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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Sep 2019

Vol. 267 No. 4

Housing: Statements

I thank Seanad Éireann for the opportunity to update the House on measures to reduce homelessness and accelerate social, affordable and private housing delivery, as well as on the work of the Land Development Agency, LDA, cost rental projects and the affordable dwelling arrangements.

We have been working tirelessly for the past three years to rebuild sufficient capacity in the housing market. I welcome the opportunity to outline the progress that has been made and some future areas of priority action. As I always say, the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness includes a ring-fenced budget commitment of nearly €6 billion for housing projects. There is a list of actions across the various delivery methods. However, we are always open to new ideas and suggestions if we think they can work. These debates are useful, both to update the House on progress and to get some feedback.

Addressing homelessness continues to be a key priority for this Government and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in particular. We are working very closely with local authorities and our non-governmental organisation, NGO, service delivery partners to deliver solutions for those individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Senators can be assured that real progress is being made. The number of people exiting homelessness into a home is increasing significantly. In the first half of the year, 2,825 adults and their associated dependants exited homelessness into tenancies. This is an increase of 21% on the comparable period in 2018. However, we are the first to recognise that this is not enough when so many people are still in need of a permanent or rented home. Our work will not stop until we can address that because we know from the figures that are released monthly that more than 1,700 families are in need of a house. We are trying to find homes for these families. Even though things are improving as we find homes for people in emergency accommodation more quickly, it is still not enough. We have to intervene in many different ways, which we are trying to do.

I will outline some of the critically important ongoing activities. We are delivering long-term solutions for homeless households by sustaining the progress made by Rebuilding Ireland in delivering more new social homes. More than 27,000 households had their housing needs met under Rebuilding Ireland in 2018. The supply of local authority and approved housing body homes available for social housing increased by more than 8,000. That figure of 8,000 comprises the long-term permanent solutions, namely, new housing stock combining direct build, Part V acquisitions, leasing and so on, while the other 21,000 are accounted for by short-term measures, mainly the housing assistance payment, HAP, as well as other schemes. We are also helping the taxpayers. As Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas know, that is the intervention we are trying to carry out.

Naturally, we want more permanent housing solutions. For this reason, this year's aim is for permanent social housing delivery to reach a figure of 10,000 houses. Last year, it was a little over 8,000 and this year it will be 10,000 and probably more. We are committed to delivering 11,000 social housing units next year and 12,000 subsequently under the auspices of Rebuilding Ireland. Under Project Ireland 2040, we have set aside a budget to deliver 12,000 social houses every year for the ten years up to 2028. As I have said before, I hope and expect all future Governments, regardless of their make-up, to show the same commitment to social housing. If we had that for the ten years before we came into government, we would not be in the position of being short of social housing. We do not have enough social housing for a country of our size. That is because of insufficient delivery in good years. However, we are finally catching up and I ask that people commit for the future. I analyse the commitments of every party and every spokesperson, and no one has committed to delivering 12,000 social housing units every year in the future. We are committed to that and we are making that happen. I hope others will do the same because it is important that we do that.

While we increase the supply of social housing, the housing assistance payment and the homeless HAP place finder service are playing a very important role in accelerating exits from homelessness and finding houses for those who need them. I have heard all the arguments that HAP relies on the private sector and it does. It is not the perfect arrangement but more than 40,000 households are in a home because of it. It is a successful scheme. There will always be some difficulties and cases where it is not successful, as with any rental situation. We will deal with those when we can. In the majority of cases, however, HAP is working. We would rather not spend this money on subsidising private rental accommodation, as I am sure everybody would agree. We would prefer to use all that money to build permanent social housing, but the new houses cannot be built quickly enough. As such, we have to rely on the private sector in the short term and work with it to provide people with a home today. There is no point in telling a family that there is no scheme to help them rent a house in the short term while a house is being built for them. We must have both. The level of objection I sense towards HAP is wrong. People are misinterpreting the benefits of the scheme, which is a shame.

In early 2018, the Government made homeless HAP services available through all local authorities and introduced supports for local authorities to recruit dedicated place finder staff to work with homeless households to identify and secure tenancies in the private rental sector. As of the end of the second quarter of 2019, more than 8,000 households had been supported by the homeless HAP scheme nationally. The majority of people who use the HAP scheme find their own home. They engage with our services, we put them through the system and their rent is subsidised under the scheme. It works quite well. However, there are many other categories. Certainly the more vulnerable categories find it hard to find a house or cannot locate one. That is where the place finder services come in. They are working well with local authorities. Their job is to bring people who are having difficulty finding a house closer to one.

Where families require emergency accommodation, we are working to minimise the use of hotels. I have been delivering family hubs as a more suitable form of accommodation. Not only are the facilities more suited to maintaining a normal family dynamic, but it has been demonstrated that the families staying in hubs exit to a permanent tenancy much sooner than would be the case with other forms of emergency accommodation. I have visited many of the family hubs. They are not the perfect solution or the end solution. They are a temporary solution while we find the household a family home, be it a rented house through a scheme or more permanent social housing. However, they are much better than a commercial hotel setting. They are not in any way permanent. While we are increasing the social housing stock and finding more permanent homes for the families concerned, our job is to make that time in emergency accommodation as easy as possible. It is not ideal, but we try to provide the services people need and ease the journey through emergency accommodation. The family hubs enable that and are a much better place. No one is saying they are the perfect solution in any shape or form. They are just temporary.

There are now 28 hubs operating nationwide, offering almost 650 units of family accommodation in key urban housing authorities. We recognise that supporting an exit from homelessness sometimes requires more than a house. Sometimes it requires a broader suite of social and welfare supports. We analyse the trends of the prevalent needs and what causes people to be homeless in the first place. It roughly breaks down into two halves. About 50% of cases have economic causes, such as a difficulty with a bank or a landlord, rents being too high or the loss of a job. There is a financial reason in about half of the cases. The other half of the cases do not have financial causes. We try to intervene in those cases and help as well as we can, but some families need extra supports, not just the building of the home but extra help in availing of the house and staying in it.

We have developed a high level interagency group to ensure a more cohesive Government response to homelessness. The group includes representatives from key Government Departments, local authorities, Tusla and the HSE. The whole idea of the action plan for housing was to bring all the relevant players together to work on solutions rather than having different Departments working in silos. This approach has worked well in the Action Plan for Jobs and the climate action plan, and it is working with the housing action plan. It is delivering solutions and we need to do more of that. We need to develop working relationships between the Departments of Health, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Skills, and Children and Youth Affairs. All of these bodies are coming together to work on solutions to provide the best outcomes for people who are in a very difficult situation.

A street outreach service is assertively engaging with people who are sleeping rough across the Dublin region to support them initially into temporary accommodation and then on to long-term housing options. At least 200 new permanent emergency beds have been introduced in the Dublin region every year under Rebuilding Ireland. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive will deliver a further 200 additional permanent beds this coming winter.

I said previously in the Dáil and I repeat that there is no reason for anyone to be living or spending the night on the streets. There is no family living on the streets, nor should there be because supports are available to them. Every six months, an official count is done of the number of people living on the streets. The most recent one indicated that approximately 160 or 170 people were recorded as living on the streets. They do not have to do that. We would rather they were not living on the streets. We try to encourage them to come in and avail of our services. I am not saying we have a house for everybody but we have an emergency response. There are temporary emergency beds, and the services to wrap around those also.

We have put additional outreach people on the streets - I believe Fr. McVerry won that contract - who engage with people who are rough sleeping and try to encourage them to come in and use our services. Some people are dealing with various issues, one of which may be a bad experience on a previous occasion. There are many issues to be teased through but I would encourage anyone who knows or engages with someone rough sleeping to ask them to engage with our services.

We know that in extreme weather events people who would not normally come in off the streets will come in and engage with our services. In one very bad weather event about a year ago - I forget which one it was - approximately 60 people who were rough sleeping came in off the streets. A high number of those remained in our services after the event and have now gone through the system to try to find a permanent housing solution. That is a good result, and we want to do more of that. That is the reason we have an increased focus and more staff involved in the street outreach service trying to engage with people to bring them in.

It is important that we make sure there are a sufficient number of emergency beds to deal with people who come in from the streets. Every year, following the official counts in October and November and we have the feedback from the NGOs and everybody else, and our own staff on the streets, we make sure we have a sufficient number of emergency beds to cater for that. That is the reason generally every autumn there is an increase in the number of emergency permanent beds. It is important that we would stay ahead of that.

All of those emergency beds are supported, temporary accommodation where single individuals and couples receive the accommodation and health supports they need. We have tried to move that further along. Today, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is in Usher's Quay announcing the new €30 million project for the Dublin Simon Community, which will provide more than 100 beds and will deal with medical as well as housing needs. That is a fabulous project that has been going on for many years. I am glad it has finally moved on and that our Department was able to find the funding for it.

Since the publication of the national implementation plan last September, Housing First services have begun to be rolled out nationwide. This service has been active in the Dublin region since 2014. Services have recently become operational in Cork, Galway and Limerick. All regions nationally are now either operational or are at an advanced stage of the tendering process. My county, County Meath, has gone through that tendering process also. A total of 386 tenancies have been created to date.

The Housing First model is one that worked very well in Canada, Finland and other countries. It engages with a person who is rough sleeping for whatever reason. In the past, time would have been spent providing services for that person but not providing him or her with a home delivered through the different services. That model has changed in that we try to provide the persons with a home first, wrap all the services around them and help them to move on to a tenancy and manage all their household affairs. Of the 386 tenancies created, approximately 80% of them have been successful and the people are still in their homes. That is a positive intervention and one we want to continue to make. I know the House will support that intervention, which has worked very well, and we will make sure that every county provides the same model.

Both the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have been clear that we need to home in on the question of affordability of housing. It is not just about social housing delivery. We want to help address issues of housing affordability and recognise the significant pressure on lower to middle-income households. This pressure is heightened further in Dublin and other urban centres. While we will remain unrelenting in our commitment to meet and exceed our social housing targets under Rebuilding Ireland, this Government is equally committed to delivering genuinely affordable housing to families that do not qualify for social housing supports.

Informed by area economic assessments to ensure fairness and consistency, we intend to target interventions on making housing more affordable in areas where they are most required.

My Department hosted events on affordable housing for all local authorities in November 2018 and in April 2019. As part of this process, each local authority was asked to submit economic assessments to the Department. These assessments focused on both requirements for, and viability of, delivering affordable homes from their own sites.

Since then, the Government has committed €310 million up to 2021 under the serviced sites fund. This fund is for key facilitating infrastructure, on public lands, to support the provision of more affordable homes to buy or to rent. That funding has been used to open up the lands so those local authorities have bought back into their own sites. Currently, it is specifically for publicly-owned lands.

A maximum amount of funding of €50,000 will be made available per affordable home. On this basis, at least 6,200 affordable homes can be facilitated by this measure alone based on the budget allocated to it. We hope to allocate more money to that in the future to bring that figure of 6,200 to well over 10,000 and beyond and to continue with delivery of affordable housing alongside our delivery in social housing and the improvements in the private sector.

Affordable housing, delivered on local authority sites, may be housing for purchase at discounted rates or cost rental, which is being advanced on a number of pilot sites before being rolled out more generally. Homes for purchase will be made available under the recently commenced provisions of Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. The maximum discount will be 40% of the market value of the home and the local authority will take a charge, equivalent to the discount, against the property.

This legislation was enacted in June 2018 and regulations in respect of the making of a scheme of priority were signed by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on 12 March 2019. In its scheme of priority, each local authority sets out the criteria that will be applied to determine the order of priority to be accorded to eligible households in instances where the demand for such affordable dwellings exceeds the number available. Further regulations will be put in place over the coming months regarding purchaser eligibility and other matters.

Under the cost rental model, rents cover the cost of delivering, managing and maintaining the homes only, less both the profit margin seen in the private rental sector and any financial supports provided by the State or local authorities. With the resulting rents significantly below market levels, this would mean that many households on moderate incomes will have access to a more affordable and stable form of rental tenure than would otherwise have been the case. The rents will obviously depend upon the overall cost of each development and will vary according to the site and design specifics. However, my Department has identified several factors that can put downward pressure on costs and make cost rental more affordable for tenants. These include: low to zero land costs; a design approach with value engineering and long-term maintenance in mind; and capital subvention to individual developments through the serviced site fund.

More competitive rental levels under the model can also be supported by accessing low-cost, stable finance that is paid back over an extended period of time. This long-term financing has, for example, been accessed via the European Investment Bank, EIB. A pilot cost rental project is currently on site in Enniskerry Road, Stepaside, County Dublin. It involves a collaboration involving the Department, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the Housing Agency, approved housing bodies, Respond and Tuath, and the Housing Finance Agency. Launched by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, earlier this month, it comprises 155 homes, a community facility, along with green spaces and car parking, some of which is underground. The 155 homes will include 50 cost rental units, all of which will be two-bedroom apartments. It is anticipated that at €1,200, rents for these units will be significantly below the market rates for the area. We want to get that price even lower but compared with the current asking price for rents, it is approximately €600 or €700 less. Under cost rental and as we roll this model out, we should be able to achieve greater results when it comes to the costs.

While the cost rental element of this project is relatively small in scale, at approximately 50 units, it will act as the first example of how this model can work in an Irish context. We know it has worked very well in other countries and we want it to work well here also. It will provide us with invaluable lessons when designing a larger-scale system. It will help to shape the contractual model and specifications for future larger-scale projects we hope to roll out across the country in years to come.

The second cost rental pilot project will be delivered on a Dublin City Council-owned site at St. Michael's Estate, Emmet Road, Inchicore. It is estimated that this site can accommodate more than 470 homes in a high-quality mixed tenure development. The current tenure mix as agreed with the Department will be 70% cost rental and 30% social.

In addition to these pilot programmes, the Land Development Agency is examining the potential to deliver cost rental homes at scale from its land portfolio and the broader State land bank at sites such as the former Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, and Shanganagh, in Dún Laoghaire.

To this end, a working group has been established within my Department, in conjunction with the Land Development Agency, the Housing Agency and other expert bodies. This group is developing a policy framework for the broader cost rental model to be used on those sites and other sites also.

It is determining how a sustainable financial structure can be established to commence the delivery of units at the scale required to get this new category of housing off the ground. The work of this group has been assisted by a consultancy and research project undertaken by the European Investment Bank on our behalf. Everyone is very committed to making this model work and ensuring that it will be adapted to the Irish situation.

The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, is designed specifically to address housing supply which is a crucial factor in moderating house prices. In addition to supporting the provision of private housing at market prices, LIHAF will support more than 2,300 affordable homes on mainly publicly owned lands, while 5,600 affordable homes will benefit from the LIHAF related cost reduction. Some of these homes have already come on stream. This is where there is private land beside public land and the infrastructure naturally accesses both. The new Home Building Finance Ireland initiative provides finance at commercially competitive rates to developers with sites ready to go but which are experiencing difficulty in obtaining funding. This will also contribute to the increased supply of new homes, including homes at more affordable price levels to buy and to rent. In the first seven months of operation, €41 million in funding has been approved under the initiative which will deliver 228 homes across seven sites.

Is it possible to get a copy of the Minister of State's statement?

It is not being circulated. We will seek to arrange that it is.

I did not think I would be speaking first. I apologise for that. We can get copies and if there is a specific problem, I can go back over the relevant issue.

Under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, low to moderate income families drew down over 1,000 fixed interest loans through local authorities by the end of June 2019. There are a number of applications in the system and funding has been allocated to deal with any application that is approved in the months ahead. In addition, the help-to-buy scheme, which is administered by the Revenue Commissioners and assists first-time buyers to secure the deposit necessary to purchase a new-build home, has seen some 14,000 applications approved to date. That is a very successful scheme. I have heard criticism and misinterpretation of it. At the start of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan, and in the year after that, many first-time buyers could not put a deposit together to help them draw down a mortgage so the market was not providing first-time buyer homes or building them at scale because there were not enough people in a position to buy them. The help-to-buy scheme was designed to enable people to have tax paid over the years refunded to help them put together a deposit to get a mortgage. That has worked out well. The market has responded by building many more first-time homes and over 14,000 people have successfully availed of the scheme.

The strategic management of key potential regeneration sites, many of which are owned by public bodies, is a key way Government will drive the implementation of Project Ireland 2040. The Land Development Agency, LDA, was established on an interim basis under secondary legislation, but primary legislation to underpin the basis of the agency is being drafted with pre-legislative scrutiny scheduled for the coming weeks. That legislation will work its way through both Houses of the Oireachtas too and we can discuss it further then. The agency is a commercial State body and national centre of expertise which works with and supports local authorities, public bodies and other interests to harness public lands as catalysts to stimulate regeneration and wider investment and to achieve compact, sustainable growth, with a particular emphasis on complex regeneration projects and the provision of affordable housing. It will provide a new implementation mechanism for Project Ireland 2040 and the transformation of our cities and towns. It will also strategically manage public lands and achieve public policy objectives, including the delivery of more housing in the locations that need it most and focusing on affordability.

The LDA has an immediate focus on managing the State's lands to develop new homes and regenerate underutilised sites and has access to an initial tranche of eight sites across the country that have near-term delivery potential for 3,000 new homes. Of these, at least 40% are intended for delivery as additional social and affordable homes and the balance as additional new supply to meet the high levels of demand in the wider housing sector. That is on large sites. The Government does not believe it is right to put only social housing on large sites and possibly have 3,000 houses of one type of tenure. We believe in the mixed tenure approach, with social, affordable and private housing, and we believe that works quite well. I am very conscious that others have a different view but we hold a strong view on that and any developments we do now will have that blend or mix of housing. That is a better approach than that taken in the past when all the social housing was in one area and private housing in another part of town. That is not acceptable and it is not the right way to develop good communities. Significant preparatory work is under way for these sites and it is envisaged that construction activity will commence on the first homes in mid-2020 for delivery by the end of that year, pending grant of planning permissions.

The LDA is also developing a strong pipeline of additional publicly-owned sites. Departments were requested, in respect of lands they own directly and owned by agencies under their aegis, to identify additional lands over and above the initial eight sites. The development of LDA managed lands will make a substantial contribution to the achievement of wider Government targets for housing delivery in general and social housing specifically. We are aware of sites owned by other Departments such as the Departments of Health and Education and Skills. It is right to facilitate their moving that land to the LDA to be developed in a proper way in line with our plans.

To enable more delivery of social and affordable homes on public lands, the Government, in parallel with the establishment of the LDA, approved a new public land affordability requirement. Under this requirement, a minimum of 30% of any housing developed must be reserved for affordable purpose in addition to the 10% statutory social housing requirement under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, whether such development is being progressed by the LDA or any other market operator. Furthermore, public bodies, such as local authorities and the Housing Agency, engaging with the LDA in respect of their lands will also be in a position to condition the release of lands for development reflecting their own policy requirements. Therefore, complying with the Government's new public lands affordability requirement, the LDA will be capable of progressing a significant level of both affordable purchase scheme-based projects and cost rental-based projects on lands forming part of its portfolio of sites. They will make a rather large contribution in the years to come. It is a pity a land development agency was not set up many years ago to work in conjunction with local authorities to develop publicly owned lands.

The topics I have spoken about reflect some of the innovative, proactive and intensive work that has been advancing under Rebuilding Ireland. The Government is keenly aware that much progress remains to be made on all fronts to restore stability and sustainability in the housing sector. Securing homes for all persons experiencing homelessness and ensuring that any stay in emergency accommodation is as brief as possible and delivered in a setting that is appropriate to the needs of the householder or individual remain urgent priorities. In parallel, we will continue to advance on social housing delivery, affordability, cost rental and to harness the expertise and capacity of the LDA and the local authorities to maximise positive outcomes for State inputs in terms of finance and land. The State was not sufficiently involved in managing land and housing supply in the past. That is why we did not have a sustainable housing construction sector. I will not go into all the problems that has caused but I believe we are coming out the other side. We have to ensure that cannot happen again. If we manage and develop our land properly and if we plan using the planning framework and other plans that will supersede it and stick to those plans to deliver approximately 30,000 or 35,000 houses every year for the next 20 or 25 years, that will be one way to future-proof the country from the points of view of housing and land use needs and to ensure we are in a position to deal with the 1 million increase in our population over the next 20 years, and no doubt more thereafter.

There was a lot of information in the Minister of State's speech. I welcome the opportunity to speak on housing today. I welcome the news that finally, after I have been fighting for it from the start, Carlow has been designated a rent pressure zone. However, it is not good news that rents in Carlow have reached such dizzy heights that it qualifies to be placed on the rent pressure zone list. While it is widely known that the Government has more leaks than a colander, the market sensitive information about these new classifications was leaked before the official announcement.

It is not good news that there are now 42 rent pressure zones in Ireland. This is not working and this Government is not being radical enough to ensure rent affordability. We need more radical thinking and that is something quite a few people agree with me on. Every three months, a report is issued on the areas that qualify to be added to the list of rent pressure zones.

A few months ago, Graiguecullen qualified as a rent pressure zone but Carlow did not. Now Carlow has qualified, along with Graiguecullen, but Bagenalstown and Tullow do not qualify. It cannot work because neighbouring towns do not meet the criteria. The Minister of State needs to address this. If Carlow qualifies then neighbouring towns such as Tullow and Bagenalstown should also meet the criteria.

I have repeatedly raised the issue that the threshold to qualify for social housing is far too low. In Carlow, the threshold to qualify for the housing list is €27,500. A review was to be done eight years ago. The Department has gone to and fro to tell me it is working on it. After eight years, when will the review take place to change the threshold for the local authority? Of the 31 local authorities, Carlow has one of the lowest thresholds. The threshold in the neighbouring county of Kilkenny is more than €30,000 as is the case in Kildare and Wicklow. People are failing to qualify for the housing list and they are struggling.

I want to raise the very controversial issue of property tax. In recent weeks, local authorities throughout Ireland have been voting on property tax. Rural counties left behind on capital funding have had to raise the tax while places such as Dublin have been able to reduce the tax. This all comes down to the funding allocated to local authorities, which is grossly unfair to rural Ireland. I have said before, and I will say it again, that we cannot all live and work in Dublin. We cannot all reach into the pockets of the hard pressed homeowners in rural Ireland for more money because they are unfairly marginalised due to the funding. These people are the reason we have an economic recovery because they are working and already paying taxes. They do not feel they get value for money from the State and this is a problem. Will the Minister of State answer this? The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is going to Carlow tomorrow. I have asked to meet him because Carlow's capital funding is so low it is unreal. It is unfair. The Minister of State gave a very good brief on Rebuilding Ireland but 80% of it was about Dublin. This is unacceptable.

It is no secret that we are in the worst of times. We have chaos and uncertainty looming next month with Brexit. Our young people are on the streets. At this stage, everyone is taking to the streets. Fine Gael has overseen a fall in home ownership to the lowest level in half a century. With rents at eye-watering levels a whole generation cannot save to own their home. New rent pressure zones will not stop this, especially in the way they are being announced. We now have more vulnerable households at risk of homelessness than ever and there are those in hidden homelessness, living in overcrowded situations and sharing bedrooms. So many people are still trying to avoid not being on the streets. I cannot see a massive change.

This morning, we had a meeting about the future of affordable housing bodies. Fine Gael scrapped affordable units and shared ownership in 2012 and only reintroduced them in the budget for 2019 after re-applied pressure. We are now in a situation when there may very well come a day when we run out of money to build social and affordable housing. Everyone is flagging this. This morning, we spoke about approved housing bodies, local authority housing and building housing. There is an issue when it comes to funding and the Minister is aware of this.

The followers of the woman who runs the Instagram page cheapIrishhouses have quadrupled in a short space of time because everyone is looking for a home they can afford. Many of the houses are in less populated counties. Some need refurbishment and others more serious renovation. There is an appetite in Ireland for people to own their own homes but people cannot afford to do so because they cannot get the credit or money is not available. I have long been a champion of allowing credit unions to facilitate small mortgages, which the banks do not seem to be in the business of giving. We need to actively support home ownership by emphasising affordable homes, enabling the purchase of homes and, while we do so, ensuring that we enable local authorities and approved housing bodies to build social housing. We might look at these cheap Irish houses and derelict houses not appearing on the vacant property database and, perhaps, ways to incentivise buying second-hand homes. Judging by this woman's page, there are a whole lot of them out there. It is unreal. The Minister of State should have a look at it.

The State should play a greater role in supporting home ownership through affordable homes, help with deposits, shared ownership schemes and a reformed mortgage market. We need solutions to the problems of the decline in home ownership. Fianna Fáil has shown its commitment to finding meaningful solutions through our role in the confidence and supply agreement and not shirking from leading criticism of the Government where it is at fault. We are certainly kept out of the loop when it comes to leaks. Even the Department is kept out of the loop. Home ownership is slipping away from an entire generation as house prices have increased by 84% while wages have only increased by 10% since 2012. Our 68% home ownership rate is the lowest since 1971 and is now behind the EU average. People are using social media to find ways to own a home. People are crossing the street to rent in a rent pressure zone, putting more pressure on the supply. Thousands are on housing lists throughout the country. We need to reshape all the announcements into positive action.

As I have told the Minister of State on several occasions, I firmly believe that local authorities building houses on their own land is crucial. Will the Minister of State clarify the position on mortgages? He said there is money for local authority mortgages. I have received various answers on what the Minister of State has said today. I represent a lot of people-----

The money is there.

The local authorities have excellent staff, and I can speak for Carlow, but they are understaffed. If people go on holidays nobody replaces them. If somebody is out sick they are not replaced. The staff are worn out. Unless we go back to staffing local authorities such as Carlow County Council we will not do the public or anyone any favour. We need more staff. We have great staff but they are not able to cope. It is unfair that people who are out sick or on holidays are not replaced. It is a huge issue. It is probably the case in all local authorities but Carlow County Council is put to the pin of its collar and the Minister of State needs to look at it.

I thank the Minister of State and I ask him to come back to me with the answers to my questions. I do not receive the same answers consistently when I deal on a daily basis with people coming to me with local authority issues, such as housing, mortgages, windows, doors and grants. There is a hold-up on money and the Minister of State needs to clarify it. He can announce it and tell me it is there but when I go to the local authority I could be told it is coming but that I will not get it for three or six months. Sometimes it does not work. We have a long way to go.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House although I see this debate as a futile exercise. I am very concerned about statements such as this because they do sweet damn all for the people watching this-----

The Minister of State is here in good faith at our request so I ask the Senator to stick to the debate.

I appreciate that. Let us talk about housing and the gross inequality that exists in this country. A couple of weeks ago, we saw an article in The Irish Times about a house in Foxrock bought for €2.4 million where the purchasers have sought permission to demolish it and rebuild a five-bedroomed house on the site. This is what is going on among the wealthy in this country. They can afford to lash out €2.4 million for a house. I know the house well because it was my brother's, who is sadly deceased. I know the house and I know the love and care that went into developing and building it. To think it will be razed to the ground to build another house just to get one extra bedroom is beyond me.

Let us look at the situation with young couples. I know a young couple who have spent €97,000 over seven years on rent. Where are they to find a deposit? Where are they to manage to put aside a few bob to build or purchase a house? My colleague spoke about the policy being Dublin-centric. The truth of the matter is that a massive number of young people in this town are working and living in the most appalling conditions because they simply cannot afford the rent and will never be able to buy a house.

I went through the income and wider finances of the young couple I speak of, and they could well afford a two-bedroom or even three-bedroom apartment in some parts of Dublin at a smaller cost than their current rent. There is something terribly wrong when we are enhancing private ownership at the cost of ordinary working people. We must find a way, even if it means the State should come up with an idea like providing a deposit so a young couple could repay that deposit to the State and their mortgage at the same time. It would at least get them out of a rented apartment and make that property available.

I raised with the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence the number of married quarters in the likes of Cathal Brugha Barracks and the Curragh that could be brought back into use. I advised at the time that Cluid would be willing to refurbish the properties and put families into them, thereby releasing properties in places like Dublin, Cork and the Curragh. I am not sure about Limerick, Kilkenny or Donegal. There are properties that could be refurbished and brought back into service. It has not happened because there is a cross-departmental problem. The Minister of State cannot do anything about the Department of Defence, and that Department has a policy position that it will not have married quarters. A housing agency is willing to take these off the State's hands - it could sell them to the agency for €1 - and it could refurbish the properties. That agency could return the houses to soldiers.

I refer to teachers, nurses and gardaí. I was a soldier and my wife was a nurse when we got married, and we did not have tuppence to rub together. We were able to buy a house by means of a mortgage nonetheless. It is just not possible for young professional people to do it now. The Minister of State has referred to the mix of social, affordable and private dwellings. I grew up in Galway city and there we had Shantalla, Bohermore and Mervue as local authority areas. The finest of people grew up in those places and they qualified as craftsmen, fitters, mechanics, teachers or doctors. They have fought hard to buy those properties and remain in the communities in which they grew up. There is absolutely no sense in what goes on in parts of Dublin, where one house was sold for €500,000 to accommodate one family in order to ensure a mix of social and affordable housing in what was a private estate. That is beyond belief.

I do not get involved with local politics so I only know what people tell me. I do not hold clinics or anything like that. A neighbour told me she is renting a house in Sandyford that is subsidised by the local authority but the cost is €1,700. It was a local authority house and was sold for €72,000 or €73,000 to the original renters and subsequently sold for more than €300,000 before being bought for close to €600,000. How have we allowed this to happen? I am not saying it is this Government's fault as it inherited much of this problem. Do not think for one minute I am blaming Fine Gael, the Labour Party or anybody else. I am talking about a system that has been allowed to develop. We must go back to the drawing board and somebody must take control of the people who make these provisions or advise Ministers on policy changes. There is no reason we cannot have local authority areas, provided we are willing to put in the required services.

I remember my father, God be good to him, telling me about when they built the Shantalla estate. If a piece of timber arrived on the site with a knot in it, the clerk of works sent it back. They were the finest-built houses in Galway at the time and the same was true of Mervue. I have first-hand knowledge of people in Moyross and Southill in Limerick, which are great communities that have been destroyed by a few thugs. That was a policing rather than a housing issue. The issues that have led to this desire for a mix of social and affordable housing mean it is not necessarily being driven for the benefit of families. Social housing systems broke down because we did not police them properly. Moyross is a classic case in point and I know the Minister of State has been there. There was no shop within walking distance of Moyross when it was built. It was a massive site but there were no supports. From that perspective, it was a disgrace.

I visited Dresden recently with the German chamber of commerce. I was absolutely amazed by the housing co-operative system they have in place. When East Germany joined West Germany, there was a horrendous housing crisis in Dresden and they started the co-operative. I invite the Minister of State to look at it. It is now a housing and farming co-operative and it builds roads; it is an amazing system. A member of the co-operative pays the monthly rent but ultimately, he or she can pass on the property. It gives the best of both worlds. The people with me in Dresden were bankers and the first thing they said at the briefing was that the model would work in Ireland. If I had a site in the morning, I have an architect but I would need a builder. I would not want to make money from it but-----

We saw what happened with bankers before.

Absolutely, but these people looked at what was going on.

They were nice bankers.

I have the floor for the moment. The bottom line is there are things at which we should be looking but we are not. I have tried to support the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, all along. I have said that we cannot start a giant stalled ship in five minutes and it takes time to do it. I am nonetheless getting very tired of promises. I get distressed looking at people who can afford to pay a mortgage but who cannot get one.

I have a family member who will lose her house to a bank because the equity in the house was taken by a partner who disappeared with the money in his pocket. The banks go after the asset rather than the money. Do not talk to me about bankers as I could speak from now until Christmas about them.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the red tape matter raised at Dublin City Council recently. Under the current process, local authorities seeking to build social housing worth more than €2 million must go through a four-stage process with the Department known as the cost-effectiveness analysis. This includes the approval for the design expenditure, approval to proceed with planning, approval to proceed to tender and approval of the tender window. The target time for the completion of the process is 59 weeks and according to the Department, its approach process accounted for 15 of the 59 weeks for getting social housing construction under way. It was reported that Dublin City Council hired a panel of suitable consultants to assist staff in compiling these reports. Fianna Fáil, for its part, stated it wants the threshold raised from €2 million to €6 million, and according to the Minister, it would save six to eight weeks in the process. We would still be talking about a year to get houses through the system.

I could go on but I know the Minister of State has more access to these issues than I do. How long is the site in Shanganagh there now? Is it 15 years? How long is the site in Cherrywood there? For God's sake, people can put systems in place that can build houses rapidly. Rapid-build houses are taking a year to construct. I brought the Minister of State to see a system that can build a house in a couple of months so can we please change our thinking? I know the Minister of State is trying to do some good work.

There is nothing to stop that being used.

I am trying to chair this debate effectively.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House for this debate on housing.

I do not agree with Senator Craughwell, who said that statements are futile. It is an opportunity for all of us to raise issues of concern, put them on the public record and suggest solutions to the Minister of State, who, I know, is willing to listen. It is also an opportunity for the Minister of State to report progress and for us to contribute to that. It is very worthwhile, and we invited the Minister of State to come to the House for this debate.

I acknowledge the Government's commitment of €6 billion to fund housing construction activation in the social and private housing sectors. Along with the stakeholders, the approved housing bodies, the local authorities and many other agencies working to resolve the current housing challenge, we need to see delivery on that substantial commitment. The Government continues to prioritise homelessness in terms of housing solutions, housing access and affordability for people to get a roof over their heads.

I have said numerous times that it is all about supply of social and private housing. It is about increasing the number of housing units available to those who most need them. The Minister of State has comprehensively outlined the rising number of public and private housing units and solutions being delivered in various regions. He told us that last year more than 8,000 social housing units were provided and the target is to reach 12,000 units per year. I welcome that commitment the Minister of State has made here on the public record.

We have heard some criticism of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, which essentially is an interim solution to help people find housing until adequate housing comes on stream. It has allowed thousands of people to find homes. Some people criticise that scheme, but what is their alternative to HAP while we await the additional social housing units coming on stream? I believe there is no alternative and it would only increase the problem if we do not engage in the HAP scheme. It provides thousands of units for people requiring homes.

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme received some criticism prior to the summer recess. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in providing additional funding for the scheme. More than 1,000 people have taken advantage of this home loan. These are people who would have been caught between stools in that they would not qualify for social housing and would not qualify for a mortgage through the banks. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is proving a success. A further €363 million has been made available in addition to the €200 million previously provided.

In further progress, up to the end of June 2019, more than 22,600 new homes became available for use throughout the country. More than 30,000 planning permissions for new homes have been granted. On-site construction has commenced for more than 24,500 homes. These statistics should reassure people who are concerned that not enough housing is coming on stream.

There has been a growth in planning applications for apartments. Especially in the cities, there is more demand for apartments for young workers and students. There has been a 156% increase year on year following the changes the Government made regarding design and height guidelines. Clearly, something is working in that regard. It will offer more housing solutions for people in the future, which is welcome.

In my area, I recently visited some successful projects that are under way and supported by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Minister of State mentioned the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which provided €3.5 million to Waterford City and County Council. I recently visited a LIHAF scheme in Kilbarry where water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure is being put in place to open those lands to new development. The builders are on site and 400 units are expected to be delivered by 2021. Many of those have already been front-loaded and delivered. Respond, a well-recognised approved housing body that has done great work around the country, has 69 units under construction on an adjacent site in Kilbarry, and they are due to be completed in quarter 1 of next year. There are many similar schemes. At Knights Grange in Lacken, a turnkey project funded by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, 20 units have been completed with keys being handed over and another 20 are under construction.

I am just mentioning one area of Waterford city. I have visited many other schemes that are completed. The Alms Houses in Tallow were opened recently by the former mayor, Councillor Declan Doocey. Families recently moved into nine new units in Coolfin Woods in my village in Portlaw and the old cinema site in Dungarvan. Solid progress is being made. I know the Minister of State is also going around the country opening many of those schemes. We recognise that we need much more.

The Minister of State mentioned access to affordable housing. I welcome that the Department is again engaging with local authorities and has provided €310 million for the serviced sites initiative on public lands. That was successful in the past. People can benefit from a subsidised site, making it more affordable for people to access homes, and we need to see more of that.

I agree with Senator Craughwell on the issue of rental versus mortgage repayments. Many individuals and families are finding they need to pay more in rent than they would in mortgage repayments. We need to address this issue. It is not entirely a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Department of Finance needs to address Central Bank lending regulations. We need to be careful to get the balance right in this regard. We do not want a repeat of what happened in the past with people overextending themselves and lending out of kilter with what people can afford, leading to another crash.

However, where people have shown they can consistently pay rent over a period of time, it should be taken into account for mortgage approval purposes. People are struggling to get mortgage approval, even though they are paying a consistent rent that may even be higher than their mortgage repayments would be. The Government needs to address that issue. I have raised the matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, because it is an area where improvement is needed.

I wish the Minister of State well as he continues to engage with all the stakeholders in an effort to improve supply of both private and social housing. Obviously, social housing must be the priority in terms of Government funding, and I am pleased that the supply is increasing throughout the country. We need interim solutions. I commend the Minister of State and his colleagues on implementing those. We are getting there and we need to stick with it. The challenge remains. The rent pressure zones are expanding in some areas. They will not be addressed until we address the fundamental factor of housing supply in cities and in the regions.

It is nice to see the Minister of State again. I do not know where to start. We got a copy of his speech a couple of minutes ago and it runs to nine pages. It is a long speech without one word about tenancy rights. In the middle of the biggest housing crisis in the history of the State, the Minister of State could not include one sentence about the rights of tenants.

The last page was on that issue, about putting through legislation in July. I presume the Senator is up to date on that.

I am. I want to raise specifically the Government's ongoing failure to grant rights to tenants where the landlord is selling the house. It is a major issue that people raise in my clinic in Limerick every week. People are being given notice, turfed out and paying rents that are double what they were used to paying. I wonder if Fine Gael policy is based on the 2009 Disney film "Up". It as a wonderful cartoon film about a retired balloon salesman who, at the age of 78, decides to tie balloons to his house and head off with the house to South America. Unfortunately, the Government seems to be under the impression that landlords can do this, that they can take away their houses and withdraw from the marketplace, so we cannot do anything to upset them. We have a landlord-run market and the victims - I meet them every week - are the tenants being turfed out with nowhere to live.

It is ideological. I have the figures from Limerick. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Limerick target for builds was 139 units in 2019. The Limerick HAP target, the subsidy for private landlords, is 511. There is four times the number going on subsidising landlords than on building public housing. Clare is a similar story. There was a target of 100, a HAP target of 264. It is an over-reliance on massive subsidies for landlords. It is an ideological fixation of Fine Gael's for decades. Three and a half years into this Government in the worst housing crisis in the history of the State the number of completed public housing units in Limerick in the first two quarters of this year is 12. That is a disgrace. Words fail me. I cannot begin to describe the people I see each week. There are children living in hotel rooms for months, and sometimes years, living in hubs, not being able to bring their friends home after school. Here we have a Government that insists on a €4 billion subsidy for private landlords rather than making the investment required in public housing.

The trade union movement is organising a petition to the European Commission on housing and the proper provision of public housing. I was at an interesting meeting last week on this issue which was addressed by a spokesperson from Austria who explained the Austrian model. Austria secured a get-out clause from the Maastricht treaty to ensure that it could always make proper public provision for housing. In Austria employers pay a ring-fenced subsidy each month as standard which goes into a public housing fund. We have abandoned public housing in this country. I take Senator Craughwell's point that it did not start with Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil effectively abandoned housing to the marketplace. We hear a great deal about the right to own houses and so on but there is nothing about tenancy rights and nothing to take on the landlords' coalition that has ruined tens of thousands of lives in this country. That is disappointing.

Sometimes politicians do not like to talk about ideology but it is so important when it has such a negative impact on people in this country where there is this ridiculous adherence to free market ideology in something as basic as housing. I think back to the 1950s when my dad's family got a house. Even in the worst of times in the 1950s, and I pay tribute to Fianna Fáil here, we always had provision of public housing, yet here and now, when we are supposedly one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there are record numbers of homeless. The figures get worse month by month. Perhaps a year into the Government's term of office, it would have been possible for the Minister of State to argue that he was working on it and getting on top of it but the figures continue to get worse. The figures for homelessness in Limerick continue to get worse. The Government's policy is failing. This failed ideological British Tory policy of leaving it to the marketplace has failed. The scramble to build houses now is welcome but it is not being done in sufficient numbers, as Sinn Féin's spokesperson in the Dáil has noted many times. The complete fixation with refusing to give proper, full tenancy rights in stark contrast to pretty much everywhere else in western Europe really goes to the heart of the problem. It is the dark ideological heart of free enterprise at all costs from this Fine Gael Government.

It is not an exaggeration to say that 90% of people who visit clinics do so because they are being made homeless. Rents in Limerick have doubled in the last couple of years. Two bedroom apartments on the Dock Road that one could not give away ten years ago now go for €1,200 a month. How is a working family supposed to afford that? This is what happens when one leaves it to the market and when one thinks the best thing to do is to spend most of the housing budget subsidising private landlords, most of whom, presumably, vote for the Minister of State's party. It lets down the vast majority of people as well as the next generation, as others have noted, who have no chance of buying a home. Government policy is still one of treating homes as assets, not places where we live. It is not personal, the Minister of State knows that, but honestly, it is a record of shame. The facts just get worse month-on-month, year-on-year which is why I say Godspeed the day when this Government is over.

I welcome the Minister of State. To respond to the previous speaker, I know many landlords. They are good, decent landlords. They have problems with tenants. They have problems where they cannot move tenants out when they are disruptive. People seem to think landlords are an easy target. The vast majority of landlords have one house. They are not all bad landlords. The Senator has identified everyone of them by using the collective term of "landlords". It is like saying that Sinn Féin is a shower of bombers. It is the same difference.

The Senator is better than that.

There are many landlords out there who are good landlords looking after tenants. Some are not getting the market price that they should get because they have respect for their tenants.

Give tenants their rights.

There are good landlords out there. The Senator should not collectively put them all together. There are some bad tenants out there. The Senator never identified those, the ones who break up houses, who cause disruption in housing estates. There are bad tenants out there too.

I have seen how after the crash no houses were built and we are now trying to play catch-up. We need 25,000 units each year. We missed about seven years and that is what we are trying to get back to. I have some queries for the Minister of State. There are 551 social housing bodies on the Department's list. Do we need all those? The Irish Council of Social Housing has 300 members. Do we need all those? It seems there are many bodies trying to build houses, some are voluntary and some are professional. Do we need all those to deliver that? There are so many charity organisations in this country it is starting to become a bit of a joke. All those bodies have CEOs on high salaries. Some are very good at delivering but is there a need for 551 of these?

The help-to-buy scheme has been great. We need to keep it going. It is not in the Minister of State's remit but I ask him to do whatever he can to encourage the Department of Finance to keep it going as it is so important. It is so important for the first-time buyer, particularly those who cannot afford to put together the deposit, but it is also important for builders who see it as an assist to help people buy houses.

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 allowed developers in one administration area who might have five or six sites to put all their social housing into one site. Will the Minister of State examine that? I have seen how in Kildare there is dumping of social housing. The purpose of the Bill was to create more integration but now there is 50%, 60% or 70% social housing and the rest is people who would have purchased their house. It does not seem fair. The purpose of the legislation was to increase integration in various estates. I do not think that when the legislation was brought forward that was the intention. Senator Humphreys was in that Department and might also be able to help answer that issue.

I go into new houses all the time at the moment and one of the things that strikes me is we are building houses that are so warm and efficient that the effects that may have, from a health perspective, scare me. There are no draughts in these houses and we need them to build some sort of immunity against influenza and colds and things like that. I am looking at new houses that are vacuums without chimneys. There is nothing that would have been in older-type houses and that worries me.

There are also increased costs associated with houses and that is sometimes making it unaffordable for people to build a house.

I have seen the position we have been in and the one we have now. We have made considerable progress over the past five or six years. People seem to forget that we did not have money for a number of years. Some €6 billion is being made available to build houses and that is more than has ever been allocated in the history of the State. People who say we are not investing enough money in housing should understand where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going. There is a plan. There was no plan during the recession and the economy collapsed completely. It is difficult to turn a large ship but this ship is now moving. We are building houses. It takes time, and I appreciate that, but this is the biggest investment in social housing in the history of the State. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on that.

The Minister of State is welcome. I am going to bring him back to his most recent visit to this Chamber on 29 May at which time I raised an issue about apartment dwellers. During the Celtic tiger, more than 200,000 apartments were built. Of that stock, there are approximately 130,000 around our cities and towns and, of those, an estimated 90,000 were built through self-certification during the Celtic tiger. I have approached the Minister at length about this issue. The owners of those apartments are facing bills of between €5,000 and €50,000 to repair defects. I am not sure that the Minister of State understands the levels of upset and mental and financial pressures being experienced by apartment owners. I asked the Minister of State when he was here on 29 May if he would meet a particular group from the Beacon South Quarter which has practical ways of how to relieve the pressure on those 90,000 owners of apartments in this State. The Minister said he would meet that group but the most recent email the group sent, seeking to set up a meeting, was 10 July. I would very much welcome it if the Minister could meet them in the next week or two. They have practical solutions that could be explored. The way apartment owners have been treated is disgraceful compared to how owners of houses affected by pyrite have been dealt with in Donegal and Mayo, the deserved beneficiaries of the latest scheme that was brought forward. There are still 90,000 apartment dwellers who have legacy issues due to decisions made in both Houses of the Oireachtas to go down the route of self-regulation. I am disappointed the representative from Fianna Fáil has left because that decision lies mainly at Fianna Fáil's door.

To be fair, the Senator had to step out for a second. She has not left.

We have a responsibility to deal with this and to help those unfortunate people who have been stuck with these apartments. The questions they are asking are not over onerous on the Government to fix.

There has been mention of supply. The Minister of State was here in 2017 when we talked about the building regulations that permitted co-living and I was the only Senator in the Chamber who spoke against it. The Minister of State said that if people do not want co-living, they will not buy the units. I made the point that they will if that is all that is going to be offered.

I understand a co-living model for visiting executives or people working in the IT sector who may be in Ireland for six or 12 months and to whom co-living may appeal. There are now significant numbers of planning applications in the Dublin region for co-living that is not for such executives but is, rather, student living for adults and is totally unacceptable. There was one co-living planning application in Harold's Cross where the size of one of the co-living units was the same size as a car parking space. Do we really want to build these tenements of the future?

I look at the statistics in the Dublin area because what happens there will be followed in Cork, Limerick, Galway and other cities. There are only two apartment blocks due for completion in which working people can get a mortgage and actually purchase an apartment. What has happened in the Dublin market is that the land prices have been inflated due to the returns on the build-to-rent and co-living schemes. In case the Minister of State does not understand the financial model of the build-to-rent scheme, it offers an approximate 5% return on an annual basis over 15 years, taxed at 20%, plus capital appreciation. The financial model for co-living student accommodation and the build-to-rent scheme has taken out the opportunity for people to purchase their own home in the capital city. That will have a long-term implication for the sustainability of the city and communities because we end up with a transient population.

Senator Murnane O'Connor, whose figures were quite correct, pointed out that Ireland has been a homeowner society and that average home ownership has been over 70% for many decades. That has led to a stable society and stable communities. The figure nationally has dropped to 60% and the figure in Dublin has dropped even further because there is absolutely no opportunity for people to buy a home. Fine Gael used to portray itself as the homeowner party and would provide people with the opportunity to own a home but its policies and ideology have changed. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said on many occasions, both in this House and outside it, that we must move towards the European model and people will have to accept that they will have to rent throughout their lifetimes. If those are the policies of the Minister and Government, they require several adaptations in other policies and no such changes have been made. I totally disagree with that policy, but if one is to pursue it, one then has to also change one's policies on pensions. How does a person who is earning a good salary, on retirement at the age of 68, continue to pay rent at €2,000 per month when they are depending on a pension? Is the Government going to bring forward a drastic change in its pension policies to take account of the fact that people who are currently in employment will have to pay rent out of their pensions for 25 years at a highly inflated rate? I do not see that policy. I do not see the Government explaining that to wider society because that is the logical outcome.

The nursing home care scheme is widely known as the fair deal scheme. That plays a significant role. I am sorry to go into minor details but the Government does not seem to get it. By and large, nursing home care is funded through the fair deal scheme and, if one does not have an asset, one cannot go into the fair deal scheme.

Are we abolishing the fair deal scheme so that everyone will have an equal opportunity to access nursing home care in later years? There is absolutely no sign of the Government bringing forward policies of that kind. Its policies have inflated land prices. Working people can no longer afford to buy, and those who can find there are no units to buy because the Government's policy has pushed everything into the build-to-rent and co-living markets. I would like the Minister of State to explain the Government's policies on home ownership, pensions, the fair deal scheme and nursing home care. Going from one crisis to another is not a policy. It is a recipe for disaster for future generations. That seems to be where the Government wants to go.

I wish to respond to one item on local property tax. Someone applauded the Dublin authorities that reduced local property tax by 15%. The progressive left on Dublin City Council voted to maintain the property tax at its full rate. It did not vote for a 15% reduction. It voted for the €12 million to be invested in voids, supporting the homeless and keeping the public domain clean and tidy. That is what the progressive left voted for. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin voted for a 15% reduction in the local property tax. There is an issue around property tax, however, as 20% of all property tax paid in Dublin goes to rural Ireland. I believe in social solidarity but that money should come from the general tax take, not from property tax paid in the Dublin region. Local property tax should pay for services in Dublin. It should go towards providing for the turnover of voids and empty city council houses and to pay for services for homeless people in Dublin. I believe there should be a top-up for rural Ireland because I believe in social solidarity, but it should come from the general tax take. That is not happening.

I could go on and on about the policies that Fine Gael is following. The party has got it wrong. I will quickly refer to two of them.

The Senator is very much out of time.

Forgive me, this will be very quick. I am involved in trying to progress a project comprising 40 public housing units on Fenian Street. The Department seems to be doing its best to delay the building of those 40 units by constantly asking for additional information. Those units will be public housing for people on housing lists. I fully support the project. During the summer, the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, attempted to transfer two pieces of land in Poolbeg west to Dublin City Council for the provision of social and affordable housing and affordable rental accommodation. That was blocked by the Minister of State's Department. I would like to know why. My understanding from the report in The Irish Times is that this was agreed between NAMA and Mr. Owen Keegan and Mr. Richard Shakespeare of Dublin City Council. When it went to the Department it was knocked back. If we really want to provide housing, let us do the practical things. Let us find out what is happening within the Department. Why are these capital investments in housing being knocked back, not just in Dublin but in Carlow, Limerick and Cork? Let us clear the lines and start building.

I thank the Minister of State for the update he has given us in the Chamber today. I have a number of questions about different topics. The budget last year saw the announcement of a fund for the establishment of a pyrite and mica remediation scheme. Unfortunately that scheme has not yet opened for applications. A lot of householders who urgently need remediation works to be carried out on their houses are worried about this. I ask the Minister of State to report on progress and I hope he will tell me that issues preventing the opening of the scheme will be resolved to enable people in counties Mayo and Donegal to begin to plan to fix their homes.

What work is being done by Mayo County Council and Donegal County Council, which will be responsible for rolling out this Government scheme? Is somebody in the local authorities designated to deal with queries from householders? I do not believe this to be the case. This is important in order that people can understand that there is progress, the beginning of the end is nigh and they can get to work. There are some very desperate cases. I acknowledge that the Minister of State has never shied away from engaging with anybody from Mayo and he has visited several times. It is very much appreciated. I know he has a keen interest in this and great empathy for the people concerned. I want to thank him for his courteousness in all of this.

We need to expand the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme in a couple of areas. First, we must accommodate and provide a second chance for individuals who lost their homes through mortgage default during the financial crisis. I refer to individuals who defaulted on their mortgages at the time but have since settled their mortgage debts with the bank or whatever lending institution they were dealing with and now, thankfully, find they are in a good financial position to buy a house. As has been alluded to here, it is often easier or cheaper for someone who can meet the criteria to get a mortgage than to pay rent. I am thinking of a particular couple who approached me. They have thankfully put debt behind them but all they can do now is rent. They cannot go to a bank because their credit rating is shot and they have nowhere to turn, yet they can afford to repay a home loan. They deserve a second chance if we are keeping to the spirit with which we came through the financial crisis and encouraging people to come through it and rebuild their lives.

There is a second cohort of people who should be accommodated. There are currently council tenants who are in a position to buy their houses but they do not met the criterion requiring them to have earned income in excess of 15% of the price. I am talking about people who have just retired or who have acquired a lump sum for whatever reason - perhaps an inheritance or help from a family member. Such people are in a position to buy their homes or at least get a loan to do so. In the cases I am familiar with it would be cheaper than paying rent. Those people are being excluded and there is a fair case for accommodating them. This property will continue to be their primary residence and accommodating them would encourage home ownership. We all know the benefits of home ownership in giving people a stake in the community at large. As it usually brings good things to a community when people have that type of interest, this should be considered.

Another issue concerns incremental purchase schemes for new council houses. How is that operating nationwide? What is the uptake? I am particularly concerned because I have encountered a couple who qualify as having a social housing need. The male partner is working but they do not qualify as having sufficient means under the scheme. He is working, the couple is paying for everything and only recently qualified for the housing assistance payment, HAP. I believe they would have qualified a long time ago but they have always paid their own way. This is the only way to give them the opportunity to secure a home for themselves. There seems to be a disparity here. Someone can be earning and be on the council list, but he or she has to be on the housing list in order to qualify for the incremental purchase scheme. This couple meets that criterion but they cannot afford the loan associated with the scheme.

We all know there is no single, magic straightforward solution to the housing crisis. It is quite a complex matter concerning affordability, the rental market and so on. I applaud the Minister of State for his engagement and his interest in suggestions that involve thinking outside the box, particularly with regard to modular builds.

There is a company where I am based called Big Red Barn, with which I know the Minister of State has engaged, as he has with any company or person who has ideas about housing solutions. We are set on concrete builds in this country, and while that has been our tradition, there needs to be a change in mindset, given the standards to which modular builds can be delivered. I am talking about nearly zero energy buildings, NZEBs, with A2 energy ratings and steel, rather than wooden, structures. I refer to affordability. A modular family home could be built for €150,000 as opposed to €250,000 and can be delivered at a much greater speed than standard housing. There is an opportunity for modular housing to be rolled out as social housing without compromising anything for homeowners. I hope this is something local authorities can be encouraged to do, and I have no doubt the Minister of State will play a role in that. I acknowledge that such builds will not displace concrete but will complement it and help meet the current supply deficit. I hope we can see some action on this.

I compliment our local company, Big Red Barn. It recently unveiled its new A2-rated houses at the National Ploughing Championships, where Anna May McHugh cut the ribbon-----

I have been very generous to Senator Mulherin.

Ms McHugh is a great woman.

A Carlow woman. The Acting Chairman's colleague agrees with me.

I absolutely agree with the Senator.

The company did a fine job and has captured the imagination. Many people do not have money to build their own houses, and this gives them another option.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am not going to take too much time but will make a few key points. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, and Local Government and, as such, I have had many opportunities to engage with the Minister of State and officials from his Department. I again express my appreciation and thanks for their work. The housing committee is very constructive, across all parties and none, and works exceptionally well. This morning we teased out some of the issues on approved housing bodies, AHBs. I acknowledge that and thank the Department and its officials who work with us proactively, openly and transparently.

I acknowledge that Rebuilding Ireland is the Government's housing plan, whether I like it or not. It consists of five pillars and 168 actions, some of which I will highlight because I want to stay focused on what is there. This is the Government's policy in relation to Rebuilding Ireland. I will flag some concerns that the Minister of State might take on board, though I do not expect him to respond to me here today. In the first chapter of Rebuilding Ireland, Tusla is mentioned six or eight times. We discuss Tusla a lot, but I want to talk about it in relation to housing. The document refers to a renewed focus on young people leaving State care and potentially becoming homeless. All the experts and professionals in this field tell us that this cohort of people, whether they are coming out of hospitals, centres, or residential care, and whether young or not so young, are at a higher risk of becoming homeless than others. Catering for this cohort is an objective in Rebuilding Ireland, but I ask the Minister of State to refocus on it.

I acknowledge the success of the HAP place finder services. There are not enough of them, which shows that they are working. Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about HAP placement finders, which are there to support people and take them through the process. I have concerns about HAP, as do many others here. However, this is about getting homes for people, and the feedback tells us that HAP place finders are working, so I ask that their funding be increased.

I ask the Minister of State to indicate when the social output for quarter 2 will be published. I understand that it is currently being compiled.

I refer to the land aggregation scheme, which is one of the greatest housing scandals we have had. Thirty-six sites out of a block were identified and purchased by local authorities at exorbitant prices. They were encouraged by the Department to submit those sites to the scheme, and the Department, prior to the Minister of State's time, rejected many of them. Local authorities are now paying interest only on very valuable sites, some of which, due to our legacy of bad planning, are not serviced sites. There is no possibility of them being developed in the short term. We need to look at which ones we can prioritise and which ones can be used.

There are more than 500 AHBs, which is crazy. We need to look at that issue, but we also need to look closely at the gaps between AHBs and local authorities. People say AHBs are outperforming local authorities, but I do not buy into that. The Minister of State and I both know why the AHBs are exceeding their targets. It is because they have a capacity to raise finances that some local authorities do not. Local authorities are also frustrated by the four-stage process. I am reminded of the Shanganagh Castle site. I ask the Minister of State to share some information on that and explain why, after all these years, a substantial site with the potential of 500 to 700 residential units is sitting barren, empty, and abandoned in Shankill, south County Dublin. We need answers. Why is a site this size, which is zoned, suitable for housing, and on a DART line, sitting empty during a housing crisis, while 5,000 people wait on that local authority's housing list? That is important.

I am not going to talk about the Land Development Agency because the relevant legislation is coming down the track. However, I ask the Minister of State to touch on the issue of the site of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, which I am advised has a capacity for 1,600 residential units. I am aware that the Land Development Agency will be doing something with it, but we do not have to wait until the site is vacated to work up a master plan, which could be put together well in advance. I would like the Minister of State to tell me today that we will have a master plan on that by the end of this year.

I will touch on a few final issues. I refer to the town and village renewal scheme. A number of councillors recently brought me to the Minister of State's constituency. I am not picking him out because he is from Meath, but I was appalled by the dereliction in Kells. I walked through it last Saturday and could not believe the number of houses that were boarded up and falling down all over Kells, Trim, and Navan, including boarded-up shops. Why are people not living above those shops? Why have terraces of houses been abandoned? We have the same problems in Kilcullen, Athy, and Ennistymon in County Clare, and we need to focus on them.

When will we have a national affordable housing scheme strategy? No such strategy exists as I speak here today. When will we have a national cost rental policy, which we do not have either? Let us get down to some brass tacks here, because we really need to deal with these policies.

I refer to Part V. The time has come for the Government to back the immediate reintroduction of the ten-ten policy, that is, ten social houses for every ten affordable houses. We should not apologise and should put it up to the Government here today that future planning should go back to the old Part V. I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on that.

I will try to answer most of the questions I have been asked, but I will have to come back to the Senators on some of them. If I miss any, I ask the Senators please to flag me and I will try to come back to them.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised many issues relating to Carlow. At one stage she campaigned for a rent pressure zone, but I agree with her in that I suspect that, for most people, to be a rent pressure zone is not a badge of success, so we try to avoid them. She once asked why Carlow was not in a rent pressure zone, and now that it is, she is not happy either. We want to keep rents down, and rent pressure zones are an intervention in the market to try to manage increases in rent. They have not been as successful as we had hoped in some places, but the trends are positive. Some areas are now in their fourth year of being an RPZ, and in some places, mainly in Dublin, the rate of increase has come down a lot and is getting closer to where it should be, which is under 4%. Naturally, we would like it to be less than 4% if at all possible, but rents are beginning to ease off.

There is a supply issue. We have been in Carlow on numerous occasions over the years, and one could see this coming. It was clear that if supply did not catch up, the rent pressure zones would come to Carlow like everywhere else. It happened in my town in Navan, because it is a supply issue. One could rent a house in Carlow, Navan, or Kilcock for half the price four or five years ago. Supply is linked to the cost of housing. There is no doubt about that. Many people tell me it is not linked, but it is. Rents were much lower when there was an oversupply a few years ago. All our efforts are going into increasing the housing supply. Senator Coffey noted that the figures show it is likely that we will supply more than 23,000 new houses by the end of the year. Sustained increases in supply is one of the key ways of bringing rent down, as are interventions such as those mentioned by Senator Gavan and others.

Supply is a key issue. We will come back to others as well.

With the supply increasing last year and this year and in view of the planning permissions and commencement notices for next year, supply is on the way up and that is what we need. We need to keep doing that. It should have been done for many years. We lost approximately eight years of construction. They were completely and utterly lost. I will not go into the history of it. Members would not like that. I will not go there, but people will not forget that. We are trying to put plans in place so that it will not happen again in the future. We are trying to manage land and the supply of housing. A key part of Rebuilding Ireland is to develop a sustainable housing construction sector in order to prevent housing shortages and homelessness in the future and that will deliver affordable housing and housing where we need it, not an oversupply of 90,000 in one year and less than 5,000 the next but a managed, steady supply of housing, of approximately 30,000 to 35,000 houses every year. That is what we are going to achieve. Next year, we should build more than 25,000 houses and be on track to build 30,000 in the following year. That is what we are trying to achieve. We want to keep it going at that level. We need to keep doing it, and doing more of it, to bring down the cost of rent, which is far too high. No one denies that.

We are open to suggestions. There was a query about the science behind the criteria for how an area qualifies as a rent pressure zone. The criteria that are set down are based on local electoral areas. We do not just decide to bring in every area. That is not the way it works. Areas must fit the criteria. It is out of our hands. This House set the criteria and they apply scientifically. That is the way it should be done. It is evidence-based decision making. It does not mean that one picks the towns one wants in it; they must fit the criteria. Naturally, we wish they would not fit the criteria because that means the rents are too high in those cases as well.

Reference was made to the social housing income guidelines. I accept that the work has taken too long. We have spoken about this here before. The work on that is more or less finished, and the report is with the Department at the moment. We will present a social housing reform package, which will deal with many of the issues that have been hanging around for some time.

I am conscious that Carlow is a difficult area as well. To be clear: the guidelines were set in 2011. It is not the case that they were reviewed in 2011; that is the last time they were changed. No review was planned for the following year, but two years ago we said we would carry out a review and that is currently being done. At the time, when the guidelines were set by the then Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, an extra €5,000 was built in to allow for incomes going up because 2011 was a low period. I accept there is pressure in some areas. We are examining the matter. The agency has done a great deal of work in that regard for us. I hope we will hear about it soon.

The property tax debate is ongoing. It is an issue that is being worked on by the Department in conjunction with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. There is an urban-rural divide and it is a case of Dublin city versus everywhere else as well. The debate is ongoing and the issue will come to a head in late 2020 when the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will announce how we will proceed in that regard. Issues arise with the property tax. I question the reduction in the property tax by certain local authorities. Senator Humphreys outlined the many benefits local authorities could fund by not doing that. I am not sure it was a wise decision on the part of many local authorities. I compliment the local authorities that do not reduce the property tax, and in some cases increase it, because there are benefits to doing that. Initially, when the local property tax was introduced, it was the wrong time. No one wanted it because the country could not afford it. People were under pressure and they could not see the additional benefits it was providing because it was really only plugging a gap in lost finances due to the action of Governments that preceded the Fine Gael-Labour Government. People can see what it can fund when there is extra local property tax, for example, extra activity in important areas such as housing, among others.

Some local authorities cannot afford an increase.

I am not going into that. I am just saying there are benefits in having it, which people can see now. Most people I talk to agree with paying a reasonable level of property tax. No one likes paying any kind of tax, but when they see some benefits to it, there is some buy-in. There is a perception by some that it does not deliver the goods.

It is a pity the Minister of State's Fine Gael colleagues on the council did not see it that way.

I did not single anybody out. I am saying I disagree with people who reduce it.

The impression is given that the response to the housing crisis is only happening in Dublin but that is not the case. The entire country is impacted upon by the housing difficulties. Different counties are affected in different ways. The major pressure and the greatest number of homeless families are in Dublin and that is why much of our talk is about Dublin. However, we intervene in the same way across all the other counties in terms of supply measures. In the early years, Carlow was very successful in bringing forward housing projects that were all funded. We did not say "No" to anybody. I wish to be very clear on that point. Somebody asked if the approved housing bodies do more because they can access finance. There was no issue with finance. Any projects that are brought to us go through various scenarios to ensure that they provide value for money and that money is available for them. Local authorities do not need to access private finance. They can access taxpayers' money through the Department and they get it. We have asked them to increase the number of projects in the pipeline.

People raised the issue of the process. It is a pity Senator Craughwell has left. I would like to ask him what he thinks the private sector is doing. It used to take between four and seven years to bring forward local authority projects, but we have introduced a new 59-week process. Many projects are meeting the target and many others are close to it, taking approximately 61 or 62 weeks. The industry norm in the private sector is not 59 weeks. A period of 59 weeks is not bad to take a project from a greenfield site through all the planning and procurement stages to start building. I would like if it could be done in 20 weeks, but with all our rules and regulations for proper planning and procurement it is not possible to do that and to allow for the input of residents. Taking all that into account, 59 weeks is a good timeline. I do not believe that local authorities are being held back because of the four-stage approval process. I do not see where projects could gain time. The maximum gain would be approximately six weeks if we cut out the four-stage approval process. No local authority has told me, either on or off the record, that it could beat that timeline if the Department was not involved. Where there were opportunities to go it alone, local authorities often did not take those opportunities and decided to stay with the system. People make comments in here because it might suit a narrative, but they do not reflect the feedback I am getting from local authorities or from housing or planning officers. They think the system works quite well. It needed to be changed and timelines needed to be introduced in order that we had something to aim for. The latter was not the case in the past. Previously, projects could meander on for years but that does not happen now because we track progress. It does not mean that every project meets the timeline but the majority do. I accept Senator Humphreys point that projects relating to some of the larger sites around Dublin are taking far too long. I will return to that matter.

Some information is coming out because I see a common thread in a number of the comments made in the Houses and in the media about what Dublin City Council and others are being asked to do with regard to projects worth more than €20 million. I am not directing my remarks at Senator Humphreys. We have engaged with Dublin City Council in terms of what it has to do on larger sites, and what the requirements are for the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform, Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government as well. They are not excessive and it is not as if they cannot be worked out. It is not rocket science. Any large-scale projects would generally have to undergo a cost-benefit analysis. That is a requirement when using taxpayers' money. That does not explain delays of years in respect of certain sites. It is not a case of the Department being over the top. A lot of money has been spent on housing projects. We are getting great value for money on all the projects. I can see great results. Social housing is coming in at the same standard as private housing and, very often, it is being built for less and it is being made available for a lot less. That is the way we want to keep it. We must keep doing that without losing the run of ourselves. I am aware of figures quoted in the media about some of the sites in Dublin. Those figures are not correct. I have not seen them on paper from the councils, but they are out there as if they are real, but my understanding is that they are not real. If they were real I would confirm them here and talk Members through them.

I do not believe permission has been refused for the Poolbeg site but they are still in negotiations regarding the price and the figures. It is a difficult one to try to get the prices right for affordability. The matter was well flagged. They are trying to tease through it as well. If I am wrong about permission being refused, I will confirm it. They are trying to work through the figures to see how we can deliver the affordable housing project. As Members know, with the clause, An Bord Pleanála has an increasing amount of affordable and social housing to consider, and rightly so. I will check and come back to Senator Humphreys if I am wrong because I am aware it is an issue he has raised a lot and he is interested in it.

It appears that home ownership figures going down is the message of the month for Senator Murnane O’Connor and her Fianna Fáil colleagues, as well as other Senators. They had better check their homework on that and track the history of it. The figures have been going down consistently for the past 20 to 30 years. The percentage of home ownership declined greatly in the years when Fianna Fáil was in government. The figures have not fallen dramatically in recent years. There has been a steady decline in home ownership since the 1980s. It was more than a steady decline in the years when Fianna Fáil was in government. Senators should check their figures before they start with their mantra. There are different reasons for the decline. I accept that some people cannot access money for the house they want to buy. I do not say that is not a reason. Another reason is that it is a personal choice. There is a general trend towards not owning houses in some parts of the world, for example, in Europe, which is reaching here too. There has been a steady decline. For various reasons, people set up their permanent home much later in life. There are reasons for the decline in home ownership, but it is an issue that will affect how we manage wealth, pensions and incomes in years to come when people retire. That is the reason the document we produced in February 2019 in conjunction with the Department of Health on housing options for our ageing population focuses on how we will deal with people who will not have equity in a house. Currently, approximately 87% of people over the age of 65 own their own house and that will change in years to come for various reasons.

Regardless of whether we fix the housing crisis, the level of home ownership will still be a lot lower. Senator Humphreys is correct; we are trying to develop policies in that regard. It does involve focusing on pensions and income but also the choice of housing and the housing options available appropriate to people who are ageing.

We must also have the conversation about those who are renting in the long term, that is renting from the age of 30 years up to the age of 70 years, and how they can manage that rent when they are no longer working at the same level. We are focusing on that and we are trying to develop solutions. I am not saying that we have all the issues worked out but we are in that space and we are watching those trends. Let us be clear that these are not new trends. It is not true that this is something new that has only happened in the past two years.

The issue of the credit union movement being involved in the mortgage market was raised. We would like the credit unions to be involved in housing. The credit unions have money that could be invested in housing projects and community projects through housing bodies. We had a discussion on this issue in the other House twice this week. Some of the credit unions are ready to do that. The housing bodies are permitted to do it but are choosing not to do it. It is not a case of the Government stopping credit unions from investing in housing. The rules have been changed in the Department of Finance and the Central Bank of Ireland. CUDA is one of the representative bodies that represents some of the larger credit unions which are ready and waiting. There is a special purpose vehicle ready to invest money in housing. Naturally they would like to do it other ways as well. I think there is space for them to do so. I would welcome the involvement of credit unions with housing bodies and others to provide houses in the years ahead. Hopefully we can do that.

I think Senator Murnane O'Connor was raising the home loan market and mortgages. I believe some of them are making changes there too. When it comes to some of the vacant properties and some of the cheaper properties in various counties, one would not need a full mortgage to do them up, and a credit union loan might be more appropriate and that should be looked at as well.

The Senator mentioned the home loan - perhaps she missed it during the months of July or September - but the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, consistently told this House and the Dáil that the money was available for an application that would meet the criteria. There was never a doubt about that in his mind. He always said it. In fact the figures were given at a committee meeting a few weeks ago to confirm there was an extra €353 million allocated to match the commitments that Deputy Eoghan Murphy had made. We were never in doubt but there was hysteria that the money was not there. It was always there.

There was information that it was gone.

It was confirmed that the money was there. The figure is more than €350 million. It was discussed at the housing committee a few weeks ago. There is no issue of people not being able to get a loan, if they qualify for it. More than 1,000 people have been successful in qualifying for that loan. More people will need it. I think it is a very good product and it is working well.

One also sees that the banks are changing their products. If the Government can offer a scheme, the banks should be able to offer a long-term fixed rate product. That is something they are doing. There is a bit more sense in it. Hopefully we can move to that as well. So the money is not running out.

How much time remains?

The Minister can keep going for as long as he likes.

We can stay until 5 p.m.

We might still be here at 5 p.m., I will try-----

Will the Chair allow a second round?

That is not in keeping with the Order of Business.

Senator Craughwell raised some issues about private housing. If people want to buy a house and knock it and replace it, that is their business and it is their money. We do not get involved in that. Those people must go through the planning process. That is people's private money and I am not going to go there. We have enough to do to manage public money and provide public housing.

The issue of high rents versus the option to get a mortgage was raised. The help-to-buy scheme was designed to help people to get the deposit and be able to draw down a mortgage to buy a house. We recognise the difficulty of raising the deposit. The bank rules were set to protect people. Many people were let down by previous Governments and were allowed to borrow excessive amounts of money, which they could never afford to pay back, for properties that were not worth the money. We are not allowing that to happen again. Through the intervention of the Government or the Central Bank of Ireland there are rules. Naturally they are reviewed every year to see if they should be tweaked. The Taoiseach has said that they should look at the level of the deposit, because it is difficult. The help-to-buy scheme was designed to help people buy a house. We watch this situation and we do try.

It was quite clear from past experience that when people could borrow more money they did borrow it and paid more for the house. That was not a sustainable model and did not give us a good result in the long run. We must be very careful in the way we intervene. We want to encourage people to consider home ownership as a choice. As a party and as a Government, we believe that choice should be there. I accept that it is not there for everybody at this time as properties are too dear. Senator Coffey listed all the improvements that will get us to that point eventually.

Members raised the tenant purchase scheme. We are committed to reviewing the tenant purchase scheme and we will come back in a few weeks with the changes that we are suggesting. There is a major issue for people who feel they are cut out of that scheme because they cannot raise an income of €15,000 per annum. The logic of setting a minimum income of €15,000 is that in order to own a house and manage it as well as managing your life, one would need an income of €15,000. There was no point in allowing somebody buy a house that he or she could not afford to manage afterwards. Some people who have access to a pension pot or some amount of money and want to buy a house feel excluded from that scheme. That issue is being considered in the review and we will have an update on that scheme in the weeks ahead.

Senator Craughwell mentioned the German co-operative model. We look at many different models. I do not know who Senator Craughwell has met, but I get a sense that he was over there with the co-operative bank model, which we deal with quite a lot. He is not present but I will talk to him about it. He named various councils, and he is not happy with the four-stage approval of Dublin City Council. There are different ways of bringing forward projects. There are many different companies involved in off-site construction, modular homes and different forms of rapid build projects. We try to encourage them once they have the proper certificates. If there is a way of building more efficiently and in a more cost effective and speedy manner, we are up for it. The local authorities are encouraged to use all different models. Dublin City Council has taken the lead in trying to allow for that in apartment building and it ran a competition to encourage rapid build construction. I think that was quite successful. It is doing a lot of work and is taking the lead to develop that framework. We want to encourage different forms of construction. We do not dictate to anybody what form of construction they should use, but we ask them to look at the different options. There are many factories developing off-site construction of modular homes which are worth looking at. That allows for rapid construction, but that is different from actually getting on site. There are still planning, procurement and other procedures that they need to go through in order to get on site. I wish it would only take five weeks to go through the process but it takes about a year for anybody to do it, but that is no excuse for sites that have been left sitting for years. We should be able to do this much quicker.

Senator Coffey raised the progress that was being made and noted the steady rate of improvement with the targets and aims being met. It does not mean we are happy with where we are, because as Members have said, we are not happy because we want to increase the supply of housing to bring housing into a more affordable space and to encourage more private housing. On social housing delivery, we had always said that we could not get from practically zero to 10,000 houses in one year but we have got there in three years. This year there will be more than 10,000 new social houses in the system. They have been delivered in many different ways. Some Members have issues with that and that is fine, but the Government has delivered 10,000 plus new social houses, with more than 6,000 direct build, some Part Vs, long-term leasing, acquisitions and some vacant properties as well. There are different schemes and there will be 10,000 more houses at the end of this year than there was at the start of the year. That is good progress. It is not enough, we want to build on it and go further. However, that would not have happened if we did not start the plan three years ago. I hear people from some parties say that they will build 50,000 houses next year. It may be Fianna Fáil saying this. I do not see the plan on how to deliver that. It does not happen that way. One has to start a year or two before the point to get to a level. That is what the Government is doing. That is why it was a five-year plan. It is working. It will work. I urge whoever else might be in charge in the future to approach the problem in the same way, with action plans that lay out the action that have to be completed by all the different players and implement it. This process has worked for jobs, it is working for housing and it will work for climate change. It is a good way to do business and I would encourage it. One will not solve a problem as big as the housing problem in six months or a year. Nobody believes that, people are not fools. People can see all the sites that are open and all the houses that are being built. They realise that there is progress. They will still give out that it is not enough, and that is the job of the Opposition and fair enough. One has to start, implement it and build the pipeline of supply, allocate the funding, go through the planning. One cannot just say that next year we will build 50,000 houses and it will happen. It does not work that way. Sinn Féin tried it. I have asked them many times where they get the magic pen and obviously Fianna Fáil went down the same road. I think people have moved beyond that, that they have realistic expectations.

Does the Minister of State realise that we were all complaining today because the system is not working? The Minister of State's system is not working.

I do not agree with the Senator. It is working.

The Senator knows it is working. I used to listen to this-----

I know the Minister of State is trying to conclude.

I am very slow, I am on the way. I used to listen to the same complaints about jobs. When the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government started delivering jobs, and we had some great success, and Senator Humphreys was a Minister in that Government and would have seen the reduction in the demand for social protection because he was in that Department, yet the mantra was that they were not real jobs. They were real jobs and that has been proven. Likewise, we are told the housing plans are not working but they are working. It is not enough to deal with the housing shortage, and nobody is saying that it is. People are not stupid. They know there are thousands of houses being built.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael Government introduced the local property tax.

I can bring Senator Murnane O'Connor to see 300 different sites to show her where we are building houses.

They are real houses, not made up or just drawn onto paper. They are real and it is happening. Yet, people try to say they are not happening, which is a pity. I have no problem saying it is not enough but do not tell me nothing is happening, because that is not true. I have listened to that quite a lot from people. I believe it was Senator Gavan who said that it was time to have a social housing building programme brought in, as if there was no building programme already. People are not that stupid. Do not try to fool them. I absolutely admit that it is not enough; we do the housing count every month to show and declare honestly that families are still without a home. Nobody is hiding that fact. We also have a plan in place to try to deal with that but one should not try to claim that nothing is happening. That is not believable and is not going to get us very far in future plans.

Senator Coffey's point was mainly in that space also. Evidence of payment of rent should be considered when a person applies for a mortgage. We tried to allow for that in our Rebuilding Ireland mortgage. In Deputy Noonan's time as Minister for Finance and after Deputy Donohoe took office as Minister, they communicated the request to allow for that to the Central Bank. We have asked for that to be done. I understand the point made by the Senator, which is that if people can prove they can pay €1,600 in rent, they can certainly afford a mortgage of €1,200. We are trying to get that clear and work is being done on that.

Senator Gavan is not in the Chamber but he referred earlier to tenancy rights. A lot of progress has been made on that. I did not go into it today because the Seanad was the last House to discuss that Bill in July and I assumed that Senators are up to date. I accept that it is not enough change for everybody. A further rent Bill will come through the Houses in the months ahead, sponsored by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, with more changes. We are looking at the longer-term issue on how to encourage more long-term leases and rents. We are working on that. We have not covered the issue of preventing a person from selling their home because I do not believe it is constitutional. We have discussed this with NGOs and many others. We believe a lot of the changes we made in recent months will give tenants a lot more protection, will give them some extra security of tenure and will make a difference. We will build on that and will constantly monitor it.

It is not a case that we are not making any changes. Every time I come to this House I hear that my party, Fine Gael, is ideologically opposed to social housing or to intervening in the rental market but we are not. We have done that. Even though they are in opposition and can write all the stuff they wish, even Sinn Féin Members' commitment to social housing is less than ours in government. We put the plan together and put the money behind it. In opposition, Members are calling for less and yet they come into this House and tell me that I am ideologically opposed to social housing. That is absolutely not true and I am really getting fed up with that. It does not stack up and it is not factually true. If one really wanted to say the Government is doing less, then I suggest Opposition Members should produce plans that would produce more houses than we are doing, and should commit to it. I have repeatedly asked other parties to commit to long-term funding on social housing and I have not heard them coming out with realistic budgets behind that. That is commitment.

We have it going into the Government's budget.

I was not referring to-----

I was not talking about Fianna Fáil. I was talking about Sinn Féin this time because its Members keep saying we are ideologically opposed to it. That is not true. If it were the case, we would not be building the social housing we are building.

I accept there are difficulties with the rental markets - I have not said there are not - and I accept that rents are too high. We are trying to work on this as much as we possibly can. Again, housing assistance payment, HAP, was raised - mainly by Senator Gavan but also by others. Senator Coffey was right. The HAP scheme was designed to replace the previous rent allowance scheme, which actually prevented people from working. I believe at the time Senator Humphreys was involved in that along with then Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton-----

If the Minister of State would give way-----

Let me make the point first-----

-----on a point of clarification-----

I do not mean the use of HAP for-----

It is within the Standing Orders-----

Will the Senator let me make the point first? The original version of HAP was to allow people to go back to work while still getting rent assistance. That is what I was going to say - that the Senator was involved in that part of it. That was the change we made, which was important.

It is very important, if the Minister of State will yield through Standing Orders, to point out that rent assistance-----

The Minister of State does not have to give way.

I very clearly remember that HAP came in because in the 2000s the rent assistance, which was originally an emergency payment, unfortunately became the norm as a housing policy. It was a huge mistake by that Government. Essentially it was the privatisation of housing. HAP was intended to allow people to go back to work while they were on a rental allowance. Rent allowance should never have been there. It always has been the intention to have HAP phased out.

The Senator has made his point.

I had been trying to make the point and I was trying to compliment the Senator.

I was not criticising the Minister of State-----

I was trying to compliment-----

That will teach the Minister of State.

It will yes. I will keep my praise in my pocket from now on. I remember debating this issue with Senator Humphreys, and the then Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, that people were prevented from going back to work because they would lose their rent allowance, which was a crazy situation. Again, that was other Governments but it was addressed in a way that people could go back to work and still get some assistance towards their housing. The history of HAP is that is has expanded-----

We are back on track.

More than 40,000 families use the HAP scheme. This is far too many and I wish it was a lot fewer. If they did not use that scheme however, those families would not have a home. As I said earlier, it takes a little bit of time to build the housing stock that was not built by other Governments in the past, namely, Fianna Fáil. They did not build the social housing-----

Fianna Fáil stopped building and we are paying the price for it.

-----and while we increase the social housing that people really need, we still need to find those families a home. This is why HAP is used to provide somebody with a home today.

More than 40,000 families, it is probably nearly 50,000 families, are in a house today because of HAP. In most cases it is a success but like any rental agreement, in some cases it is not perfect. In the majority of cases, however, they are a success. Naturally Members will bring the negative stories into the House but it is my job to give a bit of balance to it. There are a lot of positive stories too and HAP gives people a home in the short term. Senator Coffey addressed this, and he is right in that regard also.

Senator Lawlor referred to trying to play catch-up and asked about approved housing bodies, AHBs, of which there are 551. I believe Senator Craughwell also mentioned them. The majority of those housing bodies are not large-scale housing bodies that employ many staff, directors and so on. Most of the AHBs are smaller housing associations that are responsible for one very successful project and they have done great work. The legislation being brought through is really not for them, and there will also be different tiers as it goes along with regard to the regulations. There are probably 20 major players and the rest are at a smaller scale. We do, however, have to protect everybody - because that draws on taxpayers' money - including themselves and ourselves. Mergers are being encouraged, although it is not at a very fast pace. Gradually those housing associations are coming together or merging, or their purpose for forming in the first place is no longer there since they may have built their houses very successfully. They have done great work. We are trying to replicate a lot of that great work. We are, for example, trying to roll out a new model for delivery of housing for people who are ageing. Those housing associations were involved in bringing forward the successful projects in the past. They have done good work.

I have dealt with the help-to-buy scheme. Reference was also made to the urban regeneration guidelines and the social housing versus the other types. I believe in having a mix on every site such as private, social and affordable housing. I strongly believe that. Others might not and that is fine. The issue raised was that the guidelines were not being adhered to in some cases. I am familiar with one site that was brought to my attention. I do not believe it is an issue in every county. I have heard of one site in Kildare, and possibly another in Dublin. We do look at that-----

It affects the whole of the centre of Dublin.

We do look at that and we deal with it as much as we possibly can. Senator Lawlor also spoke about house quality. There have been improvements to the quality of houses and reductions in heating bills through regulations that were introduced over the past years. The Senator has left the Chamber and perhaps Senators will let him know if they are talking to him that we have signed off on new regulations that will be introduced in one month that will help us towards nearly zero energy, NZEB, houses. This kicks off on 1 November. This will set the bar even higher for housing quality and construction and will lead to greater energy efficiency and lower emissions. It will also lower the price people will pay to heat their homes. Compared to a house built perhaps ten or 15 years ago, there will be a difference of some €800 a year in the price of the energy bill.

There are issues with qualifying, are there not?

Senator Lawlor mentioned the effect of ventilation on health. The regulation change in guidance document F is about ventilation. They go hand in hand. If one is to insulate a house more and make it warmer, then one has to have proper ventilation. The Senator was correct when he said that without proper ventilation one can have health difficulties. Under the regulation changes it will be the opposite and there will be very positive health outcomes, as we will have the right combination. It will be a positive story. I have no doubt that somebody will try to say it is not, but when one reads about it and looks at the science behind it we can see it will result in healthy outcomes. Ireland leads the way in energy efficient housing. We are very clear on this. In fairness, I must praise Fianna Fáil and other previous Governments because Ireland has progressively moved in this space over the last 20 to 30 years in improving the regulations on the quality in the build of a house. We are leaders in Europe when it comes to energy efficient homes, providing we build them that way and stick to the regulations. There have been difficulties with how regulations were met, but I will return to the issue of apartments shortly. It has generally, however, been an improvement and has been a good news story.

I will progress in order and will now address Senator Humphrey's points on the apartments that were built wrong. This is still a big issue. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy and I have said in both this House and the Dáil that we do not have a way to address this that does not expose the taxpayer to a massive bill with regard to these apartments. They were built wrong, not built to regulations and not built properly. We have intervened when there have been faulty products or materials such as pyrite and mica in Dublin, Meath and Kildare in Leinster, and with the incidences of mica in Mayo and Donegal. That is a different area and a different space, and a redress plan was set up for that. They, however, were faulty materials. The apartment issue is different. I said that I would meet somebody, but then it changed afterwards. We will talk about that again. I said that I would meet anybody who had solutions and ideas around how to deal with this.

That is not what was in the email, however. We can return to that matter.

Senator Humphreys also raised the issue of co-living, about which he raised concerns in a previous debate on legislation. Others have since jumped on the bandwagon but he was the only Member to express concerns at the time. We do not share those concerns because we do not consider co-living as the only housing option. A check of the various planning applications being made would show it is not the only type of housing coming forward. We are not saying this is a solution for social housing. The private market will build co-living units for some people. The model works very well in other cities and I do not see why it will not work well here. Senator Humphreys is convinced that all of Dublin will be co-living and I do not think that is where we will go.

No, it is not all of Dublin.

There are a number of applications but I do not think the whole of Dublin is going to become co-living all of a sudden. There has always been a form of unplanned co-living here. People have shared houses and tried to turn family homes, which were not built for renters and co-living, into co-living spaces. That is not a good outcome. This involves allowing for planned co-living models that work in other countries and might prove useful here for supply. Some people in the private sector want to have a co-living option. That is their decision. Co-living is not an ideal solution for people who do not want to live this way but feel they have no other choice. That is the Senator's concern. All the other actions in housing mean that people will not be put in a position that they have no choice but to co-live.

We discussed the build-to-rent model when we introduced the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness and the strategy for rent. Everybody asked me why we could not adopt the model used in Austria, Germany and other countries where there is institutional investment in rental properties or build-to-rent schemes. That is what we provided for. We wanted to attract funds, ideally Irish money from credit unions, for example, to fund purpose built properties to rent. That initiative will eventually be successful. I accept that when rents are high this will not look like a success at the start. The initiative will increase supply which, in turn, will reduce rents. Build-to-rent is only one small part of housing development. It will have an increasing role in some of our cities because the type of build-to-rent model we want cannot be funded by some of the previous players who built houses. We needs funds to do this as well. Build-to-rent is another space in the market and will not build housing for everyone. It has been portrayed wrongly. We can debate the issue again at some stage.

There is no debate, only facts.

The issue is choice. The Senator might not like the option and he does not have to live in one of these places.

I am discussing the facts with regard to supply in the market.

I have all the details on supply in front of me.

Please allow the Minister of State to conclude.

There are no co-living units being built this year.

We should deal in facts, not perceptions.

Yes, and this is the Senator's perception.

No, it is not my perception.

All of the Senators present are Members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I am sure it will have time to address this issue.

In the Dublin area, the only new builds are build-to-rent and co-living units. Those are the facts. There are two apartment blocks for sale and they may never come up for sale because an institutional investor may buy them.

The commencement notices and planning permission been granted for apartments in the past two years show that not all new builds are co-living spaces. The Senator should check the facts.

The Minister of State should check who purchased all the apartments that were for sale, for example, in Mount Argus. I can list others.

It is not every case. The Senator mentioned the fair deal scheme, which was introduced by the former Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney. At that time, the scheme was not fair because applicants who owned a property were penalised. It is fairer now and it is open to everybody, irrespective of whether people have an asset. A home or asset is factored into the cost and one pays a percentage. However, the scheme is also available to people who do not own a house. I suggest the Senator check the facts. The scheme is more equal now because people lost out in the past if they had savings or a home. We are aware that changes must be made to the scheme arising from changes in home ownership. Even if we fix housing, the trend away from home ownership will continue because not everyone wants to own a house. Home ownership is not everyone's choice.

That is not true. Many people want to own their own home.

I am sure many people do but the worldwide trend is that fewer people want to own a house because people's lives change.

One must plan for societal change and analyse housing trends.

I agree with the Senator. That is what we are doing.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

Senator Mulherin is not here so I will not go into the issues she raised, which were mainly local issues concerning pyrite and mica in Mayo. I hope the scheme to which she referred will be over the line very soon. As part of the budget it was announced that a scheme would be designed. All of that work has been done. Officials from my Department have met representatives of Mayo County Council and Donegal County Council with a view to completing the scheme.

I will respond to Senator Boyhan before he has a canary. The Senator asked whether the Part V obligation to provide social housing should be increased from 10% to 20%. An increase is not on our radar at the moment. I understand that the percentage of social housing on many sites is well above 20%. We engage with developers of sites on social and affordable housing and many sites have delivered much more than 10%. Legislation stipulates 10% as the minimum but it not a maximum. We will keep an eye on the matter. To be honest, we have no plans to increase the percentage.

The Senator outlined the parts of the action plan that work, including the place finders service. I agree with him that the place finders service works very well. Some local authorities have asked for additional resources and we have provided them. Some local authorities have two or three place finder offices while others only have one. I think the Senator was here when I said that the scheme has helped more than 8,000 people to find a HAP property or rental property. The scheme has been a success. We would prefer if people did not need the service in the first place. Naturally, it will not be a long-term service.

The Senator mentioned the land aggregation, LAG, scheme and its sites. I have outlined the best way to get a return on those lands in counties Louth and Meath and many other counties. If someone has a site and is paying interest on it and trying to carry the cost, the best solution is to utilise it and bring it back into use, which is where we can be of assistance. The Senator said some of the sites are not serviced. There are funds available to service them. The sites are being looked at by the Land Development Agency and local authorities in order to bring forward plans. There is money available to service them and make them available. Some of these sites are large and we do not believe they should have social housing only. They should have a combination of social, affordable and private housing and pay for some of the infrastructure under that model. I explained the four-stage process and will not repeat myself. I do not believe the process delays house construction and I can prove my point by showing people our week by week chart.

Shanganagh Castle was mentioned. I do not know the full history of the project and I can only tell the Senator the current state of affairs. As he will know, the site has been identified as a project of interest by my Department. It is something that we have focused on for a while and I have been on the site a couple of times. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is working in partnership with the Land Development Agency. This year, the council and the LDA have worked on plans and I have seen some of the plans, as has the Senator. They are working to get to development-ready stage. The site can yield approximately 600 homes, the majority of which are likely to be social and affordable housing. I hope that will be the case. The site belongs to the council, not me or the Senator. Subject to the approval of the elected members of the council, who are in charge of it through the local authority, it is expected that an application for planning can be made to An Bord Pleanála by the end of the year. Pending a grant of planning approval, a procurement process will take place with an expected onsite timeline of early 2021. I believe we can beat that timeline. If planning is secured, I am sure a way can be found to get on site before the end of 2020. I do not see why that cannot be done. I set out the rough timeline.

The county council hopes that the serviced site fund will be approved in time in order to open up the site. I expect we will be able to work with it on this matter but a procedure must be followed. The key is to get the site to planning stage and secure planning permission, while respecting everyone's rights in the planning process.

The Senator mentioned the Central Mental Hospital, which is another site that has been talked about for a while. I agree with him that there is no reason to wait until the site is fully available before planning for it. On establishment, the LDA had access to eight sites, of which the site in Dundrum was one. The plan was to deliver about 3,000 houses. The site has the potential to produce between 1,500 and 1,600 units but the number depends on the master plan. The site has been identified as a potential site for cost-rental as well as other housing. Significant preparatory work is under way for these sites.

The Senator mentioned another site, which it is hoped will complete the planning process in 2020. The Senator asked about the master plan. There is no reason construction on the site could not start earlier than 2021.

The Land Development Agency is up and running. The legislation still has to come through these Houses. I hope it will be supported because the agency can have a long-term impact on the future management of land in this country. The agency has enjoyed initial success with some of these sites but we need an agency of this kind to work in conjunction with local authorities to manage land and ensure we avoid a return to the situation where nobody is building housing in a given year. The remit of the Land Development Agency, on behalf of the State, is to make sure there is a steady supply of housing coming through the system.

I thank the Minister of State. It is clear from his opening statement of almost half an hour and responses of more than 40 minutes that he is very involved in these matters and has a great grasp of his brief. It is very unusual to have a Minister in the House without officials seated behind him feeding him general stuff. Maybe the Minister of State's staff do not know he is here.

I thank him for his comprehensive reply. When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 1 October 2019.