Yesterday, the plight of private renters dominated Leaders' Questions, and rightly so. The budget did not contain a single measure to ease the burden of sky-high rents. The only mention of the private rental sector was the extension of a tax relief to landlords. In response, the Taoiseach deliberately conflated the social rental sector with private renters. He talked about the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. Does he not realise that increasing these expensive, short-term schemes by almost 15,000 tenancies next year will actually make the situation for private renters much worse? He said the Land Development Agency, LDA, would deliver 1,000 cost rental homes next year. Does he not realise that this is wishful thinking? The LDA does not have 1,000 cost rental units under construction. This means that the only way it can reach this target is if it purchases from private developers, snatching even more homes away from struggling buyers. He said that funding will be provided to approved housing bodies to deliver 750 cost rental units but the Government could not even deliver the 390 cost rental units promised this year. He also rejected Sinn Féin's proposal for a refundable tax credit for renters, yet he promised this very measure in his election manifesto.
Not to be outdone, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, protested loudly when criticised for his failure to protect renters. Red-faced from his failed policy of linking rents to inflation at a time when inflation is about to pass 4%, he is now promising a 2% cap. Like Fine Gael's 4% cap on rent hikes, this measure will not work. It will not apply to renters outside rent pressure zones and it will not apply to new properties on the market. It will be impossible to police for new tenants in existing rental dwellings. The Minister's call for the Residential Tenancies Board to step up enforcement of the rules rings hollow when the Government will not even provide the board with enough staff to do its job.
The last time I raised the plight of private renters with the Tánaiste was in September. I reminded him that during his decade in power, rents have increased 100%. When he was Taoiseach, the number of properties in the rental market dropped by 20,000. Instead of dealing with the issue, the Tánaiste went on the attack. He avoided, misdirected and misrepresented. He may think that this kind of belligerent approach is good for his satisfaction ratings but it actually confirms that the Tánaiste has no empathy. He lacks that basic human ability to put himself in the shoes of other people enduring hardship. Why would he? He, more than any other politician in the Government, is directly responsible for that hardship, with working single people and couples desperately trying to save for a deposit, separated and divorced people who have lost their family homes, families recovering from Celtic tiger-era home repossession, students forced to choose between sky-high rents and crippling commutes, and modest-income workers approaching retirement and looking nervously to the future.
My question is simple. When will the Tánaiste and Government stop abandoning renters and act to cut rents and ban rent increases?