That Dáil Éireann:
— shelter is a fundamental human right, as recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in Ireland everyone has a right to decent, affordable housing;
— it is the duty of the Government and the State, as well as of everyone in society, to ensure that every person can have their right to shelter fulfilled, through the provision of quality affordable housing; and
— in the context of Ireland’s obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all housing should be designed or retrofitted to minimise emissions, and in so doing, reduce and eliminate energy poverty;
— the cost of renting and home purchase has soared in recent years, especially in the major urban areas, far in excess of the average household incomes, which clearly shows that the current situation is unsustainable and that housing is no longer affordable for many workers;
— more than 10,000 persons are currently homeless, tens of thousands of people have experienced homelessness in recent years, and every year more people are becoming homeless than are leaving homelessness; and
— around 75,000 households (4.4 per cent) are unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm, and around 138,000 (8.1 per cent) go without heating at some point during the year;
— for over 10,000 people to be homeless is a national scandal and proves Government policy on housing to have failed utterly;
— Ireland’s market-dependent approach to housing provision has failed and a fundamentally new approach is required;
— in some European countries, especially in cities such as Vienna, a much larger proportion of the population rents their homes from public authorities;
— in some European countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, housing co-operatives provide a much larger proportion of the housing stock, which is more affordable;
— in other jurisdictions, standards of insulation are much higher than in Ireland, whereas in Ireland nearly half (49 per cent) of all dwellings with an energy rating, are rated D1 or worse;
— the Government has the means to invest at least €16 billion for State-led development of social housing and affordable public housing without increasing taxes;
— the State can build well-insulated, good quality homes for less than €200,000 per unit on publicly-owned land; and
— State-led action to provide social housing and affordable housing would reduce house prices overall, making it easier for young families to afford home ownership, if they wish, while also providing them with a secure alternative; and
calls on the Government to:
— create an Irish housing development bank, by merging parts of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) with the Housing Agency, Housing Finance Agency and the Land Development Agency, to act as a State-owned commercial housing developer with a remit to produce social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land;
— allocate €5 billion from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to the Irish housing development bank;
— allocate annual payments of €500 million to the Irish housing development bank rather than to the so-called ‘rainy day fund’;
— establish a State-led public housing fund in the Central Bank of Ireland, to allow credit unions to invest some or all of their approximately €14 billion in savings, so that this money can be used by the Irish housing development bank to develop social housing and affordable public housing;
— create through these means a fund of no less than €16 billion which can be invested to develop at least 80,000 units of social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land over the next five years;
— keep the same or greater amount of land for residential housing in public ownership;
— establish a retrofitting scheme, to ensure that all local authority housing is brought up to a high-energy rating in terms of good insulation and energy efficiency;
— raise the requirement to sell housing units at cost to the local authority under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, and allow local authorities to choose which units to purchase at cost;
— create housing executives within a number of local authorities, to operate as shared services across all of the State and to restore the necessary competencies for housing management, maintenance and development at local government level;
— strengthen the protection of tenants in the private rented sector, especially those at risk of homelessness, while supporting landlords with only one or two properties to comply with the law;
— provide a strong legal basis for long-term leasing of private residential property, with safeguards for older people and people affected by illness or disability; and
— support home ownership by supporting the development of housing co-operatives and by regulating institutional buy-to-let investors to ensure they have no unfair advantage over households seeking to purchase housing.
This comprehensive motion, which I have moved on behalf of the Labour Party, sets out the actions that need to be taken to address the most pressing issue for thousands of men, women and children in our country. Homelessness and the housing shortage can be fixed. We are constantly told that the answer is supply and that is true. It is not true, however, that we must wait for the market to provide that supply. This is where we fundamentally differ from Fine Gael. We believe that the State should lead the provision of homes and that publicly owned land and available public resources should be used to deliver enough social and affordable homes for the needs of our population.
I thank the parties and groupings who have taken the time to table amendments. I think there are currently four amendments. That is an indication of the fact that we have had many debates on housing. We need to ensure that we deal with this issue appropriately and quickly. We propose to use €16 billion over five years, with the sources of that money fully identified. Most of it is from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. We would build 80,000 homes for people on local authority waiting lists and for the many hardworking individuals and families who cannot afford market prices and who cannot afford their rent. More and more of those families are stuck in privately rented accommodation without adequate protection from rent hikes or from notice of termination of their tenancy. These people are most at risk of becoming homeless. We have published a number of proposals already and tabled a number of amendments to the Minister's Bill that will go before the committee tomorrow, as have other Members of this House. There is a series of proposals and I suggest that they are much more far-reaching than the Minister's plans. They contain the kind of protection that is needed in this time of crisis. While this building programme that we propose is under way, we need to protect people who are renting in the private sector and are increasingly unable to afford the rents. Yesterday, my party leader raised the issue of rent pressure zones.
I will not go into it now due to shortage of time. If the 4% cap was appropriate at one stage, it would seem now that it is contributing to increases in rent and we would argue that there should be the same system throughout the country so that there are not areas just outside rent pressure zones and so that the increases are linked more to the cost of living than to a limit of 4%, which is higher than the increases in wages.
Before I outline the details proposed in the motion I want to challenge the Minister's reported view that I was irresponsible for aiming to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. That proposal followed an 85-page report furnished to me by the homeless oversight group which I had established to address the plight of the estimated 2,665 people who were considered to be homeless in Ireland in spring 2014, of whom 2,478 were identified as being homeless for six months or more, which is the definition of long-term homelessness that we were using. The Dublin rough sleeper count at that time was 127 and a further 46 rough sleepers were counted in other parts of the country. That was the scale of the problem then. The report contained a specific plan with 80 actions to achieve the goal set. Now, three years after the Rebuilding Ireland plan of the current Government, more than 10,000 people are homeless including 3,784 children. We were talking about a much smaller number and we specifically identified actions to be taken in respect of those individuals at that time. A responsible Government, with an economy that has recovered from a deep recession, would question why its own plan has delivered such a fate for so many people, almost three years on from the announcement of the Rebuilding Ireland programme. It is not working.
I want to turn to the proposals we are making because we want to focus on what can and should be done; I will also respond to some of the amendments that have been proposed. The context in which we set the motion is the right to decent affordable housing as recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We also support a constitutional right to a home, which has been debated here previously. It is also informed by our obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the need to eliminate energy poverty. In that regard, Government targets on retrofitting, referred to in the Government amendment, need to be increased to take account of the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, which was published recently. The Labour Party would argue for higher targets and affordability measures and my colleague, Deputy Sherlock, argued for those in the committee.
At this stage I wish to explain that due to a family bereavement, Deputy Sherlock is not able to be here. He would have contributed to the debate. My party leader, Deputy Howlin, is meeting leaders of the Party of European Socialists Group today in Brussels and Deputy Kelly is at the Council of Europe meeting. That is why three of our members are not present for this debate.
The specific target for building social and affordable homes in our motion and our policy document, Affordable Housing for All, is 80,000 units over five years costing €16 billion, with the sources of that money identified. To achieve that, we propose the creation of a housing development bank that would incorporate the expertise and resources of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, the Housing Agency and the Housing Finance Agency and would also incorporate the Land Development Agency, which the Government has set up. The combined remit of those bodies would be to act as a State-owned commercial housing developer with a remit to produce social housing and affordable public housing on publicly-owned land. We would re-focus NAMA in particular, because its original remit pertained to economic return to the State. It now needs to make returns to the State in other ways, particularly in the current housing crisis.
This is radically different from the current policy of providing a large proportion of State-owned land to the private sector to build for profit, at what the market will allow, with even the so-called affordable homes linked to the market rate, rather than to what households can afford. Under the Ó Cualann model, homes in the Dublin area were built and can be built for less than €200,000 per unit. We would provide for local authorities to deliver homes on a shared services model, similar to a proposal from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and was modelled on one developed in the Cork area, which would bring local authorities together to deliver homes and in order that expertise could be concentrated and delivery speeded up. We all know the delivery of social housing in particular needs to be speeded up. We also propose increasing the Part V provision to 20% and a workable Central Bank led investment vehicle in order that credit unions can invest in public housing from their savings. The Government amendment says that it has set up a framework for this but the credit unions have told us, and have told other parties that they do not have the scale or capacity to do this themselves. This is one area where there would be a win-win but there is a need for Government leadership. The State does need to set up this vehicle for public housing bonds and secure investment from our own credit union movement of approximately €12.5 billion can be put into this. That would not take all the credit union savings but would be a significant contribution to the funding needed for social and affordable housing.
We would future-proof public housing construction and stock to provide for the needs of older people and would also commit to the system of universal design and access to transport to ensure that housing meets the needs of people who have a disability. The other area of future-proofing is energy efficiency, which is vital for the future of our planet and the more immediate concerns about the cost of home heating. This must be accompanied by an extensive retrofitting programme in both publicly and privately owned homes. Both of these need to be considerably ramped up, particularly for low-income households, many of which are living in council houses and apartments. There needs to be a funded programme with a specific timeframe in order that local authorities can immediately start retrofitting their own houses because many council houses have a very low building energy rating, BER. My colleague, Deputy Penrose will address some of those issues in a minute or two.
This is a comprehensive motion. We wanted to address the positive measures into which we have put a lot of thought in our document, Affordable Housing for All, in respect of housing policy. We acknowledge there have been many other proposals from other Members of this House. We believe this can be done and this is a positive motion in many ways. We are recognising the seriousness of the problem, particularly that so many children are living in homeless accommodation and the awful effect that has on them. We recognise the problem but are also putting forward practical solutions that are costed to address the problem. That is what we need to see happen and we need to see something delivered much faster than is being delivered under Government policy. We need a radical change to that policy.