“That Dáil Éireann:
— the worsening shortage of social and affordable housing and emergency accommodation in Ireland now constitutes a national emergency;
— almost 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation and 144,000 applicants are on housing waiting lists, including the Rental Accommodation Scheme and Housing Assistance Payment fixed transfer lists;
— tens of thousands of people on low- and middle- incomes are paying unaffordable rents and are simultaneously locked out of the house purchase market due to the lack of supply and the knock-on dramatic increase in property prices;
— the State has failed in its duty to directly build public and affordable housing on publicly owned land despite local authorities controlling, as of December 2017, 1,317 hectares of zoned residential land with capacity for 48,724 dwellings;
— the delivery of directly provided public and local authority housing in recent years has been negligible, with only 1,058 new units built/acquired, including regeneration, by local authorities in 2017 and no affordable housing schemes, despite repeated commitments by the Government to do so;
— the central pillar of any Government policy must prioritise a decisive shift towards the direct provision of public and affordable housing on public land rather than the current reliance on private sector solutions; and
— notwithstanding the above, it is incumbent on the Government and the Dáil to use all other measures that could help accelerate the rapid delivery of public and affordable homes;
further notes that:
— the Central Statics Office identified 183,312 empty homes in 2016;
— it must be a matter of urgency to take measures to return to use any and all vacant units, properties and sites suitable for residential use, particularly given that the Government’s Vacant Homes Strategy has delivered only 416 homes to local authorities in 2016 and 2017;
— the delivery of social housing on private developments, through Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Part V), has been minimal with only 388 homes delivered in 2017;
— the failure of Part V to deliver any affordable homes arises from the reduction of the Part V obligation from 20% to 10%;
— slow delivery of residential development by the private sector has almost certainly been exacerbated by land hoarding, property speculation and the drip-feeding of development to keep property prices high;
— with market prices of completed units at record levels, the cost of local authorities acquiring the Part V 10% obligation will, in many cases, be prohibitive and generally more expensive than the cost of local authority builds;
— according to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, the all-in cost of building a new social housing unit is between €175,000 and €211,000, whereas average prices on the property market are now at €380,000 in Dublin, therefore, the cost of acquiring Part V units is enormously more expensive to local authorities than it would be to build on 10% of land acquired at existing-use-value;
— waiting for the completion of units by private developers before acquiring the 10% will also mean, in many cases, a much slower delivery of public homes and uncertainty about the timeline of such delivery if the private developers decide to drip-feed development of sites, or sit on all or part of such sites for long periods of time for speculative purposes, or in expectation of higher market prices in the future; and
— the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, has now discharged almost all of its debt obligations through property and asset sales, removing any justification for further disposal of development land or property that could be used to address the current housing emergency, but still controls, as of December 2017, 1,691 hectares of zoned residential land with capacity for 65,399 dwellings, and in Dublin alone controls land with the potential to build 43,075 dwellings;
demands a radical shift in policy to address the housing and homelessness emergency which will contain as its central pillar the provision of public and affordable housing on publicly owned land; and
notwithstanding the above, demands in addition:
— the establishment of multi-disciplinary empty home and property teams in each local authority, dedicated to proactively identifying vacant housing units, properties and sites with potential for refurbishment as residential units;
— that empty home and property teams will, in the first instance, attempt to engage with property owners with a view to working with them to return to residential use the unit, property or site;
— that, where suitable units, properties or sites are vacant for more than six months, without good reason, or where a property owner refuses to engage with the empty home and property teams, the local authority shall employ its compulsory acquisition powers to bring these units, properties or sites into use;
— that the remit of the empty home and property teams will also include the identification of suitable vacant units, properties or sites owned by Government departments, semi-State agencies or agencies under the aegis of Government Departments, and the power to acquire the property for development as public and affordable housing;
— that empty home and property teams shall include officers responsible for identifying suitable units, properties and sites and making contact with owners and all necessary qualified professionals such as architects, engineers, quantity surveyors etc. to ensure the timely return to use of all suitable units, properties and sites;
— that empty home and property teams will set out options for vacant units, sites and properties to return them to residential use, which shall include a range of assistance measures;
— that in any option where financial support is provided by local authorities for returning units to residential use, these units will be used for public and affordable housing;
— that the Part V requirement be immediately increased from 10% social housing to a minimum of 20% public and affordable housing;
— that where there has been any State aid for private development, such as the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF), Home Building Finance Ireland or Strategic Development Zone designation, the Part V requirement would be a minimum of 30% (40% with LIHAF funding) public and affordable housing;
— that all definitions of affordable housing are at a price that is accessible to those on incomes above the eligibility criteria for social housing and below €80,000 per annum, adhering to the standard of repayments being no more than 35% of net income after tax and social insurance;
— that, in agreeing Part V arrangements with developers, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will, by regulation, instruct local authorities to prioritise, from now on, the transfer of land option rather than completed units, as the cheapest and most timely mechanism to deliver public and affordable housing, stipulating that the land transfer must be completed within six months of the decision date of the planning permission or the application will be deemed invalid; and
— that the Government legislate immediately to change the mandate of NAMA to be a vehicle for public and affordable housing and ensure that it immediately ceases the sale or disposal of development land or residential units on the open market.”
This motion is an attempt to ring the alarm bells about what I think is the underlying problem generating the current housing and homelessness emergency and to propose a number of radical but practical actions that could begin to address that crisis. The point we argue in this motion is that the intolerable human misery the current housing and homelessness emergency is causing is not an accident but rather arises from rampant land-hoarding, property speculation and profiteering by investors, landlords and developers and that the Government's policies are actively facilitating this rather than dealing with it and doing what is necessary, which is for the State itself to build in large quantities public and affordable housing on its own land.
I think we have debated at length here the human misery aspect of this and the impossibility of the situation that huge numbers of people face, but it really is shameful. There are 10,000 families in emergency accommodation, 144,000 people on housing waiting lists, once one includes HAP and RAS fixed transfer lists, and hundreds of thousands of people paying extortionate rents and effectively locked out of the purchase market. The Ombudsman for Children's report today details many of the complaints coming into the ombudsman's office about the intolerable conditions that children living in emergency accommodation are having to suffer. There is further evidence of the madness of the property market, with the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, saying rents have risen by 7%. The CSO figures show property prices rose 13% last year. The Government says it is trying to address all this, but then one considers the facts. Last year, 1,058 local authority housing units were built, there were 799 approved housing body builds and a pathetic 388 homes were delivered through Part V arrangements with the private sector. This is the background to the motion.
As for private construction, we do not even know how many houses are being built. There is a major dispute about the number but we know whatever it is, it is abysmal. Goodbody states it is 9,000 but I suggest it is lower than that. There is another piece of evidence which has not yet entered the debate. If we only got 388 Part V units back, that means 3,888 private houses were built in developments of more than ten. While there would have been developments of less than ten units, are we really suggesting that as many as 5,000 to 8,000 units were in such developments? That is not credible. The output is miserable against a background of a catastrophic and worsening crisis.
In this motion, we state the reason for this is because both the State and the private sector are hoarding land and the private sector is simply speculating. Investors, landlords and developers are speculating on land and property prices to inflate the values of their holdings, often to flip them, but with no intention to build the housing necessary to address the housing crisis and they have absolutely no intention of providing that housing at levels that are affordable to the people who need it.
The problem certainly is not one of a lack of zoned building land. Local authorities alone have enough zoned building land for 45,000 units. NAMA has enough building land for 65,000 units. However, the delivery on this is pathetic. In NAMA's case, only 7,000 units were delivered of a potential 65,000. Some 50,000 dwelling units could have been built on the land that NAMA sold to property vultures, speculators and so on but only 2,000 units were delivered. It is not just the left that is saying this. Even Brendan McDonagh from NAMA has said there is a hoarding problem.
The Government's measures have actually increased the profits, land values and property prices but have done nothing to force the pace of construction. The Part V requirement was reduced to 10%. When the Government initially announced LIHAF funding, we were told it would lead to 40% affordable housing, a figure that disappeared within a few weeks. Two years later, no affordable housing is being delivered and the Minister even refuses to define what affordable housing is. I believe the reason for that is because the private developers know that if the Government introduced a meaningful definition of "affordable", which was genuinely affordable, it would impact on the ability of the private investors and developers to make profits on those sites. That is why the Minister is not doing so. The Minister has supported changes to regulations regarding single aspect homes, no parking spaces, changes in capital gains tax, changes in building heights, all of which simply inflates land and property values to the benefit of the speculators but does nothing to deliver public and affordable housing.
In this motion, we propose measures to deal with that. First, the Government needs to build social and affordable housing on public land, then it needs to pursue an aggressive strategy to go after vacant sites and empty property. It must resource local authorities to do so and give them the power to use compulsory purchase orders to do so. It must change the Part V requirements in order that we get land for the local authorities to build on rather than leaving it in the hands of private developers to speculate. Finally, NAMA's mandate must be changed immediately. There should be no question of it selling off more land to vultures and investors but instead, NAMA should build directly on that land to provide public and affordable housing units.