In June 2016, as a newly elected Deputy to this House, the first Bill that I brought forward sought to link rent reviews to inflation. In that year, rents across the State rose by an alarming 14% and in Dublin by 15%. Some families were being hit with rent increases in the order of 20%. Unable to pay, they were forced into homelessness and despite the growing crisis in the rental sector, the Tánaiste and his party colleagues voted down the legislation. Thanks to them, rents continued to spiral out of control. More families became homeless and working people were forced into real financial hardship. Those wanting to buy their own homes were unable to save for a deposit.
In response, the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, introduced rent pressure zones. We told him on the floor of this Chamber that that policy would not work. There were too many loopholes and it was impossible to police. We urged him instead to link rents with inflation. He ignored our advice and, in fact, on five separate occasions the Tánaiste and his colleagues in the previous Government voted against rent certainty measures introduced by Sinn Féin and others on the Opposition benches. What happened? In 2018, rents rose by up to 10%, in many cases in areas where the cap was 4%. The same happened in 2019 and every year since then rents have continued to rise. Thanks to Fine Gael and the previous Government, supported by Fianna Fáil, the average renter today is paying more than €4,000 more a year in rent than he or she would have done if the then Government had accepted our legislation.
By the end of 2019, it was clear that emergency measures were needed and rent certainty was no longer the appropriate response. It was time to ban rent increases. Again, when Sinn Féin brought forward legislation to halt runaway rents, the then Government opposed that too. The Government’s response at the time was that it would deter supply. Rents, however, continued to rise, yet landlords left the market in their droves. We have lost by net figures 20,000 rental properties in the past four years.
At the same time, we urged the Government to invest in large-scale affordable cost-rental accommodation. We were not the only people to do that. The Housing Agency urged the Government to do it, as did the National Economic and Social Council, which was a function of the then Taoiseach's office. Remarkably, not a single affordable home to rent or buy was delivered through any central government scheme in the lifetime of the previous Government. That was when the Tánaiste was Taoiseach.
Rising rents and falling supply are the Fine Gael way. As it was then, so it is now under this coalition.
Micheál Martin may be Taoiseach, but Fine Gael still dictates housing policy. The targets for affordable housing delivery in the new housing plan are embarrassingly low. Worse still, large landowners have been given an exemption on providing any affordable homes up to 2026. Any developer applying for planning permission for the remainder of the lifetime of this Government will not have to provide a single affordable home on his or her land. Meanwhile, the decision to link rents to inflation is too little, too late. We warned the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about this some months ago. He ignored us. Inflation is running at 3% and economists are saying it will rise even further. Given the Government's abject failure in housing policy, my questions are very simple. Will it urgently introduce a ban on rent increases for three years? Will it support the Sinn Féin Bill being debated this evening to ensure that all private housing developments include a 10% affordable housing, as well as 10% social housing, for the remainder of its time in office?