Residential Tenancies (Prevention of Family Homelessness) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

In 2011, when Fine Gael took office, there were 641 children in emergency accommodation according to the Central Statistics Office. Yesterday’s homeless figures stated there were 3,784 children officially homeless in February, an increase of 490%. Let that sink in for a minute. Under the watch of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his colleagues, thousands of children have lost years of their young lives to homelessness. In total, there are 10,264 people officially homeless and 1,707 families sleeping in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, and family hubs. However, these are just the official figures. They do not include the 1,600 adults and children wrongly removed, in my view, from the homeless figures last year, nor do they include rough sleepers, women and children in domestic violence shelters, those in hostels not funded by the Government, nor those granted asylum but unable to access private rented accommodation because of the housing crisis and using direct provision as emergency accommodation. In fact, the Government cannot even tell us the full extent of the homeless crisis because it refuses to count all those without a home.

Yesterday’s figures must mark a line in the sand. The symbolically significant number of 10,000 has been breached. This must force the Government to stop and ask what is going wrong. More importantly, surely Government must now be asking what it can do differently in the weeks and months ahead to stop the flow of adults and children into homelessness.

How did we get here? What caused child homelessness to increase by a staggering 490% in eight years? How is it possible, in a growing economy, with more people in work than ever before, that we have such a deep housing and homelessness crisis? In part, the blame lies with Fianna Fáil. Decades of underinvestment in social and affordable housing, coupled with an over-reliance on the private sector to meet housing need, created a fragile housing system. Economic mismanagement led to recession, which in turn led to a housing crisis. However, Fine Gael can not lay all the blame at Deputy Micheál Martin’s door. From 2011 to 2013, Fine Gael slashed capital spending in social housing to its lowest level in decades. In 2014, when private sector rents started to spiral out of control, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, blocked meaningful rent regulations. Tens of families started to present as homeless every single week. By 2016, tens had become hundreds, with family homelessness reaching unprecedented levels. In response, the then Minister and now Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, introduced the rent pressure zones. At the time, in this Chamber, we warned him they would not work, that they would be impossible to police and that it would lead to a two-tier rental market, but he dismissed our concerns and carried on regardless. Two years on, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, those of us who raised these concerns have been proven right. In 2018, as the Minister knows, rents increased by 7% across the State and by 8% in Dublin, which is twice the rent pressure zone cap. Yet, as late as this morning, the Government claims that its policy is working.

Today, the single biggest cause of family homelessness is landlords legally evicting their tenants when selling their properties. As house prices have started to rise, landlords, many of whom had been in mortgage distress, are now exiting the market. Indeed, since 2017, more than 9,000 rental properties have been lost. What has Fine Gael done to prevent the loss of these properties? What has the Minister done to stem the flow of family homelessness? In my view, the answer is quite simply nothing. Just as those in Fine Gael sat on their hands when the rental crisis started to spiral in 2014, today they continue to sit on their hands as more and more people lose the roof over their heads. There is nothing in Rebuilding Ireland to address this specific problem. In the weeks and months ahead, unless something changes, hundreds more families will be issued with vacant possession notices to quit and will be evicted as banks and funds force accidental landlords to sell their properties.

The Bill before us is very simple. It was drafted by Focus Ireland in 2016 and was debated and voted on before in the House. Put simply, it would prevent buy-to-let landlords who had availed of tax breaks when purchasing their property from evicting tenants into homelessness when selling up. This would ensure that many of these properties would in turn be purchased by other landlords, keeping the families in situ and preventing them from becoming homeless. When we proposed it back in 2016, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail contrived to block it. In doing so, in my view, they condemned hundreds of families to homelessness. I have no doubt that if we had passed this into law two years ago, many families who subsequently became homeless would have avoided that terrible tragedy.

While the Tánaiste made it clear this morning that Fine Gael has no intention of supporting the Bill, I would appeal to Fianna Fáil to do the right thing. As always, I am open to constructive amendment on Committee Stage. Therefore, what I would say to Deputy Casey and his colleagues is that if they support the intention of the Bill, they should not stand in its way and they should work with us to improve it if necessary as it progresses through the House.

As I said, the Tánaiste made it clear this morning that the Minister, Deputy Murphy, would not be supporting the Bill. He said it would not work, would drive landlords out of the market, would discourage new investment and would fall foul of the Constitution. Let me respond to each claim in turn. In the commercial rental sector, sale of property with tenants in situ is standard and, in fact, is a condition of almost all commercial rental contracts. If it works there, why can it not work in the private rental sector? We are already losing a very significant number of rental properties from the market. According to the latest figures from the Residential Tenancies Board, the figure is 9,000 in the past two years.

The problem is that the loss of these properties is completely disorganised and chaotic. Insisting on keeping tenants in situ during a sale would assist in keeping many of these properties in the rental sector. As for new investment, given the very high rents, which are currently above peak boom-time rates, and generous tax breaks for real estate investment funds and other investment vehicles, it is hard to see how such a simple measure would have any impact on future investment.

On the issue of the Bill's constitutionality, if the Minister has legal advice from the Attorney General he should publish it. This has happened previously, although not often enough. All those of us on the Opposition benches can do is refer to previous Supreme Court rulings on related matters. In its ruling of August 2000 on Part V of the Planning and Development Act, the Supreme Court set out the way in which the Oireachtas could limit property rights and the judgment is worth quoting in some detail:

In the present case, as a condition of obtaining a planning permission for the development of lands for residential purposes, the owner may be required to cede some part of the enhanced value of the land deriving both from its zoning for residential purposes and the grant of permission in order to meet what is considered by the Oireachtas to be a desirable social objective, namely the provision of affordable housing and housing for persons in the special categories and of integrated housing. Applying the tests proposed by Costello J. in Heaney v. Ireland [1994] and subsequently endorsed by this court, the court in the case of the present Bill is satisfied that the scheme passes those tests. They are rationally connected to an objective of sufficient importance to warrant interference with a constitutionally protected right and, given the serious social problems which they are designed to meet, they undoubtedly relate to concerns which, in a free and democratic society, should be regarded as pressing and substantial. At the same time, the court is satisfied that they impair those rights as little as possible and their effects on those rights are proportionate to the objectives sought to be attained.

This Bill will not prevent landlords from selling their property; nor will it impose on them any actual financial loss. They may, in the words of the judgment be forced to "cede some part of the enhanced value" of the property, but this is being done in accordance with the principles of social justice and in the name of the common good as outlined in the Constitution and to address a matter which this Oireachtas surely believes is a "desirable social objective" which is "of sufficient importance to warrant interference with a constitutionally protected right." What could be more pressing and substantial than preventing child homelessness? Are the marginal gains of landlords selling their properties more important than keeping families in their homes? Is the Government seriously suggesting that property rights should trump children’s rights?

At the heart of the Bill before us tonight is a very simple choice. Are Deputies on the side of big landlords, vulture funds and real estate investment trusts or are they on the side of the 3,784 children who will sleep in emergency accommodation tonight? Do we believe that the right of people to safe and secure accommodation is more important than the right of landlords, who previously benefitted from tax breaks, to make an extra 10% or 20% profit on the sale of their property?

This morning the Tánaiste claimed that the forthcoming Residential Tenancies Act will help in reducing the flow of families into homelessness but I do not believe that is true. While the Act will strengthen tenants’ rights, which I support, it will not assist those facing legal eviction when their landlord is selling up. They will remain without adequate protection. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies refuse to support our Bill tonight, they must set out their alternative. What are they going to do for those families with notices to quit in their hands tonight, who do not know what the future holds? This Bill is not a silver bullet. It is a small but important measure that, if passed into law, will make a real difference to people’s lives.

The latest homeless figures confirm, once and for all, that Rebuilding Ireland is not working. In my view and that of an ever growing number of people, it must be replaced. As the Oireachtas agreed by a majority on 3 October last, we need to see a doubling of capital investment in social and affordable housing. We need emergency measures to tackle spiralling rents and reduce homelessness. We also need to see the right to housing enshrined in the Constitution. The Raise The Roof campaign has scheduled a massive demonstration in Dublin on 18 May next to support these demands. All those involved in that campaign, both inside and outside the Oireachtas, are determined, through people power, to force the Government to change its policy or, through people power, to force a change of Government. In the mean time, while we are fighting to deal with those bigger issues, the families with notices to quit need our support tonight. Let us stand with them and, by passing this Bill, give them the protection the desperately need and deserve. We must ensure that in the coming months we see, for the first time in years, a reduction in the number of families entering into homelessness and not, as has been the case with this and the previous Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, a month-on-month increase.

I thank the Deputy for bringing forward this Bill which enables us to have this important debate. The timing is helpful because of the very distressing numbers that were published this week. We was an increase in the numbers of people, both families and individuals, entering emergency accommodation in February. This is very distressing for the people who had to go into emergency accommodation. It is also very distressing for those who are still in emergency accommodation and for the general public because of the strong social contract that we have in this country. People do not want to see their fellow citizens in distress; they want to see them in homes. That is the whole purpose of the Rebuilding Ireland programme. The aim is to rebuild our broken housing sector and to bring security and safety to people who do not currently have it because of bad decisions that were made in the past.

I take my responsibilities in this area very seriously and that is why this is so hugely disappointing for me. What we have seen in different months over the last two years is different things happening in relation to emergency accommodation. What we saw in December and January, for the first time in recent years, was more families exiting emergency accommodation than entering it for two months in a row. That was very positive and I said last month that I hoped it was indicative of a trend, given all the house building that we are seeing and the extra protections that we have provided to renters. I hoped that because those aspects of Rebuilding Ireland were starting to prove themselves, although we still have some way to go, the tide was beginning to turn in terms of the numbers in emergency accommodation. As we know now, however, that was not the case in February and the numbers have increased.

Deputy Ó Broin is an intelligent and capable person, of that there is no doubt but it is beneath him to suggest, as he did yesterday on radio, that there is some conspiracy between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil against people in housing insecurity and those going into emergency accommodation. It is also beneath him to suggest that I have massaged the figures. When I brought the mistake by the local authorities to public attention, Deputy Ó Broin accepted at the joint Oireachtas committee that it was a mistake. I see that the Deputy is shaking his head now but I have it on record that he accepted that it was a mistake. It is also beneath Deputy Ó Broin and others to offer simple solutions that will not help the situation. I will explain why they will not help and why they may, in fact, run the risk of making things worse for lots of people.

Deputy Ó Broin said that we need to replace Rebuilding Ireland but I am not sure what parts of it he wants to replace. Would he replace the help to buy scheme-----

-----which has helped 10,000 people, individuals and couples, to get new homes? Would he replace the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which has helped hundreds of people to buy their first home? Would he replace the rent pressure zones, which have meant that for the first time in two years, we have seen rents fall? Would he replace our social housing programme, under which one in every four newly built homes was a social housing home? It does not matter if it is Dublin City Council or the Iveagh Trust contracting a builder. Indeed, the latter has been providing social housing for longer than this State, let alone the city council. We are talking about social housing homes and every single one that is brought into our social housing stock helps a family or an individual out of emergency accommodation. Would Deputy Ó Broin replace the €2.4 billion that we are spending on housing this year? This is the highest amount that the State has ever spent in a single year on housing. Perhaps he would replace the 5,000 individuals and their children who were prevented from entering emergency accommodation last year or who exited from such accommodation. Would he replace the 27,000 new tenancies that were supported last year through taxpayer support under Rebuilding Ireland? Would he close all the sites that are currently open across the country, where homes are being built every day? The Deputy spoke about replacing Rebuilding Ireland or throwing it out but with what would he replace it?

Which of those elements would Deputy Ó Broin throw away? They are working to help tens of thousands of people. We know that the root cause of our crisis at the moment is supply, but it is increasing. Nothing the Deputy has said, however, would increase supply any quicker. Doubling the money will not increase the time it takes to get planning, to get procurement and to build a home. It would not do that and it is wrong to suggest that it would.

The Deputy is right to say that as we build these new homes - the Government has said this before - we have to ensure we are protecting people while the supply of new homes to rent or buy increases. It is good to put forward ideas to debate and interrogate but we must ask ourselves whether this measure that has been put before us would help. From my view of it, the answer is "No". I assure the Deputy that we have done a lot of work on this. Every time a new idea is suggested we look at it thoroughly to see if there is something extra we could be doing because as a Government, of course, we want to help. If some idea was going to help people out of emergency accommodation, then why would we not implement it? This Bill, however, would not do that.

We do not have large numbers of foreign investors operating in the Irish rental sector. Even if such investors could be targeted, this Bill targets less than 5% of the market or 1% of transactions in 2017. Regrettably, we have a report from the UN rapporteur, which I do not believe has yet been published, only in the form of a press release. We do not know what evidence it has been based on. Only 5% of the market is controlled or managed by foreign institutional investors. How can it be extrapolated out to the other 95% which are not even involved in that sector?

Some 86% of Ireland's landlords own just one or two properties. These are not evil, corporate organisations or the demons Deputy Ó Broin makes them out to be. These are real people, some of whom are accidental landlords due to what happened in the crash. Some of these people may have made a small investment in another property that could quite possibly still be indebted, as was pointed out, because of the negative equity people found themselves in as a result of the housing crash and the fact the housing sector had not been managed correctly before.

Deputy Ó Broin's Bill is unconstitutional because it is an unjust attack on a sub-group of people for a societal problem that is far more complex than simply someone selling property. There is a link but it is far more complex than that. The Deputy's comparison with the commercial sector is wrong. If a person has a lease in place, even in the residential sector, it cannot be breached with a notice to quit. Even if the Bill was constitutional and passed that barrier, that provision would not be retrospective. It would not help anybody renting today but it would drive landlords out.

The Deputy has recognised that we are losing landlords from the sector. We must all recognise that losing landlords increases the numbers of people presenting to emergency accommodation. One of the unintended consequences, not through in the Bill, however, is that it could make housing insecurity worse for people because the landlords would see further restrictions on their own rights and further challenges to them exercising their own rights, thus driving those landlords out of the market. Consider a situation where a landlord needed to sell a property, for example, because he or she had gotten into financial difficulties, or because family member had medical bills. Let us say the Bill's provisions were legal and retrospective, there could be a decrease in the value of the property of between 20% and 30%. We have evidence of this.

What if the landlord's property is in negative equity and he or she is trying to sell the property to pay off a debt? What then? What if the landlord is trying to sell the property to meet the needs of a relative who is in distress? In not being able to realise the market value of a property, which had already been massively devalued over the years, these landlords could struggle to pay their own rent or mortgages and could themselves be at risk of entering emergency accommodation.

Sort out the debts then.

These are the unintended consequences of this proposed legislation. One would end up hurting more people and the landlords could still sell, with tenants in situ. What happens if a young couple buys the house with tenants in situ? The young couple has the right under section 34 of the Act to serve a notice to quit and to move into that home. If the tenant says "No" the young couple could end up paying for a very expensive mortgage and rent since they cannot move into their new home. This couple, who may want to start their own family, would then have to go through a very lengthy procedure because we have very strong protections in place for tenants, and the couple are now landlords when they never wanted to be. They are now trying to evict people out of a home when they never wanted to do that. All they wanted to do was buy their first home and start a family. These are the unintended consequences that risk doing more harm than good in proposed legislation that does not think about the wider potential impacts it could have on the sector.

It does not mean that we do not do any more or that we do not ask why something has happened in the last month, for example. When we were discussing the rent Bill over the last year we spoke about using it to make as many improvements as we could. I really appreciate the support of the House and of the joint Oireachtas committee on the Bill, and their working with me to get it through as quickly as possible but also making sure it has the correct scrutiny, because when it is law, it is the law. We do not want to miss a trick on this.

We can extend the notice periods for people, as we are proposing to do, when a notice to quit is served. This will help because we know that the longer a period people have in which to find new accommodation, the greater chance they have of finding accommodation or of being able to engage with local authority services such as the place finder service to get new accommodation.

We also know that we can better enforce section 34. We are giving extra resources to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and we are going to build on those resources again next year as part of a change management programme, so we know we can give greater powers around enforcement to make sure landlords are not evading their responsibilities where they seek to do so. We can also help the RTB to police the rent caps independently and to take that burden away from tenants who may find themselves in a difficult position if they want to challenge their landlord and fear it may have a negative consequence for the tenant's ability to stay in the property beyond the period that had already been agreed.

We know we can do all these things and will do them in the rent Bill. Further amendments will come to the Cabinet on Tuesday, which will then be published and shared with the committee. We can then debate those and how to help make the improvements.

Meanwhile, as we seek to ensure greater protections for people who are renting and in housing insecurity, we will continue to build more homes. One out of every four homes home built last year was a social housing home. We will continue to increase the stock of social housing by any means possible and not let ideology get in the way. We will acquire homes, we will do turnkey homes and long-term lease homes. We will work with our partners in the housing bodies and the NGOs, which are also housing bodies, to bring about new homes. Please stop vilifying the housing bodies and NGOs which are providing social housing homes. Those homes count and they count big time to those people who get the keys and move into the homes. I know this personally because I have met those people.

We can protect more families and prevent more families from entering emergency accommodation because of the funding we have this year to work with local authorities and NGOs, and we can exit more families from homelessness as we did last year.

At all times we need to honest about the challenges we face. Our housing sector was destroyed and is being rebuilt in a way that did not happen before, that is, so that it cannot be broken again. We are also seeing other things happening in the economy such as increased demand due to people coming home to Ireland. There is also increased demand because there are good jobs available and people now have money to buy a house. Thankfully, we are also seeing a depression on rents and on house price increases because of the other measures the Government is taking. We will continue to work through those challenges, to implement the solutions that are working and to look at new ideas to see if we can take them on board if we believe they will help. We will, however, always be honest about our choices and will always be responsible in our choices. We will do everything we can to help people, and especially those who are most hurt in this crisis, the families and the children in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and family hubs tonight.

Having listened to the Minister, I think he has a wonderful imagination. When he thinks of a future career, perhaps it could be as a screenwriter or a novelist because he seems to be imagining a world that we simply cannot see and which absolutely does not exist: a world where the landlord class is facilitating the housing of our people. The reality is that every weekend - I am sure it is the same for the Ceann Comhairle - Deputies meet many distressed families who have been made homeless simply by landlords who wanted to gouge the highest possible rent out of people. That is the reality and the Minister knows it is the reality. If he does not, then he has a wonderful imagination and could have a different career than administering a housing Department. The rents have led to this desperate crisis.

Yesterday the Minister and the Government passed a shocking milestone when the official figures for homelessness increased to more than 10,000. Fr. Peter McVerry said the figures do not include those people who couch surf in the homes of relatives and so on, and that we could, in fact, be talking about 15,000 people being homeless. It is a terrible legacy for the Minister as the Government approaches what could be its final months. It is a sadly deserved legacy for the Minister after his years of inaction and the snail-like pace of delivery and misaligned priorities.

Only this morning, the Minister said we needed more landlords. Is that to pay more rent subsidies to landlords of up to €1 billion per annum and to keep tenants in insecure accommodation as the Taoiseach refers to it? When he talks about social housing, he is talking about what Fingal County Council describes as "housing solutions". Housing solutions are usually not forever homes. They do not provide stability and comfort to families. While it will not, of course, happen as long as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are running the country together, we need large-scale building of mixed tenure local authority housing to provide homes for the majority of people in Ireland. By the way, we had that system in the past. It is astonishing to think that 10 or 15 years ago there were way fewer landlords and shorter housing lists. There were far fewer people in homeless accommodation or on the streets.

The fantastic world the Minister described to us simply does not exist. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said this morning, it is a shameful situation. I was also struck by the Minister's comment that there will always be homeless people. He said there would always be people unable to find shelter on a given night. That is a shocking admission by a Minister.

It is the Minister's job to ensure there are enough places and that people are not on the street.

There are enough places.

He should ensure that when we walk out the gates tonight, we do not pass three or four people in distress on the streets. That is the Minister's job but it is one he has not been doing. Clearly, there will always be homeless citizens and families while Fine Gael remains in power. We are now entering the ninth year of this miserable austerity Government. The fundamental reason is the Government's active encouragement and protection of a ruthless landlord class. From recent freedom of information responses and other information which has come to hand, we know of the relentless meetings between the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who was chief operations officer of the austerity programme, and foreign so-called property investors, namely the vulture funds.

I commend Deputy Ó Broin and Sinn Féin warmly tonight. The Deputy is trying to at long last move the scales back towards a much fairer housing market. The Bill is intended to complement a suite of other measures to prevent family homelessness. It is also an amending Bill for which that excellent front-line organisation, Focus Ireland, has called for a number of years and a restatement, of course, of Sinn Féin's 2016 Bill, which the coalition partners, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, defeated. Though short, the Bill is important. It seeks to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to prevent tenants in buy-to-let properties being evicted when a property is being sold. It seeks to insert a new section 34A to restrict the termination of tenancies in buy-to-let dwellings. It applies specifically to investment mortgages. The definition of "investment mortgage" is designed to ensure accidental landlords are not included in the restriction which will apply only when a mortgage is taken out on a residential property which was not intended to serve as the person's principal private residence.

I agree completely with Deputy Ó Broin that while the Bill may be short, it includes an important measure to move back to a housing market that serves young people, families and citizens who are desperately seeking housing. Threshold, Focus Ireland and other front-line organisations have provided definitive evidence to show that a majority of those entering family homelessness come from the private rental sector on foot of notices to quit to provide vacant possession. That has been my experience and I am sure it has been the experience of the Ceann Comhairle. So many of the families and individuals I have represented over the past number of years have had that experience. They then go on to be left for two and a half or even three years in hotel rooms, bed and breakfast accommodation or guest houses.

On 14 February 2019, I brought forward a motion on homelessness, which was co-signed by my colleagues in the Independents 4 Change technical group. We tried to urge the Minister to declare a housing emergency and embark on a widespread, State-led housing programme to increase supply dramatically. Based on his own figures, we know the Minister will not achieve the Rebuilding Ireland targets and will be long gone from government when we are still striving to meet them. We also sought a commitment to rehouse families who had been in emergency housing accommodation, including hubs, for 18 months and more. I note from replies to questions my colleague, Councillor John Lyons, put to Dublin City Council that families have remained in hubs since the day they were established. In fact, while the voluntary housing bodies gave a commitment that families would only be in hubs for three or four months, some have now been there for 12 and 15 months. In the earlier emergency accommodation, we found people going way over two and a half years. The Minister is right about one thing. It is very distressing, in particular for the families and children in this situation tonight as we reach this deplorable milestone.

The Simon Communities have been producing the locked-out-of-the-market report regularly to update us on how few properties are available at certain points in time to those in receipt of housing assistance such as HAP or rent supplement. The Government may have spent €700 million - it is heading for €1 billion on HAP - but when we meet people week in and week out who are homeless or going to one house and another to stay with relatives or friends, they just cannot access HAP. Certainly, we still have that situation in the Dublin region. The Minister mentioned property companies and foreign companies but Deputy Boyd Barrett also referred this morning to the Irish Residential Properties REIT. It has a massive property portfolio, which is bigger than most housing bodies and county councils as it approaches 3,000 units. It awarded its chief executive a basic remuneration package of €680,000 with a further €2 million in future shares. We have had a relentless programme. Yesterday, the Financial Times reported on what it called the impending buy-to-let boom which it said was a model to transform rental housing into an investable asset class. This form of investment is spreading across Europe as the rental yield in many countries is significantly higher than the bond market can, for the most part, offer. Of course, our own country is often highlighted as a particularly attractive proposition for the companies that want to enter that area.

We need increased supply of good-quality rental accommodation, but it should be linked to affordable and stable rents. On this side of the House, we have come forward again and again with proposals to freeze rents for two or three years to give us a chance to get some programme, even Rebuilding Ireland, up and running properly. The Bill before us is a modest attempt to begin to deal with one of the most awful aspects of Irish rental law. The Minister's defence of the existing situation is based on an untenable fantasy. It is clear from reporting on other EU member states that we could have a different system and a much fairer rental market. However, we will never have that while Fine Gael is in power. The background to this is that many of the ruthless landlords who are continually pushing rents up received all of the tax breaks before the 2014 period. In its latest budget, the Government gave them a 100% tax break. The ideological party in this is Fine Gael and the situation will remain hopeless while it is in power.

The Minister said earlier on radio that we could not force people to sell with a tenant in situ. He said the same thing again here tonight. He said the value of the property of that owner would fall by 20% to 30%. I want to examine that claim with him. Does he have proof that would happen, given the dearth of available housing? Given the shortage of housing, would selling a house with a tenant in place lead to a 20% to 30% drop in value? There is an onus on the Minister to show us the economic evidence behind that. In any event, would it not be a good thing? We want to bring the price of housing down but it is rising relentlessly. This is adding to the maintenance of very high prices because it turns housing into a commodity and sustains the entire buy-to-let market.

The Minister also stated that the Government cannot reduce people's incomes or assets by 20% to 30%. It can, in fact, and it did so to many other people. Under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments, it was done to nurses, teachers and public sector workers. They had pay cuts and pension levies applied to their wages. What the Minister means is that he will not do it.

The Minister indicated that he is exceptionally worried about landlords. He referred to poor landlords on four or five occasions. She said very little about the poor families turfed onto the streets as a result of his intransigence. As has been stated, the main cause of homelessness is eviction from the private rented sector. There are no measures to protect somebody from being evicted if the landlord is intent on doing so. If a landlord wishes to get rid of a tenant, and I am not saying every landlord does, all he or she need do is state in an affidavit that he or she will sell the house. Who will challenge the landlords? How many cases arise where somebody challenges a landlord? There was one recently involving a high profile broadcaster and his family who evicted a tenant. When the tenant returned three months afterwards to collect post, lo and behold, the house was not sold. The tenant took a case against the landlord but only got €900 in compensation. That is not even a month's rent. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that is a disincentive for a landlord who wishes to get rid of somebody? It is not. The landlord has the balance of protection and the Minister is happy to keep it that way, even though there is a massive housing crisis.

The constant catchcry of the Minister, and of his predecessor, is that he cannot do anything because it will drive landlords out of the market. I wish to examine this. Driving tenants out is fine, but we cannot drive landlords out. Where would these landlords go? Would they leave the country with the houses on their backs? They would not. They would have two options, either to leave the house sitting idle and vacant or to sell it. If the landlord sells it, that is great because there will be another house available for somebody to buy. We have a shortage of housing. If landlords leave houses idle and vacant, why does the Minister not consider imposing a tax on such houses? Of course, doing so during a housing emergency would be criminal and scandalous. Again, the Minister is extremely worried about landlords all the time and does not give due consideration to people who are suffering under this policy.

The Minister stated that he had solved the corrupt practice whereby councils were overestimating the number of people who are homeless. If only he would put the same detective skills to use with councils that have not built a thing on the land they own in recent years. It would be great if he went to war with the councils about that, because that is the solution to the crisis in the first instance. The Minister also mentioned that during December and January, more people left homelessness than entered it. December is always a quiet month for homelessness. Generally, people do not get evicted in the run up to Christmas. It is usually left until the new year so I have a doubt about taking those two months alone.

The Minister mentioned the figures for consortia and huge companies buying property and said they were very low. How does he respond to a report in the news this week that I-RES REIT is going to buy 118 properties from a developer in north Dublin before they are built? It will buy them and rent them out. Is the Minister happy with that? Will he do anything about it? Deputy Michael Noonan may be out of office but the vultures and consortia are still thriving on this Minister's watch.

This is not personal. It is a little annoying when the Minister reacts extremely personally to everything. It is an international feature of capitalism that homelessness is escalating and public homes are not being built. It is not personal; the Minister is following a policy that is being followed in many other countries. However, the Minister's responses are unbelievable. He reacts in a plaintive and wounded tone, stating that it is beneath us to say the mildest things to him. He should see the scale of this, stop the self pity and apply some pity to the people who are suffering, that is, the people who are being made homeless as well as those who are stuck at home with their parents, in overcrowded situations, and who cannot live their own lives because of this situation.

Why is this happening? As already stated, it is an international phenomenon. It is an international ideology now that rather than invest in housing and things people need, such as health, the market has decided to operate like a casino where the super wealthy will gamble and speculate on commodities. A UN report in 2017 on a study on property stated that the commodity of choice for corporate finance is property. It is a safety deposit box for the wealthy. Real estate worldwide is worth $160 trillion, which is twice the world's total GDP. That is the reason we have this situation. Homelessness is increasing everywhere, and our native capitalist class is no different from others. We have experienced it under Fianna Fáil, the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government and this Fine Gael Government. They all took the same route and turned their backs on building public housing. This Minister has no problem with money being spent on housing. Consider what he is doing with HAP. Some €23 billion more will be spent on that over 30 years than will be spent on building houses. He does not mind money going on housing as long as it is going into the pockets of private landlords and developers.

How will we change course and force Governments such as that currently in office to change policy? We need a similar movement to the movement that was built against the water charges and the one built to repeal the eighth amendment. They were two successful movements through which Governments were forced to change course. We need the same now. I appeal to the trade union movement, in particular, to make this a workers' issue. Why not take a lead from the school students who went out on strike a couple of weeks ago over climate change? Why not make this a strike issue? Workers are suffering massively due to the amount of money they must pay to cover rent and mortgages.

There is a great deal of apathy about housing. This debate is a very pedestrian affair when one considers that the number of homeless has gone above 10,000. There are four Members in the House debating the issue. In the past, it would have been considered a far more serious issue. As homelessness increases, apathy increases in the media and the political establishment. That will change in the elections, and I would be extremely worried about the Minister, his party and its policies. People will see this as the most important issue in May. We need councillors who will fight for public homes on public lands. There is no need to seek new ideas. The Minister can return to an old idea that has worked repeatedly when there was a housing crisis. When public housing was built on a large scale the crisis was resolved. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The solution is there, as is the public land and the wealth. Unfortunately, the political will on the part of the Minister is not.

Solutions to the housing crisis are needed now more than ever. The plight of over 10,000 homeless people underlines the pressing need to address the housing crisis. However, it can only be done with consistent policy, resources and honesty, not through silver bullets or magic beans. This Government has shown repeatedly that it simply is not facing the seriousness of housing in Ireland. The constant spinning and playing politics are not what our people expect from a responsible and serious Government.

Fianna Fáil supports, in principle, the removal of sale as a reason for ending a tenancy. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland argues that eviction for the reason of sale is now the primary source of homelessness. He estimates that one third of households that are becoming newly homeless are as a result of eviction for this reason. Fianna Fáil submitted an amendment to the Government’s so-called Tyrrelstown amendment in order to reduce the number of units in a single development from 20 to five.

This, we argue, would offer more secure occupancy to a larger number of tenants without having a detrimental impact on the market by preventing involuntary landlords from selling their properties. This is key. We have to balance the interventions that are needed to secure vulnerable tenancies with encouraging landlords not only to remain in the rental sector but to enter it, particularly in key pressure point areas. The model of ownership of the rental sector needs to change but that transition needs to be such that we do not throw out tenants while we change the system. That would be irresponsible, wrong and also unnecessary. However, the Government rejected our amendment and again raised the number of units to ten in a single development, removing an estimated 5,000 potential properties from coverage of the provision. It did this on the basis of legal advice, arguing that this could be more robustly defended against constitutional challenge.

There is also a strong policy argument as to why we need to be careful in how we design new tenant security provisions. We should not introduce provisions that will unintentionally act as a barrier to persons with distressed buy-to-let mortgages being able to dispose of their properties. As we all know, over 90% of Irish landlords, covering an estimated 85% of rental properties, own only one or two properties and many of these are involuntary landlords. They are not the enemy. They are part of the solution. We cannot simplify this to out-of-date ideological battles between the extreme left and the hard right. There is a general consensus that a move towards more institutional large-scale investors in the Irish market is desirable from the perspective of advancing a more professional rental sector. To abolish sale as a reason for ending a tenancy, as this Bill attempts to do, could stall the turnover of rental properties from smaller landlords, many of whom are involuntary landlords who are not making a profit and are often in negative equity. Like it or not, removing sale of property as a ground for terminating a tenancy would not be constitutional. This is a serious flaw, one that cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. Left un-amended this Bill would in fact accelerate the exodus of landlords by prompting fire sales by those who could afford to leave the market during a period of legal uncertainty in the courts, thereby further worsening the situation. A far better approach, one that is consistent with the constitutional protection of property rights and the balance of protecting the common good, would be to remove sale as a reason for ending a tenancy in most circumstances, but not in all circumstances. Such an approach could be robustly defended against constitutional challenge. This can be done in a number of ways. One such way would be to insert a provision that would enable landlords to remove tenants in order to sell their property if they can prove that it significantly affects the market sale price of the property by comparison with vacant possession. Such a provision would be much more effective in offering greater security to a larger number of tenants without leading to the infringement of constitutional rights and widespread uncertainty in the rental sector, which the current Sinn Féin proposals would do. The common good clause of the property rights constitutional provisions would, in my view, enable the Government of the day, given the harm to the common good that the housing crisis presents, to ensure that our people, all of our people, have access to the basic human right of shelter, a home.

As Deputy Ó Broin knows, the housing committee has agreed in a proactive and responsible manner to work with the Government's residential tenancies Bill, to strengthen its weaknesses and to reach a general agreed position. This is the way forward and we in Fianna Fáil will work with all members of the housing committee to provide workable solutions. Outside of the committee, Fianna Fáil, through the confidence and supply arrangements, has kept this Government under pressure on housing and we have delivered some significant improvements. We secured increased social housing funding in the last budget. The overall capital budget for housing increased from €1.065 million in 2018 to €1.34 billion in 2019, a €271 million or 25% increase. This includes social housing and homeless capital funding. We have forced the housing capital budget to increase from €430 million in budget 2016 to €1.34 billion today. This is a €900 million, or 300%, increase. Fianna Fáil has secured a new affordable housing scheme.

Only €20 million was allocated to an affordable housing scheme in 2018 with no units delivered or regulations signed off on. Fianna Fáil has established a revamped scheme worth over €100 million per annum over the next three years. This will deliver approximately 7,500 units at an average price of €200,000 for ordinary income workers. We have forced measures to keep landlords in the market with tax incentives to stabilise rents. Landlords selling up is removing units from the market and is driving up rents. Over 4,000 landlords left the sector in the past 12 months. We established a 100% mortgage interest relief measure to help keep landlords in the market and retain supply in the short term while more homes are built. Further measures to incentivise long-term leases are in development.

We have addressed the serious delays and red tape in the Department and local authorities. Delays in procurement and the four-step approval process for social housing is crippling delivery. We tripled the discretion of local authorities to build homes without going through administrative hoops. Local authorities can now build up to 30 homes through the fast-track process. More work is needed in this area. With regard to the crucial area of social housing and homelessness, social housing funding has been ramped up by €270 million. Homelessness numbers at 10,000 are still unacceptably high. These figures are disputed by many with claims it could be a high as 12,000. In reality, 10,000 is far too high for a developed country like Ireland. Thousands of children’s lives are being ruined by homelessness.

Fianna Fáil supports landlords and renters. We need both for a rental market to function. Budget 2019 was not a landlords' budget. A rental market needs landlords if it is to work. It incentivises landlords to stay in the system. Some 40,000 landlords left the system between 2012 and 2018, including 4,000 in the past 12 months. We need to retain current landlords otherwise there will be fewer units available to rent and rents will rise. The mortgage interest relief is targeted at small landlords with two or less units to keep them in the system.

Fianna Fáil approves, in principle, of the idea of limiting the right of sale as grounds to terminate a tenancy. However, it must be constitutional. There are serious questions as to whether this Bill meets that requirement. In addition, it may have the unintended consequence of accelerating the exodus of landlords from the rental market while the legal case is fought in the courts. Fianna Fáil previously secured the restriction of evictions on the ground of sales to ten units in the 2016 Act. This should be reduced to five, which would protect the vast bulk of landlords in the state while ensuring security of tenure for tenants in institutional landlord owned units. Ultimately, the key to addressing the homelessness crisis is increasing supply. This must involve attracting and retaining landlords in the system and not penalising them. Reducing Government red tape and increasing capital expenditure on the provision of social housing is also essential.

I note Deputy Coppinger railed against the lack of people to make contributions in the House on this debate. She is right: it is disappointing. It is also disappointing that she could not wait an additional seven minutes to hear the response to some of the points she raised. She also asked why I take this personally. I take this very personally because it is my responsibility to solve these problems. I do not know if Deputy Coppinger has responsibility for anything but I do take this personally because I want to get this solved and I will work with any Deputy in this House on an idea that I think will help to solve it. I will not let ideology keep me from working with others, as some Deputies in this House do.

I am sorry that Deputy Broughan also is not here to hear my reply. If he cannot see some of the progress that is happening, some of the improvements that are being made and the families that are getting keys to new social housing homes, then I am afraid his own ideology is blinding him to it. Like Deputy Broughan and all Members of this House, I have constituents hurting because we still have a severe housing shortage, which we are working to correct. The Deputy either intentionally misquoted me or quoted me out of context, but I said we will always need emergency accommodation, unfortunately, because of the lives that we all lead and through no fault of anyone people will find themselves in difficulty on a night in question needing emergency accommodation.

It is our responsibility, as a Government, to make sure it is always available. I did not say there would always be people homeless on the street and that we would not care for them; I said the opposite. The Deputy is being irresponsible if he thinks people will not find themselves in difficulty in the future and in need of State support. That was the point I was making.

The Deputy calls us an austerity Government. Again, his ideology is blinding him to the fact that the housing budget this year is €2.4 billion, which represents an increase on the budget for last year and the highest ever spend on housing in a single year by an Irish Government. How is that an austerity budget? The Deputy's ideology is getting in the way.

The Deputy was either not listening or does not want to accept that there are potential risks in the Bill before us. No one denies the intention and noble motivation behind it. We all want to prevent families and individuals from entering homelessness, but we also need to be open to each other's points and the potential risks when we have debates.

The average length of time spent in a family hub is six months. Of course, some families have been in one for longer, but the average is six months. The situation is far more positive than previously for families. Where would Deputy Ó Broin put people if we are not to have family hubs, landlords, the HAP scheme, buy-to-let properties or foreign investors? Where would people live while we increased the stock of social housing? He will not answer that question because he cannot do so.

Deputy Coppinger asked about the evidence for a potential decrease of 20% to 30% in the value of a house if tenants had to be in situ when it was sold. We already have such evidence through an examination under the Tyrrelstown amendment. She talked about price decreases as being good because house prices are too high. Of course, for someone who is trying to buy a house, falling house prices are good. However, if a person who owns a house is in negative equity and the house has to be sold to pay off a debt and if it cannot be sold, the bank might then go after the house in which the person lives. It is not good if someone who needs financial support from the sale of a house to meet medical bills or something else cannot have that support. More people end up getting hurt as a result of not thinking through the risk of bankruptcy that might affect them. We have to think about all of these things. They cannot only be looked at in isolation.

Deputy Coppinger said I was worried about landlords. I am not. I am worried about losing them, as are Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and all of responsible Members in this House. Landlords are part of the solution and, if Deputy Coppinger had any responsibility here, she would also be worried.

We are going to strengthen section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2016. There is no point in me going to war with councils to increase supply. We have housing summits to help them to increase supply, recognising that they have been out of that game for a number of years in many areas. We should not try to be divisive; rather, we should try to look for ways to co-operate. It is not my style to be divisive.

In December people were leaving emergency accommodation. When we talk about exits from emergency accommodation, we do not mean going home or to live with family; rather, we talk about exits to sustainable tenancies. In December and January more families exited than entered emergency accommodation. That was a positive development, but, regrettably, it was reversed in the most recent figures.

I worry that people will be taken in by Deputy Coppinger's simplistic and ideological approach to government. Her approach to it and that of her party has never worked anywhere. She speaks about campaigns that forced the Government to make a change on the eight amendment to the Constitution, but democracy led to that change. I have heard contributions from her party colleagues that, at times, are very anti-democratic. That worries me.

Deputy Casey spoke about transition. That is important because we are transitioning to a new housing economy. Public and State land will be used in the public good to provide affordable and cost rental housing. That will take time and is more challenging, but it is happening. We have to protect people during that period of transition.

The Deputy has proposed an amendment to the current proposal which I would like to see in writing because I have said I will consider every idea that is put on the table. I note that he takes responsibility for all of the positives in the budget. I again thank him and his party for their support for Rebuilding Ireland. He again mentioned that the affordability scheme was his party's idea, which is not true. It would be great if we could see some consistency from Fianna Fáil. If it isto support the good and positive things that are happening, it has to recognise the challenges we face with things that are not happening in the way we would like.

I thank all Members for their contributions, both those with whom I agree and those I do not. I will make some brief concluding remarks.

I am grateful for the Minister's concern for my reputation, but none of what I said yesterday is beneath me and I stand over all of it. I am firmly of the view that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, through pursuing the wrong policy options on housing, are conspiring to make things worse. Those remarks apply not just to the Government but also historical ones. Whether they are doing it knowingly, intentionally or unintentionally is a separate issue, but if the same broad policy consensus is pursued, Government after Government, with the same flawed results, what am I to assume? The basis of those policies is straightforward. It is under-investment in public housing to meet a need for social and affordable housing. That is why the numbers on housing lists go up, with rent supplement, the level of dependence on the housing assistant payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and homelessness. There has been a decades long over-reliance on the private sector to meet the need for social and affordable housing. The figures are clear over a lengthy period.

I also stand over my remarks about the figures. Ms Eileen Gleeson, the most senior homeless services official in the State; Mr. Eoin O'Sullivan, the Trinity College Dublin academic who helped to design the homeless reporting system, and Mr. Brendan Kenny all told us in committee meetings and on the airwaves that the vast majority of adults and children who had been removed from the homeless figures over the course of 2018 were homeless, accessing homeless services and had priority at the time they were removed. They should not have been removed from the figures. There was a small number in County Louth who were wrongly categorised, but according to Mr. Brendan Kenny, Ms Eileen Gleeson and Mr. Eoin O'Sullivan - the record of the Dáil shows this clearly - the vast majority of the 1,606 people were homeless and in homeless services at the time they were removed from the figures. The Minister can respond afterwards, but he should listen to the point I am making.

On a point of order, the homeless numbers record the numbers of people in emergency accommodation, not the numbers who are rough sleeping or in refuges. People can avail of homeless services and funding while staying in their homes.

That is not the point, as the Minister knows.

That is just to be accurate.

Mr. Eoin O'Sullivan and Ms Eileen Gleeson said the overwhelming majority of the 1,606 adults and children who had been removed from the monthly homeless reports last year were, at the time of their removal, homeless, accessing homeless services and had priority.

I have a long list of things I would replace in Rebuilding Ireland, as the Minister knows in quite some detail because he has had to listen to me talk about the issue at great length. He mentioned the help-to-buy scheme. The difficulty is that the Government's own commissioned report tells us that the majority of people who accessed the help-to-buy tax relief did not need it and that, therefore, it was not an effective use of the funds for the majority of people.

The Minister knows that I support the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. In fact, local authority mortgages have been available for almost as long as the State has been in existence. The difficulty, for example, in Dublin where the average loan offer is €200,000, is that the vast majority of people who are being offered the loan cannot buy anything with it, which is why in Dublin the vast majority who have been offered the loan have not drawn it down.

It would make a difference to the social housing programme if the capital investment in social and affordable housing was doubled because it would double the output. The Minister is right that unless we tackle the overly bureaucratic approval, tendering and procurement process - Sinn Féin has made detailed proposals on how it could be done - it will not be speeded up. We have told him how it could be done. Local authority managers have come to the housing committee and outlined how it could be done, but the Minister has ignored our advice.

The rent pressure zones are not working. Rents have increased by 8% in Dublin in the past year. It is now €1,400 more expensive per year to rent in Dublin than it was a year ago. In fact, people effectively are now paying 13 months' rent, instead of 12. That is not a 4% cap on rental costs; rather, it is an abject failure. That applies to most counties where there are rent pressure zones. The alternative, of course, would be a rent freeze. I do not accept the arguments made by Fine Gael that such a freeze would make things worse.

My party has never argued that people should not have access to housing benefit, but it is the over-reliance on increasing the numbers entering the private rental sector, subsidised by the State, which is the policy problem. It is not a short-term issue; it has been an issue since Fianna Fáil's 1997 "Delivering homes, sustaining communities" housing plan. The aim has been to have a large body of people indefinitely in the private rental sector subsidised by the taxpayer. It is bad for the people concerned because it is a casualisation of social housing provision, but it is also bad for renters and first-time buyers who are not eligible for social housing support because it crowds them out of the market and pushes up prices.

The Minister criticised the Bill for its simplicity. While it is possible he said something I did not understand, the only proposal I heard from him was to give people with notices to quit a little more time. It is true that a little more time is good but it is an even more simplistic proposal than mine and, in the current market with rents increasing year on year, it will not address the problem. The one question the Minister did not answer is what he will do differently to stop the flow of families who are being legally evicted by landlords under pressure from banks to sell. That is the single greatest driver of family homelessness. If the Minister and Deputy Casey believe our proposal is wrong, the responsibility is on their parties to put in place an alternative. As neither of them has come to the debate with an alternative, however, the people who have the notices to quit in their hands tonight will receive nothing from us today and will remain faced with the prospect of homelessness in the coming weeks and months.

The other large gap in both the Minister's and the Deputy's contributions was what the Government will do about the disorderly exit of properties from the rental market. The Minister's main argument against my Bill is that it would make matters worse. More than 9,000 rental properties have left the market in the past year and a half, although we have not received the figures for the end of 2018 and, therefore, the figure is much higher. There is a disorderly exit of properties but nothing in what either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil has said today will deal with that. I propose that we make it more difficult for those property owners to exit. The Minister is correct that in many cases they are selling as a result of mortgage distress, but now that there is some positive equity, under pressure from the bank or the fund, they are considering leaving. I want to make it more difficult for them to sell that property to anything other than another landlord as an emergency measure to stop the flow of families becoming homeless. If the basic choice is to say to the landlord that he or she will lose profit from the sale of the house by 10% or 20%, but if the social benefit to the State is that the family with children in that house will not become homeless, at this point that is a choice that the Oireachtas should make. If the Minister thinks differently, he should come to us with a proposal. Notwithstanding all the arguments and criticism, the Minister knows that when he comes to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, often based on Opposition proposals which have been passed by the Oireachtas, we respond and facilitate them. If he has some new idea to prevent families from becoming homeless that he has kept secret, he should let us know. If he has some mechanism to stem the disorderly exit of properties from the rental market, which is happening as a consequences of his policies, under his watch and that of his predecessor, he should come and speak to us about it and we will work with him. Until he has either of such proposals, however, I will continue to propose in the House what I believe are sensible, credible solutions, which is what the Opposition must do.

At some point, the Minister will have to accept that the policy he is pursuing is not working. I do not dispute the figures, which show that the rate of planning permission and home completions has increased, but we are not getting the right types of homes in the right places for those who are in need of social or affordable housing and, in particular, for those who are at risk of imminent homelessness. Until that core weakness of Rebuilding Ireland is adequately addressed, the crisis will get worse. At the very best, Rebuilding Ireland at the end of its five years will take us back to where we were in 2006 or 2007, with exceptionally high social housing waiting lists, exceptionally high levels of social welfare dependency in the private rented sector, anaemic outputs of social housing, and affordable housing schemes that trap people into high levels of mortgage repayments and increasing levels of mortgage distress.

I make no apologies for making the proposal. I am deeply disappointed, although not surprised, that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continue to conspire to prevent adequate solutions being brought forward. As I stated earlier, if either of the parties who remain in the Chamber has better ways of dealing with the specific problem I have raised, we will work with it. Today, however, they have not proposed any better ways. For the families in emergency accommodation tonight, with notices to quit in the private rented sector, the Minister has offered them no comfort, solutions or hope in respect of that specific problem they face, which is deeply disappointing.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 4 April 2019.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.55 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 April 2019.