Affordable Housing Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

I welcome the Minister back to the Chamber. It is probably not appropriate to say it in the Seanad, but I also thank him for his generosity of time in addressing one of his partners in government’s parliamentary party. That is through co-operation where we put housing first, and I would like to see more of that.

I know the Minister is very passionate about this. I often compare it to the biggest prize in politics: to resolve the housing crisis of our time. It is the biggest challenge. I know he is dedicated and is up for it. He was there in opposition and now is his moment. Unfortunately, it is one of those moments in politics that takes more than a moment and people must be patient. It is not one move on stamp duty. It takes time to get houses. I often compare it in sporting parlance to the greatest prize in Irish sport: the Sam Maguire.

Perhaps Munster people and others would say it is the Liam McCarthy Cup but the Sam Maguire is the pinnacle in Irish sport. It draws the largest crowd. It is a special day with the Celtic cross on one's back pocket if one is lucky enough to get one. It has been proven that it takes years of preparation to win the Sam Maguire. Professor Niall Moyna trained those Dublin lads as youngsters. He took them through the Sigerson Cup and now they dominate. The Minister does not need any advice from me or anyone else. He knows that it takes time and it is unfair for people to snap their fingers at him and say "where are the houses?" tomorrow. I see good in everyone but I do not see politics generally exploiting this issue. They are reflecting the anger of the people. Come general election season, it might be very different but I see passion and fire in people's bellies when they talk about this issue and we must respect and reflect that but it is very important that the debate is couched and based in reality. Therefore, I was happy that one of Ireland's expert spokespeople - no one less than Deputy Ó Broin - accepted that we need a certain amount of private investment as a catalyst to get apartments built. This came from a Sinn Féin spokesperson.

The Taoiseach said on the radio today how pleased he was to hear that sober analysis from Sinn Féin. I do not mean to misrepresent the able and eminent Deputy and I am sure they have a different way of doing it but playing politics and relegating it to a simple matter of down with all private investors is not fair. It may be inadvertent but it is a dishonest argument to make.

Two of my fellow Green Senators addressed the Minister on this before we resumed today. I will bring two issues to the Minister's attention. The Vienna model has been Green Party bread and butter policy for years. The rent is the cost of the build and is capped at 3.5%. I think we are hoping to roll out 440 units this year. I am convinced this is the way forward. The Minister might let us know whether he might be open-minded regarding more in the long term and whether we can expedite that amazing model. We are a long way from it but in Vienna, these houses are all the same and people who can afford more pay more under the same model. It houses more than 6% of the population of Vienna. We must take baby steps here but putting that on a statutory footing would be legacy stuff for the Minister and the Government and they should take a bow. There are so many criticisms. It is very important and helps the morale of people who are waiting on a house to let them know about some of the good news. This is something about which I am particularly passionate. I think the Minister is on record as saying that it would be approximately 25% less than market value but it looks like 40% in some places. In Stepaside and Enniskerry, it will be capped at €1,200 per month for a two-bed that would go for €2,000 per month on the market tomorrow so that would look more like 40%. I am asking the Minister to think about this. Social housing is needed but we should not just go one way. In my home county of Kildare, 125 units were bought, all of which were social housing. The neighbours next door wanted affordable and private housing, be it with the help of Rebuilding Ireland, and restrained themselves from trying to block planning permission. That goodwill is gone. A social mix of all the different types of housing is the way to go. We need the Minister's leadership to ask Kildare County Council, which is doing its best and is under pressure, for a mix because it is proven to be more vibrant and dynamic for everyone.

The Minister is welcome to the Chamber. I commend him on bringing forward this comprehensive Bill on affordable housing. I support all types of housing. I have not tried to stop any type of housing and have never objected to any planning application of any type and I do not intend objecting in the future. It is important that we have a mixed housing model in respect of supporting private, social and affordable housing and AHBs. I believe every community should have that mix of housing. I have supported the development of 49 houses as part of a turnkey development in my community of Moycullen before the last election. To be honest, it might be one of the reasons I am in this Chamber but I supported it. Some Fianna Fáil councillors did not but that is part and parcel of politics. Indeed these councillors called a public meeting against the development.

(Interruptions).

The Minister can do the research. It caused certain ructions in the community. It was on the basis that there were no private houses coming forward. A number of private applications that have been granted in my community have not progressed. Planning permission has been granted but for whatever reason, they have not progressed. There are developers running back to the local authority to see whether they can get turnkey development, which in my mind means that there is an issue with equity. There is an issue with developers having the wherewithal to build private houses. As I said, there needs to be that mix of housing. It is desirable for people to own their own home. Most of us wish that everyone would be able to aspire to owning their own home. Indeed the beauty of the tenant purchase model was that the aspiration was there for people who started off renting a home to purchase it in the future. This is right and proper. It gives people a real stake in their community. That is what people want. That is what we all want.

The issue of equity is real. I am talking about developers having the equity to build houses. If we are to make progress in the short-term, we need to see why those planning applications that are live - those that have been granted in the past year or two - are not moving and what we can do to get them to move. It involves carrot and stick because those are the ones that are the quickest to build. We can talk about sites being zoned and the LDA but how do we get building on those sites that have planning permission? What are the stumbling blocks and issues that mean those developments do not progress because those are the ones where people will put down deposits and purchase next year, the following year and the year after that? This is the reality. The quickest fix will come from those with planning permission.

The affordable element is hugely important. As long as the increase in the percentage of social and affordable housing to 20% is funded and is not a deterrent to the same developers pushing forward, it will be important and I welcome it. However, we must ensure that it is not a further deterrent. We amended that previously to encourage some development and provide houses and jobs because nothing was happening. We need to ensure the increase does not act as a deterrent.

I welcome the Bill. I encourage the Minister to engage with developers, large and small, to discover why planning applications are not moving, developments are not being built and homes are not available in the private market and under Part V for social housing, particularly with the increase proposed in this Bill for affordable housing. I look forward to further engagement. I spoke on the Order of Business regarding the planning process, which is part of the Minister's brief. Many projects, not just related to housing are being stymied. These projects will take a significant number of years for any progress to be made even though funding has been announced. It is something that we have to look at.

I welcome the Minister. It is great we have the Bill coming to the House and have an opportunity to talk about the transformative impact the Department and the Minister are having on housing policy in the country. The Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill are two landmark Bills that will make a real difference to many citizens across the country in delivering real homes, real houses and keys in people's hands, which is what it is all about.

We have had a decade of difficulty in housing and it has built up to boiling point. However, it is a credit to the Minister and his team that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, when the vast majority of construction has been shut down for the past year, they still managed to deliver almost 450 cost rental units and they have got this legislation through the House despite all of the chaos that has been happening in the world around us.

For the first time in almost a decade, we will have affordable homes, led by the State and built by the State on State land. That is something that has been demanded for many years; it is happening now and it is being delivered. We will also have a cost rental scheme, something that has not happened previously, and that is being delivered as well. We have a shared equity scheme so that people who are out of that bracket of affordability can afford a home and will be helped by the State, which will take an equity share in the house to ensure they can afford a home and put a roof over their heads. That is being delivered now.

All of this, and the Minister is only in the brief for ten months. That should be commended across the House. However, there are a small few in the Oireachtas who do not want to see the Minister deliver in his brief and who do not want homes built because that means it is a win for the Government, but it is not seen as a win for the Irish people, or a win for the thousands of young people across the country, the first-time buyers, individuals, single people, couples and families who cannot get a home currently because of the broken system we are trying to repair. I implore those who seek to undermine really positive changes in housing policy to get on board the train because it is leaving the station and most of us are already on it.

With regard to the stamp duty issue that arose in recent weeks, to take a positive perspective, we need some private investment and Senator Kyne rightly pointed out that when REITs were introduced in 2013, they were needed to stimulate development. Two years later, the Labour leader stood on his feet in the Dáil and said it was a good thing and that we needed it. With any policy in an area that is as fast moving as housing, we have to be in a position to review those policies as we move along and things change, because things do change. It is a credit to the Government that when a specific issue arose in Kildare that really blew up and caught people's imagination, within a number of weeks the issue was addressed and dealt with by Government, and that has been delivered.

The Government is reacting, responding and listening to people. I know there were some concerns regarding apartments not being included but there is a reason for not including them, which is that we do not want to impact supply. Again, we have to react in the right way. It is about maintaining private investment in a targeted way so we can still maintain the supply we are getting but also increase that supply, because, at the end of the day, it is all about supply and getting more houses built.

I want to raise a particular concern regarding the cost of building. We know costs are increasing. Some of that is down to the Brexit impact, which we have not had much time to discuss this past year, and some of it is down to the pandemic that has impacted the supply chains. Overall, the cost of building is creeping up and up. When we remove those two big issues that are obviously causing problems in supply, we need to keep an eye on this issue and make sure the cost of building is where it should be and that people can still afford to build.

My next point is around the importance of getting housing policy right because if we do not, social cohesion will break down. Every member of our community and our society needs to feel that they have skin in the game. Part of that is owning their own home because it is then in their interest to keep a stable Government, to maintain cohesion in the country and to maintain cohesion in communities. When people feel they have been left behind and that the current policies are not working for them, they start to break away, and that is when social cohesion breaks down. That is bad for everybody. That is why it is very important that we fix this problem. The Taoiseach has said on a number of occasions that housing is the issue of our generation, and it is. If we do not get this right, thousands of couples, individuals and an entire generation will be left behind, and will be in a poorer position than their parents were before them.

There are concerns around too many people being stuck in rental units who do not want to be there. I caveat that by saying many people want to rent, and that is okay too. We should not prescribe to people how they should live or what kind of housing they should demand. There is no one silver bullet that will fix this. We need to provide apartments, houses, rental accommodation and owner-occupied accommodation. People have to have choice, and that is why this Bill is providing that choice. The Minister has rectified the issue around the percentage of each development that goes to social and affordable housing and he has doubled that from 10% to 20%. Again, that is going to have a direct impact on every single development in the country, and will provide apartments and houses to people and give them the choice they so need.

I wish the Minister well in his brief. He has a tough job ahead but he has a good team in government behind him. I have no doubt the vast majority of Members of this House will be with him and supporting him in the job he has ahead.

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss housing, a topic that has not the headlines for almost 14 years. How long has Ireland had a housing crisis? How long has Ireland been in its homelessness crisis? How long will it be before the Government seeks to deliver effective solutions to these problems? The Government has committed to the mission of housing for all, and this is the first problem. The mission should be homes for all, and the Bill should have a name change accordingly. A fundamental attitude change should be taking place across the board in this respect.

Supply of affordable homes that people have the means to purchase or rent is the key issue. New planning guidelines issued by the Minister ban bulk purchasing of houses and duplexes but developers can still bulk purchase apartments. The new owner-occupier guarantee measures also do not include apartments. Ireland has a supply issue and by confining our solutions to the supply of houses and duplexes, we are still confining supply. Ireland needs more homes and the Affordable Housing Bill does not go about supplying these.

The Bill contains three schemes, which were described as swift, short-term measures aimed at the ongoing housing crisis at the Seanad Second Stage briefing. However, what about the long-term effects of such short-term solutions? First, I draw attention to the word “purchase” in the affordable dwelling purchase scheme. Why are we focused on purchasing? Why are we focused on providing homes to buy? Why are we not considering those who do not want to purchase? Some people are perfectly happy to rent from local authorities. Apartments and houses that are rented at affordable rates can be homes; they can be affordable homes and they can be an effective solution.

Admittedly, the Bill does have a provision for a rental scheme. It is stated that the Government wishes to introduce the European cost rental scheme to Ireland, something which was recommended by the National Economic and Social Council, NESC and the Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI. However, the briefing paper provided to Senators on the Bill explains that this form of tenure will have to compete against the heavily incentivised purchase scheme. Those on average incomes will have to decide between home ownership and home rental, and if the Government is focusing on providing affordable homes to purchase, then apartments will remain unaffordable to rent. The Government's heavy incentive for home ownership could undermine this one effort it makes for renters in the housing market.

Furthermore, the issue of supply remains. Under the affordable dwelling purchase scheme, the serviced sites fund will use €188 million to supply 6,200 new houses. To make these new builds more affordable for the purchaser, the Government wants to instigate an affordable purchase shared equity scheme. This is a scheme the ESRI has specifically warned against. Dr Conor O'Toole of the ESRI, speaking at a Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage meeting, informed the Government that increasing purchasing power for households through a loosening of credit constraints is likely to lead to higher house prices in the long term. If the Government wants to increase buyers’ purchasing power with the affordable purchase equity scheme, it would need to guarantee that the supply of affordable homes is adequate to meet the demand. Unless the Government can guarantee this adequate supply, this Bill will cause an acute increase in the severity of the affordability issue.

The Central Bank released figures in 2019 stating that Ireland would require 34,000 new dwellings every year for the next ten years to meet demand. In 2020, with the outbreak of the pandemic, 20,000 houses were built and the ESRI has predicted that this figure will fall to 15,000 this year. Considering this, it is fair to say the Government cannot guarantee adequate supply when the funds that have been allocated to these measures will only increase housing by 6,200 between now and 2023. Furthermore, Colm McCarthy noted in the Irish Independent at the weekend that serial objectors to planning permissions are holding up the plans the Government and developers have in place, people who traverse the country with almost unlimited access to the courts to object to building plans. The short-term fix will have the long-term cost of making our housing more expensive because the planning system itself is broken and the supply is not there.

In the 2019 budget, the Government allocated €146 million towards homelessness services. In December 2020, we still had 8,200 homeless people in the country. Under the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, the Government will be spending more money on the housing crisis but will this really solve the issue? The Minister should consider assembling a task force which would bring in everybody, including the chief executives of county councils, senior planners, representatives from Irish Water and all the developers who have zoned and serviced lands ready to go. We should have them all walk out with planning permissions that meet the needs of the community in each county, allowing them to get the job done.

I have spoken before about how the Government's lack of clarity on its housing policies and guidelines is leading to incohesive decisions at local level. Last year, residential land in Meath was dezoned in accordance with Government regulations and directions from the Office of the Planning Regulator. A task force would bring deliver a co-ordinated approach which would help to avoid decisions like that made by Meath County Council, which has affected housing supply in the county and, therefore, the affordability of houses. If the Minister for Health can be given emergency powers during a pandemic, why can the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage not be given emergency powers to do what is necessary during the housing crisis? The International Monetary Fund recommended that Ireland tackle the housing problem-----

I must ask the Senator to conclude.

I am sorry. I have no more time but I believe the Minister gets my drift. I hope he acts accordingly.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to the House. Having been in the House for five years when he was Leader of the Opposition, I know how constructive and engaging he is. I also know how committed he is to reform. I have no doubt that he will want to deliver in the housing brief. Over recent months, he has put his mark on the Department. I am optimistic about the future. The only way to resolve the housing crisis is to get houses built. It is a very simple equation of supply and demand. We will not reach equilibrium until such time as supply meets demand. That is the challenge. Houses must be affordable to people earning middle incomes. That is what we are striving for as a country. That is what we want to deliver for our communities.

There are, however, blockages. The Minister is very much aware of these and has spoken many times about them and about what he is doing to resolve them both in the media and in these Houses. As we move along our journey towards building 30,000 to 40,000 houses a year, further blockages and unintended situations will arise. As they do, we will, as a Government, show flexibility to engage and deal with them. I refer to issues we have not yet imagined. This was proved when the issue of bulk buying arose in Maynooth. I remember being in this House when that measure was introduced. It was introduced in 2013 because nobody was buying houses. There was no incentive to do so. The housing market had to be kick-started. Like many measures, it has served its purpose and now needs to be refined, which it has been.

The affordable housing legislation with which we are dealing this evening is very ambitious but it will do what it says on the front of the Bill. It will create affordable housing. That is what people have been speaking about. It was one of the main issues in the last general election and was one of the main political issues before the pandemic. We in County Clare face a number of challenges. I live in Lahinch in the west coast area of County Clare, as the Minister knows, and in my own immediate area there is a proliferation of holiday homes which are very necessary and which serve a very important purpose. Unfortunately, they are empty for seven or eight months of the year. It is reasonable to levy a tax on vacant second homes. If somebody can afford a second home which they do not rent out at any time of the year, it is reasonable to place a levy on that house above and beyond the property tax.

As the Minister knows, there is also a problem with sewerage and waste water infrastructure in a number of our villages in County Clare. I have spoken to the Minister about this many times. I am thinking of places like Doolin. This village is known worldwide but no houses or developments can be built there because the waste water and sewage system is just not up to standard. Any applications lodged are deemed premature until such time as the infrastructure is upgraded. There are similar situations in Carrigaholt in west Clare, in Cooraclare and in Broadford. I have been to the Custom House with colleagues and we have spoken to the Minister about the challenges. I know he is committed to finding a resolution whereby there can be engagement between Irish Water, the local authorities and his Department with a view to dealing with these small schemes which, if dealt with, would open up a lot of potential development in villages throughout County Clare and throughout the country. I have spoken of four villages in Clare but I could speak of 40. The four I have mentioned are in dire need of an upgrade. I know the Minister has provided extra funding of, I believe, €150 million to Irish Water specifically to target this area.

There is another challenge in many rural towns. I refer to towns that had a number of clothes shops, shoe shops, drapers and other shops, all of which are now closed and which, realistically, will never open as retail units again. We need living accommodation above these shops. We need to be able to change what were retail shops into residential accommodation where people can live. That will, of course, require schemes. I know the Minister is looking at that as well. We could talk all evening but I know time is limited. I wish the Minister every success in the tough job before him. He has our absolute and full support.

With the permission of the Cathaoirleach and the Minister, I will move briefly to another topic. I congratulate the FAI on its historic annual general meeting last night and on moving in line with the memorandum of understanding. I particularly congratulate the FAI on its appointment of Packie Bonner, a great Donegal man and a great ambassador for this country. I did not get the opportunity to come in this morning on the Order of Business. The FAI has righted a wrong. I believe it is on the right path. It has a few more people to look after and I hope it does so. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the space to say that.

I could not start a speech on the topic of housing without referring to the mica redress scheme in Donegal. This issue has also affected Mayo. I thank the Minister for meeting the deputation last Thursday. I believe all the issues are now before him. With the best will in the world, I ask him to look at these issues as expeditiously as he can. I know he is keeping in close contact with the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. I thank both Ministers for setting up last week's meeting. This issue is really undermining family life for an awful lot of people in Donegal. I look forward to the Minister looking at and addressing those issues. Some say the current scheme is broken. It absolutely is not but there are some fixes needed to make it more adaptable, to make the 90% more achievable and to provide 100% redress, if available.

I congratulate the Minister on his ability to evolve with regard to the issue of housing. Housing was one of the most dominant issues in the last election. It is one of the cornerstones of the programme for Government, a Government in which three parties are involved. This Bill is a means to achieve the end of alleviating the immense pressure felt by renters and home buyers. It is not the silver bullet the Opposition keeps pretending exists. The issues affecting housing are complex and broad in scope.

Housing in this country requires a multipronged approach. This Bill does that. The provisions in the Bill target buyers and renters to make housing more affordable. The Minister has come under a great deal of opposition in the last while. To those opposing him, I say, "Bring it on lads", but they have only a short number of months to do so. The approach of the Minister and the Government to housing will become clear in 12 to 24 months. We are determined to undo the difficulties such that housing will be achievable and affordable, and families and individuals across the country can aspire to own their own homes. We support the Minister's efforts.

It has been said by parties and commentators on all sides of this issue that supply is the fundamental issue. Through this Bill, local authorities will be incentivised to build in local areas and to deliver housing for purchase. That is key. The Bill provides that a variety of houses be built to support the requirements of applicants. This is a short addition to the legislation, but one that must be commended as we frequently hear of people not being able to find accommodation that suits their needs. Fianna Fáil has a long history of social housing provision. This Bill maintains that commitment, while making provision for affordable housing to be provided for those who want it. The shared equity scheme is a great step forward on behalf of the State. It supports the purchase of housing rather than leaving that to the free market.

The introduction of price caps on properties is a radical measure in response to the housing crisis. The complexity and depth of the housing crisis in Ireland means housing must be supplied by both Government and private investors. There is no escaping that fact. Capping the cost of State provided homes is a great step forward. This Bill is an overwhelmingly positive start in getting us back on track in housing provision, but more work needs to be done. We put our full weight and support behind the Minister in doing that.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this important Bill. As the Minister will know, details matter. The success or failure of this Bill to deliver what it aspires to do will depend on the detail within it. Everyone across this Chamber wants housing that is affordable. We all want people to have a decent sustainable roof over their heads. We all recognise the incredible challenges for young workers in trying to access affordable housing. The concept of cost rental, the expansion of Part V and the prospect of affordable purchase housing are all welcome, but how we do it matters. The Government cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. Fianna Fáil cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of its past. In that context, I am extremely concerned about a number of aspects of this Bill.

Cost rental as set out in the Bill does not equate to affordable rent. The Bill sets out that rent be 25% below the open market rate. The reality of that approach is that it is out of touch with what is happening, particularly in the area that I know best, this is, Dublin city and the northside of Dublin. Do we seriously think it is okay that a worker in the Dublin area on average take home pay of just over €2,000 per month should go from facing rents of 84% of his or her monthly take home pay to 63% of his or her monthly wage, or that for those rents to work he or she will have to be part of a couple or live with another person? My party submitted amendments that would define affordability as a specific share of an individual's income, but the Government knew better. The market has to be allowed to decide the cost of rent. The question that has to be asked is if we really have that much faith in the market that we expect rents to increase at an acceptable rate. The reality, particularly in Dublin's north inner city and beyond in Dublin central and the northside of Dublin, the areas with which I am familiar, is that institutional investors are effectively keeping rent artificially inflated because they can afford to offer rent-free months. They have the financial wherewithal and fire power to be able to offer rent-free months in order to keep rents elevated. That brings me to my second concern.

This Bill is silent on housing affordability and housing standards in the part of the housing market to be developed by the private sector. That is not good enough. The private sector will always have a role in developing housing in this country, but there is no reason it should be the wild west which, in parts of housing at the moment, in particular build-to-rent, it is. In excluding apartments from the stamp duty changes, we can now anticipate that there will be a scramble of institutional funds into apartments. Why would any institutional investor build conventional apartments when there is a higher yield from build-to-rent? The impact of that build-to-rent on the local housing market is that, at scale, institutional investors can effectively set the rent for the local area, thereby up-ending the concept of cost rental being 25% below the open market rate and that that will ever be affordable.

If the Minister is truly serious about promoting affordable housing across all aspects of housing in this State, then I appeal to him to level the playing field in the development of apartments in this country. We have only to look at my own area of Dublin central where planning for 1,500 conventional apartments is being sought or they are currently under construction. Contrast that with over 5,000 build-to-rent, co-living or student accommodation units. That indicates where the big money is going. We need to remove the incentive to institutional investors to invest in only one type of housing, which is build-to-rent. Currently, build-to-rent means lower housing standards such as smaller floor area. There is also more flexibility with regard to storage space and less of an onus to provide a balcony or dual aspect and there is no restriction on the mix of housing. We need to reform the tax advantage that is given to REITs. When introduced, they were never intended as a long-term housing support measure. We need to introduce rent controls on new units because at the moment build-to-rent units are not subject to rent caps.

With regard to the purchase of land, because of the tax advantages that institutional investors can avail of in this country they can buy up tracks of land within our cities and develop a poorer quality of housing. Small developers and local authorities and, perhaps, the Land Development Agency, LDA, when it is up and running, will not be able to compete with the offers of the institutional investors. The Labour Party will bring forward amendments to this Bill on Committee Stage. I appeal to the Minister to seriously engage with them. We want to get this Bill right and if the Minister accepts our amendments, we will support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister back to the House. I support this legislation, which together with the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, will provide much-needed social and affordable housing to purchase and rent in this State.

Most modest earners are locked out of the housing market. They do not earn enough such that three and a half times their salary will yield them a mortgage that will buy them a property. However, perversely, they can pay 40% or more of their wages and salaries in rent. This group are living with parents to try and save. In my constituency of Dublin South Central, there are parents with two and three of their adult children and, in some cases, their partners and spouses, living under their roof while they save as much as they can for a deposit. Couples are delaying the start of their families due to the cost of providing housing. They cannot afford it. Affordable rental in the form of long-term tenure in the cost rental dwellings planned and assistance in purchase, either through the shared equity scheme or local authority affordable purchase schemes, are welcome developments. I congratulate the Minister in that regard.

Some in this House do not believe in home ownership. Some believe that rental should be cross-subsidised by further taxing those already priced out of the market, the so-called middle, and others believe that cost rental should include those who have the option to access social housing, even though that would mean diluting the provision for those who will never quality for social housing and cannot buy. I believe in mixed tenure in all developments. It is good for everyone and it brings equality for everyone to share their communities. I hear and echo some of the concerns of communities, such as Drimnagh, that the building proposed in their areas is cost rental or of particularly one tenure. That may lend itself to a transitory population who are not invested in their communities long term.

I urge the Minister to ensure that this will not be the case through incentives and regulations. I know he has already considered that. There is a need to ensure that infrastructural provisions are in place.

I refer to the current provision for crèches to be built at a ratio of one crèche for every 75 dwelling units, which is a great idea but, in reality, is not working. A recent application for a development in Crumlin which obtained planning permission exempted itself on the basis of there being adequate provision of crèches in the area just because there were geographically proximate crèches. There is no obligation to assess the length of the waiting lists or the adequacy of provision. That is something that could be tightened up as part of what is a great move and initiative in the two Bills towards a real quality of life and living.

I really want to support the shared equity scheme of the Bill. I was one of those who got a foot on the property ladder as a result of the shared ownership scheme and was very glad to apply for it. I got my loan approval while working in the voluntary sector on what were paltry wages. In the week I got my loan approval, I could have bought a two-bedroom house in Crumlin for the money. As a result of the speed at which house prices were rising at the time, within a fortnight, all I could afford was an apartment off St. James’s Street. I was delighted to have my apartment and it made a fine first home. By the time it came to purchasing a full family home, we were among the Celtic tiger refugees who left Dublin and went to Kildare, which was fine, but we had a round trip of three hours a day. I was fortunate that my family circumstances with my parents permitted the opportunity to combine our two homes so that I could move back to Dublin.

We were lucky. Many have not been so lucky and, as a barrister working pro bono, I have represented such people. Many had lost their homes and my role was to try to get a stay of execution, in terms of when they were obliged to move out, in order to facilitate a family member doing the leaving certificate, for example. Those people must get a chance to be first-time buyers again and I appeal to the Minister to make sure they are included when he is making provisions in the context of the Bill.

It is reported in today’s papers that young people exiting the care of the State need longer and more secure tenure. I believe that supported sheltered housing projects, once termed foyer projects, have a real role in that care, as well as in care for the homeless. I have been involved in building such projects. I built a project with 55 independent units with own-door accommodation and supported structures. It is currently run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Foyer projects could be a game-changer in homelessness. I urge the Minister to look at that again. People such as Brendan Kenny are very much disposed to it.

I offer my congratulations to the Minister. He is doing a fine job. I thank him for his presentation to our parliamentary party last week. He was very warmly welcomed and it was a real honour to have him there and to hear how much he listened to us. It was a real symbol of our party moving forward in our determination and commitment to solve this housing problem.

Ellistown still misses Senator Seery Kearney.

It is part of Kildare South. Never before has a Government had to deal with such a difficult situation. This must be the most difficult time ever to be in Cabinet. There are many pressing social issues apart from the economic challenges and problems that the blows of Brexit and Covid have foisted on us.

Above all, the most important thing is ensuring that people have a home. I know that is the absolute priority for the Minister and our party and, of course, the Government. We need a Minister who has vision and ambition and is pragmatic and practical. I absolutely believe the Minister is that man and he is the one who can deliver. It is very important that people have security of tenure and that they have it within a sustainable community. That is really important because we cannot have houses being built without proper thought or planning in terms of how the families will live in those situations. We must have adequate regard to schools, childcare, transport and leisure and amenity facilities. Covid certainly taught us the importance of that when we could not venture more than 2 km or 5 km from our homes and then subsequently when we were restricted to travelling within our counties. We also cannot have houses and apartments being built without due regard for safety. We cannot have a quick fix solution. Everything has to be considered and there has to be a long-term view in terms of the answers the Minister brings forward.

I will refer briefly to the situation in Newbridge, where there was a dreadful fire at apartments in Millfield. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, but we saw that the apartments were not built properly or appropriately because they were built during the Celtic tiger. Also in Newbridge, a strategic housing development of almost 400 houses is being built but there are not enough school places, particularly for children with special needs or those who are going into secondary level. In addition, the town is suffering gridlock. I have spoken to the Minister before about the need for a second bridge. I know Kildare County Council is engaging on that with his Department this week. It is important that I raise that issue again because of the impact that will be caused by the extra 400 houses and possibly 800 cars, as well as the importance of the children who need all those extra supports. It is important that they and Newbridge, as a community, have those supports.

Dezoning is happening apace in Kildare, such as in Athy currently. I question that because it has an impact on the affordability of houses.

I congratulate the Minister on the work he has done in respect of voids. That was his first target on taking office as Minister ten months ago and its impact has been felt across the country. In Kildare, 111 families have now been housed as a result. We need to look at regenerational programmes that are going on. For example, one such programme at St. Patrick's Park in Rathangan has been going on for more than ten years. It is most frustrating for families that need homes to see homes that are owned by local authorities but are not in use. I ask the Minister to look at that issue again.

There are four very fine aspects to the Bill. It is really important legislation which ensures that affordability is put at the heart of the housing system. I congratulate the Minister in the context of the Bill being the first legislation in the State to focus solely on affordable housing for people who work but cannot afford a home. I have family friends, neighbours and constituents in that position. Young people in their 20s, 30s or even their 40s are not in a financial position to move out of their parents' homes. They are being denied their rite of passage and their identity as independent persons. I was in my 30s when I bought my first and only house and there is not a day when I do not feel gratitude when I put my key into the door of the house because buying the house was a challenge and a difficulty for me and I got in just before it all escalated. I know what it is like and I empathise with the many people who are in that situation.

I wish the Minister well. We are with him every single step of the way and we will support every endeavour he takes to ensure that people of every age and from every stratum of society have a place they can call their own.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It was very helpful to have him at our parliamentary party meeting. I thank him for that.

Are membership cards being given out?

I think so. Why not? It is a great coalition of working partners together.

The Bill will provide affordable homes for families and it will give people their first opportunity to own a home. That is a commitment in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, which was prepared by all three parties in government. It commits the Government to the mission of housing for all, that everybody should have access to good quality housing for purchase or rent at an affordable price and that the State has a fundamental role in enabling the delivery of new homes. However, the State is not the only stakeholder in this regard. In facing this challenge, we need innovation among all stakeholders to increase construction and we also need clear project management to implement these measures.

I was reading a number of articles over the weekend and then went back to look at census 2016. I realised we had a housing stock of 2 million homes and apartments. Over 183,000 were vacant units, excluding vacant holiday homes. I welcome the expansion of the repair and lease scheme from 40,000 to 60,000 but I would like to see an awful lot more dedicated to this area.

I have rented and am still renting. I have rented for many years in Dublin city centre and, as our Labour Senator was saying, I have rented and am renting again in Dublin north. I know what it is like when one has to move home when landlords go into the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. I would like to see how we are using this. When new regulations came in, developers and property owners did not develop their homes to respond to this. There could be more in the repair and lease. Investment firms are a small part, as I understand, of the overall housing market, holding less than 1% of all housing stock and 5% of tenancies. Since 2016, under Rebuilding Ireland we have had nearly 85,000 new homes built by the end of this quarter. I support integrated development and a mix of housing and we need to consider including recreational space and access to community services.

In my area of Ballinasloe, a number of developments have been approved for planning but none are moving forward. Why is that? We cannot find places to rent in Ballinasloe yet we are inundated with vacant areas on our streets. We cannot get our construction and developers to move forward. How do we do this?

This Affordable Housing Bill contains the first scheme of direct State-built affordable homes in over a decade. The State will take an equity stake and, all over the country, it will be between 160,000 and 310,000. When the house is bought, the State will get its equity stake back. The Minister has indicated it is €310 million for the serviced sites fund, which will allow 6,200 units. How will we move those forward this year? There is a lot of difficulty at the moment in terms of coming out of lockdown.

It is the first national scheme to provide delivery of cost rental housing. I have been renting in Dublin for many years. I cannot believe I went back to Galway to rent and then went back to Dublin again. It was a bit of a surprise to me. In both Galway and Dublin cities, I have had to leave where I was renting, not by choice. Although there are many who would like to take on renting as a choice, I do not believe the European model is the same here or that someone can rent a place and have security of tenure for 20 to 30 years. That choice is not left to the tenant. The Minister's scheme is very welcome, particularly that he will look at 25% below market price, considering that in Dublin 40% of the average wage is dedicated towards rent.

There are regional price caps on the new affordable purchase shared equity scheme for homes and private development. This is welcome. It is important in our regional areas to keep towns and villages alive and maintain services. That is crucial. The town centre first strategy is also coming in here.

The provision for the extension of the Part V to 20% within each local authority. As the Minister heard me say in our meeting, Galway County Council is the second lowest funded council in the country. The average spend on housing is €400, according to the localauthorityfinances.com website, developed by the National University of Ireland, Galway. Yet in County Galway, it is €80 per head. That is a shocking statistic. We need more supports within our local authorities.

My questions are on how we get construction moving and on resources for local authorities.

I welcome the Minister. It is hard to believe this is my first time addressing him since his appointment.

You could come to our parliamentary party meeting.

Yes. Having worked directly with the Minister in the last Dáil and sat through thousands of hours of committee meetings, I know his personal commitment to solving this complex issue and the energy, commitment, passion and drive he will bring to providing solutions. Ten months after his appointment, we already see signs of the results on the ground: the largest capital investment in the history of the State and the continuing increase in the delivery of social housing in every town across the country. There is currently a strong supply of social homes which needs to be maintained into the future.

The reduction in homelessness is welcome but it remains stubbornly high. The 40% reduction in family homelessness is significant and welcome.

I am reminded of the saying that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Covid might have helped in the provision of housing for these families, due to the increased availability of homes on the market. When we return to the new normal, let us not return to the scenario where homeless families were forced to live in hotels and tourists were living in homes. Additional legislation is needed to regulate the short-term letting platforms directly, as opposed to planning legislation. I say this is from a tourist offering point of view and that of assisting in provision of homes for these families.

The Bill before us is significant for individuals, couples and families, who are the forgotten people, left behind with no supports. These people do not qualify for social housing, are forced to pay rental prices in excess of average mortgage repayments and have been left outside of Government housing policy for far too long.

This legislation is the first in the history of the State to solely focus on affordability. This ground-breaking legislation is proof of this Government's commitment to restoring affordability and the aspiration of owning a home to the centre of Irish housing policy. The aspiration of home ownership is a core part of the basic social contract of Irish politics. This basic aspiration runs deep in our troubled history. As a people, we were dispossessed and economically disadvantaged. The role of the hearth is at the centre of most Irish hearts. This legislation starts the work of bringing that back into the centre of Government policy. The Minister is not coming with a silver bullet because none exists. He is providing through this Bill a number of options to deliver affordability.

Much has been made of the shared equity scheme, in this House and nationally. I question the narrative being promoted by the Opposition and others about this scheme as being politically motivated. How surprised I am. While I am not an economist, I have an understanding of how the economy works. This scheme is clearly identified as a short-term measure while the other elements of the Bill are commenced. It is currently capped at an investment of €75 million, which forms less than 1% of the mortgage market of around €11 billion. I do not believe for a moment that this less-than-1% will influence the market. This scheme is immediate and can deliver 2,000 homes this year, which means 2,000 families can be living in their home by the end of the year.

The national cost rental scheme is another first for this Bill. It is the first ever cost rental scheme delivering by local authorities, approved housing bodies and the Land Development Agency, which is another Bill the Minister is bringing through the House at the same time. It is tasked with delivering cost rental and affordable homes for our people. The extended Part V, which reintroduces the 10% affordable clause, is welcome. Local authority-led building of affordable homes is, without doubt, my preferred option and the potential long-term solution to providing affordable homes. I fully support it.

If we as a State are to understand the true depth of the housing crisis, the State must now take responsibility to establish the number of individuals, couples and families who qualify for these supports and immediately put in place a procedure to establish an affordable housing assessment process similar to the social housing process. Then the State must bring the same commitment, energy, resources and support to this process that it has to social housing support. We as a Government and State are committed to delivering on our promise to provide families with an affordable home and the aspiration of owning a home once again.

I welcome the Minister and acknowledge his great efforts in this really important topic of housing. The delivery of affordable housing is one of the key issues in our society. This legislation before us is the most important piece regarding that in over a decade. I fully support it and compliment the Minister on it.

There are many issues when it comes to affordable housing. Affordability is probably the key issue. I will speak in a moment about the cost of housing.

Supply is a key issue for us all. I welcomed the announcement by the Minister last week on Airbnb and his view that regulations should be introduced in that regard. Regulation will free up the supply. Supply is an issue in both urban and rural areas in my part of the world. On the urban side, large parts of Kinsale and Clonakilty have huge Airbnb properties that are soaking up the rental supply. In rural areas, there are houses occupied for three or four months of the year and vacant for the other eight. The big issue is that people who live locally cannot even get planning permission. They cannot even get access to the houses to which I refer. There is a major issue regarding supply.

I would like to talk about the cost of building a house. This is being lost in the debate at times. I did a bit of research a while ago and rang a few individuals. The cost per square foot of building a house today, including VAT, is around €184. That is exceptional. It should be taken into consideration. People were very blunt with me when I rang around. Irish Water could charge up to €8,000 per house. The building regulations that were introduced have led to increase after increase. Most houses now have heat pumps attached. The cost is €5,000 per pump. An air ventilation system is another €5,000 per house. The cost of insulation alone has gone up by 30% in the past six months. An average dwelling of roughly 2,000 sq. ft costs nearly €400,000, and that is without a site. This is the cost of building a house in today's environment. It is only increasing. Labour is a huge issue for our society. We cannot get labourers. Tradesmen are like gold dust. We are following the US model in so many ways. If one wants to make a fortune, one should become tradesmen. It could be said that we are a victim of our own success. Everyone wants to go to college. Tradesmen, plumbers, electricians-----

Indeed. The Father of the House is dead right. Tradesmen, particularly those in the wet trades, such as the plasterers and block masons, are nearly impossible to get. That is the core issue. Before the boom, we had tradesmen and labourers coming in from abroad. That is not happening now. The support will have to come from our own society. Tying it all together will be a huge issue in addressing the housing crisis. It will also be an issue for construction. This is important legislation but, in fairness to the Minister, it will not solve everything because there are so many dynamics that need to be solved. Anyone who examines the cost and availability of labour will see that these are huge issues for us.

The other issue I would like to raise concerns the powers of local authorities when it comes to compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. The number of vacant properties in villages the length and breadth of Ireland is frightening. The CPO powers of local authorities are amazing. They have phenomenal powers that date back to an Act from the 1960s, I believe. That Act is not being used effectively by the local authorities. They need to come into that space more. A former city manager in Cork City Hall, Mr. Joe Gavin, with whom I never worked, was probably the pioneer who used to Act to the fullest extent. He achieved major movement in Cork in the 1980s. We should use this Act in every town and village across the county. We should be promoting the legislation and driving city and county managers to use it so they can get rid of derelict sites and address developments that need to be moved on. It will be a genuine game changer if we can get movement in this space.

To return to my primary argument, this is important legislation. It will go a long way towards solving our problems but it is only a part of the solution. We will get there but, realistically, it will be bit by bit.

I thank the Senator. He made good points on the lack of tradespeople in construction.

I welcome the Minister. For me, housing is the biggest issue that our country faces. Covid has been an inconvenient distraction from that but it has evolved the thinking on housing, community, quality of life, how and where we can work and, consequently, how and where we can live. By restricting their movements, we restricted spending so more potential buyers have been able to save up deposits. Both Covid and Brexit have affected building materials and costs and we face the knock-on effect of the closure of construction. There is additional pent-up frustration on top of the pent-up frustration among those who want to move and start the next stage of their adult lives, which means putting down roots and finding a home. We get to a point in our lives where, having found a good job or career and having found ourselves, we want to find a home. Unfortunately, too many lives have been put on hold.

Covid-19 has brought a new drive and localism, making the concept of the 15-minute city more achievable. We need to deliver on that vision through the development of homes, community infrastructure and amenities together. We have talked about this in Fingal County Council and here. It is about providing homes but it is as much about providing for the communities they are in.

The housing needs we are facing today are very different from those in 2011 and even from those before Covid. As my colleague said, the challenges keep coming. Therefore, we have to be flexible and change as they arise.

Certain themes remain, however, one being homelessness. I am glad to see the March report for homelessness numbers shows a decrease of 19%. Family homelessness is down 38% and emergency accommodation demand is down by 75% This is the lowest figure since June 2017 but it is not enough.

With regard to supply, we have increased the number of homes being built by 300%, from 5,000 in 2012 to more than 20,000 in 2020. We have made progress on social housing, with more than 10,000 homes having been supplied in 2019. We have taken 30,000 families off the social housing waiting list over the past four years. Again, however, Covid has taken its toll. I acknowledge the 157 voids that will be refurbished in Fingal this year under the new local authority voids scheme and also the new projects that are starting in Fingal.

On home ownership and affordability, the Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that affordable quality housing is available to everyone. The Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill are comprehensive. The Affordable Housing Bill is the most comprehensive housing Bill in the history of the State. Almost €690 million will be put towards affordability measures, including a new affordable purchase shared-equity scheme, new cost-rental homes, Rebuilding Ireland home loans and an expanded help-to-buy scheme. The Land Development Agency is another measure. These developments are great. I include the increase to 20% under Part V, which has really worked for us, to include social and affordable housing, with a social mix of at least 10%. I echo what my colleagues have said about the importance of mixed development across the board. We can see the benefits in our communities. Also to be considered in this regard are the direct local authority build of affordable units, supported by a revamped serviced sites fund, and the affordable purchase scheme and the first-ever national cost-rental scheme, with more than 400 units built and occupied in the State, the cost being at least 25% less than the market value and 30% in some cases, with long-term tenure. The shared equity scheme is to increase first-time buyers' purchasing power. It is for people who cannot quite secure the full mortgage required. It could help 2,000 potential owners this year. It is a combination of all these measures that I hope will facilitate the change we need to see.

I want to raise the issue of building costs. They are another barrier. A builder told me recently that timber prices have gone up by 100% in the past six months and that steel has also gone up, by 50%. I am told that factories and timber mills were closed during the first lockdown and that there is a knock-on effect from that. It is also a matter of supply chains and Brexit. One family I spoke to bought a house to renovate last year when they could see they could have a home office and better life, but now the cost of renovating that home has gone up by 60%. With regard to factors such as the supply of skills and labourers, we have to be agile and on our toes.

I know the Minister and his team and the committee are all those things.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank all my colleagues for this very important debate on housing and its supply, which I welcome. There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the middle of the biggest housing crisis ever to hit this State. Like many in this House, I am sure, my phone is full of messages, phone calls and emails from those who are struggling to get the basic human right of a roof over their heads. It is full of communications from young people setting out on their life's journey but who cannot get to even the first step on the property ladder. It is full of communications from single people and older people who cannot get that one-bedroom home that might be affordable to them because such properties are, as recently described to me in conversation by a local council official, like gold dust.

Into this situation we place the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 and the efforts of the Government to help those contacting me on my phone and, I am sure, as I said, on the message minders of all public representatives' phones. The question I have for the Minister is why we are about to embark once again on relying in the main on the market to build homes. Why are we turning to approved housing bodies and private investors to build and provide the homes that are needed? I see, unfortunately, no real effort in this Bill to concentrate homebuilding through our local authorities and once again to build council houses. In my county, Kildare, we have seen over recent weeks what happens when private forces are allowed to control the market. One gets the birds of prey circling and outbidding the local authority in its desperate attempts to reduce the waiting lists and to provide for, in the case of County Kildare, the more than 6,500 people on the housing list. I want to see a genuine attempt to restart the housebuilding sections of local authorities that were allowed to be wound down but I do not see it here. I do not see any attempt to address the famous and indeed infamous four-stage process of building local authority homes that over recent years has frustrated and delayed county councils and their members to the point that many have now simply accepted the delays that such red tape brings and, in the opinion of many, have simply given up. This is the frustration I get back when I speak to so many local authority members throughout the State. I am sure this has been raised with the Minister. Realistically, how long should a stage 1 process take? In one case I am aware of I have been hearing this for almost four years. Where is the political will to cut this red tape and build local authority houses once again?

I also wish to raise with the Minister the urgent need to include and involve other agencies in this process and this crisis. This was raised with him in the last debate here on this Bill. I am aware of local authority land in many locations in my county where there are deficits in infrastructure. There is publicly owned land in Nurney, County Kildare, which is sitting idle in an area where there is urgent need for social and affordable housing. The lack of water services in the area will prevent this piece of land from ever being developed unless we involve other agencies. The Government must involve agencies such as Irish Water in this crisis more. It must prioritise infrastructural deficits such as those in Nurney in order to tackle this crisis head-on. It must recognise that many other towns and villages have infrastructural deficits that will prevent houses being built in areas where these houses are needed most.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to housing is the ongoing inability of those working on low incomes to afford their own homes. I have dealt with so many families and individuals who were only a couple of hundred euro above the social housing income limit and were told time and again that housing officials have no discretion in this and that they only implement the limits set out by the Government. There is an urgent need for an affordable housing scheme that will assist those taking home the incomes I have just described. The Bill before us does not, in my opinion, define "affordable" and, as such, will not assist these young families and individuals at their hour of need. As has been said, we all hope this is not the case. The Bill could have been different. It could have presented a definition that could provide hope and, more importantly, direction to our local authorities to assist those in this category. We are already hearing about differing prices in different areas. I am worried that those who are working and whose incomes are outside the social housing limits in my county will once again be left behind.

I will finish by going back to the red tape I mentioned earlier. I note and welcome the recent announcement by the Minister's Department on the upgrade of voids and getting them back into the social housing stock. If we are genuinely serious about this crisis, then addressing the red tape and, more importantly, the length of time such voids take to return to the social housing stock and to become family homes must be addressed. I know we are still in the midst of a pandemic, but in some cases in my area this work is taking years, and that is a crisis that is simply not good enough. Housing is a huge issue for us all and we all want to see it working. I look forward to further debate on the Bill as it goes through this House.

The Minister is very welcome. I thank him for coming to Fine Gael's parliamentary party meeting the other evening. It was very informative and very positive and is something I would like to see more of across parties.

Access to affordable housing is one of the most immediate and urgent challenges facing young people, middle income earners and families today in Ireland, including in my home county, Longford. This Bill is about individuals and families who want to be able to rent their own homes and to aspire to own their own homes. In the entirety of my county, Longford, there has been no development of any private houses in 12 years - not one private home built. The Government takes the housing crisis extremely seriously, is taking action and is willing to deliver social, affordable and private housing via any mechanism possible. It is willing to deliver what is most needed, and that is homes. It is right that the State uses every available asset it has to support its citizens. It is right that a combination of the Affordable Housing Bill, the Land Development Agency and budgets will provide affordable homes for decades to come. For generations to come the legislation we are debating now will restore affordable home ownership. That will be the norm in the future.

This will not happen immediately, however, and will take time to bed in. It is important we look at the repair and lease scheme, and I welcome the increase from €40,000 to €60,000 in respect of the limits on that. We also need to bring in a range of tax incentives. Senator Dolan mentioned earlier the 180,000 vacant houses in the 2016 census. We need to unlock them, and whatever measures have to be put in place we need to put in place immediately. Both Senators Currie and Lombard mentioned build costs. This gets lost in the conversation. People do not realise the high build costs there are. There is a shortage of timber, which has been caused by individuals objecting to felling licences, and there has been an increase in the price of steel. The price of glass has increased. I spoke only the other day to an insurance company that has quoted a price of €200 per square foot to cover the cost of a rebuild in my county, Longford. This would have an average semi-detached heading for €300,000, whereas ten years ago you could buy a three-bedroom semi-detached in Longford for about €60,000. Now we are looking at a minimum of €250,000 to build that same house.

I sincerely welcome the funding the Minister made available for the retrofit schemes for the voids and the houses in respect of which Longford County Council has issued CPOs. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits the Government to building on the foundation of Rebuilding Ireland to deliver housing for all. The document expresses the core belief that everybody should have access to good-quality housing for purchase or at an affordable rent. I welcome the flexibility of the first-time buyer rule in the Bill for those who previously had a dwelling as part of a marriage that may have ended, those who sold or lost homes due to insolvency or bankruptcy proceedings and those who are in homes that are too small for their current needs. I welcome the standardisation of the scheme of priority for affordable purchase homes and the introduction of the 30% flexibility for local authorities to prioritise those who perhaps do not meet the standard criteria. We also need to ensure, however, that a percentage of the affordable homes that are built be designed in a way that is appropriate to the needs of those with a disability. That has not been mentioned very much. Many disabled people long for independent living in appropriate housing.

The second measure is cost-rental. This targets specifically those whose earnings are above the income threshold for social housing and who are trapped in high-cost rental accommodation. It is intended that cost-rental properties will involve long-term, secure tenancies. This 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. I recently dealt with a case in my home county of a father whose marriage had broken up. He is no longer in the family home, is struggling to pay rent and is just above the social housing income threshold because the maintenance he pays is not being taken into account as an expense. We need to be able to do more for people all over the country who are in the same position.

We need to look after our youth. I received an email a couple of weeks ago from someone criticising Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for this Government's continued inaction, which has left their generation with the late purchase of a home and crippled them with repayments all the way to retirement. If they are not renting until retirement before God knows what happens, they are overpaying for a house they do not really want, just for the sake of having a home. I will come back to them, because this Bill go a long way to address those issues. This is the biggest issue we face outside Covid-19 and this Bill will assist us in delivering affordable purchase and rental homes.

I had not thought I had anything to say but as usual I find I do. I am not entirely sure it is appropriate for me to welcome the Minister to the House because we are in the Dáil Chamber and this is his natural home and environment. However, I will welcome him for the sake of form.

The situation of vulture funds buying up masses of apartments is completely and utterly wrong. Legislation is in the process of being introduced which will cap these at ten but I do not think that this is enough. I ask the Minister to look at it again and be as stringent as possible, bearing in mind all the constitutional rights of property and so on.

As no other speakers wish to contribute, I call on the Minister to respond.

I thank Senator Norris, and other colleagues, for the welcome. I said some months ago that we would try to initiate as much legislation as we could in the Seanad. I served in the Seanad before I served in the Dáil. Even though we are in the Dáil Chamber, Senator Norris's presence raises the talent level of debates here as well.

This Second Stage debate has been good. It covered a lot of aspects of the Bill. I ask those who have not looked at the Bill in detail to do so and to familiarise themselves with it because it is the most comprehensive piece of affordable housing legislation that has pretty much ever been published. It takes in a wide range of views - not political views but there is a wide range of potential solutions to the problem of affordability. If we all believe that a cohort has been locked out of home ownership and is paying rent at exorbitant rates, then we have to do something about it. We all believe that a generation of people aspire to owning their own home or, indeed, want to have more secure tenures in rent. To do that, we have brought forward very practical measures.

I was appointed Minister at the end of last June and in the very beginning of July we started working on this legislation to see how we would work it though. There are complexities to it. It might require some changes on Committee Stage and I am open to all reasonable amendments. However, I ask those who are opposed to the measures being introduced to come forward with real alternatives; not just with sound bites or throwaway remarks, but with real policies backed by real finance that will work. It is incumbent on us all in the Oireachtas, in the Seanad and in the Dáil, among those of all parties and those of none, to address this crisis. As Senator Chambers said earlier, this is bigger than a housing issue because it is a societal issue. If people do not believe they have a future in the country with one of the most basic fundamental things of having a secure roof over their head, that is a major problem. They will end up being exploited by others who may not want to see progress in housing because it does not suit them politically and does not suit their own political narrative. Frankly, we should rise above that. All parties have a responsibility to address the crisis.

A couple of Senators opposite mentioned task forces and what we need to do to bring certain things about. I chair two task forces, one of which is on homelessness. It has been mentioned here because someone having a safe and secure home is fundamental. I do not wish to be complacent, but this Government has made progress, particularly in the area of child and family homelessness. There has been a reduction of nearly 40% in less than 12 months, and 75% fewer families are using hotels as emergency accommodation. There is no question that we need to do a lot more. We are right in this country to be critical and self-critical but it is also important to recognise when progress is being made. My focus as Minister will be on that cohort, working with Government colleagues who I had the pleasure of addressing at their own parliamentary parties last week. I thank Senator Martin and my colleagues in Fine Gael for their kind words, and indeed my colleagues in Fianna Fáil. I am always open to people talking about solutions and what we need to do to work things through.

This legislation must be looked at in the context of the overall housing package. Senator Wall mentioned local authorities getting back building. That is exactly what we are doing. It takes time to build that capacity but the budget that this Government brought forward, which was opposed by the Labour Party, contained the largest housing budget in the history of the State - €3.3 billion, with €2.1 billion in capital. There is a target of 9,500 brand new social housing builds. We have actually changed the approval process. I have encouraged all local authorities to use it. It has been changed to a single approval up to €6 million. I would like to go further. I am meeting the chief executives of all the local authorities from this Friday into next week because the Senator is right that we need to build the capacity there. I have mentioned project management expertise at local authorities. We are working on ensuring we have housing delivery teams in each of the local authorities. We need to do that.

On the social house building side, I am confident that through Housing for All, through the work we are all doing in the Oireachtas and through the programme for Government, we can push through social housing at scale. As we do that, we need to look at new tenure in housing which many have mentioned, namely cost rental. Cost rental and versions of it work very well in continental Europe. We want to put it in place here. Only last October, during budget negotiations, we secured the first €35 million to be able to start cost rental. It involves long-term rent, backed by the State, that covers the cost of building and maintenance of properties. We set a threshold for the first eight schemes, and they will be in place within 12 months of the announcement in the greater Dublin area and in Cork. The individual schemes will be announced. That is the first and I hope there will be many more. That is on top of the 50 cost-rental units in the pilot. To give a sense of how long it can take to get things done in Ireland, and to demonstrate that we need to focus not only on policy but also on delivery, I should mention that the first 50 cost-rental units, on Enniskerry Road, were announced in 2015 but have not even been tenanted yet. They will be tenanted this year and we will have a national cost-rental scheme.

Those who support this legislation will be supporting cost rental for working people. Those who oppose it will be opposing cost rental for working people. That is what it gets down to. We will build on it, as Senator Martin asked, and we will go much further. This is the first year, and we have €35 million in Exchequer funding backed by €100 million by the Housing Finance Agency, with eight schemes in place. We will move that on further. Then we will look at how we can deliver affordable homes on State-owned land. A very good concept during the last Oireachtas, which was agreed through the confidence and supply agreement, was the serviced site fund of €310 million to deliver over 6,000 homes in that one cohort alone. That is another thing that has been misrepresented by some in the Opposition who have said the target is only 6,000 affordable homes. No, it is not. We are talking specifically around the serviced site money of €310 million. With that, we will repurpose it to make a national affordable purchase scheme in order that our local authorities can be directly involved in building on their own land, as I assume everyone wants. We want to be able to have housing for all those who are locked out, not only those on social housing waiting lists but those who are working as well. Should they be precluded from being able to buy or own a house on public land?

Is it only a certain section of society that has a right to anything on public land? I do not agree with that fundamental belief. We need to get on with delivery instead of these ideological debates back and forward where we are now looking at infamous pieces of land like Oscar Traynor Road, and Senator Wall has mentioned Nurney, County Kildare. The Senator's colleagues in Dublin could have a look at how they voted on the Oscar Traynor Road proposal where we could have delivered hundreds of homes. I will help the local authority to deliver that more quickly. People need these houses and need to see that.

That is the affordable purchase element which will be done on State-owned land. We need to do more of it and to give local authorities the ability to buy more land to do that. Again that will be done. Those who support this Bill support affordable purchase on State-owned land. Those who vote against it do not. That is what it is going to be come down to at this stage.

The third element we are looking at is shared equity. Shared equity is very simply to enable a working person or couple to be able to bridge the affordability gap. It was not opposed by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, in any way, shape or form and we have calibrated our scheme in a very focused way to those who need it who will only be able to get the requisite equity amount based on their own income. This will be targeted at around 2,000 households per annum. That is in addition to the other 6,000 households, and it works. A comparable scheme, not the same one, in Britain delivered a 14% increase in supply with less than a 1% increase in the house price index, HPI. That is based on the UK equivalent of the Comptroller and Auditor General report, and not on any other report. We all generally hear of and support our Comptroller and Auditor General and his work in the Oireachtas. Let us not twist this in any other way and say it was increased. Our scheme is going to be different. It is calibrated and there are price caps based on regions. Those price caps, by the way, are not targets, they are caps and like in any area there are variations in prices within that area. Fundamentally, this will give people an opportunity to buy and own their own home this year or else, what is the alternative? They can sign up to continuing to pay rent at an exorbitant rate for another number of years while trying to save every cent they have or they can live with their folks well into their 30s or even their 40s trying to save. No, these are immediate solutions that can be tweaked as we move on. If the Members support this Bill, they support the opportunity for young and not so young people to be able to get on the housing ladder where the State will take a very small equity at a very low rate of interest with no obligation to buy that out. If Members do not support this Bill they do not support this measure. It is as simple as that.

We have got to get to a stage whereby we are bringing in the legislative blocks to enable that supply to increase. All of these measures are supply-side ones. On Committee Stage in the Dáil - I flagged this on Second Stage - I will be bringing forward the increase in the Part V provision. As Members will know, in every new estate 10% of the houses will be set aside for social housing and it will be absolutely protected. I will be bringing in an additional 10% in respect of affordable houses. That will be brought in on Committee Stage in the Dáil and brought back to colleagues in the Seanad for Report and Final Stages.

I do not intend to use all of my time allocation this evening but suffice it to say that across the parties there have been some very relevant and good points made. We will open to looking at amendments that are tabled. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will be here on Friday for a portion of the debate because the Cabinet is also meeting on Friday morning. There is no disrespect to the House intended but I will not be here for part of Committee Stage but as soon as I can be back in, I will be.

There are other elements on the general housing side, in the area of voids, building cost, and other items which are very relevant but are not specifically relevant to this Bill and I have taken specific notes of each of them. These are areas that we are very much looking at, such as the vacant housing stock across the country and what we can do to activate that stock. We are certainly looking at how we can help people where we may have a lease and repair scenario and at how we may potentially help people to be able to buy those vacant homes that are there.

I genuinely thank all colleagues for their contribution and co-operation here this evening as we bring this Bill through the Seanad. I look forward to engaging with colleagues on Committee Stage later in the week and, indeed, early into next week and I thank the Acting Chairperson.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire and I thank him for his time. I also thank all of the Senators for their contributions over this session and the last one.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 28 May 2021.
Sitting suspended at 7.56 p.m. and resumed at 8.10 p.m.