Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Housing for All: Statements (Resumed)
I believe I am sharing some of that time. I certainly have not prepared to contribute for 20 minutes, and I hear incredulity from behind me at my having 20 minutes, so I assume I am sharing time with Deputies Jim O'Callaghan and Durkan.
I did not think I would be sharing that much. I had better get moving. I will be as quick as I am forced to be.
I welcome the Housing for All plan. I think one of the key issues regarding the housing crisis facing renters and people looking to buy is affordability and people being unable to find suitable homes. We are talking about a home, not just a house or a place to stay. To build communities is at the heart of Housing for All.
One of the things driving that affordability is the roll-out of cost rental. Cost rental is an incredibly important way of controlling rents for those who are able to access cost rental. It has been shown to have the effect of reducing rents and putting a downward pressure on rents generally across all rental accommodation, so it is very welcome to see. As well as driving affordability, cost rental has been a key component of Green Party housing policy for quite some time. We fought for it in the programme for Government negotiations and in respect of the Housing for All plan, and it is great to see that the Green Party policy of cost rental is now central in Housing for All and in delivering affordability.
I also wish to talk about the measures introduced to share the increase in value from zoning. This is incredibly important legislation. I refer to financial management to reduce speculation that is driving up costs and making life hard for those seeking homes to rent and to buy. This is an important measure and one the Green Party introduced when we were last in government to try to take the legs out from under land speculation. It was referred to in the Kenny report all those years ago and we finally implemented it. Unfortunately, it was removed in 2015 by the then Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, so I am very glad to see that it is coming back. If we read the news reported bravely by Dublin Inquirerregarding the former Chivers site in Coolock, we see exactly why this is needed. There, lobbying by Veni Vidi Vici Limited pushed for rezoning of a former industrial site with emails to councillors talking about how kids would no longer need to live in bed and breakfast accommodation if they rezoned the site. The site was rezoned, has increased in value by ten and is now back on the open market without a single house having been built. Without a single child having been removed from a bed and breakfast, it has been flipped and put back on the market. This is exactly the sort of thing that would have been prevented if the Green Party's measure on windfall tax on rezoned land had never been removed.
I welcome the Housing for All plan. It is a plan and a document that recognises the scale of the housing crisis that exists in this country at present. One of the reasons I welcome the document is that it recognises that this is not just a housing issue but also a societal issue. We need to recognise that in this House, and I believe that the Government is coming to recognise it with the publication of this document.
Since Independence in Ireland, a social contract has existed between the citizen and the State. One of the clauses of that social contract was that if you worked hard and got a good job, you would be able to own a house of your own, that is, you would be able to buy a house. As we know, good jobs in this country were not always available, but certainly from the second half of the last century many good jobs did become available, and the vast majority of people who worked in private business or in the public sector were able to say they would be able to buy and own their own houses. Obviously, it was always the case as well that there were people who were not able to buy their own houses. That is why it was so important for the State to step in and build local authority houses. Houses were available for people to rent and to live in long-term with security from the local authority.
It is now the case, however, in respect of the social contract that young people today face a terrifying prospect. They now can find themselves having good jobs and earning very good money but having no prospect of ever being able to buy a home of their own. They are becoming involuntary lifelong renters. We need to recognise that this is not a transient issue. Sometimes there are issues we debate in this House of which we can say fairly that if we leave them for a number of years they will resolve themselves. That is not the case with the housing crisis the country now faces. Let us be clear about it: this crisis is an existential threat to the social contract I described earlier and, if not addressed, the problem will get significantly worse. We have to be careful that we do not allow our society to be divided into two different groups of those who are property owners and those who are not property owners but renters. As well as this having a significant social impact, it will also have a significant political impact. People in this House may think it will benefit those who are in the Opposition and damage those who are in government. That may be the case. My concern, however, is that the political impact it will have, unless we resolve this crisis, will go far beyond the issues that are addressed in this House and there will be political consequences that none of us here are aware will occur. We know that part of the benefit of the social contract that exists in this country is that we have social solidarity between different groups. That is extremely important when it comes to dealing with issues such as climate change or Covid or trying to rebuild our health service. If we lose that social solidarity and lose the terms of that social contract, we will find ourselves in a very difficult position where different groups will not be prepared to agree to terms that we know are for the benefit of us all as a collective. We need to recognise that all generations need to make sacrifices in order to resolve this issue. However, older generations and those of us who are property owners need to recognise that the people who are really suffering are those younger people who are unable to purchase their own houses, notwithstanding the fact that they have good jobs.
Three issues come to mind from Housing for All that we need to focus on and which I wish to address. The first is that we need to focus public expenditure on availability and affordability of homes. I am pleased to say that Housing for All contains a range of measures designed to address these issues and others. We need to implement Housing for All. I know there will be very many criticisms about the fact that it looks like another glossy document. There is much more to it than that. It is a serious plan but it will be dependent on implementation by the Government, and we have to commit ourselves to ensure that it is implemented.
Second, the Government and the Minister need to be flexible in respect of that implementation because, inevitably, some parts of the plan will be more effective than others. We therefore need to have the flexibility to re-evaluate what is working well and what is not working well.
Third, we need to recognise that our laws need to change in order that it becomes uneconomic for large funds to purchase residential property. In my constituency a new site has just been developed. It has not gone up for sale. People pass by and ask how much the units are going for. None of them are for sale; they have already all been purchased. Another site that is about to be developed in Milltown is being promoted in the same way. We need to look at amending our tax laws in order that we impose punitive taxes on those funds that seek to buy up new properties that have been developed. If those funds want to buy their own land, build their own houses and rent them out, they are entitled to do that, but what we cannot allow any further is that these funds come in and buy up properties that young people want and have some capacity to purchase.
We sometimes talk in this House about amending the Constitution to include a right to housing. If we need to amend the Constitution, let us do it. We should not be fearful of that. Let us not spend endless time having different lawyers discuss whether our Constitution is flexible enough at present to permit further State intervention. If we are going to intervene in the Constitution and change it, the way we should do so is by stating expressly that the State can intervene to discriminate in favour of first-time purchasers who are trying to buy a home.
The final action we need to concentrate on is addressing the decline in construction skills. That requires engaging with industry and trade unions. We cannot continue to have a situation whereby, when there is a recession, there is an automatic decline in expertise in the construction sector. We need a viable and long-term solution to ensure those valuable skills remain available to the sector.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. There is much talk in these discussions about the generation comprising those aged 25 to 35, about whom I know a lot from a personal perspective as well as a professional and political perspective. The question people in that age group have on their mind - perhaps not all of them at age 25, but it will articulate itself at some stage - is whether they can own their own place. For the current generation, however, particularly those aged 25 to 30, that question has changed to wondering when they can have their own place, never mind buying it, or whether they will always have to share.
I was 26 when my wife and I bought our own property, which was not unusual at the time. In fact, we probably came quite late to owning our own home. That was what most young couples did; they saved for a mortgage and there was time, space and the disposable income to do so. Later, in the early 1990s, mortgage interest rates hit 16% or 17% and we did not go out for approximately four months because there was not a penny to spend. However, home ownership was an aspiration for people. There are areas of my constituency populated by a generation of people for whom one income was sufficient to run a household and pay a mortgage, with one of the partners staying at home. That was more common than not.
Circumstances have changed considerably since then. The idea of a house having a monetary value beyond one's own lifetime, the drive to accumulate property and all of that became big issues. As I said, young people are asking when they will have their own place, whether they will be able to buy a place, whether it will be close to where they live if that is their choice, and how much it will cost. These are questions we have to answer. They are also questions that are easy for Opposition Members to exploit. If I were in their shoes, I might be inclined to exploit them as they do, although we were not like that when we were in opposition. There are significant changes contained in the Housing for All plan, including the ending of SHDs and co-living schemes. A number of the worst policy excess of the past few years are addressed in the plan. However, they are not recognised by anybody in opposition. No credit is ever given to this side of the House. There is no acknowledgement that we on this side of the Chamber want a future for our young people and want them to be able to have their own homes to own or to rent. In fact, it is this objective that motivates me more than anything.
It is easy now that the plan has been presented for some in the Opposition to say they see nothing good in any of it. I recognise it is not prefect and I would be the first to criticise elements of it in the appropriate environment and context. I have done so, but I also make constructive contributions and suggestions. We are facing into a perfect storm in the housing sector, with issues arising in the supply of materials and labour. Of course, those issues will be exploited to argue that there has been a failure to deliver X or Y. I will give way now to my colleague, Deputy Durkan.
I thank my colleague for sharing time. This is a important issue. If this debate were to be organised again, it would be helpful to have allowed for a longer debate to accommodate Members' contributions. Housing is the issue that has taken up most of our time and concerns when we engaged with constituents over the past seven years. There are a number of reasons for that. I have noted all the points made by previous speakers, some valid and others not so valid. An all-party committee that was set up back in 2014 encouraged all of us in the House to make suggestions on how to deal with the housing issue. I put forward the proposal at that time - it was interesting to see the same suggestion coming from a Deputy on the other side of the House earlier - that AHBs be suspended and everything be devoted towards direct build for tenancy or purchase. There was not a consensus on that suggestion, however, and it did not happen, but it should have happened. If it had been done then, we would not be in the position we are in now. The opportunity could have been taken at that time but events superseded everything and it was not possible to do it in the meantime. It had not been possible to do it prior to that time because the pillar banks were not in a position after the financial crisis to facilitate it. For one reason or another, they did not provide the necessary funding to allow building to take place in the way it should have done.
It is easy to be sceptical and to say at every stage that nothing is being done and nothing will work. We should not forget, as Deputy Lahart alluded to, that there used to be a suggestion that there was a preoccupation with home ownership in this country, which was claimed to be the cause of our housing problems. That is a load of rubbish. The reasons people want to own their own home go back to the Land War and the fight for fixity of tenure, fair rent and so on. It is interesting that those issues are coming up again in conversation in recent times, and rightly so. We have people on "Morning Ireland" telling us they want to rent, do not want to carry a mortgage and this is the way of the future. It is a load of rubbish and propaganda pushed to take people away in a different direction.
We are going in the right direction now, but whether we are doing so in time, I do not know. I believe there is time to address the issues, provided we tweak the legislation as we go along. It will be necessary to increase expenditure in the first year and probably the first three years. If we want a result, we must lay out the expenditure now. It is no good saying what we are going to do in five years. The problem will be worse in five years and we will be back where we are now, still having to make a start. I advise the Minister of State to be mindful of the necessity to increase the focus on expenditure in the first year, which is as and from now.
Deputy Conway-Walsh asked about the eligibility of people who have experienced family breakdown for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. That needs to be examined as a matter of urgency to ensure the loans are accessible. There is no sense in saying we will spend X amount and then do nothing more. If we want to deal with the situation for first-time buyers, we must look at the definition of who makes up that cohort. First-time buyers are individuals or couples who have not previously owned a house. That needs to be modified somewhat to enable people who are entering into a new contract between themselves to make an application for a loan in that context as opposed to their application being assessed on the basis of their previous arrangement.
Much emphasis has been placed on refurbishing older houses. It is a good idea in some circumstances but not in all. We should be wary of depending on such activity to deliver a host of houses.
The last point I want to make relates to the magnitude of the housing problem. This is a major issue and it has never before been as pressing. Reference was made to escalating prices. I know full well that developers will not pay a particular price for land for development purposes unless they know what they will eventually make a profit on it. The problem I see in this regard relates to certain changes that have been made.
Reference was made to zoning that has taken place. If it was not possible for the developer to know certain matters beforehand, he or she would not make outlandish bids for property because he or she would know there were restrictions in place.
A colleague referred to a site in Dublin city. There is a simple way to deal with that. There is a contract in such situations. The local authority can encourage the developer to enter into a contract containing a condition stipulating that if the developer undertakes to do a certain thing but does not do it, the ball is off. The developer would have no basis for actions such as those described. The land would have been rezoned under false pretences. It has been done previously. There have been many instances of it.
I do not know how much I can cover in the 16 seconds I have remaining.
All Deputies try to contribute on an issue of this magnitude on it. It is a very important issue. We can be cynical and sceptical about it, but we need to give it our best shot. It is to be hoped that this will be the last time we will have to do that because, as my colleague mentioned, people will become sceptical and they will pay a price. I still have 15 seconds left.
The Minister has finally launched his much talked about and often delayed Housing for All plan. Frankly, I find it underwhelming. One would like to think that those delays related to ensuring the plan was sturdy, deliverable and truly transformative. Unfortunately, it is not. What we have been presented with is more of the same, with lofty ten-year plans that do not solve the many immediate problems we face. Rental prices continue to rise and the plan does little to stymie that. The media suggested the delays were due to arguments between the Government parties. It is clear which of them won that argument. This is a Fine Gael plan - its fingerprints are all over it - written on Fianna Fáil headed paper.
I am proud to represent the constituency of Limerick City, which includes parts of north Tipperary. The area is in the middle of a housing crisis. The almost 6,000 people on housing waiting lists in Limerick do not benefit from this plan. The 2,500 people in need of HAP to help them to afford their rent gain nothing from the plan and neither do the thousands more who are paying extortionate rents without such assistance. The plan will not stop rents from increasing and it will not stop evictions.
Measures I would like to have seen in the plan are a ban on rent increases for three years and a rebate to renters in the form of a refundable tax credit, which would seriously help them. The Housing for All plan outlines a rent value freeze to 2024 but linking increases in RPZs to inflation is a bad move that will only increase rent prices in these areas.
Going by the recent comments of the Minister, he would have us believe that house prices are not out of control. We know from experience that what he says can vary widely from reality. The residential property price index figures show a yearly average increase in property prices of 8.6%. A June 2021 daft.iesales report indicated that Limerick city has seen the biggest jump of any city in the State, with average prices rising by 15.5%. That begs the question of what percentage increase the Minister would consider to be out of control. He is clearly out of control and, going by this offering, he is out of ideas as well.
The larger Government parties created the housing crisis and then exacerbated it, but now people are expected to accept that those same parties can fix it. This document fails to offer solutions to the big issues. It falls at nearly every juncture. Under this plan, social housing delivery will remain low and those looking to buy or those renting are offered nothing new. It is the status quoin shinier clothes. The social housing targets in the plan are lower than those promised by the previous Fine Gael Government. With this Government at the helm, I am not confident it will meet its own modest targets for social and affordable homes. In the past four years, only 4,326 social homes were built. I mentioned the housing waiting lists in Limerick. Is it any wonder those lists are so long, given that only 293 builds of this type were delivered in Limerick since 2019? We need 20,000 social and affordable houses to be built every year. We are past the point of crisis when it comes to housing and it is a crisis the Government parties created.
Housing for All misses the mark for a plan that took so long to pull together. It fails to meet the expectations the Minister set out before it was published. It falls short on some of the basic issues and it is just more of the same when it comes to housing policy of Governments of the past decade. Ordinary workers and families paying mad rents will not be in a better position as a result of this policy. Corporate landlords and vulture funds were at the table and they have had their way once again. They have walked away rubbing their hands. The Minister has repackaged Rebuilding Ireland and presented this plan as him having come up with solutions to the problems facing people seeking to buy their own home. In fact, it has fallen short of the targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland, with the Government now aiming to build 10,000 fewer homes than under the former plan.
In my constituency of Dublin Bay North, houses are being snapped up for prices way above their value. Families that have lived in the community for generations are being priced out. These are people who want to live and work in the communities in which they grew up but a crazy housing market is robbing them of that opportunity. According to the most recent daft.iereport, houses prices in Dublin have risen again. People are struggling but it is clear the Minister is completely out of touch with reality or just does not get it.
There is nothing in the plan for renters. They can expect their crazy rents to keep on rising. They have been overlooked again and again and they will continue to be fleeced. That is why Sinn Féin and others have been calling for a rent freeze for three years. We want to look at ways to put money back into the pockets of renters, but this plan does not do anything like that.
The Minister has been saying in recent days that the property market is not out of control. Is he for real? Seriously, is this coalition for real? It is failing people who want to own a home of their own. It is failing families, workers and a whole generation of young people who will never own a home of their own.
The Government's Housing for All plan lacks ambition and gives little comfort to those who are in desperate need of housing right now. There are numerous reports on house prices and rental prices. Whichever of the reports one chooses, the results are damning for this Government. The most recent national survey by Real Estate Alliance found that, since June, my county of Tipperary has experienced the biggest rise in house prices of any county. Prices for a three-bedroom semi-detached house in the county have soared by 9.2% in just three months. However, that is not the end of the story. In Nenagh, prices rose by 23.7%, to €235,000. That is back to boomtime levels. Meanwhile, even more extreme, a report by daft.iefound that house prices in Tipperary increased by 13.9% year on year. Rental prices have increased by 12.7% in the past year.
The Government has lost control of housing provision. That is made obvious by the claim in the Housing for All plan that there is a target of 156,000 private homes by 2030. That target means nothing as the Government cannot control or deliver it, but it is well able to shift blame. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen failure on the part of the Government to make any effective contingency plan. We have seen it in the education sector and now we are seeing it in the housing crisis. The impact of Covid and the procurement issues have resulted in the loss of 10,000 social homes. One would think the Government would address that shortfall, but it is not doing so. Instead, there is a commitment to 90,000 new social homes by 2030. However, that figure is 10,000 below the number of social houses promised under Rebuilding Ireland and the national development plan. Rather than making up for lost time, Covid is being used as an excuse for an underperforming Government with an under-ambitious housing policy.
The purpose of a plan of this nature is to make housing available for communities, towns and villages, but also to make it affordable for the people who need it. Again, the Government has failed to grasp this issue. That may be due to its over-reliance on the private sector to provide what the Fine Gael arm of the Government wants or it may be because the Fianna Fáil part of the Government has a history of failure. Whatever the reason, this plan again fails to grasp the reality that what people need is for house prices and rents to come down, rather than the Government's preferred option of increased debt for working people.
There is nothing in this plan to tackle the ever-increasing rises in rents. Through this plan, renters are being told to hang tight for another decade. They have been left with the possibility of facing eviction into a marketplace with nothing to offer.
Sinn Féin knows that the housing crisis can only be fixed if Government focuses on what it can control, namely, the direct delivery of social and affordable houses. We need a minimum of 12,000 social houses a year and 8,000 affordable homes - 4,000 through affordable purchase schemes, and 4,000 through affordable rent schemes. We need a doubling of direct capital investment by Government in public housing and public land; a three-year ban on rent increases and a month's rent back in every renters pocket through the refundable tax credit; and a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution.
Housing for All offers nothing new. Only a Sinn Féin Government and a Sinn Féin housing Minister will make the kind of change in housing that is needed in response to the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing crisis.
There are many issues that I could raise in regard to housing and housing needs, for example, the cost of rent, the cost of purchase, availability and so on. However, I wish to raise the issue of the lack of housing suitable for disabled people and the lack of will to meet the needs of disabled people who seek social housing. I have been contacted by many families where there are aged parents, perhaps in their 70s or 80s, and they have a disabled son or daughter living with them. The disabled person could be in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s, and they are still living at home with their parents. They have their name on the social housing list, often for in excess of ten years. Either the council is not forthcoming with accessible housing or, more often than not, the HSE will not provide the supports needed to allow the disabled person to live independently. In fact, frequently it is dragged out so much that the parent passes away or is no longer capable of looking after their son or daughter, and he or she end up being put in a residential home or, worse still, a nursing home against his or her will. This has to stop.
The Government states in the document that it is going to continue to assist the transition of people from congregated settings to community living. If it continues at the current pace, it could take 20 years for everyone to be moved. People are still being admitted to congregated settings and to nursing homes, even though there was a commitment given to relocate people to community settings in time to move on. Of course, that deadline was missed.
The Housing for All document states that the delivery of key health and social care support is particularly important and that strengthening and supporting such co-ordination for people with disabilities will be a particular focus. Will there be a ring-fenced budget for housing disabled people? Until the various Government agencies come together committed to delivering housing for disabled people with a dedicated budget to do so, it will not change. It is mentioned in the document that the Government is including disabled person's organisations in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. They should be included anyway and not just because the convention says so, but because it is the right and obvious thing to do.
In general, the number of people looking for a place to live continues to increase. The number of options to rent are zero unless exorbitantly priced. People are sleeping on the street, in cars, on the sofas of family or friends or in hovels, which best describes some of the rental properties on the market. A properly planned and resourced affordable housing scheme is needed. Building eight houses this year for affordable purchase just does not cut it. The most vulnerable are those who are just above the income threshold for social housing, but only just, and therefore cannot afford the rents being charged. Couples who are separating and have to vacate the home are also particularly hard hit.
The issue of derelict houses was raised by other Members. I have witnessed over the years attempts to draw up a register of derelict houses. It is never completed, or if it is, nothing is ever done about it. It is time to properly resource this and tackle the problem in a serious manner.
I have an email folder full of stories of ordinary people who are struggling to rent and buy at the moment. Some have been on social housing lists for more than ten years. Unfortunately, this is not a housing for all strategy, but more of the same failed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing policies that created the crisis in the first place. A constituent wrote the following to me this week:
I am writing to you again to vent my desperation with regards to my housing situation and ask for some help. I am 35 years old and born and raised in Dublin 15. I work in social care support services. I love my job and I have worked hard all my life. I am living in my parents' attic and have been trying for years to save for a mortgage. I am a single applicant, but the increase in house prices has meant that I am still stuck here and see no hope for the future and no hope that I, an adult woman, will ever be able to move out of my family home.
How disgraceful is that?
I would say that there is hope. Circumstances will change when this Government has been replaced and Sinn Féin begins to implement a people-led strategy. Sinn Féin has a plan to ensure the delivery of at least 20,000 social, affordable and rental homes, and also to deliver on social housing through new build acquisition and the refurbishment of vacant and derelict stock.
There is €500 million for developers in the Housing for All strategy. That sums up this Government's approach. There is nothing in the plan to tackle rising rents, but there is plenty for developers, including the controversial shared equity loan scheme, which will inflate house prices even further. The vast majority of housing that is promised by this Government would lead to the State still relying on private developers to deliver homes. Have we not learned, and has the Government not learned, time and again that this has failed? We need a huge investment of public money to allow local authorities to build homes in places like Churchfields in Mulhuddart, Dublin 15, a project that has been in the planning stages for the past four years. I was a councillor when the process started, yet not a single affordable or cost rental home has been built there. We need to put forward a genuine strategy in relation to housing.
Deputy Lahart mentioned the fact that Fianna Fáil has stopped SHDs and co-living developments. They would not there in the first place if Fianna Fáil had put their foot down during the confidence and supply agreement. It is a bit rich for members of that party to come in here and continuously claim that it is something for which they can now congratulate themselves and pat themselves on the back.
Planning development was mentioned by the Taoiseach earlier. A planning application was submitted for co-living development in Blanchardstown last year. It was opposed by myself, Deputy Chambers, Senator Currie and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, plus a plethora of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party councillors. The opposition is across the board. The Government should not be patting itself on the back for something it cannot claim for itself.
I am convinced that everything turns on housing, whether it relates to our society more generally or our economy. Precarious housing leads to precarious lives. It also leads to precarious health and a precarious economy. We hare having an open debate in this society and indeed, in this Parliament currently on the potential impact that an increase in corporation tax might have on our industrial strategy and our economic model. However, it is interesting to note that employers' organisations, such as IBEC and, indeed, the American Chamber of Commerce, are less concerned about the reality facing us regarding potential corporation tax increases than they are about the infrastructural and societal bottlenecks that we are experiencing in this country. Every discussion I have with an industrialist or an investor is not about corporation tax; it is about housing, transport or affordable childcare. We need to look at housing through an economic prism, as well as the prism of individual and societal needs.
I am acutely aware of the problems of housing supply and affordability, given the constituency that I represent and the direct experience I have, as we all have, of problems facing family members and friends in respect of accessing adequate and appropriate housing. My home town of Drogheda has experienced the biggest increase in the price of a standard three-bed semi-detached house over the past six months in this country. There has been a 13.6% increase in that time. Similarly, the Laytown and Bettystown areas of County Meath that I represent have experienced a 6% increase in house prices over the past three months. Overall, average house prices nationally have increased by €3,500 per month since the end of June. To put that into context, the average monthly income of the average worker is €3,400. That puts into context the challenge that is facing this Government and all of us in this House to address the acute housing situation that we have.
This did not dawn on us overnight. It has been a reality for quite some time. It is the result of an ideological failure and a failure of a Government that inherited a prosperous economy to invest in public and affordable housing and to allow the conditions to prevail to provide for the development of private housing for those who want to and wish to buy their own home since 2016. The fundamental flaw of Housing for All is that there is no definition whatsoever of "affordability".
That is an absolute cop-out. The Government is not willing to confront that elephant in the room.
An affordable housing plan does not merit the name if affordability is not actually defined. It was the advice of experts before the committee that affordability should be defined specifically as one third of the person's income. My colleague, Senator Rebecca Moynihan, the Labour Party’s housing spokesperson, put forward this expert definition as an amendment only for it to be rejected. I find that extraordinary. There are — I checked this earlier — 63 references to affordable housing in the 160-page Housing for All document but no definition. That is an indictment of the Government and its plan.
I want to turn to renters’ rights. We are aware that there remains a huge imbalance in power between renters and landlords. Last week, the Minister spoke favourably about the Labour Party’s Residential Tenancies (Tenants’ Rights) Bill but seemed to focus on issues related to the quality of rental accommodation, important as they are. The real important issue here, however, concerns price, cost and security of tenure. We did not get solid commitments on security of tenure. Ultimately, as the Minister of State knows, that is the bedrock on which renters’ rights are based. There is a huge deficiency in Housing for All in respect of the coverage of renters’ rights. Renting is now a reality for so many. I said to the Minister last week that if he is serious about building a bridge between where we are now and his own ambitions around Housing for All, he needs to provide security of tenure and improved affordability for the 400,000 who are currently renting and who will continue to rent, often in desperate conditions, over the coming period.
Even if we were to accept that the Minister’s ambition to have 33,000 homes built per year will be realised – I do not, for several reasons – there would be a challenge. There are no really clear timelines and there is an issue in this country, as we know, over access to and the availability of skilled tradespeople to carry out the works that are necessary. Inevitably, there would be a conflict between the demand for housebuilding and the demand for the retrofitting of homes. That is a genuine challenge the Government is going to have to face. Therefore, I repeat the call that all my Labour Party colleagues and I made last week, that is, for the Minister and the Department more generally not only to consider Deputy Bacik’s renters Bill but also to accept it and work with us in good faith to make it a reality. That would be greatly beneficial to our society. I hope this House could unite on it.
I am sharing my time with Deputy McGuinness, if that is agreeable to the House.
I agree with Deputy Nash’s opening comments on the importance of the housing issue. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and wish him well, along with his colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in dealing with the issue. This is the issue on which everything else will turn for the country in the coming years.
I listened to most of the contributions to the debate made both yesterday and earlier today. It has been a frank discussion and I am going to be frank also. For too long, politicians in this House and the other House and at local authority level have sought to gain political advantage by opposing the development of housing. It has happened in every constituency and local authority in the country and I am sure it will happen in the future. There is hypocrisy in the debate on housing. There are representatives here and elsewhere who consistently speak of the obvious need for a supply of extra houses but their voting records and objections say the exact opposite. I have been an elected representative for 22 years and have never objected to housing of any description, be it housing for people with disabilities, as Deputy Tully mentioned, or Traveller accommodation.
With regard to all the thorny issues that we are all presented with regularly, Members have a responsibility to tell the truth to their constituents. There are senior members of Opposition parties in this House who led massive campaigns against housing developments in this city. I am thinking of the northside, in the Clontarf area, in the not too distant past. Representatives have a responsibility, if they are to be taken seriously regarding the supply of houses, not to talk out of one side of their mouth in Leinster House or a council chamber and then out of the other when it comes to local applications that are reasonable. Of course people have a right to object to the inappropriate siting of a development of any kind – I strongly uphold it – but it cannot be stood over that so many Members of this House have such a track record of objecting to housing and then coming in here regularly bleating that we have a shortage.
Deputy McGuinness will be very familiar with the shortage we have in Kilkenny. There is a very limited amount of private housing being built. What is being built is very much aimed at the top end of the market. Some 100,000 people live in Kilkenny city and county. It was 99,000 according to the last estimate but it is probably closer to 110,000 now. The survey mentioned by other Members referred to there being 15 or 16 properties for rent in Kilkenny city and county. There is obviously a huge shortage, putting great strain on very many people. People have different reasons for seeking accommodation. They may be advancing in years or building a family, or they may want to move out of their parents’ accommodation if that is where they are residing. We have a duty, as elected representatives, to try to meet the demand in Kilkenny, Carlow and the rest of the country.
I have a few issues. I welcome the document. It is a broad-ranging one whose success will depend on implementation and the number of houses that are successfully built in the coming years. We should not forget that the basic rules of supply in terms of the shortage that exists apply to the housing market. The market has certain kinks. Over the past 20 years, during my membership of the Oireachtas, various interventions by the Government have not worked for all sorts of reasons but at the moment there is an intense shortage.
I have a couple of suggestions that I hope the Government will be able to take on board to implement the plan on foot of the upcoming budget. We need a massive increase in funding for Irish Water for capital works. So many towns, cities and villages throughout the country that are suitable for development cannot be developed unless the investment is made to address the fact they are at capacity in respect of water or wastewater.
The planning system continues to be too slow and, even more than too slow, too uncertain in its outcomes. I was going to say I will not refer to the cheese plant in Belview seeing as this is a housing debate but the plant is a very good example of how our planning system is not working.
There is also the issue of access to funding for builders, particularly smaller builders. Over the years, Deputy McGuinness and others have mentioned access to credit union funds, and I do not believe we should turn our back on this matter yet.
The shortage of tradespeople has been referred to. I echo the comments made. I find it very disappointing that page 124 of Housing for All contains the only reference to reducing construction costs. It is vague and waffly. Construction costs have increased dramatically in the past 18 months. In the upcoming budget, the Government needs to take specific action to ensure construction costs and their part in this regard are actively reduced if we are to see a pretty quick response in terms of housing construction over the next 12 or 18 months.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposals outlined in this document. I was with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, last week in Kilkenny, where we visited several completed housing schemes. The houses were top quality. Tenants had moved into some of them and they were more than happy with the finished product.
The Minister is enthusiastic and passionate about delivery of this housing programme, but he will not do it on his own. This requires the same passion from the officials and members at county council level. A number of obstacles preventing delivery rest with the efficiency of local councils and the attitude generally of chief executives and the County and City Management Association. It is often said we do not have the expertise at local level anymore. I disagree with that. We have the builders and expertise at local level. Expertise can be bought into the councils if they so wish to deliver the houses that are needed in each county council area. That is the reality. You would not say that if you were in business. You would confront the obstacles, get over them and sort them out. How committed are the chief executives and the officials in every county to delivering on the housing schemes that are now being put forward? What has happened since the 1950s? There was no money and there was very little to do on planning, yet local councillors went out and delivered very significant housing schemes in every single county bar none. I was reared in one of them, and they were excellent homes and houses.
Why can we not go back to allowing the councils to review their lists and to deliver on those for the profile of applicant they have? Why can we not remove some of the bureaucracy within local councils, and indeed the Department, to ensure the councils can do small things, such as refurbishing houses by getting the money for them and getting them back on the market? That is an issue at local authority level. Why can they not access the funds easily to extend a house to provide a growing family with what it needs, be it either a four or five-bedroom house? It does not seem to happen easily any more. There appears to be a big song and dance about any issue that relates to local government and the Department.
I am aware that local councillors are anxious to see these schemes completed and to see the small things being done, but for some reason bureaucracy tends either to stall them or prevent them from proceeding. I have spoken to builders. You can call them developers and give them a bad name but we need the builders to go out and build. I know they are there to go out and build but we are not giving them enough leeway at local level to make it happen.
The big issue that will confront us now in completing schemes will be the cost. There is a 15%-odd increase in building costs. You can argue that it rests between 7% and 15% but one way or another it is an extra cost. If we are going to stall the decision-making on that, then we are going to prevent homes from being completed and being made available for people to be housed. Every local authority should be forced to come forward with a plan to deal with the extra costs and the issues that are arising now on completed housing schemes to ensure these houses are allocated as quickly as possible.
I will finish by saying in respect of Irish Water, as my colleague Deputy Phelan did, that if we do not get investment in rural Ireland in existing water schemes in the areas that are at capacity, then we will not have housing and it will not be possible to implement these proposals for the various schemes. That requires us to take the big step forward of accommodating Irish Water on the specific schemes around Ireland and, in particular, rural Ireland, to ensure the infrastructure is there to take care of the housing needs of local communities.
The Housing for All plan mentions regeneration 29 times. The plan mentions urban regeneration but does not mention the regeneration of flat complexes within that context. There is no big plan for flat regeneration, which in many ways is the Cinderella of housing. We need an acceptance that there is an issue beyond patching up a few leaks in the roof. Regeneration of flat complexes like Pearse House, Glover’s Court, not too far from here, Rathmines Avenue flats, and flat complexes in Ringsend needs to be fast-tracked. Indeed, I cannot think of one flat complex that does not need a complete regeneration. Even the new York Street apartments, which are just 12 years old and won awards for their design when they were first built, are infested with rats and have ongoing flooding and other maintenance issues because of the neglect. One resident has been flooded seven times and is living in constant fear of it happening again.
The conditions people are expected to live in are unacceptable in this day and age. The tenement-like conditions of flat complexes are as a result of the buildings' age and neglect and cannot be allowed to continue. There is rat infestation, raw sewage, electrical issues and severe dampness, which often makes clothes unwearable and, in some cases, rooms uninhabitable. Residents feel neglected by Dublin City Council and residents in Dublin's inner city feel the architecture they live in is more appreciated than they are as a community. Residents living in Mercer House, Markievicz House or Pearse House believe there is greater concern for the buildings they live in than there is for the living conditions they have to put up with daily.
These complexes were originally, probably, the first Housing for All plan, which was at a time when the State was broke. The construction of these flat complexes showed great foresight by the State and the investment is now needed in the regeneration of flat complexes. If Dublin City Council was a private landlord, it could be brought to an independent arbitrator. That is not the case as the council is judge and jury and it has failed residents. The Government now needs to intervene.
Housing for All has a lofty title which promises a great deal and it will probably deliver a great deal, but unfortunately it will deliver for developers and vulture funds and nobody will be surprised. Successive governments, which have been made up of the current Government parties and the Labour Party, have been doing this for decades.
The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, acknowledged yesterday in this House that the system is broken. Does he realise it did not break itself? Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party and the Labour Party blindly following free market-led policies has broken this system. I am unsure if any of the Government parties know how broken the system is and a big part of me feels they do not greatly care either.
The Minister also said yesterday that Sinn Féin opposed the Land Development Agency. He is right, and if he was listening to his own party councillors, he would also know they also opposed it. The president of the Association of Irish Local Government is Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Hoade. She appeared at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage in May and spoke of councillors' fears that their role in planning is eroded by the Bill which introduces the Land Development Agency.
I have said it before in this House that Government Deputies must have nobody belonging to them that has ever had to appeal or apply for social housing, because if they did, the system would be better.
The plan proves that this Government is out of touch and out of ideas. It is time for them to move aside and allow Sinn Féin implement its policies. These are policies which would tip the scales away from developers and vulture funds and towards ordinary workers and families. Only a Sinn Féin Government and housing Minister will make the kind of change in housing that is needed to end the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing crisis. Deputy Ó Broin literally wrote the book on how to fix this, and in fact he has written two. The current Government might learn a small thing or two by reading them.
I will finish with this. I was listening intently to Deputy McGuinness where he spoke about local authorities. I inform him that there is a 12-year waiting list in my local authority in Kildare.
Not only that, there is a 12-week waiting period to get on the list in the first place. It is ludicrous.
In the middle of a housing crisis, any plan to build more homes is welcome, but we also need a plan that matches the scale of the problem and addresses the causes. I will highlight four areas that would make a substantial difference to the families and individuals affected. The first relates to the obvious need to build more social and affordable housing. Every week, I, like other Deputies, am contacted by families seeking a home, cohorts of people on social housing waiting lists, or people who cannot find affordable rented accommodation in their area. They represent only a small fraction of a generation who know that, despite their hard work and savings, there is little hope of them ever getting their own home. This needs to change. We need to ensure all families and individuals have the dignity of housing. We need an Ireland where people can afford to buy a home. The Government’s social and affordable housing targets are welcome. However, they do not address the current need, not to mind the growth in demand annually. Moreover, these targets are over a ten-year period, which is of considerable concern to families who have been on waiting lists for years. We need a greater commitment on this matter, such as legislative-based percentages of annual housing stock being social and affordable.
Second, there is only one reference in the plan to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which is very disappointing. Again and again, organisations and advocates that support survivors of domestic violence have called for a whole-of-government approach to respond to this epidemic. We need joined-up thinking. Housing is one of the main State services with which victims or survivors interact. Domestic and gender-based violence is not just a justice or health matter; it is about safe and secure housing. A housing policy must and should include this cohort of people, who are often in desperate need of housing. It is very concerning and disappointing this has largely been left out of the Government’s plans.
Third, there are numerous mentions of housing for people with disabilities in the plan, but this is against the backdrop of two recent reports that highlight failures of housing policy in this area. A report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, found that almost one third of people living with a disability experience housing quality issues and are more likely both to report an inability to keep their home warm and to be in arrears on rent or mortgage payments. Furthermore, research from Inclusion Ireland and Independent Living Movement Ireland shows that people with disabilities feel their housing needs are being completely overlooked within the housing crisis and do not feel seen as people with an equal right to independent living.
Many of the more acute issues in this area are housing related. For example, we in the Joint Committee on Disability Matters have seen how a lack of proper housing and supports has resulted in more than 1,300 people with disabilities under the age of 65 living in nursing homes, some in psychiatric wards. This is a disgrace. In a recent appearance before the committee, Inclusion Ireland stated, "One of the biggest barriers facing people with an intellectual disability in accessing social housing is the clear lack of available support services that are required for them to live in their own homes." This is not just a matter of building or adapting homes, it is about the wrap-around supports tailored to the needs of individuals who are entitled under the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities to live independently. Without this integrated and rights-based approach, this plan will be yet another that fails people with disabilities and their families.
The plan also mentions the Department's support of the decongregation of people with disabilities to their own homes. This is only a passing reference, however, without the context of the incredibly low numbers of people who have been moved out of congregated settings. The targets to continue to do that are also very low. There is also an increase in funding for housing adaptation grants, a very useful programme to help people live independently, but these are not available to social housing tenants, a demographic who are often in most need of these grants, and the means test includes the income of adults in the house. This means that in cases where adult children, and sometimes their families, reside with older parents because of the housing crisis, the grant can be denied. The Minister needs to address this issue immediately. On that point, it was very disappointing that he, as the senior Minister, would not come before the disability matters committee to address this issue in advance of the budget. If we are to address this issue, every build, or at least most of them, will need to include some degree of independent supported living.
Finally, the measures on vacancy and dereliction reflect the urgent need for more Government intervention in this area. Too many towns and villages in west Cork have vacant and derelict buildings, which, although they are eyesores and potentially dangerous sites, could support a local business or house another family. This would have a massive impact on our high streets as well, which are becoming more and more derelict. The Government should mobilise every possible mechanism to convert vacant and derelict buildings into homes. Bringing vacant stock back into use should be an essential aspect of addressing the housing crisis. Building new homes takes time and has a considerable carbon footprint compared with adapting existing structures. The failure to introduce a vacant home levy is a missed opportunity to get much-needed homes back into use. The Minister also needs to ensure local authorities do everything they can to address this.
To return to the issue of domestic violence in the context of the housing plan, one issue that has greatly affected people throughout the country relates to the fact that before homelessness became such a big problem in this country, people could go their local community welfare officer to present as homeless, which people fleeing domestic violence often need to do. Because community welfare officers became overrun with that work, due to the increase in homelessness, people now have to turn to their local housing authority. As an example, in Cork South-West, that is located in Clonakilty. If someone lives in Castletownbere, for example, there is not even a bus that goes there and it often takes up to two hours to get there. When people do manage to get there, they are asked to prove they are homeless. As you can imagine, such persons might not have that proof to hand and could have children, pets or anything else with them. They are then given a list of emergency accommodation providers in the area and asked to phone them themselves. When they return, if they have found somewhere, they might be told it is actually too expensive, despite it being on the list. Training is needed in all the local authorities to deal with such cases in other counties. There are multidisciplinary teams who are better able to deal with these issues and they need to be considered in respect of housing because an awful lot of people fleeing domestic violence end up being homeless.
Housing is a fundamental issue that supports vibrant communities and sustainable economies. We need the Government to provide the full investment necessary to achieve this.
I am sharing my time with Deputy Griffin.
I welcome the introduction of the Housing for All plan and the opportunity to debate it in the House. Building on the work produced through Rebuilding Ireland, this proposal will make a significant difference for people in society, benefiting those in need of social homes, renters, older people and those seeking to purchase their first home. Throughout this debate, however, both yesterday and today, we have heard numerous contributions from members of Sinn Féin and the left and we will hear more before it ends. Unfortunately, as we have all become used to, Sinn Féin and the left are interested only in getting a sound bite, a headline in tomorrow's newspapers or a clip for YouTube. They will continue to use the issue of housing to bait and stoke frustration on social media. They will do all these things while contributing nothing to the resolution of the housing crisis.
Sinn Féin and the left have consistently approached the housing crisis in a hypocritical way. Their local councillors have worked on projects such as that in Oscar Traynor Road, not too far from where I live in north Dublin, and that in O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin city centre, only to withdraw their support at the final moment, preventing hundreds of people from getting a place to call home. In my constituency, Dublin Fingal, as recently of May of this year, Sinn Féin councillors voted against a proposal that would have seen 1,200 homes built in Donabate, providing 20% social housing and 20% affordable housing, and with a guaranteed price point between €250,000 and €270,000. Thankfully, this vote was carried despite their opposition. More recently, as they have recognised the hypocrisy of their actions, a pattern of abstention from votes has emerged. Just this month, members on South Dublin County Council abstained from voting on a project that would have seen 620 homes delivered in Tallaght.
The evidence is clear and damning. Sinn Féin has made no genuine attempt to resolve the housing crisis, regardless of books published. Instead, it has chosen to play on people's fears and worries and, in doing so, seeks to profit politically. This is the kind of disingenuous populist approach that serves only to hurt the very people the party purports to want to help. Behind every one of these figures are real people and families, our friends and relatives, and getting the keys to their own home is a life-changing experience that improves the lives of individuals, their children and their community.
To be clear, I do not claim that Fine Gael has got everything right when it comes to housing, but no one can say we have not prioritised the issue. Housing has been treated as a core Government policy since 2015 and this Government is no different. No Opposition party in this House has a monopoly on the desire to fix the problem.
I am in regular contact with constituents who need housing assistance, as I am sure all Members are. Fine Gael has been, and will remain, committed to solving the problem and will not relent until the opportunity of home ownership is attainable for all people in Ireland. While in government, Fine Gael has introduced numerous policies that have made a profound difference to tens of thousands of people across Ireland. Under Rebuilding Ireland, almost 85,000 new homes were built, and a plan also delivered 34,000 social homes, making a real difference to all those who benefited from this implemented policy. Last year, over 20,000 homes were completed, despite the impact of Covid-19 and the implications it presented for the sector. The help-to-buy scheme has helped 22,000 first-time buyers to achieve their goal of owning their own home. Rent pressure zones have been introduced to protect renters from uncapped increases in rent. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan has loaned €354 million, helping almost 2,100 people to buy a home.
There have been many more examples of progress in the housing sector, and we will continue to build on these schemes. These are facts that nobody can deny. Housing for All will build on the progress we have seen in recent years and represents the biggest investment in housing in the history of the State, committing €20 billion over the next five years. This is an unprecedented level of investment and shows the Government's commitment to addressing this problem.
The plan will also see the Land Development Agency, LDA, take on a significant role in the use of public lands. The LDA faced opposition from Members of the House, but it will be a game changer in the housing crisis. The LDA will also allow the State to be a vital player in the housing market and will allow the State to access land at a discount, to ensure that affordable housing can be delivered to all people across Ireland. Housing for All will see an average of 33,000 homes delivered each year for the next decade. It will also see 10,000 social homes delivered every year until 2030. At least 4,000 affordable purchase homes will be provided each year, which will benefit families, couples and single people. Moreover, new taxes will be introduced on vacant homes to incentivise properties to be returned to the market. It is my hope that we will see plans properly resourced and carried out with additional community needs such as schools, playgrounds, local community amenities and transport links that will contribute to avoiding the mistakes of the past.
If the Opposition parties are truly committed to solving the housing crisis, it is time to stop the attention-grabbing stunts and statements, to work with the Government to ramp up delivery in the housing sector and to provide solutions, not obstacles, to the problem. That includes their councillors. This plan can, and will, help hundreds of thousands of people in the coming years. It is costed and deliverable. At its core is a belief that the State should support the delivery of homes to as many people as possible, using any and all means available to it. We are far more concerned about delivering on this plan than delivering sound bites.
I welcome the Housing for All strategy and compliment the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and his colleagues for bringing this programme forward. It is one that has the potential to tackle the major housing crisis that affects this country at present significantly and very well. It is the largest State-led building programme in Irish history. I welcome the fact that there is an emphasis on the need for local authorities to build houses, not buy or lease them, in the future. There is a clear message about building new homes.
I also welcome the town centre first aspect of the plan. All Members are aware of dereliction and of the existing vacant premises and vacant homes that can be brought back to use. I welcome it in particular because it will bring multiple benefits from the point of view of bringing life back to town and village centres and using existing services. There are demands for housing in those areas. The Minister indicated through the Housing for All strategy that the Department will provide strong support for compulsory purchase orders for derelict sites to enable urban development. I understand from speaking to local authority officials that councils will be in a position to buy suitable lands for development adjacent to towns and villages. Often local authorities have faced cash flow problems so it is a welcome measure that the Department will fund such purchases. The local authorities can know that they will have the necessary resources to buy suitable lands. In particular, I welcome the fact that there will be strong support for local authorities to remove derelict properties and to build or restore housing. The multi-annual, multibillion euro programme has the potential to deliver housing to deal with the very serious problems that have existed over the last number of years.
Earlier, I listened to my colleagues, Deputies Jim O'Callaghan and Costello. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan spoke about social solidarity and the right of people to have access to quality homes. Deputy Costello made that point as well. We are not talking about building houses, but about building homes. On many occasions in this Chamber over the years I have spoken about the great social housing policies we had for decades, since the 1930s, whereby there was a great mix of people in different local authorities. Unfortunately, in recent years we have been losing that mix because of inadequate income eligibility limits. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has often heard me outline in the House the totally unacceptable income eligibility limits in areas such as Cavan and Monaghan. Deputy Murnane O'Connor has spoken similarly as well. Small amendments are needed to the tenant purchase scheme. I outlined the case of people on a social welfare payment who have the resources, through family support or whatever, but are not allowed to buy their homes. That is wrong.
I saw the report that the director of housing in Cavan, Mr. Eoin Doyle, gave to the local authority recently. The council will build 500 houses over the next number of years. That is a very substantial development in a small rural county. It will mean more than doubling the built house provision over the last five years. That is very welcome.
With regard to the voids programme, in 2019 Cavan brought 29 houses back to habitable use. In 2020, the local authority brought 70 houses that were vacant back to habitable use, and this year 90 houses will be restored to habitable use. That is putting public funding to very good use. I sincerely hope the Department will continue that policy. These are houses where services exist and where there is a demand for housing. It is giving a vote of confidence to many estates that suffered due to dereliction in the past. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that a good, strong voids programme continues into the future. I know the value of it for local small contractors. There are 11 small contracting firms in my county engaged in local authority repair and building work at present, so it is giving local employment as well.
Another aspect of Housing for All is the need for investment in infrastructure. In my county, Irish Water has been far too slow to advance projects relating to a major sewerage scheme in Ballyjamesduff and in Virginia. That has complicated housing applications and has delayed the provision of housing. We must ensure that Irish Water is resourced to eliminate any delays in that respect. Further problems will arise in Kingscourt and Bailieborough, areas where there is great demand for housing.
I hope that a clear message can be given to local authorities to build houses in the smaller towns and villages. All of us represent such areas. There is already a social infrastructure there and there are educational and sporting facilities. A dozen houses in smaller towns and villages can mean a great deal to those communities. It would be a very good investment and there will be people who will want those houses.
In the limited time I have I will focus on just one issue relating to the Housing for All plan. Over the last weeks in my area of South Dublin County Council there have been over 60 25-year leases available for people on the social housing lists. These are private homes that were bought on the market and leased back to the local authority. Investment firms are buying these homes on the private market and then leasing them back to the local authority for big profits. This is another barrier to first-time buyers who are seeking to get onto the property ladder. I tabled a parliamentary question seeking a cost analysis relating to the cost of public funding for this model.
On average across the State, it would be €300,000 for the lifetime of the lease, but on top of that there is also the cost of maintenance and the landlord's responsibility to the local authority. However, in Dublin because the rents are much higher, it would cost on average €450,000 over the lifetime of the lease. Public money is being used to pay investment firms €450,000 to rent the property. The local authority must do all the maintenance and all the landlord obligations.
At the end of the 25-year lease, the local authority returns the home back to the investment company. We have no asset at the end of it even though it will cost €450,000 or more. At the end of the 25 years, the other side of it is that the 60 families in South Dublin County Council who have used this scheme over the past six weeks will be banging down the door of the local authority again seeking social housing support.
HAP tenants who were in these homes previously and received notice to quit from the investment firms also need to go back to the local authority again seeking social housing support. This means we are evicting social housing tenants to supply other social housing tenants, which is absolutely bonkers. It is another way of putting investors before workers or families.
Listening to the debate across the room, it is like being in the twilight zone. Fine Gael Members seem to forget they have been in government for the past ten years. They presided over the housing crisis. Fianna Fáil Members like to forget they propped up the Government with the confidence and supply agreement. It definitely was not the confidence to supply homes. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Unless we move away from the tired measures of putting private developers before public housing, things will not change.
Ireland is in an unenviable position of relying on Fianna Fáil to fix the housing crisis that many believe it created. Does anyone really believe the architects of the recession, who drove us off the cliff, will fix the housing crisis? Like every housing plan we have seen from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it is a developers' charter that will pour even more money into the pockets of developers and speculators. There are no plans to stop the few homes that will be built being hoovered up by vulture funds and cuckoo funds.
Social housing targets are now lower than those promised by Fine Gael the last time, not that they were ever built. The affordable housing element is completely out of touch with the realities facing ordinary working families. There is no realistic plan to stop rents from rising even higher. There is every likelihood that the Government's plans will push up the cost of homes, meaning that many workers and families will be trapped in the rental market. Homelessness will continue and will increase as more and more workers' income flows into rent.
I do not know anyone who trusts Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to solve the housing crisis. That is what most people say to me. Housing for All preserves the status quoso that a few privileged people do not lose out while workers and their families are being driven deeper and deeper into debt. Sinn Féin has a plan to solve the housing crisis. We need 20,000 social and affordable houses built every year, delivered by local authorities and community housing trusts, not by developers. We need a three-year ban on rent increases and a month's rent back in every renter's pocket through a tax credit.
I return to my original question. Does anyone seriously believe that the same parties that created the mess and told us there was no problem - I was in this Chamber when we were told there was no housing problem - are now capable of or serious about fixing this crisis? That is the big question. I certainly do not believe they are capable.
Housing for All is a good name for a policy document; I will give the Government that. I believe the name is borrowed from the housing movement. It obviously bears no relationship to the actual content of the policy and the actual strategy of the Government. It would more accurately be named something like "Profit for a Minority", "Profits for the Few" or "Profits for Developers".
The core of the so-called Housing for All plan is simply a continuation of the same failed reliance on incentivising the private sector to deliver housing. Effectively the Government's model is trickle-down housing. It takes some level of gumption by the Government to claim it will deliver 300,000 homes by 2030. That is the blaring headline it wants. While I am used to a lot from this Government, I found it astounding that the majority of those homes are simply the Government estimating what the private sector will deliver. That is it. The Government does not have any hand or part in it; it is simply saying the private sector will deliver that. If the private sector delivers it, the Government can claim that is great, but if the private sector does not deliver it, the Government washes its hands of it and will have no responsibility for it. It is the same model of incentivising private developers to build and hoping some of that trickles down to ordinary people.
I will focus on a few points. Due to the pressure from below, there are relatively significant increases in the amount of social housing that is promised of something like 10,000 a year. However, the emerging details indicate the Government is including housing built under the provisions of Part V. These are not separate builds driven by local authorities. The Government is relying on the private market and then hoping it gets 10% or 20% of those. They are not all new builds and also include refurbishments. As we know - we debated it last week - the Government bowed to the lobbying of the private developers in accepting that many of them would be exempt for a long time into the future.
The other point is that literally a week or so after the publication of Housing for All, the same Government policy continued, with the privatisation of public land in South Dublin County Council. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party and the Social Democrats all voted to sell off public land to a private developer. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin did not vote against; it abstained. Strikingly the land was not given to the LDA. The Government has gone on and on about how it would give the land to the LDA. In this case it was given to a private developer. Some of the land will be used to build houses at market price. The majority of the land will be used for so-called affordable housing, which in reality is just at a discount to the market rate and will be unaffordable.
I want to focus on the most glaring omission. There is almost nothing for renters in Housing for All. Rents in Ireland are at the highest on record and Dublin has among the highest rents in the world. More than 500,000 households are trapped in the private rented sector, their lives blighted by housing insecurity and unaffordability. Those renters are commonly paying 30%, 40%, 50% or more of their income on rent. They have little if anything left over after rent to pay for the essentials. We are facing into a crisis with fuel prices and yet they will need to continue to pay these levels of rent.
Almost 500,000 young people are trapped living with their parents because they cannot afford to rent a place of their own. How does Housing for All respond to this unprecedented crisis of affordability? It states that the Government will extend rent pressure zones to 2024 and will link rents to the harmonised index of consumer prices. We have some of the highest rental costs in the world and the Government's big great idea is to ensure that rent increases with inflation. This is just when inflation is taking off. Inflation reached 3% last month and looks set to go higher. The Government has had the neck to refer to this as a rent value freeze.
Last week, the Tánaiste commented that we needed to balance that one person's rent is another person's income.
Will somebody please think of the corporate landlords and their need of an income? It is balanced all right. It is balanced at a level that index links the enrichment of landlords, many of them in this Chamber, and impoverishes renters. Once again landlords will be toasting their peers in government. Instead we need rent controls and reductions and rents should be linked to income with nobody forced to pay one third or more of their income on rent. People Before Profit is campaigning for real rent controls to bring rents down to affordable levels and we are arguing for the establishment of a rental board with responsibility to maintain minimum accommodation standards, secure tenancy leases and reduce existing rents to below 2011 levels.
I welcome this debate. It is a short debate and it is hard to get all the points across in the limited time we have. A significant change in Government policy is proposed here, which I support. I have been campaigning for a number of years for the compulsory purchase of vacant homes by local authorities and for a tax on empty homes. I welcome the commitment to introduce a new programme for the compulsory purchase of vacant properties for resale on the open market. The shining example of this work has been done by Louth County Council. I understand from a meeting I had on Monday that over a period of two years up to 120 homes that were derelict, empty, burned out in some cases, abandoned or centres of antisocial behaviour have been completely refurbished and taken over. Families are living full and decent lives now in accommodation that is up to standard.
This programme must be driven by the Department. Somebody in the Department needs to be making sure that those so-called vacant homes officers are doing their jobs because the fact is that up to now they have not been doing so. Few of the county councils, which were given €50,000 each for vacant home officers about two years ago, are doing that job. It is time for the local authorities to step up to the mark. They are not saints when it comes to housing and many of them are sinners. They have been reluctant to get involved, unlike Louth County Council, which has done a fantastic job. It is also important that there is accountability and that we have a quarterly report on that through the Minister's office in the Oireachtas to see what has happened, who is doing what and who is not doing what. The Minister must put the boot in if the local authorities are not doing their jobs.
Some years ago the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, offered over 4,500 houses free of charge to local authorities up and down the country. City and county councils in Dublin refused to accept over 1,500 homes that would have accommodated people because they did not want to have social housing or because there was too much social housing in their areas. That went back to the councils on the ground. It was not Members of this House who made that decision but the county councillors and council officials who were complicit in that. It was appalling and wrong.
I have also been strong on the taxing of empty homes. This is a tax which I welcome the commitment to introduce but I would prefer if it were in this budget rather than next year's budget. If one looks at what has happened in other jurisdictions such as Vancouver, for instance, this is a tax the Government does not want an income from because it wants the empty home to be occupied. There must be strategies to ensure that if somebody has an empty home a big tax will be placed on them if they do not occupy it or put somebody into it. There are significant exclusions for that, one of which would be if somebody was in a nursing home or if it was a principal private residence and so on. There is nobody here who does not walk streets or drive around country lanes where houses have been vacant for 15 or 20 years with nobody in them. We have to put manners on these people and force them to fill their properties or sell them because they cannot hold onto a resource that the people need. We must tax them and hit them hard in the pocket if they do not do that but we must have exceptions such as the six exceptions there are in Vancouver. In that way we will make sure those empty homes are occupied and full. That is the way forward.
I understand the amendment to the nursing homes support scheme and I do not have an issue in principle with saying that if somebody is in a nursing home they should be exempt from the vacant homes tax. They should be exempt anyway, whether their home is occupied or not. The consent of the person involved is needed prior to him or her entering that home because many people have dementia and other serious medical issues and they may not be in an appropriate position to make a proper judgment on this. It is important that the Government would liaise with those groups that advocate for older people such as Sage Advocacy and so on. There should be a process by which there would be accountability for every action that is taken. While the vast majority of people honour and respect their older family members, there is abuse, including financial abuse. We have to make sure that does not happen and that the appropriate decision-making is in place, whether it is a living will or whatever, for those older people who are going into a home they may never come out of.
I welcome this debate. I would love to have a further and longer debate with the Minister but I congratulate the determination of the Government. From my perspective as a Government backbencher, I will make sure the Minister is listening to me this time. I welcome that and I hope the Cabinet will continue to listen to backbenchers because we all share in the same demand that our people are housed and that young people in particular can get their first step on the housing ladder, which is being denied them under present circumstances.
It needs to be recognised that Housing for All is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious homebuilding plans in the history of the State. I am delighted to be a Government Deputy pushing this huge investment. It is one of the key reasons Fianna Fáil entered Government.
I want to talk about Irish Water and the infrastructure it needs to invest in. We have to have proper waste treatment facilities in our towns, villages and major urban centres. The current lack of infrastructure is contributing to a deterioration in water quality. This issue needs to be addressed and there needs to be significant investment in it. It would be a shame if our lack of wastewater treatment plants and the lack of infrastructure there was to restrict the building of houses. This area needs very significant investment. We have seen reports from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which clearly show that part of the deterioration in water quality is due to the lack of infrastructure in these key areas.
I want to mention once-off housing in rural areas. As a rural Deputy this is extremely important to me. Rural people feel there will be a ban on the building of houses in rural areas and communities. I have been in touch with the Department about this. Hopefully we will get a commitment on this in the near future and we expect a draft plan on it. It is imperative for rural areas that people are allowed to build there. If we are to keep services and rural communities alive, once-off housing has to be part of any plan for housing in this country. To keep rural communities alive and to keep schools in rural areas, they have to be revitalised. The only way that can happen is with once-off rural housing. Anyone who is from a rural community has to have the right for their family members to build in that area.
I also want to mention the revitalisation of town centres and villages. As others have said, there are a lot of empty dwellings in these town centres and villages and I welcome the commitment in Housing for All to incentivise the refurbishment of same. It will enhance these town centres and villages and will provide a lot of units for families to live in.
I welcome the Housing for All plan.
However, as a Mayo man, and for many of us on the west coast, this plan is a misnomer in the context of some of the families in my county, including my friends, neighbours and members of my family, who have to look at the weather forecast to see if it is safe to sleep in their houses tonight, or any night, as a consequence of pyrite. That process is coming to a conclusion and I acknowledge the Minister's commitment to it. We urgently need definitive decisions on that to begin to put this nightmare to an end. It will only be the beginning because there are long journeys ahead.
Housing for All is a plan I welcome. It is different because it is funded. However, staff need to be put in place in our local authorities to deliver and drive it. I do not mean additional administrative staff but additional engineers, quantity surveyors and people who can build these houses. We need to radically change our approach to apprenticeships. What we are doing with them at the moment is a sticking plaster. We need to be more ambitious and to deliver. We also need to put a programme in place to bring our labourers who are working abroad home and to encourage and make it easy for them to come back, so they can relocate and bring their skills and families with them.
Targets need to be published, so the public can see which local authorities are delivering and which are not. The various plans within this document need to be published in a way that is accessible and understandable. I agree with Deputy Cahill regarding Irish Water. We need fundamental changes in this regard, including resourcing and more partnership in delivering. We need more investment in our towns and villages. I particularly welcome the Croí Cónaithe programme but it needs to be driven quickly. As the Minister represents what is, to a certain extent, a rural constituency, he also knows about what Deputy Cahill talked about with regard to rural housing. I feel very strongly about that matter. We cannot allow Housing for All to be housing for urban areas. Housing for All must mean what is says on the tin in respect of giving opportunities for rural people to live in the communities they come from, are working in and were reared in. They have a stake in those communities and in housing. They deserve Housing for All.
Caithfidh mé labhairt faoi chúrsaí pleanála sa Ghaeltacht. Tá fadhb mhór againn le daoine nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu ag teacht chuig na Gaeltachtaí agus ag ceannach tithe. Níl na daoine le Gaeilge atá ann cheana in ann cur futhú sna Gaeltachtaí. Tá sé ag déanamh dochar do Ghaeltachtaí na hÉireann agus don Ghaeilge. Caithfimid é sin a athrú.
The housing crisis is having a colossal effect on hard-working families and individuals. What is in this plan for the 137,000 workers on the national minimum wage or for workers on the average industrial wage who cannot get a mortgage from a bank but who do not qualify for social housing? Meanwhile, they face skyrocketing rents and increases in the cost of living. Have we learned nothing from the property crash? The Government is out of touch with the gravity of the situation and the reality of the housing crisis on the ground for the majority of people, including hard-working young people, who have not got a hope of getting a foot in the door of somewhere safe, warm and secure for their children. With homelessness on the rise, is this the great vision of an Irish republic?
In County Wexford, the most recent data shows house prices increased by an incredible 16.4% last year. From talking to many people on the ground, I can speculate that more people from Dublin and its surrounds are migrating to rural areas such as north Wexford, in particular Gorey, where they can either work from home or deal with a long commute to Dublin to work. This level of demand is driving house prices up. I am concerned about the impact on our infrastructure, such as public transport and our education system. I fail to see how this plan will deal with this in any meaningful way. People will continue to be priced out of cities and towns while the corresponding price rises and high rents are once again fleecing the pockets of young families.
The rental sector in County Wexford is not much better. Year-on-year analysis shows average rental prices in the county increased by 13%. The reality once more is that property speculators are buying up all around them and then charging exorbitant rents. I hear the fallout from this every day in my constituency office. Hard-working families are struggling to cope with uncertainty, insecurity and the threat of eviction. The stress and pressure they are under is unbelievable at times. This is happening at a time of their lives that should be all about the excitement of starting their independent lives. They are worried about being one pay cheque away from some vulture fund repossessing their home or if they will have enough to pay for childcare after rent or if they can deal with substandard accommodation for just a little longer until, maybe, something better turns up on the market.
Another generation of young people is being let down. We are failing them and, sadly, upon reading this so-called Housing for All plan, it looks like large landowners, institutional investors and big developers are rubbing their hands again. As WB Yeats once said, "You [will dry] the marrow from the bone".
We are talking about Housing for All, but my fear is that what is being proposed is just a continuation of the failures of Rebuilding Ireland and that we will not manage to deliver the housing for all our people require. None of us need to go into the ins and outs of the difficulties. I am sure the Minister of State, similar to everyone in the Chamber, is inundated with people who cannot get on the housing list, people who can get on the housing list but cannot get a council house and, beyond that, people who cannot even get a rental property.
I know a large number of Sinn Féin councillors in towns such Dundalk spend a great deal of time dealing with renters or Blue Sky Property in trying to facilitate people into HAP properties. We are dealing with a dysfunctional situation. People coming to Dundalk to work in places like WuXi will be lucky to get accommodation and they will, possibly, be taking it from a family that is not able to get it. Dundalk Institute of Technology, DKIT, is under severe pressure. The students' union has a list of people who cannot get accommodation in Dundalk, which it never had previously. DKIT is an education instituteion where many of its students come from Dundalk, or within shooting distance of it, which just shows the level of the problem we are dealing with.
We are dealing with multiple issues. I am sure any Deputy from County Louth who will talk about Housing for All in the Chamber will mention the fact that the maintenance budget in Louth County Council is not dealing with the problems we have, especially in respect of windows and doors. We welcome the retrofit programme but we do not believe it is sufficient. I will come back to the Minister of State and the Minister with a proposal from the council on what needs to be done from the point of view of ensuring people are able to get adequate works done. The likes of Dundalk is dealing with very old housing stock and, therefore, has an issue beyond what is currently happening.
It is as simple as this. Housing for All does not have the solutions that are required. The big problem is supply and we need to deal with that, which includes affordable cost rental, affordable mortgages and council houses. We just need the State to kick off and do it. We could do it at points in time when there was no money in this State. Caithfimid rud níos fearr a dhéanamh amach anseo, seachas an méid a rinneadh cheana.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute. The housing issue has been a constant topic for debate during my time in Dáil Éireann. We have seen housing lists grow consistently over the past number of years, with each Government struggling to deal with a very serious issue. I have said many times in this House that I will support any measures that will help tackle the housing problems we are currently experiencing. While I welcome the Government's recent Housing for All announcement, I am not satisfied it will produce the result we need. Housing for All lists the following as its goals: to put affordability at the heart of the housing system; to prioritise the increased supply of public, social and affordable homes; and to increase the supply of social housing by more than 50,000 units with an emphasis on new builds.
I could go on, but these goals are all aspirational. What we need is action, not aspirational statements. When I heard the Government was going to increase the supply of social housing by 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds, I despaired. Surely, I am not the only one who sees the many hundreds and thousands of vacant homes throughout the country. In my home town of Dundalk, one can walk down any street and find at least one vacant property. Why is the Government not putting more emphasis on bringing vacant properties back into the housing stock? Surely, this can be a short-term solution to the current housing crisis. Many of these vacant properties are in well-established residential areas where there are already communities, services and schools. It is a no-brainer to fund local authorities to get these vacant properties back into use for tenants. Louth County Council has been to the forefront in this regard and we are well regarded as leading the way.
From speaking to officials, I know they could do much more if adequate funding was forthcoming from Government. There would be many benefits to this approach.
Vacant houses, which are often used as areas for antisocial behaviour, would be habitable again. It would improve the area and the quality of life for existing residents. While I welcome the Government's Housing for All plan, not enough resources are being put into getting vacant properties back into the housing stock. It is more important than ever that we have an accurate vacant property register. It would help identify vacant properties that are suitable to be brought back into the system. I have called for this previously and urge the Government to move on it.
When discussing housing, it is important to examine rent increases over recent years. Efforts by Government have clearly failed to prevent rent inflation. How can it be that in Dundalk someone will pay between €1,200 and €1,600 for a standard, three-bedroom home when servicing a mortgage on the same property would cost significantly less? There is something wrong somewhere when are in this situation. Surely we should support people who are currently paying these rents and who are quite clearly capable of servicing a mortgage, yet cannot get one.
While I support the efforts of any party to address the housing situation, it is quite clear that we have a short-term solution in converting vacant properties into habitable homes. What we need now is a commitment from Government that it will make available the necessary funds to local authorities to upgrade vacant homes. Every week, mothers, fathers and children come into my constituency office looking for a home. They are walking down all the streets in Dundalk and Drogheda and seeing vacant properties. They cannot understand why they cannot get a home. Residents in lovely areas have vacant properties and all we see is antisocial behaviour. We can see drug takers and people on corners. It is wrong. Louth County Council is one of the leading authorities at the moment. It is pleading for the Minister to give it more resources so it can get homes for families.
I welcome this plan, which will offer more people a chance of getting a home in which to live. The sooner it gets off the ground and starts delivering, the better. I would like more attention to be given to the yawning gap, which is getting wider, between groups of people trying to do just that. On the one side are those who can hope to get a house, either by buying one privately, if they can afford to, or securing a social house from their local authority or from an AHB. On the other side, an increasing number of couples, families and individuals who can never hope to get a mortgage from the bank because they are not earning enough but who will never get a social house because their earnings are considered too high. The numbers are starting to shoot up. The problem is becoming particularly acute in Galway where "For Sale" signs are only up for a few weeks before being replaced by "Sold" signs, such is the demand, which is also pushing up prices by the week. New construction has a long way to go to fill the gaps in supply. That means that a considerable number of people are finding themselves falling into the category where their only hope now is an affordable house while they are, all the while, paying huge rents.
Thankfully, the building of social housing is at last picking up pace, though perhaps not as quickly as we might like. However, the number of affordable houses being built is pathetically small. I would like a special effort to be made by the Government to ensure it catches up. In that regard, I urge that more developments put a greater emphasis on the provision of affordable housing where the need is increasing by the day. There is, for instance, a new development planned by Galway County Council on a seven-acre site close to Claregalway where it is proposed to build 45 social houses in the first phase and 45 affordable houses in the second. The work is unlikely to start until next summer and it will probably be years before the second phase will be completed. I urge that the entire development be dedicated to affordable housing so that those families caught in the middle can be offered some hope.
The number of calls to my office has increased by approximately 200% over the past six or seven months from people looking for affordable housing. These people want to buy and live in their own houses. There needs to be considerable emphasis on providing more affordable housing.
The Regional Independent Group had a great meeting with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform this morning. We put forward a plan or proposal for cluster developments for elderly people who want to downsize. These are for people who voluntarily want to downsize and want to buy a house. In Claregalway, we put a plan together a number of years ago and, with the help of a local landowner who gave us approximately seven acres of land free of charge, we were able to build 12 independent, two-bedroom, live-in units with support from the Department with responsibility for housing. We also built a day care centre in the middle of the development with the support of the Department of Health. There was a great team involved, including Seamus McNulty, Tom McGann and Geraldine Carr. They managed the facility. I invite the Minister to come and look at it. People often approach me who want to get into that facility. They want to be able to use it and want to sell, downsize and have a bit of capital in their bank accounts so they can go on holidays. We need to start looking at that solution around the country.
Other Deputies mentioned rural housing. We must ensure that we can still build once-off rural housing. I refer to areas in my constituency such as Turloughmore, Clarinbridge, Annaghdown and Corrandulla. If a rule was put in place that people had to move to the nearest town or village and building could not take place in the countryside, people from those areas would move to Tuam, Athenry or Claregalway. It would kill the rural community. We must retain the option of one-off rural housing. I am delighted to see in the draft county development plan in Galway a proposal to bring in cluster developments. That is important. It would either be a family cluster development or a community cluster development where three or four houses would be built together with one access route onto the road. It is crucial that we continue to build in the countryside.
I congratulate the Minister on his work on this plan, which, in a time of crisis, provides a comprehensive strategy to mitigate our housing crisis. The Government has provided the funding and legislation. The challenge will be the implementation and delivery of the plan within the given timeframe. I am particularly glad to see Green Party housing policies at the heart of the plan, including cost rental, which is a model for which I have advocated since being elected. In just over a year, we have moved from the provision of 50 units in total to 2,000 units a year. We would like to see this number further increased, going forward. A key Green Party policy is 100% public housing on public land and that was secured. That policy is crucial to increasing the provision of social and affordable housing in areas such as Dublin and Cork where there are chronic affordability crises.
Furthermore, we need legislation to level the playing pitch for first-time buyers to ensure they are not outbid by pension funds by reserving 30% of units in all developments for first-time buyers. The commitment to increase Housing First tenancies to 1,200 units, as well as providing 90,000 social homes through the LDA and AHBs will assist in eliminating homelessness. Organisations such as the Peter McVerry Trust, with whom I recently met, play a vital role in leading on Housing First and bringing vacant units and derelict properties back into residential use for our most vulnerable.
We need to ensure that budget 2022 provides enough financial support through the Housing Agency for our housing organisations and charities such as the Peter McVerry Trust to continue their important work. Crucially, we also need to look towards identifying and mapping our vacant units, led by our local authorities' vacant homes officers. This would assist our efforts to utilise and bring back into use vacant properties in our towns, villages and cities. The Centre for Irish Towns research hub in UCD is perfectly placed to assist and deliver the identification of our vacant units across the country. However, it requires a funding mechanism to allow it to process the work required. I hope this can be found to assist with the town centres first initiative.
We must not overlook the chronic lack of investment in our wastewater treatment infrastructure. Housing developments are being stalled and new estates are suffering from abhorrently poor water infrastructure, which is alarming and needs urgently to be improved. We need a national audit of our wastewater plants to identify areas where there is capacity and areas where we need to improve infrastructure to allow this plan to move forward progressively. We also need to begin a programme of attracting people to build our homes and I am sure this process has begun in earnest within the Government and appropriate Departments.
I look forward to introducing my Bill on defective dwellings tomorrow. It aims to legislate for a process to deal with defective properties and the provision of redress for impacted homeowners.
I am delighted that Housing for All has finally been published. Now, the real work gets under way. Fianna Fáil in government always had a track record of building houses and ensuring that the most marginalised people in society are looked after. We again see that at the centre of Government in Housing for All. I am glad that the Department, led by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is leading this initiative. We are hanging our coats and our hats on this because, when this Government's term ends, this is what we will be judged on. We hope Covid will soon become a distant memory. Our vaccination rate is at 92% and we are at a point where it is quite manageable. We are now down to the real issues: housing, health and homelessness. This plan will see 33,000 new houses per annum. Some 10,000 of these will be social houses and 6,000 will be affordable. That is positive.
I will bring up two more localised topics. The first relates to Ennistymon, a largish town in north Clare. There is a derelict convent building in the town. I am sure there are similar buildings in many towns in the west and east. Inagh Housing Association has come up with a plan to develop accommodation units for the elderly on the site. It wants to form a partnership with Clare County Council. Older or ageing people and elderly people - I believe the terms refer to different categories of people, although I do not know if others use them that way - will be able to live together in a supported environment. The plan has run into some stumbling blocks. At the moment, the housing waiting list figures for north Clare suggest that there are only 22 people over the age of 60 in need of housing. I do not believe that figure captures the real data on people who might want to live in this accommodation. People in the existing housing stock who may wish to transfer should be considered. People who live in remote rural parts of north Clare might want to move to more comfortable accommodation in their later years.
I believe I have a minute left, although I am not great with the clock. I will conclude by talking about the national planning framework. This was set in a time before Covid, when people were largely living in cities and towns. They have now returned home. They have come back to counties such as Clare in the west. The national planning framework needs to be overhauled. Population targets and the fact that towns and village without sewerage schemes are to have zoning removed pave the way for a decimation of rural Ireland. We have to stand up for rural planning. There is a surge in the number of planning applications being made to rural county councils at the moment because people fear what is coming down the line. We have to stand up for rural development and rural planning. It is a God-given right. I know that term is used and abused but it is a God-given right to live in the community you have grown up in and to live down the road from your parents to support them as they move on in life. It is a right we should uphold at all times in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The commitment to a town centres first policy is a key commitment in the programme for Government. It is referenced some 20 times in the Housing for All document and also forms a central plank of Our Rural Future, the development policy issued by the Department of Rural and Community Development. However, as I said to the Minister of State last night, I still do not have a clear picture of what the town centres first principle looks like when applied in the Irish context.
On my way here today, I attended the official launch of St. Declan's way by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. This is a long-distance walking trail from Cashel, County Tipperary to Ardmore, County Waterford. It passes through Ardfinnan, Cappoquin, Lismore, Aglish and more. These are small rural market towns built around a historic core. Cappoquin in particular is an exemplar of what towns centres first could and should look like. Its development is heritage-led and centred around community engagement. In the Heritage Council's collaborative town centre health check, we have a toolkit at the ready, which takes a holistic view of the regeneration of our smaller urban centres. We cannot continue to take an atomised and financialised view of housing stock in our town centres. It cannot just be about the development of units. We must sit these homes in the context of local heritage, creating vibrant and sustainable communities that take account of factors such as embedded carbon, place-making, sustainable transport and localised retail.
Just as we consider the negative societal impact of vacancy and dereliction, both of which we should tackle head-on, we should consider and calculate the positive impact across the economy and society of reanimating our town centres and incentivise their redevelopment, breathing life back into their historic cores both in terms of the built environment and of the communities they support. There can be no better way to revitalise rural Ireland.
Casfaidh mé anois ar cheist na tithíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Leagtar dualgais ar na húdaráis áitiúla oidhreacht teanga agus cultúrtha na Gaeltachta a chosaint faoin Acht um Pleanáil agus Forbairt 2000. Is minic, áfach, nach mbíonn cosaint mar is ceart déanta ag na húdaráis áitiúla ar an nGaeltacht sa phróiseas pleanála. Níl aon dabht ach go bhfuil géarchéim teanga ann sa Ghaeltacht agus is cinnte go bhfuil tionchar nach beag ar chúrsaí tithíochta ag an bhfadhb seo. Tá rialacháin ón Roinn Tithíochta, Rialtais Áitiúil agus Oidhreachta ag teastáil go géar, rialacháin inar leagfaí amach go beacht na céimeanna a bheidh le glacadh ag na húdaráis áitiúla chun an Ghaeltacht a chosaint sa phróiseas pleanála. Ní leor don Stát cur chuige margaidh a ghlacadh maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Tá talamh i seilbh an Stáit ar fud na Gaeltachta ag na húdaráis áitiúla agus ag Údarás na Gaeltachta. Tá deis ann tithíocht pobalbhunaithe a fhorbairt ar an talamh seo. Tá grúpaí pobail ann sna ceantair seo a bheadh lánsásta tithíocht inacmhainne don phobal áitiúil a fhorbairt ar an talamh dá mbeadh teacht acu air.
I acknowledge the principled stand the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has taken in respect of the right of people living in rural communities to build one-off houses. I grew up at the foot of Slieve Mish in the open countryside of Keel, Castlemaine. I will not be told that my children will not be able to build a house and live there after me. It is the same for every other rural community in the country. We have a right to live in the countryside and we will always have that right. This party will always stand for that right.
In the minute or so I have left, I will focus on one particular area of Housing for All. I welcome the document overall. It is overdue but its implementation will make a real difference. We particularly need to look at the thousands of derelict properties in our towns and dotting the countryside. These are properties that could become homes in a relatively short period. Many of the measures in this plan are for the long term. Those waiting for a home cannot wait that long. It is a crying shame. We have so many derelict properties and so many pinch points in respect of the rules and so-called supports that are in place. I will focus on one or two of them. One relates to the help-to-buy scheme. This is available to someone to demolish a derelict building but not to renovate it. That makes no sense. Can we not cop on and make the scheme available to a first-time buyer who is planning to renovate a home? Can we get more supply of those types of homes onto the market by allowing a capital gains tax holiday of a year or a year and a half for people selling such properties to first-time buyers? These are measures that I have been seeking for three years.
Can we look at the home renovation incentive, HRI, model? That was very helpful. Can we apply similar thinking to the case of first-time buyers buying derelict properties to help bring them up to modern standards? It is not rocket science. We could get thousands of derelict properties in towns, villages and the countryside back into circulation as homes.
Finally, can we work with our utility companies such as the ESB and Irish Water with regard to rebates for first-time buyers looking to reconnect properties? These could operate over seven years and an occupancy clause could be applied. It would take that additional cost off of people who are trying to renovate these properties. We are in the middle of an unprecedented housing crisis, yet people who are trying to bring these properties back into circulation as homes face obstacle after obstacle. These problems can be fixed quickly but the political will is needed. The budget next week is a great opportunity to show that will.
I thank Deputy Griffin. I note that he changed position with Deputy Dillon. The Rural Independent Group is next. There are three speakers who have a total of six and a half minutes. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has two and half minutes, Deputy O'Donoghue has two and half minutes and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has two and a half minutes.
This is a very important debate. It is terribly important that we raise the following matters. On behalf of Kerry County Council, I will say that we desperately need more one-bedroom units built in our county. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has acknowledged that. When I raised this issue previously, the Taoiseach agreed that the Department would finance more of these units, if possible. With regard to planning permission for rural dwellers, people who are in a position to build a house for themselves should be accommodated in every single, solitary way possible.
We will have to turn this whole thing around of being against rural planning and putting every obstacle in the way and instead encourage people to live, if they can, in rural areas. There needs to be a new tenant purchase scheme for people living in local authority houses. I was thankful when a tenant purchase scheme was reintroduced by Enda Kenny but I was disappointed by the content of it. Over 80% of the people living in those houses were not able to avail of it. What good is a scheme if people cannot buy their houses? I want that to be looked at. I know it is under review but, my goodness, it has been under review for a very long time. I want it to move on.
I listened intently to all sides of the House. People in here know I do not go out of my way to criticise others but there seems to be a mentality of people talking about developers and builders as if they are some awful type of people. I have no difficulty in the world saying that, over the past couple of days, I met with a builder in County Kerry. There are other politicians who, if they had met with a builder, would nearly want to hide from him. I am delighted I met him. He is a great man and is building houses in County Kerry for many years. He tells me he will do his best to build one-bedroom accommodations and make them available for our local authority or voluntary housing agencies. This is a reputable man who, thankfully, survived the bust and all that. We want respectable builders, developers and people to create employment and turn ground into housing. That is important. The whole thing that we cannot be seen to talk to developers or builders is nonsense.
I have been a building contractor all my life. I started in building early and I am still in building.
When I see the Housing for All plan for 2030, I reflect, as I told Government Deputies earlier, that the only reason they are trying to amend planning laws for one-off houses is that the electorate came and told them they had better not show their faces at the doors again. That is why they listened, but they have not been listening for years. I have been in discussions with Irish Water for the past 12 months or more. Its representatives tell me that, in towns and villages in areas of Limerick, they will upgrade the existing system but not allow extra capacity. Do not fool the people of Limerick. We want extra capacity.
I have planning permissions coming out my ears regarding Oola and they cannot get extra capacity. They are told it will be upgraded but with no extra capacity. Askeaton has been waiting for 33 years. Irish Water has it since 2013 and still has not sorted the problem. Now it says it will be by 2025, but with no extra capacity.
I can build houses in Kilmallock or Croom. When I come to Croom, 56 houses are being held up by a document that only Irish Water can sign to say there will be water there by 2023. I have questioned its representatives in the housing committee. They told me they will get back to me directly. There is a meeting tomorrow. They are holding up 56 houses for me to house people in County Limerick. Housing for All is countryside, rural areas, towns and villages, not just cities or towns that have capacity. All of County Limerick has to be supported and funded, not just where there is capacity.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for trying to rectify the housing situation. I appreciate anyone who is doing their best. However, too much emphasis is on what the private sector will provide in this plan. Local authorities should be given funding to build more social houses. We should build more rural cottages where applicants provide the sites. We should give local authorities like Kerry money for homes to be sited in farms or other places so people do not leave the places they were born and reared in.
A proper tenant purchase scheme, as touched on by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, needs to be put in place. There is a stipulation that a house built since 2015 cannot be purchased. This is out the window when we hear the Taoiseach saying he supports the ideal that everyone should own their own home. That is not happening, even with local authorities. The cap for a couple with three children is €33,600. People a small bit over the threshold are thrown off of that.
On planning permission for one-off houses, we are having trouble in Kerry at present and I ask that it be looked into. We need treatment plants for towns and villages that have been crying out for them for so long. In Kenmare, you cannot get permission for a development but you can for a one-off house. All development is stymied by the state of our treatment plants in our towns and villages. Scartaglin and Curra have no treatment plan at all. Scartaglin was number one at one stage when Tom Fleming and I were councillors. Where is it now? It is on no list at all.
There has been much talk of the cost of rents. The Government must consider doing something to reduce the percentage it takes from landlords paying 51% or 52% tax. That has to be addressed.
The housing and homelessness crisis will continue and get worse unless there is a fundamental and radical change in how housing is delivered. The Government's housing strategy is not the fundamental and radical change needed. The right to an affordable home with security of tenure is a basic human right which should be enshrined in the Constitution. I believe many Deputies believe in that right but not many believe it should be enshrined in the Constitution. To vindicate that right, we need a sufficient supply of affordable housing. The reliance on the private sector, the dominance of developer-led planning and the abandonment of council house building by successive governments as a deliberate policy has been an abject failure. These are the causes of the homelessness and housing crisis.
The State has to play the key role. The Government is not doing so. There is already sufficient zoned State-owned land to fit at least 100,000 public housing units. This should be the basis of an initial emergency five-year programme by the State in conjunction with local authorities. It can take up to four years for a local authority to obtain planning permission to build. There is a need for a State-owned housing agency to speed up the planning process for local authorities and build directly, employing workers and apprentices on trade union pay rates and conditions. No public land should be given to private developers in exchange for a limited amount of public housing.
I favour a mix of traditional council housing and the European cost rental model and welcome the fact the housing strategy includes cost rental as a legislative form of housing delivery. However, in the Government's housing strategy there is not enough of it. It was not a party in this Dáil that came up with the idea of cost rental. The first I heard of it was when Tom Healy from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, produced a report for the communities involved in the regeneration of St. Michael's Estate and they grabbed the concept and drove it through the planning application for St. Michael's. It is all affordable and cost rental housing in that estate. We are still waiting for it three years later, but that is where the concept first arose in Ireland.
The cost rental model could achieve mixed tenure with well-designed, well-built, environmentally sustainable housing and an emphasis on community facilities. Rents must be affordable with long-term security of tenure. The differential rent system will apply to traditional council housing and cost rental accommodation. It would cater for workers whose incomes are above the limits of council housing lists. The only impediment is a lack of political will.
The political will existed between the 1930s and 1960s when this country was broke but we built public housing. This is the Government's opportunity and it has lost it again.
My time is brief so I will go straight into it. I am not convinced this plan will deliver for renters. Rents are out of control and many people end up paying more in rent than they would on a mortgage. This means, of course, that they cannot even save for a mortgage because they are paying such high rents, and that is a really cruel trap in which to be caught.
It is worth noting that a majority of Berliners recently voted to buy out corporate landlords. How often have we looked to Berlin for the best model of renting? Yet they are experiencing the negative impacts associated with large corporate landlords owning many thousands of units and they want that to stop. They recognise that state intervention is a balancing mechanism and helps to correct market failure.
For this plan to be truly radical, as it must be, there needs to be more State intervention and State action, and I do not just mean legislation. For example, Part V is good and welcome but is not operational soon enough. The 20% must apply now, or at least a very speedy transitional arrangement to get to 20% needs to be put in place. When I speak of State intervention, I am speaking about local authorities. I listened to Deputy McGuinness and others who say local authorities must be a cornerstone of any plan for housing, and I fully agree. They have to be given the resources and the responsibility and they have to be accountable for delivery. The refurbishment of homes is a prime example. Sometimes houses lie idle for months, even years, because there is no money to refurbish them, and the red tape at times is mind-boggling.
The Minister of State knows and I know that the waiting lists for local authorities are a nightmare. In my constituency, in Sligo it is 580, in Leitrim 502, in Roscommon 300 and in Donegal 2,681, and that does not include those on the housing assistance payment, HAP. The Minister of State and I know that fewer and fewer landlords are taking HAP, and that will put greater pressure on the housing list. We need to trust our councillors and our officials and we have to resource them. It will not be perfect but it needs to be done.
I will make a final point on rural housing. Many Deputies have raised it. The Minister of State and I know it is very important in maintaining sustainable communities and taking pressure off our cities. Yes, we are told time and again that rural planning will be given, but many of us from rural constituencies see that being eroded year on year. I am asking the Minister of State to be proactive on this issue because the truth is that, up to now, I do not see that. I do not see it in Sligo and, most especially, I do not see it in Leitrim.
As I begin my response, it is incredible to note that the Sinn Féin Party has 37 Deputies and not one of them has been here for almost an hour as we respond to one of the biggest challenges in our State. That is very noticeable in the context of all the ideas we have from the various political parties and Independents. It could not send one Deputy into this House to listen to the debate.
Housing for All has huge ambition: 300,000 houses - 300,000 homes - right up to 2030. The Government of which I have been a part since 2016 increased the number of social homes tenfold right up to 2019. This plan aims to double that output again, 48% of which will be social and affordable homes.
I was privileged in 2009 to be elected to Westmeath County Council, where I started my political career, at a time when our economy, our country and our society was gripped by a huge recession in which society was torn apart. It was a very difficult time for all and a financial crisis. Our country was spending 50% more than it was taking in in income. Ghost estates were everywhere, all over our towns and villages, 3,000 with remedial schemes being brought up to try to resolve them. Two thirds of our construction workers had left the country. We were borrowing from the lenders of last resort. My county, Westmeath, along with Dublin city, piloted the mortgage-to-rent scheme, and that showed just how difficult a space we were in.
Yet, over that period, we have increased the housing budget by 400% to €3.3 billion this year. This builds on existing measures my party supported such as the Rebuilding Ireland home loan; the help-to-buy scheme, which gave ownership to more than 20,000 families in this State; the LDA legislation, which gave birth to an agency that will deliver mixed tenures that will assist all of society throughout our State; the affordable housing fund, which has come from the serviced sites fund; and the repair and lease programme, on which we have seen huge work done in counties such as Waterford that so many other local authorities can work with and learn from.
The ask was very clear. The ESRI said we could increase our deficit by €2 billion to €3 billion up to €7 billion to deliver 33,000 units per annum into our society. We have met that call as a Government: €4 billion in multi-annual funding, €2.4 billion per annum through our national development plan, €1.6 billion through the Housing Finance Agency, and €700 million through the LDA. That is €4 billion in multi-annual funding which gives certainty to the industry. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is bringing 10,000 apprenticeships into our economy each year, committing to the skill set that is so badly needed to build all the houses we require.
As for our water and wastewater infrastructure, which many Deputies raised, I point to the €4 billion right out to 2025 to unlock that infrastructure through Irish Water and our urban regeneration funding. As for the potential we are looking at for our country and families who call into our clinics week in and week out in such vulnerable situations, I point to 10,000 social homes on average per annum, 4,000 affordable, 2,000 cost rental and 17,000 from the private sector. That is 33,000 homes to fill that latent demand and the current demand that is so acute. Schemes such as the affordable house purchase fund will give families who may not make it onto the social housing list a chance to get access to own their own homes. We are targeting it through the 31 local authorities. They have to give their plans by the end of the year through the housing needs and demands assessment, which will be targeted and will tell us the type of tenure we need and the places we need it. We need that up-to-date information we have not had before.
We have 213 actions driven by the Department of the Taoiseach. I also lead the Towns First programme, which was referred to by many Deputies in the debate and in respect of which we expect to have proposals for Cabinet in November. It is a matter of trying to unlock the potential of our towns and villages throughout this country to give them the opportunity to bring in more footfall and ensure there are more residential mixes to breathe life back into them.
As for renters, we have extended the rent pressure zones, RPZs. right out to ensure rent increases are limited. We have put in five separate pieces of legislation to enhance tenancy rights in the Thirty-third Dáil. Those will strengthen protections for those who are renting.
Many referred to rural housing. I would say to Deputy O'Donoghue that the rules have not changed. Many Deputies come in here and say the rules have changed. They absolutely have not. What we need is a sustainable approach to rural housing. We need to acknowledge and understand the demand in our localities and in our society and give people the opportunity to live in their home areas. I am fully committed to updating the 2005 sustainable rural housing guidelines and I will bring in the political system as part of that because we all need to have a voice, unlike Sinn Féin, whose members will not attend this debate.
As for our infrastructure, it is so important we unlock the gaps that are there because there are many. As I travel around the country to the 31 local authorities, I see areas that are zoned and have the potential but the infrastructure is not there.
I do not like saying this when Sinn Féin does not have a representative at this debate, but I have listened to many Deputies saying "if only we had been in government". That is what I heard from Sinn Féin. Their members say "if only Deputy Ó Broin had been the housing Minister". I take out its 2016 general election manifesto and read on page 45, "We will commit ... €2.2 billion ... in capital spending ... [between 2016 and 2021] ... to ... [deliver] 36,500 ... [units]."
That is what the party wanted to deliver if it got into power. However, the previous Government - a year early, up to 2020 - delivered 39,000 homes. It was a Government in which I, as a backbencher, played my role in voting for the measures it introduced. It delivered a lot more than Sinn Féin said it would deliver in its 2016 manifesto.
There is a second point I want to make about what is contained in that document. The first paragraph on page 45 states, "We will ensure that all housing construction delivered by the State is designed in mixed tenure developments..." If we look, however, at the Oscar Traynor Road development, a mixed-tenure project comprising 854 houses, we see that Sinn Féin did not support it. The party also refused to back proposals for 1,200 houses in Ballymastone in Donabate, citing the mantra of "only public housing on public land". However, a proposal for 18 public houses on public land at Kilbride Bridge in Wicklow was likewise voted down by Sinn Féin. Deputies from that party have spoken here today about reading emails from vulnerable constituents, almost as though they have a monopoly on compassion and we do not understand what it is. Yet, when we scrutinise the decisions of party members in local authorities up and down the country, we see one common thread in Sinn Féin's policy, which is to oppose, oppose, oppose.
We on this side of the House are trying to make a difference. We are moving might and main right across every strand of government. This plan will be driven by the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure we can meet the demand for the housing provision that is so badly needed by our society. Many measures have been talked about in this House, including, as referred to by Deputy Griffin, the help-to-buy scheme, in respect of which we can do much more to unlock development potential and give families the chance of home ownership. I fully agree that such efforts must be supported. I do not like calling out people, but it must be done when I hear voices condemning us for doing our very best.
In regard to mixed-tenure provision, which will be key to delivery under the Land Development Agency, I want to emphasise that we must offer people sustainable options. Where we can support them to achieve home ownership, the Government commits to do so. In the case of cost-rental accommodation, it can offer people long-term, sustainable and secure tenancies that guarantee them a family home at 25% to 30% below the market rental price. It is also about reforming our planning code, which is very important. Many Deputies referenced the strategic housing development process and how we are bringing control back into local authorities and ensuring more decisions are made locally. That is also very important.
I thank all the Deputies who have drawn our attention to many valuable points. I thank everyone who attended the debate and listened to what was said. I assure them that I listened to the points they made. The Government will do its very best to ensure every person in the State has access to a secure tenancy. I know from my clinics every week, as do my party colleagues and colleagues in government in respect of their constituencies, that there are vulnerable people who need help. We are working really hard to get solutions for them.