I call Deputy John Curran to move the motion.
Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness: Motion
That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Final Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 17th June, 2016.
It is my pleasure to commence the debate on this report. It is somewhat unusual in that many items that come before this House do so either as Opposition or Government-sponsored items. This report is clearly different as it has the support of members from all parties and none who sat on the committee.
In April, this House agreed to establish a special committee, the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, to review the implications of the problems of housing and homelessness and specifically to make recommendations in that regard. The committee held its first meeting on 20 April and worked intensively within a tight timescale to meet the requirement to complete the report and have it laid before the House on 17 June. It is worth noting that the committee met every Tuesday and Thursday, morning and afternoon, and on most days had a double session in the morning and in the afternoon. The committee met more than 40 individuals or groups - 40 witnesses - and received more than 80 written submissions.
It was abundantly clear, even prior to the committee commencing its deliberations, that tackling the shortage of housing and the related problem of homelessness constitutes one of the greatest challenges the country faces. The factors contributing to the problem are diverse and deep-rooted and affect a variety of sectors, including central and local government, the financial sector, the building industry, the private rented sector and the voluntary sector. The issues involved are complex and inter-linked. Importantly, the problems are causing severe hardship and distress to large numbers of households across the country. It is essential, therefore, that all bodies and stakeholders involved assume responsibility and co-operate fully and generously in responding to this immense national challenge. I am pleased that the Minister is in attendance with us this evening as we review the report.
As I stated, the committee met more than 40 witnesses who attended on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We went through the work programme on a sector-by-sector basis. I will reflect on how the report is structured shortly, but it would be remiss of me not to specifically acknowledge one of our visits, which was to Focus Ireland. Much of the time we talk about numbers, planning, housing units and so forth but the visit to Focus Ireland was something very different. We met a group of people who were experiencing different forms of homelessness and their stories made the work we were doing very real. Instead of talking about a housing unit or whatever, we were talking about people's homes and the challenges they were facing in their lives. Those who were present that day, including some Members in the Chamber, could not fail to have been touched by the problems people are facing. I came away from that meeting determined that we would complete a report that would be meaningful and that any recommendations it contained, if implemented, would also be meaningful.
I want to acknowledge the work of the members of the committee, which was established before the Government was formed. We had members from all sides of the House and, to reiterate what I said earlier, we worked collectively as colleagues. In so far as was possible, there was a large degree of consensus and while the meetings were busy, they were well attended. I want to specifically acknowledge the members of the committee: Deputy Colm Brophy, who replaced Deputy Catherine Byrne on her promotion; Deputy Mary Butler; Deputy Ruth Coppinger; Deputy Barry Cowen; Deputy Bernard J. Durkan; Deputy Kathleen Funchion; Deputy Michael Harty; Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, who replaced Deputy Seán Canney; Deputy Eoin Ó Broin; Deputy Fergus O'Dowd; Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan; Deputy Brendan Ryan; and Deputy Mick Wallace. As Chairman of the committee, it was a pleasure and a privilege to have worked with all of them. I genuinely felt it was very much a collective exercise where the members of the committee sat together to try to bring forward recommendations they felt would be effective.
The committee's report has been laid before the House and many people have had an opportunity to read it. Like most reports, there is an executive summary in which approximately 23 of the key recommendations are set out. I have not counted them but there may be 80 or 90 individual recommendations.
My opening remarks are not from a party point of view but purely to outline the work the committee did, the issues it addressed and some of the recommendations it made. As we established a work programme, we looked across this issue under nine specific headings: social housing; the private rented sector; private housing; mortgage difficulties; housing finance; the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA; homelessness; meeting specific housing needs; and legal issues. I will briefly outline the key issues that arose in some of those areas and some of the key recommendations the committee made. I have no doubt that Members who sat on the committee will develop some of those in their contributions but, as an overview, I will go through it in that order because that is the way the report was structured.
The first area the committee examined was social housing. The issues identified by the Irish Council for Social Housing was that State social housing in Ireland is low at only 9% of overall stock compared to an EU average of 17%. A lack of building by local authorities combined with over-reliance on provision by the private sector has led to a shortage of supply. Estimates by the housing agencies suggest that up to one third of the population will need State housing supports. The lack of residential building in the private sector means there is little social housing coming through the Part V process. Targets for social housing set out in Social Housing 2020 rely heavily on the provision by the private rented sector of 75,000 of total units to be provided through the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. However, this sector is seen by some stakeholders as being a poor provider of secure accommodation for low income groups. One of the most striking recommendations the Minister will be familiar with is to increase the social housing stock owned by local authorities and the approved housing bodies by at least 50,000 units, an average of 10,000 per year, through a programme of acquisition, refurbishment and new build.
Another key recommendation on which there was significant discussion was that the Minister should consider the establishment of a national housing procurement agency, with staff from the Housing Agency, the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Finance to assist local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver their social housing programmes through supports including funding and procurement.
We also recommended that Part 8 of the planning process would be reduced from eight to six weeks and specifically, as recommended by the Housing Agency, the Government should develop an overarching national two-year strategy to reduce vacancies in the general housing stock.
Based on the national strategy, each local authority should perform an audit and produce an empty homes strategy the contemplates the objectives, aims and actions needed to tackle the issue and with a view to acquiring significant numbers of vacant houses for local authority use in order to clear the housing waiting lists.
The second chapter of the report covers the private rented sector. The committee noted that the profile of renters in Ireland is broadly in line with that in other European countries, with the majority of tenants here under 35 years of age and single. Most homeless families are coming from the private rented sector. There were just 3,082 rental properties on the market nationwide at the start of May 2016, the lowest number on record, with just 1,100 properties available to rent in Dublin. There was an increase in the average rent of 9.3% in the year to March in Dublin. Average rent nationwide has risen 34% since the lowest point in 2014.
Some of the key recommendations to deal with issues relating to the private rental sector are: a national strategy specifically for the private rented sector should be developed and published in order to address long-term uncertainty; there should be an increase in affordable supply; the quality of accommodation should be improved; professionalism within the industry should be improved; rent certainty should be introduced by means of linking reviews to an index such as the CPI and this should be reviewed annually; rent supplement and housing assistance payments need to reflect current market values; and consideration should be given to increasing security of tenure and offering tenants protection from eviction.
The third chapter of the report examines the area of private housing. Issues highlighted include the fact that the number of houses built nationally by the private sector had declined by 85% between 2004 and 2014, with a national decline of 90% in the social housing sector. The number of new house completions peaked at 93,000 in 2006 and has declined significantly in subsequent years.
The recommendations include a national policy on land use to identify and plan for the correct quantity, mix, tenure and size of housing to meet need and to examine measures to increase the supply of land. This could include the use of tools such as land mapping, as undertaken by the Housing Agency. The report also recommends that provision be made for the necessary infrastructure to develop land in the four Dublin local authority areas. The figure suggested in respect of that measure is €160 million. Further recommendations are: to identify sites which have planning permission but which are not built upon; to introduce a stronger vacant site levy in budget 2017; and to implement a tax on vacant homes as discussed by the Housing Agency.
The fourth chapter looks at mortgage difficulties. Approximately 62,000, or 8.3%, of private residential mortgages for principal dwellings were in arrears of more than 90 days at the end of December 2015 and 23,344 residential mortgages for buy-to-let properties were in arrears for more than 90 days over the same period. Some 120,739 principal dwelling house mortgages were classified as restructured at the end of 2015, of which 86.4% were deemed to be meeting the terms of their current restructuring arrangement.
I will now turn to some of the recommendations which were considered for implementation regarding mortgage difficulties. Before the summer recess, and as a matter of urgency, the Government should, at a minimum, implement fully and quickly the programme for Government strategy to deal with mortgage arrears. Subject to the advice of the Attorney General, the Government should introduce legislation for a moratorium on home repossessions until its proposals are in place for dealing with distressed mortgages. This would be a temporary moratorium as it would not be meant for a long duration. The Government should also seek to acquire or facilitate the acquisition of distressed buy-to-let properties and maintain the occupant in the property on an affordable rent, differential rent or affordable mortgage. The code of conduct on mortgage arrears should be amended on a statutory basis to include an offer of a split mortgage and a mortgage-to-rent scheme. When dealing with those who are in mortgage difficulties, banks should, from the outset, make the services of the Insolvency Service of Ireland known to the borrower. The Government should also provide the necessary funding for legal aid and advice to be provided to those in danger of losing their homes.
Chapter 5 relates to housing finance. One of the main recommendations is that the Government should urgently seek flexibility from the European Commission on the application of the EU fiscal rules for the financing of social housing. A further recommendation is that the Government should provide the maximum possible direct Exchequer investment in the provision of social housing in the capital programme. The Government should also establish an off-balance-sheet funding mechanism to provide additional investment in social and affordable housing. Considerable debate took place at the committee when the National Asset Residential Property Services, NARPS, model used by NAMA was examined and advice from Department of Finance and the NTMA was sought. The Government should seek to mobilise, as quickly as possible, all available sources of finance, including funding from the Housing Finance Agency, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, the Irish League of Credit Unions and Irish pension funds, to increase the supply of social and affordable housing. There appeared to be a bit of red tape at this stage between the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank regarding the proposals emerging from the Irish League of Credit Unions.
A further recommendation looks at extending the threshold of the single-stage approval process for social housing from €2 million to a higher threshold of €5 million, with local authorities allowed to explore additional funding if required. The committee also recommended a review of this process to examine why local authorities do not appear to be engaging in the stimulus stage process. It was interesting that while everybody spoke highly of this process it is not actually being used. It appears that local authorities are reluctant to take additional risk.
When the committee considered the role of NAMA, it emerged that it has a target to fund 20,000 housing units by 2020. However, the only legal obligation on NAMA is to provide 10% of these units for social housing. While NAMA states that these will be starter homes at market rates, they would be out of the reach of many first-time buyers. NAMA has the ability to borrow money off-balance sheet through its NARPS special purpose vehicle but this can only be used to deal with NAMA debtors. A number of recommendations were made in respect of NAMA but one in particular I wish to draw attention to is that the Part V requirement relating to NAMA housing developments should be increased to 20% in exchange for fast-track planning approval. These would go hand in hand - it would not be 20% across the board, but it would be in return for fast-track approval.
Chapter 7 deals with the issue of homelessness. The number of homeless households has more than doubled in the past 12 months. Most homeless households were previously living in the private rented sector and many families are being accommodated in emergency accommodation such as hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation which is simply not suitable for family living. A range of proposals and recommendations were also made in respect of this matter. The Housing First initiatives throughout the country should be resourced and no homeless shelters should be closed until alternative accommodation is available. There should also be a review of the legislation around bed-sits and pre-1963 accommodation, including the bathroom regulations. At this point in time it would seem that they should not be enforced until alternative accommodation is available.
I do not have time to complete my summary of chapters 8 and 9 but they referred to meeting specific housing needs, legislation and legal issues. Many of the legal issues are referred to in previous chapters but one relates to the right to housing. The committee received a number of submissions and presentations in that regard. In light of the time available to it, the committee could not adequately conclude its recommendations. However, it did recommend acknowledgment of: the submissions and evidence provided to the committee; the provision in the programme for Government; and the work of the Constitutional Convention with regard to enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution. The committee also recommends that the new Oireachtas committee - which has been set up - should bring its deliberations on the latter to a conclusion as quickly as possible and should bring a recommendation in respect of it to Government
That is the overview of the report. I hope that colleagues who sat on the committee will use this opportunity to explore some of the recommendations in more detail.
I thank the Deputies for affording us the opportunity to discuss the report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness and, perhaps more importantly, to debate in this House how we can all work towards addressing the many issues regarding homelessness. I will also use the opportunity to set out the Government's priorities and intentions for the forthcoming action plan on housing.
I want to place on the record of the House the fact that I welcome and commend the excellent work of the committee. Its evidence-based report represents a valuable and informative input into the work of my Department in putting together the action plan. The broad, open and inclusive approach adopted by the committee in its engagement with some 40 stakeholders gives the report real significance and credibility.
I recognise the role of the Chairman and the non-party political nature of most of the debate that took place at that committee, which was very constructive. That is not to say that I agree with everything in the report but it has become a reference document for our process of putting together a Government response to the overall issue and to our report, which the committee will see in a couple of weeks.
The programme for Government rightly puts the homelessness and housing challenge front and centre of the Government’s ambitions. That programme outlines a range of actions that need to be taken as a matter of priority. These will be drawn together in a systematic, multifaceted and, I certainly hope, well-resourced action plan for housing, which is at an advanced stage. We will, I hope, have an opportunity to publish it and Deputy Ó Broin has asked for an opportunity to debate it as well before we break up for the summer recess. We are trying to work towards that deadline to allow that debate happen.
Once the economy collapsed, Ireland stopped building houses, private and social, for the best part of the past decade, apart from finishing out some schemes and once-off housing. This under-provision of housing, whether by low level of construction of new housing or existing housing not being used to its full potential, such as vacant properties, is one of the final legacies of the crash that has yet to be tackled. While many important actions have been taken in recent years to boost supply and address affordability, it is clear that such actions have not been sufficient in scale and ambition to resolve a crisis in this sector. This lack of housing supply in the right locations is the critical factor underpinning the crisis. Just over 12,600 housing units were completed last year, almost half of which were once-off houses across the countryside. As I said at our stakeholders engagement today, we are only building approximately one third of what we need to build. Much of that figure last year was finishing out estates and apartment complexes that were unfinished and half of those, 6,000, were once-off houses which is not really responding to housing need where it is most acute in our cities.
We need to build in the region of 25,000 housing units per annum to meet the need. We must ensure that these are in the right locations and of the right type to meet our evolving household formation and demographic patterns. Furthermore, many of the active sites in the Dublin area are delivering houses at prices which are simply not affordable for the majority of first-time buyers. We have discussed this before, there is not a house for sale for less than €300,000. That is simply out of reach for approximately 40% of people looking for mortgages, many of them first-time buyers. If ordinary people are spending more and more of their income on rents and mortgages that leaves less for the many other demands of life. This affects the real economy and people’s quality of life. It also puts many working families in a more precarious financial position and some of the more vulnerable at risk of homelessness. The housing situation affects every sector of Irish society and puts at risk hard-won gains in terms of employment, recovery of competitiveness and the attractiveness of Ireland as a place to work and live. Some people think that a total focus on public housing programmes will solve the problem. While I agree that we need to do much more on the social housing side quickly, I do not think anyone really believes that only social housing needs to be built. We must also focus on the other parts of the housing sector, including doing all we can to keep people in their homes in the first instance and ensuring that the rental and private housing construction markets function properly and deal with the backlog of a decade of under-supply so that people do not get squeezed into homelessness and onto social housing waiting lists.
Accelerating delivery of housing for the private, social and rented sectors is the key priority for Government. Ensuring sufficient, stable and sustained provision of housing that is affordable in the right locations, meets people’s different needs and has lasting quality is the challenge we are all trying to address. The solutions to this challenge are wide-ranging and require several immediate, medium and long-term actions to increase delivery and address underlying structural issues that up to now have been obstacles to creating a more stable and sustainable housing market. The response to current housing challenges must be of sufficient scale to address both the pent-up demand from years of under-supply of new housing and the projected needs in the coming years.
In the next two years Ireland will, I hope, welcome approximately 4,000 refugees under the refugee resettlement programme. When their families come with them, as they will in many cases, that figure could be somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000. Next year, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, is predicting that we will have net immigration into Ireland because of economic growth and job creation of approximately 10,000 people, most of them Irish people coming home, which is great but those figures combined are more than all of the houses completed last year, alone. Unless we have a dramatic ramping up of supply in a combination of social, private, new build, vacant properties coming back into the system, increased rental market opportunities we will go backwards quickly in terms of the pressures many families face and will face. That is just the growth story for the next year or two. On top of that we have population growth, which the Members will get detail of as we work towards putting a new national planning framework together which we also hope to have done by the middle of next year. This is a big challenge. That is why the all-party committee’s report is so important.
It is important, however, to recognise that we are not starting from scratch. The measures contained in Construction 2020, a strategy for a renewed construction sector, and the Social Housing Strategy 2020, both of which were published in 2014, include key commitments, objectives and actions to address issues and constraints in the construction and development sectors and in the provision of a range of social housing outcomes, respectively. The packages of actions being delivered through these strategies are having a positive impact but not at the pace necessary to meet current pressures and pent-up demands. We need to be upfront about that. That is why there is a need for new initiatives in this area.
We need, therefore, a practical and readily implementable set of actions that will increase housing supply to create a functioning and sustainable housing system that can provide homes for families in emergency accommodation. It is totally unacceptable that some families have been in emergency accommodation, sometimes in hotels, sometimes in bed and breakfasts for more than six months. If there is one big objective, that is measurable and I expect the Opposition will hold me to account on it when we launch the Government’s response, it is to address that issue of relying on private hotel accommodation for emergency accommodation for families. We will deal with that. It will take a little time but I suspect I will get support from everyone in this House when we outline what I hope will be a very ambitious approach towards dealing with that issue.
We need to tackle the underlying causes, addiction and otherwise, of people living on our streets. Between 70% and 80% of rough sleepers in Dublin have addiction challenges. Many also have mental health challenges and other complex issues. My job is not simply to provide emergency accommodation for those people but a pathway from the streets to emergency accommodation, to a home that is stable where they can rebuild their lives, with the support of other elements of the State. That will rely on other Ministers and Departments to be part of that solution, in particular the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs. We are trying to co-ordinate that in the comprehensive response the committee is seeking.
We plan to produce a minimum of 25,000 housing units every year by 2020 and more housing to meet the demand that has built up in recent years. How fast can we get there? We have a plan to get there as fast as possible. It will take a few years. Much will depend on how quickly the private sector can deliver its end of the bargain and how quickly local authorities and approved housing bodies can also build out social housing programmes and get the funding from me within the parameters we have for operating, which is challenging but we are trying to push the boat out as far as we can. Before and beyond 2020, in response to contemporary and changing household needs, we also need to plan for the long term.
We do not want to build a lot of houses now and then in ten years have regrets and ask why we did things so badly and rushed so much. We need to ensure we have the right design, are mixing communities and are creating diverse communities so we can try to deal with the stigma some people seem to have around social housing. While we are planning to build a lot of private and social housing, we need to create the appropriate mixes that will create vibrant and diverse communities.
We need to deliver more social housing much more quickly and put in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future requirements for social housing supports. Accelerating delivery to this level is essential if we are to address the unacceptable levels of households, in particular families, in emergency accommodation, moderate rental and purchase price inflation, in particular in urban areas, address the growing affordability gap for many households wishing to purchase homes, support the emergence of a rental sector which provides choice, mobility and quality accommodation in the right locations, position the housing sector such that its contribution to the national economy is steady and supportive of sustainable economic growth, unlike the mistakes of the past and ensure that measures intended to remedy the current supply difficulties also contribute to long-standing objectives in the housing sector, such as the need to support urban development and achieve sustainable communities.
The plan will balance delivery on these fronts with the necessary financial, fiscal and structural reforms. It will also include real and innovative examples of projects and programmes to deliver across the various objective areas.
Local authorities and NAMA are bringing forward concrete proposals to boost supply in the short term on land they control or influence for all types of housing, including social housing and the wider private market. For example, NAMA aims to deliver 20,000 residential units before the end of 2020, 90% of which will be in the greater Dublin area.
We know that to deliver more quickly, we need to examine State procedures and processes, be they planning, approval of social housing or otherwise, and we are going to do that. In terms of improving the viability of construction, it is important to recognise the reforms already in place, which are beginning to have a positive impact. These include reducing development contributions, the vacant site levy, on which the committee wants us to go further but we have to follow legal advice on what is possible, and modifications to Part 5. I am a little wary of that.
In terms of getting finance, developers need certainty but we need to go way beyond 10% where possible when putting together public private projects on the many publicly owned land banks we have. There needs to be more flexible apartment guidelines, something which has been introduced, and we need to examine affordability in that area. Financing under the ISIF activate capital fund seems to be expensive for many developers and we need to examine whether we can do more.
We have already reformed planning in terms of the use of strategic development zones which will start to come in to their own now that we have viability in the building sector. Unfortunately, many SDZs were put in place just before the crash. Therefore, it appears that they have not worked, but they can perform an extraordinary role in delivering the kind of houses in the quantities we need over the next five years or so, in particular in the Dublin area. We are examining what further actions may be required and in particular have responded to calls for funding to address infrastructure blockages through the establishment of a €200 million fund to support enabling infrastructure to release land for housing developments.
Like the committee Chair, I have run out of time. I suspect we will have many conversations with the new housing committee, of which many Deputies are members. I hope the strategy the Government will launch in a few weeks will respond to many of the issues raised by the committee. It has been a very helpful process and one of the good things that the Oireachtas has done since the election.
While what the Government has to offer will not commit to deliver everything Deputies are asking for, I hope they find that many key things they have sought or something similar, in terms of the areas for which they seek solutions, will provide some of the answers that can allow other parties, in particular those in opposition, to support what the Government is trying to do. That would enable all of us to focus on ensuring the rapid delivery of housing across local authority areas and getting the private construction sector to build in a sustainable manner into the future.
As Deputies know, the housing and homelessness crisis is getting worse. Some 130,000 families are on local authority housing waiting lists, many waiting on average ten years before they have the chance of a permanent home. Over 6,000 people are sleeping in emergency accommodation tonight, as the Minister knows, over 2,000 of whom are children.
These figures do not include the large numbers of hidden homeless, that is, people who are currently sofa surfing, living in cramped and overcrowded accommodation with two or three generations of their families or those at imminent risk of homelessness. It also does not include those people who are on waiting lists to get access to emergency accommodation or, as we heard recently in Dublin, the growing number of people who are being turned away by local authorities because apparently they do not have a need for emergency accommodation despite the fact that they have nowhere to go.
There is a crisis in the private rental sector. The average rental price of a family home in almost all parts of Dublin is €1,500 a month. As the Minister said, there are increasing problems in terms of affordability in the owner-occupier sector and increasing numbers of repossessions of buy-to-let and family homes.
None of these figures convey the human side of the tragedy and trauma affecting those people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness today. My colleague, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, raised a case that I brought to her attention. A young woman from my constituency was made homeless only two weeks ago. She is 18 years old and her partner is 22 years of age, and they have a four month old baby. Nine adults were living in a cramped council house in Clondalkin. As a result of the stresses and strains, that young family found themselves homeless.
When they presented to a local authority they were told to go back to their mother's house and that they did not have a need for emergency accommodation. They insisted on at least being given the freephone number and at 12.30 a.m., standing outside Heuston Station in the freezing cold with their baby, they were eventually accommodated by Focus Ireland's intake team. They spent several nights in emergency accommodation in different parts of the city - one night in Ballsbridge and another in Malahide - but for some unexplained reason they were then told that emergency accommodation would no longer be funded through the system.
Strong interventions from Focus Ireland, the Mercy Law Resource Centre and elected representatives have changed the situation and, thankfully, the family is now in emergency accommodation. They face an enormously uncertain future, in particular in trying to access private rental accommodation. I am referring to this case because we have to ask why this family is homeless. It is not because of anything in their circumstances. Rather, it is because of the simple fact that they, like so many others, cannot access council housing or private rental accommodation.
None of this is an accident. It is the consequence of policy failures over decades from this House and the Customs House. There was a failure to regulate the private rental sector and mortgage lending properly, to manage the owner-occupier sector and, crucially, to provide a sufficient supply of social housing.
The Minister is correct. No one member of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness has argued that the solution rests solely with the provision of social housing. We need an increased supply of private affordable housing for first-time buyers and affordable private rental housing. The sector of the housing system for which the State has most responsibility is social housing. Unless we start to see a substantial increase in the output of social housing available to those most in need, the worst elements of the crisis will continue.
It is also important to emphasise that the provision of social housing does not just benefit those lucky enough to move into it.
It reduces pressure on the private rental sector, bringing down rents for people who choose to live in that sector, and it also assists in reducing pressure on the cost of buying a home for first-time buyers. Substantial increased provision of social housing is good for all sections of the housing system.
When Sinn Féin initially proposed the creation of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, we did so because of the urgency surrounding the situation that we, like Deputies from all parties and none, face in our constituencies. I am delighted we secured cross-party support and that we did such a significant amount of work. I will not repeat the detail of the work outlined by Deputy Curran, the Chairman of the committee, other than to say all of the Deputies who sat on the committee put in an enormous amount of time to listen to the contributions of those who came to the hearings, to read the approximately 90 submissions, and to consider whether we could come up with new ideas and policy proposals to tackle the problems in our report. The report we produced is a credit to both the Chairman and the members and it outlines considerable challenges and opportunities for the Minister to tackle.
I wish to focus on one issue in the very short time available. I endorse all of the report’s recommendations. I refer to the proposal to have 50,000 social houses over a five-year period. There is no reason for the Government not to prioritise the issue, and for it not to provide, through local authorities, mixed-tenure local authority driven estates. That would be a much more credible proposition than the involvement of public private partnerships of which I heard the Minister speak earlier. I strongly support all of the other recommendations mentioned by Deputy Curran.
I wish to make two concluding sets of remarks. Like Deputy Curran, probably one of the most powerful presentations I attended during the seven weeks in which the committee sat was the meeting facilitated by Focus Ireland with a broad range of people who have experience of homelessness and homeless services provided by a range of providers. Some of those people are in the Visitors Gallery today listening to the debate. They demonstrated huge resilience and courage, but they depend on us in this House to start to tackle the causes of the housing and homeless crisis.
The Oireachtas has produced many reports over the years. The value of those reports is not in the ink on the pages but whether they influenced Government policy and whether that policy improved the quality of people’s lives. If the report the Minister will publish in two weeks’ time does that, he will certainly have my party’s support and we will applaud him for it, but if he does not adopt the priority recommendations in the report in particular, we will hold him to account for continuing the failed policies of his predecessors. The ball is now clearly in the Minister’s court. We wait with expectation for his housing action plan to be published later this month.
One of the greatest failures of Government and society has been the housing crisis. People have a right to a home, a right to shelter for themselves and their children. It is a terrible indictment of society as a whole that people are living and sleeping on the streets, in cars, on sofas, or in any nook and cranny they can find. That includes hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, but in the summer time they cannot even get those. It is shameful that in this centenary year of 1916, in June 2016 we had 2,177 children in emergency homeless accommodation with their families. A total of 4,262 people were counted in accommodation providing shelter for people who are homeless or were identified as sleeping rough on census night 2016, and that is only in Dublin.
There are still people dying on the streets two years on from the death of Jonathan Corrie. One could ask what the Government has done. There is no sense of urgency from the Government. The longer the inaction goes on, the bigger the problem becomes. A total of 90 new families a month go on to the homeless list. In the three months since the Government has been in office that amounts to approximately 180 families. Unfortunately, homelessness is the most obvious expression of the crisis. One could ask how many families are sleeping in a friend's or family's front room; how many people are on the edge of homelessness, in mortgage arrears, and wondering and worrying when they will be turfed out of their homes. What kind of society are we living in? The cost of living is creating a class of people that cannot survive even when they are working. We have high rents, increasing costs of child care, insurance hikes and increases in bin charges, property tax and water charges. This country under Fine Gael is a country for rich people. We need a change of attitude and a sense of urgency. That is why we cannot rely on the private sector. The only answer is the establishment of a strategic planning national housing corporation which would be involved in all elements of policy, design and the planning process for future housing needs. That would plan house building in a proper manner and speed up the planning process. We must build more social houses, as that in itself would help to reduce rental prices and provide for hard-pressed families.
We need a social housing stock across the country of at least 200,000 houses. The only way to achieve that in the required timeframe is for a State body to direct and drive the process. Currently, there are only approximately 138,000 such houses across the entire country and we must increase that by at least 50,000 to 60,000. If we do not, we will still be here in 10 years’ time talking about the same issue.
The Minister has the report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, all 157 pages. Having heard all the experts, relevant bodies, service providers, politicians, voluntary housing bodies and local authorities, as well as victims of homelessness, it is time to deliver and for the Minister to spell out what he plans to do. He keeps telling us that money is not a problem, yet we hear about the fiscal rules and the Stability and Growth Pact. It is time to talk about this emergency crisis, which is what we have. If legislation is required to tackle the issue, we must deal with that. Funding streams have been identified by the committee and so that should not be an issue.
It is disappointing to hear the Minister has problems with Part V housing. Serious damage was done by the reduction in housing provision under Part V. The Minister should re-examine the issue as the provision of 10% of social housing from each housing development that takes place is not enough. Compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, must also be examined because there are many houses lying idle across the city. In my area there are hundreds of houses that could be considered in that regard. One cannot even approach Dublin City Council as it will not address the issue. Some of the houses have been lying idle for ten years. Gardens are overgrown and houses are in a terrible state but they are left empty. That is not good enough. The Minister must act in a serious manner. We cannot wait for another report in another couple of years. That would not be good enough.
Go raibh maith agat - bhíos chun a rá Leas-Cheann Comhairle - a Chathaoirligh. This is a very important debate because it is the first time in this House that we have had a constructive engagement from the Opposition with the Government on what has rightly been described as a national emergency. It is a forum where all of the parties of this House and none have come together under the chairmanship of Deputy John Curran. We met more than 40 different bodies who informed us of the needs as they saw them, and the solutions that they wanted. In fairness to the Chairman, there was very little political debate because we were trying to find solutions. The committee was a solution-driven one. That is what is important about what happened at our meetings.
There is also a changed Government and a changed Government policy. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has at all times facilitated and supported the committee and the debate. His Department has always been available to help, inform and advise in a professional way on what it thought should happen. I welcome the involvement of the Minister. As Deputy Ellis said, this Chamber is the right place to debate the report. We are all challenged by the crisis and we all have to find a solution. It is not just this Government that will be held to account but so too will Deputy Ellis and all of us if we fail in our duty of care to the tens of thousands of people who live in appalling conditions in great uncertainty and who want this Dáil to deliver.
The committee met when there was no active Dáil at the time. Families came to me and were able to say what I and others had said in the committee because the people were interested, listening and watching. That was the first real sign in many years of democracy at work, progress and constructive engagement. I welcome the commitment of the Minister to deliver his action plan on time and that it will be put under forensic examination, not just by all of us here, but by the country and the people who are waiting on the housing list. The Minister and our Chairman have enunciated the points which remain important to the changes that have to happen.
I wish to throw my tuppence-worth in at this stage to make a point. I have done a little bit of work - not enough yet - on Freedom of Information Act documentation on the houses which were offered by NAMA to local authorities. Thousands of houses were offered and thousands were not taken up. Some of the documentation is amazing. More than 2,000 of these units were offered in 2012. That was the first time they were offered. Of the units offered at the time, 76% were apartments, mostly one or two-bedroom apartments which would have met the needs of thousands of families. Many of them were taken up and many were not. It seems to me that at the core of the refusal was not the condition of the houses. From what I am reading, it seems that NAMA offered to put the units into a proper state if they were not finely finished. It was not a question of the 10% or 20% target of social housing which some authorities wanted to adhere to. There was a refusal by local authorities throughout the country to go the extra mile to house their own families in their own communities in housing which was made available to them. That, to me, is a cynical exercise by local authorities which I do not accept.
I have a duty, as we all do, to investigate further. All the people we talk about who are sleeping rough in Dublin tonight could be in houses and apartments tonight if the councils had taken up those units. However, they did not. That is a fact. We need to look again at what happened there. These were houses which were under the control of NAMA but not owned by it. It offered the houses on long-term leases to local authorities. If the percentages went up, in many cases, the local authorities said they were not taking them. I believe that needs to be addressed again. My colleague in opposition, Deputy Mary Butler, from the wonderful County Waterford, and I had a chat about it. We said that many of the houses that were not taken up are now occupied by people on housing assistance payment, HAP, or rent allowance. The whole thing just does not make sense. Houses which the local authorities turned down, which their tenants could be in for the long term, are now being rented to people who are on the housing list and at a much-increased cost, which is the other point we made. There are issues to be addressed here.
I wish to address the question of the delivery of this programme by the Government. I am not critical at all of anything that has happened so far. The only thing I wish to be critical of is the fact the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, as originally set up, is not continuing. It should continue in parallel with the new committee. It may sound like a plea of wanting us all back. However, I believe we have the greatest expertise collectively. The committee we are on now is much smaller. We are probably going to meet on the housing issue maybe once a fortnight or once every three weeks. It has not been decided yet. We should invite in all the members of the original Committee on Housing and Homelessness - each and every one of them - to demand, see, view and put under the microscope the programme for Government on the action plan for housing and to look at it regularly. The energy we all put into that committee should continue. The best way to do it is to bring everybody on board. When the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government meets, we should expand the membership for that. I do not see why we should not do that. It is worth considering and would make a lot of sense.
I know my time is short. I wish to say a few things about returning emigrants. I welcome that many of our emigrants are coming home. Unfortunately, many who are coming home had properties they sold. As an example, Johnny Murphy lost his job. He had to sell his house. He emigrated with his wife or partner and family. Now they want to come back. One of the problems they face is the deposit they must put down to get a mortgage when they return. I have some clients, not too many, but some, who cannot put the 20% deposit together. They are being damned because they were forced to leave the country. They do not have the 20% deposit. They have a 10% deposit. We need to look at each of these cases. I welcome what the Minister has said. We need to look at this for the returning emigrants who did not leave the country because they wanted to and who are in a position to afford a house and have the 10%. They want to buy but cannot. The Central Bank requirements need to be addressed in that case.
I also think that we need to look again at first-time buyers. I have first-time buyers coming to me who have the capacity to pay the loan but have not got the 10%. They have a problem. I know the Minister is aware. Part of the submission of the Construction Industry Federation detailed a help-to-buy scheme. I believe that is going to be very important. Many people want to house themselves but they are caught. It is a shame they have to rent in the private sector and do not have the certainty. They have the certainty of knowing they can pay back the loan and the certainty of knowing they will never be able to get it because they cannot bridge that gap. That is very important.
I have to leave and I will not be able to stay for the debate because I have a clinic - believe it or not - that I have to do. I know it is a bit late. Having this debate is important, but having it at this time is far too late in the evening. This deserved a prime slot during the day during which other Members could participate and listen. It is worth it. It is the most important and urgent issue before the Government and the country. This Oireachtas and the Dáil is dealing with it in a right and proper format and in an effective and efficient way. It is great that we are all able to work together. I have no doubt about, and accept totally, the integrity of the Minister in his commitment. I reassure Deputy Ellis that I hope he will eat his words when the houses and the plan are in place.
I hope so.
He will praise us for what we are doing because we are all on the same page on this. We all want this to work. It will only work if we all work together.
I welcome the work the committee did. I believe it was a very worthwhile exercise. The Social Democrats would have liked to have participated on the committee but unfortunately places were limited. However, we made a submission. The area of housing and the homelessness crisis has been a priority for us since our party was founded a year ago. We produced a policy paper on the issue as our contribution because there is not just one solution but a range of different solutions to resolving this.
I note many of the committee's recommendations, including the one on procurement, which seems to be around local authorities and housing associations. We go in quite a different way from that in our proposal. The current regime has two strands. There is the Housing Agency to gather statistics and, separately, there is the Housing Finance Agency. We believe a third strand is necessary, which is the project management side of it. We have proposed a national housing delivery agency comprised of those three strands being pulled together.
The delivery agency would look at projects in their totality. For example, it would identify sites that are large enough - it would not be the case in every part of the country - to facilitate the development of a healthy, social mixture of tenure, size of unit and so on. The project management on the site would include local authority housing, the voluntary housing sector and also the private sector. The only way we are going to get the mix we need is to have all those elements. I do not want to see 3,000 local authority houses on one site.
There is no fear of that happening.
I do not think that is a great idea. We need the social mix and the mixture of size and type of tenure.
It is good to develop communities that cater to every demographic and allow people to stay within the area for different stages of their lives. For example, three-bedroom houses with back and front gardens suit families very well but they do not suit older people with lower maintenance needs. The latter may still want to stay in an area they call home and where they have connections.
Deputy Shortall and I met the Minister some time ago to discuss such aspects of that proposal, particularly concerning housing for older people. There has been some follow up from the Minister's office on that and I welcome the fact the Minister is taking action as well as listening.
The current housing and homelessness crisis must be addressed immediately. We cannot settle for knee-jerk solutions that will cause problems in future. We have to think long-term and consider what the decisions we make now will look like in 20, 30 or even 50 years' time. I will certainly not be around in 50 years' time, but we do not want people then to say: "What were those people thinking of; surely they realised that a more rounded approach should have been taken."
A key element of the housing approach is affordability both in terms of the purchase price and rental costs. We must start seeing long-term rental as a viable housing option that people sometimes favour. We need to have a policy for that area. In other parts of the world it is a satisfactory means of providing housing, with people moving up and down according to their housing needs at any given time in their lives.
I strongly welcome the report's recommendation calling for 10,000 housing units per year to be built. I would be happy to see even more than that. It is one thing to state this on paper, but another thing to see it on site. Over the years it has been painfully slow to deliver even modest housing developments. The scale of bigger sites has the prospect of bringing down costs. Houses built by the private sector on mixed sites that are publicly owned bring in an income that can be reinvested in social or voluntary housing for other sites.
The current crisis requires immediate action and we cannot move away from the issue of vacant units. Later this year when we get the census results we will see how they match against the 2011 census. We can all see good quality vacant housing that could be used. While it may have shifted since 2011, according to the census, every 1% increase in vacancies in Dublin city releases 5,000 units. I think it is currently at 7% or 8%. It is a viable means to deliver units in a relatively short period, but it does require some measures in order to do that.
The mortgage issue is a key element in preventing people from becoming homeless. The proposal for a moratorium on evictions is a good one, at least until some of the schemes are up and running. Meanwhile, the mortgage-to-rent scheme is not working. I have been involved with a few mortgage-to-rent schemes and it is painful to try to deal with some of them. We have managed to get a few over the line but it requires a huge investment in time, energy and effort. At the end of the day, we are often told that a very small amount of money is the determining factor in whether or not the particular proposal is successful. We should not say it will be part of the scheme if it cannot be made to work, but it has to work.
Ultimately, if we do not deal with the housing issue we will continue pumping money into knee-jerk reactions and short-term solutions. There has to be an emphasis on what the overall future goal is. The Government says it is its number one priority, but I agree with Deputy O'Dowd that it has to be the Dáil's number one priority. It must be driven all of the time. If the committee has to meet monthly or bi-monthly to keep that as a top priority that is welcome.
For the last five years, the number one issue in my constituency office has been housing and homelessness. People say they never thought this would happen to them, and they are in deep shock. They heard about this happening to other people but never imagined it happening to them and it is deeply traumatising. The cost of it is much more than a housing response because homelessness will affect families for the rest of their lives.
We support the Housing First approach for rough sleepers who require additional services to deal with addiction. We cannot deal with them on the street, however. They must have the security of a roof over their head while addiction issues are being dealt with. That particular cohort requires that kind of approach.
A critical area is how one goes about delivering such services. Project management of large sites, with the prospect of driving down costs due to the larger scale involved, has the prospect of delivering a range of different house and tenure types. That could make a significant difference to the kind of project that is delivered in future.
The Committee on Housing and Homelessness worked to a tight timescale from 20 April to 17 June. It was intensive and we were aware that all the time we were talking and listening to the presentations, more people were being made homeless. With hindsight I feel it may have been better for the committee to concentrate on four aspects instead of covering the very wide range of issues we did. However, we laid considerable groundwork which I hope the Oireachtas committee will build upon and not go back over what we did.
We met so many groups, including housing associations, local authorities, architects, planners, banks, Ministers, Department officials, property owners, NAMA, the NTMA, the RTB, residents and also people living in homeless accommodation. Some of the latter are here tonight to listen to this debate.
Many of them have also met the Minister and the previous Minister. They took part in the emergency conference that the previous Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, held after the death of Mr. Corrie. Many of them attended the conference this morning in the Mansion House. My conclusion is that the talking has to finish. If we counted the number of hours spent on statements on housing and homelessness in the Dáil, Seanad and committees the result would be staggering.
When the committee Chairman, Deputy Curran, launched the report in the AV room on 17 June, each member of the committee had an opportunity to contribute. I said I felt we were talked out on this topic and that action was needed now, rather than more talking. I know there is no quick-fix solution but the issue has gone from bad to worse in the last ten years, even though the root causes go back further. The Celtic tiger certainly did not help.
Before any groups came in to make their presentations, the committee asked them to focus on constructive solutions and suggestions on how to solve the housing crisis. We know the sad statistics of those who are homeless and in emergency accommodation.
We know all about mortgage difficulties and distress and the impact of rent increases. We have heard so many briefings from so many groups on this issue that we know all the facts. I do not think there are any more facts we could be given. We need to move now to solutions, many of which were put to the committee and are incorporated in the report.
There is a simple answer to the housing crisis, namely, the construction of more houses and accommodation. There is no doubt but that building has started. We have all seen the cranes. However, the question is whether what is being built will make a difference to the housing crisis. My question to the Minister is, who are we building for? My concern is that we are building to support foreign direct investment and the accommodation needs of people coming here to work in the companies we are trying to attract here or who are already here. While I value employment, the housing of people in this country who are in dire straits must come first.
I have compared what is provided for in the strategic development zone, SDZ, for the Docklands with the Dublin City Council housing list and I do not believe that what is happening in the context of the SDZ will make a considerable difference to the housing waiting lists. The situation in Dublin is the worst in the country, and that is not to take from the difficult situations outside of Dublin. While the private developers have a role to play, local authorities must be encouraged, pushed, incentivised and intimidated into building quickly. One of the priority recommendations is that the social housing stock owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies be increased by at least 50,000 units at the rate of 10,000 per year, through acquisition, refurbishment and new build. I know we need more houses but if that recommendation is accepted and worked on it will make a huge difference. The provision of 10,000 units is the minimum and not the maximum required each year.
It is crazy that during a time of distress in housing there were voids. It was hard to believe that the previous Dáil did not treat that issue with the urgency it needed. One of the reasons for this was the crazy health and safety and insurance issue which meant that even when people vacated accommodation and left it in very good condition much of what was in it had to be ripped out and replaced. Equally, when people with skills in plumbing, carpentry and painting and so on were willing to move into houses and flats that needed repair and do the necessary work themselves and to sign whatever legal waivers were necessary to allow them to do so there was no impetus to take on board that practical solution.
Another recommendation is that a housing procurement agency be established. This is not reinventing the wheel or bringing in new people, rather it is bringing together those people working on the front line in the Departments that can make a difference with the Department of Finance to work with the local authorities, the approved housing bodies and so on to be the driver of what is recommended in this report and what will be provided for in the Minister's plan. The agency could operate for a fixed term, with a strict timeframe put in place for conclusion of its work. There is a need for such a body to draw together the various recommendations. Also, the agency would be answerable to the Minister and would ensure implementation of any recommendations within strict timeframes with the power to demand answers if targets are not met.
On rent certainty and rent reviews, Members will be aware of the committee's recommendation in regard to the consumer price index, CPI. There are others. The committee was very practical in recommending an annual review of rent certainty because rent certainty suits tenants and landlords. We do not want to go back to the days of the Land League. We have to prevent more people becoming homeless. We know that as we speak here tonight more people are becoming homeless. A moratorium on home repossessions would be excellent. Every effort should be made to keep people in their homes. We need a fixed moratorium on home repossessions while the crisis continues.
The vacant site levy needs to be increased and it should be come into effect sooner. Owners of vacant sites should be incentivised to develop them or at least provide a timeframe within which they will develop them, or face increased fines. Some sites, as well as houses, have been derelict for years. The Census will provide us with more information in this regard. A council by council audit has been called for so that the Minister and the committee will know exactly what is available and what can be moved on. We heard practical suggestions in regard to finance off-balance sheet. We heard from groups who are prepared to provide the finance, including the Housing Finance Agency, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the credit unions. It is also recommended that NAMA should have a greater role in providing social and affordable housing. The European Commission also has a vital role to play in that regard. We have obeyed all the rules and we deserve some flexibility in this area.
My concern is for particular groups whose housing needs are very far down the pecking order, including those in recovery from addiction, those with mental health issues and disabilities, those leaving prison, Travellers, the new communities, those still in direct provision and, as mentioned earlier by the Minister, the refugees from Syria. It will be difficult to resolve all of that. I fear that those people and people on the waiting list for social housing will get lost in the bigger picture. As a result of Brexit, more companies could move to Ireland. Those companies will also be looking for accommodation for their employees, which will to lead to greater competition for housing.
The issue of student accommodation was also discussed by the committee. There are communities that I represent that are concerned with the preponderance of student accommodation being developed. I believe that accommodation should be on-campus. We did agree that the needs and the wishes of the communities would also be addressed. I do not understand how the cost of the modular housing which was supposed to be approximately €50,000 or €60,000 per unit has increased significantly. If we could provide that type of housing much quicker it would make a difference. There are many other good examples of housing providers, such as Sophia Housing in the inner city which the Minister recently visited. We can do it right when we get our act together.
I acknowledge the work of the Chairman and thank him for his impartiality, good humour and grasp of the issues. I also thank the committee staff who did amazing work in regard to the presentations and all that was being said. The committee has done the ground work. Its report is to be built on. It is heartbreaking for me and other Deputies to listen to the stories every day from people and to have to tell them that they are number 400 or 900 on a housing list, particularly single men who are neglected in terms of the housing being built. Single men did have options on the choice-based lettings but there does not seem to be as many of those available now.
I wish the Minister well. I also wish the new committee well and I hope that it will take on board what we did and will not go back over the same ground. It must move on from what we did.
Deputy O'Sullivan brought a broad smile to Deputy Curran's face.
As spokesperson on housing and urban renewal, I welcome the committee's report on housing and homelessness. Under the chairmanship of my colleague, Deputy John Curran, the committee has produced a comprehensive document which understands the depth and the breadth of the Irish housing and homelessness crisis. The manner in which the committee was formed and conducted its business which, hopefully, will be taken up by Ministerial and Government action, is a template of how new politics in this Dáil can work. I say this deliberately in a week where many are questioning new politics. We are all agreed that the seriousness of the housing issue is reflected in the fact that not one single aspect of housing policy in Ireland is functioning correctly at the moment. Emergency accommodation and homelessness is beyond breaking point, with over 2,000 children now homeless. I repeat there are currently mover 2,000 children homeless tonight in the Irish republic of 2016. I welcome the meeting today by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, with children's agencies on this issue and I pledge my support for practical and immediate measures to help these families.
The rental sector has spiralled out of control for existing tenants and out of reach for prospective tenants. There is a shortage of private accommodation and a lack of realistic mortgage availability. The Irish State, and in particular our local authorities, have seemingly forgotten how to build houses and, crucially, how to manage the supply of housing. The right of a person to a home, to shelter, is a fundamental in any functioning State. The Irish State has had reasonably positive stories with regard to housing for much of its history but the period since the economic crash has thrown the entire housing sector into disarray.
I am a new Deputy but I have been a local representative for 12 years. I am shocked at the amount of serious housing issues I have been dealing with in Wicklow and east Carlow since the general election in February. Over 75% of all constituency representations made to me have been in regard to housing and all are extremely serious.
I am sure every Deputy has a similar report to make.
I welcomed the seriousness with which the Minister has treated this issue and the recent increase in rent supplement. However, the increase is nowhere near what the market can demand in rent in certain areas. North Wicklow is now at south Dublin levels for private rental rates so the increase in rent supplement will be of limited assistance to residents of Bray, Gorey, Wicklow and Arklow. Further attention will be needed to ensure that the intention of the rent supplement increase follows through to results on the ground in high-pressure areas such as Wicklow's commuter belt. Again, I accept the lack of supply is driving rental prices up but there must be a limit to rent increases in pressure areas while supply is being addressed.
To tackle the urgent lack of supply, I particularly support the proposed vacant properties audit, which must be carried out by every local authority immediately. There are vacant properties that with some remedial works could be made into habitable accommodation in every town and village and I know they exist in Wicklow and east Carlow. This is an urgent requirement and if additional personnel need to be temporarily deployed by local authorities to identify these properties then so be it. Lateral thinking should also be employed here, for example, all Tidy Towns groups could be contacted to help identify vacant properties. We are told that every local authority area has a functioning public participative network representing all the community and voluntary groups in a county. They could be contacted immediately in order to help in this search. The housing crisis demands solidarity of action from everyone in public and civic society.
The identification and upgrade of vacant properties would have the knock-on effect of directly assisting the urban renewal that is required in our efforts to maximise accommodation capacity in large urban cities, towns and villages. The immediate possibility of vacant properties delivering 6,000 habitable accommodation units as identified in the report must be looked at seriously and come with a suite of targeted incentives.
As stated in the report, the obvious answer to the housing and homelessness crisis is increasing the supply of housing. There are specific and ambitious targets set out in the report with an overall increase of 50,000 units with an annual average of 10,000 units through acquisition, refurbishments and new builds. Every local authority will have to significantly up its game in respect of achieving these targets but where it has a valid concern, it must be acted upon by Government. There can be no room for turf wars or bruised egos in this time of national crisis and every one of us have a constructive role to play here.
At the first meeting of the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, I raised the current underspend reflected in this year's Estimates and in fairness, the Minister assured me that delivery of the spend is two and a half times faster than it was this time last year. As we are entering the early stages of the new budget preparations, I urge the Government to seek EU approval urgently to achieve flexibility in the fiscal rules, as the report recommends. The financing of social housing should be explained as a matter of vital national interest where the EU should show solidarity with the Irish people. As the UK deals with the outcome of Brexit, it is now looking towards a further reduction in interest rates and another possible round of quantitative easing. Europe fell behind the UK by a number of years the last time this happened, particularly in respect of quantitative easing. It is time to loosen the fiscal rules and investing in a social housing programme would be one way of stimulating the economy while addressing our urgent housing needs.
Unfortunately, I do not have the time to address issues relating to mortgages, planning, the role of NAMA and all the other issues that were raised but these are other important strands in addressing housing that cannot be left to one side. All aspects of housing policy, management and delivery must change if we are to get on top of this crisis.
There needs to be relentless and ruthless political leadership shown by everyone in this House to meet the ambitious but purposeful targets set out in this report. Constant political diligence and focus, particularly when the media attention shifts as it inevitably will, are further requirements of all Deputies in this House. I can assure this House that I will fulfil my responsibility as a Fianna Fáil spokesperson in a collective, inclusive and patriotic fashion. I will support all realistic solutions from any element of this Dáil, be they Government or Opposition. Our actions on housing will be rightly seen as a key indicator of the effectiveness of the new politics. This report is a good start. Let us take the baton and continue the work.
The Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness met for the first time on 20 April. This cross-party committee commenced its deliberations immediately under the chairmanship of Deputy John Curran. I congratulate him on his fairness, impartiality and good humour. We tested him at times. We commenced our deliberations immediately on the shortage of housing supply and the related problems of homelessness being experienced in the country. It became quite clear that tackling housing supply and the related problem of homelessness is one of the greatest challenges facing our country. We quickly realised we were in crisis mode and started the task in hand immediately.
The focus of the committee was to identify how the obstacles that are currently impeding progress on the issues can be surmounted and the specific actions that need to be taken to achieve the urgent implementation of measures to address the problems involved. Homelessness is being felt nationwide and I was at pains to point this out on several occasions. It is not just concentrated in Dublin. It can be found all over the country but it is especially concentrated in Dublin and Cork. Last year, the four local authorities in Dublin spent €45 million on providing hotel and bed-and-breakfast accommodation to over 6,000 homeless people, which included over 2,000 children. We learned very quickly that current housing policy is lagging far behind the demand.
The committee received over 90 submissions from all walks of life and met with over 40 groups and witnesses. These wide-ranging groups included Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, the Housing Finance Agency and the Irish League of Credit Unions. We also met the local authorities, the Construction Industry Federation and NAMA. Those representing the homeless included Focus Ireland, the Simon Community, Pavee Point and the Peter McVerry Trust. The Institute of Auctioneers and Valuers, the Mercy Law Resource Centre and the Law Society of Ireland also presented to us.
Having come from a local authority background, my focus was centred here. Local authorities were always the main providers of social housing with a smaller number being provided by approved housing bodies. Despite the promise of shovel ready sites last year and a promise of 1,700 new homes, fewer than 246 new social homes were delivered in 2015. The waiting lists are growing daily with applicants waiting five years and more to be housed. It is imperative that the local authorities receive the funding fast tracked and the appropriate technical staff even on a short-term basis to ensure there are no delays in housing projects due to a lack of professional expertise.
We set a realistic target of 50,000 houses in the next five years through a programme of acquisition, refurbishment and new build. We believed as a committee that this target is realistic and felt there was no point being too ambitious if we could not reach the target. We also know that planning, procurement and objections to social housing are causing delays. The committee recommended that the Part 8 planning process should be reduced to six weeks and where unreasonable delays occur emergency powers should be invoked. Importantly, the committee felt that the Minister should consider a housing procurement agency with all stakeholders to assist local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver their programme efficiently and expertly.
Another issue which was constantly raised was the slow turnover of local authority housing with some areas performing better than others. We learned choice-based lettings work well in Cork and Dublin and speed up the process through being more efficient and better for first-time acceptance. While there are still over 3,000 social housing units under the control of local authorities sitting vacant nationwide, the Department has refused to spend more than €30,000 on the refurbishment of these homes. This cap on refurbishment must be removed immediately and these homes used to house homeless families by the end of the year. Modular housing was sold to us last year but, unfortunately, it has not turned out to be as effective as we thought it would be at the time. These units have turned out to be very expensive and they are not as quick to build as we initially thought they would be. I do not think they are the answer.
These meetings were very intense and on occasion, emotional. One of the most emotional contributions I witnessed was from representatives from Sonas who explained how the current homelessness crisis was putting the lives of women and children at risk from domestic violence.
One said, "My choice is homelessness or being abused and while the abuse is bad I can't risk making my kids homeless, I just can't." It is unbelievable that this crisis means that a mother has to choose between homelessness and abuse.
The issues around the private rented sector were discussed and debated in detail. The proportion of housing accounted for by the private rented sector has increased over the years and is now at 20%. Those in receipt of rent supports and supplement form a large part of the rental sector. The gap between HAP and the cost of rent in the private sector was constantly raised. This was seen as a huge barrier in some cases and the committee heard representations from many groups on an increase. We have seen an increase recently. The increase from 15% and, in some cases, up to 29% is very welcome and hopefully in some cases it will alleviate some of the hardship. The Government's decision to increase rent supplement limits in major urban areas such as Waterford, Dublin and Cork will help but, ultimately, the only long-term solution to the crisis we are facing across Ireland is an increased supply of houses.
The committee has now finished its work and the report was published on 17 June. I trust the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his Department have carefully considered the report and I look forward to seeing the recommendations implemented. I appreciate the point the Minister made when he came into our committee and said he would not be overly party political on this and was very interested in reasonable debate and suggestions. It is time now to act and to give effect to the findings of the report.
I thank Deputy Butler for sharing her time with me. I congratulate the committee for producing this 158 page document. Like everybody else, I really welcome it. As spokesperson for children it would be remiss of me not to contribute to this debate because as we speak there are 2,000 children homeless.
I will focus on the financial side of the report which is the part I picked out. The Minister alluded earlier to the returning of the emigrants which is really welcome. They will bring back the skillset we will need to get the housing market going again. There is also the issue of Brexit. I want to talk about the role of the Central Bank in deposits and its role in the Irish League of Credit Unions. I was there the day the Irish League of Credit Unions sat before the committee. Its members told us they had an application before the Central Bank for the last number of weeks. They have €8 billion available. They do not want to give us all of it to help with the housing crisis but they are prepared to make a €1 billion, €2 billion or €3 billion available to work in partnership with local government and one of the agencies to start delivering a programme. They have a holistic approach. Their funds are coming from people within their communities and they want to put it back into the communities.
I met one of the managers of a local credit union in Ballinasloe in east Galway and his lending is capped at 10%. He cannot lend any more from the mortgage loan book whereas if that cap was raised by the Central Bank he would be able to make affordable funds available. They were talking about 3.5%. That is crucial. When we talk about affordable housing, we are not talking about the €300,000 in Dublin but rather about three or four times income multiples and keeping it within the requirements of the Central Bank. If we are looking for funding to be made available, credit unions are one of the sectors that is available and they have their hands up saying they are ready to lend. When we decide to do lending for councils and local authorities and bring the builders in, we have to look at how we will support the builders that are coming in. We cannot expect them to do all the building and pay for them at the end. There are builders and they are talking to their banks but they have concerns about how we will fund them. If we can do it in staged payments like one would do building one's own house in stages like roof and first fix and hold the 10% until the end, the builders will be able to work with the local authorities but they need to know the commitment is there. If they have that commitment from Government when they go into banks it would mean there would be a cash flow element in the process.
It is important to say, as the report does, that the Government should, "before the summer Recess and as a matter of urgency, fully and quickly implement the programme for Government’s strategy to deal with mortgage arrears". That is a vital point. It goes on to say, "Subject to advice of the Attorney General, the Government should introduce legislation for a moratorium on home repossessions until such time as the Government’s proposals are in place." Can we put a halt to the repossessions and stop adding to homeless lists until such a time as we have a plan for the delivery of the programme?
Figures from a report expected later tonight will show that rents are now eating about 40% of the incomes of a couple on the average wage, that mortgages in Dublin are the third highest in Europe after London and Amsterdam and that 147,000 families are now confirmed to be on the housing waiting lists. I could go on. It is disappointing that we are having the housing debate during the graveyard shift on a Thursday night. Let us be frank, we are led to believe this is the most urgent issue in society yet since I have come into the Dáil there has been very little debate on housing on the floor of the House. That is the reality. I hope this will not happen again, as has been requested, with regard to the Government's action plan on housing in two weeks. I thought the Minister would want to hear a debate on the housing committee report, then weigh it up rather than the weighing things up himself and then having the debate. I hope that does not happen again.
The committee met for two days a week over nine weeks. There were numerous witnesses and submissions. Many welcome suggestions have been made in the report. I put in more research and work than an awful lot of people and argued vehemently for a lot of things. However, there is one striking problem that we have to spend time debating, namely, funding. There is no point in recommending anything unless there is a clear way for it to be funded. I want the Minister to imagine a situation where he lost his wages, his income, and everything but he had money saved up from the good days because he had been wise. He went to withdraw that money that he had saved but was told he cannot use it for his dire situation, the Minister says it is savings but is told that it can only be used if he agrees to give it to somebody else or if he does not spend it because he is adding to his balance sheet. That is the situation we are in.
We have a fund called the strategic investment fund with €5.4 billion. There should be a little more concern that we are not allowed to spend it. If the fund was used for public housing, if councils directly employed people, built on public lands, which we have and cut out the profit element in hiring a private developer we could build 50,000 social and affordable homes to buy or rent for people who need them. That is the case. We could build houses for €100,000 if we did it with direct employment. That is why the public element is so important; it is not just an ideological argument. It is about costs. We cannot house the people on the list if we rely on a private developer here and a private developer there.
When the strategic investment fund was set up it was one of the first things I spoke on when I was elected in a by-election. At the time, former Deputy Joe Higgins and I tabled amendments saying this fund should be used for the biggest strategic need in this country which is housing. We were told that it could not be done. Now it would seem there is a widespread recognition that the EU fiscal rules signed up to by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party over many years are now a massive impediment to us resolving this issue. I will give two examples. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, came into the housing committee and said, "We do not have a shortage of money" and, "The problem is that it goes on the balance sheet and then we break the fiscal rules and the expenditure ceilings." Deputy Barry Cowen, of the main Opposition party said:
[T]he rules and regulations governing the spending of public funds does not allow us to make the capital investment needed to address this. That is the bottom line.
I do not have time to go on. An article in The Irish Times said that Fine Gael has not asked for any derogation from those rules. Why is that? The Minister is hearing it from the horse's mouth. Three of the rules are the structural balance sheet, the expenditure bench mark and the debt rule. They force us to go off balance sheet. It is a new mantra which kids on the street must know at this stage.
The problem with off balance sheet is finding a workable model - it was admitted in a question here that was asked by Fianna Fáil yesterday - and also the fact it is far more expensive. It will work out far more expensive and will add to the cost of these houses.
What is this fund that I have been telling the House about being used for, if it is not used for public housing? As we speak, it is being doled out to private developers to build housing, and then maybe we will get 10% of it. This is incredible.
Let us look at the reality of the fund the Minister mentioned, which is the new off balance sheet way of funding everything. Activate Capital is getting €325 million out of this fund, which is headed up, by the way, by bankers who landed us in the mess in the first place by recklessly gambling on property. I do not have time to go into that. Seán Reilly of Reilly McGarrell, the first beneficiary, is one of the maple ten, the former Anglo Irish Bank ten developers. Does the Minister have a problem with that? Did that not make him stop and think for one minute? The first beneficiary of this fund is not public housing but the likes of this fellow who had his loans written down by €153 million. He is building houses up the road from where I live in Ongar and Hansfield, and he has just jacked up the price on each of them by €20,000. That is what happens with the off balance sheet model the Minister says is workable. This is off balance sheet and this is what happens. We will be lucky to get 10%.
That is not the off balance sheet model.
It is the ISIF-NTMA way of funding housing.
It is not.
The Minister may want to comment because we had a problem identifying this off balance sheet model. Nobody could do it. This is the questionable off balance sheet way that is being used by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, lately, including the Quadrant Real Estate Advisors fund which was used in the liquidation of Clerys as well.
I want to raise another element quickly, that is, the traditional concept of local authority housing. I heard a lot here and in the Committee on Housing and Homelessness basically demonising and stigmatising social housing, and I think it should stop. We are told-----
Who is stigmatising? Who said that? Deputy Coppinger is the only person raising that language.
Deputy Coppinger has her ten minutes. Please let her continue.
We are told that the traditional way of building housing for those who needed it was through local authorities down through the years. After the biggest housing crisis, and the last one we had was in the 1970s, that was how it was done. That will be minimised under this new off balance sheet way because the Minister will have to finance his housing development. It is not because everybody thinks of mixed tenure and we must have diversity. It is actually to justify the funding of this new housing model. Apparently, if one has somebody with a mortgage living next door, that civilises the neighbour in some way. I was brought up in a local authority estate where everyone had a job. The problem is what we have is mono-incomes in local authority estates. We need to have everyone working and we also need to create affordable mortgage schemes in order that we have a range of different people in public housing. All we hear is that we cannot have another Ballymun, Knocknaheeny or whatever. If that is the attitude - I said this to the Minister in the Committee on Housing and Homelessness - and if we can only have 30 houses here and 40 there, then we must build 4,000 estates to clear the housing list, and it just cannot be done. If one can only have 10% social housing in an estate, then we will need to build 1 million houses to house those 100,000 on the list.
I expect this neoliberal creed from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party-----
-----but it has been surprising and disappointing that Sinn Féin has bought into it as well.
No, we have not.
Sinn Féin has accepted the off balance sheet model as being workable and also, on the last day of the committee, watered down the social proposal that was in the report, which is disappointing. There is a big difference between direct building of local authority housing by local authorities and increasing the social housing stock through acquisitions, voids, refurbishments and build. The difference is probably 16,000 houses a year, if one bases it on last year.
Finally, I will mention NAMA. I do not have time to go into it, but NAMA has sold enough land already for 21,000 houses in key areas where it is needed and it has a claim on, or directly controls, 2,800 hectares of residentially zoned development land - 1,100 hectares of which are in Dublin and 600 are in Cork. We could build 100,000 homes on those lands if NAMA were used in a different way. It will not happen under this Government.
The problem and the barrier is ideological, and also the fact the construction sector and the land is in the control of private hands. That is the barrier. We have the land, we have the finances but we cannot control it ourselves. It seems to me we need a left Government that would take on and overcome these barriers.
I wish to share time with Deputy Thomas Byrne.
I merely want to add my voice to that of others this evening who have complimented and thanked the Chairman, Deputy John Curran, the other committee members and the staff associated with the committee for the work they did and to commend all the stakeholders and all the various bodies which gave of their time and expertise in an effort to help the committee come up with a series of recommendations that we hope the Minister, as he alluded to, could see fit ultimately to include in his own strategy on the part of the Government in response to this challenge that faces us.
It is undoubtedly the greatest social challenge facing the Government and the economy. It is, as others have alluded to, not only a crisis but also an emergency. As Deputy Casey said, the percentage of representations relating to housing we, as Deputies, receive regularly is astronomical, and it is incumbent on us all to continue with the approach of this committee in so far as the Dáil can address this issue in a meaningful manner to alleviate the great blight that is on society by virtue of the 130,000 applicants on the housing list. As the House will be aware, that relates to many more than 130,000 persons. It relates to families and people in difficulties facing significant challenges to rear their families and provide a roof over their heads.
Unfortunately, the conventional methods that were in place in recent years have not succeeded in addressing this issue. I do not want or need to go over old ground in portraying the failures associated with the efforts to address this issue in recent years by virtue of the fact we have only had so many houses built by local authorities, or by virtue of the fact that when the Government says that last year 13,000 units or keys were handed over, much of that relates to a changeover in rental schemes etc., but that is neither here nor there. The job of the Dáil and the Government is to overhaul the conventional methods and change the way in which this issue is tackled to achieve success.
Deputy Coppinger is correct in that the fiscal rules pertaining to the way in which the Government does its spending now restrict the amount of funding that would be expected to be put into addressing this issue, because it needs extraordinary funding to deal with an extraordinary situation. By virtue of those rules, it is incumbent on us to look at ways and means by which that extraordinary amount of funding can be obtained and used to address the crisis. I have no difficulty with that or with the fact that funding can be obtained from various avenues. Neither the level of funding nor the cost of funds is a barrier. The committee's recommendation that a procurement agency or housing authority can have a role in gathering that finance together and seeking to lend, support or contract to, or engage in joint ventures with, local authorities, approved housing bodies, colleges and the private sector which cannot access funding at a competitive rate can be the catalyst for the sort of activity and development that is required to address in a real and meaningful way the terrible scenario that exists.
The committee's report contains many recommendations that deal with public and social housing. There was no rush on the part of any member of the committee to demonise social housing or to speak about it in such terms. We were all there with the same unity of purpose and we were all elected to best represent those who give us the privilege to do so. We all recognise the need for the issue to be addressed and the fact that we must come together to bring forward the various policies of all our political parties and none in an effort to agree a strategy or path to do so.
The recommendations in the key areas of social and private housing, the rental sector, mortgages and the distress associated with many of them offer sound and informed advice to the Minister and his Department so as to allow him to bring forward a holistic approach to the issue. I hope and expect that the Minister will acknowledge that many development or area plans, county plans or spatial strategies were initiated with the best of intentions and legal advice. They were done on a consultative basis with the parties bound by them. Nevertheless, it was never expected that we would face such an emergency or crisis such as that we are experiencing and many of those plans are not now appropriate. In some cases, they offer obstacles to addressing the issue in the way it should be addressed. There must be a window of opportunity to change, relax - where appropriate - or beef up conditions with resources such as funding or manpower for agencies like An Bord Pleanála in order that it can play a crucial role for a period so we can address this emergency. We should be able to look back and say that An Bord Pleanála played its part.
I join other speakers in voicing my disappointment that this debate is not taking place at a more prominent time. Some 15 Members are contributing this evening, nine of whom were directly associated with the committee. I expect, based on the Minister's commitment to Deputy Ó Broin and others, that when he brings forward a strategy, there will be adequate time and opportunity to debate the policy.
I raise the issue of public participation in the planning process. In recent years, there have been tiny social housing developments that have been the subject of objections from residents. People Before Profit tried to stop nine houses being built at Balrothery in Dublin.
That is bollocks. Sorry. That is untrue.
It is not. The party's councillor voted against it. That is happening up and down the country.
It is completely untrue.
I have given a commitment not to object to social housing.
Sorry, but it is completely untrue that any councillors voted against social housing.
I did not allow people to interject when Deputy Coppinger was speaking.
Councillor Martin in Balrothery voted against it.
Deputy Thomas Byrne should address the Chair.
That is on the public record. Councillor Martin in Balrothery voted to object to social housing planning permission. In Kells there are 46 houses going through the process. People in the council were on to us immediately after the general election to try to get it to tender but we found a problem that was not really addressed during the planning process within the Department. These units are a drop in the ocean in terms of what will be required in the coming years but they are being stalled because of objections or failures in the planning process. We must really change the way we do things and our attitude, as well as that of the community, to private and social housing. Much of it must be built and we will have to bring along the public with this. They will have to be involved with the planning process, for example. The Minister of State probably has a file on his desk about County Meath and there is very little public participation in the rezoning decisions. Stamullen, which is near where I live, was effectively changed overnight from being a small town to a moderate town with sustainable growth without any public consultation or participation. It will have to happen in many towns if we are going to build the required number of houses. There must be a real effort.
I look forward to the national planning framework, which I presume will play a key role in this. There will be a briefing next week on it. Public participation in this, bringing the public along, is required. Otherwise we will be stymied by objections and protests. We are looking at the transformation of towns around the country with this because of the huge increase in housing that is required. It is necessary but we must do it in a way that brings along the public. They should know what is going on so they can fully participate in the planning process in a constructive way.
I will ask Deputy Bríd Smith to adjourn the debate in approximately seven minutes. I understand we will return to the debate next Thursday evening and she will have the balance of her time then. Other speakers will also be able to contribute.
Could the time just not be extended?
I will speak quickly as I will not be here next Thursday, unfortunately.
We will listen slowly.
Whatever suits the Deputy.
I am under pressure after waiting for so long.
We are running ahead of time.
She could have the three minutes.
I am governed by the instructions before me.
To add insult to injury, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has left the Chamber.
He had no choice.
I wanted to address the Minister directly as I will quote from some comments he recently made to local authorities when he visited them. He stated:
As you finalise your development plan later this year, I would suggest that you ask yourselves a fundamental question: Is this plan going to be a game-changer in terms of unleashing private sector construction on our capital city?
He also said:
We must bear in mind that we will rely on the private sector to build seven or eight out of every 10 houses into the future. It is vital that the private sector gets going in a serious way this year and next.
I will cut to the chase and not waste too much of my time complimenting members for doing the hard work on the report. Well done everybody. I have a genuine fear about the report. It is not irrational. I fear the report will join countless others gathering dust on shelves. I was a councillor for seven years and if I read one report on housing from various agencies and local authorities, I read 1,000 of them. We have probably destroyed a rainforest at this stage. My fear is not cynical or based on an observation that there has been and continues to be a lack of political will on the part of the establishment parties - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and, in the past, the Green Party - to really grasp the nettle and allow social housing be built on the altar of private profit. One recommendation linked to the report concerns rent certainty. It is not that long ago that Sinn Féin put a motion to the House to introduce rent certainty and both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voted against it. That proves my point a little.
Emphasis is being put on the supply side in terms of what we need but that means we are examining the supply side in the interests of the developers. This relates to creating the free market conditions that will allow the same developers to have sufficient profit so they will actually bother to build houses. It means we will provide major subsidies to developers and their need for profit. The chief executive officer of NAMA, Mr. Brendan McDonagh, has indicated that many developers are not satisfied with a €20,000 profit on a €300,000 house as they would rather wait until the prices rise to a point at which they can profit to the tune of approximately €50,000 on each house. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, stated that much will depend on how quickly the private sector will deliver.
I place emphasis on what was said earlier. We are making the same mistakes and it is the definition of lunacy. We are doing the same thing we did the last time, namely, failing and doing it again. Having gone through a failed market cycle built on concessions to developers and builders - the Galway tent, corruption and everything that went with it - we are repeating the same mistake in the middle of a housing emergency. Social housing has been consistently and deliberately driven down by consecutive Governments since the dawn of neoliberalism, going right back to the late 1980s. That is why we are in our current state. We are concentrating on lowering costs to developers so as to ensure they have enough profit. We are giving them funding rebates on development levies and infrastructure work that is done by local authorities before they commence work. We are reducing VAT rates and the Part V obligation rate from 20% of housing to 10% of housing.
We have reduced apartment sizes and aspect requirements on apartments to allow them to build more. We have lessened and loosened regulations around building in order to ensure there is enough profit for them, despite having been through Priory Hall and Longboat Quay, to mention just two. We have studied how to get around Central Bank rules so that people can borrow enough to pay a high enough amount to buy a home and to ensure there is enough profit for developers. We set up special funding bodies, often allied to dubious private equity firms and vulture funds. We have legislated for REITs and safeguarded sufficient profit to encourage them to build and rent to our citizens at very high costs. We have resisted any attempts to strengthen rights or security of tenure for tenants.
All of this is to breathe into the market again the life that is missing from it, for builders, developers, estate agents and the whole legal and financial "nine yards", as it is termed, that goes with housing and property development, as we have done in the past with the Galway tent. I am sorry the Minister has left the Chamber because when I look over at him talking about this issue, I am reminded of Frankenstein and how he, as a doctor, tried to breathe life into the monster he created, shouting at it, “Live, live, live!” That is exactly what this Government and Fianna Fáil are trying to do with the housing market by going back to the private market and saying, “Please live, live, live and we will throw everything at you to do so”. For the 140,000 citizens in housing need, for the 6,000 homeless tonight, many of them children, and for those facing rent hikes beyond their means, the housing market is the monster. Far from breathing life into the system that has crippled this country before, we should be burying it. We should bury it and start to do what everybody agrees needs to be done, that is, build social housing, deliver rent controls, give security to tenants and socialise what is an essential social need for all our citizens, who should have a right to it.
I was reminded today of an article Fintan O’Toole wrote. If I can find it I will quote it because he is quite funny in it. When he was a child, in 1949, his family was allocated a house in Crumlin. Thinking back on it, he was asking how in the name of God in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s this State could deliver social housing. He talks about looking at statistics for exports. We boast about how great our exports are, how they are lifting our economy, and we export all sorts of wonderful things nowadays. In 1949, the official statistics for export show that the principal export products included “fellmongery, laces, pigs’ heads, pollard and snuff”. I know pollards are some kind of animals without horns. Imagine the economy that was able to build 50,000 social houses in the 1940s while it was exporting snuff and pigs’ heads. Yet, we cannot do it today. It is because we lack the political will.
Social mix is always talked about in terms of Ballymun, Ballyfermot or Finglas. How about talking about social mix in Foxrock? It never seems to bother anybody that there is no social mix in the very wealthy areas.
It is ironic that these recommendations are coming to us in the same week or month as the unfolding scandal of NAMA’s sale of assets in Northern Ireland while a very sensible resolution by Deputy Mick Wallace was rejected by the main parties in this House, both Government and so-called Opposition. In the same month, a very simple Bill that we put, seeking to amend the remit of NAMA, to make its primary purpose dealing with the building and provision of social and affordable homes, was ruled out of order and not taken by this House. That is only one page long, not 150 pages, yet it could not be accepted, not even to be debated and to lose a vote on the floor of the Dáil. With regard to NAMA, any sensible Government, anyone who really means it, would change NAMA’s remit and tell it that from hereon there will be no more selling off our land and our houses to vulture funds and that it is to use the resources it has and the money it has gained to deal with this housing crisis.
I want to reiterate to people to watch this space because there is no difference between them. They are all the same. They all gave us this legacy-----
I thank the Deputy. I gave her a bit of leeway.
They speak in slightly different tones-----
-----but they are all the same and they will not be able to deal with it by relying on the developers, the builders-----
-----and those who have greased their palms in the past.
I ask the Deputy to call the adjournment on the debate. She just has to say it is adjourned, so that the debate-----
For me to say it?
I ask her to say the debate is adjourned.
Just say it is adjourned.
I am not saying it. We will be here all night. I am only joking. I move the adjournment.