Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Raise the Roof: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:
— the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Government has been in Office for two years;
— during this time rents have increased by 15 per cent, house prices by 22 per cent and homelessness by 19 per cent;
— in the last year alone child homelessness has increased by 41 per cent;
— there are 5,054 single people, 3,028 children and 1,366 families officially recognised as homeless;
— there are 3,278 adults and children with leave to remain trapped in Direct Provision;
— there are hundreds of adults and children in Tusla funded domestic violence refuges and homeless hostels not funded by the State;
— there is an unknown number of people sofa surfing or living in overcrowded and inadequate accommodation;
— travellers, people with disabilities, older people and migrants continue to live in unsuitable accommodation at the margins of our housing system;
— the latest Economic and Social Research Institute report on housing tenure and pension income adequacy indicates significant risk of increased pensioner poverty for those unable to buy their own home and dependent on private renting;
— Census 2022 identified 48,000 long-term vacant homes and 35,000 vacant rental homes;
— the targets set out in the Government's housing plan are not sufficient to meet the ever-growing housing need;
— the failure to deliver an adequate supply of public housing to meet social and affordable need is driving the housing crisis;
— the failure to provide an adequate supply of affordable student accommodation has led to an ever-deepening student accommodation crisis; and
— this ever-deepening housing disaster has led to the relaunch of the Raise the Roof Homes For All campaign led by the trade union movement, housing and homeless organisations, housing rights activists and political parties; and
agrees that Budget 2023 must deliver a radical shift in housing policy, as demanded by the Raise the Roof Homes For All campaign, including:
— a major focus on the delivery of large volumes of genuinely affordable homes for those locked out of the private rental and owner occupier markets;
— an increase in direct capital investment in public housing to deliver at least 20,000 social and affordable homes per year, including 4,000 affordable Cost Rental homes;
— a greater focus on bringing vacant homes back into use through the public housing programme and the introduction of a vacant property tax;
— an increase in the percentage of Part V units allocated for social and affordable housing;
— a ban on rent increases and measures to cut rents in the private rental sector;
— an emergency ban on evictions to halt the rise in homelessness and legislative change to restrict grounds for eviction;
— a new student accommodation strategy, in partnership with colleges and students' unions, delivering genuinely affordable accommodation for students on or near campus and greater protections for those students in digs-style accommodation;
— full implementation of the recommendations from the report of the Traveller Accommodation Expert Review Group;
— implementation of the Irish Refugee Council proposals for providing emergency accommodation to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war;
— an end to all pro-developer subsidies including the Help to Buy scheme, the "First Home" Affordable Purchase Shared Equity Scheme and the Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Scheme;
— an introduction of measures to tackle the issues of speculative investment in land and land hoarding;
— an end to the outrageous tax reliefs on rent and capital gains for institutional cuckoo and vulture funds; and
— the holding of a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution.
The Minister will remember that in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the current phase of the housing crisis started to escalate. In direct response, there were a growing number of protest movements, some of which were very localised and included local soup kitchens and homeless tables, and others of which were State-wide, such as the National Housing and Homeless Coalition. There were occupations of buildings here in Dublin and elsewhere as part of the Take Back the City movement. All of that culminated in a large trade union and civil society-led movement called Raise the Roof.
The Minister will also remember that in 2018, 10,000 to 15,000 people, led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the entire trade union movement, many of the country's leading housing and homeless organisations, housing rights activists and political parties from the Opposition, gathered to call for the Dáil to support a motion setting out what was then the agreed position of Raise the Roof as to how best to tackle the housing crisis. That evening, the Minister and his party colleagues, who were in opposition but supporting the then Government through a confidence and supply arrangement, supported the Raise the Roof motion. That was the beginning of what many of us hoped was going to be a mass mobilisation of civil society and of people power to try to force a radical change in Government housing policy. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the public health restrictions, necessary as they were, intervened and the possibility of continuing large-scale popular mobilisation was put on hold.
Given the very serious deterioration in the housing and homelessness situation over the past 12 months, Raise the Roof relaunched its campaign earlier this year. The first phase was a series of public meetings around the country. Many of us have attended those meetings, spoke at them and participated in them. The meetings in Galway, Limerick, Maynooth, Dublin, Waterford and Navan have shown there is a public appetite to get involved again in the public campaign for a new direction in housing. Those meetings were also, in many cases, very disturbing because people were giving voice to their very real and acute level of housing need and housing stress, in part caused by Government policy failures. As part of the relaunch of the campaign, a range of Opposition parties have co-signed this Raise the Roof motion, which also carries the imprimaturof the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the entire trade union movement, many of the homeless and housing NGOs, many housing rights activists, campaign groups and others. We are calling for something substantial in what we want the Government not to say but to do. I want to focus on the positives of this motion and contrast them with the gap between the rhetoric and reality of what this Government is doing.
At the centre of this motion is a demand for a refocusing of Government policy towards genuinely affordable homes, not measures that heap additional debt on working families to buy overpriced homes, not developer-led subsidies to lock in, if not push ever higher, the unaffordable cost of homes in our cities, and not tax reliefs for institutional investors who have a model for the development of residential stock that will be permanently unaffordable. This is about saying the State needs to increase direct capital investment dramatically in the delivery of large volumes of public homes on public land to meet social and affordable need.
On many occasions, the Minister has said, and I am sure he will say it today, that is what the Government is doing and that is in its plan. He will claim the Government is spending €4 billion this year to deliver the largest public housing building programme in the history of the State. First of all, the Government is not spending €4 billion on public housing this year. Anybody with eyes to read can look at the voted capital expenditure in the most recent budget. The Government is spending less than half of that. It is claiming that averaged expenditure, including approved housing body, AHB, borrowing and potential expenditure by the Land Development Agency, LDA, four, five or six years into the future, can be booked as €4 billion of expenditure this year but that is not what is happening.
Likewise, the Minister is telling us that the social housing programme this year will be the largest in the history of the State. That is not factually accurate on a per capitabasis or indeed on a real expenditure basis. Given that the Government has only actually delivered just over 600 social homes between the new-build programme and Part Vs in the first quarter of this year, which is not far off the delivery figures for last year, it is hard to see how that will develop.
Other colleagues will use their time to talk through the other elements of this motion but we are urging the Government to realise that unless it starts to deliver the 20,000 public homes a year it promised during the election campaign and quickly abandoned thereafter, this crisis is going to get worse. That is the key to tackling this crisis and it is the central element, though only one of many, in the motion before us today.
I listened to the debate on the motion of confidence in the Government, and Ministers and Deputies from Government parties, one after another, rolled out and talked about the great work the Government is doing to deliver housing and all the start-ups. The fact is that in my 14 years in politics, it has never been as bad as it is now. This is not just Sinn Féin talking; all of the Opposition are saying the same. It is not just us. It is also the Simon Community, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Cork Penny Dinners. Any of the charities that deal with families who are in homeless or emergency accommodation or need supports will say the same. Thirty-eight families and people have come to me because they will be evicted by Christmas. The Government's answer is to tell us about start-ups. People do not care about start-ups; they care about homes. The Minister and the Government are not delivering homes. People are becoming homeless under the Government's watch. The homeless figures are rising.
We spoke during the debate on Covid-19 about how a ban on evictions would work, and it did work. However, the minute the Government got the opportunity to do so, it lifted those restrictions and now we have a situation where more and more people are becoming homeless. At one time, homelessness was for people who might have problems with addiction or with their mental health. Now we have families with one or two people working who cannot put a roof over their heads. How is that possible in a society where people are working in good jobs? It is not just me saying this.
These are the facts. The Government has failed. It is in power more than two years now and we have seen the homeless, housing, social housing and the affordable housing crises get worse. We have seen private purchase and cost rental get worse as well. It is all under the Minister’s watch. The Government has failed, and that is why we are supporting this motion. We need to work together to raise the roof.
Earlier, the Tánaiste said this is a good Government. However, it is not if you are a student looking for affordable accommodation. We are hurtling headlong into an accommodation crisis for students like we have never seen before. It is the biggest barrier to third level education today. This is especially true of students in rural areas. Many end up having to commute extraordinary distances because they are unable to secure any accommodation. The on-campus projects are being shelved because colleges are rightly unwilling to advance projects that will deliver accommodation that is far too expensive for the majority of students. We already have student accommodation in public universities that cost €1,300 and more. We desperately need a student accommodation strategy, in partnership with colleges and students' unions, delivering genuinely affordable accommodation for students on or near campus and greater protection for students in digs-like accommodation.
I want to turn to Mayo. There are only 22 properties to rent in Mayo. I want the Minister to hear the story in the headlines in The Western Peopleof Niamh O’Malley, who, with her autistic son, is at risk of homelessness because she cannot find a property for less than €1,500 per month, which is all she can afford. She cannot find one. She says:
I work hard and mother harder. It is society who has failed us and the cards I've been dealt. I'm not looking for pity. I wake up every day and night and search for homes. I feel the fear in my belly and yet I still mother. I still show up every single day. I'm not ashamed to share my story. People deserve to know how others are being treated in 2022.
Those are her words, not mine.
I want to finish on the issue of apprenticeships. We say this is the great success of the Government, but the truth is fewer apprenticeships have qualified tradespeople in 2021 than they did in 2017. We need to look at the figures, be honest with people, and deal with this.
The figures speak for themselves and they are absolutely damning. During the Minister’s time in this Government, rents have increased by 15% and house prices by 22%. It is disgraceful. Homelessness has increased 19% in the lifetime of this shambolic Government, particularly considering there was a moratorium on evictions during lockdown.
For ordinary workers and families, having a decent home at a decent price is a goal that has been ripped from their lives because of decisions by others and policies of successive governments that failed them. The number of households living in rented accommodation has doubled in two decades. The number of these households that are purely private renters - those not paying rent to a local authority or receiving State supports - has tripled.
Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and others in government have deliberately created this change. In those 20 years, from 2001 to date, Government has spent over €12 billion in support of a private rental market, be it through the housing assistance payment, HAP, leasing, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or any of those schemes. Against the best interests of ordinary people, successive governments have reversed the successes of previous generations and put those successes out of the reach of this and future generations. An ESRI report states that between the 1950s and 1960s, fewer than 20% of people lived in private rental accommodation in their mid-30s. Of those born in the 1980s, it is now more than 40% living in private rented accommodation. That is mirroring the decline in home ownership. Government parties to date have supervised, supported and encouraged that 180 degree turn. I do not remember any election posters promising a return to lifelong renting or ending the possibility of home ownership, but that is what the Government has done. It is crystal clear that what people want and what the Government is providing has become completely polarised, and ordinary people are suffering horrific consequences.
Earlier today I heard the Taoiseach speak about the potential for landlords leaving the market. I want to ask a very specific question. Why is it that local authorities are now refusing homeless supports to families who abide by their notice to quit? Where a family leaves on the final date of their notice to quit, local authorities are refusing to provide them with homeless supports and are encouraging them to break that notice to quit and overhold, because if they do not, they will not get any help from anywhere.
In the two years this Government has been in office, we have seen spikes in rents, house prices and the number of people presenting homeless. We have seen Government policy repeatedly failing to do what was promised, with Ministers more concerned about representing the views of the big developers and the hedge funds. Corporate landlords are being treated as the State’s golden goose, with the Government showing little concern for people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The shared equity loan scheme, which has been widely criticised by everyone from the ESRI to the Central Bank, is a concrete example of a policy that will put people into more hardship.
According to the Daft report for quarter 2, average house prices in Dublin Bay North are above €390,000. This morning, I had a look at Daft and there were 23 rental properties available in Dublin 5, Dublin 13 and Dublin 17. If a person is lucky enough to be able to get one of these, he or she is looking at paying a minimum of €1,800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. That is absolutely shocking.
In the past year, the number of children entering homelessness increased by 41%. That is another damning statistic that speaks to the Government’s failure to tackle the homelessness crisis.
It is time we moved forward. We need to enshrine the right to housing in our Constitution via a referendum. We need large-scale delivery of genuinely affordable homes so families and workers can afford to put a roof over their heads.
The motion also refers to vacant homes. I think the Minister would agree that it makes complete sense to bring the thousands of vacant homes back into use. In addition, we need a ban on rent increases as well as a ban on emergency evictions and we need that now.
Raise the Roof was established because the housing policies failed workers and families. In Limerick recently, the first and biggest public meeting since the easing of restrictions was held. I have no doubt the rally taking place on Saturday will be big as well.
The housing market in Limerick is broken. I want to talk to the Minister about three specific issues we have there. The first is about renters. Anybody who has a constituency office like I do will know there is something noticeable with every single person who comes in at the moment, and that is the envelope in their hand. You know exactly what it is before they even give you the envelope. The envelope is the notice to quit. I have never seen so many of them. The homeless services tell me to see them. If a person is approved for social housing, there is no RAS property available in Limerick. There simply is not one there.
I looked at Daft this morning and there were nine properties available. There is a one-bedroom apartment on Thomas Street in Limerick city centre for €1,800 a month. If that does not tell the Minister how broken the market in Limerick is, nothing will. If a person has a notice to quit and simply has nowhere to go, there is no emergency accommodation in Limerick, and Limerick City and County Council told me that. Providers of homeless services have told me that for a number of weeks, that there is no emergency accommodation available.
Regarding people who work and might have a job, a small income or whatever and earn slightly over the limit, the income thresholds to get a social support have not changed since 2011. The Minister has been talking for a long time about doing something on that, but we have been waiting and waiting and have not seen anything come in on that. A family of two adults and children in Limerick has an income limit of €36,000. If the adults have any sort of a job, they are not getting any supports.
I support the aims of Raise the Roof. It is an important campaign that will build as it goes on. Among its aims are a ban on rent increases and an emergency ban on evictions, bringing vacant homes back into use and holding a referendum on the right to housing. We can do better, but only if the Government has the political will to do so. What we cannot do is stand by while developers profit and families suffer.
Through the years, Fianna Fáil has clocked up a shambolic track record when it comes to housing. Generations will bear the brunt of the crisis it got this country into, but it has learned nothing. Fine Gael subsequently facilitated the selling out of families and invited in cuckoo and vulture funds. Those traditions continue today, no matter what spin the Minister and others tried to put on this situation earlier. The fact that since the Government came to power, the number of homeless adults in County Tipperary more than doubled shows the extent of the Government's failure. One does not hear Deputies and Senators from Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael trying to sell those figures in their constituencies. Do they know how many people are sleeping in cars in County Tipperary this evening, or how many kids are in a different house each night? They do not know because those figures are not collected.
Sinn Féin warned the Government that lifting the ban on evictions would lead to this tsunami of homelessness, but it would not listen then either. To take the example of the Tipperary-Cashel-Cahir municipal district, there are 841 people on the waiting list, with five council houses available. There are 16 properties available to rent in the entire county - the biggest inland county - which has a population of more than 160,000. Meanwhile, the Minister and his constituency colleagues remain intent on following the failing housing plan. Does the fact that 184 children in the mid-west and south east are homeless indicate a successful policy, as the Government tried to spin today? The Taoiseach spoke earlier about how well his Government has done. Does that include the fracturing of families or the rise in mental health issues? Does it account for no affordable houses being built in County Tipperary in 2021? I recently asked the Minister if he was prepared to allow councils to take emergency measures to address the housing crisis. I got an unrelated stock response. It is shameful.
We have a broad campaign calling for an increase in direct capital investment in public housing, real action to use vacant homes, an emergency ban on evictions, a ban on rent increases and measures to cut private rents. We are also calling for an immediate referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. We need this to protect the public against the Government's failed policies and its approach to housing as much as anything else.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "notes that this Government:— published its housing plan, Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland (Housing for All), in September 2021, with record levels of funding in place to support the delivery of the plan, and unprecedented guaranteed State investment of over €4 billion each year to support Housing for All, through an overall combination of €12 billion in direct Exchequer funding, €3.5 billion in funding through the Land Development Agency (LDA) and €5 billion funding through the Housing Finance Agency;
— has committed to ensuring that over 300,000 homes will be built over the next decade across the categories of social, affordable and Cost Rental, private rental and private ownership, and, on average, over 33,000 homes will be built per annum, rising to 40,000 by 2030;
— is funding the largest ever social housing build programme, with a target of over 90,000 social homes by the end of 2030, including an average new-build component of over 9,500 social homes by the end of 2030;
— will deliver 54,000 affordable homes between now and 2030, with 2,000 Cost Rental homes and 4,000 local authority Affordable Purchase Homes on average to be provided each year;
— recognises the challenges of rising homelessness numbers and is taking action, and the Housing for All plan has a strong focus on homelessness with specific actions under the plan, including incorporating Ireland's commitment to the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, which includes a commitment to work to eradicate homelessness by 2030;
— has increased the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) discretion rate, from the current 20 per cent to a maximum of 35 per cent for all local authority areas, and as this will apply to both new and existing tenancies, it will secure more tenancies and prevent new entries to homelessness;
— has provided additional flexibility in HAP by allowing local authorities to apply a couple rate to a single person household, where required, in recognition of the shared one-bed need and the particular challenges faced by single persons in securing accommodation;
— has established a National Homeless Action Committee, which has representatives from Government departments, agencies and bodies, including representation from the homelessness services non-government organisation sector and this Committee is focusing on activating measures to prevent homelessness;
— has delivered over 700 'Housing First' tenancies up to the end of 2021, with a goal of over 1,300 new 'Housing First' tenancies by 2026;
— recognises the positive impact of the Voids Stimulus Programme in 2021 in bringing 2,425 units back into use and further plans for 2,200 units this year under a new Voids Stimulus Programme for 2022 with an emphasis on a quick turnaround and re-letting of vacant social housing stock to those on social housing waiting lists, including those in emergency accommodation;
— will publish a new youth homelessness strategy in Q3 of this year;
— is supporting local authorities to acquire homes for social housing for priority purposes, including acquisitions which support a household to exit or to prevent homelessness;
— has approved the bringing forward of new arrangements in relation to short-term letting, aimed at strengthening the pre-existing regulatory controls in this area, which will ensure that non-principal private residences in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ) will not be advertised or accept bookings on online platforms or other media for short-term letting purposes without the necessary planning permission being in place in respect of the property concerned or the property concerned being otherwise exempted;
— has extended further the required termination notice period that tenants must receive, a measure designed to give greater security of tenure to tenants, and, in addition, the amendments provide for a new requirement on landlords to simultaneously copy the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) with all Notices of Termination given to a tenant;
— has tasked the RTB with reviewing Notices to Quit which involve the sale of a property, to ensure that there was compliance with the law and to take action where needed;
— is funding Threshold's National Tenancy Protection Service, which is instrumental in preventing homelessness in the first instance and supporting people to remain in their homes and is funding Threshold's Own Your Rights campaign for a second year, which aims to promote and increase general awareness of tenants' rights and is due to launch in September;
— has capped rent increases at a maximum of 2 per cent in RPZs and provided for tenancies of unlimited duration;
— is building on the success of the Mortgage to Rent scheme in 2021, when 678 borrowers availed of the scheme, and in 2022 the scheme will be expanded and it is expected that the scheme will deal with 1,000 cases, which is the commitment under Housing For All;
— is progressing actions on housing for older people, people with a disability and Travellers through Pathway 2 of Housing for All, including through sectoral specific plans such as the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022 – 2027;
— recognises that increased housing supply is vital and, at the half-way point of the year, indicators suggest that we are on track to deliver the target of 24,600 new homes in 2022, with planning permission granted for 8,463 new units in Q1, up from 7,272 in Q1 2019, while commencements in the first five months of 2022 totalled 12,089;
— has recently launched the 'First Home' Affordable Purchase Shared Equity Scheme, an affordability measure, to support first-time buyers in purchasing newly built homes nationwide, and the scheme will support 8,000 homeowners with affordable purchases up to 2026;
— has brought forward the delivery of the first Cost Rental homes, which are now beginning to come into the market, advertised at rates that are 40 per cent to 50 per cent lower than market rent;
— has legislated for affordable housing for purchase and for rent, and welcomes that homes for affordable purchase are now being made available under the Local Authority Affordable Purchase Scheme;
— has increased the percentage of Part V to 20 per cent for social and affordable or Cost Rental homes on private sites;
— has introduced a new Local Authority Home Loan for those on modest/low incomes who cannot get sufficient funding from commercial banks to purchase or build a home;
— is enabling the delivery of residential units, which will help to revitalise urban centres, through the provision of State land to the LDA, and has agreed the transfer of State lands to the LDA with potential to produce 15,000 homes;
— welcomes progress by the LDA, who have lodged planning applications for a total of 2,358 homes for the year to date, and a contractor has been appointed to begin building 597 social and affordable homes in Shanganagh from September;
— welcomes the progress by the LDA on Project Tosaigh, which aims to accelerate delivery of 5,000 homes on non-State lands where planning permission has already been granted, but not yet activated;
— has introduced both fiscal and regulatory measures to address certain activities by corporate investors that may be detrimental to the market, including through the introduction of the 10 per cent Stamp Duty rate on bulk purchases of houses;
— has implemented an owner-occupier guarantee, which requires each local authority to ensure home ownership as a tenure type is provided for and estimated in their housing strategies, and notes that recently published analysis of the impact of planning guidelines that issued in May 2021, aimed at preventing multiple housing and duplex units being sold to a single buyer, shows that almost 16,000 residential units have been ring-fenced for individual buyers and that bulk buying or multiple sales to a single purchaser have been restricted;
— has launched the Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Scheme to deliver up to 5,000 additional apartments for individuals seeking to buy a home in the five cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, and it will also support the Government's objectives of compact growth and creating vibrant liveable cities for people who want to live close to work and urban amenities;
— will shortly launch the Croí Cónaithe towns scheme to support refurbishment of vacant houses in our towns and villages, a measure which directly underpins the objectives set out in the Town Centre First policy;
— will fund projects to address vacancy and dereliction in rural towns and villages and which aim to redevelop buildings to provide essential infrastructure, including remote working facilities, community facilities and libraries under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund;
— has made the Vacant Homes Officer position full-time across all local authorities;
— intends to bring forward a vacant property tax in Budget 2023;
— has reformed the Nursing Homes Support (Fair Deal) Scheme to remove disincentives for the sale of vacant properties, and under the changes to the scheme introduced by the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Amendment Act 2021 from October 2021, the three-year cap on contributions applies to the proceeds of a sale of a home, in the same way as it applies to the value of a home that is not sold;
— is progressing a comprehensive review of planning legislation, led by the Attorney General, and a new process for Large-scale Residential Developments of 100 plus units has been introduced to bring supply forward quicker;
— is bringing forward a new system of land value sharing that will be legislated for in 2022, which, along with the introduction of urban development zones, will underpin the delivery of land and infrastructure, and these measures will play a key role in the delivery of social and affordable housing, in particular, in decisions around the zoning or designation of land and the uplift in value of that land as a result;
— has published new statutory national planning guidelines for the preparation of local authority development plans, to ensure that sufficient new homes can be built in key areas of housing demand;
— has published statutory national planning guidelines to assist with the identification and mapping of lands in scope for the new Residential Zoned Land Tax;
— has funded the first project under the Enterprise Ireland Built to Innovate campaign, which is aimed at improving the productivity of the domestic residential construction sector;
— is progressing work on the new Construction Technology Centre and has established the Modern Methods of Construction leadership and integration group;
— welcomes the increase in apprenticeship registrations and is progressing a suite of actions in order to enable and enhance international recruitment and domestic workforce activation;
— is promoting construction careers among school leavers, potential career changers and those outside the labour force, to encourage them to take up employment or training opportunities in the sector; and
— has established the Housing Commission, which is tasked with examining issues such as tenure, standards, sustainability and quality-of-life issues in the provision of housing, and, as well as examining the potential for independent regulation of the social housing sector, the Commission will bring forward proposals on the referendum on housing referred to in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future."
I thank the Deputies for tabling the motion to allow us to have a further discussion on housing and the current situation in that regard, which is, without question, difficult. What has not been recognised is the two years that we have come through, with two significant construction shutdowns that did affect output. Most reasonable people would recognise that has had an impact on delivery. Thankfully, our projections are that we will deliver on our target of 24,600 homes this year, even with the current difficult inflationary environment and the supply chain issues that have occurred, mainly due to the war in Ukraine.
What is interesting about the motion tabled by the Opposition is that, straight away, it calls for the delivery of 20,000 social homes per annum. We are going to deliver 8,000 to 9,000 new build social homes this year and, on top of that, other homes that I will discuss momentarily. That is more than 10,000 social homes. What has not been addressed by any of the Deputies who have spoken thus far on the motion is the capacity of the sector to deliver that number of homes. All present are aware that one needs people to build the homes in order to deliver them. I can advise Deputies that, thankfully, the capacity within the construction sector now is above pre-pandemic levels. We need a workforce to deliver those homes. The Deputies opposite have on many occasions raised their desire to see 20,000 social homes delivered in one year. What is never said is how long that will take, where they will built or by whom.
The Government's plan, Housing for All, which is €4 billion of investment in social and affordable housing, sets out clearly the trajectory of how we increase social housing supply in every county. That is happening now. It may not politically suit some people to recognise the basis from which we started. There were ten or 12 years of undersupply, particularly on social housing.
I am acutely aware of the challenges that we face, particularly in the area of homelessness. I chair the national homeless action committee, which is made up of many of the organisations-----
-----that have been referenced here already. We are working with every tool available to us to drive down the numbers in homelessness. The approach to homelessness has to be housing-led. It has to be about increasing supply across all tenures - social housing, affordable housing, private housing and rental housing. Deputies have referenced the lack of rental housing on the market. Some Deputies have bemoaned the amount spent on HAP. I think it was Deputy Mitchell who referred to the €1 billion being spent on HAP and RAS payments. That is supporting more than 60,000 families with direct rental payments. We have seen a reduction in the increases in HAP in the past two years and that is what I want. I want to see people transition out of HAP into permanent social housing. What is the suggestion of the Sinn Féin Deputies, however? Is it that we stop HAP payments? I increased them just last week. The Deputies should not call it a subvention for private landlords when, on the other hand, the Sinn Féin housing spokesperson bemoans the loss of private individual landlords from the market.
In Sinn Féin's most recent budget manifesto, the only proposal relating to rental properties was to add a €400 second home tax on individual landlords, the very mom and pop landlords Deputy Ó Broin says he wants to keep in the market. That was the Sinn Féin proposal.
Let us get back to the facts. The reality is that housing is not a political game. Deputies should not be playing with people in this space. What we have to show people is a realistic way to increase supply and deliver affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Act passed by this House passed, with the support of many Deputies opposite, is delivering cost rental for the first time in this country. We want to deliver that at scale. We going to deliver cost rental at greater scale through the LDA, which is about using State-owned land to deliver houses. Its goal is to put idle State-owned land to use for the good of citizens and deliver social and affordable housing. Deputy Ó Broin and his party colleagues voted against the LDA legislation.
They do not believe the LDA should even plan for houses. Do they want the four planning applications for 2,400 homes recently lodged by the LDA to be refused? Do they want to see those homes built? Maybe they do not. That may be the reason that, as we discussed earlier-----
Tá brón orm, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will not state the obvious, but the reality is that there is a need to build supply up, and supply is increasing. Supply is increasing across the board, albeit not to the levels we need. We need to go further. To March 2022, we had the highest number of residential units completed since 2011. That is 22,219 new homes. It is not possible to go from 20,000 homes to 40,000 homes in 12 months. If the Deputies opposite are telling people they can do so, then they are lying to them. It cannot be done. The total number of planning permissions in the past 12 months is up substantially, to more than 42,000, the highest since 2007. These are facts. Commencements in the year to April is 30,233. That is a start of construction of new homes and apartments, to many of which the Deputy probably objected.
There is a need to build up supply and capacity across all tenures. Housing for All will deliver, and is delivering, the single biggest social housing programme in the history of the State. It is doing that.
It will deliver thousands of new social homes this year. I believe in homeownership but I do not believe Sinn Féin does. Sinn Féin has railed against the help to buy scheme which has helped more than 30,000 households to get a deposit together to buy a home. Over the past 12 months, first-time buyers comprised the largest proportion of people drawing down mortgages. We need to get affordability into the market. How do we do that? The first home scheme launched last Thursday but Sinn Féin's motion called for it to be scrapped. I sometimes get a sense from the main Opposition spokesperson, in particular, that he does not want to see progress in this space. He does not want to see a scheme that works. Since last Thursday, we have had hundreds of applications. Sinn Féin's initial criticism of this was that it would be a second mortgage and that the interest rates was going to be at 6%, 7% or 8%. It is not a mortgage-based product; it is equity. The State is stepping in to assist those people who have been locked out of the-----
Last year Deputy Ó Broin said in this House that it was going to be a second mortgage, which was going to be at 6%, 7% or 8% interest. It is not a second mortgage. It is an equity stake that the State is taking to help the thousands of people the Deputy said he wants to help-----
I am not going to continue to be shouted down. I certainly will not be bullied by the Deputy in this House. I should be allowed to respond, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I have tabled a Government countermotion-----
Thank you. Minister. I am going to stand up. Will the Minister sit down? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have provocation from both sides. I am sitting here trying to bring order. We are going to speak through the Chair. If the Minister or Deputy Ó Broin do not speak through the Chair, I will suspend the debate. It is as simple as that.
Through the Chair, absolutely.
What I have attempted to do this evening is to put forward some of the policies that are taking hold and are working. I will try again to restate the facts. The first home scheme is going to help thousands of people who are in a rental trap and who have saved and are working hard to be able to own their own home at an affordable rate that is not a second mortgage. Hundreds already have responded to this. The first applications are being approved and on top of that we are going to deliver the first affordable purchase homes, through local authorities, in a generation with purchase prices starting from €166,000. We will deliver that and build up supply. It is unfortunate, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that I have been interrupted so many times-----
The Minister said it is not a political game and I agree with him but to be honest, much of the time when I hear Government Deputies shouting about the housing crisis, I really think they think it is some kind of political game. The reality is that the housing crisis is as a result of political choices. That is why we are where we are. There is no denying that. It is because of political choices made by the previous Government, which the Minister supported, and by this Government. I am sure the Minister knows of, and everyone in this Chamber faces, the situation where every Monday at my clinic the key issue that comes through the door is housing. To be honest, it has become increasingly difficult to find any kind of solutions for the people coming in the door. Much of the time the people have notices to quit. We know there are rising numbers of notices to quit and the best the council can say to people is to apply for the housing assistance payment, HAP. The reality in Galway city, and I cannot speak for anywhere else, is that there are no rental properties available, let alone anything within the HAP limits. What are these families to do? We know the figures and the huge increase in the number of people who are in emergency accommodation. The reality for these people is that being faced with this prospect is a huge and terrifying shock for them. They really have two or three options. They can try to get emergency accommodation, much of which is substandard. I have seen the photographs from people who come to my office. They can try sleeping in their parents' sitting rooms or maybe on a friend's couch but that is all they have. It is getting worse. I hear about it in my clinics.
On the points the Minister in regard to affordable housing, I would love him to come to Galway city and bring us the affordable housing. This is not about me wanting to win this argument. I do not want Sinn Féin to win this argument. I want the Government to deliver. For years we, in Galway city, have been hearing talk about an affordable housing estate. We are told that the earliest it will be delivered is 2024. It will not be enough for all the people who ask me if they can get an affordable house. To be clear, I am sick of hearing Fianna Fáil Deputies telling me that we object. Fianna Fáil has been objecting in Galway for years. The Minister should maybe check that out.
The Minister mentioned facts. Here are some facts. The percentage of young people under 35 who can buy their own homes halved between 2005 and 2015. We all know that this is in freefall. The average cost of a one- to three-bedroom home in County Laois has increased by 9.9% in the past year to €225,000. That average includes one-bedroom homes. In County Offaly the average cost was pushed up by 8.6% to €230,000. High rents are imposing serious hardship on workers and families. In the past 12 months, the average rent in County Laois for an apartment or a house increased by 10.5% to a whopping €1,169. There was a massive increase in County Offaly of 14.6% to an average of €1,158 per month. Government housing policy is failing renters.
The Minister mentioned HAP. Any increase in HAP payments would be welcome but the problem is that you need a rent freeze to go with it because it results in chasing high rents. Rents go up when HAP payments increase. The Minister will know that if he checks the history of what happened the last time.
A recent check on availability in counties Laois and Offaly showed that only four long-term lets were available for rent in County Laois. At the same time, there were 57 Airbnbs available. The picture in County Offaly is similar with only three long-term lets available, but 53 short-term Airbnbs. The Government has to change tack. The recent census shows a huge increase in population in both counties, similar to the rest of the State. The supply of housing is not keeping in line with that.
The Minister mentioned supply. Supply on its own will not do it. I want to see increased supply of private, affordable and social housing but I remind the Minister of when his party was in power and it crashed the housing market and the economy. More than 90,000 homes were built in 2006. What happened in 2006? House prices shot up. The Government needs to changes its approach. It needs to bring in a rent freeze. In particular, the rent pressure zones are not working. In Laois-Offaly, only the Tullamore, Portlaoise and Portarlington-Graiguecullen districts have them and they are not working in those districts. Half of the constituency has no rent pressure zones. The delivery of affordable to purchase and cost-rental homes needs to be ramped up significantly to deliver genuine affordability, and accelerated provision of new housing schemes is also needed. According to the census, 48,000 long-term homes were vacant. There are a further 45,000 rentals lying empty. We need a vacant property tax to bring those back into use. We need to end speculation by taxing it.
Our Uachtarán was right. This is no longer a housing emergency; this is a housing disaster. I was there when he spoke in Naas in my constituency in north Kildare last month and his words really crackled like electricity in people.
One person who lived those words is a spokesperson for Focus Ireland, Ms Kelly Anne Byrne, who addressed us in Maynooth last week at a Raise the Roof public meeting. She was electrifying too but it was traumatic to have to listen to her - she has given me permission to speak here about it. Ms Byrne spoke of the chaos, the terror of not having a place for herself and her children as a young mother, and how her life and the lives of her children changed dramatically once they found a decent place to live. I wish the Minister could have heard her speak of the small, but essential, joy it is to be able to come home and to close your door on the world and enjoy your dignified private life in your dignified private space.
The difference between Sinn Féin and the Government is that we believe that housing is a right. It is a right to be secured under a referendum and a right to be enjoyed regardless of income because every person needs a home. Only in this State and the absolute state the Government has made of governing, hard work, a good job, a degree, a deposit, savings and a mortgage are no longer enough to buy a home. Thanks to too much Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, one now needs a wealth fund or an inheritance to buy a small three-bedroom semi-detached house. By what measure and in whose world is that progress? This is unfair. It is unsustainable and unjust to the hardworking people who only want an affordable home to rent or buy, if they are happy to pay.
There is a certain political mindset in the Government that believes some people get free houses but the only people getting free houses in Kildare are the developers. The local authority hands back the houses to them after a 25-year lease, all paid for and all redone at the taxpayers' expense, with the tenants homeless again. No society gets away unscathed from treating so many people so badly while at the same time protecting and venerating the privileged few. Leonard Cohen sang a song,
There is a crack ... in everything
That's how the light gets in
I ask people to join their local Raise the Roof group, raise the roof and let some light in on the Minister's disastrous housing policy.
We need to raise the roof. I am not the first Deputy to repeat the following figures: a 15% increase in rents, a 22% increase in house prices and a 19% increase in homelessness. We have all probably taken a look at Daft. Across Louth, there are 18 houses for rent. In Dundalk, the corresponding figure is nine.
Anecdotally, in relation to issues I try to deal with, a number of my party's councillors on a day-to-day basis are engaging with people and trying to find solutions. Of course, we use everything available, including the housing assistance payment, HAP. We are waiting for the 35% and the other changes, that the Minister is talking about, to happen as soon as possible because that will get us some time until this fixes but we know we are all operating in a dysfunctional system that will not get any better until we deal with the supply issue, . It is exactly as Deputy Mairéad Farrell said. It is getting worse. Every time we deal with this issues, more people come in to us. People who never would have come in with regard to housing issues are now coming in. They are finding themselves in absolutely dreadful situations.
I have spoken specifically to the Minister about anomalies in relation to HAP and how people who should be able to get a payment cannot get it. We need to introduce some element of flexibility or we will only put more people into homelessness.
It goes without saying that we must do the basics. We must protect renters. We did some of these pieces of work during the pandemic. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to do so again. We know that we will only do real business when the State engages fully and we look at figures, such as the need to deliver at least 20,000 social and affordable homes per year, including cost rental. The fact is, if one talks to Mr. Tom Parlon and others from the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, they say they are solution-focused if they have targets that they will do all in their power to deliver. It cannot be beyond the realm of possibility to do what has been done previously. We have no choice. We must deliver because we are failing everybody.
I am glad to be able to have an opportunity to speak on this cross-party Raise the Roof motion today.
Every day in my political life, particularly as a Deputy, is a day where I am dealing with people in housing distress but today is one of those days that I think most Members have experienced where the cases I am dealing with had that extra air of complexity or sadness or a dead end to them. That is the day I have had with the people with whom I have been dealing and I am glad this motion is being debated tonight.
I am also glad it is being debated on the same day that we had this showpiece debate late this afternoon which, quite frankly, did not show this Parliament in its best light considering the depth of this housing crisis. The Chamber was full for almost two hours. It was a breathtaking display of barracking, one-liners, jokes, heckles, arrogance and detachment. Anyone with whom I or many of us dealt today, in the past week or the last months, anyone on the housing list and anyone who is waiting for an offer letter to drop onto his or her letter-box floor but who will probably get a notice to quit before he or she gets an offer letter would say, were he or she watching this afternoon, that there is no combination of groups in that Parliament that will be able to resolve this housing crisis. This motion is timely in that it comes so quickly after that. It is a good motion. It is coming from a cross-party, cross-political NGO group that is speaking to the heart and the complexity of this housing crisis, which, too often, we do not get to the root of in this Chamber, and we have seen an element of it already in this debate this evening. It does a disservice to the people that we all purport to be representing.
The Minister has gone all in on Housing for All as his policy. Nearly two years into the term of this Government, at most there are three years left. At present, it is hard to see how Housing for All would be delivered for all. That is the reality. It seems to be housing for those who can afford it and profits for those who can build it. I am not seeing it. Deputy Mairéad Farrell said it earlier. Even six months ago or a year ago, if anyone came to one of my clinics, at least one would have a couple of options for them. Sometimes that option might be only to help people look through daft.ie, to telephone rental agencies or whatever the case may be. Now it seems those ways of helping are being diminished. With the Covid protections now unwound and with there being no rent freeze and no ban on evictions, we are seeing the notices to quit drop at a rate that is quite frankly frightening. We are not building houses quick enough. We are not acquiring houses. They are not coming on. Whatever the method of supply, and we can argue over the method, they are not quick enough to meet the standstill target we have. That target is getting bigger and bigger every day with the rate of notices to quit.
The level of private rental accommodation available is minimal and the short-term rentals are soaking up a large number of homes in our cities and towns. I have yet to find any value in or any good about Airbnb as to why it exists. It is anti-worker. It is anti-standards. It is contrary to a fair housing system. These gig economy superpowers, such as Airbnb and Uber, are global behemoths with a substantial amount of resources. They do not build a house and in the case of Uber it does not own a car, but they undermine absolutely everything. It is the worst form of capitalism with a glossy progressive branding that is tricking the rich part of the world into believing that it is engaged in something that is somehow helpful because it might be saving a few bob. It is killing the rental market. Any hope we have of having supply for long-term rents is being absolutely undermined by the likes of Airbnb. There is not one reason I can think of that that company should be in existence.
The price of a home is moving further and further out of reach for multiple generations. I will never forget one of the first presentations I ever attended here from the trade union movement in the audiovisual room. A representative from the Mandate trade union said that 20 or 25 years ago someone who worked on the bakery counter in Superquinn who married someone who worked in the local shoe shop, if they worked and saved, and it was never easy, would be able to afford to buy a house. Now we know that if the baker in the local SuperValu is married to or in a relationship with a person who works in the shoe shop, all they could hope for is social housing and they would have to be 13 or 14 years on the list.
The reality is that because the income limits have not changed, they may be 13 years on the list. We are all getting it now. They are so long on the list and they see it incrementally going up and up, then they are in the offer zone and, bang, they are asked for their income details. Two low-paid people in a couple might be on €43,000 and they are ticked off the list because they are over the income threshold. Those income thresholds have not changed in over a decade and they need to change to reflect the reality. We cannot trust the housing list when people are being knocked off for having low incomes which are above those income thresholds.
Rents have increased by 15% and we have heard the figures on homelessness, with 5,000 single people, 3,000 children and 1,366 families in homeless accommodation. During a cost-of-living crisis, the loopholes that exist in the rent pressure zones have allowed these funds to contribute to this problem by charging exorbitant rents of €2,140 per month for a one-bed apartment up to €5,220 a month for a three-bed apartment. When someone comes into my clinic and says they have found something for €1,800, and I find myself saying it is good value, it shows how crazy it is. That is where we are. We are not seeing anything ticked down in a structured manner. The Minister said that we have had commencements and supply and that people are going to build, but given the tragedy that is happening now, we are not seeing any evidence of it working. We are just seeing prices go up and up.
The next six months is going to see this crisis taking off to a whole other level. More than anything else, the struggle to find affordable accommodation is in part due to the fact the Government is refusing to regulate these cuckoo funds in recognition of their increased dominance in the housing market. We see it in every constituency, we know where they are, we know the developments and we can see them pushing out existing tenants who may be on legacy rents so they can get new tenants in at the market value as it exists right now.
We know the power of the State when it acts. We know the State can introduce a rent freeze. It has done it before and it should not take a pandemic to do it. What the Minister is doing instead is spending €560 million on the help-to-buy scheme, which has helped some people but, as shown by the Oireachtas Parliamentary Budget Office, was not needed by a third of those who availed of it. The €450 million Croí Cónaithe scheme is essentially a slush fund for those who have squatted on prime development sites instead of developing them. We have handed over millions to these developers to build to their own timetable and to apportion out these schemes and these phases in order to continually push up the price. Anyone could set their clock by it - phase 1 will be expensive, phase 2 will be more expensive, then phase 3 and phase 4. That is how they do it and nothing the Minister has brought in is going to stop that.
Last September, the Labour Party brought forward a comprehensive renters rights Bill to limit the multiple excuses used to evict families and to enshrine long-term tenancies. We have seen no changes in that regard. The two words the Minister seems to most hate are “rent freeze”, which is a real, tangible measure that could help to reduce the burden of rent bills, along with a ban on evictions. The argument is beyond being made that they have to be brought in. We need urgent action on Traveller accommodation and the implementation of the Irish Refugee Council proposal on emergency accommodation for all refugees. In the budget, the Government can also show its willingness to tackle the rental crisis by increasing taxes on REITs, IREFs and the speculators. Again, none of us have any sense that is going to be done.
It is quite a depressing day all round to be bringing this debate here but it is much needed. We need to have a more sophisticated debate on housing. We need to put the people who are in housing distress first every time we are in the Dáil. As we come out of Covid, we are seeing those notices to quit fall like an avalanche on people's doorsteps over the course of this blistering hot summer in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. This winter, when people are not able to afford heating, food or medicines, they will be in an even longer line outside the homeless offices of our local authorities all over the country. It is a shame that we are there but, based on my experience, that is exactly where we are.
I am happy to support this motion from the Raise the Roof coalition. It is useful that a coalition of unions, civil society and housing and homeless organisations has come together as part of this campaign. I agree with the previous Deputy that, as we all know, this is an incredibly serious issue that is having a profound and detrimental effect on people across Ireland. It requires from us, in terms of the debate and discussion we have, that we treat it with seriousness and that we do not engage in a war of words and spin because that is not helpful to anyone.
I am not clear from the comments of the Minister whether he thinks we need 20,000 affordable, social and cost rental homes. I am not clear on that.
I note the Minister does not like being interrupted by other people but he happily does it to me. I do not mind him interrupting but I am just pointing out that he takes umbrage when others do it, yet he does it to me all of the time. He can just reflect on that.
We mentioned in the motion 20,000 social, affordable and cost rental homes, not 20,000 social homes, but perhaps the Minister did not actually read it. It is not clear if the Minister thinks it is not possible to do that. I do not understand how the Minister feels it is possible to do 24,000 homes this year yet we could not have 20,000 of those as social, affordable and cost rental homes. If we have the capacity to build 24,000 homes, including many that will be owned by investment funds, how come we do not have the capacity to do that? Some of them will be high-end and high-rent. If we have the skills and the labour in Ireland to build 24,000 homes, how come we do not have the skills and the labour to ensure that 20,000 of those will be social, affordable and cost rental homes? It makes no sense whatsoever.
The issue with a lot of housing policy in Ireland is that there are far too many measures that are stimulating demand, pushing up prices and pushing up rents, and not nearly enough on the affordability side, and on the affordable supply side in particular. Long-term leases are doing that, HAP is doing that, the shared equity scheme is doing that and acquisitions are doing that because they buy out of a limited pool rather than putting enough resources into affordable supply. That is the issue.
I really wonder if the Minister is serious when he cites uptake in some of these schemes as proof that they are working. That should not be a sign of success. The fact we are in a crisis and a disaster situation, and that people are understandably going to whatever supports or schemes are in place, does not mean those schemes are a success or the best use of scarce resources. If that is how the Minister and the Government are measuring the success of their housing policy, we have another problem in housing because that is not the way it should be measured. The way the Government should be analysing this is by asking what is the effect of the different schemes we are doing and whether this is pushing up house prices, pushing up rents or increasing the supply of affordable homes. Those are the questions they should be asking, not whether people in a desperate situation, who are either renting or looking to buy, are availing of whatever schemes are made available. Of course, they will do that.
One of the things that we did not hear from the Minister in his comments, and that I was hoping we would hear because we need to hear it from the Minister and the Government, is what action they are going to take urgently and now to stop the absolute disaster of us reaching record levels of homelessness in the coming days. We need to hear what the Government is going to do about that now, today, urgently. It should be top of the list for all of us to be asking that question and we have not heard that. There needs to be immediate emergency action on that right now.
The Taoiseach, the Minister and other Ministers constantly make this claim that there is €4 billion in State capital expenditure on housing. It simply is not true and there is no such figure in State capital expenditure on housing. In fact, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage heckled and interrupted my party colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, when she referenced this earlier today.
There is no €4 billion State capital expenditure on housing. That is a highly misleading claim. This year, less than €2.3 billion is being set aside by the Government for capital expenditure on housing, which is just over half the €4 billion to which it keeps referring as being the claimed expenditure. Simply including possible Land Development Agency, LDA, expenditure and loans to the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, issue to bring the total expenditure up to €4 billion is misleading. It is not the level of direct capital expenditure that was called for by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. This is an issue that goes across the board and does not just apply to housing. There is a danger the Government will begin to believe its own spin in this regard. The more it does so, the further we will be from solutions.
There are three tests that apply when assessing how we are doing on housing. First is the supply and availability of housing that is affordable, second is home ownership rates and third is the level of homelessness. On the first test, there were zero affordable purchase homes delivered last year, despite all the promises that were made. Just 65 cost rental homes were tenanted. We can contrast that with the thousands of apartments in the ownership of investment funds that were built to attract high-end rents. We can contrast it with the reports this week that Greystar, which already charges rents of between €2,140 and €5,220 per month in Dublin, is seeking double-digit rent increases. That is the reality of what has happened with much of the new housing supply that has come on stream. Rents have almost doubled over the past decade and we have had the third highest rent increases in the EU since 2010. Rents in Dublin are among the highest of any capital city in the EU.
Home ownerships rates, as we know from information provided by the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, have collapsed among people of working age. We have had a report from the ESRI indicating that the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who own their own home has halved in the past 15 years. That is absolutely shocking. As people become older, poverty levels will increase substantially as they will not have the security of owning their own home. The Government talks about its support for home ownership and that is all fine. In fact, what is happening now is that home ownership levels are continuing to decline. Last year, the number of new-build homes that were available for individuals to buy plummeted to fewer than 6,000 individual homes.
There is a lack of urgency in the Government's response to the crisis. In 2017, Fine Gael in government promised to implement a tax on vacant homes to help to bring them back into use. It still has not been introduced. That should be done now; in fact, it is one of the measures we should be taking in the Dáil this week. We should forget about the rushed changes on planning that mean An Bord Pleanála cannot be held to account in the same way it currently can be. Why not bring in a vacant homes tax this week, especially given the rental crisis, the homelessness crisis and the Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures showing there were 35,000 rental homes, making up 20% of the total rental stock, lying empty on census night? If that tax were brought in as an emergency measure, it would go some way to helping the situation.
I do not think the Government grasps how serious the situation is. It knows there is an issue but it is not grasping the knock-on effects it is having across society. We now have parents withdrawing from the workforce because they cannot get childcare as their childcare providers are reducing capacity as a consequence of their staff being unable to find anywhere affordable to live. We are seeing the same effect in schools. There has been a massive impact on the hospitality industry, with businesses simply not opening or operating on reduced days and hours because they cannot get staff. There are huge knock-on impacts but we are not seeing an urgency from the Government to act to address them.
I was about to let loose. I wonder whether the Minister has ever thought for one minute that the current housing policy and others that preceded it are and were wrong. I would like somebody on that side of the House to say, "You know what, I think we have got it wrong." I am not getting that sense and I do not think it will ever happen.
To deal with the housing crisis, we must look at what happened 20 years ago. There is a historical legacy of commodification and marketisation of homes. In fact, it is a basic need of human beings to have shelter. This discussion is like Groundhog Day because we are now in a situation where 10,000-plus people are in emergency accommodation. There is a crisis in regard to the provision of rental accommodation and affordable housing and those issues are only going to get worse. Several speakers alluded to the tsunami of notices to quit, with a huge number of people in line to be homeless come the autumn. Those figures are going to go north rather than south.
This situation is completely untenable and unacceptable. One factor relates to the operation of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme in the rental market. HAP rates are nowhere near market rental rates. Even in the case of the homeless HAP scheme, the amount of money that is being given to private landlords is obscene. In many cases, they are charging up to €2,400 per month for a home. These people should be wearing balaclavas because they are robbing the State. Some of the homes are not worth €2,400 by any means.
This is both a historical legacy issue and a contemporary issue. It comes down to policy, choice and the decision to look at shelter as something that is all about the monetary value. This is not new. It has happened in Britain and elsewhere around the world, where speculators, or robbers, speculate on property. That is the situation in which many people find themselves. Homelessness and the housing crisis affect everybody at this stage. It is not the classical situation where it is just about the people who are homeless and living on the street. That is not the situation at the moment, if it ever was.
The most recent general election probably was the most important election for a generation. It sent a message to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which have been ruling the country for the past 100 years, that people have had enough and are not going to take any more when it comes to public services, particularly housing, that are inadequate. It is the reason many people who voted for the Minister of State's party are now turning away from it. The housing crisis will be the key factor in the next general election, whenever it happens. If the Government does not address the issues we are talking about today, the parties in government will pay a heavy price. People do not forget the misery they have endured. Some have had to emigrate and others have had to go into emergency accommodation. It stays etched in people's minds that they have seen their children go into emergency accommodation. It is unacceptable that in such a wealthy country, more than 11,000 people have been allowed to end up homeless.
The Minister suggested that some of us are just playing politics with this issue and we do not really want to see the housing crisis improved because, somehow, there is some political benefit to us from its persistence. I do not know whether he is just saying that to play politics or if he actually believes it. I say to him that it is absolute nonsense.
I can tell him that I absolutely dread going into my clinic on a Monday and a Friday because of the misery I have to face when families and individuals come in, one after another, who find themselves in absolutely hopeless situations. I have lost count of how many of these situations I am dealing with, where over the next few weeks, a month, or couple of months, people are going to be made homeless because their landlords are selling up and there is nothing else for them. There are no council houses, no HAP properties available and now no emergency accommodation. There is not even emergency accommodation. As dreadful as that thought is, people are now scrambling for such emergency accommodation. It is utterly hopeless, and it gets worse.
There are so many different aspects to how much worse this situation has got. Rents have gone up by more than 100% in the last decade and average rents in Dublin are now more than €2,000 a month. In my area in the past six months, average monthly rents have been €2,600. That is completely unaffordable for the vast majority of people. In the same period that this has happened, the number of people eligible for social housing support has dropped because the Government refuses to raise the income thresholds for social housing eligibility and support.
There are so many different things I could have asked the Minister, but he has run off. I will ask him again tomorrow, for about the 50th time, when he is going to raise the social housing income thresholds. He promised me on at least three occasions in this House that we would be told the answer to this question before the summer recess. We are now going on recess, however, and there has been no answer to the question. The result is that again this week, just as there was last week, the week before that and the weeks before that, families who have been on the housing waiting list for up to ten to 12 years, and 15 years and 20 years in many cases, will be taken off that list. All those years waiting will count for nothing. Not only will those people now never get a council house, they will not even be entitled to the HAP. If people are not on the housing list, then they cannot get HAP. Therefore, if people get a pay increase or a promotion and their income goes just a few quid over that threshold, then they are goosed. They will have no chance of being able to afford something. These are people who are working but who will have no chance of being able to buy, no chance of being able to pay these rents and will not now even be entitled to social housing support.
We were told that a report has been sitting on the Minister’s desk since December 2021. Why has he not come into the House and told us what is in that review? Why? He promised us that he would do so. He has sat on that review since December and he has not brought that information into the House. Of course, however, we know the answer. This is a conscious strategy that has been pursued for five years to reduce the number of people eligible for social housing support. This is to reduce the numbers and to reduce the bill. This is what is going on.
Thankfully, the ESRI has quantified all this. In 2011, 47% of households were entitled to social housing support. This is now reduced to 33% as of 2019, and it is probably considerably lower now. The ESRI's figures only cover the period to 2019. Therefore, when rents are higher than ever before, when more and more people need help with the rent or social housing, fewer and fewer people are entitled to avail of those supports. It is a stealth cut of the nastiest kind and it is directly contributing to massive housing lists. This is why the Minister has run out. We do not get an answer to this question. I have asked the Taoiseach again where this report is. I know I am not going to get an answer from the Minister of State either.
If there is no other reason why I have no confidence in this Government, it is this: I was promised that we would have the review by now. I know what is going on. The Government wants to reduce eligibility for social housing. That is a fact. The Government wants to make everybody pray to the flipping market and to the same crowd who are building all these special housing developments, SHDs and build-to-rent apartments. Half of them, as we discovered from Killian Woods's report at the weekend, are in flipping tax havens, not paying tax and dodging tax and making a fortune out of the human misery in our rental crisis and the Government does not want to do anything about it.
I will conclude on this point. Apart from all the stuff in the context of this motion, which I obviously support, here is something simple that the Government could do now. Regarding all those SHDs, do not take 20%, take all of it. There is no justification for putting stuff on the market now at these kinds of rental prices. Take every bit of it. We will be paying for it anyway with HAP. If we got those properties into public hands ourselves, however, then we might actually make a dent in the homelessness crisis and in the housing emergency we are facing.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss what is the most pressing issue for many families and young people. I heard many people talking tonight about what is wrong, what the problems are and what people are suffering. I come across these aspects in my constituency. Many people might think this is a city-based problem. In fact, it is experienced right across rural Ireland as well. Young people are not getting a chance to build their own houses or to get mortgages to buy houses. They are stuck in this bind. At the other end of this situation, people come into my office who have applied for social housing and have found that the thresholds are so low that they cannot get onto the ladder.
Taking Galway County Council as an example, the income threshold is lower in the county than in the city. People therefore try to get onto the city's local authority housing waiting list, but they must prove that they have a link to the area and all this kind of thing. Those people are going around doing paperwork without getting any place with it. It is very stressful. A woman contacted me today who has until 28 July before she must vacate her house because it is being sold. She has two children who are aged one and four. She is a single mother. She is in a bind and her only recourse is to go to the homeless services and God knows where she will end up from there.
When we come back to why involuntary landlords are selling houses or whatever, there is a problem in this regard. People may own a house they wish to sell. It might be their second house or they might have ended up with a house by default, perhaps by inheriting it or whatever. They may have been renting that house and now want to sell it for family reasons, etc. These things will happen. We need to find solutions to these kinds of problems. The basic problem is supply. The Northern and Western Regional Assembly undertook a survey where it was found that there were 44,500 vacant properties in its area. Those almost 45,000 vacant properties are there to be taken in and made use of for people to live in. Most of these vacant properties are in our towns and villages where the communities could do with additional people living in them.
I understand that the Minister may be bringing forward some sort of a grant scheme worth €30,000 per house for first-time buyers of second-hand properties or vacant properties. We in the Regional Group called for this measure in the last budget. We were led to believe that it would happen. It is beginning to happen now, almost a year later. One of the frustrations concerning housing is that decisions are slow to come and when they do come, another year has passed and the situation has worsened.
The biggest problem with new builds from the perspective of the local authorities is that we have a huge issue with trying to get projects to the stage where they can go to construction. I have no doubt but that the construction industry can build all the houses we need. We can use innovative techniques. We talk about modular homes and the use of precast and timber-framed elements. That is the easy part of it. It takes up to six years to get a project from inception to the stage where a building contractor is appointed to undertake the work. The building stage is the easiest. Until we face up to the fact that housing is an imperative issue of overriding public interest, take the planning process and bring in a fast-tracked approach to building social housing, we will still be talking about the housing supply issue in five years’ time.
We need to look at the planning and procurement processes that are in place for public works. We need to look at the public spending code and set these things aside, because a plethora of appraisals and approvals are required throughout a process, which can hold up projects for months on end. I am bringing forward solutions. This is not a criticism. We need to act on this quickly if we are to increase the number of social houses being built. Above all, we must make sure that local authorities are properly resourced so that they can manage their housing stocks, turn around the vacant properties as fast as they can, and build houses quickly.
I welcome the work of the Raise the Roof campaign and I was delighted to attend its launch in Meath not so long ago.
From Phil Hogan, to Deputies Kelly and Coveney, Eoghan Murphy and now the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, we have been told that there is no overnight fix to the housing crisis we are in. However, it is now more than a decade since we first heard that excuse being used in the Chamber.
I have three constituency offices. We are inundated with housing issues. Like many Members in this Chamber, I have heard many horror stories in terms of the housing crisis that is engulfing so many families. Housing is in the worst state it has ever been in. I have heard the Government blame different factors for the housing crisis. I have heard it blame Covid for the lack of supply. Let us be honest, in the first quarter of 2021, Ireland was the only country in Europe that closed building sites. Ireland, which had the worst housing crisis in Europe, was the only country to shut down the building of homes for three months. No other political party mentioned that issue in the Chamber today.
During the earlier motion of confidence in the Government, the Minister of State’s colleagues majored in the points that Opposition Members are refusing to bring solutions to the housing crisis to the table, which is grossly untrue. We in Aontú tabled a Bill that would end the tax advantages of real estate investment trusts, REITs, and reduce the competitive advantages they have when they compete against first-time buyers. We tabled a Bill that would end the ability of Airbnbs to function in towns and cities with a population of 10,000 for a period of three years. Overnight, this would increase the supply of long-term lets by thousands for families in the State. We have been urging the Government to get real when it comes to vacant property taxes. The Minister has refused to talk about such taxes for years. We have demanded that homes which remain vacant for long periods of time be taxed properly to get them back into use, and to ring-fence and invest that money into the vacant properties so that they are in good shape for families to use. Despite the urgency of all of that, house taxes are still referred to in the future tense by this Government.
We in Aontú urged the Government to use NAMA land to build thousands of social homes, but the Taoiseach refused to do it. He made the argument to me in the Chamber that building social homes would go against NAMA’s mandate. He said that NAMA’s job was to protect the taxpayer and that this was underpinned by legislation. First, the Government can change the legislation as well as NAMA’s mandate so that it can build social homes. Second, more than 70,000 families are in receipt of rental accommodation scheme, RAS, payments and the housing assistance payment, HAP, in this State. The taxpayer is paying private landlords every month for the use of 70,000 homes. The Government is paying private landlords €1.3 billion every year for RAS and HAP when it could be using that money to build public and social housing. The Government is not protecting the taxpayer in any way in that regard.
Aontú set out a plan to increase of the number of apprentices. We proposed a vacant site tax that would actually work. The last vacant site tax that the Government brought in raised €29,000 in its final year. Never before has a tax cost more to draft than what it collected in a given year. It is absolutely incredible.
I carried out research into the level of vacant State buildings and land. I found that there are hundreds of State-owned buildings throughout the country and thousands of acres of Government land that are actually vacant while we are in a housing crisis. The HSE is the worst offender. It has 137 unused buildings or vacant land. Our analysis showed that the Thornton Hall site, which was bought by the Progressive Democrats to build a big prison a number years ago, is still being used to grow spuds because the Government has not got it together to use it for the community.
The Government has been boasting about full employment, but let us remember that under its economic model, many families with both parents working cannot afford to buy a house or rent a home in their area, and that is a fault with its economic model.
I am in the Dáil since 2016 and, since then, I do not know how many times we have spoken about housing. I often think that if a couple of dozen houses were built every time we spoke about housing, there would not be a housing crisis in the country but, sadly, there has been a lot of talk with nothing happening afterwards.
This motion is about Raise the Roof. I would like to talk about putting in foundations before we even get to the roof and that is a sad situation in which we find ourselves. Many young people who are trying to start off in life do not want a social house. They only want to borrow a bit of money so they can build a home for themselves and their family. However, every obstacle has been put in there way and every county development plan that comes along puts another obstacle in front of them. It is sad to think that many young people end up on the social housing waiting list, a list which the Government has promised to shorten, for as long as I have been a Deputy, but it has gotten longer. We have a massive crisis in building houses, with young people trying to get planning permission for their homes.
I also mention sites that are in towns and villages throughout the country. I always believed in having a proper rural regeneration programme but the Government would not even consider providing an incentive to people, who are struggling to get homes in the cities, to move to rural Ireland. They are good people who deserve a home. Sadly, that was always refused. There is not a great incentive at present. There are great communities in west Cork, including Ballinspittle, Ballinadee, Ballydehob, Schull, Ardgroom, Eyeries and Drimoleague, fine places that have great community centres, schools and sports clubs that could easily cater for all the people. Unfortunately, there is no great incentive to move people into the communities that are badly in need of new life.
We have a crisis in Clonakilty, west Cork, where no building can take place because there is a lack of water. It is a scandalous situation for one of the biggest towns in west Cork to find itself in. We need to raise HAP funding as well as the wage limits for social housing because many people do not qualify.
I compliment the umbrella group, Raise the Roof, comprised of trade unions, housing and homeless charities, women and Traveller groups, and others, for the excellent work it does on a continuous basis.
I want to speak about the elephant in the room. I do not want this to be twisted or for anyone to say that I am saying anything wrong. The elephant in room is the very sad and tragic situation facing Ukrainian people coming to this country. The Ceann Comhairle visited Ukraine and will appreciate what I am saying. I do not mean to disparage the people coming here. They are coming here out of want and necessity, and it is our duty to help them if we can. We always help people to the best of our ability. Just because I want to talk about it, does not mean anything bad. What it is doing is putting a massive strain on services that were already under pressure.
Thousands of people are after coming here. I am very glad that they have found refuge and are safe and that there are no bombs coming down upon them and their children. That does mean, however, that there is unreal pressure out there at the moment. I have seen people come into clinics who are going into homelessness and into homeless shelters and centres, where they do not want to go but where they have to go. There is a massive lack of availability of housing now, and the fact that we have an uncapped number of people coming here because of the war in Ukraine is, of course, compounding the problem. What I have always stated - and it is in the interest of the people we have - is that we should have a serious debate on capping the numbers. If you cannot help people properly and adequately, you should let them know that. It would be fine if we had endless accommodation. Then I would suggest that as many as possible come here. Why tell people to come here, however, if we will not be able to cater for them? So many people do not have places to go to now that it is a major worry. We have people sleeping in cars who would never have had to do so before. It is just a worry and a problem, and we must have a debate on it.
I thank Raise the Roof and compliment it on its efforts. I hope I can add to its call to help. The Government's focus at present seems to be totally on Airbnb. The Government thinks that will sort out the issue. There are people who want to let their houses short-term and they will not let them long-term. The Government cannot make them do otherwise with any law it brings in. The fact that in our local authority last October we had 162 vacant houses, many of which have not been brought up to the standard at which they can be allocated, says something. The Government needs to do something about that. It needs to give the local authorities adequate funding to bring such houses back to the standard it is asking the local authorities to bring them to. Today I was told about a Kerry local authority house still vacant after four and a half years in the heart of Killarney, with briars growing in around the windows and the doors. I got a call about it because there are now vermin perching there and threatening the people next door. Householders and landlords want to get out of letting properties. Why? That is the big question. There is a reason, and the Government has to suss it out because many of them are getting out. The Government cannot make them stay because they have problems. As for planning permission in the Killarney electoral area, where people want to build homes themselves and put a roof over their heads, half the total area of the electoral area is sterilised on one side by the national park, where people cannot build, coming out onto the national secondary roads from Rathmore to Killarney to Killorglin, and from the county bounds into Killarney. We are waiting for a bypass for Killarney. All that land is sterilised from Farranfore through the heart of Kilcummin. People just cannot get planning permission to put a roof over their heads.
I thank Raise the Roof for its work, but before you can do any work on raising the roof you have to have infrastructure. I have been in construction all my life and I know the importance of having infrastructure in an area. I will use the example of Limerick and the statistics I have. For 38 years Askeaton has been waiting for the Government, the previous Government and the governments before it to put infrastructure in place to stop raw sewage going into the river. Dromcollogher, the Deel and Hospital have been polluted by the local authority. I am talking about areas such as Glin and Foynes. Does the Minister of State want me to keep talking about all the pollution that has been done to our county because of lack of infrastructure? We have been waiting for infrastructure. What does infrastructure mean? I will tell the Minister of State. If you have proper infrastructure, including sewerage and water, you have houses. If you have houses, you have sustainable business, sustainable sports clubs such as GAA and soccer clubs, and sustainable schools. That is what infrastructure means. However, this Government, the Minister of State's partners in the Government and the previous Government have not invested in infrastructure in County Limerick. We have had a junior Minister in Limerick County for 15 years, with nothing returned for Limerick. We have another junior Minister who celebrated ten years recently, with nothing returned for the area he is elected for. That is not a good record. They have been in power, in positions where they could deliver infrastructure for County Limerick, and they have not done so and they expect people to keep voting for them. People in County Limerick are sick of it. We want our families to return to our county. We want infrastructure that basic humanity needs and that any person should have. We would be quite sustainable by ourselves if we had infrastructure, but the Government cannot see that infrastructure in areas means sustainability in all of Ireland. All it has done is invest in city projects, with county junior Ministers backing the Government all the way.
I thank Sinn Féin and Raise the Roof for this comprehensive motion. It sets out the facts and then states that we need a radical shift in housing policy. That is exactly what we need because it is the policy of this Government and previous governments that has led to the emergency in which we find ourselves, which the Government has not declared an emergency. In the motion there are 14 points, and at the end it refers to the holding of a referendum to enshrine a right to housing in the Constitution. That is the most basic step we should take. I have said repeatedly that without security of tenure and without a home, people - residents and citizens - cannot participate actively in democracy. More than ever, we need security of tenure and homes.
The Minister has left. I know he is busy. He put up a spirited defence but what he tried to defend is indefensible. We are now on our fourth Minister since I was first elected here in February 2016. We have had Deputy Alan Kelly, followed by Deputy Simon Coveney and Eoghan Murphy, and now Deputy Darragh O'Brien. What has not changed at all, other than the documents and the glossy covers, is the policy. We keep going with the policy that the market will provide and, when it does not, we will use taxpayers to make it provide at enormous cost, with absence of security of tenure and a dire emergency.
I am so tired listening to my own voice on this that I will quote from documents. When the Minister was here he accused the Opposition of being against homeownership and said that his policy is to encourage homeownership with various schemes, which have been found utterly defective. My time is limited but I will quote from an ESRI report published in July 2022. It is an interesting document. It notes that there has been "a notable decline in homeownership and a rise in the proportion of households in private rental accommodation". It goes on to state that "Ireland has experienced a marked drop in homeownership rates" and goes on to give the specific figures, which are substantial. That fully contradicts the Minister's statement that his policies have led to homeownership. That is clearly not the case. In the report there is a very interesting statistic. The authors talk about poverty later in life among people who do not own their own homes and the increase in such poverty, particularly among women. The report points out research that was carried out across ten member states, including Ireland, which found that neither generous pensions nor high ownership rates had the strongest poverty-reducing potential.
What had? Lower poverty rates in older age were most strongly associated with the provision of social housing for older people. That is an interesting fact in the middle of the research.
Let me look again at the Simon Community report because I have a little more time than I had earlier. Directly consequent to the Government’s policies, Galway city has absolutely no properties available. There are very few for rent and absolutely none in the county or city within the HAP criteria. Even if you allow for the increase in the discretion, there is nothing available. The study was carried out in June over three days. It is called a snapshot. It is the Simon Community’s 37th report. Worse the situation has got. The Simon Community, which has no axe to grind, is setting out the facts and figures for Galway city and county and the rest of the country. Those are the facts, so any sensible, intelligent Government — maybe these do not go together; I do not know — would say the policies are not working and will have to be reconsidered. That is not happening.
A point was made on NAMA. NAMA has been a huge part of the problem considering the remit it was given. It was praised for carrying out that remit, which has artificially, along with HAP and all the payments enshrined in law by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in 2014, but particularly the HAP, ensured the prices of houses and rent would remain astronomically high and simply unaffordable to everyone. The latest is that the young teachers trying to get jobs in Dublin cannot stay in Dublin because there is no accommodation, yet we persist with making silly personal comments across the floor as if we were standing here just for nothing. All the time, we are doing what we do on behalf of our constituents on the ground, yet we cannot even get a meeting with the local authority; we have to do it by email.
Recently, both the Minister responsible for housing and the Taoiseach claimed progress was being made in the Government’s so-called Housing for All plan. This claim flies in the face of reality given the actual statistics concerning any area covered by the plan. We have a new homelessness emergency on top of the existing crisis. It is a crisis within a crisis, which was partly abated by the ban on evictions during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The number of homeless families grew by 11% in 2021 over 2020. In Dublin last year, 30 families became homeless every week. A total of 786 children have been in emergency accommodation for over a year, affecting their schooling and mental health.
I have raised this issue already and I am sure the Ceann Comhairle is sick and tired of me raising it in the past couple of weeks. Last year, 3,038 households renting were served a notice to quit, mainly because the landlords were selling up. I cannot understand why the Government is not alarmed by it. It was the highest number of evictions of tenants in a single year since the foundation of the State. The trend has continued unabated into this year, but now we know there is another problem on top of it because the family support unit, in response to queries from our office, has said it is at capacity. There is no room in the hubs; they are full. No rooms can be got in hotels or B&Bs. Now we have the quarterly report of the Simon Community, Locked Out of the Market, which states there is not a single property to rent for families with one child identified anywhere in the country based on the standard HAP rate, and just 12 were available on the basis of the discretionary rate. There are now officially 10,335 people nationally in emergency accommodation. In May, there were 7,200 adults and 3,000 children. In October 2019, there was a record number in emergency accommodation: 10,500. The Simon Community has said the number will be surpassed in the next two months while we are on holidays. There will be no opportunity for the Government to intervene if this becomes worse over the next eight weeks.
This is not progress by any stretch of the imagination, as far as I am concerned. As stated in the Private Members’ motion, there is an urgent need to reinstate the eviction ban and introduce rent freezes. I appeal to the Government to achieve this because, in the next eight weeks, families will be in a worse situation. Whatever hope there would otherwise be of getting them somewhere, there will be none. Therefore, there is an urgent situation developing.
On every front, Housing for All is failing to meet the targets set. A target of 33,000 new builds was not met in 2021, 2020 or 2019 and is unlikely to be met this year. Last year, there were 20,433 new units built. That is 12,000 short of the target. An important question is: How many of these 20,000 were actually affordable? Not one affordable one was actually built. Just 65 cost-rental units were actually built. Construction of new apartments was up 30%, to just over 5,000, but they were mainly built to rent and were extremely unaffordable. Two-bed apartments were being advertised in Dublin at €2,250 per month. That is 72% of take-home pay on an income of €50,000, which a large majority of working people do not earn.
With regard to so-called social and public housing, only 3,144 units were built out of a target of 9,000. Even then, 2,000 or so of these were not actually built by local authorities or approved housing bodies; they were given over by private developers under Part V agreements.
In the private rental sector, rents are continuing to rise. They were up by over 8% in 2021. The rent caps are not working as new or refurbished properties are exempted. One could say the Government’s rent caps were designed not to work. Despite Government claims of progress on security of tenure, as long as landlords can evict on the basis of selling or refurbishing, or of a family member moving in, there will be no security of tenure for renters. We now have the Minister asking Departments to look at land in their possession with a view to getting permission to build and then selling it on to developers in the continuation of a housing policy that has failed miserably through its reliance on the private sector. I fully support the motion from Raise the Roof and thank Sinn Féin and the others that have signed it.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate while I was here. As already indicated by my colleague Deputy Darragh O’Brien, the Minister, much is being done by the Government to address housing supply and homelessness. I assure the Deputies in the House of the work done to date. The Government is committed, through Housing for All, to over 200 actions designed to tackle housing issues. Increasing the supply of housing is at the centre of Housing for All. This includes major direct investment in social and affordable housing, reforms to ensure the availability of land, measures to support the viability of development and ensuring sufficient investment and capacity to support housing construction.
Housing for All is backed by a €20 billion State investment in housing to the end of 2026. It gives certainty and stability to those who want to finance and build homes. Addressing homelessness continues to be an absolute priority of the Government and my Department in particular. Resources and funding are not obstacles to the urgent efforts required. There is a €194 million allocation for homelessness services alone in 2022. This funding ensures that local authorities can continue to provide emergency accommodation and other essential support services to households experiencing homelessness, while also ensuring that pathways out of homelessness for those households in emergency accommodation are secured as quickly as possible.
The Government is also committed to the reduction and prevention of homelessness and last year signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. Many of the actions in Housing for All directly address this, including the expansion of Housing First, the development of a youth homelessness strategy and the establishment of the national homelessness action committee. To secure more tenancies and prevent new entries into homelessness, thus relieving pressure on emergency accommodation, we have increased the HAP discretion rate to 35% and allowed local authorities to apply a couple rate to single-person households where required. The proposed measures to strengthen the regulation of the short-term lettings sector, which have been approved by the Cabinet this week, will lead to a return of much-needed properties to the long-term rental market, further preventing entry to and increasing exits from homelessness.
The first home shared equity scheme is open for applications to support 8,000 affordable purchases by 2025, primarily for first-time buyers. The first home scheme will help applicants exit the rental market and achieve the stability and security of affordable new homes through the use of an equity share model within the designated regional price ceilings to target starter homes. The Croí Conaithe city scheme will bring apartments forward for development, delivering much needed additional supply in cities. We believe that demand for owner occupation of apartments in these city locations is strong but cannot be met because of the viability gap. We have been pragmatic in recognising the barrier to apartment construction that the viability gap presents and have worked to bridge it and kick-start the construction of much-needed apartment schemes. These will provide much-needed homes as well as facilitate compact growth and create vibrant livable communities in our largest cities. Meanwhile the Croí Cónaithe town scheme will support regeneration in our towns and villages, with further details on the scheme to be announced later this week.
It has been more than a decade since State-led affordable homes have been built. Building new social, affordable and market supplied housing is key. Adding to the supply of housing is at the very heart of our Housing for All strategy. We are pressing ahead with delivering new affordable housing to meet the clearly identified need. A total of 234 cost-rental homes had been tenanted as of the end of June. A total of 65 were delivered in 2021 and a further 169 have been tenanted so far this year. The development of the cost-rental sector from a concept to an on-the-ground reality is a huge step forward. We intend to scale up this tenure type to ensure we provide tenants with secure affordable options.
The LDA is working to deliver on its social and affordable housing mandate. The contractor has been appointed for the development of 597 new cost-rental affordable purchase and social homes at Shanganagh, County Dublin, with work on site to commence in September. Work will also start at St. Kevin's site in Cork this year. Planning permission has also been applied for in respect of four other sites which are expected to yield close to 2,300 units.
Vacancy is being addressed through a number of measures, including the rural regeneration and development fund, the introduction of a vacant property tax, the reforming of the fair deal scheme and expansion of the voids programme. Tenants are being supported through the extension of notice of termination periods, the introduction of tenancies of unlimited duration, the requirement for landlords to inform the Residential Tenancies Board when serving a notice of termination and the capping of rent increases at a maximum of 2% in rent pressure zones. Actions on housing for older people, those with a disability and Traveller accommodation, including sectoral specific plans such as the national housing strategy for disabled people 2022 to 2027, are being progressed by means of pathway 2 of Housing for All.
Indicators show the Government's 2022 housing targets will be met, with more than 22,000 new homes completed in the 12 months to the end of March, increases in commencement notices month on month and residential planning permission applications increasing by more than 22% over a 12-month period. The fourth progress report for Housing for All will be published this week and reflects the significant progress that has been made towards overall reform of the housing system and delivery of measures to accelerate the supply of homes in the short to medium term.
As Deputies and campaigners know, homelessness is a very complex issue in which casual factors and family circumstances vary considerably, as do the type of responses that are needed. Homelessness is interrelated with other areas in the housing system and with broader social and healthcare policies and service delivery. A whole-of-government approach is required when dealing with this huge challenge. Housing for All is this approach, and we will continue to work to house everyone. For those who have left homelessness, we must work to ensure that, where needed, families and individuals are supported to sustain their tenancies. This is important work that needs to continue. We must also ensure that families and individuals remain in their homes and do not re-enter homelessness. All of these supports are essential to tackle homelessness. If we work together in co-operation and collaboration we can reverse the trend of rising homelessness. I thank all of the organisations involved in helping those at risk of homelessness. We will all work together to continue to drive our actions in Housing for All, which will be critical to the success of the strategy.
The issue of infrastructure has been raised in the debate. Irish Water is doing significant work. A critical point on infrastructure is that it takes significant capital funds to unlock it. We know that Irish Water competes for funding with various Departments, including those responsible for transport, health and education. As I travel throughout the country I see the demand is great. There are sites that were environmental flash points where wastewater was getting into our water courses. These had to be worked on urgently. There are also remediation schemes throughout the 31 local authority areas. Unfortunately, at the height of the Celtic tiger era, developments failed and remediation schemes had to be established. There is significant demand in rural towns and villages throughout the country for the infrastructure to unlock the development of homes and increase the capacity. We are working hard to do this but it will take time because the call to do so is significant.
People have to be realistic about the funding streams and the revenue raised to deliver these actions and the competing interests. I acknowledge that Deputies have mentioned dealing with the public in their clinics. I acknowledge it is very challenging. It is very difficult. I meet constituents at clinics on a weekly basis and I try to assist them with housing options. As I have said in the House in recent months, there is significant hope given the increase in commencement notices, which are above 30,000. This is strong evidence of builders on site delivering homes. I can see it in my community as I look around. There are four or five significant large-scale sites. They will assist in providing secure tenancies for all our citizens. This is what collectively all of us in the House are trying to achieve.
It is important to see the support this motion has from many Opposition Members. It relates to housing, which has been one of the main political issues of this Dáil. It is appropriate that we table this comprehensive motion in the last week of the term, when the Government's targets are not sufficient to meet the housing disaster ahead of us. This is an issue that affects every constituency in Ireland. In County Wexford alone the latest house prices and rent prices have increased by 14% on what they were this time last year. The trend is putting hard-working people in the impossible position of never owning permanent homes.
People are one paycheck, one price hike or one notice to quit away from being back in their parents' box rooms or, in the worst scenario, on the streets. Every day I receive emails and phone calls from constituents looking for affordable places to rent, affordable housing or social housing. They are just not there. It breaks my heart to know that what we can do is limited and that the Government's policy will ensure these issues will continue.
One of the most difficult aspects of the housing disaster is children and homelessness. There are 5,054 single people, 3,028 children and 1,366 families who are homeless as we speak. Children who have experienced homelessness are more likely to have health problems, go hungry, experience development delays and have higher rates of depression, anxiety and behaviour disorders than other children. These children can spend three years or more in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Other children are in direct provision centres for ten years or more. These are our most vulnerable children and the Government is fully aware of these facts. It is time to sink or swim and support the Raise the Roof campaign led by the trade union movement, housing rights activists and all those young hard-working citizens who are brushed aside from owning their own homes by vulture funds and the wolves of the stock market. The budget must be used to deliver a major shift in housing policy. It must focus on affordable homes and increase direct capital to deliver at least 20,000 social and affordable homes, including 4,000 cost-rental homes. The Minister must not fail another young generation.
That was mentioned earlier. It has been happening for years in this city. There are plenty of houses but unfortunately they are in the wrong hands and they are being used for the wrong purposes. Child homelessness is endemic once again. There are more than 3,000 children without a place to call home. This is the official number.
We do no know how many are sharing box rooms or sitting rooms at night, with their parents, in homes of other family members, or just staying with mammy's or daddy's friends.
This Government has been in power for two years. Fine Gael has been in power for 11 long years. Under the combined rule of these parties, rents, house prices and homelessness have all skyrocketed. None of this is by accident. It was not always the way, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are wedded to the idea that private development is the only path forward. The ideal of the State providing housing does not gel with their world view. The result is 3,000 homeless children.
They are even warning now of a housing crisis for pensioners on the horizon. The Government reacted with shock and surprise, but what did it expect when home ownership or housing stability is just a pipe dream for whole generations of Irish people? More than 80,000 vacant homes have been identified in the census. Think of the impact we could make on homelessness figures if even 10% of those could be brought back on stream. However, the Minister for Finance has fought tooth and nail against bringing in an effective vacant property tax and we have a Government that is best friends with the speculator and developer, while children go without a roof over their heads.
Most of the solutions coming from Government have caused more damage. The so-called help-to-buy and shared equity schemes only served to pump more money into an already broken system, raise house prices further and create a system where only investing firms can afford to swoop in and hoover up properties, while workers and families give up the dream of ever owning their own home.
Budget 2023 must deliver a radical shift in housing policy, as demanded by the Raise the Roof, homes-for-all campaign. We have to tackle the speculative investment in land and land hoarding. We must end outrageous tax reliefs on rents and capital gains for institutional cuckoo and vulture funds and there should be a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. The problem is that there is a void at the very heart of the Government's housing plan, which is the lack of an ambitious public housing delivery programme, based on the level of need that is out there. Even if the Government meets its social and affordable housing targets, which I do not believe it will, it will come nowhere close to meeting existing needs, let alone growing, emerging and future needs.
The reason I do not believe the Government will meet its targets is that of the 9,000 newly built social homes that were to be delivered this year, just over 600 were delivered in quarter 1. That is roughly the same as the same quarter last year, when there was lockdown. Even the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, started to use the figure of 8,000, today, rather than 9,000. Maybe he is gently breaking the news to us that the targets will be missed.
The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, made reference to the cost-rental targets. Some 169 have been delivered to date this year, of a very low target of 700. Clearly, it will be a challenge to even meet the 700 by year's end. Some 700 is nowhere near enough. With regard to the affordable purchase side, the target is 450 to 500 and none have yet been purchased. Some are close, but they are in the tens, not in the hundreds.
That is why this motion centres around the need for a minimum of 20,000 social, affordable rental and affordable purchase social homes. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, asked where the homes would come from. Of course, if he had read the motion, he would have gotten some indication. We have tens of thousands of vacant homes. If local authorities were given a dedicated financing stream to purchase those properties, up front, for social or affordable use, we could turn many of those around.
Increasing Part V, not just for land bought from this year, but for planning permissions on land that had been bought previously, would deliver more social and affordable homes. With 90,000 planning permissions out there and a nervousness among the private sector, because of construction sector inflation for starts next year and the year after, a more assertive turnkey programme for mixed-tenure, social, affordable, rental and affordable purchase estates could combine to yield a far greater output. The money and planning permissions are there. What is lacking is the political will. We also need urgent action for renters. Rents cannot continue to rise at the rate which they are currently rising. Renters need the crucial relief of a three-year ban on rent increases, as well as putting one month's rent back in their pocket.
However, this motion also talks about a number of other issues, some of which are the direct responsibility of the Minister of State. We still do not have enough urgency with the implementation of the 32 recommendations of the expert group on Traveller accommodation. I know many people are doing considerable work, but the outcome is key. When we look at what is happening throughout the State, we are still seeing many local authorities not spending their Traveller accommodation budgets, or spending it on anything other than the delivery of new, culturally appropriate accommodation. The acceleration of the implementation of that report is key and, in particular, the recommendations around planning and land.
I have to say I fundamentally disagree with the Rural Independent Group. We are a rich country and we have many properties. We can meet the needs of our own homeless community, Ukrainian refugees and everybody in between. It is wrong, no matter how politely it is presented, to suggest that providing refuge for people fleeing way is in any way exacerbating our housing crisis. It is not. I urge the Government to take on board the Irish Refugee Council's proposal for the access of holiday homes offer those property owners a licence agreement, 12-month legal security and a small administrative payment. Our getting 5% or 10% of the 60,000 holiday homes would take considerable pressure off hotels, while providing people fleeing Russia's unjustified war in Ukraine with better-quality accommodation. That is something the Government has yet to do and I urge it to do so.
We need a new accommodation strategy for students. The existing strategy had a 20,000-bed shortfall at the end of the plan and the reliance on the private rental sector to meet student accommodation need, given the crisis in that sector, will no longer be possible. More needs to be done.
There is a problem with respect to so-called help to buy, the shared equity loan scheme and Croí Cónaithe. We know from the recent Parliamentary Budget Office report that one third of the help-to-buy scheme went to people who already had a deposit and a sufficient mortgage to buy a home. That is €200 million. According to figures from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, that could have delivered 1,000 new-build social homes. We have 1,300 homeless families. Why would we give €200 million to people who had a deposit and a mortgage, when that money could have been used to build or buy homes for families in emergency accommodation? That makes no sense, regardless of the inflationary impact of those demand-side schemes and the additional debt, particularly, that would be carried by the equity portion of the shared equity scheme.
There are a considerable number of positive solutions in this motion, but if Government does not listen and change tack, we will be here in six, 12 or 24 months, with an ever-deepening housing crisis and a Government using the same speeches to justify the same failed policies, with the same failed results. It is time to raise the roof and change policy.