Tuesday, 21 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Finance if he will introduce a vacant property tax in the context of budget 2022; if so, the current status of those plans; the date by which it will be introduced; and if he will expedite those plans in the context of the housing emergency. [44866/21]
We all know the State and its people are in the grip of a housing emergency and there is a lack of genuine affordable homes. We have rip-off rents that continue to squeeze incomes and harm people's lives. There are policies that could change the dynamic and provide solutions to people who need them. The Government's Housing for All plan kicked the can down the road when it comes to the vacant property tax. I call on the Minister to inform the Dáil why this measure is being delayed. Will he consider expediting it and introducing it in light of the escalating housing crisis that is right across the State now, not just confined to the capital city?
I am of course aware of the huge challenges we have in providing affordable homes, providing homes for those who need them most and the great challenge of increasing rents. That is why I am absolutely committed to delivering the measures that are outlined in Housing for All. There is no delay whatsoever to those commitments. I am committed to the introduction of such a tax. Before I look at what that tax will be and what its structure will be, it is important to gain further information about the level of vacancy we have in our country, the duration of those vacancies and the reasons for them. That information is going to be collected as part of the local property tax revaluation that is under way. That information will be collected in November. I expect it will be shared with me soon after that and at that point, when I have the evidence that I need to design what will be an important and fundamental tax, I will act. The timings and the commitment that I have given in Housing for All will be honoured.
That is the problem; the Housing for All plan does not actually deal with the urgency of the crisis that we have. In June 2017, my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, called on the Minister to introduce a vacant home tax. Time went on and on and house prices became unaffordable. Rents are going through the roof and families are pressed in terms of their housing needs, and more time went on. What is the Minister planning? The reality is, and it has to be called out, that more time will go on.
The Department of Finance gave the housing committee a plan last week that stated the data will be collected and analysed in quarter 2 of 2022. What is the reason for the delay? Will the Minister make a commitment, as it was not provided in the report given by the Department to the housing committee, to a vacant property tax or is it something he is still considering? Will he commit to that? The situation is contained in the Department's report. Some 92,000 houses, 4.5% of homes, lay vacant in June of this year according to statistics from the GeoDirectory given to the housing committee by the Minister's Department. That is a national scandal on his watch. Time will go on. House prices will go through the roof. Rents are still going up. Meanwhile, more time will go on.
Time will be used to ensure that when I make a decision on the introduction of this tax, it will be a tax that is effective and plays the role I want it to play which is the conversion of vacant properties into homes that families and those who need housing will use. Bringing in such a measure on the use of property is something I need to get right. It needs to be effective and must be based on evidence. The time we are talking about is only that which is needed to collect information on the number of properties, how long they have been vacant and why they are vacant. That is information which is needed in order to get the design of this tax correct. Throughout the period referred to by Deputy Doherty, I accept the housing needs of too many people have not been met in the way they want or I want. It is also the period in which the number of homes built in our country has increased year-on-year. I want it to increase further and will play my role in making that happen.
Unfortunately, the Minister has played a role in this. He has incentivised the vultures and the speculators. We saw it in the debate earlier on about the core part of Housing for All where developers can avoid the provision of 20% social and affordable homes, and that is part of the Minister's plan. Therefore, he has, unfortunately, had an influence. Where he has not had an influence is in the four years after we called for a vacant property tax. He still has not introduced it. The Minister wants to know the location and size of every vacant home in the State, and the length of time for which it has been empty, before he will even consider a tax. Perhaps he will outline the broad view of what he is thinking. What size should be taxed? How long does he think a property should be vacant? Does he think it should just be in urban areas or will it be across the country, because there is a housing emergency throughout the State or has he none of that thought out after four years of us asking for a vacant property tax?
I will continue with the work that is under way because, of course, I am aware of the need to get more homes built and to turn vacant properties into family homes. That is the reason we have Housing for All, in which there are record levels of investment. It is also the reason that year-on-year, during the last Government, more money was made available-----