Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Housing for All: Statements
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the House today about Housing for All. This Government and I are keenly aware of the housing challenges facing people right across this island. We know that the impact of the housing crisis is felt in every family right across our country. It ranges from hard-pressed tenants stuck in a rent trap and wondering if they will ever own their own home to those at the sharpest edge of the crisis, who will spend tonight sleeping in emergency accommodation, or worse, sleeping rough on one of our city streets. To tackle the roots of the crisis, our central goal in Housing for All, as set out in the programme for Government, is:
Everyone in the State should have access to a home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and in the right place, offering a high quality of life.
This plan will work. It will give the squeezed middle starting out in life a real chance to buy their own home. It will give a helping hand to those struggling to make ends meet. It will work towards ending homelessness by 2030. It will help to ensure vibrant cities and breathe fresh life into our towns, villages and rural communities. Most importantly, it will get our country back building homes. Every player, whether it is a State body or in the private sector, has a part to play in solving the housing problem. Any long-term solution needs the entire system pulling in the same direction to a common goal: more, better houses and apartments at affordable prices to buy or rent. It is only by taking measures across all aspects of our housing system that we can begin to improve the situation for our citizens right across the board.
There is no panacea to the housing question, as anyone with a genuine interest in housing knows. We are witnessing the scale of the housing crisis compounded by the pandemic across the world, and not just here in Ireland. House prices are surging globally in the biggest international property boom in two decades as the Covid-19 squeeze has hit supply and people look for new homes. House price growth across the OECD is running at 9.4%, similar to Ireland. I believe we need a coherent, stable and sensible approach to drive on supply and tackle the root of the problem. Housing for All sets out that approach and takes a genuine whole-of-government approach to get to grips with this crisis and to improve the lives of all our people. We recognise the impact of the crisis and the scale of the challenge, and we are committed to solving it. Housing is the number one priority for this Government.
Is í tithíocht an phríomh-eisiúint in Éirinn inniu. Tuigeann an Rialtas é sin. Ní mór dúinn feabhsú, ar mhaithe lenár ndaoine, agus táimid in ann é a dhéanamh. Is é seo an plean tithíochta is tábhachtaí inniu. Táimid ag infheistiú níos mó airgid ná riamh ar son ár ndaoine; beagnach €50 billiún sna cúig bliana amach romhainn. Cuirfimid úinéireacht tí i lár an bheartais chun tithíocht a cheannach ar phraghas réasúnta agus, don chéad uair, tithíocht a fháil ar cíos ar phraghas réasúnta freisin. Feicfimid níos mó tithíochta sóisialta tógtha ná riamh. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh a dtithe féin ag daoine. Oibreoidh an plean seo.
Delivery is the key to the plan and it is important, from the outset of these statements, to set out how we aim to achieve it. It will be overseen and directed at the highest level through the Cabinet committee on housing, chaired by the Taoiseach, and through the Secretary General delivery group. There will also be dedicated workstreams, led by the relevant Secretaries General, on investment, industry capability and public service delivery. These workstreams are tasked with drilling down into the priority actions to identify any blockages, take appropriate action and ensure a rigorous monitoring system is put in place to ensure the delivery we need.
Quarterly progress reports will be submitted to the Cabinet committee and to the Government setting out performance against the targets and actions set out in the plan, prepared by a dedicated unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, assisted by the programme management office within my own Department. To keep us on track, the actions in Housing for All will be updated on an annual basis, including timelines, to sustain momentum on delivery during the lifetime of the plan.
Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State. It sets out, over four pathways, a series of bold actions that rise to the challenge we face. Through pathway 1, it will support home ownership and increase affordability. Pathway 2 will deal with eradicating homelessness, increasing social housing delivery and supporting social inclusion. Pathway 3 is about increasing new housing supply across the board, and importantly, pathway 4 will address vacancy and efficient use of existing stock.
Crucially, however, this plan is backed by historic levels of investment, with in excess of €20 billion available through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, over the next five years alone. This amounts to over €4 billion in capital per annum. It is the first time we have had a multi-annual plan such as this fully funded. This will provide the sector with the stability and certainty it needs.
Over 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, eclipsing even the programmes of de Valera in the 1930s. Of course, the simplicity of that statement belies the complexity of executing the plan. I do not underestimate the challenge ahead but I do believe Housing for All will transform our housing system by removing the constraints that lead to delays and blockages in the provision of quality, affordable housing to buy or rent.
Housing for All puts forward a new vision that places homeownership back in the hands of ordinary working people. The first home scheme will see people buy their home with the help of the Government by bridging the gap between the finance they have and the cost of the home they want. The local authority-led affordable purchase scheme will see homes at an average of €250,000 right across the country. A reformed local authority home loan will see more single people eligible for State-backed mortgages, with much-improved terms. I have already implemented a reduction of the mortgage interest rate by 0.25% for new borrowers under the existing Rebuilding Ireland home loan, RIHL. This lower rate will also apply to loans issued under the reformed local authority home loan.
The affordability measures provided for in this plan will set us on a path to reversing the current trend, which has seen homeownership rates fall to historic lows. I believe in homeownership. Housing for All supports it. It is an honest and just aspiration that should be and is supported by the State. It is supported in this plan.
I recognise that it is cheaper to buy a home than to rent one in several Irish cities. That is how broken our system is right now. Affordability is increasingly challenging for renters who aspire to purchase and who must save a significant deposit while simultaneously paying relatively high rents.
Housing for All lays the foundation for an entirely new housing tenure in Ireland, cost rental, which will be a game changer for rent affordability. Some 10,000 new cost rental homes will be delivered in the period to 2026, with at least 18,000 in total over the course of the plan. The LDA will have a key role in delivery, with targets of rents being at least 25% below market level. The delivery of cost rental at scale will have a stabilising effect on the wider rental market. We have started this already. Our first cost rental tenants are in their homes now.
Leasing is being phased out, and we are empowering local authorities to get back building again. With their approved housing body, AHB, partners, they will deliver an average of 10,000 social homes each year. Local authorities are being funded to acquire land so that they can deliver social and affordable homes at scale. I have already made changes to the reimbursement process for our local authorities. Meath County Council was the first to avail of the new procedural change.
I have assured local authority chief executives and directors of services at the recent housing summits that I hosted that the resources and supports they need, both human and financial, will be provided, particularly to bolster their housing and planning teams to deliver on this ambitious programme.
To ensure a sufficient supply of homes across the country, each local authority has been given housing supply targets. These, together with updated planning guidance, will ensure sufficient land is zoned for housing. The Government will support this by providing additional State lands to the LDA, capable of delivering a further 15,000 homes under Housing for All. In addition, Housing for All tasks the LDA, through Project Tosaigh, with intervening in slow or stalled developments on non-State lands, through an open and transparent process designed to ascertain the potential for it to enter into strategic partnerships with landowners to unlock and accelerate the delivery of affordable homes.
In tandem with these measures to incentivise the bringing forward of supply, there is a need to balance this with penalties for non-activation of sites. In this regard, the Minister for Finance will bring forward a new tax to activate vacant land for residential purposes. This will replace the current vacant site levy. I am cognisant that the planning system must be reformed to ensure certainty and stability for those providing housing in Ireland.
Under Housing for All, the strategic housing development process will be replaced – I am winding it up early – with new planning arrangements for large-scale residential developments. Planning arrangements will go back to the local authorities. Such reforms will make decision-making on these developments more efficient.
The plan also includes modern Kenny report-style powers to ensure the State gets a fairer share of the increase in the value of land resulting from rezoning decisions, and that the community benefits as a result. This will reduce the speculative value of land, which is badly needed. The judicial review process will also be reformed, and planning legislation will be reviewed to ensure the planning system is plan led, has greater public acceptance and reflects the needs of existing and new populations.
In the shorter term, I want to see non-activated planning permissions activated where possible. The estimated "uncommenced" figure in Dublin is around 40,000, representing about four years' housing supply in the capital. That is untenable. I am establishing the Croí Cónaithe cities fund to tackle the affordability and viability barriers to stimulate such activation for apartment developments of four floors or more, above certain densities. These apartments will be for sale to owner-occupiers in our cities at lower price points.
Rural communities will be given greater certainty over building homes in their areas. The measures are targeted, radical and necessary to respond to the challenges we have.
At a time of high housing need, when people are homeless and living in unsuitable accommodation, it is vital that existing vacant homes be brought back into productive use. Housing for All sets out several key actions in this regard, including the establishment of the Croí Cónaithe towns fund for servicing sites to attract people to build their own homes in towns and villages and also to refurbish vacant properties in regional towns and villages. The Government is firmly committed to a town-centre-first approach, which will build upon the ambition set out in Our Rural Future, to support the regeneration, repopulation and development of rural towns and villages across the country. While programmes such as the urban regeneration development fund, URDF, and the rural regeneration development fund, RRDF, are primarily intended to support wider town regeneration, they also facilitate the optimal use and reuse of existing properties.
Only yesterday I was in Navan visiting the Flower Hill quarter, which has received funding just short of €8 million to regenerate it. The funding is part of the €1.3 billion the Government is investing in regional towns and cities, in addition to inner-city Dublin, to generate growth and to bring about redevelopment and regeneration. In this regard, Housing for All commits that further calls for the urban and rural regeneration and development funds will include specific criteria to encourage activation, particularly in respect of vacant properties, and bring stock back into use. This funding will be integrated with proposals on retrofitting and existing supports, such as the Better Energy Homes grant, to ensure the architectural heritage of towns is preserved.
I will also review and extend regulations that exempt certain vacant property premises, such as over-the-shop-type spaces, from requiring planning permission for a change of use for residential purposes right up to 2025. Many areas of towns and villages of all sizes have vacant residential and commercial properties that could and, indeed, should be used. If brought back into use, these properties could provide much-needed homes and add vibrancy to our towns and villages. Promoting residential occupancy in our rural towns and villages is at the heart of our town-centre-first approach and Housing for All.
The delivery of 33,000 homes per year, on average, requires an expansion of the current workforce. Through the actions laid out in Housing for All, the industry will be supported in returning existing workers to full employment, and there will be proactive engagement with international labour where a supply is unavailable locally. There will be a ramp-up in education and training opportunities, including commitments regarding programmes on apprenticeships and the delivery of new courses.
Housing for All focuses on supply-side solutions by freeing up State lands for the delivery of affordable homes, by removing barriers and intervening in slow or stalled developments on non-State lands to unlock and accelerate delivery via the LDA, and by making the construction sector more productive through the construction sector group and the Construction Technology Centre to drive innovation and productivity and reduce residential construction costs.
Despite the pandemic, Government has been focused on progressing major reforms that will accelerate and increase the supply of public, affordable and private housing. We got to work straight away last year, while at the same time developing this plan. We passed the first ever comprehensive Affordable Housing Act and reformed the LDA, giving it a legislative backing and adding to its powers. Just recently, we opened Ireland's first cost-rental homes. We reformed Part V and increased the contribution by developers from 10% to 20% to include affordable housing and cost rental housing; signed the Lisbon Declaration, committing to ending homelessness by 2030; increased grant funding to assist older people and people with disabilities; extended rent pressure zones, RPZs, and limited rent increases to general inflation; introduced five separate tenancy Bills to protect renters through the pandemic; brought 3,600 vacant social homes back into productive use; increased Irish Water funding by more than €100 million; and banned co-living. These actions demonstrate the Government's commitment to fixing our housing system. Housing for All takes that commitment a step further on the pathway to a sustainable housing system by clearly setting out how we plan to address the serious short-, medium- and long-term challenges to 2030.
The good news is that the sector is already responding positively. Commencement notices show that in month of August 2021, we had 2,162 dwellings under way, which is a 38% increase on the same month in 2020. For the 12 months to August 2021, the number of dwellings commenced was 29,565, which was a year-on-year increase of 34%. We need to build on that momentum.
We need to use all tools at our disposal to get to grips with the housing crisis. This means using both public and private sector to deliver homes. Some in the Opposition, however, seem intent on tying one hand behind our back in the biggest fight the State faces. In reality, we need to use every weapon we have. It is too easy to just oppose for opposition's sake but that is what we have. Sinn Féin opposed the LDA and the help-to-buy incentive. It opposes any private land initiatives and has opposed more than 5,000 homes in Dublin city alone. I cannot particularly think of anything the Social Democrats have not opposed in this period.
We need to be ambitious, honest and committed to delivery. That is at the heart of Housing for All. We cannot let one party's perfect be the enemy of the common good or put ideology above pragmatism. We will not get out of the housing crisis by driving into an ideological cul-de-sac. That approach would suffocate building and will only see sites lay idle, waiting lists grow and dreams of ownership die.
This is a plan for the squeezed middle, to give those people the opportunity to buy their own home, while ensuring we have the kind of society that helps those who need it. The breadth of ambition in the plan will help to stop and reverse the decline in homeownership and break the rent trap in which so many people are caught. It will ramp up State building of social homes to help eliminate homelessness and address waiting lists.
The housing system is complex. The scale of the crisis is international. There is no silver bullet and I cannot tell Members that it will be fixed overnight. We have the solutions, ability, drive and determination to make a real impact, however, and we have a plan that is fully financed. The Opposition parties need to reflect on what they are offering beyond sound bites, hypocrisy and ideological dead-ends. As I said, now we have a radical plan that is fully financed, and we need to get on and deliver it. The plan will make a real difference for our people and we are determined, as a Government, to make it work. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
I had a terrible sense of déjà vu when listening to the Minister's speech. So many of the rhetorical flourishes of what he said were used by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, when he stood in this Chamber and told us it was the most ambitious and radical State-backed plan in the history of the State, and again, when former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, stood in the Chamber saying the same thing. What has become a feature of this Government is the ever-growing gap between the rhetoric of Ministers, and, particularly, the Minister with responsibility for housing and the reality for working people on the ground trying to secure appropriate and affordable accommodation.
The Minister used three words to describe this Government's housing plan: "ambitious", "honest" and "committed". I cannot think of three less appropriate words for this heavily-padded document. It is not ambitious and I will explain why shortly. I do not believe it is honest, certainly not if it is claiming to tackle the decades of failed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing policy. I do not believe for one second that this Government is committed to the kind of fundamental policy change that would be required to meet the housing needs of working families.
I noted with great interest the Minister's quote in The Irish Timestoday. He was asked whether he believed the housing market is out of control, and, if the quote is correct, the Minister said, "I don't accept it's out of control". Rents are now higher than they were at the peak of the Celtic tiger.House prices are not far behind that peak. More than 100,000 households are dependent on rent subsidies. Homelessness is rising again, and, in many parts of the State, waiting times for social housing are between ten and 14 years. I do not know what indicators of "out of control" this Minister needs, but, on all of those indicators, from what I am seeing, it is very clearly out of control.
The really interesting comment made by the Minister was that this problem is "not unique to Ireland", not unlike the comments he made thereanent. The Minister is correct as there is a housing crisis, particularly in most large urban centres in the world. Let us consider the most recently published data from EUROSTAT, however. Housing costs in this State are the most expensive anywhere in the EU. We are at top of the housing cost table. In fact, the only country in the European free-trade area with higher housing costs than us is Switzerland. While there is a crisis, therefore, there is something much worse here that we need to understand.
The Minister is absolutely wrong. The crisis of house price inflation is not, in the first instance, caused by Covid-19 restrictions. They have made an already bad situation much worse but what is the actual cause of the housing crisis that has been escalating over the past ten-plus years? It is decades of bad housing policy by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In fact, if anybody can be accused of carrying ideological baggage, it is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which simply cannot break away from the failures of their ideological past.
If we look at the plan and the few pages of the lavish 160-page document that contain hard facts, we begin to see that what is in it is not that ambitious at all. Let us consider social housing. On average, there are 9,000 social housing units provided for per year over the lifetime of the plan. That is 1,000 social housing units less than what had previously been promised by Fine Gael under the national development plan, NDP.I accept that last year and this year, Covid-19 has reduced the overall output. What the Minister should have done in this plan, however, is accelerate beyond the original NDP targets. Instead, he has cut them. We are worse off because of this plan than we would have been if Fine Gael had stayed in charge and led housing over the next five years.
The Government is also saying that it will deliver 4,000 affordable homes this year, 5,000 the year after and 6,500 the year after that. That is not true. The Government should be honest with people because 2,000 of those homes annually are unaffordable, open-market priced homes that will be purchased with the shared equity loan scheme and, therefore, affordable housing provision next year will, at the very best, be 2,100 units. It might go up to 3,000 the year after and somewhere close to 4,000 the year after that, and that is if the Government meets the targets. The number of affordable homes to be delivered through the cost-rental equity loan and affordable housing fund this year is so low that I do not see how the Government is going to deliver 2,000 affordable homes through those schemes next year. I would be appreciative if the Minister could provide detail on that.
He said the Government has changed Part V, which, I suppose, it has, if he means it has changed it post 2026 because of the sweetheart deal or get-out clause for landowners who have yet to apply for planning permission. Thankfully, we have the Housing Agency's report, which is a good piece of work numbering more than 70 pages. The agency gave a variety of options, however. Of course, the Minister chose the most pro-developer option available, which is that any landowner who has not secured planning permission has until 2026 and only the 10% applies. That is not reform; that is giving developers everything they have asked for on a plate to the detriment of the delivery of affordable homes for working people.
At the same time, house prices will be pushed up because help-to-buy pushes up house prices. Despite the fact 60% of the people who had availed of the scheme did not need it, given that they had a deposit and mortgage finance, the Minister then increased it last year in a move that was criticised by the ESRI and other bodies. The Government is then going to combine that with the shared equity loan scheme and, if it gets its way, that will be again doubled with the participation of the mainstream banks. All of this, along with the excessive tax breaks the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, will continue for real estate investment trusts, REITs, and others, will increase the level of credit in the market, push up prices and make home ownership even more difficult for working people.
There is nothing meaningful for renters in the plan. I wish the Minister would stop telling people he is going to introduce tenancies of indefinite duration because that is not his plan. Unless the section 34 grounds for notices to quit, namely, sale of the property, use by the landlord or his or her family member and substantial renovation, are removed, tenancies of indefinite duration will not exist. Until that is changed, renters will still live in precarious and, unfortunately, unaffordable accommodation. We can talk later during oral questions about what the Minister will do about spiralling rents, given that the previous legislation he introduced in that regard did not work.
Croí Cónaithe seems to be a reheated local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, although the Minister might convince us otherwise, and the targets in respect of vacant properties are just as weak as they were under the previous Government. Nothing in the plan resembles the Kenny report recommendations on land. On the contrary, Mr. Justice Kenny was against the kind of measure the Government has outlined in the plan because it will do nothing to tackle land price inflation, but why let the facts get in the way of a good sound bite? I note with interest there is no date for the referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution because, of course, while the Minister says he is in favour of it, he has not convinced his Fine Gael colleagues who are against it, and until that is resolved, the referendum is out of reach.
When I read this plan, what struck me most was that it is a sign of a Government out of touch and out of ideas. Increasingly, that is how the public sees this. Time after time, the Government puts the needs of big developers, large landowners and international institutional investors over those of regular working people. It is clear the Government does not have what it takes to make the types of policy changes required to tackle this housing crisis. I do not for a second believe there will be over the coming years a significant increase in the supply of genuinely affordable homes, anything that will be close to the level of social housing required to tackle lengthening waiting lists and rising homelessness, or anything that will deal with the significant burden of sky-high rents, let alone the insecurity of security of tenure, all because the Minister is wedded to the past. He is wedded to a particular view of housing policy that believes the private sector can meet the overwhelming majority of social and affordable housing need.
To contradict him, I want private builders to build as many homes as possible and private developers to develop as many homes as possible, but I also want there to be a level of direct investment in public housing on public land that will not be contained in this plan. The €4 billion figure is a fiction. Come budget day, when the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform announce the capital interest in direct voted expenditure, it will be so far below what the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is claiming that he will be found out. At the very most, he will secure a couple of hundred million euro for the cost rental equity loan, CREL, scheme and the affordable housing fund, and any additional capital will be spent on more subsidies and grant aid for developers. We know that because the Government's targets are so low for affordable housing and it is cutting 1,000 social homes from what would otherwise be delivered.
I have no faith or confidence in the Minister, the Government or the housing plan. That is why, more than ever, if we are to tackle the ever-deepening housing crisis for social housing applicants, renters and people who want to buy, we need a change of Government, not more bluff and bluster from the Minister.
I am sharing time with an Teachta Mac Lochlainn.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak to the Government's new housing plan. I say "new" but, as we have heard, there is little new in it. It is called Housing for All but, as we know, this could not be further from the truth. The Minister's plan is just more of the status quo. He stated he recognises it is cheaper to buy a home than rent one in several cities and added that this is how broken the system is. He talks as though the system broke itself, and as though we have suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a housing crisis. He washes his hands of it and asks who did it. We are here because of the failed policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that have created the housing crisis, yet the Minister and his Government expect us to believe that the people who caused the crisis are somehow the same people we should entrust to fix it. Do they live in the real world at all?
It is clear from the plan there will be little, if any, increase in direct capital investment in social and affordable homes between now and 2025, over and above what was in the pipeline. This means rents and high prices will continue to increase and supply will continue to lag behind. If someone is paying €2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, or cannot access a mortgage and fears he or she will never own a home, or has been ten years or more on a council waiting list, or is in his or her 30s and is living back with his or her parents, or sleeps in a homeless hostel, or had to emigrate because of the cost and lack of housing, there is no need to worry. The Minister is telling people there is no crisis and the market is not out of control.
What happening is out of control. If he does not acknowledge that, we are wasting our time and he is wasting his. Somehow, he expects us to believe that the people who brought us here will be the same people to fix the problem, with the same policies and ideology. He is wedded to his market-driven ideology. That is what has brought us here and it will not get us out of this situation.
As the Minister will be aware, on 15 June last, thousands of families from Donegal, Mayo, Clare and other counties gathered outside the convention centre and walked to Government Buildings. On the same day, this House passed a motion, which no Deputy opposed, calling for 100% redress for families who have been devastated by defective concrete blocks. The scheme that is in place was supposed to provide 90%, with the banks making a large contribution towards the remaining 10%. Of course, the banks ran away and were nowhere to be seen, and the figure is anything but 90%.
The Minister's working group has been established but the families did not have a good experience with that group. His departmental officials, as is in the DNA of departmental officials, are focused on limiting the exposure of the State. That is their mindset in these discussions. The families, meanwhile, have been focused on solutions. They have made their final submission to the Minister. They have put a great deal of work into it and it is based on a costing per square metre by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. The Government has asked what 100% redress would mean and the families have demonstrated what can be done based on real-world prices, but they have also demonstrated the need for a State guarantee. If we are saying to families that, in many instances, they are not required to demolish their homes and that removing the outer leaf would be a safe option, as is the view of the engineers who put together the protocol for the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the State needs to guarantee that work. People will embrace that if there is a guarantee and an assurance is in place.
They are the two big calls, namely, for 100% redress and a State guarantee in respect of any works that take place. The families who stayed with the process, even though they were not happy at all, have made the submission and presented it to Members in the Houses in the past week, as the Minister will be aware. They have done tremendous work and I am hopeful he will back their report and deliver the solution so many families badly need.
There is no doubt this policy document, Housing for All, will be the Minister's political legacy, whether it is delivered. His reputation and success will rest on it, as I am sure he recognises.
That is how important this document is and, as the Minister said, how important it is for this Government. I have a different view. I have no doubt the Minister is going to build houses. Fianna Fáil builds houses. It has the relationships with the people to build houses. Our concerns are how affordable they will be, the reliance on the private sector and what the Minister will do for renters. These are issues we and our spokesperson on housing, Senator Moynihan, have raised numerous times with the Minister since his appointment, under the legislation he already brought forward in advance of Housing for All in respect of the Land Development Agency and the affordable housing scheme.
I will outline the areas where we have issues. We believe a fundamental flaw in Housing for All is that there is no definition of affordability. It will not come as a surprise to the Minister that we have this issue, as we have articulated it for well over a year now. It has not been included in the Affordable Housing Act and there is no indication from the Minister that it is something the Government is willing to confront. The advice of experts appearing before the housing committee is that affordability be specifically defined as a third of a person's income. Senator Moynihan put forward amendments in this respect for previous legislation but they were not accepted. Housing for All provides for a variety of different affordable purchase schemes, together with cost rental, but does not provide an underpinning legal definition of what constitutes a so-called affordable home for the success of these schemes.
The success of these schemes is not whether the roof is built over somebody's head, but how affordable it will be for the people who will be under it. There are people who will scrimp and save and get into the home, but who will then struggle month on month and if another economic crash hits, and it does not have to be as severe as the last one, they will lose everything. That is where the success of an affordable housing scheme will be truly measured. That is a key concern, and it is not a political point-scoring concern. This is a fundamental concern for the Labour Party. The market cannot be allowed to dictate what it means for something to be affordable. It is in the interests of the market not to care for people. The market does not care for people; it cares for the bottom line. The market is not going to find a natural affordable rate. It is always going to pursue profit, and that is never going to change.
There is a reliance on the private sector to deliver. The reality is that there are developers who are sitting on land. The Minister knows from the constituency both of us share that in the past ten years developers have been sitting on large tracts of land waiting for the value to increase. If they decide to develop on the land, they develop it piece by piece. The first phase will be released at a particular price. The second phase will be released €25,000 dearer. In the next year, the third phase will be released with another €25,000 or €30,000 on top of that. That is what the private sector does. There is nothing in this document that is going to mitigate that practice. They have the State by the proverbials on this, given the amount of land banks they own in key areas such as Fingal that will be needed to solve the housing crisis. Fingal is the youngest county in the State, with young people, older people seeking to downsize and people who have separated needing to buy homes. They are looking at these land banks and waiting for the developers to deliver. The developers are not going to do it until it is profitable for them to do so. There is nothing in this document that assuages our concerns in that regard.
There are 400,000 people renting in this country. That is a huge number of people who really need support. There remains a massive imbalance of power between renters and landlords. The Minister spoke favourably last week about our tenant rights Bill in the name of Deputy Bacik, but he appeared to focus on issues relating to the quality of rental accommodation and not the security of tenure, which is ultimately the bedrock on which renters' rights are based. That is something the Minister has to address, and we do not have confidence it is addressed in the Housing for All document.
The Minister mentioned that housing is the first priority for this Government, and it should be. However, where housing and big infrastructure projects intersect, will the infrastructure projects fall aside? I refer to MetroLink and the example of the Fosterstown lands in Swords. Thousands of units will be developed in Fosterstown. When I was a councillor, I, the Fianna Fáil councillors and other councillors engaged with our constituents and told them this plan had to go through because MetroLink was going to be delivered on the back of it. Those units are going to be built, but MetroLink is going to be delayed. Optimistically, it is going to be delayed but most people now believe it will never happen. The Minister is aware of the traffic congestion. What happens then? We need transport. There are many parts of this city and of other cities and parts of the country that have no transport infrastructure. To build and deliver houses on already zoned lands without the promised ambitious, much-needed, climate-friendly transport infrastructure is a betrayal. We are still suffering from the lack of that development when Fianna Fáil was last in power and built a rake of houses.
As I said, I believe houses will be built. The Government has the relationships to build those houses, and many people may end up with a roof over their heads. However, it may not be affordable and may be a struggle for many. I believe it will be. We are back to where we were previously, whereby a few people will get very wealthy and will profit from housing development in this country while the very many who fund that profit and those riches will be struggling each week, month and year to ensure the roof remains above their heads and that they are not sunk again by another economic or housing crisis. I hope that does not happen, but our concern is that it will.
First, I congratulate the Minister on the production of this strategy. I listened to Sinn Féin Members with bemusement. They are always trying to create a caricature and then attack it. The latest caricature is that this plan is all about private developers. The reality is that building of social housing in this country increased tenfold between 2016 and 2019.
Under this plan it will double again. Some 48% of all housing built in the next decade will be either social or affordable. That is in the plan. This is not relying on the private sector. This is driving a housing sector, both private and public, to deliver for ordinary people. To try to portray it as some type of attempt to get into cahoots with private developers to hoodwink people is simply not the case.
I looked at the housing pipeline in my constituency. It will be of interest to people that 11,500 homes are in the pipeline in the constituency, just one part of Dublin. That will be a 20% increase in the number of homes in the constituency, if they are developed. One can ask how many of them are coming from a Sinn Féin controlled council. It is only 10%. The reality is that 32% of the private ones are on-site, which is not enough, but only 15% of the public ones are on-site. On top of that, Sinn Féin and others blocked an 853-unit housing project-----
-----which would have almost doubled the social and affordable output from the council. It blocked that, despite it being in the pipeline for four years and approved by Sinn Féin members of that council at that stage. Let us get real about where housing strategy is coming from and what we are trying to achieve here.
This is a very innovative policy proposal. Not only does it plan to deliver 48% social and affordable housing, which is unprecedented in the history of the State, but it also brings in a State developer, not a private developer, for the first time. It is the first time we have a State developer, the Land Development Agency. The agency already has access to sites for 26,000 homes, which it will deliver as affordable. Along with others, I want the Minister to drive forward that and ensure there is absolutely no delay with those. Some of those are getting stalled private sector sites moving forward. The reality is that our councils have not been up to this challenge. They have not been able to deliver at scale or at affordability. Now we have a system where a State developer will have access to State land and get that at discount prices so it can deliver affordable prices to people who need them. That is innovation in my book.
In addition, we have land value sharing so in future rezonings we will see a recovery of that for the State and for communities. There is a cities fund to reach out to young families who are now living in high-density areas, which is very expensive, and to make it affordable for them. CPOs on vacant premises will be supported with a State fund. There will be a tax on vacant homes. There will be a unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to drive forward this, so we will not see Departments scattered around the State blocking the capacity of this plan to deliver. I believe this should be welcomed. I also welcome the move in the fair deal scheme.
The fair deal scheme has locked down homes because of the rules of that scheme. Now they are being changed.
I know many people in this House do not want the Minister to succeed. I want this to succeed. I want us to fix the housing problem by looking pragmatically at every solution, not standing on our little territories and refusing to allow private building on public lands. That sort of approach has stalled the delivery of homes and makes our local authorities unable to step up to this challenge. I welcome what the Minister is trying to do here. It is the right direction. We need to make it work. I hope there will be more co-operation when we get into committees and down into the councils to see this work at ground level.
I thank the Minister, his advisers and the departmental officials for producing this Housing for All strategy. I acknowledge the collaborative approach we had in preparing this document. It is a long-term plan, incorporating many green objectives that started off as discussions with the Minister and his advisers. We improved those ideas and now we see them in a strategy and in legislation.
Cost rental has been the core of the Green Party housing policy for a long time. We met our Green colleagues in Vienna to look at its world-class cost-rental model. I do not believe anyone in this House could argue with the cost-rental model. We have introduced it into Irish legislation for the first time. I expect the numbers will increase over the time as the Land Development Agency, LDA, scales up and as we attract investors into that space with those limited returns that would suit those ethical long-term investors or pension funds. I expect that number to scale up, because when representatives of the LDA appeared before our committee, they said cost rental would be a focus of their work and I believe they will deliver on that.
I listened to the Minister's opening speech in which he referred to cost rental as being a game changer, which is exactly how I described it to people on doorsteps during the previous general election campaign. I am proud we are legislating for this and that we are delivering this in government.
Urban regeneration and addressing the vacancy and dereliction that exists on many of our streets is a core part of this plan. There are thousands of opportunities to take an existing building, renovate it, refurbish it and then rejuvenate it, to bring life and living back into the town and above shops or, in limited cases, instead of a shop. Croí Cónaithe is putting the life and the heart back into those towns.
We need to put in place supports to assist people who want to take a derelict or vacant building because it is difficult to get the loans in certain circumstances. It is awkward to build in town centres. There can be traffic management issues, live streets, neighbours and all those kinds of difficulties. Often it is so much easier to go with a greenfield development and I can see the attraction of that. With those buildings we have in our town centres, I firmly believe the greenest building is one that is already built that we can invest in, adapt, repurpose, change its use and upgrade it to live in it.
When that life and living and vibrancy is put back into a town centre, it generates an economic return to that town. It also generates a societal return for that town and rebuilds that community. It is hard to put into tangible economics what that can generate for a town. It is an incredibly important part of the Housing for All strategy.
The target of producing 33,000 homes annually is grounded in the ESRI analysis on population growth, persons per dwelling, demographic changes etc. It is a realistic figure. It is challenging but deliverable over the course of this strategy. I listened to the Opposition Members who are highly critical of this figure. They have claimed it should be higher, quicker etc. If we had said 40,000, they would have said 50,000. They do not deal in facts or detail.
-----headlines and criticism. None of that has ever produced a house. None of them has ever produced a house.
The target we need to produce is large but doable. It also creates another problem in that it leads to significant carbon emissions if these are all to be new builds, which I do not believe they will be. Concrete production is an enormous carbon emitter. If we take the existing stock of derelict and vacant buildings, and stock that is going into obsolescence, and provide the resources for people to refurbish them, it will also be a game changer. There are hundreds of kilometres of commercial streets with two or three storeys above them where no one is living. That brings life and vibrancy back into a town after 5 p.m. When the shutters come down, there is still life and light on the streets, which is important for a sense of security in local communities.
We need to match that town centre living with commensurate investment in the public realm in the creation of those nice public amenity places with good wide footpaths, safe walking routes to school and all the matching infrastructure that goes with living in a town centre. For the bigger projects we can do much of that through the town and village renewal, the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, and the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, funding. However, for the smaller projects we need to ensure our local authorities are well enough resourced and have the capacity to carry out the audits in our town centres to see where we need those small interventions and small bits of work that would make living over the shops or in the town centre attractive for residents and draw people into it.
Carrying out the health checks and audits for our towns is a vital part of deciding where and how we should direct public funds to generate the best return for the economic and societal benefits and to create towns that are attractive to live in. It all takes resources at local level as well as national level. Our local authority resources and staff are under pressure all the time. I welcome giving local authorities better powers to compulsorily purchase vacant and derelict buildings, to regenerate them and bring them back into use for society, but we need to resource them to do the extra work the compulsory purchase order, CPO, scheme demands.
It is important to audit our towns, identifying sites where there is no impediment to development and liaising with owners to encourage them or show them how they can change the use of these properties. Even trying to find the owners can be difficult in certain circumstances. Staff who are already under pressure do not always have the luxury of being able to do that.
There will be challenges with upskilling the construction sector for apprentices for professional services to deal with the new build, refurbishment and repurposing of buildings. The retrofitting of 500,000 units of our existing housing stock will be another challenge. However, it will create thousands of long-term, well-paid professional and trade jobs. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister, Deputy Harris, and others to encourage the uptake of apprenticeships.
This plan is costed, realistic, deliverable and funded. It will provide certainty for people who want to buy, build or rent at affordable costs. It commits to ending homelessness. It is the largest ever State intervention in a public building programme. It is State led and plan led. It will take time to get there but the route is clear. The legislation has been passed and more is on the way to ensure we deliver on housing, which is the most immediate critical issue we face.
I am sharing time with Deputy Gould. I support what my colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, said about 100% redress and the guarantee needed for households who opt for the outer layer option. I commend all the people who gathered to demonstrate in Ballina. I hope these people will get their lives back very soon.
This plan will not deliver housing for all. Apart from the many weaknesses and shortcomings highlighted by my colleagues and other Members of the Opposition, the plan has nothing of substance to address the accommodation crisis students are facing. Despite having the highest college fees in the EU, accommodation is the biggest barrier for many working students and families on low and medium incomes. This particularly disadvantages students from rural areas. Families are running themselves into financial ruin just to educate their children - that is if they can even afford to send them to college. Students were really angry when they heard the Taoiseach say he would keep a close eye on third level colleges to ensure they do not charge exorbitant rents. That is a bewildering comment for students who are in this situation. They have heard the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage admit he has no plan to address the crisis in student accommodation-----
-----in the short term. This is for all the students who are in hostels, in hotel rooms or who are sleeping on floors as we speak. The Government's housing plan states that universities have developed a significant amount of student accommodation in recent years, another statement that is divorced from reality and shows how out of touch is the Government.
Since 2017, the year the student accommodation strategy was published, only 679 on-campus student accommodation places have been added, with the increase in student numbers and the ever-increasing share of student accommodation going to attract high-fee international students. The reality is more students are competing for comparatively fewer on-campus beds. The only other initiative for this policy is around the technological universities, and I welcome and support that. The Minister has left students behind in the housing plan so I ask him to address the crisis and emergency that is there.
The Minister calls this policy Housing for All. It will provide housing for some but not for ordinary people. It will provide housing for developers, landowners, speculators, investment and vulture funds, and greedy landlords but not for ordinary people who are trying to put a roof over their heads and pay a rent or mortgage that is sustainable. The Minister is there with his partners in government in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Listening to the contributions of Deputies Bruton and Matthews you would think the housing crisis happened yesterday. The housing crisis happened over the past 20 years because of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policy, which was supported during that time by the Green Party. For members of those parties to come in here and say that Housing for All will solve the problems and is the answer shows how little they understand the crisis people are facing. We are not talking about delivering houses in five or ten years' time. Houses need to be delivered now.
In Cork alone, there are 9,000 vacant and derelict houses. Last weekend, a group in Cork did a derelict tour of Cork city and it took them two and half hours to walk one portion of it. I thank the Community Action Tenants Union, CATU, Frank O'Connor, Jude Sherry and everyone who walked with them for what they did to highlight this dereliction. This was caused by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Do the Government Deputies not understand that or do they deny they are responsible? Will the Minister come to Cork city with me to meet Cork City Council officials? I will walk him around the city and show him the dereliction that is destroying Cork.
The Minister is sitting there in his ivory tower with his Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and speculator buddies while we are on the ground with ordinary people who are suffering. That is the difference. The Minister spoke about ideology, and there is a problem with it because the Government believes in looking after the well-to-do and the wealthy developers. People do not have homes, they are worried about how they will pay their rents and mortgages and there is nothing in Housing for All for them.
I acknowledge the Minister and his officials in the Department put a lot of work into this plan and would have spent a lot of time on it. Let us be clear about what is happening in terms of the comments made earlier by the Minister and in the media. There is an attempt to normalise our housing crisis by saying it is a problem internationally and by pointing to what is going on in other European countries to make it acceptable somehow. This was tried by the previous Government and the now Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, when he commented on homelessness. He tried to normalise it by saying it is an international problem. People saw through that and the public did not accept it and the public will not accept this now.
The reality and truth are that we have some of the highest rents in the European Union in this city and that we have some of the highest housing costs in the European Union. Those are facts and this is not normal. The reason for that is we have a high-risk, high-cost and highly speculative method of delivering housing. I have no issue with private development and I want to see more of it but the problem we have is we do not have enough not-for-profit, affordable or cost rental development taking place. That is the missing piece.
On cost rental, something unusual is happening in Ireland in that we are defining cost rental on a basis on which it is not defined anywhere else in the world that I am aware of. Cost rental is understood to provide rented accommodation at the cost of providing it, that is, on a not-for-profit basis. What the Government has done in the Affordable Housing Act is allow for cost rental on a for-profit basis. That is not done anywhere else in the world that I am aware of. It is not done in Austria. Any surplus from cost rental in Austria is reinvested into cost rental. That is part of the sustainability of the system. It is simply not true to state otherwise.
We have a Minister who likes to state otherwise. He came into this House on 24 June and told me the Central Bank had passed and approved his shared equity scheme. Does the Minister stand over those comments he made to me on 24 June?
The Minister has said this is an honest plan. There has been a lot of spin on this plan. The first bit of spin was during the launch, where there was a lot of talk about increasing home ownership levels. If this plan is implemented and meets its targets, home ownership levels will continue to decrease in Ireland. That is a fact. Incidentally, that is not for the worst of reasons; it is because the plan sets out the construction of more cost rental and social homes. However, at the launch speaker after speaker said that this plan will increase home ownership. The plan sets out to continue to decrease our home ownership levels, albeit for honourable reasons as I said, but that was the first bit of spin on this.
The second bit of spin was the constant reference to the increase in funding and the €4 billion per annum that would be spent. The ESRI has been strong and clear in saying we need to go from €2 billion in Exchequer capital funding on housing to about €4 billion, but that is not the way that €4 billion figure has been arrived at. There was €3 billion of Exchequer funding allocated in the 2021 budget for housing with €2 billion on the capital side and about €1 billion in Housing Finance Agency loans. That is where we arrive at our €4 billion. There is no additional capital funding in this plan. We will see some increase on the capital side in the budget but it will not bring us from €2 billion in Exchequer funding up to €4 billion, as a lot of people are now expecting from the spin that was brought out at the time of the launch.
On the land value sharing measures in this report, let us be very clear this does not amount to the implementation of the Kenny report. It is better than doing nothing and we should be trying to capture land value in terms of funding infrastructure, but that will not bring land on stream at affordable costs to ensure more affordable housing. It will mean more funding for infrastructure from the Exchequer. How that works out with development levies being taken away as a balancing measure to that remains to be seen.
There is far too little emphasis in Housing for All on the serious skills deficit we have. In terms of our wet trades in construction apprenticeships, we are only at about 10% of our 2004 peak, particularly in areas such as bricklaying and plastering. There is an over-reliance in the Housing for All strategy on the idea that this will all be sorted with international labour.
Climate action and dealing with matters such as cement and carbon from housing and the need to have a circular use of materials are weak in the plan.
I hope the climate action plan will address those matters.
The plan allows for at least €1 billion in subsidies for developers from shared equity and other measures. All it gives people who are homeless, in emergency accommodation or sleeping on the street is a mere 20 additional new Housing First tenancies, increasing from 220 a year to 240 a year. That is far too few and we could do much better. I ask the Government to re-examine that and to look to at least double the number of Housing First tenancies a year from the current 220 so we can make proper headway on that.
I have six minutes. I was working it out because, like the Taoiseach, I did not do honours maths. This is a very important document for the Minister, for those Deputies who support the Government and for the thousands of people who want this housing crisis to end. Something substantial happened in February 2020. We were told through the democratic mandate that things needed to change on housing. That is why we all had the responsibility to try to put together a Government that did that. Some people led that job of putting a Government together, while others did not. They will be judged on that as much as we will be judged by this plan.
I want to talk to people about how this plan will help them, but the difficulty is that all the debate so far has sought to refight the general election of 2020, pretending the plan prior to that election is the same as this current plan. It is not. The rhetoric from the Opposition that this Government believes the private sector should be the builder of the majority of housing is not true. We do not agree with that and it is wrong. They say this Government is out of touch and out of ideas. They are wrong; this document is packed with ideas. They say we do not live in the real world. Every day, the Minister, like all of us in our clinics, hears problems relating to the housing crisis. We are anything but out of touch with it. They say we do not understand it, that we have speculator buddies, that we are leaning into the market, that we have the same policies and the same ideas and that we are wedded to market-driven priorities. They are wrong. Why are they wrong? Because Housing for All specifically outlines how they are wrong.
Let us compare Rebuilding Ireland with the Housing for All option. Rebuilding Ireland was a €6 billion plan over six years. This is a €20 billion plan over five years. Rebuilding Ireland was very much focused on social housing. Housing for All delivers housing for all - cost rental, affordable purchase and social housing, because we need mixed income and well-planned estates everywhere. I and many Deputies represent constituencies where that was not done and it is a key deliverable in Housing for All. This Government has brought in cost rental legislation, something Rebuilding Ireland did not do. The Labour Party talks about cost rental over and over again, but it was in government for five years and there was no legislation on cost rental. None. It had its chance. We did it in the space of 12 months. The previous Government limited the role of the Land Development Agency, LDA, while this Government has expanded it because, as the Minister said, we want every tool in the box. The previous Government reduced Part V by 10%; this Government doubled the obligation on developers to 20%. The previous Government introduced co-housing; we abolished it. How can the Opposition say these are the same policies all over again? It is just not true.
Let me look at what Housing for All does. I will not talk to the Opposition but to the members of the public who want this problem solved. What does Housing for All do? First, if you do not qualify for social housing at the moment, Housing for All has solutions for you. If you do not qualify for social housing, you will now qualify for cost rental. If there are empty public sites beside you, in Dublin, Cork and other places where affordability is an issue, 100% of those will be used for public housing on public land, as provided for in the LDA Bill. The Minister has capped both deposits and rents. Housing for All provides councils with the ability to build public housing and affordable purchase homes on their sites, costing between €160,000 and €250,000 per unit. The budget is €20 billion, which is real money that will deliver real homes. As I said, the strategic housing development, SHD, process, which was essentially one that enabled developers to flip their sites, has been ended by this Minister. We have restored local democracy and local powers to local authorities.
There are so many things in sight that will all have local application on the ground. In my constituency, there will be affordable purchase and senior citizen homes on Parkview, senior citizen homes on Jamestown Road, all three different housing models on lands at Kildonan, a site at Whitehall car park and further sites at Oscar Traynor, the Dublin Port tunnel, Coultry Gardens, Sillogue, Balbutcher Lane, Finglas West Church and Belclare Drive. None of these is under construction but all of them will be built using the tools in Housing for All, tools that were not available in Rebuilding Ireland.
All of us will be judged, including the Minister, me and everyone in this House, both the Opposition and the Government, on whether we have delivered for the people with this plan. I hope we will do so, but the focus now shifts to implementation, to the local authorities, to the approved housing bodies and to every other provider and partner we can work with. The job did not end when we passed this legislation or when we passed the budget. It will only end when keys are turned in doors and more people get more homes.
I support much of what my colleague, Deputy Matthews, said in his contribution. In particular, I support his tributes to the Minister. Housing for All is a very good document and a very good plan. There was lots of evidence on the day it was launched that the Minister had taken on advice and suggestions from his colleagues in government, from colleagues across the Oireachtas, from NGOs that are working hard in the area of housing, particularly homelessness, and, most important, from people throughout the country who are worried they will never be able to settle down in a home where their status is secure.
The Taoiseach has spoken previously about the three big priorities for Government being health, housing and climate. These areas are linked in many ways, not least in the need to deliver compact growth leading to sustainable and healthy communities. In addition, they are all extremely challenging areas requiring a whole-of-government approach and political leadership. They necessitate doing things in a different way and they are all very difficult problems to solve.
Every year in this Chamber we talk about housing, and every time we discuss the issue someone mentions the Kenny report. It was often Green Party Deputies who raised the issue of housing as that report gathered another layer of dust on the shelf. I am very pleased this Government will introduce measures similar to those recommended by Judge Kenny in 1973 to capture some of the uplift in value for the State when land is rezoned. The measures are not perfect, but it will go on record that the Minister was the one who started to implement the recommendations of this report after so many decades.
Housing for All will also introduce penalties for owners of zoned land who fail to develop it. Again, this took far too long to introduce. I believe this is because it was too politically difficult and I am glad this Government has taken some politically difficult decisions not taken previously, because we need to take difficult decisions to deliver on housing. In addition to taxing undeveloped zoned lands, I also support the introduction of the Croí Cónaithe fund to support the delivery of housing in cities where planning permission has already been received and, importantly, to give financial support for the refurbishment of vacant homes.
Housing for All is bringing a new direction to the URDF, one I welcome. From my experience in my city of Limerick, despite the best of intentions in our applications for funding, we have not managed to deliver the best for Limerick. We tried to apply for flagship projects that did not necessarily deliver a more liveable Limerick city. I welcome the fact the URDF will in future be much more focused on delivery of housing, in particular on bringing vacant housing back into use. Revitalising our urban centres requires a multifaceted approach and it was remiss up to this point that vacant housing was not a primary focus of the URDF.
I am passionate about the issue of housing vacancy. It is morally wrong that we have so many empty homes throughout our State, and I have been working with my colleagues to try to push for a wide range of measures to tackle the issue of housing vacancy. I am glad to see that Housing for All delivers many of these measures. I will continue to push for comprehensive measures to address housing vacancy and vacant sites because we must restore the fabric of our cities, towns and villages, getting people to live in them again and to do so in a sustainable manner.
There is often a lot of lip service paid in this House to the concept of balanced regional development but I believe that the town centres first approach is the way of actually delivering it. I know that the Minister's Department is working hard with the Department of the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, to deliver the town centres first policy. I know from my party colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Joe O’Brien and Malcolm Noonan, that this town centres first approach is receiving high priority in both Departments.
There are many other welcome aspects to Housing for All but I want to conclude by saying that when faced with difficult problems, there can be a temptation to flee to the safety of ideological purity, to focus more on being right than on getting things done. I do not think that my constituents, many of whom have contacted me to share their difficulties in getting a place they can call home, would thank me or anyone else for not urging you to focus now, as you have committed to doing, on getting things done and delivering this plan. We have the blueprint for action, and now we must deliver.
With Housing for All, we are being taken for a spin on a magic carpet, only there is a massive hole in it and many of my constituents in north Kildare are falling through. Let me tell the House about the housing situation in north Kildare because I noticed that the Minister was quite amused by the whole thing. My office is out the door with men and women in every age group desperate for a home. There is a mother of three who is expecting her fourth child. She is just out of a refuge for women experiencing domestic violence and has been living with her mum. Kildare County Council suggested that she goes back to her abusive partner because the council would have to get on to Tusla if she presents as homeless. It is unimaginable. This State is never not at it when it comes to women. A woman in her 50s pays €700 a month for a single room in a house share. A working man in his 60s lost a home in a marriage break-up and never imagined he would be renting into his pension years and beyond. He cannot even find a place to rent at the moment. With added cruelty, some people are dumping or giving away their furniture. They have been evicted because a house is to be sold and they cannot afford to store their treasured possessions. They cannot find a place to rent in time so all the things they have collected throughout their lives and that furnished their lives, not only physically but also emotionally, are just gone. It is as if the system is telling the renters of north Kildare they cannot even have basic comfort because profit rules and profit decides they do not deserve it. All of this degradation and brutalising of people has become normal in the Government's eyes. The Government wants it to appear normal for all. We are facing outright slaughter in terms of housing for people who will be renting until they die and depending on the old age pension, which does not include accommodation costs. We need radical change and actual housing for all, not this sham. A major investment in social and affordable housing is needed and it is too long overdue because people in north Kildare and everywhere are not affected by this crisis as much as they are afflicted by it. That affliction of good, ordinary people must stop. The pretence must stop.
There is a plethora of actions from this Government that I find truly jaw-dropping, but none more than the Government representatives' consistent appearances in this House and in the media promoting a delayed and postponed policy that so many experts have said simply will not work. This plan is good for big developers and investment funds but it is bad for working people looking to buy, for renters, or for those in need of social housing. It will push up house pries and rents while failing to deliver affordable housing that is badly needed in areas such as mine in Longford-Westmeath. The number of people whose lives, families, futures, hopes and dreams are being crushed by policies that this Government is wedded to inflicting on them is simply sickening. People arrive to my office doors with the dreaded notice to quit in their hands. That notice to quit might as well read "nine minutes" instead of "nine months" for all the hope these people have of finding an alternative home to live in. Those people experience anxiety and stress as that clock ticks down. They could not care less what is happening internationally as they pack their belongings into plastic bags.
Affordable housing needs to be exactly that: affordable. The question that begs to be asked when we see price caps of €225,000 in Longford and €300,000 in Westmeath relates to what planet the Minister is living on. That is completely unaffordable to somebody who is working in Dunnes Stores and married to a member of the Defence Forces. It is not going to happen. Where is the all in that arithmetic? A housing policy that focuses exclusively on supply must ensure supply in the right location and at the right price. We all know that it needs to be the right policy delivered by the right Minister and the right Government because otherwise it is simply going to fail. That is not what the people voted for in the most recent election. They did not vote for more failure and a lack of change.
It has been reported that at a recent meeting of Longford municipal district, the director of services expressed his fears as written correspondence received by his department returned not very encouraging insights as to where Longford fits into the Government's plan. His department of housing officials had devised seven criteria for the counties, one of which Longford will fail on immediately. If that does not raise alarm bells, I am not too sure what else would. That official believed that only 14 counties nationwide would meet the terms set down in the plan.
This housing plan will not fix the housing crisis. It will push up prices and rents. The social housing delivery will completely fail. We will have an increase in homelessness. When the Minister has a chance, I encourage him to look up the Longford Leaderon Google. I point him in the direction of an article that is headlined "Government bosses told to wake the hell up". I strongly suggest this Government takes that advice on board.
I asked the Business Committee for this debate, which has once again highlighted the sickening injustice of the way the Government manipulates the speaking arrangements. The people who asked for this debate get six and a half minutes after the contributions of five or six Government speakers and the Minister, who does not want to hang around to hear from the rest of the parties. This party has been ringing alarm bells about the housing crisis since I entered the Dáil in 2011. It makes me sick but it is typical of what is going on in here.
We have heard the nonsense and rhetoric about Housing for All and €4 billion a year. I ask the Government to tell the truth. I asked a parliamentary question on this matter. What is actually being delivered in terms of investment is €12 billion in direct Exchequer funding, €3.5 billion through the Land Development Agency and another €5 billion. That totals €18.5 billion over nine years. That is just over €2 billion a year. That is the amount the Government is actually putting in and the rest is coming from the private sector, or the Government is hoping it will come through the private sector. A big chunk of even the public investment is through the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and leasing money that is being put into the pockets of the private sector. The Government claims that the State is now going to be the biggest deliverer of housing, but it is not. Look at the figures. Some 57% of the plan the Government is proposing is going to come from the private sector. One just needs to add up the numbers for each of the years. There will be €142.3 million in public and affordable housing and the rest is coming from the private sector. The dependence on the private sector, which has led us to the crisis we are now in, is continued in this policy. That is the truth.
The affordable and social housing plans can be broken down further. How much is the Government going to get through Part V, that is, from the private sector? The Government's answer to a parliamentary question to that effect is that it cannot tell us. How much of the affordable housing is actually going to be affordable? How much is the Government hoping to source through Part V, that is, from the private sector? It cannot tell us. This is more of the nonsense we have had for the past number of years.
The Minister talked about protecting tenants. The test of whether this Government is going to protect tenants is if the tenants in St. Helen's Court, about whom I have been talking for four years and who are threatened with mass eviction by a vulture fund, will be protected from eviction. They are not so protected now. I told this Government and its predecessor that this is an example of how vulture funds are unjustly mass evicting tenants who have done nothing wrong and I asked what they are going to do about it. The answer is zero. The Government does not want to stand up to the vulture funds. That is the truth. The funds were invited in and given tax breaks. I do not have time because our time allocation is pathetic and I have to hand over to Deputy Barry, but if the Government wants an example of what actual radical, emergency action on housing might look like, it should look at what 57% of the population of Berlin said over the past week. They said to expropriate the vulture landlords.
If such action is justified in Berlin to deal with unaffordable rents and a lack of tenants' rights, it is doubly justified here because all of those vultures, cuckoos and corporate landlords got their property from us via NAMA. What had a nominal value of €40 billion is probably worth approximately €100 billion now. They also get tax breaks and day-to-day money through HAP, RAS and leasing. We are paying at every level but we own nothing. They charge unaffordable rents and can evict people. We pay for it, they run away with the profits and tenants are screwed. That is the reality of what is going on. I have been asking the Government to raise the income eligibility thresholds for social housing for five years so that people would not be whacked off the list. Nothing has been done. A review has been promised for five years. It goes on. There is talk, talk and talk but there is no action to deliver affordable public housing, tenants' rights or the security people need because the Government is still dancing to the tune of the big money people who get rich from property.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the Housing for All plan will not work. The housing crisis created by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the capitalist housing market will not be solved by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the capitalist housing market, even if the Green Party is now included in the mix by way of decoration. The plan relies on the private sector to deliver 156,000 houses between now and 2030 but you cannot control what you do not own and the State has no control over whether these houses will ever be built, or over the price at which those that are actually built will be sold. We need an end to market madness. The business of housing delivery needs to be taken out of the hands of the profiteers and put into the hands of society by way of the nationalisation of the building industry under democratic control.
The people of Berlin have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking 250,000 apartments owned and controlled by for-profit corporations into public ownership. They realise the importance of nationalisation as a tool for tackling their housing crisis. It is disappointing that both Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats spurned the opportunity this morning to support similar measures in this country. Sinn Féin told The Journalthat it was not necessarily the answer to Ireland's housing woes while the Social Democrats dodged the question altogether. Market madness will never solve Ireland's housing crisis and nationalisation is key to tackling it, alongside a policy of building public housing on public land. I refer to both council housing and genuinely affordable cost-price housing. The sooner all who oppose the Government's strategy see that, the better.
I welcome today's discussion. At times, it has felt like a debate on the Housing for All programme. On that issue, when this legislation was being discussed in the summer, there were many debates in this House, although we were in the convention centre at the time. The issue had a very good airing. Obviously, some Deputies chose not to support it but ultimately all of us are coming from a good place on this. We all acknowledge that rents are too high. First-time buyers cannot access affordable housing and people are waiting years for social housing. It is clear the market-led system has failed. Everyone should have access to sustainable, good quality housing to rent or buy at an affordable price.
Housing for All is a massive State intervention in the housing market that will deliver social and affordable housing. It will transform how we deliver housing across Ireland. Housing for All is a plan that will assist the squeezed middle in buying their first homes and ensure that families on lower incomes have access to social housing. It will transform communities.
Housing for All will also facilitate a massive increase in the supply of housing. We often hear about the lack of supply in this Chamber. The plan commits to the delivery of 300,000 homes over its lifetime. These will include 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes, 18,000 cost rental homes and 156,000 new private homes to rent or buy. The State is taking responsibility for delivering 50% of all housing over the next decade. People talked about radical change earlier on. This is a radical step. It involves a €20 billion investment over the next five years. By any measure, that is a massive intervention in the market and is unprecedented in the history of the State.
Housing for All looks beyond housing output and includes commitments to increase rental protections, to eradicate homelessness, to introduce Kenny report-style powers with regard to land value and to establish a commission on housing.
Housing for All provides a number of pathways to accessing housing. For first-time buyers, the plan will increase the supply of affordable housing to purchase. We have seen pilot schemes deliver these homes at €250,000 or under. The plan will deliver 36,000 new affordable homes, including thousands in Dún Laoghaire, where we are seeing the first homes being built in Shanganagh. The first house scheme gives first-time buyers a chance to bridge the funding gap, with the State taking an equity stake in homes.
For renters, Housing for All creates an entire new affordable cost-rental system whereby people will be able to rent at rates at least 25% below local rents. We have seen the first of these units let in Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and 200 more are planned in Shanganagh, in Shankill, County Dublin. It will also improve tenants' rights, place caps on deposits, cap rent increases and introduce tenancies of indefinite duration which will give people certainty in their homes. For people who need to access social housing, the plan will deliver 90,000 new social homes. Local authorities will again start building homes, supported by approved housing bodies like Tuath and Respond.
Housing for All is an ambitious plan, as is recognised across the Chamber, but there will be challenges. The cost of construction needs to be addressed. We need to see reductions in input costs such as the €7,500 Irish Water levy; the equivalent is a mere €1,278 in the UK. We also need to see action on felling licences for timber. We need to address labour shortages. I welcome the plan to ramp up apprenticeships that is being pursued by the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins. There are also plans for a national centre of excellence to advance construction technology and methods.
However, what is perhaps the biggest challenge is in this Chamber. I call on Deputies to get behind the plan. As one Opposition Deputy said earlier, we need houses now. We have a plan. Let us get behind it. The public will not thank Deputies who continue to play politics with their future.
I will use my time to discuss the most urgent issue, that of activating consented land, but, listening in my office to the speakers from Sinn Féin discussing how rubbish the Government's Housing for All plan is, I was minded to again pick up that party's submission to the Housing for All document from June of this year. It is a few short pages long. There are seven pages of text with just one dollar or euro figure in it. Meanwhile, the Housing for All plan is comprehensive, fully costed and extremely detailed, as other Deputies have set out. There are links to two other Sinn Féin documents at the back but they are even shorter so one should not go looking for too much detail.
I will talk about the issue of consented land in particular. This specific and detailed issue is contained in Housing for All, as is a response to it. Consented land is land that has been zoned and for which planning permission for residential development has been sought and given but on which no homes have been delivered. Officials from An Bord Pleanála, local authorities around the country and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are breaking their backs trying to get land activated. This is particularly so in the eastern and midlands region. On page 102 of the Office of the Planning Regulator's annual report for 2020, it is shown that the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, EMRA, area continues to dominate in 2020, having significantly increased its share of residential units permitted, which rose to 74%. This represents close to 33,000 units, an increase from 25,000 in 2019. Further analysis shows that 89% of all apartment units permitted in 2020 were in the same region. Of that, 64% were in the four Dublin local authority areas.
The point the office is making is that this suggests that the basis for achieving more compact and sustainable patterns of urban development is there, particularly if the many permissions for higher density development within cities and towns and public transport corridors are activated. These are the principles of climate-friendly development and the permissions have been granted. What is going on? Why are they not either built or in the process of being built? Let me be clear; I do not buy the financial viability argument for a moment. We have heard it for some time. Who would not, at this time, operate a business which pre-sells build-to-sell homes and funds its work on the basis of those sales? The only reason that we give zoning is to give permission to build homes and any entity that is not in the active business of home delivery, but rather makes efforts to acquire land value, needs to get a grip now or get taxed out of the market.
This is a case of tax first, ask later. There need not be delay. Chief executives need to get really aggressive about this locally, with no exemptions. Let us accept that developers are on notice, that liability immediately arises where zoning and consents have been given by State entities, and that there is an immediate implicit notification that the clock is running.
Let us shorten those assessment notice periods and refund excess taxes if and when we are proved wrong and home delivery is actively occurring. Our population now exceeds 5 million, up 1 million in 20 years. They need places to live and different ways to live in different stages of their lives and the consented land needs to be activated. Thankfully, the LDA has, in this detailed Housing for All plan, been established and put on a statutory footing, notwithstanding Sinn Féin objecting to it and voting against it. It has the capacity to get in and activate and underwrite some of those sites at value to the State and a discount to the State and get that stock into affordable homes as quickly as possible.
Ireland's housing system to date has failed its people. Houses are not affordable for most and waiting lists are too long. This document, put together by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and his Department, is our first real chance to address and solve that. I urge Deputies to get behind it because it is ambitious and financed and has measures that will bring housing affordability within people's reach and solve the social housing waiting lists. These measures have been outlined by Deputies Carroll MacNeill and Devlin. I urge people to get behind it and commend the Minister, Department and staff on the extraordinary work they have put into this document.
It is a long-term plan. It is financed to the tune of €4 billion per year for the next five years, but there are urgent measures I want to highlight. One urgent measure is around disability. There is good policy and text in this document around provision of housing for people with disabilities and the building of accessible housing. In the short term, there are people with disabilities, wheelchair users in particular, who do not have access to accessible housing. These are people on social housing lists, in particular. We need interim measures to ensure local authorities are given finance and backing to source houses and units they can upgrade, finance and make accessible. That is incredibly important because it is happening throughout the country. People with disabilities are not able to get accessible housing. I would like to see that addressed in the short term.
There is an infrastructural deficit impeding the building of housing. In west Cork right now, there are applications for 50 to 100 houses being refused because of the lack of infrastructure. This is addressed in the Housing for All plan, but we need short-term measures to ensure these applications can proceed and be successful. To ensure that, we need investment in wastewater and drinking water. Otherwise, we will not see results as fast as we need to see them.
Over-the-shop premises and on-street premises that have been vacant for years are contained in the Housing for All plan. They provide a housing provision solution and could be a cornerstone to ensuring we bring vibrancy back to our high streets and main streets in rural towns and villages so we get people living there. Incentives for landlords and local authorities to take on and refurbish these premises are needed in the short term.
I commend the Minister, the Department and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, on the work and effort they put into producing this document.
Táimid i lár géarchéime tithíochta faoi láthair, géarchéim atá ann mar gheall ar pholasaithe an Rialtais le blianta anuas agus mar gheall go raibh buiséad i ndiadh buiséid le cúig bliain anuas nár ndeachaigh i ngleic leis an ngéarchéim seo, buiséid de bhunú Fhine Gael ach le tacaíocht ó Fhianna Fáil. Níl sa phlean seo ach polasaithe Rebuilding Ireland. B'fhéidir go bhfuil ainm eile air ach sin atá i gceist.
An rud a dteastaíonn ná 20,000 teach gach uile bliain; tithe shóisialta, tithe ar phraghas réasúnta agus tithe atá ar chíos ar phraghas réasúnta, ach ní sin atá ann. Táthar ag úsáid figiúirí a bhaineann le deich mbliana ach caithfidh muid a bheith réalaíoch faoi céard atá i gceist gach uile bhliain. Tá laghdú de 10,000 teach i gceist nuair a bhreathnaímid go 2030; 90,000 teach a bheas i gceist seachas 100,000 teach mar a dúradh linn ón tús.
Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil ganntanas ann, mar a dúradh níos luaithe, i dtéarmaí infreastruchtúir. Ní hé muidne díreach atá á rá sin ach is léir go bhfuil na Teachtaí ar an taobh eile á rá freisin. Chomh maith leis sin, tá an ESRI, an OECD agus an IMF fiú á rá. Teastaíonn infheistíocht cuí mar gheall air sin. Teastaíonn 20,000 teach in aghaidh na bliana ach níl i gceist don bhliain seo chugainn ach 11,000 teach. Níl sé sin i ndóthain. Tá daoine ag streachailt lá i ndiadh lae i nGaillimh, sna cathracha agus faoin tuath mar gheall ar an easpa infreastruchtúir cuí sa tír agus mar gheall nach bhfuil tithe ar phraghas réasúnta, tithe sóisialta nó fiú tithe ar chíos réasúnta ar fáil. Tá daoine ag streachailt mar gheall air sin.
Caithimid dul i ngleic leis seo. Níl an plean seo ag dul i ngleic leis ach caithimid é sin a dhéanamh agus a chinntiú go mbeidh 20,000 teach in aghaidh na bliana ar fáil do mhuintir an Stáit seo mar níl an méid atá ag tarlú faoi láthair sách maith.
The Housing for All policy was launched by the Government to a big fanfare. However, the policy would be better called "Housing for the few and not the many". Since the policy launch, people and independent experts have had a chance to examine the details of the proposals and concluded that those proposals are problematic and, in areas, do not add up. For example, Social Justice Ireland has criticised the targets set by the Housing for All policy of 33,000 new homes every year, as well as 90,000 social homes over the period from 2021 to 2030. These targets were established from housing need and demand assessments, HNDAs, and from research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. Social Justice Ireland rightly contends the data from these targets indicates they are insufficient to meet the needs and that substantial numbers of the social housing targets will be delivered through the private sector using HAP.
This housing plan is developer-led and we have seen in the past how a reliance on the private sector was a central factor in the housing crash which, in turn, led to the economy crashing. It would not be an exaggeration to say this Government's housing plan is heading in the direction of only one long-term outcome, and that is the crash of the economy, similar to what we experienced in the past.
This policy also shows there is a wide gap between what the Government regards as affordable and what is realistically affordable for the ordinary person. The only people who will be happy with the shared equity scheme will be developers. Deputies would have to be blinkered not to see the scheme will inflate prices and increase developer profits to the detriment of the would-be home purchaser. The Minister needs to take on board the legitimate criticisms, not just from Sinn Féin, but from housing experts and other bodies.
The Housing for All strategy has outlined four main aims: "[to] support home ownership and increase affordability; [to] eradicate homelessness, increase social housing delivery and support social inclusion; [to] increase new housing supply; [and to] address vacancy and make efficient use of existing stock." The aspirations within the plan include "over 90,000 social homes by the end of 2030, including an average new-build component of over 9,500 social homes" during that time; some "54,000 affordable homes between now and 2030 with yearly targets for the provision of affordable Housing" and a "focus on new builds to provide social homes, with the ending of long-term social housing leasing arrangements through the phasing out of new entrants." Beyond these targets, what are the headwinds to this policy? I believe affordability is now the main issue and the main danger to the aspirations of the Minister and the Department.
There are the increasing supply chain costs, which may not recede. I do not believe they will ever go back to pre-pandemic levels. There is the lack of skilled labour and new entrants to the labour market, which is causing a consequent rise in wages and overheads. There are significant developer water and electricity connection fees. Other build costs have escalated quickly, including professional services, insurance finance, interest charges and embedded Irish building supply costs, particularly the cost of materials such as timber, concrete and insulated panels. The Minister of State might not be aware of this, but if he were to go to get a container of building materials comprising largely of those three items in Poland, he would pay up to 30% less than in Ireland today. What about the Government's take of fees and taxes in the build costs? The figure includes VAT, developer levies and other fees, which can be up to 25% of a new build cost. Perhaps the Department might devise a mechanism whereby a tax credit is retrospectively awarded to first-time buyers to assist purchase but in a timeframe that would not lead to developer price escalation.
I refer to the town and rural regeneration schemes. Getting existing property into habitable use should be a primary goal of the policy. However, how are planning applications and requirements to be fast-tracked? How will objections be dealt with? How should listed buildings be dealt with while still incentivising owners to develop or is the plan to CPO these properties? If so, in what timeframe will that deliver new home opportunities? In addition, rural planning and minimum density guidelines have not been confirmed in respect of the new plan, and local authorities are now drafting their development plans in these areas. We need to see certainty in respect of preferential planning to continue for families to be able to build on their own lands. This should be extended to nieces and nephews. Many rural villages cannot avail of minimum density requirements, and if discretion is not offered in this area, erosion of rural communities will continue. Areas in my constituency such as Ballyduff Upper, Ballysaggart, Dunhill and Clonea-Power will not have new builds. If we cannot have a certain amount of one-off housing in those villages, they will die on their feet, as they are dying at present.
The local authority purchase scheme, whereby the local authority proposes to take an equity share, is be supported by a Government affordable housing scheme. I understand that the Department is using a rolling 12-month average build cost to estimate the support it will provide to each local authority. Given the rapid change in building supply costs, I ask the Minister of State's officials to take a second look at this analysis; otherwise, local authorities such as mine in Waterford will struggle to deliver on this policy, given the recent rapid price movements in the construction sector in the south east.
I reiterate what other Deputies have said about it being a disgrace that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has not stayed to listen to the debate. This has happened in large part because Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin have changed the way in which the Dáil operates, meaning that now most of those due to speak for those three parties have spoken before Opposition parties such as mine can get to speak. This is despite the fact that some of these guys have an opportunity to speak to the Ministers at their parliamentary party meetings anyway.
Vacant homes is probably one of the biggest scandals of the housing crisis over recent years. It is incredible that right now the Government does not know how many vacant homes exist in the State. Let that sink in for a second. We are in a housing crisis that has been going on for years. Fine Gael has been in government for more than ten years while Fianna Fáil has been in government for the past year and a half and supported the previous Government, yet the Government does not know how many vacant homes there are in this country. We have the highest rents and house prices in Europe. We have spiralling homelessness and people waiting on housing lists. The vacancy element is still not understood by the Government. It is not even that the Government is acting on it to change it; it does not know how many vacant homes exist in this State.
I asked the Minister for Finance last July, when he was implementing his new local property tax, LPT, Bill, whereby he was reforming that tax, whether he would levy a higher tax on vacant houses so we could mobilise some of those homes into use. The Minister said the Government did not know how many houses were vacant and did not know why they were vacant. As a result, he will carry out some investigation or research into this before he will decide whether to introduce a tax on those vacant homes. It is so frustrating to most of the people in the country to listen to a sentence like that, which exudes a complete lack of urgency, and then to look at the housing crisis as it exists for most people, which is a matter of urgency. That chasm between the Government's understanding of the problem and where the people are is incredible.
The Minister is on record as having said he does not believe that a tax on vacant homes will be a game changer. There are no silver bullets in the housing crisis. There are a large numbers of levers that, when all pulled, will have a positive effect on the housing market, and vacancy is one of the biggest of those levers.
The GeoView directory, which was done in quarter 4 of 2020, takes the number of homes that are considered vacant by An Post. It shows that there are 92,000 vacant homes in this State. Some 4.6% of the housing stock is vacant. In at least ten towns and villages in my constituency, streets, including the main streets, are festooned with vacant homes. This is happening at a time people are in crisis. The frustrating part of this is that dealing with vacancy is probably the quickest solution to some elements of the housing crisis. It is much faster to get a home that is 80% built into use than going from design on paper to a complete build of a new home. It costs a lot less to do the job as well. In the context of the Green Party, getting those vacant homes back into use would have the lowest carbon impact. Still there is no urgency on the part of the Government to do this at all. It strikes me at times that the location of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is now more in Dublin than in the rest of the country. Is it because of their lack of understanding of what is happening in the rest of the country that they are slow in fixing the vacancy issue? It is a disgraceful dereliction of duty on the part of the Minister, given the housing crisis.
I had only four and a half minutes to speak on this. I would have loved to have mentioned a lot more, but if there is one thing the Government should set about doing with energy, it is fixing the problem of vacancy because it will also rejuvenate those towns. It will get them back to a vibrancy they have been missing for a long time.
I am after listening to this debate for the past hour and a half and, like many fair-minded people, I try to digest it and listen to the facts and the counter-arguments being made. However, there is a lie being perpetuated here by many people on the Opposition benches tonight and in recent months. The lie is that these caps on affordable houses are actual prices. In my case, the cap will be €450,000 in Cork city and €400,000 the county. I have listened to Opposition Members over recent months perpetuate this lie. One affordable housing scheme has been launched in Cork city because Cork City Council took the initiative to get ahead of the legislation and to launch its own scheme. A two-bed house is €175,000 and a three-bed house is €215,000. This myth and this lie that has been perpetuated by people in the Opposition needs to be called out for what it is. When I turn on my local radio station, I hear that lie regarding the affordable housing plan being given every day.
As I said at the outset, I am a fair-minded person. Am I saying that everything in the contents of this report is perfect? No - far from it. I myself have issues with a number of items in it. At the same time, however, I need to promote some of the positives from it. Fianna Fáil agreed as an Opposition party that we would abolish the SHD process. While that is taking a bit longer than we would like, it is being done. It is being delivered in this plan and SHDs are being phased out. We also gave a commitment that we would treble spending moving from the Rebuilding Ireland programme to this current plan, and we have done that. That is costed and in the document. We have also provided for a new cost-rental model and it might not be for everybody. It is certainly not for me. As a person with a young family, I want to set down my roots. I want to stay in my locality and buy my own home. However, a cost-rental model is now being launched. Many of those homes have been announced in Dublin in recent months and they will come to Cork as well shortly, with an announcement due in my town of Glanmire.
There are challenges, which a number of speakers referred to, including in regard to Irish Water and infrastructure. As Deputy Shanahan said, the inflationary cost of building homes is probably the main issue at this time. This is a plan for the delivery of affordable housing. The great difficulty I have with it, and this is a question I have put to the Minister and both Ministers of State in the Department, concerns what implications those exorbitant costs might have for the deliverability of the plan in respect of the number of social and affordable units provided. There are several actions we can take to rectify that problem. We can consider changes to the standards and regulations, which are adding to the costs of building in other sectors. For example, €56,000 for a water pump is a charge many people will be expected to face in retrofitting their homes in the coming years. It would be just as easy to retrofit an oil heating system for €5,000, which is a fraction of the cost, and source the energy needed from biofuels and other sustainable energy sources.
As I said at the outset, we need to dispel the myth that this plan is anti-tenant and anti-homeowner; it is far from it. In fact, it is the first constructive attempt at addressing the housing problem in the past decade. That needs to be acknowledged.
I met the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, last week at a beautiful new housing development in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny. I was delighted to see a number of one-bedroom homes included in that development, particularly from the perspective of accessibility for people with disabilities but also because we need to build more one-bedroom and two-bedroom units in a context where people are living longer and may require smaller homes later in life. It is important that Housing for All should address that need as soon as possible.
I have spoken to the Minister of State previously about how delighted we are in the south east to be getting a technological university. We are exceptionally lucky in County Carlow that we can access two excellent third-level colleges. However, there is going to be a massive lack of housing supply in the area. The drawback of the presence of a technological university will be felt by people who are on the local authority list, in receipt of HAP and finding it hard to find accommodation to rent. Every September, people come into my clinics saying they cannot find a house and there is nothing to rent. That needs to be addressed and it requires looking at supply. We have had 32 cases of homelessness in Carlow in the past few weeks, which is unacceptable. We need to ensure no one is homeless. Everyone should have a home.
I have concerns about the HAP scheme in that people are finding it hard going now because they are paying landlords and local authorities so much. Many are on the breadline. Then there are the people who do not qualify for the housing list, who are also finding it really hard. As the Minister of State will be aware, Carlow is one of the local authorities that has a cap on eligibility for applicants to the list. That is another issue. We need to examine the ceiling to qualify for acceptance on local authority housing lists. Previous speakers referred to affordable housing. Provision of such housing is crucial but we have none of it in Carlow. We must make sure that what is set out in the plan is delivered within a quick timeframe. I have nine or ten cases of people contacting my office who would be delighted to get an affordable house, but there seem to be problems with wastewater and all those issues. We need to address all those problems.
In addition on the issue of affordability, according to daft.ie, County Carlow experienced Leinster's second-highest house price increase this year, at a whopping 14.4%, with the average house price now standing at €226,391. Outside Dublin, we are all seeing a large rise in prices in rural towns such as my own in Carlow-Kilkenny. I know the Minister and the Minister of State are committed to dealing with this but delivery is key if we are to deal quickly with the lack of supply.
In the time remaining, I want to speak about an issue I have raised several times with both the Minister and the Minister of State. Capital funding for Carlow County Council is down by nearly €3 million annually. Indeed, it gets one of the lowest allocations of capital funding in the State from central government. That is unacceptable and everyone in Carlow is paying the price for it. Services are not being delivered because those who deliver them cannot afford to do so. There is a major issue with staffing and service providers cannot afford to pay staff. The only people who will suffer in the long run are the people of Carlow. I am asking the Minister of State, as a representative of Carlow-Kilkenny, to secure more capital funding for Carlow County Council and make sure it gets the staff it deserves.
We have before us an ambitious plan to tackle the housing crisis, which is an issue of vital importance to families up and down the country. Many of the points I have heard from Opposition Deputies today are simply that - opposition for opposition's sake. That helps no one who wants to own his or her own home. Listening to the debate, one could be forgiven for thinking Sinn Féin voted against the Government's Affordable Housing Bill. In fact, the party's Members voted for it. As for the legislation to establish the LDA, the body charged with the delivery of public homes on public lands, they opposed it without even attempting to shape or amend it. Their opposition to the shared equity scheme stands in total contradiction to their stance on the similar scheme operating in Northern Ireland, which party representatives there oversee. Sinn Féin's opposition to the help-to-buy scheme did not help the 20,000 people who need support to purchase a home.
Sinn Féin says it wants to solve the housing crisis but there is a big difference between what party members say and what they do. Local authorities are tasked with delivering homes on public lands and councillors are asked to support them in that objective. Fine Gael members on South Dublin County Council, which is my local authority, have voted in favour of 96% of proposed homes on council lands. Sinn Féin members have voted for only 44% so they voted against 56% of houses the council proposed to build on council-owned land. In fact, they have opposed almost 1,500 homes that the chief executive of South Dublin County Council has sought for approval. That figure is close to 6,000 when the numbers for the whole of County Dublin are included. Sinn Féin does not look like a party that is serious abut building homes. It does not look like a party that is serious about delivering homes on public land. Indeed, its stance looks an awful lot like opposition for opposition's sake. The latest tactic of the party's councillors seems to be to abstain altogether and refuse to use the voice and vote that people elected them to use. We saw this in Tallaght just a few weeks ago when Sin Féin councillors refused to vote either way on a proposal for 620 homes, 80% of which would be social or affordable. In the lead-up to that vote, they told people they were against the project. When it became obvious that they would not get away with a free ride in opposing it, they abstained, leaving their constituents wondering where they stand.
The Opposition's ambition for solving the housing crisis does not measure up against its record in my local authority. There is a big difference between what Sinn Féin says and what it does. As I speak, there are boots on the ground in Kilcarberry, Clondalkin, where more than 1,000 new homes are being constructed, in excess of 300 of which will be social housing. Sinn Féin voted against that development. Solving the housing crisis requires ambition, not opposition. Our ambition is set out in Housing for All. It is a radical, realistic and costed plan, underpinned by record State investment. It will help families to access affordable, high-quality housing for purchase or rent. It has been broadly welcomed by NGOs working with families who need homes, but surprise, surprise, it is being opposed by Sinn Féin. To reach our targets, unprecedented levels of funding are being provided for housing. Over the next five years alone, more than €20 billion will be made available. That represents a doubling of the budget, with €4 billion to be invested in housing every year. Housing for All is a costed and comprehensive plan. It provides multimillion euro funding on a multi-annual basis and it is going to deliver homes. At the end of the day, that is all people care about. When I speak to my constituents, they are not concerned about who builds houses or what ideology is behind their delivery. They just want good-quality and affordable homes. That is what Housing for All will deliver.
I am sharing time with Deputy Mattie McGrath. I sincerely hope this plan will, as its name suggests, deliver housing for all. Such delivery is badly needed in this country. We have a housing crisis throughout our cities and we certainly have a massive crisis in west Cork. Last Friday, 12 people came into my clinic in Bandon, seven of whom have a housing issue. Two of them are homeless.
This new thing of couch-surfing is very popular now in west Cork. I only heard about it in the past six or seven months. Although housing has always been an issue, the problem is growing and I do not see a solution to it. I sincerely hope there is a solution.
I do not like to condemn something until it is given time to work but we certainly need to look at the current housing situation in towns and villages such as Ballinadee, Ballinspittle, Goleen and Ballydehob in west Cork. There are fabulous places to live in these towns and fabulous opportunities that have never been developed. Why are grants not being given to get people living over shops or pubs? There should be grants for people who want to develop their town or village but cannot afford to do so right now. Consideration should be given to grants for people who own derelict houses. If those people avail of a grant in respect of the derelict property, then, obviously, they must let the house afterwards. They should be given tax relief if they do so. That is how we can get the system up and running but it has not been done up to now.
I have been very critical of the planning regulations, rules and laws that are in place because planning is a no-go area in west Cork. There are young people who want to build a home on the family farm and help to rebuild rural communities but they are not being allowed to do so for silly and nonsensical reasons. The whole thing needs to be shredded. Local authorities and local planning rules will have to be changed completely.
In west Cork, people are trying to work from home and get their lives together through this damn pandemic. In fairness, the local mobile phone company, Three Ireland, put up a new mast in Gaggan, near Bandon. The Department has encouraged the erection of little masts to provide broadband. However, the planning authority in Cork County Council has now decided it wants the mast pulled down. It is an insane situation. One cannot even see the masts in Gaggan, just outside Bandon town. A significant number of people will be insane about this when it is revealed that the local planning authority has turned down the mast. The decision has gone to appeal before An Bord Pleanála. The whole point I am trying to make is that anywhere I drive in Dublin city, there are masts everywhere. I have no issue with that. That is the way it has to be because life has to progress. The mast near Bandon could not be seen but the planning authority decided to object to it. We are in a dire situation in respect of planning and somebody in the Government needs to wake up. If we want people to return to rural communities and live there, the Government has to decide to change the planning rules.
Deputy Murnane O'Connor referred to County Kilkenny. I want to wish Bobby Aylward, our former colleague from that county, well. He is going through a bad patch at the moment. Is an-chara liom agus le gach éinne é. He is a former colleague of the Minister.
I previously asked the Minister of State to come to see one of the great Irish houses near where I live, in Knocklofty. Will he please come down to see it? It is part of our national heritage. Knocklofty House is being plundered. I was at one of the houses on the site last night. It was a very sad occasion. I was shocked to see the state of it. The Minister promised to come down in September but September is nearly over. "Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár." Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad anois? Níl píosa adhmad ar bith le fáil.
This housing policy is great on paper but I am sick and tired of it. I was on the committee for five years and I just walked away from it. If thought could build houses, there would be no one homeless. Who would have thought there would be so many homeless families? There are 753 families homeless at the moment. That there are 2,120 homeless children and 8,212 homeless adults is a shocking indictment. In response, the Government gives us reports like this.
I am not going to play politics like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin did the other night. There is not even one Sinn Féin Deputy present for this debate, which is amazing. They would build sandcastles in the sky for you, no bother, but none of them ever drew a plan or built a house in their life or was part of a voluntary housing association or anything else.
The Government needs to go back to basics. It needs to go back to voluntary housing associations and support them. I did it myself with voluntary lay people. We have bureaucracy now and rules and guidelines and all kinds of rubbish and regulations. Many of them are the result of the actions of the Minister's party. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is sitting there and will not allow a tree to be cut down. One cannot get a bit of timber now. The price has gone up. A supplier will not give a price more than three days in advance because the price is going up and up. The Government is fooling itself by hiring extra experts. A man who plants a tree should be allowed to harvest it in the same way as a man who plants spuds, beet, miscanthus or anything else can harvest them. God's law is that one reaps what one sows. What the hell kind of laws do we have here that we will not allow that? The price of oil has gone up. The Government closed all the peat plants. The price of insulation has gone through the roof because of the increase in the cost of oil. It is the same with everything else. The Government is talking about other things instead of sorting out those problems.
I refer to families trying to get planning permission in rural Ireland. Someone asked about getting planning permission for nieces and nephews a while ago. One cannot even get it for sons or daughters. It is a mockery. To think that we are a herding people. Let us take the situation in cities and the small towns such as Clonmel, Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel and all the rest. Mrs. Mary O'Gorman, who is in her 80th year, is the aon duine amháin, the only person living on O'Connell Street in Clonmel. It used to be a busy, bustling business street but it was also a living town for many families. There is only one person left living on the street. All the buildings are empty, whether upstairs, downstairs or whatever. Many of the shopfronts are empty too. We have been talking about doing something with those schemes and centres for so long. Talk will not sort this out and neither will these plans or announcements.
I understand the plan was delayed several times because of ideological disagreements. There is no longer any ideological difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They are all the one - joined at the hip. Fadó, fadó, there were arguments outside church gates and speakers at podiums. I remember the goings-on at election time and everything else. Now they are all the one.
The Government needs to start listening to the people and to have compassion but, above allow, it needs to allow people who have a site and can build a house to do so. Then it needs to make building a house affordable. It is not affordable. The prices are going up by the hour. There are no apprenticeships. All the apprentices who are out on sites at the moment will be going back into college. Who will be left to do the work? There is no one there. Many of the non-nationals have left and gone home. There are fundamental problems. This Housing for All plan will not deliver. It is more likely to be housing for none. A fundamental change is needed.
I have listened to the debate so far and the one issue that has seemed to unify both sides of the House is an emphasis on derelict sites and dereliction. I wish to very much focus on that issue. All Members accept there is a dire need for housing. My county of Clare is no different from any other in that regard. I wish to focus on dereliction because many Deputies spoke about the number of derelict houses across rural Ireland. The only place in which one does not see widespread dereliction is Dublin. Even then there is dereliction in parts of Dublin and certainly there is a significant space not utilised over shops, business premises, etc. In fairness, the Housing for All plan mentions dereliction quite a bit, but when one drills down into it and looks at the concrete steps to be taken, one sees that dereliction is only mentioned once in the chapter dealing with the table of actions - it is one of the last chapters of the plan - and that reference is in the context of harnessing European regional development funding to tackle vacancy and dereliction in towns.
The lead is to be taken by the regional assemblies. I have never served on a local authority but, as far as I know, regional assemblies are comprised of members of local authorities. Local authorities already have extensive powers under the Derelict Sites Act 1990 in respect of dereliction. Under the Act, local authorities have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that any lands situated in their functional area do not become derelict. They can serve a notice on the owner of a derelict site. The Minister can direct the local authority to serve a notice in respect of a site. The Minister can make a direction in respect of any land on the derelict sites register that is owned by a statutory body. Local authorities have the power to acquire, by agreement or compulsorily, any derelict site in their functional area and use it for whatever purpose they wish. Local authorities have the power to issue a derelict sites levy. That is a considerable range of powers. It may be the case that there is very little about derelict sites in the Housing for All plan because there are extensive powers on the Statute Book.
However, very little is being done with those powers across the country. I tabled a series of parliamentary questions on this issue earlier this month I asked about the number of derelict sites registered for each local authority, the number of notices issued under section 11 by each local authority in 2019, 2020 and 2021, the number of directions made by the Minister and his predecessors under section 12, the number of directions made by the Minister and his predecessors under section 13, and the number of derelict sites acquired by each local authority under the powers provided to them.
The table is quite depressing. Notwithstanding all of the powers and the number of people who are looking for social housing in every county in Ireland, we see that very little is being done.
In my own county of Clare, four notices were issued and no levies were collected. County Clare is probably among the poorer performing counties, but it is by no means the worst and by no means unique. Everybody agrees that dereliction is a problem and we need to bring these properties back into the housing stock, but nobody seems to do anything about it. That is not to take a cut at any particular side. The Government parties do not control the local authorities.
I have three minutes. I will do my best to remain focused in those three minutes.
I have with me the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness from 2016. The only difference I see between that plan and the new plan is that two Deputies introduced that plan and three Deputies are introducing this plan. In the previous plan, we were told by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, that, "A truly ambitious social housing programme of 47,000 units to 2021 will be delivered with funding of €5.35 billion." It did not happen. The former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, told us the range of options set out in the plan was ambitious. I also have with me the new plan. I read both plans, so sad is my life, to try to see if there was something positive I could say, which I can. There are some positive initiatives in the plan. My difficulty is that the Government is following the same failed model. We are being accused of ideology. I do not think the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is going to listen to me, but I was elected to give voice to those who think differently and who want to give constructive criticism and show there is a different way.
The Minister made a speech today. In case we were in any doubt, he told us that this is a plan for the so-called squeezed middle. I hope the Minister of State hears that. He is part of this Government that has a plan for the squeezed middle. In the Minister's foreword to the plan, he repeatedly uses the phrase "squeezed middle" and keeps telling us about it, in case we were in any doubt. In two and a half pages of a foreword, he mentions the squeezed middle four times. He then tells us who the squeezed middle are. In case we do not know who they are, we are told they are the "people who work hard and play by the rules but seem to have nothing to show for it at the end of the day". Can you imagine that as a basis for a housing plan for all to inspire confidence? How could something as divisive and terrible as that inspire confidence in us?
I think about beautiful Galway city. Tá me thar a bheith bródúil as. Rugadh agus tógadh mé ann. Tá géarchéim úafásach ann atá ag leanúint ar aghaidh bliain i ndiaidh bliana. We look at that and we see the homeless figures. Nationally, 8,212 people are in emergency accommodation. In Galway, there are 241 homeless adults in emergency accommodation. House prices have gone up by 14.3%. People are on a social housing waiting list going back to 2005. A housing task force that was set up in 2019 has never once produced an annual report that I have had sight of. One of the nine terms of reference stated it would produce such a report. We are being accused of ideology. The ideology is on the part of Government that believes the market will provide. The market has utterly failed to provide. There is a role for the market, but the State has a role to play in conveying the strong message that we are not talking about a home as a commodity. A home is the most basic unit and we must provide public homes on public land that will bring down the price of houses. The Government is artificially keeping house prices up.
I understand that more than €1 billion will go into HAP alone. I welcome the fact the Government is going to phase the scheme out gradually, but it was one of the biggest mistakes. When there is talk about billions going into social housing, it is going into the private landlords' pockets.