Affordable Housing: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— the Affordable Housing Scheme was stood down by the Fine Gael-Labour Government in 2011;

— the Confidence and Supply Arrangement for a Fine Gael-led Minority Government contains a commitment to ‘significantly increase and expedite the delivery of social housing units, remove barriers to private housing supply and initiate an affordable housing scheme’;

— Dublin’s residential property prices have increased 90.6 per cent from their February 2012 low, whilst residential property prices in the rest of Ireland are 66.7 per cent higher than their low point in May 2013;

— the Residential Tenancies Board third quarter of 2017 Rent Index showed the national standardised average rent for new tenancies was €1,056 per month, up from €770 in 2012, an increase of 37 per cent;

— in Dublin, this index showed the average rent stood at €1,518, up from €972 in 2012, an increase of 56 per cent;

— has recorded a national rent increase of 82 per cent since 2012 to €1,227, up from €677 in 2011;

— Dublin’s rents in the fourth quarter of 2017 were €1,772 on average, compared to €1,060 in the fourth quarter of 2011, an increase of 67 per cent;

— the total individual average earnings have increased from €36,079 to €36,919, an increase of €840 or 2.32 per cent from 2012-2016, and this would lead to an average take home wage of €29,844, based on the latest statistics by the Central Statistics Office; and

— the average gross annual household income for the State in 2015-2016 was €57,184.40, which was 7.1 per cent higher than the €53,392.04 figure recorded in 2009-2010;


— the failure to build affordable homes since 2011;

— the delays in undertaking an affordable rental pilot scheme since it was announced in 2015;

— the lack of specific targets, dates and locations for affordable homes under the Affordable Purchase Scheme announced in January 2018; and

— the fact that the capital housing budget is still 24 per cent behind 2008 levels and is projected to remain at €1.16 billion per annum under the new National Development Plan 2018-2027; and

calls on the Government to:

— earmark an additional capital investment for a State-led Affordable Housing Scheme in 2019, to directly build in key areas across the country with an initial State investment complementing off-balance sheet funding mechanisms such as credit union finance;

— ensure the Housing Needs Assessment programme is expedited and fully integrates local affordability data to build an accurate local image of affordability requirements;

— equip the National Regeneration and Development Agency with a specific affordable housing remit;

— establish an Affordable Housing Scheme with local income criteria, subject to repayments being no more than 35 per cent of the household’s net income after tax and social insurance (PRSI);

— review and upgrade local authority staffing capacity;

— set out clear targets in each county for affordable homes;

— expedite the establishment of a cost rental model across the country with clear localised income criteria and location targets;

— utilise State and local-authority owned lands in the development of social and affordable units; and

— establish a new Housing Delivery Agency to oversee the delivery of said targets issuing monthly progress reports.

I am sharing time with Deputies Casey, Cassells, Michael Moynihan and Curran.

The housing crisis can be seen in every corner of this country, across the rental, social and private sectors. The moral disgrace of homelessness and the unprecedented highs of the social housing waiting lists have obscured another major challenge which the Government has ignored. Ordinary workers can no longer afford to buy their own homes. Homeownership in our view is an important part of Irish life. A safe and secure home is a building block for a strong community. Having a place to call one's own is the bedrock of stable family life. Working hard and owning the roof over one's head has been an aspiration that many have realised over the past few decades.

However, for an entire generation, the dream of homeownership is slipping away. While income levels have risen slowly, property prices have exploded by 90% since 2012. As the property price escalator speeds up, those left in the rental market fall further behind. Rent prices have surged over 25% higher than the 2008 peak with renters in Dublin paying over half their income for somewhere to live. The current 60% homeownership rate is the lowest since 1971. The age at which homeownership became the majority tenure category was 35 years of age in 2016. Prior to that age, more households were renting rather than owning their own home. When one compares this to previous censuses dating back to 1991, the ages which mark the changeover between renting and homeownership was 32 years in 2011, 28 in 2006, 27 in 2002 and 26 years in 1991. It is clear that homeownership is moving further away from young working people. The social contract that promises each generation a stake in their country is under strain.

What is Fine Gael doing to address this generational crisis? Since Fine Gael came to power seven years ago, it has launched six separate housing plans and relaunched them countless times. During that same period, Fine Gael has not built one single affordable home. In January of this year, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced a three-pronged affordable policy, each prong more blunt than the last. The first was the Rebuilding Ireland home loan that repackages existing housing authority loan schemes. Over half the applicants, some 54%, however, have been refused a loan to date, while those who can get one are still competing for the same small supply of homes.

The second blunt prong was the cost rental pilot scheme. In 2015, the Fine Gael Government committed €10 million to a cost rental pilot project. This was reheated in January by the Minister, even though the project has yet to go to tender or have any guiding income criteria.

The third blunt failure was the affordable purchase scheme. This scheme sees €25 million committed to serving State-owned land for building affordable homes in co-operation with local authorities. Six local authorities built no homes at all last year. The Government has failed to deliver with programmes such as repair and lease. The lack of specific targets in each area means that this plan is doomed to fail before it even gets going. The lack of an affordable housing scheme demonstrates the sheer incompetence and inertia that governs the Department.

All the while, the Government has not put its money where its mouth is. Despite the fanfare around the capital plan, the allocated capital budget for housing is still 24%, or €225 million, behind 2008 levels. Still, there is no definition of what is an affordable home. In the face of these ballooning property prices, Fine Gael has, at best, engaged in token gesture policies and, at worst, ignored a growing chasm in the property market.

Tonight’s Fianna Fáil motion sets down a marker. It will re-orientate the Government towards addressing the affordability gap that is swallowing up a generation. That must be placed at the heart of policy. We believe the State has a central role to play in delivering homes that someone on the average industrial wage can afford. Homeownership cannot be allowed to become the preserve of the few or the old. The next generation must get their chance to have a stake in their communities. The State owns and controls enough zoned land to build 114,000 dwellings, half of which can be affordable homes. Drawing on NAMA and local authority data, it is calculated the State controls over 3,000 ha of zoned land for housing across the country.

This total is made up of 1,691 ha controlled by NAMA and more than 1,300 ha controlled by local authorities.

This means that more than 48,000 homes could be built on council-owned zoned land and more than 65,000 homes could be built on NAMA-controlled land. We need driving ambition to realise the potential of these lands, an ambition that is sorely lacking in the Government.

The new State-led scheme that Fianna Fáil will propose will set specific local authority targets and establish a special purpose vehicle to finance the scheme along with State capital investment and re-investment of the proceeds of sales into building further homes.

This will create a small, efficient and focused housing delivery agency to monitor and deliver housing and quality. There will be localised income thresholds to reflect different circumstances in each area and a 50,000 unit target over a term of government. This compares favourably with the 10,000 target in the Fine Gael scheme. The people know the Government will not deliver on the target of 10,000 based on its abject failure to date. Fianna Fáil will press the Government for a clear commitment on this in the upcoming budget negotiations. The State should initiate the scheme with upfront and ongoing investment taking place on a sustainable off-balance-sheet basis.

Addressing the growing gap between homeowners and renters will be the defining challenge of this Dáil, one that will have profound long-lasting effects. This motion is a small step towards that end. It is time for the Government to replace spin with bricks and mortar and get affordable homes built. Anything else will be a major social and economic failure.

Will the Minister initiate an affordable housing scheme? When will the Minister commence an affordable rental scheme? When will construction commence? People do not want any more press launches, photo opportunities or nice colour brochures. They simply want homes to live in. They want affordable homes that will provide hope for a generation condemned to out-of-control rents in Ireland. They deserve a great deal better than this. They deserve a great deal better than this Government as well. The Government must act now.

I welcome tonight's motion on affordable housing, which has been brought forward by my colleague, Deputy O'Brien. Affordable housing is an area of the systemic housing crisis that has been consistently overlooked by the Government, yet it remains an essential keystone in the solution of delivering homes for all our people.

It is an historical fact that there is an embedded and consistent ambition within Irish people to own their own homes. For generations of Irish people, that ambition has been the core aspect of the social contract between the people and the governing system. One of the measures of the success or otherwise of our independent nation has been the capacity of people to own a home, raise families and have substantial ownership in our society.

Since the previous Fine Gael-led Government abolished the affordable homes scheme in 2011, it has regrettably but predictably contributed to the unsustainable growth in house prices. This has arisen due to a lack of supply and a minimalist approach taken by the Government to encouraging - never mind supplying - affordable homes to the thousands of people who need them.

Only recently, Fine Gael attempted to expand the affordable home loan scheme through each local authority. Yet, we need only look at the example of County Wicklow. Government data reveal only two successful applications in Wicklow in the two years since the Government was formed. That is a shambolic result.

The capping of supports for house buyers in Wicklow and the income thresholds involved are forcing many people who were born and bred in Wicklow and who want to own homes in their communities to be priced out of their home county. Wicklow is being gentrified by cash-rich middle-class Dublin. Maybe this is the Fine Gael master plan.

Fianna Fáil has consistently called for the full implementation of the cross-party report on the housing crisis that calls for a housing agency to take full charge of all aspects of our broken housing system. We will insist on independent verifiable data on affordability in each county, thereby informing the public policy response required in each county where prices can be extremely varied. We will also impose targets for each county on the numbers of affordable units to be supplied. Failure will result in immediate support responses from central government.

A crisis demands an emergency response. We will deliver affordable houses for Irish people to purchase in every county in Ireland. We will do so through the State directly building homes, where possible, on State lands, and by accessing off-balance-sheet finance. We will do what the State should be doing, that is to say, governing on behalf of all the people and not only the chosen few.

The political establishment in Ireland has failed the people again in the manner in which our housing crisis is being spun but not analysed, manipulated but not managed, debated but never delivered. We all know where this road ends. It ends with failure. It ends with people losing the limited faith they have in the ability of politics to address the needs of all our people.

It is not too late to put in place an affordable housing system that is vested in our State and that allows us to frequently put housing policies under the microscope of the people. The upcoming budget must deliver on affordable housing. The people demand nothing less.

This afternoon I met representatives from ICTU to discuss the housing crisis. For their members, the issues of pay restoration and changes in terms and conditions, as well as all the normal union matters, will count for little if they cannot put roofs over their heads through purchasing a home or at the least gaining secure tenancy. The issue of affordability is key to what was in their minds. While they acknowledged that schemes were up and running again in certain parts of the country, few of these schemes could be chalked down as affordable or within the purchasing power of union members.

I see it in my native county. Developers are seeking to get schemes progressed but we are talking about high-end developments. They will not provide starter homes for people in their 20s or 30s. This goes to the heart of what we are discussing with Deputy Darragh O'Brien's motion, that is to say, affordability.

I witnessed something interesting this week that needs to be addressed as part of the conversation about developing much-needed affordable homes. At a county council meeting this week in my native county of Meath, an addendum item appeared on the agenda. The notice related to a €2.3 million loan to buy land in order that 55 county council houses could be built in Ashbourne. It sounds like a good news story in the round. The proposal is in a town where a large number of people are trying to obtain housing either on the county council waiting list or the private housing market. Instead, the reaction from locals on social media on the evening of the meeting was one of outrage and sheer anger. People were branding this a disgrace and asked whether the councillors were out of their minds. Why would anyone be against housing? It was because they made the point that the town, which is the second largest in the county and the fastest-growing in the area, has no green area for locals and there is a lack of amenities for the vast population that exists here and now and that has emerged over a ten-year period.

Consequently, we have locals coming together to try to stop this development before it ever gets going. The lack of investment from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in tandem with the channelling of funds to local authorities to meet the needs of the population that exists here and now has led to a backlash from these communities when it comes to any new houses being built, whether private, social or affordable. They are objecting to bricks and mortar because they believe their community is not being resourced. No one is catering for the people whose families are there at present.

We are entering a dangerous space, one to which the Department needs to front-up. I have been raising this for years. At a time when there is a housing crisis and we need to see affordable homes built, we have communities rising up and objecting to housing developments because of a lack of amenities and green areas. They will send these projects to planning appeals and delay them. Then the Government will have an even greater problem. It is one that frankly the Government deserves because it has not addressed the sheer lack of resourcing these councils face. Consequently, the councils are unable to provide the facilities that they need in tandem with affordable housing.

Those in government may bury their heads in the sand, decide to disregard such people and plough on but these people are real. The comments of these people in these communities were insightful. This was not a matter of politicians throwing scuds. These are ordinary people living in a community where housing is needed. They said they would not allow the project because the people who live there here and now are not being looked after. That is a quandary but one that can only be solved by addressing the reality that investment needs to take place. The Government cannot blame development plans.

Counties such as Meath, Wicklow and Kildare, where the population has exploded, receive low levels of funding per capita from the Department, with County Meath at the bottom of the list. In addressing the requirement to provide affordable homes, the Department must focus on creating communities rather than concrete jungles. If people do not get their heads around that, last Monday's experience in Ashbourne will be repeated across the country and act as an impediment to building affordable homes.

I compliment Deputy Darragh O'Brien on tabling the motion. I will focus on two points in the short time available. On the issue of affordable housing, Deputy O'Brien referred to the home loans provided under Rebuilding Ireland. The affordable loans scheme is a farce because no approvals are coming through. This new mechanism, which is intended to help people on lower incomes to secure housing by providing home loans, sounded good when it was first announced and in the subsequent press release. However, it is simply not working and anyone who argues otherwise is mistaken.

The Government is relying heavily on the private market to ensure people have a roof over their heads. In a small number of cases, landlords are experiencing severe difficulty when they use the machinery of the State to resolve disputes about the payment or non-payment of rent. The mechanisms in place are being blatantly disregarded, with some people failing to appear for arbitration. A holistic approach is needed to ensure everyone - landlords and tenants - is protected because we have a national crisis. A small number of cases have been brought to my attention recently and they must be addressed.

The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, are both well aware that an increasing number of people who are not eligible for social housing cannot afford to buy a home. The reason is that house price inflation is outpacing wage inflation. The Ministers are aware of this development because they responded to it in Rebuilding Ireland by introducing a home loans scheme. While the scheme is fine insofar as it goes, the problem is that it does not provide for an increase in supply and it is the lack of supply that has created the current problem in the housing sector.

The Minister's amendment refers to the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and so forth. The policy document, Rebuilding Ireland, is two years old. LIHAF was first announced by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, in October 2016 when he allocated €50 million to the scheme, yet two years later only €1.6 million or €1.7 million has been drawn down. We have not seen any urgency demonstrated in respect of this project. The Department is stalling a programme that should be rolled out in a much more timely fashion. In advance of the announcement of Rebuilding Ireland two years ago, the Joint Committee on Housing and Homelessness expressed serious concern that the Department would not have sufficient capacity to roll out the necessary programme and called for the establishment of a national housing body.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien referred to off-balance sheet investment or funding for housing. This form of investment has a role to play in the provision of affordable housing and the cost rental market. However, it has not developed in the way it should have developed. These issues have been identified and debated in the House time and again, yet no action has been taken to address them.

In my constituency, which Deputy Ó Broin also serves, a strategic development zone, SDZ, is being developed with nearly 8,500 housing units. While the SDZ plan includes sufficient capacity and detail to provide social and affordable housing, Government intervention is needed to make clear which funding mechanism will facilitate this development. There are numerous opportunities in the greater Dublin area to develop schemes of this nature but they require immediate and direct Government intervention.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"notes that:

— 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.

That will be a first.

We are still waiting for the Deputy's great big housing policy announcement, although I have heard on enough occasions that it is coming. When we were in opposition, we published serious and detailed policy papers on a range of issues, properly costed and with draft legislation to back it up. Deputy Darragh O'Brien has produced nothing. Instead, he has put a marker in the sand, one that will blow over with the coming tide. Not only that, the Deputy cannot learn from the lessons his party taught us that got us here and when he calls for action, it is action that we are already taking. Fianna Fáil supports Rebuilding Ireland and it has no alternative but to hark back to its glorious failures of the past.

We now move on to the Sinn Féin slot of 15 minutes, commencing with Deputy Eoin Ó Broin.

I was beginning to get worried there. There was so much the Minister said I was agreeing with, I thought something had changed radically.

It would be a first.

Let us see if I can change that.

There is a new relationship happening.

I will start with some disagreements with the Minister. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, started by stating that the broken housing system is now being fixed. The problem, of course, is the facts tell a very different story. The affordable housing crisis is, in fact, getting worse. House prices are rising, rents across the country are rising, home repossessions are increasing and notices to quit and homeless presentations are continuing to increase. None of those are signs that the broken housing system is being fixed. None of that is surprising.

Rebuilding Ireland contains no affordable housing scheme, no targets for the delivery of affordable rental or purchase homes, and no dedicated funding stream to deliver those much needed homes. Indeed, many of the measures the Minister discussed that the Government has introduced on the back of Rebuilding Ireland have either had no impact on affordability or in some instances are making matters worse. Let us have a look at that list of schemes.

Help to buy was introduced and there is some evidence to suggest that it is pushing up house prices and that the majority of those who are benefitting from that scheme did not need taxpayers' assistance to purchase their homes in the first place. New apartment guidelines have generated strong opinion that they will push up apartment and house prices because they will increase the value of the land and, therefore, the ultimate price of the units on it. While strategic housing developments will increase the delivery of private homes, there is no evidence to suggest that in and of itself, it will generate or assist affordability.

Then we have the land initiatives - this flagship project of Rebuilding Ireland. It is incredibly slow. Local authorities lose control over the nature of the mixed tenure that is in the developments, suiting the market rather than the needs of local communities, and there is no guarantee in any of the land initiative projects currently under negotiation by either Dublin city or south Dublin that affordability of any measure will be delivered.

Then there is the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF, this wonderful project the intention of which the Minister seems to be repeatedly revising. We are now told that was never an affordability scheme and it was always merely about unblocking private sector development stuck for lack of infrastructure funding when, in fact, Rebuilding Ireland, if one reads it, stated it was both. When one sees what has been agreed in so-called affordability discounts on the back of €200,000 of taxpayers' money under the Department's detailed breakdown - released in very small letters which were difficult for many of us to read without a magnifying glass - it is not encouraging. If one takes, for example, the private sector LIHAF developments, the average price of the discounted units at 2017 prices is €250,000, which does not take account of inflation by the time those houses are on the market and for sale. In almost every local authority area where there is a LIHAF-funded scheme, one can buy houses cheaper than would be delivered benefitting from LIHAF. In Dublin city and county, it is even worse. The average price of the discounted houses at 2017 prices is €318,000 but, of course, that will go up another 10% or 20% between now and when the houses are sold. What is worse is when one looks at what is being delivered in terms of affordability in LIHAF on mixed use or public land. There is either no agreement on affordability, particularly on the bigger sites in the likes of Cherrywood, The Grange or the strategic development zone, SDZ, in my own constituency, or the house prices are far above what is affordable for ordinary people. The facts from the Government's own figures show that it will not work.

Home Building Finance Ireland, I stated at the time of the budget, is a good initiative. The problem is it has not happened yet and we do not know when it will happen. The Government has this tendency of making an announcement and then repeating it as if what was announced has happened. We need to see the legislation. We need to see how it will operate. Crucially, we need to see how those loans will be linked to the delivery of genuinely affordable homes.

On the revised council mortgage, I praised the fact that it had a lower fixed interest rate but that mortgage is of no use if people cannot access affordable homes to buy with it. In many of the areas of the greatest need for affordable housing, that loan, good and all as it is in design, will be of little benefit.

On the rent pressure zones, I listened carefully to the Minister today. It was as he stated on promised legislation last week. In fact, the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, fourth quarter index he quoted shows that the rent pressure zones are not working. The figures show the annual increase across the State is 6%. In 22 of the Twenty-six Counties, on the basis of the RTB's fourth quarter figures, the rental increase was above the 4% cap. There is no evidence that the cap is working for rents, and particularly new rents. Of course, the issue of student accommodation is particularly acute.

If the Minister would simply clarify whether student licences are covered under the Residential Tenancies Act, it would be very welcome. If they are not, he should include amendments to his Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill to clarify that issue.

One of the few decent initiatives in terms of the potential to deliver genuinely affordable homes was the €25 million for Ó Cualann-type developments. I welcomed it at the time. The problem is nothing has happened with it. The Minister keeps telling us the scheme is coming. The frustrating thing is the Minister does not need to design a new affordable housing scheme. We know the income limits. We know the eligibility criteria. A circular just needs to be issued to local authorities and then that money can start to be drawn down. While I know the proposal, as it was being discussed some months ago, was for 75% of the cost of the land and the site development to be offset for the local authority, with that fund, 100% would be much better.

The really remarkable thing is when we take all of these schemes together, what we see is the private sector-led interventions will receive over €1 billion of taxpayers' money. The one bit of real investment in affordable housing is only a measly €25 million. It shows very clearly, in this as is in so many areas of Government policy, that the over-reliance on the private sector to deliver social and affordable homes is where the Government's policy focus is at and that is why it is not working.

I do not say this lightly but after two years of Fine Gael housing Ministers, it is clear they are neither interested in nor capable of delivering genuinely affordable rental and purchase homes on the scale that is needed to tackle the crisis. Is it any wonder the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has resorted to manipulating the homelessness figures in a desperate attempt to save face?

I have to object to that.

That is a very unfair comment to make.

Something we will deal with-----

On a point of order-----

It is something we will deal with-----

On a point of order.

There is no point of order.

-----in the housing committee tomorrow.

That is very unfair. I have not manipulated any figures.

I have evidence-----

The Deputy knows it is not the case.

I have evidence to prove it and I will present it to the housing committee tomorrow.

The Deputy has misinformed the public outside the Chamber; he should not misinform the Chamber.

I ask the Deputy to withdraw the remark.

I absolutely will not withdraw the remark.

The Minister is in the House long enough to know a political charge. It is not a personal charge.

Deputy Ó Broin will regret that.

Perhaps Deputy Ó Broin will confirm-----

It is an untrue charge.

It is an absolutely personal charge as to my character.

-----whether it is a personal charge or a political charge.

It is a political charge. I am absolutely convinced and there is mounting evidence on this fact that the Minister has allowed the direct manipulation downwards of housing and homelessness figures. We will challenge it tomorrow in the committee. If the Minister believes what-----

-----he is saying he would come to the dedicated session of the housing committee on this issue and this issue alone which we have requested-----

Deputy Ó Broin has accepted it was a miscategorisation.

-----sooner rather than later.

The Deputy has accepted it was a miscategorisation and he is on the record-----

I have to say-----

The Deputy is on the record accepting it was a miscategorisation. Yes or no?

Given how bad-----

Given how badly the Minister has handled this, I have to say this particular debacle could be the undoing of his time as housing Minister in this State.

Let me turn to Fianna Fáil. One of the great mysteries of the Thirty-second Dáil is Fianna Fáil housing policy. On this, I agree with the Government. It is almost as if it has become the fourth secret of Fatima. Deputy Darragh O'Brien's predecessor in the role kept his cards so close to his chest that many of his own party members did not even know what Fianna Fáil policy was. I know the reason Deputy O'Brien was appointed was to bring more energy to the role and he has certainly done that.

How does the Deputy know that?

The jury is out at this point on whether there will be any actual substance. On the basis of this motion it does not seem to be the case. It has nine demands, none of which has any specifics. There are no targets or costings and the idea that setting up an agency, which would take at least a year to do, is any quicker than what the Government has proposed is absolutely absurd. It highlights once again that what Fianna Fáil is trying to do, while facilitating Government policy year-in, year-out through facilitating the budgets, is to present itself as somehow a party of opposition.

None of this is surprising. In the confidence and supply agreement, Fianna Fáil did not insist on or secure any specifics in terms of housing delivery. In the last two budgets, Fianna Fáil did not demand publicly or secure any changes to the policy the Government has been implementing since Rebuilding Ireland. The Minister is absolutely right. Fianna Fáil is actively and tacitly supporting the policies it is now standing here criticising. It is no surprise because the under-investment in social and affordable housing of this Government and the over-reliance on the private sector is what Fianna Fáil did when it was in power for 14 years. Because they have such problems remembering-----

That is not true.

-----I took the time to table what it actually delivered on-----


I read the Deputy's document. It is full of-----

What it actually-----

This is a serious business. Deputy Ó Broin, without interruption.

Which document?

What Fianna Fáil actually did-----

We do not have to continue. I do not have to take this. I am asking Deputy Ó Broin to continue without interference from Deputy O'Brien or from the Minister, Deputy Murphy.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I know Deputy Ó Broin will not invite interruptions.

I do not mind the interruptions. Let us look at Fianna Fáil's record. Over those 14 years, it delivered on average 5,500 real social houses a year. That is less than the current Government is delivering. During that same period of time, the number of subsidised private rental tenancies for social housing actually increased. They increased beyond recognition. By the end of the period of time, there was almost a 500% increase in using private rental sector accommodation for social housing tenants. Housing waiting lists increased by 258% and shared ownership schemes, which the Deputy was so fond of, actually left almost 50% of the households with those mortgages in substantial mortgage distress. It is no wonder Fianna Fáil is willing to support Fine Gael's policy. All it is doing is continuing the broad policy framework that Fianna Fáil was responsible for when it was last in government. Probably the worst thing is Fianna Fáil keeps telling Sinn Féin that it did the responsible thing and supported this Government yet at no stage has it actually used the leverage it claims to have to get the Government to do anything different. It is one of the reasons the motion in front of us today has no specifics because a real party of opposition, particularly a party of opposition that has the leverage Fianna Fáil has, would be demanding specific changes to Government policy.

We will be in the budget.

Please, Deputy O'Brien.

What I would like to hear from Deputy O'Brien, whether it is today, later on in the debate or between now and budget time, is what increasing capital investment he would like to see in budget 2019-----

We will. Deputy Ó Broin will hear that.

-----and what specific targets and specific interventions. Sinn Féin will not be supporting the motion. We have tabled an alternative set of proposals which are based on what we have done in the past in the costed delivery of social and affordable housing. The measures are very clear. Our view is there needs to be a doubling of capital investment by the State in the delivery of social and affordable homes. We think it is eminently achievable with both Exchequer revenue and other sources such as credit union and the Housing Finance Agency. We think Part V should be returned to 20% in standard private developments and 30% in strategic development zones to deliver more social and affordable housing. The issue is why Fianna Fáil did not secure that in the last budget or the budget before.


There can be no interruptions. Let us respect the dignity of the House.

I do not mind the interruptions.

What we also need is for the Government to immediately introduce the affordable scheme it has been talking about. We are happy to work with it to ensure it has the right design. It needs to deliver homes, not at €320,000, but for families between €35,000 and €75,000 a year at genuinely affordable prices. That is somewhere between €170,000 and €280,000. Many local authorities still do not have enough staff and there needs to be additional resourcing for that. Crucially we need to reduce the length of time it takes to deliver social and affordable homes. The 18-month approval, tendering and procurement process is simply too long and must be reduced, not to the 12 months the Government is currently targeting but below that.

We also need to see the fast-tracking of the home building finance Ireland legislation. I know it is not the Minister's portfolio. It is under the Department of Finance. It is something the House agrees on and would work constructively with the Government on if it was laid before the House. We also need to be much more proactive with the credit unions. It is almost four months since the Central Bank made its decision to allow credit union finance into social housing. If that money was released it would free up Exchequer revenue to put into affordable housing and yet little action is being taken by either the Department of Finance or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on it. We need a coherent and proactive plan by the Minister's Department and the Department of Finance to get approved housing bodies back off balance sheet. My understanding is since redesignation has happened, there have been no meetings with the approved housing body sector to address these issues. We need to ensure that no LIHAF funding is given to any development that does not deliver some coherent level of affordability at affordable prices.

What real Opposition parties must do is in the run up to budget 2019 is say what they would do differently in government. They should say it not only in rhetoric but in concrete measures with proposed expenditure that is fully accounted for. That is what a real Opposition party does. It is not what is in this motion today. That is why Sinn Féin certainly will not be supporting it. We will be moving our own amendment to the motion.

When I read last week in the report of the Business Committee that we were to have a debate on affordable housing, I was hoping we would have an interesting, constructive debate with specific proposals coming from the new Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing. This is a very disappointing motion. We have had several very constructive debates in this House with people across parties where we have tried to tease out the various complex issues that arise in respect of the housing crisis. This motion is just designed to be sabre-rattling to indicate somehow or other that Fianna Fáil has loads of muscle to stand up to Fine Gael and that it is planning an election at some stage in the year to come. One would never think it is in a confidence and supply situation where it can use real power in the lead-up to the budget by putting figures on this issue. It is the woolliest motion I have read in a long time. Even the proposals are general, for example, "earmark an additional capital investment for a State-led affordable housing scheme in 2019", etc., with no figures or anything else, or "expedite the establishment of a cost rental model across the country with clear localised income criteria and location targets". We had a very good debate on cost rental a couple of weeks ago with very specific proposals and many contributions. Another proposal in the motion states: "utilise State and local-authority owned lands in the development of social and affordable units.” That is everybody's policy but it is entirely non-specific. Is Deputy O'Brien saying all the land should be utilised for social and affordable housing? If he was, we would support him. As far as I can see Fianna Fáil's policy is similar to Fine Gael's policy, which is to use most of that land for market priced houses and only a relatively small percentage for social and affordable housing.

If the Deputy meant something different, he should have specified something different because this is entirely woolly and general. It is very disappointing.

At the beginning of 2012, I moved into what was then called the Department of the Environment, Planning and Local Government. We had no money whatsoever following the collapse of the economy. The construction-led boom left houses in places where nobody wanted to live. One of the big jobs I had when I came into that Department was to deal with ghost estates. I chaired a committee in the Custom House where there were representatives of various bodies, including the construction industry, etc. We had to deal with houses nobody wanted to live in because they were built in places where there were tax breaks and in counties where there were too many houses. The local authorities had been starved of funding. They had been taken out of the construction business and the private market was providing the rented houses to meet the social need. That was what we inherited. We had no money to spend because of the troika and the bank guarantee, and the State was trying to deal with the mess it had inherited. We were dealing with budgets where we literally did not have any money to spend on houses. The only thing I could think of doing at the time was to use the small sum of money that I could scrape together to set up a void scheme. The current Government has continued that and something like 7,000 or maybe more-----

-----local authority units have been brought back into use because that is all we could afford. As soon as we could afford to start construction of local authority houses again, we began and the current Government has continued this, although I have many negative things to say about the speed at which that is happening.

The affordable housing scheme was stood down because all houses were affordable at that time. Deputy Darragh O'Brien admits that in his motion where he states: "Dublin’s residential property prices have increased 90.6% from their February 2012 low". They were at a low in 2012 and that is why the affordable housing scheme was stood down. Nobody was building. Let us be realistic: the Minister said the average price of a house in 2012 was €203,000 and Fianna Fáil is trying to reinvent history by somehow trying to make a comparison with 2011, as if the economy was the same in 2011 as it is now. A great deal of work had to be done to bring the economy back. Housing is playing catch-up and that needs to speed up.

The Government's response is too slow. It needs to move quickly. We keep hearing about schemes coming. We have called again and again for a proper affordable housing scheme and for the land owned by the State, most of which is owned by local authorities, to be used for social and affordable housing, not for market housing.

That is what I am saying.

It has to be genuinely affordable housing. One point I commend Deputy O'Brien on is his attempt to define affordable housing as being related to income. I agree that the previous scheme which Fianna Fáil presided over was simply a percentage less than the market price. We need to relate affordability to people's incomes because while the cost of housing and rent have gone up exponentially in recent years, people's incomes have not gone up to anything like the same extent. I agree with him on that point.

It is really disappointing that there are not more specifics in the motion. We will not be able to support it. All the points in Sinn Féin's amendment are specific and positive ones that we can support. Deputy Cassells has gone but I could not figure out what his point was because he seemed to be justifying what I see happen in my constituency where Fianna Fáil local representatives object to housing developments but do not propose any alternatives.

I never objected to one.

I think that is what he was saying, that it is all right to object to housing because there are no other facilities in the area.

What happened with the Labour Party in Fingal? It is a pity that Deputy Brendan Ryan is not here because he would tell the Deputy about it.

That is all I could understand from his contribution. I have refused to object to local housing developments where Fianna Fáil representatives have objected to them. Only if I can suggest an alternative will I object to anything that involves building houses for people who so badly need them. I hear a lot of talk about what should be done at a national level but I see a lot of action at local level which is stopping developments.

I have never objected to one.

We need to decide what we want.

The cost-rental model is good. The Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance model in particular has been very positive. I urge the Minister to move as quickly as possible. I know Ó Cualann has gone to some other local authorities to speak about its model. It is very positive and provides affordable homes.

We want to try to make constructive contributions on what is a really serious problem for people who are faced with unaffordability and see themselves stuck in the rental market although they want to buy a home, they have a job and they see rent going up. They are in competition with others who may be happy enough to be in the rental market, but people who want to buy cannot buy, and the social housing lists are getting longer. We need to see things happening, as opposed to potential actions. I urge the Minister to give the local authorities the tools to use their lands to provide social and affordable housing at scale and not just as a small percentage of the various sites. To judge by what councillors around the country tell us, they may well want all the houses in a particular area to be affordable whether for those on the housing waiting list or for purchase or affordable rent but because of the way the system is organised they have to agree to market rents for many of those houses. I hope we will have further constructive debates. This is a disappointing motion and I hope we will see more specific motions from Fianna Fáil soon.

I do not support the Fianna Fáil motion because of the points made by other Deputies. It recalls the launch of the St. Michael's Estate public housing on public land initiative last Thursday week.

At that time, when pressed by Vincent Browne on whether he supports public housing on public land at St. Michael's Estate, Deputy Darragh O'Brien replied "Yes" and he also said that a Fianna Fáil Senator had spoken to the St. Michael's Estate regeneration group. When Vincent Browne then asked whether he would support a national campaign for public housing on public lands, the Deputy dodged the issue and would not give a commitment in respect of it. We sort of agreed that we could put forward a Private Members' Bill on the policy in this regard being brought centre stage in the context of the Government's overall housing policy.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, visited St. Michael's Estate this morning and met the regeneration team, the members of which presented to him a breakthrough model to deliver superb affordable village homes for Inchicore. Inchicore neighbours are working together to secure affordable, energy-smart homes to improve the locality and the amenities. I am pleased to support and work with the St. Michael's Estate regeneration team. My home is on Ring Street, Inchicore, which is down the road from St. Michael's Estate. There is an amazing, empty and secure space of almost 12 acres at St. Michael's Estate in front of the beautifully restored Richmond Barracks and the recently open Goldenbridge cemetery in the heart of Inchicore. The regeneration team and I believe that there is a wonderful, people-centred way to harness this land, which is owned by all of us - the public.

At this time of chronic housing shortage, the State should not be giving publicly-owned land to developers but this is what is planned as part of the housing land initiative. Dublin City Council has selected prime locations in Dublin for development, including St. Michael's Estate. Within this initiative, the council plans to put these lands out to the market and to seek expressions of interest and development proposals. The preferred or selected developer will then secure the land and, in return, will be free to build a substantial amount of private housing, with a much smaller proportion of affordable or public housing.

Earlier today, the Minister of State, Deputy English, in response to a Topical Issue debate on affordable housing put forward by a number of Deputies-----

I was one of those Deputies.

I know that. The Minister of State said that the council wanted to see housing development on this site on a 30% social, 20% affordable and 50% private basis. This model is a win-win for developers because the vast majority of the homes will be sold for developer profit. We have a different vision. We want the St. Michael's Estate to be retained by the State in order to develop quality, safe, energy-smart public housing that will be affordable to rent for families, young couples and elderly people. According to the recent ALONE report, many older people are finding it stressful to get rented accommodation and they have no secure tenure into the future.

The St. Michael's Estate plan is a ready-made pilot project to change the way we deliver housing in Ireland. It would be a game changer if developed nationally over time. A report published by housing policy expert, Mel Reynolds, last week shows that the housing and homelessness crisis is unnecessary. He has put together information which indicates that 114,000 dwellings could be built on zoned land owned or controlled by the State. Within local authorities and NAMA there are over 3,000 ha of such land - 17% of all undeveloped zoned land in the State. Approximately 70,000 of these dwellings could be built in Dublin, thus eliminating the housing waiting lists of the four Dublin city councils - on which there are 40,000 families and individuals - 7,000 could be built in the constituency of Dublin South-Central and 2,000 in Inchicore. Only 2,378 houses were built by local authorities and housing bodies in 2016 and 2017, which is 4% of what could be done. Mel Reynolds has pointed out that if this level of building on public land is implemented, it would have a huge effect on land prices. This is the reason for the current housing crisis. The profits of speculators hoarding land come before meeting people's housing needs. A mass programme of public housing would also hit house prices and rents in the private sector. This is why it is not happening. When replying to the Topical Issue debate earlier, the Minister of State said that the Opposition is only interested in social housing and that we do not want private housing. I do not object to private housing on private land but I do object to private housing on public land, particularly in light of the current housing crisis.

In the few minutes remaining, I would like to read into the record the comments of a young girl named Nicola Quinn who is part of the St. Michael's Estate regeneration team. Her words epitomise the plight of young people and others who cannot afford to buy the houses being built by private developers and who also cannot afford to rent. She states:

A NEW PLAN for Inchicore means that ordinary young people like me can dream about renting at a price I can afford.

I’m 27 years of age. I’m a postgraduate student at University. I’m working with a global engineering company. I have friends and work colleagues from across the globe. I vote. I pay taxes. I have opinions, aims and aspirations. I’m a young, independent adult.

But I am living at home. Going through the same hall door since I was in a school uniform.

It’s the only living choice I have right now. And it’s the only choice that thousands more young adults like me have here in Dublin and across the country. Eurostat figures in 2016 tell us that a massive one in four Irish adults over 25 are living at home.

We are a generation trapped in our box rooms, locked out of the extortionate private rental market and unable to get a start on an out of reach housing ladder for ordinary people.

She goes on to say very eloquently:

I can at last begin to dream that there is a better way to do things, that there is a different way to think and plan for housing that ordinary people like me can aspire to and, above all, afford.

For over a year now I have been working with the St Michael’s Regeneration Team in Inchicore – where I grew up. I have met with the team every week, as a volunteer, to develop our plan for the 12 acres of green space that is right in the middle of our community.

What’s really ground-breaking about this proposal and what attracts me most to it is that all of houses on the site would be rented on a long term and secure basis, at a cost that is weighted according to people’s ability to pay. It’s called the cost rental model. It’s new here in Ireland but it is actually the successful rental model that has been in operation in countries across Europe for decades.

So say, you’re somebody with an income of about €30,000, your rent for a home suitable to you could be no more than €400 a month. Compare that with the €1,600 average it would cost me today to rent a two bedroom apartment off a private landlord or vulture fund in Inchicore and you can see immediately why I’m excited about this new, fair rent model. At last, it’s a housing model and a rent that I can live with.

This is the reality for many young people, bus services employees, rail services employees, post office employees, Eircom employees and retail outlet employees. Nicola also states:

Instead, what is proposed with the Fair Rent Model plan for Inchicore is that the 12 acres of public land is retained by the State – not given away. The State builds the homes, which the State continues to own, and then rents these homes to a mix of people – families, single people, older people – on a long term and secure basis.

The best bit about this proposal is that not only do people like me get the chance and the choice to live at a rent we can afford but that the State can recoup its initial outlay for building the homes.

So, at St Michael’s Estate, for example, if there were 300 one, two and three bedroom homes rented out, the State could expect to earn over €2 million every year – meaning that over a 25 or 30 year period the community would pay for itself.

This proposal has to be piloted on St. Michael's Estate. Councillors and the community can discuss the details in further detail. There are already 55 new houses in Thornton Heights and an old folks development is under way at site B on St. Michael's Estate. This can be a game changer for ordinary people who are priced out of the market.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I have spoken in this Chamber many times about the current housing crisis. We need to relieve pressure from people who fear homelessness. I plead with the Minister to take solid action. With a staggering number of children living either on our streets or in emergency accommodation, it is important that we make provisions to protect their family unit and their childhood as much as possible. The emergency accommodation available for these families is neither safe nor sufficient for the huge demands that exist. We owe a huge debt to the various charities, such as Focus Ireland, the Simon Community and the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust, that assist the homeless community throughout the country on a daily basis. In the current climate, tenants are finding it extremely difficult to source adequate accommodation as a result of a lack of supply and high demand.

According to census 2016, some 260,000 houses throughout the State are vacant. Common sense dictates that these houses could go a long way towards solving the immediate housing crisis. In order to achieve this, the building control and regulation process must be changed if we are to fast track the utilisation of these vacant or derelict buildings. My constituency in Cork South-West has many of these types of buildings. Throughout every town I travel I see these houses, some even without roofs on them, and there is no law on it; they are just left there. If a few slates fall to the ground they get a letter and no more. The buildings should be confiscated from people after so many years if they are not using them.

There is a pattern of vacant above-the-shop units in every city, town and village. These units could be refurbished to provide much needed residential dwellings. During the discussions on housing in the talks for the formation of Government in 2016, I raised awareness of this issue and gave the example of my home town of Schull in west Cork where very few families live over commercial premises. This trend, which has been occurring over the past 20 years, has impacted very negatively on our towns and villages such as Ballinee, Eyeries, Goleen, Kilcrohane, Kealkill, Drimoleague, Timoleague, Durrus, Ballydehob and Schull. I have spoken at length of a regeneration programme for these small rural towns and villages and the ability to rebuild these communities. I proposed that we should encourage families to take up residence over shops and commercial units by offering refurbishment grants. This would help in some small way in easing the housing pressure and it would promote the survival of our rural towns and villages.

The Minister and the Government have done little to fix the current housing crisis. On a regular basis we see new motions from all ends of the Opposition introduced as an effort to tackle the housing crisis but we have seen little action on the Minister's side of the House. I hope the Government will act to relieve the current housing crisis and take my recommendations into account as a way of addressing this crisis.

I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing this motion forward, which is very important, even though we have already spoken many times in the House highlighting different aspects and the measures that could and should be taken to alleviate the housing problems we have.

I support the motion for the provision of affordable houses to buy or to rent. It is a very laudable idea. There are many couples and young people struggling to pay even the rent. Consider the town of Killarney, for example, where rents of more than €1,000 and €1,200 per month are now common. Rent of €2,000 per month has been asked for houses in and around Killarney. With the incomes people have, and with families and everything else, they cannot afford these rents. When they get a notice to quit, which many of them seem to be getting recently and especially around Killarney, Tralee and Castleisland, they are very worried that they will not find a home, that they will be out on the road or their family will finish up in one room in the homeless centres in Tralee or Killarney. They are scared of their lives of this happening. Many couples are very worried about this.

This evening I want to determine the funding available for demountable homes, which I have come across in Kerry. The information I have heard from the housing section is that it is hard to get money from the Department to fund demountable homes. These people have an asset which is the site on which to place the demountable home. I want to determine if the Government is giving enough money to the local authorities or if it is the case that something has happened whereby the local authority is not approving this funding. I praise our local authority, especially the housing section and the grants section, for the great work it is doing giving grants to older people and to those who have a disability so they can stay in their homes for longer. That is where everybody wants to stay.

Deputy Collins has said that many houses are vacant but I do not agree with my colleague that these houses should be knocked or taken away from the owners. I believe that many of those who have a house and who cannot use it for the time being may come back when they get the opportunity. Funding must be made available for rural cottages because, again, those people have the sites.

I thank Deputy Darragh O'Brien and I wish him well in his role as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing and on the motion tonight.

Did the Minister say that there have been nine Ministers with responsibility for housing? Was it uimhir a naoi or were there six or seven Ministers? We talk about Charlie McCreevy's dirty dozen of tax cuts, but these housing Ministers are the useless six or seven, or whatever it is. The Government talks and talks but it will not walk the walk. It has promised housing but every figure that the Minister, Deputy Murphy, brings out and every statistic in print that has been predicted or suggested has failed miserably.

With regard to policy, back through the decades Fine Gael was never good at building houses. Houses were built under Fianna Fáil governments when there were no cranes or such equipment. Fine Gael never built them because it is not interested in the small people, na daoine beaga. It was only interested in the big landlords with daffodils up and down the drive and the twisted boreen or laneway going up. It was "To hell with the people". The policy is quite clear; the Government does not want to house people. It tells us about all the money it gives to the councils, but the council tells us that it does not have the money. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has said that the council does not have money for demountable homes and for many other things.

Nothing has changed. The figures are being massaged, managed and manicured to lead people to believe the Government. In Dublin tonight there are 30 pregnant mothers who are homeless, yet the Government wants to bring in abortion. That would get them off the lists. Has the Government lost its way completely? Or maybe it has not lost its way and it is a carefully laid plan not to house these people or allow them to build houses. They will not allow people to build houses in the country. I know of at least 12 young couples who have the wherewithal, the money and the site but they cannot get planning permission. Any way they go they cannot get housing. There is some plan greater than we can crack as to why the Government will not house people or allow people to house themselves with dignity.

It is great that we have so many people who want to get on an affordable scheme so they are not demanding a house from the State. They want to pay, get an affordable scheme and get a loan but the Minister will not do it. He refuses to do it in spite of all the work done by Fr. Peter McVerry and all the other organisations. There are many organisations also in Tipperary, from Carrick-on-Suir to Clonmel and from Tipperary town to Thurles and Nenagh. Voluntary groups have delivered. Last week I attended a launch on what the voluntary sector intends to build. They have done this under Dr. Donal McManus and the Irish Council for Social Housing and the other agencies. They can do it. People can do it if the Minister would let them get planning. The Government will not do this and it is a mockery. There were 11 houses built in Tipperary over five or six years. It was not even two houses per year. It is a joke.

It is time the Minister copped on, stepped up to the plate and came clean with the people. He must tell people why he will not house them. We have more than 3,100 approved applicants on the housing waiting list in Tipperary. There are 10,000 people looking for houses. It is the same story up and down the country but the Minister brings out this report and that report. If reports could build houses we would have houses galore. Consultants and everyone else get paid to compile these reports, do grand launches and turn sods, but then nothing happens. There is something seriously wrong with the Government and the people will tell the politicians this when they go back for votes. It is time the Government delivered something other than spoof and talk.

The hypocrisy in the House tonight is absolutely breathtaking. The Fianna Fáil Party abolished the local authority public house building programme and handed it over to the private market. The Fine Gael Government since 2011 embraced the abolition of the public housing programme and embraced the privatisation of the housing programme. It has made matters worse ever since. The Labour Party representative, who spoke earlier, introduced the infamous housing assistance payment scheme, which gave hundreds of millions of euro to landlords while condemning ordinary families to an existence. It is an existence because when a person has paid rent to the local authority and the huge top-up to the landlord, he or she does not have two cents to rub together at the end of the week. Any little thing that might get in the way such as an illness, a communion, a confirmation or a death throws a family into poverty and into the hands of moneylenders.

When did we last have nearly 10,000 people homeless? When did we have people dying on our streets? We have that now because this Government of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, supported by Fianna Fáil, has embraced the private market in the building of public housing. That has created a major crisis. It has in fact created an emergency.

I remember well when the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government abolished the local authority house building programme. I was on South Tipperary County Council at the time and I remember responding to the circular by prophecising that this would happen, but even I did not believe that we would have 10,000 people homeless or people dying on our streets. That is what has happened, though. That is what putting one's faith in privatisation means, namely, ordinary families coming off the worst. What could be worse than being homeless or dying on the street?

Of the 10,000 people homeless, 3,500 are children. Approximately 100,000 people are on local authority housing lists, 25,000 or more are on the infamous HAP scheme, approximately 30,000 families are in serious mortgage arrears, and rents are sky rocketing to the point that they are now 25% higher than they were at the height of the boom. Not a day goes by that a homeless person does not come to the office or ring the phone of every Deputy. Sometimes, two or three homeless people present everyday, even in my office in Tipperary. Not too long ago people were saying that the peak of the crisis was to be found in Dublin, but it is all over the country now.

Even our President has indicated that the policy being pursued by this and the previous Governments as well as the preceding Fianna Fáil Governments is wrong. He stated:

We have to accept once and for all that people who need housing and cannot provide from their own means should not be abandoned to the marketplace and the principle should be accepted that their housing should be as good as any other housing.... One of the most basic deprivations a human being can sufferer, or fear, is that of being homeless ...

He also stated, "It's about democracy. You can't leave the provision of housing to a residual feature of the market place. We have done that and homelessness is a consequence of that."

We need to do a number of things if we are to make any progress on this housing crisis. First, we need a declaration of a housing emergency. We all know why, that being, we are in an emergency. It is possible to declare an emergency - it has been done before. The previous Government did it with the FEMPI legislation. It should be done again, and the quicker, the better.

We need a major public house building programme. We must return to local authorities building at a significant rate of at least 10,000 houses per year, but more if possible. We need to use moneys offered by the credit union movement to help in that regard. We need to stop the evictions and repossessions, which are only building up the crisis and adding to local authority housing lists. We do not need new laws or the like. The Government simply needs to instruct the banks that we own - Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB - to stop their repossessions, to stop taking houses from people and families, and to leave roofs over their heads. That would be of significant benefit to families that are suffering in these circumstances.

The rent pressure zones have not, and will not, work, so we need real rent controls. That is one reason for a housing emergency to be declared. Rents are now 25% higher than they were during the boom peak and families are being fleeced. Even families in what would be regarded as good quality employment are living from hand to mouth because they have little or nothing left at the end of the week. We need rent controls urgently.

We need to introduce legislation that would allow tenants to continue their tenancies after their private landlords sell on their houses. Such legislation is available in other jurisdictions and is nothing new. It has been discussed in the Chamber previously. The law should be introduced immediately because this issue is directly contributing to homelessness. It is the main cause of homelessness among families, as they are being required to leave their homes when their landlords sell their buy-to-let properties.

The limits placed on inclusion on local authority housing waiting lists need to be increased significantly. They were reduced by the previous Government and now there is a large cohort of people who do not qualify to join the lists or to get mortgages. They are paying exorbitant rents. This situation needs to be dealt with urgently. The new Rebuilding Ireland loan scheme has made matters worse, particularly given that a 10% deposit is required. Previously, someone could get a 98% loan from a local authority. Now, someone must have a 10% deposit, but can anyone explain how a family paying anything up to €1,500 per month in private rented accommodation can also save for a 10% deposit? It is not possible. The scheme is unworkable and needs to be changed urgently.

We now move to the Fianna Fáil speaking slot of ten minutes. I call Deputy O'Rourke, whom I understand is sharing time with his colleagues.

We will take three minutes or so each.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this motion, which was tabled by my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. When one drills down into it, the principle is a basic one: people who want and are willing to provide for themselves cannot do so because their incomes do not match the cost of a house. When people seek a mortgage to purchase the house they want to buy, they are told that their income is at such a level that any mortgage they might be given will not allow them to buy it. In my constituency of Kildare North, a three-bedroom semi-detached house probably costs in the region of €260,000 to €270,000.

An interesting statistic on which there has been no discussion is that couples or individuals who, in light of their income-to-house price ratios, have been refused mortgages because of their inability to repay them are actually paying far more in monthly rents than their mortgages would ever be. Rents are increasing year on year or, in some cases, month on month. People are paying €1,300, €1,400 or €1,500 per month in rent and are still being told they would be unable to repay a mortgage.

We must examine people's ability to pay and factor that into the consideration of house prices and mortgage approval. If a person has been paying a high rent for two or three years, that should be factored into a consideration of his or her ability to pay in order to help them access funds to purchase a home and get onto the property ladder.

The home loan programme is not working. The statistics pertaining to my county show that more applications are being refused than granted. That initiative is not assisting positively in any way in getting people into their own homes.

Council-owned land banks, of which there are many around the country, have been mentioned. Land owned by councils that is zoned residential could be developed through Government borrowing at the close to 0% interest rate it can access on the European markets, which compares very favourably to the interest rates available from the private sector and commercial banks. The development of that land, which is owned and in the trust of the State, utilising borrowing at that low interest rate could assist in making properties more affordable if it is done in an appropriate way. That is an opportunity of which the State is not taking ownership.

As was stated earlier, the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which I have discussed with the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, is far too slow. I acknowledge that it is not geared towards delivering affordable housing but, rather, opening up land to deliver housing stock, which is also important.

I listened to the Sinn Féin contribution to this debate while in my office. I will not take any lectures from Sinn Féin about confidence and supply, supporting Government and having an input into the delivery of housing. Two and a half years ago, Sinn Féin had the opportunity to enter Government but it ran for three months and stated that it would not consider forming a government unless it were the lead party in that government. There was little hope of that. I also listened to the lecture delivered by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The best housing policy the Labour Party put in place was the creation of the housing assistance payment, HAP, which was actually a transfer list designed to reduce the housing list and make the statistics look better so that the Labour Party could pretend to the electorate that it was dealing with housing lists when it was not so doing. We should not take any lectures on housing from those parties.

Ordinary people can no longer afford to own their own homes. I have spoken many times on the tenant purchase scheme. I thank Deputy Darragh O'Brien, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing, for the opportunity to do so again. The tenant purchase scheme was first established by Fianna Fáil. Opening a pathway to home ownership is at the heart of Fianna Fáil policy. The right to buy under the tenant purchase scheme has been an important tool in extending home ownership opportunities to low income households but the requirements to qualify for the scheme are too strict for many people on social welfare and the elderly and must be changed.

People whose name was previously on the title of a property such as a family home, a parent's home, or a home from a previous relationship that was sold following a divorce or a bank forcing the sale and who are now in a new relationship and seek to purchase a house from a local authority are being restricted from doing so. Although the local authority will agree to sell them a house, it will not lend them money for the purchase because such people previously had their name on another property. They are told to get a loan from a bank. However, when such people go to the bank, the bank will not lend to them because of the incremental purchase charge the local authority puts on the house. That is causing much hardship. I have discussed such a case of which I am aware with the Minister.

Elderly people who wish to purchase their house under the tenant purchase scheme but cannot show an annual income of €15,000 are excluded from being allowed to do so even though many have been in their house for 30 or 40 years. Such people may be in their 70s or 80s and retired. Those houses will not come back into the housing stock because in many cases family members live with the elderly person and the house is transferred to the son or daughter or other person living there. It is very unfair that those elderly people are being discriminated against because they do not have an annual earned income of at least €15,000.

I previously raised the issue of a housing development in Lucan on which 178 houses are being built. The site is owned by NAMA, which has done a deal with the developer such that NAMA gets paid as the houses are built and sold. I have no issue with that. However, rather than being sold to people struggling to purchase a home for themselves, every house in the estate has been sold to a vulture fund. People are queueing outside the finished houses to rent them for €2,200 per month. If that continues, what chance will any young couple or family have of ever purchasing a house in Dublin city? That is the situation across the city, not just in Lucan, and should not be allowed, particularly on land owned by NAMA.

The country is facing a growing housing affordability problem to which the Government has yet to face up. Ordinary people can no longer hope to afford to own their own home because of rising prices. Fine Gael has an appalling record on providing affordable housing. It scrapped the existing affordable housing scheme in 2011 and nothing has since been built. The flagship LIHAF scheme is still not delivering. In my area, the LIHAF in Ballincollig, which was to be the largest in County Cork with an investment of €7.4 million, was to deliver 520 affordable homes. It has now been dropped from LIHAF 1 because it was not progressing. Across a field from it, 34 social houses planned for Old Fort Gate have not been delivered. The Poulavone social housing scheme is still far from completion. When one considers such situations in one corner of the constituency, it is hard to blame people in Ballincollig for feeling that the Government has not delivered and has abandoned people in terms of housing. That is only one corner of Cork North-West. There are similar situations in many other places because affordable houses have not been built for many years.

Fianna Fáil has put forward a clear list of measures to boost overall supply and address affordability. The Minister must facilitate home ownership by requiring lenders to take account of rent payments when deciding on mortgage approval. People are paying high rents and it is impossible for them to put together a deposit at the same time. A first-time buyers savings scheme is needed. The Government must encourage residential development in town and village centres, in which there are many vacant units. That would greatly add to the sense of community in such places. Renters must be supported by strict policing of rent pressure zones with more enforcement powers.

We need an end to spin and schemes and a move towards blocks and mortar and the delivery of houses that people on ordinary wages can hope to someday afford and call home.

In the absence of any Government Deputies offering, we move back to Fianna Fáil. I call on Deputy John Brassil, who I understand is sharing time.

I am glad to speak on this Fianna Fáil motion. I hope the Minister takes account of the measures it proposes. It is not good for society to have a situation whereby well-paid couples and individuals cannot afford to buy their own home.

Should I wait until the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle have completed their negotiation? I do not like talking to myself.

My apologies to Deputy Brassil but Fianna Fáil has the last slot so if he does not mind, given that the Minister of State, Deputy English, has arrived I will allow him to speak. He thought he was winding up the debate but he is not.

That is no problem.

Deputy Brassil can restart. The Opposition has kindly allowed the Minister of State to take his slot.

I like it when I have co-operation from the other side. Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to say a few words. I apologise as I did think I was winding up the debate. I was wound up earlier by some of the comments made.

We do our best.

You do it well.

It is one thing the Opposition Members are good at. I will give them that. A couple of points were raised earlier. I heard some of the comments made by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan in response to what Fianna Fáil is calling for in the motion. Very often we are accused of not addressing the housing shortage early enough and not stepping in, but as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said we took the first chance we got when the State finances were repaired and there was money and we made sure to put it back into housing. Listening to Fianna Fáil one would forget that for seven or eight years there was no money. It was not there. I listened to Deputy Cassells and many others speaking as if there was money and there was never a problem with housing. We had better not forget that housing construction fell by 90%. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs and left. I will never ever forget knocking on doors in 2011 and meeting people who said this country had no future and their children had no future. That is what they were saying. They could not see any hope. I do not go back to that very often in this House but we had better not forget what has happened in the past seven or eight years and prior to that. I do not mind all the political slagging. That is all part of it, but it comes back to housing construction. However, we had better not forget the hurt that was in people's eyes. I have only seen that same hurt since in the last couple of weeks over the recent scandals, but back in 2011 people were genuinely afraid that their children and grandchildren had no future in this country. It does not work to just put down a motion about affordable housing as if one could just fix the entire housing crisis by clicking one's fingers. One cannot just rewrite history. It takes time to get housing construction going again. The underlying idea behind Rebuilding Ireland, the Action Plan for Housing, was an investment case to secure the money that was needed to invest in housing. We put together a business case and a plan and secured €6 billion of taxpayers' money to invest.

I listened to comments earlier about the great work being done by many NGOs such as Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust, the Simon Community and many others. There was also much praise for housing associations and the great work they do. People also need to realise that they are also spending taxpayers' money. They are part of Rebuilding Ireland. They work with local authorities and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. They are all playing their part as stakeholders in the delivery of houses, housing solutions and homeless services, but that is being done with taxpayers' money. This year we will spend the guts of €2 billion of taxpayers' money and the taxpayers need to know that their money is funding solutions. When Members of this House constantly say what the Government is not doing and praising everybody else they should realise it is taxpayers' money being channelled through a Department by the Government. In some cases it is matched with voluntary help and fundraising but a lot of taxpayers' money is funding those solutions too.

The Government's approach is working and it is providing solutions. The fact that we are in here discussing a motion on affordable housing shows that our plan is now working because stage 1 of the plan was to address homelessness and social housing, and to restart social housing which had been stopped well before any recession. Let us not kid ourselves. Many local authorities did not have housing teams for many years before the recession because they did not need them. The first step was to go back into local authorities, put the teams together, channel the taxpayers' money through local authorities and put them in a prime position to deliver housing. They are now doing that. Last year we saw an additional 7,000 houses coming into the system through a combination of direct build, acquisition, Part V, long-term leasing and other schemes as well. In addition, another 17,000 to 18,000 houses were provided through the housing assistance payment, HAP, and other schemes as well. In total, 26,000 families had housing solutions. A total of 4,700 people left the homeless situation.

Regrettably, we admit that there are still between 9,500 and 10,000 people in a homeless situation for various reasons. Everyone has their own individual story. We met many people today who were in a hotel for three or four months last year in the Fingal area and now they are in a house. I made the point that the story is changing for many of them. When we first started to tackle the situation people were living for two or three years in emergency accommodation in a hotel or bed and breakfast. Thankfully, there has been a lot of movement in that regard. I accept that there are still far too many people in emergency accommodation, bed and breakfasts and hotels but the story is a little bit different. People are not there for as long as they used to be. They are moving through the system. They recognise that. They do not want to be there. We do not want them there - nobody does. It is not a place to be or to raise a family. Thankfully, with taxpayers' money being spent in the right way, through a plan, this year we will see more than 8,000 new social houses coming into the system. Many of the people who are in emergency accommodation tonight, who are homeless or without a house or in an overcrowded situation with their family will be in a home during this year.

Many others will avail of the HAP scheme and other schemes and housing solutions that are being provided. Deputy Frank O'Rourke suggested that in some cases the scheme is not working the way it should be. We accept that and we will address it and move things on. I heard some speakers criticise the HAP scheme. I remind them that before the HAP scheme there was rent assistance which prevented people from increasing their income. That discouraged people from going back to work. If one got a job one was penalised and lost the assistance straight away. The HAP scheme was brought in to encourage people to get back into work when they could and to take up a job, and to better provide for themselves and their families. It did not hold them back. That is what it was there for, but it also meant that more than 30,000 people are in a home today of their choosing - one they found that suits their needs that is subsidised through the State. They will adjust their needs as they go along and many of those people will choose to leave and go on to either their own private house or into a permanent social house. HAP is not a scheme to put people to one side because more than 1,000 people have left it and moved into a permanent social house. It is part of a journey that people are on.

We do not want to rely on the private sector all the time for social housing solutions but in the short term when we are rebuilding the construction housing sector we will have to rely on the private sector to some extent or make it a partner until the State is in a position that the housing stock is replenished and it can continue on by itself. That is what the approach is about. There is a commitment from the Government with the support of many others as well to deliver a minimum of 50,000 social houses in the next three or four years. People ask why the houses are not there. Anyone with common sense knows one cannot do it in six months or a year. We are approximately 19 or 20 months into our programme. The Department has been totally reorganised and we have different teams and schemes working through local authorities which have changed their processes. A lot of change has happened which will deliver all those thousands of houses this year, next year and into the future.

Part of the remit of Rebuilding Ireland was to put in place a sustainable residential housing construction sector to give people confidence that it is a safe place to invest in their skills, be it in formal education and training, an apprenticeship or traineeship or at fourth level. We are encouraging people to go back into those areas to retrain, add to their skills and as the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said earlier to restart their companies and put them together again, to invest in this sector and plan for the future. That is what this document was about, namely, putting people in a position that they could have confidence to invest again in a housing construction sector. There was a guarantee to deliver 25,000 to 30,000 houses every year for the next five, ten and 20 years to match proper planning. That is what it is doing. This year the supply of housing will increase by more than 20,000. The industry itself says 23,000 and the Central Bank says the same. The Department conservatively estimates the total will be approximately 21,000. That is ahead of our own target. Next year we will build on that. Each and every year the supply of housing increases, which will deliver social housing, affordable housing, housing for the rental sector and across all the different areas, and private housing at the right price as well. The supply of housing is the solution to all of the problems. That is what is being achieved by Government intervention through the Action Plan for Housing devised by the Department. That is what it is there for. It does not mean one can fix the problems in one night, one weekend, six months or one year. We cannot do that. It is a five-year plan to deal with all the housing-related problems and it is delivering because we can see the social housing.

Going back to the people who are homeless, we wish they were not in emergency accommodation. It is not a place to be. All our efforts are to make sure they are not there but there has been progress. In terms of people's individual stories for being there, two or three years ago it was nearly always based on economic need but that is not the story any more. There are different stories but it is not just due to economic and financial reasons. There is movement and we are addressing all the various scenarios. We are working with individuals and families to get them back into a home or get them back on track if they have other needs as well. Progress is being made.

I heard the comment that funding for other services around housing has to match. Deputy Cassells has a bit of a cheek to come in here and say the Government has to build houses and then provide all the services around them as well. We watched construction in this country go to 90,000 houses per year without the services around them. All the counties surrounding Dublin and in the greater Dublin region were let down by Governments that allowed house after house to be built without the proper services and infrastructure. Rebuilding Ireland, which was launched by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is a long-term plan which includes the services around the houses. It plans where we are going to put the houses in the future and where there will be schools, shops, education facilities and health services around them.

A site in Ashbourne that is big enough to provide educational facilities - which is what is was purchased for in the first instance, as well as housing and some community amenities - was chosen. It is not all just for houses. Let us not kid ourselves. That is not what the council brought forward in its plan. Ashbourne exploded because of a lack of planning. It is full of houses, like everywhere else in the greater Dublin area. There is no longer a lack of planning. The plan is in place and we will deliver services with houses.

I was in Balrothery, which is in Deputy Darragh O'Brien's constituency, earlier today opening new houses. Residents told me that two years ago they opposed the building of those nine houses because they thought that a playground should be built on the site. They told me they were wrong to oppose the development and that they are happy the houses have been built. I want to be clear on this - they said they were wrong. Likewise, when the position is explained to residents in Ashbourne, they may also realise that they are wrong to object.

We will proceed to the final contributions.

I will make one final point. On local government funding, as I have explained previously, population increases have meant that counties such as Meath are underfunded. They have been underfunded for many years following population explosions. However, the first chance it got, the Government, as finances improved, began to redistribute funding to all local authorities. We are correcting the mistakes of the past in construction and everywhere else as well.

I am glad I had the opportunity to listen to the contribution from the Minister of State. I know that he cannot fix this overnight or in six months. I know that he cannot flick a switch and solve the problem. However, this problem has been ongoing for five years. In 2014, the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, launched the plan that was going to solve the housing problem by 2021. It is now 2018 and we are only getting a trickle of houses coming onto the market. The Minister of State said that the Government's social housing plan is working, but there are 10,000 homeless people in the country as we speak. Is the Minister of State delusional about what is working? Does he think that we, as Opposition Deputies, are making this stuff up? Does he think we would be saying that there is an affordable housing crisis and trying to put forward solutions through our party spokesman, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, if there was no issue out there? It is time to realise that there is a problem. The Minister of State telling us that there is no problem and pretending that it is going to go away will not solve it.

I worked in construction for 15 years. I worked as an engineer and I know what it takes to get planning permission up and running, to get a site serviced and to get houses built. I know that 12 to 18 months would be long enough if one had the determination and the drive. There is an affordable housing issue out there. There are many couples on good salaries who simply cannot afford to enter the housing market. We are putting forward viable proposals and asking the Government to work with us to solve a problem. I ask the Minister of State not to stand up in the House and tell us that there is not a problem because there is and it is time we addressed it.

Nobody said there was not a problem.

Housing is now a national emergency. There are 10,000 homeless people in the country. I know that these figures have been bandied about all evening, but they represent the reality. Unfortunately, over 3,500 of those who are homeless are children. As the Minister and Minister of State know from their constituency clinics, many of the people who find themselves homeless or about to lose their homes are ordinary individuals with decent jobs - teachers, nurses and gardaí - who are facing repossession. There are no social housing building programmes under way in rural constituencies such as Cavan and Monaghan. With over 100,000 on waiting lists, this is a national crisis. In Cavan and Monaghan, those in need of social housing are facing waiting lists of three to five years. I know that the situation in places like County Meath is a lot worse. What does one say to people who come into one's clinic who are about to have their homes repossessed, their keys taken off them, with no homes to go to? They are facing the prospect of either being homeless or sleeping on the couch in their parents' houses. There are houses now with three generations of the same family living in them. People are losing their homes through repossession day after day and the housing crisis deepens. We are urging the Government to launch a new State-led affordable housing scheme. This must involve an initial capital investment on the part of the State, with the proceeds of sales reinvested into the building of more homes. It is essential that the Government earmarks additional capital investment for such a scheme to facilitate house building in key areas across the country. The Government must assist local authorities in reviewing their housing team needs. As the Minister of State said, the housing teams in a lot of local authorities were no longer there.

They are there now.

We need to give local authorities the capacity to deal with this and get housing schemes under way. We also need to re-examine the cost of supplying houses. I am not an expert but builders have told me that the initial outlay before a block is even laid is phenomenal. That is why we are not seeing the surge in the private sector building that we need. We need the private sector to build private houses as well as social housing schemes.

I was absolutely shocked to learn that 120 elderly citizens throughout the country are accessing emergency accommodation. I received an update from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government by way of a parliamentary question on the level of homelessness among those aged over 65. I tabled that question because I was dealing with three such cases in my constituency. I thought that if I was dealing with cases, then every other Deputy must have a similar number. There are 6,035 adults accessing these services and 120 of them are elderly. This is disgraceful. While it may be small compared with the overall number of homeless people, it signifies a failure on the part of the State to provide housing to a highly vulnerable cohort of our citizens. Older people can often find themselves in very vulnerable situations in the context of their health and personal finances and the fact that some are trying to deal with homeless issues at this stage of their lives is disgraceful. I would have thought that much earlier in this housing crisis older people would be specifically targeted. The additional needs of elderly people who are homeless must be addressed. I ask the Government to prioritise these 120 people. They are in a very vulnerable situation, with nowhere to live. Many of them have worked all of their lives and have fallen on hard times. I ask the Minister and Minister of State to think about that.

I thank all of my party colleagues and those from across the House who contributed to this debate this evening. The Minister of State, Deputy English, suggested that we are debating affordability this evening because social housing and homelessness are being addressed but that is patently untrue. We are debating an affordable housing scheme because Fianna Fáil tabled a motion on it. I am not going to go back and forth with the Minister regarding the Fine Gael history lesson he wanted to place on the record of the House or with the Minister of State and with members of Sinn Féin on various issues. There is a need for an affordable housing scheme and I simply asked the Minister when he is going to initiate one. I assure Deputy Ó Broin that my party is very serious when we say that the forthcoming budget must be a housing budget. There will be very specific and costed measures that we will be putting forward-----

It is a bit late to be looking for a housing budget. We put one in place two years ago.

Tá bron orm-----

We put in place €6 billion for Rebuilding Ireland two years ago but the Deputy is only looking for a housing budget now.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien without interruption, please. He has only three minutes left.

The Deputy is only looking for a housing budget now-----

I am terribly sorry that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government cannot take any legitimate criticism. What I am saying to him is that his plan is not working. He knows that.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien's party is supporting it.

Hold on one second. The Minister is in his job because we facilitate that. That is why he is there and he should have no doubt about it. I would prefer if he was more concerned about the 10,000 people who are homeless or about the people who cannot buy houses.

I want to address the point made earlier that homelessness is not in this motion. We will be discussing homelessness in committee tomorrow. This motion relates to affordability. I have written to the Minister on two occasions recently in respect of homelessness and have yet to receive a response, bar an acknowledgement, which I have here-----

The Deputy got his acknowledgement.

I got an acknowledgement. Is that it?

It is all connected. It is great to see the Deputy in the Chamber. I have not seen him in weeks.

I have not seen the Deputy in the Chamber in weeks and have not heard him ask one question of me-----

I have not seen the Minister recently either. When was the last time he appeared before the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government?

The Deputy has not asked one question of me in this Chamber.

When was the last time the Minister came into the housing committee?

I appeared four times in the first quarter, which is more than any other Minister, and I will be there again tomorrow.

I look forward to seeing the Minister there tomorrow. Am I to be allowed to conclude?

I ask the Minister not to interrupt the Deputy.

I firmly believe, as I think the Minister, Sinn Féin and others do, that we need an affordable housing scheme. There is no such scheme at present. The Government has not built any affordable houses. I remind the Minister that the average house price in Dublin is €368,356, or 6.5 times the average household income. I am using that as an example. I am not talking about €2 million houses. The Minister and the Minister of State seem to be saying to us that houses are affordable. Where are the affordable houses? Maybe there are such houses in some areas. We have a major issue with supply. We should not fool ourselves in that regard. We have a major issue with supply.

Does the Deputy not remember that it fell by 90% after his party came out of government?

We cannot have this.

We cannot have this nonsense either.

Some of the Minister's colleagues would feel I should-----

This is the Chamber where Ministers are supposed to be answerable to those who are elected. I am putting across my point of view. I did not interrupt the Minister once during his diatribe earlier in this debate. I could have interrupted him, but I did not.

The Deputy interrupted me, but I did not mind.

I interrupted the Deputy once or twice.

We can take it.

Deputy O'Brien should be allowed to continue without interruption.

We clearly believe that an affordable housing scheme is needed, among other measures. I asked the Minister to tell the House when such a scheme will be established, but he did not answer. There is a need for an affordable housing scheme that is backed by Exchequer funds and can be leveraged through a special purpose vehicle or through credit union finance. By the way, since 1 February last the Central Bank has allowed credit unions to invest in this area. The Government has not seen that through. We want action. A maximum of 780 social houses were built last year. That is a fact. I would like to deal with something that was said here this evening about the construction of social homes. If Deputies want a history lesson, I can tell them that 14,581 social houses were built between 2007 and 2010.

They were built by the private sector.

On average, 3,645 houses were built in each of those years.

They were built by the private sector and not by local authorities.

I have had experience with-----

These are political charges. I am surprised at the Minister because he is normally very orderly.

I beg your pardon, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

It is the stress.

We need to have some order in the House.

I have to say I have yet to find the Minister orderly. I have given the facts. The last time we were in government, an average of 3,645 social houses were built each year. That contrasts with the position during the Minister's tenure. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has said we cannot fix this overnight. I would have thought that five years would have been enough. We should have seen some progress after three years. There are 508 units being built each year, in effect. Over 16,700 houses were delivered under the affordable homes scheme that was previously in place. There is no doubt that there were imperfections with that scheme. We are looking to engage to create a scheme that will work. That is what we will do prior to the budget. We will put forward our proposals. It is up to the Government to decide whether to accept them. As I said earlier, the purpose of this motion is to lay down a marker that this is the beginning. We want to see a housing budget. We will assist and we will be constructive. We will work with everyone, but we will not be silent when we believe the wrong track and the wrong approach are being taken. The centralisation of power within the Department is a problem in itself. The Government needs to unleash the local authorities on this. They should be trusted to do their job. Too much power is centralised in the Custom House. That is a big issue.

I ask the Deputy to conclude. I have given him some extra time.

I thank Deputies for their contributions this evening, regardless of whether I agreed with them. It has been a useful, if sometimes a little charged, debate. We are committed to working with all parties to deliver an affordable housing scheme. Obviously, the Government is not serious about delivering such a scheme.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 May 2018.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 May 2018.