Housing Provision: Statements

I am grateful to have the opportunity to come to the House to talk not only about the challenges we continue to face in housing provision but also some of the solutions and how they are bearing fruit and helping many citizens. It is a very important time to discuss the issue at the beginning of 2019. Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan to deal with every aspect of the housing crisis that we face, has been in effect since the middle of 2016 and will last until 2021. This is an important year for the plan in continuing to provide for delivery and put in place supports for those who need our help. Many things need to be done as part of the plan because there are many aspects to the challenges we face in housing provision. We are rebuilding a housing sector that was broken at every part of the supply and construction chain. We are building it in a way that it will not be like what it was before but in a way that will protect and future-proof the sector from future shocks.

The most distressing aspect of the challenge we face is the damage being done to people living in emergency accommodation. Damage is being done to society and individuals and their families because they have to spend time in emergency accommodation. There are too many living in emergency accommodation. It is absolutely unacceptable that people still have to go to hotels for emergency accommodation. The whole purpose of Rebuilding Ireland is to bring about political and policy change and actual meaningful change on the ground in order that emergency accommodation will only ever be a very short-term response, family hubs are a first response and that no family will find themselves in emergency accommodation. Because of the housing shortage, we do have this today, but we are trying to correct the shortage as quickly as possible.

When we talk about solutions, whether for the elderly, those in emergency accommodation, persons who are paying too much in rent, young families and young couples who cannot afford to buy a home, there is no point in discussing any of these areas unless we look, first and foremost, at the fundamental issue of supply. Before we talk about whether we should be using the housing assistance payment, HAP, to the degree we are, whether we are building enough social housing, whether we can bring forward cost rental quickly enough, when or how we should reform the rental sector, the use of hotels for those living in emergency accommodation, the right price of a home or the affordability challenge, we have to make sure new homes are being built. That is very important. We have to ensure, two and a half years into Rebuilding Ireland, it is correcting the fundamental problem in supply and the short answer is that it is. The fundamental problem of supply is being corrected very quickly. We are still awaiting confirmation of the numbers for 2018 in the CSO's new build numbers which we did not have at the beginning of Rebuilding Ireland but which we will because we had that piece of work done with the CSO. We will have the figures in the coming weeks. We will also have the figures from local authorities for the increases in the numbers of homes in the stock of social housing. We will have both numbers in February and I expect them to confirm that there was quite a dramatic increase in the supply of new builds during the course of 2018. A recent report from Goodbody, based on its tracker, shows that about 18,500 new homes were built during the course of 2018. If that is true, it is the highest number of new builds in nine years. That is not to be dismissed; it is very important.

The fundamental problem needs to be addressed if we are to look properly at things surrounding affordability, the cost of rent, getting people out of emergency accommodation and building enough social housing. If the delivery last year was between 18,000 and 20,000, as the Government was targeting, what I expect when I receive confirmation from the local authorities is that between one in four or five of the newly built homes was social housing. When was the last time the State did this? It is definitely more than a decade, if not two decades, ago. It is very important to recognise that fact, but is it enough? No, not yet. However, it is making a significant difference.

The other indicators we have such as the numbers of planning permissions and commencement notices indicate that what happened in 2018 was not a once-off. In 2019 the number of new homes built will be even higher again. The number of social houses delivered will also be higher again this year. The increase in supply is having a very real and meaningful impact in a number of ways. As reported on recently, the rate of growth in house prices is falling. In 2018 there was single digit growth, which was very welcome. This year the rate will be lower still.

The other tangible way it has an impact on people's lives is when those individuals living in emergency accommodation move into new homes and get the key to the front door. When I was in County Donegal recently, I had the opportunity to meet families who had moved from emergency accommodation, the rental sector or the housing list or who had been living in overcrowded accommodation. Just before Christmas they had received the keys to their new houses. In the first or second week of January I visited and already it was their home. They had their furniture and pictures on the fridge. They had made it their own place and had that warmth and security from which they could build a life, think about the future and their kids. They were so happy to be there. Others were just getting the keys and about to move in, but they were already thinking about what they should bring into the kitchen and the type of furniture they might want to have in their home. It was all very exciting for them. If we keep the people we are trying to help at the centre of our focus, we will be able to deliver the right solutions in the right way for them, solutions that will last. The worst thing we could do would be to offer solutions, homes to people, in an imprudent or unsustainable way and then find them back in a precarious position or others in an even more precarious position in the future. We have a responsibility to do this in the right way. That is happening but not quickly enough, which is why I have to continue to drive and monitor Rebuilding Ireland, reform or change it, where needed, and maintain it as a priority for the Government.

On emergency accommodation, we are enduring a period of cold weather, with very low temperatures. The cold weather initiative is in effect. Some have been saying incorrectly that people have been turned away from shelters, but that is not the case. There is sufficient capacity in the system and we have extra outreach teams out.

Some accommodation is not suitable to remain open during the daytime. Where that is the case, we transition people into day care centres and places where they do not have to be out in the cold during the day. It is important to do this because it is a vulnerable time when we have cold weather like we have now. Homelessness, when it comes to individual adults, is complex. Even when we have the worst weather imaginable such as Storm Emma, some people will still refuse to come inside. We will not stop going out with our outreach teams to help them because it is a priority for us to keep them safe at such a time.

The emergency accommodation numbers for December will be released later today and what we will see is that there has been a reduction, which is welcome. It would have been anticipated to a degree because it was the month of December. We will also see a decrease in the number of presentations and an increase in the number of adults because of the new beds we have brought into the system. While no increase is welcome, the people in question are now in the system, off the streets and receiving the care they need. We need to transition them into sustainable accommodation where they can be safe and secure. The overall number living in emergency accommodation is down, which is to be welcomed.

The Government priority is the provision of housing. Everything we do must have a tangible impact on people who are experiencing difficulties, be it high rent, homelessness, living in emergency accommodation or housing insecurity. Up to €2.4 billion will be spent this year on housing. That is the most money a Government has ever spent in a single year on housing and it will be put into helping people into new social housing. We expect the 2018 social housing figure to show an increase in stock of eight times what it was in 2015, the year before Rebuilding Ireland was launched. We have our hub programme which is looking after more than 500 families. On average, families are waiting about six months before we get them into a home, but they have all the care and support they need. We have teams regularly sourcing accommodation to ensure people can get out of emergency accommodation quickly and sustainably.

I talked about some of the families I met recently in County Donegal and the good work happening there. It is happening all over the country. I thank local authorities, housing bodies and all our partner NGOs which are doing much work in this area with the Government and taxpayers’ money to help people. During the course of last year more than 25,000 tenancies were secured. Social housing solutions will have been reached thanks to taxpayer support and because it is a Government priority. However, while we continue to see landlords exiting the market, we will continue to have people presenting to emergency accommodation services, even though the social housing stock is increasing. That is why reforming the rental sector is so important. We know that rent controls are working from the data in the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, quarter 3 report. However, we also know that they are not working evenly across rent control areas. I have legislation to strengthen enforcement of rent controls in rent pressure zones to protect renters. It will ensure there is a longer notice to quit period which will effectively be doubled to give people more time to source new accommodation. It will put in place a rent register to ensure rent transparency and that people know what a fair rent is, as well as addressing student rents and other issues.

In this year’s budget we increased mortgage interest relief for landlords to 100% because we need them. We cannot force people to be landlords, but we need them providing the service. We have to ensure that in everything we do, we avoid unintended consequences and strike a balance. How can we protect tenants further, while also ensuring we have landlords offering homes as accommodation? We know that we do not have the typical rental market one has in other European countries. We know that we are an outlier in that regard because 86% of landlords in Ireland own only one or two properties. Many of them are accidental landlords because we are still dealing with legacy issues dating from the financial crash. As we approach this issue, we have to bear in mind that we must keep potential unintended consequences in mind, while trying to strike a balance for both. That is why we are reforming the rental sector and giving increased resources to the RTB. Increasing its budget for this year by 67% is all part of the change management programme to make it a more robust regulator for landlord and tenant alike in the rental sector. We also want to see a cost rental sector. Last night in Inchicore I met the consultative group for the St. Michael’s regeneration effort which has proposed a pilot project for a cost rental model for the first time. The model makes up 20% to 25% of housing in other European cities and provides security in renting. It shows the cost of rent in the coming five to ten-year time horizon and longer. We are working on it and I thank the consultative forum, which is important, for engaging positively last night.

We know that we have to address the issue of short-term lets in the rental sector. From 1 June there will be big changes in this area. We support home sharing when it means just that. If it is a primary residence, one can continue to let a room to tourists. Alternatively, one can let one’s entire home to tourists, provided it is for less than the 90-day cap. However, if it is a second, investment or rental property in a high-demand area, it can no longer be used as a short-term let. It has to be used for people who are living and working in the area. That is what we deem to be the most appropriate use of the housing stock, particularly at a time when there is a shortage of housing. Obviously, carve-outs have been made for holiday homes. In many parts of the country home sharing makes a fantastic contribution to the tourism sector. The same can be said of executive lets. Where people are coming to work for longer periods, it is important that we have such facilities.

Affordability will be a key challenge for us. We saw how the rate of house price inflation has come down to single figures in 2018. It will come down again this year. The rate of rent inflation has also come down in rent pressure zones where it is working. In the 12 months to October last year, there were more than 50,000 house transactions. One in two of these homes was sold for less than €250,000. That tells us that affordability is a challenge, but in parts of the country only. In other parts the affordability challenge might actually be more on the builder’s side in being able to obtain the necessary finance. That is why the Minister for Finance and I launched Home Building Finance Ireland earlier this week. It will ensure homes can be built in communities where there is demand and affordability is not necessarily a challenge on the buying side.

Home ownership should be an aspiration for everyone. If it is the choice people want to make, we have to tackle the affordability challenge. How do we do it? We should use public money to open up private and public land. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, will provide €200 million to provide 20,000 new homes, the majority of which will be social housing, affordable purchase and cost rental homes or eligible for a cost-related deduction because of the public investment made. There is the help to buy scheme which has helped over 8,000 families and individuals to put together the deposit to buy a new home. Rebuilding Ireland is not even a year old, yet half of the money made available for it has been drawn down. It is a three-year programme. In the first 10 months half of the funding has been drawn down by people to buy homes. We have the serviced sites fund, the largest affordability package introduced by a Government in over a decade which comes to €310 million. The first sites, worth €43 million, have been identified for the delivery of homes in 2020. The second call will be made to local authorities shortly.

The first board meeting of the Land Development Agency was held on Monday. The agency will bring forward sites in high-demand areas where there are already large State sites which are not being used efficiently. The first eight have been identified. We believe the appropriate use of public lands for the public good is to provide homes for everybody, as well as social and affordable homes that can be sold to people who cannot avail of subsidised housing schemes. At least 40% of homes on these lands will either be delivered through social housing or subsidised schemes. That will make a real impact, not just for the people who will get to live in these homes but also in moderating house prices in these areas.

This year we will put fewer people into homes using the housing assistance payment than we did last year because we are building more social housing. In 2021, the last year of Rebuilding Ireland, we will be accommodating more people in homes that will be part of a stock of social housing than we will be in the rental sector through the housing assistance payment. It is important that we achieve that rebalance in the life cycle of Rebuilding Ireland and drive it beyond it. The ideal is to have one in four or five homes built as social housing. That will help people on housing waiting lists and those who need our help the most. That is important, but it takes a little longer and can be more expensive. We must make sure we do not build sprawling housing estates without the schools, roads and community facilities they need. We must provide these in time together to ensure we will not strand communities. We have to make sure we are providing mixed developments. We want to use housing policy to support, not divide, communities. That is a key driver of Rebuilding Ireland.

We have made other reforms such as of apartment guidelines to encourage a greater build-to-rent sector and make it more viable to build apartments by examining the number of units per core and the need for car-parking spaces to increase densities. We have also addressed lifting the height caps.

We have begun to reform transport infrastructure in large towns and urban centres because it does not make sense any more for sustainable and high-quality living. We are ensuring we have a fast-track process for planning, cutting red tape where we can to build larger sites more quickly and reducing our own approval process by cutting red tape in the Custom House. The four-stage process has been reduced to 59 weeks. We are also examining how we can reform the one-stage process in order that more housing programmes can be covered by that process, which is quicker than the four-stage process. There is also a new housing delivery office in the Department. The work the Minister of State, Deputy English, is doing with that office is important.

There are vacancy teams in each local authority. Although we know that vacancy is not the low-hanging fruit which we initially thought it was, we are taking in homes through the repair and leasing scheme which has been reformed and the buy and renew scheme. We have changed planning regulations for promoting above-the-shop living and there is the urban regeneration fund. Some €3 billion will be spent in the next ten years to ensure that as we build, we build sustainably in the right locations, thinking of the future in terms of climate change, transport times, commuting times, quality of life and people's health. As we build houses, we must ensure we build communities, places and homes, which is what we ultimately want to do and achieve, but it was not always done before.

We have never really had a properly functioning housing sector, either because not enough social housing homes were built directly by the State, there was not enough supply, there was too much supply or supply in the wrong places, or rents and the cost of a house have been too high. All of these problems have happened before and we have moved in cycles. We are now trying to break those cycles once and for all, which is at the heart of Rebuilding Ireland. While we have more to do, there are three years remaining in Rebuilding Ireland and my responsibility is to drive the plan to its conclusion and take all the additional steps we need to take, ensuring we are always driving delivery because without it, we cannot talk about any of the other solutions we need.

I thank Members of the Oireachtas for their input to date. Rebuilding Ireland was shaped in large part by the work done when the current Dáil was formed by the committee drawn from both Houses of the Oireachtas on the steps we needed to take. We have built on the back of that good work to build the Government programme and planned beyond it, through Project Ireland 2040, to ensure that as Rebuilding Ireland concludes, a new programme will continue the strong parts of Rebuilding Ireland that have been shown to work well.

I look forward to the contributions of Senators and welcome every contribution. Rebuilding Ireland is a plan that is working, but parts of it are not working as well as they should be. If people have ideas about where we can make improvements, I will listen and bring about those changes where I can, notwithstanding the fact that we need to be conscious of unintended consequences or that we need to ensure that at the heart of everything we do, we help, first and foremost, those who are most vulnerable in the best way possible.

I thank the Minister for his report. It is no secret that we are in the worst of times. Chaos and uncertainty loom next month because of Brexit, members of the health sector are taking to the streets and people are dying in towns and cities. Last week another homeless man was found dead in a derelict building in my county. My heart breaks for his family, to whom I send my deepest condolences. I am sorry for the families we have let down over and over again. We ought to hang our heads in shame that we stand here while thousands live in fear of another day in homelessness. While we are all working hard, there is a need for more resources and commitment because something must be done.

Fine Gael has overseen a crisis of unprecedented numbers of people without homes, rents surging to historic heights, home-building numbers tens of thousands behind where they need to be and 130,000 people in need of a permanent social home. All the while, another significant problem is emerging, namely, the Government has completely ignored the ordinary worker who cannot afford a place to own. Fianna Fáil has made significant progress in budget 2019, but the key is delivery. Since coming into power, Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, Social Housing Strategy 2020, the Rebuilding Ireland action plan of 2016 and capital plans in 2012, 2015 and 2018. These separate plans exclude the numerous relaunches involved, which is more launches than homes built by local authorities in certain areas. I raise the issue because I have previously raised it with the Minister. This is 2019 and we need to ensure Rebuilding Ireland works, through its five pillars, on which we all have worked so hard. We do not need any more launches of plans; we need to ensure we have delivery. People are sick and tired of promises because promises are broken, patched up, reworded and broken again.

Last week a woman visiting my clinic told me that Irish Water had written to her to ask why she was using many gallons more water than a household of its size should. She replied that five adults in their 30s were back living at home with her because they had no other option as rents in Carlow cost almost €1,000 a month. She also has two grandchildren living with her and the house is very crowded. Her children are on the housing list but have been overlooked time and again and they cannot afford to get their own mortgage because house prices have risen to unaffordable levels. Figures given to us at one of our recent housing meetings suggested the average rent in Carlow was €750 a month, but it is actually €1,000 a month. The figures being given to the Department are so far off the mark that they are causing serious issues for people who are trying to rent a property. In December I called for a timeline on a review of social housing income thresholds, but I have yet to receive any correspondence on the issue. We are unwittingly excluding people who should genuinely qualify for social housing.

A family recently came to me for help. They were bringing home between €350 and €400 per week but did not qualify to be registered on Carlow County Council's housing list as they were earning above the income threshold, which is one of the lowest in the country, at €27,500. Our neighbouring counties' thresholds are between €32,500 and €34,000, which is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that people who work to try to make ends meet are told that they do not qualify for the housing waiting lists. I have raised the issue consistently and been told that it is being examined, but people in Carlow and, I am sure, other counties with low caps are caught in limbo because they do not qualify under the social housing income threshold but do not earn enough to afford a mortgage. They need answers as much as I do. Seven years have passed since the last review of the cap to qualify for local authority housing lists, which is unacceptable. I understand a new assessment was due last summer and there is an urgent need to finalise the review and increase the income eligibility limits for social housing in Carlow and, most likely, other counties. It is extraordinary that in the midst of a housing crisis the Government is denying accessing rent allowance and the housing assistance payment from many families who are under intense financial pressure.

I do not mean to repeat myself, but we are in an emergency. We need to consider the levels of unsustainable rents, people not qualifying for local authority housing lists and being unable to get a mortgage. The Minister spoke about mortgages - I acknowledge there has been an increase in the threshold for mortgages - but it remains hard to qualify and the matter needs to be re-examined. Even if one is a first-time buyer, one must have enough savings for a 10% deposit. Many people who come to my clinics do not qualify to go on the local authority waiting list; therefore, they pay €1,000 a month in rent and cannot save. They fall between the social housing income threshold and not earning enough to afford a mortgage. They are the hidden figures that are not accounted for. We need to seriously examine the matter.

The homelessness figures remain far too high and thousands of children are being scarred by the experience. The dispute over the exact number misses the point of the unacceptable scale of the problem. The Temple Street Hospital figures underline the scale and horror of the problem, but that is just one example. Many of the Department's figures such as those for housing, homelessness or the number of people who do not qualify for the housing lists are utterly wrong.

Fianna Fáil has shown it is committed to finding meaningful solutions to our role in the confidence and supply agreement and has not shirked leading criticism of the Government where it is at fault. Home ownership is slipping away from an entire generation as house prices rise by 13% per annum, whereas wages rise by only 2.5%. The rate of home ownership, at 68%, is at the lowest since 1971, while some households are one pay cheque away from living on the street, something we must admit. Some households have lost homes, family members, marriages or children through the crisis, but I do not believe the Minister understands what is happening, in particular to families crying out for help. Only €20 million was allocated to the affordable housing scheme in 2018, with no units delivered or regulations even signed off on. We produced a revamped scheme, worth more than €100 million per annum in the next three years, which will deliver approximately 7,500 units at an average price of €200,000 for ordinary income workers. There are too many workers who need to be able to access the market. They need an end to be in sight for all their hard work. We cannot be seen to help only the helpless.

We need to help those who can help themselves but need access to affordable homes to do so. Affordable housing is a key aim of Fianna Fáil in the budget for 2019. We actively support home ownership and aim to launch an ambitious new scheme that will provide proper homes on State-owned land throughout the country. The investment in a new €100 million per annum affordable housing fund will construct at least 6,000 homes by 2021. It will quadruple the original allocated money per year from €25 million. This is contrary to claims by Sinn Féin which has made a mistake in its figures and counted the same money four times over.

It is €67 billion.

Local authorities will be the key to turning the land into homes by working with other agencies to identify where affordable homes should be built. Local authorities would then take out a loan from the Housing Finance Agency to build the units, with a further average €40,000 to €50,000 subsidy per home directly from the Exchequer.

I have raised concerns about the housing assistance payment many times with the Minister. Today he spoke about rent pressure zones, with which I have massive issues. They are only in certain areas. Carlow does not qualify to have a rent pressure zone. The Minister needs to examine all local authorities. It is unfair that we have neighbouring counties such as Wicklow that qualify to have rent pressure zones. It is unfair on people living in the area that they are not given this opportunity. We also need to look at stability.

I am aware women's refuges are not within the remit of the Minister and that they are more a matter for Tusla and the Department of Health, but the Minister's Department needs to step in and examine what we are doing to help women's refuges. We are crying out for women's refuges in Carlow. On several occasions, I have made attempts to get funding for them. They used to fall within the ambit of the Department with responsibility for housing but were moved a few years ago. They need to go back to that Department. Every town in Ireland should have a women's refuge. It is very hard when I have women and families coming to me but I have nowhere to send them because Carlow does not have a women's refuge. The nearest one is in Kilkenny, but it is always full and the one in Waterford is the next nearest.

People are living longer and the Minister spoke about quality of life. We need to consider housing for people with disabilities and older people. We need to consider putting more money into extensions for the people concerned. Recently, much of my time has been spent trying to get bathroom adaptation grants, window and doors. We need to look more at these issues because we need to put more funding into them. Often, we take measures that seem to be solutions, but they do not work. We need to speak about what is being built in Ireland and address the issue of building units that serve only one type of family. It is causing a massive issue in the system and should be addressed properly. We need brave ideas and action on this issue.

I believe the Minister has made progress. He has definitely bought and built houses, but while he has gone from one stage to another, there are people in between who do not make local authority housing lists and are trying to buy houses. There are also homeless people with no security and people such as the man who died in Carlow last week in a derelict building because it was the only place he could go. That is unacceptable. We need to ensure we do not lose another life. It is important that the Minister address this issue. I thank him for coming to the House.

I warmly welcome the Minister. I want to start by thanking some people because sometimes we get lost in all of the controversies and setbacks on housing. I thank the chief executives of the local authorities, some of whom are watching. Two or three days ago I made a request of them by email and can happily tell the House that 26 of the chief executives wrote back with data. That is positive and would not have happened a few months ago. In the email I stated the Minister was coming to the Seanad today and I am sure that helped things along. It is interesting that they are engaging. If ever housing is discussed in the Seanad or by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government I always make a point of contacting stakeholders such as the chief executives of the local authorities, the directors of housing and local authority members. I send them the live link because it is important that they know what we are doing. They will not hear it from anyone else. They can see it themselves if they wish and many of them tune in.

I also acknowledge the Minister's staff. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, as is Senator Murnane O'Connor, and we have a good strong working relationship with the Department. It is robust from time to time, but anyone who tunes in knows that it is a very constructive committee that works well with departmental officials, as the Minister will vouch for.

The time has come to have an independent correlation of all of the statistics. There is so much media spin about what are the issues, what the Department states and what someone else states and it is about time we had more updated facts for waiting times, housing delivery and on a range of issues. I want to share some information I received because it is interesting. Today, in Cork City Council's area 3,590 people are on the social housing list, while 89 adults and 89 children are in emergency accommodation. For Dublin City Council, the figures are 17,445 people on the housing list, with 2,428 people homeless. For Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the figures are 4,524 people on the social housing list and 260 people registered as homeless. I could go on. We expect the numbers in these areas to be high. In Waterford 1,117 people are on the housing list, 1,830 people are in receipt of the housing assistance payment and 135 people are in emergency accommodation. It is important to get a sense of perspective on what the issues are. Let us see if we can look again at how we control the data in order that we can centralise them and have accurate data that have integrity.

Will the Minister outline why we see less output in the delivery of public housing on public land? I advocate public housing. I do not have a hang-up about who builds houses or where they are built, but it is important that we have good quality public housing, with social housing on social land. Throughout the country we have land that is not being used for the delivery of social housing. It is time to have an inventory of State lands. I know that the Minister is doing this. Recently, I had a very interesting experience with a property I acquired. I went to the Land Registry and other Departments to carry out land searches and learned an awful lot about land. I happened to meet an agent representing CIÉ. I did not tell him who I was, but I went out a lot wiser having spent half an hour with him. I asked him why he was there and he told me. I was encouraged by the fact that he was compiling an inventory of lands to make a more detailed return to some Departments. It encouraged me. There is a real need to look at the inventory of lands. We have land in the ownership of State port companies throughout the country. We also have local authority lands. From my experience of interfacing with a number of local authorities, I know that they simply do not know their inventory of lands. I know from looking at all 31 of the local government audit reports for 2017 that the auditors in the Department's local government auditing service in the Custom House have asked local authority chief executives to provide them with more detail on their property assets register. These are important connections that feed into housing and where we can get land.

We clearly need to roll out more public housing. We also need private housing and affordable housing. The Minister represents a Dublin constituency. Working couples in Dún Laoghaire, south Dublin, Fingal and Dublin city cannot afford to live there. People are now looking for jobs far outside the city to try to match work with their ability to pay for accommodation. This is not sustainable or satisfactory. It is an issue. I know that the Minister knows all of this, but I want to reiterate the points because they are important.

If the Minister has time, I would like to hear where we will go at Shanganagh Castle in Shankill. It is on State lands and its disposal was authorised by the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Senator Michael McDowell. That is going back some time.

They are sitting in the ownership of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. I acknowledge that we are at a relatively advanced stage, but every time I ask where we are in relation to them, no one seems to be able to tell me. It is not acceptable that we should have to wait another year, possibly two years, before we see building on that land.

I would like the Minister to share some detail on the Central Mental Hospital - a very substantial piece of State land - and what might happen there. I would like, if possible at this juncture, for the Minister to talk about Thornton Hall. Can we get some land out of Thornton Hall for the delivery of affordable and social housing? These are issues of importance which need to be addressed. We must go back, as I stated, to the local authorities to find what we can do with them on building land. The tell me that they are willing and ready. They are keen to build properties. We need to be clear on the channel of funding and the expertise twe can bring into play to deliver houses.

It is a massive task. It is one of the biggest political challenges of our time. Brexit, housing and health are the three key major challenges for the Government. The Minister does not underestimate them. I do not underestimate them, nor does any other Member. We must deliver housing for people. We delivered social housing in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It still stands today. It is important that we have this form of housing for people.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I do not doubt his absolute commitment to this task which is an unenviable one. It is difficult. I would like the Minister to finally touch on the issue of the national affordable housing scheme and the related regulations. I understand from the departmental officials that there is work ongoing on the necessary regulations, but we need to fast-track the scheme. We need to get it out into the public domain as quickly as possible because we want to assist people to own their own homes or rent homes. We want people to be in homes and happy and have good, sustainable communities. That will not happen overnight.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, back to the House and thank him for giving us an update from his perspective on where we are at with the Rebuilding Ireland plan. I believe it is important that we continue to have this engagement at policy level, from the Oireachtas right down to the local authorities, NGOs and every other stakeholder that can assist us in meeting the continuing challenge of meeting the demand for housing, for the young people who are on housing lists throughout the country. There are many young people in the Visitors Gallery to listen to this debate about housing. It is about the future of Ireland. It is about the future of citizens of the country and how they can acquire a house and a roof over their heads. It is important that the Minister continue in this engagement which I welcome.

It is disappointing to hear Senator Murnane O'Connor in her statement give no recognition to what is being done to address what was a property and an economic crash in this country. What we want are solutions and we need to recognise them. We need to identify barriers. The Minister asked us openly to identify the barriers and come to him with them. From the Opposition's point of view - I do not want to create a row - it seems that there is little understanding of what it took to rebuild Ireland's economy after the economic crash of recent years. It was a crash that caused deep fundamental damage, not only to the credit institutions but to the whole construction sector and the housing and property markets also.

The following are some of the barriers I see, to offer the Minister some solutions. If we are to meet the ambitious objectives of building so many houses in this country, which we have to do, we must address the skill shortages in the trades. If one talks to the construction sector, with which the Minister is engaged, it will state it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the craftsmen and women to build the houses that we so badly need. Across Government, we will need more initiatives to engage with the construction sector, schools and colleges, parents and the young people of Ireland to show them that there is a sustainable future in crafts and trades. I am a tradesman. I qualified as an electrician many years ago. Parents and young people are scared out of their wits to become involved in the construction sector owing to the damage, not only physical but also psychological, that has been done. I call on those in schools and colleges throughout the country to reconsider the trades because there are sustainable jobs provided we sustain the construction sector and we do not go back to the mistakes of the past when there was a boom-bust cycle. We can sustain a reasonable number of house builds per annum that will sustain good jobs and the crafts into the future. I make that point because some of it is being lost in the debate.

I recognise that in 2018 over 19,000 units were delivered in both the public and private sectors throughout the country. I also recognise that over €2.4 billion has been committed by the Government for housing in 2019. That is a substantial budgetary commitment to underpin the Rebuilding Ireland plan and strategy. As I said, we now need to focus on delivery.

Another barrier I want to bring to the Minister's attention is one I identified in my constituency in Waterford. Tramore in County Waterford is the second largest urban area in my county. There is a high demand for housing in the area and there are adequately zoned lands. The local authority is engaging positively with builders to get building on these lands. There is a big problem with the mains water supply and Irish Water. New water infrastructure is required to supply the houses on these lands. A decision was taken recently by the regulator who is responsible for setting the policy on connections to the water supply, whereby the first developer that applies for a connection to its housing scheme must pay the full cost of the water connection, which is making the whole scheme unviable. That would not be so bad if it was treated in the same way as electricity where if future builders connect to the same supply, the first builder will be reimbursed for its investment in the mains infrastructure.

The problem I have identified is that the regulator has now stated the first builder pays the full costs, that subsequent builders can connect to the scheme and that for the first builder there will be no reimbursement. This is causing a blockage and a barrier. It is causing stalemate where all builders are standing back and houses are not being built. This is a real practical problem that has emerged in Tramore, County Waterford. It is something that has to be addressed. I ask the Minister to use his office to bring the stakeholders together. They include the departmental officials, the regulator's officials, perhaps representatives of the local authority and representatives of the construction sector. This is a problem that has emerged in Waterford and no doubt it will emerge somewhere else. The regulator which, I acknowledge, is an independent quasi-judicial officer, is inconsistent. As a public representative and somebody who worked in utilities for over 20 years with the ESB, the water service is being treated differently from other utilities. It is becoming a cost barrier to housing schemes being built, not only in Tramore but also in other areas where one will see further blockages. It is something the Minister needs to take up and resolve in order that we can get these builders onto sites and have houses delivered for the people who require them so badly.

The Minister identified the proposals and initiatives he has implemented to combat homelessness and, especially in this cold weather spell, the further initiatives to protect those who find themselves in need of emergency accommodation. I commend that work. I also commend the many volunteers in organisations and the NGOs that work with the local authorities to assist people in finding homes. It is a fundamental requirement for all of us to help people to get a roof over their head.

I wish the Minister well in his continued efforts to tackle this challenge. The statistics are there to be seen. As I stated, in 2018 there were 19,000 units built. We need to increase that figure. Substantial funding has been put in place. The numbers of planning permissions throughout the country for schemes and housing are way up on those of recent years. Rebuilding Ireland is working and we must stick to the task.

We must identify the barriers and find the solutions. It is all about putting our shoulders to the wheel, whether we are policymakers, local authorities, regulators or the construction sector. Anybody who can influence the building of more houses must put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It is in the interests of all of us. It is a societal challenge and one we all must face in order that we can meet the needs of citizens. I offer the Minister my continued support for his efforts. He is making headway and getting there, as the figures show. We need to continue that work.

I welcome the Minister. In 1999 leading academics in University College Dublin published the study, Social Housing in Ireland: A Study of Success, Failure and Lessons Learned. Twenty years on, it remains the benchmark contemporary study of social housing in the State. It contains in-depth analysis of the variance of social housing from the impact on the built environment, residents’ quality of life, social order problems, relationships with local authorities and other agencies. The study found that politicians had widespread misconceptions when it came to social housing and its successes and stated policymakers "fail to recognise that non-provision of such housing would amount to greater failure for the less well-off".

In 2004 the National Economic and Social Council published the report, Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy, which included the most detailed analysis of the State's housing system ever produced. The report stated that at the time there was a need to dramatically increase investment in, and the output of, social housing owned and managed by local authorities and approved housing bodies. The report also strongly advocated the creation of a significant affordable cost rental sector for those intermediate households ineligible for social housing but unable to afford to rent or buy a home. Had this advice been heeded at the time by Fianna Fáil, the members of which are now trying to take the high moral ground in respect of housing in what is a bit like a black comedy, we may have averted a housing crisis or at least softened its blows.

Three successive Governments have published strategies. Fianna Fáil published Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities in 2007; Fine Gael and the Labour Party published the Social Housing Strategy 2020 in 2014; and, most recently, Fine Gael published Rebuilding Ireland in 2016. All three of these strategies seemed to be less detailed than, cognisant of and simply ignorant of the two major studies that had preceded them. What succeeded this was a modest output of social housing; an increasing reliance on subsidised private rental accommodation to meet social housing need; zero non-market affordable rental or purchase housing for intermediate households; and an increasing use of market-based financing mechanisms for delivering social and affordable housing. The consequences over the 14 years are indisputable: rising levels of social housing needed; ever greater levels of homelessness; and growing numbers of people locked out of buying or renting their own home. However, despite the clear conflict between ideology and expert opinion in that regard, we still do not answer the calls of what is glaringly obvious. Light-touch intervention, chronic underinvestment and over-reliance on a neoliberal market to sort a social issue have failed. In 2016 the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government recommended that 10,000 social houses be built, with 5,000 affordable cost-rental homes. This call was again made in a Dáil motion passed by all Opposition parties and many Independents on 3 October which comprised the Raise the Roof campaign’s demands.

The Rebuilding Ireland 2018 third quarter social housing building report showed that a total of 2,369 social housing units had been built across the State by the end of September, less than half of its meagre target. Failing to deliver sufficient social housing in the depths of the housing crisis has not only condemned those who are waiting to wait even longer but, as stated in the 2004 NESC study, the great benefit of having a larger public housing sector is that it stabilises the entire housing system, especially at times of shock. Alongside the obvious chronic underinvestment, the Government is also failing to make policy progress on issues that simply have an ideological irrelevance more so than any evidence base. Emergency measures to stop the flow of families into homelessness, including passing the Focus Ireland amendment to prevent buy-to-let landlords from evicting tenants when selling owing to mortgage distress, are relevant in this context and greater efforts to protect those at risk of homelessness owing to mortgage arrears, as well as stronger protections for tenants, including a rent freeze and refundable tax relief, must also be priorities. Low-hanging fruit policy measures such as the inclusion of student accommodation in rent pressure zones, Airbnb regulations, a robust vacant site levy and a deposit retention scheme are all forthcoming at a snail’s pace in the midst of a crisis that needs affirmative action.

The right to housing which was recommended by the Constitutional Convention in 2014 has languished in the finance committee and been, ultimately, met with Government indifference. This is despite the right to housing being recognised in Europe in the constitutions of Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and the legislation of Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Britain. Around the world the right to housing is included in 81 constitutions. Furthermore, the State has not yet ratified the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which would establish a right to housing.

While we cannot expect leadership in this conversation from the Government, the Raise the Roof campaign is holding a conference today where the right to housing is its core demand. Will the Government continue to ignore the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or could we have a conversation about the right to housing that would seek to help the most vulnerable who are lacking legal rights? Can we expect to see an improvement in social housing output, given the poor results of 2018? We are in the midst of a crisis and cannot under-deliver any further.

Some progress has been made in dealing with the pyrite issue with the Minister of State, Deputy English, but there are houses which are desperately in need of repair. If the Minister cannot deal with this issue today, perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy English, might come back to tell us what stage the work is at. The tardiness of the work, from start to finish, is not acceptable. I know people who know that their houses have pyrite but they cannot prove it without having the test and they cannot afford to pay for the test. Their mortgages have been taken over by vulture funds and they are very afraid of what will happen in the negotiations with the funds, given the fact that they have an asset with pyrite that is not worth the amount of their mortgage.

I also ask the Minister to have a look at the planning guidelines for planning permissions given by local authorities. A more holistic approach needs to be taken to planning permissions. That is not to say there should be unsustainable planning. We need to take into account situations where the rent families are paying has got so high they cannot afford it, meaning that they are in danger of being made homeless, but they cannot obtain permission to build on their own land. There needs to be flexibility. I am not talking about the reckless planning that obtained under Fianna Fáil. I seek sustainable planning permission that will take into account the needs of families in the housing crisis we face.

I am concerned about ever-increasing rents, not only in Dublin but also throughout the country. People are in fear of rents being increased or cannot afford their rent and are engaging with moneylenders and other sources of finance just to keep a roof over their heads. I ask the Minister to have a look at the HAP scheme and the RAS nd the amount of money being spent on them, as well as on housing grants. I ask him to liaise with local authorities on housing grants in order to provide flexibility. In some cases, the wind is coming through the doors and windows and while they can have these fixed, they cannot have the roof done. It does not matter where the wind is coming in; the issue needs to be addressed.

We need to increase the grants available to households, particularly elderly people and people with disabilities, in order that they do not have to stop when the work is only half done. Some flexibility and common sense, as well as a pragmatic approach, could solve many of these problems at local authority level.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber for our discussion on this important and varied issue which is experienced nationwide.

I wish to raise a number of issues that I am encountering on the ground in County Mayo. There is a shortage of housing in the private rental sector. People on the social housing list are finding it difficult to get private rental accommodation and rents are starting to increase. When I look around, though, I see a large number of empty houses. Many are privately owned. What has been the effectiveness of the repair and lease scheme and the buy and renew scheme and how have they been put into action in counties such as Mayo? Thankfully, it does not have the same housing crisis as the large population centres, but many people are living in fear that, if they are put out of their current accommodation for whatever legitimate reason, they will have nowhere to go. All the time, they are waiting to be housed by the local authority. I see little evidence on the ground of the schemes' implementation. As has been well debated, if they were implemented, we could see renewal in areas where there was housing stock that needed upgrading. However, that is not happening.

What meetings has the Minister had with the chief executives of the local authorities? He has met them, but how are they being held to account? The Minister has described the significant amounts of money available for the delivery of social housing and other schemes, but there is no evidence of same.

Will the Minister review the maximum annual income bands under the social housing assessment regulations? In County Mayo a household of two adults and three children that exceeds €28,000 in income is not eligible for any housing support, including social housing. I am dealing with a couple who are just €24 above the limit. They are paying for everything. They are paying rent of €600 per month, which is probably modest by national standards but, given their income, is a significant amount. Their rent is being increased to €700 and they cannot find accommodation anywhere else. They are fearful that they will be out on the street. They do not want to come to the State seeking help, but they cannot get any support because of the limit. The sum they are allowed to earn is too low.

In the area in which I live there used to be a good mix of social housing. Council housing had people who were working, people who were unable to work for various reasons, older people, single parents, etc. Now very few people who are working or in a position to work are to be found in the newer social housing allocations, yet people on low incomes are hard pressed. The couple in question have been married for 20 years and never managed to get on the housing ladder. Now they find that they cannot even afford to pay rent. They did not set out to seek anything from the State, but we have an obligation to them. Such people should be catered for in our vision of social housing provision.

Regarding tenants buying out houses, there are people in receipt of certain social welfare payments that cannot be included in the calculation of their ability to repay a loan. This is despite the fact that, if they had a loan, they would be paying more or less the same amount as they are paying in rent to the local authority. It is a good policy to encourage people to buy their homes. There would be more investment and people would have a greater stake in their respective areas if they owned homes there. Will the Minister reconsider this matter? Genuine cases are being excluded.

I welcome the pyrite remediation scheme that was announced in the budget. However, the scheme and its funding were not welcomed by Sinn Féin or anyone else, even though it was the culmination of a lot of work. It was not-----

A lot of work by a lot of parties.

I will not take from that, but Sinn Féin does not even have the graciousness to accept when progress is made.

Through the Chair, please.

All Sinn Féin is doing is peddling misery.

I am not allowing interruptions.

I am sorry, but I have the floor.

The Senator has less than a minute left.

An interruption was made.

I had to raise a point of order.

The scheme is due to go before the Cabinet and I thank the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy English, for all their work on it. It is important that the scheme be published, that we start tackling the problem and that houses begin to be fixed in order that people can know where they stand. Not all of the houses will be done at once.

I have a particular concern. Under the scheme available in Leinster which covers pyritic heave in foundations, no retrospective payments were made to householders. That is a general principle of newly established schemes. I brought the Minister of State to a house where a couple had needed to put their life savings into it because of a pyrite problem and their roof was in danger of structural collapse. They had a supervising engineer. Within the bounds of vouching that the works have been done and what the cost was, we must find a way to make some contribution. It would be unfortunate were we unable to accommodate such cases in some way. The number involved is not large, as not everyone's house was in so much danger that work had been necessary. In this instance, however, it was. I know of a couple of such cases. Before the scheme is published, this issue should be considered in order that the people who fall into this category are accommodated.

I look forward to the Minister's responses to the various issues I have raised.

I welcome the Minister. We must put the housing crisis and where it started in perspective in order that we do not make the same mistakes again. I am evidence-driven. In the 2000s the idea was that the market would resolve everything and there was an over-reliance on rent allowance, which was an emergency measure that became a housing policy. Much of this dates back to when one of the Minister's predecessors, Mr. Noel Dempsey, lost that Ministry. He was progressive and piloted a scheme of 20% social and affordable housing in the Dublin docklands before rolling it out in national legislation. Unfortunately, it was unwound by former Deputy Martin Cullen when he took over that Ministry. That is the heart of the problem in the Dublin area because we lost the 20% of all houses that were built during the boom. The decision was influenced by the Progressive Democrats ideology of market-driven solutions. Market-driven solutions do not supply. When the recession hit, we did not have the social housing stock we should have had, which led to us having to depend on the rent allowance scheme. The story continues.

I wish to put in context the next part of my contribution. It is based on the work of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, information on residential investment in all quarters during 2018, Hooke & MacDonald's investment report for 2018, Threshold's submissions to various committees and the Central Bank quarterly bulletins for 2017 and 2018. One of the reasons for going into this in such depth is I have met many young couples and individuals who moved home after saving their deposits.

They said they had looked forward to having an opportunity to purchase an apartment at 6 Hanover Quay in the Dublin docklands area where planning permission had been granted for 101 apartments. They had watched construction progress slowly but surely and looked forward to the apartments coming to the market. That project which comprised 120 apartments never came to the housing market because it was purchased by an investment fund for €101 million, with the price paid for some of the units above market value. This led me to other research which shows that 2,000 apartments were completed in the Dublin area in 2018. The final figure may be slightly higher because it was not available at the time. The sale prices indicate that in the majority of cases, planning permission was given for individual owner-occupiers, which means that the units were for the market. The sale figures for 2018 indicate that more than 75% of these apartments were sold to the build-to-rent sector, which means that only 25% of the units went to the market.

These findings led to further investigations. My initial expectation was that the build-to-rent market was buying these apartments at below market value because it was bulk buying. However, further research showed that the apartments were purchased above the market price. My conclusion was based on the investment yield which, at between 5% and 8%, strongly competes with yields in the market for office space. The funds also have preferential tax treatment with respect to rental income and capital gains.

There is an imbalance in the market. While we need professional landlords who can provide a good service, we must also ensure the market is regulated and balanced. Rents have an impact on home ownership and the pension fund individuals build up. Home ownership stood at roughly 80% in the 2000s. This has declined rapidly in the past ten years and now stands at 70%, with all indications suggesting it will fall further. The Minister often states we are moving towards the European model under which more people rent than purchase their home. What is the long-term impact of this for society and further financial risk? Obviously, pensions are at risk because if people pay between €2,500 and €3,000 in rent and retire at 67 or 68 years, their income will be reduced and they will be unable to meet their rental outgoings. That issue needs to be taken into consideration if we are moving towards adopting the rental model as the norm for society.

In 2018 almost €1 billion was invested in the build-to-rent sector. Is the Minister monitoring what is happening in that sector? I have analysed various documents such as those compiled by Hooke & MacDonald. Various investment reports indicate that €5 billion will be invested in the build-to-rent model in Ireland. Dublin is the leading location for such investment, but there is also significant investment in Limerick, Waterford and Galway. We need all types of markets, including the build-to-rent sector. However, young people who want to purchase their own homes and get on the property ladder are being excluded from the market. We must, therefore, introduce wide-ranging policies to address these issues, including pensions. We are sowing the seeds for another crisis in the residential property market and in respect of pensions because there is no joined-up thinking between the provision of housing and people's earnings as they retire, including the possibility that they will be unable to meet the rental demands they will experience.

A yield of 7% or 8% is a good investment, especially if preferential tax treatment applies. I can provide more detail on the research available on these issues, but, unfortunately, I do not have time to do so. As I stated, of 2,000 apartments built in the Dublin area last year, more than 1,500 were purchased by investment funds and young people were not given an opportunity to purchase them. Young people are being driven into the rental market because it is the only option available to them as they start their adult lives.

When will the Minister publish legislation on short-term lets? The build-to-rent model is showing signs that it will have the same impact on the market as the short-term lets sector was having when I first raised this issue three yeas ago. While short-term lets will not fix the housing crisis, they could release a substantial number of units in urban areas to the rental market. I ask the Minister to carefully consider the matter and publish regulations or legislation as soon as possible.

On a local matter, namely, the proposed 3,500 housing units at Poolbeg west, the Minister's predecessor, the Tánaiste, took a hands-on approach to this development. I had hoped that by this stage there would be cranes and bulldozers working on the site. Unfortunately, the project is still tied up with An Bord Pleanála. The closing date for submissions was early January 2019. However, no agreement has been reached on the 900 social and affordable units. If the issue is not dealt with before An Bord Pleanála makes it decision, the Minister's negotiation position will be weakened. I urge him to increase his efforts and those of the local authority in that area and reach a deal on 500 additional units because the project will have an impact on the south-east side of the city in the availability of housing units. Many families living in three-bedroom units would be happy to downsize. If the development progresses quickly, it will have a range of positive impacts. I urge the Minister to get involved and ensure the negotiations on the 500 additional units are concluded.

I assure the Leas-Chathaoirleach that I am watching the time. I am about to conclude.

The Senator is in injury time.

I have outlined the impact of the build-to-rent sector on the housing market in 2018. I hope the Minister will respond on that issue and also introduce legislation on short-term lets.

I, too, welcome the Minister. This is my first contribution while he has been in the Chamber and I wish him all the best. He has a difficult portfolio, but, in fairness to him, there has been a major improvement recently. Lest I forget, Senator Murnane O'Connor reminds me of a goldfish because by the time she gets around the bowl, she has forgotten from where she has come. I will cite some figures for her. When Fianna Fáil left office in 2011, there were only 45 new home registrations in County Kildare.

That was eight years ago. The Senator keeps blaming Fianna Fáil, but he must take responsibility.

Last year there were 795 new registrations in the county.

Did the Senator read my press launches?

We will not have interruptions.

The Senator needs to take responsibility now.

Interruptions are not allowed.

Senator Murnane O'Connor seems to have forgotten that Fianna Fáil presided over the crash and the current problems.

Take responsibility now.

Fianna Fáil presided over this crash-----

No interruptions are allowed, please.

-----and the problems we have now that it seems to have forgotten about.

Please, Senators.

It is not our fault. Take responsibility. The Senator's party is in government.

As I said, goldfish that go once around the bowl and then forget from where they have come.

Senator Murnane O'Connor has had-----

Not at all. Senator Lawlor's party does not know what it means to take responsibility.

-----her own contributions.

Senator Lawlor has to-----

I ask Senator Murnane O'Connor to respect the other Senators and the House. Senator Lawlor to continue, without interruption, please. I ask him to try not to be argumentative.

I am just dealing with facts. I like to deal in facts-----

Senator Murnane O'Connor dealt with her facts and she can bring them up again on another occasion. Senator Lawlor to continue, without interruption, please.


Please, Senators.

I must say what the Minister has achieved over recent years---

I was in Carlow last weekend-----

Please, Senators. Senator Buttimer will have his chance.

Facts are facts. They cannot be changed.

Will the Senators, please, behave?

I do not know. He just-----

I want to hear just one Senator speaking at a time.

Senator Murnane O'Connor is consistently giving trouble to the Chair, whether it is me, the Cathaoirleach or whomever else. Will she, please, be quiet? Senator Lawlor to continue, without interruption, please.

It is terribly difficult to swim against the tide. I understand that. I refer to some of the schemes I have examined. The Minister mentioned that the Land Development Agency, LDA, which has been allocated €1.25 billion, had its first board meeting last week. When is it hoped to see some progress in at least seeing planning applications coming forward from the LDA in respect of the land that it has? The Home Building Finance Ireland scheme is excellent. It gives an opportunity to people who cannot get loans from major institutions. The allocation in County Kildare has been used up. I understand the Minister has applied to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to see if he can get extra funding.

If there are funds available throughout the country, could the Minister move them around and perhaps give County Kildare some additional funds? The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, scheme, brought in under the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been continued. How long does the Minister believe local authorities can have before they have to spend the money? That worries me. A couple of schemes in County Kildare were allocated funding under the scheme and that money has been allocated for some years now. I am concerned that there may be a time limit and that the projects may not go ahead. One of them happens to be for the development of recreational grounds in Sallins. It is an excellent project because it caters for all sports within the community, including GAA, soccer, etc.

I mentioned the Rebuilding Ireland home loans. The Minister has so many schemes it is difficult to keep up to date with them all. I want to ask a question about the Home Building Ireland Finance scheme which has had €750 million allocated. How soon can applications be processed? We all know tjat there are many small builders who are still burned from the crash and would love to get going on small sites throughout the country. The big developers are building on the big sites and under the big schemes, but there is also a need for smaller schemes. Will the Minster give us an update on the scheme?

I referred to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme under a different name. We are bringing forward something else. What is it called? My head is gone. It is on the day we have the local elections. I refer to a referendum-----

The Senator is referring to the proposed constitutional amendment.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach is right. We are bringing forward a proposed constitutional amendment in respect of marriage breakdown and divorce laws. There are people who cannot afford to wait for four years before they apply for a Rebuilding Ireland home loan. The Minister has explained to me before that people are entitled to access the scheme if they are divorced and have already bought a house between them as a couple under the first-time buyer's scheme. As we are going to bring in changes in the divorce laws - I hope the proposed constitutional amendment will be passed - perhaps that would make it possible for us to look at the time span. Perhaps some legal agreement may be drawn up or some legal covenant supplied to prove that two people are separated.

I would love to see more modular and timber houses throughout the country. There seems to be something within the planning authorities that goes against the building of timber houses. They look very well in rural areas, in particular. Perhaps we could do something in that regard.

On the issue of town centre developments, I know that the Minister has made allowances for apartment size and densities. I refer now to heights in small towns. Many town centres have listed buildings and sometimes local authorities do not like the listed building being overlooked by new developments. I think that can be done tastefully also.

There is a problem in Kildare. It concerns the interpretation of the national planning framework and, in particular, guideline No. 19. It stems from a refusal by An Bord Pleanála in which there was a reference to national planning framework guideline No. 19. The local authorities have now taken it as gospel. I would like the Minister to give us his interpretation in order that we can have clarity on the issue. Perhaps there could also be some instructions in respect of An Bord Pleanála in order that the Minister's interpretation will be the one used by An Bord Pleanála and subsequently the local authorities.

The Minister has a difficult job. People have to understand that. We require 25,000 houses every year just to keep pace with what is needed. Last year, as Senator Coffey mentioned, we built 19,000 houses. We are starting from a standing start. There is a deficit of about 118,000 houses that we need to build just to cater for the need. The Minister has a major job of work ahead of him. As I said, there are many good schemes to incentivise people to build houses.

I thank Senator Lawlor. He has gone over his time.

The Minister is trying to row back on the mistakes made in the past. I wish him well in the future.

I dtus báire, bronnaim mo bhuíochas agus mo chomhghairdeas don Aire as ucht an méid oibre atá déanta aige. The Minister is passionate, understanding and delivering. He deserves our support and credit for what he is doing. This is not about trying to score political points, as some Members opposite always seem to be trying to do. This debate is about the provision of housing. Senator Murnane O'Connor always states the past is gone. She is right. We cannot live in the past, but we can remember and learn from it. I saw her leaflet in Carlow at the weekend. She was welcoming the budgetary provisions on housing. I am glad that she welcomed them.

I am sorry. I also complimented the Minister on the work he was doing.

I ask for order, please.

Can I just say-----

I do not want the Senators talking to each other. I ask them to, please, address their remarks through the Chair.

The Minister is correct in his analysis. We must increase supply and build. The housing problem will not be solved by gimmicks like rolling billboards or motions of no confidence in the Minister. That is not good politics. We must do what the Minister has outlined. What is important is what he spoke about in his remarks. I refer to policy change. All of us in our constituencies and offices deal with people every day of every week. I have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly but I think I am right, that we need to examine the cost base.

Let us take Cork City Council as an example. Family sizes are smaller and nearly half of the housing list is made up of single people. It is imperative, therefore, that we now recognise, as the Minister has done, that we know that there was not enough housing. As the Minister has started to do, we must put in place housing at prices that are affordable in order that people can buy them. The cost base is too high and we must examine that issue, whether that relates to the price of land, building materials or the market. That issue is not going away.

An analysis of the people who come into our offices, in many cases, and the different housing reports shows that the average traditional couple who used to buy or were able to buy are now either renting orin the social housing category. That was never the case before. We now recognise - the Minister has been a strong champion of this - the need for affordability and to allow people to have the option to buy through the help-to-buy scheme.

That is critical. The help-to-buy scheme is one of the most important pieces of housing infrastructure we have put in place. I appeal to the Minister to extend it now, rather than wait for the next budget. We need to end the uncertainty about which we are hearing from back channels. The scheme is working and important for those who are trying to buy.

Affordability is an issue we need to tackle. It may not be popular to say it, but the Central Bank rules are very strict, possibly too strict. I know that we cannot go back to the past, but if we look at the limits the bank imposes on borrowers, we can see that it is fundamentally wrong. The Minister mentioned the housing market, stabilisation and possible declines in house prices, but we must always try to ensure prices are such that people can buy in order that we can see an increase in the numbers of those involved in the private housing sector. We need a strong private housing sector, regardless of whether it involves renters, first-time buyers or traditional couples who want to be able to afford to buy.

I do not think we can shy away any longer from the issue of the cost base in terms of the cost of land, VAT, affordability and the role of councils. The lack of private housing being constructed in the city of Cork is a source of worry. If we look at the 550 units being constructed, 400 are social housing units. Just 150 are private, which is an imbalance.

I commend the Minister on the work he is doing. He is very proactive and willing to listen. He engages on and understands the complexity of the matter. We need to see a streamlining of Rebuilding Ireland home loans. A report published this week showed that one in five loans had been approved by some councils, including Cork City Council and Cork County Council. I am not sure why that is the case. I know that the city and county councils have very good directors of housing services. I welcome the decision made by Cork City Council this week on Kinloch on the north side of the city. If we go through my constituency, we will see that houses are being constructed. If one were to listen to some Members opposite, one would swear that there was no digger, crane or cement to be found and no blocks being laid anywhere. The Minister has our support. Let us make sure we learn from the mistakes made by Fianna Fáil that affected the people it was supposed to represent. At least, we are trying to do it with honesty and integrity.

I will not detain the House for very long. I did not intend to speak very much about this matter. In fact, I did not intend to speak at all, but then I saw an opportunity to do so.

I commend the Minister who is both decent and hard-working. If the Department of Health was described as Angola, I do not know how the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government would be described because it is a poisoned chalice. The time factor is always an issue as people expect instant solutions. There is a housing crisis and they want to have it resolved by next year or in six months' time, but these things are accumulators. They take a long time and we must build them up. I place the blame on various Governments for not engaging in a public housing programme. I disagree completely with my good friend, Senator Buttimer, on the balance between private and public housing. He said one fifth of the houses being built were private. I do not care. It does not bother me in the slightest. What we need is a massive public housing programme. I remember the great estates. I am not partisan, but they were largely built by Fianna Fáil. Places like Crumlin-----

Is it not? I stand corrected. Who was responsible for what happened in Crumlin?

I am not talking about Crumlin. It is not true to say-----

I will let Senator Kieran O'Donnell in in the fullness of time.

I thought I was being corrected on a matter of fact, but I think I am correct in stating it was Fianna Fáil that built the estates in Crumlin and Drimnagh.

Senator Lawlor is from Naas and does not know what he is talking about. People should be housed, entitled to rely on a home and facilitated in that regard by the State. I am not entirely sure about inserting a requirement into the Constitution that every citizen is entitled to a home. That would bring about unnecessary legal complications and I am not sure it is the case.

There is still a lot of land hoarding and remarkably local authorities are among the chief culprits as they are sitting on enormous quantities of land. Why do they not use it? They know that there is a housing crisis, what is required and the history and track record in this area. Why do they not get up off their backsides and do it?

I think a bit of massaging is taking place with the homeless figures. I remember speaking in this House when the number of homeless people was about 2,000. I asked what would happen when it went up to 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 and was laughed out of it. It is 10,000.

I do not know the ins and outs of what happens at senior level of the Judiciary and so on. I know that it is unwise and wrong for a politician to speak in detail about judicial appointments, despite the best, or worst, of intentions of my former colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, but I was very sad to see the restrictions placed on the Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmund Honohan, such that he is no longer allowed to hear cases involving distressed mortgages and so on. That is shocking and I question why it has happened. The people of Ireland should be entitled to hear the reason Mr. Honohan is being prevented from hearing these cases because he was one of the very few friends people with distressed mortgages had. So what if he interpreted the law leniently in favour of those with distressed mortgages? There are plenty of people who are prepared to look favourably on the banks, including various Governments that put the country in jeopardy financially by rescuing the European banks on the instructions of Mr. Trichet. It is a poor day for justice when a gentlemen of Mr. Honohan's standard is prevented from taking cases precisely because he takes a humane view. We need much more of a humane view to be taken in such cases.

I do not think anyone is entitled to say any particular group was responsible for the social housing programme in Ireland. The Administration at the foundation of the State started a social housing programme that was continued by successive Governments. One of the reasons we are where we are is that prior to the crash in 2007, the social housing programme had all but ceased. It had been subcontracted to the private sector. Since the foundation of the State, social housing has appeared in many incarnations. Some involved farmers providing plots to allow social housing to be built in rural settings. That is no more. A typical village might have been built by way of building a number of houses in successive years. That was normal and very practical.

Some very large housing estates were built. In several areas of my city the estates were too big. Estates such as Moyross and Southill involved the construction of up to 1,000 houses in one area. We are where we are because State housing provision almost came to a halt under Fianna Fáil. We started the rebuilding programme in 2011 and are trying to catch up. Some 20,000 units were built last year. It is still a supply side issue. I wish to point to the positives, as well as the things that could be done slightly differently.

On the supply side, I ask that the analysis carried out by the Department be provided. In many cases builders and developers have stated it is not affordable to build houses at market rates. Has the Department carried out empirical research to determine at which level and price houses can be built such that builders make a return?

On affordable housing, many people, particularly young people, welcome the Rebuilding Ireland programme, but many of them are not getting the required level of funding. These are people in permanent jobs. Many young teachers and gardaí have come to me on this issue. What is the Minister's view on how the Rebuilding Ireland affordable loan scheme is working and so forth?

Reference was made to local authorities. The Land Development Agency is considering building affordable housing on public lands.

I refer to the level of due diligence carried out at departmental level regarding social housing building projects by local authorities. In some cases, the projects and their locations are not sustainable and the due diligence that should have been carried out on the projects on day one was inadequate. We want houses to be built, but we must ensure there are proper services in the areas in which house building is proposed. It it not about ticking boxes but rather ensuring sustainable development. I feel very strongly about the issues encountered by people who wish to avail of social housing and, obviously, the areas in which local authorities are considering development. That is a key element.

I have referred to the importance of supply and empirical work to determine the level at which there is a return for builders on building private houses. I asked the Minister for his view on how the Rebuilding Ireland affordable loan scheme is working and raised the issue of proper due diligence of social housing proposals put forward by local authorities. We need to build social housing in a sustainable way. We must seek to reduce the time between an application being made and a JCB moving in on site to begin construction, especially in the case of social housing. The issues I have raised are practical examples of those with which I deal on the ground with constituents in Limerick city.

The Minister is very welcome. I thank him for coming to the House. One of the most unhelpful features of the debate on this issue is the continuing discrepancy between official Government statistics for housing and homelessness and the reality as experienced by voluntary groups on the front line. COPE Galway, an excellent organisation working with homeless families, has pointed to serious discrepancies. Official figures issued by the Department late last year indicate that 68 families and 154 children were homeless in the entire west region, comprising counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. However, COPE Galway carried out a census during the same period which showed that 86 families and 197 were living in emergency accommodation provided by COPE Galway or other providers. If there is a significant discrepancy such as that in Galway, is it happening elsewhere?

On social housing, the Government deserves the benefit of the doubt in regard to its efforts on this issue. People should not rush to judgment. However, I know of a voluntary body operating in Dublin which is very eager to progress a proposal to develop a small set of social housing units in the city centre. It would be built under an approved housing body, with Dublin City Council retaining the nomination rights in allocating the houses once completed. The proposal was originally made to the Minister and officials of Dublin City Council in January 2018. However, the voluntary body is concerned that there has been no progress since. It remains eager to progress the matter and develop the social housing units. In the light of the current situation, how is it possible for a proposal such as that not to progress in 12 months? There is goodwill towards the Government which faces a difficult challenge. The group remains very eager to progress the development. If I were to follow up privately and provide the Minister with the details, could action be taken on it?

The 4,000 Dublin City Council housing units which are vacant at any one time must be part of the problem. It is an extraordinarily high figure. Will the Minister provide more information to help us to understand it? At what point do people who refuse an offer of housing lose their place on a waiting list? Is this something that comes under consideration? How many people on the social housing waiting list have jobs? Do people enter into a discussion on the feasibility of moving location to where there might be available housing units? That is a fair question to ask. Obviously, one asks these questions with great sensitivity, but in the normal run of life, people must sometimes move house to work. Is this something that arises in the context of the Government's attempt to solve the problem? As I said, these are issues which must be handled with sensitivity and great respect for the person, but the taxpayer is entitled to know what conditionality and compromises are sought and can be made.

What are the views of the Minister on the use of prefabricated housing accommodation and its suitability as an alternative to traditional housing in many places? I was not present for his entire speech and apologise if he has addressed that matter. Does he agree that prefabricated housing can only be an acceptable solution if all of the ancillary amenities in terms of green space and access to important facilities are guaranteed and that there is due attention paid to the needs of families and young people, in particular? I would be grateful for the Minister's views in that regard.

I thank Senators for their contributions. I probably spoke for too long in my opening contribution which took more than 20 minutes, but I have taken 11 pages of notes and would like to reply to all Members.

The Minister will have one minute per page.

I will go with that. I thank the Chair. I came to the Seanad looking for solutions and positive contributions that might help in our ongoing work to fix the challenges we face in dealing with the homelessness crisis and housing shortage. I thank all Members who provided positive contributions, suggestions or ideas for things we could do.

Some Members have focused on the fact that there have been several announcements on housing. There have been several announcements because this is a complex issue. It requires a new finance bank for people who cannot get development finance from banks, affordable mortgages for those who cannot get them from banks and changes in apartment building regulations to encourage build to rent. It requires affordable purchase schemes to help people to buy their own home and new measures to ensure we are locking in a commitment to investment in social housing, regardless of what is happening in the wider economy. We should be focusing on the policy and solutions that have been put in place.

I have spoken to Senator Murnane O'Connor about this as she is on the committee. She has said house prices are unaffordable once again. That is exactly the point; we have been here before. We have not had a properly functioning housing market in this country, or a properly functioning housing system, for decades. I am part of a generation that has been stung twice. The problem for those in my generation, when they were coming out of college and starting work, was that they could not afford to buy homes, even though twice the amount of homes needed were being built. Those whom we thought were fortunate enough to buy a home at the time were, within one year, living in ghost estates and stranded with no facilities. There were no local schools and even roads in estates were not finished. The people in question were plunged into negative equity. Other problems then arose and people lost their jobs. That same generation finds itself starting families while stuck in apartments that are too small and paying rents that are too high. We have to make sure, through everything we are doing, that we are protecting the generation of children who were here earlier to watch our debate from the mistakes made by previous generations and Governments. While I know that people are frustrated that this is not happening quickly enough, if we were to do things such as zone more land, make VAT changes and promote the building of three-bedroom semi-detached homes, we would only be building in mistakes for the future. We have to rebuild the housing sector in a sustainable way, ensuring we will have sustainable jobs in trades and construction, in order that we will not build too much in one year and then have to cut back massively in the next. Where would all of those people go for work? All of these things have to be addressed. We have to meet challenges as they arise.

On the rent figures included in the data, the Residential Tenancies Board has the most comprehensive data set because it has the actual numbers of rent registrations and the rent prices paid. That is where we get our data from.

I understand the frustrations on social housing eligibility. An additional buffer of €5,000 was inserted on foot of the review carried out in 2011. A new review is happening and being conducted by the Housing Agency. It has been made more complex by the shortage of housing and the unaffordable rents in place and other points of inflation elsewhere in the economy. We hope the review will be concluded as quickly as possible in order that the new levels can be put in place.

There has been an increase in the number of mortgages under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, which I welcome. Home ownership is changing. People are renting more frequently, but that is a function not just of the affordability challenge but also of the fact that people are going to and staying in college for longer, meeting their partners later in life, moving jobs more frequently, moving in and out of the country and having children later in life. Many are choosing not to take on the liability of home ownership, as it can be, or a large debt because they want to retain a degree of flexibility into their later years. We are seeing more people move towards renting and subsequently there is less home ownership. We must, however, make sure the aspiration to own a home remains for anyone who wants to make that economic choice. We have to make sure they can make it economically, in a way where they will not be making sacrifices such as losing time with their families owing to lengthy commutes.

I am still on my first page and have already gone way over time.

Senator Boyhan is on the committee and has expertise that not everyone in the Oireachtas has, as is clear from the engagement he had with local authorities before he came here today. He asked about the different statistics we used. We have moved to using the CSO figures to ensure we have an accurate figures for the numbers of builds. That is important. None of the figures for the numbers of planning permissions and commencement notices are in dispute; they are compiled and distributed. It is important that we do so. One of the primary functions of the Land Development Agency is to find public land on which to build public housing. It takes State land for that purpose.

The Rebuilding Ireland housing map is operational. For anyone who has not used it, one can cross the country and click on the coloured icons to see what is happening with that land in the provision of housing, the acreage, the numbers of homes that can be built and other facts. The Land Development Agency is doing its own piece of work with State land and has already identified eight sites. It is also working with Project Ireland 2040. Places like Waterford and Cork have to double in size, which will involve not just the use of State land but also private land for appropriate uses in the public interest. The Land Development Agency is in place to do that and should have been in place for the past 20 years. It was not, but it is now in place and it is going to make very important inroads, not just in dealing with the current shortage we are facing but also in future-proofing the housing economy, especially in the provision of land. The Central Mental Hospital site is one of the priority sites on the list of eight identified.

Senator Boyhan asked about Thornton Hall. I do not think the Land Development Agency will be looking at it immediately for housing provision. I believe it might be better used for a land swap with another State agency which might move its functions to the site. The Land Development Agency might then take that agency's land, which might be closer to the city and have infrastructure built, meaning that it could be used for housing.

Senator Coffey mentioned skill shortages, a very important issue. We are moving towards prefabrication and that type of technology, which means that we do not necessarily need the numbers of labourers or skilled staff we used to have. However, the numbers taking up apprenticeships are rising. The Senator is absolutely right to say that has to be done in a sustainable way to ensure the people concerned will have job security into the future and not have to emigrate like so many others have had to do or retrain in the future, something they may not want to do. We have engaged with the Construction Industry Federation as part of Project Ireland 2040. There is a construction sector group to ensure we are managing all of the capital investments that have to be made, not just in housing but also to ensure we will have people with the skills required. It is also about trying to attract more women into apprenticeships, something I welcome.

The Senator asked a question about what was happening in Tramore. I will make an inquiry about the connections issue. The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, is independent of the Government, but if there is something we can do to make sure people are not being put at a disadvantage in connecting homes to the water network, we will do so. From my last engagement with Irish Water, I know that it is dealing with a possible 130,000 new household connections to the water network. That figure demonstrates the amount of work that is ongoing to drive supply.

To respond to the points made by Senator Conway-Walsh, it is important to recognise that Rebuilding Ireland is being implemented. The Land Development Agency flowed from the recommendations made by the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, as well as from recommendations made by others. We have listened where previous Governments did not. There is nothing light-touch about the €2.4 billion being spent in the economy by the Government. It is the highest amount ever spent on housing by a Government in a single year. There is nothing light-touch about the 50,000 new homes being added to the social housing stock over a five-year period. There is nothing light-touch about the fact that between one in four and one in five new homes built last year and this year is social housing. The State is directly involved, correctly, in providing housing for its citizens. However, we need to do more than focus solely on social housing because the majority of people are not eligible for it. The majority, when putting together a deposit, trying to take out a more affordable mortgage, or even buying a home, can make a little help go a long way. Of course, we have to ensure we focus on delivery, of which it is very important that social housing be a big component, but affordability has to be at the heart of everything we do.

We have doubled the vacant site levy which will come into operation over the course of 2019. In 2018 some €300 million worth of land was subject to the levy. Rent reform legislation is progressing through the Dáil. I will deal with it in committee next week when I will discuss amendments to see if we can improve it in working together.

It was agreed by this Oireachtas that the right to housing would be debated, with other socio-economic rights, to determine whether it should be inserted into the Constitution. That debate will happen before the relevant committee, which was the decision of the Oireachtas. It is worth pointing out that where other countries have included a right to housing, either in law or their constitutions, they still have a problem with homelessness, which is a very complex challenge. My focus is on delivery, but I am more than happy for that discussion to take place and I am approaching it with an open mind. However, as the Minister responsible, my focus is on ensuring we are actually delivering on the ground.

I believe I have addressed all of the issues raised by Senator Conway-Walsh. I am aware that she asked questions about money. We will have announcements on housing adaptation grants and new money for them soon. On the amount of money being spent under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, we will begin to reduce the number of people being supported in the rental sector. In the final year of Rebuilding Ireland we will put more people into the new stock of social housing than into new HAP scheme tenancies. That is the rebalancing that is happening. We had to rely on the HAP scheme because social housing provision had been outsourced to the private sector and if we did not rely on it, the number of people in emergency accommodation would be stratospheric. In doing so we are giving people the support they need now, while recognising that in the longer term they will need social housing.

I also asked about pyrite.

I will address that issue which was also raised by Senator Mulherin. We reached agreement in budget 2019 that there would be a scheme. When I was in County Donegal recently, I met a campaign group. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has done a huge amount of work in this area, as have Deputy McConalogue and Senator Mulherin. The Department knows what it wants to do under that scheme; it is just a question of dotting the i's and crossing the t's with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We are very close to doing so. We have agreement on a scheme and once I can bring it to the Cabinet, we can announce the details.

Senator Mulherin made a number of other points to which I will return when I have opportunity to do so.

Senator Humphreys asked about a change to legislation in respect of short-term lets. It is a change to primary legislation, but it is very simple and can be made very quickly. The draft regulations are with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, which has discussed them in an informal private session.

Once we have agreement on the regulations from the joint committee, I will put them on standstill for 21 days before they take effect. The key is to remind everyone that from 1 June the law will change and people should get ready for that change now because we have given them ample warning.

I know that Senators had some detailed information on the build-to-rent sector which we can discuss at another time.

I must stop the Minister there because, in fairness, Fine Gael Private Members' business is scheduled and if he continues, it will eat into that time.

In that case, I will return at a later date if that is all right because many issues were raised and I would like to address them all.

I am sure the House would welcome that, but out of deference to the Minister's party colleagues, I do not wish to deprive them of their Private Members' time.

I would not like to get into trouble with them either.