Leaders' Questions

We are in the midst of a housing crisis at all levels, with issues including homelessness, the cost of renting and the inability to get a council house or to buy an affordable house. The capacity of the Government to deal with the enormity of this crisis is again being called into question with the revelations in an article in The Irish Times today outlining the extremely poor performance in building council houses since the start of 2016. Less than 1% of the social housing that is needed in this State has been built since the start of 2016 and of the 1,093 social housing units built, 638 were built last year and 455 were built in the first six months of 2017. Local authorities only built approximately 459 of them according to this article and research. Across Dublin's four local authority areas, just 478 units have been completed with 324 of them completed by approved bodies. In the first six months of this year, no social housing was built directly by three of the capital's authorities. Fingal County Council managed to build ten houses and has a waiting list of approximately 7,000. In five counties, namely, Laois, Leitrim, Offaly, Roscommon and Wicklow, not a single unit of social housing has been built since 2016.

Even if people query these data, they really reveal a shockingly poor performance. Apparently County Wexford tops the list with 67 houses having been built, which is the highest in the country. There were poor outcomes in Limerick, Cork city and Galway, with 50, 59 and 42 houses built, respectively. No social housing has been built in Kildare since 2016. It seems to be consistent across the board and is widespread and long term. Mel Reynolds, one of the analysts quoted, stated:

There is almost nothing happening in social housing. It seems we are in a mad situation where the strategy is not to build local authority housing at all across the country.

Two years ago, at the formation of the Government, I recall being with independent Deputies and meeting officials in the then Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and I came away with that impression. There seems be an ongoing strategy to not go down the road of building council houses again. It seems to be a policy that is deeply embedded. Given the enormity of the crisis, it is really shocking how it impacts on families, does the Taoiseach accept these figures represent a failure of the Government's housing policy and its attempt to get to grips with this enormity and to get houses built? Does he accept there is a deeply embedded policy within the Government and within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, as well as filtering down through the Government's agencies, to avoid at all costs the building of council houses and to allow the public sector to resolve this crisis for us? Is this the reality of what has been happening over the last years?

We all recognise the severity of the housing shortage in this country, the impact it has on people's day-to-day lives, as well as the human impact on young people who are not able to afford their own home or on those who are living in overcrowded accommodation and sharing rooms when they need better housing. I do not believe that anyone in the House doubts that impact and the Government certainly does not doubt it.

I do not want to get involved in exchanging statistics with Deputy Martin. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has a different view on the numbers. It is worth saying the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government estimates that 2,000 new social homes - council houses or apartments - will be built in 2017. This is 2,000 in total through direct build. That figure will rise to 3,800 next year. From building very few social housing units a few years ago, it has gone up to a couple of hundred and will be 2,000 this year and 3,800 by next year.

Local authorities can acquire social housing in many different ways. It is not just a case of local authorities building units. The Deputy will be aware from the position in Cork, it certainly is the case in Fingal, that local authorities often provide public housing through approved housing bodies, AHBs, such as Clúid and Fold Ireland for example. Local authorities also can bring voids back into use whereby council houses that are no longer habitable are brought back into habitation. Local authorities sometimes also buy housing directly from private developers. This is done through Part V or through pure, direct acquisition. The Deputy made reference to Fingal County Council having built only ten units. I am sure that is not correct because Fingal is my local authority. Even if that is correct, I know for a fact that last year the authority bought at least 20 units directly from private developers in Waterville alone. There are lots of ways to acquire social housing and it is not just done through direct build by councils. It can be done by approved housing bodies, by purchasing from developers through the Part V system, which ensures integrated communities, and by bringing voids back into use.

With regard to Deputy Martin's question, there is absolutely no difficulty on behalf of this Government when it comes to supporting the construction of social housing. We agree that building social housing will be part of the solution to the housing crisis. This is why, in 2018, €1.9 billion has been allocated. This will allow for 3,800 new social homes to be built directly by local authorities and approved housing bodies. This is 1,800 more than will be built this year. In addition, a further 1,200 will be Part V builds. The Deputies are aware how that works. Private developers who build a housing estate must offer 10% to the local authority to purchase. That is a good idea because it means we have much more integrated communities. In addition to that, 900 will be acquired and bought directly by local authorities and a further 2,000 will be secured through long-term leasing arrangements. That is a total of 7,900 next year. It must be acknowledged, the Deputy would want it acknowledged, that the important point is that we provide houses and apartments for people who need them. Whether this is done through a voluntary housing body, directly through the council or bought by the council does not matter to the person getting the house.

The figures covered both approved housing bodies and local authorities.

Even the figures the Taoiseach mentioned of 2,000 this year and 3,000 will go nowhere near dealing with the crisis. We all have families coming to us every week in dire situations. I have a family of a mother and three children living in a hotel in Cork who have been on the city housing list for ten years. To get a council house now in Cork, one has to be ten years on the list. The Government and its agencies seem paralysed by the scale of the crisis and the response is in no way proportionate to its severity. I have to put that to the Taoiseach. All this bandying about of billions and figures means nothing because we all know, deep down, that local authorities are not building houses at the rate they should be. They should not be buying houses in the private market at this juncture because they are competing with young couples and contributing to house price inflation. It is estimated that they could build houses for €200,000, at cost, yet they are going out there and paying €400,000 for housing in the leafy suburbs.

I thank the Deputy.

It makes no sense. There must be far greater urgency and a sense of getting to grips with this. In the 1930s, 1960s and 1970s, this country was in a position to build far more houses far more quickly to take people out of tenements and house them.

I thank the Deputy. Time is up, please.

These figures represent a damning indictment of the capacity of the Government and the State to make meaningful inroads and resolve this crisis. Even on the figures the Taoiseach is announcing, it is going at a snail's pace.

Please, Deputy, the time has elapsed.

Nothing is progressing, unfortunately.

Deputy Martin is absolutely right to point out the extent to which housing was built in the past. However, he should not stop with the 1950s and 1960s, forgetting what happened in the 1990s and at the turn of the century when 80,000 houses were being built every year and up to 90,000 in one year. I recall my own county of Fingal building more houses one year than the entire country of Sweden. We know how that ended.

No, the local authorities.

It ended in a property bubble, a property crash, the collapse of the construction industry and the collapse of the banking sector. That was very much a consequence of Deputy Martin's party's period in government and his own role as a Government Minister. As a consequence of the mismanagement of our country when Fianna Fáil was in office, our construction industry and banking sector collapsed and we have been picking up the pieces ever since. The housing crisis is very much a symptom of Fianna Fáil's period in government.

In the Taoiseach's time on the council, he allowed all that to happen.

What we need to do now is ramp it all up again.

Seven years of spin.

The Taoiseach wants to normalise the housing crisis.

Order, please.

What we need to do now is ramp it all up again from a very low base. That includes both a significant increase in social housing and a significant increase in houses being built by the private sector. We estimate that the number of new homes built in Ireland next year will be between 20,000 and 25,000, which is a very big increase on this and the previous year. It is going to take time, however, to get on top of this because we cannot ramp up housing construction overnight. We had a construction industry that was decimated, a banking sector that collapsed and a Government which, for years, did not have money to invest in social housing. That is now changing and 2,000 new homes will be built directly by local authorities this year while others will be provided in other ways. It is going to take time to get on top of this and, of course, we are doing it against the backdrop of a growing population and an increasing rate of household formation.

Fine Gael is in government for seven years.