The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, published its quarterly rent index this morning and it shows again that the Government's housing policy is failing dismally. In fact, it makes for fairly devastating reading, particularly for those in housing need and for those who now have their lives defined by this never-ending housing crisis. The report tells us that rents have doubled since 2011 - in a decade. We saw another big hike in new rents across the State for the last three months of last year and the average new rent in Dublin now stands at nearly €2,000. That is off the wall. I have said it so many times in this Chamber and I say it again - this is a social catastrophe. The rent crisis is hammering a generation today and robbing them of their aspirations for tomorrow, for their future. This is no way to live. It is deeply, deeply unfair. In fact, it is a horrible situation for anyone.
Of course, this is not simply an urban crisis. Rural Ireland fares no better. Counties like Donegal, Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim have all experienced massive jumps. In fact, in many towns and villages now there are no homes available to rent at all. Where are people supposed to live? How can they hope to put a roof over their heads, build a decent life or raise a family, if that is what they wish to do? How can ordinary people, families and workers be expected to pay these rip-off rents and somehow still find money to pay soaring energy bills, big childcare fees and to put food on the table?
Meanwhile, house prices go up and up and many have given up on the dream of ever owning their own home. The number of properties to rent continues to fall right across the State and this does not just push up the cost of renting; it is also forcing many families into homelessness. Since the Government launched its housing plan, the scourge of homelessness has escalated once more. We are now close to breaking the pre-Covid peak of 10,000 homeless people. That, by the way, is just the official figure.
The facts speak for themselves. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, have failed spectacularly to get a grip on this crisis. The fact is that their housing plan is not fit for purpose because it is underpinned by the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Theip ar pholasaí tithíochta an Taoisigh. Teastaíonn freagairt éigeandála uainn a oibríonn do gach duine a bhfuil riachtanas tithíochta acu. Ciallaíonn sé sin cíosanna a ghearradh, cosc a chur ar mhéaduithe cíosa ar feadh trí bliana agus plean ón Rialtas a chuireann an méid tithe sóisialta agus tithe ar phraghas réasúnta atá ag teastáil ar fáil.
Housing can be fixed. Extortionate rents can be tackled. This generation can have the opportunity of a good life but it is not going to happen by chance. It requires a big change in direction and ambition from Government. Those caught up in this crisis need a real plan that leaves no person or family behind. There are things the Government can do now that will make a big difference. It can cut rents by putting €1,500 back into renters' pockets through a tax rebate and it can ban rent increases for three years. I have asked the Taoiseach countless times for this and I am asking again today. The Government can change its housing plan and ramp it up for social and affordable housing.