Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to the House and welcome the opportunity to speak on the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill. This legislation will make three important changes that should improve our urban environment, increase the supply of much need housing and enhance the quality of life for citizens. These changes are the introduction of a vacant site levy, reduced development contributions and changes to Part V provisions for social and affordable housing.

At the height of the Fianna Fáil housing bubble in 2006, almost 90,000 houses were built in a single year. After the crash that inevitably followed the bubble, less than 10,000 houses are now being built each year, resulting in a considerable shortage. We went from a situation where an unsustainable number of houses were being built, often in the wrong place and of the wrong type, to a situation where not enough houses are being built. This legislation will help to address this situation and begin to return the housing market to a more stable footing.

For too long, prime sites in our cities have been left as unproductive empty lots that attract dumping and anti-social behaviour. These sites should be supporting economic activity that would benefit the local community and wider economy. Instead, some owners have elected to leave these sites neglected in search of a bigger personal profit down the road, whatever the cost to the community. This problem became more widespread in recent years when the bottom fell out of the property market and values decreased. While there is no disincentive for an owner to leave a site vacant for many years, this has a negative impact on the local community and on the economic and social development of the city. Dublin City Council has identified 151 vacant plots of land and 131 sites with derelict buildings that are zoned for development, but which have been left as a blot on the landscape. Many of these sites are located in my Dublin Central constituency. The introduction of a vacant site levy will encourage the owner to develop the site or to sell it to someone who is prepared to develop it. That we are introducing legislation that will deal with this issue highlights the fact that legislation should be reviewed on a regular basis. The original derelict sites levy legislation was introduced in 1990, a quarter of a century ago. We need to examine such legislation on an ongoing basis to assess its effectiveness. That legislation had not been effective over the past years and we now need to tighten up on the situation considerably.

We currently have an enormous shortage of housing and we need developers to build more homes. While the vacant site levy can be seen as a stick to encourage development, the changes to development contributions proposed in this Bill can be seen as a carrot to encourage developers to build houses. It is essential that developers are required to pay development contributions towards the public infrastructure that benefits the development. However, as we are now faced with an acute shortage in housing, it is appropriate to reduce this burden on the developer to facilitate the building of additional homes. Many local authorities have already reduced development contributions for future planning applications, but this legislation will enable local authorities to apply the reduced development contributions to developments where planning permission has been granted but development or part of the development has not started.

I also welcome the changes to the objectives of a development plan in respect of regeneration. The new objective will provide that the development and renewal of areas in need of regeneration should be for the explicit purposes of preventing adverse effects on existing amenities; urban blight and decay; anti-social behaviour; and a shortage of habitable houses or of land suitable for residential use or a mixture of residential and other uses. There are a number of areas in Dublin Central and many other parts of Dublin City in need of regeneration. One of these areas is the docklands. Under the urban renewal programme set up following the 1986 legislation, under the existing Custom House Docks Development Authority at the time, later the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, there was to be regeneration of an economic and social nature. However, the social nature was not provided. It is vital that when we have regeneration, we do not allow it to be simply economic regeneration. That is what has happened in the docklands to date and that is why we have major problems of social deprivation in areas such as Sheriff Street.

Part V provisions were supposed to provide social and affordable housing as a requirement of planning permission for housing developments. It is important there is wider community benefit from these developments as it is the community infrastructure and the granting of planning permission that gives these sites their value. However, while Part V provided 5,721 units between 2002 and 2011, a nine or ten-year period, its potential was never fully realised. Hundreds of thousands of houses were built yet that is all Part V was able to deliver. It was a meagre response, and it is clear the developers were driving a coach and four through the provision. This legislation will remove the option for developers of making cash payments instead of providing social and affordable housing units, which is extremely important.

While the legislation maintains the legal provision for affordable housing, it cannot be implemented without a further ministerial directive. I appreciate the prioritisation of social housing, but there remains a significant number of people who are not eligible for social housing who cannot afford their own home. It would be preferable to include affordable housing as an option at this time, even if the majority of the houses provided are for social housing. We have reduced the requirement from 20% to 10%. The legislation will also reduce the amount of social and affordable housing to be provided in developments from 20% to 10%. The great strength of that is the provision of certainty. There will not be an exemption and cash payments in lieu will not be an option, which was a provision of which the developers availed previously. At the same time, it will result in a reduction in the quantity of social and affordable housing. It might have been more desirable for the reduction in affordable housing to be 5% and to retain an element of affordable housing as well.

We should not forget that there is an entire category of people that can be easily lost between social housing and those who are in a position to purchase their homes themselves. The local authorities and the Government were always cognisant of that fact, and always put in support mechanisms to ensure that cohort of people would be supported in order to enable them to purchase their own homes. That was done in the past either through affordable housing, shared ownership, the provision of a grant by the Department and the local authority providing mortgages. It is almost impossible to get a local authority mortgage at present and it is very much a last resort. We must not forget that particular cohort of people as well, because if we do, we will create a situation whereby the number of people looking for social housing will increase because they do not have the supports to get on the property ladder. With the imposition of a cap on the deposit requirement it is extremely difficult for young couples in particular to get a deposit together in order to get a step on the property ladder, acquire a mortgage and engage in the purchase of their own home.

In the past we saw how developers did as much as they could to avoid either providing affordable housing in the first place or having it in a prominent location. As in London, they did their best to use the "poor door” whereby affordable housing is tucked away in a corner and is out of sight and out of mind. Worse again, as we have seen in the docklands, the affordable and social housing element of developments were put on the long finger until the project neared completion and then did not happen at all either due to a lack of funding or ability to complete the project. All of those factors have resulted in the current situation whereby there is an acute shortage of social housing. We must always be cognisant that whatever measures are put in place to protect the delivery of social housing are effective and in operation because the one thing of which we can be sure is that developers will do their damnedest to get around those mechanisms if they possibly can.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. The purpose of the Bill is primarily focused on addressing housing supply-related issues with a view to facilitating increased activity in the housing construction sector, especially in the Dublin area where the housing supply shortage is particularly acute. As a Dublin Deputy I am very much aware of that on a daily basis. By targeting empty sites urban regeneration will become more common and instead of the blight of wasteland in our communities, we will instead see positive developments adding to our communities.

The main provisions of the Bill are the revision of the Part V arrangements on social and affordable housing as well as retrospective application of reduced development contribution charges, which is being done following the changes to the economy which made the previous charges unrealistic. I very much welcome the introduction of a vacant site levy to incentivise urban regeneration and the provision of housing in central urban areas.

The Bill gives effect to a number of actions outlined in the Government’s Construction 2020 strategy which require legislative underpinning. The Bill will enable planning authorities to adopt measures to incentivise the use and development of vacant sites in urban areas. The Bill provides that from 1 January 2019, planning authorities will be empowered to apply an annual vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of vacant sites exceeding 0.1 ha, which in the planning authority’s opinion were vacant in the preceding year, in areas identified by the planning authority in its development plan or local area plan for residential development or regeneration development.

Part 2 of the legislation concerns the vacant site levy. Section 5 provides for the definition of a vacant site. In the case of residential land it means a site in an area where there is a need for housing, the site is suitable for provision of housing and is vacant. In the case of regeneration land it means a site that is vacant and has an adverse effect on existing amenities including a diminution in the amenity. A site is any area of land exceeding 0.1 ha but does not include a structure that is a person’s home.

There is also provision for the establishment and maintenance of a vacant sites register from 2017 onwards, which I welcome. It will ensure that vacant sites are known and the existence of a list should provide a baseline for action to be taken in terms of levies, which should in turn incentivise work to be progressed on vacant sites.

This part of the legislation outlines specific criteria to be used by the planning authority, or An Bord Pleanála on appeal, for determining whether or not, first, there was a need for housing in an area, second, a site was suitable for housing, and third, the site being vacant had adverse effects on existing amenities in the area or on the character of the area. That is very important as it provides a socially oriented framework for deciding what is a vacant site and what is not, and this ensures the levy is not all about land parcels and their financial value. In that way we are seeing a turn away from the Celtic tiger model of money and land running roughshod over social cohesion and community need.

With effect from 1 January 2019 and every year thereafter, a planning authority shall, in respect of the preceding year, charge a vacant site levy on the market value of a site on the owner of each site included in its vacant site register. The levy shall be payable, in arrears, on demand or by instalments if agreed by the planning authority. I hope the levy will be collected. I am aware from reports from Dublin City Council that vacant site levies are already outstanding. The names of some well known former developers are on the list of those who owe money. In some cases the outstanding sums of money are as much as €20,000 and €30,000. The levy shall continue to be payable annually until the site is developed or brought into use at which time the site will be removed from the register.

Where An Bord Pleanála determines that a site was not a vacant site, it shall notify the planning authority concerned, which shall remove the relevant entry from the register and cancel the demand made. An owner of a site may also appeal on the grounds that the amount of the levy has been incorrectly calculated. In addition, where An Bord Pleanála determines the amount of the levy has been incorrectly calculated, it shall notify the correct amount to the planning authority concerned, which shall revise their records accordingly.

I refer to the amendments in this legislation that are being made to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which deals with social and affordable housing. Informed by a recent review of the Part V provisions, the Bill provides that, in future, the focus of Part V will be on the delivery of social housing, with a requirement for up to 10% social housing in developments in excess of nine units. In the operation of these revised arrangements, the priority will be to secure social housing units on site. The making of cash payments in lieu of social housing is to be discontinued and I very much welcome this. In the past, some local authorities, particularly in parts of the Fingal area, accepted a sum of money in place of housing, which has left housing shortages in parts of Baldoyle and Howth. I am glad the policy is to be discontinued. The point of Part V is to deliver social housing. The old approach of developers effectively buying their way out of this requirement was not helpful, especially during the Celtic tiger era.

Under the legislation, a planning authority, in preparing its housing strategy, will be required to consult approved housing bodies in its functional area and to have regard to relevant housing policies of the Government or any Minister. It also halves to 10% the percentage of land zoned for residential use, or for a mixture of residential and other uses, that must be provided for social and affordable housing. Retaining the legal provision regarding affordable housing provides a robust and constitutionally tested legislative mechanism for the future provision of affordable housing.

Previous affordable housing schemes have all been stood down since 2011, and although there is no plan to provide any scheme, I hope they will be returned to in the future. It is understandable that due to the need for social housing provision, the focus of Part V is entirely on providing social housing output. We have to get more houses built. The housing crisis in Dublin, including in my Dublin North-East constituency and elsewhere, is very severe and must be tackled as a priority by the Government and local authorities including Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. It is intended to issue a statutory ministerial policy directive under section 29 of the Act to planning authorities directing that, until the issue of a further ministerial directive, developers should fulfil their Part V obligation in the form of social housing only.

Part V of the legislation amends section 95 of the Act of 2000 by requiring a planning authority to have regard to the overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area of the development plan when ensuring sufficient and suitable land is zoned for residential use or for a mixture of residential and other uses, and I support this. Planning authorities need to ensure the communities within their remit are well balanced and to factor in the needs of those communities. The transfer of completed units on other land not subject to the planning permission is also provided for. This allows social housing units to be delivered in another location, in the event that the development that is the subject of the planning permission does not meet the social housing or mixed tenure needs of the local authority. Provision is also made for the Part V obligation to be fulfilled by developers through long-term leasing of properties and rental accommodation availability agreements. These latter Part V options reflect amendments that were provided in section 38 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010, but had not commenced.

The Labour Party in government is addressing the housing crisis by providing massive resources for constructing new units, which will start to come on stream in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it takes a year to a year and a half to see the end result. However, the important thing is that the resources are being provided, priority has been set and the local authorities have been given the task of dealing with it and coming up with solutions quickly. I am glad to support the legislation and I commend the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, on their hard work in the area. Given the scale of the housing crisis, the legislation must be supported. I commend the Bill to the House.

I oppose the Bill. Once again, it is satisfying the developer. This is a dangerous path, and we have already seen the results of tinkering with Part V. Part V was introduced to try to force developers to deliver social housing for cities in particular. It has not worked and was never going to work in the way it was introduced, and it needs to be tightened and strengthened. Instead, the Government, in this Bill, is trying to let former developers, and the vulture funds which have bought many development sites in this city and elsewhere, off their duty to provide social housing. Some of it is to compensate for the State's failure to deliver social housing in terms of local authority building. As a consequence of the Bill, we will have more of the same.

The Bill will underwrite the policy of this and previous Governments to subsidise social housing through supporting private landlords. This is very evident in the proposal in the legislation to allow for social leasing, or whatever it is called, as an opportunity for developers in the future in order that the local authorities do not have the right to purchase. Sometimes, people forget that the 20% social housing provision is an option, not a grant by a developer of a house or an apartment. During the height of the boom, local authorities found it very difficult to take up the options that were available to them. We can discuss whether it was good or bad in terms of houses, for example, whether it was preferable to take the money from a developer rather than an option on houses in Castleknock.

The Government thinking on social housing has been wrong for a number of years and this is the source of some of the chaos in social housing. I will return to the regeneration schemes. We have not delivered social housing in the way society understands it. Local authorities, in the main, stopped building a number of years ago before the boom times when money for social housing began to dry up. Of late, money for social housing has been drying up substantially, given that most of the money has been diverted to one of the 200 social housing bodies which can get access to other forms off the Statute Book, whereas if the local authorities were granted the money, it would be seen as a loan or support for local authorities, in which this and the previous Governments were not keen to invest.

I continually refer to history which teaches that unless we change, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. At the very least, in this State in times of housing crises, major social housing programs were developed. They did not all end up in chaos with people demanding regeneration in Ballymun, Dolphin House or Fatima Mansions. Although the programme of social housing from the 1920s to the 1950s might have provided rough, crude houses, they have settled down over time and, in some cases, are much sought after. Fairview, The Tenters and most of Dublin 12, including Crumlin, Drimnagh and Walkinstown, are much sought after by people who would love to live in those areas. Those social housing schemes were built at a time when the State had very little money but understood the need to invest in and provide for the needs of its citizens.

What was formerly regarded as an investment in a social service for the future is seen instead as current expenditure. The motivation is profit instead of service provision.

This Bill falls into the trap set by speculators and landlords. I do not refer to the one-off landlords who bought a house in boom times and are now struggling with the mortgage on their second homes. The problem is caused by the big landlords who are holding onto sites in the hope of increasing their profit margins. The lands in Dublin owned by local authorities or the Government are for the most part serviced by roads and other infrastructure. An investment in building houses on these lands would help to meet the social housing needs of our population. Rather than take this approach, however, the Government is encouraging private landlords to get involved in social leasing through the housing assistance payment scheme, the rent assistance supplement and rent allowance. The local authorities are leasing properties when they should be building social housing themselves.

The reduction in the Part V provisions on social housing from 20% to 10% is a retrograde step. We should be ringfencing 20% and councils should be allowed to purchase houses even if it means taking an arm's length approach. Certain councils in England which were prevented from building houses instead established bodies operating at an arm's length from the councils to enable them to draw down funds from the Government and the private sector. However, this ethos suggests that local authorities should operate primarily as corporate entities rather than service providers. Councils should also be able to accept money if it means building two houses in an alternative location rather than one on the development site. I recall a discussion on whether it would be beneficial to construct social housing on Shrewsbury Road given that the council might construct five to ten houses in Ballyfermot or Crumlin for the price of one on Shrewsbury Road. However, this approach to addressing housing needs is part of the reason for the chaos that now exists.

The regeneration plans for my area were severely hit by the downturn. The redevelopment of St. Theresa's Gardens is proceeding in a minimal way. Regeneration of Dolphin House has been promised for I do not know how long and it will now proceed in a piecemeal manner. The social housing programme for St. Michael's Estate was partially completed last year but the remainder of the estate is an empty field. Local representatives held a meeting last Friday with the regeneration board for St. Michael's Estate. The local authority, the regeneration board and local residents are in favour of using the part of the site ringfenced for private development for social housing. I understand this will involve site 1B, which is adjacent to Thornton Heights. This development would help to address the housing needs of senior citizens in the area and thereby free up existing family homes.

However, the proposal is encountering obstacles due to bureaucracy and a failed regeneration model. A considerable number of regeneration programmes have failed around the country but some of the biggest failures were in large-scale regeneration of flat complexes. Even the regeneration of Fatima Mansions, which was a success in some ways, has had a knock-on effect on local authority housing lists because many of the previous local authority flats were not replaced in the same numbers on site or elsewhere. This skewed the local authority housing list in those areas. It is likely that residents in the first two blocks in Dolphin House will be housed before people who are on the homeless list because while the redevelopment of that complex is going to proceed, it will not deliver the same number of replacement social houses. Dublin City Council's housing stock has collapsed because of its regeneration programme. In Chamber Street three blocks of flats were demolished and we were left with an empty field. Nothing is being built in Cherry Orchard and the local authority is now putting the land up for sale in the hope that it can extract money from one of the vulture funds in order to build houses elsewhere. The council is starved of funds to build badly needed houses and the only housing development in the area is being built by a voluntary housing body.

Blame for this problem is not limited to the current Government. The policy of successive governments was to move away from investing in local authority housing to a system of housing support through rent supplements and allowances. Governments opted to subsidise private landlordism over public housing, and this Bill continues that trend. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, recently criticised local authorities for setting standards for apartment dwellings that are higher than the national standards and suggested this was one of the reasons why private speculators are not developing sites in Dublin city. Imagine criticising a council for setting a standard on which it had widely consulted. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, might take the time to read the Dublin City Council's successful apartment living document, which is the basis for the council's decision to introduce higher standards. The standards are aimed at moving people away from houses and into apartments. The reason people did not want to move into apartments was because they were too small and not suitable for rearing families. The new standards also address other issues, such as small pocket parks, services and access to transport.

All of that is in the document, so it is wrong to ask a council to move away from the position it has taken, just because the speculators are saying it is too costly to build houses.

It is not too costly because the price of building houses in Dublin has dropped in recent years. The cost of building apartments is still below the price for which houses are being sold today on the open market. We have seen the headlines in recent times about some developers looking for standards to be dropped. They are trying to ensure they can squeeze the biggest profit from sites they already hold. They might then open them up and start building.

Increased house prices and private rents are adding to the problems that ordinary decent workers face in Dublin and elsewhere in the State. Higher rents mean that people are ending up on local authority lists, yet those councils cannot help them. If they are on social welfare they cannot get rent allowance, but they cannot afford to rent privately. The reason developments are not happening is that most of the lands previously held by NAMA are now held by a different type of speculator offshore which has a profit margin in mind, be it 50% or 100%, which is well above the normal margin of 20%.

The normal cost of building a house in Dublin, including land costs, would be €200,000 yet I have seen houses for sale in Crumlin for nearly €300,000, which is a huge profit. They are not spectacular houses, they are basic model homes which are being sold to make a substantial profit for the developer. Fair dues to him in some ways, but at the end of the day the provisions in the Bill will contribute to an increase in house prices. They will also contribute to a dependency on private landlords by the State into the future, whether it is through local authorities under the housing assistance payment or HAP scheme, or directly because they are not building enough social housing. The Minister of State should substantially reconsider this Bill.

I welcome the derelict sites levy but there is a problem with it. Dublin City Council has a derelict sites tax and can compulsorily purchase vacant land, but only if it has the money to do so. If the council is starved of funding it will not have the money to buy derelict land. Even if it was bought, the council would probably have to sell it because the Government is not encouraging local authorities to build housing, so there is a problem.

There is enough serviced land already in this State, it is just that people are sitting on it in the hope that the price of housing in the capital will go back up to boom-time levels. It is already moving in that direction. In some areas of Dublin the price of housing has doubled, while in other areas it has risen by only 50%. Nowhere in the city, however, will a person be able to buy a house for the same price it was sold for three years ago. The substantial increase in house prices will cause problems in the future but this Bill will not address that. This is a cash cow for many developers who are currently sitting on land that could be developed. Others cannot develop it even if they wished because they do not have access to funds. That is something else that needs to be addressed.

This Government and the previous one have not invested in local authority housing as they should have. It has been proven that if one goes down the road proposed in this Bill one will end up contributing further to the housing crisis that we already have, both in Dublin and elsewhere in this State.

Deputy Derek Nolan is sharing time with Deputies Dowds, Kehoe and Creed. They will have five minutes each.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill which is an important part of the Government's housing strategy for the years ahead. It is fair to say that we are in the midst of a housing crisis, particularly in Galway city where I live and which I represent along with the county. No facet of society is unaffected by housing, be they young couples trying to buy a house, tenants watching rents rise, retired people wishing to downsize, or the thousands in Galway city on local authority waiting lists. Every aspect of the market, both private and in social provision, is being squeezed.

We are recovering from a severe shock to the market which failed because it was not properly regulated. The market has shown that if it is left to its own devices, it is not capable of supporting or providing the social good that we expect to come from it. Housing problems are interlinked and all stem from a lack of availability. Dozens of construction companies collapsed in the crash, along with housing output. In addition, development sites were in lock-down when NAMA-fied, and construction activity stopped.

As economic growth returned and activity was regenerated, the available stock was easily gobbled up. In Galway we have been particularly hit because the city never overbuilt and never had ghost estates. There was only one ghost estate in Galway and it has since been sorted. We are thus at the crunch end of the market. As a result, rents are going through the roof because it is not only a university city but also has an institute of technology. House prices are also going through the roof. About four years ago, a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Galway cost €175,000 or €180,000 while it is now €230,000. That is a massive price jump.

Meanwhile, waiting lists continue to grow because there has not been an increase in supply. That growth has put pressure on rent caps and leasing arrangements. Landlords who were previously in local authority leasing arrangements can now get better value in the private market. They are therefore turfing out tenants, sometimes callously, with no regard for individuals or families in those houses.

This Bill will go some way towards alleviating the situation but it is a medium-term gain that we will see. It will affect Part V when houses are built in three or four years time. It will also affect vacant sites in two or three years time when the register kicks in. A longer-term plan is needed to get Construction 2020 to work, get people building houses, and get the social housing programme up and running.

I would take issue with Deputy Ó Snodaigh because €3.8 billion has been allocated, which is the biggest investment in social housing construction in the history of the State. It was announced last year but will take time to implement and come on stream. It will also take time for local authorities to get planning permissions and building contracts in place, as well as having those units constructed for people to live in them.

We have failed to grasp that if we have a social and private housing market we should be directing it towards a goal. I am not saying that we should nationalise the housing market but we should certainly be using the levers of State to influence the outcome. We need a policy goal to determine what an average person should have to pay for a home of their own. When we know whether it should be three or four times their income in order to obtain a mortgage, we can direct housing supply, loan financing and rent controls towards that policy. We must decide what people, who do all they can through their own endeavours to provide for themselves, should be able to do to own their home.

Once we have made that decision, everything else fills out around it. Then we can say to those who cannot work or cannot get by that we will help them out either with the rent supplement or by providing a local authority house. However, if we do not have a policy that rewards those who can and do work and get up every morning to do so, we will be unable to stand over a policy that, first, realises a social market and not only a private market and, second, is a policy that we can define, follow and implement. At the moment we are chasing the market, developers, banks, rent increases and supply as opposed to leading and sticking to a policy for which we are fighting, pushing forward and directing.

I never realised Deputy Nolan was so influenced by his spell in Germany until I heard him speak today and earlier in the week. He wants to put order on everything. In the case of the housing situation, he is absolutely correct.

In welcoming this Bill I see it as an essential part of a major job that must be done. There are some important steps in that job. In respect of Part V provisions for social and affordable housing, it is absolutely essential that there is an obligation on developers to provide the 10% social housing commitment. In a sense I would prefer if it was even more, but if we could get that into operation, it would be a big step forward. It is important to set out why that is a good development. It is a good development because it will put people in social housing in a better position to access work in many cases and to be nearer their place of work. Let us consider planning in this city in the past. Out along by Morehampton Road there are posh houses on both sides of the road. Behind those houses are smaller artisan dwellings. This is because in the past the people who lived in those houses worked for the wealthy. As a Labour Party Deputy I favour as much as possible a move towards equality in society. Enabling people in social housing to live mixed with people who live in private housing is a positive development for all kinds of reasons.

Reference has been made to the application of reduced development contribution charges. I would appreciate it if the Minister could go through the reasons for this again in his reply. As I understand it, the purpose is to try to get some development going and reduce the cost of housing. This is something we need to keep an eye on.

The third issue is the vacant site levy. After I got elected to the House I was involved with five other Labour Party Deputies in work on aspects of the housing question. One of the things we looked at in considerable detail was the idea of a vacant site levy. I am pleased to see the levy as part of the legislation. There are far too many places in this city, Galway, Cork and the towns of Ireland where there are vacant or empty sites and they are causing blight on the centre of the towns or cities. I hope the vacant site levy of 3% will go towards addressing this issue and providing housing in areas which for the most part already have decent services. This would be beneficial in a number of ways, in particular in terms of filling in ugly empty sites and placing people adjacent to services, whether buses, shops, schools, churches and so on. I see considerable positivity in that. It is long past time that we had the sort of pressure to get those sites occupied, especially given the appalling housing crisis we are dealing with.

It is vital we try to address the housing issue on as many fronts as possible. Part of the question is social and part of it is private. We probably need to look at ways of developing our rental market to get away from the ad hoc situation which many people have been subjected to and from which many people suffer at the moment. I am pleased to support the Bill.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this important Bill. It is a major step in addressing a current problem, a fact accepted by people on all sides of the House. This Fine Gael-led Government, including the Labour Party, was elected a little over four years ago to fix a broken economy and country. Today is another step forward in fixing what has been a major problem for us as a Government and as a country in recent years.

The Government's Construction 2020 strategy, published in May 2014, was one of the steps taken to help the economy to recover. It contains a comprehensive range of actions designed to increase activity in the construction sector as well as help to economic recovery, job creation and the re-birth of the construction sector in a more sustainable way.

The Bill will address housing supply issues by helping to increase housing construction activity, particularly in the Dublin area, where it is a major problem. In my constituency of Wexford it is a major problem as well. Wexford is like any other county in the country where there is a major housing shortage.

As a result of the economic collapse under the previous Government the number of housing units constructed in Ireland fell to a mere 8,300 nationally in 2013, with only 1,360 of these in Dublin, while the number of house completions increased to 11,000 units in 2014, including almost 3,000 in Dublin. More needs to be done in this area and I believe the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, recognise this.

It is estimated that in years to come we will need to build approximately 25,000 units nationally each year to meet the projected housing demand, with more than 8,000 of these units in Dublin. This tells us the extent of the problem we are facing. The Bill provides for a range of measures which will help to address the issues, including the amendment of the Part V provisions of the Planning and Development Acts to support the provision of social housing, the introduction of the revised arrangements relating to the application of development contributions by planning authorities and the introduction of a new measure, a vacant site levy, to incentivise the development of vacant and unutilised sites in urban areas for housing and regeneration purposes.

We have a major problem in towns throughout Ireland. A major Irish retail business, Dunnes Stores, opened up several new stores a number of years ago on the edges of towns and left our urban centres. This has left stores in the centre of our urban areas closed, vacant and empty. This is causing major blight in towns and cities throughout Ireland. Dunnes Stores has an onus to act because the people in each of the towns where it has premises have been supporting Dunnes Stores for many years. It is about time Dunnes Stores went about renting out these vacant properties in urban areas. Specifically I have in mind Main Street in my town of Enniscorthy where there is a huge vacant store. It is a blight on that street. This absolutely infuriates the rest of the retailers and traders in and around the town.

Towns have been under major pressure in the past few years and doing their best to keep their shops open. If we are to reinvigorate town centres, people should rent out their vacant stores because plenty of others are interested in them. They should not be afraid of competition in the area.

The Bill will introduce a vacant site levy to incentivise the development of vacant sites in urban areas. This will help the supply of housing and incentivise regeneration in areas where this is much needed. In the past few years the presence of vacant sites in towns has caused a huge problem. The Bill further provides for reduced development contribution charges, a measure which has been adopted by local authorities since 2013 and which can have retrospective effect for planning permissions granted prior to that date, with the provision that the cost saving can be passed on to developments for which planning permission was granted prior to that date.

There is a lot more to say about the Bill, but we are under time pressure. I very much welcome the Bill and hope it will solve the huge housing crisis. Every family should have the opportunity to own a house, but there are many people who are unable to buy and invest in a house. As a Government, we have to give them an opportunity to own their own house. The Bill will help these families.

I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me the opportunity to say a few brief words about this legislation and, perhaps, to bring a different perspective to it. It largely looks at urban-based issues, but the housing crisis is the same for a family which lives in Ballyhea as it is for one which lives in Ballincollig. Ballyhea is a smaller village at one end of my constituency while Ballincollig is the biggest town in County Cork and at the other end of my constituency. For individual families it does not matter. There is a crisis everywhere from Malin Head to Mizen Head and all points in between. Legislation is important and will tackle some of the issues, but of itself is not the answer. I am glad to note the Government is committing substantial funds to address the housing crisis. I saw some research findings that stated that, despite building nearly 100,000 houses per year during the madness of the boom, we needed to build at least 25,000 a year just to catch up. It is a significant ask to get the construction industry up to that level of activity and the jobs that will come from it.

Is there not an enormous irony that while we have perhaps 100,000 families on social housing waiting lists or being dealt with through various social housing initiatives, there are various reports suggesting there are at least 200,000 vacant houses in the country, while a report of Deutsche Bank in 2012 suggested there were nearly 300,000. There is an enormous mismatch of resources and we really need to be able to think outside the box in how we can address it. The map of those vacant houses shows they are substantially in rural Ireland, many of them along the west coast. My guesstimate is that a lot of them are old housing stock on the streetscapes of towns and villages. We need a contract between the State and these communities, whereby we will commit, as a State, to reinvesting in these villages by providing playgrounds, footpaths and ramps at low cost. The State, through social housing and local authority initiatives, might get involved in acquiring some of these houses and retrofitting them, insulating, rewiring and replumbing them to current standards. There is an enormous opportunity because there is great value in acquiring these houses at extremely affordable prices and using them to deal with the problem. We should insist on local authorities availing of 1,000 units per annum out of this enormous resource of vacant houses the length and breadth of the country. We should also see some relaxation of building standards as there is no point in acquiring these houses at affordable prices and then having to spend the equivalent cost of building a new council house to retrofit them. We have seen very good examples of what architects can do to redesign houses, but it should not be at the cost of the alternative, namely, building a new three bedroom house on the outskirts of the village and tearing the heart out of these communities.

We should also look at giving incentives to those who want to house themselves and would buy a house in Ballingeary, Ballyhea or Inchigeelagh if the State was to give them some incentive, in the form of a substantial grant, to refit it. We would bring life back to these villages. I was fortunate enough to go to school in Inchigeelagh, where my mother had a shop, and there was life in such villages. After school, children played on the streets, but now people cannot get out of villages fast enough when the school closes. They hightail it back to wherever they live. The challenge is to match the two resources, vacant houses with nearly 100,000 people on social housing waiting lists to solve the problem. The State needs to step up to the plate to put in place the infrastructure required, playgrounds, ramps and footpaths, in order that people can live safely and should then acquire these houses or incentivise the private sector to acquire them.

I am sharing time with Deputy Thomas Pringle.

I rather like the way people continuously talk about the "construction industry" in this House and elsewhere as though it is some large identifiable group. It is like the way people talk about business, saying it has a voice which wants this, that and the other. The construction industry contains a large number of groups, large builders and developers, small builders and small developers, just like the business sector has big and small businesses, which is also shorthand and could be dissected in a more sophisticated way. I have come to the conclusion over many years - the Bill addresses this issue - that there are more cowboys involved in big business than in small business because they are big and can bully people and abuse the system. Similarly, there are more cowboys among big developers than among small developers. I can see the fine motives behind the Bill to attempt to address the issue of developers who are cowboys and speculators and who are not builders but who are trying to flip land quickly at a large profit. This begs the following questions. What is it that makes a developer? What does he or she have to do to be a developer and what qualifications does he or she need? What restrictions are there on anyone becoming a developer? These are like the question of what the restrictions are on anybody becoming a banker. What worries me is that in recent months and years, since the collapse of the economy, not only have the big bankers been rehabilitated, the big developers have also been rehabilitated and it has happened very quickly. The familiar names that bore a heavy responsibility for what happened in and prior to 2007 in the development world are reappearing and being encouraged by at least one agency of the State, NAMA, to use what it calls their "expertise" - God only knows what that was - and being paid to resurrect somehow the companies and the areas they ruined.

The Bill does not address that issue. Even in the banking world there is a little test. To be directors of banks, people have to be approved by the Central Bank. I do not believe for one moment that the test is adequate, given some of the people who got through the net, but in the world of developers there is nothing to stop those who have so conspicuously damaged the economy from re-emerging very quickly in the same position. That is what is happening and some of them are being paid by the State. Where the Bill may have missed a trick is that it does not distinguish between developers who should no longer be allowed to develop because of their failures in the past and the damage they did and developers who are undoubtedly good and constructive and want to make a mild profit but who also can be depended on not to breach the rules and etiquette and damage the communities which we hope, at least, they would house and encourage.

I should address briefly the vacant site levy. The levy is a good idea in principle because it is being introduced to force what I call bad developers and pure speculators to sell, build on or develop land one way or the other. That is a noble motive which has, in certain circumstances, great merit. It will also punish those who are sitting on land banks purely and simply for speculative purposes. However, I have heard of many instances of sites which have not been developed because they are not viable. I would be grateful if the Minister of State addressed this issue also. It does happen; they are not developed because they are simply not viable. In these situations will the person who owns the site and the person who intended to develop it be punished? In the years of the Celtic Tiger, one could develop almost any site. One could bend all rules and this would be encouraged because everything was selling. Now there are sites which cannot be developed and are not commercially viable. Good developers are looking at them and may now find themselves in a situation where a levy - I cannot remember what it is; I think it is 3% of the value - is imposed on these sites. Will this encourage a developer? It will not. All it will do is make it a less valuable site, one which is less likely to be developed because it carries that charge.

The charge, under section 90, will, of course, be carried on. If it is owed on the site and remains a charge on the land, the plot will be made less attractive. It may be that, in the case of certain vacant sites which have been levied, the levy will tip a particular site over the edge and make it marginally less attractive to develop and, therefore, not commercially viable. We have to look at that issue because some developers are not the cowboys we are used to. They would be willing to develop these sites, but will be prohibited from doing so by the large charge on them. Surely one of the answers to this problem would be to dezone a site rather than shoving a levy on it, which might have a freezing or paralysing effect in a marginal case. Why could it not be dezoned after, say, three years? If the charge had been levied for three years and it had not been developed, why could it not be dezoned and freed up in order that other sites could then be developed? The effect of the levy can and may be detrimental. I can see certain circumstances where it will work, but it is a crude instrument.

Under section 23, the site levy money is to be used by the local authority to develop sites. Will this work? If it is not going to work in the case of someone who is a genuine developer, what will happen? We have a genuine developer who is not sitting on a site but who also cannot make it work. How is the local authority going to be able to make it work by using the money on the site? We are not distinguishing between the vacant site which has potential but which is marginal and being held by someone who has genuine motives and the one held by someone who has motives simply to flip it for a quick profit. I cannot see how the local authority will be able to make it work if a genuine developer cannot do so.

Section 28 relates to reduced planning contributions. This clause will, undoubtedly, be welcomed by developers because it will reduce their overheads and obligations when developing areas. However, various areas have been cited to me where the infrastructure for an estate has been utterly and totally inadequate. I have a particular case in County Cork in mind. This could happen and already has happened. The houses were built, but the money supposedly levied for infrastructure has been so inadequate that nothing has been done in that respect. It will be a serious problem. The Government should look again at the reduction of planning contributions if this is going to be the effect of such a reduction.

This Bill, although targeting the urban housing crisis, reflects the greater nationwide housing crisis. The housing crisis is multidimensional and involves not just the issue of construction and housing supply but also market prices, landlord-tenant relationships, the availability of appropriate housing and the maintenance of existing social housing. The Bill will do little in addressing the housing issue in County Donegal. It is intended to target large urban areas such as Dublin and Cork, although certain aspects of it may be applicable to rural counties also. It is vital to note that the housing crisis was foreseen a long time ago, but the Government refused to act on it before it became the nationwide crisis we are experiencing. It is at the stage where it will probably take a generation to solve it. I am in no doubt that it will become the hallmark of the Government which has become reactionary as opposed to progressive.

I will focus on the situation in County Donegal, in particular, the consequences of the lack of real investment in rural Ireland during the years and the slow attempt to develop these areas. Even though the homelessness crisis is not visible, as experienced in Dublin and Cork and other major urban areas, owing to the unique housing problem in rural counties such as my own, fundamental housing issues still need to be addressed. The situation in County Donegal is quite different from that seen in Dublin and Cork. In Donegal there is a large number of vacant housing units in rural parts of the county because the demand for housing in rural areas has dropped significantly. People have been migrating steadily to the larger towns and urban centres such as Letterkenny to work. The urban-focused strategy of IDA Ireland is much to blame for this internal migration, alongside a consistent lack of rural development, including, for example, access to high speed broadband.

When we look at the issue of broadband, we find we are not investing in rural communities. The Government has made it unsustainable to live in rural Ireland. While 36,000 premises in the north west, including counties Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim, have access to high speed broadband to date, 85,900 premises have to rely on the national broadband scheme to provide services for them. Building of the network will not begin until possibly late 2016 and it will take another three to five years to complete. People in some areas in County Donegal may have to wait until 2021 or 2022 to secure access to high speed broadband.

Until we see this investment taking place, an investment that allows people to live and sustain themselves in rural areas, migration from rural to urban areas will increase and the pressure on housing supply in places such as Letterkenny will continue, resulting in higher rents and house prices. In these areas there is a strong reliance on rent supplement or the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, which is currently being rolled out.

With regard to HAP and the rent supplement scheme, there are currently over 70,000 households in Ireland whose homes are paid for through the rent supplement scheme, costing the State over €298 million so far in 2015. In Donegal, there were 1,686 rent supplement recipients at the end of May 2015. Rent supplement is not in line with rising market rents. There is no targeting of out-of-control rent increases across the country and the Government is slow to have the rent supplement reflect this increase. It has consistently stated that its overarching concern is that raising rent limits may not be the solution, as it is likely to add to rent inflation and could also impact on low income workers. It claims that increasing rent supplement limits will cause inappropriate pricing floors and families will be priced out of affordable accommodation in their area of choice. I have even heard the Government say that analysis shows there are properties available in the Donegal area within the current maximum rent limits. However, I regularly meet people in my constituency who are struggling to find appropriate accommodation. One woman, a lone parent, did find properties in County Donegal that were within the current maximum rent limits. In fact, she found three. Two of them were absolutely inappropriate for a family and the third was a mobile home.

The limits are set by the Government. The HAP scheme will be the same, as there are the same rent limits in that scheme. The only difference is that the black market for landlords has been removed somewhat because one declares the full rent on the application form for HAP. Some tenants are forced to top up their rent supplement illegally to get appropriate accommodation. The scheme has essentially created a black market for landlords who charge a higher rate on the side. A Threshold survey in 2014 claimed nearly half of rent supplement recipients were doing this, which proves it is a totally ineffective system. It also found that this topping-up practice was affecting the spend in other areas. What is the response of the Department of Social Protection to this? It says those people are committing fraud by lying on the forms. It is not dealing with the issue, just blaming the people who are forced into that situation by Government decisions. The Government has put in place some preventative measures to ensure people are not at risk of becoming homeless. However, these measures do not really deal with the issue.

The private rental sector has more than doubled in size in recent years, with one in five families living in rented accommodation. The families have been dubbed "generation rent" because they might not have the opportunity to own a home for another generation. It means increased contact with private landlords who are not caught by the legislation. Tenants are increasingly vulnerable as a result. Threshold and other housing organisations have progressive ideas to increase rent certainty for tenants. It is imperative that work on this begins as soon as possible.

Landlords are also demanding higher deposits in line with rent increases. They often hold onto deposits when there is a dispute with a tenant or in the wrong circumstances. The Government should introduce a deposit scheme, where moneys are held by a third party such as the Private Residential Tenancies Board, not by the landlord. Disputes could be resolved in a fair manner and tenants could get their deposits back. There is also the issue of landlords having the right to refuse people with rent supplement. We are not protecting people against discrimination based on their social status. There is a commitment to change this in legislation but we have yet to see it.

Increasing construction will not be the solution to this situation, especially to homelessness. Even where there is housing supply, access to the supply can be a problem and barriers remain in place. Donegal has an over-supply in rural parts of the county. According to the 2011 statistics, there are over 300,000 empty homes in Ireland. That includes 60,000 vacant holiday homes and 4,000 empty local authority homes. The report states that if current population trends are sustained, housing over-supply will take 43 years to clear. This excludes holiday homes from unoccupied houses in the calculations. If holiday dwellings are included in the calculations, the over-supply will take 57 years to clear. Donegal is one of the counties worst affected by the over-supply.

While supply is not an issue in Donegal, access to appropriate housing is. There are examples of innovative schemes. Wales, for example, has a holistic approach to community housing needs in rural areas. It does not just target supply needs, but also the need for quality and choice of housing that is suitable for prospective tenants. It also provides for community facilities, such as a community house, to be provided within schemes. I believe that should be introduced in this country as well. This innovative scheme directly addresses the house price to low income ratio, which is the fundamental problem in Ireland. The ethos of its range of housing schemes is to bring about wider economic and community benefits while playing a key role in providing affordable housing in rural communities.

To conclude, I wish to expand on the concept of a right to housing, which I promoted in my economic, social and cultural rights Bill that was debated in the House last month. This would create an impetus towards a healthier housing sector, making accountability a strong force in the decision-making process. In the courts people can only argue against peripheral issues, as opposed to the fundamental issue of a right to housing. For example, they can only argue unfair procedures in accessing housing. If a right to housing was implemented, there would be a trickle-down effect into policy through every level of power. It would ensure that policies were directed towards that right rather than towards expediency.

If the right to housing was introduced, it would not mean a person would be given a house automatically and immediately. It would mean that when the Government is drafting housing policy it would have to be aware of, and take account of, the right to housing and make policy with this in mind. It is intended to hold Governments to account, not dismantle them. If they do not have the resources, they will at least have to show how they arrived at the best possible solution within the available resources. This right is even more important now, as we are under the whim of this reactionary Government whose response to a crisis is to perpetuate it. If more accountability had been imposed on those who are responsible for housing policy, we might not be in the current situation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and commend the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, for his work on this issue. The Bill is a first and important step in addressing the issue of housing supply throughout the country and particularly in Dublin. I am also happy that there will be a 3% levy on vacant sites to promote the redevelopment of those sites. There are pockets of such sites in every city and county. Local authorities will be obliged to keep a register of vacant sites, which is another step in the right direction.

Social housing provision is one of the most pressing issues in the country at present, and nowhere more so than in Dublin city and in my constituency of Dublin South Central. In 2008, almost 5,000 social housing units were built; in 2013 the number was under 300. This was due to the fact that there was no money. However, matters are improving as a result of the work the Government has done on the recovery of the economy. We are now in a position to put more money into building social housing. The Government has a solid plan for this through the Construction 2020 plan, the social housing strategy and the implementation plan on homelessness.

The social housing strategy is key to addressing the problem and shows the genuine commitment of the Government to act. The strategy commits to supplying 35,000 additional social housing units at a cost of €3.8 billion over the next six years and to meeting the housing needs of some 75,000 households through local authority provision via the private rented sector and the housing assistance payment. Over 50,000 of these individuals and families are currently in receipt of rent supplement. The new payment will be different in that it will be managed by local authorities and will allow recipients to continue to receive payments if they find full-time employment. This removes the problem of people refusing to take up jobs because it resulted in them losing rent supplement.

The housing strategy also commits to reducing the housing waiting lists by 25% nationally by 2017. There are currently 20,000 people on the waiting list for housing in Dublin City Council, so we have a mountain to climb. The good news is that Dublin City Council has been allocated €4.3 million this year to bring 234 vacant social housing units back into use. During the boom regeneration was the buzz word. Developers were climbing over each other to sign up for public-private partnerships to build new housing developments throughout the city. In my constituency Fatima Mansions has proved to be a well worked development and has been well managed. It still has some problems but they continue to be monitored. Not far from where I live is St. Michael's Estate.

Unfortunately, its development did not go ahead, for many reasons. I heard Deputy Ó Snodaigh speak about the role of the regeneration board in St. Michael's Estate and the proposal to build another 50 senior citizen units on the 1B site, which I understand are important and welcome. The Deputy also stated, however, that the community is behind this. As somebody who has lived in the community all my life, I never heard anything about this until the meeting last week. The wider community in the parish does not know anything about it either. I wonder why St. Michael's Estate regeneration board still exists when there is no St. Michael's Estate anymore. It is gone.

The city council had control over Richmond Barracks, Keogh Square and St. Michael's Estate for many years. Each, in its own way, had its problems. What we do not need in Inchicore, particularly on the old site, is another development where the community will be held at ransom on many occasions, as it has been because of certain families being rehoused in the area, thus causing nothing but great problems through anti-social behaviour and crime. Those responsible are bringing relatives back into the area. This has to be addressed locally. I am raising it because I have already raised it with the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. I hope he will continue to monitor the situation because it is grave.

When the crash came, everything ground to a halt. Many projects sadly lost their way. One of them was St. Michael's Estate. Instead of being redeveloped into an estate with potential for social and private housing, it fell by the wayside, all because of a certain few individuals who decided, before they would sign on the dotted line, that they would need to know the colour of the handles on the presses, the colours of the doors and even the colours of their windows. Unfortunately, the project fell apart.

Last month however, I was delighted to welcome the announcement that 15 new housing projects are set to proceed across Dublin, with a total investment of over €95 million, as part of the first phase of the Government's social housing strategy. It is the first major investment in local authority housing in many years and a very important step forward. In Dublin South-Central, 45 new units are to be developed at Cornamona Court in Ballyfermot, with an investment of €9.25 million. Last September, a new 75 unit development was opened on site 1A at Thornton Heights, which is at the old St. Michael's site. This was long awaited. It is a good development but, unfortunately, some elements have decided to come back in and establish roots there.

Last month I was at the opening of a new development in Bluebell. There are 19 new houses at Grand Canal View, for which the Government gave €3 million. It is a really good development, a small one. We need to consider building on a small scale so we can manage the units, rather than building huge estates that we can no longer manage.

Two weeks ago, I was delighted to attend the Liberties Showcase and Investment Expo in the new Teeling Distillery in Newmarket. Supported by Dublin City Council, this forum is made up of a mix of business managers and traders from James's Street, Thomas Street, Meath Street and Francis Street. In addition to attracting new commercial ventures to the area, a key aim of this business forum is to encourage collaboration between local businesses. It is an excellent initiative and I wish it every success. The Liberties is a very historic part of the city and has its own regeneration project. An investment worth almost €1 billion by both the public and private sectors has been made in this area.

I welcome the new Living City initiative launched on 5 May, which will encourage property owners to refurbish their properties or redevelop old commercial properties. This is important. Deputy Creed spoke about this. I am very much in favour of the living-over-the-shop concept, whereby people could live over shops and units that are derelict in every city. It is important to encourage this as it makes streets more friendly and secure. It is a really good initiative. Under this initiative, owners of old properties will be able to avail of tax incentives for refurbishment works. This is important because many of the older buildings have fallen into disrepair because they have been left derelict. They need to be reinstated.

I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister for introducing it. We have huge mountains to climb regarding housing and homelessness but we now have an opportunity to develop according to a housing plan that we did not have in recent years. We need to ensure the money is given to proper developers who will build in conjunction with the community. Above all, safety must be prioritised over making profit. I welcome the Bill and hope it goes through the Dáil with as few problems as possible.

As with most speakers today, I very much welcome the Bill. It has taken 15 years to change a provision introduced in 2000 by a Meathman. Being from Kildare, I had no respect for the Meathman because he introduced legislation that was a knee-jerk reaction to a housing crisis at the time. In 2000 and before then, an insufficient number of social houses were being built. Houses were not being made as affordable as possible for ordinary people. The individual introduced a provision whereby 20% of houses in a scheme had to be social and affordable. He basically handed over the construction of social housing to the private developers, and we have seen the result in the past 15 years. When the private developers went bust and pulled out of this country, there were no social houses built. Virtually no houses have been built in this country for the past five years, and that is why we are in - excuse the expression - the shit we are in at the moment. Owing to what was put in by-----

The Deputy should withdraw that.

I withdraw that; I am sorry. I get emotional about this sort of thing. Owing to poorly thought-out legislation, which probably came from the tent in Galway and which was probably brought forward by developers, we now have to start removing legislative provisions. I very much welcome this Bill. We need to go further but it is a first step along the way. From a Government perspective, how much influence can we have on the housing market? There are three parts in respect of which we have an input. The first concerns development levies, the second concerns Part V, which represents a cost on housing, and the third part is VAT. We cannot deal with VAT here because that is a role for the Minister for Finance. I have spoken to him about reducing VAT from 13.5% to 9% to help kick-start the house-building industry.

However, I very much welcome the changes to development levies. There are a couple of points I would like to raise on development levies. They vary across the country. My county, County Kildare, has high development levies. The onus will be on councillors to review this and determine what they can do with regard to the changes being made in this legislation, but there needs to be some consistency. The people in Athy who are seeking to build a house, or a one-off house, are at a considerable disadvantage by comparison with the people in Laois and Offaly just across the border because there is such a variation in the development levies. Perhaps we might consider allowing authorities, within their own county boundaries, to vary their development levies. Why should the development levies in Leixlip and Celbridge in my county be on par with those from less developed places such as Athy and Castledermot, where there is also a need for housing? We must consider giving local authorities the power to vary the development levies they charge within the county boundaries.

The second measure I would like to see is not in the legislation. We are seeking it at present and it is in the depths of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. By way of a knee-jerk reaction, a circular was sent to local authorities preventing them from spending any more than they could collect in development levies in the year in question. In County Kildare, the local authority has a pot of money it cannot touch because of this circular. I have written to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, seeking the withdrawal of the circular to allow local authorities to spend money on capital projects on which development levies are most likely to be imposed. One should consider, in particular, a project such as the playground in Sallins. A proportion of the development levies was supposed to be allocated for it but, because of the circular, this cannot be done.

I hope the Minister will retract this circular and allow local authorities to spend the money they have previously collected in development levies.

Part V has been a bugbear of mine since 2000. I was the only county councillor in Kildare to vote against it. My colleagues, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Catherine Murphy, supported the imposition of the 20% social and affordable housing requirement. I knew what the consequences of it would be and I have been speaking about how we handed over the development of social housing to developers. I am concerned about parts of section 33 and possibly section 36 which may allow a developer to either lease or swap houses in another area. I would be concerned that if a number of developers get together, buy a plot and get planning permission as a group, we could end up creating ghettoes that are away from where it was intended to put the social housing. I hope the Minister will look at that.

We have not gone far enough in respect of the target of 10% for social housing. Under a scheme in Kildare in 1999, developers or landowners who wanted their land to be changed from agricultural to development land had to pay a 20% land levy. That land could be used for other things needed to develop communities such as school sites, recreational facilities, amenity land and even land that could be used for industrial land. It was within the remit of the council to decide what was important within that community. We changed all that to make sure we built more houses without building communities, which is why I have been fighting hard against that. I want to allow local authorities to decide for themselves rather than shackling them and forcing them to take houses rather than land. Some local authorities need land for amenities, recreational facilities and schools.

I am disappointed the affordable housing scheme is gone. I know the option is there to take it, change it and re-introduce it. People will probably not be able to afford to buy houses on the east coast and in the vicinity of Dublin. House prices are rising much more rapidly than wages. We need to create a scheme whereby people can afford to buy their houses and we should have kept the affordable housing scheme in some form in this legislation.

I welcome the allocation of €86 million to Kildare County Council for social housing. It is a vast improvement. The council needs to step up to the mark. The fact that it has very few housing schemes that are ready to roll at the moment is a slight indictment of it because it neglected its architects' department and neglected to realise that houses would be built at some time in the future, that it would be building houses in the future and that it should have put the Part 8 arrangements in place so that when this was ready to roll, it could start building instead of having to begin the process. Perhaps that type of circular could be issued instructing local authorities around the country to get off their rear ends and put plans in place over the next five or six years so they have something that is ready to roll every year because money will be available over the next period of time to build social housing. I welcome the allocation of €86 million from that perspective.

I am very supportive of the legislation. I would like to see little tweaks to it. It is the first step in a series of legislation but we need to move quickly. There are people in all our communities who do not have housing or who are struggling in very low quality accommodation and we must cater for them because if we are going to have some form of equal society, we must look at all sectors who need some form of housing and shelter because it is one of the basic instruments that allows people to have a decent life.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak, even briefly, on this very important Bill. I welcome some belated action from the Government to address some of the issues that have led to our dire housing and homelessness crisis. At the outset, I would like to state that this Bill will not go very far towards solving our growing homelessness problem any time soon and will not reverse the undue hardship that has been caused to the mental health and well-being of thousands of families, particularly children, over the past number of years during this Government's tenure. This time tomorrow evening when the Dáil will not be sitting, up to 70 families will be urgently seeking emergency accommodation in this city and will not get it. The Minister of State, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party are responsible for this. This tinkering with Part V and so on will not do what is necessary to resolve this problem tomorrow when five hotels will be packed with homeless people and people will be sleeping in cars and trying to survive in the airport and shopping centres. This is the legacy of the Government and Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together dismantled our social housing programme in the 1980s. I believe in direct action on the part of the State in trying to resolve this crisis and that local authorities must become the key developers of social housing rather than these mollycoddled developers who failed us desperately all the way through the 1990s and the noughties and then walked away. We employed them through NAMA and looked after them and now here we are trying to set them up again for the 2020s. This was the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael agenda down through the decades. Let us face it. One of our predecessors, the former Minister, Jimmy Tully, was able to mount a huge social housing programme when this country was far poorer in the 1970s. I disagree with Deputy Catherine Byrne, whom I respect, when she talks about building large social housing estates. We have historic and beautiful estates in this city like Marino, Donnycarney or Kilmore along with hundreds I could mention that were built primarily as social housing in this city. The reason we have the crisis in this city in places like Parkgate Street is because the Progressive Democrats influenced, Thatcherite Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael destroyed our social housing programme.

I know this Bill is intended to tinker with some minor aspects of the organisation of site levies and that Part 2 brings in the vacant site levy. I welcome this as far it goes. It has been proposed that local authorities will charge this levy annually from 1 January 2019, which is a long time into the next Dáil, until lands are brought into use. However, it is not clear when they will be brought into use. Is it the case that, as the distinguished journalist Paul Melia recently put it, developers will be able to avoid the vacant site tax for up to three years by seeking planning permission but never building homes? When one looks through the detail of sections 6 to 13, it seems like an incredibly long, drawn-out process between compiling the vacant sites register under section 6 of Part 2, appeals against entry on the register under section 9, determining market value under section 12 and appealing the market value under section 13. The land will be vacant for years while this legislation is working its way through An Bord Pleanála and the courts. I welcome subsections 2 to 7 of section 17 which cover instances where the waiver will not apply regarding significant connections with the new owner. I also welcome section 23 which stipulates that the proceeds of the vacant site are hypothecated for positive purposes. A former colleague of mine, Councillor Andrew Montague, argued very strongly that public lands should be subject to the levy as well.

Section 29 amends section 48 of the 2000 Act.

Why is it necessary for the reduced development contributions to be retrospective? Why is this provision included in the legislation?

While I welcome the Part V provisions, why will only 10% of housing developments with nine units or more be allocated for social housing, given that we know an additional 18,000 units are needed on an annual basis?

The Bill is a tiny step forward and represents a tinkering with legislation which failed in the past. It is not a solution for the people waiting on Parkgate Street this minute, or who will be waiting this time tomorrow and over the weekend. We need emergency legislation. The Government must declare a housing emergency and take the necessary action, to be led by the local authorities, to build social housing in this city and throughout the State.

I am happy to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015 which will have a significant impact on residents in my constituency of Dublin Bay North and many other constituencies all over the country. It aims to deal with issues of housing supply, but, as Deputy Thomas P. Broughan argued, action in this regard is not happening in a timely enough manner. If the Government is serious about addressing the issue, it needs stronger legislation to deal with the housing crisis which is particularly acute in Dublin.

Owning one’s home is not a right, but it should not become a privilege either. We need to develop high density, mixed use housing to provide a variety of residency solutions, including family homes, starter homes, studios and homes for the elderly. This legislation does not cater for different home owners, an issue that must be looked at as a matter of urgency.

There is a housing crisis in Dublin. Put simply, not enough houses are being built to match demand. This is affecting both the private housing and social housing sectors. In many areas of Dublin constituents have been on local authority housing lists for ten to 15 years. This is shameful and an issue the Government inherited from its predecessor. There are 21,000 people on Dublin City Council’s housing waiting list, while nationally there are over 100,000 people waiting to be housed by local authorities. Only 1,360 housing units were built in Dublin last year, but 18,000 units are needed per annum to enable supply to keep up with demand. There is a massive gap which will not be closed overnight or even in a year or two, but the Government should be more ambitious in its targets. It set out its social housing strategy for the years 2015 to 2020 which proposes to make over 100,000 units available nationwide for those in need of housing. All local authorities have a housing target set by the Government. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government must monitor the position closely to make sure the targets set are met. This issue must be treated in an urgent manner.

The budget for social housing has been reduced significantly from €1.7 billion in 2008 to just over €597,000 in 2014. More money is needed for housing construction. In 2013 only 293 houses were completed by local authorities, a pathetic figure when one considers the level of demand. The mortgage market is not functioning correctly. Potential home owners are trying to secure mortgage finance, but they cannot meet the new deposit requirements laid down by the Central Bank. This means that they are being forced onto social housing waiting lists. There is a severe lack of affordable housing in the market.

The housing crisis is spiralling out of control, with 1,800 people presenting to the homeless services in Dublin every day. They have been priced out of the housing market and are being housed by Dublin City Council in emergency accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. This is costing the local authority a substantial amount of money, while also depriving families with young children of anything resembling normality. Such families are often forced to live far away from their children’s schools and do not have access to proper cooking facilities and so forth. This is not a long-term or even a medium-term solution; rather it is a fire fighting solution that is not sustainable. What we urgently need is an increase in supply. The inclusion of a vacant site levy of 3% in the Bill is very welcome in that context. The aim of such a levy is to make more land available for housing, but it is not acceptable that such a levy will not come into operation until January 2019. It is a bit rich that it is not kicking in from January 2016. I do not understand why the Government is waiting so long before introducing the levy considering the urgency of the issue. Dublin City Council has 152 vacant sites on its list and a further 131 sites on which there are derelict buildings. These buildings should be demolished to make way for high density housing, as proposed by Renua. Pension funds and other investors will invest in housing once a decent commercial return is available to them, which is possible through rent supplement payments and the other moneys made available to tenants. A lot could be done in this regard and it is a shame to see so many derelict buildings around the capital city. They are lying idle and will continue to lie idle until the vacant site levy kicks in. Office space is also in short supply in Dublin, as pointed out by both NAMA and IDA Ireland. Once the levy kicks in, it will free up land for residential or commercial development.

The construction sector has shrunk considerably, with only 123,000 employed compared to 250,000 in 2008. It suffered enormously following the recent economic collapse. New legislation is needed to rejuvenate it and create thousands of new construction jobs. To be fair, the Government is encouraging young people to take up a trade again and become involved in construction related activity. What other legislation will the Minister bring before the House to deal with the housing crisis?

Will he introduce any emergency legislation in the coming months to help alleviate the crisis? It is having a huge psychological effect on families not living in proper houses, forced to live in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, and having to move around constantly. It makes it extremely difficult and stressful for families to have a proper family life. In his concluding remarks I ask the Minister of State to respond on urgent emergency legislation on housing.

I fully support any measure that assists in freeing up development land, the building of houses and, particularly, reducing the cost of construction. Over the past decade a number of Bills have been introduced to try to assist in this. Some have worked to a degree and many have not. I do not know if this legislation will work. I would like to think it will.

There are three aspects to the Bill: the vacant sites, the 10% social housing requirement, and the development levies. People are decrying that houses are not being built. However, from discussion with those in the construction industry, it is simply too expensive to build at the moment and people will not pay the actual price. The cost of development land is reasonable in most areas but not the cost of construction. Many of those costs have been added by the Government, including VAT, various charges, regulations and so on.

In light of the terrible tragedy in San Francisco, I have changed my position slightly on the cost for the certification of buildings. Irrespective of the cost, we can never drop our standards in ensuring buildings are safe. That is really important. I extend my sympathies to the families of those involved in this dreadful tragedy.

From my reading of the legislation, it is difficult to establish how the provision on vacant sites will work. Initially it applied to towns of more than 3,000 and now it is every site that is more than 0.1 ha provided it is not a contaminated site. We have the concept that people are lobbying to have land zoned and that there are big tracts of lands on the outskirts of towns that are not being developed. Equally many people have zoned land and do not want their land zoned, especially people in town who have a few acres of land associated with the house. I know the legislation contains a description of a garden, yard or whatever accompanying the house.

It is important to be careful with whatever regulations or guidelines are issued to the local authority or nationally to help An Bord Pleanála establish any appeals. Someone may have a field associated with their house where maybe four or five houses could be built. I do not think there is a limit on the number of houses that could be built. If they want to keep it for their own children into the future, should they be penalised with a levy of a few thousand euro every year? All these things need to be taken into consideration.

In addition some people may not be able to develop their land owing to access difficulties or someone else may not free up their land. So they could have zoned land that is landlocked and might not have access. Will the Minister of State clarify this when wrapping up or perhaps on Committee Stage? An individual may have zoned land and having paid the levy for a few years may be refused planning permission for some technical reason. It could be a traffic reason or otherwise. Many developments that were granted permission may be refused by the board. What happens then? Does the legislation provide that the person would be refunded the levy placed on the vacant site? Until such time as it gets final approval, we cannot establish whether it will be built on. While zoning is an indication that it might be built on, it is not a given that zoned land can be built on. That has to be catered for and I ask the Minister of State to address that at some stage.

I am very supportive of the 10% social housing requirement. It is depressing that many local authority housing estates constructed in a similar manner to private housing estates have deteriorated rapidly owing to inadequate upkeep. There needs to be greater interaction between the local authorities and tenants in maintaining standards in an area, be they in a block or interspersed.

When the Planning and Development Act was passed in 2001, the then Government indicated that development levies were being collected to bring some sort of accountability to levies and put them into the resources. It ended up as a revenue-raising mechanism. At the time I was opposed to it on that basis and that is what happened. While I do not know if this is stipulated in the legislation, there should be a requirement in regulation or an instruction to local authorities to amend their development levy proposals once this legislation is passed. It should not be left to them. It will take many years.

With the issue of homelessness becoming increasingly of concern to local authorities, every municipal district should have a centre to cater for homeless people. I realise that solving homelessness is not as simple as providing accommodation. Every municipal authority should have a suitable location for emergency accommodation, particularly for single elderly people. We are increasingly seeing those people coming forward. Accommodating families is much more difficult. Having a hostel for families is totally unacceptable and we need to find a different mechanism.

I call Deputy Fitzpatrick, who, I understand, proposes to share a 20-minute slot with Deputy Mitchell O'Connor. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Urban Regeneration and-----

I have a quick point of order to put to the Minister of State. I ask him to consider dealing with the Irish Water connection charges to individual houses in the legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015. Social housing is the biggest single issue the country will face in coming years. At present rates we will need to build 25,000 housing units each year, just to fulfil the current demand. We need to remove as many barriers as possible, especially from a planning point of view, to ensure the housing units that are needed are built.

I am particularly pleased the Bill will address some of these issues, including the amendment of Part V provisions of the Planning and Development Act to support the provision of social housing, the introduction of revised arrangements relating to the application of development contributions by planning authorities, and the introduction of a vacant-site levy to encourage the development of vacant and underutilised sites in urban areas for housing and regeneration purposes.

I am very familiar with the issue of housing, which is the single biggest issue I deal with on behalf of my constituents every week. People in Louth are waiting for an average of seven years before being offered accommodation. Based on my regular dealings with Louth County Council officials, I know they are currently dealing with housing applications from 2008. In addition there are nearly as many people on the transfer list.

While the new housing assistance payment is in theory an excellent system, unfortunately it is not working as intended. Many constituents complain that there are far too many barriers, meaning that the housing assistance payment does not work as intended.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the ever-rising cost of rent. In Dundalk the cost of renting an average home has risen from €500 per month to nearly €800 per month in a very short space of time. This is unsustainable and the only solution is to build more affordable housing units.

I am especially pleased that my constituency has secured more than €57 million for social housing which will result in more than 800 units becoming available over the next two years. Areas such as Coxes Demesne in Dundalk will get 35 housing units and Fr. Finn Park in Louth village will get 20 units. These are just two of the many areas that will benefit from investment secured for the county. This initiative is the first the county has seen in a number of years and will be of enormous help to those on the housing lists now and in the future.

While I am very pleased with the €57 million investment that has been secured for my constituency, I am fully aware that we have to address the underlying issues that result in people ending up on housing waiting lists. Full-time and sustainable employment is the main factor in getting people off the waiting lists. By obtaining meaningful employment people will be set free from the trap of social welfare dependency.

Through no fault of their own people have become trapped in this cycle of dependency on social welfare. Every week I hear from constituents that they feel trapped and that there is no escape from dependency on social welfare. It has been proven time and again that the only way out of social welfare dependency is meaningful employment.

In Louth, job creation and employment is better than in most other counties. In the Dundalk area alone unemployment has fallen from its peak of 7,023 in April 2012 to 5,900, which is a decrease of 16% in under three years. While companies such as SalesSense, Paypal, eBay and National Pen have quite rightly received all the headlines, small businesses in areas such as Dundalk, Ardee, Carlingford, Omeath, Dunleer and Drogheda are to be commended on having dragged themselves through the most difficult recession we have experienced and are now beginning to reap the benefits.

While a lot has been achieved in Louth and it is now in a much better situation than it was three years ago, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is much more to be done. We must reduce our unemployment levels further in order that all sections of society benefit from the improving economic situation. We must ensure those on the housing waiting lists do not have to wait on average seven years to be housed and that those on the transfer lists also do not have to wait almost seven years for a transfer.

This Bill will be beneficial in helping to reduce the housing waiting lists and will ensure we reach our target of 25,000 units being made available annually. For this reason, I welcome this Bill and support its passage through the Houses.

I welcome the provisions in this Bill which provide for the introduction of a vacant site levy and reform of our planning legislation. These provisions are positive steps in the right direction for Ireland's construction and planning sectors. As a Deputy for the urban constituency of Dún Laoghaire, I am acutely aware of the great housing need. The introduction of a vacant site levy is a bold and progressive step. I am sure my Dublin colleagues will agree that at a time when there are people in dire straits and in need of housing, it is unbelievable there are more than 60 hectares of land in Dublin vacant and unused.

Many people are of the impression that there are no housing issues in the leafy suburb of Dún Laoghaire and that all the people living there live in mansions and have no worries. This is far from the case. My constituency office in Blackrock is inundated with pleas from constituents in search of housing. I welcome that developers are to be incentivised by way of site levy to build on their land and provide housing. It is important not only that the shortage of housing be addressed but that all housing is decent, sustainable and of habitable quality. We do not need any more horror stories of pyrite or what happened in Berkeley. Building standards must be rigorous. No longer can we accept slipshod practices from builders.

I take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to the families of the six young people who lost their lives in Berkeley and to send my sincere best wishes to the young people who are fighting for their lives.

I would like clarification from the Minister on exactly what constitutes a vacant site. For example, is a vacant site unused land or are vacant houses, apartments and above-business accommodation included? If so, I know of several places in my constituency that could be made habitable or fit for living. I would welcome inclusion of above-business accommodation and the introduction of a grant to help traders who own the businesses below to develop that accommodation. I would also welcome information on how it is planned to roll out the vacant site register. I acknowledge that management of such a register will be a big undertaking but the operational date of 1 January 2019 is some time away. Surely it would be in everyone's interest if it could be operational before then. I encourage the Minister to examine ways of accelerating this process.

I welcome the provision in section 16 whereby the vacant site levy will not apply in cases of negative equity. We must be reasonable in these cases and recognise the extremely difficult economic circumstances such landowners are under. While a lot remains to be done, I welcome this Bill and hope its provisions will ensure we are never again faced with the construction fiascos of the past. We need sustainable, good quality housing for all.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015. The Government needs to focus on the housing needs of our people. In my own constituency of Dublin Bay North there are 5,000 people on the housing waiting list. We need to build more houses, particularly social housing, and to do so quickly. We also need to deal with the issue of high rents, which matter I will return to later. Doing nothing or progressing slowly is not an option. The Minister needs to focus on housing provision first. For this reason, I welcome this legislation and hope there will be movement on this issue soon.

This Bill focuses primarily on the address of housing supply related issues with a view to facilitating increased housing construction activity, especially in the Dublin area where demand currently out-strips supply, with consequential knock-on effects on house prices and rents. To put this issue in context, in 2013 the number of housing units constructed nationally plummeted to 8,300, of which only 1,360 were in Dublin. There have been some modest signs of recovery in the sector since the publication of the Construction 2020 strategy, with the number of house completions nationally having increased to 11,000 units in 2014, almost 3,000 of which are in Dublin. However, the housing agencies and ESRI estimate that to meet housing need in Dublin alone 7,500 houses are required annually. A considerable increase in house completions is required to restore the housing market in Dublin to equilibrium. That is the reality on the ground.

The issue of rents and rent controls must also be addressed. Most economists say rent controls do not work. In my view, we need to increase the rent supplement to match market prices. We also need to build more social housing. On the tenancy and rental side, we need to improve security of tenure for tenants and to impose stronger regulation on landlords to support families. I put forward these proposals to help resolve the crisis in the housing sector. To be without a home is very sad for families. Many of our young people are paying high rents and would love to buy an apartment or house but they are being continually squeezed out of the market. This is a sad reality. Many commentators have suggested that Irish people need to get used to the idea of renting. It is the lifetime ambition of the vast majority of Irish people to own their own home and there is nothing wrong with that. It was suggested recently by some commentators that this should be frowned upon.

We must build more houses and regenerate the construction sector.

In regard to people on rent supplement, currently some 70,000 households have their rent paid through the rent supplement scheme. Rent supplement tenants find it increasingly difficult to access and retain homes and this is now a major cause of homelessness according to all those working at the front line on housing issues. Rents in Dublin and other urban centres have been increasing for some time and are now spiralling out of control. Rent supplements are out of kilter with market rents and many landlords advertise properties stating that rent supplement is not accepted. This is an issue that is raised in all of our constituency clinics. What it means is that low income tenants are being displaced by those who can pay more. The sad reality is that those with the most are being facilitated. We must deal with the issue of housing supply. An increased supply will improve access and make rents more affordable. Even when housing was in ready supply, major difficulties existed for rent supplement tenants in accessing that supply. This raises a question not just about the adequacy of rent supplement limits, but of whether the scheme is fit for purpose. We must examine these issues carefully.

So far, the tactic of successive Governments has been to wait for a market correction, in the hope that the various issues resolve themselves. They have taken a minimum cost approach that tries to give the impression of a policy that is working but which in fact kicks the problems down the road. We have been left with major problems with regard to rent supplement, which is difficult to implement in a rising rent market, as landlords leave the scheme in search of higher rents from the private sector. This poor value for money long term funds poor quality dwellings and distorts the rental market. We now have a severe shortage of dwellings for rent supplement claimants, a severe shortage of social housing and rising waiting lists. We need to focus on the immediate problems for these people.

A funding model to build more permanent and affordable social housing which does not add to the national debt and is sustainable through recessions is achievable. Capital for house building can be raised through off balance sheet borrowing from non-Government sources, banks, social investment bonds, standard bonds, NAMA, Government sources, the Housing Finance Agency and the European Investment Bank. Equity finance, real estate investment trusts and various other funding avenues are also available. With these funds we can increase our building capacity and get local authorities involved again, set up new housing associations and improve the build capacity of existing housing associations by way of amalgamation, co-operatives and partnerships. These are just some ideas the Minister should consider.

A recent ESRI report dealing with the projected population change and housing demand at county level, prepared by Dr. Edgar Morgenroth, provides projections of the number of households in each county for 2021 and analyses the consequences of the projected change on the required supply of housing. For Dublin from 2011 to 2021, the average increase is projected to be 8,000 households, which will have significant implications for the required housing units, particularly when we consider that in 2013 only 1,360 units were completed in Dublin. For the State as a whole, approximately 18,000 additional households are projected to be created each year. We must take these reports and facts into consideration. The report suggests that 18,000 additional units are needed on an annual basis between 2011 and 2021 to cover the country's housing needs. This is substantially higher than the 8,301 houses built in 2013.

I welcome this Bill and the main provisions dealing with amendments to Part V arrangements on social and affordable housing. I also welcome the fact that reduced development contribution charges adopted by local authorities since 2013 can affect planning permissions granted prior to that date. The Government needs to focus on helping people who need houses. It needs to get on with the job of building more houses.

I welcome the change in the 2000 Act to remove the ability of developers to make payments to local authorities in lieu of providing units for social housing. However, I do not understand why it is necessary to reduce the requirement for social housing from 20% to 10%. We have an urgent need for social housing, so what is the logic in reducing the obligation on developers to provide social housing by cutting the requirement for them to provide social housing by 50%?

I do not understand why the threshold allowing developers avoid this requirement is to be increased from the development of four units to the development of nine units. Does this give rise to the prospect of numerous developments of under ten units and no developments of 11, 12 or 13 units? Perhaps the Bill should have required those developments with under ten units to provide 10% social housing and those with over ten units to provide 20% in order to deal with the issue.

I understand the amendments proposed in section 34 of the Bill will allow developers avoid the obligation to provide social housing units to a local authority if the developer agrees to rent out the units. I would like clarification on this. The Bill's digest informs us that in section 33 provision is made for the Part V obligation to be fulfilled through long-term leasing, where provision is made for the Part V obligation to be fulfilled through rental accommodation availability agreements. I would like clarification because this has serious implications.

For a long time, I have supported the concept of a vacant site levy, but I question why it is to be set at such a low level of 3%. Also, why wait until 2019 to introduce it? While I give a cautious welcome to some aspects of the Bill, these measures will have little or no effect on the overall housing crisis. I would like to cite the foreword of the Government's 2020 strategy for the construction industry. It states:

Many factors contributed to the economic catastrophe that hit this country. Many, if not most, of them – lax political management, reckless lending and borrowing, speculative greed, short-term thinking, poor planning and low standards – were features of our boom-time approach to property development and construction.

The legacy – lost jobs, unmanageable mortgages, debt overhang, negative equity, houses on flood plains, shoddy and sub-standard apartments, ghost estates – remains all too human and real.

We would all agree with those comments, but the problems were not confined to the recent property bubble. What is not mentioned is the reality of decades of large-scale corruption of the planning process by vested interests and the property development and construction industry. What is not mentioned is the influence of developers and builders, epitomised by the culture of the infamous tent at the Galway races. I have little confidence that a housing crisis affecting up to 200,000 people, if we include families living in overcrowded homes who are on the housing list or who are threatened with repossession, will be resolved by the promise of a new relationship between Government and the construction industry. A concern I have in regard to this Bill is that it may be taking from developers on the one hand, but giving it back with the other.

The housing crisis presents in a number of ways, through a significant rise in homelessness. Increasingly, more families find themselves in this situation. I will not mention names, but I would like to refer to a particular family. Currently, the family cannot find hotel accommodation, although this has been sanctioned by the council, because of the tourist season. Dublin City Council has provided a new mobile number for people to call for hotel bookings for self accommodation. According to many customers, calls to this mobile number are not answered. The experience of one customer is that she was booked into a hotel in Ashbourne, but discovered the council had not extended her booking and the hotel is now booked out until the end of July. She was not advised the system was changing. On 10 June, she rang DCC looking for the booking manager, but got no reply, so texted her details. On 11 June, she rang DCC facilities booking manager but got no reply and texted her details. On 12 June she had to leave the hotel and rang DCC and still got no answer. She then rang a different number and was advised of a new number and arrangement. She called the new number but got no answer. The mailbox was full and she texted details. On 13 June she got no answer and the mailbox was full. On 14 June she rang the Freephone number and was advised the number could only be called after 5.30 p.m. The customer called the new number but got no answer and left a voicemail.

On 15 June, a voicemail was also left but on 16 June there was still no reply. The lady in question with her two children, one of whom was very sick, had to stay with her friend and has still not received a phone call in response. We should hang our heads in shame if that is the type of service we give to people who are out on the street. It is a disgraceful response to a family in crisis.

The private rented sector needs to be regulated properly. Increasingly, I have had to intervene in my constituency to stop landlords carrying out illegal evictions. They do not seem to understand that tenants have some limited rights. The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 only secures tenancies for four years. That should be increased to a minimum of ten years to give long-term security of tenure. The right of landlords to demand vacant possession if they wish to sell a property should be changed to a right to sell with the tenant in situ. It is important that we would consider that aspect of the legislation. We need a rent cap in the short term and new regulations to control rent in the longer term.

I accept many landlords are under pressure but there are also developers who are landlords who are not under pressure. I was very surprised to see the e-mail from the Irish Property Owners Association, IPOA. At a meeting in Wynn's Hotel in Dublin last night, 300 Irish property owners vented their fury at the proposed introduction of rent control or certainty by the Government. The organisation outlined that if such a bombshell is foisted on the sector, there would be a mass exodus of property owners providing private rented accommodation to people availing of State-supported schemes, including registration with the PRTB, rent supplement schemes and housing assistance programmes. The view of members was that the Government could have rent control but it would not have their properties. If that is the attitude of the IPOA, we could face a very dangerous situation. I am sure many other Members received the e-mail as well.

We need a moratorium on repossessions of homes with distressed mortgages until the new measures on the removal of the banks’ veto in insolvency arrangements and the new measures on the mortgage-to-rent scheme are introduced and a period of time allowed to see what effect the new measures have. It is important we would have such a moratorium.

The major challenge is to kick-start a programme of building social housing. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Pringle, who referred to the International Covenant on Social, Cultural and Economic rights. There should be a right to housing in the Constitution. That would have a considerable impact in terms of how we plan our future housing strategy. There needs to be an effective and realistic plan, not the bits and pieces announced and re-announced by the Government to build or renovate 10,000 social housing units per year for the next ten years. Anything less than that falls short of what is required. SIPTU has estimated the cost of building 25,000 social housing units in the next four years at €3.7 billion, when one takes into account rental income and savings in rent supplement. SIPTU also said 65,000 jobs would be created.

The problem of local authorities being able to borrow the necessary funding due to EU fiscal rules can be overcome by the establishment of a new public agency outside the Government sector to focus on planning, financing and delivery of social housing. The agency could co-ordinate the work of local authorities, housing associations and NAMA, but, crucially, it could borrow off balance sheet to develop the substantial amount of State-owned land suitable for development, especially around Dublin. Borrowings could be made provided the agency has a sufficient asset base and income from rents. Such an option could be examined.

In the time remaining to me I wish to make a point on regeneration. I am a public representative for the Dublin South-Central area. We have had the regeneration of St. Teresa’s Gardens, Dolphin House and St. Michael’s Estate among other areas. A number of my colleagues referred previously to St. Michael’s Estate. In the late 1990s, St. Michael’s Estate was earmarked for regeneration. A board was set up to examine the proposed regeneration which would involve hundreds of families being moved. It was a very positive development. During the process public private partnerships, PPPs, were introduced and that changed everything in the early 2000s. The regeneration projects were reconfigured as a result. A site was bought by Bernard McNamara with the intention of building 450 apartments, including in excess of 70 social housing units as part of the PPP. The project was not much supported by the community at the time. I do not think there was a major campaign on it in the area. Bernard McNamara got the development but then Dublin City Council changed its rules on apartment size to accommodate families because the apartments were too small. There are terrible developments built by Zoe Developments along the quays that are just dog boxes. When Dublin City Council changed the regulations, that put pressure on Bernard McNamara and his profits. He dragged his heels for a long time and then we had the housing crash.

That is what happened to the regeneration of St. Michael’s Estate. Luckily enough, Dublin City Council linked in with a voluntary housing association and got the 70 houses plus built at Thornton Heights. Currently, the rest of the land is privately owned and is subject to the rules governing procurement for the regeneration scheme. The regeneration board has sought the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to release the 1B site, which is privately owned, to the council to allow it to build housing units for the elderly. That would potentially free up family homes in the area that could be used to rehouse families. That is a very practical suggestion. The regeneration board will commence a public consultation on the matter in approximately two weeks time. It will table a motion at the Dublin City Council strategic policy committee, SPC, which is supported by the council. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, to meet the regeneration board and the Dáil representatives for the area to consider the proposal and see how we can provide badly needed housing in the area. A use-it-or-lose-it proviso should be included in the legislation. If one does not use a site, one should lose the land and the planning permission.

I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for personally enabling me to say a few words on this important legislation.

I listened with interest to many speakers since the Bill was introduced in the House. One of the things we need to do in the future in terms of housing is to plan ahead. That is something that has not happened in the past 20 years or so.

I remember speaking to a leading social commentator almost 20 years ago and predicting the current housing crisis. I did so on the basis of the information available to me then, because there was a deliberate policy to shift away from direct-build local authority houses and local authority loans which many people availed of to buy their first house - sometimes their only house. There was a system available to people as soon as they needed a house to acquire one for themselves through their own efforts, either by purchase or through the local authority rental scheme of direct-build housing. Unfortunately, that system was replaced over time on the basis that the private rental sector would cater for this market in the future. That view was wrong. The reason that could never happen and would never work was simply because rents are bound to increase in line with the market. We can have all the rent controls we like, but the fact of the matter is that in an open market the prices will follow each other and the competition is upward as opposed to downward. When one has a glut of houses on the market, the effect is the opposite. I cannot understand how it was not possible for people to predict what would happen. We must remember also that during the same period there was a change of emphasis to shift the responsibility of local authorities to voluntary housing agencies. The Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, is aware of my views on voluntary housing agencies. I have no reason at all to dislike them other than because they are not a suitable mechanism to replace local authorities. A suitable alternative mechanism has not been found, nor should one be found in the first instance. I am a strong advocate of the need to build a regular number of local authority houses annually.

The situation also affects young people, especially young families. It affects young people with and without families in a very personal way, which in fact creates a huge amount of dismay among an entire coterie of people who feel they are excluded from the marketplace and that no matter what happens they will never get a house. If one wants proof of that, in some of the affordable housing systems that were built under the previous regime a provision was made for a clawback if the person ever had to sell the house or in the case of separation for example. A clawback of what? The unfortunate people had already struggled to get into that position, which meant there was an extra penalty to nail that group of people as if they had not been nailed enough already.

It was an appalling decision to allow it to develop in that way.

Shared ownership loans are strangling the people who have them. Although they were supposed to be helpful and affordable, they were not because some crude genius decided to introduce a penalty clause. Previously, the portion of the equity that was on rental would be dealt with by way of an ordinary local authority rent. This was changed to include an added penalty of 4.7% per annum so that whatever chance the unfortunate people had of breaking out of the system, they would certainly be nailed there forever. There are countless cases throughout the country of people with shared ownership loans who owe multiples of what they originally borrowed for no other reason than that they were unfortunate enough to have bought through an affordable shared ownership loan. What an appalling tragedy. I ask the Minister of State to take this into account in formulating housing policy and deal with it. Unfortunately, houses are being repossessed from people who have shared ownership loans and there is no way around it. Some people owe up to €100,000 on the part of the equity they were unable to pay simply because it increased on a rate of 4.7%, which means it doubles every ten years.

Like the Minister of State, and everybody else here, I have had experience of the housing market during a long number of years in my county. We would have required almost 1,000 houses between loans and direct build houses for the new generation coming along. It has not happened. During the boom, we got at most 25 houses annually. The rest was to be catered for by the private rental market. It did not work. We need to provide emergency accommodation as well as the accommodation the Government proposes. I welcome the Government's proposal, which is the first major intervention in the area in 20 years or more. However, I ask the Minister of State to consider the areas that are most seriously affected by housing shortages. There will be a necessity to provide emergency housing.

System built houses can be bought and put on site within three months. They are energy efficient and have a very high degree of heat retention, like any other house, up to a BER rating of A. However, local authorities do not like system built houses and will generally refuse planning permission for them. However, the situation is desperate. There are families which have been split three ways, with the children, male partner and female partner in three different houses. It is appalling. People are sleeping on floors. Families of four, five or six people are in two-bedroom accommodation with some people sleeping on the floor or in the kitchen. Parents have had to vacate their bedrooms and sleep on the floor or on a couch in order to ensure there are not mixed sleeping arrangements for the rest of the household. These are just a few of the issues that motivate anybody in the House who has a heart. We must focus on the situation that has emerged.

I am not making political capital out of this. I predicted it 20 years ago and again three, four and five years ago. I knew it was happening, and I knew it would happen when the Government came to power, given that it did not have the money, and no money was available, to begin the house building programme. Thanks to good management, we have cleared the first hurdle, namely, reorganising the national economy. The next step is to put together the social or humanity element of our society. We need to develop it, and can do so under the proposed legislation.

We have had discussions like this on many occasions. We have put forward countless alternatives to try to deal with the situation. I fear people do not fully realise the extent to which the necessity to meet the problem head-on is going to accelerate during the next three or four months. There are no houses in the marketplace. We have heard people talking about the 3,000 superfluous houses that would have to be demolished. Whenever I hear people talking about demolishing houses, I know they do not know what they are talking about. When a house has been built, in whatever shape or form, it needs to be retained and utilised for the people who need it. What about the land that was dezoned? Around 2007, there was a mad rush to dezone lands which could have been very useful now. They are gone. No forward planning was employed to identify future need. After a boom and a bust, there is a need for housing. During the past 40 or 50 years it has always been thus. We must think seriously about putting in place the necessary measures to track these patterns economically and put in place a remedy.

Raising rent support is only a temporary measure for six months at best, after which the rent support is chasing the inevitable rent increases driven by demand. While people say we should put a cap on rents, although I do not believe we can, it would have no impact. The people who had no houses yesterday and have no houses today will have no houses tomorrow. Other speakers have made this point.

Some on the Opposition benches raised their eyebrows when I and others raised the issue two years ago as an impending emergency. However, we raised it five years ago and ten years ago, and not many people at the time said we were right and that we needed to deal with the issue. I was here during the time and nobody thought it worthwhile or necessary to identify the single issue that affects every man, woman and child in the country, namely, a place to live, a place in which to put down their heads at night, an assurance that they would have shelter for themselves and their families and that they would not have to move from pillar to post overnight on a monthly or weekly basis. While I know the Minister of State is well disposed towards the legislation, I want him to reinvigorate his efforts to deal with the situation, given that it is an emergency on a scale which we have never experienced before.

On Tuesday, the Taoiseach said a number of Deputies were being unduly pessimistic about housing. The statement suggests the Taoiseach does not grasp what the previous speaker said, that this is the most serious housing emergency ever faced by the State bar none. Rents are rocketing and there is a major increase in the number of people reliant on the rental sector. Everybody will have seen the recent Irish Independent rent report, which stated that there had been an increase of 52% in the numbers renting during the past 18 months. This tells us the Government is not ensuring there is a housing supply. More and more people are being forced to compete for a smaller number of properties in the private rented sector. Average rents in Dublin are increasing by anything from €100 per month and in Kildare and the commuter belt they have risen by 15.5%. Unfortunately, keeping rent supplement down is not preventing rents increasing.

Repossessions have increased and the banks, which the Government and the people are meant to own, have given no order not to repossess houses which are rented to people who would like to continue paying the rent. There is no protection for such people and they are turfed onto the street. Everybody thinks homelessness has doubled.

Homelessness has not just doubled; it has increased by 800% according to Focus Ireland. Since 2013, that organisation has seen an increase of 800% in the number of homeless families attending its services. In 2012, it dealt with eight families per month but it dealt with 71 families in April 2015. The debate on this topic should not be left until a Thursday evening when most Deputies have left for their bases. This is the most pressing issue for this country bar none.

This Bill is part of a pattern of relying on private, for-profit construction to meet social and affordable housing needs. It is a case of fiddling while Rome burns. Even during the boom years it was not possible to provide social housing through private construction. Only 3,757 local authority housing units were provided under Part V, with a further 1,963 provided through housing associations because developers took advantage of the get-out clause of providing money or land instead of housing. I saw examples of this in my own council area, with the result that we never saw social housing in nice areas like Castleknock. Social housing was usually delivered in areas developers did not want. That provision is being discontinued but the Bill contains even worse alternatives. Councils will have to purchase the units from the developers at market rates which will be calculated based on site, construction and development costs and profits on the open market. This undermines the claim by Fine Gael and other neoliberal parties that it is cheaper to rely on the private sector than for local authorities to build houses themselves. There is no way the proposed arrangements can be cheaper than giving councils the funds to build houses. The purposes of this provision are to avoid EU and troika rules against increasing figures in State balance sheets and to incentivise private developers through the back door. The taxpayer will ultimately be paying a massive subsidy to developers. We should demand that developers provide these units free of charge given that they are getting the valuable resource of planning permission at a minimal cost. The Government will ask for no such thing, however.

Councils are also starved of the funds they need to buy these houses. They will probably end up entering into long-term leasing arrangements with the developers. In the event that a local authority cannot afford to purchase a house, the alternative option is to enter into a rental accommodation availability lease agreement. Has any council been given sufficient money to purchase these units? The leasing alternative is likely to become the norm for cash-starved councils, with the result that they will pay rent to developers for an indefinite period. This is already happening under NAMA's social housing leasing initiative. They will never become owners of these properties and tenants will not have the security they enjoy in local authority housing. This is related to the social housing 2020 strategy, which aims to deliver long-term leases through RAS and the social housing leasing initiative. It is yet another State handout to landlords. We are paying rents instead of building homes for people. The alternative leasing arrangement is likely to become commonplace because the Bill does not confine it to exceptional circumstances.

The vacant site levy has been decreased since the general scheme of the Bill was announced. It is now 3% in the first year, increasing by 1% per year to a maximum of 6%. It is designed to look like a progressive measure but it contains so many loopholes that it will rarely be applied. Councils will have to jump through hoops to prove that a vacant site is suitable for social housing and that there is a social housing need in the surrounding area. Site owners will be able to claim exemptions for undue hardship. If a developer is in NAMA, that might be considered an undue hardship. It appears, therefore, that the people who crashed the economy will be getting another free run with this levy. The levy is being reduced for developers without standing loans on vacant sites. Why do we not reintroduce compulsory purchase orders on land? They are used for rail and other strategic transport infrastructure. What is more strategic than providing social or affordable housing?

The Bill institutionalises reductions in development levies and tax cuts for developers by providing for retrospective reductions. However, a glaring absence from the Bill is any plan to construct houses in the way they were delivered in the past, namely, by funding local authorities to build them. In two previous decades of housing shortage, the 1930s and 1970s, considerable numbers of social houses were constructed by local authorities. The Government has set its face against this approach for ideological reasons and because EU and troika rules prevent us from adequately addressing the housing crisis. The Government could, however, use the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to deliver social housing instead of dividing it out among so-called private entrepreneurs. There is sufficient money in the fund to end the housing crisis. It is criminal that the State is opting for more expensive ways of providing housing. Continued private control of construction, land and development will make people homeless or force them to pay exorbitant rents, and the taxpayer will have to pay to accommodate people in hotels and expensive private housing. The only viable solution is to start building social housing on a grand scale.

I think I am next.

I am required to rotate speakers at this hour.

We were supposed to be sharing the speaking slot.

The Deputy can have the slot if she wishes.

That is okay, Deputy Stanton can proceed.

I will not be long. I want to comment on this important legislation and acknowledge that the Government is working hard to provide housing. The housing crisis is very serious. While this Bill deals with urban regeneration, I represent a constituency which is predominantly rural, although it also contains a number of medium-sized towns. I have never encountered such an acute need for housing as that which currently exists. Families come to me daily after receiving notices to quit because their homes are being sold. They have nowhere to go.

I am not sure what I can do or what answer I can give to these people. Many of them have small children at school, but may have to relocate to a different area or town, which is disruptive. The uncertainty is extraordinarily stressful. Many of these people are unemployed and do not have the resources to rent and, meanwhile, rents are rising.

The housing assistance payment or HAP scheme is new and I have issues about it. As I said on the last occasion we debated this topic, we need a housing czar. Such a person could take the whole issue on, going around the country to find out where houses are boarded up. The houses could then be made habitable. The housing czar could also find our where there are houses under the control of State agencies such as NAMA, and get them freed up as a matter of urgency.

In three days time it will be midsummer, the weather is warm and the days are long. I am worried, however, about what will happen in the dead of winter if we do not address this as a matter of urgency now. I do not often speak in dramatic terms, but this is a serious crisis. There are many provisions in this Bill but a lot of them will not happen for a while, whereas we need action immediately.

We could charge the housing agencies to become far more active. I listened to what Deputy Coppinger said earlier and there are constitutional issues concerning compulsory purchase orders for private property. I do not think it is possible to do that for housing. Alternatively, building a lot of social housing without proper planning could be a mistake. We need to start talking about building communities, including schools, recreational facilities and green spaces.

The previous Government increased housing density levels. When I visit certain housing estates now, however, I find the housing density is so high that people have no room to park their cars. As a result, people are arguing and falling out because such areas were not properly planned. It was a matter of squeezing in as many units as one could in the smallest possible space. Prices did not come down back then, they went up. I disagreed with that at the time and said so. I thought it was badly planned. In other jurisdictions social amenity areas and green spaces are planned first and the houses are built around them. In that way one can build a community, including schools and shops.

There are large housing estates in my area which were supposed to have shopping areas and crèches, but they were never built. The houses were built and money was taken, but those amenities were not provided. As a result, people must travel long distances to crèches and there are no local shops which were promised.

Deputy Coppinger suggested that in future we should build large amounts of social housing. It is not good enough, however, just to build a lot of housing and leave it there with nothing else. It is crucially important to plan it properly.

We must take this matter on. How many units are boarded up in each local authority area that could be made available immediately? How many units does NAMA control that could be made available now? I come from an area which traditionally did not have this problem, so I shudder to think what is happening in towns and cities.

The Minister of State should reconsider the proposal I made some months ago to appoint a housing czar to kick butt and get this sorted out as best we can. We must move quickly because we are heading for winter. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell me what I can say to young families, including mothers with small children, who have no place to live. I have seen a proposal to build prefabricated units, but planning and services are required for that. It is a stop-gap emergency measure, which will probably help some homeless people in Dublin. It is better than sitting on the side of the street but this matter needs to be addressed urgently.

I have spoken to Ministers about it and they realise how serious it is, so we need action. We also need a census of people on waiting lists to see what is happening. It is not easy to sort out, but my suggestions should be taken on board straight away. We need to help people who are under stress and strain because they are being told they have only weeks to leave a property. That is because the owners are selling it or moving in themselves and, as a result, these people have nowhere else to go. They have searched through all the housing agencies, auctioneers and rental properties but there is nothing available for them to rent. What do I say to these young families? What can any of us do? Let us please move on this urgently and quickly. We must pull out all the stops across all local authorities, housing agencies, NAMA and anyone else who has property.

In some ways, today was pretty much like any other. Among those who contacted my office was a young family with two children. The male partner is suffering from ill health and had been renting accommodation, but they must now move out because the landlord is selling the property. They put a deposit on another property which was accepted, but the landlord did not want to have anything to do with people on rent allowance so he decided not to go ahead. That occurred at the end of May and subsequently they have become homeless with nothing on the horizon for them to go to.

Another mother was in touch with me. She has been on the priority four-bedroom housing list in Fingal County Council for eight or nine years. She is now at position No. 10, but she might as well be at No. 10,000 for a four-bedroom house because being on a priority list does not get you anything. Three of her five children have problems, including serious special needs.

Similarly, another woman who needs four-bedroom accommodation has been on a list for nine years but there is not a chance in hell of getting accommodated anywhere. Deputies who have highlighted the fact that we are experiencing an utter housing crisis are absolutely correct. Against that background, however, what we are being presented with here is nothing. It is not even a drop in the ocean, although I am not saying that to score a cheap political point. The reality is that the measures in this Bill will have zero impact on dealing with the housing issue.

We have discussed changes to Part V and the vacant site levy, but there are so many loopholes in them that they will be meaningless in delivering what they are supposed to deliver. They are supposed to incentivise private developers to give up sites for building, while on the other hand we are supposed to get houses delivered as part of the private schemes that have gone on. Having been a councillor for 13 years in an area which was massively developing and had a huge amount of rezoning in the boom years, we saw every trick in the book concerning Part V. It is good that developers cannot offer money instead, but this is not a guarantee of integrated development because there are too many loopholes there. Whatever is reasonable can be open to any scrutiny, which means it is not reasonable.

We had a scenario in Fingal where a certain big developer had been developing both in Malahide and Balbriggan. He did not want to put social housing in Malahide, which is a much more affluent area, but it suited him to put it in Balbriggan. From the local authority's point of view, it was better to get more units in Balbriggan than ten or 20 units in Malahide.

The local authority was getting 150 units in Balbriggan. Given the pressure it was under to accommodate those on its lists, it seemed like an attractive proposition for it to agree. In fact, it did go for that option to accommodate more people, but it has resulted precisely in the non-integrated development that should not be desirable. I put it to the Minister of State that there is nothing in the Bill to stop that from happening again, despite the intentions. In fact, all it proposes to do is reduce the requirement from 20% to 10% without any guarantee that it can actually deliver on what it is seeking to achieve.

One point highlighted by other Deputies is key. This scenario is a serious indictment of neoliberal capitalism. In the 1940s and 1950s representatives of the State went to building sites in London and dropped leaflets among the Irish community appealing to them to come back and take part in housebuilding programmes in the State. That was at a time when we had far fewer resources as a society than we do now. Now, we cannot access money on the books for local authorities to build houses, yet the European Central Bank can give money at a rate of 1% to banks to lend money among themselves, but they cannot lend money to put a roof over people's heads. My God, that is certainly wrong-way-around economics in anyone's book.

Our starting point should be the right of people to have a home. We should then put in place mechanisms to deliver on this. The reality is that we cannot rely on the private sector to deliver. There should, therefore, be a range of options. The Government has referred to the promised €3.5 billion programme for social housing and so on. If that funding was used to build social housing, it might be something, but it is not being used for that purpose at all. It is to be used for leasing and private rental arrangements and all of the complexities that these entail. It is simply not going to meet the need.

We have completely and utterly let the National Asset Management Agency off the hook in terms of its supposed role in delivering social and affordable housing. I offer one example from my constituency. A number of individuals contacted me. They said it was very difficult for young people in the Malahide area to find property because of rising prices. They are the children of people living in the area. They gave the example of a recent development of 40 apartments between Swords and Malahide which was sold for €1.4 million to a developer from the North. That works out at approximately €35,000 per apartment and the development needed some completion work. Let us be generous and say the cost of the completion work amounted to approximately a further €60,000 per unit. That would result in a finished product at a cost price of €95,000. One of the people who contacted me said that through the network of the community he knew well in excess of 40 local couples in the area were struggling to be passed for a mortgage of more than €220,000. Therefore, instead of NAMA getting €1.4 million, it could have received €2.4 million if the people concerned had collectively come together to bid for the property. Instead of the property going to an investor who is going to hive it off or rent it for a killing, we could have ensured local people secured local homes at an affordable price and the State would have received more money than it ended up with on this deal. It is an absolute joke.

The people to whom I spoke made a point about other properties in the area which had been sold, including on Streamstown Lane in Malahide. The sites were not advertised and no one knew how to access them. There was no information on the old Grove Hotel or the old rugby club. People were looking for information on them also and I contacted NAMA on their behalf. I was given the details and told that the residents could contact the receiver. I duly passed on the information, as NAMA had requested. The receiver absolutely chewed the face off the resident who rang, asking how she had got his name and number, since the property in question was not on the market. That is the type of thing going on. Meanwhile, we have people who are desperately in need of a home. The deal was supposed to be that NAMA would be part of the solution in dealing with community need in terms of housing. We are failing miserably in that regard.

Reference has been made to the vacant site issue. One matter we have not tackled is developers buying unzoned land and sitting on it. This is excluded from the provisions of the Bill. There have been some interesting articles recently on the hoarding of agricultural land. An annual survey by the Irish Farmers Journal found that the average price of land in County Dublin had surged by 50% to €23,500 per acre in 2014. Irish agricultural land is the dearest in Europe. The report editor of The Irish Times, Lorcan Allen, made the point that vast prices were being paid for agricultural land on the outskirts of towns and villages with future development potential. He highlighted how one tillage farm in County Dublin had been valued by an auctioneer at €20,000 per acre and ended up selling at €50,000 per acre. We are not doing anything about this. This goes back to the Kenny report and the absolute necessity for the State to control the price of building land. We need to have a certain percentage figure higher than the agricultural value. It should be leased back and given to developers to develop housing linked with a definite sale price. Cutting out speculation in land prices is critical. Many Deputies have spent time as members of local authorities and know how the system works. People are in the know and know what development land is likely to come up for sale. They buy it at agricultural prices and can sit it out or make an approach and try to put forward an argument in favour of why their land should be developed. The reality is that because of the wholesale rezonings that took place during the boom years we have a vast amount of surplus rezoned land.

We need more than tinkering at the edges, but that is all that the Bill amounts to. If it was tinkering at the edges, we might take the view that it was not too bad, but it is actually worse because it is actually reducing some of the restrictions in place. It will not deliver one single extra unit onto the market. We need to do far more and think far more radically than anything proposed in the Bill.

I have 20 minutes. Is that correct?

May I have two hours?

Much as we like the Deputy, we cannot accommodate him.

It pleases me no end to hear that you like me. I have not been mad about you.

We will hold that debate for another day.

This is the area in which I have spent my life. It breaks my heart how this issue and the challenges posed by the housing crisis have been dealt with. I am wondering who the Government is talking to and getting advice from. The Government is not in touch with the realities. There are massive problems in the housing industry and the Government is not dealing with them. It has an opportunity to do things because everyone knows the sector is on the floor. There are serious problems and we need to do things differently, but we are only scratching the surface. This is a missed opportunity.

In fairness to Deputy Bernard J. Durkan, I have not agreed with much of what he has had to say in the past four and half years in this House, but I heard him talking about the issue of housing earlier and he said some things I agree with. I did not agree with everything he said - that would be going too far - but I agreed with him more today than I have on any other day in the past four and half years. He is obviously aware of problems with which he is being forced to deal on a daily basis.

I admit that not only do I find those in government clueless about the housing crisis, but most of those in opposition are clueless about it also. Government Members are not alone in that regard. I will try to address the Bill as much as possible. I have before me the opening contribution of the Minister of State made the other night. I will pick out sections from it and give my tuppence worth on them.

The Minister of state said: "The initial report of the group indicates that there are sufficient existing planning permissions or applications with no insurmountable infrastructural deficits with the potential, if acted on by developers, to supply almost 21,000 residential units in the Dublin area." That is 100% true. In fact, I imagine there is even more. However, as I pointed out to the Taoiseach during Leaders' Questions on Tuesday, few developers are interested in building. The private sector is actually going to deliver less than those in government believe this year and next year and the main reason is that it will not pay. There is actually no money in building. The big elephant in the room is distressed assets, including all those units that have been added to the rental market, which have been sold for peanuts.

They have been sold for less than they cost to build. What builder would buy land or use land he bought and paid too much for to build apartments or houses at the moment, competing against assets being bought by US vulture funds for less than it costs to build? Why would one do it? Business-wise one could not do it. In lean times, if a person has already bought the land, it will expose the fact that they paid too much for it. Not only would the developer be exposed - or the builder because now they are often one and the same, having once been two different animals - we would also expose the bank that gave them the money. It would be financial suicide for them to develop sites at the moment, given that NAMA has been selling assets for a fraction of their real value. We might ask what is the real value and people sometimes say the real value is what one can get on a given day, but I disagree. The banks used to tell me that, but what happens if one had a piece of land and one estate agent valued it at €5 million, another valued it at €4 million, another at €4.5 million and another at €5 million, and at auction someone paid €11 million? I asked the bank if it was worth €11 million just because someone had paid that for it. It is not. It just means that is what he was prepared to pay for it - no more and no less.

One yardstick NAMA should use in selling apartments is the question of what it would cost to put up a block of apartments even if one had got the land for nothing. NAMA should not sell it for less than that price but it has been doing that wholesale. The price at which NAMA has sold assets is criminal. It is boasting about making €1 billion between now and 2018 but I do not understand for the life of me why it has flooded the market with properties when it had until 2020 to wrap up its business. It has sold stuff in a fire sale. I know the Minister, Deputy Noonan, did a deal with the troika in 2012 whereby we would deliver €7.5 billion by the end of 2014. We will actually deliver €15 billion from sales by the end of this year. It is pure nonsense. NAMA has been selling stuff in a rising market and it beggars belief. That is one of the reasons the Government will struggle to get the private sector to start building. It can give incentives but it still will not pay at the moment. If I was back building at the moment, I would not get the money from a bank to start building an apartment complex today.

I can tell the Government who is building the only real serious projects that will start in this city in the next couple of years. It is investment funds like Kennedy Wilson. They have bought big sites but it is no challenge for them because they have no intention of selling them. These guys are in it for the rental market. Rents in a working class area of this city have gone from €1,000 a month to €1,400 a month in two and a half years because a small number of people are controlling a huge portion of the rental market and they have formed a cartel. Rent is still going up and according to the Minister's own Department's figures of a couple of days ago, the amount of new completions of houses is going down. These guys will build them because they are not going to sell them so they will not have the problem of selling at below the cost of building them. They will rent them out in the long term. They might not stay here forever but they will get a good price for them in a couple of years' time if they want to flip them.

The Bill states that on 1 January 2019 planning authorities will be empowered to apply an annual vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of vacant sites which a planning authority has determined were vacant or idle in the preceding year. There are many problems with this. This is not a land tax and the Government is not dealing with the problem of landbanking. The biggest problem in the construction industry is landbanking and the fact that there was not even a semblance of implementation of the Kenny report, which the situation is screaming out for. The 3% levy is a token gesture and there are too many loopholes for words. First, if the mortgage on it is between 50% and 75%, the charge will only be 1.5%. If it is between 75% and 100%, the charge is 0.75%. Give me a break. Who in God's name is buying vacant sites and landbanking without borrowing the money? Does the Minister think people are buying sites for cash? They are not, as it would not make business sense. It pays to borrow in this area. The number of sites we will find that are not mortgaged out are very low. People do not turn up with buckets of cash to buy this stuff. They get loans from the bank so the land is mortgaged and most of them will be exempted as a result. Also, the measures do not even come into effect until 2019. Talk about kicking the can down the road. What year are we in? It is 2015. This is just nonsense.

There is another loophole. The legislation states "if" the site is vacant. If I had a two or five-acre site in north Dublin with planning permission for 200 apartments, would I allow the Government to charge me a 3% vacant site tax on it by leaving it 100% vacant? I would not. I would make sure it was not 100% vacant and that at least half of it was being used in some form or another to avoid the tax. It is too easy for words.

Another provision stipulates that a vacant site will be any area of land exceeding 0.1 ha, but 0.1 ha is 1,000 sq. m or a quarter of an acre. This city is full of pockets of vacant small sites. The big player would own some but not all of these sites. I built 27 apartments and 4,500 sq. ft. of commercial space in a basement car park on a site with 750 sq. m and the Government will not catch that site. It can sit there for the next ten years and the owner need not bother his backside building on it and the Government is not going to touch it. By staying over 0.1 ha the Government is avoiding most of the infill in Dublin city. It does not make sense.

We all know that Part V did not work as we did not get 1% in social housing units from it. The Government is doing away with allowing developers to buy their way out of it and that is good but it has reduced the 20% to 10%. I would not shoot the Government for this but it is making a serious mistake. It should have written that 10% in stone on every site but it has not. It has allowed flexibility and the big guy who builds in a well-off area is going to get out of it. That is a given. Remember where you heard it first. I promise the Government that he will get out of it. That is 100% true. He will not pay it and will do it somewhere else and the Government is allowing that. It is saying it will make sure 10% social housing is delivered on each site by doing its best to make it happen but that is not what it should be doing. It should be writing it in stone so that every site in this country has a minimum of 10% social housing units. We have huge problems in our cities and towns with ghettoisation. We have put all the troubled and poor people together and watched unemployment, deprivation and drug problems develop, all in little nests in different parts of Ireland, and we are not addressing the problem. Ghettoisation is a problem that impacts on just about every single Department of Government in one way or another. There is not one Department independent of it and it is costing this State a fortune to deal with the problems that come from it. The Government is not writing in stone that if a person is building 100 apartments on a site in Ballsbridge, 10% of them should be social.

I built places with some social units in them and there is trouble in some of them because of the deprivation and drug problems. However, if we continue down the road of saying we do not want them, that a particular place is just for people of a certain economic bracket and social sphere and that only people from the private schools can afford them, we will continue to have the problems we are experiencing today. Some Government some day will take a responsible decision and do things differently. This is not the way to organise housing in any city or town in any country in the world. We have more problems than most. We probably inherited snobbery from the Brits but, as I see it, it is a bigger problem here than in Europe. Not setting in stone the requirement for social housing in every single site that starts in Dublin is a big problem.

I heard some people complain that the Government has done away with the requirement for developments of less than four or five units and have increased the threshold to nine or ten units. I would not shoot the Government for that decision either given that the requirement is back to 10%. There was a huge problem when it was at 20% in the way it was dealt with. There was a massive problem. I often found that there were times I could not bank a development. I could not get funding because I was being asked to provide 10% or 20% social or affordable housing, but I was getting nothing for the site value. I was paying, say, €100,000 a unit to buy a place where I could put in 30 apartments. I was being offered agricultural land prices for each unit I was going to deliver to the local authority. It was working out at about €1,000 a unit. If I was putting in ten social units on a site on which one could get 50 apartments, I should have been given whatever they were costing me or a market rate. Instead I was getting an agricultural price for them - €1,000 a unit. I was going to the bank with this and it was saying I would not make any money. I would tell it the price of houses will keep rising and I will eventually make money and it would say I was depending on the price of houses to rise in order for the development to make that money.

Of course, the big problem was something else which people never understood. People thought the builders were all making a fortune. We actually were not. The people making a fortune were the people selling us the land. I paid €5 million for one fifth of an acre in a working class area in north Dublin city. The guy who sold me the land made some serious money. When I built the apartments, I am not exaggerating, if I got €400,000 for them I would only break even. I had to get €420,000 to make a few bob it had gone so mad. It was the land banker who was making the money. When we were not developing at all and were just builders, we were working on a 4% margin, which is not so outrageous. We were looking to make 4% on projects. That was our target. When we were developing, initially we made far more money. Then, of course, when the whole thing went bang, we lost more money. The builder who never went developing was fine and he survived the crisis. I had assets worth €80 million which reduced in value to €20 million in the space of approximately 15 months and that was me gone. Such is life. I did not ask anyone to bail me out and while I see most of my competitors back working now that is neither here nor there.

I had better move on because I am running out of time. The Government told us in December it was giving us a housing strategy. It is not a housing strategy. I swear to God it is not. I wish it was but it is not. I really would like to know where the advice is coming from and to whom the Government is talking. It needs to talk to the people who have been involved in the industry. We know where the cheating goes on and where the problems arise. There are so many improvements that can happen now. Things can be done so much better. I am not blaming the Government for all the housing problems but I am disappointed it is not dealing with them. They started under Fianna Fáil and they got worse. This Government came into office and, sadly, has not addressed the problem. The Government is afraid of those with vested interests and its site levy is a strong indicator of that fact.

There are people who land bank in this town. It is reckoned that in or about 2005, some 95% of the land bank for development in County Dublin was owned by 26 people. That is scary stuff, but we are still not dealing with it. We are not addressing the problem. There was a big hullabaloo about all the social housing the Government was going to provide, but it is completely linked to its dependence on the private market. It is not going to work. It is already hugely problematic and it is the wrong way to go. It is going to deliver so many problems. I scream at night thinking about what is going to happen in the housing market. It is going to get worse. I swear to God it is. I wish I could say otherwise, but I just know things are going to get worse over the next couple of years. It does not have to be that way. The private sector is not going to deliver the units as long as we have NAMA and the State-owned banks and institutions. We have IBRC, NAMA and AIB selling stuff off for less than it is worth. Now the Government thinks the private sector is going to start building again. It can forget it. It is not going to happen. The Government's prospects are too tightly linked to it.

People think that it is crazy. There is a stigma around social housing in Ireland, but we need to start building State-owned houses again and we need to do it now. We should not wait. The Government should get the land, fast track the planning permission and start building. It should also build houses in a way that will suit the people who will live in them. The Government needs to grasp that nettle and start building State housing again. It should build it everywhere and not just in ghettos and it should be built every bit as well as private housing.

Of the few guys who did a bit of social and affordable housing in their developments and did not buy their way out of it or move it to a ghetto, most of them put inferior material in the social and affordable units in comparison to what they were putting into the units in the private part. That was a disgrace, but they were allowed to do it. This again goes back to the lack of building regulation. Phil Hogan brought in new regulations. All they do is increase paperwork and bureaucracy. We are still not checking the work that is done. The Government has to go back to the system of having a clerk of works to check how the work is done and the local authority needs to sign off on it having been done properly. It is not going to cost an absolute fortune. The Government has reduced the contribution levies. It should use that vacancy to add a bit extra to cover the cost of local authority inspections of any work that takes place. It is not rocket science; it is called commonsense.

I thank the Deputies who made contributions today and on Tuesday on this important Bill. The number of Deputies who spoke is a clear indication of the importance of this issue and this Bill. I have been listening carefully and it has been a worthwhile debate. I do not claim to have a monopoly on wisdom. I do not think anyone does and we can all learn from the debate. As I outlined in my opening remarks on the Bill on Tuesday evening, and as has been acknowledged by virtually all Deputies in their contributions, we are faced with an acute housing supply shortage, which is one of the most pressing challenges currently faced by this society and Government. This is the primary background to the Bill.

The housing issues we currently face are multifaceted and require a broad ranging, co-ordinated approach to increasing housing supply. There is no single panacea or silver bullet to address the housing shortage but I can assure Deputies that it is a top priority for the Government. The measures in this Bill will not on their own resolve the housing supply problems but they will help to make a start in tackling the issue. I accept many genuine concerns were expressed by Deputies and I assure them that all that can be done is being done.

Some Deputies mentioned the social housing strategy.

Funding is being provided to local authorities and voluntary housing bodies to turn around voids and directly acquire houses in the short term, and to get back to direct building programmes on lands that are available and shovel ready. Those lands are being prioritised and we expect further allocations in this regard shortly.

I noted the broad support for the proposed reductions in development contributions for unactivated planning permissions. There was an almost universal welcome for this measure. I also noted the general support for the vacant site levy provisions, which is a positive measure aimed at incentivising the development of vacant sites in central urban areas for housing and regeneration purposes, thereby helping to breathe life back into the designated areas and address urban decay, an issue that unquestionably requires positive action. I thank Deputy Wallace for the proactive suggestions in his contribution. With regard to the vacant site levy and the site size, I will examine that closely in terms of making it more beneficial, useful, practical and workable.

I noted, however, the views expressed by some Deputies regarding the January 2019 commencement date for liability to the levy and the suggestion that the commencement date could be brought forward. I understand the concerns expressed, but my Department has engaged intensively with the Attorney General's office about the development of levy proposals that are as fair, reasonable and proportionate as possible. The January 2019 commencement date is fair and reasonable overall, in that it gives site owners the necessary time and opportunity to regularise their affairs in advance of becoming liable to the levy.

I was not surprised that the proposed revisions to the Part V arrangements on social and affordable housing attracted the most attention. I note many Deputies opposed the reduction from 20% to 10%, suggesting that the existing requirement for the provision of 20% of the land in a development for social and affordable housing be retained rather than reduced to 10% as proposed. However, as I outlined in my opening remarks last Tuesday, the economic context in which the Part V provisions were developed was in 2000 and things have changed significantly since then. Imposing a 20% burden or overhead on developers in respect of social and affordable housing at this time has significant implications both in terms of the house prices charged by developers and the affordability of those house prices for purchasers, a large proportion of whom is likely to be first-time buyers. Construction viability from concept to design to construction and delivery must be taken into account. The primary purpose of the proposed measures in this regard is to stimulate increased housing construction activity by reducing development costs, thereby reducing house prices. Such increased activity will also assist in generating an increased social housing dividend, which is socially desirable and urgently required, as many Deputies said.

I also noted the remarks about the perceived termination of the affordable housing aspect of Part V. This is not the case. In the current housing situation it is considered essential that the focus of Part V arrangements be placed entirely on social housing output, but under the provisions that are proposed it will still be possible, when required, to reactivate the affordable housing element under the Part V mechanism by issuing a ministerial policy directive to this effect under section 29 of the Planning and Development Act.

Again, I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions on Second Stage. I look forward to further constructive engagement on the Bill as it progresses through the House. The Bill will be referred to the Select Sub-committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government for Committee Stage on 30 June.

Question put.

In accordance with the Order of the Dáil today, the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 23 June 2015.