Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

As Deputies across the House will be aware, the housing crisis has not gone away. Rents are still unsustainably high. In fact, the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, index published last week shows rents have increased 1.8% State-wide in the last 12 months and 3.3% outside of the greater Dublin area. Three counties in particular, namely, counties Carlow, Roscommon and Mayo, have seen rents increase in the last 12 months from 7% to 9%. It is now €1,226 per month to rent State-wide and a shocking €1,653 in Dublin. Indeed, new rents in many parts of the city are now above €2,000 per month for a standard two-bedroom apartment or house.

House prices are also still shockingly high. The latest data from Daft.ie shows house prices in Dublin averaging at €379,000 and €260,000 State-wide. The fact is that too many working people cannot access secure or affordable accommodation. An Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report published last week looking at the impact of Covid-19 concluded that private sector output is going to fall, further widening the gap between supply and demand and pushing ever more working people away from owning or renting their own home.

When we look at homelessness the figures are equally bleak. Officially, 8,702 adults and children are classified as homeless in this State. The real figure, however, is more than 10,000 when one includes those continually trapped in direct provision despite having received leave to remain, effectively, using direct provision centres as emergency accommodation or, indeed, those many hundreds of women and children in Tusla-funded domestic violence refuges or those in hostels not funded by the State such as the Regina Coeli Hostel and the Morning Star in Dublin.

We have also seen an alarming rise in the deaths of people in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough. By the midway point of this year, the same number of people had been found dead than in all of last year or, indeed, the year before.

All this is a direct consequence of the under provision of social housing, a lack of Housing First tenancies, an over-reliance on congregated emergency accommodation and adequate addiction and mental health supports. Currently, more than 100,000 households are in need of social housing when one adds those on local authority lists and in receipt of short-term subsidies such as housing assistance payment, HAP, or the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. Indeed, the new need, that is, the number of families coming onto our local authority housing waiting lists every single year, still outstripped the total number of new social homes added to the stock on an annual basis.

None of this is an accident. Housing need is not a force of nature. It is the direct result of Government policies, failure to invest enough in social and affordable housing and over-reliance on the private market to meet social and affordable housing need. In short, Rebuilding Ireland, that is, Fine Gael's housing policy for the last four years, tacitly endorsed and supported by Fianna Fáil, has abjectly failed.

We urgently need a new direction and at the centre of that new direction must be a human rights-based approach to housing. The Bill I am introducing seeks to insert into the Constitution the right to appropriate and affordable housing as an obligation to eliminate homelessness. This is not a silver bullet. It does not guarantee every person in the State an automatic right to a free home. It does, however, place an obligation on the Government to realise the right to housing and to eliminate homelessness progressively.

In 2014, the constitutional convention on social and economic rights voted by 84% to support inserting the right to housing into the Constitution. Unfortunately, for five years the Government has ignored that recommendation. The programme for Government has an ambiguous commitment to hold a referendum on housing and in the view of Sinn Féin this must be a referendum on a constitutional right to a home. Inserting such a right, alongside a major and sustained investment in public housing on public land to meet social and affordable housing need, is key to ending our homeless crisis.

The time for prevarication is over; the time for action is now. I commend this Bill to the House.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.