Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Housing: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
notes that:— the social and affordable housing crisis has now reached the level of an emergency;
— growing numbers of people do not have access to affordable, secure and safe homes;
— 8,000 people, including 3,000 children, are being forced to live in emergency accommodation;
— 90,000 households are on council waiting lists, many waiting for more than 10 years for an allocation;
— thousands of people are struggling with high rents, insecurity of tenure and poor standards in the private rental sector;
— thousands more are locked out of the private purchase market by high prices driven up by land speculation;
— the failure to resolve the mortgage distress crisis and keep people in their family home or private rented accommodation continues to push more people into homelessness;
— Rebuilding Ireland does not provide for an adequate level of investment in social or affordable housing;
— Rebuilding Ireland continues to over rely on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need; and
— Rebuilding Ireland, unless substantially amended, will not address the underlying causes of the housing and homeless crisis; andcalls on the Government to:— honour the proposal from the Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness to increase the stock of social houses owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies by a minimum of 10,000 units a year from 2018;
— introduce a new affordable housing programme in 2018 to enable middle-income households to access private rental and private purchase housing at affordable prices;
— support these housing programmes with a capital investment commitment substantially greater than that outlined in Rebuilding Ireland;
— introduce new measures to stop the flow of people into homelessness by providing greater protections for private renters and greater supports for those in long-term mortgage distress; and
— give a clear commitment that no family with children will be left in emergency accommodation for more than six months and that no person will be forced to sleep rough due to lack of safe and appropriate emergency accommodation.
By almost every single indicator, the housing crisis is getting worse. There are 8,000 people who will tonight sleep in emergency accommodation, 3,000 of whom are children. Many of those families with children will spend more than two years in inappropriate emergency accommodation and as the Minister knows, because we have reminded him repeatedly, those figures do not include adults and children in Department of Children and Youth Affairs-funded domestic violence refuge and step-down accommodation nor do they include the families trapped in direct provision, despite the fact that they have got their leave to remain. We have 90,000 households on council waiting lists as of last September and I am sure those figures are already starting to rise yet again. In many local authority areas, the length of time families are waiting for a local authority allocation is in excess of ten years. Thousands of people and households are stuck in an affordability trap with rising rents, rising house prices and, of course, rising land values.
Increasingly, we have problems with insecure tenure in the private rental sector and, far too often, poor standards despite the high prices. We know the private sector is building nowhere close to what its real capacity is or indeed its planning permissions and its funding. In other key areas, Traveller accommodation budgets are still appallingly underspent by local authorities and people with disabilities, both in the social and private housing sector, by and large continue to be ignored. Every single piece of our housing system is broken in a way that is worse than before.
I have no doubt that when the Minister gets to his feet he will tell Members that he inherited a housing crisis from the last Fianna Fáil Government. He will tell us they did not have the funds to invest in social housing from 2011 to 2014 but since the Kelly plan and then the Coveney plan, things are allegedly getting back on track. The Minister will tell us that the numbers of planning permissions and commencements are up. He may even repeat the mistruth that money is not an object in tackling the housing crisis but in all the indicators I have outlined, the Department's own figures tell a very different story. More importantly, the lived experience of thousands of families contradicts the Minister.
The truth is the Government's housing plan simply is not working and unfortunately, in certain areas it is actually making things worse. When the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, took office I told him that if and when he introduced measures that Sinn Féin believed would start to tackle the causes of the crisis I would support him but if he continued to pursue failed policies or indeed introduce even worse ones, we would hold him to account.
While in my view it is too early to judge the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, there are some very worrying signs. His predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, promised much but delivered very little. If he had put as much effort into social housing and affordable housing supply as he did to organising fancy launches and publishing glossy documents, he might have had more success.
However, there are some signs that the Minister is following in his predecessor's footsteps. I have a document to hand, which I am happy to give to him after the debate. In the past two and a half months, he has made either directly or indirectly through leaks from his Department 49 separate policy announcements. I do not know if the Minister has approved all of those but they are 49 different measures and proposed changes to Rebuilding Ireland. We were told there would be a review. We were told there would be a publication of a review document but it seems that what the Minister is doing is launching and half leaking new ideas and proposals to give the impression that he is doing something when I am yet to be convinced that anything is being done at all. Eighteen of these actions were announced after the homeless summit on 8 September. Some of them are not bad ideas. Some were measures that were already announced and some, particularly those that increased the administrative burden on the Residential Tenancies Board and local authorities, will simply make matters worse.
There are 31 different leaks of different policy propositions and either the Minister is consenting to them being leaked by his Department or he is not in control of other members of his party or the Department who are leaking these without his consent. What is crucial, however, is when we look at the picture of those 49 measures, there is no coherence to any of that whatsoever. It smacks of a Minister desperate to give the impression of action when, unfortunately, he is continuing on the same path as his predecessor.
The central problem with the plan the Minister inherited from the latter is that it targeted - or planned to target - the social housing needs of 130,000 families over six years but, as the he is aware, only 37,000 of these will be housed through real social housing. Some 93,000 families, according to the Minister's plan, will allegedly have their housing needs met in the private rental sector, 83,000 through two-year HAP tenancies and 10,000 through longer-term leases. This means that 72% of the Minister's plan for social housing in the State relies on subsidised private rental accommodation.
Capital investment in real social housing remains - this will continue to be the case under the plan - unacceptably low: €733 million this year and €788 million next year. Throughout the lifetime of the plan, if the Minister meets his targets, it will not go above the level at which it was before Fine Gael took office in 2011. With low investment comes low output: 2,541 real, new additional social units for the system in 2016, not including the voids; 3,684 this year, not including the voids; and next year we are promised somewhere in the region of more than 5,000. This is less than half of the 10,000 real social housing units that the cross-party Committee on Housing and Homelessness, which was supported by members of the Minister's own party, strongly recommended. To make matters worse, the Department continues to impose an 18-to-24-month approval process in local authorities, slowing down the delivery of these much-needed homes. In fact, even for the alleged rapid-builds, the approval process is 12 months before a contractor goes on site. Meanwhile, there is no direct central government investment in the provision of affordable rental or affordable purchase housing, and the current schemes, whether the help-to-buy model or the local infrastructure housing activation fund, are either not having any positive impact on affordability or are making matters worse. The cost-rental model is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, good projects such as Ó Cualann project in Poppintree, which the Minister visited to have his photograph taken, are not getting any significant backing from central government funds, despite the fact that good-quality family homes at prices of between €170,000 and €225,000 are on offer there. Why does this Government believe that social and affordable housing need can be met by giving public money to private landlords and private developers? At what point will it accept that the best way to meet this need is for direct State investment in public housing on public land?
The motion before us is straightforward. We could have proposed many other things in it but really what we wanted to do was to focus on four key propositions. The first is, yet again, to urge the Minister to put the money on the table in the capital programme in order to deliver the minimum of 10,000 real social housing units each year, starting next year. The second is for direct State investment in affordable rental and affordable purchase housing, either delivered directly through local authorities or between local authorities and approved housing bodies on the model of the Ó Cualann project. The third is to take more direct action - something that is sorely lacking in the 18 points the Minister launched after the much-hyped homelessness summit - to stop the flow of families into homelessness. The Focus Ireland amendment is one key way of doing this, but we also urge the Minister to take more direct action to assist those in mortgage distress, including buy-to-let landlords who have rent-paying tenants in their properties, and to prevent those families from becoming homeless. Finally, we seek a clear commitment that no individual, family or child will spend more than six months in emergency accommodation and that no one will be forced to sleep rough because of the absence of secure and safe emergency accommodation. The latter have both been Government policy since 2008 but they have yet to be realised.
To comment briefly on the amendments, there is much I agree with in the Labour, People Before Profit and Fianna Fáil amendments, but Sinn Féin has taken the decision that we will not accept them. This is not because we have huge disagreements with them, but, rather, because we want to keep the focus of this Private Members' business on the four key issues to which I refer. We have some differences over the mechanics of how best to mobilise the assets and resources of NAMA. There are some parts of the People Before Profit amendment that we think are just unrealistic in the short term and some aspects of the Fianna Fáil measure with which we do not necessarily agree, although we accept the spirit of many of the amendments.
The crucial thing is this: if the Minister comes back to us over the next couple of weeks with more leaks and announcements and then with a minor increase in capital expenditure on budget day, what he is essentially saying is that the core programme that was introduced by his predecessor, Deputy Coveney, remains in place. The truth of the Government's own figures is that the private sector cannot and will not meet the housing needs of people reliant on social, affordable rental housing or affordable purchase housing. On that basis I urge the Minister to listen to what many of us in this House have been saying, listen to what the Dáil Committee on Housing and Homeless is saying and change track. If he does, he will be recognised for decades as the Minister who finally started to get a grip on the housing and homelessness crisis. If he does not, he will go down on that long list of ministerial failures - including Deputies Coveney and Kelly and former Deputies Gormley and Finneran - before him. They had the opportunity and failed because they would not invest in public housing on public land for those people who need social and affordable housing.
I have just a couple of minutes so I will focus on just one or two things. This is the big issue for all of us. Not a week goes by that a new homeless family does not come to my constituency office. The majority of the reasons that prompt people to come in are housing-related. Sometimes they are people trying to get transfers. I was dealing with a case in recent days involving a couple and seven children who live in a two-bed unit. Again, they are trying to transfer - to move up. I would argue that I live in one of the areas with probably one of the most progressive local authority housing agencies. However, our biggest failure - this is what people say to us when they come to our constituency offices - is our lack of ambition. There are probably 5,000 households on South Dublin County Council's list and it is proposed to build a couple of hundred houses. If one looks at the numbers on lists throughout the country, they are similar. We could talk of 90,000 in total but the figure is probably much higher. In that context, it is proposed to build 36,000 units over the next six years. We are failing our people. We are not ambitious enough. We are not meeting people's aspirations, needs, hopes or expectations
. Sinn Féin's proposals are ambitious. We believe they can work. However, we need to start being more ambitious in our outlook. That is what we are trying to do and that is why we are trying to focus on these four areas. I do not think we can leave this to the market or to private companies that have ruthlessly taken advantage of the situation and people's vulnerability and that will continue to do so. The lack of affordable and social housing is acutely affecting young people. We know that. Increasing numbers of people are coming into our offices. I was at the National Youth Council's offices recently and, again, young people came to me and talked about the impact homelessness is having on families. We are all talking about it, but I would argue that we are not ambitious enough and we need to start looking up rather than down at these figures. I think we can deliver. Collectively, I think there is the goodwill in the House to do so. However, we need a plan that works, and I would argue that we need to approach the issue differently.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as ucht an deis labhairt ar an topaic seo. The latest figures released by the Department show clearly that the Government's plans are not working; rather, they are failing miserably thousands and thousands of families around this country. My party has consistently called for a range of measures to be implemented to address this crisis, which is spiralling out of control. We have called for an increase in social housing stock to 10,000 units per year. We have called for security of tenure and rent certainty to reduce the flow of families into homelessness. We have called for a Government-led affordable housing scheme. The piecemeal approach adopted by this Government has done nothing to address this crisis, which worsens day by day, and it is the families that are suffering and paying the price for the Government's failure. There are now 8,000 people in emergency accommodation, and it is absolutely shocking and unacceptable to think that 3,000 of them are vulnerable children who have been placed in difficult situations. These are children who, no doubt, will suffer the impact of this crisis when it comes to their well-being, and that is unacceptable.
In my constituency of Offaly and north Tipperary, there are over 2,500 on the social housing waiting list. My offices throughout the constituency regularly deal with people who are living in overcrowded accommodation, people who are being evicted from private rented accommodation and, increasingly, families that are seeking emergency accommodation. These families are often very distressed, frustrated and left without hope. My county has the highest rate of homelessness in the midlands, with 33 adults in emergency accommodation in July.
Twelve single-parent families are in emergency accommodation in the midlands region and a total of 55 children are in emergency accommodation.
Homelessness is not confined to the large urban centres and it has now spread to every region in this State. To add insult to injury, the census figures show there are 3,000 vacant dwellings in my county of Offaly. That is unacceptable and something needs to be done. There is a course of action that could be taken and we have proposed the increased use of compulsory purchase orders be adopted to address the vacant buildings situation.
The Government's approach clearly demonstrates the lack of joined-up thinking that is required to address this crisis. The Government needs to act now. I am calling on all Deputies to support this motion and send a clear message that we will no longer stand by while this crisis continues. The Government needs to show empathy with the people who are suffering. It is disconnected and it needs to change. It was elected to serve all citizens of this country.
We have 90,000 people languishing on housing waiting lists across the State, including over 4,000 in my home county of Louth. The Minister and his party have been in government for the last seven years and they have presided over it all. In that time the only thing they can rightly claim credit for is the fact they allowed a housing crisis to escalate into a full-blown housing emergency. They have opted to go for Mickey Mouse options, for half-baked options, so long as they were developer led and developer driven. In doing that, they have prolonged and compounded the misery and uncertainty of homelessness and they have point-blank refused to accept that, unless there is a proper rollout of a State-wide, State-funded social and affordable housing building programme, they are not going to resolve this crisis. Because of their refusal to do that, the misery, the uncertainty and the sheer inhumanity of homelessness continues.
I can only surmise that the Minister is comfortable with people sleeping in doorways and under bridges, covered in cardboard for shelter, in cities and towns right across this State. He is also comfortable with four generations of one family living under one roof. He is also comfortable with tenants receiving eviction notices on an almost daily basis from greedy landlords seeking to exploit this emergency. He is also comfortable with the fact that younger generations have resigned themselves to the fact they might never be able to afford to buy their own home because few or no affordable homes are being built. All of this sits very comfortably with the Minister and his ilk.
I say this for the reason that, just last week, yet again, the Minister opposed a Bill calling for the constitutional right to housing, despite the fact 81 other countries have that right enshrined in law. If the Minister does not act, if he does not do what needs to be done in rolling out a proper social housing building programme to bring an end to the misery and inhumanity caused by homelessness, I guarantee that, at some stage in his life, it will come back to haunt him.
This housing crisis has been coming down the tracks for decades yet the response of the Government has been dismal. We have 90,000 people on council waiting lists and 3,000 homeless children living in emergency accommodation. Let us think about that for a minute: kids growing up in family hubs and hotel rooms. These children have no certainty when it comes to going to school or being near their friends. They cannot even sit down at a table with their families for a meal when they get home. Yet we see many houses and apartments empty all across this State. In my constituency there are many houses boarded-up and we urgently need to bring those homes back into council stock.
I want to address one issue in the time I have left. There is no such thing as a “free house”. People in social housing pay rent, like everybody else, except their payments are based on their income. Let us have no more tinkering around the edges. There is only one way we are going to solve this crisis and that is by building much more social and affordable housing.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue in the House. We have a history in this country of shying away from discussing difficult things or things that make us uncomfortable. That has not been the right approach to take so we have to talk about this, and talk about it a lot, if we are going to find the right solutions.
Deputy Munster should not assume that I am comfortable with the difficulties and challenges that I face in this brief. She should not personalise this against me. She should not bring the culture of bullying in her party into this Chamber.
The Taoiseach himself has said this is a stain on us, and I support him in saying that. If we are going to discuss this, debate this and find solutions, we have to work together to do it. If the Deputy personalises this against individuals in this Chamber, if she seeks to bully other people and other parties, then she is not trying to be a constructive contributor to this debate or these solutions. It is not the role she is seeking to play.
It is not reflective of her colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, who seeks to make a constructive contribution to this debate in every engagement I have had with him to date.
To address the motion, the Government will not be voting against the motion but we will not be voting in support of it either. We agree with the broad thrust of much of what is in the motion, because we believe that is exactly what is happening at the moment, but we cannot agree with the language. We cannot agree with it when it says, for example, "Rebuilding Ireland continues to over rely on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need". When we look at the construction output for next year we know that, of the 20,000 homes that will be built, which is a conservative number, one quarter to one fifth will be social houses built by local authorities and housing bodies. We cannot agree with how Sinn Féin manipulates the numbers either. While the motion points to some indicators, I can point to others that show Rebuilding Ireland is working. There has been a greater than 40% increase in planning permissions since last year, a greater than 40% increase in the number of commencement construction notices over last year and an increase of 33% in the number of homes connected to the ESB grid since last year. Those figures tell us that activity is happening - of course it is. When we approach this debate, we have to be even-handed in the language we use but also in regard to the figures we rely on to talk about what is actually happening out there today in the world.
When we look at some of the new measures that have been brought in under Rebuilding Ireland, like the fast-track planning process with An Bord Pleanála, it is important to note there are now 5,000 homes on the books through that fast-track planning process. That is 5,000 homes that will be built more quickly because of new measures that were brought in.
In so far as my analysis or review of Rebuilding Ireland is concerned, Deputy Ó Broin should not mind the leaks. I am taking a very collaborative approach to the work I am doing. I am talking to everyone I can and listening to them. I am considering as much as I can. I am not ruling anything out or anything in until I make a decision on it. If others choose to talk to others about that, and it makes its way into the media, I cannot control that. What the Deputy can rely on is the rolling analysis I am doing. When I make a decision and announce it, as I did in the course of the housing summit, that is the change or improvement that happens. It is similar in regard to the change to the rent pressure zones and in regard to the change that will be made in regard to the Residential Tenancies Board.
We have a crisis in homelessness and we have a shortage of houses - we know that. Many European neighbours are facing a similar situation today as well, such as France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. The Netherlands has a constitutional right to housing in its constitution but that does not mean it does not have a problem with homelessness and housing. Thankfully, we still have one of the lowest rates of homelessness among member states. Scotland is almost double our rate and Germany is more than double. While that is nothing to be proud of, we are putting in a huge amount of resources and effort to try to help people and families in very difficult circumstances. One homeless family is one family too many. The Taoiseach has said it is a stain on our society and I agree with him on that. Thankfully, though, we are helping these people as much as we can. At times, we will do everything we can to support a homeless individual and put in every single support we can, and it will not be enough, but that does not mean we should not try harder, which we do, although we know we need to do more. This year, more than €100 million will be spent on homelessness, which is more than double what was spent in 2014, and that does not include the €25 million that was allocated for hubs, the additional €10 million that I approved earlier this year and the additional €10 million that has been ring-fenced since then for family hubs.
I was in Limerick this morning to attend a two-day conference of the social housing bodies as well as local authority representatives. I know from the local authority in Limerick that it will be drawing down that funding for two new hubs in Limerick. It intends to have almost all families out of hotels and bed and breakfasts before Christmas as a result of the work it is doing and the funding we are providing.
Consider the Mater Dei facility, which the Oireachtas committee was invited to attend, and which the vast majority of Members have not attended. Deputy Ó Broin has attended there - fair play to him for his engagement - but most Members have not. Of the 27 families that went to that new facility in June, half have moved on to more permanent accommodation. Others are, unfortunately, having difficulties finding accommodation. Different families have different needs and we must be sensitive to them. If they need a tailored response that takes more time then we will do that for them. We have nine family hubs in place at the moment that look after 300 families. We aim to have a total of 15 hubs. I repeat this is the first response. It is not a long-term source of accommodation. It is a better response than hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation. It is a first response for those families.
While we support the broad thrust of the motion, I cannot give the commitment called for in the motion: "to give a clear commitment that no family with children will be left in emergency accommodation for more than six months...". We must be sensitive to families' needs and we have to make sure that in finding them permanent, sustainable accommodation we take into account the different needs they have and we come forward with tailored solutions. The motion also says "that no person will be forced to sleep rough due to lack of safe and appropriate emergency accommodation." Again, sometimes we can do everything we can but it still will not be enough. There will be 200 more beds in place by the end of the year and this figure will have a spare capacity in it to make sure that nobody has to sleep rough. It is important that we do this.
The numbers of those who have come out of emergency accommodation show there have been 3,000 sustainable exits from homelessness in 2016. In the first quarter of 2017 there were 900. In the second quarter I hope to see the same. At the end of the housing summit I announced the new inter-agency group, to be chaired by John Murphy the former Secretary General of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The group will co-ordinate the funding and resources that go in to homelessness. It is not just about shelter and emergency accommodation, it is about a range of issues. We have exit co-ordinators coming in to place also to prevent people falling back into homelessness. This is important and it was welcomed.
We also have a national director for Housing First coming and an additional 100 places for Housing First. This was all welcomed. There is also the new agreement whereby landlords must write to the RTB to notify it when they are issuing a notice to quit. This allows the RTB and the services to get involved to prevent people having to access emergency accommodation, to either keep people in the homes they are in or to help them in to new accommodation. There is also the roll-out of the new HAP place finder service across the State, which is doing a good job where it is available.
If we look at the details of the motion and the provision of 10,000 houses for local authorities arrived at, when I talk about the figures I want to be quite accurate so people will understand what I am talking about. Because of a decision that was made a few weeks ago, 3,800 houses will be built directly by local authorities and housing bodies. This is a 30% increase on what we were going to build next year. When we count in Part V provision as well as the voids that will be converted, we are looking at 5,000 homes next year. The figures for acquisitions and leasing will be an additional 3,000. This is 8,000. The Deputies have spoken of 10,000 for 2018; we will get 8,000. With regard to those acquisitions and leasing figures, we will have the acquisitions in stock and the leases will be long-term leases. We will have those. When we look at the 20,000 homes that are going to be built next year, we look at the new accommodation coming online, we can point to a 20% to 25%, or perhaps even more, that will be social housing homes for tenants who need those supports. This is because new money is made available and new money is re-prioritised. I am having conversations with the Minister for Finance and he has assured me that additional resources will be made available for our capital spend from 2019 on to make sure we can increase our ambition.
In addition, in 2018 some 17,000 new tenancies will be supported through HAP. This year 21,000 social housing homes will be through this range of measures. This is 80 new tenancies per working day of the week across the year. Next year we will see 8,000 homes from the build programme, acquisition and leasing and the 17,000 that will be available through HAP. That is 25,000 social housing supports next year. This is significant and is well beyond the 10,000 figure the Deputies are talking about delivering. It is important to point this out.
The motion also makes reference to the new measures to stop the flow of people into homelessness. I have already spoken of some of the outcomes of the housing summit, which I believe are very positive. The rent pressure zones, while a temporary solution, have worked. If the trends continue for the first and second quarters of this year we will see an average inflation rate of 3% in Dublin. It was 8.5 % last year. This will help families to stay in their tenancies. I have announced a definition of substantial refurbishment that is coming. We are working on this with the RTB, and other services are going to feed in to that definition. If I need to put it on a statutory footing I would have no problem in doing that.
A change management programme has been developed for two years to turn the RTB into a proper regulator. We also need balance and we must recognise that we cannot force anybody to be a landlord. People need to be incentivised to do this and they need supports, especially where there are accidental landlords or where people are thinking of selling on as a vacant possession. We must see if there are things we can do to make sure that landlords sell to landlords. If Deputies want to cry foul over the number of international institutional investors that have come in to invest in the rental sector, we must make sure that if we are trying to get them to exit there are going to be enough domestic landlords in place to take on that role.
Today in Limerick I announced that a housing body will use the new mortgage to rent scheme to help people whose mortgages are in distress of more than 720 days to stay in their homes as social housing tenants. This will help them and they are going to get a debt write off too, which is welcome. For the last nine consecutive quarters the numbers of people in long-term arrears has been reducing. The measures that were already in place have been working. We can, however, always bring about new solutions. We reviewed the mortgage to rent scheme earlier this year and we now have a housing body taking advantage of the changes that were made. More changes are going to come also.
I cannot, regrettably, address all the points in the motion that I had wanted to address.
We must also be careful in terms of what we say to the public as to what we believe is possible. Solidarity-People Before Profit Deputies want us to build 20,000 houses next year. How exactly do they think that will happen and where would it happen? Will it happen in the proper locations or will we return to bad planning? Deputies talk of the funding we spent in 2008 before we had an economic recession that was caused by the unsustainable way in which we were building houses.
I move amendment No. 3:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:“notes that:— the State has built fewer than 3,500 social homes since 2011, less than the number constructed every year on average from 1994–2010;calls on the Government to:
— fewer than 600 new social homes will be constructed in 2017 when the Rebuilding Ireland target is 5,000;
— only 24 per cent of 10,000 units in the ‘construction pipeline’ are on site, so it will be 2021 before most are built compared to the already unambitious target of 26,000 units;
— the overall housing budget is too low and skewed toward current housing programmes, such as Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Scheme;
— the capital house building budget (€730 million in 2017) is still 51 per cent below 2008 levels;
— as a result, no new housing stock is being added as social housing provision coming from the private rental and owner occupier market;
— due to years of undersupply and pent-up demand Ireland needs 40,000–50,000 new homes per year to make a dent on demand and a noticeable impact on affordability;
— the Government target is 25,000 by 2021 and 15,000–18,000 new units expected in 2017;
— clearly there is a market failure in housing and new interventions are required to stimulate supply;
— the Government’s reluctance to accept the actual challenges and their refusal to make any interventions in the housing market is making a crisis situation worse;
— there has been no commitment by this Government to making housing more affordable, with the confirmation that there is no intention to re-introduce affordable housing initiatives for low- and middle-income households;
— it is in the area of homelessness that the Government’s inept housing policy really comes into plain view, and the abandonment of targets on hotel accommodation and continuing failure to make a dent in rising homeless figures cannot continuously be ignored;— commit to meeting Rebuilding Ireland’s targets on moving homeless families out of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation by the end of 2017;
— revise the emergency homeless strategy, in particular redesigning Homeless HAP and the HAP Scheme so households are not discouraged from taking up a tenancy and are not removed from main social housing waiting lists;
— increase and re-balance the housing budget toward capital expenditure;
— put in place new vehicles to enable off-balance sheet funding for social housing projects from private sources and credit unions;
— devise a strategy to enable and encourage far greater scale and size in social house building projects;
— recognise the significant market failures in housing, including in planning, finance, infrastructure and costs of construction, which the market requires State intervention to overcome;
— acknowledge that the Government’s target of 25,000 new house completions by 2021 is not adequate, given years of pent-up demand and under-supply, and that at a minimum we need 45,000–50,000 units output annually over the next few years;
— commit to reintroducing affordable housing schemes including affordable owner occupier and rental housing schemes for middle income households and explore possible financial incentives aimed at encouraging development of housing at more affordable price points;
— introduce financial incentives to build high-density developments where they are currently not commercially viable to build in Dublin City and other local authorities;
— commit to greater enforcement and implementation of Rent Pressure Zones and other rent regulations including more staffing and resources for the Residential Tenancies Board;
— tackle land hoarding by large investors, which is clearly holding back supply including by making changes to Capital Gains Tax and introducing a New Site Tax to encourage the use of empty sites; and
— devise new strategies to manage vacant properties including an active occupancy register.”
It should be uncontroversial by now that the situation in housing and homeless constitutes an emergency, which unfortunately continues to get worse by the day. Fianna Fáil has submitted its own amendment to the motion, which we welcome. It provides a list of practical and workable solutions that would have a real effect on alleviating the crisis.
It is over one year since the Rebuilding Ireland report was launched but there has been little, if any, progress. Despite the huge demand and the unprecedented levels of unmet housing needs the State is still building and providing historically low levels of affordable and social housing. All the while the number of homeless families continues to rise dramatically, jumping fivefold in just two years. Homelessness is a great national shame. It is the greatest problem facing the State, and one of the largest problems our State has ever faced. We cannot give in to cynicism and despair. There are solutions. We have housed large numbers of our citizens in previous decades when we had much fewer resources. There is no reason why the State cannot do so again. We need to come together and make a concerted effort to fix this issue. No measures should be considered too big or too small in getting on top of the housing calamity.
While the rise in homelessness continued unabated over the past year, which is a consequence of the failure of Government policies to get to grips with the affordability problem in the housing sector more generally, the plight of families living in emergency accommodation has also worsened significantly. It is a shocking indictment of the Government that is does not consider re-housing these families, even in more suitable temporary accommodation, to be enough of a priority.
It is well known that living in hotels is having an impact on these families. Meeting these targets should not be considered a budgetary issue. I want to put on record that these targets have to be met and should be met. Whatever funding is required to meet these targets should be automatically made available. Hotels are not a place to raise a child for any length of time but many families have been living in these for a year and more in many cases.
The strategy of using HAP as the primary means of moving families out of emergency homelessness cannot be considered a success and absolutely must be revised. Homeless HAP, the Government’s flagship housing scheme to move homeless households in to privately provided rental properties, is failing drastically to provide secure accommodation for homeless households and move them out of emergency accommodation.
With regard to social homes being built, less than 800 new social homes will be constructed in 2017 when the action plan in Rebuilding Ireland targets 5,000. Only 24% of the 10,000 units that we are led to believe are in the construction pipeline are on site. It will be 2021 before many of these units come on stream compared to the already too low target of 26,000 that we are told will come to fruition.
The Government’s core social housing strategy has been to rely almost entirely on the private rented market for social housing provision, through the HAP scheme.
Last year, more than 75% of new social housing tenancies were placed in the private rental market. This strategy is reflected in the overall housing budget. While the total housing budget is just 24% below the 2008 level to which the Minister has just referred, the capital housing budget is a full 51% below the 2008 level. Nevertheless, we are told, as Deputy Ó Broin has already stated, that money is not the problem and that local authorities and approved housing bodies are adequately resourced should projects be available. That is not the case. This misguided strategy is exacerbating the housing supply problem with local authority tenants competing against households at the low end of the market. No new social housing supply is being added. While the greatest impact is on families who are eligible for social housing, housing supply across the board is affected.
Traditionally, the State and local authorities have acted as the largest single house builder in the country, adding significant levels of new supply annually. I am afraid that under Fine Gael Governments, this situation has been completely reversed. The absence of new supply from the State affects all in the search for affordable housing. This is due to the strategy of relying solely, or at least to the extent of 75%, on social renting through HAP rather than on building new social schemes. That has to change. The social housing budget must be increased to the 2008 levels, which it is currently 50% below.
While the Rebuilding Ireland report contains many positive proposals on housing supply more generally, many are not being implemented. This must change to a significant extent and a difference must be made in tackling the crisis. Recent trends, including continued rent inflation, reduced rental supply and an acceleration of house price inflation in 2017 are evidence that the plan is failing the key litmus test of expanding new housing supply and improving affordability. It is not acceptable that the Government has ignored the targets for housing delivery and output and continues to miss them while problems grow deeper and more entrenched every week. We reject absolutely the view that no intervention is required to stimulate the supply of residential construction. Given the level of pent-up demand, the targeted output of 25,000 new units by 2021 is wholly inadequate. The State can only build approximately 18,000 new units this year whereas we need in the region of 50,000 to make a dent in affordability. Just 4,000 of these units will be apartments notwithstanding the fact that there is huge demand for such accommodation in high-pressure areas such as Dublin and other cities.
There are significant market failures in housing including in respect of planning, the distribution and cost of finance, infrastructure deficits and, of course, the cost of construction. The market requires State intervention in order that these failures can be overcome. To ensure that supply translates into more affordable rents and house prices, we must incentivise directly the building of affordable owner-occupier housing and affordable rental housing. New financial incentives to build high-density developments must also be considered. Dublin City Council and others argue there is a need to consider urgently incentives to get builders to begin an intensive house building programme on lands that are already zoned residential. While hotel, office and student accommodation is being built, very little ordinary residential construction is taking place because it is not commercially viable due to the costs associated with construction. While a reduction in the rate of VAT for houses built and sold at affordable price points is roundly condemned by many, it is just one proposal to help stimulate the greater supply of more affordable housing. To ensure that new supply translates to affordable rent and house price levels, we must incentivise the building of affordable owner-occupier and affordable rental housing. This is the only way to make housing more affordable for lower and middle-income households, in particular in the high pressure zones in Dublin, Cork and, indeed, beyond.
One of the first actions Fine Gael and the Labour Party took on coming to power was to abolish in 2012 affordable housing for low and middle-income workers under Part V. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Affordable housing has always been a key pillar of any housing programme put forward by Government. I implore the Government to bring forward a new affordable housing scheme to meet the demand out there, to provide the necessary supply and create a market which provides more affordability. This would reduce competition between those who do not need to be in competing positions. The State must take responsibility and increase expenditure on social housing to the levels mentioned earlier. If it does, we might see some results and success. I would hope, thereafter, to be in a position to commend the House on playing its part to ensure that progress was made.
All of the evidence and data point to the fact that the housing and homelessness crisis is getting worse. It is depressing, a scandal and wrong. What frustrates me most is a first-time Deputy is that it does not need to be this way. I have stated repeatedly that this Dáil will be judged on its response to the housing crisis. I have not changed that view. In fact, I consider that both Parliament and the Executive will be judged on our response to housing.
As we stand here again tonight, I take no pleasure in stating that we are failing the Irish people in the politics of housing policy. It is now obvious that our Fine Gael-led Government does not get the seriousness of the crisis. The reason for that was demonstrated perfectly in the Chamber yesterday when the Taoiseach outlined his and his party's views on property rights. The Fine Gael view is that this is a temporary crisis that requires minimum intervention before we return to a market-based speculative treatment of housing. This view is wrong in its analysis and it is the reason Fine Gael's attempts to resolve the housing crisis have been too timid and have failed in every pillar of a well-spun but poorly delivered Rebuilding Ireland. Fianna Fáil's position is radically different. We have learned the lessons of the past and the key lesson on housing is that the State, whose representatives are elected by and accountable to the people, must have permanent control, oversight and responsibility for ensuring that there are homes for all.
The basic starting point is the European norm. In Europe, the norm is public and affordable housing supply, as well as affordable ownership and rental homes. This constitutes a key responsibility of most European states, which are proactive in housing provision. Fianna Fáil's response will involve moving the Irish State, through central and local government, permanently into this space. We should do this responsibly but also radically through sustainable funding, both on and off-balance sheet, for the building of social and affordable homes for rent and purchase by working families. We want to ensure that local authorities and the Department are empowered and resourced, not only to deliver these homes but, crucially, to manage them into the future.
The investment required in housing supply is massive and far beyond what the private sector can manage. Investment in our housing stock must be considered in the context of managing that investment and ensuring that the quality of new housing is such that we spend public moneys not only with a view to addressing an urgent social need but also to the economic and long-term strategic return for the taxpayer. It is vital in the context of the State's role in housing that publicly-owned land is retained for public investment in housing. It is wrong to provide public lands to private developers for the construction of private housing. It makes no investment sense whatsoever. The State has enough land to build significant numbers of mixed-tenure housing units. We have a unique asset at our disposal and we can build homes for all sectors in crisis, namely, the social and affordable and affordable rent sectors.
I will be brief as the shared time is running out.
I thank Deputy Ó Broin for putting down this motion and Deputy Cowen for sharing time. This is an important and timely motion. When one looks at the motion and the amendments put down, there is more in common between us than differences. The real challenge facing us is not to have another strategy, but to implement one in a timely way.
The cross-party housing and homeless committee reported in June 2016. There was substantial consensus on a whole range of issues. The first recommendation on which there was consensus was that social housing provision should increase annually by 10,000 units for five years. The committee made the point that this would be through new builds, acquisition, refurbishment and so forth. The view of the committee at the time of the discussion, however, was that this would be in the early years and, over the duration of the five years, construction and new builds would increase significantly. This is why I have some concerns about policy now.
Today, the Minister put out a figure of 5,000 for social housing for next year. Yesterday, the Taoiseach also said there would 5,000 new social houses next year. He elaborated 3,800 would be new build and 1,200 would be either through Part V or other acquisitions. That figure needs to be increased radically year on year. My problem is that the Minister's construction programme shows the various stages but there are no deadlines for completions. We can see where each project is initiated and is going through the different stages. We want, however, to see where they conclude. If we have deadlines when a project is initiated, it focuses everybody's attention. I am concerned that there are even delays in the Department with processing. It would be a useful first step if there were transparency in this regard.
I also have concerns that it is hard to get definitive answers on some of the other short-term housing schemes. For example, the rapid build programme is way behind. The Minister gives out figures in replies to parliamentary questions on when some of the schemes will be completed but they are a long way behind. We need to redouble efforts on some of these short-term schemes. It is the same with the repair and leasing scheme. It started last year when it was announced in the budget. In March, it was increased but it is radically missing the targets set. We need to know why. I am not being critical of the Minister. The difference is we can formulate policy over here and have policy positions. Unfortunately, the Minister is in a different position and must deliver results. I am not saying that in a light-hearted way. I am not here to knock the Minister but we need to understand in real time what is happening. If a scheme is not functioning in the manner which it was expected, we need to change to drive the results we need. These short-term schemes have not delivered what was expected.
I am concerned about the vacant site tax. I do not believe it will achieve what it is supposed to. Many of the properties which might have been considered to have a tax on them will escape through one loophole or another. Where property prices are increasing significantly, I am not convinced a 3% vacant site tax will be the incentive to bring those lands back into use. I have concerns about developments around the greater Dublin area where we see prices increasing significantly and that the 3% vacant site tax will not achieve what we need it to do. That needs to be reviewed urgently.
The Taoiseach set out his targets yesterday when he spoke in the House on the subject of 20,000 builds in 2018, 5,000 of those for local authorities, acquisitions or Part V builds. He reiterated that it is the Government’s intention to use the local authorities more in the provision of housing. Will the Minister explain today what that means in real terms and where, specifically, those 5,000 homes will be delivered, in particular, the 3,800 direct builds? Will they be completed units in 2018? Will they be in areas with high pressures on council housing waiting lists? I look at County Meath with a population of some 200,000, a commuter belt county which has huge housing, social and employment pressures, with 5,000 people on social housing waiting lists, 1,500 of those in my home town, Navan. If the Taoiseach's words of using local authorities are true, how will this work in Meath, whose problems in adjoining Dublin are pronounced?
Meath County Council owns one undeveloped field in the entire county. This 22-acre site has been earmarked for development under the activation fund. The price bill for these 42 units, which is on the Minister’s desk awaiting approval, is €13 million. This works out at €310,000 per unit, a good €100,000 above what it should be because the reimbursement to the council for the site acquisition is factored into this. This has taken over a decade to get to this point and it comes with a price tag of €13 million.
If this is a prime example of what is happening in commuter counties like Meath for a mere 42 homes, how realistic is the 3,800 nationwide target? How is the Department helping counties like Meath, Kildare and Wicklow to acquire land for social housing? The basic commodity to provide homes, a point forgotten by many in this Chamber, is land in locations where people want to live and which is beside schools, amenities and shops. When I look at this case in Navan, I know this is it because there is no more land owned by local authorities. They need help in identifying strategic sites.
Last Thursday, Sinn Féin made remarks about not reducing tax. This is quite a statement considering every Sinn Féin councillor has sought to reduce property tax by 15% in the year and remove millions of euros from councils, money which could be spent on housing. Will Sinn Féin stop the double-talk and the spoof? If Sinn Féin has a policy principle of not giving people back a few measly euro, as Deputy McDonald said, but keeping it for public services, that is fine and admirable. However, Sinn Féin Members cannot think they are fooling anyone with that on the one hand while also sticking up posters claiming Sinn Féin councillors are the only ones who will cut the tax and expect the books to balance. They simply will not. Sinn Féin Members need to be honest with themselves and the public. They all need to write to Santy for Christmas to get calculators and learn how to use them because the books do not balance.
It is par for the course for Sinn Féin Members to shout people down. Sinn Féin is taking millions of euro out of the Exchequer and does not want to realise it is contributing to the housing crisis and making people homeless.
I will take the temperature down and talk about the actual issue addressed by the motion. As has just been said, there is much commonality in the motion and amendments. We need to get to the nub of the issue, namely, that we have many policies, announcements and proposals but little action. The Minister needs to come clean on the money issue. We have heard time and time again that money is not an obstacle. On the one hand, we hear from our local councillors when they want to advance housing proposals that they are delayed by the Department. On the other, the Department claims there are delays with the councils. Either way, the time it takes to get from a proposal to a finished housing development is not going to deal with the issue. That is the nub of the problem. We need honesty on whether the money is there.
The Labour Party amendment is about using the resources in NAMA. Our amendment proposes to:
introduce immediate measures to transform the National Asset Management Agency into a National Housing Development and Finance Agency and repurpose its mandate into one of addressing the serious shortage in supply of housing for sale or for rent at affordable prices, so that the new agency can take a leading role on behalf of the State in the development of affordable housing, the delivery of new builds and the long-term financing of social housing through local authorities.
This was also contained in a Labour Private Members’ Bill last year. It proposed to merge NAMA with the Housing Finance Agency and then give it power to assist housing authorities and approved housing bodies in respect of the provision of management matters related to housing accommodation, as well as in respect of other housing matters, and conferring on it the power to give assistance conferred by section 6 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 as if it were a housing authority. We wanted to use the resources, the expertise and the money of NAMA to assist local authorities and voluntary housing associations in providing housing and dealing with affordability.
We had to remove it from the Bill because the Ceann Comhairle wrote to me and said that it would conflict with the current functions of NAMA under section 10(2) of the NAMA Act 2009, to obtain the best achievable financial return for the State, and would reduce or eliminate any potential surplus to the Exchequer when NAMA's work is completed. We were turned down because of the current functions, but we wanted to amend those current functions. The other reason for being turned down was that we would curtail the return of the financial surplus to the Exchequer. Surely it is an excellent use of the resources of NAMA to use the money to build houses for people who are homeless or who are on housing waiting lists, whom we have discussed here many times. I strongly argue that it is much more important to do that than simply to return, in that clinical way, the finances to the State. This is the biggest issue facing the State so it makes sense to use the money. Fianna Fáil has come on board with that idea since then. It is a sensible proposal, which is why we made it in our amendment.
We would have added another area to the motion. I accept that Sinn Féin wished to be specific on particular issues and that there are many matters that could be included, but our proposal regarding the Kenny report relates to the issue of hoarding building land. We wish to see that implemented as well. There is certainly evidence now that much-needed building land is being sat on where there is a high demand and need for houses. We would have liked to have seen that included.
Will the Minister tell the House if he intends to introduce an affordable housing scheme? There was a report recently that he is planning to announce it in two weeks' time. Perhaps he would clarify that because all Members have been calling for an affordable housing scheme for some time.
I wish to raise another issue with the Minister. He spoke about the two hubs in Limerick this morning. What Limerick City and County Council is doing is very welcome. Obviously, I am familiar with it. There has been very good interaction on homelessness with the voluntary sector. Novas Initiatives has done brilliant work in Limerick, as have the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust, Clúid Housing and others. The council has also been proactive. However, I return to my original point. It has been extraordinarily slow to get local authority developments completed. The developments that are almost completed in Limerick - one beside the Southill Area Centre in O'Malley Park, one in Edward Street and one on Hyde Road through a voluntary housing association - are developments I announced when I was Minister of State with responsibility for housing, which was back in 2012 and 2013. They are only being completed now. I cannot see evidence of anything started or anywhere near completion since then. The nub of the problem is the length of time it takes to go from a concept to construction. We discussed previously with the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, the plans relating to the more than 700 sites in public ownership. Again, my fear is that the current plans in that regard will take far too much time.
I will refer again to empty houses. It is a matter I raise every time I speak. We might dispute the number and say it is not the almost 200,000 claimed by the census, but if even a fraction of the number can be brought back into use it would be positive. The voids scheme has been successful under various Ministers. However, we must have private houses coming back into use, even if that requires compulsory purchase orders. We must see the Minister's strategy. It has been delayed for a long time. We also require a vacant homes tax.
We have spoken about many of these issues repeatedly, but they are important. The final one I wish to reference is included in the motion, namely, the insecurity of tenure and high rents for people who are renting. I do not believe the rent pressure zone system has worked. It obviously has not worked for places such as Limerick which are excluded from it. I do not know as much about areas that are in the system but I am told that, for one reason or another, in many cases landlords are able to wriggle out of their obligation not to increase rent above 4% per annum. We have to go back to the drawing board on that as well, particularly during these intervening years when people will continue to be stuck in rented accommodation. They possibly could buy if there was support for them to do so in terms of affordability but they are on housing waiting lists and are paying high rents. Indeed, they might not be on the waiting lists because they are above the threshold. There must be proper control of the rents people are paying. There is also the issue of security of tenure. There must be far more protection of tenants from eviction by landlords for reasons that are sometimes not credible, such as that the house is going to be sold but it ends up not being sold.
It is important to continue having these debates. However, we must get to the nub of the problems in terms of why matters are not moving more quickly.
This motion from Sinn Féin is on social and affordable housing. We support the motion although we believe it does not go far enough in some respects. However, we will speak and vote in support of the motion. I suspect that the motion will be defeated by the combined votes of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael or that it will be gutted by the amendments that have been tabled. The main reason for that is the conservative, Civil War parties joining forces yet again to ensure that a solution which is not first and foremost based on the private sector is not advanced.
When the motion is gutted that should not be the end of the matter. There are other practical remedies. For example, in a number of councils in this country the radical left, left independent and Sinn Féin councillors constitute a majority. Those councils will meet in November to set budgets for next year. I propose that if those budgets do not include sufficient funding and practical plans for massive numbers of social and affordable houses to be built within those councils' jurisdictions next year, the radical left, left independent and Sinn Féin councillors should join forces and refuse to pass those budgets. They should bat the ball back into the court of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and ask him what he will do about it and whether he is prepared to give the funding that is necessary to provide houses for people.
If that means creating a political crisis, that is what should be done. For our part, we will support such a position and encourage our allies on the radical left and among the left independents to support it. Is Sinn Féin willing to support such a position? This is an important motion, but it should not be just a question of throwing parliamentary shapes. When one is in a position to put forward a practical remedy that is a radical alternative to what is being served up by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael the opportunity should be grasped. We are prepared to grasp it. Is Sinn Féin prepared to follow suit?
South Dublin County Council is such a council and Cork City Council is close to being one. Dublin City Council certainly is such a council. It has a housing waiting list of more than 20,000. There is zoned land in the ownership of the council on which between 11,000 and 14,000 houses could be built. Officialdom is putting forward a proposal to build approximately 1,000 houses next year. It should be refused on those terms. Put the ball into the Minister's court and create the crisis. The ball is in Sinn Féin's court in many respects. This is a practical proposal and we would be interested in discussing it and getting Sinn Féin's feedback on it.
One of the important parts of the motion, which is included in our amendment as well, is to call this a national emergency and to declare a national emergency. I put that in all seriousness to the Minister. The type of dramatic, radical action that is necessary is simply not forthcoming. We talk about tweaking Rebuilding Ireland.
While some of the measures the Minister has announced may make a difference, they will not address the fundamental crisis we face. The key to resolving this issue is to embark on an emergency programme of direct council housing construction on a much more significant scale than that proposed by the Minister. The delivery of 3,000 council houses and 5,000 so-called social housing units next year will not cut it because it will be a drop in the ocean, especially in light of the number of new people who will be added to the housing list in the interim and over the coming five-year period.
I asked the Minister's officials for figures on the number of new applicants for housing in recent days. I have still not received them and I would like to get them. The figure of 91,000 people on the housing list was, I believe, provided just after the list had been the subject of a major cull. I also believe that the number of families on the housing list is significantly higher than the official figure suggests. The increased number of applications that will be received must be factored into the Government's calculations.
Against this background, Rebuilding Ireland proposes that 21,000 new homes will be constructed directly by councils or approved housing bodies, with the remainder consisting of refurbishments and so forth. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the vast majority of new homes will be provided under the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the housing assistance payment, HAP, and leasing arrangements. The final target, based on the Government's reliance on the private sector, exceeds 90,000. As I have stated to the Minister and his predecessors for years, this target will not be realised and even if it were, it would not deliver secure social housing.
One of the many cases I am dealing with involves a couple with eight children - they have another child on the way - who are housed in a hotel in Shankill. Before the Minister decides to move the family to a hub in town, he must not do so because they do not want to move into town. The children go to school in Shankill and the family should not be moved out of the hotel unless a council house is available. They have been told by the council to find their third RAS or HAP tenancy, which is a joke given that there are eight children. They are at breaking point, yet they are being told they have no chance of securing a council house any time soon. The housing assistance payment will not cut it for this family.
Even if the Government achieves its target, the HAP scheme will cost between €800 million and €1 billion per annum in payments to private landlords. Further, it will provide housing that is not secure or permanent and will not deliver the type of social housing that would resolve the problem.
Against this background, the Minister continues to speak of public private partnerships. Under PPPs, up to two thirds of public land and housing stock, all of which could be public, will be flogged off. The Minister refuses to take emergency measures to acquire housing units that are lying vacant. The Central Statistics Office has provided a figure of 180,000 vacant housing units. Even if the figure is only 10% of that, it would still mean 18,000 units were vacant. Where is the emergency legislation to get these units into the system and provide housing for people on the housing list? It is not forthcoming.
While I support the motion, it is extremely frustrating to take part in an endless discussion on the housing and homeless crisis. Given the Government's stance on the issue, it is clear the debate will go nowhere. As I stated last week, the Government is implementing the same policy and sending out a message that it will deliver different results and address the crisis.
What is needed is agreement on what the solutions to the crisis are, both in the short and long term, followed by action to implement them. By this, I mean an agreement among those of us who are not in hock to developers and vulture funds and do not have an ideological stance that precludes intervention in the market or private sector. There is broad agreement that an emergency must be declared. The Government has never declared an emergency, although it has used terms such as "crisis" to describe the problem. I want it to declare a housing emergency tonight and address the issue.
There is broad agreement that immediate action must be taken to curb evictions, while a massive programme of public and social housing construction is essential in the long term. On the issue of evictions, I welcome the agreement reached between the Irish Mortgage Holders Association and Allied Irish Banks, EBS and Haven Mortgages, under which a new not-for-profit company, iCare, will be established to operate a mortgage-to-rent scheme. I hope the new entity will overcome the problems the mortgage-to-rent sector has experienced thus far. In particular, I hope it will be in a better position to negotiate house prices and write-downs. This scheme will not provide a solution for all of the more than 50,000 people who are in arrears but it will offer a practical solution for many families.
The Keeping People in their Homes Bill 2017, which passed Second Stage, should be processed through the House as emergency legislation. Proposed by Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, the Bill would oblige judges in repossession cases to take into account the impact of losing the family home on children, older people and persons with disabilities, the probability or otherwise of finding alternative housing and other factors. This would be a step forward that would assist many families fighting to keep a roof over their heads.
Emergency legislation is also required to stop vacant repossession being used in the private rental sector. Legislation should also be introduced to stop evictions on the basis of rent increases. Stopping evictions is the key to stopping the rise in homelessness. In the medium to longer-term, we need agreement on what is the best way to fund, implement and manage a programme of public and social housing. I favour the proposal made by the Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, to establish a national housing company which would build and rent public housing on the European cost recovery rental model. The new company would cater for a wide range of housing needs, from single people to those who are working and young people. Such a company, with the assistance of local authorities and State companies, could use existing zoned land, borrow off the books and quickly commence a programme to build 10,000 public housing units per annum.
The word "NAMA" should not be used in the same sentence as the phrase "public and social housing". The National Asset Management Agency was established to bail out banks and developers. Its role in Project Eagle and selling off the best zoned land to vulture funds demonstrated a mindset completely unsuited to the task of providing public and social housing. The agency should be disbanded and its assets transferred to a national housing company.
Some may argue that the provision of public and social housing should be left to local authorities. While this approach is correct in theory, in practice how many local authorities have become involved in building, managing and maintaining public and social housing in recent years? Too many officials at management level in local authorities are opposed to public housing, just as they are opposed to providing refuse services. I have no doubt they would gladly divest local government of its role in water services. The only solution is for the Minister to instruct councils to produce plans to provide housing. The key issue is whether money will be provided to do this.
I welcome the Sinn Féin motion. I mean nothing personal towards the Minister but I will be highly critical of the Government's handling of the housing crisis for the past six years.
I was a little thrown when I heard Deputy Jan O'Sullivan tell the House that we should bring back affordable housing given that the Labour Party got rid of it. I was even more upset when she started to tell us about the expertise in the National Asset Management Agency.
Yesterday, I put three questions to the Taoiseach. I asked him to seriously consider introducing real measures to deal with land banking because the vacant site levy is a joke. I assure the Minister that no developer in his right mind will be bothered by the levy. Not one will be caught by this minuscule levy that will not have any effect.
I also asked the Taoiseach about his plans to relaunch NAMA as the solution to our housing crisis. It is incredible that we would even consider the notion. These people who are under investigation in three countries. They know nothing about housing. Not one person on NAMA's board has expertise or a background in property, including residential property. They clearly know bugger all about the markets, given that they are selling stuff for peanuts, but now we might ask them to build on some of the lands the agency controls.
Yesterday, I pointed out the example of Project Abbey, under which NAMA took 72 acres of land, with planning permission for more than 900 units, off the hands of Harcourt Developments . It boasted about that, claiming that it would keep the land for housing. That would have been grand, but what did NAMA do? It gave the land back to Harcourt Developments to build the houses. Developers are not interested in making €5,000 or €10,000 on a unit. They are interested in making €50,000 plus. They are the only people with whom NAMA will work because it does not have the expertise itself. The developers have the expertise, but they cost us too much and are producing units that are too expensive.
Yesterday, I asked the Taoiseach whether he would give NAMA's lands to the local authorities. We all know that they have problems delivering housing. The Government might say that they are not fit for purpose, but why do we not make them fit for purpose? The previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, told us last November that local authorities could produce three-bedroom houses in Dublin at a cost of €205,000 and for €154,000 outside Dubin. Why would we want to get developers to build houses and pay them €350,000 or €400,000 per unit? The average price of a house in Dublin is €461,000. Where is the rationale? I do not understand what the Government is thinking. I do not understand why the State does not engage directly in building social and affordable units via local authorities. It is not rocket science. Yes, it requires a great deal of organising and a restrengthening of local authorities after their powers being watered down for over 30 years. Rebuilding them would be a good idea. We did away with local authorities, leaving us with just weak local administration. We can have local authorities again and get them to provide social and affordable housing. The alternative will not work. I assure the Minister of State that the Government will need-----
I thank Sinn Féin. It is because of it that we are debating this important subject. One of the major issues preoccupying every politician who is worth his or her salt in any way is the housing situation. In County Kerry, which I represent, there are problems with housing every day. Young couples are looking for housing, and not just local authority housing. People are simply trying to find homes to rent. Be it through the HAP scheme, RAS or any other scheme, all that they want to do is have a home that they can afford without being robbed in rent, a home that is a safe and happy place for them where they know that they will have security of tenure over a number of years.
The Government should address several issues immediately. We have discussed local authorities. Kerry County Council's housing department is excellent, as are the people who work in its homeless unit. However, they can only work with what the Government gives them, be that money or sanctions for housing start-ups. Something that would drive anyone mad would be seeing so many houses and buildings boarded up and unable to be re-opened for use. They would make for fine places, but investors need encouragement, not discouragement. When people try to provide accommodation, they sometimes meet every obstacle and piece of red tape in the book. Most of that comes from the Government, planning divisions and various departments. All that people want to do is work together to ensure that our young, middle aged and retired people have homes that they can call their own without being robbed and left broken into pieces.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister of State provide funding to local authorities and remove the shackles that have been imposed on them? The four stages of approval demanded by the Department take too long and funding is not filtering down to local authorities. It has been suggested that local authorities, including ours, are not able to build houses because they have lost their way. The previous Taoiseach said that - as did Deputy O'Dowd in recent days - but I will contradict him. Local authorities can and will build houses if the Government gives them the money.
I will give an example. At least 25 rural cottages are demanded in Kerry. We will only build seven this year. If the local authority had the money, it would build all 25. It has the land and could put the contracts out to tender, but it will not do so because it does not have the money. The situation is as clear as that. Private builders will not build either. I will give an example. On a house that costs €210,000, more than €80,000 in levies and VAT is collected by the State. The Government should be able to do something about that, for example, make those payments in instalments down the line.
The HAP system is not as good as the rent allowance or RAS. Many-----
I will make a proposal to the Minister of State that I made to the Minister regarding a solution - not the solution - to the housing situation in Dublin and other high-pressure areas. There is a surplus of housing in rural Ireland. There are many vacant properties in provincial towns and villages. We should be able to marry the pressure for housing in Dublin with the availability of housing in rural Ireland. I propose the establishment of a scheme under which people would be offered the opportunity to relocate voluntarily, have a different lifestyle and have an opportunity to get a house and bring up a family in a different environment. This voluntary scheme would give people the opportunity to move from high-pressure areas to low-pressure ones. It would not be an economic charge upon the State because the rent for housing in rural areas is substantially less than the rent for housing in urban areas. This scheme would also benefit rural communities that have an excess of housing and a problem with depopulation. New families coming to rural towns and villages would help to maintain the fabric of rural society, services, shops and schools. It would be a win-win situation for a small minority of families who could be taken out of emergency accommodation - bed and breakfast establishments and hotels - after having spent time on endless housing lists or on the HAP scheme even though they cannot find housing that takes HAP. I would like the Minister of State to consider this scheme. The Minister will be doing so.
I compliment the proposers of the motion.
I must ask the Minister of State some questions. Houses were recently offered by NAMA to many councils. In a reply to me, however, Tipperary County Council stated that the NAMA units referred to were not appropriate for use by local authorities because a high number of them were not up to standard or did not meet construction regulations while some units had legal title and management issues. The council had granted planning permission for them in the first instance, so I do not know why that would be the case.
Following recent coverage of the rejection of significant numbers of properties offered to Tipperary County Council, I contacted both the council and NAMA. The council, in its reply to me, outlined a range of reasons it was obliged to reject the properties NAMA offered it through the Government-established Housing Agency, which acts as a mediator between NAMA and the local authorities. When I put these to NAMA however, it insisted that it was made quite clear to all agencies that any property handed over by NAMA to the Housing Agency would be fully remediated to the highest living standards and would be in full compliance with construction and building standards and in compliance with the conditions of planning regulations. Additionally, NAMA has insisted that it was made clear that prior to a hand-over, any issues relating to legal title or financial matters would have been fully regularised. There is someone codding someone here. As a result, no local authority or approved housing body would be liable for costs relating to remediation works or legal fees yet they are telling us that they will, my own council included. The Housing Agency in particular needs to clarify urgently why the properties were rejected when it appears that steps could and would have been taken to make them suitable for tenants at no cost to the local authority or the Housing Agency. We need to find out what is going on. Even if there was no immediate need, which I find very hard to believe, could they not have been accepted, remediated and then offered at a later point when social housing need arose?
The Minister of State needs to get in charge of this. He is the fifth or sixth Minister or Minister of State with responsibility for housing. We are pushing paper around and reports up and down and we have this crisis and that crisis and different agendas. We need to sort it out. We need to get NAMA and the county managers in before the committee and the Minister of State to see what is going on because there is someone codding someone and there are unfortunate people left without houses.
I am sharing with Deputies Catherine Martin and Healy. First, I want to challenge some of the spin I am hearing around housing. With all the missed targets and with reports that delivered so much less than was promised, the approach should have been to say it as it is rather than to adopt a new line of spin. I heard the Taoiseach repeatedly say that 80 individuals and families will be housed by the State every day. I heard the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government repeating that. The Taoiseach said:
They are new tenancies. And on every working day this year, 80 individuals and families will be housed by the State. About 20,000 people will be housed by the State.
Most of those will be people who searched for housing themselves. They will have been put through the wringer in searching for housing, which often takes months with huge stress and they may at the end of it get a one-year tenancy. In 2016, 72% of all such tenancies were housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies. They were not new houses entering the system. If that profile continues in 2017, of the 20,000 tenancies, 15,000 will be HAP tenancies. Of the 80 a day the Government talks about, if we use the same ratio, it will be just 22 delivered from voids, from housing associations, from local authority builds and from Part V provision. The lack of housing supply, whether it is local authority housing or housing that is affordable to rent or buy, affects us all. Apart from the human impact of homelessness or of living in overcrowded accommodation, which people are doing for years now, or adults with no prospect of living as adults should, independently of their parents, it also has an economic impact. It drives up costs and makes it difficult to employ people in some sectors such as nurses. In the context of Brexit, it limits our ability to absorb new industries. There is a real problem with spin. We are being told the numbers will be quadrupled over 2015. There were only 1,030 local authority builds in 2015. Let us cut out the spin and let us start calling it as it is. The response of Government is nothing short of pathetic in terms of the numbers and lack of ambition. Where there is not a silver bullet to resolve many of the problems straight away, the one thing we can be absolutely sure about is if we do not build, this problem will continue to get worse.
Tá an Comhaontas Glas fíorshásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo. The Government lacks vision and strategic planning when it comes to the scale of the housing and homelessness crisis, which severely affects the most vulnerable in our society. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is relatively new to his brief. However, his party and the Government certainly are not. In the past four years we have had four Ministers with responsibility for housing. This is indicative of the Government's track record and shows the level of genuine intent, level of priority and respect for the role of this Ministry, which is at the centre of the biggest crisis of our time. It is an indicator of how this critical Ministry has been treated in recent times. It has become the revolving-door Ministry, with no continuity, no stability and no appropriate demonstration of the level of priority and real action the crisis clearly and urgently needs.
Government statistics for July show there were 1,429 families without homes. The figures have gone up by 25% in one year. The number of children without a home now stands at almost 3,000. That is 3,000 children without a place to call home. It is time for this Government to view housing as a human right and one which must be enshrined in the Constitution. Earlier this year, the Green Party introduced a Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill in the Seanad that would have addressed the specific problem of land hoarding in a number of ways, but remarkably in a time of an unprecedented crisis in homelessness, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael chose to vote against this Bill in the Seanad.
The State needs to create an affordable housing provision agency and implement a cost-rental model for affordable and social housing, which would be delivered by a newly-formed national housing trust linked to local authorities that would be outside the general government sector and provide a combination of affordable and social housing, either directly or through community land trusts or housing associations. The institution should ideally incorporate the capabilities developed in the Housing Agency and NAMA and could be an amalgam of the two. It would also incorporate existing expertise in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the local authorities and in the housing associations and co-operatives.
The housing issue is complex and there is a huge number of variables and perspectives which the Government needs to take into account to tackle it. It is absolutely unacceptable that the lack of real action we have seen from this Government continues. The Green Party will support this motion to show that the Dáil not only recognises the magnitude of the problem but the extremely urgent and present need to take immediate and effective action.
I will support the motion. The former Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the current Minister have accepted we have a housing crisis on our hands. When will the Minister accept there is a housing emergency that needs emergency measures to deal with it? We simply have to look at the figures to show there is an emergency. There are 90,000 families on local authority housing lists. There are 8,600 people homeless, 3,000 of whom are children. There are 25,000 people on housing assistance payments and there are unaffordable rents and rising house prices. I will repeat what I said last week because it has to be repeated again and again. We need the formal declaration of a housing emergency by the Dáil. We need to stop repossessions and evictions from the banks we own - Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB. We can do that by a direction from the Minister. Sitting tenants must be legally entitled to remain as sitting tenants in purchase situations. We must immediately start to build an emergency house building programme by local authorities - 10,000 in 2017-2018 and rising after that. We also need compulsory purchase powers and a site levy.
In the half minute I have left, I will refer to two groups of people who are often overlooked in this emergency situation. First are the families in HAP accommodation. The HAP scheme is a disaster for tenants and a bonanza for landlords. Tenants do not have 2 cent to rub together at the end of the week because they are paying a local authority rent and a top-up to landlords. Even in County Tipperary, they often pay well in excess of €100 a week in rent between both. A communion, confirmation, wedding, death or illness drives them into serious debt and into the hands of moneylenders. That has to stop and proper accommodation has to be given.
The other group that is often forgotten are those who are marginally over the local authority limit for housing but who do not qualify for a mortgage. They end up in County Tipperary paying €900 a month for a three-bedroom house, which is more than €200 a week.
This is simply not good enough. The Government needs to take this by the scruff of the neck, declare an emergency and give homes to people who need them urgently.
There are 25 minutes left and three ten-minute slots. The proposer of the motion is the last to speak. I respectfully suggest the three slots be eight minutes each.
I call Deputy Stanley, who is sharing time with Deputies Ó Laoghaire, Ellis and Quinlivan.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I suppose we have accepted this evening that we have a full-blown crisis, which needs an emergency response. I can see the extent of the crisis in the constituency where I live. In County Laois, the number of households on the housing waiting list has increased by 200 in recent months alone - a 15% increase. The response is that the first new council estate to be built in Portlaoise for 13 years is under construction. Those 33 houses are welcome. A further eight in Mountmellick, eight in Mountrath and five in Rathdowney have not started construction yet. That is not nearly enough and does not measure up to the scale of the crisis. The delay between approval by the Department and construction is far too long. A 22-house estate in Ballymorris in Portarlington will take four years from approval to construction, which is far too long and that time needs to be shortened.
We also need large-scale development of social housing. I am not saying this to have a go at the Minister of State. Given the size of the problem, it needs a huge response. This is like the 1930s and 1950s again. To address the scale of the problem under both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, they built 10,000 and 12,000 per year at that time. There is no reason we cannot do this again.
Only 206 private and council houses were built in County Laois last year. Rents are skyrocketing; the average rent in County Laois rose by 13.7% in the past year, which is the third highest in the country. In some cases more than half of people's wages is going on rent. It needs to be linked to inflation. People are paying top-ups on top of housing assistance payment, HAP, and rent supplement. A Simon Community report showed that no housing unit under the limits set for HAP and rent supplement was available to rent in County Laois over a particular three-day period. The Government's failure is making people homeless. I meet them; they walk in my door every day. People become homeless because they cannot afford the top-ups. Three to four people are presenting to the council every week.
We need to stop land hoarding once and for all. In 2012, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, introduced capital gains tax exemption for investors who bought property by the end of 2014 and held on to it for seven years. People are sitting on building land because of that and the Minister must stop that. We need to build more social housing, stop land hoarding and restart the affordable housing scheme. The time for action is now and it needs to be big action.
I am no different from any other Deputy in the stories I hear in my constituency office and clinics. In the past ten days I have met a family of a man, his wife and their two children. The woman is pregnant and expecting twins in a few months. They are in emergency accommodation and are concerned over where they might find emergency accommodation capable of housing the six of them. In the past six days I met two different parents who have to share a bed with a teenage child because of overcrowding. There are countless more stories as bad as or worse than that. That is the human cost of the crisis we are dealing with.
People realise there is pressure but they do not understand why nothing is happening. They have heard about the housing crisis for three years or so - in reality it has probably been going on for seven or eight years. This institution and the media noticed the crisis in the past three years. People are wondering why nothing is happening. It is the cause of enormous frustration. The reality is that we have not been building enough social housing for 15 years. Even in the past three years there has been nothing near an adequate reaction and the delivery of social housing.
I wish to touch on three issues that need to be acknowledged. Nothing is being done for those people whose income is above the social housing limit. They have very few options and we are still awaiting the affordable housing scheme.
The issue of HAP has been well rehearsed. Forcing people to go on the transfer list takes away from people the sense that there will be a permanent solution at some stage. Worse, it is needless. It could be resolved immediately by allowing them to be on the standard housing list. That should be done.
People becoming homeless can do nothing to prepare until the day they are made homeless. People are told to show up at the homeless service on the day they are made homeless. Why can they not have the opportunity to prepare in the days in advance?
I wish to raise the plight of dozens of families I am dealing with on housing alone on a weekly basis in my constituency. In the majority of cases, landlords are seeking repossession because they are supposedly selling their properties or they or a family member are moving back in. Assuming proper notice is served and the RTB is satisfied, tenants are left with no alternative but to seek another rental property, which is almost impossible, or to go homeless.
The other new homeless are those in mortgage distress who have exhausted every avenue to remain in their homes with little or no support from the State. In such cases it is galling that they later find out that their homes have been sold at a knockdown price to some vulture fund, bank or agency. I recently encountered a case involving a woman with three children, one of them with a serious disability. She had been served notice to quit as the landlord was selling the house and needed vacant possession. This woman is at her wits' end and on the point of breakdown because she cannot find another property and faces the real prospect of going homeless.
The scandal of NAMA selling off properties and landbanks is a crime against the people. It will go down in history as contributing to the humanitarian disaster that has led to the housing and homelessness crisis we are now experiencing. The Minister needs to stop that. It is obvious that since the Celtic tiger period the building of social housing has come to a standstill. The lesson from this is that we need to ramp up the building of social and affordable housing.
Last year after the election the cross-party Dáil Committee on Housing and Homelessness was set up to review the implications of housing and homelessness and make recommendations in that regard. Unfortunately, most of those recommendations were ignored.
Despite Government spin in recent months, people are not getting houses. Last week I spoke on a Dáil motion which, if enacted, would have given people the right to have their own home. Unfortunately, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael opposed that motion. In that speech I said that 50 families, including 80 children, were in emergency in Limerick city, the second largest outside of the Dublin area. Unfortunately, the crisis continues in Limerick and the council confirmed on Monday that 61 families are now in emergency accommodation, including 111 children. This is causing huge stress to those families and I have serious concern at the long-term impact on those children.
Before he left the Chamber, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said he was in Limerick today and he spoke about two hubs that are opening. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan welcomed that. I have serious concern about the hubs. Families who are watching the debate tonight are concerned that while the hubs might be better than hotel accommodation, they are not stable accommodation. We do not know how long they will be there. As I am out of time, I ask the Minister of State to answer this specific question. Will there be a time limit on how long people will spend in hubs? Will they be there for a long time or will he commit that it will a priority to get them out of the hubs and into secure council accommodation?
I will try to squeeze as much into eight minutes as I possibly can. I am pleased that Deputy Ó Broin is present today because we did not get a chance to finish our discussion during the Private Members' debate last week.
Based on the discussion I believe we are all on the same page. We want solutions and we want to increase the supply of housing. There is no logic in us opposing the motion, although we might not agree with all the wording and some parts of it are slightly wrong, but we also want to achieve the general gist of what Sinn Féin wants to achieve. Most of the debate has been saying much the same thing.
It is important that we deal with some of the contributions we have had here tonight. I do not want to row with anybody but we need to deal with facts. I do not do spin. This Government does not do spin. Others might do that. I will tease out the facts. I am not necessarily referring to Sinn Féin; I refer to Deputy Catherine Murphy who stood there and talked about spin although it was purely facts she was talking about.
It is factual to say there are 80 people finding housing solutions every working day. That is a fact. We did not say there were new houses so it is a fact, it is not spin. Could Members please stop referring to spin? If it is spin, then I will put my hands up. I have no problem when it comes to election time if Members want to engage in a bit of spin. That is fair enough, but they should not try to mix facts when they are facts. Deputy Catherine Murphy has left the Chamber before we even get to respond. She did not refer to any other spin after making a big speech at the start. There is a lot of showboating going on here, which is a pity because we want to get solutions. It is true that a number of people are finding housing solutions but it is not enough. As I said last week, we are not asking for a pat on the back. Nobody is doing so. The process will not end until everybody has a home. We will have to keep doing what we are doing and keep making all the changes we can as well.
The contributions to this debate were wide-ranging in nature and all referred to the need to increase the supply of housing. It is wrong to say nothing is happening. Again, that is not true and it is not a fact. The Rebuilding Ireland strategy - the Action Plan for Housing - is a four to five-year plan building on action after action to correct all the elements of the problem. A key to it is the supply of housing. I refer Members to the trends which show the increase in the supply of housing is positive. They do not give us houses today or tomorrow but housing are coming on stream in the months ahead, next year and the year after. That is part of the solution. I do not say it solves today's emergency but the strategy is also to generate increased supply for the years ahead.
Let us consider from where we have come. Based on ESRI figures, we were in a situation two years ago where approximately 12,000 houses were built in this country. More than half of them are one-off developments. That scale of building was not going to contribute to a housing solution. Last year, a little over 15,000 houses were built. I do not say they were all built from scratch. They were not. Some of them were housing completions and others had been vacant houses but they were back in use. That is the truth. That is the figure. This year, the figure is approximately 18,500 and might rise as high as 19,000 before the end of the year. Again, that is another positive fact in the right direction. Next year - in respect of which we had a target of approximately 20,000 - there will be in the region of 24,000 in the system. That is based on ESRI figures. It is a positive development, it shows we are moving in the right direction and people should see that for what it is. I accept that we all want more houses to be built, and we will do that as well, but that is the current and projected level.
Likewise, if one looks at social housing delivery, one could not defend what was happening a couple of years ago. I do not blame local authorities. One of the Deputy Healy-Raes - the twins - talked about the councils having lost their way. It was not that they lost their way, they lost the capacity. The people were not there and the money was not there. No one is denying that. This Government does not try to hide behind that. We put the figures out there every month. They may, perhaps, be a bit late the odd month, but they are out there and they will be debated if we do not hide them. We are not hiding them. The capacity was not in the system but the capacity is back in the system now. We are putting the people back in or putting the money back in.
One of the Deputy Healy-Raes raised the issue of rural cottages. I am not aware of any housing project that has been refused funding. If he wants to bring a case to our attention we will look at it but I have not come across that happening.
There are other delays. I agree with what has been said about timelines. They are too long for the delivery through all the various stages. There is the option of one stage but most do not want to use that. They go by choice to take the four-stage approach. We have condensed that a lot and we will condense it even further. I am now working with the delivery team and we will increase the staff on that and on local authorities as well to try to get the timelines down even more. We will produce a chart to show Members the timelines and see how they compare to the private sector as well. We will push that agenda and drive the urgency to get the delivery of social housing up to speed.
I agree with Deputy Ó Broin. He said last week he wants to 10,000 houses to be built. So do we. That is what our plan amounts to. He wants to get there in one day but we are saying it will take a couple of years. I am not sure who is being honest here but one cannot do it in a day, a week or a year. Step by step, we are bringing social housing back up to where it should be. I agree with Deputy Ó Broin. Our ideology is the same. The State should be producing 10,000 social houses a year. That is what we will get to. We were at 75, which I said one could not defend, a couple of years ago. Approximately 700 new builds for social housing were completed last year. There will be will be just under 2,400 new builds next year. There will be approximately 3,800 next year and there will be up to 6,000 the year after. I hope we will get to the 10,000 per year through pursing this plan because that is the target we must reach, and even beyond it. If future Governments want to add to the target, then good luck to them. Well done if that is what they want to do.
Those figures only relate to social housing. They do not include affordable housing, which we also want to construct on the 2,000 ha the State owns. There is potential there for up to 50,000 houses divided into affordable, social and even private. It is fine if someone wants to build all affordable houses. There is nothing stopping anyone doing that. We will bring forward the plans. There is a commitment to 10,000 social houses. A number of Deputies keep saying there is an ideological problem but there is not. The reality is that it takes a bit of time to put the capacity back into the system. I want to be clear about that as well.
In terms of the number of houses we intend to build, out of the 47,000 units to which we are committed, as a minimum - it should rise to 50,000 and beyond during that timeframe - more than 30,500 will be direct builds. In other words, they will be new build social housing units. Approximately 6,530 houses will be achieved through acquisition, perhaps a few more or a few less depending on the value in the market. That goes back to the vacant properties in various parts of the country where there is good value in purchasing them. Nobody else is competing for them so it makes sense. In some cases they are dilapidated or in need of repair. That is where we will step in. We will buy them where it makes sense to do so. There are also approximately 10,000 houses that are on long-term leases. Sometimes long-term leasing gives good value to the State but I do not say it is always the case. We are committed to lease approximately 10,000 houses in our plan but we will do more new builds and turnkey houses if we can as well. We recognise that we just cannot get the supply we need straight away in year one. I wish we could because it would save us having these debates week in and week out as well as the suffering homeless people are experiencing. We will build on that as well.
I welcome the mortgage-to-rent scheme announced by David Hall and his team at iCare. He was one of the first people I met when I came into this job and we worked on the plan. It makes total sense. We revamped the mortgage-to-rent scheme under Rebuilding Ireland. It was one of the first actions that we implemented. We made those changes in February and March and we will announce increased funding for the sector through various mechanisms in the months ahead as well. Today's announcement is a positive because it keeps people in their homes. It is not a solution for everybody but it is another option. There is a range of solutions in the toolbox.
I wish to correct what another Deputy said a few minutes ago. It is wrong to say one cannot engage and look for help until the day one is homeless. That is absolutely wrong. We repeatedly ask people to come forward at a much earlier stage to engage with the system so that we can try and keep them in their home. Thousands of people have been kept in their homes that did engage. I have no problem saying that was not the case two or three years ago but for the past year we have been saying very clearly that people should come forward if they are about to become homeless and we will try to keep them in their homes. I do not promise that we will keep all people in their homes but thousands have been kept in their homes. Likewise, 3,000 came out of emergency housing last year into sustainable homes. The difficulty is that just as many became homeless so I do not say the situation is great. This year, the number finding housing solutions has reached approximately 1,800, of which 900 were assisted in the first quarter. While I accept it is not enough there is progress. I urge Members to please not come in here week after week telling me we are doing nothing.
The final point I will make is to Deputy Harty.
I agree with what he said on rural housing initiatives. We are working with him on that. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has met him, as have I. That is something we want to progress. We have already changed the rules so people can move their housing assistance payment between local authorities. Approximately 400 people have used the scheme this year already. I hope we can focus on that now so as to give people the choice to move to a rural area if they want to.
He was upset. Let us focus on the people that are really suffering not the pampered Ministers who have their feelings hurt because the Government has failed so badly. To be honest, to call it failure is probably kind, particularly in light of the malicious undermining of social housing his party engaged in along with the Labour Party when the previous Government was in office. The amendments introduced to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 in the previous Dáil represented a shameful attack on housing in the interests of private developers, but that is hardly surprising since there are so many landlords in the House.
The State has failed to deliver on a basic right. The private market is unwilling to house those who are not on tech bubble wages. Many landlords have shown themselves to be only interested in eking out the maximum from places not much better than slums. The only solution is widespread mass construction of social housing by the State through local authorities which are in public ownership, affordable and sustainable.
Fine Gael has told us each year that there will be thousands of houses built the following year, despite only a few hundred are being built. Every year the rubbish that was spewed out the previous year is repackaged and resold. No one is fooled. The Government's inaction speaks far louder than the spin.
I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin and Deputy Eoin Ó Broin have introduced this motion and that I have an opportunity to speak on it. In my constituency of Wicklow, which is in the commuter belt, there are many factors driving the housing crisis. We have a significant housing waiting list and a lack of supply. Even last week, unfortunately, we had another fatality on the streets, this time in Bray in my constituency when a local man died in a tent. There are many reasons why that happened, some of which I touched on already but another reason is the fact that there is no emergency homeless shelter or beds provided in County Wicklow. That is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, visited County Wicklow last week to turn the sod on a 20-unit development in Rathdrum. It is a very welcome start, although there is a long way to go. In other areas of the county such as Blessington, there are huge problems in terms of infrastructure. Irish Water has confirmed that there is a serious problem with sewage treatment in the area and that there will be no additional capacity in that infrastructure until 2019 at the earliest. There is simply no housing construction going on in Blessington and there certainly will be none until 2020 at the earliest. That a serious problem which needs to be addressed. I urge the Minister of State to examine it.
While the small steps and small changes in other areas are welcome, in parts of Wicklow and other parts of the State critical infrastructure is not in place and will not be for the foreseeable future. We will continue to have the serious housing and homelessness crises and all the other problems that stem from them.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and to the Minister of State, Deputy English. I am genuinely surprised that the Minister said the Government's plan does not overly rely on the private sector. According to the social housing plan in Rebuilding Ireland, 130,000 families were to have their social housing needs met. Of those, 93,000 were to have them met through private sector housing leased for two, four or ten years. That constitutes 72% of the plan. Only 28% or 37,000 were to be housed in what we call real social housing - units owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies. That is clearly an over-reliance on the private sector.
It is exactly the same with affordable housing. There is no direct State involvement in the provision of affordable housing and there is no central Government support for approved housing bodies to provide it. The schemes, whether help-to-buy, the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, or the land initiatives, are private sector led. At the very heart of Rebuilding Ireland - and this is as much a fact as those the Minister of State talked about - there is an over-reliance on the private sector to meet the majority of social and affordable housing need. That need is not being met.
I do not disagree with the Minister of State that planning permissions, commencements and ESB connections are increasing and the fast-track planning process is in place. None of that is under dispute. However, none of it guarantees that this plan will meet to a sufficient extent the social and affordable housing need that exists. During the boom, we were building 90,000 houses in one year, yet social and affordable housing need was rising. Supply in and of itself without adequate attention to social and affordable supply does not work automatically.
We argue about figures but it is important to understand them. The report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness contains very specific recommendations. The committee's first recommendation is that there be an increase in the stock of local authority units and those owned by approved housing bodies by 10,000 a year. Let us consider the Government's figures. In 2016, the increase in the stock under that definition was 2,541. In 2017, it was 3,684 and it will go up to just under 6,000 if the Government's targets for next year are met. That is way short of the minimum identified by the committee as being required. That is a big difference. If the Government meets the targets as set out in Rebuilding Ireland, it will still be 40% short of the minimum that the cross-party housing and homelessness committee recommended. In my view, that is not good enough.
It is not about doing it in a day. Fine Gael has been in government for seven years. It had the Kelly plan in 2014, which was meant to start this process off, and then the Coveney plan. Our frustration is not that the Government is not doing it overnight but that it is not happening even within the six years of the current plan.
If there is a single message we want the Government to take away from this motion, it is that the most important intervention it could make in terms of a change in direction of the plan is to return to large-scale public housing developments with social, affordable rental and affordable sale, delivered with public money on public land to produce vibrant, mixed-income communities. That is not what it is doing at present. The proof of the pudding is that to do what I have just described would require the Government to move towards a capital spend on social and affordable housing in the region of €2 billion annually. Rebuilding Ireland at its very best will give it below €900 million annually through to 2021. Money is an issue. I am not necessarily saying ideology is an issue. However, unless the Government is willing to make that level of investment and direct State intervention, we are going to have very significant difficulties.
Finally, I wish to express a huge frustration. A lot of our debate is rightly about social housing. However, there is no affordable housing coming on stream. We are hearing nothing about LIHAF. There is nothing about the land initiatives, the three sites in Dublin or the Grange in my own constituency. By affordable I mean houses priced at between €170,000 and €260,000. There is no sign that they are going to be delivered. Until the Government starts to show how that is going to happen, not only is it not going to meet social housing need but it will not meet affordable housing need either.
I welcome the fact that the Government is opposing the motion. I urge it to think seriously, particularly in the context of the budget, about the level of capital investment and the speed at which it can deliver those social and affordable units for which the plan currently does not cater.