Wednesday, 31 January 2018
I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Members of the Seanad for the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s progress in responding to the housing challenges. I will highlight the actions we have taken and are taking to increase the social housing stock and meet the needs of those on the waiting lists and those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as to drive the increased supply of new housing across all tenures and maximise our existing housing stock to meet current and future needs.
I recognise that, in doing this work and in making progress under Rebuilding Ireland, there is cross-party support for the work we are trying to do. I know many want to do even more and we all agree with that, but most agree with the actions we are taking and both Houses of the Oireachtas support the spend of €6 billion under Rebuilding Ireland and the action plan for housing. Local authorities are central to this and I am conscious we have representatives from Waterford in the Visitors Gallery, in particular Councillor Declan Doocey. It is important to recognise the role that local authorities have. They are on the front line when it comes to housing delivery. In working with the Department, State agencies, NGOs and approved housing bodies, the local authorities are the main drivers.
Having increased capacity in terms of people and resources in the local authorities in the last year or two, we are in a much stronger position to try to address homelessness and the housing shortage than we were two or three years ago. Much of that is because we now have money we did not have a couple of years ago. I wish we had it years ago, so we would not have this housing problem, but we did not have it. Now, with the increased economic recovery, with people back at work and with more taxes coming in, we have a lot more money to spend on housing, and local authorities can rightly resume their position as the drivers of housing solutions, working with all involved.
I want to acknowledge the delivery of almost 26,000 social housing supports by local authorities, approved housing bodies and the other housing stakeholders to those who needed support and help in 2017. We have over-achieved our initial aims for many of our targets, although we need to maintain and build on this progress in 2018 and beyond. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, myself and the Department are clear that, while the action plan for housing sets out how to tackle this, action by action, over a five-year period, we cannot rest and sit back until there is nobody in a homeless situation, nobody living in an emergency house and the housing stock is under control. When we say we are making progress and list our achievement of targets, it is not looking for a clap on the back but just to state the fact that we are making some progress. We all recognise the urgency of going even further and doing even more work. That is why an additional €500 million was added to the overall housing budget last year and why we got an additional €100 million for last year at the end of last year to enable us to do more in the 12 months just gone.
I want to acknowledge the hard work across the country in tackling homelessness. It was encouraging to see the reduction in homeless numbers in December but we must do more to advance additional preventive measures. We know the numbers rise and fall in different months but we hope the trend will continue downwards, in particular in regard to the number of homeless families in emergency accommodation. We will have the figures for January quite soon and they will, hopefully, give us something to build on and will prove the progress we are making.
I often say in the other House that while I accept there are still thousands of people in an emergency situation, and a hotel is no place to raise a family, which we accept, progress is being made and we are getting there. A lot of taxpayers' money is being spent on this so it is important we recognise there is progress. All of the different agencies, local authorities, approved housing bodies and NGOs are at the coal face dealing with this on behalf of our Department, spending taxpayers' money to address homelessness. They are doing a good job with the resources they have and they want to do more, as we all do. We will make progress and we will get there. Some 4,000 people last year left a homeless situation and are in a house today. It is not enough, given there are still 8,000 people in emergency situations, but I want to recognise this and give a little bit of hope that there is progress and they are not going to be left in an emergency situation forever.
I would like to highlight some key outcomes from the range of actions we have taken under Rebuilding Ireland. Some 25,892 is the number of new households that had their housing need met in 2017. As the Minister, Deputy Murphy, puts it, that is 100 new households who have had their social housing need met every working day of the week last year. That shows the progress, although we want to build on that and do even more in the year ahead. The Government exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports last year by 23%, which is more than 4,800 additional tenancies. Compared with 2016, last year we increased our social housing supports by 36%, or 6,847 more households supported. Over 7,000 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes in 2017. This is a 40% increase, or almost 2,000 new homes, on what was planned for the year, and it is a 24% increase over what was achieved in 2016.
Again, these are homes that were not in use and that are new to the stock. We have all heard the stories of local authorities only delivering 75 or 100 houses a couple of years ago. That is now changing, rightly so, and it could not change quickly enough. That is why we are involved in putting in place new delivery mechanisms and new processes to speed up the delivery of houses. To repeat, 7,000 permanent social houses came on stream last year, which is a major plus, and it will be about 8,000 this year. Added to that are all of the temporary social houses under the HAP scheme, which we are also trying to strengthen. There is progress although, as I keep stressing, it is not enough to help everybody and we have to keep going in order to do that.
We came in slightly shy on our local authority and approved housing bodies build target for the year, having hit some 92% or our target. This means there were 2,245 newly-built homes, which is still a positive result and is over three times the level built in 2016. While it is not enough, the trends are going the right way. The local authorities are getting their teams together. We have regular discussions with them about changing the way we do business and about strengthening their teams and strengthening resources to get action on the ground, which is happening. The progress is there to be seen.Furthermore, when we look at the combined delivery for both built and acquired social housing homes in 2017, some 4,511 new homes were delivered. That is 22% or an additional 827 homes more than had been originally planned. Again, we are trying to put more money into delivering housing, certainly in terms of build and acquisitions.
We recognise that although we have made progress and thousands of people have been helped, thousands of people join the system having declared themselves homeless every month, as has happened over the past year. We want to get ahead of that situation once and for all. I hope that the figures will reduce on a regular basis thus indicating we have got ahead of the problem. It has proven difficult to get ahead of the problem because 90 or 100 people present themselves as homeless every month. I have outlined why the numbers have not reduced fast enough but we must keep pushing. I believe we will make major inroads in this area in 2018.
We have changed the delivery mix for 2018, which means we can do more on the build side and less on the acquisitions side. Where buying makes sense, and where it does not compete with young families or couples in the market, local authorities will continue to do so. The Minister has made that very clear at the past two housing summits. Last September, he made it clear to local authorities that we want them to resume building houses and not just to acquire houses. It was very clear, at both summits, that it still makes sense for some local authorities to buy vacant stock that nobody else wants, particularly as one moves further away from Dublin. It makes sense to use taxpayers' money in the best possible way. While we build the system back up to capacity in order to build houses and deliver sites, it makes sense that we acquire sites and houses when they are vacant, when nobody else is competing for them and they are good value. Local authorities know what they must do. The closer local authorities are to Dublin, the greater the focus will be on building houses. We have asked every local authority to up its game and drive the pipeline of new builds and new houses. Today, about 3,700 social houses are being constructed across 190 sites. On top of that figure, a total of 12,700 projects covering 720 sites are at different stages. That is a good number of projects but we have asked the local authorities to double and, indeed, treble, their efforts because the current number will not be enough to deliver the target of 50,000 houses under Rebuilding Ireland. We have asked local authorities to do more, to find more sites and to put more plans and processes in place. We are working with them on these aspects on a daily basis.
Construction figures for September 2017 show that 3,700 new social houses were being built across 190 sites. We hope to increase that figure because the plan aims to deliver 3,800 in 2018. Activity in 2017, under Part V, reflects the overall increase in activity in the wider residential construction sector. The 388 homes delivered represent an almost sixfold increase on the number of new social homes delivered using this mechanism in 2016. These statistics reflect the fact that the private sector has resumed building houses. Again, we can see the trend is going in the right direction. When we put together the Rebuilding Ireland programme 18 months ago, we thought a total of 19,000 would be built by 2018. The construction sector has estimated that about 23,000 houses will be delivered this year and the ESRI has estimated that 24,000 houses will be delivered. That trend is much more positive than what we thought it would be at this stage. I am glad it is because we need that many houses and even more. Again, the figures show that there is activation on many sites and many houses are being delivered that will address various aspects of this issue, for example, providing housing for people living in emergency accommodation and in hotels, and addressing the price of homes, affordability and the cost of rent. All of these issues can be solved by a major increase in the number of houses. If we increase the supply of housing, we can tackle all the different parts of the housing difficulties that exist. I am glad that trends are moving in the right direction.
In terms of the housing assistance payment, HAP, the target of 15,000 was exceeded by almost 3,000 with 17,916 new HAP tenancies established in 2017. Overall, some 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved in 2017, which is 33% higher than in 2016. I remind people, and I will keep saying it, that we are aware of the fact that hundreds of people present as homeless. Although 4,000 people are no longer homeless, the improvement is not enough. We know this number is not enough and we will do much more, but people must realise that there is hope.
In terms of HAP, we have received a lot of feedback from people in this House that they are unhappy with the scheme. In contrast, the majority of people I have met who are on HAP have confirmed that they are quite happy with the scheme and they think it works very well. They much prefer HAP over the previous rent assistance scheme because HAP allows people to return to work, thus increasing their household income. As a result, they can source houses in different places. It is getting more difficult to find a HAP house in the pressure zones and areas. The scheme has worked well for thousands of people over the past couple of years, including this year when almost 18,000 people got a HAP tenancy. However, we will always hear about the hard cases where HAP has not worked. I am not saying HAP works for everybody, but I am saying that it works for the majority of people and the feedback has been quite good. Again, we are changing HAP in the greater Dublin region in order to make the scheme more attractive to people, including those who are homeless.
Regarding the residential sector more generally, in 2017, over 17,500 new homes commenced construction, an increase of 33% on 2016. Again, this is another positive trend. Last year, there were over 9,500 registrations in larger developments, a level not seen since March 2009. Again, the trend is going in the right direction. Such schemes will give us the houses we need to solve all of these problems this year and in the years ahead.
Last year, over 19,000 homes were connected to the ESB network, an increase of more than 29% on 2016. Again, this is yet another positive trend. This number includes newly built homes and those lying empty for more than two years. We do not deny that the figure includes houses that are not new builds. We do not have the exact number but we are trying to get it from the ESB. The company generally records as a connection houses that were disconnected two years previously. Therefore, the figure relates to houses that have been empty for two years or a new build. Over 19,000 homes being connected is a very positive number. That situation contributes to us being able to source over 25,000 tenancies for people in housing solutions as well. Again, we are on the right track.
In terms of judging what is the right data set to use that can tell us exactly what housing has been built in the past year or two years, my Department and the CSO are working together to reach agreement on a set of figures that captures the number of new builds per year. We will probably have figures by March or April that will give us the total figure for new builds in 2017, and for the second half of 2016. Every year from now on, we will have the real figure for new builds. Such information is important to all of us here who are involved in either making or judging policy. My Department has used the same figures for years but we recognise that we can make the figures better and easier to work on by working with the CSO. I hope that we will have the data for the second quarter of this year as well.
In the year to the end of September 2017, planning permissions were granted for more than 18,000 new homes. As of 31 December 2017, An Bord Pleanála had received 13 applications for large scale developments under the new fast-track process, which we signed into law six months ago, including 1,900 houses, 1,750 apartments and over 4,000 student bed spaces. All projects are due for decision in 2018 and, in fact, some decisions have been made in the week or two gone by. Recently we have had the first positive decision under this scheme, which is welcome news. Again, we hope that this planning method will fast-track some developments, thus enabling us to achieve the scale that we want. Most of the cases have had a positive outcome.
In recognising the positive developments in 2017, and as I have said a few times during this debate, our work is not finished. I know that it is not finished by a long shot. We all know, and the fact that Senators have arranged for statements to be taken here today shows they all know, that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing people with homes and houses at the right price and in the right place. We understand that and we know it. That is why I say that all of our work across all of the actions mentioned in Rebuilding Ireland is still a work in progress. As I have said before, Rebuilding Ireland is similar to the Action Plan for Jobs. In the first year and half of the Action Plan for Jobs, it was hard to see results and thus have full confidence that the plan would work. At that time, everyone worried about whether jobs were being created. All the work took place behind the scenes and then job creation kicked in from years two, three and four. In fact, by the end of year five, the Action Plan for Jobs had doubled its stated output for job creation. That shows the process can work, and the same applies to the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.
During the first 12 months we debated whether the plan had made progress. The Government could see that it was making progress and we could see the trends, but it was hard to produce proof. Eighteen months have elapsed and we have all the figures for last year which prove progress has been made and housebuilding is taking place in a private and public capacity. The figures prove that local authorities are back in the game, are delivering and are putting teams in place to do even more. Many projects are coming onstream that did not exist a year ago. The Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is beginning to show its value now, and we need to build on it. We must drive the plan with increased urgency in order to make sure we provide enough homes for thousands of people, especially the families who are living in emergency accommodation.
Again, the five-year plan is 18 months old and has been allocated €6 billion. I know it is the least people in this House want to do. Apart from delivering housing, the plan has put the construction sector on a sound and sustainable footing. The plan will ensure that when we are finished with Rebuilding Ireland, and we have other plans, that people who invest in the construction sector, create a company, or develop an apprenticeship or provide skills in this area, will know that it is a safe place to develop a career or to invest in. If we manage this issue right, we will always have a sustainable and stable housing construction sector and we will not be susceptible to the boom and bust cycle that we experienced in the past.
I will continue to outline the figures as they will give people confidence in the action plan. As the Minister has clearly said, this is an evolving document and he has proposed a permanent review. We are always open to new ideas and actions.Even in the last few weeks, we have announced new schemes including the affordable loan product, which is a very good product and in respect of affordable sites and the delivery of affordable houses. This morning, we launched the new enhanced leasing arrangement, which will help to deliver more housing stock. On a weekly and monthly basis, we are coming out with new ideas to help drive supply. Sometimes, that is a reform of old ideas. The housing loan option was one local authorities always had but this is a better product. Anyone who can get a guaranteed fixed-rate loan at 2% for 25 years is getting a positive outcome. It puts people in a position to buy their own homes and provide for themselves. There are small changes along the way and at other times there are structural changes such as the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and funding infrastructure for sites. All of these actions come together at different levels using taxpayers' money to form the solution. They will all deliver something.
We had a housing summit on 22 January where the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, brought all the local authorities together. We discussed with every local authority how to implement the targets we have set for social housing and how those targets will be achieved. We have agreed a lot of new processes and systems and have put in place a new housing delivery team in the Department to work with local authorities and drive the agenda across the system. We have a new land management and residential management team, which I chair, to drive the management of land and increase the pipeline. We are looking at all zoned land to see how we can deliver public and private houses there more quickly. We are looking at how we manage the process and plan for the years ahead to ensure we have enough land in place to deliver the houses we need.
The targets for delivery in each local authority area are based on the social housing needs assessment and waiting lists, which were published earlier this month. I am sure most Members have copies by now. The targets also take account of two changes in the latter half of last year: an increased focus on direct-build by local authorities and the additional money we have. Each local authority chief executive is now required to furnish a report by mid-February confirming and setting out how that local authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. At the summit, it was all about the urgency and how we can move faster to deliver more houses. The quality and design of those houses and how we activate and use land in conjunction with the private sector to deliver social, affordable and private housing were also in focus. A major part of the summit related to the emergency situation of homelessness and the number of people in emergency accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfast premises. We discussed how to improve services for them and deliver more accommodation of a permanent nature. We discussed our obligation to ensure the resources are there to help individuals and especially families in that situation and guide them through the process as quickly as possible. Local authorities have got the urgency behind that and we have given them all the different solutions, including bringing back vacant stock and building new stock. There are a lot of solutions I can tease through later, but the message now is "urgency" and the need to build on progress, moving even faster, if possible.
I have touched on the leasing initiative announced this morning. It is about activating sites. We will take a long-term lease on some of these houses, which not only activates a site but provides us with housing stock for our overall target of 50,000 units. Affordable housing is the big thing now. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has been very clear on that. He set out the bones of a scheme a week or two ago and his aim is to deliver a minimum of 3,000 and up to 10,000 affordable housing units over the next couple of years. That is the bare minimum through our schemes, but we believe in using State-owned land and working with different sectors, including co-operative, community and private groups. We can use State-owned lands to deliver a great deal more in the affordable housing space and that is what we intend to do in the years ahead, along with cost-rental and other approaches. Rather than to have me take up all the time available, I would like to hear Members' comments. I can come back if there are questions.
I thank the Minister of State for addressing the House today. Changes are being made albeit they are very slow to come. Over seven years in government, the Minister of State and his colleagues have built 5,000 social housing units. The most recent figures show there are nearly 9,000 homeless people in Ireland. Nationally, there are approximately 5,500 adults and 3,500 homeless children. However, the Taoiseach has stated that this is low by international standards in order to downplay the crisis. There are over 100,000 people on the social housing waiting list despite the fact that only 653 social houses were built in 2016. Fine Gael scrapped the affordable housing scheme in 2011 and never re-established it. The new loan scheme will not address affordability if supply is not increased.
While I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has been talking about supply, it really is the biggest issue here; the lack of building and the supply of housing. Rentals have soared from over 23,000 above the previous 2008 peak. Dublin city dwellers are now spending as much as 55% of their take-home pay on rent. That is massive. More than half the income they take in goes on rent. House prices, combined with strict Central Bank rules, have meant that home ownership levels have slipped to record lows of 69% across the country. The biggest issue is the removal of the local authority role through the slashing of Part V to 10% of housing schemes. That was a massive issue. In the future, we must ensure there is a home-first approach, focusing new units on wraparound services.
There is confusion about the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. I am glad the Minister of State referred to HAP because this confusion is very serious. I know I am always explaining about HAP but it needs to be looked at again. One must be on the housing list to receive HAP. When one qualifies and gets one's form, there is a requirement to fill in another form stating that one wants to be left on the housing list. If one fails to fill that second form out, one will be taken off the list. People are sending in their HAP forms but the other form applying to stay on the housing list is not being returned. I had a case only last week where a lady who was on the housing list for six years went onto the HAP scheme. We got her payment and everything was fine. I asked her if she had filled in the form to ensure she was left on the housing list, which she had two weeks to return. It is called the HAP transfer list form. She said she had not. I told her that if she had not filled it in, she would have been taken off the housing list. We went back in and I tried to get her back on it. She has to go back to the very start of the list. She was on the housing list for six years. These are the issues that are happening and they are massive. Nevertheless, they are not difficult. HAP is a lot better than RAS but can the Minister of State please get those forms out of the way and simply leave people on the housing list?
I refer to social housing and the off-balance sheet model, which would allow AHBs to secure ISIF and credit union investment. There is money in the credit unions and the Minister of State needs to look at their investment in housing going forward. I also ask the Government to bring back the 20% Part V social and affordable homes provision. I have asked the Government to establish a new affordable home purchase scheme on State lands and the Minister referred to that in his contribution, which I welcome. I have massive issues with the rent pressure zone scheme, which still applies to only a few areas. In my home town, Carlow, HAP provides applicants with €537 a month. However, the rent for a house in Carlow has gone from €900 to €1,000 per month, which means people have to pay the difference. That is because they are not in a rent pressure zone. The Minister of State needs to roll that out as a matter of urgency.
I have addressed the following before. Carlow has one of the lowest caps to qualify for the local authority housing list at €27,500, whereas our neighbouring counties are at €31,000 or €33,000. I have a commitment from the Minister of State to look at that. It is something he must do. Every local authority is different. We need to roll out an NCT-style accommodation certificate. We need to roll out a scheme where every local authority is looked at separately. It goes back to the Minister of State. I note the confusion over HAP, rent pressure zones and failing to qualify for the housing list. These are all simple things but they are massive to a person who needs to go on the local housing list. They are not being met and there is such confusion.
I ask the Minister of State about landlords. We need to put a system in place to reduce either local property tax or commercial rates. We need to put a 90-night limit in place on Airbnb rentals. The Minister of State needs to look at regulation in that area. The Minister of State referred to new mortgages and I welcome the fact that we are bringing in new mortgages through local authorities. It is a great initiative. It is at the lower rate, which I welcome. However, there is a problem with this new mortgage.People now need to have savings of 10% of the loan to avail of a mortgage under this new scheme, whereas they only needed 3% savings under the previous scheme. Who will be able to increase their saving to from 3% to 10%? I rang a person this morning who had applied for a local authority mortgage. She had to have a certain amount of savings, which was 3% of the loan and had been given six months to build up her savings. From the introduction of this new mortgage scheme tomorrow, she will now need to have savings of 10% of the loan to avail of a mortgage under this scheme. The Minister will need to look at that.
I welcome the fact that under this scheme mortgages are available at a very good low interest rate, but how will people come up with additional savings to avail of these loans? How can people come up with the extra savings? It is just not doable.
I recognise the first-time buyers savings scheme, account taken of rent payments in mortgage approval and of course, the new tenant purchase scheme. The new tenant purchase scheme that came into effect in 2016 is not working. Unless there is an income of 50% coming into the house, one cannot qualify for it. I had an elderly lady who lived in a local authority house all of her life. She worked, she retired just before this scheme came into effect and she had a pension and lump sum. She had a lump sum to pay for the house but because there was not 50% income coming into the house, she could not buy it. Who is thinking up the terms of these schemes? Many simple issues need to be addressed. The Minister, together with his officials can work with the local authorities on these issues. I know the Minister arranged a summit with the chief executives of all the local authorities. These are issues that could be worked on.
We have been working on the five pillars for the past few months. Housing is an issue of concern for many, from the homeless person to those who will not qualify to go on the housing list and those who could avail of the new Rebuilding Ireland Home loan. I know all schemes have teething problems, but we need to address them. Unless we get the issues sorted things will not get better for working people.
I hope I will be able to return the favour sometime.
I acknowledge the presence of Councillor Declan Ducey in the Visitors Gallery. Councillor Ducey, who is a long-term local authority member of Waterford County Council, is accompanied by a delegation from Ardmore. He and councillors around the country know the housing challenge that the country faces because they are dealing every day with the issues at the coalface.
At the outset we need to acknowledge that we have had significant dysfunction in the construction sector for many years. To address that dysfunction various measures have had to be adopted at policy and many other levels as well - Government, local authority, financial and building sector. Rebuilding Ireland is a policy programme that has real objectives to address the housing crisis in the country. While I understand the passion that Senator Murnane O'Connor brought to her contribution and know she is doing her best in her constituency to assist people, we should acknowledge the progress that has been made by the Government as well. In the past year, more than 26,000 housing solutions have been met, where individuals and families have been offered solutions and now have homes. That is major progress, given the state of the economy and the fact that local authorities have not been building for a number of years.
The Government prioritised the refurbishment of the existing vacant stock and provided adequate funds to local authorities so that they could turn around the vacant houses in their ownership. There are also new initiatives to try to stimulate activity in the private sector in our towns and villages to ensure vacant housing stock in the private sector is given up to house individuals and families. Of course the Housing Agency, the local authorities and the approved housing bodies have to be given the resources to make provision for housing, but we cannot ignore the private sector. Criticism is levelled at the housing assistance payment scheme, otherwise known as HAP scheme, but it is a fact that more than 32,000 families or individuals have been housed through the HAP scheme. If one were to remove that scheme in the morning our housing crisis would be far worse. The HAP scheme is an essential interim scheme until we can ramp up the availability of local authority housing and approved housing bodies houses as well. The role of the local authorities is very important. That is why I commend the Minister and his colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on increasing the financial resources and staffing levels of local authority so that they can get building again.
The measure of a Government's commitment to housing is the provision it makes in its budget The provision of a sum of €6 billion over a period of five years is a significant commitment. The various initiatives include the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF scheme, where major funds have been provided for local authorities around the country to open up lands and install essential infrastructure so that housing can be developed, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility, CALF scheme and the capital assistance scheme are means of providing funding directly to local authorities and the approved housing bodies for housing solutions. Only last week in my county, I attended the opening of a regeneration scheme on the old cinema site in Dungarvan, where 15 apartments were opened on what was previously a derelict site. We need to see more of that. There are examples of this right around the country.
The initiative announced by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy only last week, the local authority home loan scheme will assist young families to get into the housing market to access funding to buy their own property. That is to be welcomed. It is being welcomed right around the country. It cannot stop there. I note the Minister announced a new scheme called the enhanced leasing scheme, which is to ensure that financing that can be secured from the private sector off-balance sheet, working with local authorities and under the auspices of the Housing Agency will open up new initiatives right around the country that will see the private sector working with the local authorities to deliver turnkey housing solutions in an emergency fashion.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy English and the Minister, Deputy Murphy on the work both are doing. I know they are leaving no stone unturned. They are working with all of the stakeholders, including the local authorities, the approved housing bodies and the construction sector. We need to see delivery. That is the important message for all stakeholder. We need to see the plans, budgets and policies that have been put in place delivering the housing units right across the country and where they are most needed, in our cities, towns and villages. I welcome the work they are doing in that respect.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank him for his comprehensive response. I have just come from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government of which Senator Murnane O'Connor is also a member. We have had some ongoing dialogue.
I acknowledge the enormous work and focus of the Minister and the Ministers of State at the Department. They have worked together very strongly as a team. They have been supportive. I acknowledge the work of the public servants and the senior officials in the Customs House, who have gone way beyond the call of duty. We have meetings off-site, down in the Customs House as well as our standard meeting and I have found them to be exceptionally helpful. That has made our work a lot easier. It is not all gloom.
The problem with some politicians in both Houses is that they are hung up on an ideology about social housing versus private housing. A multifaceted approach is needed. At the end of the day, we want people in homes. I personally speak for myself when I say this, I do not have a hang-up where these homes are coming from or who is providing them once they are good decent homes that tick the boxes in complying with the standards and regulations and are affordable. We need to give people homes.
It is important to say that historically all politically parties and none have had their hands on this housing brief in the past ten to 15 years and have failed to deliver. There has been a wind down in local authorities for the past 15 to 20 years in the direct building of social housing. To be fair, we must acknowledge that and that it takes time to crank it up and to get new housing. For those who do not sit on the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, we had the first quarterly report on this issue last week. There are five pillars to Rebuilding Ireland and the information was set out in tabular form.The pillars are as follows: 1, addressing homelessness; 2, accelerating social housing; 3, building more homes; 4, improving the rental sector; and 5, utilising existing houses. When one looks at it in tabular form, it appears quite simple. There are 166 key action items. We have had a report on the progress of each of these in tabular form. We raise questions. It is represented by people on all the political groups. It is worth saying that. Yes, it will take time but let us not get hung up on the ideology of who is providing these homes. What we want are homes for people. I want to acknowledge what has been done because I want to be fair. I am not part of the party political establishment but I see the work that is happening. I was on a local authority for 20 years.
People ought to be fair and focus on Rebuilding Ireland and what it is about. Rebuilding Ireland is about increasing construction of social housing. I support that. I would like to see more homes being built by the 31 local authorities. That is reality. It is about construction in the private sector. Affordability is very important. Affordability in rental, in construction and in the purchase of homes is important. It is about partnerships with the private sector. Let us not run away from that. It is also about partnerships with the social sector and advocacy with the trade union movement and everyone pooling together, tapping into our experience and resources and getting new homes for people. There is also focus on homes for the elderly and people with disabilities, people who rent homes and accommodation for students. It has great potential.
I will now turn to a number of things that we might do differently or that the Minister of State could consider. We should identify why local authorities have so much idle land. That should be audited. We need to establish if local authorities do not have the competence, the will or the money to bring housing on stream and address that.
We must re-examine NAMA and ask if it has a potential role to deliver existing housing stock for social, affordable and rental housing to the State. I want the Minister of State to find that out and update the information. Has it a role as an agency in its own right. NAMA says it has vast resources, it reckons it will clear €32 billion in debt this year. Where are its resources, what is this money? Can it be another agency to deliver houses for our people?
We, as politicians, need to hear what was agreed at the housing summit. All 31 local authorities were set a target for delivery. Was it broad enough? Are we stretching chief executives of local authorities to deliver more houses? I want to know what the target is. I want the Minister to empower city and county councils across Ireland because they have a role to hold their executives to account and ask them if they are delivering. We all know councils. We want to empower the councillors to stand up in their local chambers and say, "Management what is happening, are you delivering"? We need to ask the same in the Seanad, the Dáil and in committees. Our democratically-elected councillors need to know what targets were set by the Minister at last week's summit and they need to be empowered so that they can hold management to account on it.
It is important that we have housing solutions. I like that word. Senator Coffey referred to it earlier. Let us find housing solutions. Let us not get hung up on ideology.
Finally, we need more data regarding the Part VIII planning process across Ireland and how it delivers social housing. We want to see at what stage each Part VIII is at and I ask that the Minister of State instruct officials in his Department to publish a detailed report on each of the Part VIII projects. He could circulate all councillors on the matter. We need to empower councillors and part of that lies in information. We must give councillors more information about the delivery in local authority areas and empower them to ask management if they have the resources, willpower and determination to deliver these houses.
I thank the Minister of State and acknowledge him for the work he has done in this area.
I will begin by starting the context in my area of Dublin, Dublin south-central, where housing is the top issue. I was thinking about the representations that come to me. At least 75% relate to housing. It includes people struggling in the private rental sector to those living on the streets and everything between. I looked for some statistics. The area has a population of around 100,000. There are 5,339 people waiting to be housed, a figure which does not include people registered as homeless or in receipt of HAP. Some 588 people have been on the transfer list for over ten years, 982 people have been on the waiting list for over ten years and there are 335 people who are homeless.
We are in a situation where these figures seem as though they are only numbers not people. We are becoming used to discussing it. There is no longer any awe or any shock factor to it. What progress that has been made in Rebuilding Ireland is only a drop in the ocean, at least for people living in my area.
The figures are unacceptable. As a public representative, I have met many of these people on their journey. I have watched families disintegrate. I have seen parents and children who are visibly anxious and have low mood, and children who have been born into homelessness. I have seen them sometimes on severe psychiatric medication. The only thing they can think about is finding a home for themselves and their children. It is not working. Homelessness, which is at catastrophic levels, is our society's great shame.
The housing crisis is not only a question of homelessness. In Dublin there are over 2,000 people accessing the HAP scheme. This is over-reliance on the scheme. While it assists some people in the short term, it is not making progress in tackling the housing crisis in the long term, in Dublin at least. HAP is often not competitive with the private rental market.
I welcome the 29 rapid-build developments in Drimnagh, although it is obviously not enough to address the figures I mentioned. There are several projects running far behind in the south-west inner city, such as St. Theresa's Gardens. People who were moved into emergency accommodation some years ago have not seen a shovel hit the soil. I was with the previous Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when it was demolished to great jubilation last summer but progress for these people has stalled. The Dolphin House developments are to be welcomed but we will rapidly move on to phase 2. I have been inside the units and they look really well. They look smart and are large enough to accommodate families. However, there are many people who cannot wait.
Thousands of people in my area and around the country are caught in an affordability trap. They have incomes above the eligibility thresholds for social housing or social housing support, but they struggle to rent or buy. They often live in over-priced rental accommodation, or in many cases live with parents while saving for a deposit or struggling to raise finance. These problems are caused by inaction. Last week's affordable housing proposals are disappointing.
Fianna Fáil's silence regarding solutions to the housing crisis is deafening. Its alternative budget was a blank page. It should not escape blame when we discuss this issue.
The council loan scheme that was announced is a rehash of the existing scheme. The 2% fixed interest rate will benefit some people but the scheme itself requires considerable tweaking. It allows first-time buyers to breach the Central Bank lending rules in order to buy over-priced homes. The existing council loan scheme has a very poor uptake and a large level of significant mortgage arrears. We have genuine concerns that the revised scheme will lead to the same results.
The affordable housing scheme, which grants the local authority an equity stake in the home is cumbersome. We are concerned that public funds will be used to facilitate the purchase of over-priced homes.There is no real detail regarding the affordable rental scheme. Since 2014, there has been a Government commitment to introduce such a scheme. In that context, there may be a pilot scheme at some undefined point in the future.
Sinn Féin has a fully-costed, comprehensive plan to address the housing crisis that does not rely on loans from parents, when the majority of those parents are struggling with their own bills. Our sons and daughters, if granted mortgages, are signing up to terms of 40 years in some cases. For the majority of children, owning their own homes is completely out of reach and they are, unfortunately, resigned to this. We need affordable homes built on public land. Our plan would lead to the delivery of 4,500 affordable homes in the first year and 9,000 affordable homes in the second, with an appropriate mix of rental and purchase homes determined by local housing needs. These homes would be delivered as part of mixed-tenure and mixed-income estates on public land.
There is also a need to restore funding for Traveller accommodation programmes to 2008 levels. This is a vitally important consideration as Traveller accommodation is often completely forgotten when we talk about housing. For many Travellers, the current conditions are absolutely deplorable. It is no wonder that mental health issues are at the highest rates among this ethnic group in Ireland.
People are competing to buy homes in Dublin, but I am not sure of the situation in the rest of the State. In Dublin everybody is trying to buy a home. There are queues out the door. For those who are trying to rent the queues are even bigger. Anyone who tries to rent with the housing assistance payment will face discrimination, even though legislation states that this should not be the case. Landlords will say "No, it is okay, we have given it to somebody else." This is happening in many instances. We cannot close our eyes to the issue. I urge the Minister of State to look at Sinn Féin's suggestions to address the housing crisis and to take them seriously. They may help in the long term.
I propose to share time with Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
Despite what the Minister of State has said and the efforts he has outlined, the Irish housing system is broken. It is broken for the 3,079 children living in emergency accommodation. It is broken for the hundreds of people with leave to remain but who are still stuck in direct provision centres because of the lack of housing. It is broken for the women experiencing domestic violence who cannot leave their unsafe homes because of the lack of housing. It is broken for the refugees who we fail to welcome and who we say we cannot take in, so reneging on our international obligations and commitments currently standing at 1,259 people welcomed out of 4,000 as of last July. It is broken for the Travellers living in overcrowded halting sites that have become deathtraps. I saw evidence of the latter for myself in Spring Lane in Cork last year. It is broken for people with disabilities languishing in congregated settings - again, evidence of missed Government targets and broken promises. It is broken for the couple from Dún Laoghaire, one a physiotherapist and one a teacher, who can only aspire to buy a house Wexford, which is not really nearby for them. It is broken for the teachers taking leave of absence in order to work in Dubai and save for house deposits who cannot be replaced and for the pupils they leave behind. It is broken for the nurses who cannot be recruited to work in a Dublin child mental health centre, as we heard at the Seanad public consultation on child mental health. It is broken for the companies that cannot recruit. According to the Cork Chamber of Commerce, the crisis in the rental sector is the number one concern of 90% of Cork’s largest employers. The system is broken for the 14 people I counted sleeping in doorways on St. Patrick’s Street in Cork on a wet, cold Christmas Day. It is certainly broken for Kathleen O’Sullivan, who died on the streets of Cork at the age of 48 and whose funeral I attended in December. The Irish housing system, if we can even call it that, is broken from top to bottom for all those people and many more.
On the gagging of NGOs, if that proposal is true, and I truly hope it is not, spin or a gagging order to protect Ministers and officials from uncomfortable truths about housing will not fix our broken housing system. That said, there is a way out.
We can have Government radicalism and rethinking about housing. I set out some of my ideas in an article I wrote that was published by the Institute of housing last year. I will leave a copy for the Minister of State. We urgently need an activist and interventionist Government like we had before. We also need Government to make the right interventions. There were some €400 million in transfers to landlords in 2017 via RAS and HAP. The latter is dead money. We need to invest that €400 million - and billions more - differently. We need to build more homes. We built public housing in Ireland in the 1930s, when we had no money. Governments in other jurisdictions, such as Singapore - which is not bastion of trendy, leftist socialism but which is, rather, a bastion of capitalism - have solved their housing problems. We could use compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, in respect of land. Local authorities already know where homes can be built. We could zone land for housing, only once it is in State control. We could use CPOs for the disgraceful 200,000 vacant and derelict sites that still blight our towns and villages. We use CPOs all the time for infrastructure like roads and railways so why not for housing? Surely housing infrastructure is one of the most fundamental for our health, well-being and prosperity in the State. As well as building houses, we could extend a Government-backed mortgage scheme to all.
I ask that the Minister of State will listen to concerns of people talking about housing concerns, including NGOs. I am glad he will not gag them. Will he accept that the housing system is broken and that this is threatening the hard-won jobs recovery and prosperity for which we all fought? Is the Minister of State open to accepting radical thinking and ideas in respect of this matter such as those put into practice in Singapore and elsewhere?
I apologise to the Minister of State for not being present for his contribution. I was attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government at which the Fianna Fáil Bill to refurbish vacant housing stock was being considered. It is a really welcome Bill. We are all aware of empty units above retail premises in our towns, cities and villages that could be used as housing stock.
I and my colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement group brought forward the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill 2017 almost a year ago. The aim of the latter was to bring the significant amount of unused land and derelict sites back into circulation by the introduction of a 6% levy, which was higher than one suggested by the then Government. The Bill was rejected by the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, on grounds of constitutional protection of private property. Since then, thankfully, the Government has increased the levy to a maximum of 7%. I was very happy to see the Government change its mind on this matter. Essentially, it is now a case of use it or lose it. If a potential charge is put on the vacant site then people are certainly going to start using it.
We have seen the Government and the Minister of State's party's compromise on its insistence that capping rent was an impossibility. The creation of a 4% cap in rent rises in rent pressure zones is a welcome recognition that the rights of landlords cannot be the only consideration in our approach to housing.
The Green Party will soon introduce the Living Cities Bill in the Dáil. That legislation proposes a comprehensive approach to ending dereliction and waste on our city streets. I hope that the Government will be able to greet such a move more openly than they did last year.
The other issue I would like to discuss is the conditions currently facing those renting in Ireland. This week alone, we have heard two horror stories in Dublin. The first was the shocking and illegal eviction of tenants on Mountjoy Square. They were victims, seemingly, of their landlord’s ire after he failed to impose an illegal rent increase above the 4% last year, and on which the Residential Tenancies Board found against the landlord. Most of the affected tenants are from abroad, guests in our country, who have come here to live, work, study, share their experience and make a home. Instead they have been met with greed, criminality and brute force.
A story in TheIrish Timestodayhighlights the shockingly substandard and overpriced accommodation on offer to those who are priced out of even the cheapest offers on daft.ieand other websites. This morning, Senators Swanick and Higgins mentioned the legacy of Michael Davitt, the founder of the Irish National Land League, whose work seems sadly unfinished in today’s Ireland. We still have as much need as ever for the first two of his "three Fs" - fair rent and fixity of tenure. I have added an alternative third F, namely, favourable accommodation. This is the right to live in a space that is suited to people’s needs and is respectful of their dignity.
We have heard again about the gradual progress of Rebuilding Ireland.That is to be welcomed but what is required is a far more radical approach to housing that recognises it as a right, not an investment opportunity only.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for agreeing to have this debate. It is a very important one and we should put it in context. Senator Boyhan was right in what he said. If we reflect on the contributions of some Members to this debate, the Minister of State should go back to the Custom House and put up the "for sale" sign and we would all go away.
The reality, as Senator Boyhan fairly stated, is that activity is taking place. We want to see people housed. As a politician working on the ground and working with the Minister of State, Deputy English, I want to see people housed in decent, quality accommodation. That is challenge we face. Senator Coffey was right in his comment to the effect that there was a dysfunctionality in our housing market. I attended a briefing in Cork City Council in November 2017 for the Oireachtas representatives and there is activity taking place in Cork. Houses are being built and acquired and they are not being acquired in run down, run-of-the-mill places. They are being acquired in decent good places-----
-----in Cork city and county. Let us put this in perspective and not have the ochón agus the ochón. There are challenges. We understand that. We had a banking system that collapsed. People could not get money. Those in the construction sector could not get people to work and they could not be financed. As the Minister of State said, the local authorities have to employ people. I also agree with Senator Boyhan that a group should be added to the housing summit, namely, our city and county councillors, who would bring a wealth of experience and ideas to the table.
Let us reflect on what we are doing. We are rebuilding Ireland from the depths of the worst economic recession we ever had. I remind Members that the troika was here. Nobody would give us money. Senator Humphreys was a Minister of State at that time and was in government for three or four years. He knew what it was like. He was in government with my party. We took decisions that we would never take in normal peacetime, as the former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, said, but we were at war economically. We rebuilt the country socially out of the ashes of the legacies of the past. We had to then to rebuild the infrastructure in terms of our roads and buildings. I remember in the summer of 2011 there was not a crane to be seen in Cork city until John Cleary took a brave move to build in Mahon. I am sorry if I am boring Senator Devine but those are the facts.
The key element of the framework is the five pillars in the plan for rebuilding Ireland, which include building social housing, building more homes and accelerating building.
I wish to deal with Senator Kelleher's comments about Cork. In the Cork city, from which we both come, we have seen construction of more houses. We have seen the city and county council working to develop matters. Cork has been become the go-to place according to the Cork Tech Talent Relocation Survey. Graduates want to move to Cork because of its better quality of life, career opportunities, low living costs and its shorter commute.
I will come to that. Foreign direct investment companies - as I said on the Order of Business earlier, have provided 20,000 jobs. Members should read the IDA statistics for 2017. They should not put up the bad sign over the door of our country. Senator Kelleher raised the issue of the people sleeping in the doorways of Cork city. There are some who unfortunately are there but there was an organised campaign of organised begging by people from outside our country before Christmas, as the Senator knows quite well.
Senator Kelleher should check the record and talk to people in the Cork Business Association and come out and walk the streets with me. I will do that any day the Senator would like.
I will conclude by saying that activity is taking place. We have a challenge to meet, but let us reflect on what the Government has done and what it is trying to do. Let us be fair in the debate. Let us not be negative the whole time.
I would make the fair comment that we should all reflect on what is fair debate and what is bullying and that should be considered in future debates.
We have huge challenges. I certainly welcome announcement by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on the affordable mortgages scheme. It will help some but not enough people. We face challenges in delivering affordable housing, addressing rental costs and in allowing, as Senator Boyhan said, everybody to have access to a home and a roof over their heads.
We must also reflect on how we got into this situation. I had the honour to work with community groups in the Dublin Docklands Development Authority along with Councillor Dermot Lacey when we developed the 20% social and affordable housing provision. The split was 10% social and 10% affordable housing. Credit must be given to the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, who came down and examined that provision and took it on board as part of Government policy. I would consider him to have been probably one of the best Ministers with responsibility for the environment that we have had in recent years. He championed the 10% social and 10% affordable housing provision while he was Minister. Unfortunately, he was not Minister for long enough. We then had the former Minister, Martin Cullen and the influence of the Progressive Democrats on that Fianna Fáil-led Government. Martin Cullen's changing of the regulation with respect to the 10% social and 10% affordable housing provision meant that right through the boom era, no social or affordable housing was built. That was directly related to Martin Cullen, and the influence the Progressive Democrats had on that Government. It destroyed our housing stock over that period. We have to learn that lesson and not make the same mistake again. I was part of the Government, as was the Minister of State, Deputy English, that tried to start house building again. That is why a regulation was introduced that there would be no opt out of the 10% provision; there would be no buy-out or alternative - many local authorities had taken a buy-out instead of providing housing - and that was a good decision.
Now the economy has moved on and we need to look at other solutions. Following on from the Leader's comments, I have always got down and dirty when it has come to building houses. We had the city housing initiative, which operated out of the Ringsend area, and resulted in the building of affordable homes. Many tens of families were housed because of its work and the cross-party assistance provided. I have also identified social housing need and worked to deliver social housing against the local community's wishes because there is always an element of nimbyism, in that people want social houses but they want them built somewhere else. We saw that, unfortunately, with the proposed rapid-build housing across this country. I use the word "unfortunately", because we must remember that the new members of communities are the people who rebuild communities.
We need to take action and we need to do so now. We need to look at low-hanging fruit. I have raised the issue of Airbnb or short-term lets with the Minister of State on many occasions. Airbnb is used as the handy word to describe short-term lets. We have seen in Dublin that the migration of long-term lets to short-term lets in area stretching from Phibsborough to Stoneybatter to Ringsend has had a disastrous impact on housing.I have stated repeatedly to the Minister of State, Deputy English, that action by the Government could put 3,000 additional units back into the housing market in the Dublin region alone. That is a tough decision because of the impact on the tourism sector to forgo that income to put families for whom these homes were designed into them. That is the decision I have asked the Government to make repeatedly. The former Minister, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, set up a working group and there was no report. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, introduced a working group and we still have not seen a report from it. Two circular letters were issued, one by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and one by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. In fairness, Deputy Eoghan Murphy has stated he will be looking at enforcement regulations and results.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to investigate. Is he aware that the interpretation of the planning laws is that residences of four bedrooms or fewer do not need planning permission to become short-term lets? That has been the decision of planning enforcement officers and no enforcement action has been taken against them. That is disastrous for Dublin, Cork and Galway because we will see greater migration of two-up two-down homes to short-term letting, thereby putting families into hotels and tourists into homes. That is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is due to the failure of the Government to take action. It is not as though it has not been highlighted. It is not as though it has not been brought to the Minister of State's attention because I am sick of bringing it to the Government's attention. I see on a daily basis family homes being turned into short-term lets. It has had an enormous impact on the community I live in because it has made people who go out to work every day homeless. That is a grave indictment of the Government.
In a Commencement debate March last, I asked the Minister of State to bring forward a pilot scheme for affordable and cost rental accommodation. Deputy English may remember, in the old Chamber, stating that we do not need a pilot scheme and that it was the intention of the Government to bring forward a national scheme. He has failed. What we have seen in the recent announcement by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is a pilot scheme on affordable and cost rental accommodation for Dún Laoghaire. We have wasted nearly a year. The matter was highlighted and nothing was done.
I will highlight another issue that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, referred to in the Dáil, that is, the development of Poolbeg west. Poolbeg west, which is in the centre of Dublin, has the potential to deal with a supply issue within the city. It involves 3,500 units. The 10% requirement will give us 350 social housing units. There has been a commercial agreement to which Dublin City Council, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the receiver are party. I have been informed that those units may not be affordable. We have no clear definition of affordable housing. That strategic development zone, SDZ, is currently before An Bord Pleanála with the proviso of 10% affordable housing. The commercial agreement is outstanding. It is with great reluctance, and because of inaction by the Department, that I say that if the first planning permission going to An Bord Pleanála on that site does not include affordable units, cost rental accommodation or affordable rental accommodation, I will challenge that. I will seek discovery papers from the Department, the receiver and Dublin City Council because I believe they will no longer be commercially sensitive. It will be a clear breach of an agreement across the three bodies. The Department was on the phone to Dublin City Council as that vote went through Dublin City Council. The Department is a party to the agreement, so is the receiver. The councillors, in good faith, voted for that in the commercial agreement. If that agreement is broken - the Minister of State should be very careful - I will take the Department through the courts.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House. I thank him for his address which outlines clearly a major amount of progress and welcome the fact that there is a full acknowledgement that there is a long way to go to correct a situation that evolved over the past number of decades stemming mainly from the financial crisis and our inability to fund housing in the way that we would have liked. As the Leader pointed out, there was a Troika coming into this country every three months wanting a report and not prepared to write a cheque for the next three months to keep the country going if it did not like what it saw.
I acknowledge the work that has been done. I particularly welcome the affordable housing initiative. I welcome the affordable mortgage initiative and I welcome the affordable rental initiative. All these three initiatives will go towards helping ease the problem. Clearly, there is much more to be done.
My main purpose today is to try to ensure that the new national planning framework document, which is only in draft form and will be the subject of much more consultation, does not unintentionally make matters worse rather than better. I want to specify a couple of issues that concern me, and, indeed, concern the planners in Fingal.
The object of the plan is something I agree with entirely, that we should have a balancing of the west coast and the east coast, try to revitalise rural Ireland, and try to bring more population and jobs to the major urban areas outside Dublin by which I mean Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and towns such as Sligo in the north west. However, I am concerned specifically about the fact that we have a determination that 50% of housing in the Dublin area should be in Dublin city and suburbs. This excludes Fingal. It excludes Swords. The population of Swords, when one includes Kinsealy, is 45,000. It is a considerably larger town than Drogheda, which seeks city status. It is also where we have the youngest population in the country, where many jobs are being created, and we want these young people to be able to have their families and live in Fingal.
In Dublin city itself, a third of the houses must be built on brownfield sites. This will drive up the value of these sites and drive up the cost of housing if we are not careful.
In relation to Fingal, having been excluded from 50% of the possible houses to be built, a further 30% have to be on brownfield sites. That means a ratio of brownfield site houses to greenfield site houses of 1:2. We have thousands of acres zoned in Fingal, with plans for 4,000 houses in the Donabate area alone. There are more planned in Balbriggan, and Swords, as I say, has lots of land with planning permission available. We also have plans for the metro, which may be slightly longer term. We have plans for the electrification of the northern line, which is something that could and I hope will happen quickly. With the infrastructure, both in place and planned, it does not make sense to have people having to leave Fingal. Meaning no disrespect to the Minister of State, some of the planners in Fingal have pointed out that many people in Fingal would have to move to Navan but, although Navan is a fine place, they wish to stay within Fingal. In addition, we had great news today that the Bank of America is coming to Dublin, and we heard its concerns around housing and schools. Of course, thanks to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, we have plenty of schools being built in Fingal and other areas. I would hope there will be further consultation.
I am looking forward to direct consultation with the Minister's team to address these issues. They are of serious concern. What I am concerned about is the unintended consequences that might result from the draft I have seen. I hope we will have plenty of time to address this issue and modify the draft.I congratulate the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Murphy, for the energy and effort they have put into this and for the many initiatives the Minister of State pointed out in his speeches recently and today. I wish him well. I know that he and his ministerial colleague are not under any illusion but that this is a very serious problem for Ireland and a serious challenge. I commend them for the way they are applying themselves to it.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to Mayo and for meeting with the representatives of the group of people who are affected by pyrite. I would ask that he puts an urgent redress scheme in place for those householders. There is no way they can go through another winter, given the state their houses are in. I again thank the Minister of State for coming and I understand that he knows the urgency of this issue.
In Mayo, approximately 4,000 people are on the waiting list for housing schemes. I fundamentally disagree with Senator Boyhan on this, when he said that it does not matter where the houses come from. It really is the drive for privatisation which has left us in a situation where we are spending millions of euro on rental payments to private landlords when that money should be used for building houses. I am not saying that it all should be used to build houses, but the vast majority of it should.
Almost 4,000 people have housing needs in Mayo, and there is a proposed building programme which seeks to build 600 houses before 2021. The Minister of State knows that, with the best will in the world, it is not going to happen. Having worked in the local authority it concerns me that there is huge bureaucracy in the planning stages between the Department and the local authority. It is not a case of the local authority being tardy with all of this; the bureaucracy slows it all down. We have to find a way of speeding up the whole process. The Government will say that there is plenty of money available to build houses and yet we cannot get them built. There is a blockage there which needs to be addressed.
There is no doubt that we are in a housing crisis, and it really alarms me to hear Senator Buttimer say that it depends on perspective. I stay in hotels when I am in Dublin and see the children who are living in them. It makes me wonder what perspective they are going to have growing up, and what their perspective on the Governments and the society that let them down will be. It is not about perspective. It is about reality. Attempts are being made to normalise this. It can never be normal for a child to be homeless and to have to live in a hotel room. The real urgency of the crisis we are in must be realised and understood. Forget about the spin and the manufacturing of the numbers. We need housing. People deserve a home as a right. I acknowledge the good things that are being done, and the cross-party work that has been done. We are in a crisis from the perspective of people who need the housing, but also the stability of our whole country, including Dublin, is at risk because of the lack of housing.
I want to speak about the housing schemes, specifically the HAP scheme, the mobility aids grant and the housing adaptation grant, and to tell the Minister of State of the real problems that are there. While Government will say there is plenty of money for housing and homes, barriers are being put up. Barriers are in place in terms of age limits. One once had to be 60 to avail of housing aid for older people. There are also barriers regarding heating. It was said that grants were available through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. Those grants are not now available through SEAI, so many homes are really not habitable because they do not have basic heating. I ask the Minister of State to ask the local authorities to lift that ban on funding heating within homes, because there is no point in having a grant for windows or anything else if the basic heating system is not working. The Minister of State should act on that as a matter of urgency. It would be appreciated.
The Minister of State should also look at situations where an elderly person is living with somebody, a carer, for example, or someone who needs to live with the elderly person. That should not exclude them from getting an essential housing repair grant. It should not exclude them, and it is being used again as an excuse. The Minister of State should give a direction to the local authorities in this regard. It would really help the situation.
There are very many more issues. We seek at all times to be constructive in order to solve this housing crisis in any way we can.
I will do my best. I thank the Senators for their help. I read the speech. Unfortunately I was not here for the delivery because I was at a committee. I do not see one word in it about people with disabilities. The Minister of State will probably say that the various items in the speech include people with disabilities. I am not skating on that ice. Page 3 describes a five-year plan which we are only 18 months into. There is no discussion in this speech about what is happening with people with disabilities. The Minister of State is talking about fixing the housing crisis as quickly as we can in a sustainable way. I need to see the people with disabilities module of that.
We had the great news yesterday from Government that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is being ratified. Article 19 states, "Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to chose their place of residence or where and with whom they will live on a equal basis with others." That is something the Government is committed to, and it has said it is going to ratify it. It will ratify it in a number of weeks. This has to be in place this year, otherwise we are being sold a pup. I do not believe we are, but the work has to be done on it.
On 13 July 2016, every party and entity unanimously agreed to a motion that sought to confirm that the Government's action plan on housing would include specific commitments to delivering housing for people with disabilities, that it would provide an annual update from local authorities of the number of social housing units and would ensure that housing projects supported by public funding, including Part V, would provide a percentage of pre-planned and reserved housing units, etc. There was a request that the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government would draft a work programme which would routinely consider and review Government progress. It is 18 months since that was done. That needs to be picked up on, and I believe the House should have an update on that fairly soon.
The week after that motion, Rebuilding Ireland was announced. There were a few paragraphs in it about people with disabilities, and it covered the strategies for those people. What I said then was very telling, and I believe it is coming home to roost now. We have known since 2013 that there were 3,319 people with disabilities on the social housing list. That information was gathered through the local authorities and was provided to the Minister of State's Department. There was not even a mention of those 4,000 people in it.
The Minister of State, through the Leader, has agreed to come back in to answer the queries that were raised by many Senators. I have also noted that when Senator Dolan has completed his remarks Senators Higgins and Conway will get priority.
We can have a discussion separately on that issue. Today's update was on homelessness and housing, but I totally agree with Senator Dolan that it is a discussion we have to have, and it is an area I am responsible for. I would love to have a separate discussion on that issue.