I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, for bringing this important legislation before the House and the extent of work she has undertaken on it, along with her colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Housing provision is an issue that has required attention for some several years.
Public housing is within the remit of the local authorities. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Unfortunately, over the years there has been a gradual off-loading, outsourcing and avoiding of the responsibilities in that area and it was agreed in policies pursued over ten or 15 years. While I do not wish to go into the history, we now must deal with the inherited difficulties arising from a failure to provide a proper public housing programme over at least 15 years. There is one commentator in the public area who might admit that I reminded him at least 15 years ago that the biggest issue to face this country in the years to come would be the lack of public housing.
There is an unfortunate situation where people can no longer go to access the workforce because they are dependent on rent support which is conditional on them being unemployed. The situation is intolerable. We cannot go on indefinitely chasing the rising rents and at the same time trying to pretend that the issue will go away or will resolve itself as nothing could be further from the truth.
At last, this Government has recognised that there is a need to reintroduce the public housing programme. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and I know full well that the situation is dire. We have discussed this on many occasions and I am sure everybody else in this House has discussed it with her as well. The problem is so vast now that, without anything else happening at all, we would need at least 20,000 houses in each of the next four years in order to come to grips with it, but it would be a great help if we had even half of that number, and we are not going to have that.
There are a number of things that need to be done as a matter of urgency. First, we must discover how it is proposed to fund any major housing project. There are a number of ways. Of course, because of the troika, we cannot allow these issues to emerge on the Government's balance sheet, and that creates a problem. There are other ways, which I have submitted already to various Ministers. I believe that a Government bond should be launched to deal with specific infrastructural deficits of which this is one. I believe such a bond could attract funds from private pension funds and savings which currently fall within the remit of DIRT. The loss in interest to the Exchequer would be very small but a significant positive impact would accrue on two levels, the social housing issue and the employment generated by a serious housing programme.
In my county, for example, we had a similar situation in the late 1980s. In the 1980s, we had a large number of people on housing lists which were inherited from another problem of economic downturn. At that time, the local authority had two systems. One was direct build of local authority houses, of which they built between 300 and 400 every year and which had the effect of stabilising the housing market. In addition, the local authority loan system also awarded between 400 and 500 loans each year. The odd aspect about that was the variety of persons who qualified under those headings. Young nurses, young gardaí and young public services, to a significant extent, were able to qualify. In fact, I was in this House for several years and still would have qualified for a local authority loan such was the extent to which that funding was made available at that time. Wisdom, or what went for it at the time, prevailed in some quarters and it was all changed, there were no, or only a few, local authority houses built, and responsibility was handed over to voluntary housing agencies, all of which are good in their own way and meet a certain part of the market, but are not the answer and do not have the statutory responsibility. Unfortunately, as a result of these failed policies, we have an intolerable situation.
As for what we do about it and how quickly, I think the Minister of State is going the right way about it, but this is only the initial stages. As she will be aware, I would plead that at the earliest opportunity something be done by way of launching a bond, encouraging the launching of a bond or creating a situation whereby funding could be made available from a source that will not be reflected on the Government's balance sheet which we know cannot happen, but will make a serious impact on the number of people currently on local authority housing lists.
The number on the waiting list is difficult from another perspective as well. In years gone by, it was a regular occurrence that a mobile home was pulled into somebody's garden at the side of their house and families lived there in those kind of conditions. That is no longer acceptable. For a start, it was dangerous. Many lost their lives or their health because of fire hazards etc. Most importantly, it was not a resolution to the problem. The only resolution to the problem at that time was to build the houses or provide loans to people to build them themselves.
Now we have another problem, that of available land on which to build houses. We must use legislation that is in place. I refer to infrastructural deficit legislation which deals with situations where in an emergency - this is an emergency - it can be possible to purchase serviceable land and provide blocks of houses on a planned basis over a four or five year period which would have a sufficient impact on the housing market to achieve two aims - meet the housing needs of those on the housing list and be a stabiliser for house prices. As long as the considerable numbers - there are approximately 100,000 families - remain on those housing lists, they are in the market seeking accommodation from the private sector, which is fine for the investors.
Incidentally, I could not help an inward smile in recent weeks when I heard rent prices have gone up by 8%, 10% or whatever when, in fact, they have gone up by 40% in the places that I represent over the past six to eight months. Unfortunately, that is the way it is. The reason for the increase is the investors are caught between the lender and their own interests and must jack up rents in order to show the lending institutions they are making a serious effort to repay their borrowings, and as a result the tenants get squeezed.
In that regard, there are many decent landlords throughout the length and breadth of this country who look after their tenants as if they were their own family and whose only wish is that the property is kept in a good state of repair and that they get a reasonable rent. They do not hustle tenants around. They do not target them on a regular basis to increase the rent. Such landlords are in the minority. Unfortunately, a trend has developed, in particular over the past 12 months, whereby tenants get notice of the intention of the landlord to recover the property, for instance, to put it on the market, and then the property is re-advertised at, in some cases, double the rent previously being paid. That is how serious it is. If that kind of trend continues, it will end in disaster because property prices will go back the way they were previously and we will find ourselves in a situation whereby the lending institutions will continue to lend to fund properties that are already inflated in price. I totally disagree with the notion put about in some quarters. It was not 100% mortgages that caused the problem. It was 100% inflated valuations on properties that caused the problem that we saw emerge over the past number of years.
What I want to see happen in the shortest possible time is the formulation of a plan to target the numbers on the housing lists in each local authority. There is quite a variation. In some parts of the country, the lists are not long. In Kildare County Council, there are 8,500 at present, and addressing it will take a lot of overhauling. It is all fine to say there is private property that they can rent or they can go elsewhere.
It is not so easy for parents with children to go elsewhere. They generally like to remain within a reasonable distance of their family supports, as they should. That is particularly so for those who might rely on child-minding facilities from parents or in-laws. It is obviously a major advantage for them to be able to rely on child-minding facilities from a grandparent, aunt, uncle or other relatives. Many such issues need to be addressed in the context of housing generally.
From time to time, we hear criticism that people on local authority lists are in some way a burden on the State, but nothing could be further from the truth. All those on housing lists want is to be able to have a home of their own. In years gone by, there are those who suggested that we should be like the rest of Europe, content to live in apartments. There are a number of reasons that would not work, including the culture of this country and the quality of housing involved. We have seen numerous instances where the quality of housing deteriorated and did not meet householders' social or economic needs. In addition, in many instances the space available was so restrictive as to make it virtually impossible to rear a family in such box-type accommodation.
We need to revert to traditional accommodation, such as an ordinary house that is sufficient to meet people's needs for whatever length of time they wish to remain in it. A notion has developed over the years that people should be moved regularly from one quality of house to another, but that is absolute nonsense. Every time one intervenes administratively in anything of that nature, it costs money and causes delays.
I am sure both the Minister of State and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can remember a time when a family was reared in their original house. They were quite happy to upgrade it as time went on and buy out the house themselves, which then became their home. They were committed to it, invested in it and were proud of it. They still are, to this day. Unfortunately, however, the practice of providing homes of that nature is no longer in operation.
People may say we are living in different times now and cannot do it the way we used to, but that is not true. If we do not provide an adequate amount of accommodation of sufficient quality to meet the needs of our growing population, we will have a dissatisfied community which is not a good way to proceed. Therefore, the sooner we recognise that we must revert to traditional means of meeting the housing needs of our population, the better.
I congratulate the Minister of State on recognising that and doing it. I regret that the proposed numbers are not higher, although I know the reasons for that. That is why I have suggested we should examine the possibility of a bond, which is the answer. It has been used in the past as a way of doing something about the housing issue.
There were glitches in the past that could have been resolved but were not. For example, the shared ownership loan scheme is a disaster because the rules were changed halfway through. Initially, the scheme was designed so that a person could borrow part of the equity of the house and have the remainder of it repaid on the basis of rent with a local authority. The condition was that the remaining rental part could be repaid within a 25 year period. However, the rules were changed and some genius came up with the idea that they should buy out the second part of the equity within 25 years. That is not what was originally proposed, as everybody in this House knows, but some clever genius decided to slip that into the mix along the way. It had the result of penalising people in that income category. They have been the worst hit group in society for the past ten years because they have had to pay more interest and ever-increasing repayments but got little in return. It was a disgraceful way to treat people who followed the rules as best they could. They set about purchasing their homes but were frustrated at every turn.
I hope the Minister of State will keep this in mind in dealing with the current situation. The problem now is bigger than it ever was before. It will fall to the Minister of State to deal with it because nobody else will do so. That will be her legacy when she goes before the people in a few years time, as I and every other Deputy must do. The greatest accolade for the Minister of State would be if she could say she tackled and resolved the housing crisis.
There are those who say they would do it differently, but I would like to hear what they are going to do and when they propose to do it. It should be remembered that there are 100,000 people with no long-term accommodation prospects. That has a disruptive potential for society. We cannot go on that way, so we must accept responsibility that those families are in need of rehousing now. It is a bit like someone in severe pain being put on a waiting list for an operation. Who wants to be on a waiting list when suffering severe pain? Similarly, who wants to be on a housing waiting list for five, seven or ten years? Many people have been on local authority housing lists for up to ten years.
Every day in my constituency a number of families become homeless and have nowhere to go. It is an appalling legacy of the people who planned housing. I will not name names but we all know who they are. There have been reports on housing in this country to beat the band and we know where they went. I am amazed that nobody has come forward to say they were wrong and it did not work. Everything they said was wrong and the expert opinion was rubbish. The fact is, however, that people are on waiting lists with very little prospect of being accommodated. The only prospect is what the Minister of State can do now to resolve the matter.
I have listened to some of those who spoke in this debate and were critical of the Minister of State, but it is grossly unfair. She inherited something she did not create. Some may say she is in Government now and should deal with it, but that is utter hypocrisy. The Minister of State was not handed funding by anybody when she took office. Nobody said: "Here's a cheque. This is how we're going to solve the housing problem that you inherited."
A fair amount of soul-searching has to be undertaken with a view to setting down markers, outlining a programme, dealing with the issue by setting annual targets, and achieving them. We must not avoid the issue, which has happened for the past 12 years at least. The previous administration avoided the issue, pretended it was not there and hoped the private sector would deal with it. It was handed over to the private sector which depended on the markets. They did all the things that did not work.
I am trying to be as constructive as I can. The Minister of State inherited an appalling situation for which she bears no responsibility. I am glad she is making this foray in trying to deal with the situation. All the support and help that should be available to her will be forthcoming from Members of this House.