Thursday, 8 November 2018
Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2018: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to, in the public interest, serve the common good in the matter of housing.
This Bill seeks to declare formally the housing and homelessness crisis a national emergency. The Bill provides for the delimiting of the rights of landlords, banks and finance houses, including vulture funds, in order to prevent tenants and mortgage-holders from eviction, as provided for in Bunreacht na hÉireann and as advocated by Focus Ireland.
On 29 March of this year the Taoiseach addressed the Oireachtas Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach and said, "I have no difficulty whatsoever describing the housing shortage or the homelessness crisis as a [national] emergency." The situation has worsened significantly since the Taoiseach's statement, comparing like with like figures. By September 2018 the total number homeless had increased by 1,497 persons, including 442 extra adults and a shocking 1,055 extra children, reaching a total of 11,304 persons. Focus Ireland has also pointed out that 193 additional children became homeless in September of this year alone. Just this morning Professor Eoin O'Sullivan, head of the school of social work and social policy at Trinity College Dublin, advised the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government that the housing situation would get worse next year. As legislators, we have a responsibility to halt this process for the common good. Already Dáil Éireann has by a majority called on the Government to propose emergency measures to do so. That Private Members' motion called on the Government to declare the housing and homelessness crisis an emergency and to reduce the flow of adults and children into homelessness with emergency legislation to make it illegal for landlords, banks and investment funds to evict tenants and homeowners in mortgage distress into homelessness; to provide real security of tenure and real rent certainty; and to introduce measures to reduce the cost of rent, introducing a target to end long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough.
As an Opposition Deputy, I am not allowed, under Standing Orders, to propose a money Bill. Accordingly, this Bill implements only measures to halt the worsening situation. Focus Ireland has repeatedly highlighted through its services and research that the main reason for families becoming homeless is that they are being evicted from their homes by private landlords due to properties being sold or repossessed. To remedy this, the right to private property must be delimited, as provided for in Bunreacht na hÉireann in Article 43.2.2°, which states: "The State, accordingly, may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good." In addition, a large number of citizens are being subjected to unreasonable and extortionate rents, contrary to the common good.
Section 1 of the Bill provides that Dáil Éireann affirms in law that a housing emergency exists. Section 2 provides that a housing emergency will continue for a period of three years after the passing of the Bill and that the Government will bring a review before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the expiry of this three-year period. Section 3 provides that no tenant shall be evicted from a buy-to-let dwelling, that is, a dwelling purchased for letting purposes, during the period of this national housing emergency. Section 4 provides that there shall be no further increase in rents on dwellings. Section 5 provides that existing private rents shall be reduced to reasonable levels, having regard to the differential rent that would be payable by a tenant in situto a local authority for rental of a similar dwelling. Section 6 provides that no resident of a mortgaged dwelling shall be evicted from that dwelling during the period of this national housing emergency.
Under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts, the State delimited the exercise of private property rights by public service pensioners. This Bill seeks to use the same provision in Bunreacht na hÉireann to delimit the powers of landlords to evict people and to oppress them with unreasonable and extortionate rents. The measures enacted under this Bill would supersede all existing law on the matters concerned while the emergency continues, and the housing emergency formally brought into existence by this measure will continue for a three-year period from enactment. This will allow time for the fundamental causes of the housing emergency to be addressed. This will require large-scale public housing on public land. At the end of the three-year period the Oireachtas will review the situation and consider how to proceed for the common good in the context of the housing and homelessness situation.