Thursday, 6 April 2017
8. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to large rent rises in areas adjoining the rent pressure zones; if he will reconsider extending the application and breadth of rent controls; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17106/17]
I want to ask about the progress on rent controls. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister to comment on Monday night's RTE programme on the housing crisis. On rent controls, we are finding that there are rent increases in areas just outside the designated local electoral areas. I notice the Minister designated a further 12 local electoral areas in January, and Cobh and Maynooth were added to the pressure zones last month. However, the pressure zones themselves are causing pressures on other areas. To what extent does the Minister monitor progress on it?
I did not see all of the programme, but I answered questions on Claire Byrne's show afterwards. I was in Waterford that night, but I appeared from the Waterford studio. The young man, who was homeless and who was finding difficulty getting certainty on getting a bed at night, now has certainty. He has access to emergency accommodation and does not have to do it on a nightly basis. Obviously, we want to work with him to get him a much more permanent solution. Some of the other stories were very difficult for the individuals and families concerned.
I am reminded all the time of my responsibilities as the Minister for housing to try to respond on behalf of the State to the needs of the many families under pressure. That programme was another example of it.
It is also important to recognise that we are improving things. There are many more supports for families in mortgage arrears difficulties. Free financial and legal advice is available as well as a revamped mortgage-to-rent scheme. The supports that are available are much better than before. We are also starting to see houses being built again and in the kind of numbers that are starting to move towards meeting demand. We have gone from 12,500 houses two years ago to just over 15,000 houses last year. There will probably be around 19,000 this year. I think we will be up to our target of 25,000 houses in 2018 or 2019 even though the target was for 2021. The truth is that we probably need to go up to 30,000 to 35,000 housing units a year given our current population growth and pressures. Much of it will be social housing as well as private and affordable housing in the right mix.
We will review the effectiveness of rent pressure zones in the summer. Some 57% of rental properties are now in rent pressure zones. As I stated, there was a lot of scepticism on the Opposition benches when we debated the legislation because people thought it would only apply to Dublin and Cork city. Since then we have seen this expand into many other areas and it will continue to do so. If there are issues in relation to neighbouring areas, which people feel may get designated a rent pressure zone-----
A young woman was featured on the programme. Selina Hogan from Ballyfermot will be put out of her house on Easter Monday. Selina is entitled to HAP but cannot get a landlord to take her. The HAP scheme is an abject failure for hundreds of families which cannot access accommodation provided by private landlords who will not take them. We need to examine this carefully because it is continuously leading to families being made homeless. They cannot access the HAP scheme because landlords do not want them. It was also reported to me that REITs say the Minister's system is not working for them. The idea was that these vulture funds would get the houses and the REITs would, through market mechanisms, help to take people off the homeless list. Apparently, REITs are not receiving the HAP from the Department for three or four months and they are not interested in dealing with the Department.
I will return to the issue of rent controls in my final minute.
My colleague tells me that so far this year 467 homeless people have been homed through the homeless HAP. We also have a place finder office in Dublin which specifically helps those who are unable to locate properties where the landlord is willing to accept tenancies under the HAP scheme. It is not perfect all the time but systems are in place to help people. If the Deputy is concerned about individual cases, she should pass them on and we will see what we can do.
The Minister's office will be bombarded with people who come daily to my clinic because they cannot access the HAP scheme. I will send the Minister the cases. I guarantee him that. Many of the people would love to be in my shoes today facing down the Minister because they are so angry with their housing situation.
I will return to the issue of rent controls briefly. I will take, for example, a soft balloon that one might find when cleaning up the day following a party. If, when messing with it, one were to block the air on one side of it, all the air would go into the other side of it and make it burst. This is exactly what is happening the areas outside the rent pressure zones. I have spoken in the House about bus workers before. They do not earn a huge amount of money. I know of a bus worker who lives just outside Navan and has been told by his landlord that his rent is going from €800 a month to €1,500 in one fell swoop. He cannot afford to stay there. Who could? Certainly not an average worker. This is happening around all the rent zones. The Minister's rent control is not working. What is needed is a review that will take rents back down to 2011 levels. Dublin is becoming more expensive than London to live in. This cannot be maintained.
I tabled Question No. 18 which also relates to rent pressure zones. In particular, I want to raise the issue of cities such as Limerick and Waterford which have not been included as rent pressure zones because they have not satisfied the criteria. The Minister stated there would be a review in the summer, but one of the issues is the use of electoral areas. In one electoral area in my constituency, there is an extensive rural area as well as the most expensive rental properties which are at the edge of the city. I think the same applies in Waterford. Will the Minister examine the use of these local electoral areas? They have mixed rents which keep cities such as Waterford and Limerick from being designated but recent figures show that rents have gone up significantly in Limerick city. This needs to be re-examined.
Areas that are seeing significant rent inflation are likely to come in under the zoning. I would have to get the data for Limerick, which has been published, but my understanding is that parts of Limerick are close to being designated. I take Deputy Bríd Smith's point about areas that are contiguous to rent pressure zones. There may be spillover in terms of landlords feeling that perhaps they are next and that they, therefore, need to put rents up. There are laws in place, however, that prevent them doing that outside of certain parameters. If landlords carry out a rent review and seek to increase the rent, they must get reference rents from similar properties in the area. If tenants are not happy, they can go to the Residential Tenancies Board for a determination of what is fair. This is why we have the Residential Tenancies Act, which was introduced by my predecessor.
Rent pressure zones were quite a blunt tool. To zone areas and limit rent increases in those areas by law had never been done by an Irish Government before. We will review its effectiveness in the summer and will try to take other issues into account. It is important that we provide certainty to the market as well and not give the impression that we will dramatically change direction.