Housing Affordability: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Michael McGrath on Tuesday, 27 January 2015:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes:
— the significant fall in home ownership rates in Ireland;
— the legitimate aspiration of families to own their own home;
— that the lack of housing supply is causing distortions in the property market;
— that the dramatic increase in rents and the failure to increase rent supplement supports have put many individuals and families at serious risk of homelessness; and
— that 90,000 persons are currently on the social housing waiting lists around the country;
and
agrees that:
— action is required to improve housing affordability, particularly in respect of mortgage interest rates;
— the level of savings required should not be prohibitive thereby preventing people from buying their first properties or progressing to a second home;
— a coordinated initiative by Government and local authorities is needed to improve the supply of new housing; and
— the rent supplement scheme be urgently reviewed to take account of current rents in the market place.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
"acknowledges that:
— the construction sector and the housing market were very heavily affected by the economic downturn and the bursting of the property bubble; and
— a poorly regulated banking sector, with lax lending standards combined with pro-cyclical and inappropriate fiscal policies adopted by the previous Government, led to a property bubble, the consequences of which are still evident throughout the country;
recognises the importance of ensuring a strong and sustainable construction sector and housing market that meets the needs of the economy and society;
notes that:
— in 2014 a total of 11,016 homes were completed in comparison to 93,019 units completed at the peak of the housing bubble; and
— at the peak of the housing bubble in 2007 over 270,000 persons were directly employed in the sector and that by 2012 this figure was below 100,000;
further acknowledges that new housing supply - both social and private housing - is a key issue that needs to be, and is being, addressed;
notes:
— in this context, that the Government’s Construction 2020 Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector is focused on addressing constraints that are inhibiting new housing supply, including as regards planning, mortgage and development finance, infrastructure and public investment, standards and regulation and education and skills;
— in addition, the recent announcement of the Government’s Social Housing Strategy 2020 and the Government’s commitment therein to deliver 35,000 new social housing units over the period to 2020;
— the additional €2.2 billion in funding announced for social housing in budget 2015 and the publication of the Social Housing Strategy 2020 in November 2014, which builds on the provisions contained in budget 2015 and sets out clear, measurable actions and targets to increase the supply of social housing, reform delivery arrangements and meet the housing needs of all households on the housing list;
— that the Central Bank has recently issued macro-prudential proposals in relation to residential mortgage lending and will shortly make decisions in relation to these in accordance with its independent mandate in such matters; and
— the encouraging signs of a recovery in the construction sector and the housing market;
and
agrees that a whole-of-Government approach to the implementation of Construction 2020 and the Social Housing Strategy 2020 will deliver a sustainable housing market that meets the needs of our society."
- (Minister of State at the Department of Taoiseach, Deputy Dara Murphy)

I commend Fianna Fáil on its motion. This issue needs to be talked about. It is sad to note this evening the number of Ministers and Deputies on the other side who have walked out on one of the most important issues we could talk about in the country. Some 57,000 people face eviction over the next 18 months. They will basically be thrown out of their houses. There will probably be 57,000 more on rent allowances. People are being thrown out of their homes because the rent allowance did not even cover the rent they must pay each week.

We, as a nation, can keep burying our heads in the sand over this. We can remain in denial but, sooner or later, we must face up to the mortgage crisis. For the past four or five years, there was silence in respect of it but, over the next year however, it will become rampant. The House needs to get together constructively to sort out the problems we face in the next year to 18 months.

There are problems right around the country. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to listen to me very carefully. A director of services in a certain county can buy houses for 50% of the price that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is stating they should be got for. Sadly, however, that director of services is being told he must go to a greenfield site, have new sewerage and water services installed and, above all, get consultants to resolve the problem. The country loves consultants. This is frustrating various councils around the country and I ask the Government to examine this. If two houses can be got for the price of one, I would class it as good value for money. We must resolve this problem. If we do not do so, it will become even worse and cost the country even more. As a Dáil, we should sit down and resolve the mortgage crisis once and for all.

As the Minister of State well knows without my telling her, housing provision is a very big problem in Ireland and it is likely to remain very challenging. The latest rulings concerning the Central Bank will present significant challenges for the State. I am not saying the Central Bank is mad but the idea of encouraging people to buy homes they cannot afford to pay for is not a good one. This is how sub-prime mortgages arose. This trend began in America. The Government must get in tune with what the Central Bank is saying and doing. Many people who bought apartments in Dublin in the past ten years did not buy them to keep them forever because many of them want to start families. The truth of the matter is that we did not build apartments that were suited to families; we built them for single people and couples. The apartments are not designed for family use and many people in apartments who wish to start a family will have to get a house. They will not be buying one because they will not be able to afford one. They will not be able to put up the deposit. They will be pushed into the private rental market and private rents will increase.

Companies such as Kennedy Wilson have bought many distressed properties in the State, in addition to distressed sites. It is now seeking permission to build houses and apartments on sites and it has no intention of selling them. These boys are in the rental market. The company is already a serious player in the market in Ireland and will become even more serious. Rent is a matter that the Government will have to address. It will have to get real over the fact that since many people are not able to buy homes, there will have to be a far greater range of social housing options available for them.

I support the motion. I welcome the opportunity to contribute on it although it falls way short given the wide range of measures that are required. One reason there is such a desire to own a home is because there is little choice. The choice is between going on the housing waiting list and trying to buy a house. One has security of tenure with a purchase unless one is in negative equity. Essentially, we need to get to a point where we have security of tenure and affordable rents that are in proportion to people's incomes. The problem is that the rental sector in Ireland is vastly different from that in many other countries, where people can make a rental property a home rather than a temporary solution until a more permanent one is found. We need to change our attitudes.

There is a significant hidden homelessness problem in Ireland. It has been largely supported by rent assistance but it also includes people who are at work and struggling to pay a very large proportion of their income in rent. This affects not only single people but also families with children. We will pay a price for allowing circumstances in which families must move every 18 months or so. There is a lack of security and certainty, even with regard to the schools children will go to. Therefore, this is a much more complex issue than it is perceived to be. We need a national housing strategy that examines landlords' and tenants' rights and responsibilities and a variety of other matters, such as where we can source funding. A source could be the European Investment Bank. We are only scratching the surface with this motion but it is important that it is on the agenda nonetheless.

There are approximately 90,000 families on the social housing list. A large contributory factor to the situation was the change in Government policies in the 1980s when there was a dramatic decline in the traditional provision of Government funding to local authorities to build and provide social housing.

Instead of building social houses during the boom years, the Government started buying houses. For example, the Affordable Housing Partnership splashed out tens of millions of euro buying 500 homes at the top of the market at that time, just before the market collapsed.

Under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, 20% of developments were set aside for social and affordable housing. However, by the provision of amendments and loopholes, the developers in many cases bought out the 20% and there was nil return to the local authorities in several of those developments. Between 2002 and 2011, only 3,757 new units became local authority housing and approximately 1,900 became the property of approved housing bodies or trusts. This means a pitiful figure of only 4% of all homes built during this period were social housing. That is the legacy in the current situation.

With the glut of houses from that era also, those with second and third houses were what one would term "small landlords". The main emphasis was on all types of rent schemes to pay these landlords. In fact, over €0.5 billion has been expended on these. That is a lot of dead money that has been paid out in various types of rent benefits.

The ghost estates should not be knocked. It is shameful to knock these. There is a need to upgrade them and put tenants into them. Also, the ban on bedsits approximately six years ago was a dreadful mistake. That is why we have many homeless at present.

What I find utterly depressing about this place, this Chamber and even media coverage is that one might, if one bangs one's head off the wall for a couple of years, raise issues relentlessly, as some of us have raised this issue for the past four years, and at one point there might be a few headlines and a grandiose statement from the Government of its intent to solve a problem. For example, in response to one parliamentary question I asked in 2012, the Minister for Social Protection assured me, "There will be no incidence of homelessness due to these changes." Of course, the homelessness crisis spiralled out of control for the next two years, but I am sure there was a headline and an RTE soundbite that the Government was getting on top of the housing crisis. That is the way it works. Every now and again, we get a flash where there is an acknowledgement of the crisis, we get a grandiose announcement and the crisis only gets worse. That is what has happened. All the way along, the Government has been warned, screamed at, pleaded with and urged to deal with this, occasionally it acknowledges there is a crisis, and every now and again there is some initiative and the situation only gets worse.

In the past year the housing list in my area has gone from 4,000 to 5,200, with 100 more applicants per month going onto the list. Homelessness levels have gone through the roof. That, proportionately, for the size of the county, is a bigger increase in the housing list than anywhere else, including Dublin city, because rents are unaffordable and the caps are a joke. Does the Minister know how many council houses - not fictional houses in the HAP scheme, fictional council houses in RAS or leasing schemes, but actual council houses - Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will build next year? They will build approximately 13 next year.

How many boarded up houses are there?

There are approximately 40. Even if they sorted those 40 houses out, that would be 50 off a list of 5,200.

Deputy Boyd Barrett's time is up.

It would not even keep track with the number of applicants who will join the list in one month, never mind what is happening in the country. Will the Government take some of the €4 billion NAMA has and use it to start an emergency council house programme? Nothing else will even begin to touch this problem.

The next speaker is Deputy Neville who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Maloney, Cannon, Regina Doherty, Seán Kenny, Catherine Byrne, Nolan and McEntee.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate.

It is important that the Government prioritises the housing area. In our constituency offices, we can judge how real is the issue of social housing. It always was an issue, but it is an increasing issue and the figures bear this out. If one compares the figures from 2005 and 2013, they show the extent of this problem.

The previous housing model was unsustainable and its legacy is ghost estates. There are repossessions and an increase in homelessness because of it. There are people who have really been destroyed due to the levels of borrowing they were able to obtain and not support.

The waiting list increased from 43,000 in 2005 to 98,000 in 2011, and then dropped down to 90,000 in 2013. It is still almost twice the level of need in 2005.

The rent supplement should be examined. There has been a large increase in the number benefiting from rent supplement, which is another indication of the difficulty being experienced by so many. It has increased from 60,000 in 2005 to 97,000 in 2013.

There is also an issue with the rent supplement among those who are on very low incomes and who are ineligible for rent supplement. The circumstances of some of those are as bad as, or worse than, the circumstances of social welfare recipients who are eligible for rent supplement. It is important that would be looked at and that there would be some flexibility in relation to the rent supplement for those who are on very low incomes.

On the construction of houses, the area of planning is still slowing up the bringing of housing proposals to construction. The Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will provide considerable funding. She is doing a lot of work in this area and she has brought forward proposals and is operating them. It is so important that we raise this issue and use this opportunity. It takes months, sometimes years, to bring a proposal from where it is accepted to construct social housing to the letting of those houses.

The other issue is that there are thousands of houses in this country which the tenants have left for whatever reason, and these are boarded up. Sometimes two or three years afterwards these houses are not re-let. One of the excuses is that the housing authority needs funding to undertake repairs to these houses, but that is a cheap way of ensuring that houses are made available. Only for maintenance, these are waiting to be let. Some of them I have seen have required only a small amount of maintenance: often a significant level of maintenance is not required.

The topic for debate is one of the great social issues following on from the collapse of the boom of the infamous Celtic tiger.

Various reports were done on housing construction, rents and affordability. One of the best reports is the one prepared for the Housing Agency by the Private Residential Tenancies Board. Members, however, might not agree with all of it. I do not agree with some of its conclusions but it is one of the most up-to-date pieces of work and it provides great insights into what happened that led us to the point where we are having this discussion this evening.

The introduction to the report provides a most concise explanation for how we got to where we are. It refers to the costly lessons of a housing policy which promoted and almost enticed people into home ownership for more than a decade until 2007. We would all agree that is an exact description. Someone said to me that during the Celtic tiger era if one was not building or buying a house, one was nobody. That was the general atmosphere.

I was a member of the second largest local authority in the country, South Dublin County Council, and during part of that period I was mayor. It was unbelievable the way the housing list was affected. People just stopped applying for social housing. It was almost like pulling a plug. We all know why that happened. It was because everybody and anybody could get a loan from a bank to either build or buy a house. That was the most irresponsible activity for a Government to allow. That is part of what has been referred to as the legacy. The situation got out of control. When the crash came, people were living in houses on which they could not afford to pay the mortgages.

In addition, I can recall as a member of a local authority in 2007 and 2008 that a letter was read out from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to the effect that local authorities would not get money to build social housing. That was it. Social housing came to a full stop. In the following year the same message was sent by the Department.

Reference was made to rent control, which I support. In spite of all the criticism that has been levelled at the Government, it has announced a very good programme to deal with social housing. In the intervening period, when there are so few social houses and when landlords are running away with the type of rents we all know about, emergency legislation is required to freeze rents. We cannot allow them to rise further. It will take 18 months to two years to build houses and we should not allow people to exploit the difficult situations in which families find themselves. We have all heard of cases where rents have increased to €1,400 a month for a three-bedroom house in Dublin. We cannot allow that to continue because not alone is it pushing people onto local authority housing lists but back to live with their families. The first point that is mentioned when anyone refers to rent control, freezing rents or emergency legislation is the Constitution. The Constitution is no use to a family that does not have a home. If we have to change the Constitution we should change it.

Our country is slowly beginning to recover from a catastrophic housing bubble and the after effects of it. Thankfully, some activity is beginning to return to the sector and there is a consequent increase in employment in the sector also.

While I question why anyone should be subjected to the opinion of Fianna Fáil on housing policy, I acknowledge that the motion gives us an opportunity to reflect on national housing policy and to determine how best in the future-----

What about the PDs?

-----we support citizens in providing housing for their families.

I knew Deputy Cannon would not hear that comment.

The motion is timely in that it coincides with the publication by the Central Bank of its new home lending regulations. Key to the objectives is to increase the resilience of the banking and household sectors to the property market and to reduce the risk of the bank credit and housing price spiral which we experienced in the past. I welcome the prudent and balanced regulations. In the longer term they should work to moderate price increases and to halt the creation of yet another catastrophic housing bubble.

It is important to be clear that the 20% limit for first-time buyers proposed by the Central Bank kicks in only on the value of a home higher than €220,000. In practical terms it means that, for example, on a property valued at €300,000 the borrower would have to make a down payment of €38,000. I do not believe that is a very serious imposition or that it is unfair or somehow unduly burdensome. I recall that in the late 1980s and early 1990s such a stringent imposition was placed upon my peer group as we set out on the road to home ownership. I recall people having to scrimp, save and work hard to amass the kind of money they needed to get a deposit for their first home. There has been a slow diminution of the requirement over many years, to the point where recently people were securing 100% mortgages. There is no question but that was a major contributory factor in the creation of the housing bubble.

The Government has a sustainable social housing policy with a dedicated budget and a clear and unambiguous programme for delivery. The Social Housing Strategy 2020 will see an investment of at least €3.8 billion leading to the provision of more than 35,000 new homes in the next five years.

It seems strange that Fianna Fáil would question the capacity of the Government to deliver on the strategy when in government at the height of the economic boom, with bountiful resources available to it, it was still leaving 45,000 families on the waiting list for social housing. We have an appalling track record in inflating one of the world’s most damaging housing bubbles, no track record in delivering social housing to those who needed it at a time of plentiful resources. That is the Fianna Fáil legacy and one which none of us should forget anytime soon.

That is the inside track.

Like the previous speaker, given the boom and bust cycle of the past decade, it is essential that we learn from the mistakes of the past with a view to protecting families across the country and safeguarding the financial rebound that is currently taking place. The stagnation we saw in the housing market and construction sector is irrefutably the result of years of maladministration by Fianna Fáil. Poorly regulated banks loaned copious amounts of money to families and businesses who simply could not afford to repay them and financial institutions and the governance authorities of the day turned a blind eye.

In addition, the fiscal policies of consecutive Fianna Fáil Governments added fuel to the fire and a housing construction bubble ensued. When the bubble burst – boy did it burst – the waiting lists for social housing and the number of families on rent supplement inflated due to overwhelming demand and insufficient supply.

I assure the House that the Government is fully committed to making progressive changes to the housing market, to rectifying the wrongs and ensuring the mistakes made in the past will not happen again.

In many parts of the country we are again experiencing imbalances in supply and demand in the property market. As a Government we have a responsibility to bring equilibrium to the ever-changing demand and the volatile pricing relationship while meeting the needs of Irish families and couples who need houses.

We must boost supply to meet property demands and that must remain a Government strategy. It is part of the strategy for a renewed construction sector, Construction 2020. However, we must think outside of the box because the norms of the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, are simply not enough to meet our social housing requirement. I welcome the Government’s housing strategy that will see 35,000 new social houses built by 2020, and in particular the reforms to housing supports, which are badly needed, and that need to be distributed regionally on a progressive basis as opposed to the way it is done at the moment.

We need to look at supports for the private rental sector.

The increased supply must be accompanied by regulation of residential mortgage lending and parameters must be set out to avoid another financial crisis. Those parameters include the two primary control measures set out by the Central Bank today, which are property values and the income of the borrower. The private rental market requires close attention to detail in the context of regulatory measures. Steep and sporadic increases in rental prices across Ireland, and in particular in Dublin and its commuter belt, are making financial sustainability increasingly difficult for the 20% of households currently renting their homes in the private sector. This desperately needs to be addressed. The regulation of the rental sector can be seen somewhat in the Residential Tenancies Bill but other parameters must facilitate families currently renting to save their earnings with a view to exiting the retail market and purchasing their own homes.

The implementation of this Government's 2020 construction and social housing strategies will give a foundation of stability for the Irish property market and it will neutralise disproportionate supply and demand, fulfilling the needs for Irish families and citizens to be able to live where they want at an affordable price.

The recent RTE drama series, "Charlie", among other things, highlighted the links between Fianna Fáil and the builders such as the Gallagher Group, during the CJ Haughey period. Watching the drama - I must confess I watched all the series - it made me recall that when I purchased my Gallagher-built home in Raheny in 1969, I received a letter from the then Minister, CJ Haughey, shortly after I moved in, welcoming me into his constituency and assuring me that if I needed his assistance I should contact him. As I was not even on the electoral register at the time, CJ could only have obtained my name from the builder - there was no Data Protection Act in those days.

The Flood and Mahon tribunal highlighted the rezoning scandals in north Dublin in the 1990s-----

Deputy Kenny must be a detective.

It now appears that many of those found by the tribunal to have acted corruptly may go scot free and some of them may even have their legal costs paid for by the taxpayer. I welcome the statement by the Mahon tribunal reported in today's The Irish Times that some of the tribunal's corruption findings will not be erased.

As a Dublin councillor for over 30 years, I witnessed many of the events that were revealed in the tribunals. The planning light-touch era, presided over by Fianna Fáil, led to Priory Hall and to pyrite.

It has been all too obvious that the construction sector and the housing market were heavily affected by the economic downturn and the bursting of the property bubble. It has been all too obvious that a poorly regulated banking sector, with lax lending standards, combined with inappropriate fiscal policies adopted by the then Government, led to a property bubble the consequences of which are still evident throughout the country.

This Government recognises the importance of ensuring a strong but sustainable construction sector and housing market that meets the needs of the economy and of society. The Government's Construction 2020 strategy for a renewed construction sector is focused on addressing constraints that are inhibiting new housing supply, such as planning, mortgage and development finance, infrastructure, public investment and regulation.

The publication of the social housing strategy 2020 in November 2014, which builds on the provisions contained in budget 2015, sets out clear measurable actions and targets to increase the supply of social housing, to reform delivery arrangements and to meet the needs of all the households on the housing lists.

The social housing strategy 2020 will provide 35,000 new social housing units over a six-year period to meet the additional social housing supply requirement, as determined by the housing agency. It will support up to 75,000 households through an enhanced private rental sector. It will reform social housing supports to create a more flexible and more responsive system.

I support the approach taken by this Government and I commend the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, for his work on this policy. It is infinitely better than what the Opposition could arrive at, especially given its record. After 14 disastrous years, it is time for a change.

There is nothing so sad as a young couple with young children coming to one's clinic to say that they have been given one month to move out of their home when the girl has lost her job and they cannot afford to pay the mortgage. We need to sit up and listen and learn from what has happened in the past.

Other speakers, including the Minister, have spoken about building social housing for the future but the need is here and now. We need to reach the target as soon as possible. I welcome the fact that €3.5 billion has been set aside for building new social housing under the social housing strategy for 2020.

When I was growing up in my area I witnessed the first sod being turned on the new St. Michael's estate. There was great excitement because there were large numbers of people on the housing list at the time. St. Michael's estate and Ballymun were the new way to live. Sadly, later on, they had to be knocked for a number of reasons but at one time they had accommodated large numbers of people.

If the Government is to succeed in building social housing we cannot go back to building hundreds of social housing units in vast land blocks which the local authorities cannot manage properly. This is one of my concerns. Smaller sites should be made available throughout the city and the country to build small groups of houses. This system worked very well for voluntary housing groups which provide housing for people on small sites which are properly maintained.

In the past the council employed a large force of maintenance workers but now there is hardly a plumber or a carpenter available in any of the areas around the city. This is one of the reasons so many social housing units were left unoccupied and could not be re-allocated in a timely manner.

In one housing estate in my constituency, at one time 100% of the houses were owned by the local authority but now fewer than 25% of those properties are owned by the city council. This creates difficulties because there are fewer social housing units being re-allocated in the system. However, it has given an opportunity to 75% of the people to buy their homes. Sadly it is the case today that many social housing tenants are living in flats complexes where they have lived almost all their lives, for 50 years in some cases, and they have not had the opportunity to buy their own homes.

I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing this important issue to the floor of the House. It has been discussed here on many occasions. There is a huge mountain to climb in this regard but I believe that we have made a good start. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, will do their best. In a time when we had plenty of money we should have been building proper social housing which was properly managed and properly maintained but that did not happen.

Housing affects everyone in the country because everyone has to stay somewhere at night and they will have grown up somewhere. Housing impacts on every family, every individual and every couple in the country. When talking about housing and affordability, one cannot just pick out one element and say that is the part that matters because the whole market is completely interlinked between homeowners, prospective buyers, those in the private rental market, those in social housing and those who provide the houses - the construction companies and developers of land banks - in which people live. The final element is comprised of the banks and the credit they provide to people to allow them to put the purchase price together. Each one of those plays a vital part in the housing market and a problem with one of them creates a problem with all of them.

I refer to what happened when the economy collapsed and the recession kicked in and almost 250,000 people lost their jobs. Every single one of those elements was impacted. People living in their homes were finding it difficult to pay their mortgages; prospective buyers could no longer get any kind of credit; and because of the economic circumstance, production of houses and development of houses stopped. People lost their jobs and as a result, the number of people needing rent supplement and social assistance increased. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong with our housing market went wrong in 2008 because it was based on a false premise of a free market provision where 90,000 houses were being provided yet the costs kept escalating.

People were terrified of not buying a house because if they did not buy at that stage it would have been €10,000 more expensive three months later and a year later it would have been €50,000 more expensive. They were terrified of being left behind and taken out of the property market altogether. This led to an obscene situation whereby it was socially acceptable for a recently married young couple to mortgage themselves to the hilt for 35 years, so they would be under incredible financial pressure for the rest of their lives to own a three-bed semi-detached house where they could start a family and raise their children. This is the obscenity from which we came. This is what happened when we said it had nothing to do with us, and that it should be left to the market with the Government having no say. This was the extremely dangerous thing we did, because we handed over the market to a group of speculators, developers and bankers who used it for their own gain. Many millionaires were made on the backs of families and people who are still paying those mortgages to this day.

In Galway city approximately 4,000 households are on the city council housing waiting list. In the past two years, rents in the private rental sector have gone from approximately €800 for a semi-detached house to €1,100 or €1,200. The price of buying a semi-detached house has gone from between approximately €175,000 and €180,000 to €240,000, which is a €50,000 increase. We are making the same mistakes. We are leaving it to the market to provide.

Where we are finally starting to get some action now, which is very important, is an increase in the supply of social housing, which will have an impact because it will take pressure off the private rented sector and give people alternative options. As a society we need once and for all to come to the decision that it is affordability which matters and not the market. We should ask how much do we anticipate or think a family, which gets up every day, goes to work and brings their children to school, should pay for a house and should they be priced out of it. Unless we make this decision we will be in a difficult position and we will never get it right. Once we have done this, we can tell those who cannot afford to do so because of their circumstances, means or ability differences that we will step in and help them with social housing.

Our Constitution does many things, but perversely it protects the right to private property over the ability of the State to regulate land prices and rent controls. This is not what our Constitution should do. A debate is taking place throughout the country on economic, social and cultural rights and their place in our legal system. If we were to amend our Constitution to include the right to housing we could balance out the right to private property, which would make a big difference and have a big impact on our housing market.

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. It is very topical considering last night's announcement by the Central Bank on mortgage lending. It is an issue which I have followed very closely and something in which I have a very keen interest. County Meath has expanded dramatically in recent years. We have a growing and very young population. The people there are getting into the workforce, continuing to work or getting back to work and they are eager to buy their own home for the first time. I made submissions to the Central Bank on mortgage lending on their behalf and I am very happy the Central Bank listened and recognised the financial pressures faced by young house hunters by not proceeding with what would have been a very prohibitive 20% mortgage deposit proposal for first-time buyers. It is an extremely important statement and sends out a message to this cohort of people that we are listening and trying to help.

We must acknowledge the housing market was severely affected by the downturn in the economy. This happened mainly due to a poorly regulated banking sector, inappropriate fiscal policies and beyond lackadaisical lending standards. People paid through the roof for properties which were worth half of what was paid. Having seen the property bubble burst we have been left to pick up the pieces. As my colleague mentioned, the principle is to ensure people can only buy what they can afford, so there will be no more 100% or 120% mortgage lending. We must ensure those days are over. The new arrangement will give space to my generation, who were in their twenties when the economy collapsed. They do not have Celtic tiger debts, are possibly working and have some savings, and can afford to buy a home with a 10% mortgage deposit. The new arrangements, whereby second-time buyers will have to produce 20% deposits, will in some way address the position of landlordism. Some people might wonder what I mean by this. Recently a television programme, which focused on London, essentially stated we were going back in time to when we had landlords and tenants in a very unequal society. None of us wants to go back there.

The people who are not helped by this arrangement are the most unfortunate victims of the previous Government's economic policies. They are those in negative equity who bought an apartment or a house at a price which was through the roof and which they have outgrown. It will be extremely difficult for them to gather 20% of the cost of a new home. It was deeply ironic that I should listen to my local radio station this morning to hear a member of Fianna Fáil speaking of dissatisfaction with the new regulations and speaking up about the problems of this generation which it alone caused. I received an e-mail from a gentleman to this effect, outlining his situation. In 2012, the Government introduced an interest relief scheme for first-time buyers who took out mortgages between 2004 and 2008. This has helped thousands of people, but we need to do more and we need to work with the Central Bank to identify a solution for those people who have not been helped. Unfortunately it is much harder to regulate in retrospect.

We have come a long way in a few short years. Just a few years ago people could not even apply for mortgages and the banks were closed for business. The recent announcement shows the fact we are regulating this again and we have come a long way.

Deputy Niall Collins is sharing time with Deputies Troy, Kirk and Fleming. Is that agreed? Agreed.

In debates such as this we get an interesting insight into some of the completely shallow and ill-informed analysis we receive from Government backbenchers, and we have had such a contribution served up to us again this evening. They should go away and read and research a little more and look into their own hearts and the contribution they made to the situation we are debating. If we are to discuss the housing bubble, we should mention we had reckless lending, reckless borrowing, poor regulation, poor political oversight and a political auction from all of the political parties to narrow the tax base. Deputy Rabbitte wanted to introduce an 18% lower rate of tax during the 2007 general election. We had this race to the bottom, in which the Government parties were happy to partake. They avoided political debate on it at the time.

One point which is always conveniently forgotten by the Government parties, but which was put right by the people last May in the local elections, is that for the previous ten or 15 years, until last May, Fine Gael and the Labour Party dominated and controlled most of the local authorities throughout Ireland.

It is a pity Fianna Fáil starved them of funding.

They zoned land and created the supply of over-zoned land on floodplains throughout the country. Fine Gael and the Labour Party controlled the local authorities throughout the country. When it came to the provision of social and affordable housing, it was Fine Gael and the Labour Party which controlled the local authorities that accepted cash buy-outs from the developers. I remember going into Limerick County Council meetings and watching Fine Gael local authority members with the developers negotiating buy-outs from the Part V obligations. The Government parties should accept the part they played in the creation of the property bubble. They should take a small bit of time to step back and consider this.

The Government introduced personal insolvency legislation which gave the bankers a veto. I can tell the Deputies in the House that when the county registrar sat in Limerick in November he dealt with more than 200 cases of home repossessions because of the approach by the banks, by virtue of the personal insolvency legislation which gives them a veto and which has strengthened their position in negotiations with distressed borrowers. The Deputies need to take on board what they have done in government in terms of strengthening the banks and weakening the position of the vulnerable person who is being put out of his or her house.

With regard to local authority housing, which is being debated this evening, we do not have a tenant purchase scheme at present. There is demand for one and the Minister of State will acknowledge this. All of us have people in our clinics every day-----

They will have one shortly.

That is good to hear. With regard to the number of void and vacant housing and the turnaround time, a simple scheme should be considered, whereby if people who are allocated a house are willing to put their own money into making it habitable it should be offset against the rent. Limerick has 4,500 people on the housing waiting list. It is just not good enough. It is not sustainable that 4,500 people are on the waiting list in Limerick when the Government is refusing to review the situation with regard to rent caps.

These people find they have to rent in the private sector where they face the prospect of eviction, a further knock-on effect of which could result in them facing homelessness which pertains across the country and which needs to be addressed. It is not unique to only locations outside Limerick.

I want a more proactive approach to be taken by the local authorities, with a lead from Government, in dealing with provision for people who are separating. When a man or a woman going through a separation process seeks to get on to the local authority housing list, which would then entitle him or her to receive rent supplement, he or she tends to get strung out for too long. There is a provision in the housing (miscellaneous provisions) legislation but it is being applied by local authorities in a draconian manner. The local authorities need to take a more common sense approach. As the Minister of State will know, in many cases the process of obtaining a court separation agreement can take years. We need to have a more hands on, common sense approach to such allocation.

Regarding the Central Bank announcements, the relaxing of the loan to value ratio back to 90% is a welcome move because it will go a long way towards people achieving the aspiration of home ownership. The issue of the non-first-time buyers needs to be addressed, especially given the fact that it is 50-50 split between first-time buyers and non-first-time buyers. Non-first-time buyers are being asked to come up with a 20% deposit and that could be difficult to secure particularly, if due to family circumstances and the size of their family, they have to trade up to a bigger house. That certainly needs to be examined.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, which is quite timely. It is important that all sides of the House get an opportunity to contribute to Government policy. For the purposes of this debate, I will focus my contribution on three areas. One area is the issue of mortgage arrears. We cannot have a debate in the House without focusing on that issue. We need to examine the sustainability issue into the future and to ensure there are adequate supports in place to keep families in their homes. That must be the main consideration. Families need to be kept in their own homes.

I also wish to focus on the provision of social housing. Every family and citizen in mortgage arrears that we fail to protect will ultimately end up on our social housing list. I also wish to deal with the recent regulations announced by the Central Bank. I am conscious that we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that we avoid those mistakes in the future, but it is also important that the right balance is struck to ensure that we avoid a situation where a generation such as mine would be locked out from ever owning their own home.

On the issue of mortgage arrears, I raised that issue in the Dáil by way of a Topical Issue before the Christmas recess. I said at that time that I could see an avalanche of repossessions happening but I was accused of scaremongering. I said it because there are more than 30,000 people in arrears of in excess of two years. These people are coming before the courts. In my constituency of Westmeath, a new monthly repossession court sits one day every month and I am sure that is replicated throughout the country. Since November, 150 cases have been dealt with and the recent edition of the Westmeath Topic ran a story covering the court which pointed to the desperation, confusion and utter sadness of families who presented before the court. There are separated mothers trying to stay in their family homes to rear their families, begging the registrar for help and support. I will give one example. A woman, now divorced, was paying KBC Bank €1,450 per month in mortgage repayments as well as supporting her children. She was a social worker, so she had a good job, and she was living in Mullingar. She fell behind in her repayments as her wages were halved during the past five years. She wants to stay in the home and help put her children through college. The maximum she can pay is €500 per month. She said it is not enough for KBC which wants more.

If we recall what the Government has done in this instance, it talks about the mortgage to rent scheme. That scheme should help that woman but I have been trying to help her get on it and she does not qualify for it. It talks about the personal insolvency legislation. When that legislation was before the Dáil, the then Minister for Justice and Equality said it would deal with in excess of 21,000 cases in the full first year. We know that since it has come through approximately 500 cases have been dealt with. What has the legislation done? It has left the power firmly and squarely in the hands of the financial institutions. It is because of this Government's policy that this lady, who is trying to provide a roof over the heads of her children and support them to go to college so that they can get a better standard of living, was left before Christmas at the mercy of the registrar, begging for the court case to be adjourned to see if she could come up with some proposal to maintain her family home.

On the issue of social housing, I welcome the belated acknowledgement by the Government that this is a real issue. We now have 90,000 people on the housing list, up one third since 2009. The Government is talking about Construction 2020. The extra money that is being put into the provision of social housing is to be welcomed but what supports are being put in now to deal with rapidly rising rents and the reduction in the rent allowance? My colleague spoke about Fine Gael Party and Labour Party members being in power in the local authorities and someone interjected and said they were starved of cash. I will give an example of Westmeath County Council in my constituency. In 2008, the then Fianna Fáil Government made €13.5 million available for the provision of social housing. In 2013, when Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in power, €1.5 million was made available for the provision of social housing. The figure went from €13.5 million to €1.5 million. It is no wonder there are more than 2,900 people on the housing list now in Westmeath County Council.

The Minister should look at what he promised to do. I refer to the transfer of NAMA housing properties for social housing. The Government should look at using the National Pensions Reserve Fund to give a meaningful social contribution back to this society by investing it in the provision of social housing. The Government thought it was good enough to invest €0.5 billion in the provision of water meters, meters that will not be read for six or seven years, but that money should have been invested in social housing. As my colleague, Deputy Niall Collins said, we need to consider the reintroduction of the tenant purchase scheme. I welcome the fact that the Minister said that is something that will come on board but that has been promised by this Government for the past 18 months. That scheme has been suspended for in excess of 18 months. There are people who want to buy out their local authority house and that money could be used to reinvest and provide further housing. We need to enable voluntary housing bodies to build new houses but also to purchase houses that banks are seeking to repossess and to leave the people in their homes. Aside from being good economic policy, it is good social policy to leave people in their homes.

Regarding the new regulations that were announced in recent days, it is important that we have a proper structure in place and that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. It is also important that the banks are not allowed to do what they did in the past when they loaned too much to people who could not afford to repay their loans. I acknowledge the independence of the Central Bank and its Governor. I welcome the fact that he opened the original proposals to public consultation. I also welcome the fact that he has had to row back.

It was too much of an endurance to ask first-time buyers to come up with 20%. It is welcome that has been reduced to 10%. I am concerned about people of my generation who are living in Dublin city. How will they be able to afford to buy? The 10% rule applies on sums up to €220,000. The average three-bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin costs €320,000. How will people be able to save the required deposit? They will simply not be able to do it at a time when they have to pay high rents and houses in Dublin are the most expensive in the country. By virtue of that fact, property taxes are the most expensive in the country.

When somebody asked a member of the commission about Dublin, he said they considered it, but they had to separate Dublin from the rest of the country. One cannot decide to leave a particular geographic area to the wind and decide that whatever happens will be good enough. Perhaps the Minister, in consultation with the Governor of the Central Bank, should consider introducing an insurance policy. We all have to take out life assurance policies when we draw down a mortgage to ensure that if, God forbid, we died before the loan was repaid, it would be covered. We can take out critical illness cover if we happen to sustain a critical illness before a loan is repaid. Perhaps consultation could take place with the insurance industry to see whether people could pay some sort of insurance bond to help address the major gap. The Minister of State is not much older than me. My generation should be supported in the purchase of homes if they choose to live in Dublin.

I am glad to have a brief opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Over Christmas, when Members were enjoying themselves, RTE broadcast a programme which featured particular difficulties with housing conditions in a county in the midlands. There were two or three houses featured on the programme, which was presented by a former Member of the House, the late Ted Nealon. The year featured was 1964. One saw a graphic picture of the state of the accommodation in which people lived. Single people were living alone in a rural setting. One man had vacated a house and was living in a mobile home adjoining the same site. I mention it because it was a snapshot in time of the housing position. I am sure all of those featured were on the social housing list of whatever county it was. When one fasts forward to today, one finds there are 90,000 people on the social housing lists. That graphically illustrates the changes that have taken place in terms of housing need in the intervening period.

The local medical officer featured in the programme placed particular emphasis on the health issues caused by the dilapidated accommodation in which people lived at the time. Today, dampness and the suitability of housing for family units can determine the health and well-being of individuals living in accommodation at a particular time.

On the one hand there is the obvious need for additional houses to be built for social housing, while on the other is the need for private housing. Let us examine the current challenges. Most speakers have mentioned the problem of distressed mortgages. Is our system adequate for dealing with that problem? Will we allow a drift? Will the matter be left to the banks and the mortgage companies to bring it to an unsatisfactory conclusion?

There are many bankrupt builders in the country. While many of them did not take good decisions during the boom period for building, none the less there is a skill base and know-how as far as the industry in concerned. If building is to be kick-started, their skills and know-how will have to be brought back into business. I know of many people - I am sure it is the same throughout the country - who ran very successful small and medium enterprises, speculated on the housing market and, as a consequence, ran into financial trouble.

Demographics in Ireland show that there is one area where public policy needs to be developed and refined, namely, adequate sheltered accommodation for elderly people. From my experience, I know many elderly people are languishing in high-cost nursing homes when they could live in suitable sheltered accommodation in their local town or village if an adequate supply of such housing was available. It is one area on which the housing section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government could develop a clear and transparent policy initiative very quickly. Savings may well accrue to the fair deal scheme. The demand for support to keep people in nursing homes could in many instances be minimised.

We discuss social houses or private sector houses. If one considers the different stages, such as land to build on, houses and stamp duty, it is a significant burden in terms of the overall cost of providing houses. Let us not forget that the mortgages couples or individuals have to negotiate with their mortgage companies must be enough to embrace all of those costs. The person who purchases the house will be paying for all of that.

There are 90,000 people on the social housing list. Most Members will accept that there is a clear opportunity to stimulate the economy and create worthwhile, well-paid employment given the range of skills involved in building if we can stimulate the industry in a sensible, prudent and advisable way. There is no reason that cannot be done. Let us get on with it, stimulate the economy and reduce the social housing list as quickly as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion and thank Deputies Michael McGrath and Cowen for putting it on the agenda. The first line of the motion is highly significant and has been lost by a lot of people. It refers to the significant fall in home ownership rates in Ireland, which is a real issue as far as I am concerned. Home ownership rates have been declining faster in Ireland than in the UK, the US, Spain and many other European countries.

Evidence shows that home ownership leads to better outcomes for families and children and more stable environments, communities and locations for people to raise families. When there are many people in the short-term rental market, the commitment to an area cannot be as strong because they are not home owners. Home ownership is deep in the core and DNA of the Irish people. They want to own land and many have a history of not being able to do so over generations. It is something deep in our culture for people to want to own the roof over their heads, not just for themselves but for their families. That is the essence of this motion. The Government is doing everything it can to destroy the basic philosophy of many Irish people, which is to own their own homes.

The response of the Government to this motion is like something out of never-never land or Disneyland. I do not know what fairy tale it is telling. It referred to the Government's Construction 2020 strategy. In six years time all of us or some of us or 30,000 people will have a house.

The recent Government social housing strategy announced in the budget set a target of 2020, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government spoke of an even longer period. The idea is that some people may have a house in six or seven years. People will not have houses in the short term but they must live in the meantime. The promise of houses at some undetermined date down the road is not cutting it with the people, and that is if we could believe the promises, which we cannot.

The essence of the Government's response in the social housing strategy document is that much of it will occur off-balance sheet. That is another Irish Water job, as the new housing agency could be set up as a semi-State company where money can be borrowed off-balance sheet. It is the Government's answer to everything. It wants to do much by way of public private partnership, with multinational pension funds facilitating the purchase of hundreds of houses in different locations and taking in people as tenants with no fixity of tenure. That issue must be addressed. The Government's strategy is to have a never-never period and somebody else will do the work off-balance sheet. The Government will argue it has a strategy, a plan and, above all, a public relations document and a press conference to announce it. That is as far as Government policy goes in these areas.

A simple issue has been mentioned by a number of my colleagues, which is the reintroduction of the tenant purchase scheme by local authority tenants, many of whom have been in their houses for a long time. The Government has abolished that scheme despite people crying out to be allowed to purchase their houses. The local authority could use that fund which would be obtained from people using the local authority to purchase or construct new social housing in an area. It would be sustainable and renewable development but that seems to be beyond the grasp of the Government.

The rental market which people are being forced into is getting ever more difficult because of increasing rents arising from a lack of supply. There has been an increase in the country's population over the years, as the census has indicated. There has been an increase in the school-going population and people need more houses, but the market is not there. As a result, people cannot afford rents and those on rent supplement cannot even meet what is required to make up the balance of payment. Many landlords do not want to take rent supplement as there are better pickings, as they might call it, in the private rental market.

I will highlight one aspect of the rent supplement, which is the ability of the Department of Social Protection and specifically community welfare officers to determine different rates for the supplement in different counties, depending on the local market, rent conditions and the price of housing. It is remarkable that the new regulations announced by the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Honohan, failed in their entirety to grasp that concept. Ireland is not just one market and there are different prices for houses in Dublin city centre, the west coast, the midlands, Cork or other regions. The Central Bank regulations are seriously flawed as they do not recognise the differences in the market between different parts of the country. Perhaps the Central Bank believes one size will fit all. Life is not so simple. As a result, the regulations introduced by the Central Bank are anti-Dublin and go against family home ownership. They are designed to assist the banks in making sure there is a big rental market, and the Central Bank is making it more difficult for families to own their own homes. It is making it twice as difficult for families in Dublin to own their own homes. The Governor of the Central Bank, along with the deputy governors, in making those statements yesterday did not recognise the basic idea that people want to own their own homes, even in Dublin. The Central Bank has not been able to take that into account.

Yesterday's statement from the Central Bank seemed to be a major criticism of the lending banks. In the opening paragraph of the statement, Professor Honohan indicated these regulations were to "reduce the risk of bank credit and house price spirals". As the regulator of the banks, the Governor of the Central Bank is essentially saying that he still does not trust the banks when it comes to lending for housing and the property market. He is afraid the banks will cause a lending spiral and he wants not just to deal with them by way of regulation but by way of legislation. He is saying that he has no control over the banks he is meant to control and that he does not trust them.

In the next paragraph, Professor Honohan refers to loan-to-value aspects in lending. It is a valid but unsatisfactory point of view. Everybody knows the most important element to consider when taking out a loan or mortgage is the ability to repay, which is based on income and risk analysis of a person's employment, specifically the likelihood of it continuing. There would also be some insurance policy on a mortgage by way of mortgage protection. The old-fashioned approach of linking a mortgage to house value is an implicit assumption that if a person cannot pay a mortgage, the property will be worth more than the loan and it can be repossessed. That process is designed to help financial institutions repossess houses but it should be based on people's ability to pay, on risk with regard to income and on consideration of insurance policies or mortgage protection. To link a mortgage to house value is to connect it unnecessarily to asset value, which is not related to ability to pay. Professor Honohan takes that into account but there is too much emphasis on a house value and not enough on ability to pay.

The Governor of the Central Bank also argues that banks should lend responsibly and regulations should not be required. If he needs legislation to deal with this issue, what is he saying about how he is doing his job of regulating the Irish banks? He should not need legislation. If the Central Bank did its job thoroughly, banks would be kept in check but he is essentially saying that he needs help as he cannot control the banks.

The proposals are particularly harsh on people who are not first-time buyers. Such people may have bought a small one-bedroom starter home, house or apartment and have never missed a repayment but they cannot trade up because of the deposit requirements. They may be in negative equity or there may be little equity left in the house. The most important failure of the regulations announced by the Central Bank is that the process utterly ignores the payment record of people renting over years. How can somebody who pays rent month after month and year after year be expected to put aside up to a 20% deposit for a house? If ability to repay a loan could be proved and there is evidence of rent being paid, it should be considered. In many cases, the cost of taking on a mortgage would be less than rental costs but the Central Bank has not considered that either.

There are developers sitting on sites and unfinished housing estates because they are waiting for the market to rise in order that they can make more profit in two years rather than releasing housing stock to the market. The Government has singularly failed to deal with that matter. Within a few months, houses could be brought to the market but they will be left for two years in order that prices can rise. The Government should be able to move on the issue now but it has failed to do so. That is part of the reason we have moved this motion.

I thank the Members for their contributions on this very important topic. I assure them that I share the passion that many of them have exhibited over the past two nights about the provision of adequate and affordable housing. My colleagues and I are determined to work to improve the position for everybody in need of housing, be it private or social. We must be honest and the current position is a consequence of the property bubble and bust, so it is another legacy to be dealt with. It is very obvious that the construction sector has been underperforming for a number of years, because in any normalised sector it should contribute approximately 12% of GDP and has only contributed 6% recently. We must address that. There are positive indicators that the sector is recovering and we need to see it return to more sustainable levels.

There has been a perfect storm with housing and we can examine the reasons for that. We have not allowed local authorities to build social housing in direct build schemes for many years in this country. The housing model implemented and adopted for the past couple of decades depended on the Part V dividend from private housing estates but then the crash came.

With no houses being built, there was no Part V dividend so we were left with a severe shortage and deficit in the provision of social housing. Also, in regard to the private housing sector, as Deputies said, many builders went bust, banking institutions struggled and credit and access to finance has been a problem. There are consequences in regard to mortgage arrears and repossessions. It leaves us with a perfect storm which needs to be addressed and the Government now has a plan and a strategy to address it. We will be doing all in our power to ensure that we develop these strategies as quickly as possible.

My Department's housing land availability survey estimates that there is in excess of 25,000 ha of undeveloped residential zoned land nationally, which equates to a capacity for more than 500,000 new homes in the country. In Dublin, for example, the housing supply and co-ordination task force found that 12,785 houses and 7,900 apartments currently have planning permission. That equates to a three year supply, with permissions infrastructurally unconstrained. The infrastructure and the services are there and there is planning permission on the sites but they have not started. Overall, the capacity of land available is considered to be sufficient to meet the housing requirements nationally for in excess of the next ten years.

The issue now at hand is how we get to build on these sites. The challenge for the Government is to translate this latent capacity into supply in order to meet the demands of home-seekers and to make construction viable once again. Most of the difficulties currently being encountered can be addressed by increasing the supply of properties available to buy, to rent and to be provided by local authorities and the approved housing bodies. The Government recognises that the whole of government approach, working in close co-operation with all of the key stakeholders, such as local authorities, approved housing bodies, the financial institutions and, indeed, the developers, is the way to tackle the challenge of increasing the supply of houses.

The implementation of Construction 2020 forms the basis for a properly functioning and sustainable construction sector. It provides for a strategic approach to the provision of housing based on a real and measured demand and addresses the full range of relevant issues, including the planning process, financing, access to mortgage finance and developing the construction workforce, as some Deputies outlined. The Government is committed to removing any barriers from the system in order to support increased supply of housing of all types. This will, in turn, reduce the pressure on house price growth and will help home-buyers to acquire a family home in their community of choice and at a reasonable cost.

Measures to increase supply will also impact positively on the private rented sector. Historically, the private rented sector has been characterised by small-scale landlords, often accidental landlords, and attracting large-scale investment in professionally managed residential property - for example, using the real estate investment trusts, REITs, and other options for long-term investment - has an important role to play in helping to deliver a more professional and high-quality sustainable sector.

We also need to get back to the direct building of social housing and this is an absolute priority for the Government, as evidenced by the additional €2.2 billion in funding announced for social housing in budget 2015 and the publication of the recent social housing strategy 2020 in November 2014. Deputy Sean Fleming and others tried to give the impression that the delivery of houses will not happen until 2020 but the news for Deputy Fleming and others is that there is movement and we will start to see delivery on this in the next few weeks and months.

Importantly, the strategy restores the State to a central role in the provision of social housing after many years where this obligation had essentially been parked. The strategy builds on the provisions contained in budget 2015 and sets out clear and measurable actions and targets to increase the supply of social housing, reform delivery arrangements and meet the housing needs of all households on the housing list.

One approach alone will not resolve this; it must be a multifaceted approach. We need to see an earlier and more efficient turnaround of voids to be brought back into beneficial use by local authorities. As I said, we will see more direct building by local authorities. We want to see an enhanced role for the approved housing bodies, in partnership with local authorities and with private investment funds. To clarify, the Government is currently considering a new tenant purchase scheme and I hope to announce a positive outcome in that regard.

The key objective of the strategy is to deal comprehensively with the housing list. Improving the supply of social housing will ease the pressure on the private market, both rented and new build. The total targeted provision of more than 110,000 social housing units, through the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units and 75,000 social housing solutions through the housing assistance payment and rental accommodation scheme, will meet the needs of the 90,000 households on the housing waiting list in full by 2020, with flexibility to meet potential future demand.

I have much more to say and there will be further engagement on this important issue. However, we will see positive progress in regard to the social housing strategy in the coming weeks and months, which Deputies will welcome.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I hoped we would have had an opportunity over the two nights to deal with what is a very serious crisis but, unfortunately, the only engagement we got, in particular from the Government backbenchers, was an effort to try to undermine people on this side, in particular in my party, and to try to draw out how we got to the situation in which we find ourselves. We all recognise problems existed in the past. We have a good understanding as to how that happened. I could get into the blame game and suggest policies we pursued were supported and, in fact, there was demand that we would do more in terms of tax reductions and increases in spending and less by way of regulation of the banks. That would have been cheer-led by many on the other side of the House but I do not want to go down that road. We all have a mandate in this House and it is incumbent on us to try to find a solution to the crisis we face. The Minister of State is a man who is prepared to listen to views expressed, regardless of where they come from, and if there is a good idea, I would hope he would give due regard to it.

There are a couple of serious issues and my colleagues have covered most of the main points. I have great belief in the mortgage to rent scheme but, unfortunately, it is relatively limited in terms of to the extent to which it applies. The first difficulty is that a house, which is subject to the potential for mortgage to rent, must be adequate for the needs of the family concerned – in other words, there is no point putting a mother and one child into five, six or seven bedroom house. However, many families find themselves meeting the accommodation criteria but fall down on the negative equity component. Many of these families are prepared to say to the voluntary housing association that they have a bit of equity in the house and that they are prepared to hand it to the voluntary housing association and the State if they continue to maintain them in the house. They are prepared to sign legal waivers to allow that to happen but the criteria state that if the house is in negative equity, it does not comply. For example, in a house where there is a debt, together with failure to meet various payments, of about €120,000 and the house is worth €150,000 or €160,000 or maybe €170,000 on a good day, the husband has gone and the wife and three children are still in the house, she would be more than happy to allow the voluntary housing association to purchase that house at the value on the bank's balance sheet and then to rent it back. The voluntary association would receive an asset much greater than what it had to pay for it. The people are prepared to give a gift to the State because otherwise they will be out on the street and will be coming to the Minister of State or myself looking to be put into a council house. The bank will sell the asset. I appeal to the Minister of State to look at the issue as it relates to mortgage to rent to see if something can be done in that particular instance where the family is prepared to sign over the asset.

I would like to deal briefly with the new mortgage rules from the Central Bank. I listened to Professor Honohan, for whom I have a fair amount of regard, but at times I am concerned that he is, to some extent, out of touch. He is looking at the capital adequacy of the banks and protecting the banks and he is right to do so. We want him to regulate in a careful way and I really respect him in that regard. However, I have a problem with how these rules might impact on the housing market in general. The decision to differentiate between first-time buyers and other buyers will change the nature of the way people seek to purchase a home. I think he has effectively done away with the notion of a starter home. Many people started off in an apartment. Some of them married and settled down and some of them had children in the full knowledge that they would be able to purchase another home. If a couple move into an apartment and have a child or two children, it may not meet their needs and they may want a family home.

A couple each earning a wage of €50,000 who under the loan-to-income limit would be able to borrow €350,000 somehow have to come up with €70,000 while paying the mortgage on the apartment in which they currently reside. The Minister and I know full well that that is not possible on that income. They are expected to pay their mortgage - or even pay rent, for those who are renting - and somehow come up with €70,000. That is ludicrous.

The first-time buyer will now be deciding before they even enter the market that under the new rules, if they give away their first-time status they will not be able to buy a second home. There will be a much greater focus on what might be a secondary home. Nobody will be looking at the apartment market other than investors for the rental market because the rental system is strong, and that will force the price of houses up further. We will now have first-time buyers and some people who have access to a considerable amount of cash chasing properties in that market.

The Minister knows there is a limit to the supply here in the city of Dublin. That will result in an upward pressure on house prices and will change the characteristic in terms of the way people stepped their way through life going for what met their basic needs. We may have a slump in apartment prices, which will impact on the banks also, because many of them have just seen a recovery in that market because of the way in which the rental sector is working. That is why I question Professor Honohan's analysis of the entire market. He has looked at the banks and the loan-to-value ratio and ensured that that is right, but there is failure to examine the transition, so to speak, by citizens of this State through the housing market. I hope that when the legislation comes forward some rethinking can be done on this particular issue and that we will see a better joined-up approach whereby people will still be able to have starter homes and work through, as their needs change, to a more permanent residence.

In summing up this debate I pay tribute to and thank those who have contributed, in the main, to it. The role of all of us here, based on the mandate we have been given by the electorate, is to produce and enact legislation which can address the difficulties and the issues pertaining to those we represent in various areas across society. As Opposition Members our job is to hold the Government to account, offer constructive criticism, offer alternative policies and mechanisms by which the Government may do its job more effectively, and initiate debate in order for that to be the case, and a collective informed decision is made by the House thereafter for the betterment of those we represent. In this instance, the issue relates to the affordability and supply of housing and the immediacy of the difficulties that exist for those in the rental sector, and our combined responsibility then is to initiate legislation which can address the issues that exist.

Some members of the Government immediately revert to type and tribalism and seek to enter into the blame game, as Deputy Dooley has said. He did not wish to go into it in any great detail, nor do I. I was not in this House in 2007, but every time we seek to speak on behalf of those we have been given the privilege to represent I am mindful of the defensive attitude, particularly of Fine Gael Members, during the course of this debate. Deputy Ellis from Sinn Féin also seemed to pick up a stick to beat Fianna Fáil back into our chairs and say that, based on the policy we pursued we have no right, despite our mandate achieved in 2011, to stand up in this House and offer solutions.

It was with that in mind that I have been familiarising myself over many months with the 2007 Fine Gael manifesto. Anybody who wishes to check it now on the website will be somewhat disappointed, because it states: "Page Not Found". That is convenient for those who wish to check out the situation. Thankfully, over recent months-----

I remind the Deputy, lest he forget, that his party was in power.

They are hypocrites.

-----there were headline issues that jumped out of the page, which I will read into the record again.

Deputy Regina Doherty should listen. She might-----

First, there was a €3.4 billion tax package contained in it-----

-----in the spring of 2007.

A race to the bottom.

Second, there was a €500 million stamp duty package to abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers.

At the height of the boom.

At the height of the boom is right.

Added to all the land they zoned.

There was not a mention of banks or regulation. This was from the party which tells us now it had all the answers back in 2007 but nobody would listen to it. As soon as we stand up and offer solutions to the problems that exist for those we represent-----

(Interruptions).

The Deputy's manifesto in 2007-----

Never mentioned it.

For all the knowledge they have now and all the benefit of hindsight they have gathered in the meantime, when they checked their own manifesto and realised they had not mentioned regulation or banks, they said it was time to get that off the web page.

What they were doing was piling fuel on the bubble in the hope that it would blow under our stewardship so that they could give the impression that what they were saying all along was right and proper. Facts are facts, Deputy.

No. The Fianna Fáil Members were the ones in charge.

If she wants to look at them, she should check it out.

They are the facts.

Deputy, we will have one speaker at a time.

The Deputy is a disgrace.

If I am a disgrace, what were Deputy Regina Doherty and the likes of her in her party-----

Deputy Cowen, will you finish your contribution?

-----when they stood before the electorate in 2007? They are now telling us they knew it all. They proposed a tax package of €3.4 billion and expenditure of €500 million on abolishing stamp duty for first-time buyers. There is no mention of the banks-----

Lest the Deputy forget, his brother was in charge.

Deputy Regina Doherty, one speaker, please.

-----and no mention of regulation. They say they had all the answers and that it would never have happened under them.

Deputy Cowen would be better off if he looked at his party's own record.

What am I missing?

(Interruptions).

Deputies, let Deputy Cowen speak.

Where has it all gone wrong?

Deputy Cowen, just make your contribution.

As I said, I recognise and acknowledge what should be the role of the Opposition.

The Deputy's party did not recognise it when it was in government.

It is to hold the Government to account, provide constructive criticism, offer alternatives and initiate debate in order for the public to get better legislation. When I and my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, initiated this debate by putting forward this motion, there was a rush from the Fine Gael backbenches to tell us how it all went wrong, and they dare not check their own manifesto from 2007, which had a lot more fuel for the fire-----

(Interruptions).

Deputy, allow Deputy Cowen to finish.

The truth is hurting her. She is not able to take it.

She can give it but she cannot take it.

I join with other speakers who spoke about the affordability package introduced by the Governor of the Central Bank this week. Like many others, we made a submission on that. We would like to acknowledge the climb-down on the 20% deposit requirement for first-time buyers but we were very disappointed that those who find themselves in a first home which has met their needs in the short term but would not suit their needs in the medium to long term have no mechanism available for them to avail of the same qualifying rules as that of a first-time buyer, when we believe, in terms of the family home and improving their situation, that that should have been catered for.

I heard the Governor say on a radio programme this morning that they had looked at many measures to try to address this issue, but it seemed that the numbers contained therein were not sufficient for him to make specific recommendations in that regard. Many people have contacted us in the meantime who find themselves in that very hole and do not see any mechanism by which they may be able to climb out of it.

I hope the regulator will commit, in the first instance, to a review of his proposals and their effectiveness for the Minister for Finance, who in turn could lay any such review on an annual basis before the House in order for recommendations to be made to improve the position, if improvements are necessary. We acknowledge the issues with regard to first-time buyers. We acknowledge the buy-to-let proposals, and we acknowledge the proposed loan-to-income ratio of three and a half times the household income, which is welcome.

The second issue is that of housing supply.

I will address it briefly because the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, has responsibility for the provision of social housing. While I acknowledge the commitment expressed by the Government before Christmas to the plan it has initiated, it is unfortunate that it came almost four years into the Government's term. No effort was made to address the situation meaningfully before then, unfortunately. We note the various headlines within these proposals. We acknowledge the aspirations that underpin these policies and we look forward to their delivery. However, we have not yet received any specific proposals. Local authorities do not have at their disposal the exact mechanisms by which they could make the sort of inroads that we would like into the various housing lists. I know from speaking to representatives in my county in recent days that they have been informed by the Department that it is expected that approximately 420 units will be provided there between now and 2020. That is against the background of a waiting list of between 1,200 and 1,300 in the county in question. I expect that this list will increase annually, unfortunately. This level of provision does not represent the sort of inroads we would like to see.

I remind Deputy Regina Doherty that we have made proposals in this area. We have a responsibility to initiate proposals and put them to the Government for it to investigate, assimilate and digest. We hope it will respond to them. We have said for the past two years that a strategic investment fund should be used to launch a new round of home-building. We have said that voluntary housing associations should be developed to a scale at which they can access credit and start to build. We have asked the Government to introduce legislation to initiate a tenant purchase scheme for those in voluntary housing associations. Unfortunately, we have not seen such a scheme to date. We have said that the tenant purchase scheme and the fund derived from it should be retained by local authorities to be invested in addressing the deficiencies that exist in individual pockets. Many regions are not as well financed as others. That is particularly obvious now by virtue of the property tax.

I would like to speak about the problems with housing adaptation grants in my county of Offaly. As I have said previously, as far I am aware 70 people have been told by the local authority that they will have to wait for between three and five years for their applications to be processed because of the lack of funding being provided to it, in the first instance, and by association to the Department in funding it thereafter. On the basis of an average cost of approximately €15,000 a head, I suggest that if €1 million were provided, it would clear that list. In the absence of that being done, the State is obliged to maintain the fair deal scheme and provide hospital accommodation. As the State is not in a position to honour the commitment to provide community care facilities for such people, there is a variance of many multiples of the €1 million that would clear this list. We would like innovations of this nature to be attached to any policy that is coming forward. Local authorities should be given incentives and allowed to create incentives to ensure the funding they collect can be reused within their own areas. The inadequacies or gaps that exist in various regions have not been addressed in anything that has been proposed up to now.

I wish to add my voice to those of other speakers from my party who have looked at the immediacy of the rent cap problems. When we spoke about this issue towards the back end of last year, we said that a short-term measure was needed to alleviate the huge problems that exist for many families and people on waiting lists who, unfortunately, are not in a position to take advantage of the properties that are becoming available because of the rent cap that exists. In the years to come, the State, having incurred the expense of such a measure in the short term, would reap the rewards of the mechanisms initiated in the policy document and pursued by the Government. The expense of the planning and everything else that has to go with making housing units available would also be reimbursed as the benefit to society starts to accrue.

I commend the motion to the House. I ask all Members to support its contents and the thrust of it. If the Government fails to respond positively at this stage, perhaps it will at least address the whole housing area on a more regular basis. This matter should be considered at regular intervals to give the Government an opportunity to prove to the House how its ways and means in this regard are making inroads into these difficulties and highlight the progress that is being made.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 46.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Niall Collins and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 45.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Niall Collins.
Question declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 January 2015.