Friday, 4 June 2021
Affordable Housing Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
For clarity, amendment No. 46 does not relate to open market dwellings but to Part V housing. The “or (b)” that is being removed relates to Part V housing. I understand and do not have any problem with the intent of the Bill but I have concerns about the drafting. That is why I have gone back and forth and have come at it two or three different ways, which I accept may not be the best ways to come at it. I hope that the considerably greater drafting resources to which the Minister of State might have access will review this and look at the clarity of the language. That is why I have amendments to try to take Part V out of this, to bring clarity, and "For the avoidance of doubt" in another one. The Minister of State might table an amendment with language that is for the avoidance of doubt.
I am not speaking about housing practice but as a legislator addressing the legislation, about the definitions part of the Bill. The Minister of State has described a relationship which is the one that I understand to be the intention and which would be proper between the equity and the contribution, so that effectively the contribution is there and can be recognised as equity at a later stage in the process. The Bill has separate definitions for affordable housing dwelling equity and affordable dwelling contribution. It does not set out the relationship between the affordable dwelling contribution in Part V dwellings and equity. There is a concern that (a) and (b) of section 5 are being treated the same even though they are quite different.The reference in section 5(a) is just to a dwelling made available by a housing authority under any of these agreements, including agreements with the Land Development Agency, public private partnerships, etc., but section 5(b), which relates to Part 5, is treated the same way. Surely Part 5 is being treated in a different way than section 5(a)? In a public private partnership for example, one may be paying a certain amount, whereas with Part 5, properties are being provided at a certain price. The downstream element in terms of equity may be the same but the contribution is surely likely to be configured differently. My concern is that Part 5 is being bundled in with all those other kinds of ways that a housing authority might provide housing under section 6, and there is not clarity. One might need one arrangement with a public private partnership where one pays a certain amount and then a certain amount of that is made available at an affordable price, but on the Part 5 it would be a different arrangement because the price would be the price. I accept there would be an equity part later because if somebody purchases it the person is taking the value of the fact that it is a lower price. I have no problem with the fact that it would be reflected back to the council, but the language is unclear. Specifically, the only point it makes about the definition of that contribution – "contribution" is a strong word if it is to be invoked - is literally a reference to this section of the Bill, which is 12(2)(a) and "the difference between the market value...and the price paid by the eligible applicant". The Minister of State might see the difference as the discount that happened because it was a Part 5 arrangement. My concern is that it could be construed as being the financial difference. We must be crystal clear on Part 5. We heard three or four different interpretations. With respect, we must have an interpretation which is crystal clear, so even if the Minister of State cannot accept these amendments, I urge him to come back to us with something that will provide clarity. That could be done either by separating out Part 5 and how it is discussed or being clearer on the relationship between the contribution and the equity, but we have a circular self-reference at the moment where the only reference is to the difference between the market price and the price paid. There is nothing to explain what we mean by that difference.