Tuesday, 8 November 2022
Housing for All: Statements (Resumed)
It is good to see the Minister of State. I do not know where to start as some extraordinary contributions have been made. I will try to deal with those and then suggest some positive contributions from our side. It is a pity Senator Cummins is not here. His speech was quite extraordinary. He spoke of the strong foundations laid by the previous Government. I do not know whether Senator Cummins is considering a career in stand-up comedy but he certainly has the lines to make a good start.
What we need from Fine Gael is an acknowledgement it has been in power for 12 years. The housing crisis happened entirely under its watch. It is not a natural disaster nor is it like an earthquake or a hurricane. It is a direct result of failed Government policies under the direction of Fine Gael for 12 years. It would be good if just once we would hear someone from Fine Gael acknowledge that it has failed the people fundamentally and that is why we have a housing crisis today. That is a fact. That is why 10,800 people are homeless. It is why 3,000 children are homeless. It can be tracked back to ideological thought on Fine Gael's part, to neoliberalism, where the party decided to stop building houses, to outsource it to the private sector and to use RAS and HAP. What did that do? It crowded out the marketplace, which means that today people cannot afford to buy houses because Fine Gael has driven the prices up with its failed policies. Not once have I heard anyone from Fine Gael hold their hand up and say they are responsible as they have been in government all this time. It is not an accident. It is bad policy design consistently put in place by Fine Gael.
My friend Senator Casey always makes a colourful contribution but I must point a few things out to him. The first is that the Government is not delivering on its target. I ask the Minister of State to give a straight answer on this when he responds. How many social houses will the Government build this year? The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, could not tell us last week. Strangely, the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, was in the House three weeks ago and he insisted - he said he wanted to correct the record - that the Government will meet its targets on social housing. Funnily enough, the Minister, Deputy McGrath, stated last week that the Government will not meet those targets. Will the Minister of State provide some clarity on that, please, because we know the Government will not meet the targets?
There was a devastating critique in thejournal.ieyesterday that compared Department data with the Revised Estimates. It showed major gaps between how money was spent as of the start of October and annual targets. This speaks directly to the false claim that the Government will spend €4 billion on housing. It has not happened this year. It will not happen this year. Let us go through the figures we have. A total of €568 millionwas spent on local authority and approved housing body new builds and acquisitions. That is approximately 37% of the €1.53 billion budgeted for the year. The capital advance and leasing facility, CALF, spent €95.25 million. That is approximately 31% of the targeted budget. The capital assistance scheme, CAS, spent €59.66 million, which is about 62% of the targeted budget. The cost rental equity loan programme spent €22.6 million, which is approximately 32% of its €70 million budget. The affordable housing scheme had only spent €1 million at the beginning of October, which is less than 2% of its €60 million budget. The figures are available. They are the Government's own figures and they tell us it will reach nowhere near the €4 billion it tells us it will spend this year. Here is the problem. The Government will not reach its targets and its targets were not high enough in the first place. The Government's think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, told the Government it was spending only half of what is required to tackle the housing crisis. It is failing on both counts.
In the short time available I will make a few key points, if I may. Local authorities have a big issue with caps. There is not enough flexibility. I will give a concrete example. In Limerick, the cap on buying a one-bedroom apartment is €150,000. The councils cannot acquire apartments because they cost €220,000. The caps are not in tune with the marketplace. Similarly, for two and three bedroom apartments the caps are not enough, especially when the housing needs to be reconfigured, for example, for people with disabilities. The Government needs to look at those caps urgently.
It needs to lift the income thresholds. This is bizarre. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, had a report on his desk last December. Now he is undertaking a scoping exercise. The Government is already halfway through its term. At what point will it address the fact that thousands of families are completely excluded from housing by these limits the Government still has not reviewed and revised?
The final point I will make is that planning and red tape are issues of concern. It should not take 12 months to go through a four-stage planning process. It frequently takes longer than that and, again, the Government is in power for the past two years and has done nothing to tackle that. On so many grounds, this Government is failing people. The facts, and people know the facts, are that house buying and renting are becoming exorbitant to the point where people are looking to leave the country. That is the legacy of this Government.