That Dáil Éireann,
calls for the introduction of a New National Housing Policy, to ensure that everyone has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community, and at a price they can afford;
believes that such a New National Housing Policy should:
enable every working person/house-hold, who wishes to do so, to buy their own home by:
the introduction of a new affordable and shared equity purchase scheme, which will enable homebuyers to commence purchasing from 25% of the dwelling equity upwards;
new tenant purchase schemes for local authority tenants and tenants of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies;
the introduction of tenant purchase to the private rented sector.
increase the provision of affordable housing to at least the 6,000 per annum which Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is capable of delivering;
increase from 20% to 50% the maximum social and affordable housing to be provided under Part V for new land zonings or for increased densities in ‘affordability black spot' areas;
compulsorily purchase all residential development land in areas where housing is unaffordable, in order to increase the supply of affordable homes;
embargo on the sale of all State owned surplus land, and ensure that such lands are made available to housing authorities, in order to increase the supply of affordable housing;
commit to the NESC target of providing approximately 10,000 social housing units per annum;
end homelessness by 2010;
replace the rent allowance scheme with a new housing support, which will eliminate the poverty traps and disincentives to work associated with the present scheme;
reform stamp duty to favour first-time buyers and families acquiring an affordable principal private residence for occupation; and
stop the rip-off of homebuyers by legislating to outlaw gazumping; protect homebuyers' rights as consumers; efficient taking in charge of housing estates and the control and regulation of private management companies.
I wish to share time with Deputies Penrose, Lynch, Sherlock and Breeda Moynihan-Cronin.
The Labour Party has on many occasions during the past nine years or more of the current Government raised the issue of housing. We have called successively for the establishment of a commission on housing, action on social and affordable housing, an end to homelessness and the difficulties experienced by many who are unable to purchase a home of their own.
The motion is based on a new Labour Party policy document which we launched yesterday called Towards a new Housing Plan. We have prepared this plan because we are aware of the serious housing crisis we continue to face and the abject failure of the Government to ensure that all families have a reasonable chance of putting a roof over their heads. Nothing symbolises more the failure of the Government to ensure that the fruits of economic growth were used for the benefit of the community generally than the current housing position.
After 15 years of sustained economic growth, families are finding it more difficult than ever to buy a home of their own. There are twice as many people on local authority housing waiting lists than there were ten years ago when the Government took office and more than 60,000 are in private rented dwellings, trapped on the rent allowance system that acts as a poverty trap and a disincentive to work. With our population continuing to increase at the fastest rate since the early 19th century, it is clear the housing crisis will continue to grow unless there is a radical change of direction. It is clear that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats lack the political will to make the changes in direction needed if working people are once again to be able to aspire to own their own homes.
At every point during the past ten years when asked to choose between the needs of families and the interests of developers and speculators Fianna Fáil chose to side with the mega rich developers rather than with the needs of people. This was evident from the way in which it abandoned the original provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act which should, by now, have delivered 30,000 affordable homes and surrendered affordable housing sites back to the developers after the last general election.
It is also evident from the manner in which the Government has refused to take the legislative measures recommended by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution that would have allowed local authorities to compulsorily acquire development land to provide additional housing at affordable prices.
The ten-point plan which the Labour Party launched yesterday provides an agenda for the radical change in housing policy which is needed. It is grounded in the belief that the maximum number of people possible should have the opportunity to buy their own home and should be assisted in every reasonable possible way to do so. In this regard one of our key proposals is a new begin-to-buy purchase option which is aimed primarily at people who in present conditions have little hope of getting a mortgage and buying a home of their own. This innovative scheme would enable people to start purchasing a home as soon as they are in full-time employment and allow them to increase their equity in the home as their incomes increased and financial circumstances improved.
Other key proposals in the plan provide for an increase in the supply of affordable housing, reform of rezoning procedures to allow greater provision of social and affordable housing, greater powers for local authorities to acquire development land for housing and redirection of surplus State land for housing purposes, measures to meet the NESC target of 10,000 social housing units per annum, a commitment to end homelessness by 2010, the replacement of the rent allowance system by a new form of housing support, reform of stamp duty and of mortgage interest relief and new legislation to provide stronger consumer protection for homebuyers. The Government's housing strategy has been an abject failure. The Labour Party believes everyone has a right to a home and that it is the duty of Government to ensure everyone has a home that is sufficient to their needs.
I wish to outline the principal features of the Labour Party plan on which this motion is based. Everyone in full-time employment should have the opportunity to buy their own home. Some will choose to rent and there should always be well-developed private and public rented sectors to meet this rental need. The Labour Party reiterates its call for better regulation and higher standards in the rented sector and, in particular, we call again for the updating of the housing standards regulations which have been called for by Threshold.
No worker or their families should be forced to rent solely because they cannot afford to buy. New purchase options need to be developed to maximise the numbers purchasing their own home. These new purchase options need to be designed to take account of the widely differing house prices in different parts of the country. The Labour Party proposes three new options for home purchase. First is a new begin-to-buy purchase option which will enable people to start purchasing a home as soon as they are in full-time employment and to increase their equity in the home as their incomes increase and as their financial circumstances improve. The begin-to-buy scheme should be administered by local authorities whose housing departments should be reformed to fulfil this new function. Any person unable to purchase a home from his or her own resources could apply and two assessments should be made. The person's housing need would be assessed to establish the size and location of housing required. An assessment would be made of the amount the person can afford in loan repayments. Subject to these parameters the applicant would then be approved to purchase a dwelling on a shared equity basis with the applicant purchasing a minimum of 25% and the local authority, either directly or through a financial institution, purchasing the balance. Over time the applicants would have the opportunity to increase their share of the dwelling. They would also have the freedom to sell and redeem their share and to use it in turn to purchase elsewhere under the begin-to-buy scheme.
There should also be a new tenant purchase scheme for tenants of local authorities and for tenants of voluntary and co-operative housing schemes. The existing local authority tenant purchase scheme is outdated and needs to be reformed. Many tenants in voluntary and co-operative housing are also seeking the opportunity to purchase the home in which they live. The terms and conditions of the purchase schemes in the voluntary and co-operative sectors need to be negotiated with the agencies concerned.
We need a tenant purchase arrangement in the private sector. In many cases, where a landlord is selling a house or an apartment, it may be desirable for the tenant to have a realistic opportunity to buy. In cases where a landlord decides to sell up and serves notice on a tenant with a number of years tenancy in order to have vacant possession, it should be possible to make arrangements to encourage the sale of such rented dwellings to existing tenants and a scheme to that end should be devised.
We need to increase the supply of affordable homes. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 should by now, have delivered approximately 30,000 affordable homes. The social partnership commitment should have produced a further 10,000, bringing to 40,000 the number of affordable houses which should by now have been delivered. Instead only 3,000 have materialised, because the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government surrendered the affordable sites back to developers after the last general election.
At current rates of housing construction, Part V should be delivering 6,000 affordable homes each year. To ensure this target is met, developers should be required to commit to their Part V obligations before planning permission is granted not afterwards as is the case at present. In addition, the procedures for Part V agreements should be streamlined, the escape clauses in the existing scheme should be abolished and Part V should apply to all residential developments of five units or more. The loopholes, whereby Part V does not apply in the case of unzoned land and many apartment schemes where the site is less than 0.1 ha, should be abolished. In addition Part V dwellings should also be made available to those purchasing under the begin-to-buy option.
The scope of the affordable housing schemes should be widened so that families trading up, based on need, or moving home for work or family reasons will also be able to qualify. At the moment someone buying a starter home of perhaps one or two bedrooms under the affordable housing scheme whose family size increases cannot use the affordable housing scheme to move to a larger dwelling. That issue needs to be addressed.
Recent studies indicate that in the years ahead, up to 50% of newly forming households will not be able to afford to buy a home from their own resources. This is already the case in the cities, and especially in parts of Dublin, including in my constituency. Future decisions on new land zonings and on increased residential density should reflect this reality, by increasing to 50%, where necessary, the amount of development land to be reserved for social and affordable housing.
The rezoning of land and the increasing of residential densities, which are decisions made by public authorities, confer enormous windfall gains on the landowners and developers concerned. At a minimum, the gain should be shared with the wider public, so that the rezoning of lands and the increasing of densities are directed to meeting the housing needs of those who are being priced out of the market and not just for the financial gain of the landowners and developers concerned.
The November 2004 NESC report on housing identified the existence of "affordability black-spots", particularly in some urban areas. These are areas where the prices of even the most modest dwellings are now well beyond the reach of most people on good middle incomes. These areas, which are mainly in the cities, require special attention. Otherwise, none but the very rich will be able to afford housing in such areas. In city areas where development land is scarce, local authorities should have the power to compulsorily acquire building land, under the formula recommended by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, in order to provide additional housing at affordable prices. It was the Taoiseach who referred the development land issue to the all-party committee. It is remarkable that although that committee reported two and a half years ago, the Government still has not taken any action to implement its recommendations.
No surplus State-owned land, which is intended to be developed for housing, should be sold into the private market; it should instead be made available to local authorities or to voluntary or co-operative housing bodies. In recent years the Government has sold off lands of former Army, Garda, harbour and State company facilities. The indications are that further such sales are planned. Those land sales should be halted and the lands made available for housing at affordable prices. In addition the State should compulsorily acquire surplus institutional lands such as former hospital or school lands which are being put on the market, apparently for housing purposes, and which are no longer required for their original use.
Approximately 45,000 applicants are now on waiting lists for council housing, which is almost double the number when the present Government parties took office in 1997. That doubling took place despite the changes the Minister of State made when the last assessment of housing need was being carried out when he changed the method by which they are counted in order to make the figures look better.
The NESC has recommended that social housing output should be increased to approximately 10,000 units per annum, for the next seven years. The Labour Party has committed itself to this target. In order to achieve it, it will be necessary not only to increase output by local authorities, but also to increase the numbers of dwellings being produced by the voluntary and co-operative sectors. These sectors are already geared to produce approximately 4,000 housing units per annum, but in practice are prevented from doing so by lack of access to sites and by excessive bureaucracy on the part of State bodies. Labour believes these blockages that stand in the way of the voluntary and co-operative sectors should be removed to enable these sectors to achieve their full potential.
Homelessness is a scandal in our affluent society. The Government has committed itself to a national strategy to end homelessness, and the Labour Party acknowledges that some progress has been made but there is a lot more to be done. The four major housing NGOs, Simon Communities of Ireland, Threshold, Focus Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have called for an end to homelessness by 2010. Labour supports this objective and if it gets into government commits itself to ending homelessness in the life of the next Government.
Approximately 60,000 households are in receipt of rent allowance or rent supplement at a cost to the State of approximately €400 million per annum. However, anyone on rent allowance who takes up full-time employment will lose all of his or her rent allowance regardless of the amount of income he or she receives. The rent allowance scheme as currently operated acts as a disincentive to work and as a poverty trap. It needs to be reformed. The Labour Party calls for the replacement of the rent allowance system with a new form of housing support, related to the household's income regardless of source, and to the household's housing needs. The new housing support would free up people on social welfare and on low incomes to work and to improve their circumstances without losing their homes or their full entitlement to rent allowance.
For many homebuyers, the high price they pay for their house or apartment is only the start of the rip-off. They may be price-gazumped at the purchase stage. Their legal fees may be a percentage of the price even though the same legal work is involved regardless of price. They may buy a new house which has unresolved snags with no sign of the builder returning to address them. Their housing estate may be left uncompleted for years. They may be forced to pay ever-increasing charges to a management company for services which are normally provided by the local authority.
The Government should introduce new legislation to secure the consumer rights of those buying homes. This should include the outlawing of price gazumping, full and timely completion of estates and the control and regulation of management companies and charges.
The final component in the Labour Party's plan is a proposal for reform of stamp duty and mortgage relief. I do not propose to discuss these reforms in detail because they will be dealt with by my colleague, Deputy Burton, tomorrow night. Issues such as stamp duty and mortgage relief are important elements in any national housing policy. However, unlike the Progressive Democrats we do not see reform of stamp duty as the be all and end all of housing policy. I have not heard the Progressive Democrats offer a single positive suggestion as to how to assist young couples hoping to buy their own homes——