Dáil debates

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Monitoring Adequate Housing in Ireland: Statements


3:50 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the report, Monitoring Adequate Housing in Ireland, which was released on 14 September and prepared by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. The report focuses on six dimensions of adequate housing that were identified in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, namely, accessibility, affordability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, quality and location. This work seeks to monitor housing in Ireland by providing a baseline measurement for a framework in respect of these six key dimensions, specifically designed for the Irish context. It raises many issues of common concern to us all in the provision of adequate housing and we can all agree with the opening line of the report, which states, "Adequate housing is essential to the quality of life of individuals and families."

A number of key findings are set out in the report. They include the fact that young respondents are less likely to own their own home, that migrants are over-represented on the housing waiting lists and in private rented accommodation and that lone parents have low rates of home ownership and over-representation on the homeless and housing waiting lists. The report finds that certain groups, including lone parents, people with a disability and migrants, consistently report a disadvantage in regard to housing outcomes. It also finds that average rents have increased substantially and that affordability is a key issue. Many of the findings in the report echo much of the Department's analysis of the housing issue. It is good to see that many of the issues raised have begun being addressed since the report was written through our new strategy, Housing for All, or through other measures such as the White Paper on ending direct provision and the new housing strategy for people with a disability, which is in development.

The Government is keenly aware of the housing challenges facing people throughout this island. The impact of the housing crisis is felt in every family in the country, from hard-pressed tenants stuck in a rent trap to those at the most vulnerable end of the crisis who will spend the night sleeping in emergency accommodation or, worse, sleeping rough in one of our city streets. It is only by taking measures in regard to all aspects of our housing system that we can begin to improve circumstances for our citizens across the board. This is particularly evident in the report when we consider the broad range of issues that have been highlighted. Housing for All sets out our plan and takes a genuine whole-of-government approach to get to grips with the crisis and improve the lives of all our people. We recognise the impact of the crisis and the scale of the challenge and are committed to resolving it.

The Government has put in place historic levels of investment to promote access to housing, with in excess of €20 billion through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Housing Finance Agency over the next five years. More than 300,000 new homes will be built by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost-rental homes. It is the largest State-led building programme in our history and this massive increase in output will provide essential access to housing in all tenures. Access to housing will be supported also by a range of measures to tackle homelessness to deliver on our commitment to ending homelessness by 2030 under the Lisbon declaration.

Housing affordability has been put at the heart of the housing system. The Government has delivered the State's first Affordable Housing Act and the Land Development Agency Act, which provide for new schemes for the delivery of affordable homes by local authorities and the LDA, as well as in private developments under the first home scheme. We have legislated also for an increase in the Part V requirements to deliver social and affordable homes. We aim to deliver 36,000 affordable homes, averaging at 4,000 per annum. We are providing a new affordable housing fund to better support local authorities and increasing the supply of newly constructed affordable homes on publicly-owned lands. In addition, funding for the first home scheme will be matched by participating banks, creating a fund to use over the coming four years primarily to support affordability-constrained first-time buyers. Furthermore, the LDA's Project Tosaigh is being funded to unlock and accelerate the delivery of sites.

All these measures together will make home ownership more attainable for those groups mentioned in the report. In particular, the fresh start principle, which is being applied to applications for affordable housing or local authority mortgages, will help those such as lone parents to access home ownership. We recognise that some of the findings in the commission’s report on rental costs and affordability reflect the reality on the ground for renters. I assure the House affordability for renters is also at the top of the agenda for the Government. There are continuous upward pressures on rents in the private rented market due to strong economic and demographic growth and the restricted supply available. The most effective way to reduce and stabilise rents in the medium to long term with benefits for the entire sector is to increase supply and accelerate the delivery of housing for the private and social rental sectors. The vast majority of landlord-tenant relationships in the residential sector are working. Less than 2% of tenancies become the subject of a dispute referred to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB.

We are taking a number of targeted measures and initiatives to provide better security of tenure and greater rental certainty for tenants as well as enhancing the supports and services available to both tenants and landlords through the Residential Tenancies Board. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage received Government approval today to cap rent increases at 2% per annum in rent pressure zones, RPZs. This new cap will operate only when general inflation is higher than 2%. Key provisions are being drafted as a matter of priority and will form part of the residential tenancies (No. 3) Bill 2021, to be published as soon as possible this month for urgent enactment thereafter. The cap will apply immediately on enactment. The previous cap of 4% on annual rent increases was replaced on 16 July 2021, with rent increases in RPZs currently prohibited from exceeding general inflation as recorded in the harmonised index of consumer prices, HICPs. The aim was to bring about far lower rent increases for the estimated 74% of all tenancies in RPZs. HICP averaged at 0.73% over three years to July 2021. Given the unexpected increase in inflation, a rent increase cap of 2% per annum will apply under this Bill if the HICP inflation rate is higher.

We have also extended rent pressure zone protections to the end of 2024 and are bringing forward legislation to address long-term security of tenure, including by providing for tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to legal advice, and for the enhancement of tenancy protections for those living in dwellings who are affected by a receivership. Many other measures are being introduced to develop a vibrant and sustainable rental sector - too many to outline in detail.

One such measure I will mention relates to the strengthening of the framework for enforcement by local authorities of the overcrowding provisions, given this is an the area mentioned in the report. The Government is aware unscrupulous landlords can sometimes take advantage of tenants. While Ireland's housing stock, in general, is one of the least overcrowded in Europe, the Government recognises there is a problem with pockets of overcrowding. We are committed to empowering local authorities to deal with this more effectively and this will be delivered through proposed legislative changes to the Housing Act 1966 by way of a new Bill designed to strengthen the statutory framework for the enforcement of its overcrowding provisions. The necessary legislative changes will be progressed through the housing and residential tenancies Bill 2022, which the Minister will bring forward as early as possible in the new year.

Security of tenure is recognised in the report as a key dimension to adequate housing. As I mentioned, legislation is being brought forward to address long-term security of tenure in the rental sector. As recognised in the report, there has been a decrease in the number of owner-occupied repossessions in the years following the financial crisis and a number of supports are available to owner-occupiers in financial distress. These include the mortgage-to-rent scheme, which will continue to assist those in mortgage arrears who are at risk of losing their homes. We are strengthening the scheme to ensure it will help those who need it, with delivery of on average 1,000 solutions every year.

The report also examines issues relating to cultural adequacy, examining in particular those in the Traveller community or in direct provision and highlighting disadvantage experienced by lone parents, young people, migrants, people with disabilities, Travellers and others in the housing system. It is important to note significant progress has been made in this regard and the report confirms a pronounced downward trend in family and lone parent homelessness. Both in real numbers and as a proportion of overall families, the number of lone parents in emergency accommodation is falling. The progress that continues to be made on reducing homeless is, thankfully, not limited to this cohort. Since its highest level, in October 2019, the number of individuals in emergency accommodation has decreased by 2,039, or 19%, from 10,514 to 8,475.

Those data are based on the homeless figures for September, which were published last Friday, 29 October.

I assure Deputies there is no shortage of will or determination to deal with the issue of homelessness, which will benefit all vulnerable cohorts. It remains a top priority for me and for the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the Department and the Government. Budget 2022 reflects this commitment by allocating €194 million for homelessness services, as well as €40 million for the provision of health supports. Housing for All contains 18 specific, actionable items designed to eliminate homelessness by 2030. Our focus is on the delivery of those actions. These further interventions will work in tandem with the continued provision of the homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, and the homeless HAP place finder service, which is an important aid for homeless households, as well as households in danger of falling into homelessness and which are finding it difficult to secure HAP tenancies.

The report notes that, in 2019, funding for Traveller accommodation was not fully drawn down. I am happy to say that, in 2020, full use was made of the €14.5 million in funding available for Traveller-specific accommodation. Accommodation for Traveller households is provided across a range of housing options. More than three quarters of Travellers live in standard housing, including local authority and approved housing body, AHB, housing, and supported tenancies in the private rented sector. Funding for these housing supports is provided through the respective budget lines. The Traveller accommodation budget is provided solely for Traveller-specific accommodation, such as halting sites and group housing schemes. Accordingly, funding available for, and spent on, the provision of accommodation solutions for Travellers is much broader than the reported spend under the Traveller-specific accommodation budget. Regarding the commentary in the report on lack of data in this area, I am pleased to add that we are in the process of including a new element in the social housing application form to gather improved data on the numbers identifying as Travellers who require social housing support. This will support further evidenced-based planning for that cohort.

In regard to refugee accommodation, together with the local authority sector and the Housing Agency, we continue to support the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in its implementation of the White Paper on international protection and the refugee protection programme for 2020 to 2023. In particular, the Housing Agency will provide support through the provision of expert advice on sourcing, delivery and management of housing and accommodation, as required.

On housing quality and habitability, new buildings, extensions and material alterations to existing buildings must comply with the legal minimum performance standards for the design and construction of buildings set out in the building regulations from 1997 to 2021. The regulations are subject to ongoing review in the interests of safety and the well-being of persons in the built environment and to ensure due regard is taken of changes in construction techniques, technological processes and innovation. They provide for minimum standards for energy and ventilation. The nearly zero energy building, NZEB, standard for dwellings was introduced into the regulations in April 2019. This new standard improves the energy performance of new dwellings by 70% over the 2005 building regulations provisions, equating to an A2 building energy rating, BER, for a typical new dwelling. Improving energy efficiency improves the health and comfort of those living in dwellings. It also ensures that as well as achieving more energy efficient buildings, we also build healthy, sustainable and durable dwellings that are suitable for the Irish climate both today and into the future.

There are also minimum standards set out in regulation for rental properties, to which it is compulsory for landlords to adhere. As set out in Housing for All, targets for the inspection of rental properties will be set at 25% of all private residential tenancies, as soon as Covid-19 public health restrictions permit. Since 2018, the Department has increased the Exchequer funding it makes available to local authorities each year to aid increased inspections of properties and ensure greater compliance with the minimum standards. A total of €10 million has been approved for 2021, which amounts to a 400% increase in funding since 2018.

This year, we also launched a new ten-year energy efficiency retrofit programme that will see approximately 40%, or 36,500, local authority-owned homes retrofitted to a B2 or cost optimal equivalent BER standard by 2030. The newly revised programme provides funding for insulation, window replacement with advanced double glazing, heating system replacement with heat pumps, and adequate ventilation. The scheme works in tandem with the planned maintenance programmes being introduced for local authorities. The new climate action plan includes an action for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in regard to non-social housing, involving a commitment to retrofitting 500,000 homes to a B2 rating by 2030. These measures will benefit householders by providing warmer, easier to heat and more comfortable homes, while enhancing air quality within the home and reducing the amount of expenditure on energy bills for those using oil or gas.

I note the need for better data expressed in the report. I certainly support that and it is a key area for my Department. It is important to note that the Department has had considerable involvement in housing-related research in recent years, including in respect of affordability and housing quality. Several of the papers cited in the report were produced with the close involvement of the Department, which operates a housing economics research programme in partnership with the ESRI. The Department already publishes a large volume of data on housing on its website but we are always looking to improve the available information. Our statistics and data analytics unit will carefully reflect on the findings regarding identified data gaps.

While I have had the opportunity to mention some of the key actions in Housing for All that are of most relevance to the issues highlighted in the report, there are many more actions set out in the plan to deliver a more sustainable housing system that will benefit all, including the most vulnerable. Delivery of the plan is now our focus and it is being overseen and directed at the highest level through the Cabinet committee on housing, chaired by the Taoiseach, and the Secretary General delivery group. There are dedicated work streams, led by the relevant Secretaries General, on investment, industry capability and public service delivery. To keep us on track, the actions in Housing for All will be updated on an annual basis, including timelines, to sustain momentum on delivery during the lifetime of the plan.

I thank the IHREC for sharing its work and findings. I look forward to hearing the commentary from Members on the report.

4:00 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Business Committee for agreeing to my request to have a debate on this important report, Monitoring Adequate Housing in Ireland, by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute. I wanted this debate not only to discuss the contents of the report but also because what the report's authors and sponsors are trying to do is really important. I am somewhat surprised and a little disappointed that in the 15 minutes of his opening statement, the Minister of State spent three of them talking about the report and the remainder about all the good things the Government is promising to do. While the Government will, of course, use its time to promote the work it is doing, I would have thought that a little more considered commentary on the report itself, particularly some of the things the authors are urging all of us to do, would be valuable. I will outline what I mean by that presently.

What is really important about this report is that it is not just another description of the very difficult circumstances in which tens of thousands of people find themselves across the State. There have been many such reports produced by many good organisations. The IHREC has a very specific statutory function, which is not just to document cases of inequality but to assist the State in trying to understand fully the causes of that inequality and to monitor and measure it in order that, as the Government rolls out the measures the Minister of State outlined, we will have some evidence base to determine whether they make any difference. For instance, one of the issues the Government certainly needs to consider is whether it is going to embrace the kind of methodology that underlines the analysis in this report, which I will summarise shortly. More importantly, consideration must be given to a commitment to assessing the Government's actions and their outcomes over the weeks, months and years ahead against what is being proposed in this report.

What the IHREC is trying to do, in particular, is to say it is time we had a robust methodology for understanding and measuring housing adequacy. In fact, the methodology it sets out is quite innovative. It captures a broad range of circumstances, which gives us a much more profound insight into housing inadequacy and, in particular, how it affects specific groups of people. The Minister of State quickly ran through the six dimensions or criteria set out in the report but it is really important to understand them fully. Obviously, access to housing is key and that rests on supply, especially the supply of affordable purchase homes, social rental housing and affordable rental homes in the private rental sector. While the report acknowledges there has been some progress to date, it also mentions that this progress is from a very low base and, therefore, access is still a fundamental problem.

On affordability, the report outlines three indicators. This is interesting because "affordability" is one of the most used and most misunderstood words in the housing debate. The report outlines what is referred to as the 30:40 rule, which involves looking at households in the bottom four income deciles, which are spending more than 30% of their net income on mortgages or rents. It looks at the prevalence of what it calls post-housing poverty rates.

Paying very high housing costs makes people even more likely to be experiencing poverty in other aspects of their lives.

It also looks at prevalence of rent and mortgage arrears. The first of those is one the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and others have used before. Having that broader definition of affordability is crucial because it means when any of us are talking about increasing supply of private or public homes, we have to ensure that supply is done in a way that meets those kinds of indicators. It is a fundamental shift. It talks about security, both the length of tenure in accommodation and the security in that tenure. I will come back at the end to some of the Minister of State's comments on recent Cabinet decisions.

There is a cultural adequacy issue. This is not just about ensuring Travellers have access to culturally appropriate accommodation, where those families and individuals choose that, but whatever interim accommodation we provide for people seeking asylum in this country being culturally appropriate. I will respond to the Minister of State's comments on the Governments action on that to date.

Housing quality is very important. So much of our focus across the Chamber has been on increasing output that we have not paid enough attention to whether the quality of the accommodation already in our stock meets people's needs and how to ensure it is improved as new stock comes online. The Irish Government is still in breach of Article 16 of the European Convention on Human Rights, following the collective complaint taken by the residents of a large number of social housing projects throughout the State some years ago. While the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has given us a detailed response to that, the most recent communication from the relevant committee in Strasbourg is the Government is still in breach of that article, notwithstanding the improvements it claims to have made. If we cannot even ensure the accommodation for existing social housing tenants is adequate, under international legal obligations, what hope do we have of improving accommodation into the future?

Location is also absolutely key. This is the sixth indicator in terms of proximity to services and access to other amenities. The Minister of State talked through some of the findings and I will not repeat those here, other than to say they confirm what many of us have known for a long time, that specific groups of people are structurally disadvantaged in our housing system and continue to be so, despite five years of Rebuilding Ireland and housing policies before that. Many of us will be keeping an open mind, but will be quite sceptical as to whether at the end of the current Government's housing plan, if we get to its end, those groups will be any less structurally disadvantaged. I hope they are, but the jury will be out on that for quite some time.

In addition to trying to provide a methodology, which the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is urging all of us to embrace as a tool for independently assessing the progress of what the Government is doing, it also sets out a number of challenges. Some of those relate to Covid and the potential for homelessness to start rising again, which we have seen in the past four months of departmental reports, as we ease our way out of Covid and protections for renters have been lifted.

There is the continual rise in rents. We will have a more detailed debate about the Minister's latest attempt to clean up the mess of his last attempt to clean up the mess of his previous three or four attempts to clean up Eoghan Murphy's mess, when we debate the legislation in a couple of week's time.

Data is also absolutely crucial. The Minister is right that we will finally get a Traveller identifier in the housing needs assessment. It took the Department three years from when that recommendation was made by the expert group on Traveller accommodation to when it will happen. We will not get it until next year's housing needs assessment. We will not get the data until the following year, so it will be four years. It is taking us four years to make one, very important, but very small change in the overall quality of the data sets we have.

The Government needs to take the issue of how we best produce the data. This is no disrespect to any official in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, because they are busy doing other things, but I am not convinced they have the time or expertise to be primarily responsible for the collation and publication of data. That would be much better dealt with by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and the Housing Agency on a whole range of fronts.

The Minister of State is codding himself if he thinks the list of actions he read out will tackle the fundamental structural problems underlying the kinds of housing disadvantage this report exposes. The policies he has outlined and the policy document on which it is based are broadly within the policy consensus that has dominated housing policy for successive Governments here since the 1990s. Those structural problems have been here through all of that.

The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is a decent man and genuinely cares about the structural inequalities we are discussing, notwithstanding the content of some of the speech he is, unfortunately, obliged to read out as a consequence of being a junior Minister of State. As future monitoring reports from organisations such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission are published, I ask him not to ignore or dismiss them and rely solely on the statistics and public lines provided to him by his policy advisers or civil servants. If they continue in the direction in which they have been going in recent years or deteriorate, I ask him to stop and absorb the information this independent body, established under statute by previous Governments, is providing to say things are not working and need to be done differently.

It is easy for the Government to dismiss the Opposition and accuse us of playing politics and not wanting to help. While I reject those claims when they are made, it is easy for the Government to do that. It is much more difficult for the Government to ignore the independent, rigorous and evidence-based research produced by organisations such as these. All I ask the Minister of State, despite the fact he has spent most of his time ignoring this report in his speech today, is not to ignore it when he goes back to the Custom House and embrace it and use it as a tool to improve housing policy into the future.

4:10 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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We welcome this opportunity to speak to this important report on an area of Irish life which has seen a huge level of public policy failure over many generations and possibly since the foundations of the State. I will speak to some of the key findings and challenges it presents us all with and some of the solutions. The Minister of State has spent some of his allotted time on the report, but there are key findings about lone parents who are significantly affected and of whom less than 25% reported home ownership, compared with 70% of the total population.

Ethnic minority groups are at a significantly higher risk of overcrowding. More than 35% of Asian-Irish, 39% of Travellers and 40% of Black-Black Irish live in overcrowded accommodation, compared with 6% of the total population. Some 48% of migrants live in the private rental sector, compared with 9% of those born in Ireland. Some 29% of persons living with a disability experience housing quality issues when compared with the 21% of those without a disability. The continuing problem of homelessness highlights a disadvantaged section of the community for which the most basic measure of adequate housing, as envisaged under international human rights agreements, is not being met.

The key challenges which the report outlines are Covid and homelessness. Use of private rental accommodation has been outlined in the previous points, but rents are rising faster than wages. Despite the introduction of rent pressure zones in late 2016, rents have increased by almost 40% in Dublin and 20% elsewhere. Rental costs have risen at a faster rate than mean earnings in Dublin and elsewhere. In 2020, mean monthly rent in Ireland was estimated to be 31% of mean monthly earnings.

In terms of what this means and what we need to address, it is a fundamental problem because, in the Irish context, a hugely disproportionate amount of families' and individuals' income is spent on accommodation. It is totally disproportionate to the rest of Europe. Their ability to live good and love- and fun-filled lives is being strangled because they are ploughing all this money into accommodation for their rent or mortgage repayments. We need a national rent freeze.

The discussion has been well-articulated in this House and it is not unconstitutional, despite what the Minister of State's colleagues might say. Private renters and those renting from local authorities are at a significantly higher rates of poverty than owner occupiers. This highlights the need for greater protections for tenants and why so many of those entering homelessness are coming from the private rental sector. Inadequate housing and poor housing quality is inevitably associated with higher mortality rates.

The figures clearly show that we need to reformulate our approach to housing policies to reflect that there are many people who live alone, many people who never marry, or who are lone parents. We must not keep calculating affordability on the basis of joint incomes. I grew up in an Ireland where it was not unusual for a mortgage to be able to be obtained by a family that had one earner. Clearly, this has led to the current situation, where you cannot effectively get a mortgage unless you are part of a dual income household. It is clearly leading to detrimental outcomes for those who are living alone, both for affordability and housing quality. We have to grapple with that. That is a change in the relatively recent past.

We need more disaggregated data, particularly related to nationality and disability, as well as further research in order to ensure accurate representation. There must also be targeted data collection which goes further to ensure adequate representation from certain groups, including the Traveller and Roma communities. There is a strong case for a comprehensive national survey on housing adequacy and affordability. Unfortunately, a person's housing sometimes says more about their status in Irish life than any other facet of their life.

I will re-emphasise this point to the Minister of State. Our dysfunctional housing market and our dysfunctional housing history are making people desperately unhappy. If we did it differently, people in general will be leading much more fulfilling, much more love-filled and much more fun-filled lives. That is on all of us. The model which has been created is just not sustainable for those who want to live.

4:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta. Anois, ar ais go dtí an Rialtas, a Theachta Bernard Durkan.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I was thinking about the number of times we have spoken on this subject in my time in this House, particularly in the last ten years or so. It looks as if we will continue to speak about it for some time. I give credit to the Government - as I would of course, and as one would expect of me – for the efforts being made to tackle this subject, and to make the money available to deal with the problem. This is notwithstanding the fact that the problem is getting away from us at the same time. It is like chasing a runaway horse. If the horse would stand still, we would catch up much quicker. The same applies to the housing situation. That is the way it has been in my time in public life. Mention was made about how people qualify for what I call “local authority housing”. I refuse to accept the term “social housing”, because it carries with it a stigma and a suggestion that it is something for nothing. It is not. The person who gets what is now referred to as a “social house” has to pay for it, end of story. They have no problem with that. They are proud to pay for it. In fact, they are also proud to buy their home, when they have the financial ability to do so.

We have come on quite a distance. When I started off in this business a long time ago, a woman with one child would never have gotten house. That was until I, in my small way as a member of a local authority, decided in conjunction with a progressive county manager that in this scenario we would be housing two people and not one person plus nobody. That became the norm throughout the country in a short period of time. This proves that in each small way we can improve the situation by virtue of our ability to deal with the situation as we find it on the ground. That still prevails.

My colleague across the House and I were on the same committee seven or eight years ago. At that stage, the situation was different. An emergency response was needed then. Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of money available. Emergency housing would have been beneficial at that time, if it had been possible to deliver it, but it was not. It was unfortunate that we were coming out of a financial crash that left the place like a desert. I am not blaming anybody for it. It just happened. We had to deal with it as we saw fit.

I will revert to the situation that prevailed before. Monitoring of the issue is important. Tweaking of the issue in response to that monitoring is equally important. It is my hope that the Minister of State would aspire to do so in the weeks, months, and years ahead, as particular issues will arise.

I am thinking of the list system. We seem to be preoccupied with lists in this country. We have a waiting list for everything now. We have waiting lists for health services, waiting lists to get into schools in some places, and waiting lists for housing. The lists seem to get longer and longer as time goes by. The problem, as far as I can see it, affects young people and young adults in particular. Youth is a short window in the life of a person. Soon, they move into adulthood and inevitably, they move further away. In order for their confidence in society and the system to be maintained, it is essential that we respond to their needs within a reasonable timeframe. For example, it is appalling to tell people, as has been the case all over the country, that if they require a home, they should come back in ten years and then we will be able look after them. That is not a new thing. I am not suggesting it is happening only now but it has always been the case. It is utterly crazy and disheartening to the people concerned who often give up. They say that there not much sense in waiting.

I want to point out one or two quick things in the time available. I wish somebody would arrange for a debate on housing in this House, so that we could make a substantial contribution. Currently, we are having debates over a 20-minute or half-hour period. This would not have happened years ago at all. We would have had a longer debate on the issue, and everybody could speak on it. That is all unfortunately gone now, in the interest of expediency, in doing the job quicker, and so on.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We have neither.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I know. That is reassuring but it does not solve the problem, unfortunately.

I will revert to a couple of things that need to be looked at. First, it is proposed to revise the income thresholds and ceilings for qualification for what I call a local authority house. It is long past the time for that. For example, in my constituency of Kildare North, €37,500 is the upper limit for a couple with one child, currently living in rental accommodation costing €1,200 or €1,400 per month. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows as well as I do that this is expecting people to create savings and to hang on in that particular situation, as they see it, forever. They worry and fret about it on a daily basis. They know the difficulties at present. They would love to and are willing to buy a house, but they cannot because they will not be able to accumulate a deposit. If their parents give them the deposit, it is considered contribution to the inflation, which of course it is. However, the fact of the matter is that they are willing. We need to ensure that those who have been in rented accommodation for a period of time should get credit by way of a reduction of the deposit they require. It is a reasonable thing to do and it is possible. Do not forget that when the old Housing Finance Agency was first introduced, eventually, the deposit was nil, £150 or £200, as it was the time. It worked perfectly, because the person got a house instantly. They were able to buy their house. There was the grant and that was the deposit then. They then got into their home. They were able to work to keep their own home. That incentive was there. That is one thing I would do. I would strongly urge that it would be taken into account.

The other thing that should be taken into account relates to the person who wishes to buy a home. I want to be clear about this. There is a great deal of confusion between the role of a local authority, which is a housing authority, and a bank, which is a financial institution. The two are not the same. Their responsibilities are not the same. The housing authority has the responsibility for meeting the housing needs of the population, as they as they present themselves to them. A bank or a lending institution has only one thing to do. That is to lend on the basis of the criteria pertaining to the loans, the availability of loans, and so on.

Unfortunately, the two issues have merged in recent years. That was caused by the fact that a local authority would only consider a person's application for a loan if he or she had failed to get a loan from a bank. What a stupid situation that was. I cannot understand why that criterion was ever introduced because it clearly put the onus on local authorities to take the people carrying the big risk while the banks would take the others. It was absolutely crazy. I ask that an instruction be given to the local authorities to the effect that they are housing authorities. A housing authority carries different responsibilities altogether. Trying to assess the eligibility for a person's entitlement to housing on the basis of savings or such is not part of a local authority's problem, and should not be. That practice should be discontinued as soon as possible.

Previous speakers referred to HAP. I would like about an hour to talk about HAP at some stage in the future, if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle could arrange that.

4:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Business Committee is the Deputy's next stop.

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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Unfortunately, I do not have 30 minutes or anything like it in which to make my contribution. I have 3.5 minutes, so I will get straight to it.

IHREC's report draws our attention to areas in which Ireland's housing system is inadequate. Many good points were raised by my colleague. We always raise points here in the Chamber, as has been mentioned previously, including in respect of affordability, access, and medium- to long-term tenure. I will focus on two cohorts in my community, which the report has highlighted as suffering acutely in the context of adequate housing. In Clare, based on information compiled by the council, members of the Traveller community accounted for a stark 52% of the homeless figures last year, although they comprise less than 1% of the overall population. They represent more than half of the total number of people affected by homelessness in Clare. The report flags that only 2% of those on the summary of social housing assessments for 2020, which catalogues the level of unmet need for social housing, are categorised as Travellers. These numbers just do not add up. It is concerning because without proper disaggregated data, adequate plans cannot be made and adequate housing will not be delivered. This matter must be addressed.

The Ombudsman for Children's report, No End in Site, published in May exposed overcapacity at one Traveller site in particular and assessed it in the context of children's rights. The analysis was stark and appalling. A report from the Office of the Planning Regulator regarding the 31 local authority county development plans showed that only four contain Traveller-specific objectives and that only one has a potential future site mapped for Traveller-specific accommodation. Last year in Clare, there were proposals to create five more versions of a previous model of Traveller-specific accommodation. I was also made aware at the time that there were 15 Traveller-specific accommodation units of the same model vacant due to historical reasons. What was the issue there? Why can these voids not be brought back into use?

I would like to discuss the housing rights of disabled people. Disabled people are the only group that have their own specific national housing policy. Initially, they had a four-year tenure, which was extended for another four years. What has been achieved? The report shows that disabled people are more likely to experience housing deprivation, including incidences of mould, lack of sufficient insulation and an inability to keep their houses warm. Although the report identifies the fact that disabled people do not necessarily spend long periods on social housing waiting lists, which is welcome, we have to remember that the official numbers of disabled people in need of adequate housing are likely to be distorted. At meetings of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, I have heard many testimonies about the barriers to independent living. Despite eight years of the national strategy, access to housing for disabled people is still largely inadequate. They are the hidden homeless. Many are forced to live in congregated settings against their will and preference. They often cannot transition to community living because there is inadequate accessible housing. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has committed to transitioning 18 under-65s out of nursing homes in 2022. That is 18 out of more than 1,300, not to mention those who will ultimately transition in the next year.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I thank IHREC for this excellent report and for the work that has gone into it. This is a serious report. It is a good, methodological study. It makes the best use of the data that are available, although there, as the report points out, serious gaps. The report does a service to making people's housing needs more visible, especially those of lone parents, people with disabilities, Travellers and migrants. Their housing needs often are not visible enough.

This matter deserves a more considered response than we got from the Government this evening. I hope that we do get such a response. When listening to the Minister of State's comments, I got the sense that there is a lack of acceptance of reality. He talked about how homelessness is decreasing. In the past five months, homelessness has increased. There was no mention of that by the Minister of State. One would think, given the seriousness of this report and its recommendations, that he would at least acknowledge that, and one would hope that he would talk about what measures the Government is going to put in place to address the fact that homelessness has increased in the past five months.

The Minister of State told us that the vast majority of landlord and tenant relationships are working well. I do not know what reality the Government is operating in if it believes that. The justification for that is the Minister of State's comment to the effect that less than 2% of tenancies become the subject of disputes referred to the RTB. The latter gives rise some sort of conclusion that the relationships are working well. If that is genuinely what the Minister of State believes, he misunderstands the position with regard to the major problems in the private rental sector and the power imbalance that exists. That power imbalance affects all renters and tenants. It particularly affects people who already feel that they are at an extra level of risk and who have additional difficulties in finding alternative accommodation. That can include people with disabilities, migrants, Travellers and lone parents. These people already find it difficult to source accommodation. If they do find accommodation and are having problems with their landlords, they can, while trying to assert their rights, be scared out of their wits about what could happen because there are so many grounds for eviction.

I want to read one testimony from a lone parent who is renting. This is good work done by Dr. Rory Hearne. The testimony states:

My marriage broke up 17 years ago. I left the (rented) home and started renting myself. Through unemployment, part-time and full-time work, studying for a degree and post-grad teaching qualification and bringing up two children, I have never missed paying my rent, mostly on my own, sometimes with state help. I have never been in a position to save.

The testimony later states:

I have no idea ... how I'll manage when I retire in 8 years given that the pension will just about cover the rent. I try not to think about it.

Another testimony states:

Was renting with two kids (one with autism and learning difficulties) in 2017 when landlord raised rent beyond means. Then said he was giving place to daughter. Before 3 months were up it was back on the rental market. Took it to the RTB who found in my favour and fined €9000. He took it to tribunal and basically talked the whole time not giving me much time to speak and they found in his favour. ... Anyway moved 9 times in 12 years and effect on child with autism devastating. Hates changing. Went to ask for HAP or some stability and told I earn too much. Over 70% of salary on rent. So basically no help from DCC or RTB or this government. Single parent. Single income.

That is the reality for many tenants.

This report deserves a more serious response from the Government than telling us that homelessness is decreasing when it is increasing and that the vast majority of tenants and landlords have a perfectly good relationship when there is such a huge power imbalance that most tenants feel they cannot assert their rights. I have figures from the Residential Tenancies Board this week showing that sanctions were imposed on landlords in only 28 of more than 220 cases where it investigated rent cap breaches. Enforcement is not working and this report deserves a considered response.

4:40 pm

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to examine the report, Monitoring Adequate Housing in Ireland, and to discuss the significant progress made to date on the serious issues highlighted within it. I note the Minister of State's remarks in that regard.

The research, published jointly by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute, has shown that lone parents and their children account for 53% of homeless families and are much more likely to experience inadequate housing than other household types. The report also highlights the disadvantage experienced by young people, migrants, people with disabilities, Travellers and others in the Irish housing system.

While I note the reductions in homelessness in recent months, the recent increase in the homeless figures will be of serious concern to the Government. Significant improvements have been made since homelessness was at its highest two years ago but a huge amount of work remains to be done and we recognise that.

Budget 2022 allocated €194 million to homeless services and the Government is committed to ending homelessness by 2030. The Government’s focus on increasing housing supply was evident in budget 2022. Next year, for example, €4 billion of Exchequer funding, supplemented by Land Development Agency funding and Housing Finance Agency lending, will be made available to deliver 9,000 new build social homes and make 4,130 homes available for affordable purchase and cost rental.

In my constituency of Dún Laoghaire, a significant public housing development has been completed at Enniskerry Road in Stepaside. The scheme includes cost-rental and social housing units. A total of 597 badly needed homes will be constructed at the former Shanganagh Castle site in Shankill. This public housing scheme, which is being developed in partnership between the Land Development Agency and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, will deliver 91 affordable purchase homes, 306 cost-rental units and 200 social homes.

Cost-rental homes are a new form of renting and will result in more affordable rents for households which struggle to pay private rents but earn above the threshold for social housing. The new Shanganagh development is currently the country’s largest proposed cost-rental scheme. These new homes will include 51 terraced, semi-detached and detached houses and 546 apartments. They will be a mix of two four-bedroom, 99 three-bedroom, 302 two-bedroom and 165 one-bedroom units and 29 studio apartments. The Minister is committed to progressing this and other badly needed public housing schemes and I look forward to working with him and his officials to increase the supply of public and private housing.

I welcome today’s announcement on private rents in Dublin. It will come as a relief to renters. However, there are issues around securing a home to rent. Higher costs remain and will be resolved by an increase in supply. I welcome the measures in Housing for All in this regard, particularly the zoned site tax, which will penalise property owners who sit on zoned serviced land.

The report we are discussing, which is welcome, raises the challenges encountered by people with disabilities in securing appropriate accommodation. It found that 29% persons living with a disability experience housing quality issues, when compared with those without a disability. People with disabilities are also more likely to report an inability to keep their home warm and arrears on rent or mortgage payments.

All Members of this House will be aware of the challenges faced by people with disabilities when trying to secure social or private housing. This issue needs to be addressed and I will continue to work on it with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Ministers responsible for disability. Housing policy must address the needs of our society, particularly its most vulnerable members. The restricted options for older people and people with disabilities are among the most pressing issues. I welcome the pathways detailed in the Housing for All strategy to support these vulnerable groups and others. I also welcome the commitment to publishing a new national housing strategy for people with disabilities and I look forward to working with the Minister of State and Members across the House.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for an excellent report. It puts flesh on the bones and summarises what a lot of Deputies face weekly in our clinics. A disproportionate number of those who come in to our clinics in serious trouble on housing are single mothers and people with disabilities whose needs are not being not met. We get some members of the new communities, often with bigger families, coming in whose needs are not being met. They are also disproportionately represented among the homeless.

We get people all the time citing the obvious fact that HAP payments are not sufficient to meet the levels of rent in our area. Average rents in our area are €2,200 per month. That means someone will need after tax income of €26,000 per year to pay for an average apartment. Most low-paid workers are single mothers, migrants who have recently moved to the country and people with disabilities. They do not have a take-home income anywhere near that. If that is the HAP limit and someone is below it, that person is homeless by definition. This report is giving us the hard facts on this. People come into us crying and desperate. They do not know what to do and they plead for help. The system is fundamentally failing them.

The Minister of State mentioned the place finder service. The people working in place finder are at a point where they need counselling, as are the people they are trying to help. They are looking in the same places as the people looking for HAP tenancies and cannot find places because they do not exist. We pushed and campaigned for a place finder system. We have put more resources into it but the places are not there.

If those among the one in 50 who manage to find a HAP place in our area that is within the rent limits, it is a regular phenomenon for their HAP tenancy to fold. According to the figures, they are socially housed but, in reality, they are not. The landlord pulls out of the arrangement and the tenant is back in homelessness. We have had families evicted from HAP tenancies three and four times when they were supposedly socially housed.

I will make some points on disability. According to the disability capacity review, we will have a shortfall of 3,900 residential places by 2032. The only policy in the strategy is decongregation but we do not have places and supports for people. We are 2,000 residential places short. I had somebody in to me this week who has resigned from the monitoring committee on the housing strategy for people with disability because he says the national housing strategy has no targets or numbers, just aspirations. At least the Government has targets in some other areas of housing, although we never meet them. There are not even targets in this area. People are asking for targets and numbers to deal with this problem.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people with a disability have the right to choose who they live with and where they live. They are not given that right.

The policy at the moment is to wait until it reaches a crisis. It is a case of leave them at home with their parents and wait until the point at which it reaches a crisis, perhaps when they get too old or their parents get too old to look after them. That is the actual policy and that needs to be addressed.

I will say something about rents on the day that is in it. Rents are so far ahead of what the ordinary people earn. I am sorry – I say this to the Opposition as well – but a 2% cap on rent increases is no good because rents are way too high. I am also sorry to say to Sinn Féin that a refund of a month's rent will not cut it. I would not be against it if it came in, but it is not going to address the problem that rents are way too high. The vast majority of working people do not earn incomes sufficient to meet the rent levels in the epicentres of the crisis. Therefore, we need public, not-for-profit, subsidised, low-cost housing on a massive scale, much bigger than we are currently doing, but in addition we must have rent controls that set rents at another level. That is done in many countries and we have been arguing for this for years. Why do we not have a rent board that sets rents at affordable levels and resets them down to levels that are affordable for working people?

4:50 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for this important report. It is an informative piece of work looking at six dimensions of housing adequacy: accessibility, affordability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, quality and location. It also provides us with baseline figures on the housing situation for a range of socioeconomic groups. This research is important because it essentially backs up with data what we all know.

Whether the people on the opposite side of the House choose to acknowledge it or not, they know in their quiet moments exactly what is going on. When they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning putting on their make-up, having a shave or whatever, they must know that what they are doing is not good. They must see what we are seeing in our clinics and on the streets. It is at the stage now where people approach us on the street to describe the appalling state of the housing emergency and how it affects them. That is extremely embarrassing for people. It is dehumanising to have to beg for somewhere to live, or to have to be constantly sharing their story about how they are bringing their kids up in a place that they are embarrassed to call home. That is not good enough. That is no way to raise kids. It is not a year or three or four years of their lives - it is kids growing up into adulthood in these situations. Their parents cross the street to come to us. They are mortified because all parents want is to give their kids a decent start in life in a warm and safe place where they can bring their friends home and not to have to move constantly.

When you are a lone parent, a migrant or the parent of a child with a disability, everything gets that bit more complicated. You need more supports, but they are not there, so you are forced to go and tell your story to a politician and to look the politician in the eye and explain the conditions that you are raising your family in, how embarrassing it is, how horrible you feel and how you cry yourself to sleep at night. We are seeing this every day of the week. I am not making this up. Everything comes back to housing. If we are dealing with a child protection case, in the end it comes back to housing. If we are dealing with issues around employment, it comes back to housing, because some people simply do not have enough space to be able to work from home or they are forced to live too far from where they work and they are getting in trouble in work. That is compounded when you are a member of a marginalised socioeconomic group.

It is infuriating when I see the Department of Finance say the ESRI is detached from reality because it says the Government should borrow more money to build houses and try to solve the crisis. We know well who is detached from reality and it is most definitely not the people who say that for the love and honour of Jesus we should build houses so that people can have somewhere to live and are not forced to go to politicians to beg and to have to tell their story over and over again. This report points up not just the difficulties that exist in the housing system, but how they affect people who are already marginalised and not getting a head start and how this puts them back much further. I urge the Minister of State to reflect and to take three things on board: first, the findings of this report; second, the absolute necessity to build social and affordable homes and; third, for God's sake will he tell the Department of Finance who really is detached from reality?

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity today to discuss this report by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The right to adequate housing is a key element of the international human rights agreements to which Ireland signed up, and it should be a basic need that is met for all. The Government is focused on tackling the housing crisis, and we have seen that commitment in the plans laid out in Housing for All and in the homes already delivered.

In our drive to deliver much-needed housing, it is important that we do not lose sight of the need to make sure that we deliver housing that is adequate for a person's needs. I sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and I am also a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters, so I have a twofold interest in this debate tonight. Over the past year, on the disability matters committee we have heard from a significant number of disability groups, campaigners, activists, parents and those living with a disability. Many have told stories of living in homes that do not adequately meet their needs. As a result of bathrooms that are inaccessible, door frames or hallways that are too narrow or location issues, there are people with a disability who cannot fully integrate into their community and cannot live independently due to a lack of adequate housing support. One of the shocking things that this report highlights is that 29% of people living with a disability experience housing quality issues. People with a disability are also more likely to report an inability to keep their home warm or to have rent arrears or mortgage repayment issues. It is very clear from this report and from all of the witnesses who have come before the disability matters committee that the disabled community is not having its housing needs adequately met.

We talk a lot about the phrase, "nothing about us without us". It is important that in addressing the housing issues facing those with a disability, we ensure that they are the ones at the heart of the policy discussion and shaping the decision-making process because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who know best the challenges facing their community. In fact, it is often society that is disabling for people, not the wheelchair that a person may be using. In this regard, society and the way we build it and homes simply must change. To be fully effective, these changes must take place at the design phase when it comes to homes. The universal design approach must be used to ensure that people with disabilities are treated the same as everyone else. They must be consulted and their needs must be factored in to the design and build of their homes. Accessibility is one of the central principles of the UNCRPD. However, lack of accessibility is often the reason for housing not being adequate for a person with a disability. Accessibility is a precondition for persons with disabilities to live independently and to participate fully and equally in society. Universal design expands the promise of accessibility and it must be at the heart of housing design going forward.

This report also highlights the continuing problem of homelessness among a highly disadvantaged section of the community for whom the basic measure of adequate housing is not being met. We made good progress recently in particular when it comes to tackling family homelessness, but there is so much more that we need to do. Under Housing for All, we are working towards ending homelessness. I am glad that in terms of Housing First, we surpassed our target of 663 tenancies and now have almost 700 tenancies. I commend organisations like the Peter McVerry Trust that are working with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to provide homes for those sleeping rough or in long-term homelessness. It was great to see the newly finished homes on Haddington Road where the Peter McVerry Trust is delivering 18 homes, including under Housing First. That is just one example of how the Government and organisations are working together to end homelessness.

The report also highlights rising rents and access to rental accommodation as key challenges when it comes to adequate housing. There is no doubt that Ireland is a very difficult place to be a renter right now.

Rents are rising faster than wages and the estimated monthly rent in Ireland is now 31% of people's earnings. This is unsatisfactory and unsustainable. Housing for All makes commitments to renters to give them access to adequate and affordable rental properties.

Cost rental will give renters access to secure, long-term leases and tackle the uncertainty of renting. We have tenants already living in our first cost rental homes and availing of rents which are up to 50% below market rate. The volume of applications for other cost rental schemes makes it clear that we must significantly scale up cost rental in Ireland. Housing for All sets out to create 18,000 cost rental homes between now and 2030, a target that is ambitious but achievable.

We have introduced measures to protect renters who lost their jobs due to Covid-19. We have capped student rent deposits and reduced the notice period they must give when moving out. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, today received Cabinet approval to cap rent increases at 2% per year in rent pressure zones, a welcome move when it comes to tackling rising rents and the mark of this Government's commitment to improving the situation for renters in Ireland.

I thank the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for compiling this report on monitoring adequate housing in Ireland. It is a very important piece of research from multiple groups who live on the fringes of Irish society, groups whose needs are sometimes overlooked in terms of housing. I ask the Minister of State to take the points contained in this report on board and to ensure that access to adequate housing is at the heart of housing policy and the homes built under Housing for All.

5:00 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome this opportunity for the Dáil to debate the findings of the IHREC report on adequate housing. Amid this ever-growing crisis within housing, the report highlights several key findings and challenges in housing that many of us have long suspected.

I represent the constituency of Dublin Bay South, a constituency with a wealth of history and rich in community. At the core of so many of these communities are various council flat complexes in the inner city. From Ringsend right across to Kevin Street and down to Rathmines, these communities have contributed immensely to the very fabric that makes up Dublin city and they continue to do so. However, these communities have not been treated with the care and respect they deserve. The reality is these communities have been failed by a housing policy which neglects them year after year.

I have on several occasions highlighted in the Dáil numerous examples of the harsh living conditions that tenants renting from the local authorities must endure, issues such as widespread dampness and mould in flats going untreated for long periods of time and widespread rat infestation across several flat complexes in the inner city. So bad are these infestations that some residents are even afraid to open their windows because the rats are nesting under their balconies. There is a flat complex in York Street built only 12 years ago and at the time it was an award-winning design. Now, it is infested with rats and is flooding so frequently that Dublin City Council has had to move several families to a nearby hotel. The realities of neglect and housing inadequacy run rampant across the inner city. I can give numerous examples of this neglect.

We have heard strong words from the Government on its commitment to providing tenants with adequate social housing. We have heard the Government acknowledge that these complexes and communities are intrinsic to the city and have huge cultural and heritage significance. These living conditions are unacceptable, so the Government says. For residents in Pearse House, Glovers Court and Beech Hill Villas in Donnybrook, these words from Ministers mean nothing. These communities have had enough of talk and empty guarantees. They need urgent action in dealing with these harsh conditions. If Dublin City Council does not act, then the Minister and his Department must intervene. In the eyes of those living in many of the council flat complexes, they have been abandoned, forgotten and brushed aside by the Government. The cut of €23 million to State regeneration funding, despite unacceptable conditions of social housing in flat complexes, is to many yet another nail in the coffin of inner city communities.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I apologise because I had expected to have a little more time to work on this but the debate arrived a little early for me. Before I summarise, I will try to address some of the points raised by Deputies. Again, I thank all Deputies for their contributions and thank the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ESRI for this very important report. I want to emphasise that this report is very useful to the Government in terms of our response to Housing for All through housing delivery and through targeting vulnerable groups, such as Travellers and minorities. It is critical that we take the learning and the experience that people have brought to this report to inform how we better deliver sustainable housing for all communities. We are taking it seriously.

The point on data was made by Deputy Ó Broin in his opening comments. Improvements are taking place within the Department around data gathering and the use of data. With regard to future data collection, the Department is taking on board the point that there are a number of groups where no housing data are collected and there is no ongoing national survey in regard to background, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Research has shown that migrants are diverse in terms of education and employment outcome. Despite this diversity, there are few migrant categories available in the data and the status of second generation migrants and refugees is not captured. It is similar with the data regarding the Traveller community, so it is important we take the findings from this report.

Deputy Andrews and I have spoken about this issue and there has been some email correspondence in regard to the State regeneration fund. It is my understanding that this fund was increased, not decreased, but we are getting correspondence back to the Deputy in that regard.

I take on board the points made by Deputy Andrews. Like him, I agree on the value of these Dublin city flats, which are very important, in particular the older design flats from Herbert Simms. It is important that we celebrate the communities that are living in them and give adequate support to Dublin City Council to do that. That is what the Government is doing.

In regard to the points made by Deputy Boyd Barrett around disability, the local authority is tasked to have a disability steering group and to set targets and local strategies as mandated in Housing for All. Under action 7.6, the housing disability steering group should report quarterly on implementation of local strategic plans regarding housing people with a disability to the chief executive officer and to the strategic policy committee. Local authority housing delivery action plans are due to be delivered to the Minister by the end of 2021. These plans should set out how dedicated social housing provision appropriate to the needs of people with a disability will be delivered, matching the scale and extent of housing need identified for people with a disability.

I point to my constituency and the decongregation of St. Patrick's in Kilkenny, in particular the fantastic work that was done in collaboration by St. Patrick's and Kilkenny County Council in providing supported housing for people with disabilities. That type of project and initiative can and should be replicated across the country.

In regard to the Traveller community, I want to deal with the issue of funding for Traveller-specific accommodation and the very different ways the Traveller community seeks housing support. Again, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is very much dedicated to implementing that. Reference was made to the Ombudsman for Children’s report, No End in Site, which was published recently. The Department is in ongoing communication with the relevant local authority to provide the necessary supports to ensure the recommendations contained in the report are implemented in a timely manner. Again, I am very conscious of the challenges facing the Traveller community in accessing appropriate accommodation.

I hope I have covered the points raised. In my closing speech, I will try to capture as much of what was brought forward by Deputies, in particular the issues around methodologies, data and taking this report seriously, which we certainly are.

I thank Deputies again for their valuable contributions to this important debate. The report has provided us with an opportunity to discuss and debate key principles and priorities in the provision of adequate housing and the realisation of sustainable communities. These priorities were central to the development of the Housing for All strategy and the delivery of this plan will be essential to addressing the issues raised in this report.

With that in mind, I wish to reflect on the actions my colleagues in the Government will continue to deliver on to provide adequate housing. My colleagues and I are keenly aware that the lack of supply is exacerbating the problems raised in the report. Increasing the overall supply of housing is the essential component to our plan. We have set an ambitious target for the delivery of homes of all tenure types, and the whole-of-government approach to the delivery of Housing for All will ensure we meet these targets to boost supply and address this core issue. We have provided an unprecedented level of funding to address affordability challenges and to boost supply throughout the country to more than 300,000 new homes by 2030. Despite the significant challenges raised by Covid-19 and Brexit, we are on track to increase the number of homes delivered annually. We have a long-term actionable plan set in place to increase the number of affordable homes and routes to access affordable housing, as demonstrated by programmes such as the affordable housing fund and the first home scheme. We understand the affordability challenges in the rental sector need to be addressed quickly and efficiently. Today the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, received approval to introduce a measure to prohibit rent increases above 2% annually, and over the past year he has introduced several measures to directly provide a more secure market for renters in our communities.

This report highlights those who are most vulnerable to homelessness in our society, such as lone parents, young people, and people with disabilities. Housing cannot be a one-size-fits-all fix. We will provide access to appropriate and adequate housing to suit these needs. We have committed to the Lisbon declaration to end homelessness by 2030. Housing for All and budget 2022 follow through on this crucial commitment with their allocation of substantive time and money to this challenge to ensure fair access to homes for all. We are pleased to say progress continues to be made in this area, and that determination will continue until homelessness is eliminated in our society.

We understand the need to provide housing options that adequately meet the cultural needs of those who live there. As such, we are steadfast in our ambition to provide Traveller-specific accommodation where appropriate and address the unique difficulties and challenges the Traveller community faces when accessing homes. This commitment further extends to working alongside colleagues in government to improve the conditions of those who have come to this country to seek safety and security. In light of the State’s recent involvement with COP26 and commitments to meet the worldwide climate crisis, it is essential to mention the future of housing needs to be environmentally friendly to be considered wholly adequate. Of the 300,000 homes to be delivered by 2030, every single one will be nearly zero energy. An extensive retrofit programme was also introduced by the Government last year.

This report gives us an excellent opportunity to reflect on where we can make improvements to our policies and acknowledge the huge achievements we have made so far, while acknowledging all the contributions this evening from Members and the significant challenges that face us into the future. We will deliver affordable, high-quality and secure housing that meets the cultural and material needs of all of our citizens. We will continue to welcome research that can aid in our strategy to tackle the housing crisis and we agree that better data is central to assisting our understanding of housing issues and informing our work on housing policy. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, is looking forward to the opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on the report with the chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, Sinéad Gibney, which will take place in December, and I and my Department will reflect further on the points raised here tonight. There will be other opportunities for Deputies to contribute to this important report and the Minister is committed to giving detailed consideration to it and to responding to the points raised this evening.