Housing: Statements

I welcome the Minister to the House.

This is my second time to address the Minister today. I know how hard he works and it is important that we all work together to ensure homelessness can be sorted. It is a year since the Government launched Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. Recent trends include the lack of progress on new social housing construction, continued rent inflation, reduced rental supply and house price inflation in 2017. The figures in the Government's social housing construction report suggest fewer than 800 new social homes will be constructed in 2017, when the action plan targets 5,000. Only 24% of housing units in the construction pipeline are actually on site, meaning it will be 2021 before the full total of 10,072 units come on-stream. This compares with targets, which are, frankly, too low, of 26,000 new units by 2021.

The Government strategy is to rely almost exclusively on the private rental market to provide all social housing through the housing assistance payment, HAP, and rent supplement. I addressed this with the Minister this morning. I have massive concerns about this. Of course, the very negative downside to this strategy is that no new housing stock is being added and that existing housing stock is being taken from the private rental and owner-occupier markets.

In terms of total housing supply, Ireland now needs to build 40,000 to 50,000 new homes per year to make a dent in the increased demands and make a noticeable impact on affordability. Clearly there is a market failure in housing and new interventions are required to stimulate supply, but the Government seems reluctant to make any interventions in the housing market and seems to be determined to stick to its message that all will be well by 2019, when it expects the output of new housing to reach 20,000 units. This attitude has to change if the real challenges are to be tackled.

The number of families and children living in emergency accommodation continues to rise. Meanwhile rents continue to rise at a dramatic rate. While house prices are rising quickly, they are still 40% below their 2007 peak, whereas rental prices have long surpassed their peak, with average rents now more than 12% above 2008 levels. The rent pressure zones should be nationwide. All local authorities should have them. The emergency housing crisis needs to be addressed. With regard to the cap to qualify for local authority housing, if people do not get on the housing list they either need to get support through a mortgage from the local authority or be able to go to their local credit union and get a loan. We need to ensure people do not fall between the local authority housing lists and pay private rent every month of up to €1,000 or €1,500, which they just cannot afford.

I want to ask the Minister about NAMA. What is the status of NAMA? I do not know and I hear different things. Is it holding on to properties and sites and not releasing them for social housing? Can we have a full update on what exactly is happening with NAMA? I would appreciate it.

I urge fast action. The current social housing policy needs to be changed. We need to look at why it is not working. We need common sense, decisions and plans. I and my Fianna Fáil party colleagues urge a sense of urgency. Many times over, barriers have been placed to housing the most vulnerable in our country and these barriers need to be removed. We have empty houses, delays and long waiting lists. Years pass and people's lives change, as do their needs. These barriers become our enemies because of this timescale. People are waiting and waiting. It is like an enemy. I often say that plans are great but that by the time we get to their fruition more problems exist. We have a homelessness crisis and our biggest enemy is time. Nobody needs to die on our streets and we need to work together fast to ensure it does not happen again. We need to deliver positive outcomes for people and we need to do it now and not down the road. We have committee meetings every week and I know from working with various Departments there will be change, but slow change. The people unable to qualify for local authority housing lists are crying out for help and I do not think they receive it. I ask the Minister to ensure everybody is entitled to a home and that we give the people of Ireland a chance to ensure they have a home they deserve.

There are many different factors in the housing shortage and homelessness issue confronting us at present, but one I want to particularly emphasise is one which I do not see echoed anywhere in any of the Government statements thus far, and I hope it will be looked on and some attention given to it.

One of the major problems we face is housing and rebuilding the city of Dublin. That is where the major problems exist. People will say I am taking a Dublin-centred view of the matter but homelessness and the pressure on rents, land values and the like in Dublin are probably the most acute in the country. The Ballymun regeneration plan was not a success. It was an exercise in town planning by Dublin City Council which has not succeeded. Although the problems in old Ballymun such as they were have been addressed to some extent, Ballymun is not now functioning as a new quarter in which to live in Dublin successfully. Retail units are boarded up. It is not working. The message I took from that is that it is all very well for Dublin City Council to look at its own estate, for instance, Charlemont Street, Dolphin House, O'Devaney Gardens or other places, and say that they can be redeveloped and that it has plans for them. It is all very well to do that, but concentrating only on publicly owned lands and decaying public housing projects is not the answer to getting Dublin to function as a city. We need a body - I believe Dublin City Council cannot do it for various reasons to which I will return - the job of which will be to regenerate the entire city of Dublin, to look at entire blocks, precincts, neighbourhoods, places where there is dereliction and places where the density in housing is far too low and to come up with plans such as the wide street commissioners did in the 18th century to plan out new streets, new developments and plan for the social infrastructure that is in place. That is what is needed now. We have the schools, theatres, shopping precincts and all the rest of it in Dublin, yet I saw in one of today's newspapers a major development by the Hines company planned for Cherrywood. It is building a whole new town with hundreds upon hundreds of apartments, which it will keep under its control, running to thousands of dwellings. That is all very well but where we need regeneration is in the city. Putting people out in Abbottstown or at the end of the Luas line is not the way to rebuild Dublin.

The second point I want to make is that private property rights under the Constitution are no barrier whatsoever to the kind of thing I am talking about. The third point I want to make is that no decent city such as Paris or wherever was ever built entirely by leaving it to market forces. I have no problem with the Government looking at the land that is most easily available and going for the low hanging fruit in the midst of a crisis, going for lands like the Glass Bottle Company site and for space that seems to be derelict, but if we want to address the problems of Dublin as a city, we need an urban regeneration body for Dublin. We need a process whereby people can be compulsorily bought out and entire parts of Dublin city can be redeveloped to a different standard and to different models.

I will return to the point of why Ballymun regeneration was such a failure. Dublin City Council had all the powers, owned all the land, had all the opportunity to rebuild a successful suburb in Dublin. It is depressing to look at how much of a failure it was. I have always been sceptical about Dublin City Council's capacity to plan anything. We should remember that Charlemont Street flats, which Senator Humphreys and the Minister visited the other day, were built in my lifetime and they are being knocked down now. Who were the geniuses who put them up to knock them down? I believe I am younger than Dolphin House but not much younger than it. Those were all built within two generations and they are all being knocked down now. Dublin City Council's own head office is a monument to appalling planning. Ballymun is a monument to its failure. We need something other than Dublin City Council to plan and implement a regeneration of Dublin city.

It is important for the development of this country that Dublin should be regenerated at its heart. If we want the IFSC to function properly as a capital city and to bring in people to live in Dublin, we cannot have a situation where a person who is contemplating coming to Dublin to live has to fork out €1 million for a fairly modest house close to their place of work. The success of this country depends on somebody with a vision taking a look at Dublin and saying this is how the city will be developed over the next ten, 15, 20 or 30 years. That is not being done, and will not be done.

The Minister correctly called in all the city managers and asked them for progress reports. I hope he laid down the law to them in private, namely, that they had to do more. They engage in the usually bellyache that they have no resources. Resources are not the problem. The resources will come. If we have a regeneration body which can parcel out land and give building leases, the resources are not the problem. Resources, for instance, were not the problem in Charlemont Street where the Minister visited recently. Resources will come and society has to decide whether it will have X% or Y% of new developments, social and affordable housing or purely social housing. Those are resource issues but they are not the reason nothing is happening, and they are certainly not the reason so much of Dublin is run down, derelict and under-developed. The one body whose job it was to make sure that did not happen is Dublin City Council. It is ironic that it is the owners of all the worst areas in the city and that they are the people whose plans and developments in the past have been the shortest in terms of their duration and the worst in terms of their social outcome.

I welcome the Minister and his officials to the House for this important debate. I wish to make a point of order for the record. There were a number of false starts to this afternoon's debate. I know the Minister was tied up in the Dáil, but it would be helpful if the Opposition would provide a pairing for the Minister who is due to take debates in the Seanad and allow us to get on with the business of the day.

Hear, hear. It would make good sense.

We are all agreed that we need to find urgent solutions to the housing challenge that we face but they need to be sustainable. I listened with interest to Senator McDowell's contribution which was Dublin centric. There are many housing issues right around the country, but they are most concentrated in the largest urban area. I have often compared Dublin to an economic vortex where a great deal of the activity in economic terms is happening, and that is rightly so as our capital, but it needs to happen in a planned and sustainable way. I hold out great hope for the new national planning framework 2040, which the Minister is due to announce shortly. It is my hope that the vision in that plan can be implemented in a sustainable way that will allow Dublin to develop to accommodate the needs of our people into the future and that it will also allow for other regional centres to drive the regional economies.

On the planning issues Senator McDowell mentioned, I certainly would be in favour of more high rise appropriate developments in appropriate locations in Dublin, not in the Georgian quarter but there are areas in Dublin where high rise developments would be acceptable and the Minister and his officials should consider where there is sustainable development and where the services already exist. Interventions could be made immediately in that respect.

The housing crisis needs the collaboration of many stakeholders.

I do not need to tell the Minister that. It is important that officials in the Minister's Department and in the Department of Finance, are aligned with the objectives he is setting out. Members of the Oireachtas, including members of committees, play an important role in shaping and formulating the policies that emerge and enablers of those policies - local authorities and approved housing bodies - must be given the resources to deliver housing through direct build and other initiatives. That has been happening in the past couple of years but we need to see more of it. The delivery must be measured so that we know it is being done in the most efficient and coherent way possible and in accordance with the policy handed down by the Oireachtas and the Minister.

The NGOs and voluntary agencies play a role, as do elected members of local authorities. Councillors around the country have called for more resources for housing but then, when it is allocated and ready to move, there are objections from those very same councillors. We need to decide which way we want to go, to align all our support and push forward so that we can build the houses that are so badly needed.

The construction sector is a very important stakeholder. As we know, it has been destroyed over the past number of years. There is a huge potential for builders to access credit to build but to this day many still cannot get it from the various finance houses and banks. Some interventions are needed to assist builders to get building and enable them to do what they do best. It must be done in a sustainable way and we must not go back to the unsustainable practices of the past. The new planning framework and the capital investment plan contain the tools to drive that type of development where it is most needed.

I welcome the recent housing summit and the re-evaluation of the Rebuilding Ireland plan because for any plan to work, it needs finances and resources. The Minister is looking at this and I welcome some of the initiatives he has already announced, not to mention those he is due to announce. We need to prioritise areas that can give us the earliest possible delivery of housing and vacant housing stock, in both local authorities and the private sector, needs to be focused on. Huge progress has been made since 2014 in unlocking vacant housing stock in local authorities around the country but more initiatives are needed. The serviced land initiative is also very important to unlock the potential of serviced lands to build houses on. We need priorities and homelessness has to be the main priority for all of us. Those who are at risk of losing their homes must get the support they require to stay there if possible. The new initiatives around the mortgage-to-rent scheme are welcome but we need to constantly measure and evaluate them.

We also need to continue to support the homeless through wraparound services involving the HSE and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to ensure people in complex long-term homelessness cases are getting the supports they need. The establishment of the interagency homeless group is very welcome, because we need greater co-ordination and coherence in the deployment of taxpayers' funds at the coalface. I understand that over €100 million is being allocated to homeless services through various avenues and that a very high percentage of it goes into the voluntary sector, which does a great job. We need further analysis of how that money is being spent, however, because despite the huge resources going into it we are not, unfortunately, seeing enough progress. We need to measure how local authorities, approved housing bodies and any agency that accepts taxpayers' money are delivering social housing and housing solutions in a timely and efficient fashion. We need to recognise that building does not come overnight but requires planning, funding and physical building. We need to remove the blockages and bureaucracy about which people have spoken and continue to evaluate it.

I have concerns about the whole area of affordability. We often hear about homelessness, and rightly so, but we do not hear about what I believe is a silent cohort of citizens who cannot afford a house in the current economic environment. They are people who are working and cannot qualify for a mortgage to buy or build their own home. They earn so much that they do not qualify for a social house through the local authority. These people are falling between stools and they need a voice. I want to be a voice for them. It is important we look at housing initiatives to assist them where rental pressures are greatest, namely, in the rent pressure zones. When they are competing for housing in those areas they also impact on the housing assistance payment, HAP, cohort and young professionals now cannot afford the rent in these areas. We need to think outside the box and come up with new initiatives for affordable build, purchase and rent. If we get those solutions they will bring immediate benefits, in the shape of another tier of housing provision for those who are working and by taking the pressure off HAP tenants who are also looking in the private sector. It will also create a demand and provide funding for the builders who cannot get credit to build, unlocking their potential to increase the housing supply.

I do not envy the Minister his job of work but I offer him my full support. I have been in his shoes in the past and I recognise the enormity of his challenge but I believe he is making strong progress in putting in place his plans and finance. He will need all stakeholders to be pulling the same way with him if we are going to achieve the progress we want in social and all types of housing. I wish him well in his endeavour.

I welcome the Minister. Here we are again, making statements, but I am really not fond of statements as we should be here for legislation. Since the last statements in the Seanad on this issue, the homelessness figures have continued to rise, especially among children. I am disappointed we are back to listen to the Minister accept how dreadful these figures are, to promise to do more and to undertake to come back to the Seanad at a later stage to update us on progress. Given the urgency of the crisis, I would have expected to be here to discuss much-needed legislation to set in motion the change in policy and direction promised by his Government. The Government is doing nothing different from three months ago and there is no major change in attitude or application. The most worrying aspect of it is that the Government still does not fully grasp the extent of the national disgrace that is childhood homelessness.

I am reluctant to use up too much time in laying bare the extent of the problem but I feel I must. In almost every single indicator, the housing crisis is getting worse, with 8,000 people sleeping in emergency accommodation, 3,000 of whom are children, many of whom are born into homelessness not knowing anything else, such as the security and comfort of their own hearth and kin gathered around. Many of these families with children will spend more than two years in inappropriate emergency accommodation and I have reminded the Minister repeatedly that those figures do not include adults and children in domestic refuges funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, those in step-down accommodation, the families who are couchsurfing or living in sheds or those trapped in direct provision.

There were 90,000 households on the council waiting lists as of last September and I am sure those figures are rising. In many local authority areas the length of time families are waiting for local authority allocations can be 15 or 18 years. Thousands of people are stuck in an affordability trap with rising rents, rising house prices and land values. At this moment, next door to us in the National Library my party colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, is hosting a conference advocating the immediate building of social housing. It is ironic that an Opposition party has had to gather together the relevant stakeholders and experts to discuss the best way of advancing one of the most fundamental duties of this State, which is to ensure its citizens are housed safely and securely. More is happening outside Government circles than within them in the area of housing advocacy. The campaign entitled, "My Name Is" which was organised by the inner city action on homelessness group was a brilliant visual manifestation of what the Government's failure leads to, which is young children who have no home to go to after they leave school.

Also on the subject of taking up the slack, I wish to mention the wonderful initiative of Sinn Féin councillor, Shane O'Brien, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council where agreement has been reached to work together on the development of the innovative proposal for the Shanganagh urban village co-operative on housing development, consisting of 200 social housing apartments and 340 affordable homes.

That was a Fine Gael idea - Shanganagh.

Politicians need to think outside the box in order to tackle the housing crisis. One great outcome of this initiative, apart from building so many much needed homes, is the cross-party support which was achieved. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has representation from every party and none. The fact that this intense political rivalry could be set aside in order to tackle this crisis is a positive sign. It certainly beats the merry-go-round feel of how this issue is tackled here in the Oireachtas.

We have had a succession of Ministers. We have had Departments chopping and changing. We have had figures leaked or released at times designed to reduce their impact. We have had several sets of figures released late on Friday evenings or on the bank holiday weekends and as a result, it is hard to find consistency within Government.

There are now over 10,000 waiting on social housing lists in Dublin South Central and thousands of other individuals and families who do not qualify for social housing support and are struggling to pay rising private rents and who will never have any form of secure tenure without support.

This is what the Shanganagh plan is about. We have put aside party political rivalry and drawn up a plan that can deliver 540 homes. This plan can deliver quality social and affordable homes in a mixed tenure development based on the continental urban village design model. This is the most appropriate design model for the Shanganagh Castle site.

The longer the Government spends spinning figures and plans, the more it will be left up to individuals, such Councillor O'Brien and his colleagues, to come up with initiatives to tackle this crisis. Maybe it is because councillors - I have been one - are at the coalface, and see every day the devastation that long-term homelessness has on human beings, families and communities, that they are spurred into such unprecedented and non-partisan work. I urge the Minister to examine this proposal and see the benefit of cross-party work on this issue.

Yesterday we were subjected to a five-minute rant in this Chamber by a Minister against Sinn Féin which was completely off point.

It was not a rant.

It was not a rant.

Gabh mo leithscéal.

Senator Devine is excused. The Senator is all right but-----

I ask Senator Buttimer to be a bit respectful.

-----the facts hurt too.

Is Fine Gael ranting again?

Allow Senator Devine conclude without interruption.

Senator Buttimer has to be protective of his Ministers, but please dún do bhéal.

The one-dimensional speech, is it?

It is the same old story with them.

The Minister in question was at times apoplectic in his rejection of our proposals for capital expenditure. I can only hope that some day the Government will be hopping mad and full of shame about how disgraceful it is to allow children to be born into homelessness and the insecurity it brings, and the families' despair. Shame on us all.

I welcome the Minister.

I concur with Senator Devine. Shame on us all to be here in a great homelessness crisis the legacy of which will be with us for years to come. The 2016 census shows that in the lifetime of the previous Fine Gael-led Government homelessness increased by 81%. In September, the total number of homeless people in the country exceeded 8,000 for the first time. Some 36% of those homeless people are children. Some 36% of Fine Gael Deputies and Senators have registered their professions as landlords. According to the RTB, there has been at least a 21.5% rent increase in the areas in which some Deputies and Ministers are landlords.

Fine Gael's current solution to the housing crisis has been to provide tax incentives or reduce regulation for land hoarders, builders and landlords, often directly against the advice of experts and academics. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do not believe the solution to the housing crisis is to incentivise those with a vested interest in a worsening crisis and yet the Government continues to do just that. I must admit that, after a year and a half in the Oireachtas, I am deeply concerned that Fine Gael, a party 36% of whose Deputies and Senators are landlords, has a vested interest in turning the current housing crisis to their particular advantage.

The biggest current threat to housing supply, as I stated this morning, is the widespread practice of land banking, also known as land hoarding. I refer to the empty shop fronts and houses that pepper the streets of our towns right across Ireland.  Mr. Brendan McDonagh, the head of NAMA, released a statement saying that enough land to solve the housing crisis was sold by NAMA, land that would have supported 50,000 houses. However, only 3,000 houses, or 6%, have been built. He blamed land hoarding for this.

Currently, there is no penalty for hoarding land or leaving it unused. This is proven to result in land speculation and higher house prices. ESRI economist Dr. Kieran McQuinn stated that landowners currently can hoard undeveloped land at little cost other than that of keeping planning permits up to date, and are rewarded as prices rise. He recommended an aggressive "use it or lose it" tax be introduced to force land hoarders to release sites needed for housing. I and the Civil Engagement group proposed such a tax scheme last year. In February 2017, we introduced the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill 2017 that would have addressed the specific problem of land hoarding. The current legislation is inadequate and, in fact, exempts basketball court-sized properties, not including their gardens, from the levy. It also exempts properties in negative equity, even if owned by an investor, directly incentivising land hoarding and increases in house prices.

No levy is being applied until 2019 due to a 2012-2013 capital gains tax exemption that allows people to buy land, hold it for seven years and not pay any tax on its sale. That was brought in to incentivise the market. The tax that will be applied in 2019 is a toothless waste of time. It applies a tax of 3% when land prices are rising well above that. Land in negative equity and land the size of a basketball court are exempt, as I stated, from the levy.

The Green Party and the Civil Engagement group sought to address precisely these issues in our Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill 2017 in the Seanad in February last. The Bill was voted down by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, despite support from highly regarded constitutional lawyers, legal academics and economic experts.

The Government's tax incentive-focused housing plans are not only useless, but dangerous. The Government's repair and leasing scheme, which is a primary arm of the social housing build scheme in Rebuilding Ireland, has conclusively failed. It was supposed to provide 800 units by 2017 and so far it has secured 30. Instead, according to Dublin City Council housing manager, Mr. Tony Flynn, our towns and cities are filled with owners seeking to wait for rents to continue to climb and that they will be able to rent it out without making improvements. This lack of improvement has real knock-on costs for renters. Dublin City Council data show that 78% of private rental properties inspected under one programme between 2012 and 2016 did not meet the basic minimum legal standards for rental accommodation. My Green Party colleagues, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the barrister academic, Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, highlighted in a Dáil motion on building standards how Government encourages such substandard housing by allowing builders and landowners to regulate themselves.

Government has attempted to incentivise supply by reducing building standards. At a time when home owners are still left struggling to deal with the fallout of a complete lack of oversight in building standards over decades, from Priory Hall to the recent pyrite and mica scandals, landowners sat at their leisure on untaxed hoarded land. They lobbied for reductions in apartment sizes, tax incentives, reduced development levies, infrastructure funding to the tune of €200 million, the botched help-to-buy scheme and relaxations in much needed mortgage lending rules yet there has been no major increase in private sector housing supply. Instead, vulture and global equity funds have bought up rental properties and land and invested in speculative office building and student apartments, not housing. There were 18,878 houses bought by non-occupiers in 2015, up from just 5,194 in 2010. One in seven new homes sold between January and June 2016 was bought by non-occupiers, with investors accounting for a quarter of total house purchases.

The proposed changes to the tax situation for landlords in budget 2018 are also highly questionable as they increase the potential for the rental sector to be a hub for short-term-profit investments rather than ensuring safe, sustainable long-term housing. Instead of building houses and long-term capital stock for the State, the Government directly subsidises one third of the private rental sector by at least €450 million a year in spite of its being told by all relevant experts that this will worsen the current rent and house price inflation. It has long been understood by housing economists that incentivising housing and rents through tax cuts or subsidies leads to a bubble scenario out of proportion with ordinary rates of inflation. Such subsidies drive up average rents and are a significant drain on funds that could be put to more efficient long-term use. Analyses carried out by experts such as the ESRI, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, and our European colleagues are aligned in their conclusion that we need fewer tax incentives but rather need direct building of social and affordable housing by the State primarily; the increase of the income bracket to include higher incomes; and investment in long-term cost-price rental. Good quality permanent social housing can be rapidly built within six to eight months. The building of such homes should be prioritised rather than the provision of unsuitable hub emergency accommodation that has severe detrimental impacts on children. Hubs are being placed in industrial estates or above pubs, such as the recent choice of location on Merchant's Quay.

I again refer to the twin percentages: 36% of Fine Gael Deputies and Senators in this Oireachtas are registered as landlords and 36% of homeless people are children. I wonder why expert-based action is not being taken.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. As Senator Coffey said, this is a very important debate and there is no doubt we will have to revisit it. Some of the points I wish to make are supplementary to points raised by Senator Coffey.

During the summer an expert panel report that identified the existence of pyrite and mica in houses in counties Mayo and Donegal was published. That is not surprising for those affected but it is devastating. The pyrite and mica is in the blockwork of those houses as distinct from the pyrite found in the foundations of some houses in Leinster and has an even more negative impact on the property structure. As the Minister knows, some proposed solutions involve not only stripping the outer leaf of the cavity blockwork of a house but also the inner leaf. That involves taking a house to the ground and rebuilding it, which all Members know is an expensive endeavour. Most of those affected cannot afford to take such action. There is an urgency to this issue because I am aware of at least one house where an engineer advised the roof was in danger of structural collapse and the owner had to use his or her savings to pay for remedial work to be done. That person and his or her engineer worked closely with the expert panel, which resulted in some of the recommendations in the expert panel report. I ask the Minister to outline his commitment to helping the affected people in Mayo and Donegal in a timely fashion. Time is of the essence. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about making provision in budget 2018 for a remediation scheme? A scheme exists in Leinster on which work is ongoing and fairness requires that the people in counties Mayo and Donegal receive no less assistance from the State. I acknowledge the work that has been done in identifying hopefully permanent engineering solutions.

The housing problem or issue manifests itself differently in big urban centres. The issues in Dublin, in particular, have been outlined. There is a major homelessness problem in my home county of Mayo. Approximately 1,600 people are on the social housing list there according to the most recent figures I have. When one goes to market towns and villages there are very many empty houses and also shops that will never be used as shops again. Those empty premises could be used as part of the housing solution. I welcome the town and village renewal scheme which is operated by the Department of my county colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. There is potential in it and its intention is to enhance our towns and villages and make them more attractive places to live. One should begin by asking why people do not want to live in these houses. I ask Senator Grace O'Sullivan why the people who own such premises are not prepared to become landlords. Some of the answers are clear, such as how onerous it is, especially for the many responsible landlords.

The Minister oversees the repair and lease scheme and the buy and renew scheme. How are they progressing? The Minister may have already mentioned that.

To address the issue of people who do not want to live in certain houses in towns and villages the Minister has to ensure there are services and work with local authorities. However, he is familiar with the proposal I brought to the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and which was ratified. It is to identify a town core, incentivise it for people living over shops and give grant aid or tax incentives in that regard. Businesses would get a rates break if under a certain size. Small independent businesses should be treated differently to Tesco and other multiples that are usually located out of town and do not add to the town.

In terms of affordability, the cost of planning contributions in County Mayo can add €12,000 to the cost of building a house. A circular was sent to many planning authorities in 2013 by the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, asking for the cost of planning contributions to be reduced in the interest of promoting development. That did not happen in all counties and I ask that it be done.

As Senator Coffey said, there is now an issue of non-permanent contracts. People such as young professionals are consistently employed on temporary contracts. How will they get mortgages and what sort of Government intervention might be required to assist them? They can clearly afford mortgages but the criteria applied by banks require some sort of permanency to people's work that does not exist for many. That will become a more severe problem if things continue as they are.

The Minister is very welcome. He faces many great challenges, not just in regard to social housing but also affordable housing and affordable rental housing. I do not want to go over the statistics that have been outlined. The Minister needs to have a short-term, mid-term and long-term plan to resolve this issue. He has been working on mid-term and long-term solutions but he needs to address the low-hanging fruit. How do we deal with the people and families that are currently homeless? The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Coveney, gave me a commitment that he would set up a working group in relation to short-term lets. When I checked at the beginning of the summer, the group had only met twice. I hope it has met on further occasions since then.

The Minister made an announcement in regard to a licensing process for short-term lets within a period of time. We need a lot of action in that regard. Between 2,500 and 6,500 units in Dublin have moved from being available for rent for working families or people on the housing assistance payment, HAP, or rent allowance to being used for short-term lets. Some people use the word "Airbnb" as the common denominator but there are at least 16 different platforms dealing in short-term lets in the capital city. That can be dealt with through our planning procedures because planning permission has not been granted for premises to operate as short-term lets and I refer the Minister to the decision of An Bord Pleanála in that regard. I have contacted several planning enforcement officers who work across the city and asked them how we can deal with this issue.

One of the issues the officers have highlighted is the fact that they cannot prove that a premises is operating a short-term let thus breaching planning permission. We need a register to deal with this matter. Therefore, we must legislate to ensure that platforms maintain a register.

I am not talking about a family who rent a spare room or somebody who rents a spare room in his or her city apartment to Airbnb. Such endeavour has enhanced this city and helps an owner-occupier to pay his or her mortgage and meet new people. Last week I moved home. Since then my neighbours have informed me that on my street alone seven houses that were used as family homes have moved to Airbnb lettings in the past two years. In the mornings I can hear the wheels of travel cases trundling down the footpath as visitors make their way to the airport. I have also been informed that not too far from where the Minister lives up to ten homes have either changed from family homes or long-term lets to short-term lets in the past two years.

As I said clearly to the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, a decision has to be made but there are consequences for every decision. Short-term lets enhance the tourism industry and attract more people to the city. We must decide whether we want to house families and working families in this city or supply accommodation that was designed and built for long-term lets or for use as family homes to the tourism market. The answer to me is clear. We must provide homes for families and working people in this city. Will such a measure solve the housing crisis? No. I totally accept that such a measure will not do so but this short-term solution will give a quick fix. Let us consider the lowest estimate of 2,500 units. If the Minister ensured 2,000 of those units became long-term lets within a year the measure would significantly contribute to alleviating this city's housing crisis.

I shall now speak generally. Earlier Senator McDowell mentioned Charlemont Street and the Minister was present. I had the privilege to serve on the regeneration board established to oversee the development of Charlemont Street. Indeed, it was a block redevelopment. We did not look at social housing in isolation. Instead, we considered ways to make the city work and sought the right density of population and social housing with dual aspect apartments with storage space. We also made sure that private housing was developed and shopping and work spaces were provided. The area is now a real living area in the city and one that will last for many generations.

We have to concentrate on providing housing as quickly as possible and regenerate the housing stock of the entire country. Senator McDowell mentioned Dolphin House and I would add Pearse House and Markievicz House to the list of buildings that need significant investment to bring them up to date. At present they are unsuitable in terms of today's living standards. The flats were built with a coal hole located to the front of the buildings. The buildings were good quality at the time of being built. However, when people have tried to install central heating in these flats many instances of mould and damp were discovered. Therefore, investment is necessary.

The next item is homelessness. The Minister has not got full control over the issue because there are many homeless families. Unfortunately, homelessness has been with us for a long time. It is difficult to move people from homelessness into housing. I know because I have worked with homeless individuals. It is mainly individual homeless people who have successfully been housed. I know that some of them have moved into a home but fallen back into homelessness after a couple of months because wraparound services offering support were not provided to the individuals when first housed. The HSE must step up to the mark. Vulnerable people who are homeless need HSE supports and wraparound services when they move into a home thus ensuring that they do not fall back into homelessness.

The Minister will not find me wanting when it comes to supporting ways to tackle the many challenges. On many occasions I have had the privilege, as a councillor, to develop many housing units like the Pumphouse development, which is located quite close to my home. I recall that many people loudly objected to the development because the apartments were designated as social housing. Dublin City Council was also able to develop affordable housing at Poolbeg Quay during the main period of recession. There is not one solution but many solutions to the housing crisis. I ask the Minister to urgently analyse the effects short-term lets are having on this city. This matter can be dealt with quickly. Personally, I do not want to table Private Members' legislation in this House because it will take too long to do so and we will lose the opportunity to make an impact. I urge the Minister to tackle short-term lets in the next weeks or months which will result in a minimum of 2,500 units and maybe far more being available.

I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the House to debate this very important matter. I shall begin by discussing the last point made by Senator Humphreys and his claim that there is not just one solution but many solutions to this problem, which is what this Government is committed to.

I am not a landlord and own my house. Senator Grace O'Sullivan claimed 36.9% of Fine Gael Members are landlords. There is nothing wrong with being a landlord or owning property. We need to adopt a multiplicity approach to the housing crisis and landlords are not the problem. I ask her to please not attribute the problem to the 36.9% of Fine Gael Deputies and Senators who are landlords.

Let me give the backdrop. We had a dysfunctional housing market where the banks were gone, the developers folded, local authorities did not have money to build and the previous Fianna Fáil Government changed the criteria and took money off developers rather then build social housing. There is a call for action and it is called Rebuilding Ireland.

I commend the Minister on his work and for being proactive since he came into office. However, I want to know the following. Are we getting value for money from the amount of money we have spent on housing supports in his Department, in the Department of Health and in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? Has the Government spent taxpayers' money wisely?

Nobody in this House that I know of wants to see young children, their families or their mums or dads in a hotel or housing shelter. We have all met desperate people in our constituencies and heard the human stories behind the statistics. These people deserve to have a house and this Government is about solutions. It is not about posturing, political points scoring and abdicating responsibility. It is about delivering. It is why we have allocated €1.2 billion to social housing out of the overall sum of €5.5 billion that was allocated to the Rebuilding Ireland programme. It is not about ideology.

I want to challenge the myth that the Fine Gael Party is not in favour of building social housing. That myth has been propagated by the people who know the truth and that Fine Gael is committed to delivering. We have a record of building when in government, which we will continue. It is not about money. It is not about bricks and mortar. It is about people. I shall return to the fundamental core point. Are we spending our money wisely as a State?

In my constituency of Cork South-Central as much as €15.9 million has been set aside to build 65 housing units in Deanrock Estate, Togher. The project at Sheridan Park, Tramore Road, has been opened and people are living in the houses. Tomorrow the Minister will visit Cork to open social housing projects - social housing projects under a Fine Gael Government.

That is very light.

Under a Fine Gael Government, Senator Gavan. Seven sites await development to a tune of €37.6 million. That shows social housing is being delivered by a Fine Gael Government.

Please tell the people who are now housed in the two places I just named, in particular in Sheridan Park, who have moved in and are delighted to be there, that a Fine Gael Government is providing them with social housing because work is being done. I accept that it needs a collective will and movement. We wish we were not in this situation. Look at where we came from. There are challenges that we have to overcome with regard to rezoning of land, derelict sites and the acquisition and refurbishment of housing. We have to change the model but we have the plan and we have the allocation of resources and now, as Senator Coffey rightly said, we must have delivery. That means we must challenge the local authorities, banks, developers, political class and the voluntary housing agencies to move in one direction.

None of us wants to have this debate about people being, unfortunately, in hotel rooms or homeless but there is movement and there is political will by Government and it will take time. The answer to those who say Fine Gael is not committed to social housing is that it has invested €5.5 billion in Rebuilding Ireland.

Four other Senators have offered contributions and will have five minutes each. That takes us beyond 3.15 p.m., and I presume the Minister will want a few minutes to wrap up.

I am happy to propose an amendment to the Order of Business.

Is the Senator proposing to allow for the four speakers who are left speak and the Minister to respond?

Senators Norris, Dolan, Reilly and Gavan have yet to speak.

An extension to 3.30 p.m. should be sufficient.

I propose to extend the sitting until 3.30 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister. It is important to be clear and to continue to say to ourselves daily that housing is a public good. It does not matter whether it is a meitheal, co-operative or a private builder or the State that builds. The State has to underwrite and ensure that the environment is in place, as well as other matters discussed this afternoon. The State has to be the ultimate ward boss to make sure it happens for everyone. One cannot have any kind of a stabilised civilisation if one does not have housing, a place which people can call their own. Whether people own a place or not does not matter once they can call it their own and have a lien on it.

There is a crisis within the crisis. I am talking about people with disabilities. Prior to our national housing crisis, there was a crisis for people with disabilities. The Minister's Department was able to say, in 2003, from its own statistics, that there were just shy of 4,000 people with disabilities on the social housing list. Its information, when it updated that in 2016, shows that it has gone to 4,500. Rebuilding Ireland did not even mention the 3,919 people that the Department knew about. I am very concerned that the crisis within the crisis does not seem to be a crisis for Government and I want reassurance about that. This House unanimously passed a motion in July last year relating to disability and housing and action was to follow that. It was passed by all sides of the House, which I appreciate very much. While I will not go into details, I ask for an urgent update on what actions have been taken on what was agreed by everybody in this House at that time.

It is worth remembering that the great United States was the country that incubated the economic crisis that spread around the globe a decade ago and it is even more interesting to recall what sparked that. It was a matter of private entities giving loans to people who did not have the wherewithal to pay them back. Those who made those loans diced and sliced them into all sorts of packages and sold them on, hence the crisis was exported. Things were going in the wrong direction for us at the time but my point is that social housing is a social and public good and it has to be underpinned very strongly by the State.

We have a situation where €178 million of public funding has been garnered together from savings this year and is going to be given back to people who paid their water charges. While we could have a discussion about this, that would fund, give or take, 800 social houses for people with disabilities. I am not questioning the Government's motivation in this regard for a moment but very serious choices are being made.

I am very concerned that there is not a commitment to housing for people with disabilities in Rebuilding Ireland. There was half a page which talked about working groups and strategies and strategies within charities but there was no actual commitment. That the Department did not even mention the actual housing need that it knew of for people with disabilities is concerning. Social housing for people with disabilities has to be a significant part of the response to the crisis and, within that, there is the important element of housing support for people and the grant scheme for people to adapt their houses. I ask the Minister to please attend to these matters.

I welcome the Minister. I do not really have a speech, just a few points I wanted to make to supplement what my colleague, Senator Devine, spoke about earlier. I have to mention Limerick city because each week I hold a clinic there and it is shocking to meet families who have been in homeless accommodation month after month. There are currently 111 homeless children in Limerick, living in one room across a range of hotels. One meets people who are out of hope and are so desperate that one worries about what measures they might take. People come into our clinic and we worry if they will still be there next week because they are literally at the end of their tether. Sometimes people come in and are angry, and when we talk to them and they understand the situation and challenges, they tell us about the impact on their relationships, children and partners. I am not claiming that we are the only ones to experience this. I think we all do. It is truly shocking that six and a half years into Fine Gael Governments, the crisis continues to get worse. The other day the Leader blamed Fianna Fáil, and do not get me wrong, I am happy to blame Fianna Fáil on occasion but after six and a half years, the Government is going to have to come up with something better.

The Leader is wrong when he says it is not about ideology. It actually is and I will give a couple of examples. We know Fine Gael is a right-wing party and, in fairness to the Minister, he has never had any qualms about showing his devotion to the free market in interviews. There is a problem when we have a party that always takes the side of the landlord. I can tell the Minister from first-hand experience in Limerick that one of the matters that is really driving this problem is the fact that tenants do not have rights to stay in houses when those houses are put up for sale. The lack of tenancy rights is a major problem which is forcing people into homelessness and the Minister's Government refuses to give tenants rights. That is a problem, and it is ideological because I think the Minister perhaps genuinely believes that is the wrong thing to do. Those of us on the left know that it is the right thing to do and it should be addressed. A bigger statistic tells us more. Of the 130,000 families that one wants to help in social housing, only 37,000 will be housed through real social housing. The remaining 93,000 will be housed through the private sector. To answer Senator Buttimer's question as to whether we are spending the money wisely, we are not because we throw too much money at private sector landlords.

It is not the most efficient way to deal with this crisis.

I was looking at the record of this House and the Leader mentioned at one point that the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, would be held accountable to his promises. We might remember he promised there would be no homelessness after July. He has not been held accountable. He has gained a promotion and skipped out, delivering only broken promises. Let us be clear about that. Let us also be clear that this is not getting better, it is getting worse. Fine Gael has supplied social housing and I think the Leader wanted a medal for that. However, it has not been delivered in numbers. I remind the Minister that under his plan, the Government will still be spending less in the area than what was being spent when Fine Gael came into office.

We have some simple requests and they really come from the deliberations of the Oireachtas joint committee dealing with housing. We want the Government to deliver 10,000 social homes per year. That is not what we have said but rather what all the parties indicated must be delivered. We want direct funding for affordable renting and purchase. We want greater tenancy rights, which the Government refuses to give. I ask the Minister for a direct answer on the next request. We want a commitment that no family will be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. If the Government is serious about housing, the Minister could give us that commitment. He has said money is no object but if that is the case, he should ensure no family would have to go through living in emergency accommodation for longer than six months. I assure the Minister that when one sees desperation in people's faces, looking towards Christmas living in one room in a hotel, it is a matter of shame for this Government. We should be clear about that.

We proposed rent certainty and linking rents to the consumer price index, which demonstrates an ideological difference as the Government refused to do it. As a result, we have seen horrendous rent hikes in Limerick and the Government is letting it continue. We need greater rights for tenants and a greater commitment to public housing than the Government has made to date. We need it to recognise, first and foremost, that this is the responsibility of the Government. Fine Gael has been in government for six and a half years and it has failed. The Minister's predecessor completely failed and was not held accountable.

I welcome the Minister to the House and our new surroundings. I would agree with some of what the previous speaker said but I could not possibly agree with much of it. Fine Gael is a broad church and there are centrists in the party. It is also the party of the just society. Senator Norris may laugh-----

The Senator provoked it.

-----but it brought many social advances to this country in the past number of years and the tenure of the last Government.

I am struck by Senator Dolan's comments and agree that we must have specific provision in our social housing policy for those with disabilities. I am sure the Minister would be open to that. I am also struck by the old adage that if New York gets a cold, London gets pneumonia; poor old Ireland got septicaemia and when this last happened we were nearly wiped out.

We have some good doctors here.

We shall not touch on that subject.

This is a very serious matter and it is one of the two biggest issues affecting our society - housing and health - both of which have an impact on homelessness. As we saw on last night's programme on RTE, health is a major issue for those who are homeless. I know from experience over many years on health boards that the policy of decanting patients back to the community without proper support led to much difficulty on the homelessness element as well. I know the Government has put in place much money to cater for this. We will need more than just money, we will need action.

I will speak to a few local concerns I know of. We speak about social housing and it is happening. There is affordable housing going up in good numbers in Lusk and other parts of Fingal. Earlier this year I raised with the Minister's predecessor the issue of the Flemish decision in the European court on rural housing policy. The position of the chief executive of Fingal County Council is that the current Fingal development plan and rural housing policy remains in place until he is told otherwise by the Department. The Minister has a working group for this and I implore him to get the group to report as quickly as possible. The current position flies in the face of the reality of the ruling from the European court. The restriction, as we know, is that one must live in a rural area for seven years when constructing a house; it now seems to have been struck down. The exception is if a bank forces a sale.

In a related matter, there are 26 designations of rural clusters of various sizes, from perhaps five to 25 houses, and all are in doubt now because of the European court ruling. We do not know who can get planning permission. The purpose of the rural clusters was to provide sites to avoid ribbon development and have a clustered community. This is a good idea but people are now totally uncertain about the status of those clusters. Planning permissions that may have already been granted may not stand the test of a disgruntled objector or court case. Everything is in disarray so we need certainty as soon as possible. I ask the Minister to give us some indication of when that group will report.

I can relate an anecdote about a family who bought a house in a rural cluster area but a number of years later, the woman has become quite ill and her daughter would like to build near her. They have the land to do that and the daughter could support her parents as they grow older. The parents could support their daughter in raising her children. Nobody can make a move in any direction. We need clarity in these matters.

On the up side, a lot of money has been put aside to address this issue but it is very frustrating for people. Several Senators have mentioned people who find themselves homeless with children trying to attend school, not knowing where they will be living next month and if they will still be able to go to school. I will not rehearse all the difficulties they face and the terrible social damage that could be done to the next generation if we cannot address the matter quickly. The Minister and his Minister of State, Deputy English, have new ideas to put in place and they are working hard to introduce innovation and "out of the box" thinking. That is desperately needed if we are to address the problem. It is the burning issue of our day, as I stated at the outset.

I will not need the full five minutes as I have only a few things to say, having spoken passionately on this matter previously. I listened to the speeches this afternoon and got the feeling there is a lack of the urgency and passion that one would expect in confronting a crisis, except for a few speeches. That does not reflect the sense of catastrophe facing us. This Government is having great difficulty in dealing with approximately 7,000 homeless people but what will happen when the number reaches 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000, which is quite possible as a result of the operations of the European Central Bank leaning on the likes of AIB, pushing them to offload distressed mortgages? As someone from a southern unionist and royalist background, I am astonished speakers from the two main parties that claim derivation from the republican movement and anti-Britishness, etc., are prepared, in an Irish Republic of the 21st century, to look with equanimity at people being evicted to the side of the road from homes. To contemplate any Irish person being evicted is an obscenity.

On 31 March this year there was a total of €8.8 billion in outstanding balances on mortgages in arrears for more than a year for private homes. That covered 41,000 accounts in total but in reality it is a lot more. It is well over those approximately 40,000 accounts. For this reason I was approached by a group of people to introduce a Bill in the last session, the National Housing Co-operative Bill 2017; it is still on the Order Paper. Unfortunately, there is a kind of bureaucratic resistance to thinking outside the box. This Bill proposed a new agency, a national housing co-operative, which would move in when the likes of AIB unloaded an enormous number of mortgages, creating a possible avalanche of homelessness. The co-operative would take over the distressed mortgages at the current level of value before renting them back or remortgaging them to the original owners so they could stay in those houses.

In my opinion, that is a really good and imaginative response. The Bill I introduced in the Seanad is at present being refined and honed to make it a more accurate and appropriate vehicle. Deputy John McGuinness in the other House is taking a very active interest in this Bill and there has been all-party support for this measure. A group has been in America to discuss with trust funds the possibility of securing the capital required and there is quite a possibility of a 20 year bond, secured against the properties. We believe we would have the backing of major international financial institutions to do so. This is because long-term 20 year loans are at a uniquely low cost level and could be accessed.

This situation is urgent and it needs to be addressed as a crisis. We need to think imaginatively. As I said, it is an obscenity in an Irish Republic in the 21st century that we should contemplate citizens being evicted from their homes.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell has about four minutes.

I will try to do it in three minutes. I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to the House. This is an extremely important debate. To put my contribution in context, I will speak on the area I know best, Limerick. There is an issue with the provision of housing in Limerick city. There is a perception that Limerick has a very large stock of social housing. Many of the older estates are now privately owned, so local authority houses are not that abundant. I very much welcome the Minister's announcement of various building projects, such as that in Edward Street. We have had building projects in Southhill, Moyross and apartments are being renovated in Careys Road, which are all positive. We will have further building projects in the pipeline.

The key point I wish to focus on is Georgian Limerick. Inner city Limerick dates from the Georgian period and the houses in the inner city are Georgian. The Department of Finance introduced the living city initiative a number of years ago. It is a very worthwhile scheme, but we need to look at ways to encourage people to live in the city centre across a range of areas. The cost of renovating Georgian houses is much greater than the cost of a new build. I put the proposal to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, that funding would be ring fenced particularly under the living initiative scheme for Georgian houses. I want to see provisions for owner occupiers, for the renovation of small mews in the old lanes that Frank McCourt would have spoken about, so that we can bring new families and younger people back into them. Second, we need investors to create much needed accommodation. There is a scheme run by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, whereby the local authority can work with owners of properties to renovate them and put leases in place for a ten year period to provide much needed housing. Any solution in terms of housing in Limerick city centre has to involve the Georgian quarter. We can serve a dual purpose, preserving buildings and also bringing people back to live in the city centre. I feel strongly about that issue.

There is no substitute for building houses. I very much welcome that house building is now the policy priority of Government and of the Minister, Deputy Murphy's Department. People are under pressure paying rent. I know a solution will not happen overnight, but the intention to build traditional local authority housing is very welcome. The challenge will be to ensure that we will deal with the homeless, which I know is a high priority for the Minister. He will ensure that the building programme continues in the city of Limerick, which I represent, and also ensure that by rejuvenating the Georgian inner city, much needed housing accommodation will be provided in the city that will encourage people to live in the city centre.

The Minister has five minutes.

Perhaps I could have a little more time so that I can address all the different issues that were raised. I apologise for being late. Although I was paired, I wanted to be present for the votes in respect of my Department.

Senator Devine said that we should not be just making statements and that the Government should be doing more. The solution she pointed to was a meeting that is happening next door. She said that we should set aside politics but she then made an inherently political speech which showed no acceptance that progress has been made. If we are going to work together on the issue, which we need to do, and the Fianna Fáil Party has said that we will move this outside of the political space, we must be fair and recognise when things are happening and also when things are not happening, we must try to find solutions to them. She bemoaned the fact that no legislation was before the House today. The last legislation in this House passed before the recess was the extension to planning to allow housing to continue to be built where the extensions were not in place. She said that nothing new had been done, whereas in June I signed into effect the order to allow the new fast-track planning process for An Bord Pleanála. There are now 5,000 homes on the books under the new faster process which will be built.

Senator Devine also said the Government is not doing anything differently. That is not true. Rebuilding Ireland is a new plan to build more in this country and address all of the issues that have been raised here today and it is making progress. There has been an increase of more than 40% in planning permissions since this time last year, an increase of more than 40% in construction commencement notices since this time last year, and an increase of 33% in Dublin of people connecting to the ESB grid since this time last year. Do we have to do more? Of course, we do, and that is why very recently I announced that we are increasing our output and building social housing homes directly by 30% for next year. That is why we had a housing summit and came up with new ideas that can help with homelessness, for example, the homeless inter-agency group. I ask people not to make this a political space but that we recognise what is working, and also see where we can do more and let us work together to achieve it.

When we look at the deep problems with homelessness, and the Taoiseach has said that it is a stain on our society, we have difficulties with individuals and we have difficulties with families who are experiencing homelessness. Later on today or early tomorrow morning, I will release the latest figures on homelessness. What they will show is that the number of homeless families nationally is up. I can speak about a number of aspects of that, but it will show that the number of homeless families in Dublin is down. Clearly, there is a significant amount of work to be done. Recently I held a housing summit to consider this problem, in particular because some of the things I was seeing during the course of June and July made me realise that we needed to bring the local authorities together to really get a proper grip on solutions.

The new inter-agency group that will be chaired by Mr. John Murphy is about bringing together the resources that are already being invested to ensure they are being invested in the best way and to make sure that all the wrap around supports that we put in place are working. We announced exit co-ordinators to help people who exit homelessness to prevent them from falling back into homelessness. I announced a national director for Housing First and an additional 100 places for Housing First because that model works. We know it works and we want to expand it.

The HAP place finder service, which is working in Dublin and Cork, is now being rolled out nationally. For landlords, we now have a requirement that where they are giving a notice to quit they have to notify the Residential Tenancies Board and that means we can get services in early to help those people. We know that prevention when it is early works. We know that if somebody presents with a notice to quit to a local authority, with one week to go, more than likely he or she will fall into emergency accommodation but if we can get to him or her when the notice to quit is actually served, we can help that person stay in that accommodation with the services that are there or find new accommodation so that he or she does not have to go into emergency accommodation. We are looking at the refusal policy as well to make sure that people who refuse an offer of social housing homes have the opportunity to live in what they see as the best home for them but also that they are not blocking other people from perhaps taking advantage of a home that could be offered to them at the same time.

Yesterday, I announced a new scheme under the existing mortgage to rent scheme with the new housing body in Limerick. That will protect people in their homes. Some 40% of the finance will come from my Department and the debt will be written off. I think this will be a game changer. We want to see more housing bodies moving into this space under the existing mortgage to rent scheme. Within a few weeks, I will put out an expression of interest under a new aspect of mortgage to rent that will involve a new line of financing. I think that will be very helpful.

For the past nine quarters, we have seen a decrease in the number of people in long-term mortgage arrears, which is a positive development. Between now and the end of the year, we will have 200 new beds in terms of spare capacity for homeless individuals. The homelessness budget has doubled since 2014. In addition, we have €45 million for family hubs. Family hubs are our first response. They are far better than hotels and bed and breakfasts. There are 27 families in the Mater Dei facility. Since June, half of them have moved on to sustainable accommodation; the other half have not moved yet but we are working with them. When we look at Limerick and the problem they have with homeless families there - I spoke to the CEO about this yesterday - they have a programme using the hub money so that almost all of those families will either be in hubs or permanent accommodation before the end of the year. Progress has been made, resources are being invested and good work is being done both by local authorities and the voluntary sector. I recognise we have to do more. We also have to recognise that sometimes we can put every support possible through social protection, the health services and the voluntary sector into providing housing supports for people and it will not be enough. It does not mean that we cannot and should not do more but sometimes it will not be enough.

The Government is doing a lot more when it comes to social house building and we are not outsourcing into the private sector. That is why when I talk about our build numbers for next year I am talking about what the local authorities and the housing bodies will build. I am talking about that 3,800 number, which was going to be 3,000 until just a few weeks ago when I changed policy. No longer will local authorities be in the market competing with young families to purchase houses. They will move their resources and build directly as a result, which means a 30% increase that will be 3,800 units. This year we will build four times more than what we built in 2015. We are coming from a low number but every year we are ramping up and doing more. That 3,800 is before we count Part V and void conversions. If we include those, it is 5,000. If we look at the conservative number for builds next year, which is 20,000, one quarter of the stock next year will be social housing homes that the local authorities will own. When we count in acquisitions as well which will come into the housing stock and long-term leases, it brings us up to just under 8,000. So we are not too far off the 10,000 we should have in a steady state. This is only one year into Rebuilding Ireland. Progress is being made but now we can make more. I want to have a principle here that will outlive any Ministers, whether it is me or a Minister who comes after me, that a certain percentage of stock being built every year is social housing stock and that we are not relying on Part Vs to meet that social housing stock or that it be considered as an add-on but that we are building it directly. That principle will be there so that we know that no matter when we face a time of crisis in future, there will already be houses being built for our most vulnerable citizens who need our support. It is the right thing to do and is something this Government believes in doing.

The local authorities are currently preparing land management plans that will come back to me at the end of this month and by the end of October, we will have detailed targets for each local authority on what they are going to deliver. If we are to have confidence in our numbers, we need to know exactly what is happening and that is the purpose. One of the outcomes of the housing summit was a new delivery unit in my Department to work with the local authorities for those new targets. I was with the housing bodies down in Limerick yesterday at their two day conference. We talked about the increasing scale and more that they can do. I made the point to them directly in my speech to the conference about the need to make sure they are building more homes for the elderly in community settings and also for the less abled. We need to make sure there are new homes being built that will not all be three-bedroom houses with an upstairs and downstairs. It will not work for everyone and we have to make sure they are being developed in the right settings. Recently I announced €12 million in additional funding for the type of grants needed to adapt and extend homes for people.

When we look at the bigger picture in terms of the national planning framework which was published earlier this week, it is all about taking advantage of the built environment that we already have. Of the new growth of 1 million people over the next 20 years, 40% will be in existing built-up areas. When we look at Limerick and the Georgian core, at the moment we have fewer than 1,000 people living there. It is not a sustainable way to grow a city. We know that Dublin has not grown in a sustainable way either, as Senator McDowell has spoken about. I will come to that point in just a minute. The national planning framework talks about the ambitious plans for growth that we have for Limerick for its Georgian core and hinterland. If we can get housing bodies and local authorities to also link in with those plans, and they will have to because we will put it on a statutory footing, then we will be able to achieve building in the right area for all of the people's needs that we have in our society. Affordability is key. We have to look after people who have social housing needs. We have to make sure the private sector is building houses and that people can access those houses at an affordable price. We have some excellent models that have already been put out there and have been used such as the Ó Cualann model. I was there recently with Deputy Noel Rock. The council was able to gift the land for a nominal amount to the housing body, which worked with a finance house and the city council to make these houses affordable to buy with a mortgage that was about €1,000 less than what the tenant was paying in rent. It was fantastic for the person I was fortunate to meet that day moving into her new home. We have affordable-to-buy models that can work. The task now is to make them work at scale which is something about which I was talking to the housing bodies yesterday in Limerick.

There are challenges in affordable-to-build in terms of certain solutions, in particular with apartments. People have mentioned height and other things. Next week I will make announcements of new decisions we are making in that area to help affordability when it comes to building, in particular build-to-rent where we can do a lot more. We have to have affordable schemes. We have to look at affordable finance for people who are borrowing. We have to look at criteria for people to access affordable homes. After the budget, I will be able to speak more about that. We know we will have affordable-to-build on the O'Devaney Gardens site, which is a site of considerable scale. We have the Ó Cualann model and we know it works but also the Government has provided €200 million in infrastructural funding, which essentially is a forgoing of the development levies and contributions to open up landbanks more quickly because we know they can be built on. It is something that is happening. I am about to sign the contracts on a number of those sites. Over the lifetime of the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, programme, it will deliver 23,000 extra units. The average price for a two or three-bedroom property in 70% of those projects will be under €320,000. It is important to do that.

When we come to vacancy, we know it is not just about building new homes even though that is the focus of everything we do. "Build, build, always build" is the mantra in the Department. We also have to manage existing stock. In vacancy we think there might be potential but we have to be cautious when we talk about the numbers. We have to stop talking about 190,000 vacant homes. It is the figure the CSO came up with but we know within that figure are homes that were in probate, homes between lettings, homes on the market for sale and homes that are not in demand areas. We drilled down into those numbers as part of a desktop exercise in June and we believe the accurate figure in terms of vacancy in areas in high demand is more like 25,000. That was in June. Having spoken primarily to the Dublin local authorities since then and based on the work they have done, we think it is less than that. Even if it is less than that and it will be 5,000 or 10,000 less than that, it is still a source of supply we can bring online. It is something we are going to do. The work on this has already begun. There is an empty homes unit in my Department. Each local authority has a vacant homes team. The main urban local authorities have to report back to me by October on their vacancy hotspots in terms of the numbers they know for certain we can take advantage of by the end of the year. We are making progress on vacancies. There needs to be a suitable incentive scheme there that will work for them. We know the repair and lease scheme has not worked to date and I will be making changes to it shortly. Any additional home is welcome, which is why we are looking at vacancy as a part of this. We have to change our planning laws because we know that in Dublin, above-shop living has huge potential. Dublin City Council thinks there are potentially 4,000 such homes but they are commercially zoned or commercially designated. I will bring forward changes to allow us to very quickly move those from commercial to residential. It will also apply for the ground shop. In some larger towns and villages there are vacant shops on the street that could be a house or home with someone living in them. It goes back to the principle of building and living where we have the infrastructure already. It will be great for regenerating the towns and villages.

Coming to the point about the national planning framework and Dublin, it has been published and I think Members would enjoy looking at the document in detail because there are a lot of good things in it. We anticipate that of the growth by 1 million people between now and 2040, 25% will be in Dublin. Dublin has not grown efficiently. Sprawl is choking it and if it continues to grow in the way it has been, it will kill off Dublin and the rest of the country. If 25% of that growth is for Dublin we want 50% of it to happen within the M50 ring. If one takes an aerial view of particular parts of the city and looks around the Naas Road and that corridor, one will see people selling cars, trucks and furniture. They are right by the M50, the Luas and the canal. This is fantastic infrastructure that taxpayers have invested in but the land around it has not been utilised in the most efficient way. We need to bring the four local authorities together for a new type of structure to manage planning across the four local authority areas. I agree with that. It will help to properly develop Dublin. We need to do it in other cities as well. When we look at Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway, we have landbanks there that can be used in more strategic ways. We will need entities to help manage those landbanks back into proper use for houses, schools, hospitals and everything else we need.

I spoke to the Attorney General about compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers. I have also written to him about it. We have to achieve a proper balance between the public interest and individual rights. It does not mean we cannot CPO properties. We do CPO properties. When we move to do a CPO, it is not because the Government wants the property, we just want it back in use. Recently Dublin City Council moved to CPO about 25 or 26 properties.

Two thirds of them went back into the private rental market, which is great because there is a problem with the private rental supply as well, and one third went into leasing to the local authorities, which is good as well for social housing tenants. Those rights in the Constitution are not standing in our way. They did not stand in our way in terms of bringing in the vacant site levy, the register for which will begin next year. They do not stand in our way when it comes to compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. They did not stand in our way when it came to bringing in caps on rent, which we have done in the rent pressure zones, or when it came to the Tyrrelstown amendment. We have been able to find that balance and we will continue to look to see how we can further find that balance.

The rent pressure zones are working. This year, if the trends continue as they have in the first two quarters we will see that inflation in Dublin will be 3%, that is versus 8.5% last year. That is a significant difference for someone paying rent in Dublin but it is also working in other areas. Drogheda and Greystones came under the RPZ designations as a result of the changes in rent that have been happening there. We know about the loophole when it comes to substantial refurbishment and how people are using that to get around their RPZ obligations. We will be introducing a definition of that through the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. If it needs to be put on a legislative footing I will do so.

We are also going to reform the RTB to make it into a proper regulator for the sector over a two-year change management programme but everything is about balance. If we are going to bring in further protections for renters, which we are, we have to make sure that we are doing something for landlords. We cannot force people to be landlords. People complain about there being too many foreign landlords in this country. If they want the foreign landlords out then they will have to make sure there are enough domestic landlords as well, and that means incentivising them; making sure there are enough there and the incentives work for them. There is more we can do on that side and that we will do as well.

I am almost ready to conclude. Thank you, Acting Chairman, for the extra time. To speak to the points you raised yourself about pyrite and mica, we have had a number of conversations about that and a number of meetings. You are very dedicated to this and I completely understand that. I know it is a very serious problem for people in Mayo and Donegal in particular. There are a number of houses in both those counties that are in local authority ownership and we have a responsibility for those houses and for the people living in them as well. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, has done a significant amount of work in this area. As per the conversation we had, I have raised the issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, but I do not want to give you any false hope on whether there may be something in the budget. I also acknowledge the good work that has been done in terms of engineering solutions.

Senator Humphreys raised home sharing and short-term letting. It is a very important part of our economy and where it works it works fantastically. It is good for people who want to come here; it is good for the economy and it is good for cultural exchange and everything else but as I said before, home sharing has to mean home sharing. As we proceed to clarify this area we have to be cautious so that we do not have any unintended consequences. We have to make sure that home sharing can still continue but also we have to make sure that our laws are robust enough to make sure that people are not working around the planning laws that are in place. A licensing system is probably the best way to go. There is a group working on this. It will be led by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport but my officials will be part of the group.

I thank Senators for their time. I apologise for commencing late. I very much appreciate the contributions that were made and the genuine proposals that have been put on the table. The Government, working with both Houses of the Oireachtas, and with the Oireachtas committee, can find further solutions that can work not just for people who are homeless who I know are in very difficult circumstances, because there is also a hidden homelessness in terms of the people who are renting, who cannot afford to save for a deposit and people who have had to move back home to try to save for a deposit, or because they could not afford their rent. We have to make sure that we are doing everything we can at each part in the supply chain in the market to look after all of the needs of citizens in this country.

That concludes the business of the day. I thank the Minister. The fact that the debate has gone over time is a reflection of the gravity of this issue. Could the Acting Leader indicate when it is proposed to sit again?

The Seanad adjourned at 3.45 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 October 2017.