Tuesday, 4 October 2022
Housing for All Update: Statements (Resumed)
I wish to raise a couple of matters in the five minutes I have.
The first relates to affordable housing and the Dún Laoghaire area. Regarding the First Home scheme, I am very pleased to see that the number of people registered across the State is nearly 1,700, with 423 certificates issued. That is progress but, obviously, something has to be done differently in respect of Dún Laoghaire, where we do not come within that bracket because of the way house prices are there. When the Minister introduced the scheme, he committed to a review of it after six months. I am using this opportunity to remind him of that and to look for specific change that recognises the peculiar difficulties in Dún Laoghaire in that we just do not come within the scheme as it is. Obviously, there are people there who would very much like to avail of the scheme, so I am just putting that on the radar again.
The second matter relates to fire defects and apartments. I am sure the Minister's office, like mine, has received a very considerable influx of correspondence from homeowners affected by apartment defects. In my area, this issue has arisen in Dún Laoghaire, St. Gabriel's, Granitefield Manor and Cabinteely. This was in advance of the working group report published back in July, but the issue has still arisen since then. I think the Minister is aware of the practical issues faced by these homeowners and the impact on families in particular. These apartments cannot necessarily be insured, moved on or sold, even if the family has outgrown the apartment. The family of one gentleman in my constituency has expanded and they need more space, but he cannot sell the apartment, given its current condition and the uncertainty around resolving that. I know that the Government has committed to addressing this, but what is the update on that? Obviously, it is not within the budget and is a separate mechanism, but we need clarity on how that will be addressed not just for prospective buyers but also for those who have already rectified the issue on their own at huge expense. Can any retrospective measure be introduced in that regard? I urge the Minister to continue to make the remediation of fire defects in apartments a priority and to provide homeowners with an update where possible.
The other thing I want to highlight relates to the overall rental crisis. I acknowledge the Government's efforts in respect of tenants and additional supports for them. I was disappointed not to see greater support for landlords. I know that has been an unfashionable thing to say over recent years, but there are people coming around to the fact that there are two sides to every market and that we must keep landlords and, especially, small landlords - I have seen Deputies from People Before Profit refer to accidental landlords - in the market if there is to be a broad rental sector. I acknowledge the change in respect of pre-letting expenses but I am referring to the tax treatment generally. A landlord can write off, for example, a new bed or a new couch only over eight years, whereas the lifetime of that product in a regular rental apartment is four to six years. As for capital expenditure, if a landlord invests in a property - for example, in a new bedroom, a new bathroom, a new kitchen or any other of those sorts of normal capital expenditures - he or she can claim that back tax-wise only on the sale of the property. However, all that does is encourage landlords to sell properties. There are many landlords who have been in the market for many years and who would like to remain there, and it is disappointing not to have seen more done on that side to try to keep those landlords in the market.
I wish to refer to some of the planning changes. I note the report today in the media by Savills which says the planning framework is out of date. I have to question some of these comments by property interests in that regard. I hear these questions about whether it was appropriate to dezone lands, much of which were on floodplains, and to concentrate activity in areas of the city. I think there is something of a value play going on in that sector at the moment, and I think the sector would be better off focusing on how to commence the many thousands of apartments and dwellings in my constituency that have planning permission and actually deliver the housing rather than pointing to some unspecified field in Kildare and saying, "Zone it and we will build." It would be better to see them building what they have already.
I wish to highlight the under-resourcing which I think is there in the planning sector generally as well as how many people are working in planning and local authorities and how that sits comparatively. My most recent figure is that the numbers compare to those in about 2007, but the Minister may have a correction. I know that the strategic workforce plan is being done by the local government sector. One cannot build without planners. The fees have not increased either, as far as I am aware, since 2001, 21 years ago, and there is only really 16% cost recovery in the sector. It is not sustainable and it is, I think, adding to planning difficulties.
I think I am out of time, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, am I?
May I make just one further small point? Planning has evolved so much since 2001. We now have the habitats directive and the housing need and demand assessments. All that additional work has to be done by planners, and there is something of a catch-up there.
While we all welcome Housing for All, there are a few challenges in it. I will talk about Carlow, my home town where we do not have a full-time homeless prevention officer or co-ordinator. We only have contract posts and that is far below what is acceptable. Contract posts are an issue in local authorities and one to which I will return another day.
Increasing housing supply and delivering sustainable and affordable homes for people is the Government's top priority but the collapse of the private rental market is a huge concern. This market is not going to recover in the short to medium term so market intervention is needed. While the introduction over the past 12 months of three schemes, namely the First Home scheme, the local authority affordable purchase scheme and the revised local authority home loan scheme to support the purchase of affordable homes, is really welcome, we need to do a lot more. It is vital that local authorities are allowed to make more acquisitions in 2023 to take some pressure off. The Department needs to speed up the approval process for social housing projects and procurement, SHPP, the capital assistance scheme, CAS and the capital advance leasing facility, CALF, and speed up payments to the local authorities.
I am particularly concerned by the lack of emergency accommodation, especially for victims of domestic violence. Carlow does not yet have a refuge. We have some safe homes provided by the local authority, which I welcome, but we do not have enough. We have a two-family emergency accommodation unit but only one family is being housed in it at the moment because of Covid.
I also want to speak about legislation that needs to be changed. Currently local authorities cannot implement regulation 49 for people in social housing and need an approved housing body, AHB, to manage them. There is no such thing as a temporary licence. AHBs deal with RTB houses and they are the sensible model for that in terms of looking after it. This kind of accommodation is so important. What steps are being taken with regard to regulation 49? I ask the Minister to respond on that.
The Minister told the House today about 282 tenancies under the Housing First programme. That programme needs to be extended and expanded because the current numbers are very low. When we talk about supporting the most vulnerable, we must also see local authorities providing resources for Traveller liaison offers, TLOs. We must also see an extension to the repair and leasing scheme in 2023. I suggest that the acquisition ceiling limit for houses that require special adaptation grants be increased. The energy efficiency programme requires better funding and I would like to see the removal of the fuel-poverty-provided funding for self-help grants.
These are all major issues that, if addressed quickly, would play a significant role in enabling local authorities to provide housing faster. Information is also an important issue. I also want to ask the Minister about modular buildings which I have brought up several times in this Chamber. I have introduced the Minister to various companies but I have had no feedback on this. We need to see as many houses built as possible, as quickly as possible and modular housing can be a short-term, if not a long-term solution. The modular method allows for the building of a lot of houses quickly and I ask the Minister to come back to me on that.
Finally, I want to reference the 10% concrete product levy announced in the budget. I have had hundreds of phone calls about it from people who are building their first house, from farmers and many others. I do not think there is a group that has not contacted me. It is a huge concern and I ask that we look at it.
I was listening to the debate in my office earlier. One would think that this Government has built no houses but the reality is that 54,000 new homes have been brought into the system and we have provided over 9,000 social houses last year. I very much welcome last week's extension of the grant for vacant and derelict houses to rural areas. That will be beneficial in creating more supply. My office has had numerous inquiries about that since it was announced.
I want to raise a few issues that affect rural counties like Tipperary, which I serve, and highlight some problems that we have. Some of the problems that rural counties have might be overlooked when we focus on the large urban centres. While I was in my office I heard Deputy Boyd Barrett referring to a particular case in Nenagh. I was talking to that lady today on the phone. Tonight she is in a tent with her two children and her husband. That is absolutely intolerable in a country like ours. The threshold for housing support in Tipperary has not been raised. The thresholds were raised in a number of counties in the recent past but Tipperary was overlooked. With rents climbing the way they are at present, people who are on low incomes who are not entitled to housing support are not able to afford anywhere to rent. That is the situation that this lady, her two children and her husband find themselves in tonight. I urge the Minister to lift the threshold for housing support in Tipperary immediately. I suggest that the figure should be €35,000 for housing support so that people are able to afford the rents that are increasing rapidly. Landlords are leaving the rental market and in the majority of cases, when the tenants of those houses come to me, they do not qualify for housing support and are finding it extremely difficult to access rental accommodation. Help is needed there.
The limit for Tipperary under the First Home shared equity scheme has been set at €250,000 which is just not feasible in the context of the price of second-hand houses and the cost of building. A ceiling of €250,000 is too low and this scheme will not work in Tipperary as it stands. The threshold needs to be lifted to €300,000 if the scheme is to work in my county. On the affordable housing fund, the county council has made representations to the Minister for three towns in the county, Thurles, Nenagh and Clonmel. Affordable housing funding must be available for all three towns. At the moment, we are outside that scheme but affordable housing is so badly needed in the county. I urge the Minister to look at that to see what can be done.
The next point I want to make relates to one-off housing. The Tipperary county development plan was finalised in the last couple of months but instead of making it easier to build one-off housing, it has made it more difficult. A lot of people have the ability to build houses in rural areas but the county development plan is being imposed on them. Sight lines are now being determined by the width of the road. I was with a man the other evening who told me the council is seeking a sight line of 110 metres because of the width of the road. It is impossible for him to get that so he is not going to be able to build on the only suitable site he has. Obstacles are being put in the way of people who want to build one-off houses in rural areas. The county development plans have to come under scrutiny by the Minster. We have to recognise that some people want to build houses in rural areas. Obviously, safety has to be a concern but the way that the sight lines have been revised in the county development plan in Tipperary means that it will be much more difficult for people to get planning permission to build one-off houses.
Record house prices, record rent costs, record and growing levels of homelessness and the lowest home ownership rates in Ireland for generations; whatever spin the Minister wants to put on it, that is the legacy of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil housing policies in action. Not content with creating a financial crash precipitated by a property bubble, they somehow managed to emerge from that crash with a housing crisis which, in turn, has become a housing emergency. This was not an accident. It happened because of a concerted strategy to make homes a commodity, to move away from the building and purchasing of houses by local authorities to a reliance on the private sector and a demonisation of those who need housing support.
I have told the story previously of how, in 1990, my own family's lives were changed forever and for the better when we were allocated a council house. We did not get a free house - nobody did. Council tenants paid rent relative to their income and if circumstances changed, they purchased their home with a discount based on the number of years they were renting. The funds from that purchase could then be used by the council to purchase another home. It was a system that worked. It created vibrant communities and a positive housing market. Those who could purchase their own homes privately could do so at affordable rates and those who needed to rent could do so without seeing their entire income eaten away.
I still recall that moment in the early 2000s when, as a local councillor, I contacted my town clerk to inform them that a house in the estate I grew up in was up for sale. Up until that point, that house would immediately have been bought by the council but in this instance, the Department responsible for housing, under a Fianna Fáil Minister, refused the council permission to purchase and the house was purchased by a private landlord. In the years since, the State has paid, via rent subsidies, many multiples of the cost that would have been involved in buying the house in the first place.
The Government provided free houses all right, but it provided them to private vested interests. The premise of this scandalous strategy remains. Dismally low income limits prevent working families from accessing any housing supports. So-called affordable housing is not affordable. In counties like Monaghan, the Government is not even pretending to provide it. Even if the Government reached any of its pathetic targets, we would still expect tens of thousands of people to remain locked into the private rental market. The solution, in a nutshell, is to build public homes. It is the only solution but this Government does not seem to have the political capacity to deliver it.
I would like to ask the Minister about the recent housing review published last week in the middle of the budget. There are only five counties where the threshold for social housing was increased. Surely the thresholds must be revised as soon as possible, considering the substantial rise in rents and property and the cost-of-living crisis the country faces now and into the near future, with inflation predicted to run close to 8%. In Wexford, rents have risen by 14.7% and housing prices have increased by 70%. In my constituency office, we hear every day from people who are marginally over the threshold - in some cases they are only €1,000 to €3,000 over it.
I will refer to a woman called Mary – that is not her real name - who worked hard to save and put herself through college, through part-time bar or restaurant work. She has one child and works in children's mental health. She did some extra hours last year due to heavy demand. However, this year her hours were cut and her landlord put her rent up by €200 per month. Due to the fact that her earnings from last year put her over the limit, she cannot qualify for HAP or social housing. She is now on far less money each week, has more rent to pay and still has to feed and look after her child. Mary said she is seriously considering giving up her job altogether.
A couple were on the minimum wage and paying their way, but both lost their jobs and cannot afford their rent. They were never in receipt of HAP or any other assistance or rent relief. They do not qualify for social housing because their earnings in the previous year were above the threshold. They are facing homelessness with four children and nowhere to go. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, and I am sure many Deputies in this House can supply many cases like those I have just described.
The simple fact is that people on average wages only have what they earn in a given week. That is why we need to change the current criteria and increase the threshold to cover what people were earning within the last three months of the current year. Just as energy companies are promising to place a moratorium on disconnections, a moratorium on evictions should be enforced, in particular in the winter months, just as was done during the pandemic. There should also be a freeze on rent increases. Other European countries do this, and we should do the same.
We need an enlarged tenant in situscheme. Local authorities must be given the capital to buy the properties of existing tenants. Acquisitions must be increased. Such an approach offers solutions that are immediate and saves money in the long term because it does not require planning permission or new builds and reduces the carbon footprint. Finally, homelessness in my county has increased by 113%. We need a winter ban on evictions now.
I had to pinch myself to see whether Housing for All was reality or fiction. Between 2016 and 2021, some €1.877 billion was paid in HAP and €896 million was paid in RAS, but the State does not own any of the properties it has paid for. It has not supplied any houses to make sure people are secure. Landlords are leaving the market and the Government has done nothing about it. It is failure after failure. Even when a person has lived in local authority house for years and is now in a position to buy the house, he or she is not allowed to do so because the rules of the scheme state that the person has to show that a wage is coming into the house. People want to provide for their sons or daughters and leave them a house, and are in a position to do so, but the State will not allow them to do this.
Another staggering figure is the number of hidden homeless adults who can no longer afford to live outside of the family home. There are now 350,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 living at home. Some 100,000 people between the ages of 30 and 49 are still living at home. Parents are providing housing for people up to 49 years of age because all the Government can do in a crisis is impose a levy on building materials and increase tax on fuel and construction costs. I must applaud the Minister of State for the failure of his Government and the previous Government to provide anything for the country.
County Kerry is not included in the affordable homes scheme, contrary to what the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, told me. The cost of buying a house in Killarney or anywhere around it is between €350,000 and €500,000. On top of that, it is impossible for people who want to build their own homes to get planning permission.
Family income supplement is denying people the ability to remain on housing waiting lists because they are being thrown off such lists if they are in receipt of it, having been on those lists for nine or ten years. That is totally unfair in this day and age. People cannot live without the family income supplement, yet are being thrown off the housing list.
I want to raise the issue of the cap in County Kerry. It seems it has been raised in other counties, but what is wrong with Kerry? It needs to be increased. We are outside of the Pale, but the cap has to be increased in Kerry because throwing people off the housing list is not doing anything for those who need a home.
Single applicants in Killarney are on the list for 14, 15 or 16 years before they get a house. That is the gospel truth. There are no four-bedroom houses in Killarney for applicants and landlords are leaving the market. It is very unfair that people who have been on the housing waiting list for nine or ten years and have three children but are in receipt of family income supplement are thrown off the housing list. I ask the Minister of State to do something about that. It will not cost the Government anything.
People have not been allowed to buy a council house since 2015. There are 150 voids in Kerry, including 30 in Killarney, yet the Government will not provide money to put them in order so that they can be rented out.
The Minister is a reasonable man, as I know from discussions with him. We are going around in circles and the housing situation is appalling. I met the Simon Community last Thursday and I want to salute it for the work it does. It told me something I had a fair idea was already happening, namely that there was a 100% increase in the number of homeless people in Tipperary between July 2021 and July 2022. We know that. I want to thank Kathy and Máirín in my office who are inundated on an hourly and daily basis with people from the town of Clonmel and surrounding areas, which never happened before. It is a crisis out there.
I know the State has pulled out all the stops to house Ukrainian people who come here as refugees. I am not knocking that, but people are sleeping in tents and bedsits. Why can we not do the same for our own people? This is ongoing, year in and year out. Schemes are being launched, but they really annoy people. There are fanfares, Housing for All and different acronyms. There are rent to buy schemes. There is a scheme whereby people are supposed to be able to buy a house, but they can only buy a new house. They cannot buy second-hand houses. We have a huge problem with dereliction.
I appeal to the Minister of State to do something about the limits. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, have told all of us the limits are being reviewed. They were reviewed in five counties. Deputy Healy-Rae asked what is wrong with Kerry. What is wrong with Tipperary? The situation in Tipperary has not been reviewed for 11 or 12 years. The limits are way too restrictive for persons with any kind of a job. They will not qualify for a council house, even if the councils were building them. It is an unholy mess. The Minister of State knows that, just as he knows that all of the jargon in the world and all the bluff and blunder from the new Rambo, as I call him - the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien - will not fix it. It is the same old story. I ask the Government to get down and dirty, understand the problems and do something about them.
The Minister of State has spoken about Housing for All. One of the previous speakers on the Government side said that housing completions are up, and I will not argue with that. However, the problem is that the number of evictions is up. I know that for a fact because I am the only Deputy in west Cork who has clinics 52 weeks of the year for two or three days a week. I meet people from Kinsale, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Bantry who tell me they are being evicted from their homes. They do not have a house and are worried about their next move. They are hoping I can come up with a solution.
We certainly help them in every way we can. I pay tribute to the members of my staff, one of whom, Ellen, tells me that she dreads Wednesday because houses sometime come up on choice-based letting, CBL, and the phone goes on fire. Her job for the whole week is to try to deal with housing. We find ourselves in a sad situation.
I met a lady at my clinic in Clonakilty last Saturday who told me she could not sleep. This woman is not a young person. A trend among women and men in their 70s and 80s who talk to my staff is that they are now being evicted from their homes. It is a very serious trend but this lady's was an extreme case. She said she was sick of worry at her door. I was very concerned about her mental health, as well as the fact that she was facing eviction from her house. It is the second eviction she has had in a short time through pure and utter misfortune. She said she was not sleeping the night and begged me to do something for her. I would certainly like to do everything I can but everything is being pushed into the one funnel.
Young people cannot afford to buy houses or build their own homes and everybody is going through social housing. It is like a funnel. The whole thing is going into the neck and the neck is absolutely clogged and bursting at the helm. Young people cannot get or have difficulties getting planning permission. Now we have a 10% levy on cement products to make sure that if they could get it, they will not be able to get a loan. The whole system is cracking at the bottom.
We have a very serious situation. We are hearing about Housing for All but we are not seeing delivery for all. We have more and more homeless people. Without a doubt, there are more homeless people in my home county of Offaly and, indeed, in neighbouring County Laois. It is a very worrying trend. People are at their wit's end. In addition to that problem, many young people and couples who work hard and go to college are locked out of the housing market completely because there are not enough affordable housing schemes.
It is a considerable issue that needs to be tackled head-on. I am very concerned that we have approximately 495 AHBs in the country and, last year alone, €500 million was spent on them. Are they delivering? It would appear that they are falling far short. I recognise the good work of some AHBs but not enough work is being done. Billions of euro have been spent on these bodies in the past number of years, yet we are not seeing the delivery that should be equivalent to that. I ask the Minister to ensure that a value-for-money review is carried out immediately because I am very concerned that taxpayers' money is being wasted here and we are not seeing delivery. I call that waste. It is no way for a prudent government or a government that should be prudent with finances to behave.
Only five counties were included in the changes to income thresholds. County Offaly was left out and I am concerned about that. I welcome that County Laois was included but it is unfair to have certain counties excluded from the changes in income threshold. The average rent is €1,200 in County Offaly. Who can afford to pay that, in this day and age, with rising electricity costs and people deciding between buying food or fuel? That is the harsh reality. I ask the Minister to take on board what I have asked him, especially with regard to the value-for-money review of AHBs.
I thank the Minister for all the work he and his team are doing relative to the State's resources and the circumstances we face. Budget 2023 provided critically-needed measures to cushion the economic blow of the increasing cost of living. There is no doubt that the short-term targeted measures will provide relief for families. It is for that reason I welcome the provisions in the budget.
I specifically welcome the tax credit for renters, which is a proposal I had raised internally in the Green Party as a key housing priority and, separately, with the Taoiseach during Questions on Policy and Legislation. However, I hope that the tax credit will be expanded beyond 2023 and continue for subsequent years.
Having said this, subsidies and rent reliefs are not the solutions to the housing and rental crisis and we cannot lose sight of this. The increased supply of cost-rental, affordable and social housing is what will help us emerge from this crisis. Recent figures that I have witnessed are pointing in the right direction with respect to the construction and completion of housing for our citizens.
Although we are the smallest of the three coalition parties, it is important that we do not underestimate the impact the Green Party has had so far on the Government's housing policy. Green-Party-mandated policies are being delivered. These policies include 30,000 cost-rental units through the LDA alone; legislation for 100% public housing on public land; the abolition of co-living and strategic housing developments, SHDs; provisions for community-led housing; tenures of indefinite duration; increased notice periods for tenancy termination; the expansion of housing first; and a vacant property tax.
Further to these, I recently tabled a Private Member's Bill on defective dwellings which, if pushed through the Dáil, will provide homeowners with a legal redress process. I am also working on embodied CO2measurement and targets to be established by the State to reduce CO2emissions in the built environment.
I have worked and continue to work with the stakeholders with regard to defective dwellings, considering thousands of homeowners are living in defective properties. Defects ranging from balcony faults and fire-safety issues to water ingress have subsequently caused problems with insuring properties, reselling and mortgages being withdrawn.
While we continue to promote home ownership, we need to ensure that the existing homes are safe to inhabit. I welcome the Minister's actions of setting up a working group. Its review has now gone to the next stage where the respective Departments can expedite its findings into a clear redress programme. In the meantime, it is paramount to provide relief for these homeowners and ensure a tax rebate is offered, as I have previously called for.
We need to reduce embodied carbon. Buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy-related CO2emissions. In Ireland, 25% come from operational emissions and 14% come from embodied CO2of materials. We are lagging far behind other EU countries by stalling the introduction of whole-life CO2measurement and targets.
The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage is due to publish its recommendations and I hope the Minister will work to ensure that they are implemented through the regulations akin to Part L of the building regulations. Part L primarily deals with operational emissions and we can be proud to know that Ireland is a world leader in this area. It is a Green Party policy and has brought more people out of fuel poverty than any other policy. I hope the powers that be will make embodied CO2measurement and targets as successful as Part L.
Housing is the number one issue on the doorsteps. It affects many young people, individuals and families. The shortage of housing to rent or purchase in my county, Mayo, is a serious concern and certainly hurts its future economic development. I have been beating the drum for some time on the delivery of an affordable housing scheme, in all Mayo's main towns, following our exclusion from the national affordable housing five-year delivery plan, despite the existing problems. I welcome Mayo County Council's recent submissions to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for an affordable housing scheme in Westport, comprising 11 three-bed units and two two-bed apartments. While this is progress, we need to further progress applications for similar schemes in both Castlebar and Ballina.
The recent decision not to include one affordable house in a 50-unit housing development in Westport, although Part V legislation allows the council to allocate 20% for an affordable-housing purpose, was appalling. It is a testament to where the council's priorities lie. We need to get to a point at which the Oireachtas, which underpins the development of State money, holds local authorities to account on houses and decisions and works with councillors in this regard. There can be no excuse for local authorities not to live up to what is required or lead the way on building houses, both social and affordable.
We need to start policing the delivery by local authorities and chief executives, who should be held to account and appear before the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Whether we like it or not chief executives are not answerable to anyone at the minute. That must change in the context of the Housing for All plan.
Supply is still the biggest issue. While we are making progress, real opportunity exists in vacant and derelict housing stock that could boost our supply. I welcome the new qualifying criteria under the Croí Conaithe (towns) scheme, which supports the provision of additional housing in rural areas as well as urban ones. That was something we brought to the Minster of State's attention numerous times. The response to this initiative has been positive. The €30,000 grant for the refurbishment may not go far enough to incentivise applicants and I would like this doubled to €60,000 in time. That would demonstrate a real seriousness by Government. We should also double the top-up grant from €20,000 to €40,000 where the property is confirmed to be derelict. That would give a grand total of €100,000. This would show serious intent by Government to utilise our existing empty housing stock as a serious option for first-time buyers to complement what we are doing around new developments of both affordable and social housing. It would be an attractive prospect for future homeowners.
While Housing for All provides the policy infrastructure for local authorities to deliver housing targets year-on-year, we have, on the other hand, the Office of the Planning Regulator, which is another unit within the country's bureaucracy. The offices advises our county executives on the zoning of rural towns and the building of once-off rural houses along national roads. The Minister of State will be well aware of the issues this presents when compiling county development plans and local area development plans. It is having a detrimental impact on the future development plans in rural areas. This is something he is very passionate about. It is having major implications for young people who cannot get a house, want to build on their family farm but cannot get the required planning permission. We need to align Government policy in a way that creates vibrant communities, protects the environment and supports sustainable growth.
I raise an issue with the accommodation being provided for the Ukrainian people who are coming here. The majority of it is up to standard but there is a significant number of locations where the accommodation falls well short of standards we could be proud of. I ask the Minister of State to look in particular at a location in Carlow and some locations in Kilkenny. It is reported the accommodation at these locations is mainly occupied by women and children but they are sharing it with men. There are poor facilities, few controls and little supervision. I ask the Minister of State to examine that as a matter of urgency. It was reported today on our local radio and in the local paper.
The ambition the Minister has for fulfilling the policies and dealing with the issue of housing does not seem to be shared by local authorities. They fall far short of what their performance should or could be and there are a number of areas I can point to on that. In County Carlow, a housing estate that has been constructed is currently having to go for planning permission again and it has been suggested to the new developer that he would have to demolish 14 houses to complete the site. How does the Minister of State justify that in the face of a housing crisis? What kind of headline does that set for those who are looking for houses and want to get off the streets, off a sofa or get in some way onto the housing ladder? A housing site has been zoned in Kilkenny to take, say, 100 houses and 50 are complete with infrastructure there to take 100. A road was completed and handed to Kilkenny County Council and now it has dezoned that land and, therefore, the site cannot be completed. Those living on the half of the site that is completed and occupied are now demanding that the part of estate yet to be completed be given planning permission and moved ahead. Those are just two examples of the disconnect between the Minister's ambition and the local authority in question.
Small changes could be made. There was a successful social housing programme in years when we could not afford it. The councils took charge of it, they built the houses and they were responsible for procurement. However, nowadays you have to go to the council for everything. If you are transferring from one house to the other you have to get permission. The council has to get permission to refurbish that house due to the cost and so on. There are many other blockages of red tape and bureaucracy that could easily be removed if the council was given the permission to fulfil its own needs. Councils are the holders of all the information on all the types of houses that are needed. As other speakers have indicated is the case in other areas, a person cannot get a four-bedroom house from the local authority in Kilkenny and, therefore, the housing needs of that cohort cannot be fulfilled. The planning of all this needs to be streamlined. The Minister of State needs to give direction on the planning process and the delivery of these houses.
The An Bord Pleanála scandal has not helped us, nor has the 10% levy or the fact that there illegal quarries that we may yet have to pay for because they are continuing to supply materials through the chain of delivery for the construction of houses and roads. That needs to be examined. I ask the Minister of State to look at these issues carefully and bring forward some sort of plan that will resolve it.
Last of all, Irish Water continues to be a blocker of all developments. It is preventing houses from being delivered in Bennettsbridge, Gowran, Paulstown and other villages in County Kilkenny.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. "Housing for All" is the wrong title because it would be more accurate and honest to say "no housing for a substantial number of people" and in particular, the 10,805 people who are homeless. That is 7,585 plus 3,220, giving a total of 10,805. It is important to read these figures out to the Minister of State because these are people who are homeless. As I have asked repeatedly, and at the risk of boring him with repetition, at what point does the Government say our housing policy is not working? Will it be 11,000 homeless or 15,000? I wonder what figure will give the Government cause for reflection because it has not happened yet.
Today in Galway city, homeless people being accommodated in bed and breakfasts must leave them at a particular hour, stay out all day and come back at 6 in the evening. I understand in a number of premises no visitors are allowed. This is what we are doing to people. On top of that, I am reliably informed the council is saying its homeless accommodation is full. If it was an exception I would understand but this is a direct result of the Government's policy and the previous Government's policy. I had 17 years as a city councillor and from 2009, no local authority houses were built, full stop. Shortly after that, the then Government brought in HAP, told us there was no other game in town and proceeded to house people in private accommodation on taxpayers' money, plus a top-up payment. It used to be an under-the-counter payment and then it was a top-up payment. The Government privatised the system of housing. That is what it did. The Government is putting more than €1 billion into HAP alone. Every time I stand up here heads are shaking as if we have an ideology. I believe housing is a fundamental right. Without shelter and security of tenure, you cannot participate in society.
It is difficult even to be healthy with the constant moving and insecurity. Let us look at some of the Government's own targets. Nearly two thirds of all local authority home loans have been declined since the scheme opened at the start of the year. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Housing Agency found that by 2021, the agency's completed acquisitions figure was 868 residential units, 54% of its target. What does the Government do? It continues with schemes that are actively bolstering the market. Let us look at its very favourable help-to-buy scheme and the review that it did not publish until it had made the announcement. It states:
The scheme promotes demand for new housing in a market where the problems that exist are unequivocally supply restraints. [Let us look at this] There are weaknesses in the help to buy scheme [the report authors are trying to help the Government with this very awkward sentence] and it cannot be concluded that it is sufficiently efficient to represent good value for money. Consequently, we conclude that it should be withdrawn ... A rational approach would not design this scheme as it currently exists.
It cost €200 million alone this year. It is going to exceed €1 billion from the time it was brought in. It is helping those who are richer and do not need a deposit. All of that is set out. The Minister then takes the one sentence where it says the Government cannot do away with it now, it has to renew it for two years because it has become too big to fail. It is embedded with the other policies that are bolstering the market. What we need is public housing on public land along with many other changes.
I draw the attention of the Minister of State to proposals for a renewed repair and lease scheme that Simon Communities Ireland launched last Thursday. It states that Housing for All has set out low targets for the delivery of properties under the repair and lease scheme with only 130 units envisioned for 2023. Simon Communities Ireland proposes that a target of 5,000 vacant units in 2023 and again in 2024 be set, with the potential for review in 2025. These homes would increase the social housing supply. Each local authority would have individual minimum targets. They go on to explain how it can be implemented. I ask that the Minister of State bring that to the attention of the Minister.
Housing for All is not going to resolve the housing crisis and disaster we have been in in recent years. In 1946, 26% of Irish households rented their homes from a private owner. By 1991 that figure was down to 8%. By then, most people who paid rent for their homes did so to their local authority, benefiting from reasonably well-regulated construction - not the thousands of homes that are now facing fire and building defects built during the Celtic tiger era - security of tenure, and protection from arbitrary increases. This social contract was ripped up. What Government ever sought a mandate to tear it to shreds? No Government ever did. The State, in effect Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, decided to bring back 19th century landlordism to reshape Ireland as a nation beholden to private property owners. A recent ESRI report tells us that fewer than 20% of Irish people born in the 1950s or 1960s lived in rented accommodation in their mid-30s. For those born in the 1970s this rises to just over 30%. For those born in the 1980s it is more than 40%. These figures are mirrored on the other side by a dramatic decline in homeownership among young people. More than 60% of those born in the 1960s lived in a home they or their partner owned by the age of 30, whereas the comparable figure for those born in 1970 was 39% and for those born in the early 1980s it is 32%.
The immediate symptom of the crisis is the increase in rents. They have doubled in the past decade. In Dublin, they are now 52% above the peak of the Celtic tiger era. There are now 10,805 people in emergency accommodation. This is the eighth consecutive month where the number of people accessing emergency accommodation has risen. Some 3,220 are children, which means nearly three children become homeless day. That is the reality for a lot of families. We see it in our own constituency office. Other Deputies have referred to it as well. Emergency accommodation is practically full. The hubs are full as well. We had a young mother in our office the other day with her two-year-old child who is sofa surfing. She is on HAP and cannot find accommodation. She is very distressed. Notices to quit and long-term living without a home are causing major stress. Sam McGuinness from Simon Communities Ireland stated, "The picture is ominous as we face into the cold, dark winter months ahead and no real clarity or hope in Budget 2023 to support exits out of homelessness." Again, regarding public housing on public land, we have enough rezoned land to build 100,000 public houses over the next period and that has been the case for the past four years. The Government is not resolving the crisis. It is just not.
Given that I have only two minutes, I will be brief and to the point. The Minister and those on the Government benches can trumpet all the aspirational figures they want. The stark reality is these targets are not being met and will not be met. This plan is failing and will continue to fail. It is failing primarily because it is built on a foundation of sand that is the Government’s hard right-wing ideological belief that the market will provide, a blatant fallacy that time and time again has produced the same failed result, yet Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party remained wedded to it. It must be some political form of Stockholm syndrome.
At a recent meeting with Donegal County Council we were told that while they have a target of 878 housing units by 2026, their realistic output will leave them approximately 30% short of this figure. They are hamstrung by the inability to fund appropriate land purchases. The latest Housing for All quarterly report noted that in Donegal since its inception, AHBs have had no funding whatsoever approved. I raised the issue of the financial matrix that is constraining AHBs in rural counties such as Donegal with the Taoiseach in March this year.
Nothing has been done. Since the budget last week, I have been inundated with calls from across the constituency from those near the income thresholds for social housing asking were they going to be kicked off the list. Did the Government even consider this at all during its budget preparations? Were the Ministers hoping it would be missed and that they would get to skim another raft of people off the list and claim it as a policy victory? If they shorten the list, surely they are having success in providing housing. The Government has increased the thresholds for only five of 31 local authorities last month. There was not rhyme or reason as to how this decision was arrived at. The Government does not know the true scale of the crisis because it does not want to know. All the fancy infographics in the world will not change that. The reality is that if the Government increases the social welfare figures, it is going to throw people off the list. Is it going to change that? Maybe it should announce now that people will not be removed from the list. Unfortunately, I believe they will be and that will be a success as far as the Government is concerned.
I thank all the Deputies for making contributions in this important debate. I have no doubt that no Deputy in this House, Government or Opposition, underestimates the gravity of the current housing challenge that is presented throughout all our communities. All Members have family and friends who are feeling this acute crisis throughout the country that we are trying to respond to. As a constituency Deputy doing clinics on a weekly basis, I too hear the frustrations of my constituents who are in very difficult situations trying to resolve housing solutions in a sustainable way for them and their families. That is why our resolve to unlock this crisis is right across government and backed up by a €4 billion multi-annual plan, a plan that has 213 actions trying to ensure that our State ramps up capacity and delivers much-needed sustainable homes right into our community.
The evidence is there. The hope is there for communities throughout the country. Some 25,000 homes have been completed in the past year, with 28,000 homes currently under construction and new planning permissions, which have improved in the past year, for 44,000 homes. Commencements are an on upward trajectory right across the economy, which is the evidence that communities can look at. People can see builders in their communities delivering homes that are so much needed in all sectors, both public housing and private housing, which is so essential for our economy. We have gone from the third lowest in the EU for house completions right into the top five. That shows the significance of the improvements being made across our economy.
Looking after the most vulnerable, as I do in my portfolio in the area of Traveller accommodation, we are hopefully, for the third year in a row, on the cusp of spending all our capital budget. We will have a significant increase next year of 10%, which is vital for the communities I work with. We continue to implement the expert review across government, ensuring we have a delivery mechanism – our programme board – to watch as a guardian over the 31 local authorities to ensure delivery.
Viability is a key part of Government as we try to ensure that the many planning permissions granted throughout the State are unlocked and activated in order that communities feel the benefit. Across this Government and the previous one, we have provided record funding for the urban regeneration and development fund to support our cities and regional towns to ensure compact and sustainable growth as we face a huge climate challenge. Homes are being made viable for the private sector to unlock.
Our zoned land tax is being legislated for through the Finance Act and mapping processes are under way in the local authorities to ensure the days of speculating, sitting on and hoarding zoned land come to an end. A significant taxation tool is coming down the line to ensure that communities feel the benefit of houses being delivered. The Croí Cónaithe fund is also to assist with viability, with which the majority of the Opposition disagrees, in rural towns throughout the country. This will bring derelict and vacant homes back into use to support local towns and ensure schools can hold on to an extra teacher, GAA clubs can flourish and local shops can be kept open. This is building sustainable communities, which is important. We will shortly have the heads of Bill to provide for land value capture and sharing, another mechanism to ensure the State gets the value of the uplift from development gain through increasing property prices.
These are radical measures that this Government is taking to try to tackle the housing crisis. We will continue to see the benefit of all those mechanisms in the supply of new houses. In addition, we have a vacant homes tax and ready-to-build scheme, which give people options.
Many Deputies spoke about rural planning and the challenges that some communities face in that regard. We can see from the rates that 85% of all rural planning applications are approved. However, the Government is giving options. If people cannot meet the threshold, they will have an opportunity to get a serviced site in their town or on its periphery and have that option to build their forever home. That is what this Government is about - activating planning permissions and ensuring that communities have a chance to get sustainable tenancies.
Believe me, every single week in my clinic I hear the voices of vulnerable people who are looking for communities. I tell people every week in my home town of Mullingar that hundreds of new social homes are currently under construction. I can point out to people who are frustrated and feeling the pain that in their community there are builders on site delivering new social homes. There is a huge amount of hope that their problem will be resolved. While I appreciate it is difficult in the short term, the hope is there.
I will turn to what the Opposition, particularly Sinn Féin, is proposing to resolve this crisis. I have heard the Sinn Féin spokesperson, Deputy Ó Broin, state in many television and radio debates that he could deliver 20,000 new public homes next year. Notwithstanding the huge issues we have with capacity, we have 167,000 construction workers now working across the economy. Notwithstanding the changes in supply chains following the war in Ukraine and other issues that have arisen as we try to grapple with price increases, Sinn Féin's silver bullet for increasing residential property building is to increase commercial stamp duty by 66%. What does that do for the vital resources that make up the cake that runs our economy and builds all those social homes? It stops enterprise, business expansion and farmers seeking to expand our agri-industry. It stops all those key employers that are generating the resources this country so badly needs. The Opposition will increase stamp duty by 66% to stop all that. At a time of crisis, when this Government is trying to encourage landlords to stay in the marketplace and we know that 85% of landlords own either one or two homes, Sinn Féin’s answer is to charge an extra €400 per unit through taxation. It wants to tax small landlords more as they leave the marketplace. That is the answer from the Opposition.
We saw that the rent tax credit was totally unfunded in Sinn Féin's alternative budget. Again, it is basing targets on the pricing strategies of 2021 when so much has changed. We need to look hard when we are trying to offer solutions. Sound bites can look good on social media as people look in. However, the raw evidence is that Sinn Féin is trying to slow down an economy and almost bring it to a halt. Deputy Ó Broin has been asked many times on national television how proposes to take construction workers from the commercial sector. Doing that comes at a significant price.
We have to try to continue to ramp up construction for all society and ensure completions remain on an upward trajectory. We need to look at the evidence in our communities where builders are on site delivering high-quality A-rated homes to the best regulation now right across our country in a plan-led environment. We have the right homes going into the right locations for the first time ever in this State. We are getting away from the past when we had more than 10 million homes zoned and no infrastructure aligned to zoning. We are now in a very good plan-led place. I appreciate that it is frustrating for a cohort in society for whom we are trying to unlock this.
I repeat that the evidence is there and we have to stick the course. Across government, we will ensure that people get much sought-after homes and the opportunity of realising their dream, their rightly-held aspiration to own their own home. That is what this Government is about.