Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

4:20 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [43922/22]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [44366/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [44841/22]

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will meet next. [44917/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [45726/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [45764/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 14, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on housing has met six times to date in 2022. The last meeting took place on Thursday, 15 September, with the next meeting planned for Monday, 10 October. The committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the implementation of Housing for All and the delivery of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters. Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State and contains a range of actions and measures to ensure more than 300,000 new homes will be built by 2030, along with delivering fundamental reform of our housing system.

The 2030 target includes 90,000 social, 36,000 affordable purchase, and 18,000 cost-rental homes. The plan is backed by the highest ever State investment in housing. The progress of Housing for All is overseen by the Cabinet committee on housing and government, with progress reports published quarterly. On 14 July, the Government published the fourth quarterly report, Q2 2022 progress report. It shows significant progress and sets the course to significantly increase the supply of housing and provide a sustainable housing system into the future. Of the 213 actions in Housing for All, a total of 156 have either been completed or are being delivered on an ongoing basis.

While the war in Ukraine and consequent cost pressures have placed great pressure on the sector, there are strong signs of momentum in housing delivery. Between April and June of this year, planning permission was granted for 11,374 new homes, which is a rise on the same period in 2021. Building started on more than 7,000 new homes during this period and 7,654 new homes were completed, an increase of more than 50% on the number of homes completed in the same period of 2021. We are confident that the target for delivery of 24,600 homes in 2022 will be met.

Under the plan, we have introduced four significant affordable purchase initiatives: the first home scheme; the local authority purchase scheme; the local authority home loan scheme; and Project Tosaigh. These measures have been implemented to increase supply and make homes more affordable. The Croí Cónaithe cities fund has also been established to address current viability challenges and activate housing supply at density in city centres through the delivery of 5,000 homes for owner occupiers. In tackling vacancy issues, we have launched a number of measures, including the Croí Cónaithe towns and villages scheme and a new town centre first policy, as well as changes to the fair deal scheme to remove disincentives to renting or selling vacant property.

Employment in the construction sector is now greater than pre-pandemic levels, and apprenticeship registrations are increasing significantly. International recruitment initiatives are under way while there is an entire work stream on modern methods of construction. Far-reaching reforms, including to our planning laws and our land management and activation mechanisms, are well under way. The actions outlined in the plan are backed by in excess of €4 billion in annual guaranteed State investment in housing over the coming years.

When Housing for All was published, it included provision to review and update the plan on an annual basis to react to any changes or emerging challenges. This review is under way and it does not seek to change the policy direction, but affords us the opportunity to react to the many challenges that have emerged since the plan was published, most notably, the ongoing inflationary pressures.

The review is focused on measures to activate and accelerate supply, and a final version of the update will go to Government in October. The Cabinet committee will continue to focus on delivery of the Housing for All plan and any other housing-related priorities.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Cabinet committee on housing discuss home income thresholds for social housing supports, which have not changed since 2011? There is a scarcity of available properties for renters and those that are available have rents that many simply cannot afford. Homeownership is unattainable for many people, especially throughout Limerick. The safety net is meant to be the social housing support, but the income thresholds are too low for most at €30,000 for a single person and €36,000 for a family in Limerick, and they have not changed since 2011. The move to raise income thresholds for eligibility for social housing in counties Clare, Carlow, Laois, Galway, and Westmeath is welcome, but they were not increased in areas with acute affordability issues such as Dublin, Cork, and my home place of Limerick. Why were they not changed in Limerick, Dublin, and Cork, where the need is greatest?

People cannot rent or buy or get social support. Where are working people supposed to go? When will the income threshold review be published? It has been with the Minister since last December.

4:30 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It is almost two months since the Government received the report from the working group to examine defects in housing. That report is extremely stark in terms of the situation it sets out with regard to defects, primarily fire defects in apartments and duplexes. The report states: "The Working Group estimates that of apartments and duplexes (or associated common areas) constructed between 1991 and 2013, the number that may be affected by one or more defects, i.e. fire safety-, structural safety- or water ingress defects, is likely to range between 50% and 80%, which equates to between 62,500 and 100,000 apartments/duplexes." It means if people live in a Celtic tiger-built apartment block or duplex the chances are that there are serious defects in the construction of the home and they will be faced with a substantial bill. The average bill is €25,000 and I believe this will increase. Many are facing bills of significantly more than this at €68,000 and more. People simply cannot afford to pay this. This is not the fault of the residents. They did everything they were supposed to do when they their homes were built. Now they are faced with these massive unaffordable bills to make their homes safe. The only just and workable solution is a 100% redress scheme. The question for the Taoiseach is when the Government will respond to this report. Will he give a commitment now that whatever scheme is introduced will be retrospective?

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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Housing for All mentions student accommodation only once. The student accommodation emergency was brought into focus last week when the French embassy warned its students against coming to Ireland. We are in a shameful situation, with students who have worked hard and families who have sacrificed to get their children to college now finding they are locked out of their courses and career of choice. They are crippled with high rents, they are open to exploitation, and they are forced to commute crazy distances. We need an urgent capital intervention in the budget to enable educational institutions to get advanced building projects started. This is the only way these projects can proceed in order that they are affordable to ordinary students and families and financially viable. Will the Taoiseach now admit that the Government has failed students by designing a system that hands over student accommodation to the private market? Will the Government finally commit to real capital funding in this year's budget to unlock these projects and deliver affordable accommodation for students? Will the Taoiseach commit once and for all to a new accommodation strategy for students?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Last year, the Taoiseach said in the House:

All the measures the Minister has taken in placing restrictions on evictions and so on have borne fruit. The tsunami has not happened that the Deputy said would happen a year ago.

The Deputy he referred to was my good self. This morning Threshold came before an Oireachtas committee and reported that it has been notified of 462 notices to quit per month this year. This has increased from 263 in 2019. It is an increase of 76% on pre-pandemic levels. The tsunami the Taoiseach denied would happen is happening now before our eyes. What will he and the Government do about it? They could reinstate the ban on evictions. They could follow the example of Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands and ban evictions on the ground of sale of property. This ground were responsible for 58% of the evictions notified to Threshold this year. Will the Taoiseach do this or will he once again bow to the landlord lobby, so heavily represented in his parliamentary party?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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One of the many reasons people will be out on the streets for the cost-of-living demonstration next Saturday is the housing crisis. I ask the Taoiseach in advance of the budget to listen to what people are calling for. As Deputy Barry said, we have had a massive spike in evictions on the ground of sale. The Government should reintroduce the eviction ban. If the Taoiseach will not do so there is something else he could do. He could instruct local authorities to purchase every property where there is an eviction on the ground of sale. If this is done, people will be housed, the social housing stock will be increased and it will save the State money on the rental accommodation scheme, housing assistance payment and homeless payments. It is a simple measure. The Government could use the extra tax receipts available to it for capital expenditure. This would be prudent expenditure.

I reiterate the next question yet again for the umpteenth time. Will the Government please publish the review on social housing income thresholds? It was promised since December last year when the review was completed. The ESRI states we have gone from a situation where 47% of households used to be entitled to social housing to 33%. It is a massive stealth cut in the housing support available to people who cannot afford the extortionate rents and house prices in the private market.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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To respond to Members generally, the State is the biggest actor in housing now. One would not think that from the contributions made regularly in the House and some public commentary and analysis. The State is the biggest actor in housing, be it social housing, affordable housing, cost rental, Croí Cónaithe, the town centre first policy and trying to bridge the gap in viability on brownfield sites. The State is the biggest player now in house building. We need to build far more houses than we are currently as a country. No doubt Covid 19 hit construction with the two lockdowns. The increase now in commodities and prices has been quite significant, at well over 20% on some materials in the building industry. There has been one big storm after another facing the construction industry and the Government's plans. Notwithstanding this, we feel that we will make the target of 24,600 this year. This is not enough and we need to be at approximately 35,000 per annum. On all fronts, in terms of workforce, planning and better construction methodology, we are doing what we can to get construction going.

Student accommodation proposals are coming forward. It is not a failure. Thousands of student accommodation places have happened in recent years. They are not a failure. Again, it is about scale. We need more. We need higher volumes. There is an affordability gap after Covid and there are inflationary issues. The educational institutions say they cannot make it work. The Government is examining this. The Government is doing an awful lot on housing, without question. We will also deal with the student issue. The Minister is examining the increase in income thresholds for social housing.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We have heard that for a year.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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It has been going on for a year.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have been in discussions with the Minister on this.

On the defects in housing, the Minister established the working group in 2021 under Mr. Seamus Neely, former chief executive of Donegal County Council. He received the report and published it. As Deputies will be aware, the working group estimates the average cost of undertaking the remediation of defects is likely to be approximately €25,000 per apartment duplex. This would be an overall potential cost of between €1.56 billion and €2.5 billion. It is estimated that remedial works have been completed in respect of up to 12% of the affected properties, and up to 34% of the affected properties may now be in a process of remedial works being carried out. The Minister is examining the report and will report back to the Government on the response. He is also looking at the lessons learned through the development and operation of other schemes such as the pyrite remediation scheme and the defective concrete blocks scheme.

On Deputy Barry's question regarding notices to quit, landlords are leaving the market in significant numbers and have been for the past four to five years. I would argue that at times much of the rhetoric from his good self and the ideas he has brought forward are leading to an acceleration of this exit.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Buy the houses.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Many people do not feel it is worth their while to be landlords anymore. They may have purchased a house or two in the past with a view to renting them out. They are now selling.

(Interruptions).

4:40 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The value has become high but also-----

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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Buy the houses.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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If one talks to people-----

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I do talk to them.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is interrupting me again. The point is landlords are getting out of this.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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So what? The State could buy the houses.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Why not?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The State will not buy every house.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The State could buy the houses to keep the families in them.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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However, the State has said that local authorities are allowed and have the capacity-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Taoiseach should tell them to do it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----and the firepower-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Taoiseach should tell them to do it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----to purchase houses from people who could rendered homeless as a result. The councils have been told that they can-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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They can.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----buy the houses where someone could be rendered homeless if-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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They should.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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They are not doing it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are in some cases where they are.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Would you lads not stay quiet when you are asked?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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However there is an issue to reflect on as well. There is no point in saying "buy every single house". These kinds of simplistic answers to everything are not the way to solve the housing crisis-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is a win-win.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----because we need people to let existing housing stock. Many people do not feel it is worth their while and yes, because of the value now, they feel it is timely to get out. That is not good enough for the housing-supply issue because we need the supply at present. Many approved housing bodies are saying this to us. They want us to take action to encourage landlords to stay in the system.