Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

Affordable Housing Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)

 

9:30 am

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

Yes. I will not speak for much longer on this amendment as we have discussed it. The amendment deals with the amounts that would be paid to a provider of affordable housing, for example, a developer with whom a local authority or housing authority has an arrangement. There are two clauses here. One relates to the price paid directly by the direct purchaser, that is, the individual who will live in the house if the owner occupier element holds, which I think it should, versus the amount agreed with a local authority. The idea is that if the direct price ends up being more than that, a supplement would be paid and, similarly, the reverse. My point is that any top-up a local authority might be required to pay under this should not exceed the market price.

I believe we need deflation in the housing market. It is not simply a matter of reaching up to where the prices are now. If, for example, a local authority has agreed to purchase a number of houses for €300,000 each and the sale price on the open market houses falls in the meantime to €250,000, we do not want the local authority paying more for these houses, which are being made affordable, than they would cost on the open market. I am just trying to ensure there is a ceiling. The reason I believe this amendment is in order and not out of order is that it does not require an undue charge. The amount somebody could get for the house is not being diminished because the amount the developer could get is up to but not more than market value. That is a reasonable ceiling.

This proposal is not about breaking contracts. I am seeking to build this into the contract in order that at the point the agreement is made, the agreement is that that difference will be paid up to a ceiling of the market value at the time of the house being provided. The amendment also seeks to deal with cases we have had, such as Herberton and others which have been mentioned to me, whereby a housing authority enters into an agreement and it may be a two, five or ten years before the housing is actually provided. That is why we want to ensure that the point of agreement issue does not end up leading to a hostage to fortune whereby houses that are meant to be affordable within a development effectively become more unaffordable than the general stock. That is the context.

One of the other amendments relates to the Part 5 circumstance but I will not press that one at this point because I have a deeper concern about Part 5. I would like clarity on Part 5 affordable houses, whereby providing affordable houses is a condition of getting planning permission in the first place. My understanding is that those houses would be provided at the affordable price rate that is agreed directly. While there may be an affordable housing equity held by a local authority, I am a little concerned about the language later in the Bill relating to an affordable housing contribution. That is the gap between the affordable price rate and the market price.In the case of Part 5 housing, I apologise if it is a foolish question but I would like to be completely clear about that gap between the affordable price and what a house would be at a market price. I will come to that; I have other amendments that deal with it. However, in the case of Part 5 there is no question of there being a financial top up. It is an equity top-up by the council. Having made it available, it should not be a financial contribution from the authority. There is just a little ambiguity in the language of the Bill because sometimes it talks about an affordable housing contribution and other times about affordable housing equity and that is one we might need clarity on, just in relation to Part 5.

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