I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
— the economic downturn had a very significant impact on housing supply and the construction industry, with housing construction falling by over 90% between the peak in 2006 and the trough in 2013;
— with the economy returning to significant and consistent growth, and with the unemployment rate at 5.9% in April, its lowest since May 2008, a significant increase in new homes is needed;
— the Government, having regard to this, has made the delivery of new homes, social, affordable and private, a top priority through the development, resourcing and implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness;
— in this regard, the Government’s initial focus has been on delivering homes for households in the lowest income brackets, through the commitment of over €6 billion to deliver 50,000 new social housing homes by 2021, with qualifying households also able to avail of the housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme and other targeted programmes, with the aim of meeting the housing needs of over 137,000 households by the end of 2021;
— through concerted efforts by Government agencies, local authorities and non-governmental organisations, the housing needs of households in emergency accommodation or at risk of becoming homeless continue to be addressed, through a wide range of support programmes, as well as helping the most vulnerable, rough-sleeping homeless through the Housing First initiative which enables people, who may have been homeless and who have a high level of complex needs, to obtain permanent secure accommodation with the provision of intensive supports to help them maintain their tenancies;
— almost 26,000 households had their social housing needs met in 2017, exceeding the target set by 23%, and almost doubling the levels achieved in 2015;
— the social housing construction programme included some 850 schemes, or phases, with 13,400 homes in the pipeline, at the end of 2017, representing a very substantial increase of almost 5,000 new homes being progressed, compared with the 8,430 homes in the programme one year earlier;
— at the end of 2017, some 2,512 homes were completed, 3,650 were under construction and 1,912 further homes were about to go on site, with the remainder progressing through the various stages of planning, design and procurement;
— notwithstanding the responsibility of each chief executive for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of their respective local authority, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has, since 1 January 2015, approved 793 housing-related staff sanction requests from local authorities, and that additional supports are also being made available to local authorities to meet staffing costs associated with the delivery of their social housing build programmes;
— the Government has also implemented a suite of measures to facilitate increased residential construction activity and ensure the sector’s capacity to produce more affordable homes, through, inter alia:
— fast-track planning reforms and more flexible planning guidelines;
— €200 million investment in enabling infrastructure to service-open up housing lands with proportionate affordability dividends for house purchasers; and
— the progression of large-scale mixed-tenure housing projects, with social, affordable and private housing, on publicly-owned lands;
— the Government has also introduced targeted and time-bound measures to limit excessive rent increases, for example, through rent pressure zones, and to provide further protections and effective support services to both tenants and landlords;
— in budget 2018, significant obstacles to building more homes more quickly were removed, by:
— investing more capital funding in direct house building by the State;
— removing the Capital Gains Tax incentive to hold on to residential land, as well as escalating penalties for land hoarding; and
— providing a new, more affordable finance vehicle for builders through House Building Finance Ireland;
— these measures are having a positive impact, with all relevant indicators clearly showing that the supply-based measures under the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness are working, with latest planning permissions and commencements data both up 27% year-on-year and registrations up 41%;
— having recognised the affordability pressures faced by some households, particularly in the major urban centres, the Government announced a further package of measures in January, with the potential to deliver more than 3,000 new homes initially and a target for at least 10,000 new affordable homes to buy and rent;
— the new measures are targeted at low- to moderate-income households, with annual gross income of up to €50,000 for single-income households and €75,000 for dual-income households;
— up to the end of October of last year, two thirds, or over 5,300 homes, of the overall number of houses purchased by first-time buyers in the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway were purchased for less than €320,000, and that across the rest of the country, just over 90%, or 3,380 homes, of the overall number of houses purchased by first-time buyers were purchased for less than €250,000;
— a new Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan was made available from 1 February 2018, providing long-term, fixed-rate mortgages for first-time buyers;
— in 2011, reflecting the reality of market conditions across the country at that time when house prices fell by some 50% and the consequent significant easing of affordability in that period, all affordable housing schemes were stood down, and a new affordable purchase scheme is being established very shortly, that will see affordable homes built initially on State land, in co-operation with local authorities, with affordable housing targets to be published shortly;
— €75 million of additional Exchequer funding is being made available for enabling infrastructure, including to facilitate affordable housing provision, with a particular focus on our cities where the affordability challenge is greatest;
— the Government’s ambition is to make cost rental a major part of the housing system, with rents set at levels to cover construction costs and the management and administration of developments, but with only a minimal retained profit margin and this will be informed by a pilot project being progressed in Dublin at Enniskerry Road, Sandyford;
— detailed discussions are continuing with the European Investment Bank regarding the application of its international experiences in developing and supporting affordable housing to large-scale cost rental projects in Ireland;
— the publication of new build to rent and co-living planning guidelines will encourage development and investment in more rental accommodation at more affordable rents; and
— as part of Project Ireland 2040, the Government has committed to establish a new national regeneration and development agency, including consideration of how best to make State lands available, including suitable lands in the control and ownership of Government Departments and State agencies, to the new body for, inter alia, affordable residential development."
I welcome any opportunity to discuss housing issues in the Chamber. While I always try to be constructive in my engagements, the Fianna Fáil Party motion makes it difficult to do so because it lacks all credibility. Either Fianna Fáil is aware of its recent role in the over-leveraging of the housing sector that destroyed the economy and simply wants to ignore it and spin tales to members of the public, which they will not fall for, or, worse, it does not recognise the mistakes it made in the recent past and does not understand what it did wrong. It is ten years since the financial crisis, eight years since we lost our economic sovereignty and four years since we got it back.
The Fianna Fáil Party is clearly not ready for office if this motion is anything to go by. We have a serious housing crisis which was caused by 13 years of Fianna Fáil in power. It is this crisis that the Government of Fine Gael and Independents is trying to fix. It appears from the motion that Fianna Fáil is completely blind to that fact.
Let us examine the introductory calls made in the motion. It notes that "the affordable housing scheme was stood down by the Fine Gael-Labour Government in 2011". The scheme was stood down in 2011 because it was unnecessary, the reason being that housing prices had fallen by 50% and the value of some land portfolios had fallen by as much as 80%. Hundreds of thousands of people were plunged into negative equity, causing major distress in their lives. Affordability was simply not an issue. Do the Deputies opposite not remember this? Do they need me to explain that the housing sector imploded under the most recent Fianna Fáil Government? Building activity declined by 90% in that time and almost two thirds of builders lost their jobs as a result. Do the Deputies opposite need me to remind the House that their party's housing policies and tax incentives throughout the 2000s blew a hole in the public finances, which bankrupted the country and resulted in the loss of our economic sovereignty?
An interesting subsequent clause in the motion refers to the "Residential Tenancies Board third quarter of 2017 rent index". Are the Deputies opposite aware that we have had a fourth quarter report which confirmed that rent pressure zones were having an impact, driving inflation in Dublin down 3% on 2016? Do they accept that rent pressure zones are working? They must do so because today the Fianna Fáil Party introduced a Bill that proposes to extend these zones to student accommodation.
While the motion makes reference to rents in the fourth quarter of last year, it compares them to rents in 2011. Why has 2011 been chosen as a comparative year? Is it because it was the year Fine Gael and the Labour Party entered government to clean up the mess left by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments and to allow the dramatic increase in rents in the intervening period to be blamed on us? In 2011, we commenced the bailout. Hundreds of thousands of people had to emigrate, we had 3,000 ghost estates, rents tanked and house prices continued to fall. It would take a further three years to exit the bailout and a further seven years to balance the public finances and get everyone back to work. We achieved this only this year and we did so without the need for a second bailout and faster than anyone had predicted.
The years since Fine Gael assumed responsibility for the economy have been a success in economic terms. However, in terms of housing, we are now facing a great social cost and suffering arising from that success. These are compounded by the under-supply that preceded 2011. Surely the broken housing sector, which is now being fixed, is the long sting in the tail for a country that was so badly let down by the Fianna Fáil Party's 13-year reign. Our difficulties manifest themselves most severely and distressingly in the large number of homeless families in emergency accommodation tonight who are not mentioned in the motion.
The motion condemns the failure to build affordable homes since 2011. Is that a joke? The average price of a house nationally in 2011 was roughly €228,000. In 2012, house prices continued to fall and the average price house nationally reached €203,000. In 2013, the figure increased to €206,000 and increased again to €215,000 the following year. It was only later that house prices began to creep up above the €300,000 mark in places like Dublin. Even now, figures for Dublin show that up to the end of October 2017, two thirds of the overall number of homes purchased by first-time buyers in the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway sold for less than €320,000. Everywhere else in the country, approximately 90% of first-time buyers bought homes for less than €250,000. These are the figures for the period leading up to October last year.
Affordable homes are being built and sold even today. The Government recognises, however, that we are still not building enough homes. What has not helped is the number of developers and small builders who were put of business by the collapse of the construction sector under Fianna Fáil's watch. Do the Deputies opposite remember the National Asset Management Agency and the €32 billion in debt foisted on the backs of taxpayers? Do they remember all the small construction companies that folded and builders who had to emigrate? They are still struggling to get back on their feet but with new initiatives from the Government, for example, Home Building Finance Ireland, we will help them.
When the Fianna Fáil Party states no affordable homes have been built since 2011, it is simply wrong. Our problem for much of the past seven years has not been affordability of homes but the reverse. We are now confronted with supply and affordability problems and the Government is fixing these as a priority. We launched a number of affordability measures last year. They include the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, to which previous speakers referred, the introduction of a successful fast-track process and new apartment guidelines which will drive down costs and rent pressure zones, which Fianna Fáil supports and recognises are working - hence the legislation it introduced today.
Earlier this year, I launched three new affordability measures. A number of successful applicants have been approved under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, although drawdown has not yet taken place because a couple of months are needed to find a home and secure agreement on sale. The affordable purchase scheme, which was also mentioned, was launched in January and we will also introduce cost rental projects at scale thanks to our partners in the European Investment Bank. We will build on these measures with further details under Project Ireland 2040 and these will be announced very soon.
The Deputy condemned the delays in undertaking an affordable pilot scheme since it was announced in 2015. Deputy Darragh O'Brien may not be aware of this but that scheme was stood down and the money was put into emergency accommodation. The scheme was a subsidy-based scheme and the new Government in 2016, which took over the housing portfolio from the Labour Party, decided it was better to use land to achieve affordability - State land to drive cost rental and other measures. That is how we are now proceeding. That is what has been recommended by all of the experts outside of Government.
The Deputy then goes on to condemn the lack of specific targets, dates and locations for affordable homes under the affordable purchase scheme that I announced in January last. Rebuilding Ireland is a five-year plan to rebuild the housing sector and is a €6 billion commitment to 50,000 social housing homes. We are almost two years in and are ahead of our targets. Our initial focus was on restarting local authority house building and on delivering more emergency accommodation. That building was restarted last year when three times as many social housing homes were built as in the year before. This year, we will double that number. It is right that we focused our attention initially on those who need our help the most. Would Deputy Darragh O'Brien have done it any differently? Otherwise, we would not have solutions such as Housing First, like a national director of Housing First or a 40% decrease in the number of those sleeping rough on our streets.
I stated when I took office that affordability would be a priority of mine. That is why I secured in last year's budget negotiations €75 million for new affordability measures that are being developed now. All Deputy Darragh O'Brien's party looked for was tax breaks for developers - the same old story. Already, we have identified through finance or land the potential for at least 4,000 affordable homes, rising to 10,000, and the targets, locations and dates are coming soon. I hope to see the first affordable purchase scheme homes being tenanted before the end of the year. That is only the beginning of our ambition. That is only what we propose to do with local authority land.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien then goes on to condemn the capital spend on housing when compared with the 2008 levels. I do not why the Deputy persists with this. How is 2008, the year of our financial crisis, two years before our bailout, a reasonable year of comparison? We lost our economic sovereignty precisely because our spending commitments were built upon unsustainable Government finances. We were building probably twice as many homes as were needed. How is this a comparison? Interestingly, local authorities were not building anything then. Fianna Fáil had taken local authorities out of the building game long before the crash. It is 16 years since a local authority in Wicklow built a home but that will change this year under our Government. Fianna Fáil is the party that got local authorities out of house building and Fine Gael and the Independents in government are getting them back into house building.
The Deputy calls on me to equip the new regeneration and development agency with an affordable housing remit. We have already stated that we are doing that. He states that there should be an affordable housing scheme on income criteria with repayments being no more than 35% of income. We are already doing that with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. The Deputy calls on me to review and upgrade local authority staffing capacity. Since January of 2015, we have approved more than 790 housing-related staff for local authorities up and down the country and at the second housing summit this year I stated, "Appoint more and we will pay for them."
The Deputy calls on me to expedite cost rental across the country. I am glad that Fianna Fáil is finally waking up to the importance of cost rental as a model. We will introduce it. We are working on a pilot of scale right now with the European Investment Bank and Dublin City Council. Cost rental needs to become a major part of the rental market. However, I will not try to fool the public. I will not make empty promises. Cost rental, if it is to be done right, needs to be piloted properly. Transforming our rental landscape cannot be achieved overnight when supply is still so tight. I recognise there is still a serious undersupply of housing but all the indicators are pointing positively in the right direction. Commencement notices have increased by 41%, planning permissions by 27% and connections to the ESB by 30%.
The Central Bank forecasts that 23,000 homes will be built this year and 27,000 homes in 2019. I hope it is correct because that is well ahead of our targets under Rebuilding Ireland. There have even been increases in the labour force, which was up at least 14% at the beginning of 2017. An Bord Pleanála's fast-track process has already seen approvals for over 6,000 new places to live. As all those homes are built, we will deliver further affordability.
A lot more has to be done. Under Rebuilding Ireland and Project Ireland 2040, we have the vision, and thanks to the prudent management of our finances, we have the money. Now we need to drive delivery and implementation. New structures, such as the housing summits, do that, as does the new delivery unit headed up by the Minister of State, Deputy English, in my Department.
There is still more to come. A new agency, not some monitoring quango such as Deputy Darragh O'Brien suggests in his motion but something real with teeth, is coming.