Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 April 2016

5:35 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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We have spoken on this issue many times. As everyone knows, it is the most important issue facing us in this country at the moment. It cannot wait for a new Government to be formed. As anyone with a genuine interest in housing knows, tackling the housing problem is not an overnight process; it is a long process. We all know that the consequences of the collapse of the construction industry have been devastating. We need to realise the scale of the challenge that faces us. Since 2006, when more than 93,000 houses were built in a single year, the property collapse has all but wiped out our construction industry, which has yet to repair itself. As this country has a growing population and a growing economy, it requires the construction of 25,000 new homes every year. The construction industry is barely handling half of that number. The construction sector and the housing system in Ireland are badly broken. They have suffered severely from the effects of the economic crash and are taking a long time to recover. It is going to take longer for the recovery to happen. This is not unique to Ireland. As a result of the mistakes of the past, when the residential sector was allowed to be a key driver of national economic performance rather than a contributor to it, and when housing was treated as a commodity and a means of wealth creation, the situation in Ireland is extremely challenging.

I was under no illusions when I took office. I understood that this was one of the biggest challenges facing the country as it emerged from the economic crisis. At the end of March of this year, I facilitated a Forum on Housing and Homelessness. All parties and political groupings were invited to the forum and most of them came to it. Representatives of housing non-governmental organisations, local authorities, approved housing bodies, the Irish Banking Federation, the Central Bank and the Departments of Finance and Social Protection were also invited. There were speakers from the Housing Agency, the Construction Industry Federation, the Private Residential Tenancies Board, the National Asset Management Agency, the Dublin Regional Homelessness Executive and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

I made the following three key points at the forum. First, housing is a spectrum and every segment has an effect on every other part of the sector. Every player, State body or otherwise, has a part to play in solving the housing problem. Any long-term solution needs the entire system pulling in the same direction to a common goal, namely, more, better, affordable houses and apartments at affordable prices. There are still too many sectoral interests looking outwards and finger-pointing when it comes to solutions rather than proposing remedies over which they may have control.

Second, there is no panacea to the housing problem. The solutions to the problem are not all to be found within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I have repeatedly said that there are many levers that need to move for this problem to be solved, all of which are not to be found within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. In fact, most of them are not.

Third, in trying to seriously and radically tackle this problem, I was hampered not by political or financial obstacles but by legal concerns around the Constitution in terms of the time it is taking to introduce the vacant site levy in order to tackle land hoarding and in regard to protecting tenants from eviction in circumstances where a landlord wishes to sell a property. I never once stated that constitutional barriers prevented the compulsory purchase of land necessary for social housing. In my experience, local authorities, in many cases, have sufficient land stock. My comments were interpreted by some as an effort to blame the Constitution but I was merely stating a fact based on my experience as Minister, and trying to assist the next Government, whatever its make-up, to take up this important mantle. I had to take the Attorney General's advice. This particular point which I am making in regard to legal constraints was further emphasised by the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, in its presentation to the forum. Those who were there on the day will be aware of this. To be specific, and for the record, my original proposal was that the vacant site levy be set at 6% to 7% of the land value and that it to come into force next year. The changes to 2019 and 3% respectively were deemed necessary in the likely event of a constitutional challenge to the courts. Today, I reaffirm my belief that we need to honestly consider what Article 43 of the Constitution means to us as a nation, to re-examine the balance between the protected and legitimate property rights of individuals, as property owners, and the wider needs and common good of society, including housing need. As a society, we need to reflect on the desired impact of the Constitution in this instance.

I also take this opportunity to counter some of what has been claimed regarding the rapid-build homes in Ballymun. By no means did everything go to plan with the local authority. However, rather than be critical of Dublin City Council, I will give it some leeway as this was the first time ever such a process was put in place and there were key learnings to be made for utilisation into the future. While costs are being finalised, I remind people that these homes are for people currently residing in hotels. In that regard, they will pay for themselves in terms of the savings generated from the State not having to pay expensive hotel bills. New units are also vitally needed. While the local authorities are already active in the local market in terms of purchases, additional units are also needed. Also, there was a premium to be paid for the timelines involved as these homes were the fastest ever built in the history of Ireland. I anticipate that the next round of procurement will run much smoother and represents part of an overall solution. I hope that the future Government will continue with the current programme.

On the issue of affordability and supply of private housing, for my part I dealt with the issues under my direct control, including reform of Part V to balance viability and social delivery; retrospective application of reduced development contributions; targeted development of the contribution rebate scheme in Dublin and Cork, focused on large scale developments at affordable prices; the introduction of a vacant site levy; consistent application of apartment standard guidelines; streamlining of the process for the making of modifications to Strategic Development Zone, SDZ, schemes; development contribution rebates for residential developments and more.

The housing actions report, which was published today - I encourage every Member of the House to read the report which is available on my Department's website - provides further information on 31 major actions taken across the housing spectrum in the past 21 months to increase the supply of housing, including social housing. NAMA is also playing its part and expects to fund the construction of up to 20,000 new residential units, predominantly in Dublin and the neighbouring counties, over the next five years.

In terms of social housing, the State is committed to helping those struggling to meet their own housing needs. When I took up office I made social housing an absolute priority. Through the Social Housing Strategy 2020, I am glad to say the State has been returned to its central role in the provision of social housing. In January, I published the first annual social housing output statement covering the first year of the strategy's implementation. Again, I encourage every Deputy to read this document in which the facts are independently laid out. Given the impact of the downturn on social housing construction, it was always going to take time to ramp up but I am happy with what was achieved in 2015. More than 13,000 new social housing units were delivered in 2015, an 86% increase on 2014; recruitment of 420 housing staff for local authorities was sanctioned; 2,700 vacant social housing units were brought back into use; vacancy rates in Dublin city centre fell to 1%; funding has been approved and sites have been selected for the construction of more than 5,000 new social housing units; and there has been a 10% increase in exits from homelessness year on year. This momentum needs to be maintained in 2016 if we are to deliver a further 17,000 units to people who need them, roll-out the housing assistance payment scheme to more local authorities and put in place a pilot affordable rental scheme in place for those on low incomes. I continue to implement the measures set out in the social housing strategy and Construction 2020.

New housing alone will not solve homelessness. According to the Dublin Regional Homelessness Executive figures, relationship or family breakdown is now the single largest cause of homelessness in the Dublin region. This not only has its roots in a lack of the right type of housing. Family breakdown is often exacerbated by poverty, poor income and employment prospects, as well as family complications. Making available free family mediation services as well as tackling poverty in a wider social sense may help ease this burden - I am confident it will help ease this burden - and prevent families from falling further into homelessness.

While 3,930 adults were identified as homeless in February 2016, it should be noted that more than 2,000 sustainable tenancies were secured for homeless households during 2015. Successful actions and initiatives are being implemented to prevent and address homelessness, including reforms to the private rental sector, the provision of rent certainty for tenants and the programme of rapid-delivery housing, which will provide more than 500 units in the Dublin region, although I accept we need more. Under the tenancy sustainment initiatives, there will be increases in the level of rent supplement to approximately 7,000 clients. In January 2015, I issued a direction which requires key local authorities to allocate at least 50% of tenancies to homeless and other vulnerable households.

The problems are complex and broad and require a comprehensive response. This Government has put in place the foundations for the solution to this problem across the entire housing spectrum and there is a responsibility on the new Government, whatever its make-up, to continue this work and to do so as a matter of priority. We need to have a grown-up conversation about Article 43 of the Constitution and getting the balance right between the rights of the individual, as regards property rights, and the common good, the effect it has on the rights of tenants relative to the rights of landlords and the effect it has on the ability of the State to tackle land hoarding and land speculation. I know all about this because I was at Cabinet taking the legal advice.

I mentioned earlier that a document was published today, which I again encourage everyone to read, that sets out 31 major actions taken in the past 21 months to tackle the problems in housing, including improving protections for tenants, the roll-out of the €4 billion social housing strategy, reform of planning laws to improve affordability, the roll-out of rapid-build for the first time ever and many more actions. I have sought to tackle this issue from every possible angle so as to improve the situation for everyone in this country. This matter has been my priority during my short time as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The fruits of this work will take time to become apparent. We have laid the foundations but the solutions will, like any house, take time to build and implement.

5:55 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the initiative taken by the Ceann Comhairle in putting this committee in place. It is an example of how this new and dispersed Dáil can have the desired effect. The recommendations of the Dáil reform committee outlined by the Ceann Comhairle also augur well for this committee. I welcome the fact that it has a closed timeframe, which will allow it to make meaningful suggestions and proposals and report back to the Dáil, which in turn will report to the Minister, whomever that may be.

This can prove the potential of this Dáil in that despite its difficulty in appointing a Taoiseach and subsequently a government, it has the capacity by virtue of the committee system and the willingness of those participating in these committees to make meaningful proposals and solutions that can address what is the greatest challenge facing this country. It is such a challenge that it is right that it be declared an emergency and that space and time be allowed to create meaningful legislation to give effect to many of the proposals that I am sure will emanate from this process. Like many others, I believe that in view of the various issues associated with housing and homelessness, there has to be a holistic approach to addressing them in a way which will have the desired effect across the area of public and private housing and the rental sector.

With regard to public housing, the programme and the strategy initiated by the Government over two years ago referred to the provision of approximately 35,000 social housing units. The Department officials told us during the course of our discussions in recent weeks that only 12,000 of those are to be direct builds by local authorities. That is neither efficient nor sufficient and it must be addressed. The length of time for the process, from the initial approval to construction, is far too tedious and slow. There are many schemes that have been announced and which are progressing through various stages over the last two years, yet no ground has been broken. The Department officials tell us that the number of stages in this process has been reduced from eight to four. It may be reduced further in order to have the desired effect. In our manifesto, we referred to the provision of approximately 45,000 units and those extra 10,000 units, compared to the strategy the Government announced two years ago, would be in the local authority direct builds sector. We would improve on that by seeking to bring the additional number up to 22,000 units while improving on deliverability and the methods of deliverability in order for the desired results to come on stream much more quickly and efficiently.

I ask that the committee should consider other proposals, such as the commitment by the Government in regard to NAMA-developed housing developments over the course of the next two years. This provides that 10% of these will be designated as social and affordable housing. That must be improved and increased to at least 20%. The Minister mentioned that he has made good progress in that regard and that the officials are giving him information to suggest this is happening. It is contrary to information I have obtained in recent days and weeks from FOI facts and figures provided by local authorities throughout the country. The figure stands at 2,500. When the Minister says that 3,000 have been reinstated in the last year that may well be the case, but it may be just paint jobs or wallpapering that has been done. I do not say that for political gain on my part. I say that as-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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They are facts.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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-----a matter of fact that has been provided to me under FOI and I will make that information available to the Minister-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I will make the facts available to the Deputy.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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-----so that he can check it with his officials. If it is the case, we need an explanation as to why.

Improvements must made to the way in which this issue and the issue of voids are addressed. There has to be more discretion given to local authorities in dealing with these issues, rather than the current delays, for example in the case of the €30,000 cap provision, and which lead to a wait of many months, even a year in some cases, to access funding that must be made available for such development.

There must be greater discretion given to local authorities on capital projects. I understand it is capped at €2 million at present but it should be increased to €5 million. There should be some aspect of generic design for different-sized developments in different regions of the country. I know that is something the planners need to look at but this committee should look at the prospect of improvements in that area.

With regard to the private sector, the cost of development and building units is the stumbling block. When one compares that cost to the price of units in various parts of the country, the costs far outweigh some of the prices that are being achieved, despite the fact that, for example, NAMA is selling units which the Government is not interested in taking on board. That is a mistake of the past and it cannot be allowed to happen again in the future. It is something this committee needs to copperfasten in some form of legislation, or in an alteration to the NAMA legislation.

The costs associated with construction, through labour, site costs, development charges, certification costs on foot of the new building regulations - in some cases €20,000 in the city of Dublin - and VAT are all issues that need to be investigated. There needs to be reductions achieved in the areas of costs in order for the 100,000 units that need to be developed over the next five years to be built. This will help to address the situation of social housing, affordable housing and for people to have units available to rent, lease, buy or whatever the case maybe.

Access to funds is pivotal. Many involved in the construction trade will tell the Minister that the banks are not lending. The Government's intervention in that area was cumbersome, slow, did not meet the criteria or do as it would have wished. It provided €125 million and I understand there was an American capital fund of €375 million, which gave a total of €500 million. The rates we believe are being charged are similar to those that the mezzanines are charging, in the region of 15% to 17%. That will not address the difficulty around accessibility of funds. Funding has to be drawn down from strategic investment funds, private investment bonds and from the credit unions, who indicated to the Government as far back as 12 months ago, their willingness to make capital funding available to the State for construction initiatives. These funds could go to the private sector and to housing associations, which are barred from access to private funds. This must be addressed.

In the case of State lands, or lands in the ownership of local authorities not being used, there should be some initiatives to allow joint ventures to provide social and leasing units. In that situation, the VAT on the social element could be removed. I am aware the Department has an issue with VAT being removed in the private sector but in the case of social units it can make a difference and improve profitability. The construction sector could make units available to those that need them. That too must be investigated.

With regard to town centres, we want to see refurbishment initiatives in the towns and villages throughout the country that have been decimated over the last number of years. We could look at the compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers and how they could be improved. I take on board what the Minister has been saying in recent months in regard to property rights and I acknowledge the difficulty there. I hope that the legal advice being given to the Minister will be made available to the committee so that it could investigate ways and means by which it could be addressed. I specifically ask that the committee look at the CPO legislation and also to look at ways of making the funding I have mentioned available to address development in derelict buildings, buildings that are in disrepair, buildings that have not been occupied and buildings where the owners do not have access to capital.

I ask the committee to investigate the area of saving schemes to help people save the necessary deposits to meet the regulations introduced by the Central Bank.

6 o’clock

There should also be recommendations on a weighted allowance for those renting property, which is proof of their capacity to meet the requirements of a mortgage thereafter. We said the following on the rental sector consistently during the last Dáil, as did many others, apart from the those in government who rejected it at every hand's turn. It is not just politicians who said it but also stakeholders at the coal-face. We must increase rent allowance in the short term. It is as simple as that. It could be reviewed every six months, while the effect of the other initiatives we have mentioned are beginning to bear fruit, not least those the last Government brought forward. It was not all bad. A great deal of it was, but there was some movement. The Government had the best of intentions on modular homes, but when one heard the information that was given to me and my colleagues late last year, the cost associated with it far outweighed the cost of properties available for sale.

6:05 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Supply.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge that there is a road one could go down in the short term in relation to different forms of construction that are barred by local authorities and the Department. We must look at other methods of construction to deliver housing at a faster pace.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I understand the next speaker, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, is sharing time with Deputy David Cullinane. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Last week Ms Erica Fleming, a young woman who has been living with her daughter, Emily, in emergency accommodation for the past nine months, briefed Deputies in Leinster House. She spoke about the stress of living in a single hotel room, the frustration of seeing empty, boarded-up homes across the city and the enormous cost to the taxpayer of keeping her and her daughter in cramped emergency accommodation. She said two things at the briefing that struck and stayed with me. At a very emotional moment in her talk she said she felt she was letting her daughter down. I wish to speak directly from the House to Erica and all the other parents whose children will spend tonight in emergency accommodation to say very clearly that they are not letting their children down. The 1,881 children who will sleep tonight in emergency accommodation are being let down by those in charge of the housing system, which is in crisis.

Erica also made a plea to those Deputies who attended the briefing last week. She urged us to work together to tackle the causes of the housing and homelessness crisis. It is not enough for me to come to the House today and point fingers. I accept the responsibility that comes with that. However, neither is it acceptable for those who are responsible for the housing crisis to blindly defend their record in the face of mounting evidence. What Erica's nine year old daughter, Emily, needs from us is that we sit down, roll up our sleeves and fix the problems that force so many families to live for months and, increasingly, years in emergency accommodation. That is the spirit in which Sinn Féin proposed the all-party group to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis. I am very pleased that earlier today in the House we had cross-party and Independent support for the committee to be established and start its work.

Sinn Féin's intention in proposing the committee was very simple. We wanted to create a forum in which Members could hear the experiences and listen to the advice of those working at the coal-face of the housing crisis. Having listened to those views, we want the committee to bring forward policy and legislative recommendations which could be implemented immediately to tackle the crisis. I agree with the Minister that some of these measures will have to be immediate, while others will be implemented in the medium to long term. However, the scale of the crisis is such that we must act now. The committee must start by accepting that the current approach to the housing crisis is not working. Some of the policies in place are making matters worse. We must find agreement on the measures which can be taken but which are not being taken to reduce the flow of people into homelessness. We must also put in place new and better ways to increase the supply of social and affordable housing and improve the regulation of the private rental sector. This means that all Deputies on all sides of the debate exploring and agreeing to options they may not previously have accepted. They must include options to stem the spiralling cost of rents, the rising rate of evictions and repossessions, the unacceptable length of time people are spending in emergency accommodation and on housing waiting lists, the high cost of homes for many first-time buyers and the slow pace of housing supply increase in the public and private sectors. Sinn Féin will bring forward positive, costed and constructive proposals on all of these matters for consideration and listen to the proposals made by all other parties.

Emily Fleming will soon have spent almost a full year of her young life in emergency accommodation. That is unacceptable. Those of us with the privilege to speak in the House cannot allow that situation to become normalised. The committee on housing and homelessness must meet as a matter of urgency - I suggest it do so this week - to start the business Emily and the 1,880 other children who tonight do not have homes so desperately need us to get on with.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I participated in a debate in the Chamber on housing two weeks ago. The Minister might just pay attention to some of the speeches being made. We are here to engage with him. With respect, he is still the acting Minister and might listen to our contributions.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I am listening to the contributions.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I have listened to everyone who spoke. Continue.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I spoke on the issue of housing in the House two weeks ago when I made the Minister aware of a family in Waterford who were living in emergency accommodation. At the time, they had been living in emergency accommodation for a number of weeks. I contacted Waterford City and County Council on their behalf. They also contacted it themselves. They were told the solution for them was not a house or a home and that there was no support available to find private rented accommodation. The solution was that they would have to move into a hostel. Not only would they have to move into a hostel but the mother, who is heavily pregnant and sick, would have to move into one hostel with her two children, while the father would have to move into a different one. That is the solution, even in terms of emergency accommodation, that was offered to the family. They are still in emergency accommodation two weeks on. Are they to be there for two more weeks or months? There are thousands of children like Emily across the State who are in similar circumstances.

The Minister said we needed to have a grown-up conversation about Article 43 of the Constitution. It may be that we do and that there are constitutional issues that need to be addressed. We in Sinn Féin support a person's constitutional right to a home and do not have a difficulty in debating that issue. However, the Minister should, please, not hide behind it and use it as an excuse for the failure of his party and the Government to build social and affordable housing. I have the new build figures for Waterford City and County Council for the past four years. In 2012 no houses were built across the entire city and county. In 2013 no houses were built either. In 2014 one house was built, while in 2015, again, there were no houses built. The Government has built one local authority house in four years for the entire population of Waterford city and county. Last week I visited the rural village of Clashmore in County Waterford where I met dozens of residents to discuss a range of issues. One of the issues they wanted to talk to me about was the lack of social housing in their village. Therefore, it is not just an urban issue. There are many villages across the State where we are not building social and affordable housing and where we are adding to the decline and sense of abandonment of rural Ireland. This is as much an issue for rural Ireland as it is for urban areas.

There are many solutions to the housing problem. There is no excuse for the failure to build social and affordable housing. While we are often criticised by the Minister for not bringing forward solutions, Sinn Féin has put forward many solutions to the housing crisis only for the Government to sit on all of them. It did nothing and allowed the crisis to develop. The reason there are so many people in distress and without homes or hope is the absolute failure of the Government's policies.

I am one of 158 Teachtaí Dála. I am sure that all of our constituency offices have conveyor belts of families with the same story every day. They cannot access social housing, so we make representations for them but for what? One house was built in the past four years. The homes do not exist. The local authorities do not have any. Families are being told that they must enter the private rented sector, which is essentially the privatisation of social housing. The only solution for them is the private rented sector but landlords are not signing up to any of the schemes, be it the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or anything else. The Minister is shaking his head but family after family in this city and in my city and county cannot find a landlord who will sign up to HAP or RAS. That is the reality. People are being told that their only option is the private rented sector and yet there is no hope for them there.

People do not need hope in this situation. They need the State to live up to its responsibility to provide a roof over the heads of those in need. There is a place for social and affordable housing but the previous Government abandoned it and left people to the mercy of the private sector and Part V developments, which dried up. There are no new builds and no solutions. This is the situation. I hope that it will improve.

6:15 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Waterford has €35 million until the end of next year. Spend it.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister referred to the €35 million that was available. I will welcome any funding that is made available.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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It is available.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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What I have told the Minister-----

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's time has elapsed and he should speak through the Chair, if he does not mind.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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There is no point in the Minister, who is out of office, showing pieces of paper to me.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I am not out of office.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Through the Chair, please.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I am in office and I am telling the Deputy how much money Waterford will have.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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One speaker, please.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The Deputy said that I was not listening.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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The Government built one home in Waterford in the past four years for all of those who needed houses. That is to the Minister's shame.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Make sure they are built.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I understand that Deputy Boyd Barrett is sharing time with Deputy Mick Barry, with five minutes each.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Yes.

Many aspects of today's proceedings are profoundly depressing. The farce being played out by the two large parties is depressing and frustrating for Deputies and, more importantly, people outside the House who are suffering. No issue highlights this and the failure of the political establishment, including the outgoing Government and the main political parties in successive Governments, more than the disaster in housing and homelessness, which is worsening daily.

I welcome the all-party agreement to establish a Dáil sub-committee on housing and I hope that it meets soon. It was a good proposal from Sinn Féin. I welcome that everyone is on board and I hope that something comes of it. However, I find it dispiriting that the Minister continues to justify-----

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----his actions and those of the Government over the past five years and plays with figures when the reality outside belies everything he says.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The figures-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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He can discuss acquisitions, targets, €35 million and so on but the facts speak for themselves. The number of people, including families and children who have been forced into homelessness is increasing weekly. The figure for families is now 1,800 and has been increasing monthly. The situation has continuously worsened since the Minister entered into government. There were 96,000 households on the housing list then. Now, there are 130,000. It is a disaster. It is heartbreaking to see families with kids coming to one's clinic on Monday mornings in dire situations and not knowing what to do, where they will sleep and whether they will ever have permanent roofs over their heads again. Yet the Minister continues to justify his actions and plans.

The Minister mentioned the Social Housing Strategy 2020 again. He keeps claiming that this plan will change everything and deliver. Let me tell him how it will play out in my area of Dún Laoghaire, where 6,000 households are on the housing list compared with the approximately 3,000 who were on it when the Minister entered office. The figure has almost doubled but the strategy's target is 681 houses by 2017. That is 681 against a list-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Some €61 million.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Minister, please.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----of nearly 6,000 households. That 2017 target will not even meet 10% of current housing demand. Does the Minister know how many people will join the list before then? There are approximately 100 new applicants per month. With the Minister's wonderful plans, we will be in a worse situation in 2017 than we are now but even these miserable targets are not being met and figures are being massaged. For example, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council tells us that it has delivered 95 RAS households. In the small print, however, one discovers that 60 of those are renewals. They are not new social housing accommodation. They are just old RAS arrangements that have been renewed by landlords.

This is at the heart of the problem. Some 75,000 houses of the 110,000 that the Government is proposing to deliver will be done through the HAP and RAS with private landlords and yet there is no chance that those landlords will sign up to them, given that they are not signing up now. The proposal will not deliver. If the Government does not break with the failed approach of depending on private landlords to provide a solution, we will face a worse crisis in the years ahead. It must break with failed policies.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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The issue is how to tackle the housing crisis in a serious way. I will start with a couple of citations, the first of which is from the chief executive officer of NAMA, Mr. Brendan McDonagh, when he addressed an Oireachtas committee in December. According to The Irish Times, he stated that a developer could expect to earn a profit of €20,000 on a newly built home that sold for €300,000 but that many developers were "not satisfied with a profit of €20,000 per house but wish to wait until it is €50,000" or more. Just in case anyone believes this to be a rogue quotation that is not supported by anyone else who is involved in the thick of things, there is a second one. It was made by Dr. Peter Stafford of Property Industry Ireland, PII, so I am not referencing a radical left-winger. In a presentation last May, he stated: "Developers margin is less than 40% to 50% over 3 to 5 years. This will not deliver the 15% IRR that Private Equity is looking for." He also stated: "The rates using private equity and even some senior debt leave us with effective rates of 10% -15%. Any blip along the way leaves us hugely exposed at those levels." Similar points were made by the Cork property developer, Mr. Michael O'Flynn, on "Claire Byrne Live" on 14 March.

What does this mean in reality? There is talk of a target of 25,000 houses to enter the market per year.

Half of them were one-off houses and were not part of housing schemes. Therefore, developers delivered 6,000 to 7,000 houses in the State last year, which is barely one quarter of what is needed.

Let us face the reality of what is happening here. There is a strike taking place but it is not industrial action by Luas workers, nurses or workers walking up and down on the picket line; there is a strike taking place involving big business and developers who are refusing to invest because they feel the profit margins they can achieve are not sufficiently high. They want more and they want bigger profits along the way. In reality, a generation is being held to ransom by the big developers as part of a campaign to increase their profit. I note the comments made by the spokesperson for Fianna Fáil in the discussion. In reality, he is saying the solution is to give them pretty much everything they are asking for. That is not the solution to the problem.

NAMA is adding to the problems. It admits it has sold to developers enough land for 20,500 units, mostly in prime locations in the big cities, only for them to be sat on. This is a scandal. NAMA is briefed to give the best deal to the taxpayer, as we were told ad nauseam by the outgoing Government. It has interpreted that brief as one of applying the values of the speculator. Thus, at the Oireachtas committee I referred to, the NAMA chairman, Frank Daly, stressed the agency could not fund residential building on that basis as it would not have been confident of obtaining a commercial return. It is playing the same game in this regard.

This Dáil needs to recognise fully the interests it is up against. In that context, the types of solutions on offer from the likes of the outgoing Government parties, such as a decrease in VAT for the construction industry, will not work. It does not represent a solution. A solution will involve cutting out the middleman developer whose speculative activity serves nearly to double the cost of a house. Local authority-owned and NAMA-owned land and properties now need to be used and optimised for social and affordable housing. The building industry and land zoned for development need to be taken into public ownership. The Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmund Honohan, in effect called for a softer position on what I am advocating with the use of compulsory purchase orders for the public good. We would say that compensation for the developers, vulture funds and the industry that have conspired to create a humanitarian crisis in our midst should not be the norm but given only on the basis of proven need.

6:25 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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It is now seven weeks since the general election and the people have faced the charade of the election a Taoiseach for the third time. My understanding is that a vote to elect a Taoiseach is a vote to elect a Head of Government. On the three occasions on which people were nominated, none was capable of forming a Government. While this charade goes on in this House, the crises people are facing, particularly the housing crisis, continue to deepen. One of the first steps I want to see taken by the housing committee is calling the housing crisis an emergency. The previous Government never accepted it was an emergency, although it was raised here many times by people such as myself and Deputy Catherine Murphy. Deputy Durkan referred to homelessness two to two and a half years ago.

The crisis worsens daily. We now know that in February, 3,930 adults and 1,881 children were homeless. I had the privilege of standing with Erica Fleming and her daughter Emily on Easter Sunday when all the pomp and ceremony were evident on O’Connell Street. Erica called for a protest and action in solidarity with the homeless families on North Earl Street. I stood proudly with the people that day and deliberately did not attend the ceremonies. It was more important to recognise what was happening to Erica, her daughter and thousands of others who are facing hostels. One hundred years since the 1916 Rising, we have not recognised children and their status.

More than 130,000 people are on waiting lists for social housing that does not exist. Another 100,000 plus are in mortgage arrears and in danger of losing their homes. The solution put forward by the Government, the mortgage-to-rent scheme for people facing a mortgage threat, has been an absolute disaster because the banks will not deal with people who are facing losing their homes. Thousands of people are living in private rented accommodation, waiting in dread for a rent increase they cannot afford. We are still noting such cases in our office. Every single day, some housing-related issue arises. It may concern a local authority, maintenance, rent increases, the threat of eviction because a landlord is selling, not being able to obtain rental accommodation and accommodation that is too expensive. I encounter families who are facing homelessness every single day. This is now the biggest issue in my constituency office.

There are solutions but actions are required. Respond! Housing Association has made proposals. The credit unions should be invited to meetings of the housing committee to give their opinions on the issues that committee's members will speak about. The solutions could involve support for the €5 billion social housing fund proposed by the Irish League of Credit Unions, a national register of all land assets in the country, a full Cabinet Minister responsible for housing and planning and a housing authority or agency responsible to the Minister responsible for housing. The authority would incorporate some land and asset management of NAMA as that agency winds down. Other aspects of a solution include restoring Part V so that all new developments must have at least 20% social housing in the mix; providing for the public acquisition of private lands by compulsory purchase by the State; the development by the State of the 800 sites identified by the Irish Council for Social Housing; the expansion of the vacant site levy of 10% to keep ahead of increases in the price of land; a three-year use-it-or-lose-it clause in planning permissions; and a national social housing stock retrofit plan involving the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. It is important that any social houses built include this. There should be a move from the local property tax to a site evaluation tax to discourage the hoarding of land by developers. This is what Respond! is seeking, although I do not necessarily support it.

There should be legislation to address failings in local Traveller accommodation plans and a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution as part of a guarantee of economic, social and cultural rights. The financial contributions list of the councils must also be considered. Some 500 people have been put on the list of Dublin City Council. That council will not take any more because it has no stock into which to put people. It has no old folks homes and yet there are possibilities in St. Michael’s Estate and Raleigh Square in my area and Canon Troy Court in Ballyfermot. All those areas are waiting for housing for the elderly to be built. What is happening is absolutely crazy. There needs to be digging down at macro and micro levels to determine how we can move people from one set of houses to another where they want to do that.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I had the good fortune or misfortune of attending the Minister’s housing forum in the Custom House a number of weeks ago in place of Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan. Having attended, it struck me quite quickly that the nub of this problem lies at the heart of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, where the ideology seems to be wedded to the failed ideas that led us to this crisis in the first place. The first speaker from the Department who got up repeated the lie - it was repeated again in the Minister's speech - that the Department was responsible for delivering 13,000 extra social housing units last year. This is simply not the case. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, many of these were just reclassified. They were houses that already existed and the overwhelming bulk of them were based on the private market with the exact lack of security of tenure to which Deputy Catherine Connolly referred. Unless we are truthful about the problem, we will not be able to grapple with a solution. The departmental official went on to say the solution to the crisis was not to build social housing and he went on about stimulating the private sector.

The solution is to build social housing, although not, by any means, exclusively. Unless we reverse the chronic lack-----

6:35 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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He was not an official.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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Please, Minister.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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On a point of order, the individual in question was not an official but a representative of the Housing Agency.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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Mr. Conor Skehan from the Housing Agency made an excellent contribution. I was referring to the first speaker who was definitely a representative of the Department.

Unless we reverse the chronic lack of provision of social housing through direct build housing, we will not deliver sufficient housing to meet the country's needs. Housing construction ceased under the Fianna Fáil Governments that preceded the previous Government. We must reverse that position. We have tabled motions, although I accept that we cannot yet discuss them. We must ensure the European Union's fiscal rules are relaxed to allow us to address the crisis by accessing emergency funds for social housing.

Deputy Mick Wallace will speak later about the constructive proposals made by Mr. Justice Honohan on the creative use of compulsory purchase orders with the investment fund and National Asset Management Agency properties.

I propose to speak briefly about modular housing. Local authorities in Dublin are subjecting to emotional blackmail the most hard-pressed working class communities which are being led to believe they are responsible for the housing and homelessness crisis. Fingal County Council is voting on the location of 40 so-called modular houses in Balbriggan. These housing units are not modular but conventional and while there is nothing wrong with them per se, I note that the company developing similar units in Ballymun was responsible for building rapid build accommodation in a school in north County Dublin that subsequently caught fire. This causes me some concern. My main concern, however, is the information we received yesterday that the units in Balbriggan would cost €243,000 each. This figure excludes site purchase costs, planning application costs, development levies and the developer's profit. Deputy Mick Wallace assures me that one could build a top-notch house under similar conditions for €150,000 or almost €100,000 less than the proposed cost of the Balbriggan units.

My colleague on Fingal County Council, Councillor Barry Martin, carried out a survey of properties available on the market in Balbriggan today. He found that 40 completed properties dispersed around the town could be purchased for €5.3 million, a much lower figure than the €9 million Fingal County Council is proposing to spend on the new development. The new development will be located in Pinewood estate where the hard-pressed, working class community has grappled for years with anti-social behaviour and, having overcome the problem, now lives in a mature and settled estate. Many residents have children on the housing waiting list and fully realise the scale of the housing problem. They wonder, however, why the so-called modular housing developments are being located in the most marginalised working class communities. They also ask why agreements reached with their community have been trampled on as a result of these proposals which do not make economic sense. Moreover, they will establish a transient community which will not be able to integrate with the existing community and the cost of doing so will be significantly higher than other options. If the knee-jerk reaction to the national emergency continues, we will sow the seeds for major problems in the future. The proposal is not acceptable to any of those affected by the current crisis.

I am pleased that we have today agreed to establish a committee on housing and I hope it will produce concrete proposals. Deputy Catherine Connolly made the speech of the day and summed up the position very articulately, pointing out that we did not have a housing strategy and that developing one must be the utmost priority of all Deputies.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Some €81 million is available for these houses.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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We all accept that there is no bigger problem facing the country than the housing crisis. The fact that 1,800 children are living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation is a major failure in administration, long-term planning and politics. There is nothing sadder than the sight of parents in these hotels, some of which are located in my constituency, placing milk on window sills to try to keep it cool. These parents have no choice but to feed their children fast food because they do not have access to cooking facilities. They must wash up in wash-hand basins in hotel bathrooms. Their young children struggle to do homework, while the self-esteem of their older children is being fundamentally damaged. Many of these parents believe they are utter failures.

I very much welcome the establishment of an all-party committee on housing. No one has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to finding solutions to the housing problem. What is needed is a collaborative approach. It would be helpful, however, if the Minister took his head out of whatever it is he is reading and listened to the points Deputies are making. He does not seem to have cottoned on that he is no longer in power and must change his modus operandiif he is to survive in Parliament.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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It would be helpful if the Deputy supported the provision of social housing in her backyard.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Please allow Deputy Róisín Shortall to continue without interruption.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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Basic courtesy aside, it would be helpful if the Minister listened to Deputies on this side.

One of the main requirements for the new committee will be to establish what exactly is holding back the supply of housing, both public and private. There are many theories and various reports have been compiled on the issue, many of which have been inconclusive. The various lobby groups also have ideas on the issue. The single most important task is to establish precisely what is holding back the supply of housing and what steps need to be taken to unlock housing supply.

We must also ensure a housing plan is drawn up for the immediate future because immediate solutions are required to solve the problem of hundreds of thousands of people being in housing difficulty. However, medium and long-term plans will also be required for the delivery of housing.

The committee must also agree on a number of principles, the first of which concerns the need to maximise the use of existing accommodation. A significant amount of accommodation is under-used. We need to adopt an evidence based approach and obtain expert advice on what are the best solutions in tackling the problem. I do not mean that we should seek advice from vested interests because too often they have dogged and controlled aspects of the debate on housing. We must ignore vested interests, speak to the experts and learn from best practice in other countries.

Another critical principle that needs to be established concerns the need for a social mix. While the Department has reasonably good guidelines on social mix, the Minister and the Department completely ignored them in recent years. It is critical that all future housing supplies have an adequate level of social mix because this is the only way to create sustainable housing developments. New estates must not be exclusively made up of either private or social housing. The 10% Part V social housing rule is set at much too low a level.

In my constituency we have the spectacle of the Department and the local authority effectively circumventing the planning process and national guidelines on social mix by providing funding for a voluntary housing association to buy up an entire new housing estate. This approach will not work.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The Deputy is opposing the provision of social housing in her constituency. This is a case of the NIMBY syndrome - not in my backyard.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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It will not work because building 100% social housing in a development is not a sustainable solution. It circumvents planning rules and will result in residents opposing all housing developments on the basis that a local authority could potentially buy out all the units in a development. A good social mix is needed and the Department must adhere to the guidelines it has set down.

The priority for the new committee should be to ensure we have new delivery structures, as well as new policy. I hope a new Minister for housing and a Department of housing and planning will be in place by the time the committee reports because the establishment of such a Department is long overdue. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has a terrible record on housing, having failed to deliver both in the good times and bad.

I believe the committee should support the idea of a housing delivery agency, a new body with a more hands-on approach to the delivery of housing and one which can do so much more to improve housing supply. Such an agency could co-ordinate between public and private housing providers. It could identify possibilities for public land banking and could identify and tackle land hoarding and speculation. It could help achieve scale and reduce costs for developers. Such a body could help reduce planning risks and, therefore, financial risks. It could also help develop master plans for sites so that everybody would know what and where something could be built and have a say in how that is decided. One of the problems over the years has been that there has been no single agency responsible for matching supply with demand over the medium to long term. That is the reason we had a glut of housing a number of years ago and now just a few short years later, there is a dire shortage of housing. There has been no long-term planning when it comes to housing provision, whether public or private.

Another important issue the committee should consider is the issue of freeing up vacant accommodation. One only has to drive around Dublin, Cork or any city to see the vast amount of vacant accommodation that exists throughout those cities. Over many shops and businesses, there are three or four storeys of accommodation lying idle. Urgent action needs to be taken to bring that accommodation into immediate use. This must be achieved through a carrot and stick approach. There is a strong case for a fiscal instrument to be used to free up that accommodation and for making it worthwhile for the owners of that accommodation to refurbish it for housing use immediately. I am not talking about something that could be done in three, four or five years. This needs to be done now.

Another issue is the number of houses that are lying vacant. In Dublin currently, the vacancy rate in housing is approximately 8%, while the standard in any city is 4%. If we could bring on stream that additional 4%, that would free up approximately 20,000 houses for use. All of us who canvassed over recent months noticed the huge number of empty houses around currently. A number of measures should be taken to deal with this, such as bringing forward the vacant site levy and reform of the fair deal scheme to make it easier to free up vacant homes.

Land hoarding and speculation are major areas that need to be examined. The Minister talks about this from time to time and suggests the Constitution is holding us back on that. It is important to look at what the Constitution says in this regard. Article 43.1 protects private property. However, Article 43.2.10 states: "The State recognises, however, that the exercise of the rights mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this Article ought, in civil society, to be regulated by the principles of social justice." If ever the principles of social justice needed to be invoked, they need to be invoked in regard to the crisis in social housing. Article 43.2.20 states: "The State, accordingly, may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good." There is a huge common good to be served by using the provisions that exist currently for compulsory purchase and to update the law as suggested by Edmund Honohan. Dealing with this would also provide security to people who are currently living in homes that have been bought out by vulture funds, rather than allowing those vulture funds to come in and buy up properties at a fraction of their value and then flip them in a short period and make huge profits. There is nothing to stop the State from compulsorily purchasing these properties from the vulture funds.

It is vital also that we put a stop to repossessions as a result of the appointment of bank receivers. We should not allow bank receivers to acquire and repossess properties given what the people have done to rescue the banks. Banks should appoint rent receivers rather than receivers to repossess houses. Any rented homes and properties owned by banks should be retained and people should not be turfed out of them to add to the existing housing problem.

A lot can be done within the law currently and we do not necessarily need a constitutional amendment. Mr. Honohan has set out a way forward to tackle this problem and it can be done. What is needed is the political will to do it.

6:45 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I appreciate the chance to speak on behalf of the Green Party and I commend Sinn Féin and others who promoted this debate.

The huge housing crisis is probably one of the most urgent issues we need to address. We need to get three factors right in doing this. We need to build the right homes, in the right place and at the right price. I want to look broadly at these three aspects. On the issue of the right homes, yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Construction Industry Federation at which a speaker from the Society of Chartered Surveyors set out some of the typical costs and tried to address the issue we have between costs and market price. However, all of the analysis in the presentation was based on the building of semi-detached housing. It was based on the standard Irish semi-detached three-bedroomed house. This depressed me as that is not necessarily the real problem. We need to build housing closer to the centres of our towns and cities and the housing required is not necessarily the traditional family unit. It seems like developers and our housing industry are stuck in an old way of thinking that it is about building endless rows of semi-detached housing, further and further out from our cities and continuing the urban sprawl we have seen over the past 50 years. The whole conference seemed stuck in that mindset.

I am also slightly despondent that in his period as Minister, Deputy Kelly seemed to change the narrative. We were moving towards ever more efficient and low-cost housing as a result of energy efficiencies. However, it seems the Minister has made regulatory changes providing him with powers to overrule local authorities who seek to set higher standards. For example, my colleagues in Dún Laoghaire had succeeded in getting cross-party agreement to move towards higher passive house styles and standards but now they have been stymied by a direction from the central power to say they cannot do that. I believe that is a mistake, even if it is based on good intentions, such as the fear about housing costs. That does not take into account the real cost of housing in that the owners of the properties built will instead, over the 50 years or so those properties will exist, pay higher costs year in, year out because we are not willing to take the next step to cut out the use of fossil fuels for heating, although this is something we need to do because of climate change. We are building the wrong type of houses. If we are going to build the right houses, let us start by making them energy efficient to the extreme. That is what we need to do. The owners of these houses will benefit and have lower bills for their lifetime.

The Minister may argue that he lowered the standard in terms of the size of apartments in an attempt to lower costs for new home owners. However, I would argue that we should be returning closer to city and town centres and bringing families back to these centres where we have schools and public transport and all the other services. This would be a cheaper way to develop housing rather than the alternative model of continuing the spread outwards where the State must pick up the cost of providing public transport services, health and educational services. We need to bring people back to our town and city centres and if we are doing that, we need to provide good quality accommodation in which people can raise children.

We will not do that if we go back to the old developer-led model, which I fear the Minister has done, which is about building box apartments and not really being concerned about the nature or quality of the homes which will be there for the next 50, 60 or 100 years. We need to build the right houses. We should start by building quality, efficient low-cost houses - the right houses for the real need we have, which is not necessarily semi-detached houses out in new greenfield sites on which we have fixated in the past 40 or 50 years.

As well as being in the right place we also need to get right a national spatial plan which will identify where demand is going to be and what numbers are needed in areas based on demographics and an understanding of where jobs are going to come. That has to be centre stage in any housing strategy or plan so that we can build houses close to people's place of work. I am concerned about presentations from the Department showing that, in the Dublin area, we have a number of houses ready to go on serviced land. I cannot remember exactly what the number was - I think it was some 45,000 houses - but the vast majority of the sites were on the far side of the M50. If the Department does not already know this it needs to start talking to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport because in Dublin city the M50 will gridlock on the existing growth in traffic from the existing housing stock. If we put yet more housing on the far side of the M50 and expect people to get into the city to work it will not work. We need integration of transport, planning and housing such as we have never had in this State. I do not see it today and nor do I see it at the centre of the new spatial plan but we have to get it right if we are to build houses in the right place.

I do not want to be personal but the Minister and the former Deputy, Phil Hogan, made decisions not to proceed with a directly elected mayor of Dublin who would be able to go over the fundamental problem which has crippled this city in the past 30 or 40 years, namely, the different agencies fighting each other and the different counties looking for development. That was a mistake.

My third and last point is that we need to build at the right price, as well as the right houses in the right place. The conference yesterday was interesting and Ronan Lyons, the economist from Trinity College Dublin, made a couple of important points. It is vital that we introduce the site value tax that we set up, in place and ready to go but which the previous Government decided not to proceed with. It is vital for a number of reasons. One is that one would get more concentrated, better development closer to the centre. Another is that we would find out who actually owns the land in this country. One of the difficulties in the negotiations to set up a site value taxation was the Department of Finance saying it could not do it because we did not know who owned what land and it would require us to develop a proper, full tally of who owns our land. If we are to tackle the housing crisis and not go back to the corrupt, developer-led system we had in the past it would be very healthy to start by understanding who owns every parcel of land and to be transparent and open about transactions involving land. It is important to put a site value tax on, as well as the vacant site tax about which the Minister spoke.

When the Minister had legal opinion saying he could not go ahead with the vacant site tax in 2016 but had to wait to 2019, and could not set it at 6% but 3%, did he not think that, on this occasion, it might have been worth taking the legal challenge and going to the courts if necessary? Let the Supreme Court adjudicate on it. The Supreme Court is as political as any other institution. It would, as Deputy Shortall said, read the Constitution and look at the competing questions so we should have put it to the test of the Supreme Court instead of accepting the legal argument. It is not too late for an incoming government to do that if it really wanted to tackle the issue.

The Central Bank did the right thing to put in regulations to restrict the level of lending for houses. I know it is difficult for young people but it would have been far worse to allow price rises to come back again which would mean that, while people might get a mortgage, they would pay a lot more. Ronan Lyons said there may be a case to look at loan-to-value ratios rather than loan-to-income and I think he may be right because that might encourage people to build and buy more efficient houses in the right areas.

I listened with dismay to some of the figures the quantity surveyor was giving out and questioned some of them, and the Construction Industry Federation is not actually stepping up to the plate to look at a different building model which will be really efficient in bringing down costs. I echo what other people have said and believe that to tackle this housing crisis we need to do this. Fundamentally, it is time for the State to build in order to provide housing. It will be 15% cheaper because the assumed profit the quantity surveyor put into the calculation would not exist if the State was doing it. We should do it with the rent-cost model set out by the National Economic and Social Council because this would iron out a lot of the inefficiencies and inequities in the current social housing model. We would also get financing for it and it would lead to more mixed housing, a subject about which Deputy Shortall spoke, where those who are not able to afford the assumed market rent would be subsidised directly by the housing association or local authority which builds it.

In every one of his speeches here the Minister has waved a piece of paper saying there is €40 million for Waterford or €50 million for somewhere else but it is time to change the underlying model rather than just throwing money at the problem. We should use this as a chance to get a better model of social housing so that we can borrow upon it, as countries such as Austria do, outside the rules of the fiscal compact. That is the scale of ambition and change we should to be looking to have rather than just quoting from a paper.

6:55 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I understand Deputy Thomas Pringle is sharing time Deputy Ruth Coppinger.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I welcome the proposal today to establish a housing and homelessness committee in the Oireachtas and the fact that it will start its work very quickly. However, I wonder about its value and what the outcome will be. While we are in this caretaker situation it seems to me the Dáil has abdicated its responsibility or role to direct the caretaker Government to actually do things. We can establish a committee and by 17 June there might still be a caretaker Government and we will not be able to do anything to direct the Government to take action on foot of the committee's report. The salient rulings of the Chair, often quoted in this House, state that in a caretaker Government the Dáil cannot take any action actually to direct the Government to do anything. At the same time, while we are in this situation and the Dáil has removed itself from the possibility of doing stuff, the Government continues to govern. Since the general election the Government has signed into law 55 statutory instruments and taken all sorts of different actions right across the role of the State. The caretaker Government is continuing to govern but the Legislature has not taken any role for itself in terms of making things happen. While the work of the committee will be very positive and very interesting and will probably come forward with very positive proposals, we are again just putting things on the long finger.

Everybody would agree that there are actions that can be taken straight away. We could take action to control rents and increase rent supplement and housing assistance payments. The Government refused to do that and would not intervene in the sacred market, or distort that market, but we should take immediate actions to end the continuing creation of homelessness in our society while we look at long-term solutions to the problem. We should also take action to end the requirement for vacant possession when a house goes on the market. This Government has signed 55 statutory instruments - surely it could bring forward a proposal to remove the section of the Residential Tenancies Act that requires vacant possession. It would be received unanimously in this House and I do not believe anybody would speak against it. Those are actions that could actually happen but that is what is lacking in this housing crisis. At best, the previous Government and the Government before which created this crisis have, by their inaction, made it worse. At worst they have done so by a deliberate policy. That is the crux of the housing and homelessness problem.

7 o’clock

We could also take measures such as introducing a development site tax and taxing development sites that are not being developed. We could also get building going again. The Minister quoted figures for what has been allocated to county councils and said they are not spending all that money but the fact is that during the past five or six years the capacity of the local authorities to deliver housing in the timeframe has been removed. Local authorities have not been able to purchase land banks during the past five or six years. They have not been able to go through with the planning and design process and so on. The lead-in for getting local authority building going is too long. It is easy for the Government to say we will give Donegal County Council or another county council €100 million this year because it knows full well that it has not the capacity to be able to spend that, so that money comes straight back to the Exchequer. The Government can then throw its hands up and say, "we gave you the money but you sent it back to us". That level of inaction has existed for the entire period.

Six months ago, along with Deputy Joan Collins, I raised in the Dáil the Irish League of Credit Unions proposals to fund housing development in the State but six months later we find the Department has not even engaged with it on that. If it were somebody like Donald Trump flying into Shannon, a Minister would meet them on the steps of the plane, clap them on the back and say, fair play to you, thanks very much. If they were a hedge fund coming here from America or somewhere in Europe the Government would be there with the red carpet rolled out for them, but because it is Irish citizens' money on deposit in banks here, doing nothing on behalf of Irish citizens, the Government refuses to engage with them, develop that process and allow something positive to happen within the housing sector. That is wrong and, unfortunately, this committee and this Dáil will allow that inaction to continue for the foreseeable future.

7:05 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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I thank Deputy Pringle for sharing time. I got a copy of the housing actions report the acting Minister urged us all to read in his contribution. I ran to the office to print it and browse through it. Ironically, it is entitled Laying the Foundations - Housing Action Report. The last thing done by this Government was laying the foundations and actually building social and affordable housing because all the emphasis has been on acquiring, leasing, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the housing assistance payment, HAP, etc. That has been well debated in this Chamber. On the first page the Minister outlines five key actions he took, the first of which is action to stimulate the private sector to deliver more housing, not to build and give councils or housing agencies money to do it but to stimulate private developers. As my colleague, Deputy Barry, who spoke earlier said, the private developers have no interest in providing social or affordable housing and they have gone on strike because the profit is not big enough. That will be confirmed by any commentator on the construction scene.

The other thing the Minister urged us to do when he spoke on the previous occasion was to have a grown up conversation about the Constitution. Why did it take the Minister five years to tell us that the Constitution was an impediment-----

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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It has been there for 20 months.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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The Minister's party has been in government for five years. The Minister is in his position for two years and it is only after the election that we hear that the Constitution was to blame all along. The Minister should tell us the clauses involved. He could have had a referendum on these key issues instead of the one on the presidential age, which nobody in the country cared about. I do not believe that is the case. There is a lot the Minister could do.

The Minister said there has been a 10% increase in families exiting homelessness. That is a bit of a laugh because in January there was a 148% increase in homelessness, the highest ever in the history of the State. It is three times more than anything that ever happened previously. Last month there was a 36% increase in Dublin, although it is not just Dublin. Galway and Cork are starting to feel this pressure as well but the Minister told us earlier that relationship breakdown is responsible for homelessness and is a key factor. That is an absolute joke. I will tell the Minister what is responsible for homelessness.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I am not saying that. That is independently verified.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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One speaker at a time.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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It is the case that 65% of homeless families are lone parents; 35% are not. They are not homeless because their relationships have broken down. It is because they are the poorest in society and the Minister, and his Government, cut rent supplement and did nothing about rents. The Minister has a rent freeze in one of the titles in this document, which he should edit because there have been no rent freezes. What he introduced was a 48-month lease and landlords jacked up the rents in anticipation of that happening. Everybody knows that. We have all had those people coming to us about that. The first thing the Minister should have done today was apologise to the people for inflicting this misery and then agreed a declaration of emergency.

I want to mention the constituency I represent because we are at the epicentre of the homeless tsunami Peter McVerry warned about. There are 259 families homeless in Fingal, according to the council meeting last Monday. The vast majority of those hail from Dublin West. According to The Irish Times, 40% of all Dublin families who are homeless come from the constituency the Minister's leader represented for five years, as did the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar.

In a meeting I had on Monday with the Fingal housing director she outlined that 14 houses would be built in Cappagh, which is not in Dublin West. I see in the Minister's document that 22 houses will be built in Dublin West despite it having the youngest population in western Europe and the highest number of homeless people in the country bar none. What sort of a solution is that to put in front of people? The only way we will resolve the housing crisis is to give councils money to build houses, as they did when I was growing up and in the past.

With regard to Tyrrelstown, and I thank the Minister for meeting the residents and for inviting his leader to the meeting and not other TDs for the area, it is critical that we agree that the committee the Minister is setting up examines the issue of acquiring homes that are in the hands of vulture funds. We cannot add to the homeless crisis. We need to acquire those homes, allow people to stay in them and to buy them, which many of them are more than capable of doing, or to rent them at an affordable rate.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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This is an important debate and some very good ideas have emanated from all sides of the House. It is important that the Minister takes note of the points all of us have made. We might consider changing the way we report after such debates in that the Department might give its wisdom on the salient points Members raise in terms of what can and cannot be done, and how we can move the case forward.

I am not a Member of this House as long as my colleague, Deputy Bernard Durkan, who is present, but for many years housing applicants were treated with great respect by local authorities. They spoke to applicants in rooms dedicated for that purpose and the full case history of the people involved was very much in the minds of the local authority officials. In those days people would get a house after one, two or three years maximum on the waiting list. Now applicants must wait eight or nine years in some cases, which is entirely unacceptable. In some cases local authority officials are losing the listening skills they once had. Sometimes they speak to housing applicants in cold corridors or at hatches where other people can hear the conversation, which begins with the applicants being asked how long they have been on the housing list and then being told they must be on it eight years and that there is nothing they can do for them. That must end. There must be more empathetic support from local authorities as the primary housing authority. We must restore the balance that existed previously and the respect applicants are entitled to, notwithstanding the existing housing problems.

I want to raise other important issues which we must deal with in a better way.

A question arises on the rent a room scheme, which I think is very good. It applies to a very narrow category of person, who must be living alone. If such a person has a spare room or rooms in his or her home, they can be rented out to families or other people. Those who do so can get a tax-free income of up to €12,000 per annum. The person paying the rent can get tax relief on it. It is all transparent and dealt with by the Revenue Commissioners. We should relax the rules regarding people living on their own and those in receipt of certain means-tested benefits whereby the income should not be assessed against tax. Those in receipt of benefits, which are not means tested, may very well be taxed on the income. We speak about empty nesters and families leaving areas which have practically no young people any more as a generation moves on. Let us look again at this scheme. We can make it much more attractive for everybody.

A question which arises in regard to this specific issue is one which may or may not find favour with certain people. It is the issue of to whom one can pay rent allowance or a housing assistance payment. One category of person is excluded in that rent allowance or a housing assistance payment cannot be given to a son or daughter living in the family home. This means families leave home and often live under considerable pressure in very poor accommodation, which is entirely unacceptable. This option could be considered. I know many issues are attached to it but we could, as an exceptional measure perhaps for a maximum of two years until the housing supply improves, make it possible for somebody who has been on the housing list for a certain period of time, who is living in sub-standard accommodation and who is in receipt of rent allowance to pay it in his or her own home. There is an issue which must be addressed.

I have spoken to some people involved in local authorities about this issue. They are in favour of seriously examining it. It would be a significant change. One can accept rent allowance from one's nephew or niece but not a direct family member such as one's son or daughter. Given the exceptional circumstances we are in and given the circumstances of many families, it is certainly worth looking at. We could examine how, in some cases, the income received would not be included for tax purposes.

I am fed up with people telling me those with houses for rent will not accept the housing assistance payment or rent allowance. This has been discussed previously and perhaps the Minister could respond on whether this is lawful. Should it not be illegal for anybody who has a property to rent to discriminate against a potential tenant solely because the money would be paid through a housing assistance payment or rent allowance? There may be issues in this regard but if something is offered for rent, one is not be able to discriminate on the grounds of religion or colour so why should one be able to discriminate on the grounds of how the payment is made?

I sometimes go to west Kerry, which has a huge number of homes that are empty for nine months of the year, as is the case in Donegal and other counties. They are full for three months of the year but not for the other nine. Is there a case to be made for assisting, through tax incentives, families who wish to move to such areas? I know it is not easy and it may not be practical in many cases but could the owners of these homes receive a tax-free income as an exceptional measure for two years? If the homes need to be upgraded with regard to energy to make them fit to be lived in for 12 months, let us do so. These houses are there already and they are empty. The lights are never on from September to April.

We need to examine affordable housing and to do much more in this regard. Many couples and people would love to build their own homes but they cannot get a loan because they do not have a 10% deposit, they cannot get a site and nobody is assisting them to build it. There are several hundred acres at Gormanston army camp. We could take 60 acres for affordable and social housing. The strategic investment fund or whatever fund we could get, could be used to develop the site with regard to water, electricity, sewage and all of the infrastructure. It could be provided by the local authority or the State through a special purpose vehicle. Particular types of houses could be designed so we do not have a one house fits all and we have different types of housing for different family units. Let us get up off our butts and do this because we are sitting back and looking at all of these resources and not doing enough. I suggest the Department focuses on such a site in State ownership. It is beside a motorway and a railway. It already has much infrastructure. We should put in place the rest of the infrastructure and offer it to builders if needs be. It could be offered free to a builder to fix the price of the house. A potential design could also be offered and all of the planning costs could be covered. Why do we not do this? What is wrong with this? Does it not make a lot of bloody sense? We need to think in new ways about old problems.

We could bring together ten or 12 people who qualify for affordable housing for a group scheme. Let us use our initiative and not lose it. Years ago, local authorities were far more focused on all of these issues and we need to ensure they have the skills and knowledge. They have knowledge through engineers and planners. They have many good things going for them. Let us put added value into local authorities so they can provide the change needed.

In County Louth and throughout the country there are dozens of empty houses in rural areas. Many of them are single houses which have been abandoned with nobody in them. Some of them are half finished but all of them are empty. Why do the local authorities not do a survey of all of these houses and approach the owners to see whether they can be rented, leased or bought? Let us have a new more aggressive approach to sorting out the problem. We are sitting back too much on these issues.

7:15 pm

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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It is an honour to address the Chamber for the first time as a newly elected Deputy for Meath West. I thank the people of the constituency for giving me the chance to represent them in the House. Like many constituencies throughout the country, one of the biggest issues facing the people in it is that of housing. With more than 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in County Meath and a dearth of property available for rent or sale in the private housing market, we have a perfect storm. Just last week, a family in Navan occupied a boarded-up home. They broke down the hoarding and went in to occupy the home out of sheer desperation. This is the point at which the crisis is in our county. People are resorting to such action.

I am very aware of how difficult the situation is and I listened carefully to the Minister when he came to the House on 22 March and made a statement. That evening he asked that Deputies would come in with solutions and not just outline their problems. This was a very fair request by the Minister with regard to broadening the discussion and engaging proactively with the Department. I was a member of a local authority for 17 years and all I ask is that the officials in the Department meet us half way to tackle the issue.

Most of the speeches I have listened to this evening have been very broad brushstroke speeches. In the week after the general election I and the five other Deputies for County Meath met at a cross-party meeting with the housing SPC chairperson and the director of services for housing and his senior executive officers to discuss the challenge facing them on the ground. The biggest problems on the ground for the local authority system are mostly procedural issues. One of the main stumbling blocks to the provision of social housing in my county is the time lag between the allocation of funding and the stage when a project is shovel-ready. I and many other Deputies and councillors in County Meath are frustrated and feel thwarted by the system and the way it is currently structured. Local authorities need to see that process move more quickly to see projects come on stream.

The Minister referred to landbanks in his speech earlier. In our case, in County Meath, there is quite a significant landbank in the ownership of the local authority. In my town of Navan we have 28 acres of prime land bought for the provision of social homes. In this major urban centre, where thousands are on the housing waiting list, this land was purchased in 2007 at a cost of €717,000 per acre, and there is not so much as a sod turned in that field, let alone a house built in it. The loan repayments back to the Housing Finance Agency on that sum of €20 million is sucking €1.5 million out of the scarce resources of the council annually. This time last year a senior official from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government came to a meeting of the county council. I questioned him on that piece of land and he stated that the capital acquisition cost and the development cost associated with it would be covered, but nothing has happened to move this project any nearer to fruition. How can we cut through the barrage of red tape which has hog-tied this process and move on this project and so many others like it around the country? In the two years since we have started to have to repay the Housing Finance Agency, €3 million has gone off the current account of Meath County Council, which we could be using for social amenities, roads and so forth. That has been going on for nine years. We need to start with those simple issues, as I have outlined. All I am asking the Minister is that officials from his Department be deployed to work with officials in local authorities to cut through whatever issues are preventing this land in Farganstown, Navan, from providing much-needed social housing units.

Prior to joining this House, I worked as a journalist. I interviewed senior figures in the Housing Agency who told me that, as a policy, they did not agree with large council housing estates any more because it would lead to the "ghettoisation" of areas. I thought that was a terrible phrase. I disagree with it totally, and my fear is that that ideology permeates the whole thinking process in the Department in trying to address this issue. Some of the finest homes in this country are in council estates, and I hope that the incoming Government will seek to empower local authorities to get back to that basic principle, help those who need urgent assistance and provide homes.

7:25 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputy Cassells on his maiden contribution to Dáil Éireann.

Photo of John BrassilJohn Brassil (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As it is my first opportunity to address this House, I thank the people of Kerry for giving me the honour of representing them in the Thirty-second Dáil and I hope I do them justice. I equally thank Deputy Cassells for giving me the opportunity to share his time.

The housing crisis is slightly different in different parts of the country, so I will focus on where I am, in Kerry, a rural county. Several speakers have mentioned the enormous amount of empty houses in County Kerry and many other rural counties. In the last census in Kerry, excluding holiday homes, there were 10,000 empty houses. That would go a long way to solving the problem. The Minister is looking for constructive proposals. We should look at a town and village renewal scheme because in many of our towns and villages every second or third house is empty. The original occupants have moved on and the sons and daughters are living elsewhere, and those houses are lying empty and with some investment could be made habitable very quickly. I ask the Minister to consider a grant scheme whereby the owners would be incentivised to do up empty properties. The condition of the grant would be that those houses would then be made available to the local authority on a long-term lease scheme, thereby ensuring that any investment made by the owner would come back in the form of rent and ensuring a quick turnaround and short-term gain in tackling the housing crisis. The housing list would benefit, the village or town would benefit from having renewed vibrancy and the economy would benefit from having construction, and that would be immediate.

I ask the Minister to consider a similar scheme for unused local authority houses, where again the original occupants have moved on and the houses are lying there with no incentive for anybody to do anything with them. We need to incentivise these situations. The houses are there and we can do something about it. I also think that a separate approach is needed for homelessness and housing. Homelessness is a new crisis that has come about in the last number of years. In situations where families are on the housing list for ten to 12 years and somebody else suddenly becomes homeless, who gets priority? Do the local authorities have direction on how to go and where to go with this issue? We need to give them direction.

Regarding NAMA, can we acquire houses back from the vulture funds? It was mentioned recently on a programme hosted by Claire Byrne. Is this factual and is it possible? If it is, we should consider it. NAMA was set up to solve a problem, not to create another one, so joined-up thinking is needed between the Department, NAMA, the local authorities, the lending institutions and the Construction Industry Federation, and a combination of measures is needed. One thing is certain: in many areas we have an adequate number of houses; we need to adopt measures to get people living in them.

My experience, having been a member of a local authority for 16 years, is that when money is made available to local authorities there is a problem spending and getting authorisation. If one wants to so much as buy a door, the amount of red tape that has to be gone through is unacceptable. I ask the Minister to get the city and county managers together with his Department officials and unbind this red tape. It is a problem and it needs to be sorted.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputy Brassil on his maiden contribution to Dáil Éireann.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, as ucht an deis labhairt faoin ngéarchéim tithíochta atá ar fud na tíre.

The housing and homelessness crisis currently gripping Irish society and destroying countless lives has its roots in the political failings of the previous Fianna Fáil Administration, which irreparably damaged the Irish economy and society. This crisis is also deeply rooted in the failed policies of the Fine Gael and Labour Government, which deepened and worsened the housing crisis to unimaginable levels. The housing crisis has caused an awful lot of misery and suffering for tens of thousands of families across this island.

The previous Government built only a fraction of the social housing needed and refused to tackle rising rents or rent uncertainty adequately. As a result, there is a chronic lack of social and affordable housing and a crisis in the rental market, which is particularly affecting our young people. The situation across the State is so dire that the estimates of the number of people on the housing waiting lists range from the conservative figure of 90,000 to well over 130,000. In Offaly and north Tipperary, the constituency I represent, there are well over 2,500 people currently on the housing list. This has increased year on year and shows no sign of abating, and I must add that it will be forever to the shame of the last Seanad and Dáil that they removed the legal protection preventing so many family homes from being taken by the banks. In Birr, a small rural town in my county of Offaly, five families are after being issued with eviction notices. These families are in great distress, and I am calling on this House to do everything possible to protect them. They should never have been put in this situation, and unfortunately there are many more families like the five in Birr.

It is unacceptable and something needs to be done. These children are being affected by what is happening across this country and it will have devastating effects in terms of mental health and educational achievement, for example.

It is apparent to all that the housing and homelessness crisis has created a social crisis. Only last month, Console warned that the strain of repossessions and the threat of possessions is driving a growing number of people into a suicidal crisis. There has never been as desperate a need for a new vision around housing in Ireland. It is essential that the State builds sufficient housing and tackles spiralling rent costs.

The severe increase in rent prices is also a serious concern. Not only is it forcing people out of the rental market but it is also causing significant financial strain for those who choose to remain in the rental market and who must spend 40% to 50% of their wages on rent alone. In Offaly rent prices increased by 9% in 2015. This is completely unsustainable and unacceptable.

Whoever is in the next Government needs to undertake an immediate programme of responsibly planned social housing builds, implementation of rent controls, a serious review of bank repossessions and a removal of vulture funds from the property market.

It is my belief, and the belief of Sinn Féin, that in a stable prosperous society everyone should be in functional, comfortable and affordable housing. It is high time we had a new vision on housing in this State.

7:35 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Nolan and congratulate her on her maiden contribution to Dáil Éireann. Deputy Martin Kenny is next.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Housing is an issue across every part of the State. We will go through the crisis in Dublin as well as the crises in every other city and in urban areas. I represent a rural constituency and yet these same problems exist in it. One of the main reasons for this is the recovery for landlords - unfortunately, one of the biggest recoveries we have experienced in this State. The only people who seem to be making money at present are the landlords and rents are going up and up. Even in rural Ireland, we see that happening. It is a serious problem that needs to be tackled.

I will focus on one particular part of it, the banking sector and how that sector has affected the housing market. We had a crisis in banking for many years that many would say was the cause of our economic crisis but that crisis has had a knock-on effect and has also caused the housing crisis.

Mortgage arrears and the number of families in mortgage arrears is a serious problem across the country. I meet people every day of the week who are in serious bother trying to pay their mortgages and trying to avoid the knock on the door from the sheriff. This is a problem that needs to be tackled. The number of repossessions across the State continues to grow. Unfortunately, if we continue in this manner - the courts are holding it off at present - and if, in the near future, we are in a situation where more and more houses are repossessed, those people will end up homeless, and that is a serious problem.

Vulture funds are an issue that have been mentioned by several contributors. The way vulture funds are coming in and threatening to take houses from people is a problem that must be dealt with. I call on the Government to immediately intervene. I am absolutely confident that it can be done because it was done in other countries. The Government should simply take the money and, through State intervention, buy the properties back from the vulture funds at the price they paid for them. Many of these properties, with €300,000 mortgages, are being bought at 10%. Therefore, they are buying for €30,000 a property worth €300,000. We can rent that property back to the borrower and the State could set up a scheme where those borrowers could buy it back over time. That is the kind of intervention that we need to see happening as quickly as possible.

Another issue, which is also related to the banks and what they are doing in this State, is that the variable interest rate for mortgages in Ireland is almost twice what it is in other European countries and yet those same banks are getting the funding from the ECB at the exact same rate as the Irish banks are getting it. The Government needs to tackle that problem. There is no way the ordinary people of Ireland, who are going out to work hard every day and who are trying to pay their mortgage and pay their way, should be used as scapegoats to bail out these banks with exorbitant rates of interest.

Many Members have spoken about the need to build more houses. The fact is many families cannot afford to take out a mortgage because the first requirement under the new rules is this large deposit. Most young people who I meet who want to build or buy a house simply cannot afford the large deposit because they are in rented accommodation for which they are paying probably twice what they should given the number of houses we have heard about that are empty in many parts of the country. There must be clear intervention. That is what this committee needs to do. This committee needs to set out a clear intervention that the State can take to protect the people's rights rather than the rights of the banks. The problem we have in this country is the banks are being protected all the time and the people are paying the price. That needs to end. It is one of the central causes of the housing crisis in this country.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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Since the last time the Dáil discussed the housing situation two to three weeks ago, I have dealt with ten families presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. I am sure that is not unique to me. Deputies from all parties and none have been dealing with this situation as well.

What people in this situation are looking for are solutions and answers. It is not acceptable that in 2016, it has become almost normal for families to call a hotel or a bed and breakfast facility home. What is often forgotten in these discussions are the families or the individuals who are living in overcrowded situations, those who are relying on family members or friends to accommodate them in their sitting room or spare room. For people living like this, there is obviously a huge amount of worry and stress and we sometimes forget the extremely negative impact this is having on the mental health of people, in particular, the children. Our children deserve better than this. There are 1,881 children recorded as being homeless at present.

On the last occasion I spoke on this issue, I said that we need two approaches to it. We need a long-term solution which is obviously to start building social housing. However, in the interim, we need short-term solutions for the families who are either living in those very overcrowded situations or living in hotels and bed and breakfast facilities. We need to look at introducing rent certainty and at overhauling all State supports in the private rental market as an immediate measure to help people but we also need to address the issue of evictions and house repossessions. The banks must be compelled to negotiate with people. I am sure many Members have come across a repossession case where a house is left empty for months, causing antisocial behaviour in the area because it is boarded up and vacant. The family involved then presents as homeless to the local authority, putting more pressure on the housing lists and the homeless services while the house lies idle. It makes no sense. In many such situations, people are willing to negotiate with the bank and are willing to pay something towards the mortgage but the banks are simply unwilling to negotiate with them. We need to look at this sector as well because there is no sense in this. We have a housing crisis and in many situations, the banks are taking back homes that could be used for those who looking for homes. We need to strengthen legislation to protect the family home.

I welcome the creation of this cross-party committee because we need to be focused on solutions and answers. That is what the people elected us to do and that is what people want to see. There is much despair in regard to the housing problem and I hope this cross-party committee will be able to come up with short-term and long-term solutions to the housing crisis.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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The next speakers, on behalf of the Government, are Deputies Madigan and Fitzpatrick. They have five minutes each.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, as an deis labhairt sa díospóireacht seo agus as an phribhléid a thabhairt dom aitheasc a thabhairt do Dháil Éireann den chéad uair.

I was elected by the people of Dublin Rathdown to advocate on their behalf and to represent them in the Dáil with energy and commitment and to represent the people of Ireland, both urban and rural, with integrity. First, I would like to pay tribute to all my constituents who I will now represent to the best of my ability. I recognise the contributions of former constituency colleagues who have not returned to Dáil Éireann - Ms Olivia Mitchell, for her excellent long-standing service, former Ministers, Mr. Alan Shatter and Mr. Alex White, and Mr. Peter Mathews - and I wish them well in the future.

I have played my part over the past number of weeks in trying to find solutions to our housing challenges. I have been working extremely hard on the Fine Gael negotiating team trying to put together a government. I am doing what I can to find common ground and policy agreement with other Members of this Dáil. I hope we can provide a government that will last and will have a mandate on housing and a determination to get the job done.

The draft discussion document we have collaborated on contains a commitment within the first 100 days of Government to produce a housing action plan to be overseen by a dedicated Cabinet Minister, which I very much welcome.

If we are to find a real, lasting solution, we need a single Department to pull all the strands together. We inherited a housing system that was broken. Where we had enormous supply and a totally unsustainable model, we were left with minimal resources and pent-up demand due to the boom-and-bust policies of the past. Since 2011, with increased growth and falling unemployment, the urgency for housing, particularly in Dublin, continues to increase. What can be done to address the growing need for new homes? The consensus of this Dáil is that a plan to tackle housing must increase supply, particularly in urban areas, tackle homelessness and provide greater protection for renters.

We all know our home is vital to our well-being. It offers us our own space to claim as ours alone, in which to relax and reflect. Nothing is more destructive than the loss of one's home. The fear of this causes much anguish and translates into loss of identity and self-esteem. As a family lawyer and mediator at the coalface, I daily see the importance of the family home for my clients who are going through separations and divorces. After concern for their children, their home is the most pressing issue and the welfare of children is always inextricably linked to pressures about the family home. I have always tried to bring finality to people who are going through the most challenging period of their lives and to deal with people professionally and compassionately.

Everybody in this House wants to effect change. As a working mother of two children who is paying a mortgage, I acutely understand people's needs and worries. I listened very carefully to the concerns of the people who elected me about wanting a future in which their children could work, save and buy a home. I listened to questions about property tax and what it would cost them in 2019. I am relieved the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, could freeze the property tax for a further three years until this date. The other recommendations of the Thornhill report will also, I hope, be re-examined shortly. I want a Government that will expand the tenancy sustainment protocol being received by 6,000 households which struggle to pay rent. I want a Government that will accelerate the delivery of the committed €3.8 billion in funding for targeted delivery of 35,000 social housing units.

For my constituents, affordable housing for their children and the closure of Stepaside Garda station, which I always opposed, are of grave importance. I will work to implement housing strategies and review the dispersal of Garda stations in urban and rural areas. As well as housing and the property tax, child care, the self-employed and tackling crime are worries for my constituents and I intend to focus on those issues during the coming Dáil. Housing is one of the many complex areas on which I have a mandate. I also hope that the eighth amendment can be re-examined in a mature manner, taking into account the complexity of people's lives, in particular women's lives. I support the repeal of the eighth amendment.

I am very proud to stand in the House with its great traditions. It is 100 years since the 1916 Rising. We all owe it to our forefathers and foremothers, who sacrificed so much, to serve the people with integrity. Our country is not perfect. Our system is not perfect. We should always be trying to improve it. As we look around the world, we should consider ourselves fortunate to have our country and these democratic institutions to represent us. The centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising give us all an opportunity to reflect on the type of nation we want. I want to be part of a country that is prepared to be creative with its future. The Proclamation set out a vision of a new society of Irish men and Irish women. I am the 98th female Deputy elected to the House and it has been only 98 years since women first got the vote. A more equally representative Dáil that will debate housing and other issues is better not only for women but for every member of society.

I am proud to be part of a Fine Gael party which is progressive, which introduced marriage equality and divorce, and which will re-examine the role of women in our society. I hope the Thirty-second Dáil will be productive and innovative on housing and I am honoured and humbled to do what I can for this country.

7:45 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate Deputy Madigan on her maiden speech.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on housing and homelessness. As I have stated on many previous occasions, housing is one of the greatest challenges facing the Government and society. From my clinics in Dundalk and surrounding areas, I know housing is one of the most pressing issues facing us. Despite what the Opposition tells us, there is no quick-fix or easy solution nor should this issue be used as a political football to serve the needs of those in opposition who seem to be able to offer everything except a real solution. We need a realistic plan to supply quality housing to a rapidly expanding population. We must learn from the disastrous mistakes of the last Fianna Fáil Government. We must never return to the boom-and-bust policies which got the country into the mess and for which people continue to pay a very heavy price.

Fine Gael has a fully costed, realistic plan to address social housing. We have allocated more than €4 billion between now and 2020 to social housing. In the 2016 budget, we allocated a further €69 million to the housing budget, bringing the total to €414 million. These are real actions that will bring real results. To create a sustainable construction industry that will deliver the housing required, Fine Gael is proposing a number of measures. These include increasing annual housing output to a sustainable level of 25,000 by 2021 and working with housing associations to provide a low-cost rental option for low-income families. Fine Gael also proposes increased tax relief for landlords who accept rent supplement and housing assistance payment, HAP, tenants, protection of renters and the introduction of a deposit retention scheme to be operational by 2017. It also proposes to increase the relevant notice period for compliant tenants in the event of a rent increase or lease termination and to streamline the powers of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB. Fine Gael proposes to support the concept of home ownership through the tenant purchase scheme to social housing tenants.

These actions alone may not solve the issues. We need to think outside the box and work together to bring new solutions. I call on banks to engage fully with the various county councils to make available vacant houses on their books. These properties are second homes that were initially purchased as investment homes and which are lying vacant and, in some cases, in a state of disrepair. I am working with Joe McGuinness, director of services in Louth County Council, to liaise with the local banks to free up vacant properties in County Louth. Louth County Council has more than 3,900 homes on its books and has recently purchased vacant homes from banks. The many advantages of this approach include an immediate solution to severe housing problems, the provision of employment for those engaged in the restoration or upgrade of the homes and a more even spread of available homes throughout County Louth. It will also prevent houses falling into disrepair.

Another issue that must be resolved is the high rate of refusal by people receiving their first offer of social housing in County Louth, where one in three people refuse their first offer. This is too high and must be addressed. To find a long-term and sustainable solution we must look at all options and explore new ones. As I have previously said, we should examine ways of subsidising or encouraging families to rehouse other family members who are homeless. In some cases, homelessness is a direct result of family issues which, if handled with care and professionalism, might not develop in the first place. We should examine providing more supports that will help families in this situation and try to solve the issue before it develops.

Another area we need to examine is the use of expensive bed and breakfasts and hotels as emergency accommodation. If we were to use private accommodation instead, not only would we achieve substantial savings of approximately €2,750 per family per month, but the quality of living standards for the families would be greatly enhanced.

I will work with anybody, regardless of party affiliation, to find solutions that will bring real results in housing and homelessness. We must work together and I will support any measures that will help solve the issue. A real solution will work only if it prevents homelessness, eliminates the need to sleep rough, eliminates the need for long-term occupation of emergency accommodation, provides long-term housing solutions and ensures effective services. Housing and homelessness is not going to go away unless we can provide a real solution. Everybody in this House has a responsibility to find the solution and eradicate these issues from our society.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Most people would agree we have had a problem with how we do housing and with the construction industry for a long time.

Sadly, in the five years I have spent in here, I have watched things getting progressively worse rather than better. This week, the members of the Independents 4 Change group - myself and Deputies Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Tommy Broughan, Catherine Connolly and Thomas Pringle - introduced a motion to the House. I will give the background to it. Our motion proposes:

That Dáil Éireann:notes:
— the recent proposal by the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, that the Irish Government pass emergency legislation to allow it to acquire suitable properties from foreign investment funds through Compulsory Purchase Orders, as a measure in addressing the housing crisis;

— that since this proposal was first publicly reported on, the crisis in housing has become even more acute; and

— that the cost to the State of such compulsorily purchased units would be less than the cost of building new units;
further notes that:
— to date, foreign investment funds have enjoyed access to property at deep discounts, thanks to the policies of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and financial institutions operating in Ireland, even as Irish citizens and the State have been denied access to same, and that a system of compulsory purchase for suitable units sold in portfolios by banks and by NAMA would go some way toward rebalancing the deeply unfair and damaging advantage given to foreign investment funds, and toward addressing the housing crisis;

— innovative and radical proposals for tackling the housing crisis have come from a variety of different sources to date, with this latest proposal emanating from the judiciary, a grouping not generally noted for its radicalism; and

— the Government has to date failed to move any proposal adequate to addressing the scale of the housing crisis;
and calls on the Government to:
— give immediate and serious consideration to the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders as a mechanism for addressing the housing crisis; and

— immediately draft legislation to allow for compulsory purchase from foreign investment funds; draw up proposals as to the practical operation of such a scheme; and give effect to those proposals.

Regardless of the composition of the Government that is put in place this year, most people will agree that radical decisions are required at this stage to address the housing and homelessness emergency we are facing. The housing crisis is of course linked to the cessation approximately eight years ago of serious levels of local authority housing construction. That has had an impact on the whole sector across the board. Without a shadow of a doubt, we will not solve the crisis without resuming the construction of local authority social housing units. We have discussed many aspects of that requirement and there are many dimensions to it.

I will return to our motion in the context of the sale of a huge chunk of Ireland to foreign vulture funds. Much of this property was not made available to Irish citizens or to Irish businesses. We have seen the huge profits these vulture funds have made. I remember that when NAMA was established, the argument in favour of its creation, which was made to those who were arguing against NAMA, was that we would have a huge problem if we let the banks have a fire sale of all these stressed assets. The idea was that NAMA would hold the units before moving them when there was some form of a recovery. It was suggested that this would ensure the loss on those assets would not be too big. Instead, we got a fire sale. Anyone who has had the money to buy property from NAMA has made a fortune. Cerberus, for example, has spent approximately €4 billion on the purchase of assets on the island of Ireland with a par value of over €20 billion. It beggars belief that it got them so cheaply. I will be shocked if the next Government does not initiate an independent inquiry into how all of this has worked out because there are huge problems in this regard.

I suggest we need to look to the future as well. We need to take back some of this property. The vulture funds have bought huge chunks of residential units and development lands that are needed. Even though we have been looking at a housing crisis for a long time, the State has allowed NAMA to sell so much of what is needed to vulture funds for peanuts. It does not stack up. Before Christmas, NAMA signed off on Project Arrow, which involved a portfolio with a par value of €6.3 billion. It is a reported that NAMA sold this portfolio for €800 million. This relates mostly to property in the Republic of Ireland. Where is the logic in that? We are aware that houses cannot be built overnight. We have sold houses and apartments that have already been built to these operators for peanuts. It is time for the State to take serious action, for example by introducing a system of compulsory purchase to take back what we need to deal with the crisis.

We will not be able to provide all the housing we need as quickly as we would like. The Government has spoken about modular housing. We have given away properly constructed houses for a fraction of what it costs to put a modular house together. It has taken longer to build those modular houses than was initially laid out. Why not take back some of the property that is rightfully ours?

The facility that the vulture funds have had in purchasing these properties from NAMA and the financial institutions has not been available to the Irish. We allowed NAMA to sell property in such big bundles that Irish businesses could not even come near it. They could not even bid for it because they were not in the same league. We effectively said, "Only foreigners need apply" or "Only US vulture funds mainly need apply". This has distorted the market. Not only have we allowed these vulture funds to purchase huge tracts of housing, apartments and development land that we need but we have also given this property to them too cheaply. We did not interfere to stop NAMA, which is a State body, from doing this. We have not held them to account for what they have done. We have not questioned what they have done. We have seen the figures. The astronomical profits that have been turned over in such a short space of time from these NAMA sales are horrendous.

As Deputies will probably have read over the weekend, Cerberus was able to give Paddy Kearney's business a write-down of £250 million on property that was initially in NAMA. Cerberus could well afford to do so because it is hammering many others and will hammer many more in the future. The same company bought property from Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank. There is a great deal of trouble coming down the tracks regarding many of these sales. We have refused to question what is going on. The manner in which NAMA has operated is the biggest economic scandal in the history of this State. We should start by stopping it from operating, establishing an independent inquiry into what it has done and introducing compulsory purchase to take back from the vulture funds what belongs to the people of Ireland.

7:55 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to share four minutes of my time with Deputy Eugene Murphy.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

8:05 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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8 o’clock

As this is the first opportunity I have had to speak since my re-election, I take this opportunity to thank the people of Longford-Westmeath for once again placing their trust in me in the most recent general election.

We are in this important debate speaking about what is possibly the biggest crisis facing this State. In my view, the housing crisis, particularly in the past couple of years, should have been declared a national emergency. However, for Government to have done that would have been for it to admit defeat and show an element of humility, something which it has failed to do time and again. This crisis was caused by many of the policies pursued by the outgoing Government. It is because of those policies that the outgoing Government lost 56 Deputies and is now unable to form a new Government. I call on the acting Government to listen attentively to the proposals being put before it by Members of all political parties and none.

Approximately 90% of the representations made to me at my constituency office in Longford-Westmeath on a daily basis relate to housing issues, including evictions of people from their homes because they cannot afford to pay their rent, repossession of houses by banks and young people who do not have the wherewithal to rent privately and are seeking social housing but cannot access it. These are problems facing us all. They are problems created by the outgoing Government through its policies during its five years in office, including the reduction in the social housing construction programme. It also slashed rent allowance, cut mortgage interest relief and left thousands of houses across every county and constituency void. It is unbelievable that there are still 3,000 voids across the country because the outgoing Government put a cap of €30,000 on refurbishment of a void while at the same time more than €200,000 is being spent on the construction of a modular home. That does not make economic or social sense. Probably the worst legacy of the outgoing Government is that tonight there are 1,800 children in emergency accommodation. The Government patted itself on the back for having enshrined the rights of our children in the Constitution, the referendum on which I vigorously supported. Surely the most basic right of any child is a place to call home. The Government has failed children and continues to fail them.

I welcomed the introduction of the mortgage to rent scheme. I believed it was an innovative scheme that would assist families who got into mortgage difficulties to remain in their homes. However, that scheme is not working and it needs to be amended. Where a family has lived 30 or 40 years in a house which a bank is seeking to repossess and that house has one or two bedrooms more than what is required for that family, the family does not qualify to remain in it. That does not make sense. Deputy Clare Daly referred earlier to the construction in her constituency of modular homes at a cost of over €200,000 despite that there are houses available for purchase on the open market for significantly less. Again, this does not make good economic sense.

For all the talk of this Government in terms of its prioritisation of this issue, two weeks ago a senior official in my constituency told me that despite that we are now into the second quarter of the year the council has yet to be advised of its allocation for this year. Where is the priority in terms of homelessness? How can the people charged with the responsibility make the necessary decisions if they are not even being given notice of how much they can spend on an annual basis? There are inconsistencies from county to county, with some county councils willing to help people with a deposit and others unwilling to do so, the former only in the case of people who are fortunate to find a house on the open market, which currently is not possible.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The next speaker is Deputy Eugene Murphy. I understand this is the Deputy's maiden speech.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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Yes. I believe the election of the Ceann Comhairle by way of private ballot was a great day for the House. I am sure Deputy Ó Fearghaíl will be an excellent Ceann Comhairle. He is already demonstrating that he will be fair to all.

I represent the constituency of Roscommon-Galway and I have been involved in local politics for many years. I am truly delighted and honoured that the people of Roscommon-Galway elected me, which was probably one of the shocks of the recent general election.

I am saddened that as I make my maiden speech on housing the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is not in the House. Perhaps he is otherwise engaged. I thought his behaviour during some of the contributions made earlier was appalling. He constantly read from booklets and interrupted. I thought he took no interest whatsoever in what was being said. Those who know me well know I am not a person that makes this type of criticism. In my view the Minister, who I hope is listening in somewhere on a monitor, did not treat any Member of this House well this evening.

We all know there is a homelessness issue and not only in Dublin. I acknowledge that homelessness in our capital city is an extremely serious problem. However, there are families in Roscommon-Galway living in hotel rooms tonight. Some Members may find that hard to understand but it is happening. In the constituency of Roscommon-Galway, which comprises a small part of east Galway, there are 85,000 voters and in excess of 1,100 people on the housing waiting list. More than 60% of the representations made to my constituency office relate to housing matters. There are an extraordinary number of people in dire straits in terms of mortgages. This places enormous pressure on families. It is appalling and wrong that the banks and others are putting people out of their houses. For families, particularly those with young children, this is distressing, upsetting and not right.

In my view as a new Deputy all the Minister wanted to do when he came in here today was protect his record which, to me, is not good. We need a Minister for housing who cares. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, spoke about social housing and the additional units that have been provided. In my estimation no more than 250 social houses were constructed in 2015.

There are more than 100,000 people on the social housing list in this country. I do not believe any Member in this Chamber is kicking a political football around with regard to the housing crisis.

The Minister failed to mention modular housing. I remember the fanfare when he announced modular housing and the cost of it. If I am correct, he spoke of a cost of €100,000 or €150,000. I heard Deputy Eoin Ó Broin of Sinn Féin on national radio the other morning speak about the fact - I am sure if I am wrong, somebody will correct me - that modular housing costs would now be in the region of €250,000. He made the point that local authority houses could be bought for much less.

I will conclude, knowing that time is limited. I do not believe any other administration, particularly a Fianna Fáil one, would have let this develop to the point it has. It is shameful that many children are living in hotel rooms. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. I plead with the Minister to face up to the problems as long as he is the Minister.

8:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We have three speakers in the next slot - Deputies Pat Buckley, Gerry Adams and Maurice Quinlivan. Deputy Buckley, are you making your maiden address as well?

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I am.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask you to stick to the time limit.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I will, of course. Those of us from Cork can speak a lot faster anyway.

It is a great honour to address the House tonight on behalf of the people of Cork East who have put their faith in me and on behalf of Sinn Féin. I would like to congratulate the Ceann Comhairle and the Members who have been returned to the 32nd Dáil.

Where will I start? Housing has become probably one of the biggest issues in our country since the 1930s. Either we act now or this situation will continue to spiral into an uncontrollable state. The knock-on effects of this current crisis are being felt nationally and are putting a massive strain on other related services that have been poorly funded. At present, in County Cork alone, excluding Cork city, there are more than 7,000 people on the waiting lists. It is absolutely criminal. I give the example of a family living in my constituency of Cork East who have been paying rent. They cannot afford to save for a mortgage. They have been paying rent while waiting maybe five to eight years to get on the social housing list. The reason they applied for this in the first place is that they cannot afford the grossly inflated prices churned out by the rental market. To be honest, it is a catch-22 scenario.

Take the example of families in mortgage arrears or mortgage distress - it does not matter what one calls it. The pressure of meeting these monthly payments, coupled with threatening letters from the banks and an almost complete sense of apathy from this State, ensures these families have no sense of long-term security. In both of the examples outlined, we speak of a distress that most of us in this Chamber could only imagine, not knowing where the next payment is coming from. I see this almost every day and I can see that it is leading to mental health issues for those involved. The Minister mentioned a while ago that marriage break-ups were causing homelessness. I think that is an insult to families. Marriage break-ups are a product of the housing crisis and the stress within families. It is leading to mental health issues and suicides.

There is a bigger picture here with people in families who cannot afford to address the problem. These people are at breaking point. I appeal to the Minister to take the personal issues on board. These are not statistics; these are families and real people. There is an emergency that must be addressed and I ask that it be addressed now.

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Táim buíoch don Cheann Comhairle as ucht an deis labhairt faoin ngéarchéim tithíochta anocht. I welcome the approval of the Dáil of a Sinn Féin proposal to establish the all-party housing committee to produce a report on solutions to the unprecedented housing crisis the State and its citizens face at this time. Sinn Féin looks forward to working with everyone on the committee. Our goal must be to produce a report with practical recommendations and solutions that the next Government will implement. The construction of social housing has been in decline for ten consecutive years under the outgoing Fine Gael and Labour Party Government and the Fianna Fáil-led Government that preceded it. This emergency is a result of Government policy. Critics of the State's housing policy rightly point out that in worse economic circumstances, local councils were provided with the resources to build houses for families in need. Local authorities, therefore, need to be properly resourced now.

Just this morning, in the centenary year of the 1916 rising, we learned that nearly 6,000 citizens are in homeless emergency accommodation. That includes 1,881 children. While this is a State-wide problem, the majority of these are in emergency accommodation in Dublin. Yet, it is a fact that in Dublin city alone, there are more than 56,000 houses zoned, including 14,000 social houses with planning permission. It is done and dusted. Construction of these houses could commence tomorrow if the political will existed. In my own constituency, there are more than 5,000 applications for housing on Louth County Council's waiting list. Yet, only nine social houses have been built there in the past two years. Citizens need real homes, not hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts or hostels.

The problem is that the outgoing Government does not believe in the right of the citizen to a home. That is the main impediment to resolving the housing crisis. Sinn Féin takes a very different position. We believe in the right of every citizen, man, woman and child, to a home, whatever their circumstances. This is achievable. We have identified €2.2 billion in investment in housing that could provide 36,500 new homes over five years. We want to see boarded-up houses, apartments and voids opened up and refurbished. We want to see a minimum of 4,000 of NAMA's 20,000 private houses used as social houses. We want compulsory purchases of housing stock which has been gifted by NAMA to vulture funds. We want to deliver security and certainty for tenants, to support home owners and buyers and to stop the profiteering of banks at the cost of mortgage holders. We raised all of these issues with the Government in the last term, well before this problem fell to the depths it is at now. We warned of this years before because these were the issues we were hearing about on the streets and in our constituency offices. We believe that this crisis can be reversed and brought to an end. Our representatives will be bringing these proposals and more to the new housing committee as soon as it begins its work.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted the Dáil has agreed to set up an all-party committee to deal with the issue of housing and homelessness. It is long overdue. We have a national emergency, which should be called a national emergency. I will campaign that we call it such. Nowhere is it expressed as vividly as it is in my own city of Limerick. Today, in the local newspaper, the Limerick Post, the front page story describes the conditions people are in and the desperate things they are doing to try to secure accommodation. It also features a story about myself and my constituency office. Unfortunately, we had to close one day last week because the number of people with issues of homelessness presenting was causing a stress to ourselves. Families with young children were coming in in very obvious states of distress and we were unable to cope with the number that approached us that day.

In previous generations in Limerick, the local authority played an active role in building houses which alleviated a lot of the shortages. From the 1950s to the 1970s, local authorities provided good quality, well-built social housing for the people of Limerick and across the State. Figures for those experiencing homelessness are continuously under-represented. They do not account for families or individuals who are staying with friends or for generational families who are living together in what can often be very cramped or unsafe accommodation. It does not reflect the significant number of people who are at risk of serious homelessness. More and more working people on low to middle incomes are finding it difficult to cope. The number of people sleeping on the streets or in emergency accommodation is shocking.

However, as long as people struggling to pay mortgages or rent are not supported by Government policies, these figures will continue to grow rapidly. Given the chronic shortage of social housing, many have been forced to rent privately to avoid homelessness. In recent years, the State has abdicated its responsibility in the area of housing provision and shifted this vital social need to the private rented sector, including the transfer of billions of euro in public money into the pockets of private landlords. The Celtic tiger period saw an unprecedented housing boom nationwide. Local authorities stopped building social housing, turning instead to schemes such as the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, in 2006 and the housing assistance payment, HAP, which was trialled in Limerick in 2014. While RAS and HAP have been welcome boosts to some families and individuals seeking affordable accommodation, they have also proved to be unreliable as many tenants have been forced to leave their homes when contracts were not renewed. In many cases, local authorities were unable to provide alternative accommodation. The effectiveness of rent supplement, HAP and RAS has always been problematic. It has never proved adequate to assist people to meet rent costs.

While the State and local authorities have become ever more dependent on the private rented sector for housing provision, they have singularly failed to monitor the quality of the accommodation provided. Many landlords get away with providing sub-standard and often unsafe accommodation to people in little or no position to complain. While housing inspections are supposed to happen, a tenant might have a better chance of winning the lottery than having a housing inspection completed. Other major complications are the shortage of suitable properties to rent and the upward movement in rents. Sinn Féin is in favour of greater regulation of the private rented sector to ensure the protection of tenants. Sadly, the neglect of previous Governments means this temporary solution has become permanent.

8:25 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I start by thanking the people of Roscommon and south Leitrim for re-electing me. We hope to do our best. Modular homes costing €240,000 is ridiculous when we can build houses with bricks and mortar for €85 per square foot where the site is supplied. We cannot keep going down that road because it is an astronomical amount of money. We should go back to the basics. Now and over the next 18 months, 50,000 people will get repossession letters and if we do not solve this, we will have another 8,000 to 10,000 people going onto the housing lists. We have to find a solution. The banks must start listening to and working with people. One way to get the building sector moving is to get money to the private sector to build houses. The rates we are hearing about mean it cannot happen. The other issue is voids. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government must think outside the box. We need to say to local authorities that we will supply 100% of the funding if they can turn a house over in the first month. However, if they dilly-dally for three or four months, they will lose 10% per month. That is what will wake up some of these people to achieve that turnover as if they were in private business.

It is virtually impossible for young people to get on the housing list currently. We must look outside the box again. We can give out about it but at the end of the day, we have to solve it. We have to look at the likes of intergenerational mortgages such as those used in countries like Austria across two and three generations to ensure the price of housing came down. In Roscommon, I have seen plans for ten houses over the next three years. That is not going to solve it. We have also looked at the idea of directing a lot of money towards the private rented sector. However, we can direct all the money we want there, if the houses are not in the towns, one is not going to get anything out of it. When houses are repossessed, the people put out turn up as homeless and the Department of Social Protection will give them rent allowance. Would it not be better for local authorities to take equity in those houses and work with the Department of Social Protection to ensure that we keep people in houses for a certain length of time? Credit unions and the Credit Union Development Association, CUDA, must be brought in on this. They have €4 billion to €5 billion. If it is done sensibly and right - I understand things are afoot at the moment - they can come on board to help solve this problem.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is not my maiden speech-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is anything but.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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-----but I congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches tonight. We have to be serious here but the Minister's behaviour tonight, as per usual, was bullish and dogmatic. He promises everything and delivers nothing. The modular homes are proving that. Local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government have failed to build houses for the people. We were able to build them in the 1950s and 1960s. It is just ineptitude now. We met two very senior officials in our talks with the Government party on housing and they could not answer our questions or tell us anything. It is very disappointing. They have lost the will and the way to look after the people in terms of the provision of houses. I refer to a note which mentions 20 houses in Tipperary. Interviews for architects have been held. It is all about interviews, architects and consultants, pushing paper around and creating jobs for people instead of getting houses built and trying to do something decent. There are 2,800 people in Tipperary who are approved for housing not to mention all of those whose houses are being repossessed and the terror behind that lucrative industry involving the banks and NAMA and their friends the sheriffs, county registrars and receivers. We saw what happened with a farm in Cork the other day. While it was nothing to do with the house, the house will probably go next. There was a €2.4 million debt and the receivers appointed have run up a bill of €1.6 million in 11 months. There will not be a shilling for anyone. The sooner the Government wakes up and stops this murky business, the better. Cromwell was not as bad in his heyday as these people. There are homeless people in hotels. The folly of it is pure crazy and I cannot understand it.

The voluntary housing sector has huge capacity. People acting in a voluntary capacity set up the water schemes and everything else. However, the mandarins in the Department do not want them. Bord snip disbanded the unit that was dealing with the voluntary sector because its house building was causing embarrassment. They were asked to up their game from 1,500 to 2,500 and they did it. We cannot demonise the small builders who can and will deliver. Deputy Fitzmaurice referred to price and value. To pay that kind of money for modular homes is extortionate. Too many people are involved in the racket of take, take and take. There is nothing about providing houses for ordinary people who want to pay for them. I just got a telephone call an hour ago from a young man in my constituency who has been refused planning. It is going on now for 18 months. He wants to build a house on his own land but the planners say he cannot put in it this place or that place and that he must put it in such a place or he will be refused. It is disgraceful. There is too much shenanigans and antics by officialdom which will stop people who want a home from housing themselves. They will not support people who are in trouble with the banks to keep them in their homes but rather force them onto the housing lists and make their children homeless. Trauma, stress, sickness and marital breakdown goes with that and accumulates huge problems for the years to come.

Past Governments have failed in their duty to house the people. Governments will have to get back to basics and allow people who want to build their own houses or get loans to do so. Approximately two years ago, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced the mortgage to rent scheme. Three people were approved for that in Tipperary in three years. It is pathetic codology. The sooner we cut out the codology in here about forming a Government and listen to the people, the better. It is public service not self-service.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, who was called away on a personal matter.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Where is he gone?

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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He was here listening to the debate this evening when Deputy McGrath, perhaps, was not.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I was here.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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He only left approximately 45 minutes ago.

It is clear that we have major challenges in the housing sector, the causes of which are well known and documented at this stage. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, has outlined these in his earlier contribution. Distortion in the housing market and the misallocation of resources through supply and demand imbalance is very significant and has the potential to affect every other area of a country's economy and competitiveness. As we know, the residential construction sector has been seriously damaged and is still in the process of being repaired. The process of repair has clearly taken longer to complete than in other sectors of the economy. Getting these distortions back into alignment is going to take some time but this realignment is necessary to rectify the terrible mistakes of the past.

Beyond individuals, housing is a major factor in our national economic competitiveness and fundamental to national economic recovery. Making it more affordable should have a positive impact on spending power and lead to a more competitive economy overall.

I will not claim that the Government has fixed everything in one Dáil term. We did not. Fixing it properly will take years. However, it is important to benchmark what has been done, what remains to be done and, more importantly, what we need to do and to consider our plan to get there. I am satisfied that the Government has laid the foundations and introduced measures that will bear fruit. The housing actions report published today details 31 major actions taken by the Government to tackle the problem in the past 21 months. The report is available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and I encourage every Deputy and those watching and listening to download and read it.

On the issues that remain to be addressed, increased supply of all forms of housing is required. The supply of new houses and apartments is starting from a low base. The construction system appears to be struggling to make large-scale residential developments work. In 2014 and 2015 circa11,000 and 12,500 homes, respectively, were completed, less than half of the estimated requirement of 25,000 per year. Where we needed 50,000 homes, the sector delivered less than half of that amount. There was also a significant mismatch between the types of home needed and the types constructed. Some 57% of new households that will form in the Dublin area will be one or two-person households, yet 72% of all new housing coming on stream will be scheme or individual housing. The lack of supply leads to a slower rate of turnover of existing stock, which means that few houses are for sale for trading up or down. A key challenge is to increase housing supply of all types of home to meet pent-up demand. This requires a continual and increased whole-of-government approach, as the decision to build on this scale raises questions of viability, construction costs, the potential of households to meet asking prices and secure debt and the ability of builders to secure the necessary equity and finance.

Ireland's rental market doubled between 2006 and 2011 to approximately 320,000 households, some 20% of total Irish households. In Dublin rents are back to their 2007 boom-time peak. Interestingly and importantly, the rate of increase in private sector rents slowed in the final quarter of last year, with a slightly higher growth rate outside Dublin. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 provides for an increased rent review period from one to two years, increased notice periods for rent reviews and greater protections for tenants and landlords. These measures will bring much-needed stability to the rental sector pending the coming on stream of new housing. However, to offer a secure, stable and attractive housing option, the rental sector needs greater supply and the associated marketplace competition.

In terms of social housing, the State has committed to helping those who struggle to meet their housing needs. Through the social housing strategy 2020, I am glad to say the State has been returned to a central role in the provision of social housing.

The significant increase in homelessness in the past year poses major challenges, not least for the families affected. The root cause of an increased number of families and individuals in homelessness is a supply shortage across the housing system. The solution lies in the broader response of increasing all forms of housing supply.

8:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Minister of State, please, conclude?

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I will. While we are working to increase supply, the measures to address the immediate effects of homelessness have been identified in the implementation plan and the State's response to homelessness. The Government put in place a multifaceted set of responses to deal with the breadth of issues being faced. The approach taken has been to tackle the problem from every angle. There have been many mistakes and problems in the housing market. If we are to reverse past failures, we must take a comprehensive approach that is broad in scope, recognises all tenures, boosts supply to a level that meets demand, helps tenants, as well as home buyers, and is attractive to all stakeholders. We are facing major challenges and solving them will take time, but the foundations of a solution have been laid. Time will be necessary to implement them. This work needs to continue and every angle must be explored to improve the position.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Sin críoch le ráitis maidir le tithíocht agus easpa dídine.