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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Vol. 1016 No. 1

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (Extension of Notice Periods) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will know, the number of adults and children living in emergency accommodation funded by his Department is rising. In October there were 6,317 adults and 2,513 children in such accommodation. As we all know, those figures do not capture the full extent of homelessness. They do not include women and children in domestic violence refuges funded by Tusla, adults and children in hostels not funded by the State or former asylum seekers who, thankfully, have secured their leave to remain but who are trapped in direct provision, essentially using it as emergency accommodation. Whatever way you count it, homelessness is, unfortunately, getting worse. More and more people are being forced out of their homes and into emergency accommodation or, in many instances, relying on the generosity of family and friends for a couch to sleep on. At this rate we may be back to pre-Covid levels of homelessness within a matter of months. The Minister will remember that when he was on this side of the House, his predecessor, Eoghan Murphy, stood over homeless figures rising to beyond 10,000 for a number of months. With 8,830 adults and children sleeping in hostels and hotels in October we are, unfortunately, dangerously close to that number.

The Minister's decision some months ago to lift the Covid-19 ban on evictions is the main reason we see these numbers increase but it is only a small part of the story. Figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show that the number of notices to quit issued by landlords each month is rising, with sale of property accounting for more than half of all evictions. Since 2017, accidental and semi-professional landlords have left the market in droves. We have lost over 21,000 rental tenancies as of the end of last year and when the figures for this year are published I suspect the number will be worse again. Despite this haemorrhaging of rental supply, the Government has no plan to slow down this disorderly exit of such properties from the market. In fact, local authorities currently cannot even buy rental properties with HAP or RAS tenants in them where the landlord is selling up, even where the landlord is willing to sell to the local authority. We see a new trend of those tenants being displaced, the properties going on the market and medium-sized institutional investors buying them and then leasing them back to the local authority for 25 years for another social housing tenant. As supply continues to fall, rents, as we all know, continue to soar. I will not repeat the figures from the latest Daft.ie report or the RTB rent index, but a household would need a monthly take-home pay of between €4,500 and €6,000 to be able to afford average State-wide rents or Dublin city rents. The Government's over-reliance on the private rental sector to meet social housing need is coming back to bite it with a vengeance and, unfortunately, the slow supply of social housing is also having an impact. We know Covid is a significant factor in that but it is not the full picture. Only 35% of the targets in this year's social housing output were met by the end of quarter 3. Procurement tendering and public spending code issues are delaying larger projects and the Government has to admit that and we have to address it.

At a time when homelessness is increasing, it is incumbent on this House to speak with a unanimous voice and to say that homeless prevention has to be the key. We need to ensure that every single tool is made available to families at risk of homelessness. The local authorities and the non-governmental organisations assisting them to meet that need and, thankfully, the Simon Communities of Ireland have come up with a very simple and sensible Bill. If enacted, it would ensure that where a family or individual meets the notice to quit date and has not been able to find alternative accommodation, they would get a three-month stay for the local authority to work with them directly to ensure they do not fall into homelessness. The Bill has cross-party support. It was launched last week by five of the groups in opposition. I understand that the Minister supports the principle of the Bill and I welcome that. I urge the Minister to give in his remarks a very clear commitment that, just like with the USI Bill passed by the Opposition, he will come back and work with the Simon Communities of Ireland and the Opposition early in the new year and introduce an improved version of the very same principle, if possible, into Government legislation. That would be the quickest and most efficient way of ensuring that this important protection for families and singles at risk of homelessness be enacted. If the Minister is willing to do that, we will work with him and be constructive, as we always have been. Let us make 2022 the year of preventing homelessness and reducing the number of families and children in emergency accommodation.

I extend my thanks to my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, not just for this Private Members' business, which I know he has worked on with other Members of the Opposition, but also for his continued work in this area, which I think we can all agree is very valuable. The Minister and I know that this is sensible legislation. It is, I imagine, legislation that will be relatively easy for him not to oppose. I hope he will not do what the Government is so fond of doing, that is, not necessarily opposing something, but will actually support the Bill and take action to ensure that it is incorporated into legislation at the very next available opportunity.

We know that figures show that there has been an increase in the homeless numbers for the fifth consecutive month in a row. We know from the Simon Communities and the report they have published that there has been a 79% decrease in the availability of properties with housing assistance payment rates.

This is a real problem. The best way to prevent people form turning up to my office and that of the Minister when they are in that desperate situation, just about to lose their home and having no option, is to pass this legislation and give them that time. The Minister will know from our constituency that it is an issue that we see almost on a daily basis. I do not know about him, but not a week that goes by in my office where we do not encounter people who are desperately in need of this legislation to be passed and for the Government to be as good as its word when it says that it will take action. The Government must take action and ensure the legislation is passed. I hope the Minister will clarify, in his remarks, not just his own position, but how he intends to ensure it will be given effect. It is not good enough for him to say that he does not oppose it; we, and the people who are facing homelessness, need to hear him say that he will support it and be proactive.

It is a very apt time for this Private Members' Bill on residential tenancies and the extension of the notice period because at Christmas our thoughts turn to home, family, children and the life we share in our homes. I am glad that the Opposition is united in its support for this piece of work with the Simon Community. I also welcome the fact that the Minister is going to accept the Bill. It is important that the legislation be implemented because we need a radical overhaul of our housing policy and system. While we wait for that change, this Bill makes a crucial difference for the almost 10,000 men, women and children facing homelessness by the end of the year. Emergency accommodation is not a solution to landlords getting away with issuing short notices to quit. The short notice that landlords are getting away with is the problem. Emergency accommodation, by its nature, is only shelter. Shelter is what is given to a stray animal that turns up at someone's door late at night. People need homes. People need to move from one home to another. To do that, they need some notice, like the minimum of three months proposed in this Bill. Above all, the Government needs to acknowledge the shock to the system that those going into emergency accommodation experience. It is the brutal realisation that it is a hostel, a hub or the street. The people I have spoken to in north Kildare are devastated when that happens to them. It goes to the core of their families. Politicians make light of it and say how lucky people are to get emergency accommodation at all, knowing that they will never need it, and it is never going to be them, their families, their children or grandchildren who are facing emergency accommodation. The Government loves to talk about stability and tells us to "#bekind", but much of it comes from political quarters that see runaway house prices and rents as a sign of a successful economy. They see homelessness as the norm and emergency accommodation as inevitable. There is nothing civil about the Government's housing policy. There is nothing that we should accept about it either. We are proposing the structured mechanism of the minimum three-month notice period to give people some kind of protection.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on introducing the Bill, which is supported by the Opposition parties. It aims to provide increased protection for those at risk of homelessness following an eviction notice by providing a three-month extension to the notice-to-quit period triggered by a housing authority, which would prevent their entry into emergency accommodation. The primary drivers of homelessness in recent years have been legal evictions and rent increases. Homelessness has increased in each of the past four months since the Government lifted the ban on notices to quit. This is evident in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, where I have witnessed a large increase in the number of people contacting my offices who have been served with such notices. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently recorded 81 people in the north-east region, which includes counties Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, as homeless. The people receiving these notices are faced with little option in the private sector when trying to find alternative accommodation. For instance, according to daft.ie, there are nine houses for rent today in County Cavan and seven in County Monaghan. This, I fear, is only the tip of the iceberg, as I am aware of many people who could be described as the hidden homeless, sofa surfing between different houses or flats over long periods, and continuously having to move from one place to the next.

The lack of alternative accommodation and the increase in evictions has also forced people to remain in substandard accommodation because they are often afraid to raise serious issues with their landlord, fearing that they will be issued with a notice to quit and knowing that there is such a limited number of houses or flats to rent. For those in my constituency who find themselves in need of emergency accommodation, the nearest facility is in Dundalk, approximately 130 km away. It is too far away from family and there is no direct public transport route to Dundalk. We need to see more action taken to keep families in their homes and prevent them from entering homelessness in the first place. We need to ensure that local authorities have every power to prevent adults and children from losing their homes and entering emergency accommodation.

I commend my party colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing forward this Bill, and the Simon Community on the work it has done on it. It is vital that we start tackling homelessness. It is soul-destroying for the people who are stuck in homelessness, their families and in particular, the children, who do not know where they are going to spend Christmas and where they will be in the new year. I wish to take a moment, before the Christmas break, to thank all those who work with the homeless. I thank the organisations in Cork, such as the Simon Community, Depaul, the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland and many more. I thank, in particular, Caitríona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners. The work they do is unbelievable. I thank the people who donate to the organisations silently and quietly to support them.

However, it should not be up to volunteers and charities to look after the homeless. This Bill will send a clear message if the Government goes the whole way and does not support it, but implements it. We need to recognise all the volunteers for the tireless work they will do at Christmas. These people will deliver tents, sleeping bags, dinners and snacks to people at all hours of the day and night. They are not in it for the recognition or the thanks; they are in it because they believe that is the kind of country and State we should live in. They recognise that no one in this State should go to sleep on Christmas eve without with a roof over their head, but unfortunately, they will. We owe these groups and volunteers a huge debt. For many, a tough Christmas will be made slightly easier because of the work of these volunteers and groups. I hope the Minister and the Government will do the right thing.

I commend the work of Deputy Ó Broin and all involved on bringing this Bill to the floor of the Dáil. I commend the Simon Community on the work it is doing. The automatic extension of notice periods for residential tenants, where the tenant is certified as being at risk of homelessness, is a really important intervention. My constituency of Longford-Westmeath has not been immune from the rise of homelessness that we have seen. Westmeath County Council has implemented a devolved regime under the midlands homelessness action plan. On 30 November, there were 83 people in emergency accommodation, 35 of which were from County Westmeath alone. Each of those individuals represents a life turned upside down and devastated by the impact of homelessness. Taking action to keep families in their homes and prevent them from entering homelessness in the first place is vital. I want to describe to the Minister the impact that this legislation will have. Last week, a young woman in her early 20s, whom I will call Annie, came to my office. She had 48 hours to leave the room she had been renting. She was desperate. She had tried everything in her power to stay in that property and source another one. I am not exaggerating when I say that she was shaking like a leaf. There were no tears because she had none left. I was confronted with a young women who was broken and racked with dry sobs. She has spent the past five days in a hotel and has been told that she needs to leave by Thursday. There are no beds available in emergency accommodation. There may be a tent and a sleeping bag available for Annie. Any property that is likely to become available will not be available until the new year. We face three weeks of trying to plug a gap over the Christmas period. To me and any person with an ounce of decency and or morals, that should not involve a tent or a sleeping bag.

I will vote in favour of this Bill. I will vote in favour of it for people like Annie, for the countless others like her and for those who have sold their belongings going into emergency accommodation. I will vote for it for those who are dreading the notice to quit coming in the door because they know it is on the way, for those who are sofa surfing, and for every child who, come Friday week, will ask how Santy will find them.

It is a terrible indictment of the Government's housing policies in general that so many people are living a hair's breadth from being made homeless. People's lives are so finely balanced that it would not take much to tip them into homelessness. In the rental sector this has become even more prevalent with so many landlords leaving the market at present. Recent data from the Residential Tenancies Board shows that in 77% of tenancies terminated in the past three years the tenant was informed the landlords were selling the property or they or their families were moving into the property.

Figures show that 550 landlords left the market this autumn alone, which is approximately 46 a week. This year 2,080 landlords have left the market and 1,902 landlords left in 2020. This is clearly having a huge impact on tenants, their security of tenure and their well-being and mental health. Landlords selling their properties has been one of the main causes of homelessness over the past number of years. With property prices being so high at the moment it is no surprise that many landlords would choose to sell up rather than continue to rent out the property. According to Focus Ireland, responses by successive governments have maximised the sense of grievance among landlords while doing little to improve security of tenure.

The Bill addresses in some way this imbalance by providing a person or family at risk of homelessness with a three-month extension to the notice period. This proposal also intends to give local authorities and the families concerned some breathing space in helping a family in danger of being made homeless to find alternative accommodation. I am glad to hear the Government and members of other parties are not opposing the Bill. Well done to the Simon Communities and Deputy Ó Broin for bringing forward the Bill.

I thank the Deputies who put their names to the Bill. I particularly thank the Simon Communities of Ireland, who have put a huge amount of work into putting the legislation together. Earlier today, I spoke with Wayne Stanley and I commended him on the work he has done on the legislation and the tireless work the Simon Communities of Ireland do day in day out. In response to Deputy Gould, we will always need volunteers. Any government will need volunteers and people who care and who advocate and work for people in their area.

I visited some of the Simon Communities' sites. I was a guest speaker of Simon in the mid-west very recently. I regularly meet Dublin Simon, which is part of my homeless task force. I sincerely value its input. So we are very clear, I am very happy to allow the Bill to proceed. As I said to Wayne Stanley earlier today, the Bill as currently drafted will require significant amendment as it progresses through the Houses to allow it to be enacted. I will look at other vehicles to bring in part of it. I have done so with other legislation and it should not come as a surprise to some Deputies. Notwithstanding this point, the Bill should proceed tonight.

Homelessness is one of the greatest challenges all of us, the Government and the country face. It is a challenge that the Government and I as Minister continue to address in Housing for All, which was launched in September. It contains 18 separate and significant action points with regard to homelessness. Under Housing for All we are the first country in the European Union to incorporate in national policy the commitment I made in the Lisbon declaration to work towards ending and eradicating homelessness by 2030. It is an ambitious target but it is one we must set ourselves. We must set ourselves challenging goals. They are achievable but they are challenging. We cannot accept, and I do not accept, that homelessness should be a permanent feature of Irish life. I have never accepted this. The homeless crisis affects all families at different levels throughout the country. Many feel it. The increase in homelessness seen in recent months is a serious concern. While significant improvements have been made in the situation we faced two years ago when homelessness was at its highest, there is still a huge amount of work to be done. One measure alone will not resolve this.

In October, 8,830 individuals accessed emergency accommodation. Over the longer term this is a 16% decrease on the number in October two years ago. It is still too high. Thankfully and importantly, progress has been made on the challenging issue of family homelessness. We have seen the number of families decrease by just short of 700 or 39%. This has decreased from 1,778 to 1,082. The number of dependents has increased, unfortunately. In Dublin, our street outreach teams, who I know well, recently recorded a fall in numbers of rough sleepers over the past year. The number has decreased from 139 to 94, which is a 32% decrease. This is welcome but not enough. It is progress.

The level of homelessness is unacceptably high and there are challenges that we have to address. However, progress has been made in a number of areas. The increase in homeless figures seen in recent months is of concern and is being addressed as an absolute priority. There is recognition that additional action is needed and was needed. In October, I convened a series of meetings with senior officials from local authorities where homelessness was most prevalent. This was in addition to the regular meetings I hold with the homeless task force I established a few short weeks after becoming Minister. These meetings discuss solutions and prioritising measures on homelessness prevention and exits. Additional local authority void units are being sought and being brought on stream with a focus on providing these homes to those experiencing homelessness. Each local authority was notified of a target of void units to return to productive use this year. It is also imperative to see social housing delivery being prioritised over the months ahead to address the time lost during the construction sector shutdowns. We have to be honest, and it has been acknowledged, that we have seen constrained supply over these two years because it has been affected by Covid. The projections into next year are a lot better and we will ramp up supply.

I have asked local authorities to further prioritise tenancy support services, homeless prevention and the use of other placefinder services for HAP tenancies and they are doing this. It is widely recognised, and all of us should know, that prevention is our first line of defence against homelessness and it is critical. The most recent figures indicate that in the third quarter of this year 1,308 preventions and exits from homelessness were achieved. This brings the total to more than 4,000 preventions and exits to date this year. A number of exits into permanent accommodation have been affected because of the constrained supply. This is, unfortunately, a fact but one on which we will make progress next year.

A range of strategies are already in place to mitigate the need for households to enter homeless services and to exit them as quickly as possible where this is unavoidable. The HAP placefinder service is playing a vital role in keeping families out of homelessness and in housing families who find themselves in emergency accommodation. Local authorities also oversee and fund a range of homelessness prevention and tenancy sustainment initiatives.

The suggestion in the Bill of lengthening notice periods is something that is being reviewed anyway. I will take from the Bill to expedite the review. There are some measures we can take in the shorter term, particularly as supply is building up, to alleviate some of the pressure. It will not resolve it and these measures alone will not resolve it. In fairness, the Simon Communities recognise this. We need to get a supply of permanent homes for people to live in which are affordable and social and get our vacant stock back into use. I am quite happy not to oppose the Bill on Second Stage but to work with other Members and with the Simon Communities on the measures in the Bill that we could implement. We could potentially use a Government Bill or another vehicle to be able to implement these sooner.

A review of notice periods is due now. A previous review was done and current legislation means we would be going to the end of 2022 before potential changes on notice periods would be published. I intend to do it a lot sooner than this. For me there are matters in the Bill on which we can work, adding to the work that has already been done. I am acutely aware in particular of the difficulties faced by people in Ireland's private rental sector.

Deputy Ellis spoke about landlords.

Let us remember that approximately 86% of all landlords have one or two properties and may be described as mom-and-pop landlords. These are the ones who are leaving the market and have been for a number of years.

Whether people like it or not, we need a private rental sector which needs to be functioning properly and to be secure. We are seeing a situation where more landlords are leaving the market. This needs to be addressed and we are working towards doing that. We need to see the requisite increase in public housing delivery and, in particular, in social housing. That is where the Housing for All plan comes in, with over €20 billion being spent between now and 2026 to deliver the biggest single housing programme that the State has ever seen on social and affordable housing and a new form of housing tenure: cost rental. That will be very significant. We are embarking on this very significant programme of social and affordable housing delivery. We have had two years of Covid-19. When it comes to housing supply, 2022 will be a year of delivery. The combined measures will contribute to reducing homelessness and, I hope sincerely and I have committed to, the eradication of homelessness by 2030. There is a way to go. If we are honest with each other, we all know that. The situation cannot be allowed to persist but progress has been made in the last 18 months. It will not be easy but we have set an achievable goal and a realistic timeframe.

I want to assure Deputies, both in government and in opposition, that there is no shortage of will and determination to deal with the issue of homelessness. It is among many priorities and pressing issues within housing. The number one priority for me is ensuring that people have a safe and secure roof over their head and it remains a top priority for me and this Government. Resources and funding are not an obstacle. We need to see increased supply. Where we can improve protections and where shorter-term measures can be brought in, such as some of those suggested by the Simon Community, I am happy to work with them and others on that. I hope to do that in an expeditious manner early in the new year.

I understand Deputy Paul Donnelly is sharing time with Deputies Martin Browne, Mythen and Ward.

I am happy to hear that the Minister is supporting this motion and is certainly allowing it to go through. The purpose of this proposed amending legislation is to provide an increased level of protection for those at risk of homelessness following an eviction notice to prevent their entry into emergency accommodation. Just this evening, at 6 o’clock an email came through and the person said:

I was wondering if you could help me. I have been sofa-surfing on my friend’s sofa with my one-year-old daughter. I sleep in my friend’s house the odd time but they are both overcrowded and unfortunately I can no longer stay in either places. I tried getting on to the council but unfortunately they are unable to help me get into emergency accommodation. They keep telling me that they will contact me and still nothing. It is a week before Christmas and I am really worried that I am going to be on the streets for Christmas.

It is completely heartbreaking for a mother and her child to be going around the streets of Dublin fearing that they are going to be homeless for Christmas and relying on their friends and neighbours, and people that they know, to keep them in accommodation.

I also looked at accommodation for Dublin 15 just before I came here. There were 32 units available on Daft.ie. Not a single one of those housing units was available for any of the HAP limits that are in place at the moment. If a person is homeless or at risk of homelessness in Dublin 15 at the moment, he or she has absolutely nowhere to go except homeless accommodation and even at that, people are struggling to get through.

It is therefore no surprise that homelessness among adults and children has increased in each of the past four months. Overall, there are only 190 properties available under the standard or discretionary limit in at least one of the four categories that were available. This represents a decrease of 79% on the 906 properties that were available within at least one HAP category in the June study. That decrease is directly related to the dramatic rise in notices to quit since the Government lifted the ban on such notices.

As I have said, this Bill is a small but important change to the Residential Tenancies Act and is supported by the five Opposition groups. I would again like to commend the Simon Community, like everybody else has here today. I ask the Government to allow this to go through but to go further by enacting the measures required to help families and individuals and stem this homelessness crisis.

I congratulate Deputy Ó Broin and the Simon Communities. I welcome the Government's decision not to block this Bill.

The Bill highlights and seeks to address the immediate crisis that people face when they are given notice by their landlord. To put this into context, in my constituency of Tipperary the number of people classed as homeless, in the Government’s own monthly homeless figures, has increased from 33 to 45. That is a rise of over a third. Thousands of people on the housing list are waiting on the rental market but it is non-existent. I appreciate and get on great with the HAP scheme placefinders in Tipperary but they will tell you that their hands are tied and there are no properties out there. I was on Daft.ie earlier and there are 16 properties for rent in a county the size of Tipperary. We have over 400 people on waiting lists down there. We can have a review. This seems to be a buzzword for this Government. I would love to know how many reviews from all strands have been undertaken since it took power. With everything, when there is a problem, the Government will have a review.

Families are struggling as it is. As Deputy Paul Donnelly has said, they are in fear coming up to Christmas. They are under severe pressure. The Government must act on this. The extension would be triggered by the housing authority itself and it can get in earlier because that is where the worry is. People are having severe worries, not just at Christmas but all year round, that suddenly the tenancy is up and they have to get out.

It is an atrocious situation to see people in. These are the people who are hidden from the Government’s figures on a monthly basis. I commend Deputy Ó Broin and the Simon Communities. I welcome the Government’s stand on this and I hope it will give more support to it.

I thank the Simon Communities, which provide a vital service to people experiencing homelessness throughout Ireland and, in particular, in my own area of the south-east region since 2004. Their unwavering commitment to justice and equality and to protecting some of the most vulnerable people at risk in our communities cannot be underestimated. These pillars of equality and justice are evident in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (Extension of Notice Periods) Bill 2021, which we are discussing tonight.

Homelessness challenges the nation’s moral compass because we cannot ignore the fact that, in our modern era, one of the main causes of families being put out in the street is the enormous rise in rents which simply equates to greed and avarice by vulture funds and wealthy investors. In my own county of Wexford, there were 767 calls to the homeless service and support unit between January and November of this year. According to the Government's own figures, there were 23 individuals recorded as homeless in County Wexford as of the last week of October this year. However, we know that this figure is far greater because it does not include sofa-surfers or citizens living temporarily in relatives’ or friends’ houses.

This Bill will provide a buffer zone to protect people who are facing an immediate threat of becoming homeless. If passed, it will provide for the automatic extension of notice periods for residential tenancies where a tenant is certified as being at risk of homelessness and, crucially, will allow a local authority to directly engage for a three-month period with a person or family at risk of homelessness.

I know from my own experience on the ground that notices to quit are alarmingly on the rise and are responsible for creating a high percentage of homelessness or risk of homelessness. Until the Government gets to grips with the private rental market and the financial forces that run it, it will continue to fail in addressing this problem. The Bill proposes a change which would act as a barrier and protection factor for those who find themselves in dire straits and gives greater assistance to the local authorities’ housing departments, whose hands are often tied behind their backs as they try to support families and children in desperation and facing homelessness almost at the eleventh hour. This must change.

I again commend the Simon Communities, my colleague Deputy Ó Broin and all of my colleagues in this House who have supported this Bill to this point. I welcome the Government’s support but it must be followed up by immediate action.

Sinn Féin is criticised by the Government for not providing solutions to the issues of the day. Week after week and day after day we come to this Chamber with viable solutions on housing, health, mental health, education and practically everything else. In fact, our spokesperson for housing and my constituency colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has provided that many solutions on housing that he has written a couple of books on this matter. I do not think I have ever bought a Fianna Fáil Deputy a Christmas present but I might just do that this year in respect of one of the books that Deputy Ó Broin has written. It is the season, after all.

This Bill proposes a small but important change to the Residential Tenancies Act.

It is supported by the five Opposition groups in the Dáil, as well as by the Simon Communities of Ireland. Homelessness among adults and children has increased in each of the past four months. Those increases are directly related to the dramatic rise in the number of notices to quit issued since the Government lifted the ban on such notices.

I was at a meeting of Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth earlier today. The committee heard about the impact poverty is having on children. One of the main contributions to children being in crisis is the housing crisis. The committee heard about the poverty of homelessness and the paucity of good quality or secure accommodation. At the meeting, a representative of the Rialto Youth Project spoke about how, for a child, this poverty is like being in a bubble. It touched me so much that I decided to bring those words into this Chamber. She spoke about a bubble:

The bubble? We’re inside it. You see everything and everyone through the bubble. And everyone sees the bubble when they look at you. They make decisions about you. They tell you, you can’t. They tell you, you won’t. They tell you, you’ll never. They measure you with invisible rulers. You will come to love the bubble and hate it. What does your bubble feel like ...? My bubble feels like a shell on my back. It’s heavy. I hope yours is light and floaty and beautiful. And I hope it’s easy to get out of.

Out of the mouths of babes. These are the words of children. Enacting the Bill will help these children to get out of that bubble. We need more action to be taken to keep families in their homes and prevent them from entering homelessness in the first place.

The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is very welcome to the House to debate this sensible and straightforward Bill. I should have said "to discuss" because to say he is here to debate the Bill suggests there is a degree of disagreement in respect of its content and the principles that inform it. I am pleased that the senior Minister, with his Cabinet colleagues, have decided not to oppose the legislation before the House. That sends out an important message to those paying close attention to our words and our deeds this evening - those who may be in the teeth of the homelessness problem, at risk and worried about their futures and those of their families. All Members, including, I am sure, the Minister of State during his many years as a local authority representative and now as a Deputy and Minister of State, will have dealt with that phone call at 5 p.m. or 4.59 p.m. on a Friday evening from a constituent who finds himself or herself not just at risk of homelessness but at the door of the local authority, waiting for assistance in emergency circumstances from its homelessness service.

This is a short Bill but its impact if enacted can be far-reaching. It triggers an automatic extension to the notice period for those who are at risk of homelessness and, importantly, it brings people onto the radar of the local authority and gives the local authority and renters the space to obtain a solution to the very immediate and fundamental problem they face. Its beauty is in its simplicity. The Labour Party is delighted to support it and to have co-signed it. I commend the Simon Communities of Ireland for promoting the Bill. It is, as I stated, a sensible and straightforward Bill and it increases the level of protection for those who are at risk of homelessness, which is exactly what is needed. In my view, many of the protections that could be introduced do not necessarily need legislative interventions. They could be done by way of regulation or potentially by way of circular to local authorities, but it is important nonetheless to anchor some of these important measures in primary legislation.

I note that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, in his earlier remarks referred to the fact that the lengthening of the notice period would be reviewed earlier than originally anticipated and that he is prepared to work with Opposition parties in good faith to ensure the kind of principles that underpin the Bill are reflected in the way in which local authorities operate and the way in which we, as a society, deal with the threat of homelessness which, as Members are aware, is all too real. I look forward to seeing what the Government will bring forward but we cannot wait for a long time. There needs to be a sense of urgency to adapt and subsequently adopt the kind of measures that are proposed in this Bill and make them real.

I note that the Minister has indicated it is Government policy that homelessness will be eradicated by 2030. That is an aspiration all Members wish to see delivered on. We would prefer to see homelessness eradicated much more quickly and that will depend on several factors, especially supply. The cost of living has risen enormously in the past 12 months. It is at its highest rate since 2008 and one of the major contributory factors forming and influencing the high cost of living and the rising rate of inflation is rental costs, which have risen by 8% this year. There has been a lot of talk in recent days about how we can work to support families who are at risk of entering fuel poverty and how they may be supported to pay their electricity bills. We need to be clear on what we need to do to prevent homelessness and ensure we keep people in the homes they have, given the supply problems we are encountering in society.

Even though it was rejected last week, I repeat the absolute urgency of reconsidering and introducing a rent freeze for the next three years to allow the kind of supply that the Minister of State and I and everybody else in this House has the ambition to develop so that we can ensure the provision of social and affordable homes and private homes, along with other measures that are required to resolve this most fundamental of social issues.

There are very few properties available anywhere in this country. I listen to Deputies all the time relaying the experiences in that regard in their constituencies. It is not just an urban problem at this point. It is a problem faced in every county, town and village in the country. The real figures in respect of homelessness are masked by the fact that they are not recorded in the way they could be recorded. All Members are aware of individuals whom we support and on whose behalf we work who are couch-surfing or staying with family members, often in very difficult circumstances, but are not recorded in the official figures.

In conclusion, the Labour Party is very proud to support this simple and straightforward but potentially very effective legislation. I would prefer if it was adopted unanimously this evening, moved to Committee Stage very quickly and then enacted at the earliest opportunity. There is an urgency about this, as the Minister of State will accept and understand, and it needs to be moved on very quickly indeed. Those who are at risk of homelessness cannot wait any longer for action from this House.

I thank the Simon Communities of Ireland for the work they did in drafting the Bill. I am very happy to have brought it forward, along with the other Opposition parties. It is positive that the Government is not opposing the Bill and that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has said he will look at trying to bring in parts of it as quickly as possible, possibly through Government legislation. He has told us there is no shortage of will when it comes to tackling homelessness. I have no reason to disbelieve his intent but there is a shortage of action on this issue.

I will point out a few areas in which concrete action could be taken by the Government now if it wants to show us it is deadly serious about tackling homelessness with the urgency required. It is welcome that the Government is supporting this Bill but it is in a better position to bring forward legislation and has been aware, for quite some time, of these kinds of measures. It should have brought forward these kinds of measures much more urgently.

I have one example that the Minister referenced. He said the Government had committed to the 2030 target of trying to eliminate homelessness, which is welcome. If it is to have any meaning at all, however, we must at the very least have yearly targets to get us to that elimination in 2030. So where are those yearly targets? It is all very well saying we hope to eliminate homelessness by 2030 but where are the year-by-year steps to get us to that target and give it meaning? Let the Government show us it means what it says in indicating there is no lack of will or resources. It should publish those targets that will get us to the elimination of homelessness by 2030. It is the very least that could be done and it would cost nothing to do it. It could be done straight away. Give us the roadmap to show that the Government means what it says when it speaks about eliminating homelessness by 2030.

The Government should immediately bring back the ban on evictions, especially considering our position in the Covid-19 pandemic. The single most effective measure to reduce homelessness in recent years has been the ban on evictions introduced at the start of the pandemic. It should return.

At a meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee on housing earlier today we discussed vacancy and dereliction. There are tens of thousands of vacant homes lying empty all over Ireland. There has been talk from the Government about a vacant homes tax but there is no commitment in Housing for All to introduce it or a timeline. Show us the Government is serious about tackling homelessness by introducing a vacant homes tax that we know will at least bring some of those vacant homes back to use to help address this matter. Show us the Government is serious about this.

The Government should show us it is serious about this by ensuring the derelict sites legislation is enforced so buildings can be brought back into use. We heard at the housing committee meeting earlier that the largest local authority in the country, Dublin City Council, does not actively try to get all derelict buildings on the derelict sites register. How about looking for a bit of enforcement to ensure we get more homes and buildings back into use?

If the Government is serious about helping homeless people, it should end the discrimination that takes place now against approximately half of homeless people in emergency accommodation that is privately run. We have an outrageous position in the country, where we introduced national quality standards for all homeless service providers but somehow in the past few years a load of private companies and individuals were allowed to set up private emergency accommodation operations, funded by the State and local authorities. However, national quality standards do not apply to them. Why is that? It is discrimination against anyone unfortunate enough to end up having to live in that privately run emergency accommodation. There is no explanation for it.

There have been complaints from some of those places of bloodstains on bed sheets and there has been a complaint from a privately run emergency accommodation operation in Dublin of a lack of duvets or bed sheets. We know that in many of them staff are not Garda-vetted or trained, there are no safeguarding policies or procedures in place and they are not checked for them. The Government should show us it is serious about homeless people by introducing independent inspections by HIQA. The Government should do it now and not dodge this any more. In doing that, the Government would show us it is serious about treating people with a minimal amount of dignity and respect. It could go one step further and end the privatisation of these homeless services by bringing them into the fold of not-for-profit organisations, which would at least have an interest in helping progress people out of homelessness.

One of the complaints made to me by people working in areas supporting people who have become homeless is that they frequently find people who had been living in privately run accommodation that do not have basics in place. They would not have an application in for a medical card, for example, that would allow them access to proper healthcare. They may not have made applications for social housing support to get on the housing waiting lists because they live in places without trained support workers. This is what is happening now in the country and none of this is in any way acceptable.

The local connection rule was highlighted last year and there have been some improvements, especially after the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, but it is still creating a barrier for some people moving from emergency accommodation. People have been refused emergency accommodation or asked to leave emergency accommodation because they cannot prove a local connection. To be clear, this might take in people who were originally from Dublin and moved for work reasons to Galway before losing their job there and moving back to Dublin seeking emergency accommodation. They might be refused that support because a computer system records them as having a last address in Galway. It is barbaric and there should be no tolerance of it whatever.

Many people have told me there is effectively an unofficial policy in place when people present as homeless that the accommodation made available is of the worst possible standard in an attempt to try to keep people sleeping on floors or couches. It seems to be an attempt to make it as difficult as possible for such people to access emergency accommodation by ensuring the very worst accommodation is made available. The Government should show us it is serious about such matters by taking some of the steps I have outlined.

This Bill is very welcome. Although it is a modest proposal, it is practical legislation that will, if passed quickly, help prevent some people entering homelessness by allowing more time to ensure supports can be put in place. It is a sensible and modest measure in that regard and one we can, across the House, easily agree. We just need to show it can be implemented urgently and as quickly as possible.

We must do this. The number of homeless people who have died over the past year has increased, particularly in Dublin. At least 58 people experiencing homelessness have passed away so far this year, a considerable increase on last year and 2019. There is concern that reduced access to addiction and mental health supports, particularly during the pandemic, could be contributing to this, and the matter requires the immediate attention of the Government to arrest that increase.

It is welcome that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is very much concerned by the increases in homelessness over the past number of months and he has met representatives of different organisations about it. What we should be hearing from him are the exact concrete actions he and the Government will take to arrest that month-by-month increase. If that is not arrested, we will be back at the level of 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation that we saw with the former Minister, Mr. Eoghan Murphy. We also know that other people are sleeping rough or are not counted in homelessness figures. People may have fled domestic violence and others are sleeping on couches and on floors so are not counted in our Irish figures.

I thank the Simon Community for bringing forward the provisions of the Bill and I thank Deputy Ó Broin for co-ordinating the all-party effort to support the legislation. The Bill would give people three months leeway when faced with eviction into homelessness and it would give local authorities the right to trigger that three-month extension. The most important element of the Bill is the requirement that during those three months, local authorities would try to prevent the people in question from becoming homeless.

That brings me to the key issue. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were in government at the time and said they would end homelessness by 2010. That did not happen. The Fine Gael-Labour Party programme for Government of 2011 pledged to end homelessness by the end of its term. That did not happen. There was a promise to get everybody out of hotels by 2016. That did not happen either, and we could go on through the list of failed promises.

Does the Government want to stop people going into homelessness? If so, it can just do it. It is set down as a policy that nobody will be put into homelessness and that the local authority will ensure people are housed rather than go into emergency accommodation. It is very simple and it can be done within that three months, but there is no will to do it.

I am dealing with so many cases as we face into Christmas, and I will give them another shout-out. There are the family with six kids living in an hotel who have been in four different homelessness accommodation providers over four years and were recently threatened with eviction. Fair play to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who intervened, although if he had not, I do not know what I would think of him. They were going to be evicted because they had briefly exceeded the income thresholds, which have not been reviewed yet even though the review started four years ago.

In the case of another family, a young woman who works in the public sector and lives with her daughter in homelessness accommodation has also been threatened with eviction from homelessness services because she does additional work with vulnerable children and her overtime and additional hours took her over the threshold and threatened her with being put out in the street.

A man who came into my office last week has worked all his life, has money to pay his rent and did not need help or support but had a catastrophic accident and now cannot work because of that. He has three children and has been trying to get medical priority, which he does not deny. He sat down in front of me and started bawling crying because he had been given a date two weeks later by which he would have to leave his HAP tenancy. I could go on through the list of people I am dealing with but I do not have time. Believe me, they are contacting me as Christmas approaches, asking whether I have any news from the Minister or the council.

It is entirely possible for the Government to say it will not allow that to happen anymore but it does not do that because, I do not know, a few landlords might be annoyed. I do not understand it. Why does this go on? Why do we continue to let this happen? The place finder service is a joke. Place finders are supposed to find places within limits, when they and everybody else knows you have only to look on daft.ie and see that nowhere is available within the maximum limits that have been set. It is a joke. By definition, people are homeless if they need a place to live, do not have a roof over their head or are threatened with eviction. Something could be done about that and the question is whether the Government is going to do it, or whether we are just going to faff around with a load of promises that were never kept previously and that I doubt will be kept to this time.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has to submit a plan for social housing by the middle of December and has been told by the Government to deliver 1,994 social homes by 2026, but there are 7,000 families on the housing list. By definition, therefore, we will still be having this conversation at the end of the Government's plan to deal with the housing crisis. Can we get real?

Two and a half thousand children will be homeless this Christmas. They are children living in hotels and emergency accommodation and families with no kitchen to cook in or dinner table to gather around. For some of them, it will be the second Christmas in those conditions. They are tough memories that, we now know from multiple reports, will stick with them throughout their lives. There are others, some of whom I am dealing with, who have a home and a roof over their heads but who have an eviction notice facing them. They are unable to find anywhere they can afford before the eviction notice comes due at the start of next year, and they face homelessness unless the Government takes action.

All the Bill, which I very much welcome, seeks to do is to give these people a chance by giving them three months to find a home before being thrown out in the street. It is one small step that could be taken. The Government says it does not lack in will and that it will do this or that about it but, as has been noted, it has been in power and could have done this at any point in the past. If it does it now, I will believe it when I see it.

We had before us an experiment regarding one simple way to reduce homelessness when we introduced an eviction ban. What happened was the number of homeless people dropped quite rapidly. It did not drop to nothing but it dropped quite rapidly. The eviction ban was then lifted at the behest of landlords and under the guise of the Constitution, and homelessness numbers began to rise a month later. We know what needs to be done, namely, to implement, for example, the People Before Profit Anti-Evictions Bill 2021 to give renters real security of tenure.

This Government of Scrooges does not care about renters. According to Dickens, it took three ghostly visits to get Ebenezer Scrooge to see the error of his ways. There is no sign of such a recognition by the Government. The only thing that will force it to recognise the problem and do something about it is a mass movement. We need a mass protest on housing in the spring.

I want to talk about building communities. The average tenancy now lasts approximately two years. How are people expected to put down roots and how are we expected to build communities when people are moved on again and again by landlords, with short notices, in an attempt to maximise profit? A recent report by Deloitte showed that apartment development in Cork city is profitable only if rents are 21% above the market rate, that is, €2,800 for a two-bedroom apartment. The Government policy of build-to-rent is proving disastrous in Dublin, with 80% vacancy at Clancy Quay and 50% vacancy at Capital Dock. I fear we will see this now in Cork, including in my community of Blackpool.

There, developers want to build apartments to rent at Hewitt’s Mill, on a site opposite the Revenue Commissioners offices, and at Popes Hill, combining 191 apartments with just 19 social houses. Cork City Council's development plan stipulates a minimum social housing provision of 14%, but this is just 10%. Furthermore, the planning application provides for zero provision of new childcare facilities on the spurious grounds they will not be needed for inhabitants of one- and two-bedroom apartments. In fact, this will add to a brewing childcare crisis in Blackpool and the northside of Cork city more generally, with 400 apartments planned within a ten-minute walk of the proposed sites and the Múin preschool facing closure to make way for another build-to-rent development. To add insult to injury, these apartments are to be fast-tracked through the undemocratic strategic housing development planning process, with power concentrated in the hands of An Bord Pleanála and little or no say for the local community.

We need a real community say over housing developments in Blackpool and communities throughout the country. That would be bad news for expensive apartments and profiteering developers. It would mean more notice for renters, more genuinely affordable housing, more social housing, more childcare facilities, protection of heritage and prioritisation, not destruction, of community. We need housing for people, not profit, and I am confident the community in Blackpool and communities throughout the country will stand up for what is right on these issues.

Many of us on this side of the Chamber expected the Green Party to play, to some extent, a sort of a watchdog role within the Government. We believed that, given its election manifesto and its long-held objectives in regard to housing and many other issues, the party would ensure it put pressure on both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to make them do right by key issues such as housing.

I spoke to a Deputy last week about how the Green Party seems to have completely retreated from these types of objectives in the areas of housing, healthcare and education. We had a conversation about whether this was the right thing for the party to do strategically. Perhaps it has decided that action on climate change and the environment is the only thing it can hope to achieve in this particular space and it is willing to concede, lock, stock and barrel, all the other elements of its election manifesto and platform on building economic justice and equality in this country. Perhaps that was the right decision for the Green Party. Perhaps it has no other option but to compartmentalise itself into one or two Departments and focus only on those areas. If that is the case, it may be strategically correct insofar as its objectives on climate change and the environment are concerned, but it means a whole section of Irish society is radically weakened as a result. I do not accept that it is necessary for the Green Party to retreat completely from those areas, put its hands up and say it will allow Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael free rein in that regard. There was some hope in the early days of the coalition, when a number of people in the party were kicking back, making the right sounds and adding a level of dissent, but their voices seem to have gone completely silent in recent times.

To give an example of what I mean by that, let us consider the situation whereby 180,000 homes are vacant in this State right now, according to the CSO. An Post says there are approximately 90,000 vacant homes, according to its figures. I put a question on this to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who came back with the CSO figures, which are obviously way out of date at this stage. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael came up with the vacant site tax, which has brought in approximately €21,000 in total. That is probably less than it cost to draft the legislation in the first place. It might be the first time in history that a tax took in less in a given year than it cost to produce the legislation that introduced it. I asked the Minister for Finance whether he would double or triple the local property tax on vacant houses, to which he replied that it cannot be done because we do not know exactly why those houses are vacant. We need to find that out, he said, and the research will be done on it. In the budget the Government introduced a zoned land tax, which will not be implemented for two or three years and that will be charged at 3%, compared with a rate of 7% under the previous tax. The Business Post has released documents and evidence showing that a significant lobbying effort was addressed to the Government to go down a particular route on taxation in this area and that the Department is now reticent about, if not pushing back against, taxing vacant homes. This is just one clear example of where one would struggle to find what the Green Party influence has been - in this instance, in respect of getting vacant housing units back into use.

Another example is what has happened in the Airbnb sector. When Covid hit, we had a magical situation where all of these properties came up for rent in Dublin and the rest of the country. All of a sudden, rents started to fall and rental supply to increase. Of course, the reason that happened was that when the Covid crisis began, the Airbnb business model had to change. As short-term rentals were no longer viable, landlords started to switch to long-term renting. When the situation began to reverse recently, as tourism took off again in the summer, the opposite opened. Houses that were out for long-term rent were withdrawn and pushed into short-term rental, which led to a massive contraction of the supply of housing to the rental accommodation sector throughout the country but especially in Dublin, with a surge in rental prices. A Bill brought to the Dáil by Aontú to ensure people could not put second homes up for short-term rental in urban areas was a logical proposal that one might assume the Green Party naturally would support or, at least, as a partner in government, that it would push for it. Again, however, there is no evidence that the party has made any push or had any influence in this area.

In the case of real estate investment trusts, REITs, one would again assume the Green Party would have liked to do something about the competitive advantage those trusts have in buying up housing stock, in competition with first-time buyers and families looking for homes. Aontú, the smallest party in the Dáil, produced a Bill to delete the competitive taxation advantages REITs have in regard to buying houses. This seems like a platform that would be attractive to the Green Party and one on which it would have influence in the Government. Again, we see no sign of its influence in that space. There is a whole series of areas in which levers could be pulled that would make housing more affordable and accessible to families and first-time buyers, reduce the competitive advantages currently held by large-scale international investors and create a level playing field in these markets. We are not seeing any evidence of the Green Party pushing or holding the Government to account in this regard.

Perhaps the party does not feel it is possible to do so. However, if we look at other Governments in the past, it has been done. I would be no fan of the Progressive Democrats, which, in many ways, had the opposite politics to those of my party and me. However, when the party was in government with Fianna Fáil, it was the tail that wagged the dog. In many ways, Fianna Fáil is without ideology and without an ideological compass. It is a party well suited to being pushed in a certain direction. There is no evidence of the Green Party doing any pushing in the areas I have outlined. I urge those members of the party who have a strong social conscience on real issues, such as housing, to start to flex their muscles while they can. The electorate will not thank the party for remaining silent on these issues, if it does so, for the remaining years of the coalition.

Another example is in regard to the capping of rents. Rental prices are surging around the country at the moment. There is no excuse at this time for such increases. I expect the Minister of State probably agrees with me that there is no logical business or social justification for increasing rents throughout society at this time. Even those landlords who were in negative equity in the past are receiving rents that cover mortgages that may have been taken out prior to 2009 or 2010. However, we have come back to the well three times in terms of legislation on capping rents. All of those Bills have been weak efforts. All the while, we have a society in which there is massive housing distress. I reckon there are 1 million people in housing distress in the State, including those who are still working their way through the courts following the mortgage distress arising from the banking crash, people who are locked out of housing because of the surging rents facing their generation and those who cannot afford to buy homes. In Dublin right now, people need a deposit of approximately €52,000 and an income of €100,000 to be able to buy one of the cheapest homes available. Hundreds of thousands of people are still on local authority housing waiting lists. Thousands of people are homeless and some of them are dying on the streets. Last year, I brought to the attention of the Dáil that 72 people had died in homelessness on the streets of Dublin, a figure that was far higher than that for the previous year. Those data - that human story - were not even being collected in any other county in the State.

I am amazed that Green Party Members were not jumping up and down on issues such as this. I hope they have not corralled themselves into one or two Departments. I urge the Minister of State to start using his influence on issues such as housing, which is a national emergency in this country at the moment.

The recent rental sector survey report for 2020 by the Residential Tenancies Board found that affordability is a significant issue for tenants

More than half of the surveyed tenants are spending more than 30% of their income on rent and 64% of those are in Dublin. Needless to say, I support anyone who is at risk of homelessness following an eviction notice. We need to try to prevent their entry into emergency accommodation.

Rights of tenants are not fully addressed in legislation. A tenant is left very vulnerable when there are issues in the property they are renting. They are afraid to draw the landlord onto them in case they decide to sell the property and they become homeless. The local authorities need to move faster to ensure works are carried out when there is a problem with a rental house. I recently came across an example where a tenant found 22 items wrong with the house they were in. The landlord said they did not have the money to deal with it and the tenant was left high and dry. The choice was to stay in the house or to get out. The landlord could either sell the house or know there were plenty of other people who wanted to rent the house no matter what condition it was in.

As much goodwill as the Minister might have to help people who are homeless, his Government has been the cause of increasing costs for people living in a house. At a time of Covid crisis and at a time of a national crisis for fuel, the Government has used a percentage model on fuel which means that every person in a house that does not have proper upgraded heating systems, such as air-to-water heat pumps, solar panels and underfloor heating, are left heating their houses with oil or solid fuel. The Government's answer to that was to increase the taxes on all those fuels. The Government has increased the taxes for a household with one car by €30 a week. For a household with two cars, the Government has increased it by €60. In a home heated by solid fuel, the Government has taken an extra €20 on the cost of coal, bales of briquettes or whatever they are using. For a house with oil heating, the Government has increased fuel costs by €30 per week.

Is it any wonder that people are going cold and people are homeless? They pay excessive rents for poor accommodation, which means they need to heat the houses. What does the Government do? It increases the taxes at a time the most vulnerable need its help. I have said this in this House on more than one occasion: we all have a green agenda and we all want to save the planet. However, in a time of crisis, it is up to the Government to protect the people who need our help. We did it after the arrival of Covid when things could be changed overnight and we helped to protect people. The Minister's outlook is completely wrong in helping people; they are in homeless accommodation.

I have been involved in construction all my life and I am still self-employed. The cost of materials to build houses or retrofit houses has increased by 47%.

I am not a landlord, but I know many tenants and I know many landlords. I know some very good landlords and some very good tenants. I also know many bad landlords and many bad tenants. We have that in all walks of life. I have seen people who have got into mortgage arrears. They may have been unsuccessful in getting funding to try to keep their house and have to sell the house. These people end up in the rental market usually with a local landlord who would look after them. However, there are also vulture funds and big business, which at every turn are increasing rents. If they can establish that someone else might pay more rent, they will try to push the tenant out. This is a very serious situation.

The Minister can help many people who are paying excessive rents in poor accommodation. They can even be helped through fuel. At a time when Europe asked Ireland to reduce taxes, the Government increased them. As I said earlier today, the Government is taking €5.6 billion in extra taxes it is charging on fuel. That includes home heating oil, coal, briquettes and fuel that goes into every vehicle. Yesterday, I met farmers who were protesting at the gate over how difficult it was for their generation to survive. The Government is going to make them homeless with the way it is carrying on. It has lost all grip with reality. It does not understand what it is like for people who do not have infrastructure.

Whereas the Government might not be able to help people to get accommodation in certain areas, it can help people to hold onto the accommodation they have until something else becomes available to them by freezing the tax at a set price. It is like a tracker mortgage whereby the Government sets the tax it is going to take from different sections for 12 months. That means everyone knows exactly what they have in their hand when it comes to their being able to afford the rent. In the same way as people trying to pay their mortgages, they can then set down exactly how much money they have in their hand to try to keep their family safe so that they do not become homeless. That is what the Government can do for people who have to travel to work in a car because of no infrastructure due to the failure of this Government and previous governments to look after people who live where there is no infrastructure. Covid has highlighted the lack of infrastructure throughout the country.

The Minister could help by proposing that Government stop using the percentage model and lock in our taxes. I accept it needs to raise tax to pay for services; we understand that. However, this is a time of crisis. The quickest way for the Government to provide relief to people is to reduce the tax on fuel - the extra tax on fuel. The Government should go back to its 2020 model where it was taking 81 cent per litre; it is now taking €1. That is 19 cent multiplied by 2 million cars, 40,000 heavy goods vehicles, 338,000 light goods vehicles and 71,000 tractors. The Government can make a direct impact on people's purses and they can use it to keep them warm in a house that is in poor repair until they can get something better, but it refuses to do that.

There are many ways to try to help the homeless. There are many ways to try to stop people becoming homeless. That is one way the Government can have a direct impact. By giving people €100 towards an electricity bill, if they are relying on electricity to heat their home and the heat going out through the window, it is €170 million of their own money the Government is giving back to the taxpayer when it is taking in €5.6 billion in extra taxes since 2020. It is in the Minister's hands.

As one of the five Deputies who introduced this Bill last week on behalf of the Simon Communities of Ireland, I support the Bill, as every and any action that can prevent people being evicted into homelessness is a progressive protective step for people facing increasing notices to quit, evictions and homelessness.

My colleagues in my constituency office report that they have seen a steady increase in the number of families and individuals presenting at the office who face notices to quit. One such couple, who came in yesterday, have been privately renting the same house from a private landlord for the last 17 years. They have two children, one of whom has special needs and is strongly linked in with the community. For them, facing a notice to quit is a nightmare. It exposes the insecurity of private rented accommodation for families and the need for a ramping up of the cost-rental model of housing for people and families. Rent should not be based on the market rate but on affordability relative to income.

These families and individuals are reflected in a recent article written by Dr. Rory Hearne which noted that since July this year, there has been an 18% increase in the number of children in homeless accommodation, with a 25% increase in the south and south west. This is a shocking increase. The eviction ban of March 2020 meant the number of notices to quit fell dramatically, by 83%, in the second quarter of 2020. It fell again in the first quarter of this year due to the October 2020 moratorium. After the ban was removed in April, eviction notices doubled from 352 in the first quarter of the year to 841 in the second quarter, and reached 887 in the third quarter. Two thirds of these were issued to tenants outside Dublin.

Threshold has dealt with almost 4,000 eviction cases this year, which is about 1,000 more than the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, figure. This suggests a significant number of landlords are failing to register their eviction notices with the RTB, which is a legal requirement. This is coupled with an unprecedented shortage of available rental property. People have nowhere to go when they face these notices. The Simon Communities of Ireland found that in Cork city, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford city not one property was available to rent within the affordability range of someone on a low income who was eligible for a housing assistance payment, HAP.

The Bill is designed to reduce the number of people evicted into homelessness. It will allow local authorities to determine whether a person or family is at risk of homelessness. Such a determination would trigger an extension in the notice period of that person's or family's tenancy in order to avoid entry into emergency accommodation at the end of the four-week period. It proposes to change tenancy laws so that a person or family at risk of homelessness is provided with a three-month extension to their notice period. The three-month extension would be triggered by a housing authority or local authority certifying a person as being at risk of homelessness, within the meaning set out in the Housing Act, upon the termination of the existing notice period.

The Right 2 Change party's housing policy goes further that this in providing that legislation should be introduced to ban all economic evictions into homelessness. In saying that, I support the Bill as it is progressive and I commend the Simon communities and Mr. Wayne Stanley on advancing this legislation. I welcome the fact that the Minister contacted the Simon communities this morning and agreed to progress the substance of the Bill in the first quarter of next year. Deputies on this side of the House will ensure that happens. In tandem with this Bill going through Committee Stage in the first quarter of next year, it has been predicted that Omicron variant cases will double every two days in the coming period. On that basis, we should introduce an eviction ban immediately because people in very poor housing conditions will be infected and potentially end up in hospital.

I thank Sinn Féin for using its Private Members' time to put this Bill on the agenda.

I listened to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien's response to the Bill and his acceptance that it can contribute to early intervention, thus supporting families or individuals who are at risk of homelessness and, by extension, helping to prevent people from becoming homeless. The Minister also said that no single action or law, including this Bill, will deal with the crisis of homelessness. I fully agree with him, but nobody has suggested, certainly not in my hearing, that this Bill is any kind of magic potion. It could be described simply and straightforwardly as a practical proposal that does what it says on the tin.

Where a local authority determines a person or family who is under notice to quit or facing eviction is at risk of homelessness, a three-month extension to their tenancy will be granted. People might ask what good that will do and say it is only postponing the inevitable. That is not the case. I will outline the experience of the Simon communities nationally and North West Simon Community. Many individuals will be given a notice to quit because a landlord is selling the property or for another reason. They spend the notice period searching locally, scouring different rental sites, checking with friends and family, asking around and doing everything they can to find another rental property. The weeks pass and, very often, nothing is available and they cannot afford whatever is available. Then panic sets in. They approach housing agencies like the Simon communities or local councillors and Deputies but there is no time. If, however, this Bill was in place, those at risk of becoming homeless could liaise with the local authority, housing agency or local representatives for the three-month period and avoid becoming homeless.

Families and people become homeless faster than most people think. It is an issue that is much closer than most people think for many renters. It happens quickly. People only need do is speak to someone who is homeless or the agencies that deal with the homeless. The Bill gives a bit of extra space and breathing room. That is why early intervention is so important and the reason the Simon communities drafted this Bill is that its practical day-to-day experience tells it that this extra time matters. During that time, families and individuals are engaging with homeless services and their local authorities. I thank the Simon Communities of Ireland for giving me the opportunity to be one of the six Deputies who sponsored this Bill. I thank Sinn Féin for giving its Private Members' time so that we could debate it.

It is important to say that sometimes people think homelessness is largely an urban issue, but is also a rural issue. Nationally, the Simon Communities of Ireland published a study, Locked Out, which surveyed 16 areas, two of which were Sligo and Leitrim. Specifically in Leitrim, of the 13 properties that were available to rent at the time of the survey, not one property came within the housing assistance payment rate for singles, couples or families. According to daft.ie, rental prices in Leitrim increased by 16% in the year to quarter 2 of 2021. In Sligo town there was a similar picture. There were ten properties to rent but not one came within the HAP rate for singles, couples or families. In Sligo, the average increase in rents was 14.5%.

The Minister should look at what is happening in the north west. I thank the Simon Communities of Ireland for its good work. Of the 104 households it is currently supporting, only 20% are in reasonably secure accommodation; 28 are sofa-surfing; 13 are sharing overcrowded accommodation; 11 have received eviction notices; 11 are in emergency accommodation; four are in hospital; three are sleeping in tents; two were recently evicted; one is in a caravan; and one is in a car.

The only solution to homelessness is a home. Until there is greater supply, two measures will help, namely, the provision of a system of early intervention, as proposed in this Bill, and an increase in the rates payable under HAP.

We will return to the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Duffy.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for sharing his time with me on this very important Bill. I also thank the Simon Communities of Ireland, with which I engaged on this Bill, and Wayne Stanley in particular for unifying many parties on both sides of the House on this critical issue. It is a very reasonable proposal which I hope the Government will seriously consider progressing and supporting. As mentioned by my colleagues in the Opposition, the Bill very simply aims to identify people at risk of homelessness and to provide the support and services needed to prevent the household, whether it be a family with children or a single person, from entering homelessness by means of a 12-week extension.

According to a recent Threshold report, tenancy termination has become the number one issue for tenants in the private rental sector. A stark figure shows that almost half of terminations brought to Threshold in 2020 were ultimately found to be invalid for reasons including invalid notices of termination and evictions and threatened evictions being illegal. The solution here is tenancy security, strengthened enforcement and public awareness to ensure that tenants and landlords are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities.

I would like to correct the Dáil record in respect of Deputy Tóibín's comments. Green Party policies agreed in the programme for Government or by my team and I since last year include the introduction of cost-rental accommodation totalling 2,000 units a year, which is just the start; tenancies of indefinite duration; 100% public housing on public land; the abolishment of co-living and strategic housing developments; a referendum on a right to housing; a town centres first policy to revitalise our towns; the commencement of 30,000 units in the first ten months of this years and retrofitting social homes. I should add that the Green Party policy of heat conservation, implemented through Part L of the building regulations, has brought more people out of fuel poverty than any other policy in the history of the State. Despite what Opposition Members might critique, I am sure they agree that cost-rental accommodation and tenancies of indefinite duration will not only assist in dealing with the immediate crisis, but will also provide long-term security and affordability to tenants, both of which have been missing key elements in Irish housing policy.

However, the Bill could be strengthened. The Government could go further by ensuring that intervention is provided from the very start once a notice to quit is served. This would ensure households do not reach crisis point and would prevent heightened levels of anxiety and distress. It would also give local authorities and organisations plenty of time to provide services. I submitted this proposal as an amendment to the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021 but, disappointingly, it did not get accepted, perhaps due to time constraints. I hope to revisit these proposals with my colleagues on the committee.

To conclude, I again extend my support for this Bill and commend the Simon Communities of Ireland not only on its legislative work, but also on its front-line services that have seen thousands of households saved from homelessness and on its constant willingness to provide advice to me and other legislators.

I again thank Sinn Féin, the other co-sponsors of the Bill, the Simon Communities of Ireland and Deputy Ó Broin for bringing forward this Bill. It is great to have cross-party unity on this matter. I will quickly raise a number of issues that Members have brought up in their contributions.

With regard to private emergency accommodation, new standards are currently being rolled out in each facility. This will be completed early in the new year. The standards are based on the national quality standards framework. I mention this in connection with Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's comments. In terms of health, Housing for All provides that every homeless person is to have an individual healthcare plan. Funding was allocated in the budget to provide for these additional services. To respond to Deputy Tóibín's contribution, apart from his bizarre comments with which he wasted his speaking time having a go at the Green Party, a review of the fiscal treatment of landlords is to be carried out by the third quarter of 2022. This is a commitment under Housing for All.

As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has already outlined, this Government's commitment to preventing homelessness is strong and will continue to be unwavering. Policies are in place, backed by the necessary funding, to help people remain in their homes. We are preventing, and will continue to prevent, homelessness from occurring in the first instance. We all agree that preventing homelessness is a priority for Government to address. The Government will therefore not be opposing the Bill this evening. No party or Deputy has a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to addressing our toughest challenges. My Government colleagues and I welcome all proposals as to how we can improve our response in dealing with the particular needs of those facing the prospect of homelessness. That is why I welcome this Bill this evening.

In enacting legislation, we have to make sure that law is fit for purpose and will deliver the desired outcomes. The Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 regulate the landlord-tenant relationship in the rented residential sector and set out the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. Any proposed measures that would impact on private property rights require detailed consideration and scrutiny having regard to the provisions of Article 43 of the Constitution and the associated legal complexities. In the context of recent and future changes to the Residential Tenancies Acts, it was and remains important for any rental reform to be justifiable and necessary as a matter of priority to avoid the risk of weakening the stability of, and confidence in, the rental sector. The Government relies on the private rental sector to provide much-needed housing generally as well as housing through which social housing needs can be met. Any actions that directly or inadvertently undermine the economic viability of rental accommodation provision could negatively impact on both existing and future supply of rental accommodation or on the wider economy and damage future capacity and attractiveness for both landlords and tenants.

As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, outlined, he is required to commence a review of the operation periods of termination notices to be given to tenants before 4 June 2022. It is my understanding that he has committed to bringing this forward to earlier in 2022. In this context, the Simon Communities of Ireland's proposal will be carefully considered.

I want to talk further about the actions the Government is undertaking to prevent homelessness. Next year's housing budget of €4 billion will see the largest amount spent on housing in the history of the State. The available funding will deliver social and affordable homes. A major focus in this regard will be on investment in the delivery of new-build units, with an overall target for new homes. Housing for All commits to the delivery of more than 9,500 new-build social homes on average over the next five years. More than 90,000 new social homes will be delivered in the period from 2022 to 2030. Approximately 18,000 cost-rental homes will be delivered by local authorities, approved housing bodies and the Land Development Agency between now and 2030. Housing for All provides funding and commits to delivering 36,000 affordable homes for purchase, an average of 4,000 per annum.

Overall, it is estimated that Ireland will need 33,000 new homes to be provided each year from 2021 to 2030. Housing for All plans to deliver these homes. These are ambitious targets and a testament to the ongoing work in the Department, local authorities, approved housing bodies and the private sector. Work is also under way with a housing delivery co-ordination office and the local authorities on the implementation of measures to deliver housing solutions for households on the social housing waiting list.

While it is undoubtedly the most crucial part of the jigsaw, the provision of housing will not, on its own, be sufficient to help all individuals exit homelessness or be prevented from entering it in the first place. For this reason, other programmes to address homelessness are predicated on the understanding that many households experiencing homelessness have additional support needs. Specific measures are required to address those needs. These include measures to help rough sleepers into sustainable accommodation, the continued expansion of Housing First with a focus on the construction and acquisition of one-bed homes and, importantly, ensuring that there are dedicated resources and funding to deliver the necessary health supports, including mental health supports, required to assist homeless people with complex needs. Housing First currently supports more than 600 former rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation with significant health, mental health and addiction issues to remain in their own homes. In line with the commitment in Housing for All, we are planning to expand the targets set out under the national implementation plan for the period from 2018 to 2021.

Housing for All commits to working to eradicate homelessness by 2030. It sets out a number of commitments that will build upon the comprehensive prevention mechanisms that are already in place and delivering results. If these prevention mechanisms need to be improved, we are open to considering new ideas. That is why we want to see this proposed legislation scrutinised further. Many of those with experience of homelessness say that agencies should be working together better. It is a cause of frustration when different agencies and services do not work together towards common goals. Eradicating homelessness by 2030 is an ambitious goal that will require the co-ordinated actions of a wide variety of agencies and stakeholders. A holistic approach with enhanced levels of cohesion is required. This is why the Minister is establishing a national homeless action committee. This committee will be cross-governmental and inter-agency in composition and will have the involvement of key stakeholders. It will ensure better coherence and co-ordination among homelessness-related services in delivering policy measures and actions. The Minister has identified all nominees that will be part of his group.

In conclusion, I thank the House again for providing an opportunity to discuss this legislation. It has given us a chance to talk about preventative measures to tackle homelessness as well as the actions needed to increase housing supply, the delivery of social housing supply and initiatives to address homelessness.

The number of people experiencing homelessness still remains much too high. The commitments outlined in the Housing for All policy and continued interagency co-operation between different Departments, local authorities and partners in the voluntary and NGO sector will be of vital importance as we continue to address this issue. The Bill will go forward for pre-legislative scrutiny where its deficiencies can be addressed and its potential effectiveness assessed. In the meantime, progress has been and will continue to be made in this critical area. We have an ambitious programme of work that will be intensified and accelerated in the months and years to come to eradicate homelessness by 2030.

There is a scenario which has become far too prevalent. Let us imagine a context where a landlord has issued a notice to quit. Anxiety would set in as the people concerned desperately search for somewhere to live. It may prove impossible, however, to find anywhere affordable. The housing assistance payment, HAP, may not be sufficient to cover the rent of any of those places which are available. The clock will tick down for people in that situation and soon enough they will find themselves homeless. People in such a scenario would then present themselves to their local authority as being homeless and that is a devastating prospect for any family. We should think about that reality and how it feels for any individual or family to be in such a situation.

This has become an all-too-common reality for many of our people. Currently, some 61 families in Galway city have received notices to quit and have presented themselves to city hall as being in need of assistance. These families will experience incredible fear and anxiety during Christmas and great uncertainty about what will happen in the new year. This legislation would give them much relief. These 61 families are in addition to those currently in homeless accommodation. Some 27 families are in homeless hubs, while 53 families are in private emergency accommodation. Therefore, a total of 80 families are facing Christmas without a place to call home. As we know, many people in homeless accommodation are told to look for HAP accommodation. The reality, however, is that there are often no properties available within the limits of the HAP payments. This is an issue which keeps arising in Galway city and this precarious housing situation has been created by this Government and its forebears.

In Galway city, more money has again been allocated this year for homeless emergency services. While this year-on-year increase is needed, it does not address people’s housing needs and the requirement to build more houses. I am pleased to see that the Government is not opposing our legislation. It is fantastic to see cross-party solidarity in bringing forward this legislation based on work done by the Simon Communities of Ireland. However, we need action in this regard. We cannot have a situation where homelessness is discussed in this Chamber each Christmas and people say how terrible it is, only for very little to be done about it and the subject is then discussed again the following year. I hope therefore that this Bill will be the start of a new collaboration between the Government and the Opposition to tackle homelessness.

Like everyone else, I thank the Simon Communities of Ireland for its work on this legislation. I welcome that the Government representatives have talked about delivering on the substance of the Bill early in the new year. We must ensure that happens. The people we are talking about are those facing notices to quit and the possibility of homelessness. What the Government has failed to do, like many governments, is to deliver early interventions to stop people falling into homelessness. This is the idea of a three-month extension with local authorities engaging whereby we can stop problems before they become much larger. This is not a silver bullet but it is a simple solution and it must happen.

We are all aware that next weekend the Simon communities will get great support for their fundraising efforts. Councillor Antóin Watters has invited me out to the Cooley Peninsula to a sleep-out being held to fundraise for the Peter McVerry Trust. People are very good in this regard but we must deal with the substantive issue. We have major issues with housing. We accept that this is a small step and that we must deal with the main issue of housing supply. That goes without saying. Everyone has recorded their contributions on that issue.

We do not, however, have sufficient homeless supports. I know of many instances where vulnerable people have been put into houses. The required supports have not been put in place around them and terrible things have happened. There have been issues of criminality and antisocial behaviour. There is a need for the State to help in this regard. The required services include the Garda and mental health services, and go beyond the local authorities. If we do not put in the requisite supports, however, then we will end up with issues such as those that occurred in my town recently. Two houses there went on fire when vulnerable people were used and abused by criminals. What happens in situations like that is that we end up with a complete disaster. It is unacceptable that people have had to live with those situations.

We must also deal with the issue of the thresholds in respect of getting on the housing list. There are difficulties regarding how that is assessed. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and to the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Peter Burke, about this issue. The solution must be expedited. The other major issue is that I know people who would stay in their parents' house, but they cannot because they are afraid of losing the time they already accrued on the housing waiting list. Therefore, they are taking from what is already a limited number of houses in the private sector. We have many solutions for this problem. Here is one. It needs to be done.

I thank Wayne Stanley and the Simon Communities of Ireland for its work on this simple but important legislation. I also acknowledge all the members of the other political parties in opposition who co-signed this Bill, including those in the Labour Party, the Social Democrats, the Independent Group, People Before Profit-Solidarity, as well as my own colleagues.

Everybody has said that legislation like this will be useful and that it will not solve all the problems in this area but that it will give us another tool to try to help address some of the issues in this regard and to help some of the people affected. I am the kind of person who takes people at their word and therefore I accept what has been said by all the Government representatives who spoke on this issue. The issue here, however, is not whether all of us here mean what we say but whether we do the things that we say we will. In that regard, if we let this Bill meander through Committee Stage for months and months, then it will be of no value. I urge the Minister of State to discuss with his colleagues in the Department whether there may be a way for the Government to take the spirit of this provision and to work it into legislation that the Government itself is going to enact early next year. That would mean that the Minister of State's officials would be able to deal with all the deficiencies in the Bill that he and the Minister outlined. In addition, it would also mean that the provisions would become law. We did something similar with the Residential Tenancies (Student Rents and Other Protections) (Covid-19) Bill 2021, which was based on the work of the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, as well as back when Eoghan Murphy was the Minister with responsibility in this area.

Those of us who have been in this House a little bit longer than the current Minister of State have a terrible sense of dejà vu when we have these debates. We are told of the Government’s commitment to addressing this issue and of the long list of actions and high levels of expenditure which will be mobilised to address the housing and homelessness crisis. Yet, month on month and year on year, the problems get worse. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, was absolutely right when he said there was a significant drop in family homelessness, especially, in the first year and half after the onset of Covid-19. There is a simple reason for that and it was not because of any of the policies of the Government or its predecessor, other than an emergency ban on evictions due to the impact of Covid-19. That was a public health measure, and similar to one that many of us had been arguing for as a social policy emergency measure for many years.

The result was that homelessness fell by 60% across the State. In some areas, family homelessness fell by as much as 80%. The difficulty now is that all those protections have been removed and month-on-month the figures are rising in exactly the same way as they did when Eoghan Murphy was the Minister. I will work constructively with anybody to try to tackle this crisis. We will all be judged by our actions, however, and not by our words. Let us therefore ensure that in the weeks ahead our actions match the words that we all used here tonight. As I said at the end of my opening remarks, let us make 2022 the year of preventing homelessness and of dramatically reducing homelessness.

Question put and agreed to.
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