Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Planning and Development (Amendment) (First-Time Buyers) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
I wish to begin by paying tribute to Simon Brooke who sadly passed away yesterday. In his various roles in recent decades, he brought a focus to bear on housing problems in Ireland. He provided an insightful voice to guide policy discussions and was always generous with his time to those of all parties and none who sought his assistance. I wish to express my deep condolences and those of the Fianna Fáil Party to his family, friends and former students, who will miss his learned company. The national conversation on this most pressing issue will be all the poorer for his passing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Fianna Fáil believes home ownership is good for individuals, families, communities and the country. For decades, that guiding thread linked housing policy across the State. By 1991, we had become world leaders in terms of home ownership levels, with 82% of households owning their own home and the average age of a first-time buyer standing at 26. With Government help, a household on a modest income could achieve ownership at a reasonable cost, enjoy their home and ultimately pass it onto the next generation if they so desired. The path to realising that basic, decent and honest ambition is now being closed by the policies of the Government. The rate of home ownership has plummeted to 67%, below the EU average of 69%. Germany and Austria are often held up as exemplifying the type of rental policy Ireland should follow, yet they are seeing increases in home ownership rates while ours is reducing further.
The aspirations and hopes of a generation are being stymied by a rent trap. Unaffordable house prices and unprecedented rent levels are locking them into a rip-off rental market. The cost of renting is 26% above the previous peak in 2008, with people in Dublin spending 55% of their net take-home pay on rent. The dream of owning the roof over one's head or having a place of one's own is disappearing for a generation. The ultimate reason for that is the failure of Fine Gael policy. It is most evident in the flagship Rebuilding Ireland programme and Fine Gael's abandonment of home ownership as a primary goal for the State. It is deliberate Fine Gael policy to push people into the private rental market which is becoming further commercialised and institutionalised, facilitated by the Government.
In defending Rebuilding Ireland, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, has become the Minister for gaslighting. For example, he has welcomed what he refers to as boutique-style hotels, but which are, effectively, bedsits with a price premium whereby the rent per square foot is higher in the Liberties than in Los Angeles. He has attempted to depict missed targets and pushed-back deadlines as progress. There is blatant manipulation of figures as basic as the number of homes to be built. Rebuilding Ireland set a target of doubling output such as to deliver more than 25,000 units per annum on average over the period from 2017-2021. That is set out in black and white on page 18 of Rebuilding Ireland. In reality, it has delivered an average of 16,239 new units for 2017-2018 or 65% of the target to date. In response, the Minister stated that the target is reaching 25,000 by 2021. That is not what was set out in the announcement of the flagship plan. The result of this cynical exercise in spin is a deepening social housing emergency, shocking numbers of homeless people on our streets, unprecedented rent levels and a profound home ownership crisis. We have the highest rents ever, the highest homelessness levels in generations and the lowest home ownership rate in more than 50 years.
The Bill forms part of a suite of measures Fianna Fáil has worked on to build a ladder of opportunity for young people to achieve home ownership. We have fought to retain the help-to-buy scheme to support buyers. We have secured a new affordable housing scheme that will initially build on State-owned land 6,200 affordable units for purchase. The difference is that if Fianna Fáil was in government, it would implement and expand that scheme. Fianna Fáil is committed to the hard work of implementing policy and putting forward practical solutions, rather than grandstanding on motions that will not build an additional unit. We have produced more than a dozen housing Bills in slightly more than a year, along with a costed and workable affordable purchase scheme and a plan to expedite house building and social housing by lifting the discretionary cap, which the Minister resisted doing all year. Fine Gael likes to criticise Opposition housing policies but our housing policy can be seen on the Dáil Order Paper and in the hard-won gains in budget documents. The Government's policy can be seen in the cruel work of fiction that is Rebuilding Ireland.
The Bill seeks to address the bulk buying of estates by real estate investment trusts, REITs, cuckoo funds and the State which prevents them being available to first-time buyers. The State should be building rather than snapping up homes from under the noses of first-time buyers who are being squeezed in a vice grips by cuckoo funds and the State. The Bill will allow local authorities to earmark a certain percentage of zoned land - up to 30% at the discretion of the planning authority - for first-time buyers. It will operate on a similar basis to the current Part V provisions which ensure that 10% of units are set aside for social housing. Under the Bill, each local authority will be required to review its housing strategy and set out its requirements for rental units over the lifetime of its housing plan. This will ensure a full picture of the housing market is considered when a council sets out its future plans.
The specific goal of the Bill is to prevent the bulk buying of entire developments by investment funds or the State which freezes out first-time buyers. As part of an overall housing strategy, it contains exemptions to allow build-to-rent developments that would otherwise not be given the go-ahead, while preventing developments already in place being snapped up by investors at the last moment. Investment in new build-to-rent developments will be facilitated, but such developments must be earmarked as being for rental only as part of an overall housing plan in appropriate areas. Planning authorities will have the power to look at the concentration and proportion of build-to-rent units in communities and refuse or alter planning as required.
At the core of this issue are competing visions for our housing system. On one side, Fine Gael has abandoned the goal of supporting home ownership and instead embraced a tenure natural approach with a view to moving towards more and more rental. On the other, Sinn Féin and others criticise home ownership and just want social rented housing. Between those ideological extremes is what people actually want: to own their own home. Even surveys carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have shown a significant preference for ownership. Fianna Fáil is clear on where it stands.
We will fight for those ordinary working men and women who want something to show for their efforts, something that they can enjoy into retirement and pass on to their children should they wish. This Bill marks another round in that fight and I commend it to the House.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for introducing this Bill, which forms another significant element of Fianna Fáil's practical, radical and evidence-based policy measures, designed to produce an emergency-level response to the ongoing crisis in housing. A generation faces being left scarred by a Government still not admitting the scale of the crisis or making the necessary decisions. Hearing that a toddler faces development challenges in walking and eating as a result of homelessness should make every Deputy in this Chamber ashamed and should mandate us to seek radical yet responsible policies to get a grip on our housing crisis.
Regrettably there are too many politicians in this Chamber and outside it, whose sole concern is to maximise the politics of Ireland's housing crisis and not offer solutions to it. We have even seen Fine Gael Dáil candidates state publicly that there is no homelessness crisis outside Dublin and that many of those who are suffering from homelessness are addicts and have made bad life choices. Political rhetoric designed to play down the Irish housing and homeless crisis is as inexcusable as populist stunts designed to make political capital out of the suffering of thousands of Irish families, our fellow citizens.
Those politicians who think that a general election in December or January will help ease the housing crisis at one of the most dangerous periods for homelessness should also reflect deeply on the politics they are promoting. These politically motivated tactics are disgraceful and bring shame to the responsible, mature yet radical actions that need to be enforced to address the Government's failure to provide homes for our people.
The Government continues to use the vast amount of expensive spin and public relations statements to attempt to convince us that the housing crisis is getting better. However, we know that it is worsening and an entire generation of Irish people face never being able to afford a home in the Taoiseach's so-called republic of opportunity.
We all know that the elephant in the Chamber tonight is how to increase the supply of affordable homes for sale and rent. Fianna Fáil has innovative, radical and purposeful policies in this regard such as this Bill, which will allow local authorities to earmark up to 30% of zoned land for first-time buyers. It will operate on a similar basis to current Part V provisions which ensure that 10% of units are set aside for social housing.
For example, a development of ten units must have up to three units available for first-time buyers to purchase. Each local authority must also review its housing strategy to set out its requirements for rental units over the lifetime of its housing plan. This will ensure a full picture of the housing market is considered when the local authority sets out its future development plans.
The goal of the Bill is to prevent the bulk-buying of entire developments by investment funds, also known as cuckoo funds, thereby freezing out first-time buyers. It contains exemptions to allow build-to-rent developments that would otherwise not be built to go ahead as part of an overall housing strategy while preventing developments already in place being snapped up by investors at the last moment. In this way investment in new build-to-rent developments will be allowed but they must be earmarked for rental only as part of an overall housing plan in appropriate areas.
Ireland needs around 35,000 new units a year and is building less than 20,000. This is driving up rental prices, overcrowding and ultimately homelessness. New investment that boosts badly needed supply should be welcome. However, it should be part of a proper planning process that builds sustainable communities along with social and economic infrastructure.
We all know that we are heading towards a general election in late spring or early summer. That gives this current Dáil just over 40 sitting days to pass this Bill and to bring in many measures that will provide solutions to increase the supply of homes.
I implore colleagues on both the Government and Opposition benches to use the remaining time to prove that representative politics can rise above tactical manoeuvres designed for a media agenda and vote for this Bill and other actions that this Dáil can still ensure are introduced. I ask that we do the job we were elected to do.
I pay tribute to my colleagues, Deputies Darragh O'Brien and Casey, for their work on this Bill because we need to continue to seek idea-based solutions to address our housing crisis, rather than rhetoric from the usual sources. Deputy O'Brien pointed out the number of Bills Fianna Fáil has introduced in that respect. He has continued to use this forum of our national Parliament to effect change and to demonstrate to our citizens how we can take a different course with the largest problem that bedevils our country so that we can present solutions to them and they can see how the potential to own their own home can become a reality.
In doing so he made reference to the ideology of Sinn Féin which elicited sniggers from the far end of the Chamber. I served on a local authority for 17 years and that ideology was clearly prevalent in that time. The lads would want to reflect on that as well.
My God, I am.
We have seen this week the pantomime show of others running to the plinth to try to get as many television cameras as possible to look at them. There is no worry about housing when they are merely worried about their 30 seconds on the news tonight. In that respect the core component of home ownership needs to be addressed because we have multiple aspects to the debate on the housing crisis.
While the homelessness figures are increasing, there is a failure to provide an adequate supply of social housing through our local authorities and the HAP scheme has now become a scheme that has taken our housing policy in a completely different direction that is going to be very hard to undo, we rarely hear debates in this Chamber about the young people who actually have got the money together to purchase a home or an apartment but who, through a combination of lack of supply and not being able to compete in the marketplace with investment funds or ironically being up against local authorities which are buying up homes through their acquisition funds as their way of supplying houses, find that they cannot purchase a home as if there were not enough hurdles in their way to begin with. While the frustration experienced by these young couples rarely gets aired, I know their anger. Apart from them coming into my constituency office, I also meet them in my GAA club or out socialising at the weekend and they recount what is the main topic of debate for them.
Why do we find ourselves having this debate? It is because Government policy has feathered the nest of developers who favour these build-to-rent projects, resulting in a dearth of properties for first-time buyers to purchase. Developers who are now building again are trying to squeeze the last drop out of every square foot and the same old problems are coming up, only this time it is worse. The yield that developers are getting on these build-to-rent schemes are the highest in western Europe. As there is no requirement to provide for a mix of different unit sizes naturally developers put in many more smaller units. With developments being swallowed up by investment funds which seek only to maximise their return even further, the challenge that was already daunting for young couples becomes insurmountable.
The Bill seeks to address these challenges by earmarking up to 30% of zoned land for first-time buyers, a very welcome initiative. This is needed because, as Deputy Darragh O'Brien said, the rate of home ownership in Ireland has dropped like a stone over recent decades. I purchased my home 15 years ago in the mid-2000s. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and I are from the same part of the world and are roughly the same age. We both bought our homes and started families at the same time in our mid to late 20s. Just over a decade later home ownership has slipped to that low of 67% - the lowest since 1971. Instead of people buying in their mid-20s as we were able to do back then, the average age for a first-time buyer has now risen to 35.
Aside from the fact that the act of purchasing is now so difficult, what is depressing is that even the hope or the dream of owning a home or apartment is evaporating and people are resigned to renting, with the cost of rent now 26% in excess of the peak in 2008. Last year we heard in this Chamber that this was being tackled and there was no need for towns to come in under the rent-pressure zones and yet we have seen a huge swathe of new towns added this year, including my town.
In analysing this crisis, the Irish Independentyesterday described the Minister as an earnest Minister but stated that a laissez-faireattitude was still at work just like the attitude of W.T. Cosgrave back in 1924. At that time, in the throes of an even worse housing crisis, the Irish Independentreported the grumbling of the said Mr Cosgrave when he said it was up to private enterprise alone to build homes. As we all know, things did not happen until the 1930s, when as the Irish Independentreported, it was Éamon de Valera who had the sense and decency to clear the slums and build thousands of homes. We might not have the slums now. Instead we have people who do not even have a roof over their heads but what does remain constant some 90 years later is the need for a Fianna Fáil Government and Minister to come in and sort out the housing crisis. The people of Ireland know that, that day is coming and I look forward to seeing our housing sector put back on the right track. This Bill will form one part of that process as we deliver the homes for first-time buyers and give them a fair shot in the market place.
A lot of history was mentioned in the Chamber but we do not need to go back to the 1920s or 1930s. We can go back to very recent history and see the legacy of Fianna Fáil in the housing sector and how it destroyed it, outsourced the provision of social housing to the private sector and managed to destroy the private housing sector in its entirety. We are recoiling from that.
Earlier, Deputy Ó Broin asked that we might take a couple of moments in this debate to speak in memory of Simon Brooke, the chair of Clúid Housing Association, and I thank him for that suggestion. Simon Brooke and Clúid were a force for the delivery of homes and helping people in housing insecurity. He was a person who I thought was a leader who was interested in solutions and delivery. I know he will be very much missed by his wife and son and that staff in Clúid will feel a great loss today and into the coming weeks. On my behalf and that of the Department, which worked so well with him and Clúid over the past number of years, I extend my sympathies to all of the staff in Clúid as well as to Simon's family and friends.
I also believe in home ownership and I share the objective of increasing the supply of housing for first-time buyers but this will not be achieved by measures set out in this Bill. In fact, this Bill, if enacted, would only delay new homes for first-time buyers and others. To be kind to Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I feel something got badly lost in translation here in terms of what he has been saying publicly and what is actually contained in the Bill. I am surprised and concerned that Fianna Fáil would bring forward a Bill that would intentionally reduce the social housing obligation on the private sector and reduce the potential for other forms of social housing delivery. I am also surprised that after continuous criticism from Fianna Fáil about too much "red tape" in the system, it would seek to put in place additional obstacles to the delivery of housing as well as unverifiable restrictions on general housing supply. However, I am not surprised that this Bill is unworkable nor am I surprised that it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of the housing sector. I am not surprised, although I am quite worried, that this Bill, if enacted, would actually do the opposite of what it purports to achieve. This Bill would deliver fewer homes to buy for first-time buyers and drive even greater institutional investment in build to rent. I will explain why. Under this Bill, the social housing obligation on the developer is taken away in build to rent developments so there would be less social housing from the private sector, no public gain from zoning and other development and no mixed tenure on these sites. While I support institutional investment in the build to rent sector to a degree, the removal of Part V would make such development the most profitable way to deliver a site. Fianna Fáil would do the exact opposite of what it claims it wants to do. It would supercharge institutional investment in build to rent to the detriment of all other delivery.
The zoning of land for first-time buyers would be an unworkable restriction on development. The proposal makes a very simple mistake in its assessment of the first-time buyer demographic. The approach assumes that first-time buyers constitute a homogenous group and that they seek only new homes. However, first-time buyers also gain access to housing in the second-hand market through older people downsizing or people moving to larger new homes as their family or income increases. Furthermore, not all first-time buyers are in the same income bracket so how would these homes be priced? The nature of their preferred home may depend on their income, length of time in the rented sector, household formation patterns and whether they are returned emigrants or migrants with capital to invest. Therefore, public policy to support first-time buyers must focus on the issue of affordability and housing typology rather than on the particular status as a first-time buyer or otherwise. This Bill, by contrast, is likely to restrict mobility within the market reducing choice and market access for first-time buyers and others. How are first-time buyers to afford these homes? Our first-time buyer measures are linked to prices and affordability, not zoning. Let us look at it another way. A builder builds 100 homes, of which 30 must be for first-time buyers under this Bill, so the builder builds 70 houses and 30 apartments to suit the new regulations. The 30 apartments can be sold only to first-time buyers but what if an elderly couple wants to downsize? What about someone who has previously owned a home but is now separated? Fianna Fáil should think of all the restrictions it is putting in place and the extra risk to the builder if the builder cannot dispose of all of the apartments to first-time buyers. What does one do if one wants to provide a mix throughout the site instead? What are the price points? How does one regulate this? Who would monitor these transactions? How would we ensure that they were to first-time buyers? Who would enforce these new regulations? Has any of this been discussed with industry? A basic examination would tell one that this is unworkable and would involve more red tape that would hinder the supply of new homes. This is the point I keep on making with regard to housing. It is complex. Fianna Fáil cannot just throw ideas from its friends down on paper and call it a Bill - one that, if enacted, would damage social housing supply and general supply and do nothing for first-time buyers and affordability.
Home ownership is in decline and has been since 1991. Let us not kid ourselves. It is not because of what has been happening recently. It fell more under a Fianna Fáli Government than it did under a Fine Gael Government over the last period of time. Nothing in this Bill halts that trend and, as I said earlier, it is likely to make it worse. How should we address affordability? How are we addressing it? This Government is taking a multi-stranded approach to support home ownership for first-time buyers. A combination of investment, access to finance, fast-track planning and changes to apartment and heights guidance has resulted in significant increases in supply. It is expected that some 20,000 new homes will be completed this year, up from 18,000 last year. We have already reached that in terms of the 12-month rolling total. Social housing output next year will be the highest at any time this century, including any time during the boom years when Fianna Fáil was last in Government. We will build more social housing homes next year. Between this year and next year, 21,000 homes will be added to the stock of social housing. I see Deputy Darragh O'Brien laughing. It is probably because he does not understand the facts of the matter.
Affordable housing output will steadily increase with the commencement last year of the relevant provisions of Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 to provide a statutory basis for the delivery of affordable housing for purchase. The new Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which was introduced by this Government in February 2018, has seen a draw down of 1,253 loans with a further 979 loans awaiting draw down. Total scheme funding has reached €563 million. A total of €310 million will be made available from 2019 until 2021 under the serviced site fund, SSF. The SSF was established to provide key facilitating infrastructure on public lands to support the delivery of affordable homes to purchase or rent. At a maximum funding rate of €50,000 per affordable home, at least 6,200 homes will be facilitated in total for affordable purchase or cost rental. This is a shared ownership scheme with sites already underway in Cork. In Boherboy, the first of the 116 two-and three bedroom affordable homes will be sold next year at a discount of up to 40% on market rates. This project is supported by some €5 million from the SSF. Deputy Darragh O'Brien might tell his leader that we have this affordable purchase scheme and shared ownership scheme because last weekend, he seemed to know nothing about it and yet today Deputy Darragh O'Brien claimed Fianna Fáil delivered it. I am not sure what is happening when it comes to housing policy development in Fianna Fáil but this Bill tells us that it is not very much.
The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, is another key element of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. The objective of the fund is to provide public off-site infrastructure to relieve critical infrastructure blockages. This will enable the accelerated delivery of housing on key development sites in Dublin and in urban areas of high demand for housing. LIHAF supports the delivery of up to 20,000 homes, 40% of which will be delivered through an affordable or cost-reduced scheme. Cost reductions have been applied to 150 homes in County Kildare and another 336 in Adamstown in Dublin using LIHAF funding. By the end of 2020, almost 1,800 homes will be delivered under LIHAF with a cost reduction.
The Land Development Agency, LDA, which was established by the Government in support of Project Ireland 2040, is advancing a number of projects on State lands with a minimum requirement that 30% of the housing to be provided is affordable. If we look at the first four sites being progressed by the LDA, we can see that a minimum of 60% of that land will be for social and affordable housing so we are going above the targets we set ourselves with this newly created agency.
What does this mean on a practical basis? By the end of next year, some 2,000 affordable and cost-reduced homes will have been added to the housing stock supported by various affordability initiatives. Through these measures, we are seeing overall supply of housing increase. We are placing a particular emphasis on affordable housing. This is the way we address the needs of first-time buyers who currently face difficulty in getting affordable housing. There is enough flexibility within the current provisions of Part V to allow local authorities to zone land appropriately to meet their local housing need, taking account of both the current stock and new requirements.
To aid this process, following on from the national planning framework, my Department is producing development plan guidance for local authorities to ensure new plans are aligned with these objectives and new methodologies to support the evidence base for housing strategies, including a new tool being developed to assess housing demand and need based on work already advanced in Scotland in this area. By contrast, the provisions of this Bill are not grounded in any evidential base. The provisions will not assist in improving the viability of housing construction, increasing overall housing supply or improving affordability and access to housing for first-time buyers. The impact will be hugely disruptive to the building of new homes and, therefore, I cannot support this Bill.
I do not mean to be dismissive but Deputy Darragh O'Brien is the main Opposition party spokesperson on housing and this is a bad Bill. It is not good enough. The Deputy has been talking about this Bill for three months and it will do the complete opposite of what the Deputy claims it will do. That is a mistake. Rebuilding Ireland is working and producing results and only exists because of the support of the Deputy's party. Rebuilding Ireland is being supported by Fianna Fáil and it is time to be honest with the public about the support that Fianna Fáil is giving to our housing policies in this Chamber and in the Oireachtas committee.
I am sharing time with Deputy Ellis.
I would like to join with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and Deputy Darragh O'Brien in expressing my deepest sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Simon Brooke, who passed away yesterday, and to offer condolences to his partner, Anna Heussaff, and his son, Conall. Simon was a well-known figure in housing policy circles, having worked for Focus Ireland and Clúid, and having taught at the school of social work and social policy in Trinity College Dublin. He worked as a housing policy consultant for many years, producing important research and publications for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. A tireless champion for social justice in housing, Simon was a strong advocate of public housing as a means of meeting social and affordable housing need. Indeed, he was the first expert to make the case for cost rental accommodation in Ireland. He was generous with his time and expertise and will be sorely missed by all of us who knew and had the pleasure of working with him.
Sinn Féin will supporting Deputy Darragh O'Brien's Bill, albeit with a significant degree of hesitation. We share the Deputy's concern about the distorting impact of short-term institutional investors on our housing system and we look positively at all proposals that seek to assist first-time buyers. Having said that, I believe the Bill as it stands is deeply flawed and would need serious scrutiny and significant amendment on Committee Stage if it is to have any positive impact on those locked out of the option to own their own homes.
Before outlining those concerns, I will make a few general remarks on the issue of home ownership. Contrary to the views expressed by some, the preference for home ownership is not the result of some cultural attachment to property ownership in Ireland, it is the consequence of a century of bad Government policy. The under-provision of public housing, particularly for middle-income households, coupled with the weak regulation of the private rental sector, has meant that for the majority of people, long-term security of tenure can only be guaranteed by owner-occupation. Council housing is beyond the reach of the majority and a mixture of insecurity of tenure and rent in the private rental sector and weak pension provision has pushed people into home ownership. It was the failure of successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments to provide a genuinely tenure-neutral housing system, in which public housing, private rental accommodation or home ownership could provide an equal measure of security, that has led the vast majority of people to prefer owning their own home.
Contrary to Deputy Darragh O’Brien's assertion, the decline of home ownership is not a recent phenomenon. It started during the 1990s when his party was in government. The toxic tax incentives that underpinned the property boom during the Celtic tiger, which included cuts to capital gains tax, cuts to stamp duty and section 23 tax reliefs, caused the first wave of institutional investment in residential housing. This priced out an ever-greater number of first-time buyers, as the growing number of landlords snapped up an increasing number of homes. Worse still, it pushed up house prices forcing tens of thousands of first-time buyers into excessive and, in some instances, unsustainable levels of debt.
Policies pursued by Fianna Fáil during the 1990s and 2000s saw home ownership decline from 79% in 1990 to 70% in 2011. The consequent growth of the private rental sector did not represent a choice but rather the reality of ever-greater unaffordability. As it was with Fianna Fáil, so it is now with Fine Gael, although instead of incentivising small-scale, semi-professional landlords, Fine Gael has shifted the incentives to large scale global equity investors.
I am not against all forms of institutional investment in our housing system. Long-term, low-yield investors, such as pension funds or the credit unions, could play a valuable role in stabilising our housing system. Unfortunately, the tax incentives for Irish collective asset management vehicles, ICAVs, and real estate investment trusts, REITs, introduced by then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, have brought the wrong kind of investor into the market. Short-term, high-yield funds availing of incredibly generous tax breaks are driving up prices and pushing first-time buyers out of the market. If structured in certain ways, these funds can avoid tax on their rent roll and on capital gains when they flip the development. Moreover, in many cases their investors can avoid paying any dividend withholding tax whatsoever. Just as with Fianna Fáil’s tax breaks of the 1990s and 2000s, Fine Gael’s tax breaks are pushing up the price of renting and buying while crowding out first-time buyers. In turn, home ownership has continued to decline and was at 67% in 2016.
It is little wonder that Fianna Fáil said nothing about these so-called tax efficient property investment vehicles. In fact, under the confidence and supply agreement, Fianna Fáil has facilitated them in budget after budget. It is therefore a little bit rich of Deputy Darragh O’Brien to complain about the impact these funds are having on first-time buyers when his party was for so long complicit in the very tax laws that brought them into our housing system in the first instance.
If Fianna Fáil was really serious about ending the distorting role of vulture funds in our housing system, it would start with recommending reform of the tax code rather than the planning code.
That brings me to the Bill. Let me very clear that, contrary to the claim of Deputy Cassells, I, and Sinn Féin, support tenure neutrality. We believe that a housing system should allow people to freely choose whether they want to own or rent a home and should allow them to make that choice not out of fear of rising rents, insecure tenure or affordability after pension age, but because their choice best suits their interests. That means making both renting and owner-occupation affordable and secure. The big concern I have with this Bill is that it does nothing to address these key issues. While it would allow a local authority to prescribe a portion of a development for first-time buyers, it does nothing to ensure that these properties are affordable. It could also have the unintended consequence of pushing up the cost of rents in the remaining 70% of any development, as the developer seeks to recoup revenue lost in the sale of a proportion of the properties to first-time buyers. That could result in increased rents for the renters in the remainder of a development.
I agree fully with the Minister's concerns over the impact of this legislation on Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and, particularly, the exclusion of Part V from build-to-rent developments. I hear what Deputy O'Brien has said, but it is not dealt with in the Bill with sufficient clarity and that is a concern that the Minister and many others share with all sincerity.
The real issue facing us today is how to ensure a substantial supply of affordable homes to rent and buy for those not eligible for social housing. This is where our primary focus should be. This means dramatically increasing investment by the Government in public housing on public land to meet social and affordable housing need. Sinn Féin will support the legislation this evening as we agree with its intention but it has a long way to go and requires much amending before it actually offers first-time buyers what they really need, namely, access to good quality, secure and affordable homes.
I also wish to respond briefly to some of the Minister's claims about affordable housing. One of the real concerns that many of us have with the initiatives that the Minister listed is that the homes to rent or buy that he is talking about will not be affordable to the households which so desperately need them. For example, we are currently looking at the first affordable cost rental scheme in Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown coming in with rents of €1,200 per month. For those households whose incomes are above the threshold for social housing eligibility, €1,200 a month is not affordable. It is significantly above 30% of their take-home pay. We need these schemes to deliver rents between €700 and €900 a month to particularly target those households in the income categories between €35,000 and €55,000.
Likewise, with the purchase homes, one of the aspects many of us cannot understand about the final proposal that has come back from Dublin City Council on O'Devaney Gardens is that whereas in Poppintree, in Ballymun, Ó Cualann, using an equivalent of the serviced sites fund and land from Dublin City Council, was able to sell good-quality, affordable homes to working families priced between €180,000 and €225,000, the purchase price of the majority of the homes in O'Devaney Gardens would be €310,000. However, there also will be a €50,000 clawback whereby if the affordable purchaser, as they are called, ever sells the house or passes it on to family, he or she will ultimately pay upwards of €360,000. That is not affordable for working families on €45,000, €55,000 or €65,000.
The same is true with the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF. If the Minister looks at his Department's spreadsheet that was published last year he will see that in the majority of cases where private developers have secured funding from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, often to the tune of €10 million to €20 million, the properties they will then sell have no affordability discount of any meaningful kind. In some developments they will come in at or above market prices at the time the funding was agreed. In some cases, this fund was made available to some of the largest and most cash-wealthy developers who did not even need it.
It is all very well for the Minister to come into the House and tell us he has a serviced site fund, an infrastructure activation fund and the Rebuilding Ireland home loan but, increasingly, we are finding in our constituencies large numbers of modest income working families who cannot access homes. When those homes about which the Minister is talking become available, they will still not be able to access genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy, which is the reason he must seriously revisit both his understanding of, his price range and his investment strategies in respect of affordable housing because unless we start to deliver thousands of genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy, preferably by building public homes on public lands, the affordability crisis will get worse, contrary to the claims the Minister made here today.
Sinn Féin will support the Bill but we believe it needs a great deal of work. We are happy to work with other Deputies in the committee to try to meet that end.
While I welcome an opportunity to speak on this Bill, which purports to give first-time buyers an opportunity to buy a house, I agree with Deputy Darragh O'Brien's comments made in the media that it is not acceptable that whole developments and estates are being bought by investment groups and similar to the detriment of first-time buyers. The question the Minister must ask is why that is happening, especially as such investments are clearly impacting on the housing market. It is happening because this Government, with the support of Fianna Fáil, introduced big incentives and cut-price sell-offs of large quantities of estates and properties to such investment groups and cuckoo funds. The Minister cannot have it both ways; he cannot run with the hare and chase with the hound.
The Fianna Fáil Bill is an anomaly in that it objects to a situation which Fianna Fáil supports and has helped create. The Bill will require substantial changes as it raises several discrepancies that would need to be addressed later in committee. The Bill does not sufficiently address the housing crisis or the difficulties people face when trying to get into the housing market.
I will address some of the problems the Bill raises. While the Bill would provide for a percentage of a development to be set aside for first-time buyers, there is no cap on the cost of the properties for first-time buyers, nor is there a clear indication of the percentage that would be set aside. Buying a house, particularly in Dublin, has been made increasingly more difficult as house prices continue to soar. More people are being excluded from the housing market, putting the prospect of owning a house out of the reach of most people.
I find it difficult to understand how Fianna Fáil supported a position to change the Part V provision whereby private developments had to give 20% to social and affordable housing and then supported a position which reduced that to 10% without any provision for affordable housing. It was an appeasement to the private sector and to builders.
Recently, Fianna Fáil did a volte-facein regard to supporting our Bill, which was very welcome.
While we support this Bill, it requires a great deal of work and amendments for it to be of any relevance to the housing crisis in which we find ourselves. I expect a substantial number of amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage to address that.
I am glad to have the opportunity to address this Bill in the Dáil today on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is unavoidably absent. I have to say at the outset that, as a former Minister of State for housing, I was well acquainted with the late Simon Brooke. He was the driving force behind the Clúid Housing Association and he made a stalwart contribution towards trying to achieve solutions to significant issues as an approved housing body. I offer my sympathies and that of the Labour Party to Simon Brooke's family and the staff of the Clúid Housing Association throughout the country.
As somebody who came from a local authority house, and was very proud of it, I always knew that our party was very committed to the construction of local authority housing. I only have to go back to the time of former Members Jim Tully, Liam Kavanagh, Emmet Stagg and Liz McManus. When I came into this House in March 2011, there was not a shilling available. I remember the few shillings we had for the local authority small schemes. That was threatened to be taken away. If there was a shilling in a pot, I would have been delighted to devote it to local authority housing because I know the value of getting a local authority house. I was always proud to say where I came from, to pay rent and not run up arrears. I was always delighted to pay. My parents struggled to pay but they always paid. I am very proud of that fact, and it is important.
What I saw when I came into this House was that, unfortunately, the previous Government had moved into the sphere of dependence upon the private sector in all aspects of housing provision. It privatised the provision of housing. To reverse a policy that was going well was foolhardy in the extreme. The height of the Celtic tiger period, when huge resources were being generated, was an opportune time to make sure the local authorities continued along the same vein and provided local authority houses. Someone was blinded by the mirage of Celtic tiger growth. A lesson all of us can take away from that is never to go down that road again.
We will support anything that improves the provision of housing. We will support this Bill in principle but as Deputy Ó Broin said, a number of issues will have to be addressed on Committee Stage. I have no doubt Deputy O' Brien will be up for that to achieve his purported objective.
I salute people who bring forward Bills in this House to address very important issues. It is a worthy effort at this stage to address the need of first-time buyers but there is a number of issues that need to be addressed in the Bill to make it fit for purpose. It should be noted that, while the Bill would allow for lands to be designated, it does not address the principle issue of affordability, which is the key point, for first-time buyers. This is anathema to me. I know the private sector has to have some role but I am opposed to depending on the private market to resolve a problem. The State must be the primary driver. The private sector is like the hungry pig at the trough. The snout is always in if there is something in it for him. As I said this morning when I spoke about the beef processors, of whom I have a lot of experience, they only worry about bottom lines, the margins and who they can squeeze to achieve, maintain and increase margins. They do not care who is injured in the process. That is the reason we have to refocus on this area. I know we are coming from a place where no houses were built. I am not totally agnostic in respect of this issue.
The Bill gives the local council the power to designate land for the purpose of developing housing to be set aside for first-time buyers by amending Part V of the Planning and Development Act and would seek a certain amount of between 0% and 30% to be earmarked for this purpose. There are concerns about the way that would be applied. The level would be informed by the assessment to build or to rent requirements of the local authority areas, which would mean rental requirements would be calculated separate from other housing requirements.
Rental developments will proceed only if they are in line with the housing strategy requirements. While it is a proposed solution, I am sure I am not the only one who believes it is a complicated way to seek to address the problem of affordable homes. The Bill defines eligible individuals as those who have not previously bought a home. As a barrister, I have identified one small flaw, it would not exclude those who have inherited or have been gifted a property. In that regard, the definition of a first-time buyer, as described, would need to be expanded or some other definition devised.
We have heard many times from Fianna Fáil about the affordable housing proposals it secured in government with Fine Gael but we have not seen any evidence of those yet.
I will welcome them whenever they do emerge.
One of the biggest problems faced by young people who want to buy their own home is the record level of rent they must pay. People are paying substantially more in rent every month than they might on a mortgage. Meanwhile, they are unable to save for a deposit. I have experience of the Rebuilding Ireland programme because I was filling out a couple of forms for Westmeath County Council. One of the partners in a certain couple whose case I dealt with was made bankrupt a few years ago. The couple are back on their feet but the black print, that is, the small type, excludes them. They would be paying less on a mortgage than on rent but they are encountering difficulty because one of the partners was bankrupt three or four years ago. Thankfully, he availed of my legislation, on the one-year bankruptcy period, to get out of his circumstances. The banks were so greedy they wanted to press everybody. The individual in question is again being punished, this time by the State. We have to consider cases like that. We have to take the opportunity. Why not take a chance on our own citizens? We have done that for the vulture funds, with their tax-free-haven status. Why not take a chance on a citizen who is paying income tax and rent?
Rents have continued to increase well ahead of the growth in wages. This means people who cannot afford to buy are being squeezed, and squeezed further. It is welcome that Fianna Fáil recently did an about-turn on rents and has converted to the side of those of us who want a rent freeze. That is what should be put in place. Let us test the Constitution in this regard.
For the record, it was Fianna Fáil that allowed Fine Gael put in place the disastrous rent pressure zone model, which has 4% annual increases for tenants. This is far ahead of the rate of inflation. Unfortunately, the damage has been done to the incomes of people in the rental market. Rents are now at a record high and will continue to grow unless we intervene.
It is crystal clear that the market created the housing crisis. There is no way it can solve it, nor should we even contemplate it solving it. The State must step in and reassert its role in the provision of housing. If we want to provide affordable housing for first-time buyers, young people, renters and those who need it, we can do so if there is collective political will. The Labour Party wants this to happen. It is why we published last year our comprehensive strategy, Affordable Housing for All, produced by my colleague Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
Our aim is to deliver 80,000 units over five years, at a cost of €16 billion, with the source of the money identified – it is not phantom money but real – to deal with the most significant social problem of our time. These would be homes built on public land. To achieve this, 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 but which is going nowhere. There is no reason the Government cannot mandate the Land Development Agency on this day to ensure any housing built on its lands will be affordable and reserved for first-time buyers. Under Labour's plan, the combined remit of the 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. 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 and what the market would allow, with even so-called affordable homes linked to the market rate, rather to what a household can afford.
We are all aware that, under the Ó Cualann model, homes in the Dublin area were built and can be built for less than €200,000 per unit. There is no shortage of ideas or solutions to the housing crisis. What has been lacking is political will on the part of the Government. That the Government relies on developers to provide solutions to the greatest social problem of our time is mind-boggling. We have to ensure a social democratic model of housing provision will become the bulwark in addressing the problem of social housing. By giving local authorities a pivotal role, we can start addressing it. It will take time but with the political will in this House, it can be achieved.
I am sharing my time with Deputy Barry. There is an horrendous housing crisis. It is a crisis of massive unaffordability. Half a million young people are stuck at home unable to afford to move out. We are aware that over 10,000 people are homeless. This is a significant understatement because of the cooking of the books by the Minister. There are those who face rent increases, with the average rent in Dublin now being over €2,000 per month. It is going only one way. It is an absolute crisis for ordinary people.
What is the answer of Fianna Fáil? It is to abstain next week on a motion of confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, who is responsible for this crisis, thus allowing him to continue with the same policies. It is to vote at Dublin City Council and other councils to privatise public land to be used by private developers as opposed to using it for the building of public housing. It is to bring forward proposals like this that will fundamentally make no significant difference by way of making homes affordable. It is tinkering around the very edges of a system. Why? It is because Fianna Fáil is locked into the same market mentality as Fine Gael. The thinking is that the private sector can best deliver housing and other services and facilities despite all the evidence to the contrary. The mentality is, of course, informed by unprecedented rent going to developers and landlords, including corporate landlords, and unprecedented profits going to developers. These are the people whom Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil represent. They are the ones benefiting from this crisis.
The proposal creates the illusion of doing something but it would make no difference in making housing more affordable. There is nothing in the Fianna Fáil proposal to reduce housing prices or provide affordable housing for purchase or rent.
About 64% of the workforce is on less than the mean income of approximately €38,000 per year. Approximately 1.2 million workers are on €30,000 are less. These people simply cannot afford the Minister's so-called affordable price of around €310,000, a figure the developers set to ensure they can generate a profit. This is a principle that Fianna Fáil also supports.
These Fianna Fáil proposals would do nothing to reduce prices for first-time buyers. If Fianna Fáil genuinely wanted to make housing available and make it available in the area of zoning in the novel way in question, it would propose that the council zone significant, strategic plots of land for public housing to form a core of mixed-use, higher-density sustainable developments that would have public transport integrated into the design. I refer to sustainable settlements along the lines of the Vauban and Rieselfeld districts in the city of Freiburg in Germany.
There is a need for 500,000 new housing units by 2040. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are committed to having the private sector simply deliver these. It will do so in a dysfunctional, unplanned way without proper public transport and infrastructure, and without building the communities in which people want to live. The only answer is to break out of the market straitjacket that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are determined we should be in. The answer is to develop a green new deal with socialist policies on public housing that set out to de-commodify housing as opposed to making it something that the rich can profit from and that represents a crisis for ordinary people. The caps on access to social housing should be abolished. Anybody should be able to gain access to social housing. That means that a massive programme of building genuinely affordable social housing is needed. Some 100,000 homes are needed over the course of the next three years. They should be built to a passive standard. This means proper rent controls.
In order for any of this to happen, the rule of the landlords and developers in this country needs to be broken. The starting point for that is mobilisation. Mobilisation is required to demand that these things happen. It is clear that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will not do it of their own volition.
Those who are planning and organising for the demonstration on 5 December at 12.30 p.m. in the Garden of Remembrance are stating in the Facebook group today that they should be doing what the farmers are doing on the streets, that is, mobilising in big numbers and showing their power.
I encourage those looking at what is happening this week and what will happen again next week, with Fianna Fáil allowing these policies to continue, to get out on the street, mobilise on 5 December to build a housing movement and argue for socialist policies.
More than 5,000 applicants are currently on Cork City Council's housing waiting list. It is not unusual for people to be on that list for ten years or more. Behind the numbers lies many a story of human misery. One piece of good news for the more than 5,000 came recently with reports of plans for 54 social houses on a 2.1 ha site alongside St. Dominic’s retreat centre, Montenotte. Scandalously, this proposal has been opposed by the Fine Gael Party.
At first, it was opposed by one councillor, but at a recent public meeting the leader of the Fine Gael group on the council, Councillor Des Cahill, announced that all Fine Gael councillors would oppose the development. This stance has rightly earned widespread condemnation in the city. With a by-election under way, the Fine Gael position is widely seen as an attempt to cadge a few local votes at the expense of people in real social need. One of the voices condemning the Fine Gael position is that of the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. Deputy Martin said Fine Gael members are looking down their noses at social housing projects. He said their position is completely over the top. He said that it seems to him that this is a class thing. I do not disagree with any of that. However, last night on RTÉ Radio One's "Late Debate" programme Fianna Fáil by-election candidate Councillor Pádraig O'Sullivan said there are issues such as public access to the estate that people have genuine concerns about that could lead to anti-social behaviour. He added that if we cannot build 54 houses, we have other massive projects. Presumably he meant where people could be housed in an alternative location. In other words, the Fianna Fáil candidate pulled his punches and backed down from unequivocal support for the project. I have a simple question for Deputy Micheál Martin.
Is Fianna Fáil committing itself, unequivocally, to 54 social houses at the site in Montenotte or, after all the fine talk, is the party following the lead of its by-election candidate and pulling its punches on this issue?
I acknowledge the principle and the aspiration behind Deputy O'Brien’s Bill, and the reality of the difficulties being faced by first-time buyers as well as the fact that block sales are more evident. They are attractive for developers. Some developments are being entirely bought up by investors, even during the construction phase. It is not surprising that the word "cuckoo" is being used to describe those funds because we know the reputation of the cuckoo which pushes the eggs of other birds out of their nests and moves into the nest.
I accept there is a different view that Dublin, for one area, needs to build tens of thousands more rental homes, but we do not have the type of rental system of fair rents, fixed rents and long-term leases other cities have so it is no wonder that people want to buy and own their own home. I am talking about a single person or a couple on the kind of salary that would have ensured they would be able to buy a home previously. I refer to those working in the Civil Service, teachers and nurses. Many of them are paying exorbitant rents today, much more than a mortgage repayment and with the substantial deposit needed to comply with the Central Bank regulation, even if they did get mortgage approval and to put in a bid for a property, the reality is that they would probably be outbid by an investment firm. What chance does an average first-time buyer, working and paying their taxes, have of buying a home? I hope the Bill will give the average earner a fair chance because the average earner cannot compete with investors and their level of capital. The Bill recognises that and the fact that they deserve a fair chance of access to the housing market.
The growth of buy-to-let properties is a very worrying trend. I will just give a prime example of the North Lotts in the docklands area where ugly towers are going up, swamping the communities that are there for generations and depriving them of daylight and quality of life. It is not doing anything to alleviate the housing situation, nor is it doing anything for the average first-time buyer. A 10% allocation of social housing is not even being provided in the area. Who benefits? It is the developer, the investment firms and the companies bulk-buying and renting to their employees. The first-time buyer who wants a home, not an investment property, does not have a chance.
The Bill proposes that one third of new development land would be set aside for first-time buyers. We know we live in an unequal society. We know that people who have access to finance will be able to put down any deposit they want on an apartment or a house so the first-time buyer I want to see being helped is the average earner, not those who have access to the big deposits. The situation must be clarified in the Bill by means of amendment if need be. When I started teaching in the early 1970s, after a struggle, my colleagues were able to get a deposit and to buy a home. When I talk to young people who work with me today, who are also average earners, they are so pessimistic about ever having a chance to own their own home unless there is a drastic change.
I looked at Respond's annual report earlier today. It acknowledged the significant challenges and outlined its own contribution. Its vision is that every family and individual would have high-quality housing but the point was made that a holistic approach is required. Numerous agencies are involved in housing: the Department, local authorities, the Housing Finance Agency, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the HSE, among others, but we do not see a holistic approach. In the meantime, as one person or family is housed, another person or family is evicted and in need of emergency accommodation which is costing a fortune.
I had the opportunity to attend part of the Social Justice Ireland, SJI, annual conference yesterday. It went through the five pillars of Rebuilding Ireland and analysed them. Its analysis was very critical. The first pillar is to address homelessness. The view is that it is very ambitious and is a very worthy objective, but it is not being delivered. The second pillar is to accelerate social housing. The 2019 European Commission country report summed up how this is not being achieved. We see it in the waiting lists and the length people are waiting. The third pillar is to build more homes. There has been an increase since 2013 but it is just not enough. The point made by SJI is that the increased construction alone will not solve the housing crisis as affordability remains an issue, which is my concern about the Bill. The fourth pillar is to improve the rental sector. We know rents are increasing and the only answer seems to be to build more student accommodation and I just do not know about that. The fifth pillar is to utilise existing houses. We know that more could be done in that regard. The UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing refers to the financialisation of housing. I question whether the Bill will make a difference and I hope it does.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Private Members' Bill. Like other speakers, I would not block a Bill that is trying to deal with this specific area but I am concerned that it does not address the fundamental issues facing first-time buyers and it will not make a difference to them.
I will follow on from what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said about the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. She sent a group of guidelines to all countries on housing and the right to housing. She made the point that the new set of actors, namely, the vulture funds and equity funds, entered the market in 2008 and made a quick killing. They were effective in not alone getting houses but in extracting the profit out of them. She mentioned a figure I consider to be of the utmost importance and which I wish to put on the record of the House. She said the global value of residential real estate is $163 trillion. She said that is three times the value of the combined GDP of every country in the world. That is how much wealth those funds are making, yet the previous Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, said he welcomed the vulture funds because they pick the carcase and that helps the situation.
The fact of the matter is that the average three-bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin is priced at around €430,000. The average salary in Dublin is about €36,600. The mortgage on the average house is more than ten times the average salary in Dublin. That is where the issue of affordability arises, not just in Dublin but all over the country.
The problems in the housing crisis, whether it is affordable mortgages for first-time buyers or unaffordable rents in the private sector, will not be solved by tinkering with the issue rather than by dealing with the fundamental problem. We have had a number of initiatives of this character from the Government. I refer to the help-to-buy scheme, the local infrastructure housing activation fund, fast-track strategic housing development legislation, changes to the planning laws and reductions in the building standards of apartments but none of them has made the fundamental difference that is needed to address the housing crisis we face as a country.
The Government strategy outlined in Rebuilding Ireland simply repeats the mistakes from the 1980s on the withdrawal of the State from building public housing and policies of subsidising private landlords with the housing assistance payment, HAP, pursued for 14 years by Fianna Fáil in government and for the past eight years by Fine Gael in government. The Labour Party was involved in the Government for five years and a Labour Party Minister introduced HAP, which is abominable.
The key is public housing. We know that we already have enough State-owned zoned land to build 100,000 units. That should be based on 30% traditional council houses and 70% European cost-rental model housing to achieve mixed tenure and to accommodate those on council waiting lists and those whose income makes them ineligible for council housing but who cannot afford to buy their own homes or rent in the private sector.
This is a key question. If such a policy had been adopted at the start of this current crisis we would be a lot further down the line now where people could be in homes and have security of tenure.
Large sections of people from Bandon, Clonakilty, Kilbrittain, Ballinspittle, Ballinadee, Dunmanway, Skibbereen and Goleen - the list is endless - are unable to get on the property ladder and have to resort to paying enormous rents. It has come to the point that renting can often be more expensive than a monthly mortgage repayment. Why is the Government not doing more to promote people to be able to afford their homes? The homelessness figures have reached an all-time high of more than 10,000 people. Does this Government really realise that these numbers are more than just a statistic? They are real people who deserve the fundamental human right to safety and shelter. In this very Chamber we have debated over and over ways to relieve to current housing crisis. I am baffled as to why, after all the hours of discussion and hope-filled promises, every year more and more people are becoming homeless. It is beyond time that this Government delivered on its promises and stopped its illusions that it is dealing with this crisis. Many of these people have become homeless simply because they cannot afford hiked-up rents although they would have been able to afford mortgage repayments through an affordable home scheme.
In the program for Government we were promised rural renewal, but in many of our small villages and towns we are seeing shops closing, units left idle and the local economy left decimated. There needs to be more funding available to renovate long-term unoccupied houses in our rural areas to give more options for people to rent or buy. Rural Ireland is crying out to be populated and wants to see its deteriorating villages and towns restored to their former glory. There need to be plans in place to source and build affordable housing in rural communities, enabling urban-based families to move to rural areas through a rural resettlement scheme. The benefits of country living are endless. Those who live in small rural communities tend to have a strong sense of identity and pride of place. Taking all this into account, we must also think of the public services. When housing is being built, public services cannot be forgotten. With any influx of new people to the community, upgrading the capacity of schools, doctors' clinics and public transport must be taken into account, or we will have more situations like that in Bandon where demand for school places has surpassed availability.
Another point I want to make concerns the housing on our islands. The eight picturesque islands off west Cork are very busy throughout the summer season and it is great to see, but during the off-peak season these people are forgotten about. Social housing should be made available on our islands so the community and economy can remain viable all year round. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste were very welcome visitors to Sherkin Island over the weekend to launch the island strategy. There was a very valid point made that going back not so long ago, it was in 2016, the school was closed on Sherkin Island because there were no children. Now about seven children have been born on the island. We are looking at a little bit of a turnaround there, which is very welcome. We have the same situation on Bere Island. There is a lot of life in those islands. I refer also to Whiddy Island, Long Island and Cape Clear. These islands want to have good, vibrant life on them all year round and they want people to live on them. However, people cannot afford to purchase a house and in most situations will not get planning permission to build one. They are left in a very difficult situation. There have not been any great funds available for social housing in islands for many years. There has to be more of a focus going forward for these islands if there is to be any hope. Instead of islands being forced into a situation of having to close their schools, maybe we can be looking to reopen the schools, like on Sherkin Island. That might be their focus going forward.
Each time I have constituency clinics, whether in Kinsale, Skibbereen or Bantry, I am inundated with people trying to get on the housing market. Many people are falling between every stool, unfortunately. No matter what scheme is put before them, they are always finding it very difficult. There might be a couple and both of them might be out working but they might not be on very big incomes. They are struggling severely. Most of them really do not want to have to go on the social housing list but are forced onto it. The banks will not give them a loan and they are left in a very precarious situation. They want to buy their own home and rear their family in their own locality but unfortunately they have been let down by banks. There is a very cruel misunderstanding. It is a disconnect, basically, between the people and the banks. No matter what programmes the Government puts in place, many of them have severe criteria that these people cannot meet. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to look at that.
We are looking at more than 10,000 people on the social housing list and many of them do not want to be on it. Many people have no choice and I accept that. We are working on that in our constituency. Each week when I meet people I nearly set aside one person in our office to deal with housing. It is a massive crisis that is before us every day of the week. People are extremely stressed. I have come across situations in Clonakilty where people are sleeping in vans and cars. It is happening in other parts of west Cork, too. It is of very serious concern to me as a public representative that we have failed these people and that they are in this situation. It is a terrible plight. We are going to have to look at how people can access more funds and make those funds more freely available, especially to people who are genuine applicants looking to get a mortgage and to put their feet back on the ground again in places like Dunmanway and Drimoleague, out as far as Innishannon and all the way out west to Castletownbere. These people are genuine in their attempts and they are being scuppered in every which way. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to look into this. If they did, we might see with the 10,000 people who are on the housing list that the numbers might start to dwindle. I say we should give a little to people. People out there are great and if we give a little bit of assistance they will certainly meet it with open arms and go forward to build their own home. All people want in life is to have their own home and live happily there.
I want to pay my respects again to our late colleague in Clúid, a great housing advocate. It used to be that commodities were mobile but property has also become mobile in recent years. That has changed the dynamic very considerably. Deputy Joan Collins referred to the extensive amount of property that is now held by various entities and is mobile. Really when people think about housing, the vast majority do not think about property but about buying a house to make a home in. That has increasingly become impossible for a very large cohort in society. A whole generation is locked out of choices that were available to people even a couple of decades ago. There have been falling numbers in terms of home ownership while the options that are available to people are not permanent. It used to be that renting a house was a temporary thing because it did not provide security of tenure or certainty in respect of rent.
The problem is that has become the only permanent option available to many people. Indeed, it is heavily supported by State intervention by way of the housing assistance payment, which is a very expensive way of providing housing to people who really should have the benefit of a permanent house through directly built housing.
We have to change the terminology and stop using terms like "property ladder". The vast majority of people do not want to get on to a property ladder. They just want a home. I hear young people saying, "I want nothing more than you wanted", whether that is a home that is provided directly by the State or one that people provide for themselves by taking out a mortgage. It is a question of reframing our thinking on this. Obviously this Bill is in response to some of the institutional investors that are very much in evidence at the moment. It used to be that Part V required in the region of 20% of a housing development to be set aside, and within that was an affordable component and a social housing component. That was amended by way of legislation in recent years, if not by this Government then certainly the previous one. Essentially, that removed the affordable part of this and focused on the social element. Part V was far from perfect and any of us who were on local authorities would know that deals were done whereby houses were not directly provided and money changed hands instead to buy houses in other locations. I have often wondered if a proper balance sheet was kept on the delivery of the number of houses that Part V promised.
While I certainly have some problems with aspects of this Bill, I see nothing wrong with allowing it to go through to Committee Stage to have it teased out and amended in a way that improves the situation. There are certainly issues that need to be flagged in terms of how the number of houses that come into the system by way of council or social housing will not be diminished. There is a cohort of people, and I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan on certain income cohorts that are caught in the middle, who do not receive any public support, who are not in a position to buy, and yet renting is costing way more than a mortgage would cost them. We have to look at that cohort. Part of the reason people bought in the past was that they wanted to put down roots, have a place to rear their children, and have certainty about where their children went to school. Buying a house gave them that certainty. For a large cohort of people now, they do not even have the certainty of being sure from year to year whether they are going to get an eviction notice, or where they are going to find alternative accommodation. Indeed, sometimes I am seeing people in my office with good jobs saying that homelessness does not happen to people like them. These are people who would have been, even 20 years ago, in a position to purchase a home for themselves.
We have to rethink our approach towards public lands. I have serious problems with the Land Development Agency because it is not going to deliver affordability. Affordability will be delivered if public lands are used and project managed for the delivery of houses that are affordable for sale and to rent, in addition to council houses or houses run by approved housing bodies. If those very valuable sites are handed over to the private sector, what inevitably happens is that we end up with something that is not affordable. We are seeing this at O'Devaney Gardens, and I am not one bit happy about what is happening there. We have to look at the income of the average person to decide what is affordable.
We can do way better than this. The housing crisis is impacting on the quality of people's lives. People are leaving the city, for example, not because they cannot get good jobs but because they cannot afford to live. Housing is the greatest driver of the cost of living for many people. We have to put this centre stage if we are going to deal with the cost of living and quality of life, and deliver a degree of certainty for people who are crying out for it.
There are problems with this legislation as I see it, but we will certainly not be opposing it going to Committee Stage where it can be amended. I am certain that there will not be a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to the proposers of the legislation taking amendments.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this. I also compliment my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on bringing this legislation forward. I listened attentively to the Minister, Deputy Murphy, when he was speaking. I respectfully suggest to him that he should read the Bill. I listened to his contribution very attentively, and he said that this could have an effect on social housing and on Part V planning. This has nothing to do with social housing or with Part V.
I raised an issue in the Dáil in March 2018 concerning 178 houses being built in Lucan. A friend of mine told me that every house in the development was bought by vulture funds. People were queueing at the offices to rent these houses. The houses were finished on a Friday evening and people were in them on a Monday morning paying €2,200 a month in rent. This is what happened in March 2018. Since then, thousands of houses across Dublin city have been bought by vulture funds because of the return they are getting.
This Bill is trying to curtail what is happening. It does not affect social housing anywhere or any public lands that are available for building social housing. This Bill tries to give an opportunity to young people to get a house and a roof over their heads. This is not too much to ask for in this day and age. It is crucial that young people have an opportunity to purchase a home for themselves.
Since I raised this issue, 3,000 houses have been bought by vulture funds across Dublin city. This means that young couples and young people, even if they had the help of their parents and had funding from banks, could not have bought the houses because the houses would not have been available to them. These people have been wiped out of the market. I hope that this Bill will ensure that at least 30% of the many thousands of houses that I am sure will be built on private sites will be available for these people to purchase.
Another issue arises with the national housing agency in respect of my own county. I checked the figures today. Seventy-two applications were made to the national housing agency for loans up to October 2019. Of these, 35 were refused.
These applications are not going in willy-nilly. Council staff are looking after these applications, which are 100% correct before they go in, but yet 35 people were refused because the same commercial criteria are being used as do the banks. If we are serious about helping these people who want to buy or build a home of their own, we have to loosen the criteria and give these people a little headroom. I know of families who are paying more in rent than they would pay for a mortgage. There is something wrong. These people have been paying rent for the last seven or eight years and in our part of the world, the houses are half the price of what they are here in Dublin. People would be taken off HAP or the housing list. They should be given a bit of support because this national Housing Agency system is not working for people. I ask the Minister to look at this and see what can be done. There are many issues that I could raise but I do not have much time.
In 1947, after the war, the Government of the day was able to build 58 houses in my home town. That was replicated across every town in the country. Here we are today, supposedly one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and we cannot build a house. We need to get serious. This will not be solved in just one way. Many issues need to be sorted out. Hundreds of units of accommodation across this country in town centres, over businesses, are not being used. If those people had any sort of incentive to make that accommodation available, I think they would do so.
In the wise words of Maya Angelou, "The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned." Home ownership is the ultimate ambition of nearly every young working person. To think that home ownership rates have plummeted to the lowest ever level shows us in a really stark way how many people are locked out of the housing market. When we think of first-time buyers, we might think of young couples at the start of their lives together or of young professionals getting their first home. The age profile has crept up just as steadily as home ownership figures have plummeted. Behind those statistics, we have thousands of families, couples and single people living in uncertainty, locked out of the security of home ownership and dependent on others for the roof over their heads. I have met many people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even their 80s who do not have their own home and live in fear from day to day of their rental home being taken from them. Every citizen should know that certainty and be able to aspire and work towards it, and not have the untold stress of an uncertain future. To these families, homelessness is never an abstract concept. It is a threat that hangs over their heads every day and every night as they put their children to bed in homes that are not their own. This mental burden, stress and struggle impacts negatively on couples, families and their children. It is not something that society can or ever should tolerate.
There is a critical imbalance between numbers looking for housing and the rental sector, with professionals who cannot buy their own home because many of them are paying up to 50% of their income in rent competing against those seeking rental accommodation with HAP, which pushes the rent up for everyone. What hope do third level students in the middle of that have? We need to take people out of this tortured equation, including the people who want to buy houses but are not in a position to do so because of affordability. We need to free up the rental market for those who are only in a position to rent. People who want to buy houses and who are financially in a position to do so should be given every assistance and help. I believe that this Bill, introduced by my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will change things radically for first-time buyers by ring-fencing a certain number of homes in every new development and essentially taking the pressure off everyone looking for a home, whether it is a rented house or a home of their own.
We hear from local auctioneers in Kildare that single property investors come through their doors and sell their houses because of the taxation system and no more investors come after them. Cuckoo funds come in and try to take really big blocks. We hear about young couples who want to buy but who do not have a hope of saving 10% of the purchase price, let alone 20%. They are watching on from the sidelines as the chronic lack of new investors drives up rents. In Kildare at present, only 138 homes are available for rent. The average monthly rent in Kildare is 92% higher than a decade ago, at €1,350, and the rent for a one-bed apartment is €988. Would-be home buyers already face substantial competition in the rental market as they try to save a deposit to get on the property ladder. We have to protect them as best we can from unscrupulous market forces seeking to make a quick profit from the most fundamental of assets that a person can ever hope to possess, namely, a key to one's own front door. I remember the excitement and pride when I got the key to my front door. To think that so many people are denied that is appalling. I started with Maya Angelou and I will finish with one of our own poets, Padraic Colum:
O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
My master in primary school, Frank Madigan, would be very proud of the fact that I still remember "An Old Woman of the Roads".
I welcome the chance for discussion and will address some of the specific issues that have been raised towards the end of my remarks. Like everyone in the House, I share the objective of increasing the supply of housing for first-time buyers and indeed for all buyers in the Irish housing market. I share with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the view that the Private Members' Bill that we are discussing would delay the delivery of new homes to first-time buyers and indeed to others in the sector. I know that the Minister has already spoken about some of the issues. This Bill would intentionally reduce social housing obligations on the private sector. I draw Deputy Scanlon's attention to section 4 of the legislation, which specifically refers to Part V and the potential removal of the obligation with regard to the rent-to-buy sector. That would have the effect of reducing social housing delivery if it was enacted.
I believe the Bill would have many other unintentional consequences and would serve to do the opposite of what the Government and, I believe, the Opposition are working to achieve, in that it would restrict the availability and supply of a range and choice of housing for people to purchase or rent. Currently, derogations from Part V are only available for small-scale housing, at less than 0.1 ha and less than ten units. To give that advantage to a particular class of developer engaged in delivering build-to-rent units would make such development the most profitable way to deliver a site and would therefore see movement of finance into build-to-rent as opposed to build-to-buy. It would be unequitable and would run counter to the arguments made before the Supreme Court when the Part V provisions were tested for their constitutionality. The central plank of the Bill, requiring up to 30% of residential lands to be reserved for housing for sale to first-time buyers, would be counterproductive.
This approach assumes that first-time buyers are all the same and that they only seek to buy new houses, which is not the case. However, first-time buyers also gain access to housing in the second-hand market and I have heard many Members, including those from Fianna Fáil, speak about the need to bring existing housing back into the stock. The assumption that first-time buyers will only buy new houses is not borne out by the evidence. Not all first-time buyers are in the same income bracket and there is no clarity in this Bill on how these homes would be priced, nor is there clarity on how these transactions for first-time buyers would be monitored or who would enforce the provisions if any developer or builder was found to be circumventing the rules.
What the Government is seeking to do is support those seeking a home and to increase overall supply with a mix of house types and tenure to meet the local demand. Whether people choose to rent or buy may depend on their income, length of time in the rented sector, household formation patterns and whether they are returned emigrants or migrants with capital to invest. By contrast, this Bill is likely to restrict mobility within the market, reducing choice and making market access more difficult for first-time buyers.
It is worth clarifying Ireland’s position. According to recently published European Commission figures, 70% of the Irish population lives in owner-occupied dwellings, which is just above the EU average of 69.3%. This is similar to other EU countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, but significantly higher than Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France and Britain.
As the economy grows and living standards improve, there is a need for greater mobility and choice in the housing market. This is where the biggest potential adverse impact of what is proposed in the Bill could arise. The Bill will directly and substantially disadvantage households that are seeking to trade up, for want of a better term. People whose family conditions have changed, whose families may be bigger and who are looking for larger accommodation would be directly adversely affected if these provisions were implemented. Housing provision is complex. A badly-worked Bill such as this would damage social housing supply, damage general supply in the market, do nothing for first-time buyers and do nothing for affordability.
As the Minister, Deputy Murphy, outlined earlier, the Government is taking a multi-strand approach to supporting home ownership for first-time buyers. No single initiative will resolve the current difficulties. Together with other complementary and targeted affordability measures under Rebuilding Ireland, the delivery of affordable homes as supported by the serviced sites fund, LIHAF, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and the help to buy scheme is having and will have a very positive impact on availability and affordability. Targeted measures are delivering. Some 1,200 families and individuals have purchased a home with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and another 15,000 have secured a deposit using the help to buy scheme. By the end of next year, almost 1,800 homes with a cost reduction will be delivered under LIHAF and the serviced sites fund will help deliver 6,200 homes for affordable purchase or cost rental.
I have outlined how the Government is addressing housing needs through evidence-based policy responses, initiatives that are already proving to be successful. The Private Members' Bill from Fianna Fáil is in stark contrast in that the provisions in the Bill are not grounded in any evidential base. If enacted, they will do nothing to increase access to affordable housing for first-time buyers. The Bill will also result in a reduction in the number of social homes being provided. That is why the Government will not support the Bill.
I want to address directly some of the issues raised. The 70% figure for owner-occupied dwellings in Ireland does not include tenants who are in social housing and have been renting for perhaps all of their adult lives. There are a significant number in Irish social housing stock who never buy out their home. The 70% figure, which is higher than the European average, does not take that category of people into account.
Deputy Scanlon is right that there is under-utilised housing stock in this city and in other parts of the country, like Sligo and Kilkenny. There are several schemes for renovations, some of which have proved more successful than others and some of which are promoted more by some individual local authorities than by others. While I do not take any pleasure in this example, Deputy Scanlon mentioned the 58 houses built in Ballymote in 1947. However, there has never been more money allocated by a Government for the provision of social housing. In my county, not since the 1970s have we had a bigger social housing build. It varies between each local authority but there can be no excuses for Sligo County Council. The Deputy's colleague from Mayo last week said that 38 social houses were built in the last two years in Mayo. If it is true, which has not been borne out yet, it is a shocking indictment of the local authority. In the case of Sligo, I know the Fianna Fáil Party is in charge there and I know the issue takes on board the role of the executive, as well as elected members. I can only point to towns in my constituency like Castlecomer, a coal mining town which is building its first social housing estate for 40 years, with 38 houses being built currently. That is all because there is a proactive local authority. I urge other local authorities to be more proactive. Some have unique challenges, and I understand there is a financial situation in Sligo.
Deputy Michael Collins contradicted himself by talking about the decline in population when the population of County Cork in the last census was the highest it has been since the famine, and that includes west Cork. He talked about the closure of the school on Sherkin Island but then, in the next breath, spoke about how seven children have been born on Sherkin Island and how he wants to open up the school.
The housing needs in rural Ireland are different than those in urban Ireland, it is fair to say, but it is equally wrong to say anything other than that the population of rural Ireland continues to increase.
In regard to local authorities, Members should look at what is being done in Cork City Council and what has been done for several years in Louth County Council. This goes back to what Deputy Scanlon said earlier in regard to under-utilised properties. Those local authorities have taken policy decisions to purchase actively and compulsorily properties that have lain idle for years. In terms of the delivery of numbers, it is certainly not going to solve our social housing issues, but it will do huge work in regard to improving not just the communities and the physical look, but also the way of life of people in some of those large market towns across the country.
I commend Deputy Darragh O'Brien for bringing forward the Bill. I would like to focus on the strategic housing development, SHD, aspect of the Bill as the issue is threatening to wreak havoc in my constituency of Dublin South-West. One of the interesting things I read in the last three or four weeks was written by the economist, Colm McCarthy, who talked about the census of Dublin city in 1966. He pointed out that, essentially, the population of Dublin city has not increased since 1966, so it is the suburbs that have taken all the population rise, which is at least 1.5 million. All of these SHD applications, which are the Minister of State's baby, are starting to hit the ground in my constituency, in Knocklyon, Tallaght and Citywest in particular.
To be fair, the SHDs were designed to provide homes. What we know now, through academic research and journalistic inquiry and from experience on the ground, is that what they have succeeded in doing is providing multiple planning applications for student accommodation, co-living accommodation and, in my constituency, a rampant amount of build-to-let units, not homes for people.
There could be no greater monument to Fine Gael's housing policy, no greater symbol of it, than if planning applications submitted to An Bord Pleanála via the SHD process were approved such that upwards of 500 build-to-let units were placed on the Knocklyon lands of the ancestral home of the former President of the Free State and Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave. That would be a great monument to the SHD process.
My colleagues and I who are out and about every week meet more and more families whose adult children are coming home because they cannot afford to rent. Surely the Minister of State must know this. What this policy does is enable the construction of huge amounts of high-density, high-rise, build-to-rent housing in areas where rents continue to be exorbitant and out of the reach of those who want to leave home, to gain that last piece of independence in their lives and to strike out as individuals in their own right. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, shouted across the floor at me one morning that I wanted to block houses. That is the last thing I want to do. I want to facilitate, as I am sure everyone in this House does, the construction of quality, affordable and, if they must be subsidised, subsidised homes for people. This is an earnest effort to address a part of the issue. The message I wish to bring to the Minister of State this evening is that the Government's SHD process will end in tears. It is not delivering affordability, it benefits and is biased towards the speculative end of the market, and it does not provide quality permanent homes for people in my constituency, who deserve such homes.
Like all speakers on this side of the House, I have very limited speaking time, so I will pass the floor to my colleague.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who has been very vocal and has led the campaign for housing. I am very disappointed to hear that the Minister of State and the Government will not support this legislation. The Bill is all about giving people a chance. This is about a generation that does not see an opportunity. Ten or 15 years ago they could buy their own homes and aspire to own their own home in their early 20s. We now see young people reaching middle age and still not being able to aspire to ever owning their own homes. This is a damning indictment of the Government.
The most current and common representation coming into the offices of every Deputy across the Chamber is housing, whether first-time buyers or social housing. The Minister of State said the needs of people in rural Ireland are different from those of people in urban Ireland. At the end of the day, people need homes, rural or urban. I am sorry to tell the Minister of State that in my constituency we have hundreds of people on our social housing waiting list.
On Monday I had the pleasure of attending the launch of a Rebuilding Ireland scheme in Monaghan, which I suppose was drawn out by Monaghan County Council. It was a scheme of 43 houses. That is welcome but does not come anywhere close to meeting the actual need. I hark back to the point that I still see our local authority housing departments not having the tools or the resources to be able to deliver schemes of hundreds of houses, which are what is needed. The Minister of State, Deputy English, was very welcome to County Cavan when he visited perhaps over a year ago. He launched Rebuilding Ireland schemes, including eight houses in Butler's Bridge and - I am taking a rough guess and being generous here - 20 houses in Ballyhaise. There were certainly no more than 20. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, recently launched a scheme of 11 houses in Mullagh. These are small figures. I know that it is not that the Government is averse, but it really comes across that there is not a handle on this problem. It is the most important issue for this country. I am not sure a Minister needs to come to any constituency to cut a ribbon on a housing scheme of eight, 11 or 20 houses when in fact we need schemes of hundreds of houses.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate - at least, most who have done so. I will deal with the Minister's contribution in a moment. I welcome the support of Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and various Independents for this Fianna Fáil Bill. It is a genuine attempt to address the issue of bulk buying and the freezing out of first-time buyers from the market. This is a reality; we all know it is happening. Is the Bill perfect? No. It does not affect Part V provision in any way. It does not affect delivery of social houses. This is on top of delivering social and affordable houses through our own affordable purchase scheme on State-owned lands, which we have pushed for. We are certainly open to amendment of the Bill on Committee Stage, and the Bill will go to the committee now with the support of other parties. Fine Gael has again decided to put its head in the sand and say there is no problem. What it is effectively doing by rejecting the Bill is again prioritising cuckoo funds and vulture funds over and above first-time buyers and people who want to get their feet on the housing ladder. That is what Fine Gael has done and is doing. It does not particularly surprise me. What did not surprise me either was the Minister's trite and condescending remarks in response to my introduction of the Bill, which once again displayed his Trevelyanesque attitude towards the housing crisis. He will be remembered for this, not just in respect of this Bill but on others. He has clearly demonstrated on a number of occasions that he is not the oracle of wisdom on how to address the housing crisis. If anything, he has displayed in many instances a sheer lack of understanding of the situation. His leadership in the Department, I am pleased to see, will come to an end early next year. We need a change of Government and of housing strategy. We need to deliver and to implement. We do not need to keep going around cutting ribbons on schemes of eight houses all around the country, as Deputy Smyth mentioned. I had the dubious pleasure of the Minister coming into my constituency a number of months ago and opening houses that had actually been occupied for more than two years. It was a remarkable achievement. I was surprised he did not put the people out of the houses first only to hand them back the keys they already had.
Leaving that aside, the Minister of State's response was somewhat more constructive. Did I say the Bill was perfect? Absolutely not. To address some of the concerns that some of the contributors had about Part V provision and social housing, the Bill makes absolutely no difference in this regard. Did I say first-time buyers should only be allowed to buy new properties? That was an absolutely ridiculous charge from whoever wrote that script for the Minister and passed it on to the Minister of State. There is no question of that. Does the Bill state in any shape or form that a first-time buyer, if he or she had the resources to do so, could not buy a second-hand house? Nonsense.
Leaving all that aside, I have taken extensive notes from the feedback from colleagues who wanted to contribute in a positive way towards this legislation. I welcome the support. I welcome in particular Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's contribution. It was a very balanced and realistic approach. This is a massive issue, particularly in the Dublin area but across our cities. I refer to bulk buying of properties - not just apartments but also housing developments - from under the noses of potential first-time buyers who want to get their feet on the ladder. The State is doing this too. The State should be building, not buying. That would be a fundamental difference in our approach. Fianna Fáil believes that the State needs to lead by example and should not just stand off like the Minister with his laissez-faireattitude and leave it to the market, which is effectively what he has done. I thank my colleagues for their contributions and I again commend the Bill to the House.