party backbencher that the Fianna Fáil Government, and I have many issues with Fianna Fáil and the last Government, allowed developers to pay for the housing rather than offer the houses for social housing. It did not; the local authorities did that. There was a provision in that Act to permit that and the local authority housing management allowed it to happen. It should never have done so. The councils at the time should have kicked up murder about it but the Labour Party and Fine Gael in the councils did not do so.

I do not know why it was necessary to reduce the requirement from 20% to 10%. That should be reversed.

There is an urgent need for social housing. Where is the logic in reducing the obligation on developers to provide social housing in developments by 50%? I do not know why the threshold is to be increased for developments from four units to nine. Where is the logic to that? That change should be reversed. I also want to raise the issue of the amendments proposed to section 34 of the Bill, which, I understand, will allow a developer to avoid the obligation to provide social housing units to a local authority if that developer agrees to rent out the units. That should not be there because all the housing should be designated as social housing. I have supported the concept of a vacant site levy for a long time but, again, I question why it is to be set at such a low level of 3%.

We must put in place the necessary short-term measures to deal with the escalating problem of homelessness, which is now affecting 80 families each week in Dublin alone. The point was made on the other side of the House about how that is affecting the mental health of families, both adults and children. This is going to be a huge problem. Again, the reasons are clear. Landlords are raising rents or exiting the market. The question of rising rents should have been dealt with by a temporary rent cap, which would have been achieved by temporarily linking rents to the consumer price index while bringing in a more long-term solution by regulating rents to make them affordable. The so-called rent certainty the Government has introduced is the certainty that rents will rise.

In the context of the Minister of State's point about the Residential Tenancies Act, the two key requirements were not mentioned. The first is to change the Act so that when properties are sold, this will be done with tenants in situ. This is done with commercial property, so why is it not being done with housing? The second requirement is to provide greater security for tenants by raising the period to a minimum of at least ten years. On another point, the credit unions are willing to offer €2 billion but the Government has not taken them up on it. That could be used to build nearly 12,000 houses.

6:50 pm

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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If members of the general public are listening to this debate, they could easily become confused. I was in my office listening to some Government Deputies talking about the need to build more houses. We are the ones saying more houses need to be built, so I think there is some confusion. It is easy to say we need to build more houses. The exact nature of the problem is that we are not building enough houses.

People sleeping rough is the most visible and extreme consequence of homelessness and homelessness is the most visible and extreme consequence of a dysfunctional housing system. The housing system today is an example of a perfect storm. These are not my words or a quote from the socialist parties, rather they are the words of Peter McVerry. We need to listen to what he is saying when he makes the point that there is a perfect storm.

There is an amalgamation of problems with private housing, private rental property and social housing. These three areas are all in crisis at the same time, although I do not believe this fact is being discussed. On private housing, for those starting out on the housing ladder who want to buy a private house, prices are moving out of reach of most young couples on moderate or middle wages, in particular as they need 10% of the cost of the house as first-time buyers or 20% if buying for a second time. That is what is facing thousands of young couples whose first option, if they had a choice, would be to buy their own private houses. That option is being taken away from many young people, perhaps for ever.

There is also a perfect storm within the private rental sector. Some 20% of households are now renting, which is a huge increase on the years preceding the crash. We all know that good quality houses are scarce throughout the country and that some 40,000 rented properties were taken out of the housing stock and put up for sale between 2011 and 2015. This has caused a problem because it means the first group of people I mentioned are unable to buy houses and it also took many people out of the rental market. A survey of landlords carried out by the Private Residential Tenancies Board last year indicated that one third of them intended to sell their property when they could afford to do so. There is no doubt that this trend will continue. Therefore, we are now back into the perfect storm for people who want to buy private houses and those who are renting.

I also wish to refer to the famous housing assistance payment, HAP. It has been acknowledged by Deputies on all sides that there are fundamental flaws in the HAP scheme which have left people who are urgently seeking housing in dire straits. I will give an example. As is the case with many other Deputies, my office has been inundated with calls. During the summer, I carried out a survey of 13 auctioneers in Waterford city and Tramore and found only one landlord willing to accept tenants who are paid through the council-administered HAP scheme. Very few applications secure housing through the scheme. The Government will tell us that people are taking up the scheme but those taking it up are predominantly transferring to HAP from the rent supplement programme. Why do landlords not want to take people on the HAP scheme? It is because the rent ceilings are too low. Hence, there is, again, a perfect storm in the rental market.

There are 100,000 to 130,000 people on housing waiting lists, although I believe the number is actually greater because there are individuals who are living with their parents and who, for example, say that, as a single person, there is no point in going on the housing list because they are not going to get a house for years. As a matter of fact, some of them consider themselves homeless. This is the problem with regard to the 100,000 to 130,000 people coming onto the list. As a result of that to which I refer, there is also a perfect storm in the area of social housing.

We really have to listen to what Peter McVerry is saying, namely, that a perfect storm has developed not only in the social housing market but also in private housing and rented accommodation. This is the difficulty we face. Nothing has really changed since the crash. The economic consequences we face today are that house prices are going up and that private rent is increasing faster than it was five or six years ago.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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We have a housing crisis. It is an emergency. Everybody seems to realise it except the members of the Government, who are displaying ostrich-type behaviour. However, burying their heads in the sand is not going to deal with this issue. An emergency requires an urgent response. The members of the Government are the only people who think they have delivered that. The first thing to do in a crisis is to try to stop making it worse. They have not even got that bit right. The numbers of people without a secure roof over their heads has skyrocketed under this Government's watch. Contrary to what Deputy Mulherin said about the solutions it is implementing, what we have had has not been an abundance of solutions but rather a hell of a lot of announcements at a time when people needed a lot more. The actions the Government has taken have actually made things worse.

Is it not ironic that, 145 years ago on from the land wars of 1870, where the demands of the three Fs were put forward, two of them - fixity of tenure and fair rent - have still not been delivered? Some 145 have passed and we have not even got that bit right.

The Government's announcement of its solution of that issue has made things immeasurably worse for tenants because, thanks to the Government's dillydallying and delaying on this, we have seen the greatest jump in rents since 2007 in this past month. I have no doubt the delays were deliberate on the side of the Minister, Deputy Noonan, who very much tends to have the ear of the REITs.

Simplistic points have been made suggesting the problem with dealing with landlords is because a number of Deputies are landlords. I do not believe that is the problem, rather the problem is with the REITs. The problem is the large vulture capital funds that have been allowed to dominate the rental market in this city, a system facilitated and nurtured by NAMA and the by the antics engaged in by NAMA, not least with the scandalous decision on the Government's watch to allow the sale of Project Arrow while Cerberus is under criminal investigation in a number of jurisdictions. Even parking that travesty, the fact the Government would give away a portfolio, half of which was residential property in this country, for less than €1 billion and at the same time announce it was going to spend a couple of hundred million euro on building housing units does not make sense. Those units should have been provided and put on the market for the people who need houses now.

I agree totally with the points made by Deputy Joan Collins in regard to the measures that are required when distressed properties with tenants are being sold. No serious proposals have been made in that regard. This evening, we received a circular from FLAC regarding the Government's inadequate ability to deal with the issue of mortgage arrears. In that circular, Noeline Blackwell speaks about the Government's solutions for keeping people in their homes. She said she knew last May these solutions needed to be put in place, but there has been bewilderingly little progress on putting these measures in place. Only 110 mortgage to rent agreements have been put in place. This is pathetic and undoubtedly means that for many of these over-indebted borrowers and tenants who live in buy-to-let properties in arrears, the promises made over the past six months have resulted in no improvements in systems to allow people take control of their debt and gain security in their homes.

There are no real delivery from the new measures either. The Government is providing modular dwellings, something many people have serious doubts about, but is placing them on sites that have already been serviced for the delivery and building of social housing. One could not make this up. The fundamental flaw in the whole Government approach to this matter is that it is displaying what the previous Government also displayed, an over reliance on the private market. However, the private market cannot deliver and meet the housing needs of citizens. We need an intervention by the State and we need a level of house building and provision that we have not seen in the past number of years.

The fact the Government has announced it intends to spend €4 billion to 2020 on housing is not a cause for great celebration because everybody knows that it has paid €2.5 billion to line the pockets of private landlords over the past number of years. Also, the overwhelming bulk of the moneys now being provided will go to the private sector. There must be an absolute change in approach. Some €27 million is being spent on remediation of Priory Hall, so why is that building not being made available? Sites in St. Teresa's Gardens and other areas are ready to go and all that is needed is investment and for the Minister to access the funds. The situation is not good enough. This is an emergency and that means we need an urgent response from the Minister, not an announcement. We need to see improvements on the ground. What has been delivered is too little and too late.

7:00 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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There are a number of reasons and numerous opinions on why we have a housing crisis. Without a doubt the main problem is the fact that the current and the previous Government stopped building social housing. When the State stopped building social housing, this had a knock-on effect in the private and rental sectors. On top of this, we have serious problems with both of these sectors.

The decision by NAMA and the banks to sell off rental units and development in a fire sale has been a disaster for the housing and property market. When the next government initiates an independent commission of inquiry into the workings of NAMA, the rationale behind the decision to sell properties in large bundles will have to be analysed. These bundles are so large that only a few investment funds worldwide could entertain the idea of buying them. It is hard to perceive how in God's name the rationale for this came about.

On top of this, we had huge portfolios, like Project Eagle and Project Arrow, sold in a non-competitive fashion, with the Irish frozen out of the market for the best value portfolios. The bigger the portfolio, the lower the value obtained for the assets. This made no sense whatever. Take for example Project Orange, which was sold to Irish Residential Properties. This company now owns over 1,500 units. Project Orange contained 760 units, so why in God's name, given our housing crisis, did the Government not use some of those units for social housing? That is what should have happened. The Project Orange portfolio was sold for a fraction of the price it will cost the Government to build the required social housing units. The same situation occurred with Project Arrow, which was sold to Cerberus for €800 million. Almost half of that portfolio was residential property, but the Government did not even examine it to see what was suitable for use as social housing.

In January 2014, almost two years ago, I warned the Minister for Finance in the House during Question Time about the real estate investment trusts, REITs, that were being set up. I warned that these would invite foreigners into the country to buy large portfolios of property with zero tax to pay. I said at the time that questions must be asked about the increased corporatisation of property markets with little financial gain for the State. I went on to say that this would surely have implications for the rental market in the years ahead. The Minister replied: "It is hoped that the REITs will help to standardise and improve management standards across the rental property sector as a whole, which would be of benefit to both investors and tenants". They were a huge benefit to investors, but not to tenants. When I look back on this, I wonder whether this was done deliberately and whether the Government did want to corporatise the whole rental market. That is the direction we are taking. Now, with the likes of Kennedy Wilson and REITs controlling so much of the rental market, it is easy for them to form a cartel and dictate prices.

NAMA has said it will build 20,000 housing units on land that belongs to the Irish people because it was part of the distressed assets of the banks. However, only 10% of these units will be social housing. Why, given that we need significant social housing if the housing crisis is to be addressed, is 50% of this housing not to be social housing? I would not agree with making 100% of this housing social housing because that would create another ghetto. However, we need to begin to address the fact that the Government is not building social housing currently. If it is going to allow NAMA to build 20,000 units, half of those units should be social housing units and there should be a proper housing mix so that there is no ghettoisation.

Traditionally, social housing here has had a bad reputation. It has meant poor quality, a poor location and poor services. It does not have to be like that. We can build good housing almost as cheaply as poor housing. There is no great gap between the cost of good, decent housing and poor housing. It is outrageous to think we cannot build social housing well and mix it with private housing in a good way. If we look at state housing in Italian cities, we see good quality units. We could do the same. We must change our attitude in regard to the provision of social housing. This would make a significant difference. Until the Government decides to get over its ideological barrier to building social housing, we will continue to have a social housing problem and a housing crisis, and people will continue to fail to afford to buy into the private or rental market.

7:10 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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"Alarming", "disturbing" and "frightening" are the three words I would use to describe the housing issue. While there is no doubt that the posltion is getting worse outside Dublin, it is in Dublin where the most severe difficulties are being experienced when it comes to housing and homelessness. We know the facts. We know that more than 700 families and 1,500 children are homeless. We know that the local authority housing list runs to over 140,000. We know about spiralling rents and the rigid and restrictive Central Bank mortgage lending rates.

I want to mention specific problems I come across every day, one of which concerns those in recovery from addiction. That recovery is being jeopardised because there is not enough drug free accommodation available. I have listened to what is happening in London, in particular, in one project. A whole building was made available to provide homeless accommodation for those who had difficult and chaotic lives, but there was one floor for those who wanted to become drug free. There were detox facilities with medical care. The difference this made to people in getting out of these chaotic lives was unbelievable. Long-term tenants in their 50s who have consistently paid their rent are facing eviction. People are sharing rooms as opposed to houses and flats. There are people on reasonably good incomes who will never get a mortgage. People are working to pay rent rather than earn a living. A single man in his 30s on a local authority housing list will more than likely be eligible for senior citizen accommodation before there will be a move on the local authority list. Foreign nationals are presenting to homeless services and being moved through pathway accommodation because they are foreign nationals. That is not represented in the true figure for those who are homeless.

Successive Governments took their eye of the ball when it came to housing. They ignored the reports and statistics which indicated that there would be a crisis. We are aware of the over-reliance on private developers and the way in which there was light touch regulation. We know that local authorities stopped building and that landlords had the power to raise rents at will. I have sympathy for landlords who deal with tenants from hell, but more and more I see the other type of landlord who uses whatever means are at his or her disposal to evict tenants and, of course, the banks facilitate this. Whatever about banks moving against the owner of a property, it is the tenant who suffers the consequences.

On the boarding up of voids during the recession, the local authorities bore the costs. I acknowledge that Dublin City Council has been moving much quicker on the issue. Some sensible solutions have been proposed in the motion tabled by Deputies Ruth Coppinger, Joe Higgins and Catherine Murphy. A reasonable proposal is that during a housing crisis there be a halt to economic evictions and repossessions, especially where there is no alternative accommodation available for the tenant. It is heartbreaking listening to people who know that they are facing eviction, particularly for those of advancing years. Landlords have been unscrupulous in trying to get rid of tenants because it is a landlord's market and they can find tenants who will pay more. If there is not going to be a total ban, the meassure could be in place for a much longer period of six to nine months.

There is a need for the banks to differentiate in the way in which they treat people where a house is their home as opposed to those people who have houses as part of a property portfolio. I am opposed to giving more in rent to landlords for substandard accommodation. The reality has to be faced that rent supplement is not in keeping with market rents. The rent allowance for a single man is €520, for which one will not find one bedroom accommodation in Dublin, although I am not sure what the position is outside Dublin. What is happening is that young people are paying between €200 and €300 to share a room with two or three others. It is no secret that people are topping up on their rent allowance. Why not look at the consumer price index as a much better way to gauge fairness?

Some weeks ago we had a debate on tax justice and corporate tax. Social Justice Ireland states a 6.5% effective tax rate would bring in an additional €1 billion. We have only to look at NAMA and the number of hotel rooms it has in its control. It is sensible and practical that it should give a certain number of rooms in hotels for those in homeless accommodation. I have been speaking ad infinitum about Moore Street which was a street on which people lived and which is in the control of NAMA. Why cannot it gift that street to the State when we could have a proper restoration to provide housing for people? There is a scheme of improvement works in lieu of local authority housing which could be looked at. There are people living in overcrowded accommodation who have space to add an extension. If there were grants to provide these extensions, the people concerned would be taken off the housing list.

Local authorities have to be able to engage with people before they become homeless, not when they are homeless and in crisis. The rent certainty introduced has been welcomed by those working with the homeless. If it had been provided overnight without much debate or discussion by way of emergency legislation, landlords would not have had the opportunity to increase their rents. There was a crisis this time last year and it is still a crisis, but it is not being acknowledged for what it is.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate. As my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, outlined in his opening statement last night, housing and homelessness are top priorities for the Government. Ultimately, a lack of supply is at the heart of the problems we face. The Government has brought forward a suite of policies to increase the supply of all forms of housing; provided €1.7 billion in successive budgets and introduced policies to stabilise the rental market while supply ramps up. Perhaps I might correct the record in respect of some misinformation given by Deputy Joan Collins who stated the Government's target was to deliver 200 units next year. In fact, more than 200 multi-unit projects have already been approved and are under way around the country and more will be approved in the coming weeks.

We are working across government to ensure the vision of every household to have access to secure, good quality, affordable housing is delivered. Funding is not the issue. The Government is providing the funding needed and the challenge is to deliver housing units across the various forms.

For the information of the House, I recently met ministerial colleagues from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England who face the same challenges and problems as we do. We are sharing experiences. They are taking on board some of the initiatives we are introducing to maximise the supply of new housing units.

The €70 million budget secured for homelessness services next year represents an increase of 32% on the 2015 allocation of €53 million and a 55.5% increase on the 2014 allocation of €45 million. The delivery of 500 units of modular housing for homeless families across Dublin in the next few months will also make a real and tangible difference for people who currently have inappropriate commercial hotel arrangements. It will also allow better access to support services. I acknowledge the work of the Dublin Homeless Executive which has managed to assist more than 730 families to exit homelessness in the past year. However, we still need to do more. In the short term we are turning around thousands of voids per annum. This was not done in recent years. We are approving direct acquisitions by local authorities and approved housing bodies and leasing housing units. This is the fastest way to deliver units to home families. In the medium to long term we are approving the capital programmes in the various local authorities. As the Minister outlined last night, measures have been taken to stabilise the private rental market. I do not intend to go over them again, except to say they will strengthen and sustain tenancies.

The Government recognises its key role in the provision of social housing and has returned the State to a central position in supply through the social housing strategy. In this regard, it recognises the need for a significant increase in the market housing. There are some positive indicators of activity, with a significant number of planning applications going through the system. For example, at the end of quarter two in 2015, planning permissions were granted for more than 3,000 new homes, an increase of 87% on the figure for the same period last year. Converting these permissions into starts and ramping up further to reach the 25,000 per annum unit requirement represent the challenge for the construction sector leaders. The Government has clearly signalled its determination to see a strong supply of development land and housing being provided to meet demand.

This Government has put in place a multifaceted set of responses to deal with the breadth of issues we face. These include a funding commitment of €1.7 billion in successive budgets; a €2.9 billion capital commitment to 2021; an overall commitment to deliver the social housing strategy by 2020 at a total cost of nearly €4 billion in capital and current funding; 300 additional housing staff in local authorities and rising; €500 million in allocations to local authorities and approved housing bodies for the construction and acquisition of over 2,900 units out to 2017; €91 million worth of housing investment across a range of housing schemes to bring vacant social housing units back into productive use; 2,500 voids delivered in 2014 and another 2,500 projected for completion this year; €70 million for homeless services in 2016; and 500 planned modular homes. This is a comprehensive response from Government. Houses cannot be built overnight but we are putting in place every measure to deliver as many houses as possible as soon as possible.

This debate will continue. It is important that we continue to debate the issues around housing but please be assured that this Government is treating it as a top priority. We have secured the funding and it is now down to delivery across the various facets.

7:20 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The time for spoof, big announcements that translate into nothing and chatter about this emergency in this House is over. The main thing I wish to say is that people need to get out on to the streets on 1 December 2015 for a national demonstration to address the housing and homelessness emergency. The demonstration will assemble on Grafton Street at 5 p.m. and will march to the Dáil. That day is the anniversary of the tragic and unnecessary death of Jonathan Corrie, a homeless man who died just metres away from the front of this building. Since his tragic death, the homelessness and housing emergency that the Government has presided over and allowed to worsen has worsened on a daily basis. The time for talk is over and the time to mobilise is now. It is the only language the Government seems to understand and it is the only thing that forces any kind of movement from it. I urge the 130,000 families on the housing list, over 100,000 people in mortgage distress, the thousands of students who cannot find any or suitable accommodation and the Traveller community of this country which has been let down despicably in terms of Traveller accommodation to come out onto the streets, demand action and surround this building until the Government is forced to take meaningful action to address the housing crisis.

I find it nauseating that in order to cover its failure on this issue, the Government now tries to pin the blame on local authorities and suggest that it has given them the resources but they have not got their act together in terms of providing housing. The fact is that in July 2011, months after the Government took office, it sent out a circular to every local authority announcing that there would be no more direct construction of council housing for the foreseeable future. That is why they did not make any plans. It was because the Government told them there would be no more council houses. The Government spelled out in that document how it was going to outsource the provision of social housing to the private sector, which is what it has done. That is what the agenda has been - to privatise the housing market completely. Fianna Fáil did it by 70% to 80% and the Government decided to carry on and complete the job by handing it over. Everything it has done since has compounded this crisis from that first circular in the first few months of its tenure.

That was followed by the Minister for Social Protection cutting rent allowance and claiming ridiculously at the time in the face of protests from this side of the Chamber that it would lead to rents going down. The Government should be sacked for that one piece of incompetence - for claiming that cutting rent allowance would lead to rents going down when it had exactly the opposite effect. It led directly to thousands of people being put into emergency services.

This was compounded by the fact that the Government sold off all of the NAMA properties - tens of thousands of properties - to property vultures. Of course, all of this was directed towards improving the balance sheets of the banks because they were holding the property so the Government could sell it off to these vultures who could monopolise the market, jack up rents and put people who could not pay the inflated rents out on the streets. That is what the whole thing is about. The Taoiseach gave the game away. When we asked for real rent controls rather than Mickey Mouse rent controls, he said that the Government was not going to interfere with the market. That is what he said - we do not want to interfere with the market. That has been the obstacle.

What we need is tens of thousands of council houses, not leasing and not looking to developers. We were building 90,000 houses in this State at the height of the building boom - sadly for profit and not for people. If we could do that then, the Government can certainly build 10,000 or 15,000 council houses in a year. It will not do it because it does not want to interfere with the interests of the developers.

I will finish with the case of Dún Laoghaire. While the Minister is chatting away to the Minister of State, 490 people presented as homeless in October in Dún Laoghaire. This year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council delivered zero council houses and next year, it will deliver 34 but 1,600 people joined the list in that time. The Minister's plans are a joke.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I welcome to the Dáil residents of the greater Dublin area who have been campaigning for housing accommodation for themselves and people generally who are in urgent need of a home. This includes some who are actually facing the horror of eviction in the next week. This history of the Irish State has been characterised by an economically weak capitalist class that was utterly incapable of developing a modern economy to meet the needs of the State's population hence the tragedy of mass emigration in every decade. This failure forced various Governments, albeit those composed of right-wing political parties, to mobilise State resources in public investment to construct significant enterprises such as the Electricity Supply Board, peat production and sugar beet industries creating thousands of jobs and services and publicly funded home building on a wide scale.

In the modern era, we have had a catastrophic implosion of Irish capitalism - first splurging on an orgy of antisocial and parasitic speculation and profiteering in a property bubble and then inevitably crashing ignominiously into chaos. What do the present-day political directors of the State do? Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and Labour wade in to bail out the perpetrators of the crisis at the cost of immense suffering and a disaster for the innocent victims of the crash, none more so than homeless families and individuals and over 100,000 families on local authority housing waiting lists. Incredibly, the Labour Party Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, in view of the catastrophe wrought by private speculators, developers and the banks and the catastrophic failure of the same class over the seven years of austerity since the crash they caused to make any contribution to resolving the housing crisis, came into Dáil Éireann last night and said:

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.

It defies belief that the Minister again comes in and wants to involve the market that has palpably failed. It is the market whose profiteering caused the crisis in the first instance that must respond. A huge majority of the 110,000 houses promised in the Social Housing Strategy 2020 are in the form of private rented accommodation sending those in need of a home into the arms of private landlords.

It was the logic of the market that led this Government most shamefully to allow NAMA, a State agency, give in to the clutches of capitalist vulture funds, thousands and thousands of units of accommodation that should have been taken into public ownership. Vulture funds are carpet baggers roaming the globe to pick over the carcasses of the economic victims created by the greed of the system they epitomise. That is who the Irish Government is looking to in this crisis.

The market will not supply the homes that are desperately needed by our people. The Government should declare a national housing emergency forthwith; mobilise the local authorities with State funding to build tens of thousands of homes to provide for the people on the lists; mobilise the banking system in public ownership and publicly owned major construction companies to build tens of thousands of affordable homes to be sold to middle and low income workers. These and other measures, which we have outlined in our motion, are crucial and the only way to resolve the crisis. On 1 December people should mobilise in Dublin with the organisations fighting the homelessness crisis and mobilise to kick out the political parties of austerity responsible for this crisis in the forthcoming general election and put in place an alternative policy to the disaster it has caused.

7:30 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I too welcome people affected by the housing emergency to the Gallery. I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who came into the Chamber recently. I hope he can stay off his phone and stop his conversation with the junior Minister for long enough to give due respect to the people here and to us.

Some of the contributions from the Government side were embarrassing. The Minister said yesterday that houses do not appear by magic but it would seem they do in Dublin West because the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, was able to conjure up 44 social houses yesterday in Waterville. Nobody else had heard about them. No other public representative was told about them and she did this because protest works. People should take heed. In Dublin West we have made housing an absolutely central issue. We have organised public meetings, occupations of NAMA houses and made it an imperative for the Minister to find social housing. I encourage everybody to take part in the protest on 1 December at 5 p.m.

The Minister also asked why the Anti-Austerity Alliance did not allocate 50% of housing when we sat on councils. We were never in power and a homeless person was a rarity when I was on a council, now that is an everyday occurrence. The Government’s line is that there is no quick fix. Somebody even said there might be pyrite if houses are built too quickly. If houses are built any slower we will see more and more people lying on the streets.

Houses are being built. In Dublin West there are two NAMA estates, one, Diswellstown Manor, has planning permission for 225 houses; a three-bedroom house is for sale for €395,000, a four-bedroom house for €480,000, and the Minister tells us they are starter homes. He and the Taoiseach have had the cheek to say NAMA will resolve homelessness. It will be lucky if 10%, 25, of those homes are allocated to people on the list. The same is true of Hamilton Park, a three-bedroom house costs a minimum of €395,000. Not too many of the people sitting in the Gallery will be able to muster a 10% deposit of €39,500 after paying their monthly rent of €1,500. What will the Minister do about that? He says that our proposals are unconstitutional. Where? If they are, amend the Constitution. Why is homelessness, people living in hostels and hotels all right?

The key points of our motion are that we call for an emergency to be declared because if it is not declared, the emergency measures needed will never be taken. We call for an audit of all vacant houses in the country to find out who owns them, can they be acquired and how they can be used. The Government should ban economic evictions and repossessions, allowed by AIB, which the State controls. It should allocate NAMA hotel rooms, one-eighth of all hotel rooms, to homeless people, refurbish them, make them habitable for families, with proper cooking facilities and so on. It should introduce real rent controls linked to inflation and backdated to 2011 when rents were at their lowest. It should acquire buy-to-let properties that are in danger of being repossessed. That would increase the Government’s housing stock. We should build social and affordable housing on a major scale for rent or purchase. That can be done by changing NAMA’s brief. The biggest construction operation on the planet exists here in Ireland. Instead of being a nurse for the developers to get them back on their feet it could be turned into an agency for the building of social and affordable housing. NAMA has massive cash reserves. We do not have to look too far for the money. It has €4 billion from overseas sales and €3 billion set aside for development. That could build 70,000 houses if the Government used the land NAMA already has, at an estimated €100,000 per house. A total of €2 billion could be taken from the Strategic Investment Fund. Rents and other mortgage payments could come in to repay that money if the Government used it. We could tax wealth and corporations that have more wealth than entire countries. Instead of taking a case alongside Apple, the biggest company on the planet, we could agree that it should pay its tax of €17 billion. That would build a lot of houses and would give the Government a fund to build social and affordable housing.

I am glad the Minister has stopped talking just when I have stopped. His arrogance is beyond belief.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary North, Labour)
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Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 40.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy.


Amendment declared carried.

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

The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 41.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins.


Question declared carried.