Dáil debates

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Planning and Development (Amendment) (20 per cent Provision of Social and Affordable Housing) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


7:05 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has done it again. Once more, he promised one thing very loudly, brashly and publicly, but unfortunately delivered something very different. He promised he would increase the provision in Part V of the Planning and Development Act to ensure all new housing developments would deliver not only the 10% social housing that is currently required to be provided under law, but also another 10% for much needed affordable housing, be that rental or purchase. That was an important commitment particularly given the rising rents and house prices we hear about every day. However, when one reads the fine print of what the Minster has actually done, he has done nothing of the sort. During the last-minute of proceedings of the Affordable Housing Bill before the recess, in a session where only 90 minutes were allocated for Committee, Report and Remaining Stages, final Seanad Stage amendments were introduced without adequate time for consideration and with no explanation, no debate and no vote. Despite the fact that other Opposition Members and I expressed concern about the technical importance and consequences of these amendments and asked for a detailed briefing from officials, no such briefing was subsequently provided. The full significance of those amendments only became clear when they were explained in plain English in the detail of the Government's new housing plan. What is that detail? Landowners who bought their land between 2015 and 2021 will not have to provide any affordable housing on their site if they apply for planning permission between 2021 and 2026. That means the vast majority of live development projects that seek planning permission this year, next year and the year after will be under the old rule of 10% provision. If that is not a sweetheart deal for large landowners, I do not know what is.

What makes this even worse is the embarrassingly low levels of genuine affordable homes that are to be delivered under the Government's new housing plan: some 2,200 homes next year, although I do not believe those targets will be met; possibly 3,500 in the following year; and then possibly 4,000 in 2024 and 2025. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, knows as well as I do, because he lives in the real world, that this is nowhere close to the current level of affordable homes to rent or buy that is required. It gives me no pleasure to say that this does not come as any surprise. Let us look at what the Minister has done since taking office. When industry asks, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, delivers. Industry asked for a shared equity loan scheme. What did the Minister deliver? Against all the advice of economists and even Government officials, he provided a shared equity loan scheme. When he was lobbied by industry to give an exemption for the increase in stamp duty for the block purchasing of houses and duplexes to be leased to local authorities, he went running to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and secured an exemption which was exactly what industry asked him for. It was then confirmed by the late release of documents by the Department on Friday evening. Thankfully, due to diligent journalists, The Business Postcaptured and published on Sunday that developers asked for this sweetheart land deal and the Minister delivered. The consequence of this is that thousands of affordable homes that would have otherwise been delivered will now not be. I heard the Tánaiste say today that this was what the Housing Agency recommended. That is not true and I hope nobody says that today. My understanding is that the Housing Agency was asked to produce a report in which it provided a list of options. It did not recommend one option over another. It provided a list of options. That is not the same as the Housing Agency recommending this course of action. I understand the Housing Agency would have liked to have seen the same kind of transitional arrangements that existed when Part V was originally introduced in 2005, namely, 20% introduced straight away but where landowners bought the land before the introduction of the Bill, they would be fully compensated for the land value rather than existing use value. That would have been fair, constitutional and would have delivered the genuinely affordable homes that people need.

Once again, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, had to make a choice. Does he stand with large landowners, big developers and institutional investors or does he stand with working people who are desperate to put an affordable roof over their heads? He made his choice clear. He is not on the side of working people; Sinn Féin is. That is why we have tabled this simple legislation to scrap that exemption to ensure that all new planning applications from here on in would be subject to the 20% requirement. If the Minister wants to table an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage to reintroduce the original transitional arrangements from the Planning and Development Act 2000, we would have no difficulty supporting that. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing this Bill forward this evening. It cuts through the layers of red tape and bureaucracy that get to the very core of the torment facing workers and families across this State. It is the provision of affordable housing. Without a shadow of a doubt and by a country mile, it is the main issue about which people come into my constituency offices. On the issue of housing, affordable housing is the dominant feature in each of them.

A quick search on daft.ietoday indicates that the average rent in Longford-Westmeath is €1,256 a month and that there are 21 properties available across two counties. The impact of the lack of available properties and their high cost is profound. One family in permanent employment, who this time last year would have been able to secure a family home, is today deciding which of their teenaged children will share their bedroom because there are no three-bedroom properties available in their town. There are exactly zero. The nearest option would add thousands of euro on to their commuting bill every year and would remove any hope they have of doing anything but surviving, never mind how they would get their children to school. This poses the question as to how would we make that decision? We are here, after all, as the representatives of these people who are living an absolute nightmare. We as a society cannot wait until 2026 for the half-hearted changes the Minister is proposing. We cannot let the thousands of potentially affordable homes slip through our fingers in that time. This amendment is the only way to ensure those thousands of potential home buyers and renters can have that affordable roof over their heads.

While I welcome the Government not opposing this Bill, there is a vast difference between not opposing it and actually implementing real and meaningful policies. We cannot continue down this road to disaster. It was reported that from March to June of this year, average property prices increased in my constituency by more than 7%. That completely takes away working families' potential to buy their own homes. That same report outlined the lowest supply rates and the shortest time taken to sell a property in recent history. How many more experts, reports or agencies need to tell the Government that there must be a substantially increased investment in affordable and social homes? How many more parents must make the decision as to which of their teenaged children will share their bedroom before the Government will listen to reason?

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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The people's interest must trump the interest of lobbyists. It is perfectly clear that the Part V developer exemption must go. If it remains, we will lose thousands of affordable homes. We see rocketing house prices rocketing even further. They have gone through the roof in north Kildare. Crazy house prices is not just an information support group for distracted and disgusted potential buyers.

It is the hard reality for people trying to get a home today. We have been here before, in the grip of a property fever that saw Monopoly money being charged for shoebox semi-detached homes. Some people said there would be a soft landing and we should ignore Morgan Kelly. Professor Kelly was right, however, and many are still living with the effects of what happened in that crisis. Others are not living at all.

Today we have a different kind of housing crisis. The exemption on the provision of affordable and social housing must go. The Government cannot go on indulging the whims of developers and the markets to the detriment of society. We need public and affordable housing. The Government had a choice of whether to look after developers or look after workers. We know whom it chose. If this exemption is not removed, developers with thousands of houses in the pipeline will not have to produce affordable homes during a deep and growing housing crisis. We need to end the Part V exemption for large landowners and ensure the full 20% provision is delivered. We need public and social housing. In the end, we are the public and we are a society. As legislators, we have a duty to put the people, not profit, first. I commend Deputy Ó Broin on bringing forward this Bill. I urge the Minister of State not just to say he will support it but to implement its provisions.

7:15 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, for bringing forward this Bill. It shows once again that we in Sinn Féin are here to introduce positive solutions that will make a difference in delivering housing for individuals and families. The Government claims to know the impact of the housing crisis. If that is the case, why is it not doing everything in its power to deliver housing for people who are desperate for it? The Business Postreported that the Minister was extensively lobbied by developers and that is why this exemption appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. It also reported than an estimated 10,000 homes have not been built because of the exemption. Why did the Minister grant it? The only reason ordinary people can see that is that he and the Government have, once again, prioritised developers, investment funds and the major landowners over the people of this country.

The Government has failed to act. In Cork city, the local authority plans to build numerous affordable housing developments but it still does not have the criteria from the Government to enable it to proceed. Those projects are all on hold. Once again, the Government is not delivering.

This Bill is about housing and priorities. I have no faith in the ability of the Government or the Minister to deliver housing. They are looking at developers more than ordinary people. That is the difference between the Government and Sinn Féin. This is another broken promise. The Minister does not understand how bad things are for most people. There is much I want to say about the crisis in housing but time constraints mean I cannot do so. What I can say to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is that the Government must act now. Will it, for once, put ordinary people and families first? If it does not, they will suffer.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Government announced with great fanfare that it was increasing the requirement on developers to provide social and affordable housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, from 10% to 20%. This would see the provision of affordable homes double for those desperately waiting for them. Taking it at face value, one would be right in thinking this was a good deal for ordinary workers and families. However, like many announcements from the Government, it is very difficult to take it at face value. When we get into the finer details of the plan, we see there is a clause in place exempting large developers from providing additional social and affordable homes until 2026. The people in my area who are locked out of the housing market by sky-high rents simply cannot wait until 2026. The workers and families living in insecure rental accommodation cannot wait until then.

I commend my constituency and party colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing this Bill to the House. It will, in effect, remove the developer exemption and put ordinary workers and families in Lucan, Clondalkin and across Dublin Mid-West before the big developers. The Government had a chance to put ordinary workers and families looking to secure affordable homes first. It failed to do so, once again, at the behest of lobbying landowners and developers. There is no constitutional requirement for this exemption. Why then did the Minister feel it was needed? The exemption could potentially result in the loss of thousands of additional affordable homes. We simply cannot afford to lose any such homes in the current market.

The failed housing policies of Fine Gael, and now Fianna Fáil, are the reason we have a housing crisis. Their tired old measures, which put private interests before public need, are simply no longer washing with people. I do not expect the Government will have to wait until 2026 to get that message.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I want to make some brief comments in the short time available to me. This amending legislation is necessary to remove the sweetheart deal offered to developers and investors by way of the exemption to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. It is necessary at a time when the residential property price index figures show an annual average increase of 8.6% in property prices and when people are struggling to gain mortgage approval while paying higher rents. A June 2021 daft.iesales report indicated that Limerick city has seen the largest rise in prices of any city, with an average increase of 15.5%. To have a waiver in place at this time of the requirement for a provision of 20% social and affordable housing is fundamentally wrong and must be stopped. There is no thought in this exemption of what is best for the people. The only thought seems to be of profit.

The Business Postreported last Sunday that the Government has been lobbied extensively by its developer friends. There is no surprise in that for any of us. The long-suffering investors and developers can lobby the Minister of State and his colleagues and be helped by them. The people I speak for are not offered exemption clauses. I would rather speak for the thousands of people in Limerick who are on waiting lists. I speak for those in overcrowded conditions, with three generations of the same family living in the same home. My constituency office, like those of other Deputies, is inundated with queries on housing. Almost every single call we are getting is from people who are in distress about housing. When I leave this debate and switch my telephone back on, I know there will be messages from people. Looking at daft.ietoday, I see there are 13 properties for rent in my city. Four of those properties cost more than €3,000 per month and only two of them, both one-bedroom properties, are renting for less than €1,000. That is ridiculous.

We have a situation where working families cannot get any housing support or be put on a housing list because they earn a little too much, but they earn too little to get a mortgage. That is a massive problem. As I said, there are only 13 houses or apartments available for rent in Limerick city today, but we have ten or even 20 times that number of voids. The Minister of State may stand up and say that X, Y and Z is being done about voids but, in fact, nothing is being done. The red tape is too difficult for councils to get through. That must be dealt with if the Government is serious about tackling the issue. If the Minister of State were dealing with the number of people we have coming through our constituency offices, he would realise the extent of the crisis we are facing in the here and now. As my colleague, Deputy Ward, said, people cannot wait for a number of years. They need action now and solutions that will deliver houses for them. I do not believe the Government is up to the game at all.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille seo ó mo chomrádaí, an Teachta Ó Broin. I thank the Deputy for bringing forward this important Bill. It is vital that every means be utilised to build social and affordable housing. This Bill ensures, first, that developers are not exempted from providing social and affordable housing under the Part V provisions and, in addition, that 20% of any housing development must be social and affordable housing. The sunset clause that was put in place to allow developers who secure planning permission before 2026 to provide only 10% social housing in a new development is greatly flawed. We said that at the time. The removal of the exemption will bring thousands of additional homes onto the market that otherwise would not be available.

The Dublin City Council housing waiting list for Dublin North-West, particularly for areas such as Ballymun and Finglas, remains a very serious issue. It has resulted in many families and individuals falling into homelessness. With increasing numbers on the housing waiting lists and many waiting a decade or more for a house, it is even more important that priority be given to increasing the number of social and affordable housing builds. Affordable housing has been delivered by the Ó Cualann housing organisation at a cost of approximately €200,000 for a three-bedroom home.

This serves as a good model of real, affordable housing. However, the Government's idea of what is affordable will cost between €350,000 and €400,000, and that is not realistic. In addition, rents in the private sector have gone sky-high. A great proportion of an individual's income goes on rent, which is an average of €2,000 per month for accommodation in the Dublin North-West constituency. The Bill would go a long way to giving those who are looking to get onto the property ladder or who are in need of social housing some hope for the future.

7:25 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The Government welcomes the opportunity to highlight the recent amendments to Part V it has brought forward, which are a very important part of accelerating the supply of affordable and cost-rental homes. It also welcomes the opportunity the Bill presents to continue working on ensuring that our Part V provisions are appropriately calibrated and the Government will not be opposing it. We welcomed the support of Sinn Féin and other parties for the Affordable Housing Act 2021, which originally brought in these changes. It is important that they are kept under review and deliver homes. Any further analysis of this is welcome and future changes must be considered in this light.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to review the provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, to introduce requirements for affordable homes and to explore expanding it to encompass social, affordable and cost-rental housing. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage requested the Housing Agency to review Part V in light of the programme for Government commitments and, following receipt of that review at the end of December 2020, he acted on the advice of the agency and of the Department to bring forward very significant changes to Part V. These changes were made through the Affordable Housing Act 2021, which was passed by the Dáil in July with cross-party support. We are happy to share the review report to help inform the pre-legislative debate on this Bill.

The Government has reversed the reduction introduced by the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, in 2015 and has strengthened Part V, moving it to a flat 20% nationwide rather than just "up to 20%". At the same time, we reduced the exempted development size back to less than five units, from the previous nine, and we made provision for cost rental as well as affordable housing. The provision is stronger now than it has ever been. We made the change immediate for land bought before September 2015, when the percentage had previously been at 20%. We also made the change immediate for land purchased after the Bill was enacted in July, as developers clearly knew that the requirement would be at 20%. However, the question of how to deal with land bought while the obligation was at 10% was a more difficult prospect and the Housing Agency and the Department strongly advised the Minister that there was a need to have transition provisions for those lands. This issue can be considered further during pre-legislative scrutiny, as it is challenging. Let us look at the concerns. As part of its review, the Housing Agency examined the implications, including implications for overall housing supply, of increasing the current 10% social housing requirement related to all new housing developments to 20%, or above, and made recommendations on the use of the Part V requirement to generate a supply of affordable housing. The agency's review of Part V put forward options for consideration, including that the Part V requirement be amended to a mandatory 20% for social and affordable housing.

One aspect of the advice of the Housing Agency was that if an increased Part V requirement was to be introduced, provisions should be made for landowners who purchased land before the increase was announced, in line with the approach previously taken when the Part V requirement was originally introduced in 1999, and the agency advised as to potential transitional arrangements that might be considered. It recommended that an increase in the percentage contribution should include a provision to cater for land that was purchased when the expectation was of a 10% Part V contribution, and suggested various options for a transitional provision, including a sunset clause, which could apply to such transitional provisions in order to encourage developers to commence construction on existing sites.

The Department agreed with the advice of the agency. In recommending a transition provision with a sunset clause, the intention was to accelerate developments from those lands at a time when supply of homes is urgently needed. Having considered the advice, apart altogether from the need to be fair and proportionate to those who bought land when the provisions were at 10%, we did not want to enact a measure that could potentially result in planned developments being stalled because they were at the margins of viability and the policy change would make them unfeasible. We know that rising costs in the sector are causing serious problems and the effects of both Brexit and Covid have been keenly felt. Neither did we want to risk those developers moving to up their prices to recoup their losses from house buyers. The rising inflation in house prices is of serious concern to all and we wanted to mitigate any potential that the new Part V measures might contribute to that.

What we did want was for developers to stop sitting on lands and to encourage them to move faster. As clearly set out in Housing for All, the Government is acting now to reach an average of 33,000 new homes per year. To manage the risks to supply and to achieve our aims, we provided that lands bought when the provisions were at 10% would continue to be at 10% for a period of five years, after which the 20% would apply.

The transition provisions that were included provide that lands transacted between those two dates will have a period of time to develop at the 10% obligation, but where planning permission is granted after 31 July 2026 the obligation will be 20% in those cases also. This allows time for these developments to come forward, based on the existing financial appraisal that applied at the time of purchase of the land. It also allows time for the viability of developments to improve through the measures being taken in Housing for All, which is designed to move us to a sustainable housing market. The transition measures were an effort to strike a proportionate approach, ensuring that near-term supply would be unaffected by any knock-on effect of policy changes that could potentially affect the viability of developments that were based on financial appraisals at the 10% obligation.

It is important to note that instead of, as has been claimed, exempting land purchased when the percentage contribution was 10%, we have used the sunset clause to encourage development which provides for the application of the 20% requirement to such lands where the planning permission is being granted after 31 July 2026. This will encourage developers who purchased land in the September 2015 to July 2021 period to proceed with their developments within the next few years or else face a reduced planning gain. As a result, we hope to see an increase in the level of applications for planning permission to build residential developments on land purchased in the past six years.

It is also important to note that existing planning permissions for more than 70,000 units are not impacted by this Bill. The legislation as passed is what the Government believes to be the best balance of increasing the contribution that Part V can make to meeting the need for affordable and cost-rental housing, while maintaining its contribution to social housing supply and without jeopardising planned housing developments or being overly vulnerable to legal challenges, which whether successful or not, would have a chilling effect on all development while developers awaited the outcome. These are the key issues to be considered and discussed with stakeholders in any pre-legislative scrutiny sessions. The Government is willing to keep this under review.

We welcomed the support of Sinn Féin and others for the Affordable Housing Act 2021, which brought in these provisions in July. In that spirit, we are not opposing this Bill, as it will keep the provisions under review and the Government has no issue with them being subject to further economic analysis and scrutiny. Any changes must deliver more units and pre-legislative scrutiny will offer an opportunity to see whether further changes may be appropriate.

In the intervening period we hope that developers will be encouraged to act on planning permissions already granted and bring forward applications for permission in respect of lands they purchased in the past six years. The 70,000 planning permissions are live and will not be impacted by this legislation or the changes brought in last July. They need to be activated. Ultimately, the objective is to get homes built and the Government is open to any further changes that need to be made to get that done.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing forward the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is simple, but its impact will have far-reaching benefits for thousands of workers amid the housing crisis. The Bill will remove the Part V affordable housing exemption for developers who purchased land in the past five years and who seek planning permission before the end of July 2026.

This exemption represents yet another sweetheart deal by this Government for developers and investors. We have seen concession after concession for developers and investors while we have workers and their families being forced to pay very high rents and move far from their families and communities to find accommodation. When will we start to see meaningful breaks for ordinary working families?

We are fortunate in Dublin Bay South to have many strong communities who believe in standing up for one another and their communities. I look at the Irish Glass Bottle Housing Action Group in particular. It has been a constant source of community in organising for the delivery of affordable homes for Ringsend and Irishtown. For too long, locals have been getting priced out of their community, with investors swooping in to buy up whatever homes are available. To add to this, we have high-tech firms coming in and pushing up the prices of homes and rentals for working families who lived and invested in the area long before the shiny, hugely profitable companies like Facebook, Google and now TikTok. We urgently need affordable public housing in this city and when we say affordable, we mean affordable to the community, not to the investment funds. An affordable price of upwards of €600,000 per unit is laughable. We need the delivery of affordable homes at the price of €250,000, like Ó Cualann, as the previous Deputy mentioned. In terms of public housing, we need to see a commitment from the Government that these units remain onsite within the community, not relocated far outside the original area. We cannot let what happened with the development of Capital Dock happen again, given the Part V units were not provided onsite or even locally, but instead miles up the road from the local community. Public housing needs to be delivered locally.

7:35 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome that the Government is not opposing the Bill and I commend my colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on bringing it forward. Exemptions for developers is the hallmark of successive Governments’ approach to housing. We have seen it when it comes to delays in banning co-living and the stamp duty exemption for long-term leases and apartments. Most recently, we have seen purpose-built student accommodation being given planning permission to be converted into tourist accommodation in the midst of a student housing crisis. Large student accommodation complexes have been given permission to operate as tourist accommodation on the bogus claim that there is not enough demand for them, yet we see that thousands of students all over the country cannot get fit-for-purpose affordable accommodation. The reality is most students cannot afford to live in high-end, purpose-built student accommodation and these landlords are unwilling to lower the rent.

Exemptions for developers and large-scale landlords have led to a situation where they have been allowed to take hundreds, if not thousands, of student beds out of the system. It is completely wrong. It seems to be beyond Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to even imagine a situation where a landlord or developer should lower the rent if they can get tenants at the extortionate rates they are charging. Now, we have students staying in hotels, hostels and student accommodation that is not fit for purpose.

The profit margins of developers and institutional landlords could be protected. We need a new strategy for student accommodation that has affordability and public ownership at its heart, and we need to increase the recurrent and capital funding for institutes of higher education to allow them to build on-campus accommodation. We need to end the conversion of purpose-built student accommodation to tourist accommodation, and encourage colleges to strike a fair balance between attracting international students and meeting the needs of Irish students. That is why I and Sinn Féin will be supporting the Union of Students in Ireland this Thursday when they launch their “No Keys, No Degrees” campaign to draw attention to the current student accommodation crisis that has left thousands of students across Ireland struggling to secure accommodation.

This Government is completely out of touch with students, families and the wider society when it comes to accommodation for students and hard-pressed families. I ask the Minister to please take action now. We cannot have a hands-off approach to this.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I commend Deputy Eoin Ó Broin on bringing it forward. The facts are that consecutive Governments have failed to provide affordable homes across the country on the scale that is required to address the housing crisis. There has not been one single affordable home delivered in Laois-Offaly in almost 15 years and there does not appear to be any plan in place for cost rental projects in either county. The Government, just like its predecessors, seems either incapable or unwilling to deliver affordable homes for ordinary hard-working people.

What we have is a sweetheart deal in the Government’s housing plan. The Government's housing plan has a large loophole in it which will allow developers to avoid providing additional accommodation for purchase or rental homes. The Government plan allows developers to avoid selling 20% of the units they build to local authorities for affordable to purchase and rental homes, which is why we have brought forward this legislation. Sinn Féin projects that closing this loophole will ensure an additional 10,000 homes that are genuinely affordable are built between now and the end of 2025.

This is the kind of practical solution we need. We must get to grips with the housing crisis. Since 2013, in Laois house prices have increased by 98% and by 64% in Offaly in the same period. These are astronomical increases which have completely obstructed families and workers from purchasing their own homes. Instead, property developers and landlords are buying them up and renting them out to families at spiralling, sky-rocketing rents. Half of the constituency does not have a rent control zone and the three zoned areas are not effective because of loopholes. I would also argue that if we had rent controls in place years ago, this kind of market manipulation would not be happening. One of the things driving up house prices is the fact we do not have rent controls in this country. It is very profitable for landlords, developers and speculators to buy houses and to rent them out, and they can charge what they like in rent. Rents are out of control. Although I hate to say it, successive Governments have allowed this crisis to develop. We have been saying this here for years while workers and families are trapped in rental accommodation with no affordable or cost rental options in sight.

To conclude, we need affordable to purchase housing schemes and cost rental schemes to be provided in Laois-Offaly and every other county. We need 20% of all developments.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on bringing forward the Bill. I welcome the fact the Government is not opposing the motion. The Minister says he is going to review it and I hope that will lead to action. The most common issue among my constituents is housing or, I should say, lack of housing, and I know that is the same for practically every Member of this House.

Housing prices are continuing to rise and rents are rising in tandem, and both are happening due to the lack of housing supply. The solution is to invest in social and affordable housing on public land but successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments have removed the ability of local government to build social housing. Now, the Government is exempting big developers from the Part V 20% social and affordable housing provision.

In my own county of Cavan, between 2016 and 2020, Cavan County Council had only 36 new properties built and, under Part V applications, private developers delivered one house to the local authority. There are various categories of people currently seeking housing. Those on the social housing list are waiting maybe seven or eight years and sometimes longer. Many of them asked me can they not be allocated a vacant council house that they know is sitting there idle for months and maybe years, and they would do it up themselves as they are that eager to get a house. They cannot understand why these vacant properties are not being renovated and reallocated. Numerous disabled people are waiting in excess of ten years for social housing because another Government body has failed to provide the support needed to those people. Not only are they waiting on a suitable accessible home, they are also waiting on the support needed to allow them to live an independent life. I know of people who are working and who earn above the threshold for social housing, but they cannot get onto the property ladder because, apparently, they have an inability to show they are saving money on a regular basis. How in God’s name can someone save money for a deposit or show they have a consistent savings trend in a bank account when they pay up to half of their income in rent? I know people who are turning down work to avoid going over the threshold for social housing because they cannot afford the exorbitant rents without HAP. The Part V exemption needs to be scrapped immediately.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on Deputy Eoin Ó Broin’s Bill. Before I go into the meat of this, it is important that we reflect a little on the history and, indeed, performance in practical terms of the Part V provision since it was introduced over 20 years ago.

The Minister of State touched on it briefly, to a point, in his contribution.

I was a member of a local authority at the time, as were many colleagues across the House. It was, as Deputies will recall, introduced by one of the Minister's predecessors, Mr. Noel Dempsey. I recall remarking in the council chambers of the two local authorities of which I was a member, Drogheda Corporation, as it was then, and Louth County Council, that this initiative was novel, far-sighted to a degree, innovative and useful once it complemented the public homebuilding programmes that were in place at the time. I warned that it should not be designed to replace local authority provision.

Members will recall that, further down the line, the provisions were then watered down by one of Mr. Dempsey's ministerial successors, Mr. Martin Cullen. In my view, Mr. Cullen butchered Part V when he enabled developers to donate land elsewhere or pay an equivalent sum to the local authority. There was no longer a requirement to build physical units. Part V was full of holes and there were so many get-out clauses as a result of those changes that little or nothing was delivered. Modest homes became grossly unaffordable in the early and mid-2000s, poorly regulated banks loaned money like it was going out of fashion and we know to our cost where this ended up.

Part V, more generally, failed in its main objective, which was to provide a balanced mix of social and affordable homes in private housing developments. In 2015, the journalist, Mick Clifford, wrote:

What resulted was, more or less, a disintegration of the original policy. Many local authorities accepted less than market value as the money in lieu, and, as was inevitable, the money wasn’t always ringfenced for the purpose for which it was collected. Less than 4% of the 400,000 homes built between 2002 and 2011 were for social housing. The market triumphed, developers were allowed to proceed unfettered by any considerations for society at large.

That is a fair assessment.

The Minister of State mentioned changes to the Part V regime introduced in 2015 by my colleague, Deputy Kelly. He did so without providing any context for those decisions and the framework within which they were made. The Minister of State's officials will be only too well aware of the circumstances that pertained at the time and the ambition of the changes that were introduced. In 2015, when the then real-world problems, if I can describe them as such, with Part V were corrected to enable homes to be built, there was no shortage of affordable housing, nor was the State in a position to underwrite the delivery of affordable homes only a matter of months after we waved goodbye to the troika. In addition, there was no shortage of social housing. The aim of the 2015 amendments was to get 10% of units built - end of story. As I hope the Minister of State will agree, 10% of something is preferable to 20% of a unicorn. Nothing was happening at the time. Context, I hope the Minister of State will concede, is everything and we were at a particular point in time. Those changes were important in that they removed the ability of developers to account for their social housing commitments through cash payments to local authorities.

Deputy Ó Broin will know that things change. That is reflected in the fact that he proposed a Bill in 2016 to provide for 25% social units under Part V and 30% social units in strategic development zones. However, things have changed since, as reflected in this commendable attempt to address the deficiency in the legislation the Minister brought forward and the amendments he made in July.

The recorded defence of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is that this Bill and what it seeks to do are in conflict with the Constitution. However, that defence does not survive the merest of scrutiny. Going back to the initial iteration of Part V, if the land in question had been purchased by the applicant before the date on which the 2000 Act was published as a Bill, the applicant was to be paid the greater of either the original purchase price plus interest or its existing use value. If the land had been purchased after that date, the applicant was to be paid only its existing use value.

As the House will be aware, the Planning and Development Bill 1999 was referred to the Supreme Court by the President under Article 26 of the Constitution and the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality. The following points are important to note. According to the court:

The objectives sought to be achieved by Part V of the Bill are clear: to enable people of relatively moderate means or suffering from some form of social or economic handicap to buy their own homes in an economic climate where housing costs and average incomes make that difficult and to encourage integrated housing development so as to avoid the creation of large scale housing developments confined to people in the lower income groups.

It can scarcely be disputed that it was within the competence of the Oireachtas to decide that the achievement of these objectives would be socially just and required by the common good. It is accepted on behalf of the State that the use of planning legislation, which has traditionally been concerned with the orderly and beneficial planning and development of the physical environment, for a purely social objective of this nature is novel and even radical. The court is satisfied, however, that it is an objective which it was entirely within the competence of the Oireachtas to decide to attain, as best it could, by the use of planning machinery. The essential question for resolution, in the context of Article 40 and Article 43, is whether the means employed constitute an unjust attack on property rights.

In considering whether this restriction on property rights was permitted by the Constitution, the court applied the test of proportionality. The Supreme Court concluded that the provisions of Part V were "rationally connected to an objective of sufficient importance to warrant interference with a constitutionally protected right and, given the serious social problems which they are designed to meet, they undoubtedly relate to concerns which, in a free and democratic society, should be regarded as pressing and substantial." It continued: "At the same time, the court is satisfied that they impair those rights as little as possible and their effects on those rights are proportionate to the objectives sought to be attained." There can be no doubt, accordingly, but that the principle of land transfer at current use value for the provision of social and affordable housing has already withstood the most detailed constitutional scrutiny at the highest level.

According to newspaper reports, the Minister made the decision for the exemption that is the subject matter of this debate from the 20% requirement on foot of "very strong advice from the department". It is notable that the Minister did not refer in the media contribution to legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General. He stated instead that the advice was from senior officials and that it was to the effect that developers may have bought such land on the understanding that there was a 10% provision for Part V housing and that may have been built into the cost and the future cost of the development of that site. However, no commencement order has yet been made by the Minister in respect of Part 6 of the Affordable Housing Act 2021 giving effect to the amendments that were made in July where those various amendments to Part V have been made. In other words, the amendments do not yet have the force of law.

It seems the Minister and the Department will take advice from developers when they express unproven concerns over an escalation of costs. In contrast, the Minister does not seem to be able to take the objective advice of civil servants, for example, in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and economists in the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, when they warn that poorly targeted and expensive schemes, such as the help-to-buy scheme, that end up adding significantly to the cost of homes for first-time buyers ought to be reconsidered as well. There is a real variance there and a real gap and the common thread is developers.

The amendment the Minister introduced in July tells me that he is being led and said by developers. It is not too late to do a U-turn, a volte-faceif I can call it that. As I stated, the amendments introduced in July have not yet been brought into force.

While I am pleased the Government has decided it will not oppose this Bill, it has not stated it will support it. This is the point. The Labour Party supports this legislation. We think it is positive and can undo a mistake the Minister made with his amendments in July. I would ask the Minister of State to consider that with his Government colleagues.

7:45 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I welcome the Bill, which the Social Democrats will support, and thank Deputy Ó Broin for introducing it.

People who are struggling to pay rents and looking to buy an affordable home are wondering why on earth the Government has granted this exemption when we need more affordable homes now. That we will miss out on thousands more affordable homes due to this exemption is not acceptable to people who are looking for the security and peace of mind they would have if they were able buy one of the affordable homes we will now miss out on.

It is welcome that the Government will share the Housing Agency review. It would have been useful to have had it before discussing the Bill so that we could scrutinise it. The Minister of State remarked that the Government had no issue with the provisions of the Affordable Housing Act being subject to further economic analysis and scrutiny. That was an interesting way of putting it, given that this Bill has been introduced because the Government's amendment No. 91 to the Act was made without any debate, scrutiny or analysis. Three hours and 15 minutes is what the Government allowed for Committee and Remaining Stages on that Act when it was before the Dáil. We never got anywhere near amendment No. 91. At three hours and 15 minutes, it was not possible and the amendment was voted through without any discussion. This is the first discussion that amendment No. 91 to the Affordable Housing Act has had in the Dáil. What analysis and discussion was it subject to? There was certainly no public analysis or discussion. That is one of the key problems in this situation.

It is welcome that the Government is not opposing the Bill, but that does not tally with comments made by a spokesperson for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in the Business Postat the weekend that the Bill was unconstitutional. The Government does not seem to be saying that it is unconstitutional this evening. Does that mean that the comments made on behalf of the Minister no longer stand? It would be useful to know.

Just three hours and 15 minutes were allocated to Committee and Remaining Stages, but when one examines documents released under freedom of information, FOI, requests about lobbying of the Minister by developers on that legislation, it is on the public record that much more time was given to hearing the views of developers in the run-up to the Act than was afforded the representatives elected on behalf of the people of Ireland. That is something on which the Government should reflect.

Lobbying by developers has been mentioned by other Deputies, who also referenced last weekend's Business Post article and the documents released under FOI. This issue is key. In the Minister of State's comments, he echoed some of the language used by developers seen in the documents released under FOI, for example, "margins of viability". That is interesting language. Every time developers look for a change in housing or planning matters, they talk about viability. When it came to the legislation on build to rent, they talked about viability. When it came to co-living, which, thankfully, is gone, they talked about viability. When it came to the so-called fast-track strategic housing development legislation, they talked about viability. Whenever they look for a reduction in standards, they talk about viability. It is the same trick each time, and each time that argument is fallen for.

In a paper, Dr. Mick Lennon of UCD and Dr. Richard Waldron of Queen's University Belfast examined the strategic housing development legislation. They interviewed politicians as well as lobbyists who were working for Property Industry Ireland and other lobbying organisations. They went through the whole process of lobbying and how it influenced legislation. They were told by one of the lobbyists from Property Industry Ireland that that group had given suggestions and recommendations to the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the introduction of the strategic housing development process, which were stuck into the legislation "lock, stock and barrel". As far as I am aware, that has never been disputed by anyone. If it was not the case, then it would be useful if someone disputed it. The paper is good-quality academic research and is not disputed by anyone.

We know from records released under FOI that one of the arguments made during lobbying had to do with the effect that increasing Part V contributions would have on planning gains on land value, that is, the windfall gain that developers make as a result of public actions that increase the value of land, for example, rezoning or other planning decisions, putting infrastructure in place or long-term leases agreed by local authorities and backed up by the State. Lobbyists were raising concerns about the effect of such measures on planning gains. I will cite an example from my constituency that has been reported on well by the Dublin Inquirer, that of the former Chivers factory site. From its research, the Dublin Inquirerestimates that, in the past three years, there has been a tenfold increase in the site's value because of rezonings, planning permissions secured and long-term leases agreed in principle with Dublin City Council. When we discuss the potential costs to developers or landowners in terms of effects on land value gains, that is the context. Some of them are looking at a tenfold increase in the space of three years. Are we really saying with a straight face, looking the public in the eye, that we will not introduce a measure that is needed now just because it might affect some of that land value gain? Are we afraid to do that? Do we believe doing this would affect viability?

I wish to make a key point on viability. We have some of the highest house prices and rents in the EU. According to the Turner & Townsend survey data, we have average building material costs compared to comparable northern European countries with similar economies and climates. Our labour costs are a little below average and our professional fees are coming in at the average. How is it that we have the significant viability issue that the industry is always talking about? We have some of the best returns. The yields on investment in residential property are higher in Ireland than elsewhere. They are 5% plus whereas the norm in Europe is 3.5%. We have higher yields, higher returns, higher rents, higher house prices and larger profits because of a speculative, high-risk model. We have higher financing costs as a result of our highly speculative model, and that needs to change, but how is it that viability is always an issue? How is it that the answer to viability is not tackling the high-risk, speculative and high financing cost model that we have? How is it that the answer is always to reduce our aims and ambitions, give people lower standards and so forth?

Deputy Nash touched on the Supreme Court decision relating to Part V in which many of these matters were settled. The judgment was very clear. In the Supreme Court decision on what was then the Planning and Development Bill 1999, which, similar to the measures under discussion, would allow for Part V contributions of up to 20%, Chief Justice Keane stated: "Every person who acquires or inherits land takes it subject to any restrictions which the general law of planning imposes on the use of the property in the public interest." He went on to cite a previous case: "'The purchase of land for development purposes is manifestly a major example of a speculative or risk commercial enterprise.'" Of course people know that, when they buy or inherit land, the Government can quite rightly introduce planning measures and so on that will affect it. The Supreme Court has ruled on this matter. We know that, as a result, the exemption was not necessary. We know that the Government caved to pressure after lobbying from developers. That is what needs to change.

7:55 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I will share time with Deputy Barry.

The sorry saga of this special deal for property owners and developers tells a very important truth about the nature of the housing crisis. We do not have a housing crisis just because no one has figured out what to do to resolve it.

7 o’clock

If you go out onto the street and campaign on the issue of housing, the average person that you meet will have the essentials of what needs to happen. We need a ban on economic evictions, we need rent controls to bring rents down to affordable levels and we need public housing built on a massive scale. People know that. There is plenty of evidence for it. It is not that we do not have the answers; we have them. The reason the housing crisis persists and gets worse week after week, month after month and year after year is because policy is designed for those who benefit from the crisis. That is the truth. For them, there is no housing crisis; there is an immense housing opportunity. What is revealed from the freedom of information request of the Business Postis precisely how that takes place in terms of the transmission of the interests of the property developers, the big builders, etc., to the Government and then translated into legislation. What this reveals very clearly is the Irish Home Builders Association, IHBA, part of the Construction Industry Federation and Property Industry Ireland lobbying for precisely the exemption that they got. The argumentation that they use is interesting. According to the IHBA:

This provision could have an unintended consequence and reduce supply. This additional tax could mean marginally viable developments may not be started.

They are very concerned about ensuring that all the land is used and that we have full supply of housing and so on, which is very kind-hearted and generous of them. According to Property Industry Ireland, "bringing this up to 20% of homes could reduce supply on land that has traded in recent years; some schemes will be less viable, etc." Again, this is wrapped in the language of supply because, of course, they are in favour of having the maximum supply of housing and so on. What is missing is the blunt, brutal logic and language of profit that underlies their lobbying. That is the truth. The job of these lobbying organisations is to lobby for their interests, not for the interests of resolving the housing crisis. They do not care about resolving the housing crisis. They care about representing their members and their members benefit by maximising profit. A situation whereby they would have to give up an extra 10% for social and affordable housing is not in their interests, and so they lobby against it. The Government welcomes that lobbying and then implements it in legislation and for a brief moment says that any attempts to do otherwise would not just be wrong or disagreeable from the point of view of the Government, it would be unconstitutional.

It remains the case that, again and again, when the corporate lobbyists say jump, the Government says "How high?" In the summer, the Government made a song and dance of reversing the cut to Part V housing, which is inadequate but a step in the right direction, empowering councils to buy up to 20% to build for social and affordable housing. The truth is from that moment, behind the scenes and underneath the headlines, the corporate lobbyists were working to gut the Bill. What we have now can be only described as a sweetheart deal to ensure that it does not apply to any sites bought from 2015 to 2021. The bottom line is that there could be estates being built in the 2030s that will be exempt from the increases for social and affordable housing. That is what is being done by way of a measure that is being brought in now as part of a fanfare of how we are going to resolve the housing crisis and so on. It underlines for me that to solve the housing crisis we need a Government of the left, committed eco-socialist policies and fundamental social change, which is willing to not represent the interests of developers, to take on the speculators and developers, to kick-out the vultures and take the big corporate landlord properties into public ownership.

I want to make a second point. This is about private land on which we get 10% or 20% provision, which is an important part of the debate. The idea that any public land should be handed over to private developers is outrageous. It makes no sense at a time of massive crisis, yet it still continues. The Government parties try to make out that those who oppose the sell-off of public land are somehow standing in the way of addressing the housing crisis. Last week, public land in Killinarden suitable for more than 600 homes was sold to a private developer at the behest of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Green Party supported them and, unfortunately, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party went along with them. Sinn Féin abstained out of pressure of not wanting to be seen to be against housing. The result is that 123 of those homes will be sold at massively inflated market rates, totally out of reach of ordinary workers in Tallaght and families who could have been housed there will instead have to watch on from emergency accommodation as private developers profiteer from public land. A further 60% of the homes will also be unaffordable. They are so-called affordable homes at 15% discount of market rates but as market rates shoot through the roof we know exactly what that will mean. There should be no more sell-off of public lands by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, no more support for dodgy deals by the Social Democrats and the Labour Party and no more sitting on the sidelines by Sinn Féin. Instead, we need to draw a line in the sand and insist that public land is used for public housing.

8:05 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Fine Gael has been in power for more than ten years. Fianna Fáil has either been in government with or has propped up Fine Gael in power for more than five years and neither has built anything like social and affordable housing, the results and consequences of which we see every day. The latest example is the student accommodation crisis. This afternoon, I spoke to Aisling O'Mahony, president of the Munster Technological University Cork student union. She told me that because of the accommodation crisis, students are passing on renting accommodation, staying at home with parents and commuting not ten, 15 or 20 miles, but really long distances, to college. Many students are trekking to Bishopstown every day from west Cork and other counties, including Kilkenny, Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford, spending three, four or five hours per day in cars because of the housing crisis for which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are responsible. I wonder if the Taoiseach, when addressing the United Nations on the climate crisis and carbon emissions, will mention the students in Ireland who are forced to drive around in cars for five hours every day.

Before the summer, the Dáil passed legislation which provided for students to pay rent to student accommodation centres on a monthly rather than annual basis. Is the Minister aware that these centres are undermining that legislation by offering two payment options, that is, an annual payment and a monthly payment, but with the latter working out to be more expensive over the course of the year? This practice, I am told, is widespread. What steps does the Minister intend to take to block it? On Thursday next, students from across the country will meet outside the gates of Leinster House to protest the lack of action from the Minister and the Government on the student accommodation crisis. I look forward to joining them. I hope that actions such as this come to be seen as small steps towards the building of a mass housing movement in this country that will sweep Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from power and challenge the rule of the capitalist market, the root cause of this housing crisis. Sin é.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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The depth of the housing crisis over the past ten years has been incredible. It is having the effect of gutting families and putting enormous pressure and stresses on families across the country. It is a humanitarian crisis. The idea that the word "crisis" could be so long-term is unbelievable. It shows a real inability on the part of the Government to focus on policy that will resolve it. That inability is not just a lack of ability, it is also an ideological problem. The Government, in particular Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have significant ideological barriers to fixing the housing crisis in this State. I want to give a couple of examples.

Yesterday, I spoke to a student who is starting college in Maynooth. She cannot afford accommodation in Maynooth because the prices are incredible in that town.

Consequently, she is forced to commute. She managed to buy a second-hand car over the summer with savings she had but she cannot afford the insurance for it. She lives in an area 10 km away from the nearest bus route to Maynooth. Thus the housing crisis is affecting her, as is the insurance crisis, as well as the lack of public transport, and all of this is making her unable to get to college. She also found out her application to Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, still has not been processed. It is one of 30,000 applications out of 89,000 that the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, has not managed to process as of yet. The Minister is spending so much time considering whether to make a complaint to the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight that he is not focusing on the job he should be focusing on, that is, ensuring students have their SUSI grant properly processed in reasonable time. The woman is caught in a perfect storm. She worked hard in secondary school and wants to get educated at third level but the State is making that impossible. She is at the receiving end of multiple policy failures by the Government and is just one of hundreds of thousands of such people.

It is reported in today's edition of the Irish Independent that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has stated a tax on vacant homes will not be a game-changer in solving the housing crisis. He has not changed his view in the last year. When I pushed him, when he was bringing about the local property tax, to introduce a higher property tax on vacant homes in order to offer an incentive to get those homes back into use, he refused to do so at the time. He is wrong. The idea it would not change the game is incredibly wrong. In my native County Meath, there are 2,500 vacant properties and they would go some way towards housing the people who are on the housing waiting list in County Meath. There are 4,000 people on the housing waiting list in the county and 2,500 vacant homes. The idea that 180,000 vacant homes are not being brought into use, that nothing has been done materially to bring them into use and that the Fine Gael Minister for Finance has a real difficultly with taxing those vacant homes to incentivise their being brought into use shows again the lack of urgency that exists among members of the Government in bringing about policies and implementing them to make a difference in people's lives. There are towns and villages in the western part of my constituency - I imagine it is the same in that of the Minister of State - where half the homes on the main street are currently derelict. This is when we are in the jaws of a housing crisis. Where is the urgency from the Government on trying to get these homes into use?

Another issue I wish to briefly discuss is that at the start of May, the political establishment jumped up and down about the housing crisis. It was right to. However, it was silent about it in February, March and April. There was not a dicky bird from any of the political parties in this Chamber, other than Aontú, on the housing crisis at the start of the year. At the heart of the housing crisis, the Irish construction sector was closed. Ireland was alone in completely closing the building of domestic homes in the first quarter of the year. If one looks at the statistics, in the first quarter of this year the output of homes in this State fell by 25%. Obviously the Minister of State will say there was a Covid pandemic and people had to take precautions to ensure there was not transmission of the illness. However, the pandemic was also happening in every other European country and none of them closed down the building of domestic homes for the first quarter of the year. This country has by far the most serious housing crisis in the EU, yet we alone decided to close down the construction of homes. If one looks at the figures, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Belgium, France, Croatia, Bulgaria, Denmark and Finland all saw the production of homes increase in the first quarter of the year. Indeed, if we take the European average, there was an increase in the output of homes in the first quarter of the year whereas in Ireland there was a fall of 25%. It is an incredible situation. Ireland is yet again a radical outlier in the middle of a housing crisis. We alone locked the gates of the construction sites. One might imagine that would have evoked some kind of cry from the Opposition but Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit all rowed in behind the Government on that. Many of them were in the zero Covid camp at the time and they pushed for longer and more severe restrictions on the building of homes. In the first quarter 10,000 homes would have been built if we had followed the European policy on construction of homes. Despite all the theatre that comes from both sides of the Chamber, at the time there was no urgency in the political establishment to build homes in this State.

In July, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forced a Bill through the Dáil to allow vulture funds to have an exemption of 10% from the stamp duty surcharge on the bulk-buying of houses, provided those properties were leased to local authorities. In the space of two or three weeks we saw the Government take a 180° U-turn from what the Taoiseach was saying, namely, that it was absolutely wrong for local authorities to be leasing these homes in the first place, to the Government actually granting the funds an exemption to allow this whole process to continue. Lobbying pressure came on Fianna Fáil from the construction industry and Fianna Fáil did what it does and implemented those requests. My party, among many others, has been calling for a cap on rents for many long years. There is no excuse for rents to be increasing in this State at the moment. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael resisted those requests. When they finally relented on having a cap on rents in this State, they decided to tie it to the rate of inflation. Of course, inflation is now practically at 3%, negating the action they took. Again, this was an action that was too little, too late and with no urgency at all.

I welcome this Bill from Sinn Féin. It is another example of where Fianna Fáil launch a shiny, glossy brochure on housing to a fanfare and headlines which scream that in future, there will be 10% set aside by developers for social homes and 10% for affordable ones. Then they create a massive loophole in that legislation, which will give exemptions to those who bought that land in the past five years and look to have planning permission in the next five years. It was an incredible loophole introduced by the Government, one that will cost the State about 10,000 homes and one that could only have been designed by a political party which sees no urgency to the development and building of homes in this country. Sometimes I ask myself if Fianna Fáil is the political wing of the construction industry or is it representing the people who are calling my office and offices right through the country and who are desperately seeking a resolution of the housing crisis? I ask for the Government to not only accept this Bill and not let it die in the dust but to take it and ensure it is fully implemented. It should rush it through the Dáil in order that we do not have this ludicrous situation whereby practically anything purchased in the last five years will be exempt from those provisions in the future.

8:15 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the excellent Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing, Deputy Ó Broin, for highlighting this. In saying that, I do not want to give the impression I would give Sinn Féin a blank cheque of support. While I very much appreciate Sinn Féin's fighting on and dedication to the housing problem we have, I would never be two-faced about anything and I have concerns about some aspects of what Sinn Féin is proposing because I am afraid it will hunt and put out people involved in the housing sector.

Why do I say that? It is not just Sinn Féin. For instance look at the taxation levied on people who provide housing in the private sector. The fact is that €1,000 in rent becomes €480 because €520 of that goes on tax. When I see houses being sold out of the private sector, I am fearful this will lead to situations whereby there is less housing available to the people who need to rent. Renting is not a long-term solution. I would like to see it used as a short-term solution and that the State would provide more and more housing. That is the answer.

I acknowledge that Sinn Féin recognises there is a place for the private sector but we want more to be provided by the State. One thing we should be looking at - and for God's sake why can we not do it? - is the possibility that local people could have a site made available by an aunt, an uncle or a parent. It would not necessarily be that such people were that son or daughter of the farmer who would be going to work on the farm but they could be from the farm. What is wrong with such people living on that farm if they have an affordable site and if they have the wherewithal to build a house on their own land? We should be trying to encourage every type of housing. Local authorities in the past built a thing called a single rural cottage. They are as scarce as hen's teeth now. In the county where I am from, John O'Donoghue from Farranfore was an excellent overseer in the housing department who built hundreds of local authority houses for people who are happily living in those houses today. Where has that option gone? It has gone from our system. Those houses were built for people in rural areas and went down from generation to generation. They started off as council houses that people were then able to buy. Was that not brilliant? That is what we want.

We have to fight this issue. I was only thinking this today because I met numerous cases yesterday of people who are living in houses they are renting. They are being told the rent will go up to €1,500 or €2,000 a month. That is not real money. That is insane money for anybody to have to pay on rent. Even with a rent support - whether it is housing assistance payment, HAP, or any other type of support - that is not real. That type of money is funny money. No house should be at that price; that is just wrong. We have to have affordable rents but at the same time, you should not put out the people who are providing that. One thing that will be thrown at me is that I did not declare an interest. I have an interest in this but all that shows is that I know what I am talking about.

8:25 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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If Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has an interest, then I have an interest too, since we are supposed to be brothers. I am very concerned about the housing situation and have become even more so as the days have gone on since the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, put his Bill, which I voted for, through the Dáil. I have serious concerns about this new programme because I think there is only one way to build houses or to get houses built. That is to give the money to the local authorities, buy the sites and build the houses, full stop. I do not think this thing of 20% or 10% will ever materialise. If a developer sells one side of his site for housing at €600,000, how will he get people to buy those houses if the local authorities can buy them for €250,000 or whatever? I cannot see that working. Rents have been and still are going up.

I am not taking the side of the landlords but it is affecting the renters. However, everyone including the Minister must recognise, I have said it in here several times previously, the State is getting 51% out of the rent. If the rent is €800 or €1,000, the landlord gets only half of that. With all this talk, with all the money the Government has for housing and all it wants to do about housing, surely the Government could reduce tax on the rent and that would help. It could then ensure that the landlords reduced the rent similarly to the people who are renting. Carbon tax and all the other taxes are putting people and parents under all kinds of punishment and under pressure. They are feeling every penny that they have to pay out. There is now a serious problem with planning permission in our county. Things have happened in recent days and planning permission has been refused. It looks to be the intention of the site suitability assessments to refuse every planning permission that will come in to the local authority. People have been on the waiting lists for ten to 12 years in Killarney. Rents are expensive there, as they are in Kenmare and Dingle.

As for the Bill brought in by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I am grateful to him because I appreciate any man who tries anything. That is why I voted for the Bill. However, so much of what is in the Bill depends on private house builders and on bigger developers to build these houses. If the Government is serious about it, it must put money into it themselves. Before any block is put into the ground, VAT and levies are denying small builders, and even big builders, the opportunity to build houses.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I will be supporting this Bill and I welcome it today. We have been in this House speaking about social housing, council housing and whatever else we used to call it since I was elected to the Dáil in 2016 and before that, to the council in 2014.

To be honest, nothing has progressed but it has got worse and worse. An unmerciful influx of people have been coming into my office every weekend, and presumably into the offices of every other Deputy here, pleading with me to get them council houses. Some of them have been on the council housing list for ten or 12 years. More are, just like the fellow said, trying to get off the ground. In every way, shape and form, we will do everything in our control to make sure they will never progress. A young couple that is under-earning, as such, or that is on a small income but is happy to have a go at buying a house cannot get a mortgage and cannot get off the ground at all. As for those who have a few quid put together and who would do their best to build at home on the family farm, every obstruction is put before them to make sure that this does not happen. It is an appalling situation.

I heard a Senator in west Cork recently say there is no issue with planning. Good God almighty, does he have anyone coming to his office? The whole place is plagued with planning crises. We have a planning crisis at the moment. Genuine applicants are refused for every - I do not want use language in the Dáil - but some people would say for "kiss my ass" reasons. These are every other reason, other than what should be put before them, which is to co-operate with them and to make sure that the structure is right. Every other reason is put before them to make sure that it does not happen. This is pushing everybody towards social housing. Everyone is moving towards council housing and social housing and the country cannot cope with that. There are opportunities out there. There are opportunities in beautiful towns and villages in rural Ireland where they have a lot to offer. I know quite a lot of them in west Cork. They are fantastic places to live. They have great teachers, schools and community centres. There would be opportunities in those towns and villages, were grants given to the people who own some of those houses or who live over the shop, to do up the premises. There should be a tax incentive afterwards to let their premises. That is what we need to be looking at. People and the Government need to look towards that but the Government is not looking doing so. As I said earlier, everybody is looking for a new house on a site but the Government is not able to cope with that demand. Moreover, it will never be able to cope with that demand because the demand is getting worse.

I have great sympathy, it was mentioned here earlier, about students and accommodation. People from all over west Cork cannot get accommodation anywhere in Cork city. We are very lucky to have a private bus company, West Cork Connect, which last week started to run several times a day from Bantry. It travels to Cork through Drimoleague, Dunmanway and Ballineen. There is a Skibbereen run to Cork which travels through Leap, Rosscarbery, Clonakilty, Ballinascarthy, Bandon and Innishannon. That happens several times a day. A private individual is doing that type of run because children cannot get accommodation in Cork city. People in my own constituency in west Cork approached me over the weekend who are looking for accommodation in Galway, Limerick and Dublin. I cannot give them any answer, unfortunately. They have no accommodation. It is unfortunate that we have a situation whereby young people who want to go to college in Cork cannot find accommodation. If it were not for the bus company, West Cork Connect, they would be stranded and left without education because of the collapse of the system in this country. We have the social housing crisis, we have the student crisis and we will come back in 12 months' time to talk about the same things again because nothing is happening. There is no thinking. The Ministers are all escaped of thought. They must wake up to the fact that there are properties in rural Ireland that could be turned around. Were tax incentives or grants given, they could get moving on the issue and try to resolve the situation.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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Twenty years ago, the then Fianna Fáil Minister with responsibility for housing, Noel Dempsey, introduced the Part V requirement, set at 20% of new developments, to be set aside for purchase by local authorities for council housing.

They were to be purchased at existing use value. However, after lobbying by developers and the construction industry, no doubt involving the Galway tent and brown envelopes, this figure was reduced to 10%. Mr. Dempsey's successor as housing Minister nearly tore the Part V requirement to pieces by allowing developers to pay local authorities rather than provide housing. The whole thing was a disaster.

The current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, stated clearly earlier this year that he wanted to return to a figure of 20%, made up of 10% social housing and 10% affordable to buy. That would have meant up to 6,000 new-build units per year if developers hit the new-build target of 30,000 set out in the Housing for All plan. The benefit of Part V is that it could create mixed-tenure communities. However, lobbying by developers and the construction industry has, in effect, succeeded in watering down the requirement to 10%. This will be the effect of the complicated Part V arrangements in Housing for All arising from the concessions made to developers who either owned or had planning permission on sites. Part V requirements will not become effective until 2026, five years from now. If the 20% requirement had been in place for the past 20 years, alongside a programme of public housebuilding by the local authorities, we would not have the crisis we now face. Another five years will be added to the lost 20 years.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are very good at grandiose plans but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, developers rule. As I and others have stated, Part V at 20% and with existing use value will not solve the crisis on its own but would help alongside Government-led programme using existing State-owned land to build 100,000 units in a mix of traditional council housing, cost rental and genuinely affordable homes.

I support this Bill put forward by Deputy Ó Broin. It deals with the issue very succinctly. I welcome that the Government is accepting the legislation but it should be implemented because it is crucial. The bit of history we heard earlier about developers challenging the previous Part V requirements should open up debate on Committee Stage about whether the Minister's decision to reduce the requirement to 10% again is really necessary. I urge the Government to accept the Bill in its entirety.

8:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I fully support the Bill and thank Sinn Féin, particularly Deputy Ó Broin, for bringing it forward. It sets out to close a loophole but that does not fully capture what has happened, with certain builders being able to avoid the 20% obligation right up to 2026 if they have bought land in the past five years and have planning permission that covers them up to 2026. As a previous speaker noted, this could mean these developers being excluded from the 20% obligation up to 2030.

I will return to the overall area of housing. I was first elected in February 2016, as were many other Deputies. Since that time, I have seen four housing Ministers, beginning with Deputy Kelly, then the Minister, Deputy Coveney, the former Deputy, Eoghan Murphy, and now the current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. During that time I have seen two major policy documents, the first of which was Rebuilding Ireland, which had the shape of the developers and showed we had learned absolutely nothing from the financial crash, climate problems and, more recently, Covid. We simply cannot continue on the way we are going. Here we are tonight with another little piece of the jigsaw. I have seen various pieces of the jigsaw. Later this evening, I will ask a question about a review of the help-to-buy scheme. Interestingly, I, as an Independent Deputy, am asking if it is intended to phase out the scheme given the problems with it, whereas a Fianna Fáil Deputy is asking a question about keeping it going. There is a very interesting review from the Department of Finance on the scheme.

The problem is that we are dealing with homes as a commodity, something to be traded on the market. Opposition Deputies have repeatedly come forward with good ideas. We have appealed to successive Governments to declare an emergency and to be fully involved in the provision of homes for our people. That is the most basic requirement for a democracy and we have utterly failed to meet it. We have continuously misused language in the guise of social housing and cost-rental schemes. These are little pieces without an overall recognition.

Notwithstanding its very good analysis, the review by the Department of Finance utterly fails to attribute blame or consequences to the various policies that have allowed free rein to the market and created the housing crisis. The crisis did not happen by itself. A Labour Party Deputy earlier found fault with one of the speakers for not placing in context the change made by the Labour Party in 2015 when the Part V requirement was reduced from 20% to 10%. He said there were no shortage of affordable homes in 2015 and no shortage of social housing. That is complete revisionism. I was a councillor in Galway from 1999 to 2016 and the crisis started long before 2015. We stopped constructing social and public housing in 2009. No more houses were constructed afterwards. Significantly, in 2015 when the Labour Party, with Fine Gael, changed the 20% requirement to 10%, it was connected with the new housing assistance payment, HAP. People were removed from the housing waiting list if they were in receipt of HAP and told they were adequately housed. That scheme is now costing the taxpayer €1 billion per year. That is bad enough but what is worse is that the HAP is artificially keeping prices high.

There are some good things in the new policy but overall we are still reliant on the market. If there is any doubt, I will quote from the Minister’s foreword to Housing for All. He mentions the squeezed middle at least four times in two and a half pages but fails to define who makes up the squeezed middle. Let us hear who they are. They are "people who work hard and play by the rules but seem to have nothing to show for it at the end of the day." That is who this plan is for.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, in defending the Government position spoke of expectation of a 10% Part V contribution and the need to be fair and proportionate. The whole idea of legitimate expectation is not legitimate, especially when it comes to the Government bringing in necessary legislation, and the Supreme Court upheld that position.

I remember a case in which the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, backed by the European Commission, refused to accept the principle of legitimate expectation when it came to farmers being unable to access a scheme due to retrospective changes to a previous scheme. If legitimate expectation does not hold for farmers, why should it hold for developers?

Like many colleagues, I am inundated with constituents seeking social housing. We all know the absolute need to increase supply. Recently, a couple, both aged over 70 years, found themselves living with a sibling. They have no home. They bought their own home but because of job losses in the crash, it was repossessed. There was not a lot of legitimate expectation there. The couple rented privately for many years but their landlord sold their home and now they live with a family member. They applied to Sligo County Council for social housing but they cannot even get on the list because their combined income is €31,000 and the income cap for a couple to access social housing is €26,250. They cannot buy, rents are crazy and they cannot access HAP. They are in no man's land. This example fully illustrates the need for a massive increase in social housing and an increase in the income cap to access the scheme. I support this Bill and thank Deputy Ó Broin for bringing it forward.

8:45 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions. A few weeks ago the Government launched Housing For All, the most extensive and ambitious action plan for the delivery of social and affordable housing in the history of the State. Housing For All brings a coherent and consistent whole-of-government approach to housing policy to ensure the delivery of housing supply sufficient to meet demand at a price level that is affordable, accessible and sustainable. There is, however, no quick fix to the current challenges. Creating a sustainable housing system is complex but we have a radical plan in Housing For All, which is a fully financed plan to levels we have never seen before. Backed up by an unprecedented State commitment in excess of €4 billion per annum, more than 300,000 new homes will be built by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes, and 18,000 cost rental homes. It is the largest State-led building programme in our history.

The recent amendments made to Part V of the Planning and Development Act, via the Affordable Housing Act 2021, will contribute to the achievement of these ambitious targets. Not alone do the Part V amendments reintroduce an affordable homes requirement to each new development, they also introduce for the first time the use of some of the increased Part V contribution for the provision of cost rental housing.

The urgent and immediate delivery of homes for our people is critical. Never before has the housing crisis in Ireland been so acute. The crisis has, of course, been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that has impacted on all of our lives with the cessation of construction activity for an extended period. With this activity now resumed and rapidly ramping up, we need to maintain its momentum and translate that into the delivery of actual housing units.

I welcome the support given by Sinn Féin and other parties to the Affordable Housing Act that introduced these measures in July. I also welcome the opportunity to discuss these provisions and to consider any potential improvements that will help to deliver homes. The Government is allowing this Bill to proceed to pre-legislative scrutiny to facilitate further detailed analysis with relevant stakeholders. There are serious concerns with the Bill, as have been addressed, that I will now outline before the House.

The contribution required under Part V is now 20% for permissions granted in respect of land purchased before September 2015 and since 1 August 2021. For that intervening period, developers would have had an expectation of a Part V contribution that would be no more than 10% when deciding the price to pay for the land. It is only for the cohort who purchased their land in that period and only if they have obtained planning permission before 31 July 2026 that the Part V obligation will be at 10% currently.

Because the transitional arrangement is time limited, as mentioned earlier, this aims to encourage developers who purchased land in the September 2015 to July 2021 period to proceed with their developments in the near term. As a result, we hope and expect to see an increase in the level of applications to local authorities for planning permission to build residential developments on land that was purchased in the past six years.

The Part V amendments made, including the transitional arrangements in question, are in line with the recommendations made by the Housing Agency to deliver on the Government's commitment to expand Part V to encompass affordable purchase and cost rental units and to increase its use for social housing provision where the need exists in an area.

It is important to clarify that this is not the outcome of some sweetheart deal between the Government and construction industry, as some would have us believe. Nothing could be further from the truth. A newspaper article last Sunday alleged that the decision to provide transitional provisions was made on foot of lobbying from developers. This is absolutely incorrect. The submissions on the Housing For All plan were in fact received after the Government had already agreed the content of the Part V changes, including the transitional provisions, and therefore could not have had any impact on the decision of the Minister. It was the clear and unambiguous advice of the Housing Agency and of the officials within the Department that if an increased Part V requirement was to be introduced, transitional provisions should be provided in respect of land purchased when the obligation was 10% before the increase was announced. The agency advised that to apply the increased percentage to land already in the ownership of developers would potentially be of serious concern to the housing construction sector. Land purchased factoring in Part V at 10% would see a reduced development value that could impact on the ability to access development finance. This would mean potentially fewer houses being built at a time when greater output is so badly needed. For those developments on land that was purchased in the expectation of a 10% Part V contribution that could still proceed, the increased percentage could have a knock-on effect on the prices for the buyers of these homes. In the face of the price of homes rising rapidly, the Government was rightly careful to weigh all of the potential ramifications of increasing the contribution percentage. The advice of the agency and the various options put forward by it in respect of potential transitional provisions was submitted to the Minister and the Department officials. They also supported the need for transitional provisions and, having regard to the advice of the agency, the need to stimulate supply and the need to avoid any passing on of costs to the consumer by way of rising house prices.

The five-year transitional period that the Bill seeks to abolish has the advantage of being a carrot-and-stick approach that will encourage development and it sits well with the added disincentive of a new tax on vacant residential land, as outlined in Housing For All, which seeks to prevent land hoarding.

The Government understands, however, that the Bill is very well intentioned. As we want to see more affordable housing delivered, we will not oppose this legislation. We will keep the Part V provisions under review for further economic analysis and scrutiny. Any changes to Part V have to deliver more units. The critical question is whether the change proposed by this Bill is likely to result in greater or less housing supply generally and more or fewer social and affordable houses. Pre-legislative scrutiny will offer the chance to investigate this further.

I will now refer to one or two of the contributions in this debate. I understand Deputy Nash stated that Part 6 of the Affordable Homes Act had not been commenced but it was commenced on 3 September. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, in framing this narrative that so many try to frame about a sweetheart deal, suggested that documents were released by the Department under freedom of information provisions. This also is incorrect. All of the submissions for Housing For All were published on the Department website last Friday. In the context of adding substance to this debate, using one-line rhetoric suggesting a "sweetheart deal" is not borne out by fact, which I touched on in my speech about the decision on Part V already having been made before the submissions closed, which in effect was two weeks prior to that. We can again see that the narrative of using that terminology will not solve the housing crisis. I meet highly vulnerable people queueing up at my clinic week on week looking for affordable housing and social housing. Substantive comments add to that debate but comments like "sweetheart deal" undermine it. I believe that every Deputy in this House is coming with the best of intentions in trying to resolve this issue, which is the biggest challenge of our time and for the Government. Housing For All seeks to do that. With that in mind, we are absolutely clear on reviewing this Part V arrangement, going to the committee to seek pre-legislative scrutiny, and stress-testing the proposals to show that they will deliver more affordable and social homes. That is why we were all elected to this House.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I was watching "Reeling in the Years" during the week. For some of us of a certain age it helps to jog our memory. The year in question was 1966, which was a momentous year. It was the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Nelson's Pillar was blown up. There was also a segment in the programme where a young Cathal O'Shannon spoke about the difficulties young couples were finding in buying affordable housing.

They were talking in terms of thousands of pounds that people had to come up with at that time. The difference between then and now is that even when one goes back to the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, a family on a single income could afford to buy a home. Unfortunately, I can trace it back to a certain period, I was a Member of the Dáil during that time, when we moved away from the idea of the collective and towards that of the individual. That is when the changes started to happen and people were squeezed out of the market. It was about introducing greed and that people would not be able to afford their own homes.

We are in the grip of a housing crisis and we cannot afford to waste any opportunity to get families out of homelessness and into secure accommodation. It would be wrong to allow any chance for thousands of social and affordable homes to come on to the market in order that big developers can line their pockets just a little more. Only by providing social and affordable housing can we ever stand a chance of reducing homelessness in country. An ESRI report published only in the pastweek showed that lone parents, migrants, people with disabilities, Travellers, single and younger people all struggle to source funding for housing and are depending on an expensive rental market to meet their housing needs.

The Government’s only idea was to bring in a shared equity scheme, which will only push the cost of houses higher still. This Government refuses to bring in a vacant property tax, to build social housing or to bring in rent freezes. Housing for All is a reheated version of past Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policies that has managed to be even less ambitious than those other plans the Government failed to deliver on.

Until the Government commits to ramping up capital investment in social and genuinely affordable homes, the most vulnerable in our society will continue to struggle. I do not want people who may be watching “Reeling in the Years” in years to come to say we had the same parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, making the same mistakes with people still being excluded from the party, which is why we need to act now.

8:55 pm

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing forward this Bill here. I also acknowledge the Government is not opposing it. We have a very significant affordability issue. This is something we are all aware of and sometimes, you feel as though you are repeating yourself, but things are not changing in this regard. In the past few days, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, published its residential property price index for July 2021. Houses in the west of Ireland have increased by 9.1% year-on-year. Things are not changing. While we may know there is a huge affordability crisis, nothing is changing in this regard. Moreover, apartments outside of Dublin have increased in price by 14.6%. Just outside my estate of Mervue in Galway city, there is an apartment block with more than 300 apartments being built to rent. Locals are absolutely outraged by this. They feel that they, their children and grandchildren will never be able to afford to live in Galway city in the Mervue area. They are also very concerned about the impact that this is having in building communities. Mervue is a proud community and there is a traditionally strong community spirit in that area. They feel that this build-to-rent project with which they are not pleased is going against this community spirit, as well as continuing to lock their children and grandchildren out of homeownership. The fact of unaffordability in Galway city has reached a complete crisis point. We know that the HAP limits are far too low to be able to rent in Galway city. Just today, a person who approached my office said he cannot get a place within HAP limits in Galway city, he cannot drive and has health issues and as a result, he has had to go into homeless accommodation. This is not something that is unusual and is not a once-off but is a reality for people in Galway city.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for his response.

First, I find it hard to believe that the reason that the Government is not opposing this Bill is because it hopes to see it receiving pre-legislative scrutiny in a committee. There is a long list of Opposition Bills that have passed Second Stage in the previous Dáil and in this Dáil and Government Members so far, despite repeated requests by Opposition Members, have yet to table any of that legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny. I am hoping that I will be proved wrong in this case but I suspect in a few months' time that this will not be the case.

The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is also correct in stating there is no quick fix but his party has been in government for ten years. Bad housing policy is the cause of this crisis. If it continues the same failed housing policies in the present and into the future, then there will be no fix whatsoever.

As for the actual substance of what we have in front of us, we have learned a couple of very interesting things today. The first is that although the Housing Agency provided its review of Part V to the Department in December of last year, no opportunity was afforded to members of the Oireachtas housing committee to consider any of those matters, not even to consider the legislation itself, because of the way it was introduced. That begs a range of questions.

What is also interesting is the very carefully worded speech by the officials from the Department. I always like comparing the carefully worded speeches by officials with what Ministers often say to the press. This confirms some of the concerns that I had at the start. The particular recommendation that the Government introduced in the legislation was not in and of itself strongly recommended by the Housing Agency but transitional arrangements were. There is a logic to that.

It also confirms that more than one option was provided by the Housing Agency and it would be very helpful if the Government simply published both the Housing Agency’s report and any correspondence between Department officials and the Housing Agency in respect of earlier drafts in order that we can tease through all of that.

I would be particularly interested to know, for example, because it is suggested in the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan’s remarks, whether the Housing Agency really wanted to see a transitional arrangement similar to that contained the original Act, which was to move immediately to 20% but compensate landowners who were affected by clear changes in the compensation they would get. That would have been a much more sensible thing to do. Nobody would have been out of pocket. No homeowner would have bought properties at a higher price and we would have got the 20%.

Even if the Government thinks that the transitional arrangement proposed by it is a sensible idea, why five years? That does not at all seem like a carrot and stick and it is certainly a very large carrot and a very tiny twig. Why not a year or two years? On what basis was a five-year transitional arrangement arrived at? I take the Minister of State at his word that the decision on the Part V exemptions was made before the submissions from various lobbyists on the Government’s housing plan, but is the Government suggesting that none of those same organisations did not engage either with politicians or with officials or with the Housing Agency during the review or in the period between December, when the review was conducted, and whatever month the decision was made. Again, we can save ourselves a great deal of trouble in freedom of information, FOI, requests if the Government releases all of that information in order that we can assess and judge it for what it is worth.

The core problem here, however, is that we were told Part V was going to increase to 20% in order that more affordable homes could be delivered as a matter of urgency. This exemption - there is no surprise why developers were so keen to get it - essentially means that we are not going to move to an additional 10% of Part V affordable housing for many years. It is true that were I to buy land next year or the year after I would be captured but in real terms, we know how the development cycle works. That means that those Members who have suggested that in real terms, 20% social and affordable housing is unlikely to be delivered until closer to 2030 are probably not far wrong.

For me, the tragedy is that there are not 36,000 generally affordable homes to purchase in the Government’s housing plan because a very significant number of those homes are actually unaffordable open-market-price private homes purchased with a questionable and controversial shared equity loan scheme. We can argue the merits or otherwise of that scheme but those homes are not affordable, which is why people have to be given up to €100,000 of extra debt, albeit with a different interest regime.

The number, therefore, of actual affordable homes that will be delivered under the new plan, particularly in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, will be embarrassingly low. That is why this exemption is a sweetheart deal to developers who are benefiting at the public’s expense. That is why it was the wrong thing to do and should be revisited and I look forward to the Minister of State convincing his colleagues and our committee to bring it to pre-legislative scrutiny as a matter of urgency. I suspect that that will not happen and that this Bill will gather dust, like so many other Opposition Bills that have passed through Second Stage, but we will pursue it because we believe ultimately that we need more affordable homes now and not at some distant point into the future.

Question put and declared carried.