Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Housing: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann:notes that:— the worsening shortage of social and affordable housing and emergency accommodation in Ireland now constitutes a national emergency;further notes that:
— almost 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation and 144,000 applicants are on housing waiting lists, including the Rental Accommodation Scheme and Housing Assistance Payment fixed transfer lists;
— tens of thousands of people on low- and middle- incomes are paying unaffordable rents and are simultaneously locked out of the house purchase market due to the lack of supply and the knock-on dramatic increase in property prices;
— the State has failed in its duty to directly build public and affordable housing on publicly owned land despite local authorities controlling, as of December 2017, 1,317 hectares of zoned residential land with capacity for 48,724 dwellings;
— the delivery of directly provided public and local authority housing in recent years has been negligible, with only 1,058 new units built/acquired, including regeneration, by local authorities in 2017 and no affordable housing schemes, despite repeated commitments by the Government to do so;
— the central pillar of any Government policy must prioritise a decisive shift towards the direct provision of public and affordable housing on public land rather than the current reliance on private sector solutions; and
— notwithstanding the above, it is incumbent on the Government and the Dáil to use all other measures that could help accelerate the rapid delivery of public and affordable homes;— the Central Statics Office identified 183,312 empty homes in 2016;demands a radical shift in policy to address the housing and homelessness emergency which will contain as its central pillar the provision of public and affordable housing on publicly owned land; and
— it must be a matter of urgency to take measures to return to use any and all vacant units, properties and sites suitable for residential use, particularly given that the Government’s Vacant Homes Strategy has delivered only 416 homes to local authorities in 2016 and 2017;
— the delivery of social housing on private developments, through Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Part V), has been minimal with only 388 homes delivered in 2017;
— the failure of Part V to deliver any affordable homes arises from the reduction of the Part V obligation from 20% to 10%;
— slow delivery of residential development by the private sector has almost certainly been exacerbated by land hoarding, property speculation and the drip-feeding of development to keep property prices high;
— with market prices of completed units at record levels, the cost of local authorities acquiring the Part V 10% obligation will, in many cases, be prohibitive and generally more expensive than the cost of local authority builds;
— according to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, the all-in cost of building a new social housing unit is between €175,000 and €211,000, whereas average prices on the property market are now at €380,000 in Dublin, therefore, the cost of acquiring Part V units is enormously more expensive to local authorities than it would be to build on 10% of land acquired at existing-use-value;
— waiting for the completion of units by private developers before acquiring the 10% will also mean, in many cases, a much slower delivery of public homes and uncertainty about the timeline of such delivery if the private developers decide to drip-feed development of sites, or sit on all or part of such sites for long periods of time for speculative purposes, or in expectation of higher market prices in the future; and
— the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, has now discharged almost all of its debt obligations through property and asset sales, removing any justification for further disposal of development land or property that could be used to address the current housing emergency, but still controls, as of December 2017, 1,691 hectares of zoned residential land with capacity for 65,399 dwellings, and in Dublin alone controls land with the potential to build 43,075 dwellings;
notwithstanding the above, demands in addition:— the establishment of multi-disciplinary empty home and property teams in each local authority, dedicated to proactively identifying vacant housing units, properties and sites with potential for refurbishment as residential units;
— that empty home and property teams will, in the first instance, attempt to engage with property owners with a view to working with them to return to residential use the unit, property or site;
— that, where suitable units, properties or sites are vacant for more than six months, without good reason, or where a property owner refuses to engage with the empty home and property teams, the local authority shall employ its compulsory acquisition powers to bring these units, properties or sites into use;
— that the remit of the empty home and property teams will also include the identification of suitable vacant units, properties or sites owned by Government departments, semi-State agencies or agencies under the aegis of Government Departments, and the power to acquire the property for development as public and affordable housing;
— that empty home and property teams shall include officers responsible for identifying suitable units, properties and sites and making contact with owners and all necessary qualified professionals such as architects, engineers, quantity surveyors etc. to ensure the timely return to use of all suitable units, properties and sites;
— that empty home and property teams will set out options for vacant units, sites and properties to return them to residential use, which shall include a range of assistance measures;
— that in any option where financial support is provided by local authorities for returning units to residential use, these units will be used for public and affordable housing;
— that the Part V requirement be immediately increased from 10% social housing to a minimum of 20% public and affordable housing;
— that where there has been any State aid for private development, such as the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF), Home Building Finance Ireland or Strategic Development Zone designation, the Part V requirement would be a minimum of 30% (40% with LIHAF funding) public and affordable housing;
— that all definitions of affordable housing are at a price that is accessible to those on incomes above the eligibility criteria for social housing and below €80,000 per annum, adhering to the standard of repayments being no more than 35% of net income after tax and social insurance;
— that, in agreeing Part V arrangements with developers, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will, by regulation, instruct local authorities to prioritise, from now on, the transfer of land option rather than completed units, as the cheapest and most timely mechanism to deliver public and affordable housing, stipulating that the land transfer must be completed within six months of the decision date of the planning permission or the application will be deemed invalid; and
— that the Government legislate immediately to change the mandate of NAMA to be a vehicle for public and affordable housing and ensure that it immediately ceases the sale or disposal of development land or residential units on the open market.”
This motion is an attempt to ring the alarm bells about what I think is the underlying problem generating the current housing and homelessness emergency and to propose a number of radical but practical actions that could begin to address that crisis. The point we argue in this motion is that the intolerable human misery the current housing and homelessness emergency is causing is not an accident but rather arises from rampant land-hoarding, property speculation and profiteering by investors, landlords and developers and that the Government's policies are actively facilitating this rather than dealing with it and doing what is necessary, which is for the State itself to build in large quantities public and affordable housing on its own land.
I think we have debated at length here the human misery aspect of this and the impossibility of the situation that huge numbers of people face, but it really is shameful. There are 10,000 families in emergency accommodation, 144,000 people on housing waiting lists, once one includes HAP and RAS fixed transfer lists, and hundreds of thousands of people paying extortionate rents and effectively locked out of the purchase market. The Ombudsman for Children's report today details many of the complaints coming into the ombudsman's office about the intolerable conditions that children living in emergency accommodation are having to suffer. There is further evidence of the madness of the property market, with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, saying rents have risen by 7%. The CSO figures show property prices rose 13% last year. The Government says it is trying to address all this, but then one considers the facts. Last year, 1,058 local authority housing units were built, there were 799 approved housing body builds and a pathetic 388 homes were delivered through Part V arrangements with the private sector. This is the background to the motion.
As for private construction, we do not even know how many houses are being built. There is a major dispute about the number but we know whatever it is, it is abysmal. Goodbody states it is 9,000 but I suggest it is lower than that. There is another piece of evidence which has not yet entered the debate. If we only got 388 Part V units back, that means 3,888 private houses were built in developments of more than ten. While there would have been developments of less than ten units, are we really suggesting that as many as 5,000 to 8,000 units were in such developments? That is not credible. The output is miserable against a background of a catastrophic and worsening crisis.
In this motion, we state the reason for this is because both the State and the private sector are hoarding land and the private sector is simply speculating. Investors, landlords and developers are speculating on land and property prices to inflate the values of their holdings, often to flip them, but with no intention to build the housing necessary to address the housing crisis and they have absolutely no intention of providing that housing at levels that are affordable to the people who need it.
The problem certainly is not one of a lack of zoned building land. Local authorities alone have enough zoned building land for 45,000 units. NAMA has enough building land for 65,000 units. However, the delivery on this is pathetic. In NAMA's case, only 7,000 units were delivered of a potential 65,000. Some 50,000 dwelling units could have been built on the land that NAMA sold to property vultures, speculators and so on but only 2,000 units were delivered. It is not just the left that is saying this. Even Brendan McDonagh from NAMA has said there is a hoarding problem.
The Government's measures have actually increased the profits, land values and property prices but have done nothing to force the pace of construction. The Part V requirement was reduced to 10%. When the Government initially announced LIHAF funding, we were told it would lead to 40% affordable housing, a figure that disappeared within a few weeks. Two years later, no affordable housing is being delivered and the Minister even refuses to define what affordable housing is. I believe the reason for that is because the private developers know that if the Government introduced a meaningful definition of "affordable", which was genuinely affordable, it would impact on the ability of the private investors and developers to make profits on those sites. That is why the Minister is not doing so. The Minister has supported changes to regulations regarding single aspect homes, no parking spaces, changes in capital gains tax, changes in building heights, all of which simply inflates land and property values to the benefit of the speculators but does nothing to deliver public and affordable housing.
In this motion, we propose measures to deal with that. First, the Government needs to build social and affordable housing on public land, then it needs to pursue an aggressive strategy to go after vacant sites and empty property. It must resource local authorities to do so and give them the power to use compulsory purchase orders to do so. It must change the Part V requirements in order that we get land for the local authorities to build on rather than leaving it in the hands of private developers to speculate. Finally, NAMA's mandate must be changed immediately. There should be no question of it selling off more land to vultures and investors but instead, NAMA should build directly on that land to provide public and affordable housing units.
I will share time with Deputy Paul Murphy.
The motion states the central pillar of any Government policy must prioritise a decisive shift towards the direct provision of public and affordable housing on public land rather than the current reliance on private sector solutions”. Such is the scale of the housing crisis and the speed with which it continues to spiral out of control that we need an emergency programme of public house building to build homes for the many tens of thousands of people who long to have a secure and affordable home. This can be done. New data published this week show that local authorities and NAMA between them own enough zoned residential land to build 114,000 homes. They own three quarters of all residential zoned land in Dublin city, where the greatest crisis is, which is enough to build 71,000 homes. That is local authority and NAMA-owned land, zoned for residential purposes and ready for development. We know from figures recently provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that one-bedroom homes can be built for just €144,000 while two-bedroom, three-bedroom and four-bedroom units can be built for between €150,000 and €158,000, €167,000 and €177,000, respectively.
In recent months, Solidarity has brought forward costed plans for public and affordable housing in a number of local areas. In my constituency of Dublin West, we proposed Damastown as a social and affordable project and did the same in respect of Kilcarberry in South Dublin County Council and at the Old Whitechurch Road in Cork city. Solidarity has also explained the various tax raising measures that can be taken to raise the required investment expenditure to the Minister many times. That is without mentioning the Apple revenue.
The Government prefers to protect the financially unsustainable and morally indefensible tax haven status that it and a succession of its predecessors have created over decades. However, the Government is not alone in its moral bankruptcy, it is an international phenomenon. Overnight, we learned that a very modest tax proposed in Seattle to fund housing for the homeless has been crushed by a combination of Amazon, one of the world's largest companies, and its political allies in the Democratic Party. Like the Government, these people think that the interests of corporations must always come before the interests of the 99% and even of the most vulnerable in our society.
We know that we own the land and that the land is already zoned for residential purposes. We know that homes can be built at a cost that ensures rents and prices for the completed homes can be affordable for all and we know that the revenue to fund the construction works can be raised. All the component parts required to provide the public housing solutions for which young people and families are crying out are available with one exception, namely, political will. It is not a political priority.
In 2017, under the Minister's watch, the number of homes built for local authorities came to a grand total of 235 across the four Dublin local authority areas. The Minister's failure could hardly be more complete. He continues with his ideologically-driven commitment to market-based pro-landlord policies. A year ago, the Minister said of Rebuilding Ireland that it had "already achieved a great deal with more good things to come". He continued by noting "We’re going to have to keep on driving this but I think we can meet our target soon.” Can the Minister tell us which target he has in mind? If he has a target for creating misery, he has well surpassed it.
Rebuilding Ireland has been exposed as the longest love letter to landlords ever written. Billions of euro in public money have been poured into their pockets under the guise of housing policy initiatives, all of which have failed for ordinary people, exactly as we said they would. Who pays for the Minister's commitment to neoliberalism, to landlordism and to developers? It is the 10,000 people in emergency accommodation who pay, including 3,000 children. It is the 800,000 people living in rental accommodation who pay through ruinously expensive rent and it is the more than half a million young adults forced to live with their parents who pay. The crisis is deepening and young people and families are suffering. Many of them are just one rent increase away from losing their home. We need public housing now.
The building of public housing on a large scale will be the main pillar of the solution to the housing crisis. As the motion states, there are perhaps 180,000 or more empty residential units in the country but the number of vacant properties that have been returned to use as homes is pitiful. Only 416 houses returned to local authorities in 2016 and 2017. The motion also calls for a change to NAMA’s mandate to make it a vehicle for public and affordable housing, which should have been done from the outset but which now should be done today.
These much-needed measures need to be taken to bring a significant number of vacant properties into use as homes, which can supplement essential public house building.
We are now a year into the reign of the Taoiseach. The approach to the housing crisis demonstrated by his Government perfectly encapsulates its approach generally. There are two key elements and sides to the Government of Deputy Varadkar. On one side is a vicious, neoliberal, anti-working class policy that rhetorically demonises and economically attacks working class communities while, on the other, is an extensive spin operation to hide that reality. Housing sums this up. Plan after plan has been unveiled multiple times and to much fanfare. Each one has rested upon the idea of incentivising private developers or landlords to provide housing by funnelling more money in their direction and resolutely refuses to break with neoliberal ideology by investing in building public homes on public land, which has had the consequence of the housing crisis worsening daily. The response of the Government under the Taoiseach's chief ally, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not to resolve the housing crisis by reducing the number of people who are homeless through getting them into homes but instead to juke the statistics. It sums up the approach of the Government: neoliberalism on the one hand and, on the other, extensive spin to try to hide the reality of what is taking place. Unfortunately for the Government, people are living in this reality and they see right through the spin.
There are many different victims of the Government's policy of putting landlord and developer profits before people's need for housing but particular groups are more adversely affected. These include working class people, low-paid people, migrants, Travellers and women. However, I would like to focus on young people. The statistics from the most recent census are stark. In 1991, the age at which the majority of people were homeowners was 26; in 2016, it was 35. In 1991, the age at which two thirds were homeowners was 28; in 2016 that became 41. That census highlighted that more than 450,000 adults were living at home with parents as well as the massive increases in rents. These figures are significantly behind the current pace, with rent increases of approximately 60% over the past five years. Behind those statistics is a human tale of young people who are unable to access secure housing and who are living in precarious and insecure housing conditions with all the consequential impacts on physical and mental health, living conditions, working conditions and so on.
I will refer to a particular cohort of young people, which is students. Many thousands are doing their leaving certificate examinations today. In September and October, many will move on to third level education away from home. However, they are now facing a scenario where all the student accommodation under construction is being built by private developers and offered at full market rates. Student accommodation is increasingly unaffordable. There was the phenomenon of DCU students' union being forced to campaign against what was called the "Shanowen shakedown" in which the cost of student accommodation increased from €7,000 per year to €9,000 per year in one year.
A DIT campus survey shows that average rent is €541 per month for students, with many paying more. The figure last year was €508. The consequence of all of that, which DIT points to, is the phenomenon of commuter students - students travelling long distances because it makes economic sense - and all of the associated impacts in terms of their academic and college lives and the impact on the college and third level institutions as a whole. At the worst extreme, there is the growing phenomenon of students living in cars to access third level accommodation. These are the conditions into which they are being put. There is no alternative on offer.
What situation are they in after they finish third level or if, perhaps, they do not go on to third level? In most cases, because of the conditions of precarious work and low pay which the Government also encourages, they are trapped at home. They become part of that 500,000 young people who are trapped at home or perhaps, if they are lucky, they may be in a job that is paid well enough to allow them to get into the rented sector, where conditions are also precarious. They face all the consequences of the precarious nature of the private rental sector as a result of the policies pursued by the Government.
I would like to address a number of the myths that have been popularised in respect of these issues. When reference was made to forced emigration, the previous Taoiseach regularly used to talk about how young people enjoy travelling. He suggested that is why they were going abroad in the context of mass unemployment. We are now subject to a similar patronising view regarding people's living conditions and working conditions. It is suggested that young people do not mind being in precarious housing or precarious work. They are forced into this as a result of the policies of the Government and the free market system it defends. The other contemporary myth is the reports from daft.ieon rocketing rents year-on-year and month-on-month suggest are only a partial snapshot because in reality many people are accessing housing through social media and so on. Many young people are forced to access housing outside of the regular traditional channels and, because of the demand for housing, landlords do not feel the need to go through daft.ieor whatever. However, they capture the reality that rents are absolutely rocketing. That is a truth that cannot be denied and no one should attempt to hide behind that idea.
There is, however, an alternative. When we talk about social and affordable housing and public building programmes, we refer to programmes that are precisely aimed at catering for the needs of young people in their 20s and 30s and aimed at student accommodation, which should be publicly built. The mortgage and private ownership model is failing young people because capitalism, on the one hand, wants people to pay a massive price to access what should be a basic right to housing, while, on the other hand, it pays people less and gives them less for their work. The answer here is public housing.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann notes" and substitute the following:"— the very significant impact that the economic downturn had on housing supply and the construction industry, with housing construction falling by over 90 per cent between the peak in 2006 and the trough in 2013;
— that with the economy returning to significant and consistent growth, and with the unemployment rate at 5.8 per cent in May (its lowest since May 2008), a significant increase in the supply of new homes is needed;
— that, having regard to this, the Government has made the delivery of new homes across all tenures - social, affordable and private, a top priority through the development, resourcing and implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness;
— that the Government’s initial focus has been on delivering homes for households in the lowest income brackets, through the commitment of over €6 billion to deliver 50,000 new social housing homes by 2021, with eligible households also able to avail of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and other targeted programmes, with the aim of meeting the housing needs of over 137,000 households under the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan by the end of 2021;
— that almost 26,000 households had their social housing needs met in 2017, exceeding the target set by 23 per cent, and almost doubling the levels achieved in 2015;
— that the social housing construction programme included some 850 schemes (or phases), with 13,400 homes in the pipeline, at the end of 2017, almost 5,000 more than a year earlier;
— the 2018 target for all building programmes across local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) of 4,970 homes, more than 50 per cent higher than the 2017 target;
— the changes made to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, in 2015, which were designed to prioritise social housing provision on site, and maximise its contribution to increased social housing output and the creation of sustainable mixed-tenure communities across the country;
— the important contribution made by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) in the delivery of social housing, sourcing almost 2,500 houses and apartments for social housing use by local authorities and AHBs;
— the wide-ranging actions taken by Government to bring vacant or under-utilised properties back into use, particularly in the cities and large urban areas where housing demand is greatest;
— the establishment of a Vacant Homes Unit within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to drive and co-ordinate actions at central and local government levels and the funding and appointment of Vacant Homes Officers in local authorities to support action on the ground in identifying available properties in their area and assisting owners to bring them back into early use for social housing, private sale or rent, or where appropriate, using Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) and other powers;
— that a suite of measures is being implemented to facilitate increased residential construction activity and ensure the sector’s capacity to produce more affordable homes through, inter alia:— fast-track planning reforms and more flexible planning guidelines;— that the Government has also introduced targeted and time-bound measures to limit excessive rent increases (e.g. through Rent Pressure Zones), and to provide further protections and effective support services to both tenants and landlords;
— €200 million capital investment in enabling infrastructure to service/open up housing lands with proportionate affordability dividends for house purchasers; and
— the progression of large-scale mixed-tenure housing projects, with social, affordable and private housing, on publicly-owned lands;
— that, in Budget 2018, significant obstacles to building more homes more quickly were removed, by:— investing more capital funding in direct house-building by the State;— that these measures are having a positive impact, with all relevant indicators clearly showing that the supply-based measures under Rebuilding Ireland are working, with latest planning permissions and commencements data up 27 per cent and 23 per cent year-on-year respectively, and house scheme registrations up 35 per cent;
— removing the Capital Gains Tax incentive to hold on to residential land, as well as escalating penalties for land hoarding; and
— providing a new, more affordable finance vehicle for builders through House Building Finance Ireland (HBFI);
— that a new National Regeneration and Development Agency is being established under Project Ireland 2040 in line with the compact growth objective and targets in the National Planning Framework;
— the Government’s commitment to addressing the affordability pressures faced by some households, particularly low- and moderate-income households in the major urban centres, through:— the new Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, which provides long-term, fixed rate mortgages for first-time buyers;
— the imminent activation of a new Affordable Homes Scheme that will leverage affordable properties from publicly-owned lands;
— provision of at least €25 million infrastructure funding under the new Serviced Sites Fund, with a call for proposals to issue later this month, to deliver lower-cost affordable housing from local authority sites;
— the development of large-scale cost rental initiatives in Dublin to help deliver new homes at affordable levels; and
— new ‘Build to Rent’ and ‘co-living’ planning guidelines which will facilitate investment and innovative design of more rental accommodation at more affordable rents."
I thank the Deputies for the opportunity once again to debate this most important of issues. The motion and the countermotions speak to many different issues. Housing is after all a complex matter. I will use this opportunity to address what the Government is doing in this area. While it is a complex matter, supply is the most important aspect and, until supply hits the point at which it needs to be, controlling issues such as rent, protecting those who are most vulnerable and making sure that we have more than enough emergency accommodation available to the highest standards are equally as important.
This is not like clicking one's fingers. Deputy Murphy talked about ringing the alarm bell. The alarm bell was rung and it was heard. Rebuilding Ireland is the response to that, but as we build more homes we have to make sure that, as they are built, we do not make the mistakes of the past because we are building a home for a person's life and for at least 60 years. If one is going to build, one has to make sure that one avoids the mistakes we made in the past, including building where there is no demand for houses; building where there are no infrastructural connections or services; building where there are no local amenities; building in a way that is not compact spatially and which causes sprawl and all the additional problems that come with it; or building without considering that we are building more than just buildings, but communities as well. For that reason, mixed tenure will be important as we build into the future.
We have to build in the right way and that is a challenge even in the normal course of events. However, we did not experience normal course of events following the collapse of the economy and the construction sector in the years 2007 to 2011. Construction in the economy fell by 90%, and house prices fell by 50% and continued to fall into 2012. That is why we stood down the affordability scheme. In that year, and the years after, affordability was not an issue. Hundreds of thousands of people fell into negative equity. Many continue to be in negative equity, despite recent house price inflation. We are still 20% to 23% off the peak of house prices in the past and while the latest information is that house prices are increasing, there was a dramatic slowdown in the first quarter of this year.
If that trend continues, we will see single-digit inflation in the course of 2018. Employment in the construction sector had fallen by two thirds, with a legacy of 3,000 ghost estates. Local authorities were saddled with large land debts. This was the legacy that we inherited. It was what we had to turn around and it is what we are turning around.
In 2012, house affordability was not an issue. Negative equity and ghost estates were the issue. We needed social housing then but it had almost exclusively been outsourced to the private sector through the Part V process. That collapsed as well. Getting local authorities back into house building would take time but social house building, looking after the most vulnerable, was our first priority.
From almost a standing start with a very low base of delivery in 2013 and 2014, the Government increased the delivery of new-build social houses, with 664 having been built in 2016 and 2,297 last year. The number is expected to rise to 4,409 this year. This increase was because I took the decision last year to build 30% more in 2018 to expand supply rather than compete from existing supply for the new social housing homes. When one includes homes acquired on long-term leases, the figure rises to 7,900 new homes in 2018. I refer to real homes for real people.
Social housing is not delivered like it was 30 years ago. New technologies and new streams that complement each other are being used to deliver social housing homes into the stock of social housing and each home is a real home.
Almost 27,000 tenancies will be supported in 2018 through these new homes and through the housing assistance payment, HAP, and rental accommodation scheme. I would not have chosen to rely on HAP so much but, until new homes are built, we have to. Otherwise these people would have no homes. In 2020 and 2021, the final two years of Rebuilding Ireland, we will house more people in social housing homes than in the HAP-supported private rental sector. Therefore, we are progressively rebalancing the social housing stock back towards new-build homes - public housing delivered by the State.
By the end of the period of Rebuilding Ireland, 50,000 new homes — real homes – will have been added to the stock of social housing. This is thanks to an additional €0.5 billion that I secured last year, meaning we have a war chest of some €6 billion in taxpayers' money ring-fenced to build social housing directly as a State into the future. Under Project Ireland 2040, we will deliver almost 12,000 new social housing homes a year to 2027 at least.
This is what we are doing for social housing supply. One cannot spin these improvements negatively, even though people will try. We are going to double the number of new homes built this year. This is public money going into public housing. That is going to make a real difference for thousands of families, as it did last year and as it will again this year.
Vacancy is an important tool but it is not the low-hanging fruit people think it is. The repair and lease scheme, in its first iteration, is proof of that. The buy and renew scheme has proven more successful. People will say we have not got a strategy because we have not published it but, of course, if I did publish one, Members would then say I was just making announcements and not doing the actual work. The work is being done, however. There is a vacant homes unit in the Department and there are vacant homes officers and teams in local authorities. Vacanthomes.iehelps the public to identify potential vacant properties. There are new laws in place to tackle vacancy over the shop. There are new incentives to put vacant units back into use, and CPO powers are being used by local authorities. There are not 180,000 vacant homes to be put back into use, probably not even 10% of that number. We have, however, brought approximately 9,000 social council houses that were vacant back into use since 2014. All are homes for families and individuals to live in.
If the ESB figure is massively overstated in regard to new builds, it must be associated with vacant units coming back into use that were not connected for two years or more. Either way, it is new homes being brought back into supply.
Of course, social housing is only one part of the supply issue we face. Management of the existing stock is the other. The private market needs to be rebuilt also. Therefore, we have the new fast-track planning process, which has proven its worth over the past year, with almost 3,000 residential homes being approved through it. More than 3,000 student bed spaces were made available - that was only to April of this year. There are new guidelines to promote the building of more apartments - build-to-rent apartments in addition to co-living apartments.
We have LIHAF funding of €200 million to open up land banks to facilitate the delivery of 20,000 new homes by 2021. Home Building Finance Ireland will help small builders throughout the country to build developments with ten units or more. It will be announced very shortly having gone to Cabinet on Tuesday of this week. A new national development and regeneration agency will be established under Project Ireland 2040. The vacant site levy is in place. Last year, I doubled it for the beginning of next year, which will help with land hoarding. By the beginning of 2017 the labour force in construction had increased by least 14%. All these measures have helped to increase the supply of housing and they are working.
Planning permissions were up 27% in 2017 by comparison with 2016. Over 18,000 new homes were on site in the past 12 months, up 27% on the previous 12 months. There were just under 20,000 new electricity connections. Vacant or not, these are homes that were not being used by families or individuals but which have been used in the past 12 months. The Central Bank of Ireland is forecasting 23,000 new homes this year and 27,000 new homes next year. Registrations for larger schemes are up 41% on the previous 12 months from March 2017. These figures cannot be disputed. While there is a dispute over the actual build achieved in any given year, I did mandate work last year to make sure we could get a more accurate figure. That work will be completed very shortly.
The supply of social housing and private housing is increasing dramatically. When we consider rents and house prices, particularly in Dublin, affordability is a serious issue. It is a serious and genuine concern of the Government. The recent rent index for quarter one from the RTB is welcome. What we are seeing is a dramatic slowdown in rent price increases from one quarter to the next. There is 0.4% rent inflation nationally and 1% rent inflation in Dublin. It was 1.1% in the previous quarter. Perhaps more significantly, we saw a drop in rents in counties surrounding Dublin, namely Kildare, Meath and Wicklow.
In practical terms, the average rent for a house in Dublin rose by €1 in the past three months, while the average rent for an apartment in Dublin rose by approximately €18. Rents are still too high in almost every part of the country, but particularly in the cities and larger urban centres. The data show that rent pressure zones are working and we will continue to drive them, but they need to be strengthened. More legislation is coming to bring more transparency, accountability and affordability to the rental sector. That will be a central focus of my work over the coming weeks as we seek to strengthen rent pressure zones, the RTB and the rental sector in general.
A lot of progress has been made towards introducing the first cost-rental project of scale in one of our cities. Cost rental will become a major part of our rental landscape in the future. Of course, affordability still remains a big problem when buying, particularly in our cities. That is why, in the coming days, I will recommence the affordability Act in line with the commitment made at the beginning of the year. I issued a call to local authorities for local authority land for the serviced sites fund for affordable housing, which amounts to at least €25 million. It may be increased. This will work in tandem with the affordability commitments that have already been given for sites such as those at O'Devaney Gardens and Poolbeg. Affordability has already been achieved, as under the Ó Cualann model, between the State, through Dublin City Council, and an approved housing body. We are now going to do this at scale. These provisions will allow for the new affordable purchase scheme, which was also signalled earlier in the year. In this regard, we have identified land and finance for 4,000 affordable homes, with an additional 10,000 homes to come on local authority land alone.
In February of this year, I launched a new Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which is the new affordable home loan for first-time buyers to access 2% finance for 25 years, offering real certainty of mortgage repayments. It is estimated that this first tranche will provide 1,000 loans to give people who have deposits the opportunity to buy a home and who have been squeezed out of the market because of mortgage affordability. Over 50% of all applicants to date, including 61% of applicants in May 2018, are being approved for this new loan by the Housing Agency. It is worth noting that in the 12 months up to October last year, 67% of first-time buyers in the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway purchased their homes for less than €320,000. In the rest of the country, 90% of people purchase their homes for less than €250,000. Clearly, however, affordability is an issue in our larger cities. These measures will tackle it.
When it comes to people who are sleeping rough on our streets, even though the number is down 40% to just over 100 people, it is still too many. Words about supply and words about protections in the rental sector are cold comfort. We have increased our supports for outreach teams. Through the cold weather initiative, we dramatically increased the number of beds and successfully brought more people into the system. The system of emergency accommodation is operated to the highest standards with our partner NGO organisations, which operate it with taxpayer funding on behalf of the State. There are more than 9,000 people in emergency accommodation, including 1,700 or more families. That is a crisis. It is my first and highest priority. Two reports are imminent and will detail new policy responses that are needed. We will get a chance to debate them in the Oireachtas committee next week. There is still a significant number of families in hotels and B&Bs. One family is one too many. Last year, more than 2,000 families exited hotels and B&Bs, the majority into homes.
We have more than 500 family spaces under our new hub programme, with 450 more to come throughout the rest of the year. The time a family spends in a family hub is dramatically less than that spent in a hotel. Presentations in Dublin have stabilised, according to the Dublin authorities.
With regard to the motion, of course I recognise there is more work to do. If we are to be successful as an Oireachtas in improving what we are doing when we introduce legislation to improve and strengthen the rental sector, we have to recognise the great gains that have already been made while of course recognising there is more work to do.
I know that. I am assuming I will get the extra minute that the Minister got. Ar aon nós, what is occurring is actually quite disheartening. While I welcome aspects of the motion, I am puzzled somewhat as to why its proposers saw fit to vote against the Fianna Fáil motion on 17 May, which was establishing an affordable housing scheme based on the very parameters mentioned in this Private Members' motion. Having said that, there are aspects of the motion that I welcome and that I believe we could work with.
It is disheartening to come in here every couple of weeks to have more debates on housing, which is crucial. It is like ground-hog day. The Minister's contribution is not rooted in reality; it is rooted in fantasy.
Some Members spoke about obtaining private land by way of compulsory purchase order, CPO. That may be part of the solution in terms of using a stick to acquire vacant homes but the State is the most guilty party for not using State owned land. We have 3,008 ha of State owned land that can deliver 114,000 homes for people.
Earlier this week I visited Dublin Central with my colleague, Mary Fitzpatrick. We went to O'Devaney Gardens, which the Minister mentioned. It is a 14 acre prime urban site less than 1 km from O'Connell Street that is zoned and serviced for housing. It has all the facilities including a frequent bus service and a Luas service. It is within walking distance of Heuston Station and the Phoenix Park on the way into town. In December 2016, the Government promised €17.9 million to build 56 units on a site that used to accommodate more than 600 families. In 2016, the Government said that this was the most important housing development in the country. In 2016, O'Devaney Gardens was the most important housing development in Rebuilding Ireland. It was to be the Government's flagship housing development under its much quoted Rebuilding Ireland. When I visited this week with Mary Fitzpatrick, more than two years on from the announcement made by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister's predecessor, the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, there were no new homes, no children playing, no builders, no diggers, no hoarding and no construction. There was nothing.
Down the road from that the Magdalen laundry site in Sean MacDermott Street is another example of the State's lack of commitment and ambition to deliver affordable homes. It is a 2 acre site less than half a kilometre from O'Connell Street which transferred from private ownership to the State as a form of compensation. What is happening with it now? Dublin City Council, DCC, is proposing to sell this valuable State owned land which is zoned and serviced for housing because the Government has failed to provide an affordable housing scheme.
The day after I moved our motion on establishing an affordable housing scheme on 17 May, the Minister came into the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and said he would commence an affordable housing scheme. He has said again that he will do that but when will he do it? When will the regulations come in? How long will we have to wait?
I visited another part of Dublin, Ballymun, recently with a colleague of mine, Councillor Paul McAuliffe. The Minister mentioned Ó Cualann. I met with representatives of Ó Cualann and saw vast acres of other serviced land owned by the State that is not developed. More than 700 homes were to be built on the Oscar Traynor Road site in Santry but what have we done? We have asked for expressions of interest but there has not been any building on the site.
When we came back into Dublin Central Mary Fitzpatrick showed me State owned property. I want to deal with that element when we talk about refurbishment and putting accommodation back in. I went to Constitution Hill flats, St. Mary's Place on Dorset Street, Matt Talbot Court in Summerhill, St. Finbarr's Court in Cabra and Dominick Street flats, all of which began to be de-tenanted about ten years ago for refurbishment. The city council tells me it has not been given any money from central Government to refurbish those properties. I saw hundreds of units boarded up on Monday of this week. I saw ten, 12 or 14 apartments boarded up on the first floor. On the second floor I met families whose adult children and their grandchildren are living in those flats while walking past empty units owned by the State that we can control and do something about that. It beggars belief that we are here talking about this issue again when we cannot even get our act together in terms of the properties we own. It is a scandal.
We went to the Herbert Simms designed flats in Chancery House, which are in a brilliant location and fully serviced. The council staff came up and repainted them but has the Minister seen the state of the inside of the flats? I met families who are dealing with condensation, and we are doing nothing about that.
The purpose of this motion, which I welcome and to which I have tabled an amendment on behalf of my party, is to get something moving on this issue because nothing is happening. The Minister's contribution earlier was not grounded in fact. It was absolute fantasy. He said the social and affordable housing supply is being dramatically increased. Is he kidding me? We built 396 houses last year and he bought the rest. We are failing on this issue. We need to work together as an Oireachtas to start building homes and stop people falling into homelessness.
In the few words to us earlier, the Minister said there was more to building these houses than clicking one's fingers. I suggest he should be clicking his fingers. He should be getting those houses built. There is absolutely nothing happening in that regard.
Since coming into power, the Government has launched Construction 2020, a Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector, the Social Housing Strategy 2020, Rebuilding Ireland 2016 and the 2012, 2015 and 2018 plans. Apart from that, there were six separate plans excluding the other numerous relaunches. That was what the Strategic Communications Unit, SCU, was up to. It was trying to give the people the impression that the Minister was doing something about this issue and it worked with some.
People are in crisis, not only in the city but throughout this country. I will give the Minister an example from my constituency of a widow who gets up early in the morning and works five days a week. She has a son in college and a girl in secondary school. She has an income of €26,000. She cannot qualify for council housing or a loan. She is being hopped around renting accommodation and when the landlord feels like it, she is pushed out of it. What is happening to people up and down this country is disgraceful. It is a shame, yet nothing constructive is being done about it.
The Minister brought forward a package of measures last January to address the question of affordability. However, the package is entirely empty. Three schemes were announced but it is a case of reheating old promises and delivering nothing new. We had the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, the affordable purchase scheme and the affordable rent scheme; I could go on.
The Minister, and the Taoiseach, have failed on this issue. They should get to grips with it and stop blaming what happened with Fianna Fáil at the time of the collapse of the economy. He should remember that most of his people at the time were complaining that we were not doing enough in terms of planning decisions and building more houses. He only has to read the Official Report in that regard.
I thank Solidarity-People Before Profit for bringing forward this motion and I thank Deputy Darragh O'Brien for the work he has done. We know what is happening. Rent prices are out of control. That is the case across my county of Wexford, whether it is Enniscorthy, Gorey, Wexford town or New Ross. In particular, vulnerable people - older people, single people and carers - are being priced out of the market. Housing prices are ballooning. Ordinary people are priced out of the market and working families cannot afford to buy a home. We were warned in 2012 that this would happen. When I was a candidate in the county council election in 2014 I was told by Government councillors to stop complaining, that it takes a year or two to build houses and that it would be done. It is now 2018 and houses are still not being built.
I want to address three bugbears of mine, one of which is the family income supplement, FIS. If someone wants to go on the housing list, FIS is deemed as an income and therefore many families are over the threshold and cannot get on the housing list. For someone who wants to get a council mortgage, FIS is deemed as a social welfare support and they cannot get a council mortgage. The Government should make up its mind up one way or the other. Is it income or a social welfare support?
On the mobility adaption grant, €6,000 was the maximum amount available. That was fine up to about two years ago in that if a bathroom needed to be adapted for someone with a disability they would get quotes for about €8,000. Those quotes are coming in now at €16,000 and €18,000. Unfortunately, that is the going rate, and engineers will say that. If a bathroom needs to be adapted for someone with dementia and their carer is on an invalidity pension, that €10,000 of a difference may as well be €1 million. They cannot get it. I ask the Minister to consider increasing the €6,000 maximum amount. He might put it as a percentage similar to the housing adaption grant.
There is a lack of apprenticeships. We also need to allow apprentices increase their skills. I refer to having four men and four women in centres. Upskilling is vitally important. The market is failing. That needs to be addressed, but the Minister needs to step up to the mark.
I have already spoken many times in the House on the issues of housing, homelessness, ever-increasing rents, social housing waiting lists and the inability of ordinary people to purchase a house of their own. That is nothing short of a disaster. I note the Taoiseach's comments on homelessness in Ireland being low by international standards. However, even if one person is homeless, that is one person too many.
In west Cork, homelessness is not a major problem but that is because three and sometimes four generations are living together in a house, which leads to its own problems.
People looking for houses in west Cork have a huge problem. Rents are spiralling out of control, particularly in urban areas, and rent now consumes a huge proportion of take-home pay. This is not sustainable. People on the social housing list are reliant on the choice-based letting system. They go online week after week to no avail. Often there are no properties available.
In addition to those who find themselves caught in the aforementioned circumstances, I wish to speak about a constituent I am helping. He unexpectedly finds himself caring for his extremely ill wife. The couple have a substantial mortgage and they are at serious risk of losing their home but they simply cannot keep up with the mortgage payments. The banks are unwilling to renegotiate in any significant way.
Fianna Fáil will set out amendments to this motion, following our motion some weeks ago. Meaningful action must be taken on this matter immediately. It is time to forget about the Government's spin and rhetoric, at which it is very good. If it was half as good at providing houses we would not be speaking about this issue today. It is time to make houses available and to enact progressive policy that will alleviate the massive problem many of my constituents are experiencing. The Government is currently sleepwalking through this problem.
The Minister is codding himself if he believes his efforts and those of his Department are working. He certainly is not codding people on the ever increasing and expanding housing lists. There is a deplorable record in providing social housing units. The lack of affordable private housing is pushing an increasing number of people onto the housing lists and into homelessness. According to the latest figures for Louth, there were 124 people in emergency accommodation in April. In addition, the current high price of housing reflects a substantial shortage of housing units. Irish building firms are engaged in building large apartment blocks for international fund management companies as the return on investment is high owing to increased rent year on year. Until our indigenous building firms go back to providing affordable housing, with the backing of the State-owned banks, we will not see an increase in the number of houses available for purchase by the ordinary, hard-working people of the country.
While the Taoiseach has lauded my local authority, Louth County Council, for its record with compulsory purchase orders and bringing vacant units back into use, there are still 4,506 families on Louth County Council's housing list seeking housing. That is a total of people on the housing list and people availing of HAP. Louth County Council is proposing to build 850 housing units over a three-year period. When one calculates the housing waiting list figures per annum one quickly discovers that where the period of waiting on the housing list used to be eight to ten years in Louth, people going on that housing list today will be waiting for 16 years. If the Minister calls that progress he is codding himself. This is a crisis and we must deal with it immediately.
Housing policy is one of the key areas where the Government has a direct impact on the lives of the people. The opportunity to live in a family home, where one has protections and rights, has been a fundamental right in our society for generations. A Government that does not honour this fundamental right will ultimately fail its people. By any yardstick, the past two Fine Gael-led Governments have failed the people in terms of the provision of a working housing policy. Families are suffering as a result.
The Minister has a responsibility to create a number of housing options but he has failed to do so. He has a responsibility to create a social housing policy that can be implemented by local authorities whereby low-income families can get a house appropriate to their needs at a rent appropriate to their income. This has not happened. Our local housing authorities, the county councils, have been turned into a giant administrative bureaucracy to distribute money from the Government to the private rental sector. Couples whose incomes are not high enough to allow them to engage with the retail banks have been offered Rebuilding Ireland, which is so badly funded and full of so much red tape it will never address the housing needs of the specific demographic for which it was intended. Worse still, it is sending those young couples to a lifetime of housing uncertainty in the private rental sector. Couples whose incomes allow them to source a mortgage with the high street banks are at the mercy of an inflated market, due to the lack of housing supply. The Government must accept full responsibility for that.
The final failure of this Government's housing policy is the manner in which it has allowed the banks to ride roughshod over families in mortgage arrears. The banks have no plan other than repossession or to sell distressed mortgages at a knock-down price to the vulture funds. The same banks trousered billions of euro from the bailout provided to them by Irish taxpayers a few short years ago.
The Minister said that this is a complex issue that requires many different solutions. I listened attentively to the Minister when he was making his contribution and I would appreciate if he reciprocated rather than playing with his telephone and taking notes. I ask the Minister to examine two matters.
One matter is the improvement work in lieu of housing programme. This applied to families who had inherited a property from a family member but the property was not fit to live in. The local authority would do up the house, the family on the housing list would occupy it and over a period of five, ten, 15 or 20 years they would repay the money that was spent on refurbishing the house. That solved a problem for that family. To my knowledge that scheme has been dormant for at least eight years. I ask the Minister to reintroduce it immediately as it would get a number of families off the list, particularly in my constituency.
The second issue is that, according to the latest local property tax register, there are over 400 estates where property tax is not being paid because they are unfinished and require work to be done on them. There are probably a number of unoccupied properties in all those estates. My low-water estimate is that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 houses in the country that have been built but have yet to be occupied. A small level of investment would put those properties on the market. It is another area where the Minister could get people off the housing list. The properties are tied up in NAMA, the banks and in distressed mortgages. I ask the Minister to establish a specific task force in each county to assess the number of those properties and get them occupied immediately.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this proposal. Of course, we are all aware that supply is key. We are waiting for it to come into the market and that is a major problem. It is slow, and we must acknowledge that. If we do, we can try to work together to make it happen more quickly. However, there are issues we can deal with immediately. I have been in contact with the Minister's office on a number of them.
The HAP and rent supplement payments are causing homelessness. The Minister said that rents have increased by 0.4% in Kildare. The problem is that the rent for a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Kildare is €1,500 and the HAP payment for the family unit to accommodate the house is approximately €1,250, so there is a gap. The family has a choice, either to remain homeless or to get supports from their family to acquire the house. When they bring the letters of guarantee from family members to support them in getting off the street they are not accepted by the local authority under the Department's guidelines. That means they remain homeless. These are issues that could be dealt with immediately to help people in the short term to move from homelessness into a temporary home.
We know people on the social housing lists are not being offered houses because there are few available. However, what about people who do not qualify to go on the social housing list? They are marginally outside it because of means. They are in no man's land. They want to provide for themselves but they are unable to access credit or funds to purchase a house. The home loan the Minister mentioned is not working. Statistics show there is a very slow uptake of it and very few approvals.
Development of local authority land is key. The local authorities own large landbanks in my county and other counties that could help to deliver affordable housing. The local authorities already own the land and the Government could borrow on the European markets at a little over 0%. That would contribute to bringing down the cost of the houses.
I wish to make a final point. The reason the private sector is slow is because of the planning process, which the Minister suggests is helping and fast-tracking it.
I have spoken to people in the private sector and if they are applying to An Bord Pleanála for more than 100 units it is taking 14 months from start to finish. I can prove that and give the Minister the statistics to back it up. They are also having difficulty accessing credit.
The Minister knows that LIHAF is slow and not working. He knows it is not providing the funding for the land that needs to be opened up for development. We have proof of that in my constituency of Kildare North and it is true nationally. It is not working and not delivering at the rate intended.
I will share time with Deputies Tóibín and Adams.
I warmly welcome the People Before Profit motion, which we are enthusiastically supporting.
I am running out of adjectives to describe the Minister's speeches to the House. I do not say that to be in any way personal. The gap between what the Minister is telling us week in and week out and the reality we are all experiencing in our constituencies is growing ever greater. Let us consider his record. Homelessness has increased consistently since he took office. Child homelessness has increased by a shocking 27% while pensioner homelessness has increased by a shocking 32%.
The Minister is wrong in his interpretation of the RTB figures. The board does not agree with him, based on its presentation to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government yesterday. Throughout the State rents have increased by 7.1% in the past year. In Dublin, they have increased by 7.8% in the past year. The 4% cap that applies to Dublin, Galway, Cork, etc. is, therefore, not working. There is no evidence for the Minister to base his comments on quarterly interpretations. The rent cap applies for a year and those caps are being breached right across the country, either because the exemptions are too generous or because people are breaking the rules. The Minister is due to bring legislation before the House which we will support because it will give the RTB more powers of enforcement. However, the Minister would do himself and the rest of us a favour if he correctly interpreted his own agency's figures.
While we can dispute the figures, I accept there is an increase in housing supply, but it is not reducing cost. There is no evidence that prices for houses in high-demand areas are reducing. How many affordable homes has the Minister or his predecessor delivered through Government schemes in two years? The answer is "zero". I do not dispute that the supply of social housing is increasing, but the rate remains glacial. Funding is not sufficient, bureaucracy is still far too great and there is a chronic over-reliance on the private sector to the tune of 70% of social housing delivery over the course of the Government's plan - those are the Minister's figures, not mine. The Minister will be 12 months in office tomorrow and circumstances are much worse for thousands of families now.
I wish to focus on one of the important parts of the motion, which is vacant homes. It has slightly slipped off our radar in housing discussions, which is a mistake. The first line on the Rebuilding Ireland website refers to 183,000 vacant homes, according to the CSO. I accept the Minister is right; there are not 183,000 vacant homes. GeoDirectory has put the figure at 96,000 and the Minister has said it might be only 10% of the original figure, which would be 18,000. We do not know how many, but we know there are a lot.
How many homes has the Government brought back into use from that stock? Based on the reply to the most recent parliamentary question, we know through repair and leasing the number of tenancies created is nine. We know that from build and renew the total is approximately 70. Of the purchases from the Housing Agency, it is about 400. This means that less than 500 homes from the 18,000, 96,000 or 183,000 have been brought into play in the past two years. Those statistics speak volumes about the Government's failure.
The Minister is also disingenuous to suggest that we are wrong to criticise him for not publishing the strategy. His predecessor, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, had it almost finished. It was on the Minister's desk. We all made submissions with constructive suggestions, but we have never seen it. I suspect we have never seen it because if the Minister published a strategy, we could then hold him to account for his failure to implement it.
We need to see clear targets for every local authority to bring vacant homes back into use, whatever the number. We need dedicated officers in every local authority. Some have them; some do not but they are required. We need a register of vacant properties held by local authorities so that people know the number of properties in their area and clear action plans with greater funding than has been provided to date. We also need a vacant-home tax for those, including banks, who have been wilfully and speculatively sitting on vacant properties and not to punish families in the fair deal scheme or stuck in probate.
I fully support the proposal to increase the Part V requirements. I fully support the critique and proposed changes to LIHAF. I warmly welcome the renewed call to amend the NAMA mandate. Without those changes, we will never achieve the level of affordability required. I support the motion and I urge the Minister to at least publish the strategy on vacant homes he claims to have so that we can start to see if it is delivering anything.
A home is pivotal for the well-being of a family. When people are without a secure home, everything else can fall apart. Physical and mental health, nutrition, education, relationships and work all suffer. There is no greater way to rob opportunity or steal a child's future than to make that child homeless. The Government is in large part the architect of the housing crisis. For years Fine Gael has been allergic to State investment in housing. Fine Gael has radically distorted the housing market by the introduction of unfair tax incentives to vulture funds and to international landlords. Of course, for years Fine Gael has had a policy of inertia when it comes to dealing with landowners sitting on vacant properties.
However, it gets worse. In the middle of the most grievous housing crisis in generations, the Government is one of the largest owners of vacant properties, and is doing precious little to resolve it. Three years ago I tabled a parliamentary question to all Departments and State agencies. I discovered that they are presiding over thousands of acres of vacant land and buildings totalling 155,000 sq. ft owned by the Government were standing idle. These are not lands owned by NAMA or other development agencies. These are just Departments sitting on land and doing nothing about it.
An example of that is the folly of Thornton Hall, a 150-acre site right beside the M50 bought in 2005 for €50 million. The reply to the parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that that land us being used for the production of potatoes. That shows exactly where the Government is with regard to this crisis.
In recent weeks, I tabled another parliamentary question to get an update on those buildings. The vast majority of those that were standing idle three years ago are still idle today under Government ownership. They are vacant, empty and derelict, just like this Government.
I commend and thank People Before Profit for tabling this timely motion. The Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led governments of recent decades have contributed to the worst housing crisis in decades. Some 10,000 citizens are in emergency accommodation, homelessness among pensioners is on the increase, and a total of 3,689 children are homeless. Child homelessness has increased by 7% under Fine Gael-led governments. Almost 150,000 people are on waiting lists with thousands more, including students, paying unaffordable rents. Yesterday the RTB confirmed rents are still increasing and have reached new peaks. Behind these statistics, families struggling to keep a roof over their heads are desperately trying to put together the money to find a home they can afford.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Taoiseach's first year in office. Earlier today he listed his successes. He did not - he could not - include the provision of homes for citizens. The stresses and strains on tens of thousands of families are enormous. Everyone should have the right to a home. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge, níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. An internal memo to the HSE psychiatric teams in Dublin published by The Irish Timeswarned of the increasing numbers of young women with children taking their own lives as a result of the stresses of homelessness.
Yesterday, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, described this crisis as a shame. It is the Government's shame and also the shame of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, whose one year in office has been marked by abject failure in respect this issue. The Government has failed to tackle the housing crisis at any level, failed to produce a review of the Rebuilding Ireland policy, failed to produce a vacant homes strategy and is failing to build the social homes that are urgently required. The number of social houses to be delivered this year will be lower than last year.
The purpose of this motion is to set out a plan to bring vacant homes back into use. In my constituency, Louth County Council has rightly acquired vacant homes through compulsory purchase orders, on which I commend it. The Government promised to bring forward a vacant homes strategy but ten months later there is still not sign of it. There are currently 124 people in emergency accommodation in Louth. Approximately 8% of houses in Louth council areas are vacant. A vacant home strategy, properly resourced and financed, could make a significant contribution towards ending the scourge of homelessness in Dublin, Louth and many other local authority areas. When will the Minister publish the vacant homes strategy?
I commend this motion to the House and I ask Teachtaí Dála to support it.
I too commend Solidarity-People Before Profit on bringing forward this motion, which is well drafted and contains a lot of interesting detail. The Labour Party supports the motion. Almost every week when debating Private Members' motions, I and others have mentioned the land in State ownership on which social and affordable houses could be built immediately . I have often mentioned that there are over 700 sites in public ownership. The motion states that there are 1,317 hectares of zoned residential land with a capacity for 48,724 dwellings. As we speak, Government policy is to use most of that land for private development for private profit. Only a fraction of these sites are to be used for social and affordable housing. There is a fundamental difference between the policy of Government in regard to this valuable land in State ownership and the views of members on this side of the House. As we speak, these sites are being parcelled out for profit.
We have heard previously from the Minister that this is about mixed tenure. Social and affordable housing is mixed tenure. People who are buying or renting affordable homes are people who have jobs but earning low to middle incomes, which is valuable mixed tenure. We need to provide homes for those people who are being priced out of the purchase market, because they cannot afford deposits or obtain mortgages, and rental market, as a result of rent hikes. It is urgent that the Minister listens to what people have to say and also that this particular part of the motion becomes public policy.
Many of us were at the meeting earlier with the representatives of St. Michael's Estate who are arguing for a piece of land in their area to be utilised in this way. What is happening is a shame. The owners of the private sites are sitting on them waiting for them to rise in value so they can make more profit at a later stage and at the same time jumping into the publicly owned sites to make profit right now. This is unacceptable. The Government needs to address land hoarding via the types of measures many of us have put forward. The Labour Party has specifically argued for implementation of the Kenny report, which would deter land hoarding, and for the vacant sites levy to be brought forward and increased. It is wrong that public land is being used for private profit while at the time those who own private land are sitting on it. In my opinion, this is the most important issue.
Others have spoken about the need for measures in regard to vacant homes, of which there are approximately 183,000. I recently tabled some parliamentary questions on the number of vacant home officers that are in place in local authorities. As I understand it, the staff engaged in this work also perform other duties within the council. In other words, vacant home officers are staff already working in the housing section of the council who are assigned this work on top of other duties. What is proposed in the motion, which I support, is the appointment of staff whose specific job it would be to identify vacant homes in their electoral areas, to find out the reason they are vacant and to go after them by applying, if necessary, a vacant homes tax or utilising compulsory purchase orders. This has been working well in Britain. There are models that are effective. It is a sop to the idea of vacant homes officers that we are giving this duty to staff in local authorities who are already overburdened with work. There are many vacant homes. The voids scheme, which I commenced during my time as Minister, is delivering local authority vacant homes. Given the scale of the current housing problem, we now need to take ownership of privately-owned vacant homes so that people can live in them.
Others mentioned rent increases. As I have mentioned previously, Limerick is outside the rent pressure zone, as, I think, is the area represented by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, yet there was a 10% increase in rents in Limerick last year, which is much higher than the average increase nationally. Earlier this week, the issue of amending the Residential Tenancies Board legislation with a view to broadening out rent pressure zones to areas smaller than local electoral areas was discussed by the relevant committee. The current provision is unfair in a situation whereby a local electoral area includes rural as well as suburban areas. In this situation, the suburban area where people are paying above the national average is deemed a rent pressure zone but the entire area is not. I plead with the Minister examine this when reviewing the rent pressure zones.
The Labour Party has advocated for a change to NAMA's mandate, which I am sure will require legislative change. I was in the House when the NAMA legislation was brought forward by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. I remember a former Minister of State, Ciarán Cuffe, speaking on it and saying that NAMA also had a social mandate. NAMA's economic mandate has superseded its social mandate and the only way to change this is to change the legislation and give it a stronger social mandate. The economic problem it was designed to solve is pretty much, in economic terms, solved but the social problem is not and this needs to be addressed.
Local authorities in Dublin cannot afford to buy Part V homes because, at the market rate less a set percentage, the cost is too high. The proposal that the transfer of land would be preferable to the transfer of homes is an interesting one. In that situation, the council presumably could build cheaper on the land. It is worth looking at. Currently, when developers transfer houses they tend to transfer a small corner of a development such that it is easy to distinguish between social and private houses. I would not like to worsen that situation because it would be even more obvious which are the social houses and which are the private houses. Ideally, under Part V the social houses should be spread throughout developments but the reality is that they are not. There is a real problem with the cost of Part V housing. I recently met some Labour Party councillors from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown who gave me costings for social housing in the area, which was more than what it would have cost the council to build on its own land. This problem is well identified in the motion.
I again commend Solidarity-People Before Profit on bringing forward the motion. I hope the response will be positive. We have all been critical of the Minister, and rightly so. What we want is a positive response to what we are proposing in good faith. I hope our comments will be listened to in a genuine manner and taken on board by Government.
I support the motion tabled by People Before Profit, acknowledging that it highlights a specific aspect of the empty homes and sites and seeks strategically to place teams in each local authority as a national approach to bringing these empty homes into local authority housing schemes. Fundamentals must be dealt with in this housing crisis and emergency. The Government needs to provide adequate, well-built, secure and well-supported estates with amenities and services. If this Government continues to rely on developers to deliver the crumbs off their profitable tables the crisis will continue.
The UN rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, who was hosted here on Monday by Threshold and Simon, said the housing crisis is a global phenomenon primarily because of unregulated real estate speculation and commodification making housing unaffordable even for the middle classes. She said that in developed and developing countries, people are being displaced from their communities. She gives three reasons for this: national governments have receded from the arena of social housing and social protection; the unprecedented amount of wealth being parked in real estate and the global financial crisis that allowed the predatory buying up of bad debt and hedging, waiting for that bad debt to become lucrative. She said we must step back and ask how we view housing, as a commodity, something traded and sold on stock markets or as a human right. She said it should not be viewed as something to be traded on the stock market like gold, steel or wheat but as a human right. It is enshrined in international human rights law. Ireland has ratified and signed that law and committed to this human right.
Even if the Government uses private developers to build some social housing, they should be regulated to comply with human rights legislation but they are not. It is an ideological issue for the Government not to use public lands for public housing. St. Michael's Estate offers a great opportunity for a pilot scheme. I again suggest the Government needs to look in that direction, support that initiative and provide the capital funding in the budget for 2019 to support the scheme with a view to developing it.
We have two official languages in this country, Irish and English, but we seem to have a third language, one of denial that there is a housing crisis and of the solutions being put forward. Those of us on this side of the House are told we are negative. I have no hesitation in supporting this motion. Great thought has gone into it. The proposers have analysed the problem and put forward solutions, as we have all done since the day we were elected. If the Minister of State does nothing else he might please read the motion and tell me which part he finds objectionable. It is not based on ideology but makes very practical suggestions.
I have said repeatedly in this Chamber that I come from a city where the housing crisis is worse than in Dublin. I know of somebody who has finally been offered a house but he has been on the waiting list since January 2002, that is, for 16 years. This year and next, 14 houses will be built in Galway. The last house built for social housing was built in 2009. I live in a city where there is no master plan. There are public lands in Ceannt Station, the docks and elsewhere and we are leaving it to developers all over again. The senior Minister agreed with me when I raised this at Leaders' Questions and said we need a master plan. There is no master plan in Galway city.
This is not a natural disaster, this is a Government-made disaster caused by specific policies, including those of the previous Labour-Fine Gael Government. It made the most fundamental change in housing policy when it said housing support was now a house. That was an utter twist of language. It is difficult enough to understand the complexity of our attitude to the Irish language but in respect of the language around housing, my mind boggles to think that housing support is now regarded as a social house.
Members are here every week, not to be negative but to use our voices to tell the Government that there is a housing crisis that is now an emergency. If the Government does not declare an emergency, we cannot come up with proper solutions. Fianna Fáil has a golden opportunity. I find myself in agreement with it on certain issues but not on this one. This is the time for it to say it will not support Government policy and to support this motion.
I am delighted to have this brief opportunity to strongly support the initiative of Deputies Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny and Bríd Smith in bringing this motion before the Dáil and in such a timely manner. A couple of weeks ago, I told the Tánaiste that according to the homelessness report of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, almost 6,000 adults and 3,700 children are homeless and of these, more than 4,000 homeless adults and almost 3,000 homeless children were based in the four Dublin local authority areas. There are up to 40,000 households on the Dublin housing waiting list. The Dublin Bay North constituency is the worst affected in the country by homelessness and long housing lists.
People are pushed into homelessness by greedy landlords looking to cash in on the extortionate rents being charged in cities around the country, by greedy developers who are building homes to cater for landlords and by a small minority of flush professional first-time buyers, but most of all by the Government and its complete and utter inaction on this crisis or on putting the welfare of those 3,700 children ahead of the profit margins of landlords and developers. The Government's over-reliance on the private market and landlords is not working but the Taoiseach and the rest of the Minister of State's colleagues do not seem to care. They seem to think that this affects such a small number of people, relatively speaking, that they can waltz through the general election without worrying too much about this. It will, however, be a major stumbling block to the Minister of State's re-election and that of many of his colleagues.
I do not know how many more times colleagues on these benches will implore the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to declare a housing emergency and use emergency powers to compulsorily purchase or lease vacant properties, to build on local authority, or where necessary, private, lands and to reduce rents to affordable levels by imposing serious rent controls linked to the consumer price index, CPI, not the pathetic controls introduced by the last Government and continued by the present Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is simple economics in that developers and landowners are withholding supply to push up prices, as they always have done. Due to the lack of affordable rental properties, many households are living in dangerous and overcrowded accommodation. The rental market has become so competitive that there is little hope for people on low incomes or in receipt of State housing supports to acquire such properties. We need a major change of policy in this regard. The motion before us sets out a well-thought out roadmap for how we could achieve a sustainable housing market. We discussed this a few minutes ago at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The delegation from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which was before the committee said that there are exemplars in other European countries but they have different land use policies which we do not have and which we badly need.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on housing again in the Chamber. I raised the matter of rural cottages and demountable homes with the Taoiseach over a week ago and the man had not a clue what I was talking about. I do not blame him. He is from Dublin and does not know what is happening or is needed in rural Ireland.
Rural cottages have been a way of life in rural Ireland for years, longer than I can remember, since the 1960s. The person provided the site to the local authority, which built the house for them where they could farm their own land. When they got on their feet, they bought the house back from the local authority.
Between 2016 and 2021, ten rural cottages will be built in County Kerry. There are more than 37 applications but the applicants are being told that they are too far away, it will take too long and the local authority may get them a house in town. These people are providing the site and if the Government has the money and cannot build these rural cottages, I do not know what is wrong with it. If it does not have the money it should tell us because we hear the stories of homelessness in urban areas such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick and other places. Maybe the Government does not have the money but it should tell us if it does not. People will understand that. Ten rural cottages in Kerry is not enough in five years between 2016 and 2021.
Then there are demountable homes. The Taoiseach did not know about these homes, which are vital in rural areas. A mobile home is brought in and the person is able to stay on the land where he or she was born, bred and reared. A circular was sent out to the local authorities saying that a demountable home could only be provided if a person's existing home was burned down or flooded. The Minister has to get a hold of this. I am taking up the time of someone else but this is very wrong and the Minister of State will have to look into it.
I thank the proposers of this motion. I wish to refer to the tenant purchase scheme. Every week for five years I asked the Taoiseach to introduce such a scheme. He, and the Government at the time, brought in a scheme which debars 80% of people from the opportunity to purchase their local authority house. People may have the money. If, however, a person's house is valued at €40,000, €60,000, €70,000 or €80,000 and even if he or she can prove he or she can pay for it outright - from retirement money or life savings in a bank account - he or she cannot purchase it if he or she is not in full-time employment. I ask that this be changed. It does not make sense. It is outrageous to debar 80% of people. If people are on pensions or other social protection payments, such as disability allowance or unemployment benefit, they are automatically debarred. That is an outrageous. If they can have the capacity to pay, they should be allowed to do so.
I support the call to allow single rural cottages to be built, and also that relating to demountable buildings. The Taoiseach was completely confused by the latter last week or the week before. He was looking up at the sky and did not have a clue what a demountable unit is. He had never heard of such a thing. He thought it was something from outer space. It had to be explained to him. I hope he has learned what it is in the meantime because many people in rural Ireland lived in them very happily for a long time. Thanks be to God they were not relying on the Taoiseach to provide them. He would not have been able to do so because he did not know what they were. I want to ensure that they will be provided in the future.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on housing. I thank Solidarity-People Before Profit for bringing forward this motion. We need immediate action to tackle this problem. The majority of those becoming homeless are in the private rental sector. I refer to huge numbers of my constituents from Bandon, Kilbrittain, Ballinspittle, Ballinadee, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Leap and Goleen. The list is endless. People are unable to get on the property ladder and have to resort to paying huge rents. It has nearly come to the point that renting is more expensive than paying a monthly mortgage.
Why are we not doing more to encourage people to afford and own their own homes? During the negotiations relating to A Programme for a Partnership Government, we discussed a rural resettlement scheme. Depopulation is a worrying trend in rural communities. They do not stand still - they either develop or decline. As the housing crisis in our towns and cities worsens, there has never been a better time to promote rural resettlement. This scheme has been rolled out in County Clare and elsewhere. Can the scheme be applied to west Cork? I refer to areas such as Ballineen, Drinagh, Drimoleague, Curragh, Ballydehob, Crookhaven and Durrus. That is to name only a few of the areas affected by diminishing populations. We have seen the closure of schools, post offices, Garda stations and local businesses and we need to take action to bring people into these areas. Most of them have wonderful community playgrounds and community centres. Let us promote what these areas have to offer, encourage people to live in them areas and ensure that they can afford to do so.
There needs to be a plan put in place to source and build affordable housing in rural communities. That would enable urban-based families to move to rural areas through a resettlement scheme. The benefits of country living are endless. Those living in small rural communities tend to have a strong sense of identity and a pride of place. Children would be able to attend rural primary schools where everyone knows each other and class sizes are small. That would also promote the importance of keeping schools open in rural areas such as those in west Cork. Rural resettlement needs to be explored and promoted. It is time that the Government listened and took real action.
Young couples are also seeking planning permission. I see that the length and breadth of my own constituency. Everything - every fence and ditch - is put in people's way. It prevents them from getting planning permission, forces them onto the social housing list and gives them no other choice. We find out now that it is an absolute nightmare for people in my constituency to get money from the new Rebuilding Ireland loans scheme, which was supposed to cure all problems. I was convinced or fooled and I advised people, through my constituency office, to make sure to go for these loans. Hardworking young people are trying to make a start and they are finding out now that over 50% of them cannot get the money in the first instance.
We are conning people continuously. It is either through planning permission or through false promises of council housing or social housing coming on stream. They are being let down repeatedly by this Minister of State. He has to stand up here for once and tell the truth. The Government is not acting on behalf of the people, whether that is in a rural resettlement scheme or the planning permission to give people a home to start off their life in. They are being continuously let down by this Government. It has turned its back on them. It cannot continue to do that. I ask the Minister of State to stand by the people and do something for them. He should not to go down the road of fooling them with new loan schemes that are not there. The loans in question are certainly not available to the people I represent.
Another week in the Dáil and there is another plea from the Opposition for the Government to tackle the worsening housing and homelessness crisis. There is little I can say today that I have not said before. The Government's housing strategy is simply not working. By any metric, it is failing badly. House prices are skyrocketing, rents are still rising unsustainably and every month new records for homelessness and child homelessness are being set.
The ideas outlined in the motion are not new. Many Opposition Deputies have been calling for them for years. We are calling for them again because the Government has not listened. In June 2016, the Committee on Housing and Homelessness issued its final report. It recommended that the State increase its social housing stock by an average of 10,000 units per year. It identified the core root of the crisis as being the lack of building by local authorities and the Government's over-reliance on the private sector. The Government still has not changed its approach. It is still convinced the private sector will solve the housing crisis.
In June last year, the Dáil passed a Green Party motion calling for an independent and well-resourced building regulator to protect homeowners. The Government has instead continued with its self-certification regime. In November, the Dáil passed a Sinn Féin motion calling for greater protection and security for tenants. The Government has not made any move to provide greater support for renters. In March, the Dáil passed another Green Party motion calling for the implementation of a cost-rental model of affordable public housing. There is no sign of the Government embracing cost-rental housing on the scale needed to tackle this crisis.
The Government has not changed its course. We have heard constant talk of new politics since the beginning of this Dáil. We have seen it in action. We have seen cross-party support for a change of approach when it comes to housing. We, as the Opposition, have provided the ideas. We have called on the Government to take action. Is that not how a parliament is supposed to work? Obviously not on the watch of this Minister of State when it comes to tackling this unprecedented crisis in housing and homelessness. If a change is not made, we will continue to be in a housing crisis for as long as this Government lasts. It is a symptom of incredible short-sightedness to think that the road this Government has been going down on housing can work.
The Government has tried its way for too long and it is not working. It is never too late to listen. Start today and commit to taking on board the ideas the Opposition puts forward. Let us commit to working together. This is not a laughing matter. We are talking about an unprecedented crisis in homelessness and housing. We ask him to take on reasonable practical solutions presented by the Opposition.
I raised the issue of housing with the Taoiseach on Leader's Questions earlier today. I drew attention to the comments made by the United Nations special rapporteur on housing who is visiting Ireland this week. Those comments amount to us being told again that Ireland is failing abysmally in dealing with what is now a housing emergency and it is an escalating emergency. Ms Farha said that one of her primary reasons for becoming interested in Ireland was because of NAMA and the unprecedented nature of how it is operating despite the country being in the midst of a housing crisis.
Almost 10,000 people are homeless according to the official homelessness figures. We know many more are not being counted. I refer to people we all come across who have been couch surfing for years.
Mr. Mel Reynolds, an architect who is very involved in the housing issue, told us recently that NAMA controls enough development land to build approximately 65,000 housing units. Local authorities own zoned residential land with a total capacity of 48,724 housing units across the country. Dublin City Council alone has land sufficient for 18,000 units, while the three outer Dublin councils have enough for 29,000 units, yet in the last four years we have seen a total of 818 social housing builds completed nationally. In 2017 local authorities built 394 units, yet in the same year the State transferred over €1 billion in housing supports to private landlords. The balance of priorities is completely skewed. Mr. Reynolds made that point in real terms when he explained that one year's supply of purpose built social housing is meeting less that two weeks of subsidised housing demand.
The sums just do not make sense. At this stage one in three tenancies are in receipt of some form of State rent assistance. It is a cycle of failure and waste, perpetuated by the refusal to acknowledge the fact that relying on the private market to solve this crisis will never work. The State must take responsibility for providing affordable housing that is accessible to all. Ms Farha warned against the mindset that views housing as a commodity rather than the bedrock of a stable and healthy society. Without a secure roof over a person's head it is very difficult for him or her to be a functioning member of society. So many people are in that precarious state.
A dysfunctional society is not in anyone's interest, whether one considers oneself left-wing, right-wing or anything in between. Singapore, for example, despite its right-wing Government, has some of the highest levels of social housing globally, to the point that it is so much a part of the fabric of its society it sits seamlessly within the housing sector.
The Social Democrats have previously tabled a motion seeking to change the NAMA Act in order to shift the priority of the agency. There are currently seven different issues identified in the NAMA Act, including the restructuring of financial institutions, which are given precedence ahead of the need to address the compelling need to contribute to the social fabric and the development of the State. I urge the Minister of State to consider whether or not he truly believes the balance of priorities within the NAMA Act are fit for purpose given the current crisis. We clearly have sufficient land, so that should not be an impediment. Whatever announcements have been made, the delivery of social housing units has been abysmal. Without that, this crisis is going to continue. We will keep trying to solve it in an expensive way.
A report by the United Nations published one year ago said: "Housing and urban real estate have become the commodity of choice for corporate finance, a safety deposit box for the wealthy, a repository of capital and excess liquidity." That report showed that US $163 trillion is now invested in residential real estate worldwide, which is more than twice the size of the entire gross domestic product of the world. Housing and property is big business and makes big profits, more than ever since the global crash of 2008. It is particularly the case in Ireland. The average yield on Irish property stood at 7.08% in August of 2017, up from 6.54% in 2016 and far, far ahead of the rest of the member states of the European Union.
We are now witnessing the rise of corporate landlordism in Ireland. This is not an uncle or an aunt who has inherited a house, but rather big business entering the market and seeking big profits. NAMA has facilitated it, as can be seen in the case of I-RES REIT. Kennedy Wilson, a huge US corporate landlord, recently purchased the Elysian Towers in Cork. The rise of corporate landlordism is shown in the example of the Leeside apartments in Cork, where a company, Lugus Capital, which is linked to Bain Capital, one of the biggest vulture funds in the world, snapped up apartments in Cork city centre and within days issued notices to quit to residents, who are low income families, many of which have kids and many of which have been resident there for years. That approach is being resisted, but it is clear how the housing needs of the 99% are being subordinated to the capital accumulation of the 1%.
This can also be seen in the approach of Airbnb in this country. Airbnb started life as a small-scale host community, where ordinary people engaged in accommodation sharing. Internationally it is becoming a field for landlords and speculators to intervene to make profits on a major scale. Airbnb was a €15 billion industry by the end of 2016. Ireland is no exception to this. We do not have enough information on the issue because Airbnb does not engage in data sharing, but my sense of it is that Ireland is no exception to the European norm. In every city and town in this country it can be seen that there are more short-term lets on Airbnb than on daft.iefor long-term lets. I understand that an expert group is due to report to the Government on that issue soon. Can the Minister of State tell us exactly when that group will report? I look forward to the debate around that issue.
The State is being rolled back and housing is being privatised under this and previous Governments. In the 1970s one in five houses in this State were social housing. Today, that is less than one in ten. The UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, Ms Leilani Farha has been quoted in this debate. I will quote her again. She said, in the course of her visit to Ireland:
Evictions continue unabated worldwide, particularly because so many people lack security of tenure. Unregulated private actors are filling the void left by Governments that are continuously receding from the housing sector, thereby leaving unchallenged the prevailing paradigm that housing is a commodity rather than a social good. Ireland is in the throes of all of these phenomena.
It could be added that Ireland is in the throes of all of these phenomena in significant measure thanks to the policies of its Government. Ten thousand people are homeless in this State. That is a fraction of the real figure when people who are couch surfing are taken into account; it could be double, treble or quadruple that number. The Government and the Minister have doctored the figures, but it is clear that 10,000 are homeless. At the same time payments are being made to private landlords which will cost the taxpayer €23 billion more over 30 years than would be the case if social houses were built instead. The profits for the investors are locked in, but the young generation are being locked out. This is copperfastened by politics; a Fine Gael led Government, propped up by Fianna Fáil. Both parties are joined at the hip in their support for the market. In Fine Gael some 37% of its parliamentarians are landlords. Some 31% of Fianna Fáil parliamentarians are landlords.
The national coalition on housing and homelessness organised a demonstration which was attended by 10,000 people this year, and it will go to the streets again in the Autumn. Unity is required to fight the housing crisis, but it must be unity in support of public housing on public lands and unity against the market, which has failed the people.
This housing crisis originated over a decade ago, springing from a particular ideology.
That ideology said that the State would build no more houses and it would be left up to the free market. That is why we have a homelessness crisis and a housing crisis today in which nearly 10,000 people are homeless. That can seem abstract to people in this House but it is not abstract to me or to most of my comrades here. People are living in hotels and bed and breakfasts and sometimes in cars, tents and streets. It is completely unacceptable.
I will mention the C-word, which is "class". There is a deep class prejudice in the Government when it comes to housing. The narrative is that social housing equates to ghettoisation, bad people and anti-social behaviour. I reject that and, as a person who comes from a council estate, find it insulting. There are some amazing people who have lived in council houses. The majority of social housing has been a huge success in this country. Of course there are instances where it has failed but it has largely been successful. Under this Government and under Fianna Fáil, social housing has become a dirty word. That is why we have a terrible situation in this country.
I want to make it less abstract and I want the Minister of State to comment on this point, which really gets at the heart of the problem. There is a site in Clondalkin called Kilcarbery Grange. It is a site of 71 acres and it is being sold off to private developers. This land could provide as many as 900 social and affordable homes. It is owned by the State, which is selling it off to developers. The council will then buy back 30% of the houses from the developers. Basically, the council will sell the land, the developer will build the houses and then the developer will sell that 30% back to the council. How does that make sense? The council will have to buy 30%, approximately 290 houses, at market rate. Can anybody make sense of this? I do not know how this makes sense. What the Government is doing, as have successive Governments, is to sell public land off to developers at the height of the worst crisis in the State. That is absolutely unforgivable. It comes down to political choice and political ideology.
Some people do not like using the word "class". I actually like using it. It defines the situation we have in this country, where people are discriminated against on a class basis. If these were 10,000 people from a different class bracket, this would not be the case. The Minister of State knows that, as do I and as does everyone in this House. If this affected 10,000 people from Foxrock, there would not be 10,000 people on the streets or homeless. That is a fact.
I will try to get the details on some of the points that have been raised directly by Deputies. To correct the record, I suffer from severe sciatica and for the benefit of Deputy Catherine Martin, I have to move in my seat constantly and I smile when I get into great pain.
She made a great contribution in her first speech to the House but she has been reading the same clichéd drivel into the record for the last two years. The cheap personalised attack is really beneath her.
I will try to address individual points that Members have made in their contributions on this Private Members' motion. I arrived at the debate just before the contributions from Members of the Rural Independent Group. They were speaking about demountable houses and rural cottages. We used to call demountable houses prefabs in Kilkenny. I am sure that they were called that in Kildare County Council as well.
They must be. I completely agree with them that local authorities building houses or providing demountables on land owned by citizens was a scheme that worked very well and local authorities still provide it. It is still within the gift of local authorities to provide such schemes, and the Members outlined that the scheme still exists in Kerry. I presume they were talking about increasing the funding from the State. However, it is still within the ambit of members of Kerry Country Council to allocate more funding for such measures if they believe that more demountables or rural cottages should be built.
I acknowledge Deputy Catherine Murphy's remarks on Singapore. I happened to be there recently for the St. Patrick's Day events several months ago. I visited the urban planning initiative in the city of Singapore, and it was eye-opening. However, the version of election to government that exists in Singapore is different to what we have in this country. While it is fair to say that private ownership and the free market are significant drivers of the Singaporean economy, a lot of land is publicly owned. In fact, the state owns virtually everything. The military owns about 20% of the landmass of Singapore. While the comparison is interesting on many levels, this is quite different to our method of land ownership in this country. I do not deny the fact that local authorities, agencies and arms of the State own significant amounts of land in this country.
On tenants, it is interesting to note that there is a conflict. The Rural Independent Group Members have left but they spoke about tenant purchasing, which is diametrically opposed to the left-wing view of housing stock whereby houses that are built by the State should be kept in the housing pool, whether it is run by local authorities or centrally by Government. That is a philosophical argument that probably has never been properly had in Ireland.
I will endeavour to get Deputy Gino Kenny a specific answer about the lands he mentioned in Clondalkin. I do not have it with me. If I had it, I would give it.
I do not deny what the Deputy is saying but I cannot comment on cases of which I simply do not know the specifics. However, I will try to answer the Deputy more fully at a later time.
Deputy Gino Kenny' comments on ideology were interesting and in some respects, I do not disagree with him. He said that more ten years ago, there was a change. Indeed there was and the change meant that when the collapse in the economy came and the construction sector collapsed, we were so reliant on Part V provision for many of our local authority houses and so many construction workers left that not only did private house building collapse but we did not have the physical capacity or manpower for public houses either. I could not swear to it, but I believe that ideological change came in one of the Planning and Development Acts that were enacted the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Noel Dempsey was Minister.
In respect of my own home city of Kilkenny and Waterford, the city beside which I live, I absolutely agree. I grew up on a 60-acre farm in south Kilkenny with two bedrooms. Eight people lived in the house. It was my aunt's house. I can assure Deputy Gino Kenny that from a class point of view, there is not as much between he and I as others might think.
Yes, but we did not grow up in a palace. I acknowledge the role of social housing and even significantly large chunks of social housing. There is a whole side of Kilkenny city, the western environs, which is virtually all composed of it. One can see by the house design in what era the houses were built. They were largely privately bought out by their tenants and some are now among the most costly houses that can be bought in Kilkenny. I refer to the old cut-stone social hoses that were built in the 1920s or 1930s near the Garda station.
I think there was a comprehensive decision, and it has been agreed pretty unanimously in respect of some of the larger-scale social housing developments on the south side of Limerick city.
Perhaps it is also the case in parts of Clondalkin. I do not know Clondalkin that well. In parts of north-west Dublin city, where the tower blocks were removed and other social housing units provided, the necessary social infrastructure was not put in. It was not so much that the housing itself was a problem but that communities were transferred out of the city into the suburbs and left to their own devices. That happened in different waves in the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s. There was a change whereby social housing should be more integrated into every other form of housing. At the time these issues were discussed, I was a Member of the Seanad and there was not much political opposition.
I refer specifically to some of the points made, progress is being made in the housing market. I know that at times perhaps it is imperceptible or not fast enough for people, but the indicators in most, if not all, areas are positive for the first time in several years. For example, there were 20,800 planning permissions in 2017, which was an increase of 27% on 2016. In the year to April, there were 23% more commencement notices and a 35% increase in housing scheme registrations. At the end of April, An Bord Pleanála had approved 19 planning applications under the new fast-track arrangements for almost 3,000 homes and 3,600 student bed spaces.
With regard to social housing, the Government has ring-fenced a capital programme of more than €6 billion. A significant expansion of the social housing build programme was evident in the fourth quarter of 2017. The construction status report indicated there were 850 schemes or phases at the end of 2017 delivering 13,400 homes, a substantial increase on the 8,400 homes in the programme a year earlier. All of this was facilitated by an investment of €1.6 billion of taxpayers' money, including an additional €100 million provided in December 2017. This year, the Government will allocate more than €1.8 billion to housing programmes, an increase of more than €500 million in 2017. To better co-ordinate the response to homelessness, the homelessness interagency group was established in September, and the Minister recently received a report from the group, which he will bring to the Government shortly. Earlier this week, he also received a report from the DRHE. The content of both reports will be reviewed carefully and I expect him to introduce a number of policy responses to address the issues raised.
As the economy continues to progress towards delivering the levels of housing supply needed, the Government is committed to ensuring new homes are accessible and affordable. The affordable purchase schemes were stood down in 2011, but it must be borne in mind that market conditions at the time resulted in house prices falling by more than 50% in some places and there was consequential significant easing of affordability during that particular period. However, the Government recognises we still face challenges with regard to affordability and the rental sector. Some of the recent target measures are helping in this area. We have measures such as the fast-track of planning reforms, and I referred to recent permissions approved by An Bord Pleanála. There is a €200 million investment in enabling infrastructure to service or open up housing land, with proportionate affordability dividends for house purchases, and the progression of large-scale mixed tenure housing projects with social, affordable and private housing on publicly owned lands. First quarter figures indicate the introduction of the RPZs is beginning to have a moderate positive effect on rent inflation. It is certain that rent would be higher without the RPZs and other controls.
We are supporting first-time buyers to buy a new or second hand home through the new Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, and 220 applications had been recommended for approval by the end of April. As the year progresses, we expect this to increase significantly. I will endeavour to get a more complete response for Deputy Gino Kenny on the issue he raised.
I will share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett. Before the Minister of State picked up his script and started reading the usual "blah, blah, blah" we get from the Department - with all due respect to the Minister of State, not the Department - I found his contribution interesting. At least there was engagement with the facts, ideology and ambitions related to housing and what they all mean. He made an interesting comment in response to Deputy Gino Kenny about the left-wing view of housing. The much quoted Ms Leilani Farha is not a left winger. She is a rapporteur for the United Nations and her views on housing are quite similar to ours on the left in the House. They are that housing is a human right. In her submission yesterday in Dublin she called on governments to ensure that the markets served housing need rather than investment priorities, and she reminded states that they are first and foremost accountable to human rights.
I came across an example of those human rights two days ago. I got a phone call from a woman who headed up a Ballyfermot helping the homeless group. She asked me whether I could do anything as she was outside Tallaght Garda station where a grandmother, parents and four children were locked up because they sat in in South Dublin County Council offices in Tallaght. They had nowhere to go. They were made homeless on 7 June and put out of private rental accommodation. They had been in three counties in as many nights, shifted from Ashbourne, County Meath to Gardiner Street, Dublin 1 to Rathdrum, County Wicklow. They had been ringing all morning to try to get hotel accommodation and could not get any so they went to the offices of South Dublin County Council in Tallaght and refused to move. They ended up in Tallaght Garda station. A file on the mother has been sent to the DPP, with the possibility of her being charged. She will be charged with defending the human rights of her four children.
I rang the head of the DRHE who was very helpful. She immediately got onto the family and got them sorted in accommodation on the South Circular Road. What she said that was most interesting was that these are the most difficult people to deal with in homelessness because they are big families. I was in a family of seven and we were considered small on my estate as most families had 12 members. This is a big family nowadays, with four children, and hotels will not take them because they need two bedrooms to be accommodated. I do not know where the family has ended up, but the mother may be charged as a consequence of defending the human rights of her children. Does the Minister of State not feel shame about this fact in this day and age? Does he not feel shame and horror that we live in a world that can spend more than half its GDP on investment in land and property that is just used for speculation and investment and causes much worse human misery than I have highlighted throughout the globe and increasingly here in Ireland?
I refer to the comments of the head of the DRHE because we are both agreed on this. I will say to anybody who is being thrown out of private rented accommodation because the HAP is not working and because landlords want to sell up and they have nowhere to go having tried to access HAP to stay put and occupy the premises they are in and not to go into homelessness if they have a family because it is nothing but pure misery and they owe it to their children to stay put. Ms Eileen Gleeson agreed with me because she is at the end of her tether. There is no movement or ability for her to deal with the increasing problem of family homelessness. Many of them are working families. This should make us feel horrified.
There are ten acres of prime land in the middle of Inchicore on St Michael's Estate just down the road from where that family is from. The community in Inchicore has worked hard for the past 17 years to try to get it developed for public housing on public land. The people have met all the agencies, all the local Deputies here today and political parties and they are campaigning strongly. I am not sure if the Minister has met them but if he has, he has made a commitment to do so. They have presented him with a model to provide public housing on public land, a major part of which is a return to the public purse because, under the scheme, the State would be able to rent back to couples who are working but cannot afford to live in the lucrative private rental sector. A total of 60% of the planet's GDP is being used for speculation and profit and not for human needs and human rights. The ideology of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will not suit making that change.
A left-wing ideology is needed in order to facilitate that ultimate change. That is why this is an ongoing battle in our society.
I thank everybody who contributed to the debate, particularly those who are supporting the motion. Earlier, I should have thanked Mr. Mel Reynolds and Ms Orla Hegarty for the briefing they gave us. Many of the facts and some of the ideas in the motion came from them and the Government should start listening to them.
To be honest, apart from the brief attempt to engage with the matters by the final Government speaker, we just had the Minister reeling off the usual list of achievements and he did not really engage with the central thrust of the motion. Deputy Darragh O'Brien and I agree that, as noted ad nauseamin this motion and more generally, public land should be used for public and affordable housing. The other specifics in the motion do not in any sense cut against that. We are saying there is a reason we are not getting public and affordable housing on public land or from the private sector. Coincidentally, Ms Leilani Farha came to Ireland this week and her words reflected exactly what is in this motion. That was not orchestrated. Along with the human misery being suffered by those affected by the housing and homelessness crisis, there is another group of people making money out of it. The worse the crisis gets, the more money they make from it.
Look at the largest house builder in the State, namely, Cairn Homes. It plans to build 12,000 units but how many social units were built in 2016? A total of 103. Last year, Cairn Homes built 200 units and next year it will build 800. That is pathetic because it owns one of the biggest landbanks in Dublin. The owners of the company sold 2.1% of their shares in 2017 between the three of them for €26 million. The three founders also split €61 million in shares last year and they raked in €4.1 million in wages and bonuses between them. This is the biggest developer in the country and it is drip feeding small amounts of housing into the market to boost share prices and make an absolute killing, and we are allowing it to do so. NAMA has flogged €40 billion of property because of the mandate this Government gave to entities such as Cairn and vulture funds like I-RES REIT.
We can go through the list of these institutional investors. Hines is going to build the biggest new development in Cherrywood but it has not built a single unit yet. Some €15 million from LIHAF has gone in but there is no guarantee of any affordable housing from that scheme. Even the social housing being sold back is costing local authorities €250,000 and €450,000 when the site was bought from NAMA for a song. Does Hines state that it builds houses? No. Its website refers to "intelligent real estate investments" and states "We build smart investments". It is what the company does. It drip feeds housing or does not build it at all and the measures being taken by the Government have increased the value of its property and land, encouraging speculation.
There has been no answer to the following question, which I have asked several times of the Government. Why did the original 40% affordable housing condition on LIHAF funding get dropped within weeks? If it had been implemented, it would have cut against the profiteering of the private developers. How could they sell property at an inflated price if the State had affordable housing at genuinely affordable rates? This is why the public landbank is not being developed.
Why has the Government not provided a definition of "affordable housing"? How can any of the public sites be developed if the Government refuses to define "affordable" while insisting that the housing must be public and affordable? None of the sites at Shanganagh, Oscar Traynor Road or Inchicore can move forward while the Government does not provide a definition. If it did provide one, the profits of these profiteers would be hit. That is the problem - the Government is dancing to the tune of profiteers.