Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 March 2018

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail)
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As the Tánaiste is well aware the housing crisis is very serious, and he was personally involved in many of the public announcements by the Government on this particular issue. The news yesterday that the number of homeless families increased in the month of February is exceptionally disappointing and is totally unacceptable in Irish society. There are now 3,755 children homeless in the State and a total of 10,000 people in Ireland will be homeless tonight. Sister Stanislaus Kennedy and Fr. Peter McVerry have stated they have lost confidence in the Government's ability to deal with the homelessness crisis. The Government has abandoned the homeless.

The Tánaiste must also be aware that rents have increased, house prices have increased and supplies have decreased. Recently, the Government announced a new initiative called the Rebuilding Ireland home loan for making home ownership more affordable for first-time buyers. This is a Government-backed mortgage scheme for first-time buyers and is available nationwide from all local authorities. First-time buyers can apply to purchase a new or second-hand property or build their own home and they can borrow up to 90% of the market value of the property. Applicants must be in continuous employment for a minimum of two years and have an annual income of not more than €50,000 for a single applicant or not more than 75,000 for a joint applicant. These are the people the Taoiseach says get up early in the morning to go to work. The Government is not helping them either.

To be honest, the scheme has got off to a bad start. From information I have received from several local authorities, more people appear to have been rejected for these loans than have been approved. Many of the people meet the criteria, but examples of the reasons given to applicants for loan refusals include - these are all personal cases I have seen from a number of local authorities in recent days - repayment capacity not demonstrated, unsatisfactory financial management, or savings records outside the terms of the scheme, as in somebody who is divorced or legally separated. The scheme sent to local authorities does not facilitate them. As recently as two days ago, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed in the Dáil they can avail of the scheme in certain circumstances but that has not been communicated. Will the Tánaiste confirm the level of funding available? How many mortgages can be granted out of the fund? What is the number of applications received? What is the number of refusals? How many loans have been approved to date?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am personally involved in trying to solve homelessness in Ireland and trying to fix a very broken housing market. I work with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Murphy, who is continuing the work in this regard. The numbers published yesterday of course are of real concern to us. On the need for new policy responses, as we have seen with the Rebuilding Ireland policy to date, new policy responses happen all of the time. It is important not to leave anybody with an impression that the Government is not committed to doing a huge amount to respond to homelessness and family homelessness in particular. Last year, approximately 4,700 people were taken out of homelessness through giving them tenancies. Last year, there were approximately 26,000 social housing solutions, which was an increase of approximately 93% or more on the previous year. In fact, it was an increase of 123% on the year before.

In terms of talking to the people working in the sector and trying to deal with social housing demand and the homelessness challenges the Government needs to overcome, everybody, including those in the House will say the answer is more social housing. This is what we are delivering but it takes time to do this. We will deliver an extra 50,000 social housing units between now and 2021. We have put enough capital in place to deliver an extra 100,000 social housing units over the next ten years. The problem is we are starting from a flat position of delivering virtually none up to two years ago. It takes time to deliver the scale of social housing needed to solve comprehensively a homelessness problem and social housing demand. In the meantime, multiple solutions are being put in place, including homeless housing assistance payment, housing assistance payment, leasing arrangements and family hubs, which are temporary solutions but are better solutions than creating homes for families in hotel rooms, which is something the Government is committed to moving away from. On this issue we still have a significant job to do and the numbers published yesterday remind us of this.

In relation to the comments made on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, with respect, this is a new initiative involving a €200 million fund to create 1,000 new home loans for people who otherwise would not be able to qualify in the normal banking system. It was only launched in February, so the accusations made by the Deputy and the suggestions he is making simply do not hold water. We do not have the statistics and evidence to back up any of this yet.