Affordable Housing Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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

I am very pleased to be here today to speak on Second Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. This has been the culmination of nearly a year's work by me and my departmental officials, along with members of the Oireachtas committee, who did much work to get us to this stage. The Bill has been passed through the Seanad, as Members know, and what is now coming before the Dáil is very important legislation. It is a major priority for me, as the Minister responsible for housing, to deliver affordable housing for working people and to provide hope for a whole generation that feels it has been locked out of the housing market. I am very pleased to be here today and I thank Members for their input so far.

At its heart, this Bill is about the State stepping up to provide affordable homes for purchase and rent using all means at its disposal to tackle the housing crisis. The ongoing affordability crisis has reduced home ownership rates to historic lows. It has increased the age of the average first-time buyer by almost a decade to just under 36 years of age. Ireland has plummeted from a world leader to below the EU average rate of home ownership. For an entire generation, owning a home is slipping through people's fingers as they pay over unprecedented levels of rent or languish in their parents' houses. A generation is caught in an unaffordable rent trap.

We must put in place the legislative buildings blocks of a new approach to the crisis, one which puts home ownership back on the table for a generation that has been smothered by rising rents and job uncertainty. This housing crisis is not about one party or the Government but about giving a whole generation hope and investing in the future of our democracy. The Affordable Housing Bill 2021 is a very important step in rising to that challenge. It places the legislative foundations for the State to put bricks and mortar on the ground to directly tackle the housing crisis, particularly in the area of affordable rents and purchase. It is the most comprehensive affordable housing Bill ever published. It is radical and a clear departure and change from what has been the housing policy. It is a change that many thousands of our young people are looking for.

I firmly believe home ownership is good for individuals, families, communities and the country. With this in mind I have put affordability and the chance to own one's own home at the heart of this Government's housing policy. This Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill 2021 are going through the Oireachtas simultaneously and will work in tandem to give people the opportunity of ownership. These two landmark pieces of legislation are backed up by the largest housing budget in the history of the State and our most ambitious social housing targets on record. Combined, this represents a major step change in our housing policy that mobilises both the public and private sector.

This Bill has four key new elements. There is the first local authority-led direct-build affordable homes on State lands in over a decade. There is our first ever national cost-rental scheme and an innovative shared equity scheme. Finally, it will expand Part V provisions to increase the percentage contribution to 20% and to apply it to cost rental as well as social and affordable housing. These elements of the Part V expansion will be brought to Members for consideration on Committee Stage, following the conclusion of our work with the Attorney General and Cabinet approval last Tuesday.

The upcoming housing for all plan, which will be published next month, will set out an ambitious range of targets across the country over the coming years. The roll-out of local authority-led affordable housing will be a central plank of the Government’s affordable housing plan. Homes will broadly range from €160,000 to €310,000. I have worked with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and am glad that we have agreed a number of significant reforms to the serviced sites fund to ensure it can help local authorities effectively fund major housing delivery, and to get on with the delivery of those affordable homes.

Shared equity will involve the State bridging the affordability gap by taking an equity stake of up to 20% between an individual’s mortgage limits and the price of the home. It will work in conjunction with the help-to-buy scheme to help to get people into homes this year, starting this year. It will be one tool in helping to turn generation rent into a generation that can buy and own their own home.

On shared equity, I want to address some of the concerns and comments that have been raised, and tackle some of the unfounded and opportunistic criticisms around a particular aspect of the Bill, to dispel any uncertainty and directly tackle deliberate misinformation. Because of the Opposition’s hesitancy, in some quarters, to acknowledge that it is broadly supportive of most of the measures contained in the Bill, such as local authority direct build affordable homes, expanding Part V and a new form of tenure in cost rental, a particular and intentionally distracting focus has been paid to the affordable purchase shared equity scheme. I intend that this scheme will be a short-term, targeted measure as part of a much broader multifaceted approach to increasing housing supply and affordability. This specific measure on shared equity increase viability and generate supply to provide an immediate boost to first-time buyers for new homes. It has been developed in very close consultation with relevant Departments, housing delivery partners, international comparator bodies and other key stakeholders. It will work. We have examined and assessed the impact of similar schemes, not the same schemes, in other jurisdictions, including in England, learning from experience and developing an Irish scheme that is calibrated for Ireland. With regard to our nearest neighbour, the English scheme has supported 250,000 home purchases. An independent assessment conducted by the UK’s National Audit Office - the equivalent of Ireland's Comptroller and Auditor General, not the London School of Economics - found that the scheme has met its twin objectives of increasing supply and increasing home ownership. The office's analysis found it increased supply by 14% and that purchase price or house price inflation rose by approximately 1% on a like-for-like basis.

Certain elements of the Opposition, but not all, may not want this scheme to provide support to house purchasers. I believe those needing to buy a home want support. They deserve support and they need it. A recent Behaviour & Attitudes survey found that 76% of those expressing a view were in favour of the introduction of a shared equity scheme as a means of making the cost of homes more affordable. We have a decision on whether we delay further to allow people to continue to pay up to €2,000 a month in rent, or help them to get a mortgage that would be half of that, and help them to get to own their home now. There should be no more procrastination. We must get on and do it.

Nevertheless, taking on board legitimate concerns, safeguards over and above those in place in the UK's scheme are being built in to tailor eligibility to meet individual affordability needs only and to manage prices through area-based price ceilings. These price ceilings are price caps, not price targets. The price ceilings are based on real data, which is the CSO-recorded median price of new first-time buyer homes sold in each area. This means that developers will build homes in the lower half of the price distribution specific to that area. I am happy to confirm, again, that this will explicitly not be a second mortgage. It is an equity stake. It is not a debt-led scheme. It will not compel homeowners to borrow more than they can afford. It will not attract exorbitant interest rates, as some have tried to portray earlier in the debate.

I am pleased that the provision of cost rental has been widely welcomed by a range of political and research groups. It will see rents that are anticipated to be the region of 25% to 30% lower than comparable market rents, and which will provide greater returns as they mature. This is an entirely new form of tenure and an exciting departure for housing in Ireland. Cost rental will cover the cost of developing and managing those developments, and will provide State-backed affordable rents for our people.

I want to correct any suggestion that the inclusion of a very limited return on equity is equivalent to allowing the private sector to generate large profits in this space. We want to broaden out and expand cost rental. The Exchequer will need assistance in doing that. Where any private providers wish to deliver cost rental homes, for instance large institutional pension funds, or indeed ethical funds, they will of course seek a modest return. The legislation provides for regulatory-making powers to set a cap on the allowable level of return. For example, between 3.5% and 5% is permitted under the exemplar Austrian cost rental model of cost rental, which we are seeking to emulate in Ireland. This allows the delivery of cost rental at scale and a model that is not entirely reliant on State support. Furthermore, this provision will allow the Land Development Agency, LDA, to deliver cost rental at scale, and to provide for some modest returns in that space to reinvest into further cost rental across the board. That is for those who are supporting the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, and who support the LDA in building homes. This will be a very important deliverer in this space with where we start breaking ground this year.

I will now turn to Part V and first-time buyers. I have previously confirmed that it is my intention to bring forward further changes to strengthen this Bill on Committee Stage. This will include expanding Part V provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to increase the percentage contribution and to make it available for the provision of affordable housing by local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs. The provisions, however, will require that the Part V contribution for social housing will be a minimum 10%, which is protected. In areas where there is no affordable purchase or rental need, which will be very few areas but there may be some, all of the 20% will be applied to social housing provision.

My Department is also currently working on amendments to create an owner-occupier guarantee. This will involve enabling local authorities to designate a specified number of houses and duplexes with a predetermined range of at least 0% to 50% in a development for owner-occupiers similar to requirements under Part V. It will complement the actions taken by the Minister for Finance and me last month on protecting traditional family homes from bulk purchasing.

We are in the middle of a national housing crisis. We are taking steps to address that. Faced with such an emergency we need to use all the tools at our disposal to address this challenge across the private and the public sector. I am genuinely committed to pragmatism over ideology and real delivery over dogmatism to boost housing supply and open up home ownership to a new generation. To refuse to use the private sector would be fighting with one hand tied behind our back. Instead we need to show energy, innovation, flexibility and commitment to get bricks and mortar into the ground, with the State playing a central role. The State is the biggest builder and biggest investor in housing. This will remain so through our housing for all plan, which we will publish in the coming weeks. In this light, the Bill is very important legislation. It is a major leap forward in housing policy. It is also a major leap forward into helping people own their own home or to rent their home at an affordable rate.

I look forward to a debate on the Bill's provisions. I will seek to respond to any specific questions put forward by Deputies in that regard. I genuinely look forward to any suggestion on Committee Stage for how this legislation can be improved. We need this legislation to pass by the summer recess. It is urgent and important.

A lot of very detailed work has gone into it. There was good pre-legislative work done by the Oireachtas joint committee, which was also protracted. There was good debate in the Seanad throughout all Stages, including amendments.

I fundamentally put to colleagues, and I say this respectfully, that if they support home ownership for generation rent, they will support and vote for the Bill. If they support affordable and cost rental, they will vote for the Bill. If they really want affordable homes on State land for our young people and not so young people to buy, they will vote for the Bill. If they want every newly granted planning application for new housing estates after the passing of the Bill to include an increased affordable housing provision, they will vote for the Bill. There are no ifs or buts at this stage. There is no equivocation and no conditions. It is now time to start delivering for our people. This is the basis for delivering affordable housing at scale on private and public land.

People are watching. There is great interest in this legislation and this initiative by the Government to deliver real opportunities for people to buy and rent homes at an affordable rate. Now is the time for Members to decide whether they are for helping generation rent get out of that rent trap and whether they really want to start developing affordable homes for people at scale, through this legislation and separately in the LDA legislation, which are intertwined.

I am acutely interested to hear views and I have heard views all the way through this. At the end of the day, Deputies either support these measures or they do not. I hope we will get as much cross-party and independent support for the measures I am bringing through, in the first year of this Government being in place. Others have fed into the process and I welcome this. I welcome the feedback I have received on this. Now is not the time to allow someone's perfect be the enemy of the good. We need to get on with delivering affordable homes to rent and to buy for our people. This is the way forward to do so.

The Bill has been two and a half years in gestation. Considerable work on the legislation and the ideas behind it started a year before the previous Government fell. As I understand it, the working group continued to work on it during the interregnum and modest changes, in my view, have been added by the Government. This means the legislation before us in fact does not represent the profound change in housing policy the Minister claims. It is much more a continuation not only of many of the core principles of Rebuilding Ireland but of Deputy Alan Kelly's Social Housing Strategy 2020, which was launched in 2014.

I will go through each of the four principal areas of the Bill to give the Minister my feedback. As the Minister knows, Sinn Féin supports the Bill. It is a qualified support. There are sections of the Bill the Minister undoubtedly knows we completely oppose. Even on those sections we broadly support, we believe the Minister could do a much better job and we look forward to engaging with them on these crucial matters on Committee and Report Stages.

All of the elements of the Bill, bar the shared equity loan scheme, are measures on which Sinn Féin, other Opposition parties and other Government parties have been campaigning and calling for years. An affordable purchase scheme led by our local authorities is something for which I and the Minister argued throughout the lifetime of the previous Government. We will support any measure that assists and funds local authorities, AHBs and community housing trusts to deliver genuinely affordable homes for people to buy.

The serviced sites fund model is not a bad model. There are better ways of doing it and the permanently affordable leasehold model Sinn Féin has proposed was initially proposed by Ó Cualann. Unfortunately, the banks would not support it. It is one that would guarantee not just affordability for the first purchaser but for all subsequent purchasers, to build up a stock of permanently affordable privately-owned tradeable homes into perpetuity. However, we support the serviced sites fund model at its current level so long as the homes are purchased at prices of €250,000 or less. It is important to be very clear the purchaser of that home still has to repay the shared equity portion at a later stage but for us the purchase point of €250,000 or less is key.

The difficulty is that the serviced sites fund is being used in other ways and we have some concerns about this, which I will make very clear. For example, in O'Devaney Gardens, because of the joint venture nature of the development with a private developer the purchase price of a three-bedroom unit would be €310,000 plus the €50,000 shared equity portion to be repayable to the local authority. This is €360,000. This is not affordable. It is the wrong use of the fund and I urge the Minister to examine it.

Likewise, the Department refused under the previous Minister to fund Dublin City Council to buy the glass bottle site to deliver the 15% affordable housing as part of the Poolbeg strategic development zone, and this land is now being bought above the guide price by the Johnny Ronan real estate group and others. The serviced sites fund, even if it were increased to €100,000, may not and probably will not on its own, deliver genuine affordability. So far, I am not seeing much evidence of the Minister or the Department assisting Dublin City Council with this. It is very disappointing that we do not have the regulations with respect to the scheme, and I ask the Minister in his response to let us know where they are at, when he intends to publish them and whether he will consult the Oireachtas housing committee. Local authorities need this to progress as quickly as possible and we will not stand in the way of it.

With respect to cost rental, it is very disappointing the section is a short number of pages, which means, in fact, the Bill does not deal with the substance of cost rental. This in itself will be dealt with through regulations. I make the same point as to when we will see these regulations and whether the Minister will consult, albeit in a time-limited manner, with the Oireachtas housing committee on these. The key problem, however, with how cost rental has been developed to date is that the entry level rents are too high. The cost of €1,100, €1,200 and €1,300 for one, two and three-bedroom units is not affordable for the key demographic above the threshold for social housing but unable to afford the private rental market. The way in which the financing is being structured does not lend itself to bringing down the rents to the kind of levels we see with new cost rental in Germany or Austria, with rents of €700, €800 or €900 a month depending on where they are. This means the financing model needs to ensure the soft loan component for the State covers at least 30% of the capital costs and the loan, whether from the European Investment Bank, EIB, the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, or elsewhere, is for 30 years or more, after which the soft loan from the State would be repaid.

It is a bizarre idea to separate the primary delivery of cost rental from the primary delivery of social rental. One of the great values of integrating social and affordable rental into the one provider is when the long-term loans on the cost rental are eventually paid down, the housing provider has a revenue stream to recycle into the management and maintenance of their stock as well as developing new stock. This idea that the LDA will be primarily involved in cost rental and local authorities primarily involved in social housing is the most short-sighted and ill-conceived element of the Government's approach to cost rental and I urge the Minister to reconsider. The idea, for example, that St. Teresa's Gardens should be an LDA project rather than a fully funded Dublin City Council project makes no sense. I am happy it will be 100% public housing similar to St. Michael's Estate but it would be much better if it was being developed as St Michael's Estate is, as opposed to what is essentially a split managed scheme with the local authority buying back the 30% social housing and the LDA ultimately profiting from the cost rental.

I am concerned, notwithstanding the Minister's remarks, about the involvement of private developers in the delivery of affordable cost rental. I want to be very clear. If an AHB or local authority or community housing trust wants to access private finance, whether it is equity finance or loan finance, so long as the rates are competitive in comparison with the EIB and the HFA, I have no problem with it. In fact, Clúid Housing recently did a very positive deal with Legal and General to secure the financing of homes but homes it will own at a point in time. If we allow private developers as opposed to private finance to deliver affordable cost rental, we will never get the return when that stock matures, which is one of the hugely important long-term benefits of this type of tenure.

The Minister clearly misunderstands the arguments many of us are making. It is not about the level of profit. Finance always costs something and if the cost of the finance is competitive that is not the problem. It is that at a point in time in the future, when the principal loans mature and the housing provider generates a revenue surplus, it should not go to the private sector. It should be recycled into public housing, whether delivered by local authorities, AHBs or other providers.

On the shared equity loan scheme, the Minister's attempt to disregard very significant concerns from economists, reputable bodies like the ESRI and others is disingenuous. This is a terrible scheme which will inflate house prices. We know that is the case because that it what it does everywhere else. It led to a 6% increase in house prices in London. The Minister continually and knowingly, in my view, misrepresents the UK's National Audit Office report. That report does not look at inflation. Rather, it looks at the house price premium which is a completely different metric. We have said this to the Minister repeatedly and he keeps misrepresenting it because he thinks it will serve his interests.

This is a secondary loan. If it was purely a shared equity stake there would be no interest rate on it. The problem with interest rates is that the Minister is right. They start very low. If somebody is not in a position to start repaying a loan, in particular when he or she gets to year 15 and onwards, the interest rates will become punitive. The reason is that the purpose of the interest rate is to incentivise the buyer to repay at an earlier stage or remortgage at year 15 or 20. Unfortunately, as we learned from the last failed Fianna Fáil shared ownership scheme which had a mortgage interest rate four times higher than mainstream banks after the Celtic tiger collapse in 2008, modest income families at risk of losing income at a future point in time will not be able to refinance and will end up with very heavy housing costs.

I would like the Minister, if he could, to confirm in his remarks if the Central Bank has made a formal decision on the inclusion of the banks as co-partners in the scheme. He seemed to indicate earlier today in another debate that they have. If that is the case, can he tell us the detail of how much is involved and whether staff from the banks will be seconded into the special purpose vehicle to administer the loans? That also carries certain risks. Just as help to buy clearly led to an increase in house prices, and 60% of those availing of it did not need it because they had sufficient mortgage finance and deposit finance to buy a home, this will be the same. I suspect it will grow and last much longer than the Minister is claiming.

I fully welcome the provisions regarding Part V. The Minister knows he supported a Sinn Féin Bill to a similar effect during the last Government. It should never have been reduced to 10%. It is something Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin firmly agree on and the sooner that is introduced the better.

On the owner occupiers guarantee, the Minister needs to reconsider having some level of application of the guarantee to apartments. If we want to have vibrant and sustainable cities and if those cities are, in the main, going to be made up of new apartment developments, we need to give people the option to own those apartments. Otherwise, what we are saying is that homeownership is something for the suburbs and regions, but not for inner city centres. That is completely contrary to the national planning framework and good sustainable planning. I urge the Minister to reconsider that and allow people to own and live in our city centres.

Likewise, it should be a provision in the owner occupier guarantee that the figure could be up to 100%. Planning authorities are best placed to decide the percentage tenure mix of rent or owner occupation in a given location. I would like to see that addressed.

In the few minutes I have before I conclude, I would like to say that legislation does not build houses. Investment does. While the Bill provides an important framework for that investment, if it is not followed up by a level of direct capital investment by the State in the delivery of genuinely affordable homes for working people to rent or buy, then all of this will come to very little. Our problem at the moment is that we know from figures given to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage by the LDA and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which are based on the current levels of investment in our local authorities, AHBs and the LDA, that delivery of affordable homes between now and 2025 will be exceptionally modest.

The Department has told us that this year 530 units could be delivered, between rental and purchase. Next year the figure could reach 700. By 2023 it may get to 1,000, but they are pre-Covid figures. The LDA will not have delivered a single home until five years after it has been established, in 2023, and even then it will only be a few hundred. It will be 2025 before it breaches 1,000. That tells me that unless something changes in budget 2022, the Government will not reach the target of 4,000 affordable homes by 2025. Obviously, that is the average over a ten-year plan, and I appreciate that, but the Minister can hear the point I am making. My view is very clear. We need, at a minimum, an annual average target of 8,000 genuinely affordable homes every single year for the next decade. Half of those should be affordable rental and half should be affordable purchase. The reason I say that is that is what the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, housing agencies, the ESRI and, more recently, the NTMA, have called on the Government to do. We need a doubling of direct capital investment in local authorities, AHBs, community housing trusts or whatever other not for profit providers exist to deliver those home.

The problem is that Fine Gael does not want to spend that money. That is why we are having such uncertainty around the future funding of the LDA and the cost rental equity loan was a measly €35 million this year, despite the fact that the Minister's budget ask from his Fine Gael colleagues in the Department of Finance was actually much more significant than that. That is why we have a cost-rental equity loan, CREL, scheme in the first place rather than an expanded capital advance loan facility. We need 20,000 public homes, comprising 12,000 social and 8,000 affordable, annually if we are going to make a dent in this crisis.

The last points I want to make are about home ownership. The Minister, as he liked to do in opposition, now says as Minister that he believes in home ownership. Home ownership started to decline, and declined most rapidly, when the Minister's party was last in government because of the private sector-led policy his party pursued which pushed up house prices and rents and made home ownership difficult for so many.

If the Minister is serious and genuinely wants to deliver homes at prices that people can afford, then he needs to radically shift policy. I have yet to see any evidence of that. Ultimately, however, the locked out generation, the housing needs of which the Minister and I want to see met, will judge by action and not fine words on the floor of the Dáil or ink on the page of a piece of legislation. They will judge on how many homes are built and at what price they are delivered year after year.

Until we see the level of public investment that everybody, bar the Government, seems to think is needed in the direct delivery of affordable homes to rent or buy, this problem will not be solved. If the Minister comes out with a great plan in the summer, and takes the advice of Sinn Féin, NESC and NTA and doubles capital investment in the delivery of public housing in budget 2022, he will have our support. If not, we will keep coming back and saying that until there is real change, the crisis will get worse and we will continue to advocate what we believe are the necessary solutions to give people the affordable homes that they not only need to but rightly deserve.

Tá an-áthas orm go bhfuilim ag labhairt ar an mBille seo. Tá sé an-tábhachtach ar fad. The programme for Government promised to deliver an affordable housing scheme to help out first-time buyers and, in exceptional circumstances, those who lost their homes in the financial crash as well as those who were forced to sell their homes as a result of a relationship break up. These are the principle ways to avail of the affordable housing scheme. However, the Minister's recent announcements as to what constitutes affordability as a maximum of €450,000 for an apartment and €500,000 for a house in Dublin has sent shockwaves to anyone trying to put together a deposit to buy a house or apartment.

Those buying their first home will need to have saved at least 10% of the house price as a deposit, but preferably up to 20%. Additional costs would also include the likes of legal fees. As the Minister can see, there is already a heavy financial burden being placed on first-time buyers. This is clearly a disincentive for many young people looking to get on the property ladder for the first time and will shackle them to long-term renting. Others will have to continue to live in the family home.

It is a positive move that the Minister proposes to return the Part V take to 20% of any housing development if the development comprises more than nine units. This should have been done long ago and it is something that we in Sinn Féin vehemently opposed when it was originally changed to 10%. It is to be hoped this will happen. However, it is not clear what proportion of this 20% will go towards affordable housing.

Prior to 2015, the breakdown was 10% social and 10% affordable. Is it the intention of the Minister to do something similar? I heard him say that he is talking about that. He has clarified some of these matters, but further clarity is needed.

I have a great concern that, among other categories of development that are exempt under Part V, one is where a site is on land of 1,000 sq. m or less. This has had a detrimental effect on developments that are mainly located in the city centre and where more than nine units are being built. This exemption is being abused and should be removed.

It appears that the Minister has set the affordable rental bar too high, which is at approximately €1,300 per month in Dublin on average. These high rents have two effects: first, they are not affordable for many people; and, second, a great part of many people's incomes goes on paying rents, leaving them with no spare capacity to save for a house deposit. Even couples in good employment on what would be considered reasonable incomes would struggle to pay such high rents.

The use of homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, and housing HAP cost the State €422.729 million up to 2019, and the cost is still rising. More money is given to homeless HAP than housing HAP and local authorities have discretion to exceed the HAP rent limits for homeless households, including people in homeless accommodation. Local authorities are authorised to uplift HAP amounts by up to 20%. In the Dublin region, this can rise to 50%. Large sums of money are being spent by local authorities that could otherwise be used for building sustainable social housing.

The Minister's plans for a new affordable purchase shared equity scheme whereby the State would take a 20% equity in a purchased property have previously proven unworkable. Experience of such schemes shows that they have led to inflated house prices and individuals accumulating large and unsustainable debts, forcing them to go from mortgage to rent after having paid their mortgages for many years along with their rent as the schemes entailed. We are still dealing with the repercussions of these earlier share ownership schemes. The flaws in the Minister's proposed scheme have been highlighted not just by us, but by economic organisations like the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and even members of his own party and other Government parties. I hope that the Minister takes on board our concerns and does not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I thank the Minister for tabling the Bill in the House for debate. He seems to have shifted on the Bill following the discussion in the Seanad, and there will be more shifts on Committee Stage in terms of Part V developments. I look forward to further detail on same.

I wish to speak about affordability and what is happening in the market. House prices are increasing all over the country. There is a general assumption that this is based on pent-up demand now hitting a market with a low level of supply. There is a degree of truth in that, but as the Minister knows, I have been paying close attention to the activities of investment funds in the second-hand housing market across the country, particularly the Dublin region, which includes my constituency. The impact of those activities on prices is disgraceful and is artificially inflating what is already a red-hot housing market.

In recent months, I have been tracking a particular estate in my constituency, which the Minister also represents. Four houses were put up for sale in the early part of this year. They were the same type of house and each had an asking price of approximately €300,000, which in the madness of today's Dublin housing market actually seems somewhat affordable. That is how crazy the market is. Three of the four houses were sold off market to an investment fund. The fund offered €20,000 or slightly more above the asking price. The general public did not know that these three houses were for sale because only the fourth hit the websites and windows of estate agents. I do not know what the other house went for, but the three bought by the investment fund went for €320,000 or €325,000. A fifth house of the same type in the estate has now been put up for sale on the open market for approximately €330,000. That price is not to do with the pent-up demand of first-time buyers, families, people downsizing or whatever. Rather, it is down to the investment fund setting a price early this year of €320,000 or €325,000 off market. It is a large estate and I am not sure whether other new houses have been sold in recent weeks or will be put up for sale for investment funds to snap up. When we hit October or November, we will see asking prices of €350,000. Block buying apartments and estates like what happened in Kildare, Santry and elsewhere is disgraceful, but what is happening with investment funds in the second-hand market is disgraceful and immoral and it is not getting enough attention.

My example is relevant to the Bill because it raises a question about the extent to which investment funds are skewing asking prices and the impact of that on the calculations that will define affordability based on house prices in particular areas. As the Minister mentioned, there will be an area-specific ceiling. That sounds like a good idea, but I will not jump into a discussion on it because I want to hear more detail. It is scandalous that housing in a particular estate has increased in price by €50,000 because 75% of the purchasers are investment funds that did not buy from the open market. I would like the Minister to guarantee the Dáil that his Department is aware of this issue, is devising more sophisticated and harsher measures to tackle it and will not allow artificial activity in the second-hand housing market to impact the calculations for affordability, price ceilings and brackets for two-bedroom, three-bedroom or four-bedroom houses. My concern is that they will be artificially skewed.

When big investors and developers were active in the market previously and driving supply and prices, there was a visibility to it. We knew what was going on because it was being reported, but what is happening now is insidious and under the radar. We all need to discuss and tackle it more, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the Minister, his Department and his fellow Ministers where appropriate, for example, the Minister for Finance, to eradicate it from the housing market. It is taking homes away from people who need them.

I believe it was the Minister who stated that the average age of first-time buyers now was 36 years, or perhaps it was Deputy Ó Broin.

It has increased by ten years. We all meet people who, since their early to mid-20s and through two recessions, have been painstakingly saving and operating in a fluctuating and regulatory environment to try to get on the market. They hope and pray that a house in a particular estate opens up, and when one does, there is the traditional bidding war between first-time buyers and other interested parties, but they do not know that there were three other houses that they did not even have a chance of getting and were swept away from them. I cannot speak about it enough. It needs to be resolved.

Through this Bill, the Minister is having a crack at providing an affordable housing scheme that will work. Our housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan, has articulated through her many contributions in the Seanad that she has concerns about the calculation of affordability and the way it should be linked to income.

It is a fundamental flaw in how the Government is dealing with affordable housing in terms of setting prices for the houses and homes that will be delivered. Nothing is affordable unless income can cover not only housing but the bills and costs that come with living in Ireland, which we know are quite extensive, be they health, education or basic costs of living. Nothing is free in this country. Everything is paid for, and paid for by ordinary workers.

We need State investment in affordable housing at scale. There is no other way. We all agree on that, although there might be a couple of exceptions in this House. The flaw in the lack of a definition of "affordability" impacts on some of the credibility of this Affordable Housing Bill. The Labour Party still has concerns about the shared equity portion of the Bill and how it could serve to increase prices, despite all the voices in politics and beyond, including the ESRI and other agencies. The Minister has spoken quite vociferously to that and has staked a claim that it will not be debt-led and it will be an equity stake to bridge the gap between mortgage and price. However, this is a risk and a roll of the dice with this Bill. There is no other way of putting it. We know from other examples it has more or less always led to an increase in house prices.

As we know, the housing affordability crisis affects young people disproportionately. We have a whole locked-out generation, which is actually two generations considering the average age of a first-time house buyer. We could have a third generation added to that, the people who are currently doing junior certificates, transition years and all the rest. At this moment, unless Bills like this are proved to work, their post-college, post-apprenticeship or work futures are not looking too bright in terms of being able to afford to live. I have previously spoken in this House about the traditional social contract whereby someone who went out to work and was in work, whether as a Secretary General in the Civil Service, a captain of industry, delivering bread, driving a taxi or whatever it might be, would ultimately be able to afford to buy a house. If that person slipped below the threshold, the State was there with a local authority social housing scheme to make sure he or she was not going to fall through into the abyss. We are a stage where neither of those two options exist successfully at the moment. We do not have an affordable housing scheme or a supply of housing that meets the needs of young people and young workers and gives them hope. We do not have a local authority social housing scheme that is capturing people the way it needs to and the waiting lists remain too high. Some progress is being made but it is not enough.

As has been mentioned over the past few weeks, and as I stated at the start of my contribution, we need to kick investment funds out of the housing market. They are causing untold damage, not only with bulk purchases of new estates but, as I articulated quite clearly with my examples, their activity in the second-hand housing market, which is having a significant impact that is going unrecorded and will have an adverse effect on any of the calculations or legislation coming through as part of a suite of housing legislation. This Bill goes hand in hand with the LDA Bill and the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill discussed last night, so there is an awful lot of housing legislation going through at the moment and much work being done in committees. If we are not capturing the fundamentals of what is wrong in the market at the moment with this legislation, and my concern is we are not, then we will have a severe problem.

The market-led approach, and it has been such since the mid-1990s, should have led to supply increasing and rents falling. As we know, that just has not happened. Deputy Ó Broin highlighted rent and house prices from 2011. House prices came down because of the crash. We do not want them to go back up, but they happened because of a distinct, massive economic shock. We need to be careful about where we are picking our figures from. If we can bring our calculations back to people's current incomes that is the best way of doing it, rather than selectively picking a moment in time. We could go back further and compare what our parents paid in mortgages or local authority rents, but that does not stand up.

We will get more detail on the Part V issue the Minister mentioned, but if we are moving back up to 20%, what are the level of opt-outs going to be? He can come back on this. The Labour Party shipped a lot of criticism when it opted for 10%, bringing it down from 20%, but the reason we did that in government was the opt-outs in the previous scheme were such that on some estates not even 1% was being delivered. One of the compromises we had to swallow, and "compromise" is a dirty word for many in politics but it is a fact of life, was that a flat 10% had to be delivered. If a flat 10% was delivered throughout the history of Part V, we would probably not have such a housing crisis. Under the previous regime, there were too many opt-outs, land swaps and cash deals done with local authorities to give them fields out in the middle of nowhere with no zoning whatsoever, where nothing could ever be built and local authorities cannot do anything with now. In terms of bringing it up to 20%, if it is hard, fixed, fast and will really deliver at that level, it is to be welcomed. I look forward to hearing from the Minister in his reply, and on Committee Stage, about what opt-outs there will be.

Delivery and supply are key. How these provisions interact with the LDA and wider Government policy is going to be the proof of this particular pudding. What we can see in the approach to cuckoo funds who are buying up properties that exist out there at the moment does not give us cause to be too excited. The lack of affordability being linked to income in the Bill is a real issue for the Labour Party as well. We supported this Bill in the Seanad and we will support it in the Dáil because there are measures in it that are good and need to be supported. I hope the Minister knows from our record that we will judge everything on its merits. We are happy to support what we believe in and happy to criticise, and argue strongly against, what we do not. This Bill is a mixture of provisions that will help and provisions that need to be improved on, such as the shared equity scheme, which we believe will bump up house prices even further. I thank the Minister for his contribution and look forward to hearing the rest of the debate remotely from my office.

I agree with the previous speaker. There is a raft of housing legislation coming through the House and sometimes it can be very difficult for people watching to know how all of it will benefit them. I will not trade political arguments in the Chamber but will try to explain to people out there who need help, and cannot afford to buy or rent a home, what this Bill does. It is the first comprehensive affordable housing Bill the State has brought in. It will effectively take public land, build homes on it and make them available, in some cases, below the cost of producing those homes. It will mean that, once again, local authorities can build affordable housing and provide mixed estates. It will make sure we can build communities. I want young people to know the Government is building affordable housing on public land using the Bill.

We are making a new form of affordable cost rental available. We have heard about the Vienna housing model and what happens in other European cities.

With this Bill we will build apartments. If somebody does not qualify for social housing, we will ensure that he or she can access cost rental. The person will have below-market rents for all his or her life, a secure tenure below the cost of renting. It will mean a person will have security to rent if he or she is unable to get a mortgage and does not qualify for social housing. That is the case with public sites - we are building public housing on public lands. On private land, we are increasing the obligation of developers from 10% to 20%. We want to ensure there is more affordable housing on those sites. For the first time, Part V will now include affordable and social housing.

The last point is that for many people all these measures will still take up to three years to come to fruition. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is conscious of that. I am conscious of it. It will not happen overnight because building homes cannot happen overnight. In the meantime, there is a scheme that will allow people to buy new homes now so they can access housing. The State will effectively give them a five-year, interest-free loan of 20% of the cost of the house. It means that a couple with a combined income of €70,000 will be able to purchase a home for approximately €350,000. Do we believe that is affordable? No, but we are helping. What is affordable is the schemes I mentioned previously, whereby we will provide homes for between €160,000 and €300,000.

All of these are practical measures that are going to help people and couples. It will mean there will be more affordable housing. When the review of the national development plan takes place this summer, we will put our money where our mouth is and invest significantly in the provision of homes. That is what the Government should do. Helping people who have been locked out of other schemes to buy a home not only helps society but also our economy. It ensures that we are competitive and that we have a compassionate society and sustainable communities.

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill forward at this critical time. The Green Party has long championed and campaigned for affordable sustainable housing solutions, especially now in this housing crisis. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on the Bill to try to strengthen it for tenants and homeowners.

The Bill offers a great opportunity and gateway to introduce new housing models to the State, such as community-led housing, a ground-up approach that enables people to pool their assets and resources to create homes and communities which meet their particular needs in a sustainable manner. There is significant evidence and many examples of the benefits of this model across Europe in terms of long-term affordability and addressing loneliness, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. I visited such a complex in Berlin where costs of homes are 30% lower. I hope to submit clear recommendations on the Bill for policy development in line with international best practice, and I hope the Minister will consider this model as part of the Bill.

Another sustainable housing model which is centred on affordability and is part of the Bill is cost rental, which is Green Party housing policy. It is one we have pushed, and will continue to push for, as part of the Government's response to the affordability crisis. We believe cost rental built en masse, with approximately 10,000 units annually for ten years, can make the rental market affordable. My colleagues and I will continue to work with the Minister and his Department to ensure that cost rental remains permanently affordable and is a State-led housing model. We must ensure that cost-rental units remain cost rental in perpetuity and that rents do not increase but, in fact, decrease after the cost calculation period ends. We must cap the equity returns at 3.5% and, importantly, ensure tenants are protected by offering tenancies of indefinite tenure.

Finally, the Bill offers a good opportunity to level the playing pitch for first-time buyers and to ensure they are not outbid by pension funds. The Green Party will bring forward an amendment to ensure that 30% of units in apartment developments are reserved for first-time buyers. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on those amendments.

A number of aspects of this Bill are commendable, but I am a little concerned about some other aspects of it, as I will outline. For example, the affordable dwelling purchase arrangement in Part 2 of the Bill seeks to facilitate the building of affordable housing on land owned by local authorities. However, no additional funding was made available in budget 2021 to pay for affordable purchase homes, and only 90 affordable purchase homes are to be delivered in 2021. That is nowhere near ambitious enough. Similarly, the funding that has been allocated for cost-rental dwellings, which Part 3 of the Bill attempts to deal with, is inadequate. Only €35 million has been allocated, which has delivered just over 400 cost-rental homes. We can compare this with the €75 million that has been allocated for the shared equity loan scheme, which was lobbied for by the property industry.

There is also a question about whether the rents under this scheme will be genuinely affordable. The first homes delivered under this scheme on Enniskerry Road in Dublin are to have rents of €1,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. That is well above the affordability level of the majority of people. The target rents for cost-rental homes in the capital should be between €700 and €900 per month and lower in other areas of the country. Currently, in my county of Cavan rents are more than €900 per month.

I am entirely opposed to Part 4 of the Bill which provides for the shared equity loan scheme. A similar scheme was introduced in Britain and it was severely criticised in a House of Commons report published in 2019. The report concluded that shared equity loans did not make homes more affordable, that 60% of those who availed of the loan did not need it and that as the loans were unregulated they put borrowers at significant risk. This was echoed by independent research conducted by the UK housing charity Shelter, which found that the shared equity loan scheme led to increased house prices, adding approximately £8,250 to the average price of a home. Why is the Minister attempting to introduce a scheme which has proven to be not only ineffective in delivering affordable homes but has actually had the opposite effect? I fear it has less to do with a desire to deliver affordable rental and purchase homes and more to do with the lobbying that the Minister received from the property industry. It has been shown that pro-developer schemes such as this have not worked.

Instead, we should divert the €75 million allocated to this scheme to local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver affordable rental and purchase homes. House prices are simply too high, and increasing first-time buyers’ access to credit is not the solution. Working people need cheaper homes, not more debt. That is the type of developer-led housing policy which caused the property crash and recession in 2008.

I will start by following up on some of the points made by Deputy Duncan Smith about investment funds and the issue of buying homes and second-hand homes. Last weekend, there was coverage in the Business Post, by Killian Woods, of a new-build home in Malahide, in the Minister's constituency. It is in a great development with great amenities in a highly sought-after area. It has been vacant for the last four or five years and was bought by an investor. The point being made was simply that the return from the house price increases would be attractive enough for an investor to do that, without renting it out. Vacant homes have to be tackled. Taxes need effective measures there.

There is the wider issue that rental returns are so attractive at present that investors are buying homes, blocks of apartments and housing estates. They are also buying second-hand homes in bundles on the basis of very attractive rental returns and yields. They know there is a guarantee that if they cannot get them on the open or private market, they will be able to get them through long-term leases to local authorities or others backed by the State. Those excellent returns are completely skewing housing affordability. It is one of the issues that must be tackled. It is part of the wider phenomenon of the commodification and financialisation of housing that is taking place. During the Celtic tiger years, we saw how buy-to-let investors were encouraged to buy housing and how that wrecked housing affordability at the time. It was unsustainable and was one of the contributing factors to the crash.

We are seeing something similar now regarding investors and this situation must be tackled. In that context, I am very concerned - and this is not particular to the Minister - that the Government is continuing to back measures which are inflating rents and house prices.

Housing policy, housing legislation and this Bill should not be seen in a vacuum. We must see all of this in the context of what is happening economically internationally. Particularly because of quantitative easing, we are now seeing a flow of investment money into housing internationally because investors get good returns and good yields from such investments.

A countermeasure in this regard is allowed for by the European Central Bank, ECB, in the form of the State borrowing heavily to invest directly in building affordable homes for purchase and rent. That is what the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and several other bodies have asked for and are seeking the Government to undertake to counter the harmful effects of quantitative easing in respect of the flow of investment money into housing. All those aspects must be tackled if we are serious about affordable housing, and such endeavours must go hand-in-hand with the legislative measures in this Bill.

We have an affordable housing crisis, and that includes a lack of affordable homes for purchase and for rent. To address this crisis, we must do exactly what the current Minister said should be done during the last election campaign. We must build about 10,000 directly built affordable homes every year. That is what is needed. The current Minister was absolutely right about that when he said it during the last election campaign. It is welcome that there will be hundreds of cost-rental homes available this year, but we need that availability to be on the scale of thousands of such homes if we are going to address this issue. We also need directly built affordable homes for purchase. Schemes such as those undertaken by the Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance are very good but they are on a very small scale, and we must be doing this on a scale which produces thousands of homes. I do not mean large-scale in respect of very large developments. We require a range of developments in different locations around the country and in different parts of Dublin to deliver those thousands of homes and to build sustainable and high-quality communities.

The State has an absolutely key role in bridging the affordability gap. There are people who cannot afford the high costs, high rents and high purchase prices of the homes being delivered by the private sector and who do not qualify for social housing. It is that gap in the middle that must be addressed. We must be crystal clear regarding what we mean when it comes to affordable housing and cost rental. A percentage discount off the full market price will not cut it. The delivery of affordable homes for purchase and for cost rental does matter. I do not believe that private sector delivery alone is the way to go on this issue, because that sector is effectively just looking for that discount off the full market prices.

This Bill, in respect of improving it, must really nail its colours to the mast regarding defining housing affordability. It should be done properly in this Bill and that is an existing weakness and gap in the legislation that I will be seeking to address in my amendments. Affordability should be based on income and it should be something like a maximum of one third of income going to pay for people's housing costs, including utility costs. We should also be examining residual income and what people can afford to pay after they have met other essential costs, such as transport, childcare and those types of expenses.

Regarding the Part V aspect of this Bill, I welcome the expansion back to what was previously the case in this regard. As Deputy Smith said, what was there before was rather ineffective because of all of the opt outs. Potentially, therefore, this legislation will be much better than just restoring the original provision. One area of the Bill, however, needs particular work. I am not saying that this change must be made in time to be included in this Bill, because I know that this legislation must pass quickly. However, significant work will need to be done later on delivering value for money in Part V delivery. Much can be done to improve on this aspect. I would like to see that done and I will be raising this point on Committee Stage, and I will continue to raise it. We could be doing better at that point.

Turning to the shared equity aspect of the legislation, I have some specific questions regarding the Minister’s statement in that regard. He said that these will be short-term measures. What sort of timeframe is he talking about? The Minister also said that similar schemes have been looked at, not just in the UK but in other jurisdictions. What other countries and jurisdictions were looked at?

I am concerned that the Minister continues to quote the British National Audit Office report. It is a good report and it should be quoted, but it is the way it has been quoted that I have an issue with. The report refers to a 1% price premium and not to 1% price inflation, and that is a key difference. The report clearly states that for the same homes, the same square metres in size and in the same areas that people who availed of the equity scheme paid a price premium of 1%. It did not state that price inflation was confined to only 1%. The Minister has repeated that since the very start of these discussions about shared equity, and I urge him to re-examine this aspect. It is a flawed reading of that report and I ask him to look at it again. It is a good report and it should be part of what informs this debate, but it is very important that it is quoted correctly.

Moving on to price caps, and associated measures, if price caps were to be some measure of an effective guarantee in respect of the shared equity scheme, we would need much more localised price caps to be instituted rather than simply having a cap based on the median for an entire local authority area. The Minister and other Deputies will be well aware that can be a huge variance in prices within a local authority area. Using the Minister’s constituency as an example, there will be a major difference in the prices that first-time buyers might be looking at when purchasing a home on the open market in the northern part of that constituency compared with areas such as Malahide. There is great variance across that constituency. A €400,000 price cap on an affordable home in the parts of Fingal where house prices are more expensive might have some effect. However, it is not going to have any effect at all in those parts where the average house price on the open market is well below €400,000. Therefore, if price caps are to be utilised, having them on such a blunt scale will be very ineffective. I appreciate that there may be complications regarding how far it may be possible to localise such price caps and it may not be possible for the Minister to bring about extremely localised market price caps. However, if price caps are to have an effect as a measure, they will need to be much more localised.

I have serious concerns about the shared equity part of the Bill and I do not believe those concerns have been properly addressed to date. I am concerned that the shared equity scheme will add fuel to the fire of house prices. When we look at the people lobbying in favour of this scheme, they started lobbying for it in February 2020, just after the election campaign, when house price inflation was much more stable. Those lobbyists were looking at this mechanism back then as a means of trying to kick-start house price inflation. There is no need for that now because it is already happening. There is too much of it happening now and, therefore, I reiterate in the strongest possible terms that this aspect must be looked at again. We had very serious warnings from the Central Bank and the ESRI regarding this initiative, as well as from several commentators.

In addition, we have had warnings that we are potentially looking at house prices reaching Celtic tiger levels again. We are also seeing the sharp increases in the prices of construction materials because of the uptick in construction building internationally due to Brexit and quantitative easing and investors not getting returns on bonds and yields. Therefore, they are putting investment money into some of the construction materials, effectively speculating on them and pushing up those prices. Given all that, it makes no sense for the Government to be adding fuel to the fire of house price increases via this scheme.

A former senior official in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform warned that the property industry wants an equity scheme because "it will increase prices". Those words were from a neutral Government commentator. What is happening here is a resuscitation of the failed policies of the Celtic tiger era, when the Government ignored warnings from commentators and from its own Civil Servants and championed tax subsidies for developers which led to a sharp increase in house prices. Thousands upon thousands of families had to deal with the burden of unsustainable debt and unaffordable house prices and the last thing we want to see is a repeat of that.

Evidence from the UK on its shared equity scheme, where equity loans have been in place since 2013, is that the loans have led to increased house prices and a boom in profits for large developers. It is no surprise, therefore, that large developers have been lobbying for such a scheme here. A study by Professor Geoff Meeks of Cambridge University found that in the four years after the shared equity scheme was introduced, average share prices on the FTSE 350, where most large developers are listed, increased by 47% but the share prices of the leading developers benefiting from the shared equity scheme increased by 230%. In the years before the shared equity scheme was introduced, the share prices for those developers did not increase above the level of other stocks and shares on the FTSE 350. An analysis of house prices in ten towns and cities across England found that homes available under the equity loan scheme were, on average, nearly 15% more expensive per square metre than comparable homes not eligible under the scheme. A 2019 report by the National Audit Office, the same report quoted by the Minister earlier, found that the scheme was used largely to purchase larger and more expensive new-build homes compared to homes bought by other first-time buyers without the scheme. In the east midlands, for example, the average purchase price for a first-time buyer of a new-build property in 2018 was less than £158,000 but buyers availing of the shared equity loan bought homes that cost, on average, more than £235,000. In north-east England, where the take-up of the equity loan scheme was the highest in the UK, the gap was even wider. The average price paid by first-time buyers for new-build homes was less than £110,000 but those availing of the shared equity loans purchased homes costing more than £182,000.

The Bill lacks a proper definition of affordability. There is a very strong case to be made for defining affordability in terms of people's income and ability to pay. I have a strong fear that if this is not done, many of the very welcome affordable housing measures in the Bill to help people who are short of full market prices will miss an entire cohort of people who do not qualify for social housing and are way off being able to afford homes at full market prices. They will continue to be consigned to paying high and unaffordable rents for years to come. Home ownership levels of 70% were referenced recently by the Tánaiste. It is welcome that the leader of Fine Gael wants to see home ownership levels back to the level they were at when his party took office in 2011. I am interested to hear the views of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on home ownership. Would he like to see a restoration? Not long ago, around the time that the Minister started in electoral politics, home ownerships levels in Ireland were at about 82%. Would the Minister like to see restoration to that kind of level and how soon can we get there? I hope some of that detail and some of the targets in that regard will be contained in the Housing for All strategy. It is important that we have targets and are able to measure progress. It is all very fine for Deputies to refer to restoring the home ownership levels to those that pertained when they took office in 2011 but we need to have a roadmap and strategy for getting there.

On cost rental and affordable purchase, the model of delivery is of crucial importance. Private sector delivery, as envisaged by the Government, will push up prices and costs, making homes less affordable. Let us take the example of the Part V proposal submitted by Bartra for O'Devaney Gardens, comprising 104 units, of which 31 have one bedroom, 56 have two bedrooms and 17 have three bedrooms. This works out at an average, inclusive of VAT, of €354,000 per home or €315,000 excluding VAT. If the State was financing the building of those Part V homes - this goes back to my earlier point about Part V and value for money - we could potentially save around €4 million on the Part V element of the scheme or €38,000 per home. That would bring the cost down to an average of €277,000 per home excluding VAT. That is significant in terms of cost rental or affordable purchase. The reason for this is that the State has access to borrowing at much more favourable interest rates and lower financing costs than the private sector. There are other savings that could be made without compromising on quality. Ms Orla Hegarty has provided good detail on how with economies of scale in terms of fixtures and fittings, we could achieve savings. The County and City Management Association, CCMA, is also looking at this issue and at where savings can be made. It is looking at the possibility of having elements of universal design for the internal build-out of social homes but having external variants and unique external designs, which is very important. I would not like to see us return to decades past where we had only one or two external designs that were built en masse. We could see significant savings on internal elements and that should not just be done for social homes but also for cost rental and affordable purchase homes. Of course, this can be done if we do not rely solely on private sector delivery.

I will be concluding shortly and am glad that I have not had the same effect in this Chamber as Deputy Duncan Smith had, although his contribution was very good. Apologies, I could not resist that. On a very important point-----

Deputy Boyd Barrett missed it so he will never know and I will never tell.

It is true that the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of people who are locked into renting are resting on this Bill, on the measures therein and on the investment that will hopefully be brought forward. I was very struck during the election campaign by the number of people I met in my constituency in Donaghmede who told me about the affordable purchase homes they bought when they were younger as part of the newly-wed scheme, under which a lottery was run in the Mansion House. They told me about how their grown up children are now living in the boxroom upstairs with their grandchildren. All of us want to see that ending. I will certainly be supporting the measures in this Bill that are effective and I will be proposing amendments to the measures that need to be improved and strengthened.

I must say that I have found all of the contributions so far to be absolutely riveting. Deputy Higgins, who is sharing with Deputy Cowen, is next.

I hope I live up to the Ceann Comhairle's expectations.

You have never let me down so far.

Housing in Ireland has become unaffordable and unobtainable for many people and that is simply a fact. Young people in particular feel locked out of the housing market. They feel the dream of one day owning their own homes is a far-off idea at best and at worst, just a pipe dream. I want to live in a city and a country where home ownership is possible, if not the norm, for people my age. That is why I am so glad we are introducing the first ever Bill that will focus solely on affordable housing. It works in tandem with the Land Development Agency Bill to put affordability at the heart of our housing system. It will do this in four different ways: first, through the direct, local authority-led building of affordable homes for the first time in more than a decade - that means councils delivering affordable housing; second, through the first ever national cost rental scheme that will deliver long-term, over secure and affordable leases for those who wish to rent longer term; third, through a national shared equity scheme for new-build homes that will see the State taking an average equity of approximately 20% in the cost of a home, with a mortgage to be taken out on the remainder if people opt for that initiative and want that assistance; and, fourth, it means an expansion of the Part V clause to provide 10% affordable purchase and, crucially,10% social housing, as well as affordable housing in all new developments.

The two biggest issues facing the housing market are affordability and supply. A combination of short-term measures will help turn approved planning applications into homes. Measures such as the shared equity scheme and the cost-rental model, combined with long-term changes like expanding Part V and the direct building of affordable homes by councils, will help us ensure supply and affordability are delivered for people as part of a comprehensive and well thought-out housing policy. All of this work is underpinned by the largest ever housing budget and the most ambitious targets on record.

We have heard criticism of parts of the Bill, particularly the shared equity scheme. Sinn Féin does not want it to be available in the Republic of Ireland, despite overseeing it in Northern Ireland. We have heard comparisons with the UK scheme and Opposition politicians are right that it was not perfect. That is why we have learned from it and why we are targeting our measures at people who need support and at the places that need homes built in them. We have learned from their experience and we are building on that. That is how policy should work. It should be developed by building on policies from other countries, by improving on them and by bringing in our own initiatives such as the Rebuilding Ireland home loan.

We have also heard talk of investor funds and of their being no place for them in Ireland. That is simply fairy-tale economics because without foreign investment, we cannot build the homes we need or fund apartment blocks. We need to produce in excess of 35,000 homes over the next ten years at a cost of €10 billion per year. How do we fund that without external help? The fact is that our ambitious targets require the direct focus and support of measures such as this Bill. They sure could do with the support of all Members of this House because if we worked together towards a shared goal of creating housing for everyone, then things would happen a lot faster. Our aim must be to solve the housing crisis and get people into homes. Our collective efforts must do that. This Bill will deliver homes, help make housing affordable and help young people realise their dreams of owning a home.

I welcome this Bill to give effect to an affordable housing scheme and which contains issues around cost rental and Part V. The scheme is long overdue. It is unfortunate that the previous Government did not provide one but thankfully the programme for Government compelled the Minister to bring forward a Bill such as this and thankfully he is doing so.

The legislation will apply to future planning but it will not be or cannot be retrospective and, therefore, it cannot apply to all of those thousands of units held up in a planning process that I am afraid is not fit for purpose in the context of a housing emergency. It is this issue that I would like to address during the short time I have been allocated. I want to lay out an issue which is the greatest enemy to the supply of public and private housing, including social and affordable housing, namely, the planning process.

An opinion poll in The Irish Times last week highlighted the readiness and preparedness of the public to address the issue of objections to developments. Some might not be fazed by opinion polls but I am one of those who is. The opinion poll coincides with my views and opinions, which I have often relayed to my colleagues. I got written confirmation from the Minister that he is planning to bring forward a planning reform Bill in the autumn and I welcome that. I would hope that this Bill would then - and I wish it would do so earlier - overhaul the planning system, not just with the Bill I introduced last month setting out a time period for An Bord Pleanála decisions but I would seek to suspend the process of judicial reviews at a time of housing crisis and emergency. We had the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation at a time of financial crisis and that addressed and laid the foundations for the recovery of our public finances. Housing emergency measures in the public interest, HEMPI, legislation is necessary at this time.

Protracted and ridiculously long delays should not be tolerated. There were many and much financial packages and funds provided from outside the State that were initially made available on planning applications being granted. These have been withdrawn since because of the three, four and five-year delays that those providing the funding simply cannot comprehend. My proposal will not be popular with some but I am not here to try to please everybody. That sort of attitude is one that has us where we are.

I am satisfied, as a councillor for 18 years and as a Deputy for ten years, that sufficient improvements and protections in the planning procedures and means of appraisals over the years have restored and earned the credibility of the democratic planning process. We have seen, for example, the provision of a planning regulator in recent years. We see county development plans and the wide ranging consultative and reporting process that they involve are also subservient to national spatial strategies and regional development and planning guidelines. This all combines to convince me that the competitiveness, competence and professionalism of independent oversight and delivery of planning by our local authorities and An Bord Pleanála are sound. However, it is there that it needs to stop.

Fianna Fáil took on the housing portfolio in order to get housing done. At this time of emergency, when I look at judicial reviews and the issues around them, many of those issues, whether commercial or residential, are issues of the contention of those appellants in relation to Government policy and ideology and bear little impact, considering the impact they have on the crisis and those affected by it. I note that in residential, energy and afforestation cases, the same names appear in these files. It is crippling our economy and our ability to respond and provide homes in this country to those who need them most. The effectiveness of such drastic but necessary actions can be measured at the end of this Government's term and I would beg the Government to consider and exercise its authority and majority and move in this direction in these matters.

I again welcome the Minister's commitment to provide a reform Bill in the autumn. I ask that he give serious consideration to issues such as this that need to be addressed.

There has been a small error with the Bill. Naming a Bill that will drive up house prices and offer rental at €1,100 a month in Cork as an Affordable Housing Bill is a farce. Affordability cannot be based on the market price; it has to be based on income.

House prices in Cork rose last year by 11%. For most of my constituents, the average family home in Cork is so far out of their reach that they cannot even imagine owning their own home. Telling them that affordable housing will be less than €400,000 in Cork gives the majority of people no hope. Does the Minister realise how much €400,000 means to ordinary people? That is not affordable. Whether it is a cap, target or aim, when we discuss affordability and affordable housing we should not be hearing figures such as €400,000. It is that simple. That scares people because they know the 4% increase that was brought in by the last Government as a cap on rents became the target and is now just the norm. People know that developers and speculators will see the €400,000 as a figure to aim for. Where has that figure come from? It should not be a target and it should not be there at all.

As I said earlier, the average house price in Cork rose by 11% last year and it is now €310,000. We know that an 11% increase was ridiculously high when house prices were already too high but the Government is setting a target that could possibly lead to a 29% increase in house prices in Cork. The Government's plan runs the risk of making homes that are not affordable so ridiculously out of reach that home ownership will become a thing of the past for the vast majority of ordinary people. Instead, young people and families are forced to choose between living with their parents or paying huge high rents to vulture funds. These cannot be the choices that we are giving young families and people.

There is so much more I want to say but I just want to remind the Minister and the other Government Ministers and Deputies that it was Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing policies over the last 20 years that have put us where we are now. I do not believe this Affordable Housing Bill will deliver everything the Minister says it will.

I wish it could, I sincerely do, but I do not think the Minister understands the reality of the situation.

Does the Deputy know his party is supporting the Bill?

Did the Minister hear what I said? I said I hope this Bill delivers.

It is good to have the Deputy back in the Chamber. I thought he had gone missing last night. It is good to have him back.

I was talking about this matter with Fianna Fáil Deputies and councillors who were voting against it in Cork 20 years ago.

We appreciate the Deputy's support for the Bill. Fair play to him. He should get back on message.

We will not be opposing the Bill, at least at this Stage, because we want to see affordable housing as a matter of urgency. We will undoubtedly introduce amendments on the next Stage and will try to be constructive. We supported the Residential Tenancies Bill even though it was incredibly limited and did not go half far enough. We did not block that legislation. We sought to amend it but the Minister chose not to take on board any of our amendments. We will see what the Minister does with any amendments or suggestions we make on this Bill.

There was a bit of politicking from the Minister at the outset to which I will respond in kind. He referred to pragmatism. The Government and the Minister, in particular, though I have also heard it from other Ministers, wheel out a narrative to the effect that they are the pragmatists whereas we are the idealists who talk about pie-in-the-sky, fantasy economics and so on. As somebody who studied philosophy, I want to inform the Minister that pragmatism is a philosophy, an ideology, and perhaps the Minister should read about it before he bandies around the term. It is a philosophical movement that started in the United State, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the 1870s, with people such as Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey. It has been updated by relativistic philosophers such as Richard Rorty and the post-modernist, post-structuralist gobbledegook that circulates in some academic circles. Let us be clear that so-called pragmatism is an ideology every bit as much as the ideology the Minister accuses us of adopting. To spell out where we are coming from, and this is directly relevant, I am a materialist, as against a pragmatist. In other words, I start with material reality whereas pragmatism is about essentially saying we have to balance between existing and moving realities. Nowhere is this better epitomised than by the fact that in this Affordable Housing Bill, there are 55 different references to things that will not be done in the Bill but will be done afterwards by ministerial regulation. That is pragmatism in the extreme because some of the key questions we need to answer to deliver affordable housing are not answered in the Bill. They will be answered later by the Minister, depending on circumstances. That is the actuality of pragmatism and to be honest, it is quite undemocratic. I do not know if it is questionable from a legal and constitutional point of view to have that much stuff in the Bill that will be done later by the Minister. That stuff includes, critically, what the affordable dwelling contribution will be, the prices that will be paid, how affordable limits will be set in particular places and so on. We do not really know whether the affordable housing will actually be affordable because that is all going to be done later and is not done in the Bill.

A materialist approaches things from the simple starting point of asking, without anybody having to make profit, how much would it cost for us to build a house? If there are no markets, marketing, speculation and all of that stuff, how much would it cost to build a house? It would cost €160,000 to €200,000, depending on the size of the house. Market conditions are referenced throughout the Land Development Agency Bill and this Bill in terms of how rents and affordability are going to be set. If we did not have market conditions, we could build houses pretty cheaply ourselves. For how much is the market able to deliver houses? It apparently differs in different parts of the country which is strange, in and of itself. In one of the biggest residential developments in the country, which is happening in my constituency, it will cost €400,000 for Hines to build an apartment. There is a big gap between what it would cost us to build places and what the private sector can deliver. What is the average price for a house in Dún Laoghaire? It is in excess of €500,000. The Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill state that the price of affordable housing or affordable rents will be set by reference to the market and will represent a discount on that market price. The Minister has said that discount on the market rent will be 25% to 30%. The Minister has said that the discount on house prices will be based on the median house price in any particular area. That is a big problem for us and is not going to work. When I say "us", I mean people in south Dublin. In fact, it applies to pretty much all of Dublin, much of Galway and Cork, and quite a bit of Waterford. That is a serious problem.

There is cap of €450,000 for a property in my area. One would need an income of approximately €120,000 a year to pay for a property at that cap. Given that house prices in my area are averaging €500,000, that is a serious problem. I do not see how this legislation is going to help ordinary working people. I have been at pains to explain to the Minister that if one is on minimum wage and happens to live in Dún Laoghaire, one does not get a higher minimum wage. A public servant who happens to live in south Dublin does not get a higher wage from the Civil Service. A teacher, a member of the Garda or a nurse does not get paid more because he or she happens to live in Dún Laoghaire but house prices and rents in the area are multiples of what they are in other parts of the country. If the measures in this Bill will be taken by reference to median market prices or rents, we have a serious problem and I do not see how the Minister is going to be able to deliver in my area. I do not see how he can deliver that level of affordability but we know that if we built the houses ourselves, we could build them at €160,000 to €180,000 or €200,000. That is real, practical materialism. One could even call it pragmatic. Why would we build houses via the market, which is clearly unable to deliver affordability in my area, when we could do it ourselves and deliver affordability? That is the simple question I ask and to which I never really get an answer. It is a sort of pragmatism extremism to insist that we bring the market forces in, even though the evidence would suggest they are incapable of delivering affordability.

The points have been made about the shared equity scheme. In that context, we are going to be paying private developers these extortionate prices under Part V. Can the Minister find me some private developers who are going to be building at affordable prices in my area? I just told him about the biggest residential development in the entire country. I met the developers, who told me it costs €400,000 to build one of those apartments. With that in mind, for how much are they going to sell them?

We have been asking Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council for approximately four years how much affordable housing we are going to get for the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, in Cherrywood. We still cannot get an answer. The council cannot figure it out. It cannot work out the conundrum of how we actually get a serious amount of affordable housing for the €15 million.

When the LIHAF was originally announced, 30% of any development was going to be affordable and would be less than €350,000. That disappeared within a few weeks because it became obvious that the developers were not going to wear that in areas like Cherrywood. We still have no idea four years on, and ten years since much of that came into the hands of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and was then handed over to Hines and others, how much affordable housing we are going to get or what the price will be. I am none the wiser today from the Government's Bill, which I have read through, as to how much the affordable housing in Cherrywood will actually be.

Deputy Cowen also made a very good point, which I was going to make but I will repeat. None of the additional 10% is going to apply to all the planning permissions that have been given under the strategic housing development, SHD, anyway, and, of course, we know a slew of SHD planning permissions have been rammed through over the last few years and will continue to flow in until the SHD regime is wound up. I welcome the additional 10% in Part V in terms of affordable housing. However, none of that 10% affordable housing will apply to any of that vast swathe - in other words, the huge amount of stuff that will actually be built over the next number of years, if they build it and are not just speculating on the land, which many of them are.

We would, therefore, need far more radical measures, which I believe we should be taking, and to insist that we get additional affordable housing immediately in areas like Cherrywood and other such areas. We should take much more radical actions to achieve that.

I also want to question the cost rental aspect of this. First of all, the cost-rental rents are again being checked against market rents. I do not understand why that would be the case. Again, a person's eligibility for cost rental will based on income. If a person's income is too high for social housing, then the next category up will be cost rental. A person's eligibility, therefore, for social or cost-rental housing will continue to be income-based but the rent he or she pays in cost rental will differ in different places. That is wrong. It is not fair. Why should it be different? Why should someone pay higher cost rental in Shankill than in Salthill? Give me a good reason. There is no good reason

It is the cost of building and managing. We will go through it on Committee Stage.

Many of the Deputies questions are rhetorical.

It means that a person will be paying higher rent even though his or her income is the same as other people. That is not fair. I mention the fact that the Minister or previous Governments have not raised the income thresholds. I laughed at the Minister's response to a Topical Issue matter tabled by Deputy Ó Laoghaire the other day, in which the Minister announced the income threshold review for social housing. Does the Minister know how long that review has been going on? It has been going on for approximately four years. I recall that every year - every few months - I would ask the then Minister with responsibility for housing, Eoghan Murphy, about it. I would ask when the income threshold review was coming and he would tell me that it was coming soon and that it was under way. It never came. Why is that? It is because there is a policy in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to constantly reduce the number of people who are eligible for social housing, and in effect, to replace much of previous social housing provision on eligibility with cost rental because the rents will be higher in cost rental than they will be in social housing.

In that regard, another ideological phrase from the pragmatists appears yet again in this Bill. I asked the Minister to take the phrase "undue segregation" out of the Land Development Agency Bill 2021 and it appears here. As far as I know, that has not been replaced on Report Stage of the Land Development Agency Bill. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong. He said he would look at it.

We have not even published the Report Stage amendments of the Land Development Agency Bill yet.

Okay. Let us hope it is gone but it appears again here.

That is just for clarification. We have not published the Report Stage amendments of the Land Development Agency Bill.

That is fair enough. My office told me there was no change.

Perhaps it has a mole in the Bills Office.

It might have. We need a mole in the Minister's Department.

It would not surprise me.

We absolutely need a mole in the Minister's Department. The phrase "undue segregation" appears here again, as if there is a due or acceptable level of segregation. There is not. Why does it appear? I will tell the Minister why it appears. It is because the de facto pragmatic solution is actually about new forms of segregation, and new forms of classification of cohorts of people, who will be suitable for different types of housing based on another phrase I really dislike and find insulting, frankly, which is "social background".

Undue segregation of people of different social backgrounds, therefore, is a prejudiced, preconceived and predetermined notion of certain people living in certain types of housing with certain types of tenures. It would appear they will actually be segregated unless we really get rid of segregation. I know there was segregation in the previous incarnation of the Part V, when it was social and affordable housing. There is segregation in many of the Part V developments where the Part V 10% social housing is literally a separate block, away from the privately-owned housing. It is very segregated and it is a form of social and housing apartheid. Indeed, there are different finishings and so on in different houses.

The other aspect of cost rental I worry about is the fact that it is another investment opportunity. Investors who ask for the building they own or have built to be designated as cost rental will essentially get the cost of the house paid for by the tenant over a period of 25 years, and can then opt out of the cost-rental scheme and sell it on. We are, therefore, creating investment opportunities but at the end of the period, the investors can pull out of the arrangement.

I have another question about cost rental. What happens when a person's income exceeds the cost-rental eligibility limits while he or she is living in the house? In England, they brought in this so-called flexible social housing scheme where a person's eligibility for the social housing in which he or she is living is reviewed every five years. This, therefore, creates the conditions where a person can actually be thrown out of social housing if his or her income exceeds a certain level. Is that going to happen with cost-rental housing? I will be glad to get the reassurance. Certainly, that is what we were being told about cost rental in the earlier incarnations of this a few years ago.

In any event, I do not see why we are creating an investment opportunity in cost rental whereby private investors essentially get their investment paid through rents that will be paid by the tenant, and can then pull out of the arrangement after 25 years, with an investment paid for by somebody else, and sell it on into the market or do whatever they want with it.

That is why I believe things will be far simpler, whether we call it cost rental, public or social housing, if it is based on income. We get rid of segregation, and these notions of different backgrounds, if a person pays his or her rent according to his or her ability to pay and anybody at all can apply for social housing. It is not, therefore, this notion that only people on the very lowest incomes are social housing-type people. Anybody should be able to avail of social housing and pay a different rent according to their ability to pay.

Equally, it should be the same with affordable housing. Affordability should be based on a person's income, not by any reference to the market, particularly when the areas where the housing and affordability crisis are worst are precisely the places where the market is out of control and incapable of delivering affordable housing to ordinary working people.

We will not oppose this Bill but we will seek to amend it. We are concerned that many aspects of the Government's housing proposals, particularly the LDA aspect, will potentially make the situation worse and cost the State a lot of money. We are opposing the Bill dealing with the LDA but we will not oppose this Bill. However, we want it to reflect a proper notion of affordability that is based on income, not the market.

I listened to Deputy Boyd Barrett with interest. I suppose the real difference between his idealism and what he would call my pragmatism is that he gets 18 minutes to pontificate and I only get three. I will have to use my time very carefully.

The Minister had 20 minutes and there are five Fine Gael speakers.

I welcome a number of provisions in the Bill but I would like the Minister to indicate the start dates for them. The 50% provision for family purchase in new developments is very welcome, as is the 10% quota for affordable housing. Contrary to others, I welcome the shard equity scheme because it will bring into the market the people who have been locked out because they are just over the income margins and cannot get on the housing ladder. We have to do something special for them. The site subsidy is to be increased to €50,000. I would like to hear the commencement date for all these measures.

I really welcome the commitment by the Minister to seek a 50% increase in resources for the LDA. It is crucial that the agency should have the resources to assemble sites but, in addition, I would like an announcement before the autumn of its plans to deliver capacity for at least 50,000 homes. We need to rattle the cages of the people sitting on substantial sites and planning permissions and this is the way to do it. We also need to see significant land banks developed in the alternative magnets for development outside Dublin, including Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick. It is really important that we see those sites and land banks developed.

It is also very important that we remove the logjams in approval, appraisal and tendering that have dogged city councils. The LDA must get through those processes more quickly. That means streamlined tendering and approval mechanisms, not long delays between the Minister's Department and other Departments. It also means ensuring there is a stream of projects in order to facilitate cost-effective building. The reality is that it is too expensive for people to submit to tender and that is ultimately driving up costs.

I say very sincerely to Deputy Boyd Barrett that if he and many others on the left insist that no public land can be used for anything but housing for people on the public lists, we will kill the potential of the LDA. We need a rebalancing in our country of housing development. That means meeting the needs of all types of families, including those in Cork, Galway and all the current pressure zones. If the parties opposite continue to block developments such as that on Oscar Traynor Road, they will kill the potential to fix this problem. Deputy Boyd Barrett may say it is good politics or good ideology to block them but I say it is very bad for the communities that seek to be served.

Finally, we need further innovation in the field of housing provision. We cannot expect first-time buyers to pay for the standard of compact development on brownfield sites that we want for sustainability purposes. There must be a cut in development charges for those people and support from the State for some of the infrastructure. First-time buyers cannot be expected to foot the bill for sustainability for the next 100 years.

I welcome the Bill as another step the Government is taking to give a helping hand to people who want to purchase a home for their family. It is an important part of the Government's plan to increase our housing stock by providing affordable housing. Getting on the first step is the hardest part of getting on the property ladder. Any action we can take as legislators will be welcomed by those wishing to have a home they can call their own. This Bill is only one of many more steps that are needed as part of a multifaceted approach to increasing our housing stock and regenerating sustainable communities. The Clare county manager recently cited the lack of sewage facilities and capacity in certain areas throughout the county, which is having a negative impact on those communities. Those types of deficiencies must be addressed if we are to reintegrate rural communities. We need to bring forward a scheme to resolve that particular issue. I acknowledge the Minister is working on such a scheme and I hope he will bring his proposals to conclusion soon. He needs to address that issue in tandem with progressive measures such as this Bill.

There are more than 3,000 people on the housing list in my constituency of Clare, all of whom are seeking a home they can call their own. The housing lists include people in a range of different circumstances, including those who will seek affordable housing under this Bill. We, as legislators, need to see greater detail on which type of housing people on the lists are seeking and their present housing circumstances. We need more affordable housing options for families across Ireland. We need to build a better social mix and integration into our housing developments. We cannot leave middle Ireland behind and that is why I strongly support this Bill and the policy proposals contained within it. The Minister must keep his options open regarding the delivery of quality units and the scale of those developments. One size does not fit all. I look forward to seeing the rest of the proposals he brings forward as part of a new housing policy solution that will provide affordable housing for all in our communities. I reiterate my support for the Bill and commend the Minister and his officials on bringing it before the House.

The key to anything that is titled "affordable" is that it should genuinely be affordable. In this case, we are taking about the provision of housing that is affordable for ordinary workers and families. That is the requirement against which this Bill will be measured in the coming months as it goes through all Stages. It is the standard against which it will be measured over the years, if it takes effect.

I would welcome a move by the State to deliver affordable housing for purchase and rent by people for whom housing is beyond their reach at this time. We have had affordable housing schemes before, some of which went to the wall during the crash. I recall one in Cherry Orchard, in my area, in which the houses were deemed affordable until the crash happened. Overnight, the council had to step in and buy all the houses, which were built on council lands using the serviced sites fund. The council said when it built the houses that they were super affordable but we argued that they should be available for cost-price purchase. The council said "No" and insisted the price would be €200,000. We argued that they cost €120,000 to build but the council refused to sell them at that price. Once the collapse in house prices happened, the council had to step in because it could not get anybody to buy the houses at the price it was asking.

Even with the provisions in this Bill, a large cohort of people in our society will remain locked out of housing because they earn too much to be on the social housing list or too little to qualify for affordable rental or affordable purchase. That will be the case even under the schemes set out by the Minister. One step the Government could take that would help many people is to increase the income threshold for social housing. If the Minister is genuine about dealing with this issue, he should make that announcement at the same time as he is advancing this Bill. It might increases the housing lists but it would enable local authorities, with State support, to build social housing and to then carry on, as this Bill intends, to deliver properly affordable houses for rent or purchase.

Níl tithíocht inacmhainne do na céadta míle sa Stát faoi láthair. Leis an múnla cost-rental atá luaite ag an Aire beidh 25% nó 30% de lacáiste ar chíos an mhargaidh i gceist. Tá aithne agam ar a lán daoine nach mbeadh an t-airgead acu chun íoc as teach i mBaile Formaid atá ar cíos ar bhreis is €2,000 sa mhí faoi láthair. Fiú leis an lacáiste, beifear ag caint faoi bhreis is €1,500. Is gá féachaint ar an gcéatadán atá luaite ag an Aire agus níos mó a dhéanamh. B'fhéidir gur féidir leis an Stát seasamh isteach agus 50% de lacáiste a chur ar fáil. Ní cóir go mbeadh muid ag cur sriain orainn féin sa chás seo.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and welcome its introduction. It is important at the outset to say we all have our own ideas about what affordability is. For people who are listening it is about the fact that we can build houses. It is about giving affordability to people who are brave enough to want to buy their own houses and to take out a mortgage. It also gives affordability to people who cannot do that and need help from the State.

I listened with interest to what Deputy Boyd Barrett was saying and the retort from Deputy Bruton. They talked about Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. I assure the Minister there is a housing crisis in every town and village in this country. That is why we must take action. I do not believe this Bill alone will be the panacea that solves all our problems. When one looks at the construction industry and how we had a boom-bust, we still have that type of scenario going on. At the moment we are in a position where we do not have a proper supply of houses. We do not have people building houses in sufficient quantities to make them affordable. That is why the Minister has had to bring in this legislation and why we must have State intervention and assist people. The construction of houses is fraught with different nuances that affect the delivery of housing.

I will talk first about planning in this country and how we have allowed our planning situation to become totally based on judicial reviews and going to the courts to prevent developments. That in a way is creating a shortage. It is also taking the appetite away from people who would be brave enough to apply for planning permission to build housing developments because they feel objections are such an easily accessible way of preventing such developments. It must be looked at. In my own county, the county development plan is being reviewed and new plans are being worked on. One of the issues I find with doing those plans is that when we talk about zoning, we are very constrained in what we zone. We zone areas on a desktop basis, and lands within towns, villages and cities may or may not become available for construction as a result. We do not zone enough land as residential low density, R1, land. That creates a tiered approach to planning and drives up the price of development land because not enough of it is being zoned to give people a choice of where to build. We are in a way strangling our towns and villages by being too conservative in the amount of land we make available as zoned for residential.

The other area we must look at, and I have repeated this a number of times, is that it is okay to talk about affordability and all of that but if we do not put in the infrastructure and we do not provide to Irish Water the resources to put in the required waste water systems in our towns and villages, we will not be able to build houses. I know I am repeating myself in view of other times I have spoken about housing in the House but in County Galway at least, we have frozen out planning because we do not have the proper waste water facilities in place. We will not allow private waste water treatment plants and at the same time there is a big question mark over one-off rural housing. We are asking people to live in their own communities but they cannot build there because the infrastructure is not there as Irish Water does not see it as a priority. It says it is not a priority because it does not have the funding, so we must address that. When the Land Development Agency is talked about, I am concerned about it on the basis we will end up with the same type of scenario we have with Irish Water. I am worried that the LDA will not have enough resources to tackle all the problems and that it will focus its efforts on cities like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway and neglect the other regional areas which also have housing crises and rent pressure zones.

Within my own constituency I deal with people who are trying to build houses or get onto a council housing list. Then I see we cannot build houses in places like Athenry right now, all because Irish Water does not have the necessary infrastructure in place. Half a job has been done and the plant has been upgraded but it still cannot be used, or no benefit can be had from it as the network is not in place to allow development. We have the same thing in Craughwell, Corofin and Abbeyknockmoy. I keep going on about this. The county council is trying its best to move this on but its planners are hamstrung and cannot actually give permission. An Bord Pleanála will not give permission because the infrastructure is not there. This must be tackled and the way to tackle it is to provide the funding. People have said to me that we have a town and village renewal scheme which is there for that. The Minister knows well there is no budget to put in waste water treatment facilities under that scheme or under the urban or rural regeneration schemes. We must ensure we do this in such a way that we are honest with the people.

I think it was Deputy Boyd Barrett who was talking earlier about us categorising people. There is no one category of people here. Many young professionals and people who are working in construction cannot get a mortgage because the mortgage they will get will not be big enough to allow them to purchase a house.

Another area of concern is the strategic housing developments, SHDs, which have been granted planning permission. How many of these projects have actually started construction on site? This is something which must be addressed so that when we achieve planning permission, we see it going to construction within a reasonable time period after that. It is important we are not just granting these permissions and then they are left for speculation further along. This is a very important aspect to the whole issue of housing. We must look at it from the point of view of what can we do now, right now, while we are doing all this legislation. I am repeating myself when I tell the Minister it is a crying shame how many vacant properties we have in this country that we have done nothing with. We must ensure that in the interim, while we are waiting to get the Land Development Agency and all these things going, we utilise what we have. We have so many vacant properties in our towns, villages and cities and we have people who would be willing to go in and make living accommodation for themselves and make homes within these places and build up their communities. However, they must be incentivised to do it and right now we are disincentivising them by refusing them access to the help-to-buy scheme because these are second-hand properties, which is ludicrous.

The other issue mitigating against them is that under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme we can only give them the mortgage for the capital rather than renovation costs that might be applied to these buildings.

We could also do something simple with the warmer homes scheme. A 100% grant for first-time buyers of second-hand houses should be provided to allow them to upgrade them and make them energy-efficient. This would take people off the housing lists and invigorate our towns and villages

These are simple actions but they can be done now and we do not have to wait. People might look at costs and say we cannot afford it because so many millions of euro are being put into different schemes. Right now, however, the amount being paid by the Minister's Department through the HAP scheme is incredibly high. It is up to €400 million per year with nothing to show after it. That is being paid for people's rent when we should have them in their own houses or council housing stock.

Another matter that must be addressed is procurement and all the hurdles put in place when a public contract is to be used. I am talking about the number of gateways a county council must go through in order to get approval for a project. In some cases, Departments may have up to 12 gateways, thus hampering our local authorities in providing development. This is prolonging the agony for people who do not have houses.

We must tackle procurement and give autonomy to local authorities. We must devolve the schemes to them and let them get on with it, instead of them having to report five or six times to get approvals, creating a logjam in Departments. No matter what we do, we must streamline this process.

Debate adjourned.