Wednesday, 10 April 2019
Building the Housing of the Future: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
— shelter is a fundamental human right, as recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in Ireland everyone has a right to decent, affordable housing;
— it is the duty of the Government and the State, as well as of everyone in society, to ensure that every person can have their right to shelter fulfilled, through the provision of quality affordable housing; and
— in the context of Ireland’s obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all housing should be designed or retrofitted to minimise emissions, and in so doing, reduce and eliminate energy poverty;
— the cost of renting and home purchase has soared in recent years, especially in the major urban areas, far in excess of the average household incomes, which clearly shows that the current situation is unsustainable and that housing is no longer affordable for many workers;
— more than 10,000 persons are currently homeless, tens of thousands of people have experienced homelessness in recent years, and every year more people are becoming homeless than are leaving homelessness; and
— around 75,000 households (4.4 per cent) are unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm, and around 138,000 (8.1 per cent) go without heating at some point during the year;
— for over 10,000 people to be homeless is a national scandal and proves Government policy on housing to have failed utterly;
— Ireland’s market-dependent approach to housing provision has failed and a fundamentally new approach is required;
— in some European countries, especially in cities such as Vienna, a much larger proportion of the population rents their homes from public authorities;
— in some European countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, housing co-operatives provide a much larger proportion of the housing stock, which is more affordable;
— in other jurisdictions, standards of insulation are much higher than in Ireland, whereas in Ireland nearly half (49 per cent) of all dwellings with an energy rating, are rated D1 or worse;
— the Government has the means to invest at least €16 billion for State-led development of social housing and affordable public housing without increasing taxes;
— the State can build well-insulated, good quality homes for less than €200,000 per unit on publicly-owned land; and
— State-led action to provide social housing and affordable housing would reduce house prices overall, making it easier for young families to afford home ownership, if they wish, while also providing them with a secure alternative; and
calls on the Government to:
— create an Irish housing development bank, by merging parts of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) with the Housing Agency, Housing Finance Agency and the Land Development Agency, to act as a State-owned commercial housing developer with a remit to produce social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land;
— allocate €5 billion from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to the Irish housing development bank;
— allocate annual payments of €500 million to the Irish housing development bank rather than to the so-called ‘rainy day fund’;
— establish a State-led public housing fund in the Central Bank of Ireland, to allow credit unions to invest some or all of their approximately €14 billion in savings, so that this money can be used by the Irish housing development bank to develop social housing and affordable public housing;
— create through these means a fund of no less than €16 billion which can be invested to develop at least 80,000 units of social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land over the next five years;
— keep the same or greater amount of land for residential housing in public ownership;
— establish a retrofitting scheme, to ensure that all local authority housing is brought up to a high-energy rating in terms of good insulation and energy efficiency;
— raise the requirement to sell housing units at cost to the local authority under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, and allow local authorities to choose which units to purchase at cost;
— create housing executives within a number of local authorities, to operate as shared services across all of the State and to restore the necessary competencies for housing management, maintenance and development at local government level;
— strengthen the protection of tenants in the private rented sector, especially those at risk of homelessness, while supporting landlords with only one or two properties to comply with the law;
— provide a strong legal basis for long-term leasing of private residential property, with safeguards for older people and people affected by illness or disability; and
— support home ownership by supporting the development of housing co-operatives and by regulating institutional buy-to-let investors to ensure they have no unfair advantage over households seeking to purchase housing.
This comprehensive motion, which I have moved on behalf of the Labour Party, sets out the actions that need to be taken to address the most pressing issue for thousands of men, women and children in our country. Homelessness and the housing shortage can be fixed. We are constantly told that the answer is supply and that is true. It is not true, however, that we must wait for the market to provide that supply. This is where we fundamentally differ from Fine Gael. We believe that the State should lead the provision of homes and that publicly owned land and available public resources should be used to deliver enough social and affordable homes for the needs of our population.
I thank the parties and groupings who have taken the time to table amendments. I think there are currently four amendments. That is an indication of the fact that we have had many debates on housing. We need to ensure that we deal with this issue appropriately and quickly. We propose to use €16 billion over five years, with the sources of that money fully identified. Most of it is from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. We would build 80,000 homes for people on local authority waiting lists and for the many hardworking individuals and families who cannot afford market prices and who cannot afford their rent. More and more of those families are stuck in privately rented accommodation without adequate protection from rent hikes or from notice of termination of their tenancy. These people are most at risk of becoming homeless. We have published a number of proposals already and tabled a number of amendments to the Minister's Bill that will go before the committee tomorrow, as have other Members of this House. There is a series of proposals and I suggest that they are much more far-reaching than the Minister's plans. They contain the kind of protection that is needed in this time of crisis. While this building programme that we propose is under way, we need to protect people who are renting in the private sector and are increasingly unable to afford the rents. Yesterday, my party leader raised the issue of rent pressure zones.
I will not go into it now due to shortage of time. If the 4% cap was appropriate at one stage, it would seem now that it is contributing to increases in rent and we would argue that there should be the same system throughout the country so that there are not areas just outside rent pressure zones and so that the increases are linked more to the cost of living than to a limit of 4%, which is higher than the increases in wages.
Before I outline the details proposed in the motion I want to challenge the Minister's reported view that I was irresponsible for aiming to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. That proposal followed an 85-page report furnished to me by the homeless oversight group which I had established to address the plight of the estimated 2,665 people who were considered to be homeless in Ireland in spring 2014, of whom 2,478 were identified as being homeless for six months or more, which is the definition of long-term homelessness that we were using. The Dublin rough sleeper count at that time was 127 and a further 46 rough sleepers were counted in other parts of the country. That was the scale of the problem then. The report contained a specific plan with 80 actions to achieve the goal set. Now, three years after the Rebuilding Ireland plan of the current Government, more than 10,000 people are homeless including 3,784 children. We were talking about a much smaller number and we specifically identified actions to be taken in respect of those individuals at that time. A responsible Government, with an economy that has recovered from a deep recession, would question why its own plan has delivered such a fate for so many people, almost three years on from the announcement of the Rebuilding Ireland programme. It is not working.
I want to turn to the proposals we are making because we want to focus on what can and should be done; I will also respond to some of the amendments that have been proposed. The context in which we set the motion is the right to decent affordable housing as recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We also support a constitutional right to a home, which has been debated here previously. It is also informed by our obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the need to eliminate energy poverty. In that regard, Government targets on retrofitting, referred to in the Government amendment, need to be increased to take account of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, which was published recently. The Labour Party would argue for higher targets and affordability measures and my colleague, Deputy Sherlock, argued for those in the committee.
At this stage I wish to explain that due to a family bereavement, Deputy Sherlock is not able to be here. He would have contributed to the debate. My party leader, Deputy Howlin, is meeting leaders of the Party of European Socialists Group today in Brussels and Deputy Kelly is at the Council of Europe meeting. That is why three of our members are not present for this debate.
The specific target for building social and affordable homes in our motion and our policy document, Affordable Housing for All, is 80,000 units over five years costing €16 billion, with the sources of that money identified. To achieve that, we propose the creation of a housing development bank that would incorporate the expertise and resources of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, the Housing Agency and the Housing Finance Agency and would also incorporate the Land Development Agency, which the Government has set up. The combined remit of those bodies would be to act as a State-owned commercial housing developer with a remit to produce social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land. We would re-focus NAMA in particular, because its original remit pertained to economic return to the State. It now needs to make returns to the State in other ways, particularly in the current housing crisis.
This is radically different from the current policy of providing a large proportion of State-owned land to the private sector to build for profit, at what the market will allow, with even the so-called affordable homes linked to the market rate, rather than to what households can afford. Under the Ó Cualann model, homes in the Dublin area were built and can be built for less than €200,000 per unit. We would provide for local authorities to deliver homes on a shared services model, similar to a proposal from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and was modelled on one developed in the Cork area, which would bring local authorities together to deliver homes and in order that expertise could be concentrated and delivery speeded up. We all know the delivery of social housing in particular needs to be speeded up. We also propose increasing the Part V provision to 20% and a workable Central Bank led investment vehicle in order that credit unions can invest in public housing from their savings. The Government amendment says that it has set up a framework for this but the credit unions have told us, and have told other parties that they do not have the scale or capacity to do this themselves. This is one area where there would be a win-win but there is a need for Government leadership. The State does need to set up this vehicle for public housing bonds and secure investment from our own credit union movement of approximately €12.5 billion can be put into this. That would not take all the credit union savings but would be a significant contribution to the funding needed for social and affordable housing.
We would future-proof public housing construction and stock to provide for the needs of older people and would also commit to the system of universal design and access to transport to ensure that housing meets the needs of people who have a disability. The other area of future-proofing is energy efficiency, which is vital for the future of our planet and the more immediate concerns about the cost of home heating. This must be accompanied by an extensive retrofitting programme in both publicly and privately owned homes. Both of these need to be considerably ramped up, particularly for low-income households, many of which are living in council houses and apartments. There needs to be a funded programme with a specific timeframe in order that local authorities can immediately start retrofitting their own houses because many council houses have a very low building energy rating, BER. My colleague, Deputy Penrose will address some of those issues in a minute or two.
This is a comprehensive motion. We wanted to address the positive measures into which we have put a lot of thought in our document, Affordable Housing for All, in respect of housing policy. We acknowledge there have been many other proposals from other Members of this House. We believe this can be done and this is a positive motion in many ways. We are recognising the seriousness of the problem, particularly that so many children are living in homeless accommodation and the awful effect that has on them. We recognise the problem but are also putting forward practical solutions that are costed to address the problem. That is what we need to see happen and we need to see something delivered much faster than is being delivered under Government policy. We need a radical change to that policy.
This motion is timely and appropriate and comprehensive in its nature and extent. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan on bringing it forward. She has worked hard to develop a very comprehensive policy, Affordable Housing for All.
I am very lucky and indeed proud to be the eldest of ten who were reared in a local authority house, as were many in my extended family. I speak on this motion with a detailed knowledge but maybe not everybody can. When we got the house in 1960 there was no water, there were outdoor toilets. That is why I have never had any problem with paying for water. We brought it down by hand in 1972 and we handed it over to the local authority to charge us. As a young lad, I went away to earn money to build on additional rooms and a toilet and to bring the outdoor toilet in. I have a very deep affinity with local authority housing because I know what it means, as does my extended family.
I am proud that the Labour Party has always been very committed to the provision of public housing. We bring forward this motion, based on our comprehensive housing analysis which would see 80,000 homes built over five years. Our housing policies are practical, implementable, fully-costed and place the State at the centre of activity on housing. That is where it should be, the State has to be the fulcrum and focus of a comprehensive housing building programme. The role of State agencies, leading the delivery of housing, as they have done through Ireland's history, seems lost on the current Government. It gets lost in debate. That was a central function of local authorities and it should remain so. Every local authority should have a landbank such that houses would be built in many villages, which would make a substantial contribution to reducing the number of applicants. It would sustain rural Ireland and the villages that are in decline and the shops and churches and sports clubs that are under pressure.
Our motion today aims to make the Government face up to the realities faced by hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland right now. Rents are way beyond the ability of many workers to pay. Council housing waiting lists have gone through the roof and tens of thousands of people are unable to heat their homes adequately.
I want to focus particularly on this point. Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for the Labour Party and that is why we have included this right in the heart of the motion. Residential use of energy such as oil, gas and solid fuels accounts for 9.5% of all our carbon emissions. That is around 5.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. That has to be halved by 2030, which means a massive drive for home energy efficiency. If we do this right, we can eliminate fuel poverty at the same time as lowering carbon emissions so we will get two bangs for one buck. From recent surveys we know that around 75,000 households, or 4.4%, are unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm and around 138,000 households, or 8.1%, go without heating at some point during the year. We know that elderly people or people with disabilities require more home heating, because they spend more time at home. Yet they often have the lowest incomes and they are on fixed incomes so they are in significant difficulties. The Government did not introduce regulations in relation to energy efficiency until 1979, and it must be remembered that nearly half of current housing stock was built before that date. Significant thermal retrofits were not introduced until 2006, meaning that most Irish homes are not properly insulated. That raises the cost of heating and it also means more carbon emissions to achieve the same level of heating.
There is plenty of action that can be taken by the Government to address this issue. If we do not already have this information, we should require every local council to report on the energy ratings of all its housing stock. Everyone in public housing should have a fair expectation of a home that they can heat to a decent standard of comfort. They are entitled to the same as what everybody else has in society. Every home under local authority control should be put into a programme to upgrade and retrofit any home that does not have adequate insulation. There are some programmes out there that aim to do this but they are far too slow and they lack focus. Retrofitting homes will help the residents tackle the cost of heating and will also lower carbon emissions.
All future public housing should be built to a much higher housing standard. This is to avoid the problems that beset social housing in the 1970s and also to ensure that we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions. Housing standards for public housing should include a wide range of measures to ensure the lowest possible carbon footprint from housebuilding and the lifetime use of housing. This should include insulation, computer controlled energy efficient heating systems, local energy generation from solar panels and the reuse of rainwater. Indeed, the collection and reuse of rainwater should be part of planning permissions going forward across all areas and it would be very constructive to do so.
When it comes to delivering more housing, of course we need to increase the supply in every way possible. It all boils down to supply. There have been attempts to privatise the provision of local authority housing. It has not worked, it does not work and it should never be contemplated that it will work. There are 1,701 people on the housing list in County Westmeath today. In addition, there are 800 who have HAP and RAS tenancies and who are on the transfer list. Effectively, those people are entitled to be housed and 500 people are in need of housing in other areas. We know from our clinics that we effectively have about 2,500 people on the housing list in Westmeath. To meet their needs, and to solve the wider housing problem, we just need to think outside the box.
I was canvassing recently and every evening I come back and I notice about three or four houses unoccupied across the area. I am sure any Deputy in a rural area has seen the same. That is every evening so if I was out for 30 evenings that comes to 90 houses. I know every Deputy has similar houses in their areas. We could do more to bring these privately owned vacant houses back into use. Very often they are left to somebody and they do not have the money to carry out the repairs. Hundreds of millions of euro are being spent on rent supplement and HAP and some of this money could be diverted into making vacant houses habitable. The houses I am talking about could be made habitable for maybe €30,000 or €40,000. There is no free lunch, if we give them a €40,000 grant we will do so on the condition that they take on local authority tenants and maintain them for seven years on a contract. A house would be brought back into habitation that might have been left to them by their grandfather, father or uncle which they did not have the money to renovate.
Let us think outside the box and let us not always be prisoners of bureaucracy. I know what that Department is like. I was only in it for eight or nine months. If I was in it for a few years I probably would have ended up in an asylum because I could not stick the bureaucracy. It is as simple as that. I had to leave on a point of principle on another matter but if I did not leave on that I would have gone on another reason because I could not stick bureaucracy always coming in and putting the heavy hand down on top of me. I am somebody who comes from an ordinary working class family who resents that so unfortunately I am anti-bureaucratic. Maybe I am in trouble over saying that but so be it. I will be gone out of here and they cannot do anything with me after that anyway.
They could provide great homes for people in County Westmeath and I am sure they could do so in other counties throughout the country as well. I would venture to say that Westmeath is not unique in having a large number of unoccupied houses. A small grant from the State would help to put them into a habitable condition. Owners must commit to renting out the properties for social housing for a period of years. We could get better value this way than leasing properties under the HAP scheme, and we would be stopping houses going into dereliction in cases where their owners cannot afford to do much with them. A lot of those people are left a house by an uncle which is not in the best condition. If it is still in the condition in which the uncle left it to the person, this grant could help those people.
Another policy that would permit the State to deliver more public housing, which I know the Minister will not implement but I would have had a shot at, is implementation the 1973 Kenny report. I read this as a student when I was doing law and I believe in everything that the former Judge Kenny said. He was an exceptional judge. It is not the first time I have made this suggestion. I have been advocating this point for many years and when Labour's social and affordable housing Bill 2016 made this recommendation, I was the cause of that being at the centre of it in case Members are looking to find out. We should legislate for the compulsory purchase of lands at existing use value, building on the Kenny report proposals. By the way, my brother is a farmer so I know all about this too. Judge Kenny made it clear that there is no constitutional impediment to doing this. He proposed paying a premium of up to 25% on lands compulsorily purchased, but that was at 1973 prices. A smaller compensation would be fair today, but this Government has gone in the opposite direction and is selling off public lands to private developers as their great idea to solve the housing crisis.
Private developers are only interested in profit and they will only build so many houses when there is profit. Public housing has a different ethos and a different philosophy to build houses to provide for people. Public ownership of public housing built on public land is how we will solve this crisis. Labour understands that, housing organisations outside the House recognise that and public housing experts are calling for that. We are all just waiting for Fine Gael to admit that its policies are not working, and to be honest cannot work with the best will in the world. There is only one way: to go back to the old trusted and tried way of local authorities being development vehicles for the provision of local authority housing.
I move amendment No. 3:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: “Dáil Éireann acknowledges the extensive range of measures which the Government has brought forward to address the significant challenges in the housing sector and, in particular, notes that:— the Government introduced the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness in 2016, providing a comprehensive framework for tackling the range of complex issues needing to be addressed across the housing sector, and it is underpinned by over €6 billion in funding to support the delivery of 50,000 new social housing homes and 87,000 other housing supports over the 6 years from 2016 to 2021;And yet the motion that the Labour Party has put before us is taking responsibility for local authority housebuilding away from local authorities so the Labour Party Members' contribution contradicts what is in the motion.
— very significant progress has been made on delivery through local authorities, approved housing bodies (AHBs) and a range of other delivery partners, with over 72,000 households having their housing needs met during the first three years of Rebuilding Ireland, with a further 27,300 households, supported by a record investment of €2.4 billion in housing, to be supported this year, bringing to almost 100,000 the total number of households who will have been assisted under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019;
— notwithstanding the continued increases in homelessness, record exits from homelessness into sustainable tenancies have been achieved in recent years and the Government remains resolutely focused on ensuring that all appropriate measures to address the challenges in relation to homelessness will continue to be deployed, including:— the national roll out of Housing First;— Rebuilding Ireland is further supported by Project Ireland 2040, the Government’s overarching policy initiative to align, in a strategic manner, our spatial planning and investment programmes, to underpin a sustainable approach to planning for a growing population and the associated need for housing;
— the provision of additional emergency beds to reduce rough sleeping; and
— the further development of family hubs to provide more appropriate short term accommodation for families than can be provided through hotels, while more enduring housing solutions are brought forward;
— the new €2 billion Urban Regeneration and Development Fund aims to support sustainable growth in Ireland’s five cities and other large urban centres, with the aim of delivering at least 40 per cent of our future housing needs within our existing built- up areas;
— the Land Development Agency (LDA) has been established to ensure more effective co-ordination and management of the development of lands, in particular publicly- owned lands in our urban centres, supporting the ambition to achieve more compact and sustainable growth;
— the LDA has an immediate focus on managing the State’s own lands to develop new homes, and regenerate under-utilised sites and, in the longer-term, assembling strategic landbanks from a mix of public and private lands, with the overall objective to be involved in the delivery of 150,000 new homes over the next 20 years;
— to enable more delivery of social and affordable homes on public lands, the Government has, in parallel with the establishment of the LDA, approved a new public land affordability requirement, whereby a minimum of 30 per cent of any housing developed must be reserved for affordable purposes, be it affordable purchase or cost rental, in addition to the 10 per cent statutory social housing requirement under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, whether such development is being progressed by the LDA or any other market operator;
— following enactment of the required primary legislation, arrangements will be finalised in relation to the capitalisation of the LDA, through a combination of transfers from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) and private finance, with capital of up to €1.25 billion to be used to fund enabling feasibility appraisal, masterplanning, infrastructure, and in some cases the ultimate development of sites, as well as strategic private land acquisition;
— in order to support local authorities to get their sites ready for affordable housing, funding of €310 million over 2019 to 2021 has been allocated for enabling infrastructure via the Serviced Sites Fund (SSF) in Budget 2019;
— cost rental housing is being brought forward in conjunction with the Housing Agency, the Land Development Agency, local authorities and other stakeholders, with two pilot projects already being progressed;
— there is no current legislative or regulatory impediment to the credit union sector (or any other party) establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to invest credit union funds in Tier 3 AHBs, and on foot of proposals from the credit union sector, a new investment framework was introduced by the Central Bank in March 2018, following a public consultation, to specifically allow for such investments up to certain limits;
— in terms of housing generally, overall supply continues to show significant increases, with over 18,000 new homes built in 2018, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number of newly built homes any year this decade and, in addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy, and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 in 2018, together with over 3,700 student bed spaces;
— there is clear evidence of moderation in the annual rate of growth of house prices, due primarily to increasing supply and the Central Bank macro-prudential rules, and residential property prices increased by 5.6 per cent nationally in the year to January 2019, compared to 6.4 per cent in the year to December and 11.8 per cent in the year to January 2018;
— moderation in the rate of rent increases is also evident, reflecting increased supply and the impact of the measures introduced under the Government’s Strategy for the Rental Sector, including the introduction of Rent Pressure Zones in areas of high and increasing rents, and further strengthening of these and other measures in the rental sector is being introduced through the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018;
— the Housing Agency has a broad remit to work with and support local authorities, approved housing bodies, and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the delivery of housing and housing services and is already working with the LDA in appropriate areas;
— the Housing Finance Agency is operating effectively, in advancing loan finance to local authorities and the voluntary housing sector;
— the Government has also established Home Building Finance Ireland (HBFI), a new State lender for small and medium sized builders/developers, with an initial €750 million to fund the delivery of up to 7,500 new homes over the next five years;
— the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) was established with a very specific legal mandate, which was approved by the European Commission in 2010 and it is important that NAMA’s role is preserved and that it completes its work in line with its original mandate;
— The ‘rainy day fund’ forms part of the Government’s policy to stabilise the public finances and increase the State’s resilience to external economic shocks, and it is intended to act as a counter-cyclical buffer which can complement the operation of the automatic stabilisers in the event of a particularly severe economic downturn; and the annual allocation will operate in the first instance as a contingency reserve that may be drawn on in the event of a serious unforeseeable event occurring during the relevant year, with the unused balance rolling into the ‘rainy day fund’;
— the Government’s commitment to improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock, through a number of grant schemes to encourage energy efficiency upgrades in homes, including supports for lower income households, an energy efficiency programme in the social housing stock that has seen 64,000 homes upgraded with some €116 million of investment to end 2018, with a further 9,000 homes to be upgraded in 2019;
— the National Development Plan sets out the Government’s target of 45,000 deeper retrofits each year from 2021;
— new Building Regulations will be brought forward to introduce minimum energy performance requirements for existing buildings undergoing major renovation where feasible; and
— the issue of a right to housing has been addressed in the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, which, by resolution of both Houses, has been referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach for consideration.”
I will start with an apology because unfortunately I cannot remain for the entire debate and the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will be coming in after me. The motion says that shelter is a fundamental human right and I do not disagree with that at all. The motion also says that it is the duty of Government and the State to have that right fulfilled through the provision of quality and affordable housing. I do not disagree with that at all but we are not waiting for the market as the Deputy proclaims. It was a Fine Gael led Government that put the provision of public housing, social and affordable, at the heart of Government policy and at the heart of Government spending. It was a Fine Gael led Government that created a Department and Minister for housing, a Fine Gael led Government that created and published the Rebuilding Ireland framework over a five year period, a Fine Gael led Government that oversaw one in four of homes built last year built for social housing and that also saw 27,000 new tenancies created last year through taxpayer money and it was a Fine Gael led Government that will oversee €2.4 billion being spent this year on housing, more than any Government has ever provided in a single year in the history of the State.
Labour held the housing brief until the middle of 2016, when it had a majority in the Dáil and it did not do any of those things, but a Fine Gael led Government did do that after the 2016 election.
A Fine Gael led Government in a minority brought forward Rebuilding Ireland and this year will spend €2.4 billion on housing, more than any previous Government has spent. Labour held the housing brief until the middle of 2016, when it had a majority Government. Why did it not do any of these things when it had both the responsibility and the power to do so?
It is irresponsible to suggest that long term homelessness could be solved in the time period that the Labour Party has provided. It is irresponsible because the Labour Party did not do it and the Labour Party has to ask itself if some of its policies actually make things worse. This motion speaks to a number of issues in the housing area-----
-----because it is a very complex area. We have to talk about supply of course but it not just purely about supply. It is about sustainability of supply, security of supply, diversity of supply and affordability of supply.
It is also about the safety and security of citizens, new stock and dealing with existing stock.
Deputy Penrose talked about vacancies, with which we have a problem. The scheme about which he talked is actually in place; it is called the repair and leasing scheme. We also have a problem with objections when we try to do things about vacancies. We receive objections not only from citizens but also from politicians when we try to do things in providing new homes.
Deputy Penrose also talked about the Kenny report and the recommendations made in it. In subsequent reports we have adopted a lot of those recommendations in the Land Development Agency, LDA. The agency has not sold any State land. It is about developing public and private land in the public interest not only for public, social and affordable housing but also private housing. We believe the appropriate use of public land is for it to be used in the public good in the provision of housing for everyone. We intend to use our housing policy to ensure mixed tenure, housing for everyone; we do not want to use housing policy to divide communities. When we talk about existing stock and new stock, it is about making sure it is suitable to live in. It is about having the correct standards in place and not going back to the accommodation we had in the past, by which I mean bedsits. We should not go back to the type of accommodation that was not suitable for those in vulnerable circumstances. We must make sure we have emergency accommodation that is suitable and of the highest standard possible. It is also about making sure we have robust protections for both landlords and tenants. We need to make sure we have landlords operating in the housing system, but we also need to make sure people who are renting have protection, not just in terms of the standard of accommodation but also security of tenure.
The operational clauses included in the motion seem to suggest it is a money problem we are facing and that if we spend more money, we will have more homes more quickly and cheaply. That is poor logic which does not account properly for the economies of the housing sector. We have to increase output sustainably. We have to use land more strategically and economically and as we increase output, we have to make sure we are building in the right places and the right types of home. It is not just about the mix of tenures but also about making sure we have homes for different people at the different stages of their life cycle. I refer to homes for people who are elderly or disabled, as well as for young couples and single people. Almost half of the entries on housing lists are single adults. We have to make sure that as we build homes, we are building the right types of home. It is not about throwing up 80,000 new social and affordable homes in fields sprawling outwards from towns and cities.
We have to think of the people who were badly hurt in the housing crash, the people who were stranded in large housing estates without any social capital or infrastructure, with no shops, schools, playgrounds and public transport. We have to think about the people who were abandoned in unfinished housing estates, some of which still scar the landscape. We have to think about the people who were trapped in negative equity in homes that were too small for their growing families, the people who were burdened with debts they still cannot afford to pay and the people who invested their lives in homes that are no longer safe in which to live because the right standards were not in place in building regulations and controls. They are the mistakes of the past that we have to ensure we will not repeat as we rebuild the housing sector and build tens of thousands of homes each year.
The motion seeks to merge elements of NAMA, the Housing Agency, the Housing Finance Agency and the Land Development Agency to build homes on State land. It is accepting the benefits of the Land Development Agency while trying to use it for a different purpose.
How long would it take to build it, if we are being honest with ourselves and recognise the bureaucracy about which Deputy Penrose spoke? How long would it take to build the new agency? Would it take a year? It could be another 12 months before that agency had control of the lands it would need and would lodge its first planning application. It would be another year before a home was completed. We are talking about a period of three years..
It cannot be wished up overnight; we cannot all of a sudden add an extra 50,000 homes to the housing stock in a year. We have to be honest with the public about the time it takes to get shovels into the ground to get things built. Yes, we have cut the red tape where it has been safe to do so, making sure it will not result in a fall in standards. We have to be honest with the public about the challenges we face. The agency proposed in the motion would be a complete duplication of the Land Development Agency which is up and running. It has a pipeline of sites that it will take from other State bodies. It will lodge its first planning applications this year. There will be significant capital investment by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, when the legislation passes through the House. The agency is already funded from my Department with enough capital to begin its work. It has its interim board in place and is the State's developer. It will take public and private land and develop it in the public good and get an uplift from the increase in the value of that land because it will service sites, receive planning permission and have land zoned for housing. It will use the benefits to deliver more affordable housing. That is exactly what we want to do with a new agency similar to the one proposed in the motion. We have created it in the Land Development Agency.
The motion proposes that we stop allocating money into the rainy day fund. That is incredibly irresponsible because we know that there will be economic shocks in the future. There are the potential risks posed by Brexit, whether it is orderly or disorderly, right in front of us. We have to make sure the wider economy will have the buffers in place to protect not just the housing sector but also other sectors from future shocks. The motion proposes that we bring together the fund of €16 billion to tackle the housing challenges we face, but funding and finance are not issues. Under Rebuilding Ireland, more than €6 billion has been ring-fenced for the housing programme, with €2.4 billion to be spent this year. Home Building Finance Ireland, a new bank to help builders to build homes throughout the country, has €750 million available to it just as a start. The Housing Finance Agency has access to loan facilities of up to €5 billion. The urban regeneration and rural funds amount to €3 billion. The Land Development Agency will have capital of €1.25 billion. In all, being conservative, roughly €16 billion is being dedicated to the provision of housing. That is not counting the additional moneys that have been ring-fenced in the national development plan to 2027 - an additional €7 billion to €8 billion under Project Ireland 2040. That is the amount of money being invested by the Government in housing because we believe we have to provide housing for all citizens, including social, affordable and private housing. That is exactly what we are doing.
The motion refers to the credit unions. The Central Bank has given approval for credit unions to invest in house building but only in tier 3 bodies because that is what it thinks is prudent. It is not €14 billion we can just take from the credit unions and invest. It is incorrect to suggest we could just take the €14 billion, yet that is how the motion accounts for the money about which it talking. The figure might only be as much as €1 billion; yes, we should use it, but some housing bodies are reluctant to take credit union money because it may impact on their ability to use other sources of private finance to invest in housing. We have put funding in place to allow them to explore the possibility of using special purpose vehicles, but we cannot force a housing body and a credit union to come together to invest in housing. We have taken away whatever restrictions were in place to allow them to do so. The retrofitting programme will see 9,000 more homes being retrofitted this year to the new nearly zero energy building, NZEB, standard in the building regulations. The national development plan has a target of 45,000 deep retrofits of homes each year from 2021, while the climate plan on which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is working will go even further in respect of what we want to do with building energy rating, BER, certificates and heating standards and in the replacement of heating equipment.
On tenancy protections, we are bringing very robust, reforming legislation through the House to strengthen rent pressure zones. The motion supports rent pressure zones in that it wants to see more areas included, extend the period to 2021, change the qualifying criteria, make sure areas outside them can only see a rent increase or rent review every two years and not more frequently. It also wants to make sure any perceived loophole is closed, whether in respect of substantial renovation or the second letting of a new property that has come online. We are robustly enforcing and reforming the rent pressure zones to make sure we can continue to give tenants some security on the affordability of rents and help to drive down further rent inflation. In respect of section 34, there will also be protections.
I am sharing time with Deputies Scanlon, Aindrias Moynihan, Murphy O'Mahony, MacSharry, O'Loughlin and Troy.
Fianna Fáil welcomes and supports the motion. Fine Gael has overseen a crisis marked by homelessness which is reaching unprecedented levels. Surging rents are at historic heights. Home building numbers are tens of thousands behind where they need to be, while some 130,000 people are in need of a permanent social home. All the while, another massive problem is emerging that the Government is completely ignoring; ordinary working families cannot afford to own or rent a place.
Fianna Fáil voted through some significant measures in budget 2019, but the key is delivery. The Government has to start to deliver on housing. After six separate plans and over a dozen launches, it just needs to put bricks and mortar into the ground. While other parties grandstand on motions and Bills that will not help to build a single additional home, we have worked to deliver changes in budget 2019 and will continue to hold the Government to account. There is no silver bullet solution to the housing crisis. Fianna Fáil supports the Labour Party motion as we will work on constructive solutions proposed by all parties. The Labour Party motion reflects that party's thoughtful and considered approach to housing solutions, which is in contrast with the showboating and anger management of others who just provide headlines, not homes.
The motion calls for the establishment of a housing development bank, increasing the percentage in Part V to 20%, credit union investment in the provision of social housing and protection for tenants and small landlords.
Fianna Fáil has worked on many of these proposals and is willing to continue to help progress them. The Labour Party's motion echoes closely Fianna Fáil's policy position. It reflects the fact that the State and the Government has a responsibility to the common good to ensure that all people have homes. The State must become the key actor in housing delivery in the Republic of Ireland.
The recent ESRI report, setting out the high amount of money being spent on rent alone, was not a surprise to anyone active in the rental sector in recent years. The increase in the number of homeless people to more than 10,000 is a fundamental failure of policy. This failure of policy is becoming increasingly clear. Fine Gael is very reluctant to change the State's role in housing policy. It is clear that it believes that the private market will sort out things eventually, but this will not be the case. Our housing crisis is getting worse, and after eight and a half years of Fine Gael in government, this is simply not good enough. Rent levels are very high, a whole generation cannot save enough to own a home, while vulnerable households are put at risk of homelessness. Home ownership is slipping away from an entire generation as house prices rise by 13% per annum while wages rise by only 2.5%. The 68% home ownership rate is the lowest since 1971. In Wicklow, house prices in the majority of the county are out of reach for thousands of hard-working families. Only last week a constituent wrote of her despair that even the rental sector in Wicklow was out of reach for her. I will quote an extract from Fiona's email to me.
My husband and I were married in August and found a beautiful rental apartment to call home. For eight months we have been completely happy. I work in Bray and my husband in Carlow, so Rathdrum is the perfect halfway point. Most unfortunately the place we live in has been sold and we have six weeks to vacate. We are rather urgently seeking somewhere to live. Our price range is only between €800 and €900, which is low at the current market rate of inflation, but we are still trying every possible avenue. We have asked around locally and we have been in touch with every estate agent and auctioneer in the Wicklow area. We are growing desperate with every passing day. We have trouble sleeping [and] eating, and I have become prone to panic attacks since we received the news. We just don't have the income to afford the staggering rents being charged.
This woman and her partner both work and commute, yet they have to move into separate parental homes because this Government cannot get on top of the housing crisis.
Fianna Fáil has shown its commitment to finding meaningful solutions through out role in the confidence and supply agreement, and has not shirked away from leading criticism of the Government where it is at fault. The people demand that the Government listens and acts rather than spinning and controlling news cycles. Delivery of new homes is not happening and the crisis is getting worse. I have stated time and time again that the Members in this House will work proactively and energetically to deliver solutions and will step up to the task at hand. However, the scale of the delivery and the response to our genuine support has been very poor. When working families are moving into parents' houses because they cannot even afford to rent a home in Rathdrum, the centre of Wicklow, it is clear that the Minister's policies are failing badly.
The ongoing delay in the publication of the review on social housing is seriously affecting families and individuals who find themselves unable to secure housing because they do not qualify for social housing and do not earn enough to secure a mortgage. I am regularly contacted by people who have found themselves stuck in the situation where they cannot get approval for social housing because they earn more than the threshold allows, but who also fail to qualify for a mortgage because they do not earn enough. This is a ridiculous situation and is penalising families. It makes no sense that the majority of them are paying more in rent than they would if they had a mortgage, either privately or through a social housing programme.
The Minister committed to a review of social housing eligibility in 2017, but this review has still not been published. Unless action is taken, we are condemning people to the rental market for life. Vulture funds, which pay virtually no tax, are buying thousands of houses all over Dublin city and achieving exorbitant rents. What chance does any young couple have of purchasing a house when the houses do not even get to the marketplace?
I heard on the radio recently of a young family who were getting a loan under the tenant purchase scheme, but unfortunately the funds ran out. These people are now probably liable to lose their deposit. That is very serious and very critical. It should not be allowed to happen.
I have been calling on the Minister for years to address the anomalies in the tenant purchase scheme which make it almost impossible for some people on low and middle incomes to buy their home. Opening a pathway to home ownership is at the heart of Fianna Fáil policy, and the right to do this under the tenant purchase scheme has been an important tool in extending home ownership opportunities to low-income households. However, qualifying rules are making it very difficult for people in receipt of social welfare to qualify. The scheme restrictions are particularly cruel when older people, who may have been living in their homes for 30 or 40 years, are prevented from buying their house. It does not matter if they have saved the money to buy their home. The rules of the scheme disqualify them from participating because their current income is solely based on social welfare payments. The majority of these cases involve people in their 70s and 80s for whom the bulk of their income comes from pension payments. It is very unfair on these elderly people. They are being discriminated against because they do not have an annual income of €15,000. The houses they live in are not going to come back into the housing stock again. These people have been living in these houses all their lives, and their families have lived in these houses as well. It is very unfair. This must be addressed urgently.
I will focus on vacant housing and getting those houses which are built into circulation as quickly as possible. In the 2016 census the CSO identified that 12.3% of houses were vacant nationally, but in Cork the percentage was 13.2%. That amounts to 22,000 housing units throughout the county which are vacant. They are vacant for a host of reasons. Perhaps they are for sale, to rent or are under repair. Those situations are more acceptable, but there are also houses vacant because banks are sitting on them or because developers are just not able to finish them. There are also many houses which need a little bit of repair to get them into circulation.
The repair and lease scheme, which was aimed at bringing some of those vacant houses into circulation, had only delivered 48 houses throughout the country at the end of last year. People had expressed an interest in the scheme but only one in ten of them was able to create a tenancy from it. It was clearly too restrictive and not operating properly. The Minister needs to take a serious look at it, make it more widely available and bring more of those vacant homes into circulation for people.
The Minister should also look at water infrastructure that is blocking housing. Unfinished estates or villages exist where people have sites and money but cannot build houses because there is no sewer connection available to them. In the meantime they are forced to occupy rental properties. Coachford is the classic example of this. The people there are waiting for a sewer, and there is an unfinished estate sitting idle, waiting to be finished. People cannot build there. The Minister has to co-ordinate with Irish Water to get such schemes progressed as quickly as possible. There are apartment blocks standing vacant, such as that over the shopping centre in Macroom. People want to let them out. Every effort should be made to release any blockages so that those units can be made available for rent.
It seems as though we are here week after week discussing the issue of housing and homelessness in circumstances where there has been no real progress in this area over the lifetime of this Government. After the launch of six separate plans by this Government, 130,000 people are in need of permanent social housing, more than 10,000 people are homeless, a whole generation are facing the prospect of never owning their own home, and rents are spiralling out of control. I do not see much success here.
I have spoken many times about the lack of housing. Specifically in terms of rent, I point out that rent pressure zones were designed to target spiralling rent costs. Fianna Fáil legislation to extend this into 2020 and after must be approved.
This morning my office received a call from a concerned constituent in Clonakilty who advised that a tiny one-bedroom apartment where it is not possible to swing a cat has just been placed on the rental market at €825 per month with a deposit of €1,000 required in advance. This may sound low to people in Dublin but obviously rents are relative and this is not within the grasp of many people seeking to rent a property in Cork South-West.
Fianna Fáil has worked continually to effect change in the housing sector. If the Government is serious about tackling this matter once and for all, it will adopt this motion.
Obviously we are supporting the motion. Before he left the Chamber, the Minister said we have cut red tape where it is safe to do so in order to protect against a fall in standards. That is just ridiculous. We are effectively saying to Sligo County Council that it can give Marc MacSharry planning permission for 1,000 houses without needing to come near the Department, but Sligo County Council cannot build ten local authority houses without coming up here and going around the administrative merry-go-round for seven, eight or ten months or into years at times. When will we realise that we have to strip out all this unnecessary duplication? If they are capable of giving planning to me, they are capable of planning for themselves. Let us get building. That is what needs to happen. We are hearing about all these hare-brained schemes, this launch and that launch. We are not getting the supply for the demand that exists.
We should outlaw vulture funds and institutional investors purchasing entire schemes in the small amount of building that is going on. The Minister needs to do something about it because nobody can get near to that. Because rents are so high, those institutions are coming in and banking them knowing they will give them a good return. That should not be allowed. The vulture funds that came in under the tax incentives that were there for them are getting these rents tax free.
Deputy Penrose rightly mentioned the number of derelict properties throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. We should be incentivising by providing grant aid to get these up and running. By all means, as the Deputy said, this can be tied into renting to the local authority for a period of years in lieu of that. Certainly let us get them back in use.
Some years ago, probably towards the peak of the boom, I read about Ireland having enough retail space for 15 million people. That may well be the case in villages and towns that no longer support the old-fashioned retail units on their streets. If that is the case and retailing is not possible, we should incentivise those people. Let us get a mix of retail and people living on the streets in those villages and towns.
The motion refers to a housing development bank. The banks are telling us they are lending money at the moment. While they are lending, they are lending to only a handful of people in non-tertiary areas. Non-tertiary areas are effectively everywhere outside Dublin. They will not lend. We need an equivalent of the ACC or ICC, 20 good underwriters and get money out to small builders and large builders throughout the country so that they can get building.
As everybody has been advising, the Government needs to cut out this ridiculous duplicative process for local authorities building houses. They are capable of overseeing me as a private developer building; let them build themselves. The Government should give them the money to do some building and let us begin to eat into the current demand issues.
We have already had six plans. We have had more than a dozen launches and relaunches, too numerous to count. The Government needs to deliver. It is about bricks and mortar and foundations in the ground, which is key for the 130,000 waiting to have a home.
Fianna Fáil supports the motion and I commend those who have introduced it. We are willing to act responsibly and to work cross-party to deal with the crisis. Almost 7,000 people are on the housing list in my constituency of Kildare and 150 people are in emergency accommodation. Home ownership is slipping away from an entire generation. House prices are rising by 13% and yet family incomes are rising by a derisory amount. Renting in Kildare, as in Dublin, Galway, Cork and other counties, is becoming prohibitively expensive. Those on HAP or RAS are finding it increasingly difficult to find a private rental property they will be able to pay for with the allowance they get.
Fianna Fáil also had a key input into budget 2019 on the increased social housing fund and the affordable housing scheme, but unfortunately we have not seen any plans on that. We would also establish an affordable rent scheme, which would be very important for those who need to continue to rent. Even though people are very keen to complain about landlords, we need measures to keep landlords in the market. We need to address delays and red tape in the Department and local authorities.
The motion calls for the establishment of a housing development bank, with which we agree, and to increase from 10% to 20% the requirement to sell housing units at cost to the local authority under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
Housing is one of the biggest issues facing Deputies in their weekly clinics. The numbers on housing lists are at an all-time high. People cannot afford to buy houses. Developers cannot afford to build and sell houses at the current market value. Demand far outstrips supply. Last week, I raised the issue of the land identified by the Land Development Agency more than 12 months ago. What is the status of that? Eight sites were identified. Last week the Minister advised that it is going through the process and they will not be ready for four to six weeks. That is just to complete the transfer of land from the current ownership to the new ownership. That means it will be at least another 24 to 36 months before any houses are built in that area.
Another initiative introduced was the planning exemption for changing commercial premises to residential premises introduced more than 18 months ago, but there have been only 48 applicants in that time. The Government made a promise regarding credit unions. The Government is failing to use available funds. Developers are sitting on land banks with planning permission but are not building because the current regulations are driving up the cost, the development levies are too high and they cannot get access to credit. This needs to change. The Government needs to revise the building regulations - not to compromise them but to revise how they are certified. It needs to revise the levies being charged and incentivise developers to build properties that are affordable for couples.
Some local authorities are far better than others in advancing applications. It is still too bureaucratic and takes too long. Unfortunately, the Government is still failing to deliver.
I listened very carefully to the Minister and it is clear he is not living in the same place as the rest of us. His Department's homelessness report published two weeks ago shows homelessness has reached its highest level since those reports began and, in fact, his own report is a significant underestimation of the real level. A subsequent report by the Residential Tenancies Board, a Government-established body, showed that rents had increased by 7% across the State and by 8% in the city of Dublin, which is twice the level permitted under the terms of the clearly failing rent-pressure zones. A few days later the quarter 1 daft.ie 2019 house price report showed that house prices have increased by a further 6% despite the increase - albeit modest - in the supply of new homes for purchase. However, wages are not increasing by 6%, but house prices are.
The UN's special rapporteur on affordable housing then released a report and wrote a letter to the Government highlighting the potentially negative impact of short-term vulture fund investment in our rental market and the negative impact for prices and tenants' rights. That was followed by a Savills report confirming that same picture but also estimating that rents will continue to rise by up to 17% over the next three years on the basis of its market calculations. In the middle of all of that bad news, both The Irish Times and the Irish Independent - no radical publications - wrote the most stinging reviews and criticisms of the Government's failing housing policy. In fact, the Irish Independentwithin one week alone wrote two separate editorials demanding a right to housing and saying Rebuilding Ireland was failing and needed to be replaced. Yet the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, waltzes into this Chamber and, with all of the confidence of his privileged upbringing, tells us that his plan is working. At what level is this Minister detached from reality?
Let us consider Rebuilding Ireland. Social housing output continues to be glacial. Last year, we got approximately 6,000 extra real social houses, owned by approved housing bodies or local authorities. There are 70,000 households on local authority waiting lists, 45,000 families in two-year housing assistant payment, HAP, tenancies, 20,000 families are in four-year rental accommodation, RAS, tenancies and last year, an extra 14,000 families came on to the local authority housing waiting lists. Therefore, not only is the Government not clearing the historic need that exists, it is not even coming close to dealing with the new need that is arising.
As other Deputies mentioned, not a single affordable home was delivered by any Government scheme in 2016, 2017 or 2018. Yet we know, thanks to the good research of the ESRI, that up to 75% of lower income workers living in the private rental sector, who are not eligible for any State supports, are spending up to 40% of their disposable income on rents. We have a crisis of rental affordability, additional to the crisis of social housing, like we have never had before. How many affordable homes will be delivered this year? None. How many will be delivered next year? On the basis of what we are hearing, perhaps a few but the rent will be €1,300 a month when affordable rents would be somewhere close to €700 to €900. The length of time families are in emergency accommodation beats almost all other European member states. We are dealing with families who spent their third Christmas last December in emergency accommodation and still have no prospect of adequate housing to meet their needs.
The Minister has told us funding is not an issue. Of all of the bizarre things he said here today, that is possibly the most bizarre. We are chronically underfunding our local authorities to deliver the volume of social and affordable homes that are needed. It is true they have lost capacity not only under this but under previous Governments. If we are to seriously build their capacity to deliver the homes that people need, we have to give them money for capital investment and for current improvement and we have to give them the staff. Until they have a significantly larger level of investment than is being proposed under Rebuilding Ireland, things will not change. My view is the same as every other time we had have a debate on this issue. Rebuilding Ireland is failing. Under every single indicator that anybody would reasonably look, it is clear it is failing. We need the Government to accept the plan does not work and that we need a new plan. We would not need to spend a long time developing a new plan. Many of us in opposition, despite some agreements we will have here today, have a clear consensus in terms of the alternatives that are required and it would not take very long to quickly introduce such a plan.
To specifically deal with the Labour Party's Private Members' motion, I fully support the intentions behind it. I also support many of the sentiments expressed in it, particularly the need to significantly increase the supply of social and affordable housing. I have a fundamental disagreement with the delivery mechanism, which is why Sinn Féin will not be supporting this motion. I want to outline why that is the case. We have long been of the view that the best agencies to deliver good quality public housing to meet and social and affordable housing needs are local authorities. They are democratically accountable to their elected members. They are located closest to the communities where housing needs have to be met and until the mid-1980s, because they were properly funded and resourced, they delivered significant volumes of both social homes and supports for affordable homes for working families and we did not have the level of crisis we face today.
I and my party do not support the creation of a new State-wide agency to finance or develop public housing . We want the local authorities to be equipped and empowered to do precisely that. I also do not accept that NAMA should have any role after its current mandate is up. I would like the surplus from NAMA to be reinvested in a variety of public infrastructure projects and housing would be one of those but that should be through the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and directly into the local authorities. I am also strongly against the Land Development Agency, LDA, having any developmental role. I actively support, and I am on public record as having done so, the LDA as having a function in the strategic management of public landbanks. That is necessary for a body with funds and powers to move land around from one State agency to another, but where land is to be developed for residential or residential and mixed use, it is the local authorities that should be in the driving seat. The LDA could partner with them as the provider of that land. The Housing Finance Agency is already in place to provide finance. It would be able to provide much more finance to local authorities if the Government would approve loan facilities, which is the major block in that respect. We do not need another financing vehicle. The Housing Agency, and people in this Chamber might have a different view, is a good agency. It does a good job but its function is to support local authorities in delivering their statutory responsibilities and to provide policy support to central government and I do not believe that should change.
What I would like to see, and this Chamber voted on a motion that almost 40 Deputies from the broad left signed and introduced on 3 October, is an immediate doubling of capital investment to deliver public housing on public land to meet social and affordable housing needs. If we did that, and it could be done by way of an emergency budget if the Government thinks money is not a problem, we could start to ramp up projects that have been a long time on the shelf waiting for investment. That should be done through local authorities and where smaller rural local authorities need additional assistance, the shared services model for procurement, quantity surveyors, architects and designers could be introduced as well.
We also need emergency measures to reduce the flow of families into homelessness. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael made it very clear they would not support the Focus Ireland amendment. I disagree but that is okay. However, they have yet to propose a credible alternative to reduce the number of families presenting as homeless every single day across this State. They have an obligation to do that if they are not willing to support propositions from the Opposition.
We also need emergency measures to constrain and reduce rents. The idea that the rent pressure zones are working is laughable. Tomorrow the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government will deal with a series of amendments to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill from both the Minister and from Opposition Deputies. While many of them are positive, more than a year ago the Minister did not support some of the amendments he is bringing forward and he has been forced into doing this because of Private Members’ Bills coming through on Second Stage. I support those measures but they will not be enough to tackle and to reduce rents.
Crucially, I seek a referendum to enshrine in the Constitution the right to housing. More than 80% of voters in the Citizens' Assembly supported such a call. The Irish Independent, again not an organisation I often quote in defence of my arguments, has publicly called for a right to housing. We need that referendum as a matter of urgency.
Those were the demands of the Raise the Roof campaign in the mobilisation outside this building on 3 October last year. They are the demands of those of us in this Camber who support that campaign. On 18 May in this city, Raise the Roof and all the political parties, community organisations and activist groups, civil society organisations and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are calling for a massive mobilisation of public support for those core housing policy demands. It is clear having listened to the Minister today that he is deaf, "tone deaf" to use the words of the Irish Independent, to the harsh realities that have been caused by the failure of Fine Gael's housing policy. Until we see tens if not hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, I am fearful that will not change and the housing crisis will continue.
I cannot support this motion but I will continue to work with colleagues who proposed it and with other colleagues until we have the kind of housing policy that meets the social and affordable housing needs of the tens of thousands of families who are being ignored, abandoned and whose lives are been made more difficult every day by Fine Gael.
Yes, we will have three and a half minutes each.
The most important thing one can say to people who are angry and frustrated about the worsening and ongoing housing crisis is that they should come out onto the streets for the Raise the Roof demonstration on 18 May. People are sick and tired of the discussion here and the failure of the Government to address the problem. Just as we defeated the unfair and unjust water charges through mass mobilisation, the only way we are going to force a change to deliver the public and affordable housing we need, have the rent controls we need, stop the land speculation and land sell-off, stop the flow into homelessness, have the right to housing inserted into the Constitution is by getting the people out onto the streets. The people who are on housing lists, in the hubs, living with their parents and grandparents because they cannot afford to buy a home and spending more than 50% or 60% of their income on rent, as well as the young people who have no prospect of having a house they can own or rent in the future unless we address the crisis need to get out onto the streets on 18 May.
The motion the Labour Party has brought forward has aspects with which I agree. We have kept much of it, although we have sought to amend other aspects. There is a role not so much for the banks but for a State construction company that would work with the local authorities as the primary deliverer of local authority and public housing on public land. However, we have added in that we should not just maintain public land but also that there should categorically be no sell-off of public land of any description, in any circumstance, by the State, semi-State companies or local authorities - that is critical - and that there should be aggressive measures to stop land boarding and speculation.
I was hoping the Minister would be present in the House for the debate as I had asked him about this issue today. I want to give a couple of examples to highlight the problem we have to address. First, we need to raise the income thresholds to qualify for social housing. Working people, the people who the Taoiseach said get up early in morning, are being axed from the housing list in their hundreds and thousands because their earnings are ever so slightly above the income thresholds such that they are left in limbo, unable to pay market rents or find affordable housing because it is not available. That has to stop. I asked the Minister about this issue and ask him again about it now. A woman who is working for the HSE has a job that is going to change because of Brexit. She will have to check food imports. Her wages will go up slightly, which means that she will lose eight years on the housing list. As a result, she is thinking of resigning. A man who is a council worker effectively has to do mandatory overtime on a Saturday. As a result, he has been taken off the waiting list having been on it for ten years. I have lots more examples, but I do not have time to go through all of them. It is wrong. If we want to have a social mix, the last thing we want to do is constantly cut people from the social housing application list just because they are working, but that is what is happening. The other thing I have discovered this week is that much of the Part V social housing that has been delivered is of a lower spec and substandard compared to the housing provided in private developments, which is wrong.
My last point concerns the scandal of selling off public land, including NAMA lands and property, to speculators and land hoarders, including the Sentinel building in Sandyford. It is a scandal.
In late 2017 the Leeside apartments on Bachelors Quay in Cork were bought by the vulture fund, Lugus Capital. Notices to quit were issued immediately to all residents in the 78-apartment complex. Lugus Capital's plan was to evict, renovate and charge much higher rents. When the residents approached me, we set up a residents' group and decided to campaign against the evictions. The majority of residents who were Erasmus students went home at Christmas. The remainder who were unable to find alternative accommodation in a housing crisis had no alternative but to campaign and fight. They brought the vulture fund to the Residential Tenancies Board to force it to issue new notices to quit. They organised a series of protests outside the apartments. They also organised a march through the city which was attended by more than 300 people. They went on radio and television and to the newspapers, scandalised their landlord and made it absolutely clear that they were not for moving.
Last summer Lugus Capital sued for peace. It offered to keep the residents in apartments if they agreed to switch apartments within the complex, pay higher rents under the HAP scheme and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Cork City Council agreed to the HAP option and, so to speak, the deal was done. I cannot say exactly when, but at some stage Lugus Capital decided to sell up. Having 14 HAP scheme tenants in its new luxury apartments was never part of the plan. Last month the Clúid Housing Association bought the apartments from Lugus Capital for €20 million. The 14 families get to keep a roof over their heads, the HAP scheme tenants will be allowed back into the original apartments, while more than this, 59 households are being taken off the Cork City Council housing waiting list and given new homes at Leeside.
This victory is a testament both to the Leeside residents who fought the evictions and my colleague Councillor Fiona Ryan who advised and worked alongside them every step of the way. With more than 10,000 officially homeless, the Leeside saga is rich in lessons and offers pointers on how the housing crisis might be tackled. Lesson No. 1 is that evictions can be fought and defeated, even when the landlord is a powerful vulture fund. An important pointer is that the key to saving homes and creating new one was taking the building out of private ownership. I prefer a model where the council directly takes control. I prefer a model where vulture fund landlords have their properties seized, rather than receiving lavish compensation. Nevertheless, there is a strong lesson, that is, that ending private ownership can save and create homes. The victory should provide inspiration for every tenant nationwide who is fighting eviction. It should not be a one-off. It should provide a strong element of a template for how the State should intervene in similar cases in the future. Last but not least, the Government should stop kowtowing to the landlord lobby and match the courage of the victorious residents by moving to ban all evictions into homelessness.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion, as I have spoken to every motion on housing since I was elected. It is significant that we are just over 70 years on from the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 which enshrined a number of rights in Article 25, at which the Minister might look, particularly the right to food, clothing, housing and medical care. This and previous Governments have utterly failed to comply with that article.
There are many good aspects to the motion. It seeks to declare that shelter is a human right, acknowledge that rent prices are soaring, recognise that over 10,000 people are homeless and so on. In seeking the declaration, the acknowledgement and the recognition the Labour Party utterly fails to declare, acknowledge and recognise the integral role it played in implementing a housing policy that has led us to where we are. It is important to say this because if it is recognising that it was wrong, that is good, as we all make mistakes. However, it had a golden opportunity when in power with an overwhelming majority. In fact, today we had the undignified spectacle of the senior Minister telling Labour Party Members they did not take their chance, trading insults and telling them that they were irresponsible. When they were elected in 2011, they were fully aware of the extent of the housing crisis because the construction of social housing had ceased in 2009. As an experienced councillor, with my colleagues, I repeatedly invited them to Galway and told them that they were creating a nightmare by not building houses. Did they recognise and tackle that problem? Quite the contrary; they intensified the reliance on the private market which had utterly failed and continues to fail to provide homes for citizens. They enshrined this reliance on the market in legislation and fundamentally changed housing policy by introducing the housing assistance payment and informing local authorities that it was the only game in town.
Housing applicants were left with no choice. In a time of post-truth it is important that politicians stand up and be honest. Housing applicants are being removed from housing waiting lists and have no choice but to take the housing assistance payment.
Security of tenure and the concept of a home for life were gone with the stroke of a pen. In the midst of previous economic crises, construction of public housing never ceased. It ceased from 2009. That was under the previous Government, to be fair, but it was Fine Gael that enshrined the policy and it continues.
Galway city has a waiting list going back to 2002. The rents rise continually. As has been mentioned already, the most recent report from Savills Ireland predicts a 17% rental price increase in the next three years. The average cost to rent is €1,347. The caps of the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the various other schemes are much lower than that. Galway rents have risen by 47% since 2008. For God's sake, even IBEC is calling on us to have a public construction programme. That is exactly what we need on public land. It is tragic. Galway is a city that does not need to have a housing crisis. We have land that has been zoned as residential. We have land at Ceannt Station. We have land near the docks, not to mention the institutional land. The missing part is a master plan. Lately the Government has recognised that there is a crisis in Galway and it has set up a task force. Can the Minister of State update us on when that task force has met, what its aims are and whether it will give us three quarterly reports? My time is coming to an end. I support much of the motion and the amendments proposed by Sinn Féin and Solidarity.
Yet again we have a Private Members' motion on housing, or the lack thereof. I have no problem supporting motions or Bills on housing that put forward progressive arguments, strategies and proposals to go some way towards resolving the housing emergency we face. I agree with many parts of the Private Members' motion put forward by the Labour Party, but I want to ask a question which perhaps the Labour Party Deputies can address when they speak again. The second paragraph of the motion refers to "the duty of the Government and the State, as well as of everyone in society". I do not know who constitutes "everyone in society". Does that include the landlords, who provide some sort of housing for people, albeit insecure? I also note that there is no mention of security in the motion. To me, security of tenure is the crucial thing that people need.
Rebuilding Ireland is a mess. People on the average industrial wage find it practically impossible to rent or get a mortgage. I know a person working in this House who has three children and five grandchildren living at home with him and his wife. They are all working and cannot afford to buy or rent. It is a reality for many families that we come across. More than 10,000 people, nearly 4,000 of whom are children, are in emergency accommodation despite a Government commitment that in July 2017 there would be few or no families in emergency accommodation. The figure keeps rising even though some families are being housed through local authorities or HAP. No family should be evicted into homelessness. That message must come out of this debate.
Up to 50% of house builds are being bought with cash. Five out of ten purchases in the residential property market are made by cash buyers. These figures exclude purchases made by property funds and institutional investors such as Wilson Wright. The number of houses bought with cash payments is actually much higher. A couple of weeks ago the UN rapporteur noted that the massive US fund Blackstone has bought and sold rental properties here, including the Elysian Tower in Cork. Canadian-backed firm Ires REIT is the biggest landlord in Ireland, with more than 3,000 houses and apartments. The Los Angeles-based Kennedy Wilson is already a big landlord. The firm recently said it has billions of euro to buy more rental properties. US fund Starwood Capital has put a consortium together to spend €1 billion on rental properties.
If this continues, there will be very little housing stock left for anybody to buy even if they can afford to do so. Tenants will be paying very high rents. The Government must bring in legislation to deal with the phenomenon of vulture funds buying swathes of apartments and housing in this country. There is enough public land throughout the country to build 100,000 houses. We know that the European cost rental model presents an alternative.
I find it very hard to countenance the Labour Party attempting to wrap the red flag round itself, despite the fact that it is part of the problem and has been since 2011. From 2014 to 2016 the Labour Party presided over the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as it then was. A massive 90% increase in homeless took place under its watch. In 2013, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan introduced the HAP as the only game in town.
Some 75% of social housing tenancies are now being provided through private landlords. That is absolutely outrageous. The HAP is being used as a long-term answer to housing need rather than a short-term measure.
I will finish on this note, as I notice the time passing. Thanks to the Labour Party, €390,000 was spent on HAP for 500 households in 2014 but by last year, €276.6 million was spent on HAP for more than 40,000 households. That is the turnaround that developed in that period of time. We need to push these housing initiatives onward. The one point we must drive home is that vulture funds should not be allowed to come into the housing market in this country and buy up homes that people cannot afford.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. Given the seriousness of the issue it is absolutely vital that we support any effort, wherever it comes from, to throw an effective spotlight on this matter. This is such a crisis that the official record shows that 10,000 people are homeless, more than 3,000 of whom are children. I refer to the ongoing scandal of the national children's hospital. We do not care about children whether they are sick, healthy or homeless. I wonder where the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is this evening. This is a damning condemnation of the Government’s policy. It has failed. Fine Gael has been in power for eight years and it is getting worse.
I note that the motion recognises that in some European countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, housing co-operatives provide a much larger proportion of the housing stock, which is more affordable. Deputy McGuinness and I called for cross-party support when we introduced the National Housing Co-operative Bill 2017, which aimed to establish an off-balance sheet national housing co-operative. The sole intention of this co-operative would have been to keep families in mortgage distress in their homes. We did not get the necessary support. I welcome the Labour Party's motion this evening.
The time for piecemeal and clearly ineffective solutions to the mortgage and homelessness crisis is over. We need a radical approach that will generate significant and sustainable progress in the shortest possible time. The Bill we submitted sought to establish a new stand-alone entity, the national housing co-operative society, that would acquire all principal dwelling house, PDH, loans and all buy-to-let, BTL, residential loans in arrears for more than 360 days. We got great help with that and did great research. It is still my belief that this Bill would have greatly assisted us in reducing the levels of homelessness we are again discussing today. However, we did not get the support. We even had offers of help from American funds. However, the big banks called a halt.
Now we are talking about a boom, with construction cranes visible over the city. They are not building houses. Throughout the country no houses are being built. Something radical needs to be done. It would be better for the Minister of State to recognise this, because his Government will be facing the people very shortly and they will tell him the real situation.
The homelessness figures have reached an all-time high, with 10,000 people currently homeless. Does this Government really realise that these are not just statistics, but real people who deserve the fundamental human right to safety and shelter? In this Chamber we have debated ways to relieve to current housing crisis over and over. I am baffled as to why, after all the hours of discussion and hopeful promises, more people are becoming homeless than are leaving homelessness every year.
Rural Ireland is crying out to be populated and wants to see its deteriorating villages and towns restored to their former glory. In my own constituency of Cork South-West, 100 new houses were proposed for the village of Ballinspittle over the lifetime of the county development plan. None of these houses have been able to go ahead because of the inadequate sewage treatment system in the village. This needs to be looked into.
It is always one step forward and two steps back for rural Ireland. Belgooly is in a similar situation. For years, locals have been crying out for their water problems to be addressed and their water system to be brought up to standard. Typically, a huge promise was made just before the last election. The Government is well used to that and the people of Belgooly are too. The election came and went and there has been no delivery. How much longer will the people of Belgooly have to wait?
This is a problem throughout west Cork. According to Irish Water, Castletownbere, Castletownshend and Goleen are among five towns and villages in County Cork with substandard treatment plants. Untreated sewage is currently discharged into the water. These are all major problems which are holding back the development of houses in rural towns and villages.
The Rebuilding Ireland scheme could have made a difference to the housing crisis and helped to get people on the property ladder. Instead, it was a scheme that was launched without adequate resources on the ground to deal with the number of applicants. Reports indicate that 50% of applicants are rejected, which is outrageous. I am in blue in face from asking the Government to deliver on promises it made during the programme for Government. During the talks on Government formation, a rural resettlement scheme was discussed. As the housing crisis is only getting worse, there was never a better time to promote actively the concept of rural resettlement. The scheme has been rolled out in County Clare and we can see how it worked there. It could work anywhere, perhaps even in west Cork as well, but there has not been any activity on the ground to resolve the issue. Year after year thousands are being added to the waiting list. The situation is scandalous beyond belief.
I, too, am pleased to get the opportunity created by the Labour Party this evening to talk again about this very serious problem that we all have to deal with and listen to, namely, housing. I do not think the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is listening to any of us this evening. We have enough plans, reports and reviews. What we want is money and action. If the money is not available, then the Minister should spell it out and tell us that is the case. There are a number of simple things that need to be addressed. Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned that the income threshold for people on the housing list needs to be raised as a matter of urgency. A couple with two children can earn up to only €33,000, and if they go over that, they are taken off the housing list. I am aware of one couple, among others, who are on the housing list for 11 years and they are afraid they will be thrown off it due to that ridiculous situation.
The cap on the housing assistance payment, HAP, is too low for places such as Killarney and the busier towns such as Kenmare and Dingle. Currently it is €550 and it is €650 if a person gets the increased 20%. That is not adequate and the matter must be addressed. I am bawling here since I was elected asking the Minister to bring forward a tenant purchase scheme in such a way that retired individuals or couples would be allowed to purchase their homes. We had no tenant purchase scheme for five or six years and then it was opened up. People who have savings and the wherewithal to purchase their homes are not allowed to do so.
No funding is available in County Kerry for demountable or modular homes. They were part of the housing set-up, for example, in a case where a farmer whose house got into a bad state of repair but who wanted to stay on his land brought in a demountable home, but that is not allowed. The stock we have is not being repaired and the living conditions are not adequate for those living in them. No funding is available for them. I do not know what the Minister of State is looking at but I know he is not listening to me.
That is the reason the housing situation is in its current state. There are more than 50 applicants in Kerry who have sites but the Department is not giving adequate funding for rural cottages in Kerry. The funding allocated between 2016 and 2021 is enough to build ten cottages. That is not adequate. The Minister should cop on and give us the money and the personnel to deal with the applications because we do not have them in Kerry at present.
I support the Labour Party motion. We tabled an amendment to it on a point where we differ. It is more respectful to highlight that rather than just glossing over it. We believe that we should set aside funding into a rainy day fund as it may help us in the event of an unseen downturn to have a countercyclical ability to increase investment in such circumstances. We tabled the amendment because we believe it is important to keep such a facility for fiscal reasons.
In the brief time available to me, I wish to outline other ways that we can achieve the same objective and guarantee the financing of the public housing that we need to tackle the housing crisis. We have been obsessing about this for two or three years. It is based on switching from the current system of providing either social housing, private rented accommodation or privately owned housing to a cost rental model of public housing. Everyone cites Vienna, which is a good example of how such a system can work, but I favour continuing to use the term "cost rental" because it is important to recognise that the rent we would apply on such sites would cover the cost of construction. The cost would be lower than in other developments based on the assumption that it would largely be built on State land where the cost of land would not be included in the development cost. I have yet to hear anyone disagree with the notion. In addition, because it would be developed by the State, there would not be the same developer's profit margin. In that way we would hope to achieve in the region of a 20% to 30% reduction in the rent that would apply compared with the private sector. There are significant advantages to it in that it is intervening in the market. It is opening up such property to people who at the same time would be looking for private rented accommodation. In that way, critically, it attacks the worst point in the housing crisis, namely, in the private rented sector, and brings down the prices in the market in a way that we see no other intervention doing.
The cost rental approach provides for social protection because if someone does not have sufficient income to pay the rent, it would be possible to apply an allowance for the individual or family to make sure that they could avail of such accommodation. It would be far better to give the rent supplement to the State-led public housing development rather than the way Fine Gael is doing it, which is giving it all to the private sector. Critically, because the costs are covered by the rent, it is also amenable to being financed, and in a way that takes us through downturns, because we are looking at a 15 to 20 year guaranteed rent return and we would move away from the current system. If we stick with the current social housing model, we are sticking with a system where the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government still holds all the cards and, in particular, if we did not have a rainy day fund, we would see a constant cycle of boom and bust, stopping and starting depending on the annual fiscal situation. We need to get away from that and to be countercyclical in our building activity as well as in every other aspect of the economy, and the cost rental model does that. It does it in a way that would allow local authorities to start raising funds and issuing municipal bonds as well as setting up their own funding mechanisms separate to central State funding to deliver it. That is the most secure way of providing public housing, rather than always going back to the central Exchequer and allowing the Department of Finance and the Department of the Housing, Planning and Local Government run everything and then put the brakes on when funds run dry. As the former Minister, Charlie McCreevy said, if he had it he would spend it and if he did not have it he would not. That has to stop. We need to start thinking long term and planning and financing. That is the reason the cost rental model works.
We support the rest of the motion. There is widespread agreement across this House and throughout the country that the current model being applied by Fine Gael is a complete and utter disaster. The worst legacy of the Government is the ongoing reliance on private market solutions in a private market system that is clearly broken. What is really egregious in the way Fine Gael is approaching the policy is that it is also, in a sense, privatising the provision of public housing. In the land lease arrangements we are effectively paying a developer to develop private housing and in the end he owns it after being given a 20-year guaranteed rent stream. It is a subsidy to the private market and it is not building up the public asset that would be built if we were to opt for the alternative cost rental model. We are at the stage where private developers are going to the banks and other finance agencies and borrowing long-term at reasonably low rates to buy up properties which they then offer to local authorities and the State for public housing. The reason they can get the low interest rates is that the banks and financial institutions know the housing lists are so extensive that council rents are pretty much guaranteed and there is no real risk.
We are providing a privatised solution that has zero risk and provides a guaranteed return. After 15 or 20 years of financing a property that way, the owner then has an asset rather than the State having a public housing asset that it can then reuse for another family or use as leverage to get further borrowing for other public service investment.
There is a stubborn reluctance on the part of Fine Gael to listen to other voices in this House. As the Taoiseach said, as they see it, their strategy is the only one that is working, they will stick to it and no one else has a clue. It is obvious to everyone in this House that the Fine Gael model is not working, will not work, and is inequitable, inefficient and the biggest threat to our country and our economy. It has to change. That is the reason we support this motion with the twist that cost rental is the way to scale up the financing. We do not need to rob the rainy day fund to do it now. We need to have a rainy day fund for housing financing, which we get with the cost rental model. That is why we come back to it time and again as the intervention that will unlock and change the entire housing crisis we have before us.
I thank Deputy Jan O'Sullivan for putting together this motion on behalf of the Labour Party, which fairly reflects our housing policy at this time. The time for a State-led approach to housing is long overdue and, unfortunately, this Government has driven us further towards a market-led approach. That has been a disaster. The shift in Government policy in 2016 towards a landlord-led solution to the housing crisis has served to deepen the crisis further and add needless complexity to a situation that was already very complicated.
In late 2014 and 2015, as the economy began to improve, we were able to secure funding for investment in the building of local authority homes. It was a start and was only part of the solution, but we did make a start. In my constituency of Dublin Fingal, a number of social housing schemes came off the shelf and went into development in places like Lusk, Balbriggan, Balrothery and Ballyboughal. It was encouraging, but it was not to last. Unfortunately, since 2016, the focus has shifted to the landlord-led approach we see now. Some of the projects that got out the gate, so to speak, in 2014 and 2015 have been completed in Fingal. Some are still under construction but not too many have got the go-ahead since 2016.
This shift to a landlord and developer-led solutions to the housing crisis has worsened the housing and homeless crisis immeasurably. We are now in a position in which there is no hope for so many. I refer to families in hotels, families split up, the hidden homeless still living with parents, crammed into box rooms or getting by due to the generosity of friends. It is scandalous. They are all trying to navigate a complex administrative procedure which, in my own case of Fingal, can see them having to shuttle between Blanchardstown and Dublin city homeless services and filling out endless forms only to receive a phone number at the end of it for self-accommodation. That is demoralising and soul destroying for those people.
Single homeless men have been thrown to the wolves due to absurd administration rules laid down by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. They cannot avail of bed and breakfast accommodation and they cannot self-accommodate. The housing assistance payment, HAP, rates available to single people are nowhere near adequate, even if a place can be found. Single people are forced into city centre hostels, which are sometimes dangerous, or, even worse, they are forced to take to the streets. It is an abhorrent state of affairs.
There is also inertia in terms of recognising the changing environment of the housing crisis. In particular, that is the case for people who find themselves marginally over the income thresholds to qualify for social housing support, as other Deputies mentioned. As it stands, the income threshold level at which an applicant may qualify for social housing in Fingal is set at €35,000 per annum for a single person. Beyond that, depending on family size, the threshold varies, yet for an average family of two adults and two children, the level currently sits at €38,500 per annum. In cases whereby a household contains three adults and four children, the threshold stands at its highest - €42,000. These limits were established in 2011 and have not changed since. The income threshold as it stands is simply too low and has led to more problems being created than are solved. Furthermore, the working family payment, WFP, is reckoned as part of the household income assessment. We have one arm of the State recognising that a family does not have enough to live on and therefore qualifies for WFP while another arm of the State is saying that, as a result of that payment, the family ought to be able to provide accommodation for itself. That is nonsense and must be addressed and resolved urgently.
Many families in the Fingal area who have been on the housing list for in excess of seven years have now been removed from that same list due to being a couple of hundred euro over the existing threshold. That is an unacceptable situation which is causing great distress for families who have been waiting patiently for many years to be offered housing. A situation whereby a person may have to refuse a promotion or overtime to ensure they do not rise slightly above the threshold is in complete contrast to the kind of employment innovation the Government should be promoting.
I was told last July in the Dáil that:
As part of the broader [social housing reform] agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports has commenced. The Housing Agency is carrying out the detailed statistical work [on behalf of the Department]. I expect the results of this review to be available for publication [later in the summer].
Despite the publication of these statistics with the Summary of Social Housing Assessments 2018, no change has been implemented yet. Is it the case that the Government is holding out on increasing the threshold to avoid making more people eligible for HAP? I hope that is not the case. I am aware the work on the review is done, so let us publish it and issue the circular to local authorities with immediate effect.
The Government has failed to explain adequately the implications of the influx of large private equity funds into the housing market. The sale of 118 two, three and four bedroom properties in Balbriggan and Donabate by Glenveagh Properties to private investment fund Ires REIT, at an average price of €323,728 per property, will take first-time buyers out of an already squeezed market. That organisation is the largest rental company in the State and this will inevitably push the price of houses up in the midst of a housing crisis while also pushing the already extortionate rental prices up even further. I imagine these properties will not be rented at an affordable level. They will be put on the market at the current market value rents which are boiling hot. It is another example of what happens when the market is given a free rein on housing. I congratulate my colleague and council candidate in Donabate-Portrane, Corina Johnston, on raising the issue last week, which was followed by others.
Last week, we had a presentation in Dublin on the Vienna housing model. It was very interesting and we include it in our motion. The Vienna model delivers large-scale public housing for long-term and secure rent through a number of vehicles, including private developers. The result is that large swathes of the population rent their homes from public authorities, and people from all walks of life, at all skill levels and wage levels, unskilled workers and professionals, understand the need for a communitarian approach to housing in which rents are affordable and security is provided. We are so far away from that under the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Government arrangement that it seems like a utopian dream. This Government could not even continue with the beginnings of traditional social housing builds which we got off the ground at the back end of the previous Government. Its loaves and fishes approach to hoping the increased demand will be met with existing supply has led to the shocking statistic of more than 10,000 people in homelessness. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Cavan town, Ballina or Skerries without a home. That is shocking, and it is only getting worse. This is at a time when rents have soared to unaffordable levels for many. The major split that is occurring in our society is less one of class or income and more one of security, that is, those who have security of tenure and those who do not.
I acknowledge the positive contributions by Members from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Solidarity-People Before Profit and the Rural Independent Group. Unfortunately, Deputies Joan Collins and Catherine Connolly have left the Chamber, but I note the usual bitterness of these people towards the Labour Party, which somehow clouds their judgment.
The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, had to leave early. He cannot speak twice in the debate in any case, but as he outlined earlier, many of the aims in the motion are already being achieved through either the Land Development Agency or other Rebuilding Ireland housing policy initiatives.
The immediate focus of the Land Development Agency, LDA, is on managing the State's lands to develop new homes, regenerate underutilised sites and, in the longer term, assemble strategic landbanks from a mix of public and private lands, with the overall objective of being involved in the delivery of 150,000 new homes over the next 20 years. The new public land affordability requirement, whereby a minimum of 30% of any housing developed must be reserved for affordable purposes, in addition to the 10% statutory social housing requirement under Part V, will enable greater delivery of social and affordable homes on public lands. This new requirement will apply regardless of whether such development is being progressed by the LDA or any other market operator.
On establishment, the LDA had access to an initial tranche of eight sites across Dublin, Kildare, Cork, Westmeath and Galway. Significant preparatory work is under way on these sites, with feasibility, planning and other preparatory works already initiated. Construction activity is envisaged to commence on the first homes in 2019 for delivery in 2020, pending the granting of planning permissions on those sites. Development of LDA managed lands will make a substantial contribution to the achievement of wider Government targets for housing delivery in general and social housing specifically, as set out in Rebuilding Ireland, thus enhancing supply, aiding the moderation in increases in housing costs and enabling new sources of affordable housing supply, including for cost rental accommodation, which has been mentioned by many speakers.
The Government is committed to bringing forward cost rental housing and the LDA will be involved in that. Under the cost rental model a provider supplies accommodation and charges rents sufficient to cover the capital costs associated with delivery along with the ongoing commitments related to the management and maintenance of the development. Together with delivering more affordable and predictable rents, cost rental will make a sustainable impact on national competitiveness and the attractiveness of our main urban centres as places to live and work. As cost rental is a new housing model to Ireland, and to drive delivery, a number of important early mover projects are being advanced, delivering important lessons in cost rental in an Irish setting. These cost rental pilot schemes are at Enniskerry Road, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and Emmet Road in Inchicore, where 50 and 330 units, respectively, are being developed. The Department is also engaging with the National Development Finance Agency, the European Investment Bank and the Land Development Agency to examine the optimum funding and delivery options to support delivery at scale in Dublin and other urban areas.
As stated, overall housing supply continues to show significant increases. More than 18,000 new homes were built in 2018, a 25% increase on the previous year and the highest number of newly built homes in any year this decade. More than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 in 2018, together with more than 3,700 student bed spaces.
The key focus of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018, which is scheduled for Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann tomorrow, is to deliver on a number of commitments flowing from Rebuilding Ireland and the commitments made to provide the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, with additional powers and resources to deliver enhanced protections to both tenants and landlords. The key measures and reforms in the Bill are designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, provide greater security of tenure for tenants, and further underpin the operation of the rent pressure zone arrangements, along with some further targeted priority measures. The Betterlet: RTB Accredited Landlord programme has been developed from an action in the strategy for the rental sector and is a voluntary accreditation scheme for landlords to participate in to gain knowledge on best practice, including a comprehensive understanding of the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.
I always listen to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's comments on housing. Just as his speeches are always the same, the answer also remains the same. There is no prohibition on Kerry County Council providing extra resources from its funding sources. Almost half of the Healy-Rae family are members of Kerry County Council at this stage and perhaps the Deputy could encourage them and other councillors to provide extra funding, be it for demountable homes or the once-off rural houses he mentioned. Not every answer necessarily rests with central government. Local government still has significant autonomy, and just because decisions are not made at local government level does not mean everything should fall back on central government.
The motion calls on the Government to create an Irish housing development bank by merging parts of the National Asset Management Agency with the Housing Agency, Housing Finance Agency and the Land Development Agency to act as a State owned commercial housing developer with a remit to produce social housing and affordable public housing on publicly owned land. There is no obvious rationale for creating a bank of the type suggested. The Housing Finance Agency and the Housing Agency have specific functions and I am confident that each is operating effectively. In addition, Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, a new State lender for small and medium-sized builders and developers has been established with an initial €750 million to fund the delivery of up to 7,500 new homes over the next five years.
The rainy day fund forms part of the Government's policy to stabilise the public finances and increase the State's resilience to external economic shocks. It is important to remember that the almost complete shutdown of residential housing development after the crash is a major contributor to the current housing shortage. The reason it is so important to have a rainy day fund is so we have a buffer against a future crisis and a better capacity to sustain capital infrastructure projects in particular. Diverting investment from this fund would deplete the reserves available to be drawn on in the event of a serious unforeseeable economic event occurring during the relevant year.
Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness was introduced by this Government in 2016 and provides a comprehensive framework for tackling the range of complex issues that must be addressed across the housing sector. Very significant progress has been made on delivery through local authorities, approved housing bodies and a range of other delivery partners, with in excess of 72,000 households having their housing needs met during the first three years of Rebuilding Ireland. A further 27,300 households are supported by a record investment of €2.4 billion in housing this year, bringing to almost 100,000 the total number of households that will have been assisted under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019. Overall, the Rebuilding Ireland action plan will increase the supply of new homes to 25,000 per annum by 2020 and meet the housing needs of a further 87,000 households through the housing assistance payment scheme and the rental accommodation scheme.
This Government remains resolutely focused on ensuring that all appropriate measures to address the challenges of homelessness will continue to be deployed. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, is provided by Dublin City Council as the lead statutory local authority in the response to homelessness in Dublin and adopts a shared service approach across the four Dublin local authorities. The Department also established a dedicated housing delivery office in September 2017 to support local authorities, approved housing bodies and all stakeholders involved in the delivery of key elements of the ambitious private and social housing targets in the Rebuilding Ireland plan. The purpose of this office is to accelerate and monitor housing delivery, both private and social, on key sites and to identify further mechanisms to accelerate delivery.
What is critical at this stage is to ensure that all of the structures already in place are aligned, co-ordinated and working towards a common objective. This includes the Department, the Housing Agency and the Housing Finance Agency working with local authorities and housing bodies throughout the country.
The Government is satisfied at this time that appropriate arrangements are in place to deliver a much-needed social and affordable homes across the country.
The Government is committed to improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock. Funding is being provided for a number of grant schemes to encourage energy efficiency upgrades in homes. These schemes, which are funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, provide financial support for installing insulation, ventilation, heat pumps, solar, thermal, and photovoltaics. Additional supports for people on lower incomes, including free energy efficiency retrofits are also available. More than 400,000 homes have already upgraded the energy performance of their homes with the assistance of these grants.
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate here today: the many who agreed with us and those who were critical or in opposition to our motion. People are feeling a sense of total desperation and shame at present that almost 4,000 children are now homeless. As a society, we do not know what the long-term impact of that will be for those children.
What disappoints me most about the Government is the return of the mass speculation over which it has presided, which was a feature of the last boom. The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, described the boom as having just got boomier. Can I advise members of Fine Gael to take a look on Thursday or Friday at the weekend or midweek supplements on commercial property in our national newspapers and consider the land prices that are been quoted. We have is a significant return, sanctioned by Fine Gael as a Government, of grotesque speculation in property for landowners, as opposed to the interests of people who desperately need a home.
A small site in Harold's Cross, comprising less than a hectare, has a suggested price of €3 million and my guess is it may well go higher. The old college of engineering in Kevin Street has been put up for sale in recent times and a deal has been reached for an astronomical value for a mixture of education and commercial uses, a small amount of housing and possibly some student apartments. All over Dublin, student apartments are being built at present but has the Minister of State seen the report, in part by Irish students, to the effect that these apartments, which are major commercial developments, are now almost impossible to rent for local Irish students, given the exorbitant rents?
The Government is driving a type of Gordon Gekko-style approach to land and land development, which is saying to landowners and speculators that greed is good. That was one of the key elements that brought about the last collapse. It shocks and pains me that Fine Gael do not remember this at all. It simply wants to replace Fianna Fáil in its role of encouraging, permitting and endorsing speculation in land. In my constituency and that of Deputy Brendan Ryan, modest, very nice A-rated, three and four-bedroom houses now have a land price incorporated in the houses of anywhere from €50,000 to over €100,000. Prices are going that way in Kildare, particularly in north Kildare.
The crux of our social dilemma is that for people who are working hard on moderate to middle incomes, owning a home under Fine Gael is becoming an impossible dream. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, confirmed to me on a recent radio programme that the Government has not been able to do anything to help people to buy an affordable home. A garda married to a teacher may both have to commute 30 km or 40 km into the Dublin region where their work is. One is talking about attracting and encouraging nurses to work in the city centre, when the children's hospital is finally built, €500 million over price. How in Heaven's name will they be able to afford to buy a home?
The senior Minister's local authority in south County Dublin, that is, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, quoted an affordable cost rental of €1,200. What does a corporal in the Army earn? A comment by the Minister for Finance, when I asked about this recently, indicated a figure of approximately €27,000 per year. A person in our Defence Forces, putting his or her life on the line and serving his or her country with pride, earns between €27,000 and €30,000, if he or she receive extra allowances, and will be expected to pay a cost rental of €1,200 a month. What planet is the Minister living on?
We hear talk today of black holes being discovered. The black hole in Ireland is what is happening on housing. The situation is getting worse not better. This on the Government and Fine Gael's watch.
A report in The Irish Timesthe other day, which has not been contested by anyone in government, stated that 10% of families who are renting are now paying more than 60% of their income in rental cost. When I worked in social protection, the generally agreed and desirable level of contribution for rent was 15%. It was recognised that in certain circumstances that could perhaps go to 25% but that support would be needed for those in particular in a family situation in such instances. We have now a report in a reputable national newspaper saying that one in ten families are paying 60% of their income in rent. We, as a society, are poised to have some upsides to Brexit. There will not be any upsides for people coming from other countries to work here in financial services if they do not have affordable rentals and homes. What we are seeing now is a grotesque distortion of the market.
The Minister of State has reeled off there a list of things that, apparently, the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Communications, Climate Action and Environment are doing but being honest, we cannot see this on the ground. The test has to be a Government that will not acknowledge that its ordinary ranks in the Army cannot afford to buy, rent or get a social home. The Minister of State's response contained little or nothing of any substance on the building and development of social housing. The Labour Party has brought forward a motion which is feasible in policy terms, which can be produced and is affordable. We have set out a very clear mechanism as to how we will do this through the setting up of a housing fund.
Again, Fine Gael seems to be ideologically opposed to public ownership of social housing. That is unfortunate because approximately 30% of the people and families in this country are unable to buy their own homes. They will need something like public socially-owned developments to have security of tenure over their lifetimes.
I will say one thing to those in Fine Gael. They do not understand social housing because relatively few people in Fine Gael seem to have any experience of being social housing tenants. I was brought up in a rented house. My family could not have afforded to buy a house, like many of the families in the country at the time. There is nothing wrong with social housing.
We have heard great comments about the Vienna model. Two years ago I travelled around Vienna with some of the principal people in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to look at the model there. Like the Labour Party motion, it is based on an investment model that over a long period puts a significant amount of money into housing. That is what we did. Deputies should remember that we sorted out the ghost estates, which were the symbol of Ireland's crash, in 2011. We also reopened 6,000 boarded-up houses in the Dublin area. We know how to deliver. We created the €4 billion fund for housing, to which the current Government has added a relatively modest amount.