Wednesday, 26 October 2022
Social and Affordable Housing Supply: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann: notes that:— Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland is failing to meet its hopelessly inadequate targets to increase the supply of social and affordable housing;further notes that:
— according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, the most accurate estimate for households with a housing need may be close to 122,000, when you include those on the waiting list and in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and other housing support payments;
— of the 4,100 affordable and Cost Rental homes promised for 2022, only 325 affordable and 234 Cost Rental homes have been delivered to end of Q2 2022;
— of the 9,000 social homes promised for 2022, only 1,500 have been delivered at the midpoint in 2022;
— homelessness figures have risen in the last year from 8,475 to a record 10,805 people in August, including 3,220 children;
— according to the Government, 2,273 households could have faced eviction over the winter, but that could have been higher if we take into account those who received a termination of tenancy date that was prior to the emergency period as set out in the Residential Tenancies (Deferment of Termination Dates of Certain Tenancies) Bill 2022; and
— according to the Economic and Social Research Institute, the proportion of households eligible for social housing or social housing supports, such as HAP, RAS and leasing, fell from 46.8 per cent in 2011 to 33.9 per cent by 2019, and this has undoubtedly fallen further over the last two years because of the failure of the Government to raise social housing income thresholds;— the Government has committed to introducing an eviction ban from November 2022 to the end of March 2023;calls on the Government to:
— many tenants who receive Notices of Termination on grounds of sale are in HAP, RAS or Rent Supplement properties, where the State is already paying the majority of the rent;
— many others who receive Notices of Termination have incomes above the income thresholds for social housing or social housing supports, but are unable to find affordable rental properties or property to purchase;
— according to Census 2022, there are 166,752 vacant homes, excluding holiday homes, across the State, of which 48,387 have been vacant for at least six years;
— there are also an estimated 22,000 derelict sites across the State; and
— sites with full planning permission for 80,000 homes are being held by developers and investors that are not being built on, and delivery of private housing is falling short of targets; and— use the period of the five-month ban on evictions to pursue, by all means at its disposal, an increase in the provision of social and affordable homes, above the targets set by Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland;
— introduce a "Use it or Lose it" scheme, whereby vacant and derelict properties and sites that are not activated within six months without reasonable excuse are acquired by the State, if necessary, by means of a compulsory purchase order, and such acquired properties and sites will be developed and made available for social and affordable housing;
— ensure local authorities acquire HAP, RAS, Rent Supplement properties and other rental properties where the tenants are in receipt of a no-fault Notices of Termination on grounds of sale and where that acquisition would secure that home for the tenants;
— ensure that local authorities embark on a pro-active programme of acquiring rental and developer properties that would be suitable for social and affordable housing, above the current Part V requirement;
— increase income thresholds to ensure all households unable to afford private market rents and house prices are eligible for State housing supports;
— impose tax measures to ensure that developers and corporate landlords do not profit from the foregoing acquisition programme; and
— establish a State construction company and, in coordination with local authorities, speedily progress public housing projects, retrofitting and maintenance of public housing, thereby eliminating the long delays that arise from tendering and outsourcing processes, and the risk of public housing projects stalling or collapsing due to withdrawal or non-delivery of contractors or developers.
I cannot believe that the senior Minister is not present for the debate on this motion.
It is just unbelievable. We are facing an unprecedented housing, homelessness, and accommodation crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people have been let down by the Government not providing the most basic thing, namely, a secure, affordable roof over the heads of individuals, families, and children. There are 122,000 households on the various housing lists. Almost 11,000 families, including 3,000 children, are in homeless accommodation. Thousands of Ukrainians, who have fled war and conflict and are in desperate situations, are being failed by the State and the Government not providing a basic thing, which is to have a roof over their heads.
The motion points out that the answer to this crisis is staring us in the face. According to the census, there are 160,000 vacant properties in this country, 48,000 of which had been empty for the six years since the previous census. In addition, although we do not do a proper count of derelict properties, it is estimated that there are at least 20,000 derelict properties. The answer to the housing crisis, to the homelessness misery, and to the desperate situation of Ukrainians who need and deserve our assistance, is staring us in the face. It is for the State and the Government to take the necessary action to bring derelict properties into use to house all those who need a secure, affordable roof over their heads.
We are proposing a number of measures that could begin to address the crisis because we do not want to just give out about the situation. The central solution, which we have not even included in the motion because we have put it out there so many times, as have others, is for the Government to dramatically ramp up construction of its own public and affordable housing on the abundant public land that is out there. To understand the scale of the Government's failure in this regard, I refer to my area, which is one of the areas worst affected by the housing crisis. Even if the targets are met in the Dún Laoghaire area, when the Housing for All plan concludes in 2026, more people being on the housing waiting list than there are now. That is how inadequate the plan is.
As our motion sets out, the Government is failing spectacularly to meet its own targets for the delivery of social and affordable housing. The Government's target for 2022 is 9,000 social homes, but it had delivered only 1,500 halfway through the year. The Government promised 4,100 affordable and cost rental homes, but it has only delivered 325 affordable homes and 234 cost-rental homes halfway through the year. These are hopelessly inadequate targets. The ability of the Government to implement even its own targets is hopelessly inadequate.
We acknowledge that, albeit belatedly and under massive pressure from the Opposition and as a result of the public outcry, the Government finally brought in an eviction ban. If you want to address an unprecedented homelessness crisis, the obvious thing to do is to prevent further people from being driven into homelessness, which the Government has allowed to happen on a spectacular level over recent years. In just one year, the number of people in homeless accommodation went from 8,400 to 10,800 because the Government allowed people to be evicted into homelessness. Looking at the situation in Tathony House, Dublin 8, you get an idea of the motivations behind people being driven into homelessness. The owner of the 35 properties is estimated to be making an income of €700,000 per year and is claiming financial hardship as a justification for evicting 35 households. That is absolutely disgusting. Even the eviction ban the Government brought in has a loophole such that any tenant who got a termination date before the introduction of the legislation could be evicted in the coming months, in the depths of winter, which is something the Government had better amend in the legislation that will come before the House this afternoon.
I refer to immediate solutions. If we have 166,000 empty properties, of which 48,000 have been empty for six years, and 20,000 derelict properties, the answer is simply for the Government to take those properties under its control, refurbish them and use the necessary construction capacity to make them available as social and affordable housing. However, the Government refuses to do that. For four years, I have been pointing to an example of that in my area. Some 17 apartments at St. Helen's Court have been empty for two to three years and the landlord - a vulture fund - has been trying to evict the rest of the tenants for a number of years. The Government will still not take control of those properties. We maintain that there should be a use-it-or-lose-it provision. If a property is vacant for more than six months without good reason, the State should acquire it, by means of compulsory purchase order if necessary, in order to deliver social and affordable housing.
Similarly, there are 80,000 sites with planning permission. In many cases, however, developers are sitting on those sites, drip-feeding housing and watching the value of their properties go up. In fact, the worse the housing crisis gets, the more money they make from the value of their properties. Such sites with planning permission should be taken over by the State in order to deliver social and affordable housing,. The Government should create a State construction company in order that we are not dependent on private developers to do it. We should do it directly ourselves.
None of this is natural or inevitable. The scale of the housing crisis and how it affects ordinary people is a consequence of policy. There are almost 11,000 people in emergency accommodation, more than 3,000 of whom are children whose lives will be forever blighted by their experience. Hundreds of thousands of people are stuck living with their parents because they cannot afford to rent. Some 250,000 people are on the social housing waiting list, or are on HAP or RAS precarious private tenancies. Students are asking students unions if they can pitch a tent on campus because they cannot afford a room. Traveller families are in horrific accommodation. Now, refugees are unable to find shelter having fled from war. None of that is natural or inevitable. It is the consequence of years of aggressive neoliberal policies on housing by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, and the Green Party. It is all based on a policy that states the right of those people to a home comes second to the right of developers and big corporate landlords to maximise their profits.
Fundamentally their right to do what they want with their private property, to maximise their profit, comes before the right of society to say no, we want people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world to have a home. It is the consequence of commodification, privatisation and financialisation of housing that unfortunately is taking place right around the world. The issue of vacant properties really gets to the heart of it because this is the most immediate solution to the crisis that people face. There are vacant properties in every community, town and city throughout the State. The most immediate solution is to use those vacant properties for people who need them. It is also the most ecologically sustainable solution because the cost in terms of carbon emissions of bringing the house that is already build up to standard is very low compared to the significant greenhouse gas emissions that come with building a new home. According to Central Statistics Office, CSO, data, based on the recent census, there are more than 166,000 vacant homes across the country. Almost 50,000 of those homes have been vacant for six years or more. Of those 23,000 were vacant even as far back as the 2011 census which is more than ten years ago. On top of that, at the end of 2021, there were 22,000 derelict buildings in the State. Even allowing for a certain amount of over-estimation of long-term vacant properties it is clear there is massive potential to bring vacant properties into use immediately as social and affordable homes for the tens of thousands of households desperate for somewhere affordable to live. The issue is for us to say you do not have a right to leave a home vacant in the context of a housing crisis; that if people do not use it then they will lose it and the State will intervene and compulsorily purchase the home in order to make it available for people to live in.
Beyond that is the issue of planning permissions. An estimated 80,000 housing planning permissions have been granted nationally but not activated. In the Dublin area the most recent housing supply co-ordination taskforce reports that for the last quarter of 2021 planning permission for about 75,000 homes was granted. Of those just under 9,000 were completed and 18,000 commenced, leaving an excess of 48,000 unused permissions. That is almost two in every three planning permissions have not been activated in the middle of a housing catastrophe. The Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance collected data on strategic housing developments. By February 2022 that toxic process had granted permission for almost 70,000 units. Fewer than 13,000 had commenced. Even allowing for those under judicial review there are still 40,000 unused permissions country-wide.
What do we know about who is hoarding this land with planning permissions? Cairn Homes with a stock valuation of close to €600 million owns landbanks that could accommodate 17,700 homes. Of these sites 82% have planning permission or are in the planning process. The vast majority of this land is in or around Dublin. Yet Cairn Homes plans to complete just 1,500 homes this year, in the middle of a housing crisis. Similarly Glenbeigh Properties owns landbanks for more than 15,000 homes but completed just over 1,000 in 2021, in the middle of a housing crisis. Their right to sit on land in order to maximise their profit by building later rather than now is taking precedence over the need for action in regard to the housing crisis. At the weekend The Business Post reported that the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, is now considering buying up “dormant housing projects” or partnering with other developers. I can imagine that will involve some handsome profit for them. Let us acquire these sites at agricultural prices now, cut out the developers and their profiteering, and start direct-building by the State and local authorities. I do not understand what the Government is waiting for. We are in the middle of a housing crisis.
We need a State construction company to deliver all of this, providing thousands of high-quality well-paid jobs and apprenticeships, working with local authorities to repair and retrofit vacant properties for occupation and to build new homes on the landbanks currently being hoarded. The market which this Government defends and allows to rule has failed completely to deliver housing for a very long time now. The State must step in and do what the market will not.
When the Minister, Deputy Noonan, walked in here this morning I asked him why he was here and not the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien. He said he had pulled the short straw, and indeed he has.
I have noticed that the Minister, unusually, has put in an amendment to our motion. We have been listening to Private Members’ motions for months now where there has been no opposition from the Government, it does not argue against us or vote against motions, it just ignores them and lets them run. This one however has been amended. I did a wordcount on it. We have 21 short paragraphs in our motion describing what Deputies Boyd Barrett and Murphy just outlined as to what we think should be a beginning of a solution to the housing crisis. The Minister responded with 50 long paragraphs. This place would drive you to drink to be honest because yesterday the same thing happened at the Committee on Environment and Climate Action. When I asked was there any intention on the part of the Government to go to COP27 and argue for more funding for people who are suffering from the extremes of climate change, a civil servant replied “blah blah blah” for almost 20 minutes. Can we get decent answers to reasonable questions?
This motion poses very reasonable questions and I want to pose a few more. One relates to Tathony House, which has been mentioned, in Kilmainham, Dublin 8. One of our members, a councillor, lives there and has been there for more than ten years. They have spent €120,000 on rent in that ten years. They are now being evicted by a landlord who happens to be, and I say this for a reason because I will follow on with another argument, one of our own, an Irishman called Ronan McDonnell who has made millions out of this block of flats. He is evicting 35 families. Those families are not just Irish. They come from all corners of the planet but they all work here and are rearing their children here. They are all very scared about what is going to happen to them. I wrote to Dublin City Council, DCC, immediately and said that this is in its area and we need housing, the people here are on the housing list, what is it going to do about it. Its answer is basically that there are no housing assistance payment, HAP, or homeless HAP tenancies in Tathony House, there is a very small number of acting housing applications on DCC’s list and it is not straight forward for DCC to intervene, that the tenants in situprotocol cannot be used unless there are HAP or RAS tenants there. Whatever we try to do here with these motions, there are always going to be obstacles. Protocols, rules and regulations are dragged up and brought before us either by local authorities or the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The truth of the matter is that it is a perfectly good site for DCC to buy regardless of who lives in it. We need more public properties into which to get people so that we can house them and give families security. Even if it was a question of buying it and fixing it up there would be permanent homes for people in the future so that they are not putting €120,000 down the toilet in rent over ten years to be told at the end of it that they are going to be evicted.
This is important in the context of the crisis of Ukraine and the numbers of refugees coming into this country. It is phenomenal but the numbers are nothing like those going into other countries. Ireland is in fact down the table on the number of refugees per 100,000 of population that we are taking in. The biggest number of refugees that move around the world when people are displaced go to some of the poorest countries and are allowed to stay there for years with very few supports. When people get frustrated, and I understand it, people are sick of listening to Ukraine refugees getting this, that and the other, and what are we going to do about Ukrainian refugees, I get that, but people have to be careful and remind ourselves that long before Russia ever entered Ukraine to embark on a war, long before there was any crisis in Ukraine, or a refugee crisis, we had a deep, extreme housing crisis here. It was put best to me by a young woman, who has been on the DCC housing list for 19 years, at a public meeting recently in Ballyfermot. Somebody got up and gave out about the Ukrainian refugees and she said “yes, I get it, we all think they are getting everything but I am 19 years on the housing list and that was long before there was ever any crisis in Ukraine”.
This housing crisis runs deep. It will be used to divide people and to put us against each other. When the question is asked about why we do not look after our own first, let us ask who are our own. The landlord of Tathony House is one of our own if that how you describe it. Many of the people who evade paying taxes in this country, many of the landlords who own and sit on empty properties for years and practically all of the politicians in this House, are our own.
I include in that all of the politicians on the opposite side of the House who, after decades of rule by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have brought us into this housing crisis and kept us there.
It is important that the issues be dealt with and that the Minister stop playing games, turn up in the Chamber and defend himself. His amendment reminds me of Lady Macbeth, who could not protest enough when being accused of doing something of which she tried to say she was innocent. As Shakespeare wrote, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". In this case, methinks the Minister doth protest too much because he is guilty of all of the problems that have been laid out this morning. The solutions have to be found urgently.
I want the Minister of State to address the question of how we will deal with local authorities that, even when it is necessary, refuse to buy properties from which tenants are being evicted. Can we deal with specific cases where occupancies do not necessarily tick all of the boxes of local authorities' protocols but do tick the box that is the need of ordinary people and families up and down the country? This would accrue to us more public housing, which would be in our housing stock on a permanent basis. In the case of St. Helen's Court, Tathony House or anywhere else, we need to instruct the local authorities to buy, buy and buy where they can, fix the housing up and make it habitable and permanent so that people can live in proper affordable public housing.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "acknowledges:— that there remain challenges to overcome, one year on from its publication, Housing for All: A New Housing Plan for Ireland is delivering through increased housing supply, a range of affordable purchase and rental measures, new initiatives to tackle homelessness, and ongoing, long-term reforms of the housing and planning systems;notes that:
— that the housing supply is increasing, despite such unprecedented challenges arising from the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, increasing interest rates and supply chain issues; in the 12 months to the end of June 2022 almost 25,000 homes were completed and in the 12 months to the end of September 2022 almost 27,500 were commenced, and last year 9,183 social homes were provided, with the Government's target of 24,600 new build homes for this year on track to be met, and all activity is completely focused on meeting the targets in subsequent years;
— that this increase in supply will be key to meeting demand, moderating price inflation, and addressing affordability for those wishing to rent or buy their own home; and the Government has made the delivery of new homes (social, affordable and private) its priority through the development, resourcing and implementation of the Housing for All strategy;
— that, in this regard, the Government's immediate focus has been on delivering homes for households in the lowest income brackets, and for those facing an affordability challenge, with historic levels of investment (in excess of €20 billion) through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency (LDA) and the Housing Finance Agency over the next five years;
— that over 300,000 new homes will be built by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes, and 18,000 Cost Rental homes; and
— the recent increase in the number of households in emergency accommodation, through concerted efforts by Government agencies, local authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations, the Government continues to address the housing needs of these households and those at risk of becoming homeless, through a wide range of support programmes, including:— the proposed introduction of a temporary stay on tenancy terminations;
— increased funding for void units;
— reinstating delegated sanction to allow local authorities to pursue appropriate acquisitions; and
— modifications to the Repair and Leasing Scheme to open up more opportunities to include conversion of commercial units to residential;— Ireland has signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, committing to working towards the ending of homelessness by 2030, and agreeing to promote the prevention of homelessness, access to permanent housing and the provision of enabling support services to those who are homeless;furthermore, notes that:
— the National Homeless Action Committee has been established; this cross-Government, interagency and stakeholder Committee which is chaired by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage ensures the continued coherence and coordination of homeless related services, policies and actions;
— the new Housing First National Implementation Plan 2022-2026 has also been published and expands Housing First targets, with over 1,300 new Housing First tenancies to be introduced over the next five years; in addition, a Housing First National Office was established in March in the Housing Agency to drive the implementation and a National Director for the Programme has been appointed;
— with regard to the delivery of social housing, over 23,300 households had their housing needs met in 2021 – this is despite the very significant impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on delivery; noting that most residential construction was halted for a 13-week period from January to April;
— the 2021 Summary of Social Housing Assessments showed that there were 59,247 households assessed as being qualified for, and in need of, social housing support: a 4.3 per cent decrease on the social housing waiting list in 2020 and a 35.3 per cent decrease in the social housing waiting list since 2016, when the first annual assessment was conducted;
— the latest Construction Status Report (Q2 2022) shows 8,247 social homes on-site, with an additional 12,327 homes at design and tender stage, and 118 new construction schemes (1,647 homes) added to the pipeline; in total the Construction Status Report provides details on 27,006 new build social homes across 1,566 schemes;
— notwithstanding the strong delivery pipeline, Minister O'Brien continues to emphasise the urgency of maximising delivery, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is working closely with local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to secure additional projects to deliver in the short-term;
— with regard to the delivery of affordable homes, the Affordable Housing Act 2021 and the Land Development Agency Act 2021, both enacted July 2021, are two important foundations that will enable the delivery of affordable housing on the scale required;
— taking into account that 2022 will be the first year of affordable housing delivery (affordable housing schemes having been stood down in 2011), the first affordable Cost Rental homes are now beginning to come into the market, advertised at rates that are 40 per cent to 50 per cent lower than market rent; and these Cost Rental homes are designed to assist households currently facing affordability pressures in the private rental market and targets middle-income households, with household net annual income of less than €53,000;
— homes are now being made available under the Local Authority Affordable Purchase Scheme and the nationally available First Home Shared Equity Scheme supports first-time buyers purchasing newly constructed homes being made available for sale in the private market;
— in addition, a new Local Authority Home Loan has been introduced for those on modest/low incomes who cannot get sufficient funding from commercial banks to purchase or build a home and the Help-to-Buy scheme, which has been a significant support for first time buyers, has been extended to the end of 2024;
— the LDA has an immediate focus on managing the State's own lands to develop new homes, the majority of which will be social and affordable; and the transfer of State lands to the LDA, with potential to produce 15,000 homes, is underway;
— the LDA has also launched Project Tosaigh to accelerate delivery of 5,000 homes on non-State lands where planning permission has already been granted, but not yet activated; and
— in addition, the Government has launched a new Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Fund Scheme to address the current viability challenges and activate housing supply at density in city centres through the delivery of 5,000 apartments for owner occupiers; and
— good progress has been made in advancing the vacancy related actions under the Housing for All strategy, including:— the publication of a 'Town Centre First' approach earlier this year, which provides a co-ordinated, whole-of-Government policy framework to proactively address the decline in the health of towns across Ireland and support measures to regenerate and revitalise them;— the planned introduction of a vacant homes tax in 2023; and
— the establishment of a 'vacancy' unit within the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, led at Principal Officer level, to drive the implementation of the Department's vacancy related actions under the Housing for All strategy;
— the move to a fulltime Vacant Homes Officer in all local authorities;
— dedicated support to local authorities and AHBs via the Housing Agency across a number of programmes, and specifically in relation to the Compulsory Purchase Order programme, and working with partners to unlock the potential to utilise heritage buildings for residential purposes;
— reform of the Fair Deal Nursing Home Support Scheme to remove disincentives for the sale/renting of vacant properties;
— planning regulations, that exempt certain vacant commercial properties from requiring planning permission to change of use for residential purposes, have been extended to 2025;
— the successful launch of the Croí Cónaithe (Towns) Fund Scheme for vacant property refurbishment grants and the 'Ready to Build' grant; and— notwithstanding the responsibility of each Chief Executive for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out their functions as housing authorities, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has sanctioned over 200 posts associated with the delivery of their social housing build programmes, with additional posts being sanctioned for affordable housing delivery;
— the Government is also implementing a suite of measures to facilitate increased residential construction activity and put the housing system on a sustainable footing, through, inter alia:— the Attorney General-led comprehensive review of planning legislation and a new process for large-scale residential developments of 100 plus units has been introduced to bring supply forward quicker;— while very significant global and external challenges have emerged since the Housing for All strategy was published in September 2021, the Government remains focused on achieving the targets set out therein, and as committed to last year, when the Housing for All strategy was launched, the Government is currently reviewing and updating the actions in the plan which will be published in the coming weeks, this will allow the Government to respond to these challenges and redouble the focus on prioritising measures to activate and accelerate the delivery of housing supply.
— legislation introducing a Residential Zoned Land Tax (commencing in 2024 following publication of maps showing land in scope), coupled with legislation being developed to introduce Land Value Sharing and Urban Development Zones, these reforms will help to:— activate vacant land zoned and serviced for housing;— legislative underpinning to a new requirement that residential houses be ring-fenced for individual buyers – almost 16,000 units restricted to single purchasers or social and affordable housing by mid-May as a result of restrictions on permissions, with legislative provision for this 'owner occupier guarantee' incorporated in housing strategies and development plans going forward;
— reduce land hoarding that drives up the value of land and cost of housing; and
— ensure greater community gain from land value increases; and community gain will be secured through a proportion of the uplift in land values for the provision of infrastructure to support development and, where appropriate, social and affordable housing;
— measures to increase construction sector capacity, including greater investment to increase the availability of apprenticeships and training, international recruitment initiatives and the new 'Future Building' initiative to spearhead activation and recruitment for the sector; and
— a number of significant measures to accelerate research and innovation in the sector, including Enterprise Ireland's new Built to Innovate Fund, a €5 million investment for the establishment of a new Construction Technology Centre, and a new Modern Methods of Construction Demonstration Park, which will focus on increasing specialised training capacity and allow us to better respond to skills gaps in the construction sector; and
The Minister will close the second part of this debate. Ours is a busy Department and its Minister and two Ministers of State share duties, as is common. I am sure the Deputies will accept that.
Under fierce pressure from below, the Government is implementing a temporary ban on evictions. That is interesting because we were previously told that a ban on evictions would be unconstitutional. Then Covid came and, under pressure, the Government brought in a ban. It said there were exceptional circumstances and, due to the restrictions on movement for public health reasons, it was necessary to bring it in. Now we have another temporary ban on evictions and the Government is saying it can get away with it constitutionally because it is only of a short duration. The key argument for the ban on evictions is that it is a public good. It is in the public interest and the public interest overrides the sectional interests of landlords and their rights. That is a very strong argument for why a ban on evictions could and should be longer than five months. It is a very strong argument for why a ban on evictions should be for the duration of the housing emergency or the housing crisis we have in this country. I am glad the pressure from below has forced the Government into taking this step, but I point out the timidity of the Government on the issue.
Regarding the legislation on the ban that will be debated later, the only point I will make is that there has to be an explicit protection for people who can show an inability to pay their rent in full. I gave the Taoiseach an example last week of a mother with young children who is faced with a choice between heating, eating or paying her full rent. She might decide to pay half the rent or two thirds of the rent for the winter months to prioritise her kids and their welfare. Under the legislation as formulated by the Government, that woman could receive a notice to quit. She would have the right to go to the WRC but there would not be a guarantee that she would win her case - apologies, I meant the Residential Tenancies Board. I have the WRC on my mind today because the Debenhams workers are in there this morning. That woman should be given such a guarantee. To that end, we have submitted amendments to the legislation and I hope those amendments are passed.
I will make a couple of comments on the situation with the Ukrainian refugees and the housing crisis. This has been commented on quite a bit on national radio this morning. The Government and the State have let down the victims of this country's housing crisis. There are nearly 11,000 people in emergency accommodation. It is often wrongly described as us having 11,000 homeless. That is not correct. There are 11,000 people in emergency accommodation but there are tens of thousands of others who are homeless. That 11,000 figure does not include rough sleepers or people in women's refuges. It does not include the huge numbers of people who are couch surfing at the moment, or others.
It is fair to say the State has made some significant efforts around accommodation for Ukrainian refugees, but the key point is the Government and the State are letting down Ukrainian refugees as well. Last weekend, 43 were turned away because of a lack of beds while 35 were forced to sleep at Dublin Airport. The Tánaiste has said there will be no guarantee of housing for people who come in future. People can still come but there will be no guarantee in that regard. They are being let down by the Government and the State. There was a very positive and broad welcome for Ukrainian refugees from the Irish people when they began arriving at the end of February and at the start of March. I believe that sentiment still exists and is strong within society. We saw a brilliant example of that recently in Killarney. Ukrainian refugee families were told at very short notice - 48 hours - that they would be shipped up the west coast to County Mayo. These were people who had kids in school. Some of them were kids in school. They were people who had jobs and good connections in the local community. The local community came out and protested alongside them, highlighted the case alongside them and spoke out. Real congratulations are due to that community. It shows some of the best sentiments within our society.
It is also the case that the failure of the Government and the State to provide housing for all has created a significant amount of discontent, anger and resentment in our society. Many of those who feel that discontent, anger and resentment correctly blame this Government. They know it is the Minister's failure and the failure of the Government. It has created this crisis. One of the Minister of State's partners in government, Fine Gael, has held the reins for nearly 12 years now, although to listen to its members sometimes you would think they were grappling with a crisis they inherited a couple of months ago. Fianna Fáil has either participated directly in Governments or kept Governments in power, de facto supporting their policies, for a period of nearly seven years now. Those people are correct and they are right to blame the Government.
Unfortunately, some of the people who feel that discontent, anger and resentment blame refugees for their plight. If anything, that sentiment is on the increase within society at the moment. To be clear on what I am saying here, Government policy and the Government's failure have created a situation that is lending itself to an increase in tensions between the victims of the housing crisis on the one hand and the victims of Putin's war on the other. All those on the ground know that to be the case and that I am speaking some truth about this. For many reasons, but now for this reason as well, it is urgent that we have a genuine policy of housing for all in Irish society. The Government has been trying to fix this within the framework of the market for years now. It has not worked, it is not working and it is not going to work. That is why we need to break with the policies of the market.
This is why we need an alternative approach. I support the proposal in this motion. It is an important proposal for the establishment of a State construction company. If one looks at the local authority housing estates in Cork city such as Ballyphehane, Garranabraher or Knocknaheeny, there are many successes there. Yes, there are some issues but there are many successes without a doubt. This was public housing. The role of the Cork City Council building unit, which is long since dismantled, was an important part of that. The establishment of a State construction company is an important proposal. I suggest that such a company should not have to compete with the private sector. The private sector should be taken into public ownership, ending the marketplace solutions, and be integrated into such a State construction company. For example, the largest construction company in the State, SISK, employs 2,000 workers. It made €23.3 million profit last year. It was tasked by the Minister of State's Government with building many of the social housing houses that are part of the Government's target. What did SISK do just a matter of months ago? It threatened to pull out of building the social houses unless it got increased payments from the State. What is that? Let us call it by its right name. At a time when we have 11,000 families in emergency accommodation, that is blackmail. It is a threat and it is sabotage. SISK's counterargument would be that there is construction inflation and if they are not compensated their profit margins will be cut and they might even be wiped out. That is not an argument for stopping the building of social housing. That is an argument for having not-for-profit construction and for nationalising that company. While we are at it, we should nationalise all of the major construction companies and integrate them into a State construction company. This includes BAM, John Paul, PJ Hegarty, and others.
I also want to make some points about the defective block levy. It should not be a tax on the product. It should be a tax on the profits and it should be far higher than the tax that was levied on the blocks. The construction industry, the banks, the insurers and the suppliers are the ones who should be taxed from their profits. Of course they have threatened to pass this on as well. Once again, one cannot control what one does not own. If we are going to put all of our resources at the point of attack and go to war on this issue genuinely to build housing for all, for the victims of Ireland's housing crisis and for the victims of Putin's war, those are the kinds of anticapitalist and socialist measures that now need to be taken.
I thank People Before Profit for tabling this very positive motion and for allowing us to support it in the debate today.
I will start by calling out the increasing dishonesty around Government discourse on housing. We have heard many of the untruths here again today. We are told repeatedly by the Government that we will see an expenditure of €4 billion annually for tackling the housing crisis. I have recent figures from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage which confirm that first, direct State capital investment under delivering social and affordable housing is just about €1.8 billion for last year, this year and next year. Even when one adds in approved housing bodies' borrowings and expenditure and the Land Development Agency figures for last year and this year we will not even reach €2.4 billion. I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, that this means if the Government is to reach that €20 billion target that he stated here today, the Government must spend €5 billion next year, the year after, and the year after that. This is something that the Government neither intends nor has the capacity to do.
We also hear regularly that the State is the largest developer. This is also not true. In fact, last year of the 24,000 new homes delivered the State was only directly responsible for the delivery of 1,000 of those, which is 4%. How does 4% equate to being the largest developer in a market? We hear about the largest social housing programme in the history of the State. This is not true. The Government's targets are lower than the original Fine Gael development plan, and for three years in a row the Government has not even been meeting those, as will be confirmed at the end of this year.
The Minister of State said that social housing need is falling. This is not true. If one goes to any local authority and asks for their gross social housing need report we can see that social housing need is increasing. The Government is concealing almost half of all social housing need by taking HAP or RAS tenants off the list. I believe this is deeply dishonest. We hear that this is the Government of home ownership. Let me tell the Minister of State that the more house prices rise the less people can afford to buy them. It is a very simple law of economics and maths. Everything this Government is doing is pushing up house prices: the help-to-buy scheme; the shared equity loan; and the enthusiastic welcome, particularly from Fianna Fáil, for the very high-risk recent changes to mortgage lending rules by the Central Bank. These actually all show that house ownership is going to be increasingly difficult under this Government in the time ahead.
The biggest untruth is that the plan is working. How can the Minister of State say halfway through his term of office that the plan is working when house prices are higher than ever before, rents are higher than ever before and homelessness is higher than it has ever been before? Yes, commencements are up, which is good, but they are only back at 2009 levels and we had a housing crisis then. Yes, planning permissions are up but people cannot live in a planning permission if those planning permissions are not commenced. In fact, contrary to what has been said, the Government housing policy is not only not tackling this crisis, it is making it worse.
Later today we will discuss an emergency winter ban on evictions, which is something many of us in the Opposition have called for before. This is evidence of the Government's failure. It is a demonstration that the Government housing policies are not working.
As we have said over and over again, there is an alternative. We need about 40,000 new homes a year and half of those, which is 20,000, should be public homes, with increased social housing delivery and thousands of affordable homes delivered at a genuinely affordable prices to rent or buy. We need to be bringing some 4,000 vacant and derelict homes back into active use as part of that 20,000 homes every year. It is quicker, cheaper and it is better for the environment. We need to embrace the new high-quality, timber-based products that have been developed here and we must have at least 1,000 zero-carbon timber frame and timber product homes annually.
We also need more action to protect renters. This winter eviction ban, while urgent and necessary, does not tackle the sky-high rents and it does not tackle insecurity of tenure. This is why we continue to argue for a three-year ban on rent increases, for real refundable tax credits to put a months’ rent back into every renter's pocket, and real security of tenure.
With regard to homelessness, other Deputies have mentioned Tathony House. There is a very simple solution. In fact, the local authority can buy it. The local authority can combine social housing funding and cost-rental funding so those tenants who to date were not eligible for social housing could become cost renters. The building could be bought by an approved housing body or it could be bought by a local authority. There is no legal or funding impediment as to why, subject to structural condition of the building, the building could not be bought. In fact, if this Government was serious about preventing homelessness the Minister of State would be calling for such a course of action today. I urge people to support the residents' protest at Wood quay on Saturday.
Crucially, we need a referendum to enshrine the right to housing under the Constitution. We are all waiting eagerly to see the Government's response to the commission later on.
It is clear that the Government is not listening. The Government is not listening to the Opposition but I believe that it is going to have to start listening to the people. All throughout November there will be public meetings in the four local authorities in Dublin organised by Raise the Roof. The cost of living coalition has mobilisation organised for 12 November. Raise the Roof will be organising a major march and concert on 26 November. The Minister of State can either listen to us or listen to the people, but the longer he delays the worse it is going to get. That is why Sinn Féin is more than happy to support the motion before the House.
Despite angry protests from the Opposition and from homeowners who are in the Public Gallery today, the Government rammed through legislation last July on defective concrete block homes. The Government said it was doing this because it wanted to get on urgently with introducing a scheme that could work for the families. Today I put it to the Minister of State that some 500 home-owning families are stuck in stage 1. They cannot get access to financial supports. They are stuck in dangerous homes. In some cases these homes are just not fit for human habitation. If the Minister of State could see them himself there is no way he would expect any family to live in some of these homes. There is a real sense of abandonment. There is a sense that the Government has pulled off a con and that they told the rest of the country that the protests and the stories that we hear, that cause us so much concern, are all sorted now, that the Government signed the cheques and it is all okay. It is far from okay. There are huge numbers of families, from Donegal right down the west coast, who are trapped in despair. We must remember that it is almost three years ago that the Minister announced the first scheme. This became a discredited scheme, which was the so-called "90-10" scheme. It dragged on and on. Then there was this new scheme, which is very limited also. We will introduce amending legislation through our spokesperson Deputy Eoin Ó Broin.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister of State will not task the housing agency and local authorities, be they in Donegal, Mayo, Clare, Limerick and, soon, it is hoped, Sligo and other counties, with assisting families stuck in homes that are not fit for human habitation. How can he force families to remain in those homes this winter? Why is he not helping them find temporary alternative accommodation and paying for it? Do they have to pay for a mortgage and find temporary accommodation which is just not there? Why is he not looking at high-quality modular housing? These things pit one set of people against another and it is wrong. There are solutions for everybody but the Minister of State is making a hames of the whole lot. Please help the families in these dangerous homes, urgently.
I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this motion. By every metric the Housing for All strategy is failing. In Dublin 15, the housing crisis is at its worst ever. In excess of 88 families currently face a notice to quit, an increase of more than 50 in a little over three months. Some are relieved there has been a stay of execution, but for some the ban has come too late and they face a dire situation, particularly those who are overholding. They listen to the news every day and hear there is nothing out there to rent, and they have witnessed over the weekend Ukrainian citizens and others seeking international protection being told they have nowhere to go and to sleep on the streets. That is despite the promises from Government that there would be accommodation. It is shocking.
I asked the Taoiseach last week about emergency legislation to put to use on a temporary basis land that is owned by local authorities but zoned other than residential, such as GE or HT, that is close to other homes and services and that can be brought into force quickly. Will the Minister engage with Fingal County Council and allow it to use special temporary legislation currently being used by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and fund modular housing for local authorities to keep Dublin 15 citizens beside their schools, jobs, sports clubs, friends and families?
A cohort of families and workers, especially those outside the income threshold for housing, are at real risk because they do not qualify for housing assistance payment, HAP. They are trying to find accommodation and cannot afford it. We heard of a man living in a tent with his family. That will happen more and more because rents are completely and utterly out of control. Working families are unable to secure the limited housing available and are faring very badly. In a few short months, there is an opportunity to give people hope. We and the people need to hear from the Minister of State. People facing homelessness need to hear from the Minister of State and the Government what radical measures will be put in place to keep people in their homes with a roof over their head.
I thank People Before Profit for tabling this motion. It is timely we are having this conversation because on Monday my colleague, Councillor Noel Connolly, brought a motion to Kildare County Council seeking the establishment of a dereliction task force. The meeting was told the council is in the process of setting up a town regeneration team, which it is hoped will make some effort to address the blight of dereliction that is rampant in south Kildare and the Portarlington area of Laois and Offaly. It needs an urgent and consistent approach. If we are to make any headway, we need a carrot-and-stick approach. We need to encourage property owners to bring these properties back into use or transfer ownership to someone who will. They need better support but we need to collect levies. In Kildare, there is more than €1 million outstanding. It is not acceptable.
Unfortunately, in some cases the State is complicit in the dereliction. At the top of Main Street in Rathangan the Office of Public Works, OPW, owns a large building that has been derelict for decades.In Newbridge we have O'Modhrain Hall, another building that has been derelict for decades. This building was held in trust for the people of Newbridge to support cultural, music and Irish language purposes. It has recently been sold and there is still no word on thecy-présscheme which will decide how the proceeds of the sale are distributed. I ask the Minister of State to use his influence to see if the O'Modhrain Hall trust has been registered as a charity and when a decision will be made on the proceeds.
I would like to challenge the narrative being put forward by neo-Nazi groups who have raised their ugly head recently to sow dissent. They maintain that the housing crisis is being caused by migrants, which is not true; by people seeking international protection, which is not true; or by people on social welfare, which is again not true. We have a housing crisis because of deliberate Government policy that favours funds over families and treats the roofs over people's heads as a commodity. It has to stop. Sinn Féin in Government will deliver change, a referendum on the right to housing, social and affordable housing and everything necessary to reverse the disastrous policies of this Government, which has presided over a 175% increase in homelessness. It is a disgrace.
I thank People Before Profit for the opportunity to speak and for bringing forward the motion. Government policy has brought us here, in case the Minister of State is in any doubt. It has not happened by accident. What has been described, quite rightly, by Uachtarán na hÉireann as a housing disaster has been caused by six years of Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael policy. The Minister of State will know the Green Party did not exactly leave the housing market in decent shape when it last exited Government, so it shares some of that responsibility. Unfortunately, people who live in my constituency are paying some of the highest rents in this State and in Europe. They are not only locked out of home ownership but they feel home ownership is getting further and further away from them. Some 180 people are known to Fingal County Council to be on notices to quit, 92 of them in my constituency, and we have nothing to say to them because there is nowhere for them to rent. There is no emergency accommodation for these people to go to so people are fretting.
I do not know if the Minister has ever been in receipt of a notice to quit when he has nowhere else to go, but I am sure he, like me, can only imagine what that is like. Those people are worried. Many are overholding and will not be covered unless the Minister of State makes a change to his legislation. They are very anxious. They are seeking something very basic: security and somewhere to live, raise their family and be able to shut the door in the evening and know they can have peace and quiet. It is chaotic to be on a notice to quit. It is chaotic for your children if you are not able to tell them where they will be living in a couple of months. It messes with your mental health in a way I do not think we will understand for many years. It destroys families. Government policy has brought us here. A change of Government policy is needed, but if the Government will not change policy, I suggest with respect it gets out of the way and makes way for a government that will.
Recently at the housing committee we have had local authorities in to give us an update on the Government's housing plan. Each week we hear the news from the Government that local authorities are meeting their targets, so you might think building enough social and affordable housing to meet the need is happening, but it is not. Not one local authority that has been in says that if they meet all targets on social, affordable and cost rentals, that list will not rise. Not alone should we be stopping the lists from rising, we should be trying to reduce the housing crisis.
Using Cork City Council as an example, I will go through a few numbers. That council's target for affordable housing each year is 78 homes. The council has estimated that 3,294 families will not qualify for either a mortgage or social housing in the next five years. How in the name of God does the Minister of State and Government think delivering 78 affordable houses will solve that crisis? Cork City Council thinks it will exceed its social housing targets, which sounds positive, and build 2,134 homes, but it estimates that 2,688 households will join the waiting list in the same period. To make it simple, that means the council's targets, when they are met, will leave it with 500 more families on the housing list than it had before it met any targets. We are talking about thousands of children being detrimentally affected.
Cork City Council needs to build more, but its targets need to be higher. These are Government targets. It is setting targets that are too low and not ambitious enough. Sinn Féin, People Before Profit-Solidarity and the rest of the Opposition are not giving out for the sake of it, which is what the Government always says. We want the Minister to put real ambitious targets in place that will finally deliver and reduce the housing crisis. Right now, the Government's plan is not working and the Minister should consider his position.
I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing forward this motion because it is timely. I have not seen the housing crisis as bad as it is now in Galway city in a very long time. We are having a crisis in all the different strands relating to housing. We are not seeing supply come on stream. People who have been on the housing waiting list for 15 years have had no offer of accommodation. There is nowhere to rent. If the Minister of State went on daft.ietoday to see what he could rent in Galway city, he would find nothing but if he went on a short-term let website to see what he could rent for a few nights in Galway city at huge cost, he would find a lot of places. That is what is wrong in our rental crisis. On top of that, those who have received notice to quit and have nowhere to go have nowhere to go because there is also a crisis in emergency accommodation. It is not good enough for us to ask people to sleep on their friends' couch or live in the spare room or sitting room of their parents' house, as a family with three children. That is not the way things should be. It is absolutely wrong that the crisis is just getting worse.
Galway is a university town with NUI Galway and the Atlantic Technological University, ATU. Students are coming in who have nowhere to go. They are being told to go out to the countryside and see if they can find a place to live. First, that is extremely expensive and, second, there is nowhere there either. Even if they were to find somewhere, there are no buses to bring them into their lectures on time. There were media reports yesterday that there are 30 students in Galway who have been unable to get to their lectures in NUIG on time because a few Government crises have come together: accommodation and transport. The buses that are supposed to be bringing these students in on time are not doing that. It is affecting everyone in Galway: those who have literally nowhere to go; the students who are trying to learn; and everyone in between who is trying to support these families. It is simply not good enough.
The facts are clear. One year on from the publication of Housing for All, the Government's signature plan is failing and failing abjectly. The Minister of State might think that as an Opposition Member that I would take some pleasure in reminding the Government of that, but I do not, because we need a plan that works. We need a housing plan for all but this is not it. I take no pleasure in saying that because housing is the single biggest social and, arguably, economic issue facing this country. It is the number one issue based on the contacts from my constituents to my office, at my clinics or when I speak to those I represent on the streets of Louth and east Meath. The way we as a State approach the basic fundamental question of housing has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. When I first became a public representative, which I think was around the same time as the Minister of State, local authorities were more or less building a sufficient number of homes to meet demand. That is not to say that there not problems. There certainly were at back in the 1990s. At that time it meant that we, as elected representatives, worked with housing officers in local authorities to make the case for our constituents who were eligible for social housing to have them housed in a timely period. More often than not, those reasonable expectations were met. The local authority provided them with the support they needed and the State provided the local authorities with the support they needed, by and large.
We had some agency, as public representatives, to advocate with and on behalf of our constituents, but now, with the dreadfully low level of social and affordable homes available, constituents of mine have been reduced to coming into my office or stopping me on the street and asking, for example, for references for private landlords for properties they will probably never be able to rent. They feel they have no agency. They have been on a housing list for up to 12 years. I feel, as a public representative of 23 years' standing, that I have no agency with the local authority. We are having meetings with housing officers in local authorities and making cases to them for properties that simply do not exist and they are not going to exist this time next year and they are not going to exist in two years' time either. This is becoming increasingly difficult.
All this changed in the early- or mid-2000s with the financialisaton of our housing model. Despite what the spin attached to Housing for All claims, the reality is that not much will change during this Administration's time in office. There is an over-reliance on private developers to address the housing crisis and piecemeal tax breaks for landlords and renters that fail to understand the extent and depth and nature of the problem, while all the time maintaining the destructive speculative model that is undermining the fabric of our society and our economy. We do not have a functioning housing system. A working system would not see more than 11,000 people homeless, and that is an underestimation of the real figures. A system that works would not see hundreds of people queuing around corners, waiting to view properties they will never be able to rent and certainly never be able to buy. Yes, we need an eviction ban, a three-year rent freeze and to adjust HAP limits throughout the State. Yes, we need to build more private homes in sustainable communities and get our act together to deal finally and fundamentally with dereliction and vacancy to bring homes back into use. Yes, we need to ensure income limits for public housing are increased to €40,000, and we fundamentally need to tackle hoarding of land that is ripe and ready for housing developments with the kind of penal taxes and disincentives we see applied right across western European economies. The systemic solution is staring us all in the face: the need to build more social and affordable homes - end of story. We also need to identify and acknowledge the fact our broken system has an extreme over-reliance on State subsidies for private rental accommodation to provide social housing through current expenditure programmes like HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and social leasing. What started out as short-term schemes, in some cases specialised support schemes, have now become a deeply embedded feature of our social housing system.
Our ultimate goal should be to phase out those kinds of systems and ensure systems such as HAP and RAS are only used as short-term measures until a person or family with an identified housing need is permanently housed in public owned buildings or by approved housing bodies. We need to allocate, as the Labour Party has proposed in its alternative budget this year, an additional €1.43 billion in capital for the delivery of housing in 2023. In this year's budget we would have invested enough to deliver 20,000 social and affordable homes in 2023.
According to revised estimates, the target for social housing units through old build programmes in 2022, was 9,000 homes. These targets are unlikely to be met. Approved housing bodies were this year to deliver 3,850 homes, with 400 through the capital assistance scheme and the remainder through the capital advanced leasing facility. At least another 100 were to come through the national regeneration programme. The balance of approximately 5,050 homes would come from the local authority housing budget of €1.238 billion according to the Government plan. The proposed build programme under Housing for All in 2023 is to deliver 9,100 social homes in all. That is nowhere near sufficient given the needs and targets this year, targets that will not be met in any case.
As provided for in our costed alternative budget, we would provide an additional €835 million in funding from excess corporation tax receipts to build an extra 2,900 local authority homes next year on publicly owned land.
We propose to more than double the annual delivery of cost-rental and affordable housing. These two streams would ensure that 4,000 affordable-purchase homes and 4,000 cost-rental homes would be delivered in 2023, partially funded through the scaling down of the help-to-buy scheme and the first-home shared equity scheme. I remind both the Minister and Minister of State of the reality of the deadweight nature of these schemes, as enunciated by the ESRI and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the inflationary effect on the cost of purchases by first-time buyers.
As noted by previous speakers, the answer to our housing crisis is staring us in the face. It is fundamentally about scaling up social and affordable housing provision. In reality, Housing for All does not come anywhere close to meeting the demand that exists and that we will face in the future. There needs to be a refocusing and a genuine national effort regarding social and affordable housing. It is on this that the Minister will be judged.