Tuesday, 7 November 2023
Housing: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann: condemns Budget 2024 for:— providing no additional voted capital expenditure on 2023 levels;notes that under the current Government:
— not increasing the Government's inadequate social and affordable housing targets;
— excluding reforms of the public spending code to speed up the delivery of social or affordable housing;
— including no new measures to tackle dereliction and vacancy;
— including no new measures to reduce the levels of homelessness; and
— extending policies that push up house prices out to 2025;— house prices have increased 28 per cent, costing on average €70,000 more;further notes, with concern, that the lack of affordable housing is:
— rents have increased by 25 per cent costing on average €3,700 more per year;
— homelessness, including child homelessness, has increased by 47 per cent;
— social housing output has been 33 per cent below target, leaving a shortfall of 8,527 homes from 2020 to 2022;
— just 1,401 social homes of a target of 9,100 were delivered by June 2023;
— zero affordable homes were delivered in 2020 or 2021;
— just 1,007 affordable homes were delivered in 2022, 50 per cent behind target;
— only 123 affordable homes of a target of 3,500 were delivered by June 2023;
— over €1 billion of voted capital expenditure for social and affordable homes went unspent from 2020 to 2022;
— over €1 billion of general Government capital expenditure, including voted capital expenditure, Approved Housing Bodies borrowing and Land Development Agency funding, went unspent in 2022; and
— at the end of September 2023, less than half of the allocated €4 billion general Government expenditure for housing was spent;— undermining public services including education, healthcare, social care and the Gardaí;calls on the Government to:
— impacting on investment, competitiveness and jobs in the private sector;
— forcing an entire generation with good education and job prospects to emigrate; and
— driving increased levels of adult and child homelessness; and— immediately increase the voted capital expenditure allocation for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for 2024, to increase social and affordable housing targets to at least 21,000 in 2024, including 13,000 social homes, 4,000 affordable purchase homes and 4,000 affordable rental homes;
— urgently reform the public spending code in order to increase and accelerate social and affordable housing delivery;
— ensure that at least 4,000 vacant and derelict homes are brought back into use in 2024;
— introduce a three-year ban on rent increases and transform and expand the current renters credit to ensure it provides a full month's rent back into every private renters pocket through a refundable tax credit; and
— include an emergency response to address the escalating homelessness crisis including a doubling of housing first tenancies and the provision of 1,000 social homes to end homelessness for over 55's in a single year and reduce child homelessness.
At the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis at the weekend, its leader, the Tánaiste, said that the Government was objectively making progress on housing. Three and a half years into this Government and the Minister's term of office, let us look at the progress that has been made. In those three and a half years, house prices on average have increased by 28%. That is on average an extra €70,000 for the purchase of a home. In fact, while the Government's counter-motion states that house prices are beginning to moderate, what it fails to mention is that new house prices are not moderating. In fact, the most recent data show they are up by 11% in the last 12 months, in part because of the Government's inflationary demand-side policies.
Rents continue to rise out of control. They have risen by 25% during the Minister's term of office. It is now almost €4,000 more expensive per year for new rents than it was before this Government was formed. Homelessness continues to rise month on month, with a 47% increase in both adult homelessness and child homelessness since June 2020. The Minister's personal legacy is going to be child homelessness; the largest levels of child homelessness since modern records began because there is no sign as of yet of those numbers changing.
With respect to public housing, the Minister's targets, as he knows, were always too low to begin with but he has consistently failed to meet his new-build social housing targets, as well as the delivery of affordable purchase and affordable cost-rental homes. The Minister says regularly, and he will say it again today I am sure, that 30,000 new homes will be built this year, as they were last year, and that is correct. The facts cannot be denied. However, that is approximately 20,000 new homes less than what is actually needed so really, rather than a celebration of success it is an admission of defeat. The Minister is not meeting the required number of new homes that are needed. The Minister said that 500 first-time buyers are drawing down mortgages every week and again, that is correct, but we know from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland that 70% of those are buying second-hand homes. They cannot afford to buy new homes because of the way in which the Government's policies are pushing up house prices.
The reality is that the Minister is not making progress, he is making things worse and to add insult to injury, when it comes to housing budget 2024 is going to make things even worse again. There is no new capital in the Minister's housing Vote. There is not a single cent extra on the voted capital expenditure for 2023. There is no change or increase in the Government's pitifully low targets for social or affordable housing. There are no new measures to tackle the escalating level of homelessness and yet we continue to be committed to policies like the so-called help-to-buy scheme and controversial shared equity loan scheme, which push up house prices and make it ever more difficult for people to be able to afford their own homes.
There is an alternative, however. Year after year, we publish a detailed budget document that sets out very clearly what that alternative looks like. Again today, we published our detailed critique of the Government's budget and our proposals. It is possible to dramatically increase the delivery of social, affordable cost-rental and affordable purchase homes. The minimum that is required is 21,000 units per year. That would need an additional €1.7 billion between voted capital and approved housing body, AHB, borrowing above what the Government has provided for in the budget. That would provide for at least 8,000 genuinely affordable homes for renters but crucially for buyers as well. It would allow us to ensure that at least 4,000 vacant and derelict properties could be brought back into active use, and 2,000 new homes through new building technologies.
We also set out a very clear provision as to how we could end homelessness for the over-55s in a single year. There should not be a single person over the age of 55 in emergency accommodation. Given the numbers of people in that situation, ending it within a year would be very easily achieved. However, we have gone further and shown how the use of new building technologies and emergency planning and procurement powers could allow us to significantly reduce the number of families with children through innovative use of infill rightsizing developments. We have also shown the Minister what a real renter's tax credit looks like, not the badly designed and underfunded one he has provided for that half of renters cannot or are not accessing. It will be swallowed up with rent increases because the Minister has not banned those.
When we look at it in the round, the budget the Government has agreed and put in place for next year will not make things better and it is likely to make things worse. Fianna Fáil is not the party of homeownership. It is the party of rising rents and rising house prices, and the Minister is the Minister of rising homelessness. The Government has had ample time, with 12 years of Fine Gael and seven years being propped up by the Minister's party. His time is up. The longer he remains in power, the worse things are going to get. I will say it before and I will say it again, the only way we are going to start ending this housing crisis is with a general election and change of government and a Sinn Féin housing plan that genuinely delivers affordable homes at prices working people can afford. I commend the motion to the House.
The Government's political strategy with regard to the housing crisis consists of two things that I believe are not true, the first of which is that we have got this under control and things are getting better. By any metric, that is not true. House prices are increasing. They are beyond the reach of the vast majority of people who, as far as they are concerned, are doing everything they can and doing everything right. They are bettering themselves and getting training and an education to get jobs, but a mortgage is just out of reach for them. The rental crisis gets worse and worse and as Deputy Ó Broin has pointed out, the scandal regarding homelessness and particularly children in homelessness has grown out of all proportion. Sometimes this House has actually lost sight of how bad the situation is.
The last two housing cases I dealt with today involved a young father sleeping in his car most nights and a man in his 60s who is facing eviction. These form the daily basis of what we are dealing with at the minute. House prices are increasing and homelessness is increasing and all the targets are being met. However, the other thing the Government tries to insist upon that I believe is not true is to suggest that the Opposition has no substance. That disregards the mountains of proposals that have been produced by Deputy Ó Broin. I would make the point that many of the proposals the Government has belatedly adopted started life on this side of the House, such as an eviction ban, a tax credit for renters albeit that the half-baked version the Minister produced is not adequate, cost rental and cost-purchase housing and tenantsin situschemes. These are all proposals that Sinn Féin and Deputy Ó Broin came up with a long time before the Government proposed them. If the Government had spent less time resisting the proposals and saying they were not possible or workable when they came from this side of the House, we might be an awful lot further on. An awful lot of those things were introduced two or three years, half-baked and half-paced, after they should have been brought in. I call on the Government to listen now to the proposals that are coming forward, which are workable proposals that can finally resolve the housing crisis, rather than continue along the failing path that the Minister and the Government are pursuing.
Housing is a wide issue and impacts so many people in so many sectors. Our gardaí, nurses and teachers are all impacted.
An area of housing that can be forgotten, and indeed is to a large extent, is public housing. I have said before and will keep saying that the standard of maintenance in public housing estates in shockingly bad. The Minister was in Glovers Court and saw for himself the condition of that flat complex. It is appalling. Rats, mould and dampness are having a severe impact on people's health. Leaks and flooding of residences that are owned by councils, and even approved housing bodies, are unacceptable. Gallery Quay, which is not too far from here and only 17 years old, has nothing but problems. The apartments look great from the outside but people should try living in them. The lift in one block has been broken for months now. That lift serves 28 families and, therefore, young and old must climb the stairs day in and day out, yet there is still no sign of it being fixed. Flooding of apartments and no ongoing maintenance is causing serious health issues for residents. The neglect is due to a lack of resources being invested in the flats and means they are becoming more and more run-down. One would imagine keeping the stairwells in the flats would be a fairly simple, straightforward job but the vast majority of stairwells in the flat complexes are disgusting as there is urine, needles and rubbish. The stairwells are untidy and smell disgusting. The failure of Government to build public homes on public land is sentencing families to a lifetime in substandard accommodation and poor health.
Dublin City Council is also adding to the dereliction in streets. It has retail units and is using the ones on Townsend Street to store brushes and bins. It is completely unacceptable. It is not fair to local communities and it needs to be changed urgently.
In its most recent sentiment survey, Fingal Chamber of Commerce states:
The slow delivery of infrastructure, specifically housing, presents a threat to Ireland's competitiveness and reputation resulting in a direct impact on recruiting and retaining employees and, worryingly the ability to attract additional FDI ...
Almost 43% of businesses in Fingal said the availability of housing and rental accommodation is a serious issue for them.
Shortage of housing to buy or rent are significant challenges for big companies in particular with some businesses in the region ... seeking to purchase houses for accommodation for their staff.
The seriousness of this issue is borne out in a new jobs report by Morgan McKinley Ireland Quarterly Employment Monitor. The report outlines that the accommodation crisis is fuelling a brain drain in some sectors as some sectors as young professional[s] are lured by better opportunities and the lower cost of living overseas.
Professionals in the accounting, construction and legal sectors in particular are suffering due to the lack of accommodation in Ireland with job offers regularly being turned down as a consequence.
We have stood on these benches and made logical arguments to the Minister, we have made emotional arguments to him and I am now making a business argument to him. It is very easy to see this in the constituency we both represent. He can see the impact of the housing crisis he has in part created and which he appears to have no interest in resolving, or ability to resolve. At a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Chambers Ireland said:
The greatest challenge facing small and medium enterprises this year is the lack of available talent, which is driven by affordable and appropriate housing being unavailable across most of the country. With a small number of exceptions, our chambers have housing as the main cause of their businesses’ challenges ...
The budget the Minister has approved will not make things better and will, indeed, make them worse. His housing strategy is not working. It is not working in the constituency we represent or anywhere else in this State. We have presented him with alternatives time and time again. We have shown him that his failed housing policy is not the only show in town - in fact it is not any show in town - and it is failing people and letting them down. However, he will not listen and will not change direction. The impact is being felt the length and breadth of this State. People are hurting and now business is hurting. Money is going to leave this State because people simply cannot find anywhere affordable to rent or buy and that is on the Minister.
As the housing crisis deepens, we are all aware Fine Gael has been in government for 12 years and has been propped up by the Minister and Fianna Fáil for seven of those. In every one of those years, the housing crisis has worsened. Under the Government, house prices have increased by €70,000 and rents have increased by just under €4,000 per year on average. Homelessness has increased by 47%. In July, we reached a grim record figure of 12,847 people homeless, which is the highest ever. Some 12,847 men, women and children are homeless in this State in 2023. The Minister's record is beyond shameful.
Ministers regularly come out rattling off figures and statistics to try to gaslight the public into thinking they are actually doing something to solve the crisis but the numbers on the ground of people homeless and the massive increase in the cost of housing tell the real story. In my town of Drogheda, I have constituents who have spent 12 years on a housing list. It is soul-destroying for those people who are locked out of housing, yet the State is spending obscene amounts on sticking plasters such as HAP rather than funding the building of social and affordable homes. A total of 1,401 social homes were built by June, but the target was 9,100. The Minister has consistently failed to meet his targets and, as a result, children are spending their entire childhoods living in unsuitable accommodation, including hotels, hubs, overcrowded multigenerational families homes or unsuitable and unstable rentals. It is fair to say this Government's lack of workable housing solutions has inflicted nothing but generational misery on Irish society.
Fine Gael has been in power for 12 years and since 2016, it and Fianna Fáil have delivered eight housing budgets together. In that time, the housing crisis has only worsened. It has mutated into a social disaster. As we have heard, the average house price has increased by more than €70,000 since this Government took office, thereby pushing homeownership beyond the reach of far too many who aspire to it. Rents are up by nearly 25%. That means the average rent is €4,000 more this year than when the Government took office more than three years ago. This abject failure by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has left so many young people, families and even pensioners without hope. The Government breaks records every month across every category of homelessness, including adults, pensioners and even children. It is the great shame of our society that more than 3,900 children are homeless, with their childhoods spent in emergency accommodation, or worse.
By any measure, the Government has failed. Its housing plan is in tatters and the targets are too low. It is, therefore, incredible that in the recent budget, the Government decided to not increase funding for the delivery of a single affordable, social or cost-rental home beyond the low targets in its failed housing plan, and there were no new measures to tackle the scourge of homelessness. The rate of homeownership is falling under the Government, with all the evidence pointing to a government that is against homeownership. To be clear, the housing crisis can be solved but it will not be solved by its architects, namely, those in Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Change is only possible with a change in government and that is what Sinn Féin is determined to deliver. We will stand up for renters, reduce rents and freeze them and put up to €2,000 back into renters' pockets. We will deliver a public housing programme that meets the scale of the challenge we face, starting with the delivery of 21,000 social and affordable homes, by cutting the red tape that holds up crucial developments and tackling the scourge of vacancy and dereliction and by moving heaven and earth to protect renters and make homeownership a reality for so many who are today without hope. Our people can no longer suffer the failure of the Government as the damage is far too deep and the cost is too high. The Government's time is up; it is time for change.
No single issue excites a greater sense of anger with the Government than housing. Nothing illustrates the failure of the Government to deliver for ordinary workers and families as the housing crisis or the housing disaster. The arithmetic of this failure is absolutely astounding. House prices have increased by 28% and by an average of €70,000 since the Government took office. There has been a rent increase of 25%, which is an average of €3,700 a year, increases to child homelessness of 47%, and the list goes on.
The Government has failed to deliver on its own targets, which fall far short of the level of ambition required to address the housing crisis. A whole generation is impacted by the mess the Government has created in housing, yet there are thousands of vacant and boarded-up local authority houses right across the State. In my own county of Wicklow, there are 145 vacant and boarded-up local authority houses, some of which have been vacant for many years. I am not talking about empty shells of buildings; I am talking about potential lifelines for families who are homeless or are at their wits' end as they linger on lengthy housing lists. Yet the funds from the Government to Wicklow County Council to repair these houses and bring them up to the standard necessary to allow the council to re-let them fall dismally short of what is required. Many people who are lingering on these housing lists in Wicklow and who need one of these houses have been on lists for ten or 15 years. Last year, the Minister's Department had an underspend of more than €500 million and that was for its low targets. Wicklow County Council would deeply appreciate even a small percentage of that to help bring some of those 145 boarded-up houses back to a state where they are no longer boarded up and can be re-let. Then those on housing lists for ten or 15 years who pay exorbitant amounts on private rental accommodation could be in those houses very quickly. The Minister needs to step up to the mark and bring forward proposals to put money into local authorities to bring these houses back to use and ensure the €500 million underspend is spent in delivering his own low targets.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"notes that: — Budget 2024 delivered a record €5.1 billion in capital investment in housing made up of €2.6 billion in exchequer funding, €978 million for the Land Development Agency (LDA) and €1.5 billion for Housing Finance Agency (HFA) funding;
— the capital funding being provided for housing in 2024, coupled with LDA and HFA investment, is the highest ever in the history of the State;
— a review and refresh of Housing for All targets is underway, including for social and affordable housing, with revised targets to be agreed and published in 2024, having regard to the Census 2022 data published in Autumn this year, and updated population and structural housing demand projections being developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute for the National Planning Framework revision;
— numerous initiatives are already underway to address vacancy and dereliction, underpinned by the Vacant Homes Action Plan 2023-2026 which was launched earlier this year, and which will revitalise towns and cities while also providing additional homes;
— the recent expansion of the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant, the changes to the Vacant Property Tax made in Budget 2024, and the new local authority-led Compulsory Purchase Orders Activation Programme is resulting in a significant increase of vacant homes coming back into use and an increase in the supply of homes for rent or purchase;
— building on the enhanced tenancy protections introduced by this Government, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is close to concluding a comprehensive review of the private rental sector, which takes into account the significant regulatory changes over the past several years;
— the extension of Rent Pressure Zones where rents are capped at 2 per cent, the increase in the rent tax credit to €750 in Budget 2024, and the introduction of other legislative requirements to support renters;
— the increase in the thresholds for access to Cost Rental homes, which was increased from €53k net to €66k net in Dublin and €59k outside Dublin, in July 2023;
— interventions such as the Tenant in Situ Scheme are making a real impact in providing secure, long-term homes and preventing homelessness, and to date in 2023 over 1,000 social housing acquisitions have been completed with a further 1,600 at various stages of the assessment and conveyance process;
— the Cost Rental Tenant in Situ Scheme (CRTiS) was introduced on 1st April, 2023, for tenants in private rental homes who are not eligible for social housing supports but who are at risk of homelessness, and the Housing Agency are engaging with more than 130 landlords with a view to the purchase of those homes;
— the increase in homelessness is a serious concern and remains a top priority for the Government, and that resources and funding are not an obstacle to the urgent efforts required; and
— Budget 2024 provides funding of over €242 million, an increase of 12.6 per cent on this year, for the delivery of homeless services; further notes that the Public Spending Code is in the process of being reformed to the updated Infrastructure Guidelines and will be published shortly, and several changes to the Capital Appraisal Guidelines have already been implemented through Circular 06/2023 issued by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform;
acknowledges that increased supply is key to meeting demand and moderating house prices, and welcomes that: — annual house price inflation, as measured by the Central Statistics Office Residential Property Price Index, has moderated significantly in 2023, falling from 15.1 per cent in March 2022 to less than 1 per cent in August 2023;
— first-time buyer mortgage approvals reached a new 12-month high, with 30,184 mortgages approved in the 12 months ending September 2023, some 61 per cent of all mortgage drawdowns approved; and
— almost 30,000 new homes were built in 2022, an increase of 45 per cent on 2021, and 5,250 homes or 21 per cent higher than the Housing for All target of 24,600; recognises that considerable progress has been made since Housing for All (September 2021) was published, including: — increased social and affordable housing supply, with 10,263 social homes delivered in 2022, representing an 11.9 per cent increase on 2021 figures, when 9,169 social homes were provided, and this represents the highest annual output of social homes in decades and the highest level of delivery of new-build housing since 1975;
— from a standing start, 1,757 affordable homes delivered in 2022, the first full year of affordable housing delivery in a generation, and that a very ambitious programme of affordable housing is now in place, and this momentum is continuing as the pipeline of affordable housing develops further by local authorities, by Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) and by the LDA;
— funding of over €370 million has been approved to date to assist in the delivery of over 4,300 affordable homes from 2022 to 2027, from 72 schemes across 20 local authorities under the Affordable Housing Fund;
— funding of over €600 million for AHBs under the Cost Rental Equity Loan has been approved to date, to assist in the delivery of over 3,000 Cost Rental homes from 2022 to 2027;
— as of Q3 2023, the First Home Scheme had 2,598 approvals, and a total of 6,376 potential buyers had registered their interest in the scheme, with over 3,900 new expressions of interest so far in 2023;
— the significant increase in new home commencements, which is continuing with almost 24,000 homes commenced between January and September this year, up 14 per cent on last year; and
— more than 22,400 homes have been built to end-September 2023, with the Housing for All targets or 29,000 and 33,450 expected to be met, if not exceeded, in 2023 and 2024 respectively; and agrees that continued implementation of Housing for All represents the most appropriate response to deal with the housing challenges which Ireland is now facing.".
This is an opportunity to put on record the facts relating to budget 2024. It delivered a record €5.1 billion in capital investment. As Deputies will know, this was €2.6 billion in Exchequer spending; €978 million for the LDA and €1.5 billion through the Housing Finance Agency. The capital funding provided for housing in 2024, coupled with that investment is the highest ever in the history of the State. Sinn Féin would actually abolish the LDA and remove €1 billion worth of funding for affordable housing next year. Its own, what I would loosely call "alternative budget" is under-funded substantially compared with what the Government is doing.
On Housing for All itself, we are refreshing the targets. Deputy Ó Broin will know that. This includes the targets for social and affordable housing. Revised targets will be agreed and published in 2024. By any fair assessment, in year one, we exceeded our targets by more than 5,000 because we are actually building and delivering. This year, we will exceed our targets again. We know there is a lot more to do in this space but serious progress is being made. Not only are the Deputies opposite denying progress, which they like to do, they are not content with that; they like to continue to block progress. I wonder why Deputy Ó Snodaigh is not one of their speakers here this evening because he is the most recent objector to social and affordable housing in this Dáil, adding to a long list of Sinn Féin Deputies-----
-----right the way across the country. Deputy Louise O'Reilly is my good colleague in Dublin Fingal where there is one of the largest social and affordable housing sites in the country at Ballymastone, Donabate, and work is under way. Her own party colleague in Fingal County Council objected to it and voted against it.
Colleagues opposite may, God forbid, get the opportunity to be in a position whereby they will have the responsibility to deliver but they cannot come into the Dáil and say one thing and then out in their own constituencies go out and do completely the contrary. That is what is happening time and time again.
Let us deal with some of the facts now. The Deputy knows numerous initiatives are under way. I might disappoint him and colleagues opposite to know we will exceed targets. We will deliver more social homes this year than we did last year and significantly more affordable home than we did last year.
No, wait now.Hold on a second. If people are making assertions, I am sure the facts around those can be ascertained. Let us just have the debate and ascertain the facts thereafter. The Deputy should stop interrupting the Minister, please.
Thank you, Ceann Comhairle. I will turn to the area of vacancy, which is very important. I will come back to housing delivery as well. We are seeing significant measures being taken to bring vacant stock back into use both through our local authorities, AHBs and allowing individuals and families to be able to take vacant stock and get it back into use, turn it around and own those homes. That is the Croí Cónaithe vacancy and derelict grant. There is €70,000 for derelict properties and €50,000 for those which are vacant. There have been 4,500 applications and nearly 100 in Deputy O'Reilly's constituency. I am wondering whether each of the Deputies here actually tells their constituents when they come into their clinics that they oppose those grants.
If that is a detailed plan and an alternative to Housing for All, I would hate to see if the Deputy was doing something on a cursory basis. Three pages out of 52. I think people deserve a little more. They will ask a lot more of Sinn Féin on its alternatives.
It is very difficult sometimes for the Deputies opposite to hear the truth and even to listen to contrary voices or a different opinion and maybe they would respect that. I know they do not respect that in their own party-----
Every single time the Deputy tables a motion here and if I go to respond, all he can do and the choir behind him is continue to interrupt and stop me from speaking but the figures do not lie. Many challenges remain but there has been progress and by the end of this year, we will have delivered more than 100,000 new homes since we came into government. There has been a step-change in delivery in social and affordable housing.
Let us talk about homeownership. Deputy O'Reilly might hide her head because there is another reality too. In the areas where people are buying homes for the first time, 42,500 first-time buyers have accessed the help-to-buy grant. That is their own tax back in their own pocket. It is money they have earned and tax that they have paid to help with their deposit to own their home. It is a very successful intervention in supporting homeownership. The party opposite, even though its leader tried to row back on this earlier in the House-----
-----they should let their constituents know that the tax they have earned that has been given back to them to help with their deposits would be abolished by their party, even though that support that has helped 42,500 people. I was only in Skerries on Monday, in her own home town, where she was able to buy a home pretty handily.
Let us deal with first-time buyers supports. The help-to-buy grant is provided for next year as well. There is an extension to 2025. The first home scheme, which the party opposite has opposed, has nearly 7,000 registrations. A total of 2,800 families and households who are eligible and are buying their homes through the scheme. It is a real intervention that is supporting homeownership. It is another support that inexplicably the Deputies opposite in the Sinn Féin party would actually abolish.
The Sinn Féin spokesperson on finance comes in here and makes a two-minute contribution to say Sinn Féin supports homeownership. Sinn Féin is opposing the help-to-buy grant, vacancy grants to bring vacant stock back into use so people can buy and own houses and do them up and the first home scheme. All three of those schemes are working well and all three would be removed by Sinn Féin. Our budget is published. Our plan is published. In July this year, I understood Deputy Ó Broin to say he would publish his own housing plan.
People would expect a lot more of Deputy Ó Broin than for him to be magicking up figures and magicking up houses across the board. They want him to say what it is he will do and not simply that Sinn Féin will do more.
I am glad the Deputy has mentioned homelessness. I am trying to address the House in spite of the continued interruptions that have been made. Homelessness remains the number one priority for the Government.
On a point of order, I was given ten minutes to respond to a Sinn Féin motion. I moved a countermotion. Every single statement I made has been strategically interrupted by the Deputies opposite. I will not be shouted down. This is a parliamentary democracy. People are elected to speak in the House. The Deputies opposite will not shout me down. They should not interrupt me. I did not interrupt them once.
Let us be very clear. There has been claim and counterclaim. I made it abundantly clear that the facts can be ascertained. If the facts are provided to me to show that anybody on either side of the House has misled the House, I will take the appropriate action.
Three years into the Government's term, the housing crisis shows no sign of abating. In that time, homelessness figures have increased by 47%. There has also been an ever-increasing number of evictions. The cost of renting a house or apartment has increased, quarter by quarter, by 25% State-wide. Rents are increasing and record numbers of young people are still living at home with their parents. It is shocking. Every way you look at it, the housing crisis has gotten worse and worse. Failed plans and missed targets have exacerbated the issue. The failures of this Government and the Minister have left a generation behind. The high rate of homelessness is a direct consequence of the Minister's choices. He chose to end the no-fault eviction ban in March. What have we seen since then? In the last quarter, 4,518 eviction notices were served across the State, bringing the 2023 total to in excess of 15,000, yet the Minister still has not, cannot and will not answer the question we asked at that time, which was: where are these people supposed to go?
We talk about housing and the different facets and issues to do with it. I want to mention in particular a massive problem that is emerging in homeless services. The Government's failure has exacerbated the issue of homeless services, which simply cannot cope with the demands being placed on them. The 2022 annual notice report launched last month in Limerick highlights the challenge most starkly. The temporary emergency provision we had in Limerick in 2022 saw 18,095 people presenting to emergency accommodation. Some 794 presentations, or 43% of people who presented to homeless services, were unable to access accommodation. Where do they go? I will tell the Minister where they went. Until recently, people were not sleeping rough on the streets in Limerick. We now see it every day in the core of the city centre. We see it morning, noon and night. We have never seen it before. It was not the case three years ago. The Minister has been in his position for three years and he is directly responsible for the situation because he has not funded emergency accommodation in Limerick. I told him previously that we had this problem. The staff in Novas do the best they can do but they cannot do magic stuff with money they do not have. They cannot provide beds they do not have.
There are things we could do and other things the Minister could do better. One of those is the tenant in situscheme, which is working slightly well. The scheme needs to be implemented quicker. It needs to give more comfort to people. We also need to consider people who are not on the social housing list. I know from dealing with people who are slightly over the income threshold for the social housing list that they have nowhere to go.
It is hard to believe that in the new year, it will be 13 long years since Fine Gael took office. Things have gone from bad to worse and we now have an abject crisis in housing. During much of that time, the Minister's party has supported those Fine Gael Governments.
We have heard the Taoiseach say that we have turned a corner. The Tánaiste insists we have made great strides. I do not think they are fooling anyone. Anybody watching the debate probably has a different view. Many such people are probably kicking their televisions at this stage.
The Minister spoke about a fair assessment. Unfortunately, and with the greatest of respect, on any fair assessment, he has failed as housing Minister. It is not just Seán Crowe of Sinn Féin saying that; it is also the opinion of most of the people I talk to on the street and of the people who come into my constituency office.
I have a full-time constituency office and every week people come in with housing cases. The bulk of the work that I deal with is housing cases. Not a week goes by that a family facing homelessness does not contact my office. There was a time when I used to be able to tell people to do this or do that, that there was a solution for them but I do not have solutions any more. The most difficult part of my job nowadays is having to sit down with families and tell them there is a brighter future down the road but that it is not happening any time soon, and certainly not under this Government.
People talked about the giveaway budget but it came and went with no real measures to tackle derelict and vacant properties. That is the sinful part of this; people are looking around and asking why houses are lying idle for 12 months, two years or even longer. They are asking why vacant houses are lying idle for the last 20 years but I do not have answers for them. The county councils do not seem to have the resources or the answers in relation to turning around those houses. My local council was the fastest in the country for housing turnarounds at one stage but that is no longer the case. Questions need to be asked in relation to the slowness of change.
House prices and rents have increased by more than 25% over the last three years. The Government is simply inadequate for the task. The lack of affordable homes to rent or buy has a knock-on impact throughout Irish society. It is affecting young teachers, nurses and gardaí but not only them. All workers are affected and are in crisis. Unless one is already in a local authority house or lucky enough to have a mortgage one can afford, one is in crisis and we are not doing enough about that.
Tonight's motion is about change and we need to see that change happening.
I thank Deputy Ó Broin and my other party colleagues for bringing this motion to the Dáil. We are all very familiar with the plight of our constituents contending with the Government's absolute failure to provide social and affordable housing on a scale that represents the true demand and that is required to fix this nation's biggest and most urgent housing emergency. It is heartbreaking to see children and their parents falling into homelessness. In fact, there has been an increase of 47% in homelessness this year alone. It is heartbreaking to see young couples being fleeced with increasing rents, up by 25% this year, and in some individual cases by over 50%, and to see young, single people living with their elderly parents with absolutely no hope of getting a mortgage or a place of their own. It is heartbreaking to see the droves of our youth once again becoming the children of the far flung.
On a personal note, I ask the Minister to review the planning application process, particularly in the case of rural Ireland. The constant refusal of permission for modular homes and log cabins is only adding to the undersupply of affordable and social houses. Some of the bureaucratic criteria involved are bordering on discrimination. For instance, I had a case in County Wexford where a young woman wanted to live independently. She had a site and mortgage approval. She was asked to explain why she wanted to live independently and was told that the modular home would have to be attached to the main homestead. This is the impractical and dogmatic approach that people are facing. Young rural people are not being allowed to build on their own farms or on land that has been in their families for generations. All they want is to live and rear their children in their own communities, where they were born and reared themselves.
Last night, the daft.iewebsite showed 221 two- and three-bedroom houses available to rent across the entire nation, averaging €1,500 to €2,000 per month. Where are people to go? Councils cannot be expected to deliver houses that are not there. In budget 2024, there was no additional capital expenditure vis-à-vis2023 levels. There was no increase in the Government's already inadequate social and affordable housing targets. The Government has no new measures to tackle dereliction and vacancy. Social and affordable housing output was 33% below target from 2022 and at the end of September this year, less than half of the allocated €4 billion in general government expenditure had been spent.
The housing crisis has reached an alarming level with significant implications for individuals and the economy as a whole. The underspend in the Department's capital budget between 2020 and 2022 and the missed targets for affordable housing delivery have only exacerbated this crisis. The Minister for Finance acknowledged, as did the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government, that housing is one of the biggest domestic challenges facing Ireland. However, despite this recognition, the Government has failed to prioritise or effectively address the issue, as reflected in its budget priorities. This failure to make housing a top priority raises questions about the Government's commitment to tackling housing head on.
Never in my life have I seen more people sleeping rough, camped out or begging outside local shops. If that is not the sign of a crisis, which the Minister is in denial of, then what is? How in God's name, can the Minister say that he is tackling the housing crisis when we have thousands of people - men, women, and children - who are homeless? That is the evidence. That is what people see and what they are feeling. I do not get it and cannot understand how the Minister has not copped on to this. There is something seriously wrong given the number of people on the housing list and the number of people coming to constituency clinics. It is just non-stop at the moment. The Minister must listen to what the people are saying and change tactics because what he is doing now is not working.
The housing crisis is the civil rights issue of our times here in Ireland. There is real agreement on that across the House. We all know that the social consequences of failed housing policy are massive for people from all walks of life. Young professionals and even workers on what would be considered good wages are stuck in their childhood bedrooms into their thirties and forties because they cannot afford to buy or even rent a place of their own. Parents who rent have to contend with the stress of securing a place for their children in a local school or childcare facility while worrying that an eviction notice will uproot them from that support network. Our social welfare and pension system is predicated on a presumption that those who reach pension age will have achieved mortgage-free home ownership but that presumption, unfortunately, no longer holds water. Now we are all seeing in our constituencies pensioners who have paid taxes and contributed to the economy their whole lives but cannot now find anywhere to live if they face eviction from rental properties. Frankly, it is unconscionable.
I commend Deputy Ó Broin and his colleagues for tabling this important motion, which we support. However, we all recognise that this is just the latest in a series of Opposition motions on housing calling on the Minister and his Government to do better. My hope is that one day one of these motions will prompt the Minister to realise that Government policies are not working and that it is time to change. This motion focuses on capital expenditure and that is a crucial point, for sure. The notion that the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government is unable to spend its budget is extraordinary. One would almost think that there is no crisis and that everything is fine but we know, of course, that is not the case and all of our constituents tell us it is not the case.
Economic analysis that the Labour Party commissioned shows that at least another €1 billion is needed to be invested by the State in the delivery of housing. Overall, we would allocate over €1.6 billion more in capital to provide for the delivery of social and affordable homes in 2024. It is not just about the allocation of capital, although that is crucial; it is also about urgent adoption of more ambitious targets. We have been calling on the Minister to recognise that the targets set in Housing for All, just two years on, are themselves inadequate. The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste denied that the targets were inadequate but more recently the Taoiseach quietly admitted in the Dáil, in response to a question I put, that the targets are too low. Indeed, the Government's countermotion refers to a review and refresh of Housing for All targets that is under way and which, we understand, will be produced early in the new year. There is a recognition there that the targets are set too low, there has been too little ambition from the Government and too little recognition of the true need for housing that exists.
Of course, it is not just about the adoption of more ambitious targets; it is also about the adoption of the necessary measures to achieve delivery on targets. Again, the Government has failed on that. We are seeing a lack of delivery of real social and affordable homes for people. This is about a lack of delivery as much as a lack of ambitious targets. The Labour Party, by contrast, has called for the delivery of 1 million homes over ten years, an ambitious target which would mean the building of 50,000 new homes every year.
That is the need that is recognised in the expert opinion of the Government's advisers. Also needed is the provision of 50,000 homes per year through deep retrofit and restoration of vacant and derelict properties. An essential part of any sustainable construction programme must be retrofit and restoration of properties. I will speak more on vacancy momentarily.
As regards the construction workforce planning that is needed, every time we hear from the Government that a plan to deliver that level of housing is unachievable, its reason for that not being achievable is that there is not a sufficient workforce in place. In government, however, it can do things to address that. It can embark on an ambitious and proactive recruitment programme to expand the categories of critical skills for which visas will be provided. It can embark on an enhanced apprenticeship and training programme. It can adopt measures such as the construction skills courses that have been rolled out in facilities such as St. Andrew's Resource Centre in my constituency. There are ways to ensure we have enough workers in place but the reality is the Government does not have the plans to ensure delivery.
I wish to address vacancy. Vacancy and dereliction amount to a national scandal - an insult to all those unable to afford a home. It is obvious to anyone who walks through an urban centre that there are boarded-up houses that could become homes for those who so desperately need them, with 13,000 people on the homelessness list. The Labour Party has launched a national campaign to tackle vacancy and dereliction, seeking to use existing mechanisms and calling on members of the public to log empty sites near them on the vacant and derelict sites registers maintained by local authorities. We are not seeing any sort of commensurate approach by the Government, however, to tackle vacancy and dereliction. We need to see much more proactive policies adopted. Properties which are left vacant for prolonged periods should be subject to compulsory purchase and local authorities need to be resourced adequately to do so. I heard recently from my colleague, Councillor Darragh Moriarty, who is a member of Dublin City Council, that rather than taking that sort of proactive approach, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is reducing the subvention to Dublin City Council for the conversion of voids into homes. We are hearing that is happening. I know the Minister has denied it but we are hearing this on the ground. We have heard of an apparent decision to abandon one of the few saving graces of recent housing plans, namely, a mechanism to strip planning permission from developers who sit on vacant land that could be used for homes. These are the sorts of measures that could be used to crack down on vacancy but we are not seeing them being brought in. We are not seeing any attempt to adopt a use-it-or-lose-it approach to ensure people are incentivised to move on planning permissions that have been granted, rather than sitting on them and speculating further.
We are also seeing a lack of action from the Government on renters' rights. In anticipation of this debate, I looked at properties in my constituency on daft.ie. I know colleagues did the same. It is impossible to find a two-bedroom home, even a very small one, for less than €1,300 per month. Within hours, a new listing will have thousands of views. We have become almost desensitised to this because we are so used to the absurd sight of queues for house viewings for rentals. We know of people who are bidding, offering more and more in rent because they simply cannot afford a home of their own.
This crisis is due to market failure. The question remains as to why the Government is addicted to always returning to the private market and hands-off regulation to solve a crisis that was caused by market failure. Almost half of all properties in my constituency of Dublin Bay South are rented on the private market. There is a very high proportion of renters in the constituency yet people cannot find homes to rent. They are simply not available in any affordable sense. During the pandemic, however, we saw the impact a temporary no-fault eviction ban can have on preventing homelessness. In 2021, the Labour Party proposed a strong renters’ rights Bill, namely, the Residential Tenancies (Tenants' Rights) Bill, that would provide real protections for those in rented homes and end no-fault evictions. It is not a radical proposition. In most European countries, it is forbidden to kick a good tenant out of their home and this sort of eviction ban is standard. I hope the Minister will realise the need to put a measure like this back into place, even for this winter. We are not hearing anything from the Government about what it is proposing to do for those facing eviction and families and children facing homelessness this winter. That is a serious issue. We need to move into a space where examining policies around basic renters' rights protections is something the Government will take on, rather than it always being contained in Opposition motions.
Finally, I will refer to housing legislation put forward by the Labour Party some years ago. The Minister will be aware that in 2017 the Dáil voted in support of Labour’s Housing (Homeless Families) Bill, which would create a statutory obligation to prevent families entering homelessness. It progressed to Second Stage, with support from Fianna Fáil at the time, I should add. I have written to the Cathaoirleach of the housing committee, seeking leave to commence Committee Stage of the Bill. I have also written to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. I remind him of the need to progress that legislation. It is a simple and straightforward Bill that does not require extensive review and should not take long to implement. It is supported by NGOs, including organisations working to address homelessness. The Bill would simply give recognition to the rights of children in homelessness or at risk of entering homelessness. It would oblige the State to have regard to those rights when homelessness is going to touch the life of a family. I appeal to the Minister to at least take on that Bill and the measure that is perhaps the most obvious means at his disposal to address the risk of children entering homelessness. We are all agreed that is the sharpest end of the housing crisis. At the start of my contribution, I referred to the many different people from various walks of life who are affected by the housing crisis but children in homelessness - the thousands of children who have to do homework in hotel rooms, have nowhere to bring friends back to play, no gardens and nowhere they can call their own - are the sharp end. That is what this motion and all of us speaking in favour of it are most keen to address tonight.
I thank Deputy Ó Broin for bringing forward the motion. I apologise for not being here at the start of the discussion but I was meeting with the Palestinian ambassador and her colleagues regarding the grave situation in Gaza.
Never in the history of the State have there been so many children growing up without a home. Despite record levels of homelessness that are growing month after month, there are no new Government plans or initiatives to deal with this. A few weeks ago, I asked the Tánaiste what he and the Government were going to do about the record levels of children growing up without a home and what new measures the Government was taking. The response was that it was not taking new measures despite the record levels. That is very serious.
Since I was elected and the Minister took office, I have consistently raised the issue of poor standards in privately run emergency accommodation, assaults and robberies carried out on people staying in privately run emergency accommodation and allegations about staff carrying out assaults and robberies. I brought specific cases to the attention of the Minister. The situation in some, though certainly not all, emergency accommodation is so bad that people who are experiencing homelessness are discussing whether they would be better off going into privately run emergency accommodation. I will bring to the attention of the Minister a conversation that took place online last week. A person asked whether the male emergency accommodation was really that bad in Ellis Quay. He said he would have to wait until morning to see if he could can get into Ellis Quay but had heard scary stories. One of the replies he received from a peer who has also experienced homelessness was that he would be better off in his car or a tent if he had one and that, as a last resort, he could find an abandoned house and break in, which, though extreme is the way things are going. Standards in some privately run accommodation are so bad that some homeless people are being advised by their peers to avoid some of the hostels at all costs. I have been bringing this to the attention of the Minister for several years. What are he and the Government doing about it? It is not okay that some people who are most vulnerable in the housing situation do not feel safe in some privately run emergency accommodation.
The Minister and the Government are running out of time to get this addressed and to do something concrete about it. That applies across the board on the housing situation. We have children growing up without a home. That has a devastating impact on their development. It means children are having to travel miles to get to school, which puts them and their families under huge stress. It means they are away from their friends and they cannot bring friends back after school to play. They do not have anywhere safe, secure and quiet to do homework. If they are participating locally in the GAA, the scouts or anything like that, it rips all of that away from them. It can be absolutely devastating, can have long-term consequences and be hugely disruptive to their education and development. Since the Government decided to lift the eviction ban we have had record levels of homelessness, month after month. If the Government is not going to reintroduce the ban, what is it that it is going to do to actually get homelessness down? It is positive that the Minister has committed to eliminating homelessness by 2030, but the reality is that month after month, the figures are going up. There is no evidence of any Government strategy or action to get children and families out of emergency accommodation over and above any measures that have been put in place so far.
I watched the Tánaiste's speech on Saturday night at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. There was a long section about housing, but no mention at all not only of the children who are homeless, but of the homeless situation. We have a Government presiding over record numbers of people who are homeless, yet there was no mention in the Tánaiste's speech and no recognition of the problems that we have with homelessness. There were no proposals as to what we are going to do and no specific measures or actions on that. In fact, we have a situation where four local authorities in the last year actually sold more social homes than they built, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Longford, Roscommon and Sligo. In the middle of a homelessness and housing crisis, four local authorities sold more social homes than they actually built. That is what is happening under this Government. The housing disaster is taking a wrecking ball to the lives of tens of thousands of people across this country. The Government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have made an absolute mess of housing. We have record rents, record homelessness and record numbers of people in their 20s, 30s and into their 40s who are stuck living in their childhood bedrooms. Homeownership has fallen to its lowest level in more than 50 years. It just gets worse and worse the longer this Government is in power.
However, there is hope. There are plenty of examples from across Europe and, indeed, Ireland of how we can solve the housing crisis. In the past in Ireland, when we had much less resources, we were actually very effective in terms of building thousands of high-quality affordable and social homes. I have often referenced the example of Marino in my constituency, where 100 years ago, when the country had no resources at all, when we were starting out and just when O'Connell Street was being rebuilt, we were able to build high-quality affordable purchase homes. To this day, it is a very successful and thriving community. For most of the 20th century, that is what this country did. When we had less resources and the economy was not going so well, we built thousands of affordable homes that gave people a chance to start in life and gave their families a chance to get on and get involved in the community. It has been done before and there is no question that it can be done. Even today, there are good models of how that is being done in the country, but it is simply not being done on the scale that is needed.
I want to raise a point on the four-stage approval process. I have often raised it in the Chamber and with the Minister. The Minister has responded by saying that he cannot rip up the public spending code. I have never asked the Minister or anyone else to rip it up. The public spending code does not prevent the Minister from streamlining and simplifying the four-stage approval process. That has been confirmed independently by the Parliamentary Budget Office. The public spending code is not set out in legislation, so the Government is able to amend the code as it sees fit and, indeed, it has done so. It is not something that prevents the Government from making this process more streamlined. Some of the processes provided for in the public spending code, that are relevant in other areas, are not relevant in the area of housing. For example, we do not need to put forward a business case as to why we need to construct housing. It is blatantly obvious that the need and demand is there. In any event, the four-stage approval process varies very significantly from the public spending code, its processes and so forth. It is not a rationale for justifying inertia here. The Government is well within its ability to amend the public spending code, the four-stage approval process and to streamline it to get more social homes built and get them built faster, as is needed.
There is one last point that I want to make. Today, in this Chamber, the Taoiseach said that we cannot build more than we are currently because there are problems with scaling-up. He said that if we scaled up too fast there could be problems with the quality of the homes that are built. The best way to address that is to invest in skills and training. Where is the fund for the upskilling and retraining of existing construction workers? Where are the resources that are being put into that? Most shamefully, given the gaps we have in skills and that we do not have enough construction apprenticeships and the numbers going into construction apprenticeships are way down on those of ten to 15 years ago and way down compared to 2006, why on earth will the Government not apply the minimum wage so that apprentices would at the very least get a minimum wage for the first couple of years of their apprenticeship? If we are serious about getting the skills here, at the very least we should apply the minimum wage to the young people we are trying to attract into construction apprenticeships.
I was in the office listening to the spat between the Minister and Deputy Ó Broin, whom I thank for putting forward this motion. It is very important that we focus on this all the time. I would like to respond to a lot of what the Minister said, particularly the idea that the Opposition, who represent local areas, are constantly objecting to local plans. I know the Minister and the Minister of State understand it because they came from being councillors. Going back in their careers, they had a focus on their local areas. First of all, every development that is proposed by every developer is not necessarily suitable to the local area. Along the canal in Drimnagh, where the Luas creeps, there is a huge amount of built-to-rent development taking place, most of it by lucrative development companies and very wealthy individuals. For example, Conor McGregor is building several high-storey apartment blocks along the canal, all built to rent. The council does rent some of them back for council housing not at a level that is reasonable or affordable for the public sector, but at market levels. Then we find that the people who are housed in those complexes by the local authorities are segregated. There is an apartheid process of segregating them and not allowing them to have access to the crèche or the playground area because they are not paying management fees. The Government is saying that when we object to these kind of plans, we are objecting to the building of houses. It is quite the opposite. What we want to see is the building of social and affordable housing that is sustainable in the communities that we serve and know well. That is just one example. There are lots of other examples and I am sure everybody in this House has more of them.
Stuck in the middle of all of this is a cohort of people who are crucial to our economy, including the teachers, the nurses, the public sector workers and the civil servants in this House who earn too much to be on the social housing list but do not earn enough to live in apartments or houses that are costing €2,000 or €2,500 a month in cities like Dublin, Cork and Limerick, where they are meant to be for their jobs. They are being pushed and squeezed out, and many of them are ending up in homelessness. If they lose a tenancy because a landlord wants to sell up and puts them out of their home, they are not on a low enough income to get on the housing list. They do not receive HAP or any other social income supports because their income is too high. Yet, their income is not high enough to be able to afford extortionate rents in the type of dwelling that I described earlier, which are littered all over the place but which are not affordable to ordinary workers and workers we rely on to run society.
When we talk about crises in the public services, they all stem from staff shortages, that is, not getting enough special needs assistants, SNAs, or teachers in the schools, nurses in the hospitals or physiotherapists or speech therapists or administrative workers in the Civil Service. Those crises all lead back to the housing crisis because these workers, who earn what traditionally would be considered a reasonably decent wage and who educated themselves to be able to earn that kind of money, find they cannot live in the cities and the areas from where they come and where they work. This is a real joke on behalf of the Government to say it is dealing with it, and by 2025 and 2026. I am talking about people in the here and now. For example, one woman we know has been in homeless accommodation for four years with her son. She now shares a bed with her teenage son, because he has grown up so much. She shares a bed with her teenage soon and is a public sector worker. In fact, she deals in the sector that looks after children's rights. What sort of state does that to people? It will not give her income supports, she cannot afford to pay the rents and she is not entitled to go on the housing list. I am telling the Minister of State, whether he believes it or not, that there is a huge number of people and families in that squeezed middle who are not being represented.
There was an item on "Morning Ireland" this morning about empty office blocks all over the country. Office blocks are empty, they cannot be rented out and more and more of them are being built. We have a shortage of construction workers. Why does the Government not call in the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and deal with the developers and tell them that we need the workers in construction to build homes, not office blocks - and by the way, not any more aparthotels and hotels littered all over the inner city. We do not need that. We need homes, that is, real social and affordable homes for people.
Then we have the added problem of the actual social housing stock we do have. The local councillor in Ballyfermot, Hazel de Nortúin, and I drove around Cherry Orchard approximately two weeks ago to have a look at voids. In ten minutes, we identified 24 voids in a small area, Cherry Orchard, that is notorious for its problems. It is notorious for its problems because it has no services. It has no shop, no post office, no dentist or shopping centre and has not had for the past 35 years. There is a chunk of land beside it that is now owned by the LDA. That is public land which the LDA intends developing but it has no intention, if it gets away with it, of negotiating with, talking to, or consulting with the local community and the local services. The LDA has tried to bypass them entirely, and we are fighting it on that at the moment. Included in those 24 voids were four-bedroom units, three-bedroom units - which are like hen's teeth - and bungalows that are adaptable for disability. That is outrageous. In the entire ward there are 62 voids, many of which have lain empty for years. That is outrageous and how are people supposed to get off the housing list that they have been on for a long time, living in overcrowded conditions, if the local authorities react in this way?
People have been fighting for years for proper accommodation. I will take for example Emmet Road, the site of St. Michael's Estate. For 21 years the people there have fought to be listened to in terms of what is needed in the local community. Instead of that they got a massive development of hundreds of apartments, studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments that are not sustainable, and with 24% social housing. In an area that had 100% social housing, it is down to 24%. Nobody is listening to the local communities and that is why there are objections from people like us. Finally, I want to allow time for Deputy Barry to come in and to introduce the addendum we are putting to this motion. We do not want to change it and thank Sinn Féin for putting the motion, but we want to add to it, that is, to reinstate the eviction ban.
In Swords, in the Minister's own constituency, there is a landlord in Applewood, represented by Home Club Limited, which has evicted dozens of families in the past nine months because it can. This is because the new element of extending all new tenancies to be long-term tenancies does not apply to it. They are on six-year tenancies and between now and the next five years, dozens of families around this country could be evicted on that basis. That issue needs to be dealt with. There is lots of shoring up to be done but do not sit there and boast about the housing policy because these are the real, hard facts we are living with and we need the reinstatement of the eviction ban ASAP.
An Irish national teachers' organisation poll of 1,300 of its members, conducted before the summer holidays, found that 98% of teachers who were renting agreed that it was "very difficult" to secure new accommodation in their area. A recent Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, survey of 1,000 schools, this time in conjunction with the Irish Primary Principals Network and the Catholic Primary School Management Association, found 800 unfilled vacancies. Is there a connection between these two findings? Of course there is. There is a big connection. It is not just the likes of ourselves who are saying it. In September, RTÉ quoted Professor Charlotte Holland, the deputy dean of the Dublin City University institute of education as saying, "I think it is a systemic issue. It would be very much-----".
Sorry lads, if you do not mind, I am trying to speak. She stated:
I think it is a systemic issue. It would be very much related to the housing shortage in terms of both rental and getting properties to buy. It's difficult if you want to teach in Dublin and if you are from outside the area you can't get accommodation.
It is not just a Dublin problem, it is very much a Cork issue as well. Here is an example from Cork city. It is the story of a Greek couple, one a nurse with work experience and the other either a social worker or a carer, I am not certain on that. They have two preschool-aged children. The man got a job at Cork University Hospital and came over to find a house, a school place for the kids etc. He gave up after two months.
A Cheann Comhairle, if you would not mind, I am trying to speak with this going on in the corner.
He gave up after two months of house hunting, as there was nothing affordable within a reasonable distance by public transport from work. He could not secure preschool places for the kids, as they had no permanent address. The man returned to Greece disheartened. In conclusion, the housing crisis the Minister of State is presiding over is knocking on and flowing into the education sector, the health service, other services and all of society. It is a disaster. The Government has failed, the market has failed and it is time for real change.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important matter. I was at a presentation by the CIF on housing the other night about the future forecast for the industry for Galway and the region. It is interesting that some of the things that came out of that are very similar to what we are speaking about here regarding, number one, planning, the planning process, and how long it takes. The second very important issue is that resources going into local authorities need to be beefed up to deal with the now more complex planning processes we have. We have a climate action plan now that has to be built into all of planning. We do not have the expertise within the local authorities to deal with the applications that are coming in regarding that particular field, for example. There is no point in saying that we will bring in all of these policies and legislation and then trying to follow it up with the resources that are needed. It definitely needs to be looked at, as every local authority planning department in this country now has approximately treble the work to do with any application that comes into it. Such departments have to do it right because the judicial review process is there and it is being taken up as one would take up a glass of water at times.
The other thing that came out of that particular conference was the fact that the private housing market is dysfunctional and continues to remain so. The cost of land, of building houses and of making a profit for the developers - whether we like it or not - and the price they can get for houses is not sustainable. The other issue is that they cannot get the required funding to fund these developments through the normal channels they were getting them through before. We have to look at this. If we are otherwise to remain reliant on the State to fund social housing, affordable housing and all of the other housing types, we will end up with the State financing all of these. There are people out there who want to own their own houses and who want to invest in their own houses but we need to create the pathway.
I will give an example of one of the frustrating things that happens. We all know that we are crying out for people to come back from wherever they are and return to Ireland to work. I have a case of a nurse who returned and got a job with the HSE.
She thought she was doing the right thing. She had money saved. She came home. She was buying a house. She needed to get a €140,000 mortgage and no financial institution will take her on because she has to be working in this country for two years before she would be considered for a mortgage. This is mad stuff now. That is exactly the reality. There are people coming home and that is what they face. They will not be considered, never mind approved, for a mortgage. What she was looking for was workable. She had working capital. She was able to do the thing right. Does the Minister of State know what her reaction was? It was that she thought she had made a mistake by coming home. We have to be a bit more pragmatic in our approach. We have to be a bit more clued in to what we want in this country in terms of housing.
The other thing I have a big gripe with is the zoning for houses in our towns and villages. I would say that we are not zoning sufficient or appropriate lands to allow for cheaper lands to become available to build houses on. We are confining ourselves to a core strategy which is holding up prices of development land. Whether we like it or not, that is what is happening because we are making less land available and we are saying one has to have greater densities. There is limited supply available for people who want to buy land and the price goes up. We have to think about that. We should be zoning much more land than we require to make it viable at the end of the day.
Lastly, in County Galway alone we have 28 towns and villages, including Craughwell and Clarinbridge, that do not have a municipal wastewater treatment plant. I keep saying this about towns and villages across the country. We cannot build houses in any of these places. They are frozen out. Houses cannot be built unless we have the infrastructure in place.
The housing crisis is hammering practically every element of Irish society. The most directly affected are obviously those people who are homeless, many of those people who are dying on the streets currently. It is also damaging the nutrition, the social skills, the education and the mental health of children who are stuck in emergency accommodation. Then we have tens of thousands of people who are forced to live with their parents, many of them postponing adult life and even having families. Indeed, young people are emigrating in higher numbers due to the fact that they are priced out of life by the Government. Hundreds of thousands of others are hammered due to astronomical costs. Many people are paying the majority of their incomes on rent or mortgages and there are tens of thousands of people who are still on local authority waiting lists, some for well over a decade. Thousands of others are paying crazy interest rates on homes to mortgage companies, vulture funds which the Government has left under regulated to allow them to be hammered through these interest rates as well.
For many parts of the economy, especially in the public service including gardaí, nurses, doctors and teachers, there are people who simply cannot get jobs in the locations where they are meant to be working and this is leading to vast vacancies, left, right and centre in society. Even foreign direct investment is now dodging the country due to the Government's housing crisis. One of the threads or common denominators that ties all of these people together here is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have been at the heart of every one of the key decisions that have led to these problems in the past while.
I have a couple of minutes left and I want to focus directly on the issue of vacancy. Vacancy is an incredible situation in this country, first, in the private sector but most especially in the public sector. My office has been very busy over the summer. We put in 31 freedom of information, FOI, requests across the country. We found that there are 3,500 local authority homes in this country that are lying empty. That is exactly the same number as there is children who are in emergency accommodation in this country. It takes on average eight months to turn around a local authority void to re-let it. In contrast, it takes on average three weeks to turn around private accommodation to re-let. This shows one of the big problems the Government has, and that is the complete inability to deliver public capital projects. The Government is hammered with bureaucracy, red tape and waste. We can see it right from the national children's hospital to the flood defences in the likes of Midleton. Until the Government gets its act together in terms of delivering public accommodation and delivering public capital projects, we will never have the public facilities that we need in this country in the future.
In the couple of minutes I have, I will point out a couple of areas where the law of unintended consequences has come to bear and maybe the Government can have a look at it.
The first is in the area of housing bodies. They have become too top heavy, too administratively onerous. It is causing increased costs and it means that the small and medium-sized builders are avoiding dealing with the housing agencies and the housing bodies. That is leaving the Government paying through the nose for houses.
Second, we have schemes now which require 12-year warranties on building. Maybe that is a good thing but it means an incredible amount of legal fees being incurred from three different parties - the finance party, the housing agency and the construction sector. In terms of this, something needs to be looked at.
Planning, particularly in urban areas, is becoming problematic, as the Minister of State, Deputy Kieran O'Donnell, probably knows well, and it is largely to do with climate action. Planners are now taking the view they do not want to build in rural areas at the moment. That is right across the country. That does not take account of the new way people are working. People are working from home a few days a week. I ask the Minister of State to have a look at that.
Access to finance is a problem, both for homeowners and home buyers, but it also a major problem for home builders who are only able to access mezzanine finance. The pillar banks are closed to them and one is talking about interest rates of 12% to 15% per annum. That is largely unsustainable for most businesses.
If I could reflect what Deputy Tóibín said, local authority voids are the most easily targeted available housing in the country. How are they taking so long - anywhere from three to nine months - to turn around? Surely we can do far better than that in every local authority in the country.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Cheann Comhairle.
We could stand here and talk about housing, as we are doing every second week. I was a member of the housing committee for five years - the most frustrating five years I ever spent. We can talk and talk and talk. We just have lost the ability to build. I am a member and vice-chairman - I was chairman - of a voluntary housing association. We set about building 14 houses 15 or 20 years ago. We were told it would take forever. We built them in 18 months. Eleven lay-people on the board hired in all the expertise and built them.
I would go back to the Department officials. We met people this evening about the Department with responsibility for forestry. It is a disgrace what is going on here. Public servants in this country and Department officials are not doing their job. There is passing paper and frustrating stuff, there are HR issues and issues of jealousy and begrudgery, and they will not do this for the other. We are back and forward and people have no houses. We can find houses in Tipperary. We can take a homeless hostel out of circulation and give it to international refugees to come in here or migrants who want to get asylum here. We need to cop ourselves on here, cut out the red tape, get down to work and allow builders to work who want to build. We have more regulations and recently our lovely Government put up the price of concrete. Those forestry people told us this evening that the only material used in a house that is grown on the land is trees. We cannot plant trees now. We cannot cut trees. The sawmill people were there. They cannot get the trees. We are tying ourselves up in knots not allowing the voluntary housing people who want to build, and then young people who want to build their own houses in the countryside cannot get planning. It is time we copped on here, cut out the red tape and all the baloney that is going on, and allow the builders build and allow people who to build for themselves. Above all, there must be a major shake-up of the public and civil service in this country, especially in Departments. They have gone stale, they are devoid of ideas and, above all, they are stopping progress. That is a bad situation. We have Secretaries General getting a fortune. They should be held accountable.
The budget for 2024 glaringly falls short of addressing the pressing housing issues that continue to plague our society, exposing a litany of deficiencies in its proposed measures. Most notably, the absence of any increase in voted capital expenditure compared to the level set in 2023 raises serious doubts about the Government's commitment to tackling the crisis. It is abundantly clear that the budget fails to take adequate steps to bolster the Government's social and affordable housing targets. Additionally, the Government seems to turn a blind eye to the urgent need for reforms in the public spending code that would expedite the delivery of social and affordable housing. Furthermore, the budget offers no innovative strategies to combat the issues of dereliction, vacancy or the ever-increasing problem of homelessness. It is imperative to emphasise the gross inefficiency in the utilisation of allocated funds.
Despite allocating over €1 billion in voted capital expenditure for social and affordable social and affordable housing between 2020 and 2022, these funds remain largely untouched. Even more concerning is the fact that as outlined in the motion, by the end of September 2023, less than half of the allocated €4 billion for housing expenditure had been put to use. These figures not only highlight a gross mishandling of the critical funding intended to address the urgent housing needs of our citizens, they also highlight the glaring chasm between the Government's financial commitments and their effective implementation.
The one issue about housing I raise that affects the people of rural Ireland involves planning laws. Planning laws are making it almost impossible for young people to get off the ground even to the extent of getting a preplanning meeting. It is scandalous that ordinary people cannot speak to someone around the table the way they used to do. The cost of building has gone beyond all reason but the hardest thing for young people who want to build a house on their father's or mother's land is the fact that they are being refused permission to do so or if they are not being refused, they are being run around for years before they can start. This has to stop.
The housing crisis and escalating rates of homelessness have been a constant feature of this Government's term of office from the beginning. We have had endless debates here and heard the pleas of families for affordable and social housing along with the alarm bells sounded by the Simon Community and many other homelessness organisations for years. We have also seen scheme after scheme being announced, only in some cases for those schemes to be found to be little more than a charade.
In July 2022, the Minister launched the vacant property refurbishment grant to support bringing vacant and derelict properties back into use. The big problem, however, is that due to a dispute with the banks and their unwillingness to provide mortgages according to the terms of the scheme, just one person was able to draw down the grant despite more than 100 approved applications. The plain fact was that the scheme was essentially inoperable for the best part of a year.
I also want to express my view and the view of many, once again, that at some point, we are going to have address the elephant in the room, namely, the dire impact of essentially unlimited immigration on housing and emergency accommodation stock. I raised this matter with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, in June. At that time, he took the high moral ground, lectured me, wagged his finger and told me that I was wrong. I said at the time that we would see people coming in from other countries lying on the floor in hotel rooms. It is actually worse than that. They are in tents. I would like to see what the Minister has to say about that now. Has he changed his tune? Have the chickens come home to roost because it is a reality? Continuing on this path is reckless to say the least.
I would add to that by asking what business do we have inviting people here or taking them at will when we cannot house our own people? A total of 1,000 people or more are coming into the country every week. I am calling for a cap on that and for us to look after our own first.
We are doing very little or not enough for people on the housing list. If they do get a council house or one from a housing body, they cannot purchase it any more. Everyone wants to buy out their home and they did so in the 1950s and 1960s. They all finished up buying out their houses and the money went back into the coffers.
Nothing is being done for people in Kerry who want to build their own houses. First of all, they cannot get planning permission. A farmer's son or daughter can get planning permission, which I welcome, but nobody else can. The only place you can get planning permission for a site is in a town such as Killarney but you would pay €250,000 or €300,000 if you can get the site. The grandest man in the world contacted me in the past few days. He is bringing home nearly €900 per week. He went to Bank of Ireland for a loan but all it would give him was €90,000. It would take 35 years to pay it back and he would have paid €190,000 at that stage. How is that fair?
The Government is only giving grants of €11,000 to local authorities for vacant houses when they cost €70,000 to do up. With another scheme, the Government will give €800 per property to house Ukrainians but it will not provide that to house local people. How is that fair?
I will relay something to the House. I will not name the Deputy, as it is not polite to do so because he is not here, but I will paraphrase. Philip Ryan recently wrote that a senior Deputy had objected to the proposed development of more than 200 social and affordable housing units on a derelict site in his constituency. The article stated that the Deputy lodged a complaint with the county council over the project in part due to the shadow it would cast over neighbouring social housing. We have a Deputy here complaining to a local authority about a person who wants to build local authority social and affordable housing because it will overshadow somebody else. I have a message for everybody. Send those houses down to Kerry and they can shadow my house, his house or anybody's house because we do not care whose house they shadow once there is a roof over people's heads. If I live forever, I cannot understand how people inside this House, who are sent here to represent people on all issues, including housing, can object to housing being developed in their own constituencies. Philip Ryan wrote this article in the past two to three weeks. It is outrageous and hypocritical. It is blackguarding of the worst type. It is a case of "you can't have your house because my house is here and I'm afraid you'll affect me". How self-centred and arrogant can people be? This is wrong. We want houses for people. These were social and affordable houses that were objected to by a Deputy who is inside this House shouting about housing. It just does not make sense. I have used up all my time in telling the House that but it is a very important message. Could I send out a message to Deputies and Senators? Please stop objecting to people having homes built just because they are in their constituencies and they want to pander to some other sector of society. We are all entitled to a house if we can get it but the only way we can get it is if they are built. If people are objecting to them, it is madness.
I want to say at the outset that objections have not caused the housing crisis, so let us get that out of the way. Objections have not caused the housing crisis. While the running down of the planning authorities and the failure to recruit staff for them and provide resources have been significant, I am tired of that narrative.
I support the motion and the amendment tabled by People Before Profit. I have spoken on this subject every time I have got the opportunity since 2016. I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion. I speak on this subject not from any wish to embarrass or criticise a Government but simply because what has been allowed to happen with housing is an obscenity. Our housing crisis has become embedded with the consequences set out in the motion with significant implications for services, education, healthcare and social care. We fought a battle to get gardaí assigned to the Gaeltacht but there is no place to live. It is an obscenity.
Any wise Government would ask "what is wrong here?". What has happened is that it has become embedded and it is like collateral damage in war. The policy continues to rely on the market at every stage with every assistance given and the collateral damage is that we are now standing here in the Dáil with 12,827 people accessing homelessness services, that is, 8,923 adults and 3,904 children. These figures do not include people who are sleeping rough, the hidden homeless or women who have sought refuge because of domestic violence. Tell me that the Government's policy is working given these consequences, not to mention the cost of homelessness services and the use of staff and so on. Still no Government will stand here and tell us "we got it wrong. Our policy is wrong".
From 18 to 24 September, we were told that there were 256 homeless adults in Galway city and county. The Simon Community produces a quarterly report called "Locked Out of the Market".
The significance of the review is in its title. It has been doing these for years. It takes a snapshot of three consecutive days. Nationally, there were only 27 properties available at the discretionary or standard rate. In Galway city centre, there was only one property. The main game in town is the housing assistance payment but only one property was available in Galway within HAP limits. Within the city suburbs, there were none. Average rents in Galway rose 10.7% in the 12 months to the second quarter of this year. This was the seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit increases. In Galway city, the average rent rose by 12.2% and in Galway county, it rose by 21.4%.
Will the Minister of State just listen to that? What do we do with facts like that? If we had a little wisdom, we might say there is something seriously wrong here, something which began when HAP was placed on a statutory footing back in 2013 or 2014 after having been rolled out as a pilot project, when we councillors in Galway city were told it was the only game in town. That was the terminology used. I am simply looking around to see if my colleague is coming. We were told HAP was the only game in town.
Between HAP, long-term leasing and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, we are putting over €1 billion a year into the pockets of landlords. Once again, I will say that I am not here to condemn landlords. We need landlords but they need to be balanced by a Government policy in which Government plays a central role in the provision of public housing on public land. However, we have singularly failed to provide public housing on public land.
Some Deputies are making ridiculous comments suggesting that it is objectors who are causing the problem. There is also a Government narrative that we on this side are against everything. I will come to the help-to-buy scheme, which the Government continuously includes in its narrative as something wonderful. Let me tell the Minister of State about that scheme. It was introduced in 2016 and became operational in January 2017. It has been renewed repeatedly. It was meant to be a temporary measure in 2017 but is still with us in 2023. There were enhanced rules to allow people to get a greater amount of money and so on.
According to a review by Mazars, "The scheme is poorly targeted with respect to incomes, location, house prices and other socioeconomic factors" while "the problems that it sought to address remain and the specific market failure at which it was targeted are not likely to be addressed by proposed new initiatives". It also stated: "The sort of policy uncertainty that has arisen with ongoing annual extensions without a clear picture of the longer-term policy environment is undesirable." I have kept the very best until last. The review states: "A rational approach would not design the scheme as it currently exists". Of course, it goes on to say that the scheme should be abolished but not now; let us sin and worry about it later, although the scheme should be scrapped.
There have been various other reports and reviews. On 13 October of this year, in referring to the extension of the help-to-buy scheme in the budget, the ESRI said: "Given the robust demand for housing combined with long-standing supply constraints, it is likely that these demand-side policies will increase demand for housing, putting pressure on house prices." In February 2021, an ESRI representative also stated that "a review of the ... scheme ... suggests that many households with large deposits have received support under the scheme." I never hear the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste referring to any of these facts when they talk about the help-to-buy scheme. A Parliamentary Budget Office overview of the help-to-buy scheme stated: "A third of recipients did not need ... [help-to-buy] to meet the 10% deposit requirement".
There is also a narrative suggesting that judicial reviews are holding up everything. That narrative preceded the introduction of the new planning Bill. What do we know about that? The Office of the Planning Regulator has highlighted that judicial reviews are a small problem in the planning system and has given specific figures as to cases in which judicial reviews were not a problem. It goes on and on.
The Government has created a monster in this market that has utterly failed to provide. I could count out ten or 11 schemes the Government has brought in to bolster the market. We have a jigsaw but no overall picture of how we are going to stop the homelessness we have or how we will provide homes for our people.
On top of that, there is any amount of public land in Galway city. I will repeat for the record that the docks have acres of land. Ceannt Station, right in the centre of town, also has acres of land. There are also acres of public land, although not enough, on Sandy Road and Headford Road. What have we done? We have proceeded without any overall plan for the common good. We are allowing a company that is ostensibly holding lands at the docks for the people of Galway to develop premium housing, rather than public housing, without any overall plan to fit into. At Ceannt Station, public land that should be used for the public good is being developed but not for the public good. In a similar way, the Land Development Agency has been involved at Sandy Road for I do not know how long now but there is still no progress.
In the middle of all these words I use continuously, what I am asking for is a recognition that we cannot proceed with this reliance on the market. We have to set a date for HAP payments to finish. They have to go. They have to be scrapped. It is quite clear that they cannot be scrapped overnight but our policy must be one of providing public housing on public land. All of the other things have to be phased out if we are seriously interested in bringing down the price of houses. The help-to-buy scheme is artificially keeping them way up.
I will finish on the failure to deal with regional development in an equal way. Earlier on, Deputy Canney mentioned that there are towns that do not have sewage systems. In Carraroe, i gcroílár na Gaeltachta is mó sa tír, níl aon chóras séarachais. Tá an t-uisce lofa ag dul díreach isteach san fharraige. Táimid ag fanacht le córas séarachais sa Cheathrú Rua, i gcroílár na Gaeltachta. Carraroe is a very good example. It has no hotel, although the university is based there, and it has raw sewage going straight into the sea. I will not be thanked for saying that publicly but that is the way it has been for years. A site was picked that was totally unsuitable and, 20 years down the road, this has not been dealt with. During all my time as a city councillor, I was hearing about plans for sewage treatment. No balanced regional development can take place within the county or on the east side of the city, where the city council still has not progressed a sewage treatment system.
I do not blame officials for this. I believe people within the Department are working very hard. I lay the blame on successive Governments, including this one that had the chance to do things differently because it has the money. All we wanted was a different vision. We all would have worked with the Government.
I commend this motion. In the very short time available to me, I am compelled to focus on emergency accommodation and the lack of capacity in County Clare. The most recent statistics show there were 296 presentations to the homeless action team in Clare in September while there are only 92 places in emergency accommodation in total. We are in the reality of waiting lists for emergency accommodation. That is deplorable.
I have three points to make. We need to increase the scale of emergency accommodation in Clare. We also need to ramp up the building of social and affordable housing. I welcome the recent comments from the Minister on Clare FM suggesting that the scheme could be extended to places like west Clare. It would be great to get a commitment on that. We also need to open the winter initiative immediately. I have discussed that separately with the Minister.
I will also take this opportunity to point out that a proposal from Clare regarding a modular home scheme as an option was made to each of the 31 local authorities in the State. That was several months ago but, to date, the proposers have received no response. I will forward the details to the Minister of State. I hope he will be able to give it his attention. It seems extremely cost-effective. These homes can be built in one day. There could be a real option here to address capacity issues now.
Something that needs to be reflected on is that no statistics on progress can keep people warm and safe this winter. Every day, I talk to people who are in deplorable and desperate circumstances or who are facing them imminently. They tell me that they are on the streets or sleeping in cars or on floors. More needs to be done.
I also have two points to make on vacant homes. We need to reduce the length of time a property must be vacant for to avail of two schemes. Under Croí Cónaithe, it should be reduced from two years to six months. Equally, the requirement under the local authority repair and lease scheme should be reduced from one year to six months. I know the Minister of State has said that he is committed to carrying out a review next year but I respectfully request that be brought forward immediately.
I thank everyone for their contributions. I reiterate what the Minister, Deputy said; we will oppose the motion and the subsequent Opposition amendment. I emphasise that we are committed. We have a Housing for All document and plan, which is detailed. We understand the impact that housing is having on people but I want to deal in facts. I have listened to all of the debate and I want to look at a few points and at the Sinn Féin motion.
We are making progress. In the first nine months of this year, up to the end of September, we saw 22,500 houses completed, which is up 9% on last year. Commencements are at 24,000, up 14% on last year. Some 22,500 social houses are in the pipeline. We have 770 affordable and cost-rental houses. Vacancy came up a good number of times. In its motion, Sinn Féin referred to 4,000 vacancies. Under the Croí Cónaithe scheme, which has only been in place for a short time, we have had 4,600 applications. Deputy Wynne made reference to the changes to the scheme. We amended the scheme to bring the thresholds from €30,000 to €50,000 and from €50,000 to €70,000. We also amended it to ensure it could be made available for rental properties. We are continually keeping schemes under review but that scheme has proven to be a great success.
Others have referenced people being able to purchase homes. Governments have to make policy decisions. It is easy in opposition - and I was there myself - to make statements without outlining policies. I mentioned what we have brought in and I would like to hear from Deputy Ó Broin on this when he responds. Sinn Féin opposed the help-to-buy scheme, which is about providing a deposit for people to purchase their home, which many people find difficult to get together, and banks will take the help-to-buy scheme towards a deposit for a home. People in the scheme are getting back the hard-earned taxes they paid. Sinn Féin consistently opposed the first home scheme, which nearly 2,600 people have been approved to take up. We have had nearly 6,400 applications for same, and 3,900 of those came this year alone. Sinn Féin opposed the local authority affordable housing purchase scheme. Deputy Ó Broin can confirm that to me but that is similar to Sinn Féin's stance on the first home scheme.
Deputy Connolly, who is in the Chair, made reference to the Mazars report, which was produced for the Department of Finance last year, not this year. I looked at that report in great depth and the Department of Finance has amended that scheme to ensure that it is just a local authority affordable housing purchase scheme. Currently, if someone is above a discount of approximately 22%, they will not qualify for the help to buy scheme. We have amended the local authority affordable housing purchase scheme so that if the equity stake plus the mortgage is above 70%, applicants will qualify for the help-to-buy scheme. We want people who are above the social housing income limit to be able to aspire to own home. That means that under the local authority affordable housing purchase scheme there is a discount of up to 40%. They will now be able to avail of that and also qualify for the help-to-buy scheme. That has been circulated to all of the local authorities. We have put forward €270 million for the delivery of 4,300 affordable homes between 2022 and 2027 across 72 schemes and 20 local authorities. This is a good scheme to make the purchase of houses affordable. I mentioned the Croí Cónaithe scheme, which Sinn Féin has consistently opposed. That is a good scheme and the party needs to clarify its stance on that.
On social housing, last year we had more than 10,263 homes added, nearly 7,500 of which were new builds, which was the highest figure in recent decades. We have done that against the backdrop of increasing construction and energy costs and rising interest rates, which many Deputies made reference to. On the affordable purchase scheme, 750 homes have been produced in 2022 and we are looking to exceed that this year. It is not fair to say that we have not increased the capital spend on housing; it is €5.1 billion this year, while it was €4.5 billion last year. We look at it as an holistic approach. It is done through the local authorities, the LDA, the Housing Agency and others.
Others have made reference to the zoning of lands. We are doing a report on the national planning framework, based on the census 2022 figures. We will look to update it in that regard. The public spending code was referenced and elements of that are under way. The limit of €100 million will increase to €200 million and that is going to Cabinet. The capital appraisal guidelines have been changed and the work is under way on the public spending code. We hope to have the infrastructure guidelines published shortly.
On vacancy generally, we have given €150 million to the local authorities under the third call. We want well over 4,000 units to come back in under that. We want the councils to purchase units, make them available for people to live in, have a revolving fund and have it be self-financing in time. It is a start-up fund for local authorities. We are looking at 4,000 properties entering the activation programme. Vacancy is being tackled across a multitude of areas, including in the private sector through the Croí Cónaithe scheme.
We have increased the rent tax credit from €500 to €750 and potentially €1,500 will be available to a couple renting their home. The increase in the price of houses was referenced. The latest data shows that the annual price increase nationally to the end of August is 1%. It is down 1.9% in Dublin and it is up 3% beyond that. Trends are going in the right direction. Any moment in time can be picked but I want to deal in current data. Our top priority is to deliver social, affordable and cost-rental housing. There is a strong pipeline of social housing with 22,600 units.
We put €242 million into homelessness this year, which is 12.5%. We know that is very difficult for people. In the last quarter, we took just over 1,269 people out of homelessness. That is 1,269 people who were either prevented from going into homelessness or who exited homelessness during that period. That is a significant increase on the comparable period in 2022. We saw 566 people exit homelessness, which is approximately 4%. We have put €35 million into the housing first scheme. Some 945 people are currently being housed under that scheme, which is for people who are homeless. Some 446 tenancies have been created since 2022.
Housing for All is up and running for 26 months. We will do everything in our power to increase affordability in the rental market in terms of cost rental.
I will finish on a point relating to people being unable to purchase homes. We have the first home scheme, the help-to-buy scheme, the local authority affordable housing purchase scheme and the Croí Cónaithe scheme. They are all there to ensure people can afford to purchase their own home. The question is where Sinn Féin stands on that.
One would not know it from the Minister of State's speech but Fine Gael has been in government for 12 years and Fianna Fáil has been propping it up for seven years. Their record is a housing crisis which has gone from bad to worse. Since this particular coalition with the Green Party was cobbled together the facts speak for themselves: house prices have increased by 28% and rents have increased by 25%, or €3,700 per year. Homelessness, including child homelessness, has increased by 47%. Government targets are too low and in every single instance the Government is missing those targets.
There is a huge cost to all of this failure and incompetence. That cost is being paid in particular by entire generations who have lost any hope of living in their own home and who are instead living in a vicious cycle of rising rents. Apart from the devastating personal impact that has been borne by those directly affected, there is also a wider societal cost. That cost is deeply felt within our public services. It is felt in the schools that cannot employ the teachers they need, the hospitals that cannot employ the healthcare staff they need, Garda stations, Defence Forces' barracks and social care centres, none of which can employ the numbers they need because those who are qualified and who want to fill those roles cannot afford places to live. Increasingly, we are seeing that the cost of Government failure is impacting on investment and competitiveness in the private sector as well. Companies, big and small, in virtually every city, town, and village across the State are struggling to find staff because those staff cannot find affordable places to live.
There are not many certainties in this world but one certainty is that the longer Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are in government, the worse the housing crisis will get. Another certainty is that if we get the chance, Sinn Féin will move heaven and earth to undo the damage that the Government has caused. We will set the right targets for social and affordable housing. We will allocate the necessary funding to deliver that housing. We will introduce the necessary reforms to fast-track that delivery and, most important, we will build the affordable houses that our young people need. Above all, we will swap the Government excuses for actions that will once and for all resolve the housing crisis that is getting worse every single day the Minister of State is in government. The Government has had enough chances and it has failed every single one of them. It is now time for change.
Let me tell the Minister of State why the people of County Mayo know that the longer the Government is in office, the worse things will get for them. The total number of eviction notices issued this year was 15,006. In Mayo, 80 people were issued a notice to quit in the past 12 weeks alone, with a total of 274 since the start of the year. We know that a number of those people will end up homeless. The number of adults, children, families, single people, and pensioners living in Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage-funded emergency accommodation increased from August to September. There are now officially 12,827 people, including 3,904 children, in hubs, hostels and hotels.
Mayo has one of the highest rates of homelessness outside our cities. Mayo has now the sixth highest number of people suffering homelessness. This is shocking for a rural county such as Mayo. There are now 572 people homeless in the west, 220 of whom are children. There are 77 people homeless in Mayo alone. Not only are more people homeless but the hardship they are in is also getting worse. The Government callously lifted the no-fault eviction ban without there being any additional emergency capacity in place. There is no emergency accommodation.
I can tell the Minister of State about a family I met last Saturday. Not even the hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation will take their vouchers. The reason is that the family has three children and one of the children, a three-year old, is autistic. If the Minister of State knows about autism, he will know that living in a confined space in a hotel room is not a conducive environment for children with autism. I wonder if the Government has done any kind of reckoning to see the number of homeless children who are autistic and have different sensory conditions that do not even allow them to get a hotel room or a room in a bed and breakfast accommodation. That is how bad it is. That is why the people of Mayo know that the longer this Government is in place, the worst things will get. They know that the only thing that is going to fix this is a change of direction and an election to get a totally different policy going.
I will let Deputy Ó Broin talk about the rest of it, but the first-time buyers' grant has been proven time and time again to lock people out of the system rather than bringing them in.
There is a seething anger in all of our communities because of the failure of the Government not just over two and a half years, not just over seven years, but over 12 years, to tackle this housing crisis. I know for some people listening in that when the anger finds its way onto the floor of the Dáil in angry exchanges, it might make for hard listening but that is nowhere near as hard as it is to sit with families week in and week out as we do in our constituency clinics who are facing the consequences of the failure of the Minister's housing plan. Therefore, I make no apologies for expressing that anger here.
It is also deeply frustrating that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, comes in, as he does repeatedly, and says things that I believe to be untrue both about his own record and about Opposition policy, but he then does not stay for us to be able to rebut his points. If we sometimes overstep the line in our responses to the Minister while he is here, it is because he is a Minister who is singularly unwilling to debate with any of us pretty much anywhere, not just Sinn Féin but other Opposition spokespeople, on television, on the radio, or here.
Let us respond to some of his points. Both he and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, said that the budget next year for housing when voted capital, LDA, and approved housing body borrowing is added is larger. That is because the LDA has hardly spent a penny in three years. Last year, the agency only spent €51 million of capital funding and so far this year only €200 million. It is meant to be spending €750 million a year. Simply rolling over the LDA's unspent money each year and claiming it is an increase is not true. The Government is meant to be spending €4 billion in capital spending annually between voted expenditure, LDA, and AHBs. What did the Government do last year? It spent €3 billion of the €4 billion. It underspent by €1 billion. At the end of September this year, only €2 billion of the €4 billion allocated had been spent. I accept the Minister will roll it over to next year, but if it is not spent this year, like last year, the Government is not delivering on its targets and people suffer.
Let us look at those targets. The Minister repeatedly said earlier that the Government is meeting its targets; it is not. The global target of public and private sector housing is being met but when you look inside that, every single year, the one thing the Government controls – the delivery of new-build social homes and affordable homes to rent or to buy – it is not meeting its targets; in fact, so much so that to date, 8,500 new-build social homes that should have been delivered were not. That is more than the actual number of households currently in emergency accommodation. The Government's delivery of genuinely affordable homes for people to buy and rent is absolutely pitiful. Last year, it only hit its target by 50% and the year before it was even worse. Halfway through this year, of the 4,400 affordable homes to be delivered, there were only 123. Let us wait to see where we are at the end of the year but the Government is not delivering on the target.
On planning, both the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and Deputy Michael Healy-Rae mentioned an alleged planning objection by my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Anybody who actually bothers to read his letter will see that the opening sentence of it states that he does not object to the social and affordable homes that will be turnkey purchased by Dublin City Council, but he made two asks. They were eminently reasonable, and I stand over them. First, some three-bed units are needed. They cannot all be just one-bed and two-bed units because that area needs three-beds. That is very reasonable. Second, because it is an apartment block, where it egregiously overshadows existing two-storey houses, he asked that a change be made to the design so that it is tiered. That is not an objection. That is good housing policy and good planning. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, knows that, yet chooses to misrepresent my colleagues.
I will respond specifically to the Minister of State's queries. The help-to-buy scheme is a really bad one, which pushes up house prices. A third of the money has gone to people who did not need it. That is not my view; it is the view of the Mazars report and the Parliamentary Budget Office that €300 million could have been spent tackling real affordability. In fact, the Mazars report, which the Minister of State obviously did not read closely enough, said the scheme should be wound down at the end of 2024. Instead, it has been extended to 2025.
Not only does the first home scheme push up house prices, it saddles working people with debt. The Government was meant to deliver 2,000 units with it last year. How many did it deliver? A handful.
Will the Government deliver 2,000 units of homes purchased this year? Not on the basis of the current trajectory. I will say this again regarding the Croí Cónaithe refurbishment grant. Every time the Minister, Deputy O'Brien comes into the House and says we oppose the scheme, he is telling a lie. I have said that to him over and over again. Read the budget document we published today. We would roll that money into a much more ambitious programme of local authority-led acquisition, refurbishment and sale but still with a grant option. It is in black and white in the document.
Let me conclude by saying this, Minister of State. Twelve years you been in government. In those 12 years, homelessness has increased every single year. There has been a 250% increase in homelessness since your party took office. That is your record, that is your legacy, that is why you have to go, and that is why I commend this motion to the House.