Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

Affordable Housing Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)

 

9:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 12, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“(8) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (7) and (8) a housing authority may set out additional criteria for eligibility of applicants for a specific affordable housing purchase arrangement with respect to income and asset thresholds with regard to ensuring access to affordable purchase for persons from each income quintile within a housing authority area and such other matters as may be outlined under section 6(4).”.

I will speak to my amendment, No. 37. This is again setting out the same fundamental concerns I had already addressed and which have come up throughout. They are the questions of affordability and what is affordable. We have discussed that. I had amendments on whether we set it at the median wage. Others have talked about the average wage. Is it a percentage of that? Is it 35%? This is the complement to that set of amendments.

While that set of amendments related to the affordability of the dwelling, this set is trying to come at it from another side, in terms of looking at the eligibility of the different applicants. This amendment reserves the right for local authorities in that a local authority may be aware, for example, of the kind of wages people were predominantly earning in a factory of 500 or 800 people in its area. This reflects the nuance we might need in the affordable housing we may make available in that area. We know we need this to be affordable to nurses, because that is a key issue for us. We need this to be affordable to a large cohort, because not every area is the same and neither is its mix of needs.When I put those amendments around allowing local authorities to layer extra criteria into the kinds of affordability they might need in their areas, similarly I felt local housing authorities should be able to set out additional criteria in respect of the eligibility of applicants. Rather than the same sweeping criteria for applicants who might apply across the country, and given what will be a limited affordable housing supply, it may be better that local authorities set out additional criteria for applicants in respect of their income and asset thresholds.

For example, it is important that we do not end up with the list of eligible applicants filling up with people from one quintile or perhaps the second or third quintile of the top 40% or top 60% of earners. A certain part of an affordable housing development under these agreements should be reserved for those who are in the bottom two quintiles, that is, the lowest 20% or lowest 40% of incomes in the State. It would be appropriate that local authorities ensure that the eligible applicants availing of these schemes are able to access them and can get that diversity. It is part of that same view of wanting a diversity of applicants.

This amendment is an attempt to somewhat tackle the serious concerns we have with affordability in terms of houses a little bit from below. For example, take the case of a large cohort on wages of €28,000 or €30,000. These are the kinds of wages people are on right across the State. One would not believe when one looks at the maths and formulas being produced in terms of housing. A household income of €150,000 is mentioned. I am trying to get the updated figures from the Central Statistics Office but the figures from five years ago showed the median wage was €28,500. When I worked for the National Womens Council of Ireland we used to get the women and men in Ireland survey figures. It used to be annual but now it is only every three or four years. The median income for women was between €20,000 to €21,000. Up to 50% of women were on that wage or less.

Local authority members know who lives in their areas. That is why I want to be able to set some additional criteria around eligibility to ensure it is not just a scheme that is available to anybody who fits the general threshold. Instead, these schemes should work for the people in their area. It will also ensure people working in their area are able to live near where they work and so forth.

I would prefer the amendments to be tackling the affordability of the houses with regard to local authority input. If that cannot be done, then at least the local authorities should be able to add criteria in terms of eligibility. I would note here it should not just be in terms of income but also assets. That is another concern. One may have people who may not be homeowners but may have substantially more assets than others who could avail of this scheme. Those who do not have any cushion to fall back on could then find themselves falling to the end of the list.

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