Deputy Joan Burton was in possession.
Home Building Finance Ireland Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)
With reference to Deputy Penrose's contribution, I am very disappointed in the report in regard to the development of a community banking system. Such a system is essential for continuing development in rural Ireland and disadvantaged communities in urban areas because both have difficulty in having banks like AIB and Bank of Ireland take any real interest in the community. It seems there is a very conservative hand in operation in the Department of Finance at the moment.
We all understand the legacy of the bank collapse, the greed that drove it and how difficult the recovery was for people all over Ireland. However, we are a country with an increasing population, we have Brexit to deal with and we are also an attractive location for foreign direct investment, which we hope will continue. A key element is that we should be able to provide a significant amount of development capital, in particular in the context of a community banking model based on the Sparkasse model. Let us remember that the big difference between many of the German regions, particularly in the old West Germany, is they have a long, intergenerational tradition of SME industries which provide local employment in areas comparable to Sligo, Longford or Wexford but are not dependent on somebody making every decision in a branch head office in a city comparable to Dublin.
I link this to the Bill because, as I said as I concluded my earlier remarks, I believe we should be taking a housing development bank approach. Housing development banks and development banks for development purposes are familiar vehicles all around the world. In fact, Dr. Kim, the head of the World Bank, said recently that the World Bank made a mistake in not focusing on people-based development, whether in education or housing, and how to give people the chance to live a decent life with self-sufficiency and engagement in employment - the Minister of State's officials can check this if they want to. If that is then pivoted to Ireland at present, what is the most serious crisis we face? It is the fact we have a booming population - a great thing to have - and an insufficiency of houses, brought on by the crash. However, the crash is over and we have moved away from that. Basically, Fine Gael is proving too nervous and frightened to act with a strong sense of how to develop housing to the correct scale and number.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government can, believe it or not, open one house in Ballyfermot which has been renovated under one of the schemes available, and he gets huge television and other media coverage. That is great but it is just one house. There is no scale. We need to be talking about developing houses in the thousands. The development bank approach would allow us to utilise the publicly owned lands that the State has provided and marry that to an affordable purchase. It could also be mirrored in rural Ireland, where a family could provide a young family member with a site, and the build cost of the house could be the loan advanced by the home building finance authority.
I speak as a Deputy for Dublin West, where there is an intense frenzy in land prices which is as bad, if not worse, than in the two or three years before the crash. This has to serve as a warning to the Government. In many housing developments on the north side and the western fringe of the capital, although we thought €50,000 was a high site value cost, the cost is now reaching the €100,000 mark, and I will not speak about south County Dublin and the south side because it is higher again there. We have public lands. If we marry those public lands with the capital availability, as the Bill sets out, we can attract propositions from builders who may be building in relatively small numbers across Ireland - ten, 20 or 50 houses at a time - but who cannot get finance from ordinary banks because they have an impaired credit rating due to the crash.
The Bill proposes to make finance available to the purchasers who are key to our future social and economic development. It used to be the case that an Irish soldier serving the State working in the Army who was not earning huge wages but who had a partner and children could afford a house. I look at my own family members who bought houses in that situation. However, such soldiers cannot do it now. A family in west Dublin pays more in rent than they would if they were making repayments on an affordable mortgage on an equivalent property. Many people in Fine Gael and, perhaps, the Department of Finance are very far removed from the world in which people live in rented homes in childhood and early adulthood. It is the experience of someone like me. I know what it is like for those who, having been brought up in a rented house, have gone through college, got a job and used that more substantial and consistent income to buy an affordable house with a mortgage. We had examples of co-operatives to which local authorities provided public housing land at a moderate price. We must look at the Bill in a more creative way to establish what we can open up to the type of person who really needs the housing.
There are many good small and medium builders right around Ireland. If we can get them going, it will make significant inroads into the housing demand from young people. If it does not happen, young people will leave for places like Australia and they will not come back. Very often, they will get better money there. A young lad working as a builder in Mayo or Sligo might be able to get a site at low or no cost through family, but he and his partner may not have the capacity to build by taking out what by Dublin standards would be a relatively modest mortgage, albeit one that would not be modest by the lower wage standards that apply in many parts of rural Ireland. We have to be very specific about this.
The Government has an overweening obsession with photographs, public launches and the strategic communications unit by any other name. I note the case of O'Devaney Gardens which is located beside the place I grew up and where my mother is from. I have referred to it 20 times and it has broken my heart. It is beside the Phoenix Park on a gorgeous site. At the time of the crash, the Government said it would give all of these sites in Dublin to Bernard McNamara. As a consequence, many perfectly viable flats were knocked down. The flats in O'Devaney Gardens were lovely, dual balcony flats and their nickname locally was "the luxuries". They were luxury flats because they were lovely. They needed regular maintenance. Can Members imagine a lovely flat with a balcony at the front and a balcony at the back looking out at a courtyard and the Dublin Mountains, respectively? That is how nice the site is. What we had yesterday was like the joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb. How many Ministers does it take to turn a small bit of sod on a site for 56 units? While I welcome the units, nearly 300 families lost their homes there when they were moved out.
Can we be more ambitious about the legislation and, indeed, in general on the deadlines the Government is setting for itself? Relatively few people on the Government benches need housing urgently, but I am sure many of the younger Deputies feel the pinch of an extortionate market in which prices continue to rise. We need the Government to think wisely about its interventions to provide for affordable purchase housing and affordable social renting. It is a total inversion of market rules to have rents higher than mortgage repayments. I acknowledge that the Department's newer staff are preparing all sorts of position papers, but they should please read their Keynes and the various commentaries on housing. It is an absolute inversion of how a market should function that rent is dearer than purchase. That is all wrong. The Minister of State did not mention a specific target but it could be a couple of thousand houses a year.
I mentioned it but the Deputy was not listening.
I am sorry. I could not hear the number the Minister of State gave.
It was 6,000.
Is that 6,000 a year?
It is over three years.
It is 2,000 a year.
It is a modest, albeit welcome, number. Nobody is knocking the number, we just think the Government could do a great deal more. The builders have to make a profit, but the land hoarders should not be encouraged to leech on the Bill and make significant profits on which arrangements can be made to avoid tax. They will not be worried either about the derelict sites levy.
I refer to a very nice site called Barnhill by the canal in Dublin West. It is zoned for approximately 3,000 houses, including, perhaps, a small number of apartments. Mainly, it is family houses because that is what the demand is from couples with children. Notwithstanding the development capital for infrastructure, the site is landlocked because there is not enough money to build the road required to allow access. It is a beautiful site for housing by the canal on the Dublin-Meath border and close to Kildare. The Taoiseach will know it very well from walking and running along the canal. Why can he not say we can have lovely homes for the people working in the greater Blanchardstown area and public servants working in the Dublin region? We have a schools infrastructure and a great deal of foreign direct investment in the area. The Minister of State should take a note of Barnhill and take a spin out to the site or to the Taoiseach's office, which is only a 15 minute drive from Ongar. It is perfect. Since we reopened the site at Hansfield when I was in government, 1,000 very nice houses have been completed. When we were in government, we built a very large secondary school and a very large primary school in Hansfield, both of which, I am happy to say, are doing very well.
With more imagination, it is possible to improve the Bill. To go back to O'Devaney Gardens, I counted three Ministers at the event. The Minister for Finance was there, obviously, as well as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
The Taoiseach was meant to go but he pulled out because it was following the revelations of his comments in licking up to President Trump. It is a pity that the Taoiseach did not go because he would have seen where Fine Gael is failing. Fifty-six units - they will not all be houses - but that is it and on a site that has lain derelict for more than ten years. Will the Minister of State encourage his colleagues in Government to give an opportunity to families to buy an affordable house as they have been used to doing for generations?
In all sincerity, I am so beyond wanting to score political points when it comes to the current housing emergency because it is such a dire crisis and the hardship it is inflicting on so many people is so terrible that I would be happy to support anything the Minister of State, anybody in this House or, indeed, anybody outside this House came up with that would help solve this housing crisis and take so many people who are suffering that hardship out of it. I want to give any proposal the Minister of State puts forward a chance-----
-----but this only seems to be more of the same. It looks like another misguided, futile attempt to get the private sector to solve the emergency that it created. I cannot see it any other way.
It would seem to indicate a complete incapacity on the part of the Government to understand the reasons for the previous property bubble and crash that led us to the current housing crisis, and because of that failure to learn the lessons of the past, it seems part of a suite of policies that are destined to repeat the same mistakes all over again. Frankly, we are hurtling towards a repeat of what happened only ten years ago because of the Government's obsessive dependency on the private sector to try and solve the housing crisis.
Why do I say that about this Bill? First, let me point to a certain irony here. What we are doing is setting up a small State bank to lend to private developers because the banks that we bailed out at terrible cost because they were systemically important will not lend to these developers. This begs the question, why did we bail the banks out when they now will not lend to do something as elementary as provide housing for people? If the banks are not capable of doing that, the most elementary thing a bank should be able to do, then what the hell are the banks for and why did we bail them out? Having bailed them out and suffered a terrible cost for it, because the banks will not now do what they are supposed to do, we will compound the madness of all this by setting up our own bank to lend to the people they are afraid to lend to. That is bonkers. Either the banks are right not to lend to these people because it is too risky, in which case what the hell are we lending to them for and taking on that risk ourselves when the banks are afraid to take it on, or it was a completely pointless exercise bailing out the banks because they are unwilling to take a risk that they should be willing to take. Either way, there is something wrong.
Even if we set that irony aside, we are setting up a bank to lend to these private developers and I suppose the logic is that this will in some way contribute towards the resolution of the housing crisis. If we follow through what is logically likely to happen, however, we are now to finance the private sector to build houses that nobody will be able to afford and the only beneficiaries will be the big investors who have bought up the land who will sell it to these small builders that the Minister of State is talking about. That is what will happen. The site values are already referred.
We mentioned Cherrywood out in Dún Laoghaire. Hines bought all this zoned development land at a song from NAMA - mistake number one. That is water under the bridge. The Government has passed a whole load of policies that have inflated the value of that land to the benefit of Hines. Hines will not actually build the houses. Hines will sell parcels of Cherrywood to the small builders whom the Minister of State was talking about at the inflated site values that have been referred to, and those small builders, who it is to be presumed will be financed by House Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, will pay over the odds to Hines for those parcels of land, and because the sites they bought from Hines, the speculators and investors, will be so expensive, those small builders will have no choice but to sell the houses at prices that are unaffordable, and we will be financing that.
At some point, just like the last time, somebody will realise that the emperor has no clothes. If we build all these houses, the prices will be unaffordable and the market for very expensive houses at some point will just dry up. In fact, it is drying up much sooner than it did on the previous occasion because then the gap between people's incomes and what they were able to pay for houses with overinflated prices was bridged by the banks on the basis of reckless lending. They were lending to people to whom they should not have been lending for the purchase of houses, the prices of which were grossly inflated. Now the banks will not do that and we will hit the wall sooner. In Cherrywood, they were going to sell the houses back to the local authority at €450,000. That is what they wanted to sell the Part V bit to. Will they sell the stuff on the private market at €500,000 or €550,000? There are few who can afford that. They will build houses that nobody can afford and at some point they will realise that they cannot sell them.
This is already happening. I mentioned the other day that Cairn Homes is building property in my area. There is a place called Albany where they are selling properties for between €725,000 and €925,000, and the Minister of State will not be surprised to hear they cannot sell all of them. Cairn Homes has also built a place called Marianella in Rathgar. It looks nice in the brochure, but if one looks at the prices, they start at €650,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and move up to €925,000. Not surprisingly, not too many are selling.
I do not give a damn about the investors who put money into Cairn or who is behind them, although they are cashing out now by selling shares and paying themselves bonuses. The top executives split €4.1 million between them in the past year. They flogged off a load of shares. They are cashing out already. I do not know what investors are in behind them but we will subsidise these guys with Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF, funding, increasing the value of the sites that they own.
In the case of Hines, although maybe not Cairn, they will then give these sites at inflated prices to the little builder the Minister of State is talking about, who will then have to sell at an inflated price that nobody can afford. It will hit the wall.
I thank the research officials in the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for the digest they provided me with and it provides a real lesson in the fictional nature of market economics that is taught at school, is accepted as common sense and is repeated ad nauseam by the Government to justify schemes such as the HBFI and LIHAF and generally underpins the Government's approach to dealing with the current housing crisis. What has the catchcry been? Supply, we need supply. Therefore anything that gets supply going will resolve the crisis because if there is enough supply, the price will fall. That is what is taught in classical economics in the universities but the graph produced by the digest usefully points out that it is not true at all. In the classic economical graph, price goes in one direction and supply goes in the other. They are supposed to meet in the middle and form an equilibrium. As supply is low, price is high, and as supply is ratcheted up, price comes down and they meet somewhere nicely in the middle. That is the theory the Government is operating on but this graph does not look a bit like that. The graph of what actually happened shows that as supply went up from 2000 to 2008, price went up exactly concurrent to it. Supply went up and price went up and then the whole thing collapsed but they went up together which is exactly the opposite of what the Government's theory and the classical economic theory says should happen and it is now happening again.
It is obvious why this is happening. It is because there is no way in the world that the big builder or the little builder will build to get prices to drop. Why on earth would they do that? It is mad to think they would do that. The builder will not build for prices to drop. The builder builds to get the maximum price possible. Even if they were benign in their outlook and had social objectives, they would not have a choice because the costs of building for the little builder, the costs of finance, especially if they are being lent to at commercial rates, will require them to get the maximum price. We are doing the same thing over and over again and it will lead to the same consequences.
I put it to the Minister of State that this is crazy. He says that it is a small effort to help the small builder. It is not at all. It is symptomatic of the suite of policies that are being pursued which are about facilitating private, for-profit interests to build but who have no interest in solving the housing crisis and are completely incapable of doing so. What should be done is to use this money to build council houses. It is not the job of the State to facilitate the profit-making of private investors or even private builders. Does that mean I do not give a damn about the small builder? No, it is not that at all. In fact, the small builders could get themselves in serious trouble from all of this because they will end up building stuff which they cannot sell at a certain point. The big investors will most likely cash out before that happens as the top guys in Cairn are doing now. At some point they will cash out and it will be the little guy who will be caught again, but this time it will be the State directly financing it. The last time we had to bail out the banks because they financed it but this time it will be us directly financing it when the thing hits the wall.
Would it not be far more sensible to build council houses directly ourselves? There is no risk there at all. A big profit is not made but the State is not in the business of making profit. It is in the business of providing housing that people can afford. The Minister of State himself has said that the State can build houses for between €175,000 and €210,000 and we have a massive bank of public, NAMA, local authority and zoned land with the capacity to provide 114,000 dwellings. Why would we not build public and affordable housing on a large scale on that land? That will not only have the benefit of housing people on the housing list, but will also bring down the price of property generally. It will have a dampening effect on a market that is completely out of control. It will benefit people who want to buy houses as well. That is what we need to do and everything else is a diversion from that.
It can even be seen in the delay from the announcement of this legislation to the fact that it is only coming in now. Why has it taken from October 2017 until now to get this Bill on the floor of the Dáil? In my opinion, the reason has to be because of all the intricacies of the market, lending and the rules that govern that, because there is an interaction between the public objective and the market, the rules governing it, not distorting it, and not being guilty of state aid. Once an interaction is made with the market, everything gets slowed down because the State is getting involved in a business it should not be getting involved in and it is having to pander to the interests of whatever sort in the private market. It cannot be seen to undermine the banks or to distort the private market and so it goes on and on.
It is debatable if any of this will even happen, but that delay is a waste of time when that money which was allocated in the previous budget could and should have been directed straight into the construction of public housing. Even at this stage I would advise the Minister of State to abandon this folly and do what is necessary to be done, namely, build public housing on public land with this money.
In my last few minutes I will comment on a very good report on the future of council housing. It is good in the sense of the information that is in it and makes some good recommendations about the need for smaller units, warning that selling off public housing is not a good idea, certainly not at this time. I want to put on record, and I am surprised that nobody else has done so to my knowledge, that I fundamentally disagree with two of the report's major conclusions. The first conclusion is that local authority housing should shift from rents being based on people's income to rents being based on the cost of building and maintaining the houses. That increase in rent that is being recommended that local authority tenants should pay should then be used as the source of finance to build new public housing. I disagree with that.
To absolutely break the link between rent and affordability at this time is the height of folly and it is a capitulation to certain logic of the market. I absolutely disagree with it. They produced some useful tables in the report which show that council housing and the rents we derive from them do not make a profit but they do more than wash their own face. In some cases the cost of maintenance is 50-60% or at the highest 70% of what is received back in rents but they still get enough back from rent to more than cover the cost, so why would we increase rents and break the link between income and rent? I absolutely disagree with that. Cost rental may be good for those who do not qualify for the social housing list, but to start increasing rents for those who are eligible for public housing in a way that is not connected to people's ability to pay is a big mistake.
The suggestion in the report that tenancies should not be allowed to be passed on through families is wrong. A change to that policy would break up communities. We should not seek to do that because we want to maintain cohesive communities. People in local authority housing should be able to pass on council houses to family members. While it is a good report, those two conclusions are wrong. The central point of the report is that we need to build a hell of a lot more council housing and I absolutely agree with that.
I will not call a vote on Second Stage because the issue of financing affordable housing and public housing needs to be discussed in detail and these issues need to be thrashed out. Unless there is a very radical change from the Government, which I do not believe will be forthcoming, we will vote against the Bill on Final Stage.
The Home Building Finance Ireland Bill 2018 was announced last October in budget 2018 and HBFI was expected to be functioning and giving out loans by the end of quarter 2 of 2018. It is now expected to be operational at the end of the year. One would think that there was not a housing crisis and no need for radical emergency measures, if we take nine months to bring in basic legislation.
During my speech on budget 2018, before details of the Bill emerged, I stated that Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, seemed "to be a very poor response to the many calls for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to establish a State developer of housing or a national housing executive" or a State development bank for housing. Based on the Bill before us, it is clear that I was correct. The €750 million fund to be made available to developers who cannot get loans or enough money elsewhere is expected to deliver around 6,000 homes. However, these are for-profit homes. Other than the usual Part V requirement of 10%, there are no stipulations that these loans are to provide affordable or social housing. We can come back to this point on Committee Stage.
While a housing finance bank is welcome in principle, the current proposal is merely carrying on the failed private developer model, the favoured policy of Fine Gael and its Fianna Fáil predecessors. That is the key critique of the Bill. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government spoke yesterday at the launch of the report, The Future of Council Housing: An analysis of the financial sustainability of local authority provided social housing, by Professor Michelle Norris and former Senator, Dr. Aideen Hayden, which makes the case for the need for council housing for low income individuals and families. One of the central recommendations of the Hayden and Norris report, which we would all support, is that councils be enabled to raise their own housing finance from the property tax and borrowings and have self-financing planned maintenance of their estates. They do not have this option now. The total dependence of local authorities on Government grants for critical social housing development is one of the key reasons for the dearth of social houses from 2011 to the present day. Many improvements could be made in the provision of council housing but we first need a large-scale public and affordable homebuilding programme, and new financial arrangements for councils to raise and deploy finance for housing.
Representatives of developers and builders such as the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, say developers need access to cash and report that in an access to finance survey, 70% of respondents indicated they expect to have difficulty securing finance over the coming three years. Notwithstanding this, the pillar banks and other financial institutions have developed funds for housing development exclusively for these developers. Since 2013, for example, AIB has had a €350 million new homes development fund and a further €100 million social housing development fund was announced in 2017. Also in 2017, Bank of Ireland announced a €1 billion fund for property development. Activate Capital also provides finance for residential property development from a €500 million fund. Again, as mentioned earlier, this capital is being made available, in the main, for-profit, speculative residential units. It would be far better to put such funds and the funds under this Bill into an emergency public housing programme directed by local authorities or a new housing executive.
Section 9 provides for the services, systems and staff of HBFI. It is expected that some personnel and expertise of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, will be transferred to this new company and that NAMA staff will be used in delivering the services of HBFI. It is expected that HBFI will also liaise closely with the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. Some will ask why the Government has not simply given a new mandate to NAMA, since HBFI will clearly be the daughter of NAMA and the NTMA. NAMA's recently published 2017 annual report estimates that it will deliver a "terminal surplus of up to €3.5 billion". The Government's explanation on the setting up of this new bank is that we cannot break EU state aid rules and so it will instead use the designated activity company, DAC, format. This is where a company is limited in its functions and is usually a special purpose vehicle, SPV.
As part of the DAC set-up, HBFI will issue shares of €20 million to the Minister for Finance upon incorporation. The Government argues that this is the best way to get around EU state aid rules and many of us thought along similar lines several years ago. Is the real reason that NAMA is not being entrusted with this task and fund that worrying and pertinent questions have been asked about its record, for example, on Project Eagle? Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been responsible for directing NAMA's policy since 2011 and the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, directed NAMA to dispose of huge assets as early as possible, meaning that it is estimated that between €20 billion and €30 billion of assets have effectively been lost to the Exchequer. My colleague, Deputy Mick Wallace, has, rightly, consistently criticised the Government and NAMA for this approach. In his book NAMA Land, the distinguished journalist, Frank Connolly, raises several disturbing questions but it is the political masters of NAMA, in particular Deputy Noonan, who must take the blame for the estimated huge losses to the State.
Continuation of the failed, far too slow housing policy as the modus operandi of this Government with the establishment of HBFI is deplorable. Meanwhile, households and people on the social housing waiting lists and in homelessness go on suffering. Deputies receive desperate phone calls daily from people who may have spent two years in homeless accommodation and want to find some kind of stable accommodation for their children. My office received a call from one such person this afternoon.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has misrepresented key statistics by telling us that 30,000 more homes were built in the period from 2011 to 2017 than was the case. There have been ferocious rent rises with no serious rent control and the 4% rule is not working. House prices have been exploding in recent years and younger savers have little or no chance of affording a home. The Government has presided over a litany of failures. Even the so-called affordable housing scheme has been a failure.
The HBFI will not seriously or urgently address our huge housing deficit. It is hoped the new entity will contribute between 10% and 13% of the housing stock needed, which would require it to fund between 2,000 and 3,000 units per annum. While this belated Bill is significant, it is sadly the same old approach.
One glaring omission from the Minister of State's speech and the discussions today on the Bill is any information on how interest rates will be calculated, what they will be linked to or what will be the loan-to-cost rate. AIB and Bank of Ireland's interest rates are approximately 7% and loan-to-cost ratios are between 60% and 65%. Activate Capital's interest rate is approximately 10% with a loan-to-cost ratio of 90%. Deputy Michael McGrath said between 30% and 35% of housing finance is sourced internationally at high interest rates. The Minister of State said over and over in his speech that the loans would be sourced at commercial rates but he has given us no further information. He might come back to that point.
On the positive side, like others, I welcome that the HBFI will be accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts, that there will be protection for whistleblowers and that communication between the organisation and outsiders will be managed in a way that prevents a recurrence of the serious allegations made against NAMA. HBFI will not deliver what we desperately need tonight and every night since this housing crisis became so dire seven years ago. This vehicle will not rebuild this country and provide the homes we need.
Most Deputies have alluded to the fact that this is July and we first heard of this initiative last October. We are able to do things in this House overnight sometimes and more times it takes a year. It is worrying it has taken so long to get this body up and running. One would have to wonder about the Government's priorities, given that it has failed to progress this initiative for so long and given that some things can happen very quickly.
The Government is in a great position to do something about our housing crisis but it is not doing so. It has access to two powerful items in its favour, namely, it has access to cheap money and has plenty of zoned land. They are two powerful items to start with. The challenge for it is the way it handles those. No one is saying it is easy. I would challenge anybody in here to be able to list all the housing initiatives that have come before us since 2011. We have all lost count of them. The number of them has been phenomenal. I would argue that if the Government had done nothing, we probably would not be any worse off. We would probably be in much the same place. We have not made any ground.
It is a good idea for the Government to lend money to builders. The Minister of State might say that I would say that given that I have been a builder all my life and I was even a developer for a while. Currently, small builders cannot build in Ireland because the banks are closed to them. The developers who can afford to build do not need the Government's money. They might like to get some of it because they cannot get enough of it. They do not need access to the Government's money but the small builder does. The big developers have no problem garnering access to money.
A report from the Dublin Housing Supply Coordination Task Force is due to be published on Thursday. The Minister of State probably read about it this morning. The article on it states that developers are sitting on planning permission for 25,000 houses and apartments in Dublin's four local authorities alone. Why are they sitting on it? It is not rocket science. One of the reasons they can sit on it, as was said during the debate on Tuesday night, is the fact the Government does not tax them for doing so. It promotes land banking. That is what that is. Sitting on land, hoarding it and not building on land that is zoned for development and that has planning permission is called hoarding. The Government facilitates that by refusing to deal with it and that is a major problem. We covered all of that on Tuesday night and I will not go over it again now. Those developers are not sitting on that land, which has full planning permission, is site ready and has the potential to provide 25,000 units in Dublin, because they do not have access to money. That is not true. They have access to money but they have other plans. Prices are going up all the time. It makes more sense for them not to build because the incentives are there not to build. It is much more attractive for them now not to build and that is what they are doing.
The Construction Industry Federation, CIF came out to defend them. The CIF makes me laugh. It does not represent the builders of Ireland, only the big boys, a bit like the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, and the farmers. The CIF is waiting for the Government to make a decision on high-rise development. It thinks the Government might let its members build a few extra floors and they will then apply for new permissions. I believe in high-rise development. It is crazy that the Government did not approve that years ago. We are covering the country in concrete. Kildare, Meath and Wicklow will be covered in concrete if we do not start building high-rise developments. It happens everywhere else in Europe and we should be doing it. However, we should not be giving people permission to build 25,000 units and then let them away with not building them, without imposing a penalty. However, that is neither here nor there in the context of this Bill.
The Minister of State indicated: "It is expected that HBFI will provide funding for projects with a minimum capacity of only ten units, equating to a loan facility of...€2 million." That is good but I would put a maximum capacity of 50 units on it also. The Government does not need to give this money to the big boys. Let us ring-fence this money for the builders who need it. Let us get the Irish builder back working. The Government should stop depending on the big developer and the markets to solve this problem because they will not do it. They may in their own time but, as indicated by many Deputies this evening and on Tuesday evening, affordability is a massive factor, but that does not interest them. The Government can do this. It can use the money to give small builders planning permission and funding to build out houses or apartments and it can ring-fence the price with them. I guarantee the Minister of State that he will get builders who are interested, but he will not get developers who are interested. I know umpteen builders who would love the opportunity. The Government will get builders to do deals to deliver affordable housing if it can help them fund it and it should be using State land for this. Why is all that State land not being put into use?
Obviously, I could not let this opportunity pass without mentioning the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. I promise I will not say anything bold. The Minister of State indicated:
While HBFI will be a wholly independent entity from NAMA, it will utilise NAMA's experience in developing its business model in preparation for its launch later this year... It is expected that some staff will transfer from NAMA and this will be of great benefit to HBFI to allow it to be up and running in as short a timeframe as possible.
There are some challenges with respect to state aid rules, even though people keep telling us in this House that there is enough cheap money. I wonder why are we spending interest rates of 15% to 20% to build schools through public private partnerships if there is plenty of cheap money available. I am not convinced there is a great deal of cheap money available.
There is no money available.
The Government keeps saying there is. I know for a fact that Wexford County Council cannot get money from the Government. Approved housing bodies can get some money from the Government much quicker than the local authorities. It takes the local authority two years to get money approved. I do not understand why that is the case. I must get someone to sit down with the Minister of State to discuss that.
The Minister of State referred to the expertise in NAMA. I would like him to give me the evidence of the expertise on the board of NAMA around residential development. Where is the background among the members in residential development? I do not expect he can give me that now but he might arrange to provide me with that. I would say they have no experience in producing residential units. They have none. I can tell him what they have experience in. The evidence is there that they have experience in the disposing of land and properties, including houses and apartments, at fire-sale prices. They have no experience in construction. They buy through the developer. NAMA is building out some of the land that it is sitting on by doing deals with developers who have the experience, but when one does that deal, the affordability element goes out the window because currently a developer in this State is looking for a profit margin per unit of between €60,000 and €80,000 for himself.
That is the truth and it is happening. Why would we go down that track and why, in God's name, would we engage NAMA in this entity? It is beyond me.
On the problem with state aid rules, we know for a fact that Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and France have all defied them in the past five years. They have all broken them when it suited them. Why does Ireland not go to the European Union to say we have a massive problem with infrastructure and that we need to spend loads of money in building loads of houses to be provided at an affordable price for the people of Ireland, as well as social housing units for those who cannot afford to buy a house at any price? Why do we not do a deal with the European Union? If the Government cannot do this and it is restricted by state aid rules, I ask the Minister of State to, please, not bring NAMA into the equation. Memories are short, but it should be remembered that a commission of investigation was set up to look into NAMA. Can we, please, wait for the results of that investigation before the Government gives NAMA another gig?
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill on the establishment of a new dedicated institution, Home Building Finance Ireland, which will lend to residential housing developers. I sincerely hope it is not just all talk again. An amount of hours has been spent on this issue during the past two and a half years - one Deputy who has just left the Chamber went on the whole time about filibustering - but I can assure the House that no one has ever heard filibustering about announcements and discussions on an issue more than this one. This is the second time this week I have had to ask the same question. Will this just be another layer of bureaucracy? Is it just another announcement? It sounds great, but down the road will we find that it cannot work?
We are all aware of the housing crisis and I am sure some people think a new dedicated institution which will supposedly lend to residential housing developers will help to ease the crisis by creating new houses. In all honesty, will this be like the Rebuilding Ireland scheme that was launched earlier this year? It sounded great on paper and certainly made it look like that the Government was finally taking action. However, it was just another smokescreen for it to hide behind. As I was one of those who had got caught up in all of the razzmatazz, I contacted all of the young people, especially couples, who had been in contact with me looking to see if they could get their lives off the ground by securing a loan. They had been refused by the banks and went looking for a local authority loan. Unfortunately, they were refused by it too. It was the usual old game - one was not earning enough, while the other was earning too much. I advised them that the Rebuilding Ireland scheme would save everyone, but what happened? They were refused. I know of no one who has been accepted, which is extremely disappointing. When the Government makes an announcement from the other side of the House, as Deputies, we must take it as an option to the constituents we represent. Unfortunately, the scheme has proved to be a great disappointment. I know of many couples who spent a lot of time trying their best to get across the line, but they were refused. They were given very poor explanations as to why they had been refused. The Rebuilding Ireland scheme could really have made a difference in dealing with the housing crisis by helping people to get onto the property ladder. Instead it was a scheme that had been launched without adequate resources to deal with the number of applicants. Recent figures indicate that 50% of applicants are rejected.
The Government has spoken many times about its plans to build more houses. It has promised to deliver 47,000 social housing units by the end of 2021 in a bid to tackle homelessness. My concern about this promise is that we are only three years away from that deadline. Can we have certainty that the Government will deliver on its promise?
The Government was offered a shovel-ready project in Skibbereen in my constituency, but it turned it down. We tried our best. The local authority advised on planning and everything was sorted to try to get it across the line, but it was told "No," that another site was being looked at. However, nothing had been done on that site. For me, it epitomised the mindset. There are many announcements but nothing else besides. The situation is the same for those on the massive housing waiting list in Clonakilty. When I was a member of the local council three years ago, people were promised that a number of houses would be built for the families who were waiting. Unfortunately, not a sod has yet been turned. We were promised that 12 houses would be purchased in Enniskeane. Recently I met one couple in Clonakilty who, with many more, had set their hopes on moving away from Clonakilty to Enniskeane, but we have now found out that the negotiations did not work out and that the houses are for sale on the website for €170,000. There is nothing happening in my constituency in that regard. For a lot of people I am painting a picture of a very bleak future. Some are looking for planning permission but finding it extremely difficult to obtain it. They meet a block wall everywhere they go.
I have called on the Government numerous times to invest in existing properties. There are countless vacant spaces available above commercial units that need to be refurbished to provide much needed residential accommodation in west Cork. One only has to drive through villages and towns such as Ballinadee, Ballineen, Dunmanway, Goleen, Kealkill, Leap, Schull and Skibbereen to see the pattern of vacant spaces above shop units. I have pleaded with the Government to consider offering grants to refurbish these vacant properties in a bid to ease the housing and homelessness crisis and protect and restore rural Ireland. It is time it listened and took real action. I ask the Minister of State to, please, not let Home Building Finance Ireland be another unsuccessful scheme. The people of Ireland truly deserve better.
I am glad to have the opportunity to again talk about this very important matter. Since I entered the Dáil almost two and a half years ago there have been enough plans, schemes, reports and papers provided to build several houses. That is the truth. I am very sceptical about this initiative. The Minister of State said "... a small equity investment of €20 million is expected." It is not at all sure that anyone will receive the €20 million. That is with what we are starting. The Minister of State also said, "With this allocation it is expected that HBFI will have the capacity to fund the supply of more than 6,000 additional homes in the coming years." There is no doubt in the world that 6,000 homes will be built in the coming years, but about how many years are we talking? There is no mention at all of this.
There is. It is three years.
That is not mentioned in the Minister of State's statement.
I have asked the Minister of State several times to tell us truthfully if the Government has the money for the scheme. I am very doubtful that it has the money. In 2015 we were told that €62.5 million was to be given to build social housing in County Kerry. That is well over three years ago and I can guarantee that €62.5 million has not landed in County Kerry. A total of 20 houses have been built in Killarney. That is the number that have been built so far and a few more have been started. A few houses have also been bought here and there.
The Taoiseach did not know what a demountable home was. There are several families in County Kerry still living in such homes. One couple has been living in such a home for 22 years and they are now looking for a new one. There is a blockage for the local authority which has been caused by the Department.
No demountable home can be brought to anyone unless his or her current place of occupation has been burned or flooded and it is not to be lived in permanently. Not being able to use a demountable home in that way is clearly a blockage.
I know of several farmers who are living on their own or with their wives, but the couple I mentioned raised their only daughter in a demountable home and she comes back to them every weekend. They have no other place in which to live. They want to live on their own land.
The situation is the same in the case of rural cottages. If the Government has money to give to local authorities, why is it the case that only ten rural cottages will be built in County Kerry in the period between 2016 and 2021? There are a further 37 households on the waiting list for a rural cottage to be built on their own land. They have the site, which is the main element, but the local authority is only receiving enough funding to build ten cottages. These are the facts. If the Government had the money, I am sure it would allow the local authority to build 47 houses, instead of just ten, but that is not happening.
Under Project Ireland 2040, people who just want planning permission to build their own house are being denied it. A family received planning permission from Kerry County Council to build a house, but a serial objector appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála on a number of points. Planning permission was refused by it on the grounds that the person concerned was living too far away from his place of work. That is the whole truth, your honour, and nothing but the truth. A distance of 6 km was considered by An Bord Pleanála to be too far from his workplace.
That has nothing to do with the Bill.
We are talking about housing.
No, we are talking about-----
We are telling the truth.
It has nothing to do with the Bill.
Of course, it has.
Right so. The Government could do several things.
I thought the Deputy was going to talk about the Bill when he said, "Right so."
I am as entitled to talk about housing in the Chamber as anyone else. Just because I am hurting the Minister of State in telling him the truth-----
No, the Deputy is not.
Perhaps that is what is wrong, but I will tell the truth wherever I am, be it here, there or anywhere. One will always win out with the truth.
I am sceptical about the €20 million figure, but the Government could take simple actions. For example, it could help small builders by reducing the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9%, which would achieve a great deal. Other blockages are preventing small builders from building houses. If a house costs €200,000, the Government will receive more than €40,000 in VAT and levies. With the purchaser of the house paying 3.5%, the Government will receive up to €55,000 in taxes, bringing the total to more than one quarter of the overall amount.
Developers were classed together in a bundle as a bad lot, but that was not true. Of course, there were a few rotten apples, but, by and large, most builders, especially the smaller ones, always served the country well. A few years ago there were four staged payments. A builder was paid when he or she brought a house to floor level, to wall plate level, to roof level and on completion. In that way, builders were able to finance their activities and the Government would not need this €20 million which is "expected to be provided".
The Government could do something about the issue. We all accept that some houses were not built to a proper standard, but local authorities now have building control units and houses must be built to the standard set and in accordance with planning permission. The Government could take that route, instead of pursuing yet another idea that will not work. By the time the small developer or builder accesses the money, he or she will have been put through so many hoops that there will be a bush in the gap and the people waiting on the house will be very cold if they do not have somewhere else to stay.
We saw what happened with the repair and lease scheme. It was only made available where there was a large demand for social housing. It did not help anyone in a small rural village or where it was deemed there was insufficient demand for housing. Some people are able to do up and rent out their houses and none of them is left idle. If the Government had made the repair and lease scheme available in rural areas, it would have worked, but it was never intended for them because what I am smelling is that the Government does not have the money. If it told us straight that it did not have the money, every Deputy would accept it, but putting bundles of paper in front of us again and telling us that it is expected that 6,000 homes will be built offers no surety to those who are waiting for a home. If a couple and two children who want to get on the social housing list have an income of more than €33,000, they will be prevented from doing so, but if they are to obtain a loan from the same local authority, they must have an income in excess of €50,000. As such, a group of people are not being catered for and I am not convinced that, regardless of who dreamed it up, the Bill will help them. As I have often said in the Chamber, I do not believe the Government has the money. We would be grateful if it just told us this. Everyone would accept it and we would make do with what we had. In 2015 we were told in County Kerry that we would receive a sum of €62.5 million. We will probably only receive it by 2035 or thereabouts.
The Government's members are master architects of spin and not dealing in reality.
I have learned here in recent years that any of these ideas the Government comes up with are just ideas and they are not working for many people. The sad fact is that in the 2040 plan, the Government says that people will still be allowed to build one-off houses in rural areas if it does not detract from urban areas. We want honest answers about what that means. What has the Government told the local authorities? Is it telling the local authorities that people must buy much more expensive houses in urban areas where development land is much more expensive and that they cannot build on their own sites that they may be getting from their fathers or uncles? That was always allowed. Is the Government going to change that entirely? At the same time, it does not have the wherewithal to build social houses. I know first-hand that in Kerry, only ten rural cottages can be built between now and 2021 when there are 37 more waiting. They are being told that they will have to continue to wait. I hope that what the Minister of State says will work out but I am sceptical about it in light of what has happened or, more correctly, what has not happened in the past two and a half years.
I am glad to speak on this. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, this subject has raised its head since I first entered this House two and a half years ago. In our constituency, the number of people who come to us to try to acquire a house is frightening in the extreme. The public are cynical about politics and about us as politicians. As parliamentarians, it is our job to work to grow the public's trust in the political system. This Bill from Fine Gael will do nothing to increase people's faith in the system. This Bill, that will establish Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, was announced last year and it has taken far too long to deliver. It is yet another announcement that was not delivered, and nearly a year later, not a penny has been spent. It is another example of multiple announcements of the same funds by Fine Gael and precious little by way of delivery. That is why the people of this country have grown sceptical of this Government when it comes to solving the housing crisis. The HBFI was first announced a year ago yet, in the midst of a housing crisis, we are only seeing the Bill go through Second Stage now, meaning that this will not be done before the summer recess. The HBFI is designed to lend to builders at lower interest rates than are currently available on the market. HBFI will receive €750 million from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
While we support the Bill, we must seriously question when it will be set up. It is worrying that we have been here before. The Government's previous plan, Activate Capital, has a total pot of €500 million, yet it has contributed to the construction of just 3,600 houses since its creation in January 2016. The HBFI must not be allowed to become a similar flop by the Government but it seems this trend has become the norm with the Government since it came to power seven years ago. Announcing and reannouncing plans but never focusing on delivery seems to be the modus operandi of Fine Gael in government. I have said many times that it is no mistake by the Taoiseach and his Government. We cannot explain away the failure of Fine Gael in solving the homelessness and housing crisis by mere inability or ineptitude. It is quite the opposite. It has access to the best specialist advice, both within and outside the Civil Service. It has been the Government for eight years and has had the time. Fine Gael in government has failed to do anything with housing because it just does not understand the crisis. Making a local authority house available to a lower income family is just not a priority for this Government.
In the world that the Taoiseach and Fine Gael inhabit, being homeless or living in a less than suitable rental property is not a problem. The Taoiseach has told us that our homeless figures are not the worst by international standards. This is not incompetence on behalf of the Taoiseach. It is just how he views society and it is important that the public understands this. Under Fine Gael in government, it has become acceptable to say things such as "some homeless people are working the system to get a council house". How anyone could believe that parents would make their children homeless to access a council house is beyond me. It is acceptable for a civil servant in the Department of Finance to suggest that we will continue to have a mortgage arrears crisis until we see a significant increase in home repossessions. In my constituency of Tipperary, it has become acceptable for a housing officer to declare to a young mother and her two children, when she presented as homeless at a local authority, that being homeless was no golden ticket for a council house. This is the new republic that our Taoiseach wants, where official Ireland is cold to the feelings and needs of the less well-off in our society, where it is socially acceptable to treat people in need in such a demeaning way. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach promotes himself at every opportunity, through broadcast, print and social media, as a man with all the answers. He has answers but they are to the wrong questions. This is who Fine Gael are and they will not change.
Homelessness has reached unprecedented levels. Surging rents are at historic highs. Home building numbers are tens of thousands behind where they need to be and we have well over 100,000 on the social housing waiting list. All the while, another massive problem is emerging that this problem is completely ignoring. Ordinary workers cannot afford a place of their own. Fianna Fáil is using the confidence and supply agreement to press for a policy shift to establish an affordable housing scheme, increase social housing spending and strengthen the rental sector. The Government has to start delivering on housing after six separate plans and more than a dozen launches. It needs to put bricks and mortars in the ground. Its Rebuilding Ireland plan, however, is already behind target and apparently already manipulating the figures. Supply and affordability are the key issues that need to be addressed to get to grips with the crisis in the private, social and rental sectors.
More housing plans have been launched by Fine Gael than social housing was built in 13 local authority areas last year. It is clear from that and other evidence that the Government has overstated the number of houses built rather than just purchased from the private sector. We need to see to a solution to the housing crisis and this Government has to decide to get involved in the work. Forget about launch after launch of existing plans. The Government should take responsibility for the work and hold itself to account for the results. It is clear that if one does not take responsibility or hold oneself to account in housing, the people will hold one to account in due course. There is a crisis that we, as parliamentarians, should rightly be ashamed of and it needs to be rectified immediately.
The Minister of State, I and every Member of this House will go home to a house tonight, a warm house because of the weather, and we hope we will get a good night's sleep. Tonight, in this city, other cities and even in parts of rural Ireland, people will go into hotel rooms, with one family crowded in and with no proper facilities for cooking or sleeping. They will be crushed into an area where other families use toilet facilities and everything else. What is going on in this country is a crying shame. Homelessness has reached unprecedented levels. Surging rents are historically high. Home building numbers are, as the Minister of State has heard repeatedly, tens of thousands below what they should be.
We are told about the new Ireland, this great Ireland where there are more jobs and opportunities for people. While I acknowledge that there are more opportunities for many people, the sad fact is that there are so many people outside the loop.
What Deputy Cahill said is true. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, I do not direct my comment at him personally, but there is a certain attitude to people who are homeless. Some ask why they are homeless, why they cannot pull themselves together and why can they not do this and that. I am sure the Minister of State knows well from his clinic, as do the rest of us, the many different circumstances, hardship and sorrowful stories we hear week in and week out.
I will give one example of a terrible anomaly in the current system. It is not just an urban scenario, as it affects rural areas as well. All Members know people who are working hard, five days a week, who get up early in the morning, get children out to school and who come home at night and get everything ready for the next morning. They might be earning €26,000 or €27,000 per annum. It is too much to allow them to qualify for a social house and too little to service a loan. There is a growing number of those people out there and they are frustrated, upset and annoyed. Because prices have gone up people are selling properties they previously rented out and the people I refer to are being shoved from Billy to Jack. They are good tenants. They do a good job and they pay their rent but they are being shoved around the place and they have nowhere to go. A woman came to my office in recent weeks who just broke down and wept after she was told she did not qualify for a house anywhere. She has two children, one going on to college and one in secondary school. I am ashamed as a parliamentarian to meet such situations in this great Ireland where there are so many opportunities, according to the Taoiseach in particular. When he was in New York putting in such an effort to get a seat for Ireland on the United Nations Security Council did he tell people in the UN about our housing crisis? What would they think of it? I do not think they would be too impressed.
All of us in this House have a responsibility to solve this crisis. If we do not, we are a failure. The Minister of State knows all of the launches we have had. I will go through them again. There was Construction 2020, the Social Housing Strategy 2020, Rebuilding Ireland 2016, the 2012 capital plan, the 2015 capital plan and the 2018 plan. That is six separate plans, and then one must take into account the numerous relaunches involved.
House building numbers are tens of thousands behind what was originally targeted by the Government. Government figures overstated completions by nearly 60% with only 14,500 units actually built last year. Typically, over the past 45 years new builds have been between 20,000 and 30,000 per annum, rising to more than 40,000 as far back as 1998. That was in keeping with economic expansion, population growth and societal change with smaller household sizes. It is great to hear job announcements and foreign direct investment but as the Minister of State knows another problem is arising, namely, accommodation for workers and the cost of rent. The knock-on effect will be serious for the economy. The issue must be tackled and resolved.
As a party, Fianna Fáil has placed housing front and centre as a key priority for this Dáil. We have tried to work constructively on the two budgets to date and we introduced ten Bills on housing to help address the crisis. We must resolve this issue. The national development plan set out a commitment of €1.16 billion capital spending per annum up to 2027. However, that is still just 84% of the €1.385 billion we as a party spent on social housing capital investment in 2008. We are way behind on our spending yet the population is increasing constantly. In addition, the Government has overseen abysmal apprenticeship numbers. In 2017, only 60 apprentices registered for brick and stonelaying and 34 for plastering, which is far short of what is required to meet even the Government's limited target of 25,000 housing units.
The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is effectively just a rebrand of existing local authority mortgage schemes. It is a new name and a new launch but there is nothing different. In the absence of increasing supply it will not enable more people to buy their own home. Only one in three applications is successful, and that is in the midst of the worst crisis we have ever had in housing. The affordable purchase scheme is vague. It lacks timelines and sufficient scale. The subsidy per site currently works out at €16,000, which is far less than the €31,000 to €50,000 in the 1999 scheme. It does not recommence the affordable housing scheme Fine Gael abolished in 2012 and it will not tackle affordability. The Minister of State knows that himself. Only 400 units are targeted this year and funding is still far behind the €150 million allocated in 2008. The Government had committed to the affordable rent scheme. It announced a pilot project for affordable rent since 2015 but is only now getting around to it. Again, there is a lot of spin but there is no substance. We have gone from 2015 to 2017 and we are now in 2018.
I could go on and on but I do not intend to do that. Like most Members this evening I am expressing my dissatisfaction. It is very important that we start building houses. We must go back to bricks and mortar. Local authorities must introduce a scheme specifying that they would build X number of houses each year. We are all aware of the current backlog and it will take some time to clear it even if we had a better rate of building than is the case currently. While we support the Bill, we have reservations on many issues. I intend to bring more detail to the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in the weeks ahead, even though it is the summer. They might get a chance to read it at some stage.
I too am delighted to speak to this Bill. I have nothing personal against the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, but I would prefer to see a senior Minister in the Chamber, which would be the case if the Government was serious. I do not believe the Government is serious in any shape, make or form about dealing with the housing crisis. I raised on Leaders' Questions this morning the fact that there is an enormous number of vacant properties. If one had a car that was a bit shook and it was parked up and one had to invest hugely to buy a new one, one would get the mechanic to look at the car and get it into a fit state to pass the NCT and drive it away again. It should be simple to get vacant houses back onto the market given that they are built, the structure is there and the services are there. Many of them are on single sites but many others are not. In God's name I cannot understand why vacant houses have not been fixed. I must return to what my colleague, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, said. Will the Government come clean and stop the spin?
Does it have money or not? I am sick and tired of asking, cajoling and begging the Tipperary housing director and county manager to explain why houses are not being built. Eleven houses were built in Tipperary between 2012 and 2016. I earlier inadvertently stated that 11 had been built between 2011 and 2016. There are nearly 11,000 applicants in County Tipperary, more than 3,100 of whom have been approved. God knows how many homeless people there are in the county. Some people maintain there is no homeless problem in Tipperary but a homelessness clinic there each Wednesday is packed to the rafters. The Irish people are the victims of a major con job by the Departments, the Government, its friends in Europe and the whole cabal. I call it a cabal because there is no way the Government is serious about this problem when it is building nothing.
I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I compliment Deputy Ó Broin for his tireless work at the committee. I seldom attend its meetings because I am weary of reports, announcements, new schemes and new Ministers. There have been four housing Ministers since Fine Gael went into power seven years ago, three of whom were members of Fine Gael with the other being the brave and bold Tipperary man, AK47, Deputy Alan Kelly. All he built were castles in the sky. He did not build a henhouse or a dog shed.
What is wrong in the Department? I am vice chairperson of a voluntary organisation made up of ordinary people which was able to build a scheme of 14 houses over an 18-month period some years ago and more thereafter. Many voluntary groups across the country are building houses. The system became so bureaucratic and ruled by officialdom that one had to apply to seven sections of the Department which were located in seven different areas of the country. When we pleaded our case, the Fianna Fáil Minister at the time decided the system was ridiculous and could be streamlined such that only one application had to be made. That worked tremendously well but one now has to once more make multiple applications. Perhaps too many people in the Department had no work to do. It is once more again a cumbersome process involving three, four or five sections. A huge amount of paperwork to the Department by county councils. The council has to wait six months for a reply and the reply then requests X, Y and Z and takes another five or six months to go back up the line. It is time wasting, which is disgusting in the context of people having to sleep on streets or in cars or hotels.
Where is the moral compass of the Ministers and the officials? Sadly, they do not have one. The terror, trauma and illness experienced by people who are homeless or frightened of being made homeless is unbearable and causing havoc in society. It will wreak havoc for decades to come and have far-reaching consequences but the ineptitude of the Government in tackling the problem is obvious. If the Government told us it does not have the money to tackle it, I would not be saying this to the Minister of State.
Our masters are in Europe. One of them was here two weeks ago and told us he was on our side and in our corner. Where was he when we wanted him when the banking system collapsed? The Minister of State gave figures for the amount of money invested in building. Those were Ponzi schemes involving big developers. It was crazy. However, no heed was taken of it by anyone in the Department, Government or European Central Bank, ECB, and no one stopped it. What happened when our banks ran dry? Our so-called friends in Europe and their banks had bulldozed money into the country. However, the bondholders were all protected. What happened when the you know what hit the fan? The bonds were not even drawn down. They are laughing all the way to the bank. The Government was saddled with the debt. I was a Deputy at the time and I accept responsibility for that. The Irish people were placed in penury. Our friends in Europe charged us almost 6% interest rates on the so-called bailout, which I voted against. I voted for the bank guarantee and that is the biggest political mistake I have ever made but I did so on the basis of phony figures and threats to the Minister for Finance. However, there was no businessman in the Government to have the cop-on to tell the ECB to get lost and that we were in trouble. They bailed us out but they still screwed us. The IMF, which was not a close friend of ours, lent us money at 3% interest but our friends in Europe who caused the crash by overheating the economy and shovelling money into the country then left us high and dry. There is much soul searching to be done about the history of the housing crisis.
Hundreds of small builders and small developers are ready, willing and able to build houses. They may be a one, two, three or four person operation with a spouse doing the books and may be a family business. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy mentioned that the equity is too high. I agree with him in that regard. Those builders cannot afford to build and need support. I welcome this fund. I welcome the €750 million which the Minister of State indicated would be provided. I welcome that this initiative is being launched. However, if it is going to be like the countless other initiatives announced in the past seven years, it is a shame to have cut down trees to make the paper on which it is printed. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, recently admitted that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme and the other schemes have utterly failed. Nine of 780 applications have been granted. What is going on in this little State? I could say the state of Denmark.
The county councils deny that they have enough money to spend on building houses. I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is not responsible for housing. However, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, should summon Mr. Joe McGrath, the chief executive of Tipperary County Council, and Ms Sinead Carr, its director of services, and representatives of every other local authority to discuss the matter with their local Deputies. We are told by the Government that busloads of money are being sent to county councils but the councils tell us they do not even have enough to refurbish vacant homes. Who is codding whom? There are three groups involved, namely, the council, the Government and those of us who are lucky enough to be elected representatives for the time being. We must be accountable to the people. It should not be rocket science. The council representatives should be brought into a room with the five Deputies who represent Tipperary and asked what is going on. It is not rocket science.
Houses were built in Tipperary and every other county between the 1940s and the 2000s. In the earlier years there were no cranes, big machines, computerised equipment, ready mix concrete or anything else. Concrete was mixed by shovel. The houses were built of blocks which, in some cases, the builders made themselves. The houses were built to house our people. It is the responsibility of a Government to fulfil the noble objective that every family should have a roof over its head. It is in our Constitution. The problem now is that we are unable, inept or do not care. Either the Government does not have the money or it does not care. That is a sad thing for me to say because most politicians I know go into politics to try to help people and their communities and better people's lives. However, there is something rotten and stinking at the root of this which is beyond my comprehension and that of many others.
We need the media to wake up. Elaine Loughlin and other journalists in the Irish Examiner have reported on the blunder and bluff of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and his being found out and possibly putting his hands up. Such events must be exposed because the Government is getting away with murder. The Taoiseach flies around the world so much that one would be forgiven for thinking he is Lord Haw-Haw. He is a great man for meeting other leaders. Ireland is booming. The first thing one sees when one walks out the gate of Leinster House is cranes and building sites. However, the cranes are all building offices and the people who will work in those offices will not be able to get a place to stay. People are being asked to pay €300 a night for a hotel bed in Dublin. It is outrageous, as it was in the boom times. The cranes are up but they are not building houses. Do people and families matter? If they do not, it is a sad day for Ireland. That would have sad long-term consequences and is totally unacceptable.
As I said at the talks on the formation of a Government, which the Minister of State may have attended, and at other times, there are a few simple things which could be done without the need for a big Ponzi scheme involving €750 million, a fancy acronym, glossy documents and another big announcement to get the media writing about it. The VAT rate could be changed. I asked Deputy Michael Noonan, the former Minister for Finance, at those talks to drop the VAT rate in order to get small builders building. It should also be dropped for vacant shops. I have proposed that any shop closed for ten years or more should automatically be granted change of use permission in order to encourage investment in those areas.
I suggested that we house the people which would give the economy a boost, but we could not do that. The law provides that we can only have three rates of VAT and we cannot have another one. The Deputy mentioned the developers and the builders, that they are a dirty crowd and not to be trusted. There is a big different between a big developer and a small builder. The small builders are the backbone of our economy, but we could not do that. He said that would not work. I told him the answer was simple. Give the valued added tax, VAT, back to the person who is investing, the couple who want to be rehoused, the family who want to return to live in a town centre or the person who wants to develop a vacant shop and let it to families. It is a no-brainer, but that could not be done either. The Government does not want to do it. It can talk to the big boys in the construction industry and listen to them. It can talk to the Irish Hotels Federation and do it for its members in Dublin. I believe that should be changed, not in the country but in Dublin because of the prices hotels are charging. People cannot get a room because they are all full. If there is a will there is a way but I am worried the Government does not have the will.
Outstanding loans to land developments totalled €64 billion in 2008 across the mix of main retail banks. I am sure they did. That comprised 15% of their total funding. By the middle of last year, that figure had reduced to €2 billion or 1% of their total spending. How did that happen? It did not happen with support from our European Union friends. It happened with the blood, sweat and torture of ordinary families and business people who have been dragged before the courts without any support and evicted from their homes. We complained about Cromwell but what is happening here now is much worse. That is how it happened. It did not happen under serious management restructuring. The Government helped some people through the cutbacks but families are being terrorised. There is a lack of support for them in terms of free legal aid. If someone commits 102 criminal offences, he can get free legal aid on 102 occasions yet there is a woman in jail tonight because she will not purge her contempt. She has been evicted from her home and she cannot get free legal aid. There is something rotten in this sordid mess.
The terrorising of people is continuing. A very good personal friend of mine has been terrorised by AIB. He is a proud businessman from my area and he is very sick in hospital as we speak as a result of stress. Deputy John McGuinness is interceding with AIB to see if it can do something for him. The way the banks are treating people is disgusting. They will not engage with him and are treating him with contempt. Every time he tried to engage with AIB he spoke to a different manager, a duine eile, because they want to get these ready for vulture funds. The Government wants a vulture fund culture to nurture them. It will nurture them alright. There is a hosepipe ban in Dublin but if they needed watering to stimulate them, it would allow them to be watered instead of flushing them out of this country back to where they belong. They are nothing short of marauding terrorists and scumbags. They have no business in this country. They are here to make a quick buck. As the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated at one time, they pick the skeletal remains.
If the Government wants to get building going it should support the small builders. Equity of up to 35% was needed. If it is taken out of this fund, it will bring it down to 20%. It should be brought down to less than that for small builders, not for big developers. It should be for small schemes of five, six, ten or 20 units.
The Minister of State talked about fast-track planning. As I understand it, under fast-track planning the applications would go straight to An Bord Pleanála for big developments. That is not the way to go. Little acorns grow into big trees. We should have small developments in small villages in rural areas and allow the small builders to get going. They will work. They will employ people locally. They will buy the materials they require locally and, above all, they will pay all their creditors and give students a chance to work during the summer to earn their way through college, which will take pressure off their families.
There are too many regulations. We hear that big is wonderful. We do not want anything small. No messing with daoine beaga. That is where we must start. Tús maith, leath na hoibre. We will get going because they are ready and able, and they have the wherewithal. Many of them were beaten down because when the economic crash came, they were the only people who got nothing. Thankfully, most of the people working in a trade and PAYE workers got supports. The self-employed got nothing.
The Minister of State is failing to deal with the banks. He is talking about extra funding, some from our pillar banks and some borrowed from other funds. Our pillar banks are not functioning. They are not interested in Rebuilding Ireland. They are interested in getting their balance sheets down from 15% to 1%, and they have done that at enormous cost and trauma to families and individuals, who have been traumatised. I refer to the Minister of State's county also where I went to try to represent small farmers and business people. They are using a third force militia. We saw what happened in Balbriggan. Former British Army personnel arrived wearing balaclavas and knuckle dusters and beat the living daylights out of a family, and the gardaí stood and watched them do that. They parked their vehicles in Balbriggan Garda station. For what did the men of 1916 die? Where is our autonomy? These people are not wanted here. They are a third force. We have an excellent Garda Síochána and an excellent Army. We do not need a third force of these militia thugs. They wanted blood money and they charge an enormous amount.
I refer to the racket going on with the sheriffs and the county registrars, and the gravy train for barristers. It is disgusting and offensive to the Irish nation and our people, and the Minister of State's Government is presiding over that. It has been in power seven years and it will not change it. It now comes out with this Ponzi scheme and it knows the banks will not listen to anyone. They just want their pound of flesh and the pound behind that. If they go to the bone they will take the bone as well, like the many people who took their own lives because of the behaviour of the banks. Many families have been terrorised. I saw a picture on Facebook yesterday - I am sure everyone saw it - of a child sitting at the tombstone of his dad who had taken his own life because of pressure from the banks. Have we any moral compass? Do we not have any bit of decency left in us that we allow that to still go on seven years later? How can we talk about the economic boom, full employment and the great young country we have when we treat our citizens, our homeless and our children in that way? Where is the moral compass? It must be in the Minister of State's shoes. When he put them on it probably fell through them and down the drain because he does not have it.
I know of at least ten families who have the wherewithal to do this. They are farmers' sons and daughters who have jobs, a wife or husband or who are about to be married. They can get the loan from the bank and they have the site but they cannot get planning permission. Under the 2040 plan, building will be restricted to a certain number of houses in each county. The Government is saying that if they are not built in the towns, they cannot be built at all. That is nonsense. These people want to build. They will get the economy recovering in rural areas if they could do that because they would generate some growth, but the Government will not give them planning permission. They have to have a certain number of hectares now and be farming. It cannot be given to a nephew, a sister or some other relative. That is intruding on the freedom of our young people who are our future. We should be investing in them and supporting them. Students are being fleeced here in Dublin and in other cities when they look for college accommodation.
The Minister is talking about big developments. We should support the ordinary small business people who are the backbone of this country. I refer to small shopkeepers, small farmers and small self-employed people. They keep the economy going and always did, not the big schemes and all the figures the Minister of State quoted. It is also aspirational. There is not one concrete deadline to be met. I have no doubt that in a year or five years from now, if we are here, this will be seen as a failure because it is cloud cuckoo land. The Government believes it is wonderful and that it will raise all boats. It should start on the ground, deal with the simple issues and try to put the 4,500 vacant houses back into use. That would get activity going again. This is not rocket science. The houses are available, as are the services. The Minister of State should go back to basics and start where he should have started.
I thank the Acting Chairman.
I am not finished. Focal scoir, más é do thoil é.
The Deputy should conclude.
I will conclude. The Minister of State should go back to the basics and get away from the Ponzi schemes. The Government, and other parties, got in bed with the developers and look what happened. We should support the small builder and allow the people who want to build houses themselves in rural Ireland build them. We will see then where we go from here.
I think it was William Shakespeare who said that people usually are at their happiest when they have a home to call their own. Unfortunately, a generation of young people who had that aspiration may not have that opportunity.
The aspiration to own one's home or have a secure tenancy of a local authority house is part of our psyche and embedded in our genes by the history of our ancestors. I came into this House having heard all the manifestos and plans, of all parties and none, and the aspirations to solve this ongoing crisis. I despair at the lack of progress on the Government's promises and the disillusionment that exists among people that we are not capable of solving the problem. Despite whatever criticism the Minister of State wants to level at the Opposition, he should be under no illusion that while Fine Gael has been in government for more than eight years now decanting all the plans time out of number, it is failing to put a dent in the problem. Meanwhile, homelessness has reached unprecedented levels, rents are surging to historic heights and, despite what we want to believe, house building numbers are tens of thousands behind where they need to be. Coupled with that are the 120,000 people on social housing waiting lists.
I spent 25 years on Louth County Council before I was elected to this House. Although the housing assistance payment, HAP, has been very successful, those who are on HAP aspire to be in a local authority house or indeed to own their own home. I would have told people in the past that if they went on the housing list, they would be waiting eight or nine years, and that was the case. Now, the reality is that under Louth County Council they will be waiting 16 years if they go on a housing list tomorrow. We are pretending that we are getting the solution to the problem.
The objective of the State should be to control 30% of the residential market, providing both social and affordable housing. A way has to be found to achieve this in an off-balance sheet model. We cannot deliver that 30% within the restrictions of the fiscal space. The Government has to date depended on our approved housing bodies to deliver an off-balance sheet model. As we all know, before Christmas last year this model was ruled to be on-balance sheet. I cannot understand for the life of me how other countries in Europe are allowed to have off-balance sheet models while we are deemed to be on-balance sheet. We have to find the solution to achieving that 30%. We have hundreds upon hundreds of approved housing bodies. From memory, the top 120 of them are employing 6,500 people.
I am one of those who believe that the local authority should form some form of separate off-balance sheet unit. I argued for this when local authorities were in crisis. What is to stop a number of members of a local authority, through the housing section, from setting up their own unit to borrow off-balance sheet? Nothing was done about it. That is what is happening under the French model, where municipal bodies are capable of setting up a unit and borrowing off-balance sheet.
I have been meeting the credit unions since soon after I came into this House. Fianna Fáil met them as a party and I am sure other parties have done so. They have capacity to build 3,500 public housing units, yet we have done nothing about it. We have had a complete failure. As far back as 1991, I and a fellow councillor met the then Minister for local government and told him how to solve the vacant dwelling housing issue. He was a Minister of my own party and I have no difficulty in saying so. Anybody in a local authority who was looking at this could see it coming down the road. Anybody in the old health board regimes could see that there was an incapacity to continue making payments. At that time, from the health board, there were payments of millions upon millions of pounds in rent capacity.
Most of the schemes that have been announced have been failures. They have lauded the Rebuilding Ireland home loan in my own county as a great model but two out of every three people who apply for it are doing so under an illusion that they may get it. Out of every three people who apply, two are being refused. I could go on and on but I know we want to get the legislation through in respect of builders. I have no difficulty with the Bill. It is more important to deliver the houses in our constituencies and stop codding the people.
I ask the Minister of State to give a response to the core question here. If I am correct that we need 30% social and affordable housing, why are we being treated differently? I heard others asking whether we have the money or the capacity to get the money. Let us stop codding the people. If they are going to be 16 years on the housing waiting list, which is the case in Louth, then we should stop telling them we are going to solve the crisis if we are not going to. We should give the local authority back the power. I know there are many in my own party who do not believe it but we denuded them of staff and capacity. The key staff left during the boom. The Minister of State may blame whom he likes for that. We need that staff of 6,500 in the top 120 housing bodies to work in the local authorities, and if that is not possible because of the way we set them up, we need to align the key housing bodies to particular counties and have them deliver to, say, two counties in collaboration with the local authority.
I am opinionated on these matters as most of us are. We talked about new politics in this House. As far as I can see everybody has all the solutions - so have I, or I think I have - but we are not sharing them and are not prepared to work on them. If the ideas are out there, we need to start delivering on them regardless of what election is coming down the road. We need to work together and stop codding the people about their opportunities in respect of getting housing.
I served on the same council as Deputy Breathnach. Over the years that I was a member very fine people from both sides served on it. One of the people I would like to mention is the late Tom Bellew, who sat as a councillor and also sat in this House as a Fianna Fáil Deputy, I think he was on the Government benches at the time. He was quite a politician and he fought his corner well, sometimes in very difficult ways. One thing he did which I always admired him for was to put together a group of people who built their own homes in Dundalk. I remember going to meet him with some people from Drogheda. He met us on a Sunday afternoon because it was the only time that would suit everybody. It was a prime example of a community working together to build housing on local authority land and he was very much part and parcel of that. As Deputy Breathnach said, it is about working together. I agree with him on this issue. We need to work together a lot more in local government in the spirit of Tom Bellew and people like him I think the builder's name was Duffy. Someone can correct me if I am wrong. It worked very well.
Voluntary groups around the country get a builder to build homes at a fixed price. It is time to go back to that approach. We need more people to get involved in building their own homes. We had exemplars of this approach in the past and we have exemplars of it at the moment. I hear different organisations mentioned in this regard. We have enough public land to build in the region of 20,000 homes. Let us sort this out and advertise. Louth County Council, for example, should advertise for people to express an interest. It could offer to take, for example, 10 acres of land, design a house or house type for applicants, fix a price and help them with costs. Far more people would get involved if the local authorities showed the type of leadership they showed in the past.
A Fianna Fáil Government took a very active and progressive step in the past. When I was a councillor, Fianna Fáil ran the council for at least 20 years and Fine Gael did not get a shot at the chairmanship. At that time, the National Building Agency, NBA, did exactly what Deputy Breathnach spoke about, namely, provide services to county councils. Under the agency, many fine houses were built in Drogheda for the council, which decided where the houses would be built and put the land together. The NBA designed and managed the construction of the homes. It was a very effective agency. The advantage was that in smaller counties or local authority areas where councils did not have sufficient staff with the knowledge base and construction skills required, the National Building Agency provided this expertise. This approach worked well and was cost-effective and extremely well managed. We need to go back to that.
I welcome the legislation and the actions of the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government in providing funding for the housing we so badly need, whether public housing or housing provided through approved housing bodies.
Deputy Breathnach is wrong on one issue. I refer him to the housing list issued on Monday by Louth County Council. While someone living in the larger urban areas such as Drogheda or Dundalk will wait eight years, which is eight years too long, in other parts of the county like Cooley, people do not wait for longer than four years. In rural areas, because the housing list is more confined, there are fewer people looking for a smaller number of homes and they do not wait as long as people in urban areas wait.
Louth County Council is an exemplar in the context of dealing with empty homes, abandoned, derelict and boarded-up homes in Drogheda, Dundalk and other places in the county. The director of housing, Mr. Joe McGuinness, put his name on notices that appeared on at least 60 derelict homes in County Louth in the past year. He is using compulsory purchase powers to acquire these homes and place families in them. This approach has been extremely successful. The cost to the council, including legal costs and costs arising when somebody has ownership and can exercise legal rights, is less than €100,000 in each case. We could provide thousands of houses around this country if we bloody well wanted to. People have to do their job. If they are not doing their job, they should get out and councils are not doing their job in many parts of the country. In some cases, they are inefficient and do not want to know.
If one walks along any street of any town in Ireland, as I do regularly in my constituency, one can find empty homes and empty premises over shops. Large numbers of people lived over shops and properties 100 years ago. Town centres were teeming with people. The Government introduced an initiative to encourage developers to carry out an over-the-shop development. I understand it is restricted to fewer than nine units. The developer does not need planning permission but must ensure all units meet fire regulations because fire safety is obviously critical, particularly in older structures. This is not happening quickly enough. The Minister with responsibility for housing cannot and does not build houses but creates the appropriate conditions and provides finance and political direction. Councils must be more committed and driven and must be made to account publicly every quarter in respect of statistical changes and proactively using the law to ensure premises are occupied. This does not mean taking a negative approach. It means ringing shop owners to tell them their premises could be occupied at a certain cost. We need much more activity, energy and drive than I see in some places. County Louth has that drive, energy and commitment, as do the Minister and Government. We just need to do more.
I note Deputy Breathnach's comments on people who apply for loans. He said two out of three applicants are not approved for loans. While that may be the case, it is all the more reason for councils to get involved to see whether we can do better and to engage and support families and people in that position. The interest rates being offered on loans are relatively low, perhaps 2% or 2.25% over 20 or 25 years. It is a very good proposition but we need to do more to drive it. We must also consider the experience in other places. The empty homes strategy is working in County Louth. Those who are not aware of it should examine it.
Some excellent voluntary bodies and professionals have argued that council tenants should no longer be able to buy council houses. I reject that utterly. That a family could live in a house for 40 long years, rear and educate children and do what they can for them only to have a solicitor or big council man come along and tell them to bugger off and nobody else in the house will be able to live in it and it must go to somebody else is an appalling vista. I reject it utterly. It is wrong, unfair and anti-family. This is a right people have and it passes from generation to generation in my town. These are family homes for which families have paid over and over again and to which they are entitled.
I agree that rents must be seen to be fair and must be proportionate but in many cases the houses were built 20 or 30 years ago. The cost of these houses has been more than paid for. To say that a rent will be set based on the value of the house today as opposed to the day on which it was constructed is also wrong. We must show more respect for people in council houses and acknowledge the work many families do. The communities I know best are in local authority or public housing estates which people feel very privileged to live in and where they are happy in their homes. They look after these houses so well because they are their homes for which they have paid. I feel very strongly about that. I do not approve of this proposal from these wonderful bodies who do excellent work and I will not and cannot support it.
It is vital that we have this debate. The progress we are making in County Louth and east Meath is clear. I visited an estate about two years ago during the election when there were about 20 houses in it. When I visited it again this week more than 250 houses had been completed. A significant number of starts are being made.
There are very significant construction projects under way and they are working. It is wrong to say houses are not being built because they are. It is wrong to say progress is not being made because it very definitely is. It is wrong to say the funding has not been provided because it has been. It is wrong to say people cannot get loans because they can. It is wrong to say land is not available because it is. It is wrong to say no access is being provided by the Government to land that is landlocked because it is, and more than €200 million has been given to open up lands which would not otherwise be available.
While it is constituency business, where a town like Drogheda has been designated a regional growth centre, we need to look again at the infrastructure for the significant increase in jobs and housing that is on its way. We must plan for roads like the northern cross route, which is badly needed. I see Deputy Breathnach smiling at me. I want him to support it as well, by the way.
He might get some second preferences. We need to look at those issues. The 2040 national development plan means we are designating significant growth in areas of our cities and towns. The increase in population that is coming needs to be planned for and thought about now. We need to make sure any roadblocks that may be in the way are dealt with.
The progress that has been made is significant. What Deputy Breathnach says is true in that we all need to work together and accentuate and support the leadership roles. In other words, if there is leadership, as there is in County Louth, I believe we should take the people who are providing that leadership and make sure they are put in a position to demand a response and accountability from local authorities up and down the country. This would be extremely beneficial and useful, and it does actually work. However, we have to have the guts, the determination and the commitment to do it. If we have those things, it will happen. If we do not have them, we will continue to have boarded-up homes and abandoned properties which families should and could live in.
The biggest crime that has been committed against housing applicants in recent years has been committed by the local authorities themselves, in particular through the rejection by local authorities of the option presented to them of thousands of NAMA properties. They refused to take them. They refused to say, "Yes, we will take these homes and put local authority tenants into them". It is entirely unacceptable, although it is historical now because it has happened. Over 1,000 houses in Dublin could have local authority ownership or leasing, and could have local authority tenants in them, but this has been denied to those families. When we see all of the homelessness in Dublin, which is very significant and is an appalling vista for those families, a significant number of them could be in local authority homes today if local authorities had to accept them.
One of the main reasons they used to say "No" was that the social mix was wrong. In other words, they did not want council tenants living in certain estates. Whereas the mix was originally 10% and some councils went to 20%, they could have gone to 30%, 40% or even 50% if they had wanted to, and they did not. The point is that those houses the councils would not take up now contain HAP tenants who are paying a fortune to the private landlords who took over those homes. All of these people are waiting to go on the council list while they are living in houses which the council could have owned. That is entirely wrong.
I support the Minister in what he is doing. We need to be more radical and ruthless in terms of the lack of productivity from some local authorities. Ultimately, the people will judge us all on this. The judgment at the moment would be that while there is a lot done, as Fianna Fáil would say, there is a lot more that must be done. We must do it. I believe the Government is tackling this in the correct and appropriate way.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. As I have pointed out previously, there is a problem for builders. People have been giving out about them and they have a lot to answer for down through the years. At the end of the day, however, we need builders to build houses. There is also a problem with getting the money. As we know, investment companies are looking for up to 15% and a share of the profits, which is causing a major problem. The reality is that if builders do not have money, they are not able to build houses, whether we like it or not.
We need to make sure of one thing. The State needs to safeguard itself so it has a security cushion that protects it and ensures it does not put itself in a position that leaves the taxpayer exposed. While I hope that does not happen, if something went wrong, it would be like what happened before. We need to make sure we are covered.
While I am open to correction on this, I have heard that some €60 million will be put into this. I have looked at how this will fill the gap between the 20% or 30% equity in order to bring it up to the 50% that the banks will lend. The Government gives a figure of 6,000 houses. However, if €60 million relates to the 20% equity, and if an average house costs €300,000, which would not be overdoing it in Dublin although they would be built for less down the country, while my maths might be wrong, when we add the equity of 20% and the 50% more that would be borrowed, I can only see it working out at about 1,000 houses. As I said, I am open to correction on that but, going on the figures I have tallied, either the houses are very cheap or some figure is not right.
It is also important that the interest rate is low. Even for businesses, we have seen loans that were Government-backed but, to be honest, the rates were higher than bank rates. We have to make sure when delivering houses that we deliver them at a good price.
Another issue that will have to be addressed shortly is investment in sites in the larger cities. Investment funds come from pensioners in different countries who have made investments. Sooner or later, they will realise a good shot of their money is going to be lost because the price of the site is too high to build. This has nothing to do with Government and I am not blaming Government for it. There are investment crowds sitting on other people's money, thinking they are going to make a fortune out of the Irish people but, down the road, they might get a ferocious shock. I believe they would be as well to get the shock now and release the land, so people can get building on it, than they would be to get that shock in a year or two.
We have to take many different approaches. While we can have an agency like NAMA, I am a firm believer that money needs to be released so that, for example, institutes of technology and other colleges can build student accommodation.
That is an angle at which we could hit things fairly quickly. There is a great deal going on in respect of housing, including the issuing of policy documents and so on. One can give money to builders, but if we fail to cut out the paperwork, nothing will be done. If people have to go through an involved planning process, they will be held up. We need a system that gets shovels in the ground fairly quickly.
I cannot understand the following but perhaps the Minister of State will be able to enlighten me later. We have people designing houses in local authorities and the Department. They create separate designs for social housing in Galway, Donegal, Dublin and so on. I cannot for the life of me understand why we do not agree on a single design, whether it is a three or four-bedroom house, and go with those drawings in the different parts of the country. Instead, we are paying these people large sums of money to add in little frills and waste money. That is something that needs doing.
It is surprising to hear that there are people refusing to take houses worth €500,000. I have put down a question to the Department on that. It is alarming. It may not be many people, but it is surprising to hear nevertheless.
We can have the policies and we can fast-track the planning. Every bit of money helps. However, I read today that credit unions have €9 billion which is available to help, but no one seems to want it. A bit of interest on a euro at home is nearly better than giving the AIB extra money. The Government can, with the best will in the world, provide all of that and put the foundations in place as best it can, but, as Deputy Murphy said last week, it is like fighting a war and one has to hit it hard. One has to go hard at building houses because there is a major problem. We need delivery and more delivery from people who know how to deliver, not from those who are drawing up policy or engaged in planning. With the greatest of respect to them, they are marvellous at that. However, until one gets hammering on the ground, fast delivery and pressure on builders, we have a problem.
One can give builders money, but it should not be all sunshine for them. One has to ensure they deliver too. We have to introduce a system whereby we let them build a certain number of units before equity is released to let them move on again. I am fearful. I was talking to a certain company today. With the different things happening in construction and infrastructure, I am fearful of a labour deficit. We need to man up fairly quickly.
We need to let the credit unions facilitate more construction. While the State is getting money at less than 1% from the European Investment Bank, we would be as well to give that through money Irish people have invested here if it is signable for five, ten or 15 years, whatever the agreement would be. Unless we hit this fast, the problem will be here again. I do not blame the Minister because no one will solve it overnight. However, we hear figure after figure. Someone will say the figures are not correct and someone else will come back with other figures. At the end of the day, it is about supply and demand, as with anything. If one does not have enough of something, it is expensive and if one has plenty of it, the price is kept down.
I heard an interesting debate on the radio as I came in yesterday. It was about landlords. Many people like to kick them and perhaps many of them deserve it. However, a lot of them are moving out of the system, and rightly so. While I am the first to say tenants need protection, I heard of an incident where a person was not paying rent and managed to wrangle a full year in the accommodation. There was no protection there. Let it be clear that I am fully in favour of ensuring that anyone renting has proper protections, but if a cowboy does not want to pay his rent, that must be looked at too. We have to ensure the scales are balanced.
There is, rightly, a serious focus on places where there are housing shortages, but there seems to be no thinking about whether we could create a commuter belt outside Dublin with good public transport links. Perhaps houses could be built in the Minister of State's constituency in Meath or in Kildare with a transport infrastructure to allow that. As infrastructure improves, travel times get shorter. Unless we focus on balanced regional development, we will be in trouble. Dublin is like a magnet. While that is positive in some ways, it is a torment to people who are trying to travel here for work or find a place to live and bring up a family. It is tough going. What one pays in rent here a month, one might not even get in wages in another part of the country. What people have to pay is ferocious and I sympathise with them because of it.
When money is being provided by the Government, there should be a buy-in from builders on social housing. We must also think of the young nurses, gardaí and others who are starting off in life and who, to be brutally honest, cannot afford a house in most of our cities. They can hardly afford the rent. If the State has land, it should set aside a certain percentage for those workers who are necessary in any society. We have to look after them above all. This is the generation coming up and it is sad to see that some of them cannot afford homes. If one speaks to young gardaí or nurses, one knows they have damn all left after paying rent. It is tough going.
Perhaps the Minister of State will discuss later whether we are leaving ourselves open to losses in the Bill. I am not saying we should screw people or cripple them. However, we are paying money out here.
While there will be certain stringent conditions, we must ensure there is some security in case it all goes belly up so that the taxpayer will not be left footing the Bill. Many, who never went near housing and who never were involved in some of the madness that went on, are still paying the bill. It has probably stopped many people's progression. Thankfully, people are starting to recover.
We also need to put in a strategy. While it was good to hear Deputies Breathnach and O'Dowd speaking about vacant houses in their areas that the local authorities seem to be renovating rapidly, there are many areas where I do not know what is going on but on which we do not seem to be moving. This is what I would have always argued for down through the years - one should reward the person who produces the goods and not tolerate those who do not. There are many such places around the country. I have seen it myself. I have seen houses that have been 12 or 14 years sitting there that one might tell someone about and they might not even be on a register. That is damnable. Local authorities should have all their property recorded. That needs looking into. While the Government is trying to improve matters, responsibility has to start being sought from some. Either one is fit to deliver or one is not. We need a body that will be ruthless at delivering houses. That is my honest opinion. It is like what we used to say one time when we were at pipelines, that whatever comes in the way, one must drive on and keep going.
Is the Deputy looking for a job?
Until we decide to have the attitude that we will get them built and that the reams of paperwork will start being taken out of the way, and where we will build them that we have the land ready, and that there will be no law agents making millions of euro out of sending lettereens over and back stating this and that is wrong, and then someone else in the local authority sending it to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and it going round and round in a circle, we will never build houses. One can have the money and one can have the site, but one will not succeed if one does not have a bit of cohesion and drive to it. Homes are not that hard to build, if one goes at it.
I would be interested to know what the Department look at. I have looked at a new sort of house. It is like a Lego set that one can put together. One puts the concrete into the middle of the set, but it is insulated on both sides. It is used in some countries, and it is quick. The Minister of State, Deputy English, or I would peg the Lego together in a day or two. I ask that the Department look at systems that may beat the shortage of labour, to be honest about it, that will be highly insulated and that would be a quick solution. Perhaps it needs more research but, in America, it is big. In certain countries, it is getting bigger and bigger. It simplifies the construction to a large degree. It is worth looking at. One puts in the reinforcing bar, rebar, up the middle of it and pours it. It is, basically, like pouring a mass-concrete wall in the middle, and one has the insulation on each side. We need to look at perfecting roofs also.
We are back to the issue that if the Department has a guy in Galway drawing one plan and a guy in Dublin drawing another, and someone in Cork drawing another, if one can set out 100 houses or 500 houses and say it is that by that by that, these are the size of the rooms, this is the front that is on it, this is the specification and these are the windows and price it, one will build them for a reasonable cost because everyone will know where they are going and one will not pay some to diddle their fingers wondering what fancy bit of design to put in the front, such as a bit of stone. One should have a certain set design to get it going.
I would be the first to say it is easy for me or anybody to talk about it. I come from a construction background. It is solvable but it will not be solved overnight by the flick of a light switch. Every bit of money that is put towards housing is a help but we must ensure we include provisions that will make the body safe for investment but also simplify the process to drive it on.
I acknowledge the proposals here today.
We have been waiting a long time for this. These proposals should have been in place even before the fall of the previous Government. The Minister of State, Deputy English, acknowledged the impending shortage of houses in this country.
In reading the opening speech of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, seeking access to funding has been a big problem for good builders in the past number of years and I welcome the Bill in progressing the construction of development and the provision of housing.
As I said, the process has been slow but, hopefully, we can move matters forward. On the number of houses delivered, as indicated by the CSO, 15,000 units were delivered in 2017. The number was so low because there was no money available for those who were building.
This year, of course, it has been acknowledged that maybe there are two types of developments out there. Perhaps there are builders still carrying land from the period when the price of land was significant. The second category of builders are those who came in now and are able to build. It is important that every builder is able to progress and build houses.
It has to be acknowledged that the availability of appropriate development finance for commercially viable residential properties has been identified as a key contributory factor in the ongoing shortfall in original supply. The Minister stated that the introduction of the HBFI will provide a crucial boost to the availability of this important source of finance but the Government must acknowledge that it has been slow in bringing this forward. I keep reiterating that. I am here just over two years and there was a housing crisis before that. The Government will say that it administered the economic downturn and had to take measures to safeguard the whole financial structure in the country. At the same time, we allowed a housing crisis to develop under our noses.
The cost of borrowing for builders is still too high. This Bill has to be welcomed. The number of active lenders in the State has substantially reduced. Some have left the State, at the same time, because of reckless lending. Mr. David Drumm admitted that the bank of which he was chief executive created the reckless lending in the country and things needed to be corrected, but there was a big drive in that period for more money to be made available to developers.
I welcome that the Government is taking action to be more approachable in making money available. At the end of this, we welcome that finance is being made available and we would ask that the Government get it in place as soon as possible. We have the homeless crisis. We have people looking for housing. At the same time, the costs of development have gone up, outside of the issue of the land, in the past ten years. The Government introduced additional measures, such as heat conservation, that now need to be put in place and which add significant cost to the construction of a dwelling.
I welcome the Bill. I hope that we can progress it but, as my party spokesman, Deputy Michael McGrath, has said, we need to move quicker.
I did not get a chance to listen to all of the speeches but I will go back over them. Some of the speeches are linked to housing as well as finance. We have to recognise that the Bill is a combination of measures to address housing difficulty and to help those involved in construction, especially small-scale builders who are getting back into business and having difficulty accessing finance.
The Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, introduced the Bill on Second Stage. I will address some of the issues raised about housing but before I do, I will address the confusion surrounding the figure of €750 million equating to 6,000 houses. It is not intended that Home Building Finance Ireland will fully fund a house. It will contribute towards the cost of building a house because most builders will use some equity and will not rely entirely on borrowings. It will also allow for a combination of borrowings, not just borrowings from the fund. I hope that clarifies the matter because some Deputies may be slightly confused in that regard. HBFI is designed to fund different types, scales and prices of houses. It is an activation measure.
HBFI is one measure of many. In all of the debates on housing, most Deputies have understood that the problem will not be solved by one action. We all know there is no silver bullet. Every intervention we can make has an impact and that is what we are trying to do. Certain builders in certain sectors cannot get access to money at the right price. This means it is not viable for them to build as building a house would be too costly. We are trying to address that through this activation measure. It will not create costs for taxpayers because the money will be recouped at a market rate. It is a worthwhile exercise.
Naturally, we would have liked to implement the measure one week after it was announced in last year's budget. However, it was flagged at the time of the budget that it could be May of 2018 before it was implemented. I am conscious it is now July. It took longer than any of us had hoped but the measure is coming through the Houses and I hope it will be up and running in the months ahead. This fund will be another tool in the box to help people who want to build houses in all parts of the country.
As I stated, I did not hear all of the contributions but I will respond to some of those made while I was here. Deputy Fitzmaurice raised a couple of issues that are worth considering. As always, they were common-sense issues. Over the past two years, we have been trying to change processes, remove red tape, make it easier to build houses and change the system of delivering houses. The Rebuilding Ireland action plan is not only about building enough housing and homes. It is about re-establishing a sustainable housing and construction sector and setting out our plans for how much public, private and affordable housing we want to be built every year. We want to encourage people to invest in this area for the years ahead, to make it worthwhile for people to reassemble their construction teams and businesses and to encourage grandparents, parents and their children to acquire skills at all levels of education to enable them to work in construction. I mean all levels of education because in this country we often turn our backs on further education and training. Construction has much to offer, yet it is not often encouraged by grandparents and parents. Having sustainable construction rather than construction that gets out of hand encourages the belief that it is a safe sector to return to and in which to develop their skills, companies or business. Governments will come and go, but we are trying to plan for building a certain amount of housing every year for the next ten, 15 and 20 years and to keep output at a certain level.
While we are doing that, we should add a significant amount of social housing to our stock every year. The volume of social housing is low in this country compared with the rest of Europe. I will not go into the history of the issue but it is a fact. The commitment has been made and every party in this House agrees that, at a minimum, we need 10,000 new social houses per annum. That is the target we are trying to reach. In Rebuilding Ireland, we are committed to building 12,000 houses a year from 2021 onwards. When I speak on this issue, I emphasise that most Deputies of all parties support building at least 10,000 social housing units per annum. Even if Governments change, people now get that we are committed as a country to replenishing our social housing stock and keeping it at a certain level. At the same time, housing construction should reach between 28,000 and 30,000 houses per annum for the next 15 or 20 years because that is where we need to be to accommodate an increase of 600,000 in the population over the next 20 years. This also gives people confidence that it is safe to go into the construction sector.
There is still considerable capacity in the construction sector, which accounts for only 9% of gross domestic product, GDP. We would like that figure to increase to 13% or 14% but we do not want to return to a figure of 25% or more. That was not sustainable and we all knew it.
Deputy O'Keeffe made a point about the banks and he blamed Anglo Irish Bank. I will be honest in saying I believe the banks were not discouraged from engaging in certain lending practices and that was part of the problem. They were allowed to lend money recklessly to developers and people who wanted to buy a home. People were allowed to borrow four or five times their income, which did not help them. I know that Ministers were warned this practice would cause a problem but the deaf ear was turned and it was allowed to continue.
While we have difficulties with housing and people accessing the finance they need to buy their dream home, there is some control on the amounts people can borrow. That will help people in the future. They might not like it today but they will thank us in the future for not leaving them exposed because they were able to borrow to buy a house at too high a price. While these measures were introduced by the Central Bank, which is independent of the Government, policies are set by this House and we all buy into the approach taken on this issue. That was not the case in the past when banks were allowed to go wild. I do not only blame the banks because they were allowed to act as they did by the system, despite warnings. That left us in a position we do not want to be in again.
Deputy Fitzmaurice referred to different forms of housing. We want to fund different types of housing and construction, be it off-site in factories, modular homes or on-site with traditional build or the insulated concrete form, ICF, which was a project to which Deputy Fitzmaurice referred. It is a Lego-type house that is built with insulation and filled up with concrete. I built my house that way and it is quite common in Ireland. It is not just an American dream and can be done here quickly. What we are trying to do is give people access to money to fund different types and methods of construction, some of which are rapid and some of which are not.
Most of the delays, however, are not in the construction end. They are in getting onto the site, having the land or field developed, putting in infrastructure and getting through the planning process. I am often told that back in the 1930s and 1950s we built thousands of houses. While that is correct, there was no planning and procurement and very little effort to gain community involvement or acceptance. I am not even sure if Part 8 developments were allowed so it was much easier to build then. I am not saying it was right or wrong but the system gives everyone a say, which means it can be slow to navigate. We are trying to find quicker ways to navigate it to be able to produce houses.
This requires bringing people along on the journey and gaining acceptance of social housing, Traveller-specific housing, affordable housing and the need for integration. Not everyone wants that but it is the right thing to do and that is a journey we must travel. We are slow to do this in some cases. Some councils are slow to adapt to this need while others are quicker and are leading the way. From my point of view, the system has changed enough to show that there should be no more excuses. The money, the land and all the different tools are available to develop sites quickly. Local authorities have set their targets and plans and have been given funding. Confidence and people are back in the system and there is no reason we cannot now deliver the houses we need apace.
Housing is beginning to be built. I wish I could click my fingers and houses would be ready today but I cannot do that. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, which is independent of the Government, confirms that we are beginning to make progress. Up to 20,000 houses are in development. We know from the commencement notices in the past 12 months alone that more than 18,500 units have started. We know, independent of the Government, from the CSO figures, that an additional 15,000 new houses were built last year. In addition, more than 1,000 houses were finished in ghost estates that commenced years ago. They are also new houses. While they were not fully new starts, they are new houses in the system. There were also 2,600 more houses which were houses that were not in use for the past couple of years, they did not have an ESB connection and they are now back in the system. Some 18,000 houses are in play today that were not there last year. That is progress. I wish it was a lot more but we are moving in the right direction. This year, we should see move than 20,000 houses added into the system and next year I expect that we will be back at 24,000 or 25,000 houses.
We want to go beyond that again but we are making steady progress and by addressing housing supply and bringing houses into the system, we are helping to solve the housing shortage that affects people at different levels. It affects those who are renting and paying high rents, those who are waiting for social housing and in a crowded house at home and those in emergency accommodation, whether a hotel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a family hub where they do not want to be and most want to leave as quickly as they can. The supply of housing will help us to deal with all of that but in the meantime, while we are catching up with supply and intervening in many different areas through planning changes, financial changes and funding infrastructure, we have to provide better services for those who are homeless. That is what we are trying to do by spending taxpayers' money of nearly €120 million this year to provide these services and give homeless people access to some form of accommodation. It is not perfect and it is not the ideal place to be. It should only be temporary but we should make that journey a little bit easier than what it would have been a couple of years ago. That is where we are trying to focus funding. This money is part of the supply end. It is an activation measure, which will not fix the issue of housing for everybody. It is another tool in the box and if we keep implementing these measures and delivering more changes, it will help.
I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions and the support that has been offered to this important Bill. It is clear that we all share the important aim of increasing the supply of housing in the State. The availability of appropriate development finance for commercially viable residential purposes has been regularly identified as a key contributing factor for the ongoing shortfall in residential supply. It is not the only factor but it is an issue that is causing difficulty for many and we have to try to address it.
The establishment of HBFI will help remedy the shortfall by providing a much needed boost to the supply of funding for residential development around Ireland for those who need it and cannot get it and for those who make a good business case that they can manage and use it and get good value. HBFI's allocation of €750 million in funding will have the capacity to fund more than 6,000 homes in the coming years. It is not to fully fund those homes but to be part of their funding and to make them happen. It is estimated that this delivery could reduce the annual shortfall by about 10% over a three-year period. This would be a significant contribution but it would not make the HBFI a dominant player in the funding for residential development market as it would leave room for banks and other finance providers to increase their contribution to funding much needed residential development in the coming years.
A question was raised about credit unions making their money available. They do not have €9 billion available for housing. They have €9 billion in savings that they want to invest in different areas but not all in housing. They would like to invest €1 billion, maybe more, in housing. Like everybody else they will not put all their eggs in one basket. We should not keep on saying €9 billion. They have access to a lot of money. I have engaged with them. The system was changed to allow for that investment. We are trying to partner them up with approved housing bodies and others to make it happen and to get the interest they need on that money to make it worth their while and get it into housing. We do want their money. It is taking longer than I thought it would to get them onto that pitch but we have made a little progress since February and March. I hope we will see more projects that the credit unions are involved in. That will bring more competition and put more pressure on the banks and everybody else to play their part.
HBFI represents a unique opportunity for the State to leverage its existing resources to address one of the country's most pressing issues. Through NAMA the State has amassed considerable expertise in financing residential developments that have already delivered more than 7,200 new residential units. It is incumbent on the Government to make the best use of this available expertise in order to make a welcome and valuable intervention in the residential housing market. This is especially pertinent as NAMA approaches its planned dissolution in 2020 and the State is at risk of losing the valuable expertise it now possesses in this area. HBFI will be established as an independent company pursuant to the Companies Act with the Minister for Finance as the sole shareholder. This model has been successfully used by the Government in the past in establishing the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI. As such HBFI will operate as an ordinary market operator and seek a commercial market equivalent return on its lending. This approach will not only protect taxpayers by ensuring that it is reimbursed for the risk it takes in funding development projects but it is also necessary in order to ensure that HBFI complies with EU state rules. I have heard some people say it is a bad use of taxpayers' money, that it will cost us money that we could spend elsewhere. It will not cost us money because it is cost neutral. We get a return on our money and it will cover its costs as well. It is to give access to money to people who cannot get it through the normal channels that would have been available in the past.
While some Deputies might call on this new agency to provide cheap or subsidised financing for developers, engaging in such discount lending would seriously jeopardise the effectiveness of HBFI's intervention in the market and would give rise to state aid issues. That would not be the best use of taxpayers' money. Our job is to activate and to help but taxpayers' money can be spent elsewhere. This is to cover its costs, to help but not to utilise taxpayers' money. We are trying to make it happen as best we can. Acting as a market operator will allow the HBFI to comply with these rules and focus its efforts on areas of the market that are not currently well serviced.
It is expected that this strategy will result in HBFI providing much needed funding to enable viable residential projects to get up and running in the areas that are not targeted by the main banks or alternative lenders in the market. While HBFI will be open to all applicants who meet its lending criteria it is envisaged that they will be small and medium-sized developers outside the major urban areas who will be the primary beneficiaries of this initiative. It is open to them all but the ones who have access to finance already will continue through their usual channels and those who see this as their best option will come forward and draw down the money.
The envisaged 20% equity requirement for access to HBFI lending is a significantly more manageable threshold for social developers to reach than the much higher equity requirements currently sought by the mainstream banks. A further unique feature of HBFI will be that it will provide funding to relatively small projects of ten units or more. HBFI will also seek to provide a transparent and standardised product which will allow these developers to engage easily with the agency and outreach programmes that are planned for later in the year to assist the application process. These features will enable the financing of some smaller developers which are struggling to access funding in the market, thereby supporting small business and facilitating the return to the market of some operators who have not had the opportunity to take advantage of the improving economic landscape in Ireland.
If we are to increase the scale of housing in all counties, in areas where it is needed, we will have to attract those operators back in, those who have the skills, who might be reluctant to step back into a market that burned them before. If we work carefully with them using proper business plans and building plans they can successfully come back into business here, make a decent return on their money and their time. It is not a question of creaming the profits. It is to deliver quality product.
Reference was made to the different types and quality of houses we build nowadays. A house built under today's regulations and with the certification process that is in place should not and would not compare to a house we built ten, 15 or 20 years ago. It is probably worth the extra cost because it is a totally different product, much cheaper to run, more efficient and environmentally friendly. Deputy O'Keeffe must recognise that too. That does involve additional cost at the start but there is a good reason for that. I have also heard people quoting figures for certification and the regulation amassing unnecessary red tape and costs. That is not the case. It is not necessary to spend between €20,000 and €30,000 just for the certification process. It is the extra work on the quality of the house that is costing the money not the necessary paper for the certification. People should analyse that if they have any doubts about it. I have met the companies in that business and it can be done quite affordably. I would disagree with anybody who thinks they are better off not having a certified house. It is worth the money to make sure a house is built properly and to a high standard. I have seen too many houses, and we have had debates about houses, of poor quality. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government did some good work on that too. It is important that we get quality houses, as affordable as we can make them but we do need quality.
A suggestion was made about having one design for social housing to be rolled out around the country. I can recognise the benefits of that from the points of view of cost and efficiency but it would not be right to have the one design or shape because we might want something different in Louth, Wicklow or Meath. We might argue over certain things but I think we all agree we might want different types of houses in different parts of the country. There is no reason, however, that we cannot have a similar type of specification for certain types of house and make it a bit easier to get a price and value. We are trying to do that and to standardise the process in the system. We are focussing now on how to move the house more quickly through all the processes in our Department and the local authorities.
Some Deputies raised the issue of affordability and there have been suggestions that the HBFI's intervention should be limited to schemes that produce low-cost housing only. Compliance with state aid rules requires that the HBFI fund projects as any other market operator would. While the agency will fund projects that deliver affordable or low-cost housing it cannot be selective about how it might achieve that. The banks, however, are controlling the amount they lend. People are restricted. They cannot go mad. They can generally only afford a house of a certain price. The builders we want to fund through this scheme will be delivering prices that the market can afford. They have to prove their business case, that they can sell the house. If houses are too costly they will not sell because there is a limit to what people can borrow based on what they earn. We are trying to develop products that will suit that market too.
In order to ensure state aid compliance HBFI will not be directly involved in development. Its role will be solely as a commercial lender and therefore it will not have any role in designing the housing mix contained in the schemes it funds. It will judge their viability but it will not design them. HBFI will provide lending on commercial market equivalent terms and conditions and its approach will be akin to that of any bank or private investor providing this form of funding. As a result HBFI will not have targets for social or affordable housing but will make a significant contribution to supporting the delivery of additional supply of all types of residential housing in the coming years. Its focus will be on supply. Our job is to dictate on affordable levels, social housing and the mix. We are trying to convince all involved in housing, certainly from the local authority point of view, to focus on getting a supply of housing, then we can measure the number that should be affordable, social and private. We have to get the houses up and running.
When we have a conversation around our State land bank, we should think about the supply of houses and work out site by site what is needed when it comes to the mix of social versus affordable versus private housing.
It is also worth highlighting that any residential development that the HBFI will finance will be subject to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. As such, it is expected that a minimum of 10% of anticipated output of this investment by the HBFI will become available for social housing through the statutory mechanism. That 10% is a minimum. We see many sites coming through now which are going above that. The owners of these sites and the people who want to build on them are looking for them to be de-risked and are happy to have the State take more than the 10% minimum, and we are happy to engage in that. We have asked the local authorities to engage on those sites also. Apart from using our own private landbank, we will engage with people who genuinely want to contribute housing to our system at good value and a good price. There will be engagement regarding the percentage, it is not set in stone but is a minimum of 10%. We will encourage many of those sites to deliver much more than that.
It is important also to remember that the Government's primary response to current issues in the housing market is contained in Rebuilding Ireland. It is our five-year action plan for housing. We are in year two of it. It has made many important interventions. It has changed the system when it comes to delivery. Many more houses are coming on stream, although not as much as I or any of us would like to enable us to address the emergency nature of the housing issue. Last year, an additional 7,000 social houses came into the system. They were not all brand new or directly built by the local authorities but they are available to house families and were not in the system a year ago. This year we will see close to 8,000 new additional social houses coming into the system. They were not in the system last year and are now available to provide homes for people who badly need them. On top of that, we have another 17,000 or 18,000 solutions through current housing measures such as the housing assistance payment scheme and rent assistance. They are important interventions also but I recognise they are not permanent social housing stock. We are getting to the stage where we will be delivering 10,000 social houses every year before we come to the end of period covered by Rebuilding Ireland and we will be delivering 12,000 social housing a year after that period.
Home Building Finance Ireland is only one part of the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. Through that action plan, a suite of measures has been implemented to facilitate increased residential construction activity and to ensure the sector's capacity to produce more affordable homes. These measures include the introduction of fast-track planning reforms and more flexible planning guidelines, a €200 million capital investment and enabling infrastructure to open up housing lands, as well as the progression of large-scale mixed tenure housing projects for social, affordable, private housing and publicly owned lands. I would like to see progress on those sites move even quicker. We saw some progress yesterday in O'Devaney Gardens where the Minister turned the sod to start that project. We need those sites to deliver houses even quicker. Part of my job with the housing delivery unit in our Department, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is to drive that activity and instil some pace and urgency in it. I recognise the support we have received from many of the political parties in this House and at council level in that drive.
It has taken us two years to get to this stage and we now need to crack on and build on what we have done during the past two years. People often say the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is not delivering and ask where the proof of its delivery is. We are in year two of that action plan. I remember the same question was asked in year two of the Action Plan for Jobs. People told me it was not delivering and asked where the jobs were. That question was not being asked in years three, four and five of that action plan because people could see that jobs had been delivered. Sometimes it takes a few years to change the system, to put in the foundations and build the houses. We cannot click our fingers and suddenly a house will appear. The site must be serviced, the infrastructure must be delivered and the house must be built. That is now happening. People can see that 20,000 houses are being built around the country. People will be living in them at the end of this year and into next year. Those houses were not in the system last year.
Deputy O'Dowd was right in saying it is not true to say that nothing is happening and no houses are being built. They are being built and people can see them. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, which we all trust and refer to every day of the week, is confirming they are being built. I hope people will move on from that argument. We can argue that there is not enough of them but that is a different story.
We are not saying there are not thousands of people living in emergency accommodation who should not be there. It is not a proper place to be living. There are nearly 4,000 children living in emergency accommodation. Nobody wants that or will be satisfied until that is brought to an end and we ensure all those people are accommodated in homes. We will continue to deal with that. We will work through the system using a combination of new social houses and rented houses. We have to rely on the private sector for a period until we build up our own supply and with all our efforts we will be able to do with that also. That involves changing and reviewing certain practices. There is something wrong if we have people living in emergency accommodation who refuse housing assistance payment housing and who would rather live in a hotel than in a house. That might mean that we need to reconsider that policy but it does not mean that the housing assistance payment scheme is wrong because 37,000 people are living in HAP tenancies and the majority of them are quite happy. Some have had a bad experience but a perception has developed about HAP housing, which is causing probably hundreds of families to refuse a HAP house. We need to work on that policy intervention and build trust in the scheme. There is no place better than a house for a family to be living. If it is one's permanent home that is great, but if it cannot be one's permanent home, a rented house in the short term is much better than living in emergency accommodation. That is not an appropriate place in which to be living with a family. We are working with that system. As I said initially, while we are waiting to get somebody a permanent house, we will try to make their journey a little bit better in the meantime, be they in temporary accommodation or emergency accommodation.
The HBFI is another tool in the box and will help to deliver houses. It is not a magic wand or a silver bullet. There are many silver bullets and we need them all. Thankfully, supply and the trends are beginning to go in the right direction. We need to build on that and, hopefully, we will not have the housing crisis the housing authorities have to deal with today in the years ahead. We do not want people to be paying too much for a house or for rent or living in emergency accommodation. Nobody wants that.