Thursday, 8 July 2021
Affordable Housing Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “and shall be passed by both houses of the Oireachtas before being signed into law”.
Let us be clear that we all want to see genuinely affordable housing being delivered. However, one of the many problems with this Bill is that a whole range of the key issues which would ensure we would finally get some affordable housing are not contained in the Bill itself but are bounced back to the Minister to be done by regulation. Thus, after years and years of promises from successive governments that we are going to get affordable housing through a plan for affordable housing and an affordable housing Bill, we get a Bill in which many of the key issues are bounced back to the Minister to be done by regulation afterwards. We have no idea what will happen with key issues, such as, for example, the critical issues of defining what affordability actually is and whether it will be affordable for ordinary working families. There are also the public private partnerships, PPPs. Yet again the Government is insisting on bringing private property interests into the delivery of so-called affordable housing which has never succeeded but apparently will this time. On a whole range of other absolutely critical issues it will be up to the Minister, after the Bill is passed, to decide these things.
That is not acceptable. We think those things should be in the Bill. We want real definitions of affordability based on people's income. We do not want private investment funds or property developers to be profiteering out of this. We do not want measures, which we will discuss later, which are very likely to reinforce if not worsen the affordability crisis we currently face because they essentially underpin the existing problem of the domination of the housing sector by profit-driven interests which are responsible for the affordability crisis.
These amendments seek to ensure that, at the very minimum, matters relating to these key issues and that are going to be done afterwards must be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is in order that we have democratic oversight of regulations which may be made afterwards and so that the Minister does not just get carte blancheto do things which may not actually help the situation, or which are, in any event, not transparent or, worse still, as we saw last night, which may actually benefit the wrong people - the investment funds and property developers - rather than the people we should be looking after with a Bill like this, namely, the working people being priced out of the housing sector. That is the logic of this amendment and it is the very least safeguard we should have over a Bill that in many ways is a pig in a poke because we do not know what is going to happen in the future on some of the key issues that will decide whether we get the affordable housing we want.
I too am concerned while we all wait with bated breath for action from Government. I am aware of the Minister's bona fides and listened to him on the housing committee. However, I do not know where it all gets lost and choked up when it comes to the drafting of legislation. It is not at all clear to me from this legislation and these amendments that we are going to see the logjams unblocked and the whole bureaucracy around the delivery of affordable and social housing in this country addressed. We could do this back in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and we cannot seem to do it now. We have lost our way in some kind of fog, a dense fog. The Minister does not need a scooter but something to take the blinkers off his eyes and off those in his Department so they will deal with this. The role of the voluntary sector should be acknowledged as well and the Minister should allow them in too. We saw a piece of legislation put into Covid legislation last night to court and have a continuing affair with all these vulture and cuckoo funds. I am not sure this legislation is in any way robust enough or has any clarity on how we deal with this situation or how we tackle it the way it should be tackled.
I will speak in favour of both amendments in the group. When the Oireachtas housing committee undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of this legislation, one of the recommendations unanimously agreed by all members of the committee, both from the Government and the Opposition, was that the many regulations the Minister will have to produce, both for the affordable purchase and cost rental schemes, should be published in parallel with the legislation. This was so we could have a fully informed debate about the details of those schemes and whether the regulations and criteria the Minister would introduce via those regulations were appropriate. It would also allow us to fully understand the way in which the provisions of the Bill as it stands would be utilised.
It is very disappointing we have not even seen those regulations. To the Minister I say there is enormous frustration among directors of housing in local authorities throughout the State because for three years officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and for three years local authorities and councillors from all parties and none have been keen to utilise funding that has already been provided through the serviced sites fund for cost rental and affordable purchase. However, they have been held back. Here we are debating legislation and we do not know the criteria.
These two amendments have great merit and not only should the Minister have published them but the Oireachtas should have had some formal role. That could have been, as these amendments suggest, with the Houses approving the measures or there could have been direct consultation with the Oireachtas housing committee or other body.
The Minister will continue to tell us this is transformative legislation but it is skeletal. Much of the detail of it we will not know until later this year. The bulk of the text of this Bill relates to one of its provisions, which is now to be called the affordable housing loan for affordable purchase led by local authorities. The cost rental section of the Bill is approximately a page and a half. We know virtually nothing about how this scheme will operate other than snippets that have been in the media about the cost rental equity loan pilot today. It is very disappointing.
For those of us who want to be supportive of the Government's efforts, even when we believe those efforts are badly designed and executed, the Minister makes it exceedingly difficult by behaving in this way. Therefore, I am more than happy to support these amendments.
It is completely unacceptable that the Government has allocated only three hours for almost 100 amendments to be taken and to use the guillotine in this way. This Bill deserves proper scrutiny, engagement and oversight.
It is quite appropriate we are starting with amendments looking for proper scrutiny, accountability and oversight. The key flaw in this Bill is that it leaves much up to the Minister by way of regulation. For example, there is no definition of "affordability" in this Bill. It is an affordable housing Bill that does not define affordability so we do not know what the Government might do. We have heard media reports about market discounts rather than basing this on affordability which is linked to income, for example. This is all missing from the Bill, which is designed so a range of these areas is governed via regulation.
I have major concerns about this because we can see the influence of lobbyists on the drawing up of housing and planning legislation over recent years. It has been a total disaster in strategic housing development legislation. We have academic research on the role played by lobbyists, who had their policies implemented in the legislation lock, stock and barrel. We know the track record of previous Ministers on this. Regardless of who is the Minister, he or she should not have that level of ability without democratic oversight to set such regulations. It creates a scenario where different Ministers from different governments can go in different directions. It creates a position where we do not have any kind of democratic oversight, which is very problematic.
My concern is that by giving so much power to the Minister and in looking at other provisions in the Bill, we are looking at a range of measures. We can see it with the shared equity scheme, which is being lobbied for, when the independent analysis is it will push up house prices. My concern is we will have a range of measures, including these regulations, that will do the opposite of what the Title of the Bill implies and make housing less rather than more affordable.
I thank the Deputies for the amendments that have been tabled. For context, I remind Members, although I am sure they are well aware, that although there may be issues with different perspectives, this is the most comprehensive affordable housing legislation ever published. One of the Deputies said it is scant on detail, but I ask him to compare it with any other affordable housing proposals, let alone legislation or Bills, that have been published over a long number of years. I am absolutely confident it will work.
In getting to this Stage we have taken on board views of colleagues both from within the Government and the Opposition. I ask Deputies to look at this Bill from a positive perspective. I meet and speak to young and not so young people who have not been able to own their homes at an affordable rate or rent at an affordable rate with a secure tenure. Within the space of just a year, we will conclude the most comprehensive affordable housing legislation ever put forward by any government. That is action because I want to provide a path forward for home ownership at an affordable rate and for cost rental at scale. Coincidentally, just yesterday we opened the first 25 cost rental homes.
I want to discuss regulations as they are relevant to the tabled amendments. The regulations for eligibility for both cost rental and affordable purchase will be published well in advance of homes being occupied. Regulations will also ensure there is greater flexibility to move forward and make changes where appropriate. Deputies would be aware of this.
To deal with the amendments, the effect of the proposed amendments to section 3 would be to require that all regulations made by the Minister under this part have the approval of both Houses. I genuinely think this is unnecessary and it would add considerable time to the making of such regulations. Affordability is an urgent issue, and although some people might want to debate this back and forth, year on year, as they do with colleagues in council chambers, I want to see changes implemented. I do not want to see continued objections to affordable purchase or rental and social homes all over the country. I want to see a national scheme put in place, which is what this is.
The debate has been constructive until now, in fairness, and people have put forward their views. I respect that. It is now time to get on with the job and pass the legislation. If people support affordable housing and purchase and the idea of home ownership for our people, especially young people and working people, they should support the Bill. If they support cost rental and affordable housing, they will support this Bill. Now is the time for people to make up their minds on this.
If the regulations had to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas every time they had to be published, it would add considerable time to the process. I am sure Deputies Boyd Barrett and O'Callaghan and their colleagues know that regulations must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution annulling them can be passed by either House within the following 21 days. It is factual to say the Oireachtas retains full democratic control with respect to regulations made under this Act. I consider that this is sufficient and appropriate and I do not propose to accept either of these amendments.
If this were comprehensive legislation, we would know, for example, what would be the eligibility criteria for accessing affordable purchase or cost rental schemes. If it were comprehensive legislation, we would know the cost or the way in which the cost of those homes would be provided.
Nobody is asking the Minister to delay anything. In fact, this legislation has been three years in gestation over two Governments. Many of us, including myself throughout the last Oireachtas, tried to get this legislation introduced much earlier. The problem is that the Minister is asking us to support a Bill without us knowing the full facts. Again, I go back to the central point of the Oireachtas joint committee. We asked for the regulations, even the draft regulations, to be published in parallel with the Bill so the debate could be properly informed. There are real consequences to this. The serviced sites fund today is being used in different ways. It is being used, for example, by Ó Cualann Cohousing in Dublin city, and in the Minister's constituency, as well as in Cork, to deliver homes at genuinely affordable prices. We have all welcomed that and call for more. The fund is also being used in O'Devaney Gardens to deliver so-called "affordable" homes that will cost up to €310,000. That is before the €50,000 shared equity portion with the local authority, which must be repaid back. That is not affordable.
It is not unreasonable for Members of this Dáil, on the Government or the Opposition side, to simply ask the Government to let us know exactly how this Bill will operate. For the life of me I cannot understand why the draft regulations were not published with the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will explain. Were they finished? When does he expect them to be published? It is not the case that the regulations will be published before homes are occupied, because homes that are being funded under the schemes outlined in this Bill are already occupied. I assume that the small number of cost-rental homes announced yesterday by Clúid Housing will be occupied within a matter of weeks. Maybe the Minister will give us an update on the regulations. Maybe he can share with the Members of the Opposition some of the content of the regulations with regard to income limit eligibility, centre of interest criteria, price and price calculations, and when they will be published.
The Minister and the Government know that our big concern and the concern of a lot of people out there is that affordable housing may turn out not to be affordable for the working people who desperately need it. People may not have heard it on the microphones, but across the Chamber just now the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said that it will be. I have no doubt that the Minister hopes this will be the case, and that he would like it to be the case, but the Minister's wishes and the best intentions in the world do not make something true. I am sure that Enda Kenny probably meant it when he said in 2011, when the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government entered office, that by the end of its first term the Government would have eliminated homelessness. He probably actually wanted to get rid of homelessness, but in fact they made policy decisions that produced the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the State. One can call it unintended consequences or misguided ideology, but it means that what the Minister wants may not turn out to be the case.
In this legislation we want something that guarantees affordable housing that is actually affordable for the working families who are facing a housing crisis, because housing is not affordable. Key to this is that those people who make money from property, from land and from housing, who just like to make money from investment, and who do absolutely nothing, do not dictate the price of the affordable housing. That is our concern. We will get onto the details on that in some of the other amendments. We get very worried when we hear of public private partnerships where affordability is related to market price, even with a discount on market price, or to local market conditions, which is worse. Local market conditions are absolutely dysfunctional and market prices are absolutely stratospheric. If that is what affordability is benchmarked against, I suspect that quite a few of us believe that the affordable housing in many of the areas where it is needed most will not be affordable.
We want affordability to be hardwired into the legislation. It is critical that this is done on the issue of income. I believe affordability is based on one's income, as I have said to the Minister many times. It is not based on a particular price that is set by the market, the Minister or anybody else. It is based on income. What is a reasonable proportion of income for working people to have to spend on rent or on mortgage repayments? To my mind, that figure is 25% or maybe 30%, but no more. It is not 40%, 50% or 60%, or indeed 70%, as many people are paying who are at the epicentre of this housing crisis. We want this provision in the legislation. The Minister does not want it in the legislation. He has not put it in the legislation. Instead, it is to go back to regulation. That is a grave matter of concern. We want any decisions the Minister makes after this to be subject to scrutiny, and not just through information laid before the Dáil, considering that this week we are dealing with guillotine after guillotine. We are dizzy with the amount of legislation that is being rammed through. How would we possibly be able to spot what might be laid before the Dáil on a week like this? If there is a requirement that these things must be debated and passed in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we will have some insurance and some oversight against the possibility that decisions subsequently made by the Minister will not actually deliver the affordable housing we so desperately need. This is the logic of these amendments. I do not see why that basic level of oversight and accountability in this critically important area, which is the existential crisis facing a generation of our society, would not have the scrutiny it deserves.
We absolutely need affordable housing for those on average incomes. This is what is needed. We have reasons to be concerned that this is not what will happen. The Minister and the Government have given us those reasons because there has been talk about price limits for affordable apartments of up to €500,000. There has been talk of cost rental being set at a 25% discount off the full market rate, whereas in other countries it is done on a not-for-profit basis and it is much more affordable than that. We keep on getting references to affordable housing being a discount on the full market price. We have a lot to be concerned about here. The legislation contains all sorts of references to private sector delivery. There are also references to the shared equity scheme, which is a subsidy for private developers. Everything is indicating that we are not going to get the affordable houses needed for those people who cannot afford the full market rates and who would not be eligible for social housing. A huge number of people are stuck renting in that area who need this to work and need it to be delivered. I have not heard from the Minister why the draft regulations have not been published. We have been looking for them for quite some time. The Oireachtas joint committee unanimously asked for the regulations to be published alongside the legislation so that we could see the context on it. I must have misunderstood this previously from interactions with the Minister. I had understood that he intended to do that. I must have been wrong on that. I do not understand why the draft regulations have not been published. Where are they? When can we see them? When will we have transparency and oversight over them?
I will try to explain a few things in order to be helpful to Deputies. I will refer back to Deputy Boyd Barrett first, and then the other Deputies. We are dealing with the reality of the situation right now, which is that housing is not affordable for tens of thousands of people across the State. This legislation will bring about a national affordable purchase scheme and, pretty much for the first time ever, a national cost-rental scheme. I will give an example. Some people might not like to hear a reference to "market price" but, to give an indication of affordability, I must mention that the first 25 cost-rental homes were launched yesterday at about 50% less than the market price charged for rent in that part of north County Dublin. We can say that this is a comparison. We are not setting the regulations based on a reduction in market price. We know what cost rental is. It is a rent charged on the basis of covering the costs of the development, maintenance and management of a particular development.
Deputy Cian O'Callaghan will certainly be aware that in other European jurisdictions they are not just not-for-profit; they allow ethical investment, such as in Vienna, where a small margin is allowed. With cost rental in Ireland we are funding the start of this through Exchequer funding.
In Balbriggan, as of yesterday there are rents of just short of €900 a month.
I will go further with regard to the regulations and when they will be introduced. When regulations are published they are laid before both Houses, as I said, and any Deputy can seek their annulment. I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett. It is not just a question of setting a market price or a discount off a market price for affordable purchase. I have never said that. What is affordable to a person or family unit is what is affordable.
I want to be helpful on this. While I understand why it might be attractive, the provision of a single and absolutist indicator does not provide the most insightful or helpful response to the fundamental question of what is affordable. Deputy Ó Broin published a scheme a couple of years ago. This is a completely new Bill brought forward by the Government. The affordable housing policy brought forward by his party would have capped entry to the scheme if a person earned more than €50,000 as an individual or more than €75,000 as a couple. That is arbitrary. The figure was changed to €80,000 for a couple following some criticism. We need to point affordability at the family unit and individual.
There is very little academic support for an affordability measure that concentrates on averages alone. This is because different groups can experience very different conditions. Assessing affordability and the financial constraints on households is not best identified by a rule of thumb or asking how much is too much, but rather by asking how much is too much for whom and in what circumstances.
I completely agree with the Deputy. That is what this will be focused towards. I will explain when this will happen. A number of Deputies understand that there is no one-size-fits-all. If I introduced a regulation that stated a person earning, as Sinn Féin proposed, in excess of €50,000 could not access an affordable house, I do not think anyone would have agreed with that. It would be a completely unworkable, arbitrary and unfair proposal. The main Opposition spokesperson has advocated such arbitrary caps.
This Bill will be better because it will take into account family needs and a household's particular financial circumstances. I want to broadly confirm that it is my intention to provide that households can apply to purchase what would be modest family homes using the mortgage available to them when they cannot afford the home in question at the value that is being sought. Where equity support is being made available, families can bridge the gap between their mortgage funding and the price of homes, and they will be eligible for that support.
I have previously indicated that, based on local authority submissions under the serviced sites fund, which will become the affordability fund, it is envisaged that homes made available by housing authorities under the scheme will have purchase prices of between approximately €160,000 and €300,000. We have seen this in areas across the country. That will give Deputies an indication of what we are talking about.
Some of the schemes we launched in Lusk involve prices of between €165,000 and €265,000. The scheme in Ballymastone in Donabate has houses priced in the region of €265,000. Two Members who spoke to this amendment have colleagues in Fingal County Council who opposed the scheme. That is fine and they are entitled to do that should they wish to do so. This is about delivering affordable homes for people.
This involves house prices in approximately that region. As we deliver more we will be able to build up that scale. A home costing €160,000 is within the range of applicants with incomes as low as €29,000 for a single person or gross €27,000 for a couple with two incomes. That involves using a Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which we intend to be part of this. In the case of applicants using bank mortgages, the home is accessible for applicants with a gross income of approximately €42,000. I am giving this information to Deputies to try to be helpful. Most of us will agree that people who feel they will never be able to own a home will be part of such schemes. We will have the same type of arrangements for cost rental.
At the upper end, a home costing €310,000 is accessible for a couple with a gross income of approximately €54,500 using a Rebuilding Ireland home loan or a couple earning a gross income of just short of €79,700 if they are using a bank loan a mortgage. The reason for that is that the macroprudential rules, as they apply, are more liberal under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan because it is a long-term fixed rate mortgage. We will examine how we can integrate that better.
I want to be helpful to Deputies and outline when we will publish the regulations. Homeswill become available in the coming months. I expect the cost-rental homes in Balbriggan to have tenants within the next eight weeks. On cost rental, I expect the regulations to be published in advance of that. It is now July and the regulations for both will be published by September. I have given Deputies a flavour of how they will work.
We need to have a degree of flexibility for people and families who want to own homes or rent a cost-rental unit for the first time in this country. We need to determine how this works. The main Opposition party advocated for arbitrary salary caps. If we hardwired that into the Bill, we would have to pass an amendment to change that. Would we add 10% or 15%? Would we not allow flexibility for different affordability levels in different parts of the country? That is why the regulations are flexible. They can be brought before the Dáil or Seanad and discussed. It is a better, and more flexible and efficient, way of doing it, which means that the Dáil and Seanad, with the best intentions in the world, will not further delay the process and provision of affordable homes.
I say respectfully and genuinely that I understand why the two amendments have been tabled. Deputies have explained their reasons. I have given them not just my view, but how the operation of these schemes will work and why it is better and appropriate to do it in the way I am suggesting. For that reason I cannot accept either amendment.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, to delete lines 28 to 33 and substitute the following: “(3) All proposed regulations to be made under the Act shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for consideration. No regulations shall be made until they are approved by both Houses.”.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following: ““community housing trust” has meaning given to it by section 6(3);”.
I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House. A year ago I was quite unsure about the programme for Government. However, just one year on, and following much discourse and negotiation, this Bill, coupled with the Land Development Agency Bill, gives me hope. Green Party policies of cost-rental, 100% public housing on public land, the abolition of co-living, community-led housing, tenures of indefinite duration and the imminent shutting down of the strategic housing development, SHD, scheme, among other measures, have been legislated for.
There are legacy issues from previous Governments. However, all of the aforementioned actions will provide affordable secure homes for many families and young people who have been locked out of the housing system. We have tabled a number of amendments to the Bill on the community-led housing model and I welcome the Minister's amendments to include such housing in the Bill as a new model for the State. These amendments will provide a statutory footing to model and will enable people to pool their assets and resources to create homes and communities that meet their particular needs in a sustainable manner.
As part of an academic research tour of Berlin organised by Mr. Dominic Stevens, an architect and advocate of community-led housing, I visited such a complex where the cost of homes was as much as 30% lower. I look forward to seeing this affordable housing model being rolled out in Ireland.
We need to ensure that our affordable housing models remain affordable and State led. Green Party amendments call for cost-rental dwellings to remain cost rental in perpetuity, rents to decrease rather than increase after the cost calculation period ends, equity returns to be capped at 3.5% in line with the equitable Vienna model, and tenants to be protected by offering tenancies of indefinite duration. Regulations are also required to provide succession rights to relatives or partners living with the tenant in the case of death or incapacity of the original signee.
All of these provisions are proposed as amendments by me, Deputy Matthews and our policy team. I urge the Minister and the Department to consider them either as part of the Bill or the accompanying regulations on cost rental. While our universal design amendment was ruled out of order, housing should be based on good and inclusive design. Our amendment called for 7.5% of new developments to follow the principles of universal design, ensuring that all people of varying abilities and disabilities could find suitable homes that met their needs. I welcome the Green Party's amendment to add a further section to the Bill requiring that 30% of units in any development, including apartments, be reserved for first-time buyers and owner-occupiers.
I welcome the Minister and wish him well with the Bill. I echo what my constituency colleague, Deputy Duffy, said about the programme for Government.
I have a couple of questions. I welcome the affordable rent aspect and the security of tenure it provides. If someone who avails of it moves into retirement phase, his or her income will drop substantially. The Vienna model and other continental models take account of this, and the Minister has made proposals concerning the availability of housing assistance payment, HAP, for people who lose their jobs, but what about people who enter their retirement years?
I welcome what the Minister is doing in respect of SHDs. In my constituency, what I predicted would happen has happened. The damage has been done, but some of it could be undone. There are planning applications for 13-storey SHDs in Citywest close to the village of Saggart. That is just two storeys shy of Liberty Hall. There is another application for a nine-storey SHD. The impact of the famous Cosgrave SHD could have been mitigated if it had not all been build to rent. Quite a number of older people in my community have considered the opportunity to trade down and move 100 yd or 500 yd. They have wondered whether that site would offer them the opportunity, but it does not because it is all build to rent. That is a savage legacy of the previous Government that will live with us for a long time. As such, I welcome the end of the SHD process, but the Minister and I know that it has done a great deal of damage.
Comments have been made in recent days about investment funds and certain apartments and other housing units that will be offered for public or social housing. I will quote Dr. Mike Ryan, who has been quoted many times over the past year in a different context. He had a great phrase: "Perfection is the enemy of the good". The perfect in the minds of all Fianna Fáil Members is that we build public housing on public land. That is our objective, but you cannot turn a supertanker around in 24 hours. That is what previous housing policy was, and trying to reverse it and put it on the right course takes time. Everything cannot be perfect, but the provision of 2,500 social housing units virtually at the click of a finger in the foreseeable future cannot be denied as being a public good. It is not perfect, but it is certainly a public good.
I want to focus on what we are doing rather than on the Opposition, but I once heard a great definition of a socialist as someone who has nothing and wants to share it with everybody. That has struck me as being at the heart of some of the most strident opposition to the constructive, dynamic, positive and practical housing policies that have emerged from the Government over the past year. It should be a guiding principle for the foreseeable future that we should not always let the perfect get in the way of doing good. We want to get to the point of building public housing on public land. That is the clear stated intention of the Government and the affordable housing model is an essential part of that. Based on my conversations with the Minister and his team over recent months, the imminent housing for all policy will probably be as radical as it can get.
I see Deputy Matthews in the Chamber. He chairs the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. With this and the LDA Bill, he did a fantastic job in stewarding through legislation that will have an impact. I was remiss in not mentioning that during our debate on the LDA Bill. There was considerable discussion at the committee. While there were concerns and opposition to elements of the legislation, there was strong debate about where we are going in terms of housing.
In the debate on the previous group of amendments, I heard Opposition Deputies speak about their concerns and their desire for more detail. What I did not hear was an outright criticism that the Government is pointing in the wrong direction. It is clear that, in the 12 months the new Government has had the housing portfolio, there has been substantial work done in the right direction. We are leaning into the State providing housing rather than the market being the main provider. I could list all of the amendments. Deputy Duffy listed a number of them already. I had forgotten some of them. There has been substantial change.
The Affordable Housing Bill is another piece of the architecture that will fundamentally change the supply of affordable housing. Many Opposition Deputies stated that they could not keep up with the pace of legislation. The pace has been considerable, but that is because we are a Government of action rather than inaction. Many people wonder how the four elements of this Bill will help them. First, we are bringing back the idea of affordable purchase on council sites, a provision that was removed more than ten years ago. Councils will again be able to build affordable purchase housing on their lands in communities. This is important because people who were not eligible for social housing and could not get significant mortgages from the bank to allow them to purchase were utterly locked out until this legislative measure returned. While I was a member of Dublin City Council, proposals came to us time after time where there was not a tenure or income mix. Councils were given the terrible option of knowing that they were voting for communities that were not mixed or balanced. Every Deputy agrees that mixed tenure and mixed income developments are positive. We are giving councillors and councils back that power.
Second, we are putting in place an affordable rental model for the first time in the State. Many Opposition Deputies have spoken about this. Some of them were in government ten years ago but did nothing to introduce an affordable rental scheme for all the time they had the housing portfolio. Putting this model in place is important because, if people are above the income limits or otherwise ineligible for council housing, there will now be the equivalent of council housing for them.
There will be secure tenure in a complex in which their costs and rents are managed throughout their lives. That is an important change in public housing policy.
Third, we have increased the obligations on developers. We have doubled the developer obligation on private sites. There will be 10% affordable housing along with 10% social housing.
The last measure we will introduce, because all of this will take time to come on board and it will take time to build homes, is a 20% interest-free loan for five years with no obligation to pay down that 20% principal on that home over the lifetime of the mortgage. That is important because it gives people a shot to be able to afford unaffordable homes.
Other Members again mentioned that figure of €500,000. I want to be clear that Fianna Fáil, the Minister, the Green Party and Fine Gael do not believe €450,000 is an affordable cost for a home and repeating that lie is disingenuous. We do not believe it. In fact, we have named it as unaffordable and put in place a scheme to make it slightly more affordable, knowing the long-term solution is public housing on public land.
I welcome the amendments the Green Party has tabled. I ask the Minister to consider them because community-based housing is important. We have seen the benefits of projects such as Ó Cualann and the innovation they can bring. This Bill will shift the Ó Cualann model slightly because it will now be a supplier of housing rather than a co-operative. We need to think how it will be impacted. For a long time, it was the only affordable housing game on-site. The Minister and myself were on its sites. I want to make sure everything we do in this Bill encourages and allows Ó Cualann to continue doing what it is doing. I ask the Minister to consider the Green Party amendments.
My sole focus and that of many of my colleagues, in supporting this Bill, is to try to make sure we can put people and families in homes and bring an end to unaffordability. We will not get everything right. It will not be perfect, but we are doing everything we can, with every lever we can, to solve the housing crisis.
I strongly support the Green Party amendments. I tabled similar amendments to the Land Development Agency Bill to promote the idea of community housing trusts. Unfortunately, we do not have a legislative basis for such innovative forms of housing development. They work well in continental Europe, especially in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. It would be a positive addition to have that kind of opportunity in which people, particularly those who bring their skills to self-organised architecture projects, would be able to work in partnership with, for example, local authorities, access finance and develop genuinely permanently affordable homes. Self Organised Architecture is an organised group here, which has been lobbying Deputies and Ministers. If the Minister is not minded to support these amendments at this stage, I agree with Deputy McAuliffe that he should continue to engage on the issue and come back on it at a later stage.
In response to two other points the Minister and his backbench colleague made, caps for eligibility for affordable housing was first introduced by Fianna Fáil when it was last in government. Those caps are still in place. They exist for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and for the current affordable purchase housing projects that have come on stream. The Minister is correct that the original caps his party introduced, which I included in a consultation document last summer, are too low. That is why all of us agree that, where those caps should be introduced, they should be higher and reviewed annually based on empirical evidence from the Central Bank and the ESRI.
The difficulty is where there are no caps, as with the help to buy scheme, 60% of the people who avail of that scheme do not need it. That is an independent result from the Oireachtas budgetary committee's report on that. It is the same with the English and Welsh shared equity loan scheme. That will be a feature of the problem with this legislation. The difficulty with Deputy McAuliffe's arguments is there is nothing transformational in this Bill. Two key aspects were policies of the previous Government and the Government before that. The substantive detail of the cost rental and affordable purchase elements of this Bill, which is the majority of its text, were developed under the previous Government and I do not see evidence of much change.
What would be significant is if this Government were to dramatically increase the levels of investment. It did not do it in its first budget. I wait with interest to see if that happens. Having legislation, in and of itself, will not produce the homes Deputy McAuliffe and I want. The level of investment is key and until we see that, particularly direct investment in local authorities and AHBs, we will not see the volume of units required.
There are fundamental concerns with this Bill. Deputy McAuliffe is wrong. The shared equity loan scheme will increase mortgage credit in the market, which is increasingly depressed in terms of supply. That will inflate house prices. That is almost the universal view of everybody, bar his own party. Even his colleagues in government, privately and some publicly, share that concern. Rather than helping people, it will do exactly what help to buy did. It will benefit, in the main, people who do not need it, while pushing up houses prices and making it more difficult for everybody else.
With respect to Part V - our difficulty is we are unlikely to get to those amendments because they are at the end - there are a number of significant concerns and uncertainties about the way in which those sections of the Bill are currently drafted. We only have the three hours. We could have had a committee session last Thursday. That slot was available. We could have had a committee session next Tuesday and Thursday. We will not get to tease out exactly how they will work and whether the private developer interests, which seep into this Bill under every section, will also infect those sections and undermine the delivery of genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy.
I support the amendments of Deputies Duffy and Matthews and urge the Minister, whether today or at a later stage, to take them on board. Not only are they well-intended, they would be a good addition to our housing system.
I support these amendments as well. The role of community-led trusts needs to be supported and if it is not fully incorporated into the Bill, we need to do that. Not only are they to be found in other parts of Europe, they are in Scotland as well. In recent years, the Scottish Land Commission has done significant work on this. It has a good alternative role in providing housing which is affordable if it is community-led. There are also benefits in design and getting community input and buy-in, not just in the immediate delivery of homes, but in building communities in the long term. It is a model that needs to be fully supported and I strongly support the amendments.
I want to respond to one point the Minister made on cost rental and the Vienna model. We need to be clear about that model and profit limited companies. Those companies are akin to our not-for-profits. They are similar, but there is a key difference. They are much more tightly regulated in how they can spend any returns they get on cost rentals, than not-for profits or AHBs here. This is not just in terms of cost rental but other housings are highly regulated, with a complex set of rules, regulations and laws about how they can invest their money and returns.
The returns they generate are after the build cost is paid back. At that point, the vast majority of their returns have to be reinvested in housing, land or renovation. That is very different from the potential of a private investor or investment fund here, which are provided for under the legislation, whose profits potentially go to shareholders. That is the concern I have. What the Bill provides for is quite different from the Vienna model as it allows for private profit returns on cost rental to be extracted, whereas under the Vienna model any returns after the build costs have been paid off are recycled into the system. That is a huge difference.
It is massively regrettable that time has not been allocated to discuss these issues and tease them out. This needs to be done fast but that could have been done last week or this week.
I am sure the members of the Oireachtas housing committee would have fully co-operated with that. If one looks at the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, study done of Vienna, for example, it cites potential rents of approximately €500 per month for apartments as a result of the subsidies they received. The Minister is correct about Balbriggan being a model. My concern is that this Bill allows for a departure from that not-for-profit model.
I thank the Deputies and particularly Deputy Duffy for tabling the amendment. I will address the amendments, but I sometimes find with Deputy Cian O'Callaghan that if I had a Social Democrats party policy document, turned it into legislation and brought it to the House, he would find something wrong with it and have a concern about it because it was me bringing it forward. We have to look at the facts of what I am bringing forward. We are introducing cost rental for the first time and legislating for it. As Deputy McAuliffe rightly asked, is everything going to be perfect as we go along? I think not. Nothing is perfect, but the reason we are looking at regulations on foot of this legislation is that if we need to change it as we go forward, we will do that. This is not about Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, me, Deputy Ó Broin or any other Member. This is about endeavouring to make a real difference for the tens of thousands of people who are caught in an unaffordability trap and the tens of thousands who are stuck with unaffordable rents and to give them real options that are going to work. That is why it is important.
While some may bemoan the fact that there is a short three hours for this element of the debate, there was extensive pre-legislative scrutiny which was facilitated and well stewarded by the chairperson of the committee, Deputy Matthews. The committee participated in that and there were even votes throughout the pre-legislative scrutiny. It was so well scrutinised that, if one had a suspicious mind like some of the Opposition Deputies, one could think it may have been done simply to delay the passage of the Affordable Housing Bill. We and our colleagues in Fine Gael and the Green Party want to ensure this legislation is passed before the summer recess so the schemes will be up and running, people can be in affordable homes this year and we have proof of concept. That may not suit some. It genuinely might not suit the political narrative of some to see an affordable housing scheme that is actually working. That is fine. However, this debate should not be about me or Deputies Ó Broin, Cian O'Callaghan, Duffy and Boyd Barrett. I ask Members to think about who this is really about, which is the citizen who wants a safe and secure home.
As we go through the remainder of this debate, I ask some of the Deputies to try to look at the positive elements of this legislation and the effective change it is going to make. Is absolutely everything in this going to work 100% from day one? No, absolutely not. Is it going to make a difference? It absolutely will. If we have to change it in the future, we will come back to it. Resolving affordability and bringing forward affordable housing do not have a one-size-fits-all approach and cannot be done by way of a silver-bullet policy. That is why we spent a solid year on this legislation. Yes, we have looked at other models. We have looked at other jurisdictions to see where certain purchase schemes work well, where cost-rental schemes work well and where they do not work so well. However, from the get-go and even before the publication of this legislation, the main Opposition spokesperson and his colleague in the Social Democrats have tried to use every opportunity to undermine parts of the Bill, without even seeing a scheme published. In a very short space of time, we will see this up and running and see people in affordable homes. Frankly, that is something all of us should welcome.
I want to see progress on affordability, on homelessness and on delivering public homes on public land. In the Land Development Agency Bill, which was mentioned by Deputies Lahart and Duffy, we have made very significant changes to the previous general scheme that was published and did not come to the Dáil, whereby there is 100% affordable and social homes in the two main cities and an affordability threshold of 50% minimum. These are radical changes that will have a lasting positive impact on what we are doing. This Government is determined to tackle and solve the problems, not to get one up on Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, Deputy Ó Broin or anybody else. I am happy to take criticism all day long, but Members should be constructive and support the legislation because it will make a difference.
Speaking about supporting legislation and looking at other matters, the amendments tabled by Deputies Duffy and Matthews are very helpful, as was an amendment tabled by Sinn Féin in the Seanad, which I accepted, to allow housing authorities to enter arrangements with co-operatives, community housing trusts and other not-for-profit bodies to make dwellings available for affordable dwelling purchase arrangements. This added such bodies to approved housing bodies, the Land Development Agency and public private partnerships. While the principle of my Green Party colleagues' amendment is accepted, it was made clear that it would have to be slightly refined and reviewed to ensure it was legally sound. We have done that and I am now bringing forward further amendments, although Members may not have seen them in the grouping, including amendment No. 9. I am bringing forward this amendment to replace that provision with "arrangements with a community-led housing organisation, a housing cooperative or a community land trust". The amendment is brought forward following consultation with my colleagues and Deputies Duffy and Matthews. I am also proposing the inclusion of a new subsection (3) in this section which allows the Minister to prescribe "minimum requirements in relation to governance, previous experience, financial management and financial reporting" to be met by such organisations, housing co-operatives and community land trusts. That is very important as well. We want to ensure that in any interaction with these community organisations they have the requisite experience, financial management know-how and financial reporting.
These revised provisions have been drafted after consideration by my officials and in consultation with the Housing Agency and the Office of the Attorney General. I am satisfied that the amended provisions will be fit for purpose and appropriately flexible, given the regulation-making power which will enable us to respond to the practicalities of matters arising. The provisions also meet the general objectives of the amendments proposed by my colleagues, which I do not propose to accept. I believe we have covered what they brought forward in the Government amendments, which are good amendments to this important legislative measure.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, to delete lines 27 and 28.
As we discussed with the last group of amendments, we are happy to have arrangements with not-for-profit organisations. However, our concerns are not just ideological concerns, as the Minister regularly trots out, but concerns based on experience with what the private investors want out of property and housing and what their objectives do to the housing sector and to prices and rents. There is a need to ensure that in the Affordable Housing Bill, of all places, we do everything we can to make sure that the dynamics of profit seeking do not end up making affordable housing unaffordable or in any other way mess up the objective of delivering that affordable housing. This set of amendments relates to the provisions in the Bill to allow for public private partnerships.
Of course, this is where the danger does lie. To be honest, for anybody to say this is just ideological would be utterly dishonest. I hope the Minister is not going to go on about that now again and say it is just because I am ideological. Public private partnerships, PPPs, have proven consistently to be more expensive and less reliable in the delivery of social housing or affordable housing. This is the reality. Why? It is because the private part of the partnership is in the deal to make money. They do not have the same objectives that we have simply to deliver housing that is affordable. They invest to make money. They do not invest in a project unless they are going to get their pound of flesh and, critically, they often do not continue with a project if at any point in the process they decide they will not make the money they originally thought they were going to make. Furthermore, there is no transparency in PPPs because it is all shrouded in commercial sensitivity. Once there is a PPP, transparency and accountability about the expenditure of public money goes out the window because commercial sensitivity issues kick in. We believe that PPPs have no place in the delivery of affordable housing and these amendments seek to delete those references to PPPs because we want to exclude the failed PPP model from a Bill that is supposed to be about delivering affordable housing.
Let us remember back to the developments on Dominick Street, where we are finally starting to get something. That was because a PPP showed the weaknesses inherent in those public private partnerships. A certain developer just decided at a certain point not to proceed with it and the plans went out the window and we did not get anything. Dominick Street has been left there in disgraceful dereliction for 20 years as a result of this failed model of public private partnership. We are not in favour of repeating it. Of course, I have seen many other examples of this and smaller versions.
I might anticipate certain criticisms that occasionally come from Deputies Mattie McGrath or Michael Collins that this means we have no role for small private contractors. This is not what we are saying in these amendments. I want to stress this. Very often, public housing has been delivered by local authorities stating they want to build, for example, a public housing development of 200 houses and this is contracted out to a private developer. Frankly, I would prefer a State construction company and people directly employed by the local authorities but I understand that short of this often it is about contracting to private local builders. What does not happen in these traditional examples of delivering public housing is that the private builder dictates anything to do with the price of the dwelling or the rents in the dwelling, or that some arrangement is involved whereby huge amounts of public money are paid out for 20, 25 or 30 years, paying over the odds for delivering housing. It is just a straightforward deal where the builders are paid a certain amount and they build the houses. This is different. This is not what we are saying here.
Public private partnerships are a failed model. They are more expensive and less reliable, there is less transparency and they infect the objective of delivering affordable housing with the priority of making profits for private investors. Let us not have more of the stuff we debated last night that once again, when it should be about delivering affordability for people, we have to sneak into the back door the interests that just want to make money. This is what is here. There is no purpose or benefit in it. They cannot deliver finance any cheaper than anybody else. We can do that better than they can. There is simply no justification for public private partnerships in an affordable housing Bill.
I will speak to amendment No. 24 in this group on the subject of PPPs. Public private partnerships are quite a new model for developing social housing in a context here. The first bundle, as the Minister knows, was completed earlier this year, with 109 of the first 500 in my constituency. They were tenanted recently. The difficulty with the PPP model is in the detail, and I want to briefly outline the reason it is not the right model to deliver homes.
There is an exercise at the heart of awarding the contracts for public private partnerships, which is a public sector benchmarking exercise. Officials from Dublin City Council, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform carry out a public sector benchmarking exercise, asking themselves what would it cost the public sector to do what we are asking the private sector to do. It looks at the cost of construction, the cost of management and maintenance and a number of other issues. A figure is derived. That figure is never made public and never made available to councillors or Members of the Oireachtas to scrutinise it properly in real time. It is used to decide which of the bids for the public private partnership are the most competitive and on this basis an award is given. The difficulty is that the costings built into the public sector benchmark are not actually the same as what the State would give a local authority not only to build or to buy but also to manage and maintain social housing stock over the same period of time. We are not comparing apples and oranges. Therefore, from the very get go, the private sector is being given a better deal and a higher level of remuneration for the provision, management and maintenance of the stock than a local authority would be.
By virtue of using a public private partnership there are additional layers of cost. The finance, as Deputy Boyd Barrett has said, is more expensive. There is also the profit margin of the various players in the public private partnership consortium, which I will come back to. When the public private partnership consortium is forward projecting the cost of management and maintenance, of course it will be very risk averse and will include higher costs in its calculations. In a number of other jurisdictions where public private partnerships are used we have seen that they can become very litigious if they do not get their way at a later stage when those higher costs become a matter of dispute.
The other great difficulty with public private partnerships is their complexity because in the consortium we will have a financier, a building contractor, a maintenance contractor and an approved housing body to manage the tenancies, although the tenancies are actually with the local authority. This means getting anything done in addressing issues at the snagging stage as people are tenanting, or issues that may arise with tenants or that may arise with management and maintenance, is incredibly complex, unlike standard social housing delivered by local authorities or approved housing bodies where we go to the person in charge. We end up moving around five, six or seven different players with different levels of responsibility, all incredibly complex and time-consuming and all incredibly expensive and much more difficulty to resolve the problems. I have a very long list of real-life examples that I have been dealing with in respect of the public private partnership in my constituency, the details of which I will not go into today.
We know from school building projects that when something goes wrong with a public private partnership the State is on the hook. Contrary to the claim of Government that public private partnerships transfer risk to the private sector and protect the taxpayer, the very opposite is the case. The UK has been using public private partnerships for housing regeneration projects and new build projects for some time. There has been a series of independent studies that show they are high risk for the State, more expensive and, in many respects, slower to deliver.
I have to say this is a bad model for delivering public housing. It is bad in terms of cost, management and maintenance and tenancy management. I have to say it has no place in an affordable housing Bill. The land in my constituency that has the 109 homes would always have had 109 homes. It would just have been much better if the State had funded South Dublin County Council to deliver them. The tenants and the rest of us would have been much better off for it. On this basis, I urge the Minister to remove public private partnerships not just from the Bill but from public housing delivery in general because it is a very bad model.
The issue I have with this Bill, as with much of the Government's approach on housing and certain other areas, is that it is based on very good social democratic ideas, which are supported by progressive parties if not taken from them, but those ideas are, in effect, undermined and subverted by trying to put for-profit models onto models that only work because they are successful not-for-profit models. That is the whole point. Affordable housing is done well in other countries where it is done on a not-for-profit basis. That is how we get more affordable housing. Taking out the profit margins, speculation, fees and higher financing costs associated with for-profit development is how you deliver housing at more affordable rates. That is the key point. Housing is far too expensive, rents are far too high and thousands of people are cut out by unaffordable prices. A certain amount can be done through smaller schemes with subsidies and so forth, but if we want to scale this up and have housing that is genuinely affordable for thousands of people, and do so on a sustainable basis that we can maintain over years, regardless of the economic cycle, then we must do it on a basis that is actually affordable in terms of delivery and construction, not one that is reliant on relatively large subsidies that cannot always be sustained. That is why a not-for-profit, non-speculative model is important.
I refer to my amendments Nos. 12 and 24 in this grouping. Previous speakers have made the valid point that these proposals do not seek to remove the role of smaller private builders in delivery. Such builders have a very important role to play and always have done. My view has always been that they are a key part of the solution. The issue is trying to cut large private developers, investment funds and speculators out of the affordable housing sector to make the costs more affordable. That is what we are trying to achieve with these amendments. Lest anyone misunderstand my position, I want to be clear that these are not concerns I am articulating. I am articulating that I have a fundamental disagreement with the Government on this issue.
I am not in favour of amendments Nos. 5 and 12. I honestly believe that public private partnerships have worked quite well. Big is not always wonderful and it may be that the problems that arose were on the larger projects. I agree with some of the points made by the Deputies supporting these amendments but I would like to ask whether any of them was ever involved in voluntary co-operatives or voluntary housing committees. Did any of them ever roll up their sleeves and do a bit of work to set up those types of schemes?
I am not blowing my own trumpet when I say that back in 1990, after a horrific robbery of a man, I was part of a group of people who got together to form a voluntary housing association. I salute from the bottom of my heart Donal McManus and other staff on the Irish Council for Social Housing, ICSH, and the people in Tipperary County Council who helped us. We built 14 houses and, later on, a further three for people with disabilities. If every village and community did that, it would be significant. We tendered for the process and we did not have a single expert or qualified person, whether engineer, architect, doctor or professor of any kind. We were all only laypeople with a small bit of common sense and an enthusiasm to get people housed. We confined the eligibility for the housing to people aged over 55 and then the three houses we built later were for people of any age with special needs. They were all lovely two-bedroom houses and the President at the time came down and opened them for us. We tendered and got local builders.
Unfortunately, Deputy Boyd Barrett and others are inadvertently defying and denying local builders, whether small one-man operations with a couple of subbies or the builders with eight or ten people working for them. The effect of some of the amendments they have put forward will deny those people work. I am not talking about the likes of the company involved in the children's hospital fiasco. I am talking about people of and from the community, people with expertise, who have built homes under the private public partnership model. When I was in the local vocational education committee, VEC, that model was used to deliver a number of schools. We waited 30 years for some of those schools and might never have got them only for the partnerships. There is a new school extension project starting now in Lismore in County Waterford, which is only 15 miles out the road from me. It is a massive school that would not have been built only it went to public private partnership. The pressure is taken off the teachers and school managers because they lease the property and the company concerned looks after the light bulbs, the roof and everything else. The teachers can concentrate solely on the education and further advancement of na daltaí óga. We cannot have ideological hang-ups about this. As I said, the Deputies supporting these amendments might let us know how many of them are involved in housing associations and how many houses they got built or were involved in building. We cannot be blaming the might of the State all the time and the big, bad brother.
There are massive logjams, delays and bureaucracy involved in the system. That has grown up since the 1980s or thereabouts. Before that, it was possible to build hundreds of houses in every county each year. The builders had no cranes, massive laser levels or any of the other equipment they have now. They just had the shovel, the trowel, the mortar and the bag of cement. Some of them had a mixer and others mixed the cement by hand. There was no pyrite and none of the effects of mica. There was oversight and there was no greed. I agree with previous speakers on certain points but when it comes to building houses, we must have a dolly mixture. We need a reasonable mix that allows and enables communities and voluntary boards to get the sites wherever they can and build on them.
In fairness, we got our site at a nominal price from the then Comhairle Contae Thiobraid Árann Theas. I have spoken before about the contrast between the speed with which we built those houses and the length of time it took the council to build on the same site. We built the complex with hardly an engineer. We got the help of one engineer, Liam Long, who did a wonderful architectural design and the whole lot of it. There is not a single step in that complex of 14 houses. In the same field, the council built approximately the same number of homes. We built and opened ours in 18 months; the council spent six years building its houses. Three or four contractors went bust in the middle of it and the houses were without roofs for three or four winters. They are 11 or 13 steps - I would not even call them steps; they are obnoxious things - inside those buildings that elderly people have to manage. There is a mix of elderly and younger people living there. There is a lot to be learned from small community and voluntary housing developments.
I agree that some of the large developments, which I will not name, got very big indeed. I very much enjoyed my time as a board member of the ICSH but, in the Celtic tiger times, larger housing bodies emerged and kind of diminished the role of the smaller ones. There was a battle there and, unfortunately, the smaller bodies did not win. In fact, they have a very important role to play in delivering houses. A very good friend of mine, John Simpson in Cathair Dún Iascaigh, is involved in a number of local authority housing bodies. I could name them but I will not. There are many more like him who are building and delivering houses on time and in very good condition. There was rabble talk here today about such builders not finishing houses properly and not snagging them right. They are snagged perfectly. In fact, they are built more quickly and snagged better than other houses and the snag list is attended to by the builders. It is in their interest to have the homes built right, have them maintained and get everything seen to in a speedy time. Somebody might be waiting five years to get small repairs done on a council property, such as a leak in the water tank, with all the damage that does with water going through the pipes. It is very hard to get councils to do that work.
There is a need for balance in this. I cannot support these amendments. The Minister might be surprised but I am supporting him on this because I agree with him. As I said, we need a mixture.
First, I thank the Minister for introducing amendments Nos. 9 and 14, which go a good way to meeting the objectives of the amendments Deputy Duffy and I previously submitted. This shows that if parties and Members are willing to work with the Minister to improve this legislation, and they are committed to delivering badly needed housing at scale that is affordable and well-designed, then the Minister is willing to work with them.
I want to comment on the role the Oireachtas housing committee played in this. We had five or six sessions in which we examined the pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Bill. We invited a large number of witnesses from approved housing bodies, the County and City Management Association, the Housing Agency and the Land Development Agency. I asked each of those witnesses whether they were satisfied with the general scheme of the Bill and they all said they were. Those people are right at the forefront of the delivery of housing and have been for many years.
Today, amendments have been introduced regarding public private partnerships and we have had Deputy Boyd Barrett talking about ideology. The argument is being made that there should be no private investor involvement in producing housing in this country.
That is ridiculous. It is an ideology and it will not work. We of course need investment and private investment to produce housing. We have introduced limited equity return in respect of cost rental, because that is the model which works. It is spoofing coming here and saying that is not what should be done.
Deputy Ó Broin talked about a public private partnership not being the model to be used. His line this week is that is not the right model. Last week, his line was that the Land Development Agency, LDA, should not be involved in delivering housing. That is what he said on Committee Stage in respect of this legislation. He is suggesting that we direct the Land Development Agency away from delivering housing. Therefore, we will have no private investment, no public private partnerships and the LDA will not be building houses. Deputy Ó Broin instead referred to the local authorities and the approved housing bodies, AHBs, delivering houses.
This week in Bray, Wicklow Sinn Féin members voted against a local authority-led affordable housing scheme. It consists of 18 units which are badly needed in the town. I constantly get phone calls and emails from people asking me when these houses are going to be delivered. I worked on this initiative from the start, because I was a county councillor at the time. This project came before the council as a Part 8 development and Sinn Féin voted against it. Members of the party are also voting against other local authority housing and affordable housing schemes across the country. It has happened in the Minister’s constituency. Therefore, I do not think that Sinn Féin wants to deliver housing at all. I think the party wants to delay the delivery of housing, because the more delay there is, the better it will be for it. Sinn Féin should be more honest with people and in this Chamber.
We need a mix of everything to deal with the current housing situation. We can look at the situation in a year or 18 months. If something is not working then or some aspect has got out of hand, it will be easy to bring in legislation to deal with it. Regarding public private partnerships, I refer to a previous Government Minister in respect of when the health centres were done. It was the damnedest scheme I ever saw. The buildings were released from the person who built them for 25 years, after which it was necessary to re-lease them again. We must ensure now that what we are doing is nailed down pretty well in its specifics.
We need everybody working on this issue. The county councils must be doing a bit, even though they are struggling to get staff. We also need PPPs, which I do not have a problem with, as long as the prices are kept in line. The Land Development Agency will also need to be involved. It is going to be crucial for the simple reason that we must ensure that we keep a close watch on the price of land and be certain that the prices are not going out of control. We must ensure as well that two or three State bodies are not bidding against each other to acquire and assemble parcels of land. I am blue in the face talking about the other aspect we need to address. We need the requisite infrastructure, including water, sewage etc., in place before development commences. We must plan now for the situation we will have four or five years down the road and not for tomorrow or next week.
As Deputy Mattie McGrath pointed out, voluntary agencies and community groups have done a great deal of work down through the years in building chalets and on housing schemes to help people. They have worked. Many hands make light work, to be frank about this situation. We must get all sides active in addressing this issue. If a problem does arise at some stage, if the price of land were to get out of hand, for example, then it would be easy to bring in legislation to deal with that situation. The State has a choice in what and who it deals with if things were to get out of hand.
I ask the Minister to make sure of another aspect which involves PPPs. When we hear announcements regarding the development of 600 houses, for example, and so many of them being affordable and social, generally what distinguishes the companies undertaking such work is their ability to get the required finance. Most of the large building companies have a crane, possibly a mobile crane, and a teleporter, but all they have after that are fancy offices and people employed up at the top layer. Every one of those large companies are relying on subcontractors to do the work. They subcontract ground works, the block laying and every single piece of the work required as the project goes along. We must watch that we are not just sucked in by these companies. Such companies do not have much material or employees on hand. Their only advantage is that they have access to funding, generally from overseas, to enable them to undertake construction.
I ask the Minister to allow all the different sides to try to work on this problem. We must monitor the situation, however. It is simple to build a house. The problem is to get to that stage. What causes me to pull my hair out at times is to see the number of houses in Dublin at a standstill because of a hold-up in planning and then the slow pace of building. I state that because it is not complicated to build a house if it is possible to get on the ground and get at it. I also ask the Minister to look at these large conglomerates that are announcing 400, 500 or 600 houses, joint ventures and everything else in this regard. Other than access to finance, many subcontractors have much more gear than these large conglomerates. Those contractors, however, are not at that level and this is a serious problem.
As usual, I find it hard to disagree with Deputy Fitzmaurice. He is a rock of sense. The words I do not hear coming from the Opposition Deputies in their contributions are, curiously, terms like “crisis”, “emergency” and “urgency”. I liken this to a situation where some of the Deputies in the Opposition have arrived at a burst water main. We get all this theory about what ought to be done, the materials which should be used, the professionals which ought to be sought to carry out the repairs and the theory behind the best way to repair a water mains, and yet the water is bursting out of the pipe. To continue the metaphor, what Fianna Fáil is trying to do in Government is to fix the pipe with the materials we have available now, while trying to legislate for best practice as the future begins to emerge.
The Minister will share my next perspective. Many PPPs over the years have been train wrecks and the State needs to have learned from them. Some examples have been recent, not concerning housing developments but school building projects. However, scores and hundreds of new school buildings have also been constructed throughout the country to a high standard and left in the hands of the State in very good shape to be managed in future. Regarding my experience in my area of South Dublin, which I share with Deputy Ó Broin, the biggest brake on the construction of social housing during my time as a county councillor was the Department with responsibility for housing. It was before the current Minister’s time. Deputy Kelly was the Minister with responsibility for housing when one project was announced in my area. Deputy Coveney moved the project forward when he held the housing portfolio. However, the project had still not started before Eoghan Murphy, the former Deputy and Minister, took over responsibility for housing. Three different Ministers oversaw housing as plans for this project went back and forth several times. It had started as a Part 8 development and was approved by councillors, but then the Department held it up. The builders built that development quite efficiently and people are living in those houses now.
Therefore, the State has been stung by PPPs over the years and we must be mindful of that fact. However, what the public are not being told by those proposing a public model is how long it would take to mobilise that perfect public building model. The Minister and the Deputies know there is a shortage of land. Local authorities have not been investing in public land. By the time they will be able to do so and then get that land zoned appropriately and undertake and complete the required public consultation phases, we will have been waiting years. Thankfully, a Government is in place now, heavily influenced by my party, which is beginning to make an impact. Those Deputies not from the capital probably have their minds boggled by the rents being paid in Dublin. I am also staggered by it. Rents of up to €2,500 are being paid in my constituency and even up to €3,000 for some houses which are not extravagant.
Equally, I am staggered by the amounts of money young constituents have saved in the last few years. I know a couple who moved home two years ago to save, whom I have mentioned to the Minister previously. They were fortunate. I have advocated over the last two years for young adults who have had to return home because they cannot afford rent or want to save. However, it has been pointed out to me by people close to me that I have ignored the fact that at least younger people from Dublin can return to their family homes and save, while people from any other county in Ireland who are working in Dublin do not have the opportunity to do so. This young couple returned home to one of their sets of parents and in two years they saved €55,000. Until this legislation came on the scene, I could not offer them any hope of purchasing a home in their own constituency. Increasing the affordable piece of Part V or reintroducing it gives them real hope.
I accept that the State equity scheme is not perfect but there is a demand for it. It will be oversubscribed. I do not know how we will deal with that because it will be an issue. The couple I am talking about are not wealthy. They have ordinary, great, run-of-the-mill blue-collar jobs and they have saved hard. They do not work in financial services. They are not medical consultants or financial consultants. As Charlie Haughey once said, there is no such thing as an ordinary person. These people are extraordinary in their own way and they put their minds to it. Until this legislation came along, they had no housing options.
Deputy Fitzmaurice is right that this involves a mix but we need to keep an eye on it and police it. The one thing the left never seems to have any regard for - with the greatest respect to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle - is the risk entrepreneurs take. I have a brother in the United States. He went over like in the typical American dream story. He would be typical of many businesspeople here. He barely had the seat in his trousers. He went through various different iterations of employment and eventually got to do what he had dreamed of doing, which was property development. One thing he told me has left a deep impression. He has been doing this for 20 years now and he has employed some of the same dedicated, hard-working people on and off for that 20-year period. He said to me that they look at him and expect him to keep them employed for another 20 years. That is huge pressure. Entrepreneurs take huge risks. We talk about the profit but what if their plan does not work? We never talk about that. We need enterprise and the ability to take calculated risks, though not reckless ones. A decade ago, people were reckless and banks were even more reckless. Entrepreneurs start off with the spirit of enterprise. They want to do something, they have the skills to make it happen, and they are prepared to take calculated risks to make it happen. They know that they could fail and that if they fail, they are the only ones who will face the consequences. They will have to lay off the people who believed in them but the responsible entrepreneur wants to keep them going. It is a colossal responsibility for one man or woman to keep people gainfully and productively employed for their entire lives.
I have never witnessed a local authority build public housing in my time and I became a councillor in 1999. All the local authority projects in my county were built in partnership with contracting companies. They were built to the highest standard and have created lovely, secure homes for families and children. I would love the ideal whereby we build public housing on public land. However, I do not favour a State construction company. I also did not favour Irish Water. I have come around to it due to the fact that it has taken over from 42 local authorities but I have issues with the way it delivers and its efficiency in dealing with it face to face. People on the other side of this House keep looking for the perfect. We are trying to deal with the immediate and that requires solutions that work and deliver. They need to be policed and the Minister knows that. We need to take the experiences from previous PPPs on board to ensure those things do not happen again and we must ensure our local authorities and State agencies are equipped with people as bright as those in private sector.
I represent a rural constituency but even in a constituency like mine there is a desperate need for social and affordable housing. Demand is far outstripping supply in every part of my county. In the last two months, the Minister announced three social housing schemes in Roscrea, Cahir and Carrick-on-Suir. Unfortunately, we need much more. In the last year, house prices in my county have risen by 19%. This is completely and utterly unsustainable. Deputy Fitzmaurice spoke about cost increases. Unfortunately, costs have spiralled in the recent past. We are being told there are many reasons for that and we need to analyse exactly what those reasons are. Some experts tell us that the cost of raw materials will come back down. This issue must be closely monitored. Thankfully, the supply of timber to our timber mills is now increasing, and we hope that will have an impact. However, there are many things outside the control of our own economy, such as the cost of steel and other factors. Those costs have gone up by 40% or 50% in the last couple of months. We are told that it is temporary, that prices will level off and that there will be deflation but that must be monitored very closely.
We need to use every apparatus we can to build houses, whether publicly or with private investment. As Deputy Lahart has said, not all developers become millionaires. Much of their enterprise falls on stony ground. Some have made themselves very wealthy men but they have taken chances and have left a testament behind them with the infrastructure they have built.
Land banks must be put in place. In my own town of Thurles, there were opportunities to obtain suitable land banks on the edge of town but they were not bought by public authorities. I have written to the county manager on this issue in the last week to ten days. Nenagh is a thriving satellite town of Limerick and with the motorway its access is greatly enhanced. A small estate on the edge of that town is for sale at the moment in two lots of 6 acres and 44 acres. It is called Riverston estate. I urge the Minister to put pressure on Tipperary County Council to acquire that land. The key ingredient we need in order to be able to build houses is a land bank.
Unfortunately, in a lot of rural towns the biggest impediment to getting houses built at the moment is finding land that is properly zoned and has the proper services. One would not think that would be the case, but it is. In my county, the waste treatment services in towns are totally and wholly inadequate. There are settlements that have no waste water treatment plants, which is hard to imagine in this day and age. There are settlements on the banks of the River Suir with absolutely no waste water treatment facilities. Significant investment must be made in towns with totally and utterly inadequate infrastructure. We need the services to be in place and then we need the land banks. The Minister is making a genuine effort to provide affordable houses.
We have people coming into our constituency offices, including those who have to be on the social housing list. We do our best and lobby for them to get houses but then there are the young couples who are above the income limits for social housing. In Tipperary, that figure is seriously antiquated and needs to be revised upwards urgently. My heart goes out to the people who want to get a mortgage and get their own house. They are paying high rents and it is extremely hard for them to save. Every obstacle is put in their way by the financial institutions to get a mortgage that would allow them to buy a house.
I commend this Bill. It is a genuine attempt to get affordable housing built, which it was a key mantra in our general election manifesto last year. It is what we will be judged on. Every young couple's dream is to be able to own their own house and call it their home. This Bill will allow that to be achieved.
I ask the Minister to press on the municipal districts in all the rural counties to put the land bank and the proper services in place. There needs to be serious investment in this because rural Ireland is seriously lacking in the services that are needed to have housing development continue apace.
I will address the amendments but I want to address some of the points that have been raised as well. We have had a detailed debate right the way through. Deputy Matthews, who is the chairperson of the Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, clearly outlined the long process the committee has gone through to get to this Stage and I thank all members of that committee.
On Deputy Cahill's point, I want to put this on the record of the House because he has been good enough to raise it. Affordability is an issue across the country and not just an urban issue. It is acute across the country and we want to address it across the country. In the last month, I instructed all of our local authorities to get out and acquire land banks because we need to build more social and affordable homes and we need our city and county councils to the forefront of that. That is why the Deputy has asked them to acquire land, not just for the provision of social houses but for the provision of affordable houses as well. I have changed the process to reimburse the local authorities at a much earlier stage and to get them back out building, particularly local authorities that have a diminished land bank. I assure the Deputy that is the case.
When we look at the legislation we have been bringing through in recent weeks, including this Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill, it has been clear and it has surprised me to some degree that some of our most vocal critics and commentators on the provision of housing have said that we want a State land development agency that does not build homes. There is a context to this and it will become clear momentarily.
It is because I am going to tell the House what these amendments will do. In real terms, they will do exactly what Deputies Mattie McGrath and Matthews have said. I will explain this to Deputies by reading the provisions of the Bill. It must be put in this context. Most of my colleagues in the Opposition, including Deputy Ó Broin and others, do not want our State land development agency to build any homes and they do not want it to plan to build any homes, which is remarkable. I would ask Members to look at the specific provisions of the Bill that are referred to in this grouping of amendments. Deputy Boyd Barrett and others may be well meaning and they like to say on a regular basis that this is not about excluding the small builder or anyone else. Let me tell them how it does exclude those people. Section 6(1) states:
A housing authority may make dwellings available for the purpose of sale to eligible applicants under affordable dwelling purchase arrangements and may, in accordance with the Housing Acts and regulations made under any of those Acts, [and this is important] acquire, build or cause to be built, or otherwise provide or facilitate the provision of, dwellings for that purpose.
Following that subsection, section 6(2) outlines the arrangements into which a housing authority may enter. There are only four such arrangements. It is important that Members are aware of this because it might give them an opportunity to withdraw their amendments. The four arrangement are as follows:
(a) arrangements with an approved housing body,
(b) arrangements with co-operatives, community housing trusts and other not for profit bodies,
(c) arrangements with the Land Development Agency [as was mentioned before, which is why I specifically reference it and why it is relevant to what I am saying here], and
(d) public private partnership arrangements.
I ask Deputies Boyd Barrett, Ó Broin, Cian O'Callaghan and those who are proposing the deletion of section 6(2)(d) where the small private builder will fit in if this is done. Does the small private builder build 8,000 homes in Clonburris? Does the small private builder build 1,000 homes in Kilcarbery? If this amendment passes, arrangements such as Ballymastone, where there are 1,200 homes and which is a joint venture with 238 social houses, 238 affordable houses and 150 cost-rental houses, will not be permitted under this affordable housing legislation. That is consistent with the approach the Social Democrats, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and others have taken and maybe that is what the Deputies want to happen. They are effectively saying that only local authorities should build houses and that no joint venture of any description could be entered into. Not only are Opposition Deputies satisfied that their colleagues in the local authorities continue to object to and vote against the provision of social and affordable housing, but now they are saying they want to underpin that by changing the primary legislation in the Dáil. That is not something I or my colleagues in government can countenance. We do not want a situation whereby the provision of affordable homes is in any way, shape or form inhibited and Members have correctly pointed out that this is what would happen. Deputy Boyd Barrett can shake his head all he likes. If we remove section 6(2)(d), he should come back and tell me how that will impact on the provision of affordable homes.
I have been brief in all my contributions heretofore but it was important to say what I have said because it is fundamental. Some Opposition Deputies will say that they are not against building or the provision of affordable homes, but that they want us to do it ourselves and that we do not need any type of private interaction or investment, private builders or anything else. They will say we can have a land development agency that does not build any homes and that we can have an affordable housing scheme that does not access any type of private joint venture whatsoever. The effect of these amendments would be to remove the definition of "public private partnership arrangement" from the definitions in section 4. Amendment No. 12 seeks to remove a reference to "public private partnership arrangements" from section 6, which deals with the provision of dwellings by housing authorities. Amendment No. 24 seeks to remove a similar reference from section 7(1)(c), which deals with direct sales agreements. The effect of these amendments would be to prevent housing authorities from entering into public private partnerships or joint venture arrangements for the provision of affordable dwellings for sale. That is exactly what they would do.
Section 6 provides that in order to "make dwellings available for the purpose of sale to eligible applicants under affordable dwelling purchase arrangements", a housing authority may: "acquire, build or cause to be built, or otherwise provide or facilitate the provision of, dwellings for that purpose." Section 6(2), which I referred to earlier in the context of community-led housing associations and housing trusts, etc., specifically lists arrangements that a housing authority may enter into in order to make affordable dwellings available for sale with AHBs; the Land Development Agency, which some do not want to build anything; housing trusts; and PPPs. The thrust of this section is to allow housing authorities to do whatever they can to provide affordable dwellings for sale under the affordable dwelling purchase arrangements set out in this part of the Bill. That is what it seeks to do.
I have said many times that I want our housing authorities to have the maximum number of tools available to them and at their disposal for the provision of affordable dwellings, as every Member should. Of course we want to safeguard value for money. Any type of joint venture that comes forward is assessed in great detail not only by the local authorities, in which some Opposition Deputies profess to have immense confidence but apparently not sufficient confidence to allow those local authorities assess a PPP or joint venture, but also the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. There are a number of checks and balances within the system but this is about the delivery of affordable homes as speedily as we can, underpinned by comprehensive legislation.
Deputies Mattie McGrath, Fitzmaurice, Matthews, Lahart, Duffy and others are correct. The effect of the deletion of one of the four mechanisms by which we can deliver and sell affordable homes would be its complete deletion. The effect would be to effectively ban all joint ventures. If Opposition Members are happy with that, that is fine and they are entitled to their position. However, they are not entitled to say they support the delivery of affordable housing if they are going to remove one specific avenue of delivering those homes expeditiously. Many schemes, as we know, have been opposed at local authority level. Examples have been tabled of the thousands of homes that have been opposed at local authority level. What is being sought here by some Opposition Members in Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and Solidarity Before Profit is to copper-fasten that further by removing a stream of delivery of affordable housing. That is unconscionable and I will not support it. I do not want to remove the facility for local authorities to enter into joint ventures for this purpose. I do not propose to accept the amendments and think that the Deputies who proposed them should be honest. Do they understand what the impact of this would be? Perhaps they do not. I will not accept the amendments.
I will respond first to the comments of Deputy Matthews, the chairman of our committee. These amendments would not stop private investment in any housing project. It would stop a particular type of developer-led development, exactly as the Minister said. It would stop PPPs and joint ventures. Almost of all of the AHB sector, for example, is financed either directly by private finance from banks or with private finance funnelled through the Housing Finance Agency. That would continue if these amendments were to pass. It is simply not accurate to say that this is about crowding out all forms of private investment; it is about ensuring that affordable homes are delivered by not-for-profit agencies, including local authorities, AHBs and community housing trusts.
It is also not the case that these amendments would prevent local building contractors getting building contracts for the delivery of social and affordable housing. In fact, one of the big problems with PPPs and joint ventures is that small- and medium-sized building contractors cannot get access to those contracts because of the way in which PPPs are set up.
I do, however, strongly agree with Deputy Matthews on one issue. The decision by two Sinn Féin councillors to vote against a much-needed social housing project in Bray this week was wrong. That is not just my personal view; it is the strong view of our party. I have spoken to both of the councillors directly to give them that view. While Sinn Féin strongly defends its position of opposing the transfer of land at low or no cost to private developers for joint ventures, to which I will come in a second, it does not support opposing social housing. In fact, our party has a strong track record, as does Deputy Matthews' party, in supporting Part 8 housing planning applications.
I also want to say to Deputies Lahart and Matthews and the Minister that there seems to be an assumption that some of us in the Opposition are opposing this Bill. I have made this point a number of times. There are aspects of this Bill that I fully support and have, in fact, campaigned on for many years. Those include cost rental, the funding of local authorities to deliver genuinely affordable homes to purchase and the Part V increase. However, it is entirely legitimate for the Opposition to make proposals to improve the Bill. That is what all of us in the Opposition, whether individual parties vote for or against this Bill in the end, are trying to do. I am fundamentally opposed to some of the ways in which the Government seeks to deliver what it calls affordable housing. On that basis, I am trying to improve this Bill. It is unfortunate that Deputy Matthews seems to be suggesting that I do not have such a right or that my motives are questionable for trying to improve a Bill that I am on public record as saying I am broadly supportive of, notwithstanding my strong objections to, for example, shared equity, PPPs or private sector involvement in cost rental.
With respect to the amendments, particularly my amendment No. 24, the Minister is correct about what this amendment proposes. That is because joint ventures dramatically reduce the number of affordable homes delivered on those sites. In the case he mentioned that in his constituency, 60% of the homes will be sold at open-market prices of €400,000-plus. That is not a good use of public land. In the case of O'Devaney Gardens, for example, not only will 50% of the homes be sold at unaffordable, open-market prices, but the deal with the developer is so bad that, notwithstanding the fact that the developer has effectively got the land for free, a three-bedroom affordable home will cost €310,000, plus a €50,00 equity cash return to the State if the purchaser sells the home in the future. If one is in favour of maximising the delivery of genuinely affordable homes and more social homes on public land, one cannot support joint ventures or PPPs because they are more expensive to the taxpayer and dramatically reduce the volume of affordable homes. The one thing the Minister and I agree on is what these amendments will do. The difference of opinion between the Minister, myself and other Opposition Deputies is that we want 100% affordable homes on all public land. The Minister told us last week that he was going to use the LDA legislation to deliver 100% affordable homes on public land, although I will wait to see if that happens. Today he is arguing that we should allow joint ventures on public land that, in some instances, will allow 50%, 60% or 70% unaffordable, open-market prices that are way beyond the reach of working people. That makes no sense at all and, therefore, I stand over these amendments and will certainly press them.
I will try to be as brief as I can. We are not going to get to many of the key amendments to this Bill because we only have three hours to debate. That is a fact caused by the Government's guillotine. It is not necessary. We should have an opportunity to debate these amendments because this legislation is too important.
Deputy Mattie McGrath made slightly personalised comments, although I do not take them overly personally, in asking have we ever done this, that or the other. I have built council houses.
In fact, I built council houses in Peckham in London, which I went to see recently, and they are still standing. I was delighted. They were built by Irish building contractors for whom I worked there.
Those houses in Peckham were built under the model by which the local authority contracts to build a certain number of public houses and then small builders and private builders come in and build them. It is not a public-private partnership. The Government is throwing mud in people's eyes and trying to create a division by suggesting we are trying to exclude the small builder from involvement in public projects. It is dishonest. The Government should stop playing political games because that is not what we are proposing. Public-private partnership is a very specific model whereby the private financial interest or private developer is involved in deciding things such as the final price of the dwelling. They should have no role in that. That is our point. They have been contracted to build housing at genuinely affordable prices that are set in the interests of those who need social and affordable housing.
They should have no say in what the rents are or at what level the affordable housing cost is set, but with PPPs, they do. Furthermore, there is no risk. Deputy Lahart said there is a risk in PPP. There is no risk; that is the whole problem. The PPP is win, win, win for the private investor. In fact, they will not even enter into the arrangement unless they are guaranteed a win and a pound of flesh. That affects the cost at which it is built and the price at which rent is charged. Even then, they still pull out sometimes, collapsing projects and failing to deliver. We are trying to exclude them because they are not reliable and it delivers housing that is more expensive and, very likely, not affordable.
By the way, on a personalised note, we actively fought to get these sites developed in our area. People Before Profit representatives were the first to say that Shanganagh should be for public housing when the Department of Justice was selling it off. We called for it to be transferred to the local authority, which it subsequently was, and 15 years on not a sod has been turned. Why? When we said we should develop for public and affordable housing, the official ideology, with which this Government is continuing, was that it had to involve private finance. The Government could not then figure out how it could actually deliver affordable housing. Even though the Government approved Shanganagh the other day, we still do not know how much the affordable housing will cost. We still do not know 15 years on. We have no idea what the price is going to be.
That is what public private partnership does as opposed to the local authority simply saying we will have this much public housing, these many cost rental and affordable homes, and then tendering out to whatever builder can build it. That is it. That will provide local work for local builders and all the rest of it. People concerned with profit, however, will have nothing to do with the speed at which that is developed, the mix of housing or the final rents and prices.
Let us be absolutely clear, therefore, about what is being debated here. Deputy O'Callaghan said earlier that this is fundamental because of the four groups mentioned by the Minister. We absolutely want the local authorities, co-operatives, approved housing bodies, AHBs, and not-for-profit entities involved. We absolutely do not want unreliable property investors to have any say over whether we deliver housing because we cannot take a risk on it. This is the thing. If some builder in New York or anywhere else wants to take risks, let that builder take risks. We cannot take a risk with the delivery of affordable and public housing.
I am speaking to my amendments Nos. 12 and 24 in this group. When it comes to why housing is unaffordable, private developers are at the heart of this. Turning to them to try to deliver affordable housing when they are the ones who are pushing up prices, which we all understand is part of their business model, is a completely flawed approach. Public private partnerships will mean so-called affordable homes will be delivered that are far too expensive. Tens of thousands of people who need these homes will, therefore, continue to be locked out. That is the problem.
There are also problems with very slow delivery and with the drip-feeding of homes to maintain high market prices. That also ignores that we are now in a situation where very low-cost finance is available to the State, which can be done in terms of public borrowing and public investment. That finance is much more affordable and cost-effective than private finance. You do not have to look at the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, paper from a few weeks ago to know that. Look at the Part V proposals submitted by Bartra as part of the O'Devaney Gardens development. You can see that each home there, according to the developer's breakdown of costs, is coming out at €40,000 more because of the private finance mechanism part of that delivery. On top of that are other additional costs, fees, profits and so forth.
To be very clear, my colleagues on councils do not and have not voted against social and affordable housing. They voted against selling off public land to private developers to develop full-cost, full-price market homes, for which they do not apologise. It is not something they or I would support. We are trying to copper-fasten affordability into affordable housing with these amendments. It is very important.
I acknowledge the fact that, in fairness, there have up until now been differences of opinion in certain areas. This is a fundamental difference because it is about delivering affordable homes. I will stand over my position and others will stand over theirs. Deputy Boyd Barrett has a specific definition of what a public private partnership is that is actually not defined in this Bill. What his amendment would do is remove any avenue for private delivery.
I say to Deputy O'Callaghan that while I will not accept the amendments, I have accepted amendments and views from Second Stage. I have been open to improving the legislation. I acknowledge that we did not divide on the legislation on Second Stage nor did we in the Seanad. I hope it is the case that while there may be elements to it some do not agree with, the Dáil in unison can speak with one voice that affordable housing is important. While some Deputies believe their own views are more important than resolving the issue, it is important we bring in changes that will make a difference for our people.
The amendments, as tabled, would have a serious effect on the delivery of affordable homes and would restrict the options on delivery. Deputy O'Callaghan referenced a specific instance in Ballymastone, where effectively we are looking at 600 units, that is, 238 social, 238 affordable and 150 cost rental homes, which he and his colleagues opposed. While he said they should not apologise for that, I believe they should, to be honest with the Deputy. Hundreds of people there will get affordable homes through that scheme and they should.
I will not go on any further. This has been debated back and forth. Fundamentally, this Government wants delivery of affordable homes. The lead deliverer of that will be our local authorities, and in many instances they will need to partner. They will need private builders to come in and build for them. The Land Development Agency, LDA, is going to deliver affordable homes. A couple of Members in Opposition do not want it to build any houses. They cannot have it both ways. We either want to deliver homes for people - the minimum of 33,000 per year that we need - or we do not.
Accepting this amendment would restrict the delivery streams of affordable homes for purchase and affordable rental. I remind people this is the week of the very first cost rental homes being delivered within one year of this Government coming into place. It is the very first cost rental that has been discussed for years. Deputy O'Callaghan's former party, namely, the Labour Party, and his former colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced a scheme in 2015. It is not even tenanted yet. We are delivering and getting it done. That is why I cannot accept these amendments.
Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Sorca Clarke, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Cathal Berry, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Joe Carey, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Michael Fitzmaurice, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 8, to delete line 4.
This amendment is grouped with amendments Nos. 35 and 41 and they would all have the same effect, which is to remove open market dwellings as an option for providing affordable housing. My issue is with the Government potentially buying houses on the open market for the provision of social and affordable homes, thus reducing the overall general supply of housing, pushing up prices and competing with first-time buyers. Instead, what should happen, of course, is additional housing should be built.
This amendment comes in the context of the recent discussions we have had in the Chamber about homes being bought up in a process that competes with first-time buyers. We were recently told by the Taoiseach and others that these are temporary measures but this Bill appears to copper-fasten that sort of approach.
My amendment in the group speaks to section 6 and the reference to open market dwelling, and that term is only fully explained in section 8. This is a significant innovation in the Bill that, from memory, I believe was not raised at the pre-legislative scrutiny phase or in the general scheme of the Bill. It is not clear what the Minister intends to do and my fear and that of Deputy O'Callaghan - we share an amendment - is that this would allow a local authority to use the serviced sites fund, or the affordable housing fund, as it will be called, for an individual to purchase a property on the open market and have the benefit of the serviced sites fund discount, although the local authority would seek to recoup that €50,000 if the property is sold. I understand the Minister is considering raising this to €100,000.
Questions arise immediately. I hope the Minister will clarify if that is the intention of that section, but if it is, what would be the price limitation on the purchase of the property? The serviced sites fund was originally intended as a funding stream for local authorities to offset local authorities' land and site servicing costs and their land costs would be historic rather than open market value. As a result, a house could be purchased for approximately €250,000 or less and the €50,000 from the service sites fund would be repaid to the local authority if the property was sold at a future point.
If we are saying the serviced sites fund or affordable housing fund can be used for an individual purchaser to get a subsidy from the local authority to purchase an open market price home, it is a complete change. I am not saying that I understand this completely and I am inviting the Minister to explain what he is trying to do with this. I have a clear view, which is that the serviced sites fund should be used in exactly the way it is being used at Boherboy and the Ó Cualann model and other areas, either for a local authority or a not-for-profit agent acting on behalf of a local authority in building homes to be sold at genuinely affordable rates.
I am, therefore, concerned about the implication of this section and I am keen for the Minister to elaborate on it, given that we did not have a chance to scrutinise this at pre-legislative stage.
I too am looking for clarification on this. There may be a slight difference of opinion with my comrades and colleagues in the Opposition on this, or there may not. This is why I want clarification from the Minister. I am very much against anything that is going to reinforce or underpin unaffordable house prices as they exist in the epicentre of the housing crisis at the moment. Any kind of influence the unaffordable market price might have on the actual price of affordable housing that is delivered by the State is unacceptable to me. This is the fundamental problem. It should have no influence because at the moment the market is the problem. It is out of the reach of 70% to 80% of people. They just cannot afford these house prices. This is most certainly the case in my area and in most of Dublin, and in many of the other urban centres, although not exclusively. The State needs to do something that breaks with this logic if it is going to deliver housing that is genuinely affordable.
In this legislation and all the other housing legislation that he trumpets, the Minister not only leaves the door open for the market, he also explicitly brings the market back in and brings in private interests that are concerned with market prices and profits they can make. I believe this guarantees unaffordability.
If it is a choice between a vulture or a cuckoo fund buying up a housing estate, or a local authority, I would rather the local authority bought it. This is the point I made yesterday about the stamp duty tax incentive that is being given to the vulture funds. The Taoiseach implied that if the local authority stepped in and bought that housing instead of the vulture funds, that somehow this would impact on first-time buyers. It would not. That is a deliberate misrepresentation of what I said yesterday, which was that this is not the choice. The choice is that these vulture or cuckoo funds are coming in and buying up estates and that we should do everything we can to stop that, and that if a local authority stepped in to purchase those homes and then allocated them for affordable and social housing, they could ensure some affordability. The criteria for affordability should be set by the local authority and real affordability could be based on incomes and on the delivery of social housing. The Minister needs to clarify this because we do not want the open market in any shape or form to dictate the cost of affordable housing.
I thank the Deputies for tabling their amendments. This Bill will increase supply. We all want supply increased. I did not mean to interrupt Deputy O'Callaghan but I want to be clear that this is not about tipping any balance in favour of anyone else. It is about young and not so young people, and individuals and families being able to buy a home. We know this, so let us be clear.
I am conscious too that those who have spoken so far on these amendments, including me, are all Dubs. I say this because there are areas of the city and county that are seeing quite a lot of development. There are, however, affordability issues in other parts of country. Deputy Jackie Cahill spoke earlier from a Tipperary perspective. There may be times where there is a small development. Let us consider the working couple or individual who would meet the criteria, which we will publish, for an affordable home, but maybe in Graiguenamanagh, or Carlow, or somewhere else. We want to allow the flexibility to help them to own that home. It may be a small development of ten homes, for example, and above the Part V provision of 20%, which will increase in the Bill. Large affordable housing estates may not be built in their area. In such an instance, we will take the equity, as Deputy Ó Broin rightly said, through our affordable housing fund. It is to allow that flexibility. The acute areas of affordability relate to our main cities, especially Dublin and Cork, but we are seeing this issue throughout the country. I want to ensure that citizens, through their local authority, have the ability to own an affordable home. We want to get local authorities, which is the preference, to build these mixed-tenure homes. This Bill will provide for that. I have issued a circular to all local authorities on bringing forward mixed-tenure social and affordable schemes, where heretofore they had only been able to bring forward on their own lands single-tenure social housing schemes. While they are important, we want to bring forward mixed-tenure schemes with social and affordable housing. With the passing of the Bill, local authorities will be able to do that, and I have asked them to do so.
In this specific instance, I do not see this as anything that will be the norm, but as I said, it allows that flexibility in places where there may not be a lot of development, such as in other parts of the State outside our main regional cities. That is the purpose of this provision.
I thank the Minister for that. I want to tease it out. I am genuinely open to the proposition in front of us. I have spoken to representatives of a number of smaller, more rural, local authorities who have indicated that even with the serviced sites fund, the delivery of affordable homes within the price point I would like could be difficult. In his second response I would like to pin the Minister down a little more. Is he saying that this provision would not be usable, for example, for an individual or a couple in Dublin purchasing a house on a private housing estate at €300,000, to bring the price down? In a smaller rural area, where there might not be affordable housing schemes, or where the local authority might not be doing a large affordable housing scheme, could more appropriately-priced private dwelling be acquired in small numbers? The affordable housing fund discount will be applied to allow people to buy at those lower price points of €160,000 to €230,000. If that is what the Minister is proposing, I do not have a concern about that. I would like him to be as explicit as possible on what he intends to do with the regulations in this regard. There is a specific problem with the way the serviced sites fund could operate, for example, in counties Kilkenny, Carlow or Mayo. If this is a way of resolving that, I am open to considering it. I would like the Minister to be more specific.
I welcome that the Minister has given some clarification on that. As we all understand, there is a significant difference in rural and urban areas, and this changes the kinds of interventions that need to be made in some circumstances.
We must look at the legislation in front of us. The Minister spoke of some exceptional circumstances and some limited circumstances, and said this would not apply in areas of higher prices and in more urban areas. I can see nothing in the legislation that refers to any of those limitations. What are the limitations in this regard? Specifically, what limitations and safeguards are there for this in the legislation?
I can certainly see the logic for why a bit of flexibility is needed in rural areas, but I believe that a bit of flexibility is required in urban areas too, depending on the need to deliver, and notwithstanding the critical importance of not reinforcing or underpinning unaffordable prices.
As I said, given a stark choice between a vulture fund buying up houses and a local authority buying them, I would prefer the local authority to buy them rather than us letting vulture funds have them and then having to lease housing from them. I am open to that sort of flexibility if that is what the Minister is saying.
I am very conscious that we are going to hit a guillotine in about ten or 15 minutes and multiple groupings will not be reached. I would like to get a response from the Minister on one issue, given that we will not get to the amendment. There is one group of people who have been very hard done by in terms of not being eligible for social housing having previously been eligible. They are now in a situation where there are no affordable housing schemes. Special provision needs to be made for such people. I urge the Minister to address the eligibility criteria and prioritisation for affordable housing. Many people who have been on lists for ten or 15 years have been heartbroken year after year because when their incomes go slightly over the threshold all of those years are gone and there is no affordable scheme for them. There was a lottery for the Balbriggan project. I see a certain fairness in that. However, people have been knocked off lists. Many of the income thresholds for social housing should be restored and raised because they are too low. If that is not going to happen, the people affected should be given some level of priority in terms of eligibility for affordable schemes, whether that is cost rental or affordable purchase, given that they lost years, in many cases a decade or more, on a housing waiting list only for it all to come to nothing.
We may not get a chance to speak again on the Bill. My next point relates to the open market. I want to acknowledge that the Minister listened to some of the issues we raised, such as changing undue segregation and so on. In some areas, things have been pointed towards people's income and ability to pay, although that should be in the Bill. Our notion of 25% or 30%, as others have proposed, is something that could have been in the Bill.
I take the Minister's point about arbitrary caps and so on. There is a difficulty with them. I do not think setting a proportion of income in order to assure affordability, so that the market does not dictate everything, was something the Minister could not have included in the Bill. The key point is that the market must not dictate the supply, the cost, the price or the rent of affordable housing. People's income and the ability of ordinary working families to pay should be the critical issue in delivering affordable housing.
The Minister has continued to include PPPs and the shared equity scheme in the Bill. People who are not left-wing by any stretch of the imagination, including officials in the Minister's Department, the Central Bank and the ESRI, have said that the shared equity scheme is likely to reinforce unaffordability and drive up the prices of homes.
There are things that are good in this Bill, but these are critical issues. Our group cannot bring ourselves to support a Bill that will include the shared equity scheme or PPPs, much as there are other aspects of it that we would welcome. There is concern that many key areas that need to be in this Bill are not in it, and have instead been pushed back to regulations which we have not seen and do not know about.
On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, there will be exceptions and exemptions for people. We discussed the affordable housing scheme. It will allow someone who may have gone through a marriage break-up or divorce and has not previously owned or have a financial interest in a property to apply. Someone who has gone through the personal insolvency process during the last crash and does not own a property needs flexibility. We will be flexible. That is my intention.
I understand the problem of people who have dropped off the social housing list. If we get it right, the next form of cost-rental tenure and affordable purchase will be for that cohort who are above those limits. That is where things will happen. We need to start in some way. While a lottery was held in Taylor Hill in Balbriggan because it was the fairest way of doing it, I want us to get to the stage where we are delivering thousands of affordable homes. We all want that.
Deputies have asked specific questions. As they know, I cannot legislate for certain parts of the country. I want to be honest with people. We need flexibility under the affordable fund or, as it is currently called, the serviced sites fund. A local authority will still have to apply to us in respect of new houses for people who meet the eligibility criteria. I see this being used in areas where there is not a great deal of development outside of cities.
I want to be honest. I do not see it as being exclusively that. The option would be there. The serviced sites fund will fund about 4,200 homes. Each of those projects needs to apply to the Department with details of the scheme. I want to have an open call so that the fund is open and all of the local authorities can put a call through to it. Tipperary was mentioned. The rules for schemes that are a mix of social and affordable housing, given the affordable housing provisions that we will pass, be they affordable purchase or cost rental, will apply across the country. We would still have oversight with that level of flexibility.
Will any of the eight or nine local authorities approve individuals to use the serviced sites fund to buy a new home? I do not think that will happen, but we need to allow that flexibility to exist, in particular in areas where development may be constrained or may never happen at a grand scale. We have a real issue in parts of the country with viability, such as in the Border and midlands regions where no private housing is being built and the only building that is happening is public housing.
Public housing is social housing. We now have an opportunity to allow a mix within that of the homeownership-type cost rental we want which, frankly, is more sustainable for public housing. I hope I have explained that to Deputies as best I can. The provisions will apply across the State, but where I see it being used most is in areas where there would be constraints regarding affordable housing delivery or development in the near term. We will always keep these under review.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, line 6, after “make” to insert “owner-occupier”.
This amendment protects people who need houses and the State. While we are all in favour of making sure that everybody who needs affordable housing has as much of it is possible, there is a clause in this amendment for owner-occupiers. People who have become fairly wealthy may decide to rent out a house to somebody else. We need to include a clause in that regard.
I would like to hear the Minister's thinking on another point.
When people from my area look for social housing, the income threshold is between €5,000 and €10,000 lower than it is in Dublin and some other places. I do not know why we are being discriminated against. Someone living in the west is entitled to the same threshold as anyone else.
I will not hold this up because there are many amendments and I want Deputies to get the chance to discuss them. That is the clause I have proposed. In other amendments, I have referred to ensuring that, when contracts are put out to tender, it is not large conglomerates that get them, but small builders. Houses could be put out to tender in groups of fewer than ten, giving an opportunity to the small builders who are building houses around Ireland and making it so that the big builder does not get everything.
I will be brief, as there are only four minutes left before the guillotine falls. I support the amendments, but given that we will not have time to discuss the Minister's significant amendment to Part V of the Planning and Development Act, I ask that he send a briefing note to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage providing more detail on it. I also ask that his officials appear before the committee at the earliest opportunity to answer questions. It could be a private briefing session. The amendment is important. We want to see Part V housing increase, but there are some technical aspects of the proposal that we have not scrutinised. If that could be facilitated as soon as possible, I would greatly appreciate it.
I will speak briefly before we finish discussing the Bill. It is apt to mention that, since we last debated it, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County has approved the tender for the largest affordable housing site in the country. It will be 9 ha of social, affordable and cost-rental housing. I have spoken about it previously, but the debate on the Bill is an appropriate place to raise it again because it shows that this approach is beginning to work on the ground. I thank the Minister, particularly for the final subsection of section 5, which acknowledges those who, for whatever reason, may not be eligible for social housing. I hope that they will be able to apply for this.
Exactly, and should be a full member. I would have voted for him. We will make sure that he gets a special briefing.
Deputies Fitzmaurice and Cian O'Callaghan went to the trouble of tabling these amendments, so I will be brief. We know what the amendments propose to do, but I can confirm that they are not necessary, as their underlying intent is already contained within section 12, which deals with the affordable dwelling purchase arrangement. Section 12 provides that this arrangement must contain a covenant requiring that, unless the housing authority gives its prior written consent, "the affordable dwelling shall be occupied as the normal place of residence of the homeowner or of a member of the homeowner’s household". The dwellings that housing authorities can make available are dwellings to be sold under the affordable dwelling purchase arrangement. The provisions relating to the arrangement make it clear that such dwellings are for owner occupiers. Therefore, I cannot accept either amendment.
I would worry about the issue of a family member, but I will take the Minister's word that the intent is included. I will remind him of this if the measure backfires, but I will withdraw the amendment.
The time permitted for this debate having just expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 6 July: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, other than section 26, which is hereby deleted, the section or, as appropriate, the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to in committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in committee; the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed."
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