Tuesday, 4 October 2022
Housing for All Update: Statements
I wish to share time with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan.
Nothing is more important to this country than tackling the housing crisis head-on. As I have said on a number of occasions, following a decade of undersupply rents are still too high, homebuilding is still too low and too many people cannot afford to buy their own home. Too many parents and grandparents are worried about where their children will live and far too many of our most vulnerable are without a safe and secure roof over their head. That is why housing is the biggest priority for the Government - a priority backed by €4.5 billion annually, as was outlined in the budget only last week.
Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of the State and aims to build 300,000 new homes, 90,000 new social homes and at least 56,000 affordable homes by 2030. It sets out a goal to eliminate homelessness by 2030 and breathe fresh life into derelict and vacant homes throughout the country. It is a radical plan but it is realistic and realisable. It is fully funded, underpinned by record State investment that puts home ownership back at the heart of Irish life for those who need it.
The policy has four pathways to achieving housing for all: supporting home ownership and increasing affordability; eradicating homelessness, increasing social housing delivery and supporting social inclusion; increasing new housing supply overall, which we see happening this year significantly; and addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing stock. I know how hard things are in the housing sector today but Housing for All, as a strategy, is starting to make a real difference with a fundamental step change in housing policy. Across its four pathways, delivery is the key to making Housing for All a success and getting to grips with the housing crisis. Whether anyone likes to acknowledge it, the combination of the Covid lockdowns and hyperinflation have had a negative impact on supply. It is dishonest for anyone to ignore that. However, real momentum is gathering in delivery.
Since Housing for All was launched just over a year ago, we have: the highest home completions since 2008; the highest home commencements or new homes started on record; the highest planning permissions since 2008; 16,000 first-time buyers over the past 12 months alone; in excess of 20,000 more workers in the construction sector; falling vacancy levels; the first ever cost-rental homes - a tenure that has been discussed and debated in the House for years and we are delivering - and the first cost-rental tenants in place with hundreds more to follow; and the first affordable homes to purchase in well over a decade.
We will exceed the target of 25,000 units this year - 24,600 to be exact - but we need to, and will, do much more under Housing for All. As I stated previously, I will continue to use every weapon in our armoury to get bricks and mortar into the ground for homes working people can afford to buy and support those without adequate shelter. To have a real impact, this must involve pragmatic measures with both the public and private sectors. We cannot fight this housing crisis with one hand tied behind our back letting the perfect be the enemy of the good or ideology win over pragmatism.
I am a firm believer in home ownership. Housing for All is laying the foundations for home ownership for a generation. To help accomplish this, we are building the first affordable purchase homes in more than a decade, and targeting 36,000 new affordable homes by 2030. To report progress on that, under the local authority-led affordable purchase schemes, I have approved 27 schemes across the country that will deliver in excess of 1,800 homes approved under the affordable housing fund, to which I made further changes two weeks ago to increase the subvention the State can make in affordable purchase and to make significant changes as well to the cost-rental model to help the approved housing bodies, AHB, sector and local authority sector with the cost of increased rate inflation. We are extending the help-to-buy grant - a grant that has helped nearly 35,000 homeowners buy their own home, to 2024. We have established the game-changer first home scheme, the shared equity scheme, for which we have seen nearly 500 eligibility certificates issue since July. This involves 500 people who are able to buy 500 homes and there will be hundreds and thousands more under this scheme. Last weekend, at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, I announced that I will extend the first home scheme to own-built homes across rural Ireland. We have started rolling out €50,000 grants to buy and refurbish empty and derelict homes in rural areas, towns and villages and city centres with the above-shop units available there. We are bringing in pragmatic supports to help defray the cost of refurbishment of those properties. In the four short weeks of August, without a big push behind it through a public information campaign, we received more than 200 applications.
There is a real desire among people to take on those properties and to tackle vacancy.
We have introduced a tax credit worth €1,000 for each individual renter in 2023 to help them fight the high cost of rent. We have also reformed the tenant purchase scheme to allow pensioners to buy their homes.
I am particularly concerned about blockages in the planning system. That is why, in tandem with the Attorney General, we have initiated the most comprehensive review of the planning system in a quarter of a century. I expect a consolidated planning Bill to come before the House in the coming weeks and look forward to engagement with Deputies both in government and opposition to pass that important legislation. We are setting out new guidelines to facilitate rural one-off homes. I am amending planning guidelines to enable own-door homes and putting in place land value sharing, a residential zoned land tax and a vacant property tax to tackle land prices, promote development and penalise the underuse of land and homes. I can also confirm to the House that I am eliminating the separate build-to-rent standards. That means that, from the end of this year, every apartment application will involve a single build-to-buy standard and those apartments will be allowed to be sold and will not be restricted to rental. As I said at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, if it is good enough to rent, it should be good enough to buy. We need to level the playing field between homeowners and investors.
I fully recognise the scale of the challenge of homelessness and the need to tackle social housing waiting lists. Far too many are without shelter. The personal impact of homelessness on individuals and families is devastating. The key is to increase supply to give homeless people safe shelter. Housing for All marks the biggest housing programme in our history. A total of 90,000 new social homes will be built by 2030, more than ever before, and we will deliver more new-build social homes this year than in any year since the foundation of the State. The ambitious Housing First strategy is being rolled out, with 282 tenancies to be set up this year, building on the success of last year. Housing assistance payment, HAP, discretion rates have been increased, and I will soon set out the new HAP homeless rate. We have expanded tenant in situpurchases to prevent homelessness. To be clear to Deputies, I have instructed all local authorities that where a HAP tenant or a rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenant has received a notice to quit from his or her landlord with the intention to sell, to purchase that home. Since I made those changes in July and given full discretion to the local authorities, more than 300 additional homes have come in in a short time. I want that expedited and expanded. Budget 2023 has increased homelessness funding by 11%. Minimum notice-to-quit periods have been extended and there have been rent supports of almost €1.2 billion for some 500,000 renters. We will launch a new youth homelessness strategy in the coming weeks. Leasing is being phased out to refocus on direct delivery, but we will use it where it works, particularly when it is focused on housing our homeless community.
I acknowledge that the pace of delivery can be frustrating. However, with a fully funded plan, fully resourced local authorities and AHBs empowered to deliver, they will deliver at scale this year. Delivery is what we need to tackle homelessness head-on. Our plan, Housing for All, is a fully funded, multi-annual plan with homeownership and delivery at its heart. No other party has put forward any credible alternative or any substantive plan.
That is all too clear when we look at some of the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the alternative budget by the main Opposition party. It commits to delivering an additional 2,900 new social homes in 2023 above Government targets. Sinn Féin's cost per unit, however, as I said last week, makes no allowance for inflation or the supply chain issues that have arisen as a result of the war in Ukraine. The figures are based directly on costs in 2021. It is not credible for anyone to claim to be able to deliver more units more quickly with less money.
This debate may be an opportunity to say there is another enormous €300 million black hole at the heart of Sinn Féin's rent tax credit, with more than 400,000 renters eligible. The proposal put forward by the party would cost €600 million, but it has budgeted for only half that. It is an enormous black hole. Our tax credit of €1,000 per renter is real and will be received by tenants in 2023, and they need it. I have not yet seen any published detailed costings, despite Deputy Ó Broin promising he would publish them last week. It is important for renters that they see real proposals and real costings. We have put forward such costings in our budget. I earnestly believe that it is crucial that people do not try to cynically exploit the housing crisis for their own political ends. Renters are struggling to make ends meet. That is why we have brought forward a real measure of €1,000 in tax credits for them in 2023 and why we continue to expand affordable cost rental and the roll-out of that programme.
One thing that is crystal clear is that Sinn Féin, in the alternative housing plan it has put forward, continues its attack on homeownership. The alternative budget proposes very clearly to abolish three key supports for homebuyers. It is further proof that the party does not believe in homeownership. It will scrap the help-to-buy grant, worth up to €30,000, which has supported nearly 35,000 homeowners to get their deposits together. It will scrap the first home scheme, which has started well, with hundreds of people having received eligibility certificates, first contracts being issued and the first keys being turned in doors since the launch of the scheme in July. It is a targeted support to help homeowners and it is working and will expand even further. It is not a second mortgage but an equity stake taken by the State. It is helping people, many of whom are renters or who have been living at home with their folks for longer than they would wish or, indeed, longer than their parents would wish. It is a real measure that has been brought forward and is working to support homeownership. Inexplicably, Sinn Féin has said it will also scrap the new Croí Cónaithe vacant and derelict property grants of up to €50,000 to buy and to refurbish empty homes. As I said, we have had approximately 200 applications for those grants. All of us agree that vacancy and dereliction is a scourge. We are moving forward to bring in schemes through repair and lease for our local authorities and targeted compulsory purchase order, CPO, programmes. What is wrong with homebuyers and people who want to buy their own homes getting support from the State to take vacant properties, to buy them and to get assistance from the State to do up those homes? Sinn Féin's position is inexplicable.
To be fair, Deputy Ó Broin's position is not shared by many of his party's Deputies. I welcome the support of Deputies Gould, Carthy, Kerrane and Cronin, to name but a few, in their questions about expanding and strengthening these schemes. In the few minutes I have left I wish to advise the House that Deputy Cronin asked the Minister for Finance "if he will revisit the help-to-buy scheme in terms of its loan-to-value ratio borrowing requirement being 70% when such threshold precludes significant numbers from accessing the scheme". Deputy Ó Broin's colleague wants people to access the scheme and wants the scheme changed to facilitate that. Deputy Kerrane further asked "if ... [the Minister for Finance] intends to extend eligibility for the help-to-buy scheme to pre-owned homes for first-time buyers". This is a scheme that her party and its housing spokesperson want to abolish, yet she wants to change it and recognises the fact that the scheme is working. Deputy Gould, who in many instances comes into this House and rightly raises vacancy and dereliction and who is Sinn Féin's junior spokesperson on housing, has asked me my "views on whether the strict criteria for the location of suitable housing under the Croí Cónaithe fund are too exclusionary and reducing access to the scheme". I was happy to reply to the Deputy that I have expanded the scheme not just to towns and villages but to rural one-off homes and, indeed, to our cities. He might not realise that his own party wants to exclude the scheme completely, abolish it and put it in the bin.
The Deputy asked for changes to that scheme, which I have brought in, not at his request, I might add, but because we believe it makes sense. Deputy Ó Broin might have a sit down with Deputy Gould to explain the Sinn Féin housing policy.
Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Finance the reason purchasers of newly-completed homes at Loreto Wood in County Cavan are unable to avail of the help-to-buy scheme. If Sinn Féin was in government, no one, not just people in Cavan but throughout the country, would be able to avail of the scheme because the party would abolish it. It would also abolish the Croí Cónaithe and first home schemes. These are clear examples as to why Sinn Féin does not support homeownership. On this side of the House, my party, Fianna Fáil and our colleagues in government fully support homeownership. Not only do we support it, we are doing something about it by bringing forward real measures that are going to help people.
Housing for All has unprecedented ambition and the realism to deliver homes and support home ownership. Following a decade of undersupply and in difficult international conditions, it is starting to deliver real progress. It is the only credible and funded plan put forward by any party. To be clear, it is a multi-annual, fully funded plan that is delivering-----
It is delivering for our people and is taking hold in challenging times. We will continue to drive that forward because we have provided the most substantial housing plan. It is not only a plan, but a plan that is being implemented. It is a plan that is taking hold and will work.
During the debate, the Minister will hear the current homelessness figures quoted a lot and rightly so. The homelessness figures are too high and we need to do everything to tackle that. He is also going to hear about the impact of homelessness on a lot of families and that is only right too. I know that he is well aware of many of these issues. He is going to hear a lot about the lack of properties available to rent, not just in Dublin and Cork cities but in many towns as well and that is only right because we are not there yet. We have not solved the housing crisis yet but Housing for All is the plan to do that.
I will come back to homelessness figures but first I thank the Minister for his efforts so far and for the difference he and his policies are making in my constituency. I will give just a few examples. More than 100 social homes have been built in my town of Clonakilty. The Minister has been there and has met many of the families who were on waiting lists for years and years and now they have a home. Now they have a key and a secure roof over their heads. He was not just in Clonakilty; he also visited Skibberreen where more than 50 social homes have been completed and are now fully occupied. Staying within my constituency, in Kinsale, again, more than 50 social homes have been built. These are public homes that have been given over to the people who most needed them. The same can be said of Dunmanway and Bandon. In my constituency alone hundreds of families who would have regularly been into my office in desperation and in need of a home now have a secure roof over their heads. That is something that we do not talk about or hear enough about in terms of delivery. That is in a rural constituency where there was significant pressure in terms of social housing. We are not there yet. We have more to do. We have a lot more to do but those homes have made a real difference for hundreds of families.
I also thank the Minister for signing off on a project that will deliver 112 local authority affordable purchase homes in Kinsale. Those homes are not built yet and we have not seen the difference they will make but when they are built in 2023 and 2024, they will make a huge difference by giving an option to those who do not qualify for social homes but who cannot get a mortgage to allow them to buy a house at current prices. The same will happen in Clonakilty, where 36 affordable purchase homes will be provided by the local authority. We are seeing a difference. There was no talk of affordable housing schemes a couple of years ago. Now they are here and they will make a great difference for those who most need them.
We now need an information campaign for those individuals, couples and families who are having difficulty affording their own home. We need to inform them of the measures in Housing for All that will help them. People can avail of a number of pathways to make a home affordable. The Minister mentioned the first-time buyer's grant that provides €30,000 towards the purchase of a new home. I understand he has just opened that up to self-builds as well, which is incredibly important. When I talk to couples and families about how the shared equity scheme works, there is real interest in it. Homes in Clonakilty typically cost €300,000, for example. A potential buyer may only be able to avail, through a mortgage and a first-time buyer's grant, of approximately €220,000 but the fact that the State will now bridge the gap between €220,000 and €300,000 is a game-changer. Yes, we need the supply and we need the houses to be available but it is a game-changer.
The Minister mentioned Croí Cónaithe, which is something that me and my colleagues, including Deputy Flaherty, have been campaigning on for a long time. This scheme will enable first-time buyers to buy on-street or rural premises and renovate them, with €50,000 available towards that renovation. This is going to make a real difference. It is not going to see the numbers on housing waiting lists tumble straight away but it will work gradually. People will take it up, applications will come in and we will see a significant difference.
There are still issues, one of which is the homelessness numbers I mentioned. An issue in west Cork at the moment relates to those who have been served notice, which is a regular occurrence. We thought that the allocation of social housing would free up rental accommodation but it has not done so because landlords are starting to leave the market. They are selling up and giving notice to quit to their tenants. Those tenants, because of the lack of rental property availability, have nowhere to go and we need to address that. If local authorities have the option to buy those houses, they need to be instructed to do so. Many individuals are ending up in emergency accommodation but Cork County Council only has one or two emergency accommodation options to call on in west Cork. We would prefer if we did not need emergency accommodation options at all but, unfortunately, families and individuals are having to avail of them. I urge the Minister to liaise with the council to try to source more emergency accommodation because, unfortunately, the demand is there. That said, I believe that Housing for All will deliver for the people of Ireland.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan and the Minister for sharing time. I commend the Minister on Housing for All. It is probably one of the most ambitious plans we have seen in the history of the State. It is a huge plan, in terms of volume and aspiration but more importantly, in terms of the money and real commitment the Government has put behind it. The Minister has energised the plan and the great thing about Housing for All is that it is not set in stone. It is very much an evolving plan and we have seen that at several stages over the past year. The Minister has been willing to tweak it and to make amendments to give it more momentum.
There is almost a revolution in social housing taking place throughout the country. For example, the keys to homes on the former Harris site on Richmond Street, an unused derelict garage site on a corner in Longford town, will shortly be handed out. The street will be completely transformed by 14 new, fully accessible houses for disabled members of our community. It is a fantastic development. In Ballinamuck, north Longford there will be 12 similarly-built houses, using universal design, for elderly people and those with disability or mobility issues. That really cuts to the heart of what social housing is about.
At the core of Housing for All is a commitment to help those people who have struggled over many years - we make no bones about that - to secure housing. For the first time, there is an ambitious plan.
More important, we have Minister who is delivering on that plan. It is great to see. The greatest tribute to the Minister is that some of his greatest critics are now buying into the plan. We see that in the numerous parliamentary questions he receives about Croí Cónaithe and the help-to-buy scheme. It is a measure of the esteem in which many in the House now hold him that they acknowledge, albeit under the cloak of a parliamentary question, that the plan is right. Not only is it right; it is also working.
Regarding Croí Cónaithe, I do not think there is a county councillor or anybody in politics this country who, over the past 20 years, has not been besieged by people asking them to do something about dereliction and houses in rural Ireland that have lain empty for the past 20 or 30 years. We now have Croí Cónaithe, which is exactly what was wanted. It is very simple to apply for. All people need to do is be a first-time buyer and, lo and behold, Sinn Féin says it is not going to work. The only reason it says that is because it is the Minister's plan and part of Housing for All. It is going to work, and we can see that in every county council across the country. There are large numbers of expressions of interest in Croí Cónaithe. I am delighted the Minister is extending the scheme to rural Ireland. It will be a game changer for rural Ireland and is most welcome.
The help-to-buy scheme is a great initiative. If Sinn Féin had its way, it would be dismantled and thrown to one side. Many families have benefited from the scheme. We may find unity with Sinn Féin on giving consideration to pre-owned homes for first-time buyers. There is a realisation that the plan is working and people may want to buy into it, which is most welcome. The Minister is not a glory hunter, but he will share in the success of the plan and, ultimately, everyone in the House wants to get people housed. Everybody is finally coming to the realisation and starting to admit that we finally have a plan that will get people housed.
Deputy Boyd Barrett has left the Chamber, but I saw him on the plinth earlier today calling for us to raid the rainy day fund to buy houses in cases where people in receipt of HAP and RAS have received notice to quit. I was delighted to hear the Minister say he has been addressing that issue since July, which is most welcome. Not only has he done that, he has added 300 houses to the local authority housing stock. Not only is the Minister pre-emptive but he is reactionary. When he sees issues, he tackles them head on.
Housing for All is working and will deliver on its key objectives. As I said, it is probably the most ambitious plan we have seen since the foundation of the State. It required a strong and determined Minister who was prepared to roll up his sleeves, and he is certainly doing that. We are starting to see momentum building behind the plan. I commend the work of the Minister to date and, as I said, I am delighted to see all sides of the House rolling in behind the plan and seeing the virtues of Housing for All.
There was a moment where I felt I must have knocked my head and woken up in a parallel universe because what I have just heard over the past half an hour does not reflect the reality for tens of thousands of people on the streets. As they say, self praise is no praise, with the greatest of respect to the Minister and his party colleagues.
The Government has now been in office for almost two and half years and is almost at the midway point of its term of office. It is true that it was delayed in putting its housing plan together, partly because it was asleep at the wheel and Fianna Fáil supported Fine Gael in a confidence and supply agreement when in opposition. We are only year into the plan but by almost every indicator, housing need for people in rural and urban Ireland, and across the generations, is worse now than when the plan was announced a year ago or when the Government took office almost two and a half years ago. The Minister said the plan is delivering but the big question is delivering for whom. The Government will hear from many of us in opposition the long list of people for whom the plan is not delivering.
For example, the Minister has missed his social housing targets two years in a row and we have already had what is essentially an admission from the Government that it is going to miss its targets this year. I have always said that I accept that part of the reason for the shortfall was Covid - there is no dispute about that - but it is not the only or, this year, the major reason. I know that because I talk to city and county housing managers and they tell me, not just this year but also last year and the year before, there were a variety of reasons, including the continued overly bureaucratic systems imposed by the Minister's Department and others, that are slowing down larger complex projects.
The real problem is not just that those targets are missed but that the Minister then simply discards those units altogether. Instead of accepting that he needs to take those missed units and roll them into increased targets for subsequent years, they are lost. To date, 8,000 promised social homes have not been, and will not be, delivered over the last two and half years, and that is an optimistic assessment of the output this year. In fact, the Minister, on Thursday night, very quietly and on an obscure part of the Department's website, put up the social housing output figures for this year. Some 1,700 new build social homes have been delivered by halfway through the year, just 20% of the 9,000 promised. The Minister no longer talks about 9,000 social homes; rather, the figure is possibly 8,000 or less. If it is anything less than 8,000, it will not be the largest social housing output in the history of the State because the late 1980s had a higher number than that. Comparing units in that way ignores the fact that the population is far higher and levels of housing need today are greater than ever before.
Homelessness is the measure by which any housing Minister will be assessed. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, was on this side of the House with me when Eoghan Murphy was Minister, and we expressed questions in his confidence when the homeless numbers were approaching 10,000. They are now approaching 11,000. Friday's figure was 10,800. Within a month or two, unless something dramatic changes, and I hope it does, we will exceed the figure of 11,000. A figure of 11,000 is not even the full figure because the Minister knows in Tusla funded domestic violence refuges, direct provision centres where people are trapped with leave to remain or hostels funded by the State, there are another 3,000 or 4,000 people in emergency accommodation. In many local authority areas, emergency accommodation is full on many nights. Approximately 60 families from Dublin are in emergency accommodation in Meath and Kildare. There are 60 individuals from Dublin in emergency accommodation in Kildare. That displaces the homeless population from those counties further and further afield.
On top of that, house prices are at historic highs and rising. I heard one of the Minister's ministerial colleagues claim yesterday that house prices were falling. I again thought I was in a parallel universe because no data anywhere show house prices are falling. The rate of increase might be slowing, in particular in Dublin, but in the midlands and western seaboard counties, on the basis of the most recent house price reports, prices are escalating continuously. Rents are at historic highs and rising. There is no indication, in meaningful terms, of a slowing in those increases.
Be it social or affordable housing output, homelessness, house prices or rents, all of the key indicators of whether a Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is doing a good job halfway through his or her term, this Minister, plan and Government are failing. The question has to be asked as to why that is the case. The reason is that the plan is based on the same failed housing policies as its predecessors. It continues to be over reliant on the private sector and to under-invest in public housing. Crucially, it is based on flawed assessments of actual public and private sector housing.
One of the big scandals that will emerge in the coming months is when people see the detail of the extent to which the Minister and his Department suppressed the real data on emerging and pent-up housing need. The idea that, on average, 33,000 new homes over the next decade is what is required is not accepted by anybody other than the Minister and his Department. Independent academic experts, industry and even his housing commission know the real figure is probably somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 public and private homes a year. We are nowhere close to the Government's plan.
The most misleading fact the Minister continues to use is the mysterious figure of €4 billion. The budget book does not lie; it tells us the actual level of direct capital investment by Government in public housing every year. It is about €1.8 billion. It should be about €1.5 billion, but last year and this year, the Government underspent by about a €250 million, which overinflates the following year's figures by virtue of a carryover. The Minister is not spending or allocating €4 billion. He is correct that there is borrowing by approved housing bodies, although we do not know what that level is at yet. There is an annualised average figure from the Land Development Agency of €750 million, but it will not reach that for a couple of years.
When we get to the bottom of the actual spend each year, it will be significantly lower than the Minister's figure.
On top of that, as I keep reminding the Minister, his social housing targets are lower than those in the earlier Fine Gael national development plan and that is before we talk about the 8,000 lost units. His affordable housing targets are an embarrassment. In fact, he has cut the cost-rental equity loan target for approved housing bodies next year from 900 units, the figure they were meant to deliver this year but will not deliver, to 750 units. His affordable purchase targets for the local authorities remain embarrassingly low.
The Minister is correct on a couple of figures. He does not mislead us on all of the data he puts into the public domain. Completions are up, but they are up from such a low level in 2018 and 2019 that they are nowhere close to tackling the crisis levels. Commencements are also up, which I welcome, but they are nowhere close to what is required. Planning permissions mean nothing if they are not commenced and that is something on which the Minister has yet to take action.
While I welcome the Minister's promise for legislation on planning reform, I hope he gives our committee adequate time for full pre-legislative scrutiny to ensure we do not make the mistakes of previous planning Acts and we get this right.
I will not rehearse the arguments I made about the budget but I will address the most telling of them. At a time when housing need is greater than ever before, the total extra capital investment in housing by this Government in the budget is €37 million and nothing more. It is there for everybody to see in the budget book. At a time when we need billions, we are only getting peanuts.
On top of that, the fact that there was no new initiative to prevent homelessness or accelerate exits from homelessness is shocking. I welcome the Minister's very belated reopening of the tenant in situscheme but 300 homes are nowhere near enough. It should have been opened at the start of the year. Local authorities, as the Minister will hear from my colleagues, are still far too slow in taking up his instruction. He should go further than he has to date and issue a circular to instruct local authorities to buy these properties to stop families and single people from becoming homeless.
If I had more time, I would go through all of the aspects of the Sinn Féin alternative budget, but I will correct three things for the Minister. The first is with regard to figures from the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Housing, Local Government and Heritage from this year. If the Minister is telling me his Department is giving me inaccurate figures, that is a separate issue, but I do not believe that is the case. The second is that our renters tax credit is based on registered tenancies and putting a full month's rent back into those tenants' pockets. The third is that it is also accompanied by a ban on rent increases which means tenants will get the benefit of the measure, unlike the Minister's credit, which is too small and provides no protection.
If the strongest point of attack the Minister has against us is quoting parliamentary questions that Deputies ask at the request of their constituents, he really has nothing to go on. If he is trying to deflect from the chronic levels of homelessness and social and affordable housing need and the extent to which he directly continues to inflate house prices by bad schemes such as the help-to-buy and shared equity schemes, that says more about him than anybody else.
We have an alternative and a plan, that is, a change of Government and Minister and a housing plan that delivers the 20,000 public homes this State needs, not the bluff and bluster of the Minister, Deputy O'Brien.
I spoke to the housing officer in Kerry a fortnight ago who told me that three families in Kerry are becoming homeless every week. That is three families who have, by and large, been in rented accommodation for the past ten, 12 or 15 years and now face going into one room in a homeless shelter before they can get somewhere else, if they can get somewhere else.
The housing crisis in Kerry is, similar to most of the country, at breaking point. We have sky-high rents. They were 15.4% higher in quarter 1 of this year compared with last year. Rents are 100% up on the lowest point since the crash. In Crystal Fountain, a former holiday home development in Tralee, the rent is €1,300 per month, which is what people would pay in a middle-class area of Leeds. Rents in new city centre, premium apartments in Deansgate in Manchester are €1,100. That is the level the rents in a rural town in the west of Ireland have reached.
There is little or no ability for first-time buyers to get on the ladder and a long social housing waiting list of up to 14 years. Many people are falling foul of the social housing limits to which there has been no change. In the case of one Kerry family that dealt with, their weekly income was €25 under the limit but, because their oldest child who is a dependant moved in with her grandmother, their income is now back over the social housing income threshold, which has not increased since 2011. They will be denied social housing. This family is about to made homeless because they have been given a notice to quit.
The high spike in notices to quit since the restrictions is no coincidence because renters are now the victims of price gouging. Landlords know they can charge what they want. We need action to undermine the hold they have over renters.
First-time buyers are also facing in to the headwinds of this laissez-faireapproach. Social housing targets are being missed and Kerry, in addition to more social and affordable housing, could benefit from a revamped serviced sites fund. There has been very little uptake of this scheme. The budget provided only €5 million extra for infrastructure such as water and electricity. In villages such as Glenbeigh, Annascaul and Abbeydorney there cannot be any further social housing or any kind of housing development. These issues need to be addressed and I urge the Minister to do so.
Every week, I meet people in my clinic in my constituency office in Limerick and the number one issue by a country mile is housing and homelessness, which is creating desperation among so many families. Homeless shelters in Limerick are full. There is a waiting list to access what is supposed to be emergency accommodation and some people, even those who have been approved for emergency accommodation, can be waiting for weeks. People are literally sleeping on the streets of Limerick which was not an issue for us for years. We must all be able to do much better than that. I ask the Minister to speak to every council on the issue of emergency accommodation because there simply is not enough of it available.
The Minister spoke about vacancy and dereliction, describing them as a scourge. He is right but some of the biggest offenders are local authorities. The void system just does not work the way it should. The council will apply for funding for a void. It takes so long to come through that the house will be boarded up, as the Minister is aware. This is not fair on the neighbours or people in emergency accommodation to look at derelict sites and boarded-up houses. The system needs to change, as does the way in which the Department gives the council funding. If the Minister is serious about delivering houses, this is the fastest way he can do it. There are more than 200 council-owned houses vacant in Limerick as we speak. The Minister tells me different, however. It has been six or seven years since I was elected to the Dáil and I have been hearing the same statements that getting the money to deal with voids is not a problem. It is a problem. Councils do not have it. They do not get the funding on time when they ask for it.
I was delighted to hear what the Taoiseach said today, which the Minister confirmed, about people in receipt of HAP and RAS. This is news to me even though I deal with people every single day. I ask the Minister to instruct the local authorities to intervene in this matter. My local council has intervened once or twice, as far as I know, but not in all the cases. Everybody who comes into my clinic has a notice to quit. The number of people is incredible.
I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister last week. I hope he does not misquote me on it, as he has done to some of my colleagues. The question related to the need to resource the teams in the local authorities with regard to affordable housing because they simply cannot do the applications.
I could say that I do not think the Minister and his Government have any idea of the real stress that their housing policy is causing people but, at this stage, I believe they really could not care less. People are languishing on housing lists for up to 12 years. There are people who are unable to afford asking prices for rent. They cannot afford a place to live. People in receipt of HAP do not have a hope.
I will raise the case of a constituent living in east Meath who is on a Dublin City Council housing list but wishes to rent in east Meath under the inter-authority movement of HAP households. She cannot find anywhere affordable in Dublin and is moving. The woman is a lone parent with children who attend school in east Meath. There is a severe shortage of rental homes in the area so she was thrilled to eventually secure a two-bedroom apartment for the extortionate price of €1,600 per month. The council in Dublin was willing to pay €1,260 in HAP. However, when it emailed the inter-county request to Meath County Council, it was refused permission on the grounds that the rent is not within market rent values for the area. I wrote to Meath County Council and was told that HAP payments for a given household should not exceed rents for a relevant local area or have any inflationary affect on the market in the area.
One might say that is fair enough but in reality that is the actual cost of renting a two-bed apartment. Inflation is clearly caused by the dire lack of housing in east Meath and not by HAP payments. What then are HAP tenants to do in a situation like this? All this measure does is discriminate against HAP residents as these houses and apartments will be snapped up by non-HAP tenants who are desperate for accommodation despite the cost. HAP tenants will therefore be locked out of rental properties. As such, the HAP scheme is completely dysfunctional. It was the cornerstone of Government housing policy all through the years, namely, shove people into private rented accommodation, give them no security of tenure and happy days for landlords. Families across this State are being forced into homelessness as a result. We now have the highest-ever homelessness figures in this State, as the Minister of State knows.
There is no emergency accommodation available in County Louth - that is how dire this situation is. We have young people emigrating because despite working in good jobs they cannot afford to live here. We have households where three or four generations are living under the one roof. People are in utter despair, there is no end in sight and yet the Government continues with its failed policies.
I wish to raise three specific issues with the Minister of State concerning the housing crisis and how it is impacting on Galway. One can only describe the housing situation as grim. It is completely and utterly grim for families and of course individuals. It used to be the case that if you were 11 years on the housing list in Galway city, you had a fair chance of being offered something. Increasingly, I have people coming to me who have been 14 years on the housing list in Galway City and they have never once been offered a place to live. That is stark.
The other issue I raise is people who are availing of HAP and getting notices to quit. This applies to both Galway City Council and Galway Country Council. I have heard mention here that councils now apparently have the ability to buy all the houses where people are served notices to quit. I would love nothing more than to see that happen because I am seeing notices to quit rising and rising for people who are on HAP and the council cannot buy those houses. It is a really serious issue because those people are being pushed into homelessness. There is not the capacity for all these people who are homeless.
The third issue I raise is typified by two single men who have come to me in recent times. They have had their rented accommodation be massively increased in price. These are people in their 50s and 60s. One of them is in shared rented accommodation. One has seen his rent increased by 20%, which is of course not allowable in a rent pressure zone, but what is he going to do? He knows there is nowhere else for him to rent and he will end up in homeless accommodation. Another fellow is getting his rent raised from €105 per week to €120 per week when he is on €208 per week. What is he supposed to do? How is he supposed to live? How is he supposed to heat and how is he supposed to eat?
The stated aim of Housing for All is that everyone in the State should have access to a home, to purchase or rent at an affordable price, that is built to a high standard, in the right place and offers a high quality of life. The reality for most falls well short of that.
Every week in my constituency office I have people coming in who are facing eviction. They are frantically looking for a private rental and cannot find one. There is nothing available or very little. Anything that is available is totally unaffordable, in a very bad condition, or both. If people are HAP tenants they are practically ignored by landlords who do not want to know. An investor has bought up his third apartment block in Cavan town and they have raised the rents by 50% in some cases. Those people are going to become homeless if they have not already. Local authorities are unable to assist. There are no bed and breakfast facilities available. Most of them are accommodating refugees. An employee in Cavan County Council contacted over 40 bed and breakfasts looking for emergency accommodation for a person and could not get anything. There are no homeless facilities in Cavan-Monaghan. The nearest is the Simon Community hostel in Dundalk but that is an hour and a half's journey away from Cavan town and there is no bus route.
The funding from central Government for local authorities to turn around vacant homes and apartments, as well as for the maintenance of these properties, is not enough. It is not happening. It is taking a year and sometimes two for vacant properties to be reissued. Before the Minister of State came in the Minister stated local authorities can now buy houses that go up for sale if they house HAP or RAS tenants. I am not being told that by my local authority. I have questioned it and it was told it is not permitted to buy houses, except in very rare circumstances.
There is also a cohort of people slightly above the threshold for social housing. Those people have no support to turn to whatsoever. What are these families to do? The Government recently raised the threshold in four local authorities but it needs to be raised in all of them.
As party spokesperson on disability I mention the reality is even worse for disabled people who are being left to live with aged parents and then moved into institutions or emergency accommodation at the last minute when an aged person passes away. That is not fair on the person who is looking for housing. He or she may have been on the housing list for ten, 12 or 15 years. He or she does not get any choice in where he or she lives. The parents die worrying about their son or daughter. It is totally unfair on them. There is an onus on us to ensure we align with the UN Charter on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and that is not happening. The reality is there is not enough housing for disabled people and what housing is available is often not adequately livable and does not have the independent living supports in place. We need a properly planned and funded housing strategy that is going to deal with homelessness instead of allowing the situation to worsen.
At the start of this debate I thought I had stumbled into the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. It was quite an extraordinary defence, with all respect to the Acting Chairman. I am sure he was there and I am sure he enjoyed it. The defence of Housing for All is quite extraordinary and does not tally with the lived experience of the people I and most of us in this House represent. I am talking about the experience they have in their everyday lives and the experience we have of representing people who are on housing lists and who are struggling to obtain their first homes. By any metric Housing for All is failing. It is failing to deliver an adequate supply of affordable housing for the country, it is failing to bring the rental crisis under control and it is failing to tackle the ever-increasing number of people experiencing homelessness. Residential property prices have risen 8% in the last year alone. Prices are now at similar levels to their Celtic tiger peak in 2007. We know to our cost what happened next.
It is incredible the Government would have us believe the strategy that has performed so poorly in bringing about secure and affordable housing is the only viable strategy and the only show in town. Today I am hearing a doubling-down on a failed policy. There is a total lack of ambition on display. How could a Government that claims to be tackling the housing crisis and taking it seriously have a €240 million underspend to be carried over into next year? That underspend means missed targets and fewer people having homes. The Government committed to building 9,000 social and affordable homes this year but we know that target will not be met. Only 325 affordable purchase homes and 350 cost rental homes have been delivered so far. That is simply not good enough. We are to believe 9,100 social and affordable homes will be built next year but Housing for All’s track record to date does not inspire any confidence whatsoever and nor does the Government’s budget for 2023. In real terms, only an additional €38 million has been allocated to capital expenditure for housing. The Government will say that there is an extra €99 million allocated for current expenditure in social housing but that just means long-term leasing of social homes from private landlords and investors. In other words, it is more of the same when we should be investing in building homes.
We in the Labour Party have been calling for several years for the level of social and affordable housing to be brought up to 20,000, with 12,000 social homes to be built by local authorities and 4,000 each of affordable and cost rental homes. We have costed this for everyone to see in our alternative budget proposals published two weeks ago. That is what real ambition to tackle the housing crisis in this country looks like. The Government is not meeting its own targets this year and has provided nowhere near enough resources to achieve what it says it wants to next year.
I refer for a moment to the vacant homes tax. The principle of such a tax is a welcome step towards increasing supply and is indeed one the Labour Party has been calling for for many years now. However, we need to see it for what it is, namely, a short-term solution to a much wider systemic issue. I fear there are so many exemptions that, like the Government’s Housing for All plan, it will not actually achieve what it appears to set out to achieve. It is so badly designed it will not make much of a difference at all.
A serious concern that we would have is the exemption for derelict properties. What is stopping a property owner from allowing their property to fall into dereliction to avoid paying the tax? If we are going to have a vacant homes tax, let us do it properly and let us ensure we have the right balance of carrot and stick. The stick that is being proposed at the moment is completely inadequate.
Nor will we meet the modest Housing for All targets if the Government decides to proceed with the concrete levy as it is currently designed. We are deeply concerned about the introduction of a proposal for an €80 million concrete levy and how it is designed. It is a badly thought-out move that will not only drive house prices up, but will also punish people who want to own their own homes, instead of developers and those responsible in the industry taking on the responsibility wherever possible. We need to review the position on that. We will have a much more extensive debate later this evening in the context of the Sinn Féin motion. The Labour Party called for a 2% levy on construction sector profits, which would raise approximately €50 million a year. That would be a lot more difficult for builders to pass on to those buying or building their own home. It is extremely disappointing that no retrospective tax relief was provided in the budget for those already paying out for repairs to their homes due to construction defects.
Housing for All has also completely failed renters. Rents are and have been out of control for far too long. The new renter's tax credit is tokenistic at best. The Government will claim that it is putting money back into the pockets of renters but in reality it is putting money into the pockets of landlords. They will inevitably raise rents next year and swallow up the small benefit that renters get out of this budget. As it is, the credit is barely enough to cover a week's rent in Dublin, as the Minister of State knows. As long as the Government refuses to freeze rents, as my colleague Deputy Alan Kelly did when he was housing Minister, the new tax credit will mean very little. The Labour Party has been calling for a rent freeze for several years now. Had the Government listened, we might not have found ourselves in the situation we are in now. Instead, the Government has insisted on its market-knows-best approach and slapped Band-Aids on the issue here and there. There have been some positives in cost rental over the last period but the fact is that it is not nearly enough, given the demand. One simple measure that the Labour Party has proposed to increase the delivery of cost rental accommodation is to tie Croí Cónaithe funding to cost rentals. This would mean that where the Government subsidises a developer for the development of apartments, it would be on the condition that these apartments become cost rental. There is a logic to this.
Month on month there are more and more people in emergency accommodation. The latest figures show that 10,805 people, including 3,220 children, are homeless. That does not even go near describing what the real figure is or the real extent of the problem. The vast majority of people experiencing homelessness have come from the private rental sector. Eviction rates are up nearly 60% in the first half of this year. More robust protections for renters are urgently required. The Minister of State will recall that in September of last year, the Labour Party brought forward a Bill that would afford greater protections to renters and freeze rents for three years. The issue has been met with absolute radio silence by the Government since, despite some warm words from the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on the day. It is manifestly ridiculous that commercial tenants have more rights in the commercial property sector if the property is to be sold. Under our proposed law, those evictions would end. The Government must act now to implement a temporary ban on evictions. It is fair to say that the eviction ban introduced during the pandemic saved a very significant number of people from entering homelessness. Why is the current crisis being treated differently? The record levels of homelessness we are now seeing are this Government's greatest shame and the most glaringly obvious piece of evidence that its Housing for All plan has failed and is failing in real time. Failure to temporarily ban evictions during this cost-of-living crisis can only mean one thing: more and more people in emergency accommodation and sleeping on the streets.
Housing for All's objective was to ensure that every citizen in the State should have access to good-quality homes to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard in the right place, offering a high quality of life. By every single one of those metrics it has failed. Measurements do not lie. It is time for the Government to go back to the drawing board and get serious about solving the housing crisis. No more sticking-plaster solutions, unfit-for-purpose schemes or subsidies that merely prop up the profits of developers ultimately. We must put an end to the excessive reliance on the private market to provide an adequate supply of affordable houses to buy or rent. If there is one thing the Housing for All plan has taught us, it is that this excessive reliance is misconceived and irresponsible in the extreme. Housing for All and the reliance on the private market have failed to deliver. The Government has to take a new approach to housing. That approach has to be State-led and must recognise that housing policy should be about providing homes to the people of Ireland, not about providing a new investment opportunity to the already well-off. The supply and affordability crisis can only be solved through long-term, properly resourced State action that delivers affordable and secure housing once and for all.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is the most pressing issue facing the country at the moment and has been for a number of years. It really is proving extremely difficult to improve. I acknowledge the pressures in respect of the rapidly growing population and the war in Ukraine, but I certainly feel that much more can be done and needs to be done. I welcome the positive measures that are in Housing for All but we need to go further. A lot more needs to be done in respect of Government housing policy.
If I may start with the area of dereliction, that is a great opportunity for us in terms of getting as many units as possible back into circulation as homes as quickly as possible. This is an area I have been beating the drum on for many years. I remember back in 2014-15 designing what I then called the renovation and rent scheme. It was adopted two years later by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage as the repair and lease scheme. For me it was glaringly obvious even back then that we had thousands of units all over the country that were sitting empty, crumbling, yet they could well have been converted into homes. At that time they could have been done a lot more affordably as well. Right now there is still an opportunity.
I welcome Croí Cónaithe. It is long overdue but it is a positive development. This is important for our cities, towns and villages but also for the open rural countryside such as the part of County Kerry I come from, where we have old farmhouses and cottages that could be beautiful new homes for people with a relatively small investment. In my own little parish between the Slieve Mish Mountains and Castlemaine Harbour on the Dingle Peninsula, I counted 50 such properties four years ago, 47 of which are still derelict right now. Most of these properties could be homes, probably for between €20,000 and €100,000. I hope Croí Cónaithe's extension to the open rural countryside will make a big impact on that figure. It would also be important to really kick-start that initiative to give an incentive for the people who own those houses, and in some cases are hoarding them, to sell them to first-time buyers. Such an incentive could be provided through capital gains tax. It might encourage people to make those properties available.
I am somewhat concerned that the vacant property tax might not go far enough. If we are providing incentives, there also needs to be a stick in respect of people who are sitting on derelict properties in the middle of a housing crisis and who will not make them available for people who are desperately looking for a place to live. Perhaps something could be done in respect of derelict properties such as has been done for vacant properties. As we know, unless it is on the register there is not any particular stick. We know that most rural countryside houses are not on any register anywhere. That is something that should be looked at and I would like to see action on it.
I would also like us to be imaginative in respect of planning laws. Right now it is possible to extend for up to 400 sq. ft. on a property without planning permission. Why not extend that to 800 sq. ft. in the open countryside or, within a 50 km limit, bring it up to 600 sq. ft. without having to go for planning permission and slowing down the process? There are extremely punitive charges for reconnecting to electricity and water. These bills make no sense whatsoever. The utility companies will do well once these properties are reconnected. They will make their money back. They do not need punitive reconnection fees on young couples. For first-time buyers that is something that should be dealt with. Sure enough, apply an occupancy clause to ensure we do not have abuse of the system. That is something that is glaringly obvious and should be done.
When I look at County Kerry at the moment, there is fantastic work being done in the provision of new social homes in recent years with a lot of housing developments going on all over the county, which is very positive news.
There are keys being handed out now at a pretty rapid rate, which is good to see. However, there is very little, if anything, happening in relation to affordable homes. There needs to be a certain percentage of each social housing development set aside for affordable homes for purchase. It is something we are just not seeing. These are the people who simply cannot afford to buy on the open market and do not qualify for social housing. They are squeezed in the middle and are getting nothing. That is an area that, with a small change, we can make an impact on. That is something that has been raised with me many times in my constituency office. I meet people in the county and they feel completely abandoned in that regard. That is something that needs to be looked at.
I wish to raise another point in the short time that I have left. Tá buairt mhór orm faoi pholasaí tithíochta sna Gaeltachtaí, go háirithe i gCorca Dhuibhne. Tá a lán fadhbanna againn. Níl na daoine óga in ann tithí a cheannach. Níl siad in ann cead pleanála a fháil ó Chomhairle Chontae Chiarraí ach tá daoine, gan aon fhocal Gaolainn acu, in ann teacht isteach agus tithí a cheannach. Fágann na daoine óga ó cheantar Corca Dhuibhe agus téann siad go Trá Lí, go Lios Tuathail, go Caisleán na Maighne agus tá an teanga ag dul leo.
We are fooling ourselves if we think that we are going to keep investing in the Irish language and keep it alive if the people who speak the language as their native tongue do not get to live in their area. Surely, there has to be special protection status given in relation to housing in the Gaeltachtaí. We need a very strict enforcement of that. What is there at the moment is not working and it is not being enforced. The language is dying as a result of that. Young people are not able to live in their own areas and the language is going with them out of the Gaeltachtaí.
Short-term housing is a massive problem. The head has been buried in the sand for too long. This is the elephant in the room, as far as I am concerned, coming from a very tourism-oriented county where we have a huge number of short-term properties on the market and very few, if any, long-term properties. Taxation is the way of dealing with this. Make it more affordable for people to put their property on the market for long-term rental and enforce the existing regulations, because they are not being enforced.
Finally, too many people are being refused the local authority home loan scheme. It is too punitive. Having to put every household resident on the application form just simply does not make sense because many people are over 70 in households where children are trying to buy properties. That needs to be addressed as well.
I was the Acting Chair for the first hour of the debate, so I have had time to reflect. While there are difficulties out there and undoubtedly there is a crisis in not just the rental side of things but the overall general housing picture, Housing for All has had some positive impact on the crisis and that is sometimes lost in these debates. We can all probably name different schemes across our own city and county across the country. Looking at my own constituency, there are 150-odd units of social and affordable houses on Boherboy Road. I look at Montenotte, where there will be 80 social and affordable houses delivered. In addition, there are three or four schemes across Blackpool into Farranree and out to Bishopstown. Many of those schemes did not happen for the past decade. They are starting, albeit slowly. They are starting now and will, in time, have a positive impact.
Just before me, Deputy Griffin mentioned the repair and lease scheme. It is a big bugbear of mine because I see different counties, such as the Acting Chair’s county of Waterford, that are excelling at the introduction of the repair and lease scheme and delivering a fairly steady stream of properties back to supply. Unfortunately, some local authorities, including my own, for one reason or another, do not seem to be engaging with the repair and lease scheme as well as other local authorities are. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Noon, and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to set targets for local authorities when it comes to delivering under those schemes. It is incumbent on us to set ambitious targets that they have to deliver.
Cost rental was mentioned as well. I was lucky enough, again, to have a scheme in my own town, Glanmire, where we have 30-odd units of cost rental currently out for advertisement and due to be filled shortly. The scheme is very welcome, but it was inundated with applications. It is clear that there is a market for that cost rental model, which will reduce rents from between 30% and 50%. I would like to see a greater extension of that.
Unlike others, I was aware of the fact that local authorities can purchase housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies at the moment and have been able to do that for some time. However, again, it seems to be that some local authorities are doing better than others. My own local authority is currently working on a policy in relation to that. The Minister mentioned that more than 300 houses across the country have been purchased to keep HAP and rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenants in situand that is very welcome. I will remind my two local authorities of that figure in the morning. However, as I said, it is very disparate and disjointed. Clarity needs to be brought to that.
It is worth bearing in mind as well the Croí Cónaithe scheme as it was announced a number of months ago. To be fair to the Minister, he listened in the past few months and again extended that. I was looking at villages such as Carrignavar and Whitechurch in my area, which are only ten minutes from the city centre, but are largely rural villages. People were restricted from availing of the Croí Cónaithe fund perhaps a couple of hundred metres from outside a village. It is great it see that scheme extended as well. The take-up on that will take off in the coming months because it is a worthwhile scheme. It is worthwhile mentioning that many in the Opposition are against that scheme, which supplies a grant of up to €50,000 for people to bring those derelict properties back into habitation.
As I have said to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, I am disappointed with some local authorities and their engagement with the single stage scheme. The vast majority of local authorities engage with a four-step scheme for borrowing for the reintroduction of social housing into the market. However, for some reason, there is very low take-up on the single stage scheme across the country in all local authorities, even in some local authorities in Dublin where one would think that there would be a higher demand than other local authorities. Certain councils are not availing of it for any scheme whatsoever. It is baffling for me, as a public representative, when I scheme where a local authority can avail of up to €6 million not being accessed for one reason or another. Local authorities are saying that they are reluctant to use it because of the risk involved. Officials in the Minister’s Department say that no such risk exists and local authorities will be covered. Again, clarity needs to be brought to that. We are sitting here, twiddling our thumbs, when that fund is available and accessible. As I said, there is no restriction on the number of times that a local authority can apply for it and it is up to €6 million per scheme.
Finally, there is a debate here tonight. Over the past few days, I have made my opinion on it quite clear in relation to the concrete levy. I am not against a levy; I am just against the timing of this. Obviously, the Sinn Féin motion tonight will discuss it and a vote tomorrow will ensue. It is worth remembering, when all the social media videos will be packaged and snipped at some time this evening and tomorrow, that it needs to be stated that all Opposition parties that I am aware of are in favour of the concrete levy scheme in one shape or another. I apologise, as the Social Democrats is not. The vast majority is. People need to be reminded of that when all those social media videos hit Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at some stage in the next 24 hours. Deputy Pearse Doherty said as recently as 28 September that he welcomed "the defective concrete products levy. It is clear, however, that the Government has not provided enough to fund the scheme." Is he suggesting that there is a greater levy his Bill later? I just hope that comes across in the videos and the social media.
It has been over a year since the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, launched the Government’s housing plan, but very little has changed. We see families across Dublin languishing on social housing lists for more than 15 and 16 years. Only last week, we saw more than 10,800 people presenting as homeless, a new record. Some 3,220 of those homeless are children. That is some way of marking the one-year anniversary of this Government’s housing plan.
In the Minister, Deputy O'Brien's, two years in office, we have seen rents rise and rise, showing no sign of easing. There is a shortage of properties to rent. Those who are lucky and find a property could be paying anything up to €2,500 for a two-bedroom apartment in my constituency.
We have seen house prices rise month by month, making it more unaffordable for the average working family to buy a house. Constituents facing homelessness contact my office every single week. It is clear that we need a ban on evictions as we enter the winter months to prevent more families from being forced into homelessness.
The Government is being told its targets for both social and affordable housing will not be met this year, so that means 2020, 2021 and 2022 will have seen this Government miss the low targets it set. My party has presented any number of solutions to the Government in the past two years but the majority of them have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, its plan is falling flat on its face. What is needed is a radical approach to housing. There is a need for the Minister and his Department to get a serious grip on this because things are going to get a lot worse.
Housing for All is a good name but it is not delivering for all. It is not delivering for families and workers in the flat complexes. It is not delivering for families and workers in the flats who are paying significant rents. They do not get them for free. I know the Minister of State knows this but it will be a surprise to many. There is an assumption that people living in the flats get them for free. That is clearly not the case. They work hard to pay the rent. It is really important to remember that these are the same families who made up the front line during the pandemic. If it had not been for the workers and families in the flats, there would not have been a front line during the pandemic. The flats have little or no insulation, as the Minister knows. Many of them have dampness and mould, and many are like wind tunnels. There is an ongoing problem with rats and flooding, with sewage backing up into people's kitchens. It is absolutely unacceptable. I can say confidently that the flat complexes will be the last to be retrofitted and insulated. I am convinced that the view of the Government is that people living in public housing will get everything last and will have to wait. It shows the attitude of the Government towards people living in public housing.
Housing for All is not delivering for homeless people either. As has been mentioned, over 10,800 people are now homeless. Over 3,000 children are homeless. This will have a huge impact on families for generations. It is now well established that the children of people who experience homelessness are more likely to face homelessness again in the future. Therefore, this is not just a problem of homelessness today; it is also a problem we are storing up for tomorrow. Homelessness is a considerable challenge, and the Housing for All plan does not deliver for people in homelessness.
The contributions we heard recently from Government backbenchers on this subject have been meaningful and considered. They have made some valid comments on vacancy, dereliction, the problem of local authorities not using the one-stage approval process for social housing projects worth under €6 million, and the contrast between what local authorities are saying and what the Department is saying. I say there have been considered contributions because they contrast with what we heard in the first half-hour of this debate. Instead of making a serious contribution, offering a serious, detailed analysis of Housing for All and giving his view on what is working well, what is not, and what he is doing to address the challenges, the Minister used most of his time to take what seemed to me to be some sort of delusional misstep from reality, praising everything in Housing for All as brilliant. The rest of his time was used just to attack the main Opposition party. The people suffering deeply from the housing crisis deserve nothing less than a serious, detailed consideration of Housing for All and the housing issue. It is disrespectful in the extreme to people who are suffering from housing problems to see the type of behaviour in question. It is welcome that others here are well able to make serious and meaningful contributions. I acknowledge that. Many in this House are able to contribute meaningfully. It is what we should all be doing.
For the Minister to have been smirking and laughing for most of the time when people were raising serious points, before he left after 15 or 20 minutes of Opposition remarks, was not an appropriate response. He is absolutely entitled to disagree but the matter should be treated with the utmost seriousness, which it deserves. The fact is that, in the current housing disaster, the Government is not meeting the targets it set itself. It is not spending the housing budget it has allocated for itself. When I see some members of the Government – not all of them, to be fair – I wonder whether they do not realise the depths of this crisis and what is happening now.
The various housing metrics show that in the past year new rents have increased by 9%, house prices by 8%, and homelessness by a staggering 32%. The number of children who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation has increased by 47%. Homelessness has a profound impact on their development and well-being. At the same time as they have been homeless, the profits of the largest developer in the country have gone up by 84%. Rents have never been so high, nor have housing prices and the number who are homeless. These are not accidents; they are the results of decisions. This is having a devastating impact on people who are just trying to live a decent life and their families.
Let me give an example of a person who has been affected badly by the housing crisis. It is by no means an example of someone who is suffering the most, or anything like that. Niall is a lecturer in Trinity College, which is just down the road from here, and he is living in hostels because he cannot find somewhere more secure to live. Over the past few weeks, according to him, he has developed a nagging cough because of his accommodation, which he has shared with up to ten people at a time, including with stag party groups in dormitories. He states that the kitchen and laundry facilities are dismal and that it is hard to eat healthily. He states that there is nowhere to sit and get work done in the evening and that he is going to college more and more tired each day. This was not acceptable when it was students who could not find somewhere to live and who consequently lived in hostels mixed in with tourists and stag party groups. It is not acceptable now when it is a lecturer or anyone else who has nowhere secure to live.
Homelessness outreach volunteers doing voluntary work in Dublin report time and again that when they are trying to help people to get into emergency accommodation, no beds are available. Last week, they reported that a three-month-old and a two-year-old were left out on the streets at night as there was nowhere for them to go. When the volunteers rang the various homelessness agencies, the only advice they could give was that the families should go to a Garda station. That was the only advice because everywhere was full. This is the reality of the homelessness and housing situation right now.
Over the weekend, we saw in the Business Postcoverage by Cillian Woods of what has been happening in an estate in Swords. It came to light only because a Deputy who lives there was selling his home and began to see a pattern. What the article describes could well be, and presumably is, happening in many other estates around the country.
On that estate in Swords, where homes are typically sold for approximately €350,000, one house was sold this year for €850,000 and another, incredibly, for €1.7 million, both to investment funds. These homes were originally bought by the Davy Platform ICAV from a company called Manustin Trading V Limited. Another seven homes on the estate were bought from BAE Systems, a British weapons manufacturer. A total of €5.3 million was spent buying up nine homes on the estate, giving an average of approximately €592,000 per home last April, when the median price in the area was €352,000. This is mind-boggling stuff. It is highly plausible that the reason such high prices are being paid out for homes is that the investment funds that own them will likely be able to avail of 25-year long-term leases with the local authority. However, that does not explain the figure of €1.7 million for one property. We know the local authority in the area is long-term leasing 18 homes on the estate. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach earlier and, from his comments, he seemed to think this is okay because it is one investment fund selling to another. I think it is treating these homes as financial assets, which is not in any way okay.
There have been reports recently of 211 apartments being constructed in Clonsilla that were funded entirely by loans through the State's Home Building Finance Ireland. Those 211 homes are being sold on to an investment fund called Urbeo. Given this is being done through State-financed loans, these homes could and should have been built for affordable purchase, cost-rental or social housing. Using State-backed finance in such a way that homes end up in the hands of investment funds is completely and utterly wrong and indefensible. It is incredibly bad value for money and clearly pushes up the price of housing. It would be much better for the State or local authorities to buy homes directly rather than creating these win-win situations for investment funds.
The other issue I raise is one about which we should have heard from the Minister. I asked him about it last week but he would not comment. We know from media coverage that memorandums given to the Cabinet sub-committee show the Government will fall significantly short this year on the targets set for delivering affordable and social homes. A capital underspend on housing of €240 million in 2022 is forecast in the budget documents that were published last week. We also know from the August fiscal monitor that capital expenditure on housing is more than 20% lower than it was this time last year. How is it possible, with everything that is going on, that there is such a capital underspend on housing? Why is it that the Minister comes in here and does not explain these issues to us or give a serious analysis of them and a serious explanation as to how he is committed to tackling them? The contribution he made earlier does not in any way reflect the seriousness of this crisis or the seriousness with which most other speakers have treated it in the debate so far.
As many speakers have noted, it is a year since Housing for All was published. We all recognise there are still significant challenges to overcome. However, it is important to recognise, too, that progress is happening. House completions, commencements and planning approvals are up. An additional 200 staff are being hired by local authorities to deliver on their housing targets. More than 2,000 people have signed up to avail of the new affordable purchase scheme. For the first time ever, cost-rental apartments are being let. Throughout the country, we can see boots on sites and cranes on our skylines once again. We are finally seeing an increase in housing supply. That is the light at the end of this tunnel because it is what will drive down the cost of renting and buying.
I am conscious that whenever we speak in this Chamber about housing, there are people and families at the centre of the debate for whom owning a home right now feels like a fairy tale or pipe dream. They do not feel any progress is being made for them because they do not yet see a change in their circumstances. That has to change and the statistics show it is changing. In the past 12 months, 25,000 new homes were completed. Construction has started on another 29,000 houses and more than 44,000 homes have been approved for planning. Completions, commencements, planning permissions, purchases and first-time buyer mortgage drawdowns are all trending in the right direction at last. These indicators show Housing for All is working and change is happening. It is not happening as quickly as any of us would like but it is happening and it must continue at a faster pace.
The ultimate goal is to deliver 300,000 new homes by 2030 and record funding has been set aside to make that happen. There is no denying the impact of external global challenges that were unforeseen this time last year. However, as committed to last year, the Government will review its action plan in light of those challenges, looking at cost inflation, for example, and adjusting where necessary. Does this mean we will reduce our targets? Absolutely not. It means we will reinforce them and back them up with further funds if needed. That is the action for which I will fight and vote.
Listening to the debate, one could be forgiven for thinking Sinn Féin Members have voted to support policies that deliver homes and drive affordability. In fact, that is often not what happens in this Chamber. They voted against the establishment of the Land Development Agency, which is the body set up to deliver public homes on public land. The party did not propose an amendment to that legislation but simply voted against it. It opposed the shared equity scheme even though it oversees a similar scheme in Northern Ireland. It is against the help-to-buy initiative, which has helped 35,000 people to purchase their own home. What does the party support? From what I can tell, it has two flagship policies on housing, namely, to freeze rents and deliver public housing on public land. These are nice, catchy sound bites but what do they mean? If we want to see what a rent freeze would mean, we need only look at Berlin, where the situation got even worse for tenants after such a freeze was introduced, with the supply of rental properties drying up and landlords abandoning the market. The rent freeze was eventually overturned by the courts. It is a policy that might sound good but would, in reality, drive up rents and further exacerbate the situation. Where will public land come from if Sinn Féin does not want a body like the LDA in place to deliver public land and transform that land into homes?
I want to see public housing on public land, which is why I voted for the establishment of the LDA. I also want to see the delivery of private homes, which is why I voted in favour of a project in my constituency that is seeing 1,000 homes, comprising a mix of public and private, being delivered right now. Sinn Féin voted against that too. While some in the Opposition are busy pushing populist policies and arguing over who builds homes, the Government needs to stay focused on getting those homes built. That is what people care about the most. I do not think many of my constituents care who builds houses; they just want good-quality, affordable homes. That is what the Government's housing strategy needs to deliver as quickly as possible.
The Opposition Members who have spoken so far have called for considered debate and claimed nothing has changed in the past year. Those accusations were made by people who are no longer in the Chamber. These are not tropes that should be thrown back and forth but it seems to be what is happening. This issue is too serious for that and we need to consider it more holistically.
It is not true that nothing has changed. For a decade, we had undersupply and Governments that leaned into the market. That is not the case anymore. Now we have a €20 billion multi-annual programme. We have an affordable purchase scheme for the first time in a decade and an affordable rental scheme for the first time in the history of the State. We have new taxes on stamp duty for vulture funds and a doubling of the obligation on developers to deliver social and affordable housing on private sites. We have brought in new tools to deal with dereliction and to provide below-cost owner-occupied apartments and homes, led by local authorities and private developers.
We have turned on all of the taps to try to increase the supply. Things have changed regardless of what the Opposition may say. One need only look at the legislation that has come through this House to fact-check that statement.
The legislation has not made a difference as yet to supply. Some of that has been due to the Covid-19 shutdowns and the supply chain problems related to Ukraine. There has, however, been an increase in supply. The previous speaker mentioned all the indicators going in the right direction.
Let us look then at what is happening in my constituency of Dublin North-West. A recent Part 8 planning application has been approved for the Whitehall and Shangan social housing and senior citizen sites. We have 93 units in Shangan and 83 units in Whitehall on the Collins Avenue site. We have also got social and senior citizens' sites being developed on Parkview and on the Church of Annunciation sites. These would not have happened without Housing for All. Dublin City Council and Ó Cualann also have advanced plans at planning application stage for 52 units at St Joseph’s Hill, Ballymun, 35 of which will be affordable purchase, again for the first time. These are not the only affordable purchase houses in my area. We will have more in Parkview, Balbutcher Lane, Sillogue Road, Oscar Traynor Road and Kildonan Road, and there will be more. These are all public housing projects on public land that is being delivered as a result of Housing for All. It is not true to say that nothing has changed because of the following facts. We have the legislation that everyone can see on the Oireachtas website and there are the planning applications we are starting to see now in each of our constituencies.
This supply is coming on stream. It is affordable and is going to make a difference but we know it will take time. How can one pass affordable housing legislation last year, whether one voted for or against it, and expect that supply 12 months later to have made a significant impact in the market? That is not possible and people are pretending that it is.
What do we do? We have seen an increase in the notices to quit and I am very concerned about the months ahead. This Government over the past two years has introduced eviction bans where it was possible to do so in an emergency situation under the Covid-19 restrictions of not moving beyond the 5 km distance. The Opposition has always called for an eviction ban but it equally calls for a right to housing to be inserted in the Constitution so that we can balance property rights and the right to a home. If that was in the Constitution, it would allow us to make more interventionist moves on something such as an eviction ban. The circumstances over these few months are coming to a position where, on an emergency basis, during the winter, perhaps as a winter initiative, the Government could put in place another eviction ban as we have done before because we need to take a short-term measure to prevent homelessness.
The Housing for All plan sets ambitious targets with the aim of delivering 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030. Last week's budget provided a record €4.5 billion of capital investment to achieve these targets. Of the planned 300,000 new homes in this plan, these will include 90,000 social homes, 56,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost-rental homes.
The first signs of growth in this sector are now appearing after a decade of undersupply due to various factors such as the banking collapse, and the subsequent recession, coupled with the enforced closure of many housing projects during the early months of the pandemic. We then had the logistics difficulties and the subsequent inflation in the construction sector. Now, we are having to work through the difficulties of the energy market brought about by the Ukraine war.
According to the 2016 census, there are nearly 117,000 people living in homes in County Clare. Overall, the vast majority, or nearly 90,000, are living in their own homes with just over half of that number with a mortgage. There are 16,500 renting a property from a private landlord and there are just over 9,000 people living in social housing. There are 2,900 households seeking social housing.
The Minister has visited the county on a number of occasions and I am looking forward to welcoming him back again at the end of this month to launch four new social housing schemes comprising 153 new homes in Miltown Malbay, Tulla and two separate schemes in Ennis at Lifford and Ashline.
Significant progress has been made in delivering new social homes in the County over the past number of years, including those delivered directly by Clare County Council and AHBs. We need to ensure that affordable housing schemes are also brought on line in the county and I welcome the Minister confirming to me that two affordable housing schemes are to be built in Ennis. These are at developmental stage between the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Clare County Council.
Much more is needed in this regard to deliver affordable housing throughout County Clare.
I also welcome the extension of the Croí Cónaithe (towns) fund scheme to rural areas, which is something I have campaigned for. There will be a big take-up of this new scheme, which is now countrywide, in the county.
I wish the Minister well as it appears he will retain the housing portfolio. I look forward to working with him on developing more housing opportunities for people throughout County Clare, particularly in the area of affordable housing.
The Government boasts of Housing for All but whatever we have, it is not housing for all. We have record rents, record homelessness and record house prices. For a whole generation, having a home of one’s own is just simply beyond reach. People are having to decide between independence now and having one’s money swallowed up by rent, or security later while having to wait at home with parents, even if one has children of one’s own, well into one’s mid-30s. For others, they can have neither security later nor independence now.
For people above social housing income limits and who cannot qualify for a commercial mortgage, there is little to nothing. These are many people working hard, earning decent money and doing everything they have been encouraged to do, but they just do not have a chance and it is getting worse.
We need to radically ramp-up affordable housing targets. The Government targets for affordable purchase homes over the next five years make grim reading. In Cork, the Government only intend to build 378 affordable homes over the next half decade in the city. That is about 76 affordable homes per year in the city. How anyone could think that is enough goes beyond me. Recently, for one project of 32 houses in Glanmire, the council received 800 applications.
I want to briefly mention income thresholds for social housing. As it happens, I raised this with the senior Minister previously. It is a scandal that these have not increased in more than 11 years. More and more people are being knocked off the housing list and have lost that credit time, which is time that they had invested. This is like money in the bank to people. It is seven or eight years, then, the person is taken off the list and is left with nothing, with no place to go and with no real prospects of ever being able to afford a mortgage. I have dealt in regard to this issue with several families recently and it is heartbreaking. None of these people are expecting a home overnight and just want the chance to build up their time. I urge the Minister of State to move on this. I am unsure what objections are coming from within the Department and I know that the senior Minister himself is sympathetic. If this is based on how many people are on the housing list, access HAP and so on - I cannot say if it is or not - that would be cynicism on a cruel level. If that is the case it is unacceptable that calculations like that are keeping people off and knocking people off the housing list. The price of everything is going up and we are still dealing with housing income limits that were too low six years ago, not to mind now. This urgently needs to be dealt with.
The senior Minister stated earlier that the goal of the Housing for All policy is to support home ownership and to increase affordability. In everything that the Government is doing, it will not radically improve the housing stock or make housing affordable. In fact, in the first year of the policy, the Government has missed multiple targets and house prices and rents are increasing to such a degree that it is making it almost impossible for people to either buy their own home or rent accommodation. The Housing for All policy is just another in a long list of failed housing policies and strategies put forward by successive Governments, including the Minister of State's Government, which has contributed to the crisis we have in housing at the moment.
The senior Minister has put forward housing proposals that will not deliver social and affordable housing on the scale required, nor will his policy build houses that are affordable.
In fact, the Government has admitted in Cabinet that its plans for construction of social and affordable housing are not on track. A number of other crucial targets have been missed, such as the development of a healthcare model for the homeless and the empowering of local authorities to incentivise planning to convert vacant commercial properties into residential homes. The Minister's housing plans, which include schemes such as the shared equity scheme, have proven in the past to result in inflated house prices and increased personal debt. Housing associations, housing experts and economic organisations have judged his housing policy to be ill-conceived and ill-judged.
The Government has, as in the past, placed too much reliance on private developers building social and affordable housing. Local authorities should be the drivers behind the building of social and affordable housing, not private developers. Investment funds are corrupting the housing market by buying up large swathes of housing estates and apartment blocks with generous discounts because they are bulk buying. This distorts the housing market and gives unfair advantage to such financial groups over those struggling to get on the property ladder. This housing policy does not give hope to people, especially at this time, when the homeless figures are scandalously at their highest. The Government should acknowledge that these policies are failing and it is time to change course radically.
It seems that many on the Government side are quoting the Opposition with regard to future housing plans. As Deputy Paul McAuliffe mentioned, some of these plans are for four or five years into the future, such as the Church of the Annunciation site, Jamestown or Shangan, all projects that are well into the future. The Minister should not be trying to deceive people.
As a member of the Business Committee, I was the one who asked for this debate to take place. I have been asking for it since several weeks before the summer recess. It was refused before the summer, it was refused until now and, finally, the Minister has deigned to allow a debate but has left before the vast majority of the Opposition spokespeople on housing even have a chance to respond to his speech. The reason I asked for this debate is because I think some of us have some things to impart to the Minister about just how dire the housing situation is out there but, again and again, the senior Minister leaves. This is not the first time he has gone and left in his place a Minister of State who is not responsible for this area. I am sick of it.
The contempt is not really even for the Opposition spokespeople. It is for the people who are suffering, and I mean really suffering, from the housing crisis. An email came to me today from Nenagh, County Tipperary. It is from a woman, although I will not mention her name. It reads:
My husband, two children and I are homeless in Nenagh. We have been told by the council that I earn too much to receive any help. As such, we are staying in a tent. As winter approaches, I am very worried for my children, who are both autistic, and how we will manage. We have been applying for houses with no luck. There are not very many available and landlords and realtors do not seem to want to give us a home. I am emailing you to see if there is anything you could do to help us.
She is contacting a Deputy in Dún Laoghaire about this but the Minister could not be bothered to stay and listen to her story.
In my own area, I am speaking for Magda, who is in a two-bedroom house. She has been overholding because she got a notice to quit on grounds of sale on 2 August. She lives in a council-built estate, where the house is on sale. Because it is a corner house, three other houses could be built on that site if the Government stepped in and bought it. Instead, who will buy it? It will almost certainly be property investors. At the current price, it certainly will not be the people affected by the housing crisis because it is being sold for €650,000. A person would need an after-tax of income of well over €100,000 to have even a prayer of buying that house in a former council estate. Four houses could be built on that site and it would prevent Magda from being evicted.
I am speaking for Debbie, who has been on the housing list since 2009, nearly 14 years. She has three children and she is facing eviction on the grounds of sale. We have asked the council, on Debbie's behalf, to buy that house. We have been saying this to the Minister for years, in particular with regard to the St. Helen's Court debacle, where again a vulture fund bought that multi-unit apartment complex and has spent four years trying to evict all the tenants. They are still there but the local authority has not stepped in and bought it and the tenants still have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head. In the case of Debbie, we have asked the council to buy. The Minister says that, in line with the request we have been making for a long time, he has instructed the local authorities to buy houses where people are facing eviction on foot of a notice to quit on grounds of sale. What the Minister says is not true. That is not what is happening.
I got an email today from a landlady who contacted Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in July. She did not want to evict her HAP tenant because she is a decent person. She is an accidental landlady and she has to sell, but she cannot sell because she will not put a HAP tenant into homelessness. She contacted the council after the Minister said he had instructed local authorities to buy in situations like this. She asked Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council if it would do it and it said, sorry, but it does not buy where there are tenants in situ. This is after the Minister said he had informed councils to do this. When I look at the circular, it is clear that it is much more qualified and subject to caveats than the Minister implied today when I asked him about it, and it uses terms like “if resources allow” and “if the council”. There should be no ifs or buts. We need a firm instruction to local authorities that where people are being evicted into homelessness, the local authorities will step in and buy those properties. That just has to happen. That is how we will stop the record numbers of people who are now homeless. We need to look at where that spike is coming from. These are families, mostly working families, who are being evicted for no reason other than landlords selling up to capitalise on high prices or accidental landlords who have no choice, but the Government will not step in and buy these properties. It is crazy.
I would go further. I really want to get this out there to the Minister as a serious debate. We should be going further than that. We have €5 billion that we have just put into the rainy day fund. This is the rainy day when it comes to the housing crisis. There are 96,000 HAP, RAS and rent allowance properties out there. We should write to every single one of those property owners and ask if they are interested in selling to the State. It is costing the State and every taxpayer in this country far more money to pay them RAS, HAP, leasing costs and rent allowance than it would if the State owned that property. There would be an immediate saving to the State and it would secure the future housing needs of all of the people in those arrangements.
Let us remember that every single one of the people in those arrangements has been let down by the State. They are all on housing lists because the only way people can get HAP, RAS, leasing or rent allowance is to be on a housing list. The State has let them down if they are on it for 15 or 20 years. That should be done immediately. We could make a serious and immediate impact, a practical impact in the here and now, if we do that. We should also do it with all of the build-to-rent apartments that are being completed at the moment.
Why on earth would we let international investment funds like the pension fund of the arms dealer British Aerospace, as we discovered in Swords, and all sorts of other international wealth asset management operations - the global rich - invest in Irish property to make a fortune by buying up these properties? Is it better that they or the State own the property? We would not be crowding out first-time buyers because first-time buyers cannot afford any of this anyway, and the State can afford it with the money in the rainy day fund. The State could designate some of it for affordable purchase housing and the rest for social housing. If we do not, British Aerospace or some other investment fund will buy it and lease it back at extortionate rates to local authorities and we will pay for it anyway.
This is insanity, yet the Government continues to allow it to persist, resulting in people entering into homelessness.
Regarding income thresholds, I will return to the example of the woman in Nenagh. She earns too much to get social housing support, so she is living in a tent with her kids. For a year, I have been raising the case of a woman who has been in homeless accommodation with her kids for four years. She is working for a State agency that looks after vulnerable children. She is over the threshold, so she is not entitled to social housing support.
This is a major stealth cut. Ten years ago, the percentage of households that were entitled to social housing support was 47%. It is now 30%. This is a major cut in the weekly supports that the State is giving to people who cannot afford to buy or rent on the open market and who number more now than ever before. At a time when we need this support more than ever, we are slashing it and driving people into desperate situations, yet the Minister will still not tell us why he will not raise the income thresholds. It is outrageous. When is the Government going to raise the thresholds? I have been looking for an answer to this from successive Ministers for five years, but I still have no answer. People are suffering because of it.
I wish to make my point, if I may. I welcome the empty homes tax. It is something that I have campaigned for in my party for a number of years. It is important, regardless of what figure one chooses for the number of vacant homes. A medium figure seems to be approximately 100,000. If we do this right, the tax will provide a benefit as well as a significant possibility for tens of thousands of people. Initially, though, we must change what we are doing. I do not agree with the regulation setting out that the tax will only apply to properties that are occupied for less than 30 days in a 12-month period. That is not good enough. Nor should the vacant homes tax apply universally across the country. My argument remains what it has always been, namely, we should go after all of those homes in rent pressure zones that are empty today. The period for which they can be left vacant should not be greater than six months. If someone's house is left vacant for six months, he or she should pay the vacant house tax on it. There should be no exemptions other than sensible and appropriate ones, for example, if someone is in hospital or a nursing home.
There is a model for all of this and it actually works. Between 2017 and 2020, the empty homes tax in the city of Vancouver reduced the number of vacant homes by 30%. In the same period, the number of lettings and new tenancies increased by 3% or 4%. This was a major plus for families in Vancouver who were able to go into empty homes where no one had been living for at least six months of the year. If we mean what we say as a Government, we should insist on the same happening in Ireland.
There are pressures from every direction against this tax, but the Government has made the principled decision to introduce it. There are those who will shout and roar at it, but we must work with what we have and maximise our arguments in this House and on Oireachtas committees to make the tax an eventuality that works for thousands of people. If we can open up 3,000 homes that are currently empty - they have roofs, doors and windows and all people need are the keys to get into them - to the people Deputies have mentioned as well as those whom I know in my constituency, it will make a significant difference. It can and must be done. It does not make sense to ignore all of the houses that are sitting empty. The Ministers of State, Deputies Noonan and Peter Burke, should listen to me, look at the record and consider the facts. If they do what I suggest, it will work. It is working in other jurisdictions.
Louth County Council has shown the way forward by taking over properties that have been abandoned and left vacant, refurbishing them and putting families in them. This was done with more than 100 homes over three years at an average cost of less than €200,000, including legal costs. The Government must do more than it is doing now. I have argued consistently for there to be one person in the Department to drive this with energy, get all of the local authorities to use compulsory purchase orders, and to get people up off their butts, looking for these homes and ensuring that they are occupied. That is the task we are facing.
Last Sunday's polls were stark, but real. The main issue in this country is, and remains, housing. It will always be housing unless and until those homes are filled. Why would we not do this? That is my challenge to the Government. We cannot sit back and say that everything is great and that the Minister will do whatever he is going to do. It not about him. It is not even about us. It is about all the people out there who are entitled to the full support of the State to fill empty homes and about tackling the people who leave those homes idle.
Housing is the main issue. I will speak in the context of the Limerick City constituency, which I represent. My views are well known. I welcome that the budget has amended the living city initiative and extended it until 2027, which means another five years. I want to see people living in the city centre. That is something on which I have worked. Limerick city centre has a Georgian footprint. I want living there to be affordable to young people so that it is an option when they are looking around for somewhere to live. Currently, it is probably not affordable for them.
I welcome that the Croí Cónaithe grant is being extended through blanket coverage to every area in the country - rural, town and urban areas, including city centres. This will make a considerable difference.
I wish to discuss an issue that may have been missed. Young people, including couples, are approaching me. In many cases, they say that buying a second-hand home is cheaper than buying a new one. This may not be known by the general public. Therefore, the Croí Cónaithe scheme has significant potential in terms of assisting people to buy houses that are not being used. If a house is derelict, the grant can increase from €30,000 to €50,000, which is a great deal of money. Houses cost money, but people in this situation will be doing up existing houses. This provides a large number of dual benefits and is welcome.
On affordable housing, I welcome that affordable homes will be rolled out in Limerick, with 25 units in Brú na Gruadán in Castletroy, which is where I reside. As I have stated on the record previously, I would like every new estate to have 10% affordable housing. Where land was purchased prior to 31 July 2021, developers are not required to provide 10% affordable housing, only 10% social housing, so long as they get planning permission before July 2026.
I want to have this aspect examined again in respect of the overall model. Regarding the constituency I represent, the social housing income limits are too low now. They have not kept pace with the average cost of housing or average incomes. When these limits were revised 11 years ago, the average income was around €35,000. Average income today is approximately €45,000, an increase of 20%. I am calling for a 5% increase across the board, including in respect of adult dependants and also for children.
I say this because many people are coming to us who are just over the income limits for social housing. What I wish to see in use all the time is an integrated model where we look after people in respect of social and affordable housing and allow them to live in their communities. Many of the measures introduced are to be welcomed. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. If there are vacant houses, then they should be occupied. In many cases, it is cheaper to buy and renovate them than to purchase or build a new house. I also wish to see a change in the affordable side of things. Every new estate built should have 10% affordable housing and 10% social housing. This is a simple principle.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. It is the fundamental issue of our time. Housing is greatly important. I wish to hone in on a few things that can be changed. Rural Ireland has great capacity to build and expand housing. A great deal of work has been done in urban places for generations at this stage and it is now high time we examined building houses in rural Ireland. I welcome the Croí Cónaithe scheme and its extension to ensure it is available in rural communities. Equally, we must have an appraisal of the existing planning regulations, even those concerning one-off housing. I refer to the hoops people are being put through when trying to get planning permission for a modest house in a rural community. We have also seen issues arising with An Bord Pleanála. We must face these and look into the issues that have existed, and perhaps also at some of the decisions made previously.
The opening contribution of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, contained several points. He said that if housing was good enough to rent, then it was good enough to buy. We must explore the situation regarding houses in rural communities, where people may be on an invalidity pension or might have money because of having had an accident. People in those situations should be allowed to purchase their houses. I am talking in particular about rural houses built by the county councils throughout the years. These are houses built predominantly on sites provided by the tenants now resident in them. I welcome the important decision in this regard that was made in February to extend an initiative in respect of pensioners, but it is also time we considered the invalidity pension and other State benefits and ensured that people who are in a position to purchase their houses can do so. I say this because this is a win-win situation. It would ensure that equity is returned to the county councils and that money is generated from it. I ask the Minister of State to explore this aspect and to convey this point to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. It is crucially important.
Turning to the issue of State-owned land, and Deputy O'Donnell will be familiar with where I am going to talk about, Cork County Council owns land in Charleville that should be earmarked for housing. It is zoned for housing and it has the requisite services. The county council, the other local authorities and Irish Water installed services again recently when work was done on the streetscape. This land should be made available for housing. Too many hoops must be gone through in this regard. We go out and try to get private land, and all the rest of it, but a vast amount of land is already available in this regard. It should be available for housing. My colleague, Councillor Ian Doyle, has been working at council level on this matter. This aspect of the housing issue should be recognised and it should be examined.
Additionally, we announced some of the small village schemes last year for sewerage works to be done, including for Castlemagner in my constituency. That scheme was announced in late September 2021. The wastewater treatment plant there has great potential for upgrading. It is centrally positioned. When schemes like these are announced, they should be approached with seriousness and intent by the local authorities, the Department and Irish Water to ensure they are completed in a timely fashion and that the work does not drag on and go through hoop after hoop. It must be ensured that it takes the shortest possible time to release land that is available and can be built on. Addressing these issues, which occur across the country, in urban and, in particular, in rural areas, can help to answer the questions now being asked about the provision of housing.
The Government's targets for Cork city are to build 394 social houses and 76 affordable houses annually. This shows us the lack of imagination, leadership and understanding of the Government, and especially the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, regarding this challenge. I refer to the number of people evicted and served with notices to quit, and the thousands of people on our housing lists in Cork who cannot rent or buy accommodation, and then the Minister's solutions.
Housing for All has completely failed. We have a Minister who has also completely failed with his plan. It took him a year to pick out the plan and it does not work. Just to give people an idea of the situation, there is much talk about social housing income thresholds and those limits. The Government is keeping them at the current levels because it knows the figures would go up by tens of thousands of people if they were to keep pace with inflation. We have people, such as bus drivers and other ordinary working people, who would have been entitled to go on the social housing lists, but if those people do any bit of good for themselves, they will be taken off. These are facts.
Approximately 20 minutes ago, I spoke to a man who is homeless tonight in Cork city. Paul is his first name, and I will not use his second name because I respect his dignity too much. His two options were to go to Cork Simon or to the city's St. Vincent's Hostel. Those were his only two choices. This man worked all his life. He did everything. His landlord sold his property to an investment firm because it was going to turn it into a complex. He has now been in emergency housing accommodation for more than a year and a half. Furthermore, I had to phone Anglesea Street Garda station last week to get gardaí to come out to a house to stop an illegal eviction. That is what I had to do last week. I thanked the Chief Superintendent for the work the Garda did, and I also commend the Community Tenants Action Union, CATU, and its volunteers who came and stood with the person concerned.
We are in a crisis in housing like none experienced before. What this Government has given us are the highest rents ever, the highest house prices ever and the highest homeless figures ever in the history of the State, especially when it comes to children, and now ordinary people cannot afford to buy or rent a property.
I am happy to be able to speak on this issue as well because I had my constituency clinics in Kildare North yesterday, and the issues of housing, homelessness and eviction notices were coming in thick and fast. I was not a bit surprised at the record homeless figures released last week. Housing is required for everybody, for all the reasons that make life worth living, including safety, security, family, privacy, dignity, access to education and health. When people do not have proper homes, lives often take a turn for the worst.
I want to use my short time to show what a difference a home makes by talking about a constituent, a nana, who has just got an eviction notice to quit the apartment she has been renting come January 2023. She has been on Kildare County Council's housing list for almost six years. This woman is looking after her granddaughter in a formal fostering arrangement with Tusla. To its credit, officials of the organisation have written to Kildare County Council in support of this woman and to request that she be permanently housed. Her granddaughter cried with relief when she was allowed to stay with her nana. Her grandmother, though, cried as well. She had already lost the chance to look after her two grandsons because she had to give them up simply and solely because she did not have adequate accommodation and could not find any in north Kildare. This grandmother only had a two-bedroom apartment and she needed one with three bedrooms to keep all her grandchildren together. The two boys are in a lovely foster home, but they are losing the chance to be reared by their nana, who adores them and who they adore in turn, and to grow up with their sister simply because of their nana's housing situation.
Think of the lost years in those children's lives, all the love, security, happiness and family bonding that they are losing out on because there is no proper housing available in north Kildare. Can the Minister tell me how that makes sense for society or for that grandmother and those children? How is this putting children first? The 3,220 children who are homeless at present are not counted in the housing figures because they are considered homed but they are not at home with their grandmother where they should be.
That was not the end of the crying yesterday. Amid all the despair, I spoke to a woman who had secured a home. She was crying as well but they were tears of relief. We could hear it and I thought it would be my turn next to cry because there is nothing as basic as the four walls of a house.
The Minister must stop evictions. Eviction notices are coming in at an extraordinary rate. I ask the Minister to make sure nobody can be evicted this winter.
If Housing for All was a leaving certificate subject, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, would fail. The aim of Housing for All, according to the executive summary, is "access to a quality home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard ... offering a high quality of life." This was to be achieved in four ways, namely, supporting home ownership and increasing affordability, on which the Minister has failed; eradicating homelessness, increasing social housing delivery and supporting social inclusion, on which he has failed miserably; increasing new housing supply - he forgot to say for cuckoo funds mainly; and addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing stock - using an unenforceable 30-day occupancy rule which will cost more to police than it will yield.
In the midst of a housing crisis that the Government now recognises, it is beyond belief that it would then come along and decide to apply a 10% levy on concrete blocks. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, clarify whether that levy will apply before VAT or does it include VAT because that would make it dearer again?
The housing crisis is caused mainly by one problem. We have a lack of supply, which has been worsened by a variety of actions taken by successive Governments over many years, including the imposition of extra taxes and charges, the implementation of planning requirements that have no basis in law and the adoption of county development plans that do not suit the needs of the areas they are developed to serve.
Judging by some recent stories about where people are being accommodated and newly released homelessness figures, it is clear that we do not have the appropriate resources available to cater for the numbers of people in need of accommodation. The fact that the numbers are increasing day by day is a sign of the Government's failure to deal with housing in a positive and effective way. These are not numbers; they are people - children and their parents and grandparents.
In circumstances where we have a lack of supply, one would think the Government would take measures to reduce the cost of building a house. By refusing to remove excise on fuel and instead increasing the tax take by upping carbon tax and then taxing the tax, the Government has made it more expensive to run every vehicle needed in the process of building a house. That includes the on-site machinery but also every vehicle used in the transportation of goods and materials to the building site. All of these costs will be shouldered by the end buyer of the house - in the case of people building their own home it will put such ambition beyond the reach of many - or by the taxpayer footing the rental assistance bill of almost €1 billion, including HAP, that is being paid out.
Through VAT, the Government makes auctioneers and solicitors fees 23% more expensive. The architect's fees will be 23% more expensive. There will be VAT charged on mortgage services. Most of the materials are already 23% more expensive due to VAT and we do not know whether this concrete levy will be 10% plus VAT or will include VAT. It needs to be clarified whether the levy will be applied inclusive of or plus VAT? Are we taxing the tax continuously?
It is unbelievable that in the middle of possibly the worst housing crisis in the history of the State this Government has not considered measures rolled out across Europe to have new builds rated at zero VAT. If it wants one big idea with which to help with building supply to solve homelessness once and for all, it should consider a zero VAT rate on new builds. Housing for All, how are ye?
The Government pitches the Housing for All plan as its proposal to alleviate the housing crisis. Housing for All promises an increase in the supply of new housing to an average of at least 33,000 new units per year. This promise included over 10,000 social homes each year, with 9,500 of these being new builds, and an average of 6,000 affordable homes for purchase or rent to help eliminate homelessness and address the waiting lists. Yet homelessness is at a record level and people are queuing on the streets to view rooms, are being priced out of buying a home and are paying nearly half their wages on rent.
Last weekend, the Taoiseach stated that housing was the single most important social issue facing the country, yet plans to allocate additional resources to the Residential Tenancies Board, promises to retrofit 2,400 social homes and a new register for short-term and holiday lets are only some of the promises made under Housing for All that have been delayed.
The aim of Housing for All was to ensure we achieve a more sustainable housing system, with a planning system that is fit for purpose, to create long-term, vibrant communities with the necessary supporting infrastructure. However, the conflict-of-interest claims against An Bord Pleanála's former deputy chairman, Mr. Paul Hyde, have eradicated the public's trust in An Bord Pleanála.
The remit of An Bord Pleanála was expanded from one of dealing with appeals to one of making the first and final decision on housing developments. This idea was the cutting edge of the Government's effort to get to grips with the housing crisis. Fast-tracking the planning process worked, in theory, for the short term. However, if the State's objective was to resolve the housing crisis, that task has not been achieved.
In my constituency of Louth and east Meath, I will acknowledge the recent social development at Ice House Hill in Dundalk. However, with regard to planning, it is proving very difficult to get planning permission granted. Recently, I had a family in my office looking for planning permission for a home for their son on a farm of more than 30 acres where they reside. Their son met all local needs requirements yet was still refused planning permission after submitting various plans and moving the location of the planned dwelling. This is only one of many cases of planning refusal being raised in my constituency office now. It seems near impossible to get planning permission, especially in rural parts of the county.
The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, told the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis that he will remove planning rules which provide exemptions for the build-to-rent sector and that the shared equity scheme for first-time buyers will be extended to self-build homes. This, he said, would be a "game changer" for rural Ireland. This move is welcomed as it means that where there is a gap between the mortgage approved and the cost of a self-build, people can apply to the first home scheme to make up the difference. However, more needs to be done to deal with the issues at the beginning of the process related to securing planning permission. This would help people in rural Ireland.
While the vacant home tax will increase the supply of homes for rent or purchase, in this time of crisis we must ensure that all houses are fully utilised. The Housing for All plan introduced incentives and measures to bring vacant and derelict properties back into residential use whereby the local authorities were to incentivise people planning to convert vacant commercial properties into residential homes. I have previously highlighted the work of Louth County Council in bringing these vacant properties back into the housing stock but we cannot have houses being left vacant. In Dundalk, I guarantee there is at least one vacant house on every street in established communities that have appropriate services such as schools and shops. Why are these houses being kept vacant?
From dealing with the local authority, I know the only thing holding Louth County Council back is the lack of funding from the Government. The Government’s own targets state that we need 33,000 new homes each year. Surely the way forward is to tackle these vacant homes first and bring them back to the market. I ask that the Government provide additional capital funding to local authorities and approved housing bodies to purchase more homes and developments for the provision of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase homes.
We also need to take into consideration the long-term consequences and requirements of housing tens of thousands of vulnerable people fleeing from the war in Ukraine.
I had a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, on a radio station over the weekend, during which he stated that the housing crisis could not be fixed overnight. It is an incredible statement for a Minister to make at this stage. Since Phil Hogan and Deputy Alan Kelly were Ministers, through to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, Eoghan Murphy and the current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, Ministers all said that the housing crisis could not be fixed overnight. It is a long night for the people on housing waiting lists, those in homelessness and those on the edge of survival because of increasing rents.
All that time the crisis has got steadily worse. We now have record numbers of people who are homeless, hitting 10,800 people accessing emergency accommodation, 3,220 of whom are children, in just the last month. Does the Minister have any idea of the long-term damage it does to children to be homeless or living in emergency accommodation - the damage it does to their health, their mental health, their nutrition and their education? This is the Government damaging a generation of children due to its policies on housing.
Every year, approximately 100 people die of homelessness on the streets of Dublin. The Government is not recording the number of people dying in any other county. Dozens of other people are losing their lives in homelessness in the rest of the country and no State organisation sees fit even to record that number. Many thousands of people are one rent increase away from poverty or homelessness. This is absolutely a record-breaking Government: the highest house prices on record, the highest rents on record and, now, the highest number of homeless people on record.
In the jaws of this emergency, this national humanitarian crisis, one would imagine the Government would have an urgency about it in respect of solutions in the budget it has just delivered, but that has not happened, unfortunately. A promised vacant home tax plan, which was incredibly nebulous, was based on a house having to be occupied less than 30 days a year. What are people going to do? Are they going to take selfies in those homes for 31 days of the year? Are they going to go to the local Garda station to sign on for 31 days of the year? It is an incredible situation. I heard two Fine Gael Deputies talk about how it is absolutely wrong that there are so many vacant homes in this State. Let us be absolutely clear, however: Fine Gael has been opposing vacant home taxes since the start of this Government. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is ideologically opposed to the imposition of vacant home taxes and has said so and acted as such many times in his position as Minister for Finance.
The residential zoned land tax announced in last year's budget is still in the future tense. Long-term empty homes and empty sites in a crisis of this depth is a clear winner in the crowded race of Government ineptitude in respect of housing. I say "crowded race" because the Government's actions in terms of ineptitude are incredible. The Government closed building sites for a full quarter in 2021. The country with the worst housing crisis in the whole of the European Union was the only country in the whole of the European Union that closed building sites. It is incredible. In an act of sheer ignorance and illiteracy, the Government has now decided to introduce a defective concrete products levy on products going into the building of houses. What is wrong with the Government that it is starting to increase the taxes levied on building homes for people in the jaws of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State? I and the majority of people in this country have no confidence in this Government's ability to fix the housing crisis.