Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Social Housing: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:notes that there are over 1,600 children and up to 780 families in emergency accommodation;
accepts that families and children being placed in hotel rooms rather than proper accommodation is totally unacceptable;
further accepts that due to lack of action the number of people on the social housing list has been allowed to rise to 130,000;
agrees that there is a national housing crisis;
notes that the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, have been given responsibility to build 20,000 houses on behalf of the State;
condemns the Government for only allocating 10 per cent of this stock for social housing as this falls way short of adequately dealing with the social housing crisis; and
calls on the Government to utilise the social dividend section of NAMA and to sign an order to direct them to provide 50 per cent of these 20,000 houses as social houses.
I propose to share time with Deputies Keaveney, Troy and McConalogue.
Okay. Five years ago, Fine Gael and the Labour Party came into Government with a massive majority. They promised a softer and easier way to continue to close the gap between Government revenue and expenditure. Decent people voted for them. Even some decent Fianna Fáil people chose to lend their votes to them. Five years on, 800 families are homeless and 1,600 children live in emergency accommodation. Since last January, an average of 80 families have been entering homelessness each month. There are 130,000 applicants on the waiting list. Some 350,000 people need a house they can call their home. This represents an increase of an amazing 45% since 2013. Young couples have been shut out of the housing market as the banks, aided by a Government-backed bank veto, have ramped up repossessions. That is what we have from five years of Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. It is not what decent people expected or bargained for when they chose to lend their votes to that combination, but unfortunately it is what they got.
Regardless of the criticism that is labelled at this Government, and this applies in other areas as well as in housing, it holds itself unaccountable for its five years in office. It is seeking to blame Fianna Fáil in a rerun of the 2011 general election. I wish to state clearly and unequivocally that the decisions taken by this Government had nothing to do with Fianna Fáil and everything to do with the Labour Party's incompetence and Fine Gael's hidden ideological agenda. It was this Government's choice to build 300 social housing units per year, which contrasts with the 3,600 units that were built each year by the previous Government. It was this Government's choice to halve the developers' social housing obligation. It was this Government's choice to bring in a host of extra building costs and thereby hold back house construction. It was this Government's choice to step back and let the banks run the show. It was this Government's choice to allow the banks a veto over people in mortgage distress. This Government can take full ownership of this crisis. People can consider that fact when they go to the polls.
Today we heard the Government's eighth big announcement regarding its social housing strategy, which started two years ago when it said €3 billion would be set aside to provide 110,000 units by 2021. Since then, ten local authorities have failed to build a single house. The Government has failed miserably and abysmally to meet its own targets, even against a backdrop of the recovery and a 6% economic growth rate. We are told we need to keep the recovery going, but I suggest we need to spread the recovery around the country to meet the needs of all the people. Fine Gael wants to please just 30% of the electorate. The Labour Party has been given a pat on the head and been told to paddle its own canoe, which would be grand if it could do so. The Government has failed to take the simplest measures sought by my party and by those who are at the coalface, including Deputies from all sides of the House, councillors from throughout the country and stakeholders such as the Simon Community, Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust. They have sought an increase in rent supplement and a stay in mortgage repossessions. The failure to introduce such measures shows how completely headless and adrift the Government has been. There should be no mistake about the fact that its inaction has forced and is forcing people out of their own homes and into homelessness every day.
This crisis, unlike the recovery, is countrywide. The dysfunction in the private rental market is a direct result of the Government's inaction and its incompetence in making decisions. Its members are commentators rather than decision-makers. While they commented, fumbled and fooled around in advance of the production of their rent certainty measures, we saw the largest increase in rents in more than ten years. The Simon Community has told us today that 95% of people in rental accommodation cannot afford the very accommodation in which they find themselves. How will the Government, having refused to heed our warnings, respond to the facts that have been laid on the table today by the Simon Community? Even though the Government has assigned to two Ministers and two Ministers of State to this area, its response to the housing crisis which it has been engulfed by over the past five years has been incompetent, unco-ordinated and lacklustre. A new yardstick for its incompetence emerged in recent months when we learned that it is spending €191,000 per unit on the 500 temporary modular homes that are being developed. This amounts to €95.5 million. While this has been going on, the Government has allowed NAMA to sell completed permanent homes to vulture funds for €100,000 a unit. This means €50 million is being wasted while the Government fails in its attempt to provide permanent homes through its expenditure. Would this happen in a fair society? Would it form part of a fair recovery, or a recovery for all? Does the Government expect decent people to vote to keep that kind of madness going on? I should hope not.
When the Taoiseach addressed the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis, and by extension the nation, last Saturday night, he did not think it worthwhile to mention housing. As I said earlier, those who are in dire need are not in his or his party's equation for re-election. They are not in the 30% target audience he believes will get him across the line. The Government, in its dying days, is trying to throw a few dice by making announcements around the country. I was contacted this evening by my local newspaper and informed that some €3 million has been set aside for 18 homes in Tullamore. I am sure those homes formed part of the initial package that was announced by the Government two years ago when it said it would provide a total of 300 new units - newly built or otherwise - to meet the demand that exists in County Offaly and in many other counties throughout the country. Again, the Government is reannouncing what was announced two years ago to much fanfare. While I welcome any developments that may take place, I emphasise that this proposal will do little for the 2,024 people who are on the housing list in the county today. It will do as little for them as the construction of eight units over the past five years did for them.
Housing was mentioned by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in the budget. He said he was directing NAMA to build 20,000 units, but with no provision for social housing. He said "the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will deal very effectively with the question of social housing". How effectively have they dealt with the announcement that was made in the budget? They have dealt with it so effectively that they have used legislation to direct NAMA to ensure 2,000 of the units mentioned by the Minister for Finance on budget day, or just 10% of the total, will be social housing units.
We call on all those here to support what we say - it should be a 50-50 split. There should be 10,000 social housing units. When that question was put to the Taoiseach last week, he asked where the €2 billion would come from to provide it. When he was asked on Sunday on "The Week in Politics", he asked where the €3 billion would come from to provide it. His maths increased the figure by €1 billion in those few days. He failed to acknowledge that those costs can be recouped, that the expenditure that will be incurred has a value and that there was always provision within the NAMA legislation for a social dividend to be made available to the State. We are reliably informed that up to €2 billion of a surplus will be available to the State when NAMA ceases to be. Apart from that fact about the funding, the costs can be recouped in rent and by virtue of tenant purchase schemes in the future. The cost could be recouped by opening the market for funding to bodies such as credit unions which have €2 billion - not through their own choice - on deposit in the pillar banks. Does the Minister agree that it would be better used to assist and revitalise communities and spread the recovery, which it would undoubtedly do by funding such developments? It would also ensure the potential for those same credit unions to survive into the future considering the Government rebuked them and their members' efforts in what they sought before Christmas. The Minister signed some of the recommendations which will have great detrimental prospects for credit unions around the country. That is something that the public and the communities in which they reside will have to be reminded of when they make a decision as to who they think should take hold of and spread the recovery.
The Taoiseach tried to rubbish our proposal in the two answers he gave when confronted with these questions. I do not believe he understands the potential that exists within NAMA to make a dent into the severe crisis. He and his Government have failed abysmally and miserably over the last five years on the provision of housing. He has tried to lay the blame on the preceding Government despite the fact he has been in Government for five years. The damning housing figures are rising and have been rising constantly since he came into office. That has been laid before the House on several occasions. During the last five years, this issue has featured most prominently in Private Members' debates. Unfortunately, it is one of the main reasons why this Government will not meet with the approval it expects from the electorate because it has failed abysmally. It has left an awful curse on many aspects of society throughout the country, in particular on the huge waiting lists that exist in each local authority - no progress has been made on the matter.
I commend the motion to the House and ask all Members to consider seriously supporting it especially those on the opposite side of the House who will have to admit that this has been one of their greatest failures since coming into office.
At around 3 o'clock today, I received a copy of the supplementary Order Paper on which the motion I speak on appeared. There were two suggested amendments on it, the first from Deputy Dessie Ellis which contained a constructive contribution to the debate. The second was from the Minister of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, which tried to make some claim to be visionary but quickly collapsed into mendacious mediocrity - all noise and no substance. It has become a habit at this stage from that quarter. We are used to the Government's approach on matters involving inequalities or people being driven from the centre to the periphery of society. They are a common theme of this Government. The Minister's written counter motion could have been written in a matter of seconds. We also have no doubt that we could have written the same script. In its pattern of speech, the Government continues to blame the previous Government. In the past 24 hours, we have heard several Government Ministers and Deputies attempt to do so. The people might have hoped that now, in the twilight of its five years in office, the Government might take a scintilla of responsibility for the consequences of its own choices in Government.
The Minister, Deputy O'Sullivan, was Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning for four of those years. It is a shameful legacy. It is in contrast with the attempt to claim all credit for implementing the recovery initiated by the late Brian Lenihan. This Government - Fine Gael lite - has created a situation in which rental prices have now risen beyond the reach of many working families. It has failed, despite being consistently offered opportunities by this party, to remove the veto on the bank resolution and mortgage arrears. In my home town of Tuam there are dozens of local authority houses lying vacant because of the want of funding from the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly's Department. There are hundreds of houses across the west looking for new tenants who are crying out for a home. The Minister has managed to cap the spending on the refurbishment of such homes at €30,000, which has resulted in Galway County Council being left with no option but to board up those houses and leave them vacant. Neighbourhoods in Tuam, Gort, Athenry and Loughrea have been dotted with many of these houses; they have been broken into, looted and have become a source of anti-social behaviour. These have become unpleasant communities to live in because of this Government's failure to address adequately the under-funding from local authorities to renew those houses. Having such homes vacant also means there are no longer houses for people who have been waiting for years and the social housing waiting lists continue to grow. In my home town there is a family with three children who are now in their fourth month living in a hotel.
-----waiting to be housed.That is the Government's legacy. The Government has left council staff in a hopeless situation, unable to offer houses and with no option but to direct people towards the private rental accommodation market.
However, there is no supply in that area. The Government has secured a ceiling of supports, which the Tánaiste stubbornly refuses to move, contrary to the advice of all the experts in that area and organisations working on the front line of homeless people in this country. The Labour Party turned its back on the homeless and vulnerable. The Tánaiste who styles herself and her party as social democrats seems to think the primary purpose of rent is to support the rental market. She sees it as a market tool rather than a tool to secure-----
The homeless statistics make for grim reading. Over 700 families and over 1,500 children are now living in emergency accommodation. Alongside them are over 6,000 individuals, many of whom have been waiting years in emergency accommodation. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, boasts about his spending on homelessness during his tenure as Minister. This money is not being spent on keeping people in their homes or providing additional social housing.
It has been spent on emergency accommodation. Why happily spend €300 per night to keep a family in a hotel but continue to cap the rent supplement? That is the choice the Government has made. Some families have been placed in hotels, many for significant lengths of time, at a far greater weekly cost than that of putting them up in a private rental home. Rather than raising the ceiling or housing them, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and his party leader, for some ideological reason, precariously want to leave children in emergency accommodation.
This might be my last comment in the 31st Dáil. The subject of this debate touches on the fundamental principle of why people are in politics. I believed, and have always believed, that politics should be about securing a welfare and a community and establishing a threshold of decency below which nobody should fall. Politics should involve a continual process of bringing people from the periphery into the centre, to give them a chance of equality so that all have a fair chance. Everyone should have the opportunity in life to take whatever talent they have to the very top, in a worthy ethos and with a preference in education. They should be able to have ambition and will. People should get on with their lives and be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour and I wish to give a voice to those who contribute most to secure the social goals to which I have referred.
The subject of this debate is important to every single person in this House.
Shame on the Labour Party and shame on the Minister. Without a home, there is no threshold of decency. Without homes, people are left on the streets. Without homes people are left sleeping in sheds. Without homes, people are sleeping on the streets of Dublin tonight.
Shame on the Minister. Let that be her legacy. She remembers very well the 1,500 children as she bounces on the doors in the next couple of weeks. Shame on her and let the Irish citizen remember her legacy when she was Minister with responsibility for housing.
-----and she is the architect because she was there and she must have somersaulted with some happiness when she got her senior promotion and abandoned her portfolio because she takes no responsibility, in the dying days of this Government, because she is part of the most arrogant Government, which turned its back on the most vulnerable people. She sits here sniggering.
It is a sad reflection that neither he nor the Minister with special responsibility for housing, Deputy Paudie Coffey, is in the House to listen to this important debate. This housing crisis is crippling many families in Ireland today.
Since 2012, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of families with children in emergency homeless accommodation. Currently, 1,600 children are living in emergency accommodation. In 2013, some 20 families were becoming homeless in Dublin every month. In the past few months, this has more than tripled to over 80 families every month. These are families with no history of homelessness and they have never been homeless before. There are approximately ten homeless families with children for every 100,000 people in Ireland. By comparison, there are only three homeless families for every 100,000 people in England. How does that bear out on the international stage? That is a damning indictment of this Government's policies.
This is not a legacy issue. This is the policy the Government which the Minister has been part of has pursued in the past number of years. It is not just the members of the Opposition who are saying this or the various NGOs working in this area. Two international committees have been highly critical of the Government and its handling of this issue. Last year, the UN committee on economic and social rights was highly critical of the Government for its failure to provide adequate housing for vulnerable families, especially vulnerable children. This committee actually referenced the housing crisis and the huge number of families in emergency accommodation. Earlier this year, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, was before the UN committee on the rights of the child. We should remember the referendum for which we all so vigorously campaigned to enshrine the rights of our children in our Constitution, three years ago. Where is that referendum today when we are talking about the rights of the child? Where is that referendum when we are talking about the basic fundamental right of all our children to have a roof over their head, a place to call their home? Tonight, 1,600 children do not have a place to call their home. Earlier this week the committee to which I referred, while it has not issued its report yet, was highly critical of the Government's response to this issue.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, seems to have had a change of tone in his response to the issue of homeless children and the responsibility of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, because I have questioned him in past years and months as to what role his Department played to ensure our children had a roof over their head. He said:
Policy responsibility for homelessness in so far as it extends to my Department relates to children under 18 and any child welfare and protection concerns that may arise in the context of the Child Care Act 1991. Young people who are homeless, either singly or as part of a family unit, and not falling within this category, are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and local authorities.
Shame on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. That is not a champion of children's rights sitting around the Cabinet table. As a country we are clearly in breach of Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states there is a right to the enjoyment of the highest standard of health for a child. I do not believe children living in one room of a hotel with no access to adequate facilities or services is the highest attainable standard of health. The right of housing is a gateway to so many other rights. It is the right to an adequate education, it is the right to adequate health care and many other rights to which children are entitled under international law.
Homeless children are missing many of their life chances. All of us only have one childhood. This Government is depriving children of their childhood. A total of 1,600 children are being deprived of their childhood by being subjected to living in temporary and, in some instances, substandard accommodation. They will not meet their educational potential.
A stigma is attached to children who are living in temporary accommodation. Children who are in emergency temporary accommodation who continue to attend the same school, although often that is not possible, cannot invite their friends to come around after school and play in their house. They do not have a house to which they can bring a friend. They cannot retain a certain connection with their families because, in some instances, they are removed from their families. What type of stigma is that to attach to children today? Also, the issue of children living in emergency accommodation raises profound child protection issues. This country has a sorry tradition with regard to child protection issues. It ill behoves this Government to leave children in a vulnerable situation. Not only is it leaving children in a vulnerable situation from a child protection perspective, but it is also leaving the State in a vulnerable position should people choose later in life to sue the State for leaving them in such a vulnerable situation.
A number of days ago there was a report on the front page of The Irish Timesabout a social worker who was working with a homeless family living in emergency accommodation. The social worker's proposal was to separate that family because the family was living in substandard temporary accommodation. Due to this State's failure to provide adequate housing we have a situation in which social workers are proposing to separate families. That is the legacy of this Government with regard to homelessness and the 1,600 children who are homeless.
The Government has an opportunity, with this motion, to change the path on which it is travelling. A total of 20,000 houses are due to become available from the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. The Government should accept this motion and have a 50:50 split, at a minimum, ensuring that 10,000 of those houses go to social housing. We can therefore try to address the social housing waiting list, which the Government has allowed to explode in the last five years. The Government should also review its current position regarding void houses. There are 3,000 local authority houses lying idle. It should not be the case that in every instance in which more than €30,000 is required to make a house habitable it must go from the local authority to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to receive approval. That delays the process, and the longer one delays the process the longer there will be 1,600 children in emergency accommodation.
What will the situation be when the tourism season starts? Where will those children stay? Many hotels will no longer wish to provide emergency accommodation when they can get more money in the tourism industry. I support the motion and I commend Deputy Cowen on its introduction.
I support the motion proposed by my party colleague, Deputy Cowen. It is an unfortunate reflection on the performance of this Government that as we are going through what is probably the last week of this Dáil, we must address this issue-----
The sooner the better. As I said, it is an unfortunate reflection on the Government that we must address this issue as we head to an election and that the Government has allowed this crisis to develop under its watch over the last five years. Five years ago, the Government was not behind the door in terms of reminding everybody that there was an over-supply of housing. The current Minister and his colleagues were not shy about pointing to the mistakes that led to that over-supply. Meanwhile, they were so intent on scoring political points they allowed a situation to develop under their watch in which a real shortage of accommodation and homes began to appear in many urban centres. Indeed, we are beginning to see that situation spread across the country.
Over the last year and a half to two years, homelessness has spread from affecting those who were traditionally on the street to affecting many families of parents and young children who have been unable to find accommodation, increasing numbers of whom find themselves in emergency accommodation. That problem has started to spread from the larger cities to towns and villages across the country. I see it in County Donegal, where the supply of housing in many towns and villages has become so tight that it is difficult for families to find accommodation within their local areas. As a result, rents are starting to increase. Unless real, constructive measures are put in place, what is happening in a chronic manner in the large cities at present will start to happen in towns and villages across the country. People will not be able to find accommodation, as many will be priced out of being able to afford the rent.
While this has developed, there has been an unacceptable refusal by the Minister to increase the rent supplement thresholds to allow families to secure or compete for accommodation. Those who have to avail of rent supplement were used as a market tool. On several occasions, the Minister for Social Protection, as well as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, held the line that they would not increase rent supplement limits because it would lead to rent increases in the market. They indicated that retaining the current level of rent supplement, and having people suffer as result because they could not get accommodation, would somehow hold the market down. However, it meant that families depending on rent supplement and who found themselves out of their homes simply were unable to get a house they could afford. Even today, there is no move from the Government to address that issue with rent supplement. In Dublin, this has led to 677 families being in emergency or temporary accommodation across the city. The number is 744 nationally.
Since February 2012, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of families who have had to avail of emergency accommodation. When Focus Ireland set up an action team in 2012, an average of eight new families were presenting as homeless in Dublin each month. This subsequently rose to 40 families per month in 2014 and up to 70 per month during the first half of 2015. The problem has spread from Dublin to other parts of the country, particularly Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny and Waterford. Meanwhile, the response from the Government has been totally inadequate and the situation has been exacerbated.
The Minister seeks to claim that this is somehow a legacy issue. Indeed, he makes repeated misleading statements regarding how the Government's investment in housing-----
-----compares to that of the previous Administration. I will clarify the record. Under Fianna Fáil, from 2007 to 2010, 14,500 new social housing units were built, which equates to an average of 107 units per local authority per year.
In contrast, what we have seen under the Minister's Government from 2011 to 2014 is 1,252 new units, which is an average of nine units per local authority per year. To put that in perspective, 130,000 households are on the social housing waiting lists while only 102 social housing units were built by local authorities in 2014. The average number of social housing units completed in 2014 was just three per local authority. Meanwhile and as the Government has failed to act, matters have gone from an acute shortage to a full-blown crisis. There was a failure under the previous Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and that has continued since the Minister has taken over responsibility. I commend the motion to the House.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:"recognises the high priority which the Government has afforded to increasing housing supply, through its Construction 2020 Strategy and its Social Housing Strategy 2020;
acknowledges the 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;
welcomes 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;
recalls the vision outlined in the Social Housing Strategy 2020, that every household will have access to secure, good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community;
acknowledges the Government’s on-going commitment to deliver on that vision and in particular welcomes the progress to date including, inter alia the:— delivery of over 13,000 new social housing units in the first year of the Social Housing Strategy 2020, an increase of 86 per cent year-on-year;acknowledges the other measures introduced in 2015, that complement the focused, target driven approach of the Social Housing Strategy 2020, such as:
— commitment of €2.9 billion in capital funding for the Social Housing Strategy out to 2021 under the Government’s six year capital investment framework, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021, with an associated delivery target of 17,000 units for 2016;
— approval to date of 200 projects that will deliver 5,350 new social housing units, to be constructed by local authorities and approved housing bodies, and delivered under the public-private partnership (PPP) programme;
— progress made in bringing local authority dwellings back into productive use, with 5,000 delivered over the two-year period 2014/2015, resulting in a marked fall in the number of vacant social houses;
— roll-out of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme to all categories of households in 18 local authority areas, with approximately 6,800 households having been supported by HAP since commencement of the scheme in September 2014; and
— introduction of enhanced powers for local authorities to counter anti-social behaviour in their estates which will help to create and maintain stronger, sustainable communities;— the rental sector reforms introduced to give greater protection to tenants and landlords ensuring that, in 2016, most tenants will not see their rent increase;notes, with respect to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), that:
— the amendments made to Part V of the Planning and Development Acts, under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, which means the focus of Part V will be on the delivery of completed social housing units; and
— the enactment of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015, which strengthens the status of aspects of planning guidelines issued to local authorities on planning matters to ensure their consistent application, particularly in relation to Apartment Standard Guidelines; and streamlines the process for the making of modifications to Strategic Development Zone planning schemes;— the Government has enabled and facilitated NAMA in playing an important role in the delivery of housing supply generally and social housing in particular;acknowledges that the solution to homelessness 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;
— this work has to be carried out in a manner consistent with the legislation governing the operation of NAMA;
— 2,000 houses and apartments have been delivered to local authorities and approved housing bodies for social housing use by end of December 2015;
— 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 its governing legislation, NAMA is aiming to fund the delivery of 20,000 residential units before the end of 2020, of which it is estimated that 90 per cent will be in the greater Dublin area and that about 75 per cent of the units will be houses, mainly starter houses; and
— NAMA will have to meet all of its statutory Part V obligations in accordance with the legislative provisions;
notes that a range of measures are being implemented by Government to address homelessness, including focusing on preventative approaches wherever possible and mobilising the necessary supports to mitigate the issues associated with an increasing volume of homeless families accommodated in inappropriate commercial hotel arrangements;
welcomes:— the increase in funding for homeless services to €70 million, announced in Budget 2016;and further notes:
— with regard to the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Pilot, the increase in flexibility in relation to rent limits from 20 per cent (above Rent Supplement levels) to 50 per cent (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 utilise rapid housing delivery as a way of significantly improving emergency accommodation and decreasing the reliance on hotel accommodation, with 500 new units to be delivered through this method in the Dublin region in 2016;— the excellent work being done through the Department of Social Protection tenancy sustainment initiatives, with approximately 4,500 tenancies protected under these initiatives in 2015 and over 6,000 since their commencement in 2014; and
— the vital role undertaken by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with homeless persons and seeks their continued engagement with Government Departments and agencies in addressing the challenges involved."
In the first instance, I thank the Deputies opposite for raising the issues of housing and homelessness, which are critical issues at the top of my agenda, and for the contributions of the speakers tonight in highlighting the challenges we all face. There is no silver bullet to deal with this extremely complex area. I thank them for once again affording me the opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to tackling these significant challenges head-on in the manner I will outline in the course of my contribution. Tonight's debate also presents me with an opportunity to outline the Government's achievements to date under both Construction 2020 and the social housing strategy. I thank Deputy Barry Cowen and his colleagues for affording me that opportunity.
The Government is committed to getting housing right and dealing with the ongoing legacy of the collapse of the property sector under colleagues opposite in Fianna Fáil. That means continuing the work to enable every household in Ireland have access to secure good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community. We have prioritised the economy and employment to great success. There are more than 135,000 additional people at work today compared to four years ago when the first Action Plan for Jobs was launched in 2012. To sustain this recovery and to remain competitive in attracting inward investment, we must all accept that we need to build, deliver and create more homes. That is to be done in urban centres as well as in rural areas given that the growth in the economy is spreading to all quarters of the country. I have had 1,250 jobs announced in my own constituency in Tipperary in the very recent past. One thing is for sure, I will not oversee a situation where we return to an unsustainable property bubble such as the one which contributed to the problems of the residential market in Ireland today, which does not operate at equilibrium with demand far out-stripping supply.
The Government is still dealing with the consequences of the disastrous handling of the property sector by Fianna Fáil and will be for some time. It is still dealing with the legacy of the Galway tent. Unlike the previous speaker stated, it is the people of this country who were misled and who are still collectively dealing with the consequences as a society. The motion tabled this evening oversimplifies the situation, which is putting it kindly. Anyone who has been dealing with the homelessness situation will know that at one glance that this is a lazy motion. It has all the hallmarks of being the work of people in Fianna Fáil who simply do not understand the first thing about dealing with homelessness or housing. Homelessness is complex and I am on the record as stating directly that emergency hotel accommodation should be only a short-term solution. I will outline shortly how we are taking a whole-of-Government and inter-agency approach to dealing with the issue of homelessness. Amazingly, the motion as worded demonstrates a misunderstanding or perhaps a wilful ignorance of NAMA's mandate, function and general property rights. I will elaborate on that point also shortly.
The roots of the current situation lie in the decision of the Fianna Fáil Government to abandon the construction of social housing units and to depend almost exclusively on rent supplement to provide social housing. That is something anyone with an understanding of housing economics will know suited their friends in the Galway tent. The privatisation of social housing was the single biggest mistake and the single greatest reason we are discussing this topic tonight. We are now trying to rectify those mistakes collectively. Through the Social Housing Strategy 2020, which was published in November 2014, my Department has returned the State to its central role in the provision of social housing by resuming a building programme on a significant and incrementally increasing scale, putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future demand for social housing supports and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer while respecting, to the greatest extent possible, the preferences of individual households. The strategy sets out a range of diverse options and provides for new schemes to ensure a greater number of people benefit from the delivery of social housing. It also provides for strengthening the capacity of our local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver homes for those who need them.
Last year was the first full year of implementation of the Government's social housing strategy. The growing economy has placed significant pressures on both our public and private systems of housing. Economic growth creates demand for housing and there is no silver bullet or miracle answer to this. However, we have moved from the sprawling, empty, unfinished estates of the collapse, which we had to clean up, to a situation where housing accommodation demand is increasing. That demand is not being met by adequate supply at present and I am determined to address that situation. I am not underestimating the challenges we face. They are enormous. With the economy so dependent on construction when it collapsed, the local authority housing system had no capacity to respond. I do not think for one second that what we have achieved so far means the job is done, but what can be said is that the public housing recovery is happening at a quicker pace than the private housing recovery. We have made a strong start by putting in place a targeted action plan out to 2020 under the social housing strategy. That requires an investment of €4 billion out to 2020, almost €3 billion of which has been committed under the Government's capital plan. Funding is now approved and sites have been selected for the construction of more than 5,000 new social homes in the next few years.
The motion tabled here tonight states yet again that 130,000 people on the social housing list. The 2013 summary of social housing assessments identified approximately 90,000 households nationally who qualified as being in need of social housing supports.
These results are the most up-to-date and reliable figures currently available. The 2013 figure is, of course, subject to ongoing fluctuation due to households being allocated housing and new households applying for housing support. The 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.
Basic mathematics show this. It does not compare like with like, apples with apples or oranges with oranges. It does not even consider the number of local authority lists that some tenants are on.
I recognise that we need up to date and comprehensive data on housing need on an ongoing basis. In order to ensure that we have these data, the social housing strategy includes a commitment to undertake housing assessments on an annual basis from 2016 onwards. This is necessary and every Deputy should accept that it will be helpful. In the meantime, throwing figures based on a flawed method is to play politics and be unhelpful, and is being done for the wrong reasons.
We are working to house everyone, including all households identified as being in housing need. We have made provision to deliver the required 90,000 social housing solutions, with flexibility for future growth in demand. We have got off to a good start in 2015 by meeting the needs of 13,000 households on the waiting list, but that is just the start. It represents an 86% increase on 2014, but I want to see that increase to 17,000 in 2016, to which end I have put in place funding.
For those Deputies who are genuinely interested in housing, this afternoon I published a report on social housing output in 2015. I encourage the only two Deputies who remain opposite to read it.
In 2015, we increased Exchequer funding for social housing by more than a quarter over the previous year's level to €800 million. As a result of our new, focused approach last year, we achieved a marked fall in the number of vacant social houses to as low as 1% in Dublin city and some 2,700 units were completed. We introduced legislation giving local authorities enhanced powers to counter anti-social behaviour in their estates, which will help to build and maintain sustainable communities. We championed home ownership for the social housing tenant with the introduction of a new tenant purchase scheme. The roll-out of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme to all categories of households in 18 local authority areas continued apace, with approximately 6,700 households supported by HAP since its commencement in September 2014. We are actively managing local authority land that is suitable for social housing. This will play a vital role in meeting the need for new homes. We introduced new Part V provisions to guarantee the delivery of social housing from developments of nine units or more. We are not returning to the old days of taking the few bob and using them on everything except for what they were meant.
When a housing crisis happens, the lucky ones have the support, resilience and resources to get back on their feet. Undoubtedly, being homeless impacts on every aspect of a person's life. One person without a home is one too many. I do not underestimate the challenges that homelessness presents. Of course, this is not always the case. Having nowhere to live is sometimes not the only challenge that homeless people face. Many have poor health or drug or alcohol addiction. For these people, I have tried to make a real difference. That is why I am pleased that the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin fell by 46% in 2015.
The trauma of families becoming homeless and the uncertainty of temporary accommodation cause them damage. Local authorities, the Department of Social Protection and homelessness agencies do a great deal to try to prevent homelessness occurring and ensure that families get help before descending into crisis. However, it is growing more difficult for them to find the right kind of housing. With demand increasing for private rented homes, local authorities and tenants alike are facing tough competition for the right housing at affordable prices. I am keen to work with all stakeholders on exploring how we can increase the supply of long-term and well-managed rented accommodation. The Government is providing the tools and funding to build more of the right homes and support people in them. However, this is a joint endeavour. The solution to homelessness requires input from all.
Homelessness is the most acute symptom of the dysfunction in the housing market. Restoration of a properly functioning housing market is vital to eliminating the scourge of homelessness. This is why we have put a comprehensive strategy in place that will significantly increase the provision of social housing over the next five years. Our Construction 2020 strategy complements the social housing strategy with a range of measures that are intended to achieve a significant resumption of private sector house building. In addition, we have put in place substantial measures to reduce the burden on tenants in the private rental sector with a view to eliminating the number of people being pushed into homelessness by the economic force of spiralling rents, thus easing pressure on the demand side. The Government has reformed the private rental sector to give greater protection to tenants and landlords, ensuring that most tenants will not face a rent increase in 2016. I commend the Department of Social Protection's tenancy sustainment initiatives, which enabled thousands of households to remain in their own homes in 2015. Some 2,000 people exited homelessness last year. A 24% increase in the number of people exiting homelessness in Dublin was also recorded and rough sleeping reduced by approximately 46%.
Regarding the protection of renters and Fianna Fáil's position on the issue, the Government announced in September, and the Oireachtas has since passed, measures for significantly increased protections for renters, including two-year minimum rent review periods. Fianna Fáil's policy on this matter was to limit rent increases to 10%. That proposal was actually weaker than what was already in place, namely, that rents could only be set in accordance with market rates. Fianna Fáil's proposed policy on protecting renters and those vulnerable to homelessness was weaker than what was already in place.
Our approach to tackling homelessness has been handled in a holistic manner with a focus on prevention wherever possible. In 2015, our policies were designed to increase local authority flexibility, test innovative new approaches and provide strategic support to front-line staff in delivering services. I have increased funding for homeless services to €70 million for 2016. This will ensure continued progress towards the target of ending involuntary long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough.
In 2016, I intend to build on the good start achieved under the social housing strategy by delivering a further 17,000 units across all social housing programmes; putting in place a pilot affordable rental scheme for those on low incomes through securing a long-term increase in the supply of affordable properties to meet the needs of those households that would otherwise struggle to make rental payments under current market conditions; using rapid housing delivery techniques as a way of significantly improving emergency accommodation and decreasing the reliance on hotel accommodation, a method that will deliver 500 units; continuing the roll-out of HAP to more local authority areas; continuing to implement the measures set out in the social housing strategy and Construction 2020 across the Government; and introducing choice-based letting allocations in all local authorities to improve the service offering and deal with the high refusal rate in some areas, an issue of which we are all aware. By building the capacity of local authorities now, my aim is to see them build 10,000 homes per year by 2020. This is why my Department approved an additional 420 staff for local authorities in 2015.
Until the full benefit of the decisions that we have implemented is seen, there will be too many people on the housing list and too many struggling in homelessness or in danger of falling into it. We are committed to maintaining the momentum that we achieved in 2015 and to building on the progress made so far. It is a difficult challenge to tackle, but we have made a good start in delivering 13,000 new social housing sets of keys to people last year. We are utilising all avenues available to the State to do this, including via NAMA.
The motion calls on the Government to direct NAMA to provide for social housing purposes 50% of the 20,000 houses that it will build. This displays a fundamental lack of understanding, or perhaps a more sinister wilful ignorance, of NAMA's mandate, function and general property rights. I am shocked that some of the same Deputies who worked so hard to put together the NAMA Act have tabled a proposal that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of that very Act and the work of NAMA. Deputy Cowen knows it. The essential issue that has been ignored is that NAMA does not own the land or property securing the loans of its debtors; it owns the loans. While NAMA has some additional powers provided under the Act, its role is that of a lender whose loans are secured by assets controlled by its debtors, much like a bank but not a property owner. When a NAMA debtor sells a property, it is in order to generate the greatest proceeds to repay as much of the debt to NAMA as possible. Under section 10 of the NAMA Act, NAMA is mandated to act in a commercial manner in order to obtain the best financial return for the State. Fianna Fáil and everyone else know this. Practically speaking, this provision means that NAMA is mandated to secure the highest repayment from its debtors on these loans.
NAMA and its debtors are generally aligned in this regard. Each seeks to generate the maximum proceeds available from the sale of security in repayment of NAMA loans. NAMA debtors are legally entitled to maximise the value of the assets securing their borrowings to maximise the repayment of their debts. Any decision or action taken by NAMA that reduced the proceeds available to a debtor from the sale of an asset and, as a result, reduced the amount that debtor was able to repay to NAMA, would be a breach of property rights, would deviate from NAMA's mandate and would undoubtedly be subject to legal challenges.
Residential development funded by NAMA is delivered by NAMA's debtors and receivers who are subject to the same planning requirements as all other applicants in the planning process, including Part V. The suggestion that the Part V requirement could be applied at a higher rate for NAMA debtors than for the rest of the market would be commercially discriminatory and simply would not withstand legal challenge. It is important to point out that NAMA had facilitated the delivery of 2,000 units for social housing through the NARPS special purpose vehicle. As I have said before, the Government is trying to right the wrongs of a dysfunctional property sector. The social housing supply problem is a subset of the wider supply problem in the property market.
In addition to important measures being implemented under the social housing strategy with regard to increasing social housing supply, it is by substantially increasing housing supply more generally, particularly in large urban areas, that we can deliver a sustainable solution to the current housing crisis. This we are addressing through such measures as those set out in Construction 2020. Increasing the level of housing output will increase the affordability of housing. I hope everyone understands that. In turn, it will have a positive effect – a knock-on effect – on our ability to provide social housing. A shortage of supply is at the heart of the current challenges in the housing sector, and the Government is addressing this on a number of fronts. A number of important measures have been taken already and they are aimed at improving housing viability and increasing supply.
The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, which commenced in September 2015, introduced a number of reforms regarding, inter alia, Part V of the Planning and Development Act, the retrospective application of reduced development contributions, and the introduction of a vacant site levy. These measures were introduced to incentivise the development of vacant and underutilised sites for housing and regeneration purposes. Together these legislative provisions are aimed at putting in place structural reforms of planning and land development processes that will support an increase in the output of housing to meet the needs of everyone. Given that these measures will take time to affect supply fully, the Government agreed a comprehensive suite of shorter-term measures to improve the operation of the private rental sector and stimulate increased housing supply, as set out in Stabilising Rents, Boosting Supply.
In December last year, I enacted two major Bills to put the key elements of Stabilising Rents, Boosting Supply on a statutory footing. The first is the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015, which strengthens the status of aspects of planning guidelines issued to local authorities on planning matters to ensure their consistent application, especially relating to apartment standard guidelines. It also streamlines the process for the making of modifications to strategic development zone, SDZ, planning schemes. The second is the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015, which provides for an increase in the rent review period from one to two years. The third comprises increased notice periods for rent reviews and greater protections for both tenants and landlords. There are also a suite of other measures. These measures will bring much-needed stability to the rental sector pending the coming on stream of the supply of new housing throughout the country.
Cognisant of the difficulty faced by some households in accessing the housing market, an affordable rental pilot scheme was announced as part of budget 2016, with €10 million being made available to fund a pilot in 2016. This will be an ongoing annual commitment to secure a long-term increase in the supply of affordable properties. The pilot scheme is expected to work on the basis of tenants paying the majority of the rental cost from their own resources, with the State helping to meet the shortfall. It is intended that the scheme would be made available to employed low to moderate income households. Details of the scheme are being finalised in my Department and will be announced very soon.
The supply measures set out in Stabilising Rents, Boosting Supply are designed to kick-start increased provision of housing at affordable prices in key urban areas given the current dearth of supply which is impacting upon rent levels, homelessness and competitiveness. My Department estimates we need approximately 8,000 residential units in Dublin to meet increasing demand. In 2015, only 2,700 were delivered by the private sector.
It is within this context, of all hands on deck to increase the supply of housing, that I welcome that NAMA expects to be in a position to fund the construction of up to 20,000 new residential units on lands securing its loans, predominantly located in Dublin and the surrounding conurbation, thereby taking in the neighbouring counties of Wicklow, Kildare and Meath, over the next five years, with approximately 75% of the units expected to be starter homes. NAMA continues to play an important role in the delivery of social housing, having delivered 2,000 houses and apartments to local authorities and approved housing bodies for social housing use. NAMA will continue to work with my Department, the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies to ensure its commitments on social housing are delivered.
The Government has deployed every mechanism available to it to address the dysfunction in the housing development sector, signalling very clearly that, on the one hand, land hoarding will be addressed, while also responding to industry calls to tackle viability in the short term. The construction sector must and will ensure it is acting sensibly and responsibly, especially in regard to matters such as the price being paid for development land. The Central Bank's macro-prudential lending criteria are frequently criticised as one of the key reasons supply is not forthcoming. While I broadly agree with the Central Bank's rules, I have said that I believe they need to be tweaked. There appears to be a sense in the construction sector that it should not budge when it comes to land and construction costs and that it expects alternatively that continuing under-supply will force the Government or, more precisely, the Central Bank to relent on mortgage lending rules. This will not happen. This would bring us back to the past when there was flexibility on lending which led ultimately to a spiral of land and property speculation and our economic collapse. The previous Government knows all about that.
The current Government has listened to the calls on measures to reduce cost, enhance viability and enable supply. Now, in return, there must be realism regarding the operation of the land market and development costs. I very much hope that, as the financial institutions continue with their asset management and disposal functions, they ensure sites move into the control of people seriously interested in development and housing supply rather than value increases based on property speculation. If the development sector fails to act sensibly, the Government will be determined to ensure the vacant site levy will be operated vigorously and comprehensively.
I am glad to have had the opportunity once more to address the House on these very important and sensitive issues, which are paramount to me, every other Member and everybody living in the State. This country is dealing with what was left behind after Fianna Fáil's 14 years in government. Its legacy was a property bubble that contributed to an economic crisis, which in turn led to massively reduced budgets for key social services, such as housing. The country is also dealing with the abandonment of social housing construction by Fianna Fáil, which has thoroughly compounded the problem of finding homes for those most in need. Unsustainable oversupply in the completely wrong locations was replaced with minimal supply and pent-up demand, putting great pressure on the private rental sector.
The Government has set out its plans of action under both Construction 2020 and the social housing strategies.
Housing will take some time to get right. In the meantime, we have to protect the most vulnerable. We are reaping the rewards of our action-driven approach to increasing supply, with the social housing needs of 13,000 households being met in 2015 and an expectation that the needs of a further 17,000 households will be met in 2016.
The Government's comprehensive response, as I outlined, is a cross-government approach. All stakeholders - local authorities, various agencies, approved housing bodies and the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA - have a part to play. Our policy response to the housing challenges deals with all the key segments of the housing system and includes vital immediate, short, and medium to long-term objectives, which must and will be met. This will take time, which is the reason the strategy will be in place until 2020. Those who claim there is a silver bullet are telling a pack of lies.
By their nature, it will take years to deliver the houses we need. However, the Government has put in place the structure needed to deliver these units. In the past year, 13,000 sets of keys have been given to families as a result of the social housing strategy we launched. I am determined that this work will continue and the State will deliver the units that are needed in the years ahead.
Our amendment No. 1 reads as follows:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "notes that:- there are more than 1,600 children and up to 780 families in emergency accommodation;agrees that there is a national housing crisis;
- placing families and children in hotel rooms rather than proper accommodation is totally unacceptable;
- the Government failure to build significant social housing has led to the number of people on the social housing list rising to 130,000;
- 95% of rent supplement tenants cannot afford market rents which have risen every quarter that this Government has been in office; and
- according to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, only 28 council houses were built in the first nine months of 2015;
notes that the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, has been given responsibility to build 20,000 houses on behalf of the State;
condemns the Government for:- gutting Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which allows developers to only provide 10% of units for social housing which includes leasing as an alternative;calls on the Government to:
- cutting funding for local authority housing construction to just €11.33 million by the third quarter of 2015, representing an 80% cut over the lifetime of the Government; and
- refusing to tackle unaffordable rents and only seeking to delay rent increases for an extra 12 months; and- utilise the social dividend section of NAMA and to sign an order to direct it to provide 50% of these 20,000 houses as social houses;
- strengthen Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to demand 20% social and affordable housing from new developments and remove the opt out clause allowing developers to offer properties for lease;
- introduce rent controls tying rent rates to inflation and empower local authorities in conjunction with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, to set local standard rates;
- increase rent supplement rates; and
- increase funding to local authorities for the construction of real social housing."
I am glad to have an opportunity to again raise the issue of housing and homelessness. It is particularly important given that we, as members of political parties and movements, will soon go before the people in an election in which we will propose our different plans for how the next Government should operate and what its priorities should be. There is no doubt that housing is an issue of the utmost importance. Sinn Féin believes this view is shared by members of the public who in recent months voiced great dissatisfaction with the current crisis. More recently, the media have also played a part in raising the issue, although they ignored the crisis as it was developing, preferring instead to take Government spin at face value. Sinn Féin has, thankfully, been to the fore in skewering the spin that has been so carefully crafted by the Government.
The Government is clearly more interested in appearing to be doing something than tackling the issue. We have all heard the Minister repeatedly announce the same money in different press releases and pronouncements. We know these pronouncements are spin because we are on the ground in our communities. We also know that, too often, the houses the Government claims to be delivering are not new homes but new transfers from the rent supplement scheme to the housing assistance payment or rental accommodation schemes. Far too often, they are simply smoke and mirrors or the work of other bodies such as voluntary housing organisations.
For this Government, delivering housing is slang for more subsidisation of the private market without any real increase in the social housing stock. The Government makes claims that it is spending billions of euro when local authorities now receive 80% less funding for housing construction than they did before Fine Gael and the Labour Party took office. Less social housing has been built in the lifetime of this Government than in a single year under most previous Governments. Between January and September 2015, local authorities built just 28 social housing units, not because they did not want to build but because the Government has starved them of funding for five years. At the same time, it has lumped a property tax onto existing social housing and a site tax on land on which local authorities could build if they were to receive the necessary funding. The reason local authorities did not build social housing was that the Government did not deliver the funding it promised. It even removed the ability of councils to buy housing from developers at cost price. It did so by gutting Part V and allowing developers who have been bailed out by citizens to opt out of their responsibilities and offer properties for lease. Under these lease arrangements, the Government will pay the costs of refurbishing private properties some years from now when the houses revert to the developers who will have made a handsome sum in rent in the intervening period.
Housing and those in need of it are clearly not a priority for the Government. Claims that it will become a priority in one month or one year are utter nonsense. The Government's priority in housing is to line the pockets of developers and protect the precious market from any interference that would require it to function in a way that meets the needs of members of the public.
On budget day last year, the Government announced that the National Asset Management Agency would build 20,000 homes for sale and claimed these homes would be affordable. The Minister later made clear that this announcement was meaningless when he estimated that the homes in question would cost not more than €300,000. These will hardly be affordable homes. Worse again, it is planned that these houses will be starter homes, a term which, in the dictionary of Government spin, means cramped at best. It is little wonder that the Minister set minimum standards for apartment size which would not allow sufficient space to accommodate the rooms required.
The plan is simply for the National Asset Management Agency to be supported in building housing to profit bailed-out developers. Given the way in which NAMA has operated, these properties could easily be snapped up by a major real estate investment trust, REIT, at a cheap price in order that the public can be screwed even more. In the past five years, we were told again and again that NAMA would deliver thousands of social housing units. The Taoiseach even claimed there would be 4,000 such units during the local elections. Thus far, only 2,000 units have been delivered, primarily through social leasing, rather than as social housing stock. NAMA cares as much about social housing as the Government does.
While I welcome the sentiments underpinning the Fianna Fáil Party motion, it is strange that the party which created the National Asset Management Agency with such weak reference to a social dividend is calling on NAMA to deliver 10,000 social housing units. No one is fooled by this posturing. Fianna Fáil created the property bubble which caused the housing crisis in the first instance. It also started the privatisation of social housing long before Fine Gael and the Labour Party had an opportunity to make matters even worse.
The Sinn Féin amendment includes a number of other points that are essential for tackling the current crisis. These include measures to address unaffordable rents. Last year, the Government failed miserably to do this when it introduced a pathetic delay in rent reviews. This delay resulted in most people renting properties having their rents increased by exorbitant amounts in November and early December.
The Minister knows well it is true. His friends in Fine Gael overruled him on the issue. With such puny housing construction figures, tenants can expect equally exorbitant rent increases when their next rent review takes place.
Rent controls and certainty are the only solution to the housing emergency, which should have been tackled in 2013 at the latest. Allowing the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and local authorities to set a local standard rate and tying future rent increases to inflation, which has not been above 5% in recent memory, would bring real security to tenants. Instead, 95% of people on rent supplement are unable to meet the demands of the private rental market. This is a systemic problem which cannot be dealt with by well-meaning housing bodies on a case-by-case basis.
Regulating rent would allow for an increase in rent supplement that would not result in higher rents. The Labour Party has the shameful record of having cut rent supplement not once but twice in this Government's term, thereby putting families out on the street.
Sinn Féin wants major investment in the construction of social housing. The Government has only earmarked €312 million for council construction as part of the first phase of its housing strategy. It is clear that very little of this money has been delivered. In September 2015, only €11 million had been provided to local authorities for housing construction in the preceding nine months. A government that cared about housing the people who need homes would spend less time moving money from one Department to another and pretending it was new money and more time focusing on using this money and the associated fiscal space to build social housing through the councils, as well as providing affordable housing and rents at cost.
A government that cared about providing housing to people who need it would spend less time moving money from one Department to another, pretending it was new money, and more time focusing on using that money and the associated fiscal space to build social housing through the councils, as well as providing affordable housing and rentals.
If the Government really wanted to address the housing crisis, it would support the Sinn Féin motion and act on its proposals. The solution is clear: we need to build social and affordable housing. We need to regulate rents and keep rent supplement recipients in their homes. If we continue to subsidise the private market without regulating it, if we continue to deny the State's responsibility to build housing, if we continue to treat rent supplement recipients at risk of losing their homes as exceptions rather than the rule, then we will get nowhere. If we continue as we have, then we have accepted that children will be raised in hotel rooms and hostels in this so-called republic in 2016. I do not accept that and neither will the people.
The Government promised to end homelessness in 2016. The Minister should remember the promise made by the former Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. At the time I argued that it was impossible, but she plainly said it would be ended in 2016. It is ironic that since that promise, homelessness has been at its highest, with some 73 new families per month reporting as homeless. Moreover, there are at least 130,000 applicants on the waiting list and 5,000 people are homeless. According to other sources, there are more people who are not being taken into account in the homeless figures, particularly foreign nationals. There are 1,500 men, women and children in bed and breakfast accommodation. That is the real scandal.
I intend to speak on the amendment tabled by my colleague, Deputy Ellis, rather than the Fianna Fáil motion, although I support the overarching theme of that proposal and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue.
The basis of this motion is to highlight the need for social housing and to address the homelessness crisis. The crisis, which is a damning legacy of the Government, has brought about the decimation of the working class left in its wake. This issue has been raised time and again until we and the media have become blue in the face. However, the Government seems to be ideologically opposed to dealing with the crisis or to admitting that we have a housing crisis in this State.
We have been told on numerous occasions that this Government is doing its best. Evidently, the best of this Government is simply not good enough. No serious effort has been made to stem this tide. Day after day goes by with ever-increasing numbers. Evictions occur daily and there is little concern about the fallout for those involved. Families are living in circumstances with unknown and limited security. Children travel across cities to get to school, returning only to their cramped accommodation in the evenings. This is not an environment conducive to normal day-to-day living, let alone the development of a child and his or her education. Adults, where they are lucky enough to have emergency accommodation, are subjected to a multitude of difficulties in their attempts to balance family life while dealing with the stress of the crisis they find themselves in.
I watched the "Prime Time" documentary entitled "My Homeless Family" last Monday night, and it caused my blood to boil. We now have people who are classed as working homeless in Ireland. It is almost unfathomable, yet this Government is running for re-election on the mantra of making work pay. I am in full agreement that work should pay, yet we have people grafting daily for hard-earned money while living in emergency accommodation. They try to maintain something close to a normal family life as much as possible while holding on to their jobs. This is unbelievable, yet it is true.
The figures from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government suggest that 28 council houses were built in the first nine months of 2015. This is indicative of the attitude of this Government towards our most vulnerable. The crisis has been ongoing and has been highlighted for a number of years. With the run-in to the election, it has suddenly become an issue for this Government. It is a pity the Government did not proactively intervene earlier in the Dáil term. In the upcoming election the voters will have a choice. They can choose to re-elect this Government. However, that comes with a price. They should be prepared for five more years during which the voices of the most vulnerable will go unheard. This crisis will be allowed to fester. How long more can citizens sit back and allow this to happen? I for one hope this crisis can be addressed before we lose another human being on the streets of our towns and cities.
The issue of unaffordable rents must be met head-on. The fact that 95% of those in receipt of rent supplement are unable to afford market rents must be addressed. The fact that 1,600 children reside in emergency accommodation is nothing short of a national scandal. No one is saying the fix can happen overnight. It is systemic. The problem is that the broken cogs within the system are not being replaced or repaired.
In recent days I have become concerned by the erection of barriers outside an Office of Public Works building in Dublin 1. According to many people, they were erected to prevent homeless people from sleeping outside the building. This falls under the remit of the Department of Social Protection, which is primarily responsible for those persons who may find themselves homeless. The director of Inner City Helping Homeless, Anthony Flynn, has been quoted as saying that this is a most unsympathetic way of dealing with the homelessness crisis. He said it was a not-on-my-doorstep attitude, and we certainly condemn it. The Department has shown a real lack of consideration and empathy. I am keen to hear the Department's reasons for it. This is symbolic of the attitudes of those in power and it is certainly not the way to deal with the crisis. In fact, it is counterproductive. I hope this issue can be resolved as soon as possible. We are judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, and rightly so. Those in government should take a long hard look at themselves and the perspective through which they see our homelessness crisis.
Many foreign national people who are seeking to access housing are being passed on to a different office, the new communities unit in the Department of Social Protection. If the homelessness figures do not include those foreign national people on the homeless list, then the numbers are being understated. There are concerns about this significant understatement of the figures because these people are not being included. Apart from the human and humanitarian aspect, there are also implications with regard to funding and resources. It has proved remarkably difficult in this House and at Dublin City Council level to get accurate figures on the problem.
Another point came to my attention recently. People are being recommended to a housing association for social housing by the local authority. I am perfectly in agreement with all of this. However, there are people who are being recommended to housing associations who are not suitable, mainly because they are in active addiction. If such a person got a particular flat or apartment, he or she could cause absolute havoc in the area. This means some of these flats and apartments are being left idle for long periods. Those in active addiction need a different type of housing with supports.
I am in touch with people on the housing list who are not on the homeless list but who are in private rented accommodation. They have been on the list for eight, nine, ten or 11 years. They could have availed of some of the units that housing associations have, accommodation that is going to people from the homeless list instead. However, people on the homeless list who are not suitable at a particular time are being nominated instead for the accommodation.
We know that rent is the key. I agree with not giving additional rent to landlords who are abusing the system by increasing rents simply because they can. Often, they do this for sub-standard accommodation. I have met constituents who are privately renting who have problems with their accommodation, such as a leak, a broken radiator, heating problems or cases in which the accommodation is in need of decoration, but who are in fear of asking the landlord in case there is a rent increase or even eviction. There is no security of tenure in those cases. The efforts on rent certainty backfired because we saw more increases and the numbers are increasing every day. The legislation should have come in earlier and should have been backdated or operational from an earlier date. Why was the figure 10% rather than 20% in view of the crisis? We need to see action on the commitment of €2.9 billion.
He was talking about private houses, private rented houses and social housing. He said there was a combination of a crisis in each of the three sections.
Last week I was astonished when I asked for figures for my city, Waterford. I am not being parochial, but I was taken aback when I was told that there was a 60%-----
I have already said this. I have examined the situation around the country and was shocked by what I found. What I am saying is nothing new. There has been a 60% increase in Waterford, where up to 504 people are homeless. Last week I made the point on radio and television stations that 37 people came to my office between Monday and Wednesday the week before last and 17 were homeless. We analysed their situation.
I would not overly criticise the Minister. He has compassion and does not want people to be homeless. The situation in Waterford is replicated around the country. A mother with one child receives a payment of €475. One could not rent an apartment in Waterford for €475, never mind a two-bedroom house. More and more single mothers are becoming homeless, something that has been acknowledged by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Samaritans and other groups, because they do not have the money to pay for rental accommodation.
There is an argument that if one increases rent allowance everything else will go up in price. The amount of money people are given is not sustainable, based on the fact that houses cannot be supplied immediately for them. They have no choice but to go into rental accommodation. We have to make rental accommodation affordable or increase payments under the HAP scheme. I know the situation is difficult and there is no easy fix, but we have to decide on doing one or the other.
A significant majority of the current homeless population are single mothers. They receive a payment of €475 and may have to wait for a deposit. One should try to rent a two bedroom house or apartment anywhere in the country for €475. It is just not happening.