Thursday, 3 June 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Today the ESRI published a report detailing the need for the State to take a new approach to housing. The approach outlined is to borrow money and build houses. Sinn Féin has been calling for this strategy for years. While the ESRI's calculations are on the conservative side, it still found that the most effective and viable option to solving the crisis is to borrow and to build.
In my maiden speech at Cork City Council in 2009 I warned the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors that the State was in a housing crisis. They laughed and said there was no such thing as a housing crisis. Yet, here we are 12 years on and the ESRI estimates a need to build 35,000 new homes every year to come on stream if we are to meet our targets. This year, between the Government and the private sector, the best guess that the Government will deliver is 15,000 homes. This leaves a deficit of 20,000 homes, a deficit that has been building for years because of a lack of investment by a Fine Gael Government, and a Fine Gael supported by Fianna Fáil Government.
I will outline what we are looking for over the lifetime of this Government. If Sinn Féin was in power we would deliver 100,000 homes in five years, 60,000 of which would be social homes, 30,000 affordable purchase homes, and 10,000 affordable rental homes. We would put an end to the reliance on the private sector and private developers. If Deputy Eoin Ó Broin was the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, he would provide people with homes.
There are more than 5,000 families and people on the Cork City Council housing waiting list. This does not include those on housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or rent supplement, who are not properly housed. The waiting lists are so long that when people ring me about their applications for social housing I must tell them that their young children will probably be teenagers before they get housed. People are waiting eight, nine and ten years, and even longer, before they get even an offer of a house. A child should not have to spend his or her entire childhood waiting on a permanent, secure home. Children of Cork and across the State are growing up in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation. This is because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael allowed this to happen. These parties created the housing crisis.
Yesterday, the Tánaiste is reported to have assured his Fine Gael Party colleagues that the local property tax will be reduced for people with homes worth €1 million. Is the Government so out of touch that they think reducing taxes on the very wealthy is what is needed right now, when children are growing up waiting on a home? Does the Minister of State not accept that the Government must now finally change its housing strategy and recognise that the Sinn Féin strategy to borrow and build is the only way we can solve the housing crisis? The ESRI has come out and virtually said that the Sinn Féin strategy is the only way forward to delivering houses. This is a housing emergency. We have had a Covid -19 emergency and we threw all the money needed at it to resolve it. Now we need to do the same with housing. We need to put the investment in there to deliver the houses that are needed. This is for the people.
I thank Deputy Gould for tabling this Topical Issue matter. It is a very serious issue. I remind the Deputy that the best way to build houses is, if he could advise his colleagues, to stop objecting to houses. The Deputy quotes the ESRI, but it is very interesting that he does not quote the ESRI on the property tax, which is a progressive tax the Deputy is also against, and he is against carbon tax. Yet, the Deputy is advocating what the State should borrow. That is called "fantasy economics".
Increasing the supply of public, social and affordable homes is priority for this Government. It is the number one priority for the Government, which the Taoiseach has clearly stated, to deliver the housing and the housing policies to ensure that everyone has access to a home, whether it be social, affordable, a home to rent or a home to buy.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to deliver 50,000 new social homes with a focus on new-build homes. Local authorities will be central to increasing the supply of new-build social housing and my Department is working closely with the local government sector to ensure that they have capacity to deliver this ambitious programme. We will ensure that local authorities have the required technical expertise to initiate, develop and deliver new housing schemes, with a particular focus on project management. The Deputy will be aware that Cork has borrowed to deliver significant development on the St. Kevin's former hospital site, and other huge sites in the Deputy's constituency.
The Government is also committed to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system by prioritising the increased supply of public, social and affordable homes. This will be achieved through a State-backed affordable home purchase scheme to promote home ownership and by working with local authorities, approved housing bodies and the private sector to ensure that there is an appropriate mix and type of housing provided nationally. We will also improve the supply and affordability of rental accommodation and the security of tenure for renters, through new initiatives such as the cost rental schemes. We are providing capital funding of €468 million specifically to cover affordability measures including: €110 million to be ring-fenced for a shared equity scheme and cost rental loans; €50 million in serviced sites funding; €38 million in local infrastructure housing activation funding, LIHAF; €210 million for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan; and €205 million to be spent by the Land Development Agency in its progression of housing, including affordable homes on key strategic sites, of which €60 million will be provided through the Vote of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
In 2021, the Government's commitment to increase the supply of public housing is underpinned by a record budget of €3.3 billion to deliver our housing programmes. In addition to the Exchequer investment in housing programmes, the Housing Finance Agency, under my aegis, is on hand to advance funds to local authorities and approved housing bodies for use in the delivery of housing. Under difficult circumstances, the Housing Finance Agency has had a net loan book increase of €545 million in 2020.We must consider this in the context of the backdrop of Covid-19.
Despite the restrictions, 2020 was a record year for approved housing body business with loan approvals of €1 billion. Gross loan advances of €773 million in the year brought the total loan book to a record €5.2 billion, making a significant and invaluable contribution to housing delivery in Ireland.
This year we will deliver the Government's new strategy, Housing for All, which will set out our strategy and policy for the next five years. The Deputy will be aware that the plan is being developed in the context of the need for 33,000 new homes each year across all tenures. Again, these are figures that have been underscored by the ESRI. The plan will include annual targets for the delivery of social and affordable homes. Housing for All is a whole-of-government approach and the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is working closely with colleagues in government on all the measures to be taken in the plan. I welcome the contribution of the ESRI report to the debate on how we fund and deliver these housing programmes. The Government will be considering this. The Land Development Agency is huge in terms of delivering at times when our economy might be stressed with public debt because it will have the capacity to raise funds and deliver housing in a counter-cyclical manner. It is important when we quote the ESRI that we do not do it selectively just when it suits us, but in the context of all the initiatives in the area of housing.
The Minister of State accuses me and Sinn Féin of quoting the ESRI when it suits us, but is this not what he is doing? The ESRI stated that the Government needs to double its expenditure on housing if we are to solve the housing crisis. That is what it stated. Does the Minister of State not accept that as a bona fide fact, or does he say that the ESRI and Sinn Féin are incorrect? There can be no doubt that Sinn Féin's housing policy is the only way to solve the crisis.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would rather spend €503 million every year on private landlords for HAP, RAS and rent supplement, making landlords, speculators, vulture funds and the private sector super rich. That is the Government's policy. Sinn Féin's policy is to deliver public homes on public land.
The Minister of State mentioned the St. Kevin's site. It is unbelievable. I sometimes ask myself whether these Ministers have ever been around. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I proposed building on the St. Kevin's site. In 2009 and 2010, I proposed building on the old Whitechurch Road site in Cork and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael blocked us every step of the way. Ten years later, the Minister of State is coming in here to tell us to look at the great work the Government is doing. If they had done the work when they should have done it ten years ago, as I and other Sinn Féin people proposed, we would not be in the middle of a housing crisis.
To let the Minister of State know how far behind he and the Government are, Cork City Council has launched a website on which people can lodge their interest in a new affordable housing scheme on Boherboy Road, which the council announced two years ago. It is still waiting on the Government to let it know how much it can sell them for. Cork City Council has six, seven or perhaps eight affordable housing projects waiting to go and the only thing holding them up is the Minister of State and the Government. Sinn Féin will deliver houses.
What he fails to note is we were under an IMF programme. The State was spending 50% more than it was taking in income. We were locked out of the markets. Any borrowing was as high as 14%. Two local authorities in Dublin and the local authority in Westmeath were piloting the mortgage-to-rent scheme because we were saturated with debt in our local authorities. The Deputy ignores all of this when he speaks about the period 2009 to 2012, inclusive. This is one of the core underscores of the crisis. The State did not have the capacity to deliver but it does now and it is delivering with that record budget for the Department.
I did not quote the ESRI, the Deputy did. When it comes to property tax and raising money in the State, the Deputy takes the populous route. He does not look at it and he walks away from it. It is a progressive tax. When it comes to carbon tax and protecting our environment, the Deputy will not look at it. He walks away again. He speaks about restrictions day in and day out and banning travel into our country but he will not vote to extend the emergency provisions. The hypocritical stances of many Deputies we have seen in the House over the past ten days are incredible.