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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 17 May 2021

Vol. 276 No. 3

Affordable Housing Bill 2021: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

At its heart this Bill is about the State stepping up to provide affordable homes for purchase and rent using all means at its disposal to tackle the housing crisis.

The ongoing affordability crisis has reduced home ownership rates to historic lows. It has increased the age of the average first-time buyer by almost a decade to 35 years of age. Ireland has plummeted from a world leader to below the EU average rate of home ownership. For an entire generation, owning their own home is slipping through their fingers as they pay unprecedented levels of rent or as they live longer in their parents' homes. A generation is caught in an unaffordable rent trap. The recent Maynooth housing controversy has underlined the scale of that challenge.

The Affordable Housing Bill 2021 has four key elements. It will be the first local authority-led, direct build affordable homes on State lands in more than a decade and our first ever national cost rental scheme. It will also provide for an innovative shared equity scheme. It will expand Part V by designating units for first-time buyers. This element will be brought in on Committee Stage of the Bill in Dáil Éireann following the conclusion of further work I am doing with the Attorney General and with final Cabinet approval.

The roll-out of local authority-led, direct build affordable housing will be the central plank of the Government's affordable housing plan. Units will range from €160,000 to €310,000. I am working with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, to reform the serviced sites fund to ensure it can effectively fund major delivery. The upcoming housing for all plan, which will be published this summer, will set out the ambitious range of targets throughout the State over the coming years.

I turn to Part V and first-time buyers. I intend to bring forward further changes to strengthen this Bill on Committee Stage. This will include expanding Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and designating a range of units for first-time buyers. Work is under way right now with the Attorney General to bring these amendments forward to level the playing pitch further for first-time buyers, which is an absolute priority for me and for the Government.

We are in the middle of a national housing crisis and faced with such an emergency we need to use all the tools at our disposal to address this challenge across both the private and public sectors. We cannot tackle this crisis with one hand tied behind our back. I am committed to pragmatism over ideology and delivery over dogmatism to boost housing supply and open up real home ownership to a new generation. We need to stop letting one party's perfect be the enemy of everyone else's good when facing a crisis.

Silver bullet fantasies and hysteria politics do a generation locked in a rent trap a grave disservice. I am committed to using every weapon in our arsenal to fight the battle and turn the tide in our housing crisis. To refuse to use the private sector would, as I said earlier, be fighting this with one hand tied behind our back. Instead, we need to show energy, innovation, flexibility and commitment to get bricks and mortar into the ground with the State playing a central role and the biggest role that the State has played in generations. In this light the Bill is a major leap forward in our housing policy.

I look forward to our debate on the Bill's provisions. I will seek to respond to any specific questions and engage further with Senators on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Go raibh maith agat, a Aire, and welcome to the House.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Access to secure affordable housing is one of the most immediate and urgent challenges facing young people, modest income earners, workers and families in Ireland today. The Minister and the Government recognise that fact. The Minister also recognises that over the past ten years housing supply dropped, house prices inflated and homelessness exploded. I commend him and the Government for all of the actions they have taken to date.

The cost of renting and the buying of homes have increased by more than 40% since 2016 yet at the same time housing supply has plummeted. So we have a real crisis of both affordability and supply. That crisis is real, urgent and undermines citizens, society, the economy and our future. The urgency and timeliness of this legislation could not be more pressing.

The Minister and the Government's affordable housing plan recognises, I guess, the market's failure to deliver affordable housing. The plan is designed so that the State will take a lead in the provision of affordable housing. It will have the State take a lead in the provision of affordable housing and the increased supply of affordable housing.

We support the Affordable Housing Bill. We support the State taking this lead to help people on modest incomes and people who earn above the social income thresholds yet who are still priced out of owning their own home or just renting an affordable home. For the first time in a decade, as the Minister has said, local authorities will be empowered to build affordable homes both to purchase and rent on public land.

As the Minister has said, affordable homes that start at a price of €160,000 will introduce for the first time in the history of the State, and this has been talked about for years, affordable cost-rental homes. These are affordable cost-rental homes where renters have security of tenure, affordable rents and only pay rents for the construction and management of their homes.

The proposal to double, at a minimum, social and affordable housing that will be provided in every private development is welcome and to be supported. The proposed amendment to ring-fence a percentage of all new developments for first-time buyers will be supported also. The short-term measure where the State provides financial support to renters who pay more for rent than they would on a mortgage to secure their own affordable home is very welcome. I agree with the Minister that the issue has been distorted and misrepresented. I can tell him that I have been contacted by people who have been saving who pay more in rent than they would on a mortgage and welcome the Government's financial support to enable them to acquire their own home.

The Affordable Housing Bill will empower local authorities and get them back building homes in addition to their significant social housing building programme. There is the affordable housing element for local authorities to partner with the Land Development Agency. There is the establishment of the Land Development Agency on a statutory footing to manage public land so it is maximised for the delivery of affordable homes. That is to be welcomed. There is a combination of those two pieces of legislation with ambitious budgets. With budgets of €3.3 billion for the housing budget and €2.5 billion for the Land Development Agency, that is a significant financial power being invested by the State to deliver affordable homes both to purchase and to rent for people on modest incomes who work hard, pay their taxes and deserve to have secure affordable homes.

It is right that the State uses every available asset to support people. It is right that a combination of the Affordable Housing Bill, the Land Development Agency and the budgets will provide affordable homes for decades to come if this legislation is passed. For generations to come the legislation will restore home ownership and affordable home ownership.

The cost of land is a significant portion of the cost of a home. We all know this. We are going to use State-owned land to reduce the cost of providing homes. We will legislate then for affordable purchase and rental. We will control the use of that land and the value of the land. It has been said that it is the greatest land devaluation in the history of the State. That is taking place for a reason. It is taking place to invest in providing citizens with homes and to invest in communities, society and the economy.

The shared equity loan scheme shows a real commitment in the short term. We all know there has been a decade of undersupply of housing. We all know that there is no magic quantum of housing available to be built overnight. It takes time to plan, design and build. We know that the 35,000 housing target will be met by this Government over time. We also know that today there are 80,000 permissions granted for private housing that are unaffordable because of the cost of construction and private land, combined with the current bank lending rules. The shared equity loan scheme will bridge that gap for people who pay more in rent than they would on a mortgage. The scheme will allow them secure an affordable mortgage and allow the State to invest in their homes with them. It will also stimulate construction that is so desperately needed. If we all believe sincerely that we want to tackle the housing crisis then we need to use every single available tool to do so. There is no one silver bullet and no quick fix. In addition, people have waited too long. The urgency and need for modest income earners to know that they can have a secure and affordable home is real. They cannot tolerate any further delay.

Covid-19 has compounded the crisis of both affordability and supply. During Covid-19 we all recognised the real value of having a secure home and having some place safe to go for protection. That is not a luxury and should be a basic human right. That should be an essential human requirement. It is right that the State is taking this action. It is right that the plan is ambitious, radical and that we are going to combine it with the funding and the urgency to deliver.

We have all worked collectively to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. I urge every Member of this House and the Dáil to work collectively. We all know and recognise that there is a housing crisis - a crisis of affordability and supply. If we want to really address that crisis and deliver for citizens then we need to support this affordable housing legislation that will see local authorities build affordable homes on public lands, both to purchase and rent, provide affordable cost-rental homes, double the allocation for social and affordable homes in every private development and, most importantly, in the short term provide financial support so that all of our citizens can move on and have a secure and affordable place to call home.

Leading for the Opposition is the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Victor Boyhan.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I do not doubt his personal commitment to this job but it is interesting to look at the housing debate.

There was a confidence and supply Government, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael effectively supporting each other. There was Rebuilding Ireland, which is still Government policy. I contacted the Department today to confirm that. While I acknowledge that the Minister is now playing a new policy, that is the reality.

I thank the Minister for comprehensively outlining the Bill. It is regrettable that the Government has not adopted a working definition of affordability based on disposable income. In order for home ownership to be made feasible, affordability must be tied to income, not the market. We hear all sorts of talk, such as the cap of €450,000 for a property in Dublin city or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where I live. The Central Bank rules, however, allow for up to 3.5 times a person's income. Not everyone is living on a combined income. There seems to be an expectation that someone has to live with someone else, on two incomes, when we work out the cost to pay.

The Minister is correct that it is about supply and affordability, whether someone is renting or buying a home. We need to reconsider the model of public housing. I am a supporter of public housing. We do not all need to own our own homes, although we might aspire to do so. A large part of our personal equity, our savings and the income we have earned is tied up in homes. We have this belief that everyone must own a home. Everyone has a right to a secure and safe home but we do not have to get hung up on the idea of home ownership. I spoke to a woman the other day who has just retired at 66 years of age. She would like to cash in her chips and be able to rent an affordable home but she cannot get one. I strongly believe that the cost of rental homes is also important and we need to address it.

What is the definition of affordable housing? It is not defined in the Bill. I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for its paperwork and what it has done. It has done a great deal of work on this. There is no mention of income. The Bill states that a house built or made available in a certain way is affordable, regardless of whether anyone can afford it. In Dublin, rents have increased by 42% in the past six years. One of the cuckoo fund managers was quoted in the Sunday Independent yesterday as saying they had never seen rental increases like that in any jurisdiction of which they are aware.

We need to look at public housing and we must have a definition of what it means. The Minister spoke earlier about the Vienna model, whereby people can access housing at all times. It is secure tenure, a well as fair and capped rent. That is what people want. They want secure tenure and proper rents. To suggest that all these houses are out there and that people can have them is just not the reality. The Vienna model does this by adopting a general needs approach to housing provision and delivering secure, long-term and innovative public rental housing, as well as designed neighbourhoods. In Vienna, higher-income earners can also access the public housing sector. Up to two thirds of Vienna's 1.9 million population live in public housing and are happy to do so. I have visited the city a number of times and seen the schemes. They are excellent. It is important that we understand the meaning of public housing.

I think we are all in agreement. I have no hang-up on any ideology. Quite frankly, I do not care who builds the houses. There is room for approved housing bodies, AHBs, the private sector, the public sector and the councils. Anybody who can build houses in an affordable way and pass them on is to be accepted. It is about secure tenure, affordability and the supply of units. The Minister spoke about the cap of €320,000 in counties Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow, and €250,000 in the rest of the country. He spoke about the cap of €450,000 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Today I looked on The cheapest house I could find in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown was listed at €335,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 60 sq. m, terraced house in bits. If one looks at the Central Bank mortgage rules and the income required to get a mortgage for that house, one does not have to be a mathematician to work it out, at 3.5 times the person's income. A couple on a combined income of €100,000 - some might say that is not realistic but it is - can borrow up to €350,000. For that falling-down house in bits in Dún Laoghaire for €350,000, I do not know whether that couple would even get approval for a mortgage for it. We have a problem. It is difficult to hear the Minister speak about capping property prices in Dublin city and Dún Laoghaire at €450,000 because it is not realistic.

As I said, I am not hung up on the ideology of how we establish it, but we need to look more closely at setting up a public housing trust. There is a slogan, "public houses on public land". I believe in it, although some were critical of it yesterday. I am not in the business of sloganeering but that is what the public want. It is what people say they want. It is what the media were commenting on all weekend. They believe it is a public asset and there should be public housing. As is the case in the Vienna model, people on any income could avail of it. I am not in favour of selling public housing. One of our great problems is that we sold off our public housing stock. I was a member of a local authority for more than 20 years and I saw lovely tram cottages in Dalkey, Blackrock and other places sold for €10,000 and €15,000. Today, they are going for €780,000, and that is only one generation removed from those who bought them, moved to Wexford, Arklow, Waterford, Louth or Mullingar, hated it, wanted to get back but could not afford to do so, with all the knock-on effects on communities and the housing market.

I look forward to engaging further with the Minister on Committee Stage. I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying I would like to hear what the Government intends to do about cuckoo funds. They need their wings clipped. Clearly, we have a serious problem. The people are angry and disappointed. When they hear that the Government has invested money in these funds in the past, they see it as the Government silently supporting them. We seem to be hooked on that. It is all about keeping the messages simple. People, such as teachers, doctors and, dare I say it, Deputies and Senators, have no homes. They are priced out. They cannot afford to buy homes. They may want either to buy or to rent a home, but it is all about affordability and supply. I wish the Minister well in what is a very difficult task. We all know that the Government will be judged on a handful of issues, namely, housing, health, youth unemployment and, possibly, childcare. They are the key issues on which all members of the Government have to deliver, and I wish them well.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for initiating in this House what is some of the most important legislation that will be debated during this Twenty-sixth Seanad. Despite what some would have us believe, the Government takes the housing crisis extraordinarily seriously. Rather than talk about grand plans, ideology and misplaced analysis that the State should be the only player in the delivery of social and affordable homes, the Government is taking action and is willing to deliver social, affordable and private housing via any mechanism possible to deliver what every expert in this space agrees is needed most, namely, supply. As the Minister said, we cannot and should not allow perfection to be the enemy of the good.

The Bill, in conjunction with the Land Development Agency Bill 2021 and the significant increase in the delivery of social homes that has occurred, are the structural foundations that will resolve the housing crisis we face. We need to be honest with people, however, and that goes for the Opposition too. It will not be done overnight. Anyone involved in construction will say it takes three to four years, from concept to completion, to deliver housing units. There are, as has been mentioned, more than 80,000 inactive planning permission applications for units nationally, on which I believe builders will move as a result of the measures in the Bill in relatively short order. The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, commits the Government to building on the foundations of Rebuilding Ireland to deliver housing for all. The document articulates the core belief that everybody should have access to good-quality housing for purchase or rent at an affordable price.

That is why we are introducing the following four main measures as part of the Bill.

The first of these measures is the local authority affordable purchase scheme. This will allow local authorities to acquire, build or cause to be built housing units for purchase by those who cannot secure a mortgage for 90% of the market price of the unit. Units can be delivered directly by the local authority, by approved housing bodies, AHBs, in conjunction with the Land Development Agency, LDA, or via public private partnership arrangements. To support the delivery of affordable homes by local authorities there is a €310 million serviced sites fund to provide infrastructure support to local authorities. One of the main recommendations of the pre-legislative scrutiny was that access to the serviced sites fund be made more flexible and that an open call be introduced. I ask the Minister to ensure this happens without delay and to look at the €50,000 available per unit and adjust it upwards to reflect the higher costs in the greater Dublin area.

I welcome the flexibility to the first-time buyer rule being inserted for those who previously had a dwelling as part of a marriage that has ended, those who sold or lost homes due to insolvency or bankruptcy proceedings and those who are in a home that is now too small for their needs. These are matters I raised on the first day of pre-legislative scrutiny and I thank the Minister for their inclusion in the Bill. I also welcome the standardisation of the scheme of priority for the affordable purchase homes, and the 30% flexibility being introduced for local authorities to prioritise those who perhaps do not meet the standard criteria.

The second measure being introduced, to which the Minister has referred, is cost rental. This is specifically targeted at those who are above the income threshold for social housing but are trapped in high-cost rental accommodation. It is intended that cost rental properties will be long-term secure tenancies. As the Minister said, it is based on the Vienna model, with rents charged to cover the cost of delivering, financing, maintaining and managing the homes. As rents will be linked to the consumer price index, these homes will in fact get more affordable as time progresses.

The development of this new sector is already ongoing with the LDA due to break ground on 306 cost rental homes at Shanganagh, and 440 units will be delivered in association with AHBs in Dublin and Cork, with rents at least 25% below market value. As the Minister knows, there was an open call for the cost rental equity loan earlier this year and I hope, in light of the construction shutdown, that schemes in Waterford, Limerick and Galway can be prioritised and given the green light to proceed without delay to increase the supply of cost rental homes in this calendar year and the early half of 2022.

While I appreciate that the Department is keen to prove the concept with the AHBs, to ramp up significantly the production of cost rental homes we must allow, as in other European countries, the entry of low-cost ethical funds to deliver units at scale. I would appreciate if the Minister could clarify whether there is any impediment in the legislation to enable this to happen. I would also welcome some clarity on how the selection of cost rental tenants will be decided as these will be highly desired properties.

The third pillar of the Bill is the introduction of the affordable purchase shared equity scheme to assist eligible individuals and families in purchasing a private home. Surprisingly, this €75 million scheme, which equates to 1% of the mortgage market in Ireland, has received all of the attention but in truth it is only one small part of the measures that will improve access to, and affordability of, new homes for viable but hard-pressed purchasers who are potentially paying higher rents than the mortgages they could get from the banks. We all know these people. They are our friends and families and they are the people in our areas. In addition, the scheme will incentivise and encourage the construction of more new-build homes to help address clear supply shortages. I welcome the fact the Minister will introduce caps on these, which should probably be reviewed before they are finalised.

Individuals or families will be required to take out the maximum mortgage with the equity percentage being the gap between the maximum mortgage and the cost of the home, up to a maximum of 20%, which can be paid off without interest in the first five years. This is a safeguarding measure to ensure we target those first-time buyers who need it most. The scheme can be combined with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan product and with the help-to-buy scheme, which provides 10%, or up to €30,000, towards the deposit of a home for a first-time buyer.

The fourth pillar of the Bill, which I understand will be introduced on Committee Stage, is the increase in Part V provision from the requirement to have 10% of any housing estate delivered for social housing purposes to at least 20% for social and affordable housing. This will have the net effect of delivering approximately 3,000 affordable purchase units per year, which is hugely welcome. We must also be conscious that increasing the percentage above this level could result in higher prices for the remaining percentage of the development, as builders do not make money on delivering Part V houses as the land costs are attributed at the existing use value.

Housing is the biggest challenge we face outside of Covid-19. I truly believe the Bill will assist us in delivering affordable purchase and rental homes. By all of us putting our shoulders to the wheel and working together, the measures in the Bill will unlock the delivery of affordable homes. I look forward to working with the Minister to realise the ambition in the Bill.

This is very important legislation. It is a tool for the State to address our severe housing crisis. I had high hopes for the Bill and initially reserved judgment because I thought it was important that we get it right. Unfortunately, following the pre-legislative scrutiny and the debates since it was published, I am more wary. I will begin with the positive elements of the Bill. I welcome the provision of affordable housing on public land but, as with everything else, whether the housing will be affordable is open to question. This is because I see a fundamental flaw in the Bill, which is a failure to provide in the legislation a definition of "affordability" that is linked to income. What we have is a market discount Bill that does not guarantee affordability. The Minister can say "affordability" as much as he likes but it will not necessarily mean it is the case.

To give an example, some of the three-bedroom apartments classed as affordable that will be provided on public land in O'Devaney Gardens in the deal with Bartra will cost up to €420,000. This contrasts with a project in the Minister's constituency, where prices will start at €166,000 for two-bedroom apartments and €206,000 for three-bedroom apartments. This is affordable. It is important that we define in the Bill what "affordable" will be.

It is difficult to speak when I am listening to a conversation going on.

I would appreciate if the Cathaoirleach gave me extra time.

Against the advice of all of the experts, the Minister has persisted in going forward with the shared equity portion of the Bill. The evaluation of an equivalent scheme by the UK's Department with responsibility for housing was that 60% of the beneficiaries could have bought a property without the scheme. Furthermore, it stated the scheme contributed towards developers building bigger houses and increasing profits. The report of the London School of Economics was more damning. It stated the scheme did not improve supply or affordability in the areas where it mattered in London. Questions remain. Given all of this background, and the concerns of the Central Bank and the ESRI, why are we going ahead with this element of the plan? More importantly, from where did we get it? It was not from the experts.

Housing policy continues to be investor-led and the shared equity scheme exemplifies this. The approach, through encouragement to build to rent and REITs, has led to Generation Rent, who are worse off than their parents. What frightens me is that there is no indication that the Bill will end this. I am seriously concerned about the rhetoric put forward by the Government, which is either spin or fundamentally does not understand economics 101, that this is a supply-side measures. Everybody else states it is a demand-side measure that will increase house prices. It has echoes of the help-to-buy scheme. In 2017, Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation, in language with which we might be familiar, stated that scheme would boost supply and help first-time buyers to purchase new homes. Can we honestly say in 2021, four years later, that it achieved those aims? Since then, house prices have increased by 22%. It is true that people are getting more from the State to pay for them but they are paying more. When it was introduced, the estimated cost was €50 million and in 2020 it cost €270 million. Will the same cost inflation happen with this policy, which is meant to be a limited intervention?

The Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael market-led approach to housing should have led to supply increasing and rents falling but the help to buy scheme did no such thing. Since the scheme was introduced, rents have gone up by 24% in Dublin and 27% in the rest of the country. The scheme is not about making housing affordable; it is about giving credit. The shared equity scheme is designed to bridge the gap between Central Bank lending rules and what developers are saying it takes for them to develop housing, rather than address the reasons underlying the much higher cost of construction in this country. This is not a policy to get people on the property ladder, but one to generate more profits for developers and saddle people who are just within reach of owning their own home with more debt.

The Minister and the Government have an opportunity to institute a fundamental change in how we approach the provision of housing. I urge him to reconsider this part of the Bill rather than continuing with it. We should learn the lesson from the 2000s and the help to buy scheme that policies which investors and developers say will help the housing market are only really designed to help them.

This goes back to the issue of the lack of definition of "affordability" in the Bill as we move to cost rental. The whole purpose of an affordable rental model is to target lower income renters, protecting them and ensuring that they have a roof over their heads in a crazy rental market. Low-income workers and families cannot take any more of the fallout from the housing crisis. There is no definition of "affordability" in this Bill, just market discount. The minimum cost calculation period in this Bill is 30 years. I consider that too short to provide affordable rental homes to many on low incomes. While 30 years might seem like a long time on paper, for housing and place-making, it is not. I often look at the Iveagh Trust buildings that were used for subsidising low-income housing back in 1907. They are still used for that purpose today.

In addition, we are now opening up cost rental to investors. As they say, perfection is the enemy of progress. That change is meant to be based on the Austrian and German models. However, Austria and Germany established limited profit associations on a legislative basis. That is not being provided for in the Bill before us. It is being done through regulation. Housing policy in Austria and Germany has evolved very differently from housing policy here. Our housing policy has jumped from boom to bust. This is an opportunity for us to test this model. We are letting the investor and landlord class into this new form of tenure before it has even got on its feet. We saw what happened with the approach taken in respect of REITs. We gave an inch to encourage investment at the bottom of the market and they took a mile, in the middle of a housing crisis, to boost their incomes. We are giving the Minister the power to decide what a limited profit is. That is the same Minister who is now providing for a shared equity scheme against all the expert advice.

Let us take it as a good idea. If that is the case, why can we not also make provision in the Bill to limit profits of the build-to-rent developers or investors who buy up whole complexes? While there are many policies that may improve affordability, let us put this to the wider private sector and link rents to inflation, as is provided for in the Affordable Housing Bill. The Minister loves to pay lip service to young people, single people and first-time buyers. There is a whole lot the Government will do, yet when it comes to the detail, we see that it is heavily influenced by the desire to incentivise the investor and landlord class. It is all carrots and no stick. This Bill was an opportunity to back this up with action.

We cannot take this Bill on its own. Delivery is what is important, as is how the provisions will interact with the LDA and wider Government policy. That is where I am disappointed. From what I can see, in the approach to the cuckoo funds buying up housing estates in Maynooth, Government policy seems to be looking to lock another generation into a rental economy, servicing the needs of investors. How are we doing that? We are doing it through the build-to-rent sector. There are 1,400 units being built in my area against an agreed masterplan, none of which will be available for people to buy. Policy is based on high-income yields for investors. The head of Hines told us in public meetings that this is what his investors want. Security and affordability in cities and high-density areas matter too. People should be able to buy to rent and live in Ireland securely. The Affordable Housing Bill will not achieve that. It is trying to incentivise investors and developers rather than taking a State-led approach. I hope I am proven wrong but I fear I will not be.


I did not heckle anyone.

I remind Senators that they must not interrupt while Senators are on their feet, unless they have asked to intervene, as permitted under Standing Order 39.

I welcome the Minister. In order to tackle the housing crisis, of which every one of us is acutely aware and, I believe, wants to solve, the boom to bust nature of housing must be eliminated. Cost rental is the key that will free us from this boom-to-bust housing model that has dominated Ireland. Given time, it will calm the market across the board and allow people to have a forever home. It allows people to rent their home for the duration of their lives, at a rate that depends on their income. They can rent a home in which they can have children and grow old in the same house with no need to worry that a landlord will evict them or change the terms of the lease. The cost, though predicted to be 25% below market rate, will not be linked to the market rate in this Bill, which is critical. It will be based on the cost of construction and maintenance over the life of the property and other costs, as well as what the tenant can afford to pay. That is real security of tenure. That is the Vienna model of cost rental that the Green Party has been harping on about for decades. This Bill is beyond the proof of concept of cost rental. It enshrines that model in law for the first time ever.

Over time, the cost rental model will calm and lower rents overall in the market because rents in the private sector will be brought down in tandem. They will have to fall to compete. This Bill, through the provision of cost rental and local authority housing, is doing what has been dearly needed in housing policy in Ireland, namely, restoring the State's rightful place at the centre of delivery to help curb the worst excesses of the market and to provide housing for those who need it.

I know and hope that a review will be carried out to examine how the scheme is working. One of the areas I will be interested in hearing about is the succession plan for cost rental tenancies and properties.

In terms of homelessness, which is slightly different but related to the housing crisis and has been exposed to a horrifying extent as never before over the last couple of years, if one asks people on the ground what will help to bring people out of homelessness, one of the key responses is supply. According to the most recent report published by the Simon Community, there were two homes eligible for HAP in Galway city, and another two in the county. That is shocking. I know the issue only too well, having sat on the housing committee of the public participation network for a few years before becoming a councillor.

Addressing social housing is this Government's number one priority. As a Government, we have committed to ensuring that all housing from now on will include a mix of private, social and affordable housing, and in cost rental developments, there will be a mix that includes social housing. The Government committed to meeting a target of providing 50,000 social homes over its lifetime. While the pandemic has hampered construction, taking the response of just one approved housing body as an example, it has over 1,500 homes under construction.

Affordability, both for rent and purchase, will simply not be achieved without this Bill. Just ask a family or a single person who is couch surfing. Young people cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel but I believe this Bill provides the way. According to a report compiled by Dr. Padraic Kenna in association with the Irish Council for Social Housing, only the top 10% of earners can truly afford to rent their own home in Dublin. The equivalent figure in respect of Galway and Cork is 20%. Not being able to afford a home is not just about being homeless. It is also related to food and fuel poverty. People are living in these homes and paying these rents. The Government has committed to ensuring people have affordable homes.

Short-term and medium-term measures in the Bill will change the very nature of the housing market. They include a cost rental intervention to have forever homes in the rental sector and a commitment to increase social housing through the use of creative measures to finance the building of social housing and Part V interventions. These interventions will be introduced on Committee Stage. They will transform the housing model. Everybody deserves to have an affordable home. Without the interventions in this Bill, it simply will not happen.

I welcome the Minister to the house. He faces a daunting task. We could spend all our time giving out about what previous Governments should and should not have done.

Here we are, however, so let us move forward. This Bill is the first ever to focus solely on affordable housing, which cannot be a bad thing. People like to focus their energy on poking holes in things but we must focus on solutions. I want to focus on cost rental, a new phenomenon in Ireland based on the Vienna model, to which the Bill gives legal status.

I do not believe the Irish obsession with fixture of tenure is solely the result of being colonised. It goes back to James Larkin and those before him. As a tenant for many years, I always worried about the landlord wishing me good luck and telling me I had to move out. I was always afraid to hang pictures or paint the walls or anything. I ended up living in one house for ten years but I never had security. The lack of security creates a latent stress that many people carry all the time.

Cost rental is a very important model. I am proud of the Green Party's work on this issue and that the Government has taken it on board and will give it legal status. It basically means that market value will not dictate the cost of living in cost rental properties. This housing will be supplied by the AHBs through the LDA. I hate using initialisms. I refer to the housing boards. What does the "A" in AHB stand for again?

It stands for "approved".

The approved housing bodies have done much good work in the past. Maybe not everyone will have to own a house if people know they are not going to be kicked out of their home for 30 or 40 years. I would like to see tenancies to be ad infinitum but a 30 or 40-year tenancy is vastly more secure than what we have now. I praise that aspect of the Bill.

The Bill also provides that rents in AHB built housing will be capped. Rent increases are another big fear. The rent for the house I lived in increased from €450 to €800 over a long period. When a tenant's budget or pay does not change, such increases cause serious stress.

I will briefly speak to one other issue as I only have a minute. I feel strongly about derelict buildings and the town centre first initiative. I want more done in this area. I cannot permit myself to raise water infrastructure again because the Minister is in the House but we need water infrastructure if we are to have serviced sites for building houses. That is a major issue. I cannot pretend to know about Dublin but it is a serious issue in many villages in County Clare.

We want people back living in our towns and villages again. It is prohibitive to try to build serviced sites, yet we do not want people living on their own out in the middle of nowhere either. We cannot prevent that if we do not have a good and affordable alternative.

We also need to address the prohibitive cost of meeting fire and safety regulations when renovating buildings. We need people living upstairs above shops again. Where this has worked, it has been amazing and changed the entire fabric of the local community. I flag that issue. I wish the Minister the best of luck with the Bill and thank him for his work on it.

Fine Gael has been in government for a decade and Fianna Fáil has supported it for half of that. We were always told, as we have been tonight, that solving the housing issue was going to take time. Even I believed that for a while. It takes time for anyone to build a house. The crisis has become worse as the years have gone by and a decade later, the housing crisis has become an emergency. People are not able to rent or buy. They will take to the streets in their tens and thousands at the soonest possible time to make their feelings known.

People expect the Government to make radical decisions and interventions that support working people. People see what is possible. They see decisions of a type they never expected to be taken by centre and centre-right parties and radical decisions they thought could not work or might not happen.

Renters, first-time buyers and people in mortgage distress want a break. They want a Minister who does not miss deadline after deadline for legislation and who backs up legislation with cash. Budget 2021 only allocated €35 million for cost rental and €50 million for affordable purchase housing. People want a Minister who does not break election promises. Fianna Fáil promised 10,000 affordable homes every year for ten years in its election manifesto. Why has it abandoned that promise?

Direct capital investment in public housing needs to be doubled to at least €2.8 billion annually to meet social and affordable need. We need more detail on targets and finance to be announced in the later Stages of the Bill. Will the Minister agree annual targets for the delivery of cost rental and affordable purchase homes with every local authority and approved housing bodies, co-operatives and community housing trusts?

Sinn Féin has long argued for affordable and cost rental homes. We need 8,000 affordable homes every year, of which 4,000 should be cost rental and 4,000 affordable purchase. The cost rental model also requires much more detail to give reassurance about security of tenure and tenant protections to cover all eventualities, such as a reduction in income and tenants approaching retirement.

We need to make sure the cost rental units are available for working people who fall just outside the cut-off point for social housing. It is, therefore, crucial that the entry level is set as low as possible. It has been shown that with the right model of financing, rents can be set at between €700 and €900. Instead, we have seen rents of up to €1,200 per month described as affordable, for example, in Dún Laoghaire.

There is no definition of what an affordable rent is, as Senators Moynihan and Boyhan noted. We would like to see it defined as 30% of net income, based on Central Statistics Office, CSO, annual earning indicators. Many people, especially in Dublin, and many friends of mine, would welcome any indication that affordable rent is under 50% of their income. Most of my friends spend at least 50% of their disposable income on rent. I am not against home ownership and nor is Sinn Féin. Many of my friends would happily rent if it were not cheaper to take out a mortgage.

The shared equity scheme should never have made it into this Bill. As the Bill was being drafted, officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the ESRI, the Central Bank and a host of economists were warning that the only certain outcome of this provision was a rise in house prices and developers' profits. The origin of this proposal lies in two documents that were developed by two industry lobby groups, Property Industry Ireland and Irish Institutional Property. These two groups are also strongly in favour of co-living and lobbied the Department not to introduce a ban.

The Minister refers to the national price ceilings as upper levels, as if we do not know that a developer will simply see these as a target for which to aim. We are likely to see many housing units costing €399,000 or €499,000 being granted public money because, technically speaking, they are affordable. When the 4% limit was introduced for rent pressure zones, RPZ, it was obvious from an early stage that this was seen as a baseline for landlords. Can the Minister honestly say that 4% functioned as a ceiling and not as a guide for landlords increasing rent?

We need to see an expansion of the serviced sites fund and greater flexibility for local authorities in the amount they can draw down for each scheme. Increasing the allocation to the fund will only make an impact if directed at areas where the need is greater.

We need to double capital investment to at least €2.8 billion annually. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the ESRI and the Housing Agency have all called on the Government to deliver affordable homes at scale. The ESRI has called on it to double direct capital investment on social and affordable homes. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, has stated the Government can borrow more capital to address the affordable housing crisis.

Good elements of this Bill will only be effective and have impact if they are met with ambition, ambitious targets and cash. Sinn Féin has long argued for affordable and cost rental housing but we are absolutely against the shared equity scheme.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is good to debate the issue of affordable housing and to have a new Bill, although there are many concerns.

I open by joining together the dots between four different articles that appeared in the Business Post last week. I commend the work the Business Post has been doing in diving into the real detail of our housing policy. We can all bemoan the experiences but we need to look at the detail.

The first of the four stories showed that State investment in cuckoo funds amounted to €225 million, of which €60 million was in one fund that was mentioned. These are the same kinds of cuckoo funds we have all been giving out about and which have been buying up entire housing estates and gazumping local authorities, including Kildare County Council, that wished to purchase properties.

We have, on the one hand, State investment in cuckoo funds. It is worth bearing in mind that the €198 million that has been invested in housing schemes is less than the €220 million we have put into cuckoo funds. The other story is about the local authorities that are being forced to lease. To buy the Heron Wood estate would cost €18 million but to lease it for 25 years will cost €20 million. The council is being forced to lease it because it has been told about the fiscal rules. At the same time, the fiscal rules in Europe are suspended. We are not obligated to be doing this on the balance sheet. We can, in fact, have major public investment. Local authorities are limited in what they can do.

Another of the Business Post articles was a deep dive conducted by Killian Woods. He discussed investment funds with some of the people involved, specifically Pat Davitt of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, who talked about how brilliantly the rental system is set up for funds right now. He said that the properties come into the market at the highest price a fund can get, unaffected by rent control rules and existing stock. He went on to say:

Then the Government comes along, in some cases, and they guarantee they will lease the properties for social housing for 25 years [the same amount of time as applied to the Heron Wood story]. So you get a 25-year lease from the Government on the basis of the rent. Somebody then has what they call a fund. It's not a property any longer.

We are turning housing estates into funds. In the same article, Mr. Davitt talks about how investment funds do not really mind if the cost is €300,000 or €400,000. What they care about is their 4% per annum return in an inflating market.

On the same day, there was a positive, hopeful story in the newspaper in which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform told us he does not know if he will be able to spend our capital expenditure budget for this year and that €1 billion had to be handed back to the Exchequer last year. Why do we not give a lot of money to local authorities and allow them to buy or build, not lease, on public land and keep those houses in public ownership? The solutions are there. We must be clear that the EU rules no longer prohibit us from doing that. Why are we favouring a model of a 25-year lease and leasing in general? What does that do to the next generation? As Senator Moynihan said, life moves faster than we think and 25 years is not an eternity.

The Minister said we should use all the tools but we are making our local authorities work with one hand tied behind their backs. He spoke about the State playing a central role but the State must play a sustainable central role. The role of the State should not be to hand a large amount of public land over to private developers for a set period of time, after which the assets might be gone. This is where the detail will come in when we debate the Bill. Will the Minister's adaptation of Part V include a limitation on leasing? Will it recognise that leasing is not adequate delivery under Part V? Will it include not only the 20% requirement for social and affordable housing, but also a 10% requirement for social housing? I am concerned about that, although I am conscious that we will see the details.

Will we also see that, as a part of the cost rental scheme, any house built on public land will, at the end of the period of time, revert to public ownership? The nature of cost rental is that it is long term and gives long-term security of tenure. I think everybody embraces the principle of cost rental but the important point is that eventually the money is paid off and the house or flat should not become an asset at that stage. The local authority or approved housing body should still have the property as public housing. That is why I am concerned about bringing in investors. I am concerned that at whatever level the return, we are creating a situation whereby cost rental housing will leave in 25 or 30 years' time and go back to its function as an asset, rather than as a long-term home and the place-making about which we have heard. Can we give security beyond that term? Local authorities and approved housing bodies should be satisfied with having covered their costs and should not need an asset output.

In terms of the affordable housing that is being built, can we guarantee that a certain amount of that housing will be designed in a way that is appropriate for the needs of those with a disability, as is our obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Many disabled people long for independent living in appropriate housing.

I do not need to add to what others have said about the shared equity house purchase scheme. The ESRI, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the London School of Economics have told us that the scheme has the potential to contribute to the inflation of house prices. I have concerns about the requirement that persons must seek the maximum possible mortgage. I know that is designed so that the State would only lend to those who need it in order to bridge the gap to the amount required but I am concerned that it creates a dynamic whereby the margin gets pushed up and everybody is encouraged to push. Others with great expertise have argued that it will have that effect.

The Minister mentioned a constraint on investor purchases of entire housing estates such as those the State has supplemented to this date. He stated that those constraints might, however, exclude estates for which planning permission has been secured. If the Minister introduces a constraint on the disposal of housing estates to ensure that some of them are reserved for first-time buyers and the estates cannot be sold on a large scale to institutional investors, I ask him to include those with planning permission, certainly in the case of strategic housing developments, bearing in mind that only 30% of strategic housing developments have commenced building since 2016. We were told by a previous Minister that strategic housing developments would guarantee a supply of houses, yet only 49 of 162 projects that have planning permission have commenced construction. Let us be clear that planning permission is not the obstacle because I am talking about projects that have planning permission. Strategic housing developments have benefited from fast-track planning because they were meant to address our housing crisis. Surely it is reasonable that we would add those housing estates to any constraints on investor purchases. That would be a reasonable measure and I hope the Minister will take the suggestion on board.

Perfection is not the enemy of good. Greed is the enemy of good.

The space, incentivisation and rewards we have given for greed within our housing strategy have done us great damage.

We need to consider who this debate is about. It is not about ideological positions or anything else. It is about individuals and families who want to be able to rent their own home and, crucially, to aspire to own their own home. I know that is something about which the Minister has been passionate for as long as I have known him. We may disagree on aspects of the legislation but I know that passion is, in many ways, the Minister's driving force in politics. That is a difference between some political parties. Part of the reason I am a member of Fianna Fáil is that we strongly support the aspiration of individuals to own a home. Everything we will do in government is to realise that aspiration. Senator Moynihan was correct that this legislation will not, on its own, achieve that. A number of measures will be required and I want to make a number of suggestions in that regard.

When the measures under this Bill are enacted, along with the introduction of the Land Development Agency and all the other reforms, I ask that simple explanations be made available. I am thinking about the renters who are watching and want to buy their own home. All that such people want to know, whether they are living in Gorey, Swords or west Clare, is how they can access the necessary resources to be able to afford their own home.

It is welcome that local authorities are empowered to deliver affordable homes on their own lands under the legislation. However, there is a big difference between empowerment and delivery. It will be essential that project management teams are put in place in local authorities. I am in favour of league tables to force local authorities to prove how they are performing but we need to set delivery targets because I am confident that some local authorities will excel while others will not.

The problem is a lack of supply and this legislation is about getting the supply of houses out there as quickly as possible. I agree with Senator Higgins about strategic housing developments. That initiative never led to fast-track planning. All it did was discount the possibilities, at local level, of democratic input in the political process and, in most cases, we ended up with judicial reviews, with planning lawyers benefiting.

I agree with getting rid of the strategic housing developments, SHDs.

On a supply issue, there is a disdain for developers and those involved in the construction industry. If we do not start to support those in the construction industry, we will not be able to address supply. Senator Warfield asked why the houses were not being built. During the period of Covid, construction was closed down for most of the time. It is interesting that some of those who were shouting most loudly for zero Covid to have the construction sites closed down are now asking where is all the building and where are the homes going. Unless one has a vibrant construction sector, one cannot have home building.

It is important to listen to the construction sector and the small developers right around the country. That means we look in addition at reducing the costs of construction and that means an alignment with a number of the State agencies. Senator Garvey was correct on the need to align with Irish Water. Clearly, many of Irish Water's practices are not allowing for quick connection. The costs of connecting into Irish Water are far too high. In many of our rural villages, it is impossible to even get planning permission because the infrastructure is not in place. That will need to be addressed.

We need to speed up the planning process. I support the calls by Deputy Cowen that there has to be a limit on the length of time it takes An Bord Pleanála to make a decision. This is not about the rights or wrongs of the decision but that the decisions before An Bord Pleanála are taking far too long.

I do not believe that anybody has a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to how we will build more housing. It is a crisis. It is something that is important to every one of us in this House but I believe there are some people out there who simply want this to fail. They would take more pleasure in the Government not being able to deliver homes than in success with this happening. Within Fianna Fáil, we have had huge debates. I compliment my colleague, Senator Fitzpatrick, who has chaired our own party committee. We have spent hours and the Minister and I have not agreed on every issue. It is important that we have this debate to get this right but they only way we will do it is by all working together to get the best Bill. Ultimately, it is to be able to get affordable rents and, most importantly, to be able to allow individuals and families to aspire to own their own homes.

Ar dtús báire, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the Minister.

This Bill is, as we all know, very important. It is one that we should all support and collaboratively and collectively work together on, irrespective of ideology. Like Senator Malcolm Byrne, I have no hang up in encouraging development, be it private or public. We need the Construction Federation of Ireland. We need developers. In the old world, we called them builders who built houses and who knew what to do. Let us get back to doing that.

This is an important debate because, as I have said, the housing crisis will be solved by a compendium of public and private and by planning reform, as well as by empowering, kick-starting and incentivising, but also instructing, the local authorities that they must build, and we must tackle the issue of supply and affordability. There is no silver bullet. There is no panacea.

Senator Warfield said we were in government for ten years. We can go back and parse through the Sinn Féin record in government in the North for 14 years, if the Senator wants to, but that will not build a single house.

What we must do is implement the four measures in this Bill around the issues of the local authority affordable purchase scheme, the cost rental measure, the Land Development Agency, the affordable purchase shared equity scheme or, as Senator Cummins rightly said, the €75 million scheme, as well as the increase in the provision of Part V from 10% to 20%.

The Minister and I know each other a long time. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is a straight-shooter. The Deputy is a tough man on the field but he is a man who gets things done. The Minister's legacy in politics, irrespective of what happens before or during, will be his tenure here. I wish the Minister well and will support him in every step of the way.

The media people who say that were the Minister to come into the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting on Wednesday, it would be like the O.K. Corral, are wrong. It will not be because we are interested in solving the housing crisis. We will not be up on Hill 16 waving a flag and shouting "Come on" or whatever. We will say, "Let us do it together." It is not about sloganeering or electioneering; it is about working. It is about getting boots on the ground and getting concrete and blocks put together.

All of us in our lives have been told of and aspired to home ownership. That is the Irish model and mentality. Unfortunately, that is where a generation has been left behind. That is why we must try to get back to it.

As the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment rightly said on Thursday last, 65% to 70% of citizens own their own home. We, in Fine Gael, are the party of home ownership whether one likes it or not. Senator Boylan can laugh and giggle and make all the faces she wants to. That is what we are as a party.

We are the ones who build them, though.

Many of us have been concerned that a generation is being left out of reach of home ownership. That is our legacy, unfortunately, of a lost decade, but now in this decade we can rebuild and start building.

When I heard people criticise Eoghan Murphy when he was Minister, some of them were in the ivory tower of being in opposition and never making a decision except to cross the road or come in here and give out, while others just wrote a column, went up on Twitter or went out on the media and made smart comments without having to make a decision. I thank Eoghan Murphy for his tenure and his stewardship in the Department and for his dedication to public life.

As I said, the help-to-buy scheme, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, freeing up public land and the Land Development Agency are all parts of the tools with which we can tackle this issue. The people of Ireland want houses to be built. They do not care how they are built. They want affordable houses. First-time buyers want to be able to have the sanctity of their own key being turned in the safety of their own home. That is what they are looking for. Local authorities have a critical role to play in that. In my opinion, sometimes some of the local authorities have been found wanting. I hope that we will give more power to the local authorities to ensure that they play a key role in the development of housing.

We all know housing supply must be increased. Senator Malcolm Byrne is correct. Planning reform is necessary. We need people to build. We need good old-fashioned builders who can build. We need to see, as we have seen in Cork City Council, a committed council working to build. I would challenge anybody in this House to come up to Boherboy Road, come over to the Deanrock estate and come over to White Street and see social houses being provided for our fellow citizens.

I commend the Minister on his work and I wish him well.

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh Ghníomhaigh. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and wish him well with this Bill and in the important work that he has before him.

The Minister stated at the close of his speech that he would use every weapon in his arsenal. I might paraphrase and adjust that slightly by saying that the Government needs to get up off its arsenal and use every weapon that it finds there. It is not only a matter of social justice. It is not only a matter of addressing the extraordinary pain and hurt that is felt by young to early middle-aged people who are working hard, who have tough and stressful lives in many cases, and who are completely locked out of the housing market, as they see it. It is not only about addressing the pain and the hurt of their parents as they contemplate an upcoming generation that will be less well off and enjoy fewer life opportunities in many ways than they will. It is, perhaps, also about securing the future of centrist politics in this country and that is no small matter when one considers the consequences of letting extremes come to the fore in politics. To be centrist is not to be bland. To be centrist is to keep an eye on the common good at all times and not to set one person against the other or one class against the other but to seek to look out for the vulnerable and to create the maximum opportunity for human flourishing for all of those who want to participate in society.

I was asked in a radio interview recently whether we as a nation were hung up on home ownership and whether we should think more like they do on the Continent where people are happy to rent for their lifetime.

As I have said before, however, that is, and remains, the wrong question for as long as people cannot get access to homes at a fair and reasonable rent and cannot be sure of their ability to stay in such homes into their old age.

We must also bear in mind that Ireland is a relatively low-density country. It should be possible for us to continue with the aspiration most of us have to own our place, even if it is only the size of a postage stamp, a place that is ours and ours to consider leaving to our loved ones and so on. I think it was Senator Garvey who mentioned fixity of tenure and the historical roots of that phrase. It goes all the way back to the 1850s, to the tenants' rights association who sought the three Fs, namely, free sale, fair rent and fixity of tenure. We might say that the three Fs today are fair rent, fixity of tenure and feasibility of home ownership. I mean fixity of tenure not in the old sense of being able to hold on to one's property as long as one pays the rent but, rather, to be able to hold onto it at a rent one will always be able to pay, including when one retires and has a lower income. That is the future which must be budgeted for if people are going to be able to have confidence in rental. These days, the third F is feasibility of home ownership and that is all down to supply. We know the figures; we have 65,000 on housing waiting lists and 33,000 houses per year are what we need to building. Let us say that between 12,000 and 20,000 were built last year, depending on how one calculates it, so we have a growing problem.

I agree with Senator Higgins in this respect and paraphrase her in saying that the State must not be afraid to be active in the housing market and to be a major player in the market, be that as a developer, lender or landlord, until this problem is solved. In that context, the Affordable Housing Bill is an important and necessary start. The Land Development Agency legislation is vital but this is only the beginning of our attempts to solve the problem. I thank it was Labour's Deputy Nash I heard during the week paying the compliment to the British Conservative Party that it always understood the value of homeownership. Going right back to Thatcher, that was understood. The stakeholder society is what we must aim for. We will have major social problems if we do not create and maintain a stakeholder society where people aspire, where they can own their own homes and where they can have incomes. If, however, we are talking about affordable houses being capped at €500,000, then two people would each need to be earning €65,000 per year and this would have to be by 3,500 in order to get near that sum. There is no future in a society where both parents have to be working to the pin of their collars in order to be able to afford something described as affordable.

There are two cohorts we have not mentioned in this debate. The first is the homeless, who continue to be a category of people not directly addressed by this legislation and who must be at the top of our agenda. The second group is children, whose future depends on being able to have access to parents who are not going to have to work every hour God sends in order to pay a mortgage. To quote the prophet Isaiah, our people should "live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest."

I am delighted to have a few minutes to address this issue, which is really important for all of us. I welcome the Minister. Knowing him as I do, I know the commitment he has and the hours he is putting in to make this work. I have every confidence he will succeed. I also compliment our colleague, Senator Fitzpatrick, who does Trojan work with this. I assure Senators that it is the top issue at all our parliamentary party meetings. There is a lot of repetition here and stuff I could go into but I will not do that. I just want to dwell on the cost-rental scheme for a few moments. It is basically aimed at people above social housing income thresholds. People might not think that this relates to rural areas but when I was a Deputy, several couples would come in to my office per week telling me they could not qualify for a local authority house as their income was too high and they could not get a mortgage because their income was too low.

For many years, politicians have neglected those people. I see a chink of light here. I have no doubt that the Minister's sincerity in this is something we should acknowledge and respect and we must give him the opportunity to do it. There are many people who have been trapped in that situation for many years. I have seen people cry in my office when we had no options for them and nowhere to go. It is an absolutely outrageous situation. That is why I am a big fan of cost-rental and why it will work. Also proposed are direct-build local authority affordable homes, priced between €160,000 to €310,000. There is already €310 million in place for 6,000 homes. Remember when all the criticism comes - and there have been some very good contributions this evening - I did not hear many people say there is a budget of in excess of €3 billion to deal with the housing crisis. Some people among will say that money is one thing and delivery another. However, I assure them, from speaking to the Minister and seeing the way he is working on this, that I have no doubt we will see delivery. Of course, I agree that it is not going to happen overnight but even in the short term we will see a more positive outlook because if people see light at the end of the tunnel, they will certainly rally to this and see it is the proper way forward.

We also have the shared equity scheme whereby up to 2,000 homes will be supported every year. Returning to what Senator Boyhan said, he is right that Rebuilding Ireland is still there but the Minister has a new housing plan to replace it. Rent stability is a massive issue. Again, in rural areas I have noticed quite a lot of people in fear. This is even with the law allowing people a certain period to be in their house before they can be pushed out of it. People nowadays have a huge fear of rent not working out for them, so they come under pressure from a landlord. Even with what is in the law they still feel threatened. Rent stability is a massive issue. If we give long-term rental security to people, it would be a massive change going forward. I would not in any way discourage people from building homes. We can talk about the Vienna model but let us have an Irish model. Let us do things the Irish way. Too many times in these Houses we say that something is done such a way in such a country. Let us adopt our own model. That is the way to do it because we can talk about the Vienna model but this is Ireland. The geography of this country might mean that model would not work out too well.

Finally, there is the expansion of Part V to 20% in order to include affordable housing. That is significant and important and I am delighted to see the Minister doing that because it will have a very positive effect. I remind the House that the Minister and the Government gave quite a lot of leeway to local authorities, so they could borrow €6 million to build houses. We need to get the local authorities building houses and that is something that can happen in the short term. We also need to ask the executives of the local authorities to get schemes up and running in every county they are needed in, that will be a plus.

I have full confidence in the Minister. To be honest, I believe he will go down as one of our best Ministers with responsibility for housing. We all know he cannot do it overnight or in a couple of weeks but in the months and years ahead we will see that his policy and that of this Government was the right one. I join with everyone here in saying that if we cannot put a roof over people's heads and give them some security in their houses, then we are not fit to be parliamentarians. It must be done in conjunction with others, with everybody agreeing on most things and not trying to bring a given proposal down because it comes from a given party or the Government. We must work together on this.

The Minister is very welcome; it is good to see him here for this debate. I welcome that he is bringing the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 before the House. As someone who served on a local authority for 17 years and saw houses being built, and not being built and being built again, I am happy to say that in Limerick we are currently building local authority housing. Only in the past two years, 89 units were opened at the top of my own road by the previous Minister, Eoghan Murphy. We look forward to when the current Minister comes down to Limerick to open some houses.

In Limerick we are building 15 affordable houses, but for a county with a population of more than 200,000 it is not really enough, so I am delighted to see the Minister bringing this Bill forward.

It is only in recent days I have had two different people on to me whose marriages have broken up for one reason or another, their families are grown up and the family home has been sold. In both cases the wife was looking to try to get on the scheme and purchase her own home but would not have enough money to buy it outright although she would still be young enough to qualify for this scheme. That is something we need to look at. For too long, builders and local authorities left builders off lightly in that they would take the money or move the housing to another part of the city or in the county area and maybe not mix the affordable housing or social housing in with the estate that was being built. Therefore, I am delighted to see there are proposals for mixed units.

I know the Land Development Agency has been active down my way and we have a large bank of land where there is huge potential. It is all publicly owned land but it has been lying derelict for a number of years. The local authority, along with the Land Development Agency, has gone and put the pockets of land together. There is huge potential so it would be good if we could replicate this, and I know it is being done in some places along with the Land Development Agency. It has been said already that everybody deserves a roof over their head and so many people aspire to owning their own homes. In Europe, you see an awful lot of apartments and people tending to rent whereas in Ireland people tend to try to own their own homes where possible.

I am delighted to welcome this Bill and I look forward to working with the Minister on it. It is something we have to drive forward, which I believe the Minister will do, and I wish him well in his tenure.

I welcome the Minister. The sooner we get around to getting this Bill through the House and getting down to the work the better, because as we have seen and as Senator Byrne has just pointed out, we have lost the first quarter of this year with builders not being able to get on site and build, which is what this is all about. I said in so many debates in the previous Dáil that I often wondered who the Opposition thought was going to build the homes. Was it the pixie fairies who were going to come in with magic dust and sprinkle it around the place and homes would sprout like mushrooms? No. It is people involved in the building trade who provide homes. That is a basic tenet.

Many speakers, both for and against this Bill, have stated the Bill cannot be taken on its own. They are so right and nobody is saying otherwise. When it comes to delivering affordable homes, that will happen in many different guises. It will not just be through the measures in this Bill. Funding the Minister delivered at the start of the year through the urban regeneration fund will equally make a mark when it comes to homes in our town centres. Now that inter-county travel restrictions have been lifted, I look forward to welcoming the Minister when he will be doing his John Creedon tour of Ireland. I can bring him down and he can buy me lunch because it is important the Minister sees the variance of what is happening on the ground. There are different scenarios, challenges and opportunities in each of our counties across Ireland, and each of the respective Senators could portray different challenges and weaknesses in each of the areas they represent, and rightly so, and the Minister has to take cognisance of that.

When the Minister comes to Navan he can see the boarded-off site in Rathaldron that has lain unfinished for ten years and which will see 26 new units on it because last month the Minister and the Department allocated €7 million for the county council to acquire that site and build there. We can go on from there down the road to Flower Hill, which has benefited from a total of more than €10 million from two calls of urban regeneration funding. Critically, it will see the largest number of people living in that area in the centre of the town for 50 years. That is because the Department and the county council have acquired one entire side of the street, are demolishing that derelict street and building homes and a community centre in the centre of my town. Imagine that: housing and urban regeneration all in one, a concept that provides homes and regenerates our towns at the same time. I am labouring the point because €500 million that has been announced in urban regeneration and development funding, URDF, this year will accomplish that double goal in towns and cities throughout Ireland.

Yet you would nearly believe there was nothing happening if you were listening to some of the debates in these Houses. I am a great follower of the provincial newspapers and it is funny seeing some political opponents nearly choking on their cornflakes in trying to say the urban regeneration funds are welcome but knowing this could have a huge impact in the towns they represent. That is because one of the biggest challenges we face is acquiring land, and through these funding initiatives we can acquire public land, regenerate areas that have lain derelict for decades and get people back living in the middle of towns. That is crucial because one of the biggest issues we all face in new residential areas is the lack of facilities. This is a concept where we are getting people beside retail, schools, sporting facilities and giving them a chance of quality of living. The Bill the Minister has in his possession is a body of work that will have a huge impact in rebalancing the housing market in favour of the first-time buyer who is trying to get on the property ladder.

A lot of ideological political opinion has been offered in this debate. That is fine, I respect that and I have no interest in trying to convince people otherwise. I would ask, however, that when we have the various schemes in place and when we see the benefits for constituents in their areas, perhaps Members might come into the House and acknowledge it. Mark my words, there are thousands of people who are just waiting to see the green light for the shared equity scheme to benefit from it. The expansion of the Part V scheme and seeing affordability as part of that is massive and that section alone will deliver 3,500 social and affordable homes per annum. We should never have had the buy-out clause for councils in the first place in its original form and I am glad to see this measure being introduced. What is most depressing is Members of the Oireachtas coming into the Seanad and the Dáil and hoping the scheme will fail. What a sad existence it is to be hoping something will fail at a time when an issue such as this should unite us, but Members like to use this and create further division. There is enough division in this country.

I spent four years working closely with the Minister in the term of the last Dáil and I know his political beliefs are driven by the belief in affordability and that people should get the opportunity to purchase an affordable home. That goes to the Minister's core and I know this Bill will make a huge difference in that respect and critically change people's lives. I commend the Minister and this Bill. Please God we will get to see this moving very soon. Well done.

It is important, as has been said earlier, to discuss who this Bill is about and who the people at the coalface who will benefit are. I am 30 years of age and it is people in my generation and from my age cohort who will benefit. Those of us from this generation who are still in Ireland today are the ones who did not emigrate in 2010, 2011 or 2012. We are also the generation of people who went to New York and London, did our five or six years there and are looking to come back and set up family life at home. That is what this is about. It is about families and graduates who have the ambition of home ownership.

From listening to this debate, I can tell the Minister that if you were to ask any of my mates to come in here and explain what it all means, it would be difficult. We need to put things in layman's terms. When Members are talking about ideological things and saying what we need to do, a lot of that detail will fly over everybody's heads. We need to be clear on what affordability is. It means we will give people a house and the opportunity to buy it. Again, I am looking back to my mates and people I know and they do not care if a house is built by a developer or a local authority. They also do not care if it is built on public or private land. Normal and average people on the street in Dundalk where I am from do not care who houses are built by. That is a bubble issue and an ideological issue for Members. The average Joe Soap on the street in this country does not care. They want the opportunity to buy an affordable house and they will do so through landmark legislation like this. That is what we are trying to do. That gets lost in the debate on ideology around housing that we have seen rage within our county councils and local authorities in recent years.

I agree with some of the proposals made by Deputy Cowen recently on cutting down the waiting times with An Bord Pleanála.

Let us be radical about this. If there is one political lesson to learn from the Covid pandemic over the past 12 months, it is that anything is possible. We can pass legislation in 24 hours and we can change the Constitution, if necessary. Let us take the lessons from the Covid pandemic and realise the sky is the limit for what we want to try to do and that anything is possible. Let us take that approach to housing and be radical about it.

When we look at the local authorities, there is something I believe we should consider. A couple of years ago, Louth County Council was the best local authority in the country for using compulsory purchase orders to take vacant houses and put them back into the housing stock. That is another avenue we must consider when we are looking at reintroducing housing stock. Another thing I would appreciate is the local authorities being given definitive targets when they start building houses. Who is responsible if they do not hit those targets? To whom will the chief executive of a local authority be responsible? When there are certain local authorities flying it, somebody has to be accountable to an Oireachtas committee or to the Minister to explain why the targets have not been hit consistently for the past two or three years. That would be something to consider as well when it comes to local authority housing.

Over the next years in office, this Government has to be radical. It must set clear, definitive targets. How many houses, and not just houses on public land, that normal people will be living in do we want to deliver in year 1, year 2, year 3 and by the end of the Government's term? I accept it when people say my party has been in government for ten years. That is grand, but not a single house was built in this country for five of those years, between 2011 and 2016, when we were trying to get the country out of an economic mess. That is a fact. Nobody can disagree with it. It is disingenuous that the Opposition knows that yet still harps on about a decade of no houses being built.

The final thing I wish to say relates to political ideology. This is where the cynicism of it creeps in. When you see local authorities constantly blocking housing at every opportunity, the higher level of it might be they have a political ideology on it and do not believe in it. The real issue is the cynicism of it and the politics of it. The politics of it is to delay and delay and to make it as difficult and hard as possible to build. It is "Delay and delay, and we will reap the political benefits by exacerbating this housing crisis in the next few years". It boils down to that.

I believe it is the custom not to speak about people not in the House.

I am talking about local authority councillors. I was on a local authority for seven years and I know what I am talking about when it comes to local authorities.

Senator, you want to raise a point. You can raise a point of order.

I was just pointing out that it is normally the practice not to refer to persons or bodies in the House, but perhaps it does not apply.

What individual did I refer to?

It seemed to be a general statement about all local authorities.

Did I name one individual?

You cannot have a conversation across the Chamber. The point has been made and it has been answered. I call Senator Boylan.

When people resort to shouting insults, it shows they are on a very weak footing.

We desperately want to solve this housing crisis. I did not interrupt the Senator and I would appreciate the same respect from that side of the House.

This Government has failed. It has failed on the housing crisis. Despite all the rhetoric it brings here, the truth is it has failed. The Minister has missed every deadline he has set. He said he would have an affordable housing Bill in September. Then it was the budget and then it was the new year. Weekend after weekend we see more infuriating stories about home buyers being locked out of ownership. Members talk about ownership, but this is thanks to the Fine Gael policy of throwing the doors wide open to the wrong kinds of investment funds. It rolled out the red carpet for the vultures, just as it rolled out the red carpet for Donald Trump. We learned on Sunday from the Business Post that not only is the Government supporting these funds through an unfair tax policy but also taxpayer money is being used to assist in the funds buying up the homes. This comes as another slap on the face for anybody who is trying to buy a house, who is playing by the rules, who is paying sky-high rents or who is living with family and trying to save a deposit. It truly shows where this Government's priorities lie.

Public money should not be used to facilitate the mass purchase of homes. It should be used to deliver genuinely affordable purchase and affordable cost rental homes. The Bill before us has been a long time coming. My colleague, Senator Warfield, has outlined some of our party's concerns, but none more so than the now infamous affordable purchase shared equity scheme. This €75 million scheme, which will be doubled to €150 million if the banks get approval to join in, is, we are told, a small part of the Bill. However, it is the highest amount of money. It is higher than the other two schemes. The Minister's determination to plough ahead with the scheme, regardless of the expert views of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, the Department of Finance and the Central Bank, is breathtaking arrogance. This scheme was not in the Fianna Fáil general election manifesto. It was not in the programme for Government either. We know where it was. It was in the papers of lobbyists of Property Industry Ireland and Irish Institutional Property, which sold their wares to a Minister who could not come up with his own plan. It is a return to the Fianna Fáil style of reckless developer-led housing policy.

This scheme will not make homes more affordable. It will lock in high housing costs and saddle people with more debt. The Minister claims a similar scheme in Britain led to a 14% increase in supply. It did. It was a 14% increase in supply where it was not needed. It has echoes of the Fianna Fáil Celtic tiger ghost estates. The Minister also says prices only increased by 1% in a similar scheme. This is a lie. That 1% did not relate to price inflation. The only detailed analysis of this scheme was carried out by the London School of Economics and Political Science-----


On a point of order, I am assuming the Senator is not accusing me of lying. Is she? If she is, I ask her to withdraw it immediately.

I am accusing you of-----

The Senator might, in her own party, be used to bullying people, but she will not bully me. She needs to withdraw that. I have lied to no one.

I am not a bully. The 1% did not-----


I have been informed that they word "lying" should not be used in the Chamber.

Okay. It is a distortion of the truth.

Does the Senator withdraw it?

I withdraw "lying". I will say it is a distortion of the truth. The 1% did not refer to price inflation. The detailed analysis of this scheme was carried out by the London School of Economics and Political Science and it found that house prices increased by 6%.

Sinn Féin has an alternative. We would oversee a doubling of direct capital investment, at least €2.8 billion annually, in public housing to meet social and affordable need. It would deliver a minimum of 8,000 affordable homes each year, with 4,000-----


You can bully all you want. We know Fianna Fáil has an issue with women. You can bully all you want. You are not going to silence me. Okay?

Senator Boylan, I will give you some more time.

We are not going to silence you.

Senator, if you want to interrupt, you can ask for that. Do not speak across the Chamber.

The Senator has an issue with strong women. We know that from the history. Sinn Féin would deliver a minimum of 8,000 affordable homes each year, with 4,000 affordable cost rental-----

On a point of order, Chair.

That is an outrageous accusation the Senator is making, that I have an issue with women.

What accusation did I make?

I am unsure of the accusation, Senator.

You said he had an issue with strong women.

That is a political charge.

That is an accusation and I am asking for it to be withdrawn.

We will move on without interruption.

I note the clock, and I will take my time. Sinn Féin would deliver a minimum-----

She should withdraw it.

Stop cutting across people.

Look, you can talk us down if you do not want to hear the solution.

We are not talking down.

You cannot make the accusation that the Opposition has no alternative and then shout the alternative down.


The Senator can be allowed to continue without interruption. She has chosen not to withdraw.

Thank you. A bit of respect, please. Sinn Féin would deliver a minimum of 8,000 affordable homes each year - 4,000 affordable cost rental and 4,000 affordable purchase homes. Sinn Féin would structure the financing and delivery of the affordable purchase homes to deliver an average purchase price of €230,000 in Dublin and less elsewhere. We need an approach that puts people's needs first, not one that delivers on every whim of the private developer.

Some Members have tried to insinuate that the Sinn Féin plan would mean a person would not own his or her own home. This is simply untrue. The purchaser owns the home and the property is theirs to alter, extend and to pass on to their children, unlike the Government's proposal which would involve inspections of people's houses annually. How is that for othering people who avail of supports to get housing?

We make no apologies for wanting to make sure that affordable homes remain permanently affordable. To achieve this, the land will remain in public ownership for future generations. That is sustainable affordability into the long term.

I still have time.

The Senator had two minutes to allow for that time.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I really hope that the Bill is going to do what it says on the tin. I have listened to what the Minister has had to say and what other speakers have had to say. It is tremendously important legislation. It is not an easy portfolio and notwithstanding things that have been said in this House we have actually made a lot of progress in housing. That is not the popular thing, however. It amused me that the last speaker stood up and said at the very beginning that one knows when one is in trouble when the others are throwing mud, and then proceeded to spend the vast majority of her time on her feet throwing mud at other people, including Senator Byrne, in what was an entirely unjustified statement.

Putting that aside, and in terms of what the Minister said earlier, I particularly want to focus on two aspects of it, the first being affordability. Coming as I do from Dún Laoghaire I am particularly concerned about the differentiation of Dún Laoghaire and Dublin city with regard to the affordability of houses there. People who live in, were born in and grew up in Dún Laoghaire want to, as much as any person in any other part of the country, live close to where they are from, close to their parents and close to their support structures. They do not earn any more money than anybody else does. Jobs, regrettably, do not pay more money in Dún Laoghaire than jobs in Cahersiveen or Clifden or anywhere else. I understand why there is a differentiation, but there is a fundamental unfairness in saying that affordability is somehow at a higher level in Dún Laoghaire than it is elsewhere.

I understand that land costs more and property costs more in Dún Laoghaire. As someone who is trying to buy a house there at the moment I acutely understand this difficulty. As a State we should be stepping in to level the playing field in that area, and say to people that we recognise they want to live where they are from and that we do not believe things should be more expensive for them than in other parts of the country just because they come from that area. In that regard, the State needs to step in to bridge the gap in land prices between houses, be they in Shankill, Blackrock, Foxrock or Dún Laoghaire and houses in Clonmel or Portlaoise, or anywhere else in the country. I have a difficulty with that aspect of the Bill, but I recognise the difficulties that arise with it.

The second aspect I will focus on relates to something the Minister said at the outset of his speech about being in favour of home ownership. This is tremendously important for a number of reasons. It is not just because we aspire to own our own homes, and I have heard other Senators speaking about this: of course we do. Everybody does. There is an ingrained thing in the psyche of Ireland about land ownership, but really we are talking about home ownership here. I do not know if we still do have it, but for most of my lifetime Ireland has had the highest rates of owner-occupiers of homes in Europe. There is a long-standing tradition of people owning the homes they live in. People want that and I understand it. It is expensive and undoubtedly for 99.9% of people it is the most money they will ever spend on anything in their lives. It is the greatest liability people will have in their lives. People chain themselves to a mortgage for all of their working lives to achieve it, but yet people want to do that. Beyond that, it is very important to know that home ownership gives people a stake in society.

After the financial crash we saw issues. I became the owner of a small one-bedroom apartment before the crash, regrettably, and for a very long time it was in negative equity, as many of my generation were. It still is not worth what I paid for it. People suffered disproportionately, relative to other generations, at the time of that crash. Before that we had a situation where people wanted to own property and to a large extent achieved that. After the crash, people could not do that. As a result, along with all of the other disaffection in society, people no longer had a stake. They no longer were part of society, and therefore they had no buy-in into Ireland and what Ireland brings.

Sometimes we forget what a fantastic country we have, the stability we have, the functions we have and the services we have. God knows it is not perfect but one can, for the most part, enjoy a safe and fruitful life in Ireland. That is true for the vast majority of citizens. Of course, there are people who fall through the net and we desperately need to catch those people. Home ownership is one of the ways to do that. It brings those people into the fold. It brings them in on a par with their colleagues who can afford to buy houses. This is at the core of affordability of housing. It allows people to be included, allowing them to come with the wave and the tide that raises all boats, which we are forever talking about. It allows people to be part of that movement. To exclude them is to exclude them, on one level, from society. It is not going to be possible for everyone, and of course there is substantial work to be done on the provision of social housing. That has been ramped up since the crash. While never enough, we have improved. This is laudable. This Bill must deliver for those people, and allow all of the people who want to and who possibly can to become part of a home-owning generation, a part of society that contributes and receives - most importantly - from that society. Without it we are excluding people who do not need to be excluded.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.45 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 May 2021.