Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)

I want to take a more rounded approach to this discussion around housing. It is good that the entire discussion in this House today has revolved around housing, and in the last two weeks as well. It shows we all see the urgency behind this issue and the importance of getting it solved. I will take a wider approach and touch on some of the comments I made during the Second Stage debate on the Affordable Housing Bill.

The first is on mortgages and the total lack of competition in the mortgage market. That tends to freeze out a lot of people. Competition is key and where there is competition people will try to give the consumer a better deal. During the week, I was struck by this when a couple came to me who are good friends of mine. They have come home from working in the NHS in London. Both have very good jobs and substantial deposits. The wife has started working for the HSE; the husband is still working for the NHS and works across the Border. No bank and nobody will give them a mortgage because he is paid in sterling. A bank can decide to do that and if we had competitiveness and competition, that would not happen. The family has to go to the local authority and get a mortgage through it, but they are not the type of people that scheme was designed for. They are more than capable of getting a mortgage from a lender. That is one example that encapsulates the lack of competition.

The other issue is that when I have tried to get mortgages and loans in recent months the biggest problem I have, which we all have, is that they turn around to say we have not got stable employment. That is fair enough but, where somebody is paying €900 per month in rent, surely a mortgage lender or bank should be able to look at that, see the individual has the capacity to pay that €900 per month and take that sum into consideration. However, they do not take it into consideration. That is another unfair example of how we need to widen the level of competition.

If this is to be local authority led house building, we need to have clear, definitive targets of what we expect from local authorities. We need to remember it is not just a Dublin-centred debate, but a countrywide one. Other local authorities will be able to deliver housing better than lesser local authorities. What will we set for Louth, Leitrim and Offaly county councils? It does not always have to be about Dublin County Council, Dublin this or Dublin that. The largest concentration of the population is there but we need a wider approach.I would be interested, as I said in the Affordable Housing Bill debate, in how the chief executives of local authorities will be held accountable if such authorities fail to hit the targets in terms of housebuilding. We should also roll out across the country a scheme of compulsory purchase orders to take vacant and derelict houses, many of which are caught up in vulture funds or going through issues of probate with families. Louth County Council ran an impressive pilot project over recent years. It was the forerunner of all local authorities in doing it. If we could implement a dedicated funding scheme, similar to the voids programme, to give money to local authorities for compulsory purchase orders for vacant homes, that could go a long way.

I saw last night when Richard Bruton was on "The Tonight Show" and I have seen in this House a bit that this whole debate around housing is ideologically driven. The point I made two weeks ago is that I am 30 years of age and if one were to ask any of my friends, who are normal people, they do not care whether the house is built on public or private land, by a local authority or a developer. They just want the opportunity to work hard and get an affordable house. The common sense approach is sometimes missed when we in this House get up to the higher echelons of debate and discussions around housing. What does the average person in the street want to do? He or she wants the opportunity to buy their own home. We can lose sight of that sometimes when we get bogged down in the ideological aspects of the housing debate. The quickest way to provide that opportunity is build, build, build and continually increase supply. Once we do that, we will see housing lists in local authorities going down and people of my generation being able to buy an affordable house. We will see people going into effective cost rental housing or living in an estate that is mixed use, with social housing, private housing and affordable housing. That is the way forward. Having those mixes of housing is a good way to get away from the mistakes of the 1980s. In my area, we built substantial social housing en bloc.

It is so simple. Over the next three years, the lifetime of this Government, we need to set clear, definitive targets and we are doing it through the legislation that went through today. We need to say, for example, that we want to build 8,000 houses this year, 8,000 the next year and 8,000 the year after. I think we are doing that and I am confident we will deliver on that. In three years time, the Government will be able to turn around and say this was what the housing issue was like when it took over and this is where it has been left. People of my generation will be able to buy affordable houses and that is the key.

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