Private Rental Sector: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

notes that:

- the private rental sector is dysfunctional with ever increasing rents and decreasing standards;

- the average State-wide rent now stands at €1,414 per month and the average new rent in Dublin city is €1,951, €1,370 in Galway city, €1,452 in Cork city, €1,265 in Limerick city and €1,067 in Waterford city - an annual increase of 0.9% State-wide;

- too many working people cannot access secure or affordable accommodation, and too many young people are forced to reside with parents and relatives;

- renters do not have the same protections as those who can afford to own their own home;

- Government policy favours subsidy to big developers and institutional landlords over local authorities and approved housing bodies;

- investment funds pay virtually no tax but charge sky-high rents;

- despite being banned, there are still planning applications lodged for over 2,000 co-living spaces;

- co-living remains an entirely unsuitable housing model and is a threat to the fight against Covid-19;

- public health experts have warned that sub-standard and overcrowded private rental accommodation poses a significant risk to the continued spread of Covid-19;

- sub-standard and overcrowded properties continue to be advertised on letting sites such as daft.ie and rent.ie, with floorspace well below 29 metres squared - the minimum area recommended by the Co-Living/Shared Accommodation Report, published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in October 2020;

- short term lets without adequate planning permission continue to be advertised on platforms such as Airbnb;

- local authorities do not have the capacity or resources to fully assess and inspect private rental properties and therefore cannot be effective in ensuring compliance with standards;

- in the first nine months of 2020, 87 per cent of properties in Dublin city were deemed on a first inspection to be non-compliant with the standards;

calls on the Government to:

- enact legislation to immediately ban rent increases for three years;

- give renters a break by allowing renters to claim up to one month’s rent back in tax credits;

- state clearly what is meant by affordable rent and who will be eligible for the proposed cost rental housing scheme;

- resource local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver affordable cost rental homes at a scale that would cost between €700 and €900 per month depending on the size of a property;

- urgently legislate for tenancies of indefinite duration, as promised in the Programme for Government, to provide tenants with more security;

- publish a plan to deal with the disorderly exit of accidental and semi-professional landlords from the rental market;

- adequately fund local authorities to ensure that 25 per cent of all private rental properties are inspected once a year so that renters can be sure that their accommodation is safe;

- immediately enact the Property Services (Advertisement of Unfit Lettings) (Amendment) Bill 2019, debated in the Seanad in April 2019;

- publish the results of the six-month survey of issues surrounding the advertisement of unfit rental lettings as promised in 2019; and

- immediately amend and update the minimum standards as set out in section 65 of the Housing Act, 1966, and provide for robust penalties for breaches relating to overcrowding.

I am sharing time with Senator Boylan. I will have nine minutes, she will have seven.

The private rental market is broken. It is dysfunctional, and everybody knows it. People are paying extortionate, sky-high rents and getting no protection in return. They have no protection if the home is sold, if the landlord decides to move in or if the landlord decides to move in a family member. They have no protection for their deposit. They have no protection from people whose name does not even go on the lease. Crucially, they have no certainty in terms of the level of rent people are being asked and forced to pay.

For its part, Sinn Féin has consistently outlined alternative policies for the private rental market time and again. We have called for one month's rent to be put back in the pocket of every renter in this State through a refundable tax credit to the value of €1,500 because rents are too high and they need to come down. To stop any future rent increases, Sinn Féin has also been calling for a three-year ban on rent increases at the current level for existing tenants and, for any future tenants, at a Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent index level, depending on the size, location and type of dwelling.

People are paying one quarter, one third or sometimes half of their salaries for half decent accommodation and a roof over their heads. Something needs to give. We need to offer people hope. The Government has the opportunity to offer something to renters tonight. It has the opportunity to offer something to people who believe that this city is actively working against them. Those individuals are right. Dublin is a hostile place for renters and it is actively working against them. People see all of the wrong things happening. They see luxury student accommodation changing the face and the fabric of inner-city communities.

They see co-living developments continue to be approved despite apparently being banned. They see office blocks and hotels where they should be seeing affordable accommodation, cultural spaces, community spaces and. for that matter, offices that may well be the ghost estates of tomorrow.

I want to share the stories of the people I know; some of my friends. Friend A lives in Dublin city between Stoneybatter and Phibsborough and pays €500 per month for a single-bed box room. This person's name has never gone on the lease because they are afraid the rent will go up. They do not call the landlord about anything whatsoever because they would rather be invisible.

Friend B works on the front line. They went to view a three-bed newly-built apartment near Harold's Cross that costs €3,000 per month and thought, maybe, they could do it. However, one of the bedrooms was not even big enough for a wardrobe, which was in the hall. Who, therefore, was going to pay less than €1,000 for a €3,000 per month apartment? Unsurprisingly, this person did not pursue the apartment.

Friend C, like many others, lives at home with family and does not expect to be moving out into the rental market any time soon. Friends D and E admit that they got lucky because they are paying mates' rates for places in which they are staying that are owned by family, friends or friends of family. Ultimately, all this comes down to luck. Nobody can deny this is what it comes down to. These are privileged stories. We have not even started in terms of the other end of the market. Why can we not give people certainty and security considering they are paying almost half of their salary to put a roof over their heads?

We need to build affordable cost rental accommodation on a scale far beyond what the Government is currently proposing, where rents are only charged based on what it costs to build, manage and maintain those properties. The Government has put €35 million on the table for approximately 400 units this year. We have no idea what is planned next year or the year after. We need to increase the supply of cost rental to the point that we are buying and building 4,000 units every year for the next ten years. Sinn Féin's fully costed budget alternative in 2021 outlined and allocated more than €900 million to achieve that aim.

We all saw the report by Louise Byrne on "Prime Time" last week. During the Covid-19 pandemic, rents across the State have gone up. In Dublin, although one would not think it, rents have come down by 3%. I believe the market is actively resisting a shift in rent because big investors and big landlords have big pockets. Some new apartment blocks are half full, such as Clancy Quay in Islandbridge. Some tenants have come to informal agreements with their residential landlords but are worried sick about the rent arrears post pandemic. That is why a ban on rent increases, evictions and notices to quit and putting one month's rent back in the pockets of renters, is so important. It is why it is important that we ensure the banks work with landlords on mortgage repayments.

In conclusion, I have mentioned Covid-19 and its effect on the private rental market. More than that, I believe Covid-19 is affecting people's priorities for the future. People want the Government to adopt bold policies that defend their interests and those of their loved ones. A demand for change exists that goes way beyond this current pandemic. We need to reduce people's rents and ban rent increases until we have sufficient supply. We need for the State to drive that supply with affordable cost rental accommodation every year for a decade.

I call on Senator Boylan to second the motion.

I second the motion. I am delighted to be able to be in the position to do so because as my colleague, Senator Warfield, said, the housing crisis is definitely out of control. This motion could not be timelier. It addresses many of the problems faced by renters such as short-term letting, prices being driven up, people being forced to move home and rents that are too high and insecure.

Our motion also draws attention to the poor standards in the private rental market. This is the aspect on which I want to focus in the time available.

We carried out a survey over the weekend which captured a glimpse of the poor quality of some available rentals. One respondent from the Tallaght area pointed to the nature of the problem: "I am afraid to ask the landlord to do anything in the house in case it upsets the applecart." People are in no position to stand up for themselves and ask for better standards because their tenancy rights are weak and they live in fear of eviction. Several respondents in the survey talked about there being black mould in their rental properties and nothing being done about it. One person had to call Bord Gáis when the landlord did nothing about the carbon monoxide alarm ringing in the rental property.

There is a need to tackle standards of living accommodation that are unsafe. In the first nine months of 2020, 87% of properties in Dublin city were deemed, on first inspection, to be non-compliant with the standards. This motion calls for local authorities to be adequately funded to carry out absolutely essential inspections. Several of the properties advertised on daft.ie are not up to standard, including some in Tallaght for which no building energy ratings, BERs, are displayed, despite there being no apparent reason for an exemption. South Dublin has some of the highest rents in the country, with the average amount charged standing at €1,814.

The standards I would particularly like to focus on today are those relating to energy efficiency. Again, our survey gave an insight into how bad things really are. One person said:

My box bedroom has been freezing all winter and there's nothing that can be done according to the landlord. I can barely afford to live here. If the rent goes up any higher I'll have to leave.

Another said: "Over winter all the oil in the kitchen turned to wax overnight and for a solid 3 months we could see our breath even with the heating on full blast." These stories are backed up by academic studies. We know from research conducted by John Curtis that rental properties are likely to have poor insulation. A total of 55% of rental properties have a BER of D or lower. Lower-cost rental properties are more likely to be in the E, F or G categories on the BER scale.

People are paying sky-high rents and, in return, they often get substandard accommodation that leaves them paying sky-high heating bills. One woman told us that she spends 70% of her wages on rent and bills. Every month she has to worry about affording to eat healthily. Energy poverty is a serious problem in the rental sector but the Government has not done much about it. The major change in respect of energy efficiency in rental properties came in 2009 when the Government introduced the mandatory BER system for properties offered for rent. The idea was that increased transparency would mean people could shop around in order to get more efficient homes and landlords would be incentivised to make more profit by increasing efficiency standards. That all sounds lovely in an ideal market where people can shop around. However, in a rental market where so many people are constantly on the precipice of homelessness, renters do not have the luxury of shopping around. They have to take whatever they can get.

The owners of some properties, including small dwellings with a useful floor area of less than 50 sq. m, are exempt from providing BER certificates. Presumably, this includes the small garden sheds that have been converted into rental properties. I fail to see why people who are living in glorified garden sheds do not deserve BERs. Surely this is something that should be looked at. Another problem with the BER system is a lack of compliance. One need only take a glance at daft.ie to see many homes marked as BER exempt that do not meet the criteria for exemption. Sinn Féin would address this problem with better resourcing of local authorities to carry out inspections.

Making the BER system mandatory was a welcome, albeit tiny, step in the right direction. In the 11 years since, however, the Government has not done much to help improve the energy efficiency of rental properties. It committed to a consultation on rental market energy efficiency in 2016, which was eventually conducted in 2019, but we are still, in 2021, waiting to see the results of it. There are grants available for retrofits but the level of uptake has been extremely underwhelming. There is a strong case for setting minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties to obligate landlords to make the necessary upgrades and make use of the grants that are available.

I accept that landlords need an adequate lead-in time in order to plan, but this is an urgent matter, especially for people at the lower end of the rental market. We know the issues that lead to excess debt in the winter months due to poor energy efficiency. In the meantime, tenants are left in the precarious position where they are afraid to even ask for improvements to be made to rental properties.

People constantly say that Sinn Féin is attacking landlords and that we are anti-landlord, when that is not the case. We have said repeatedly that we want a private rental sector where tenants have security of tenure and affordability and where landlords provide a good service for a fair return. In fact, under Sinn Féin's proposals, we would have a much more stable rental market that is not just better for tenants but would be better for honest landlords too, rather than the split schemes we have at the moment where the big investors get tax deals and the smaller landlords do not. Right now, we need to give renters a break and that is what this motion will do. I encourage all Members to support it because it is coming from a constructive place. Renters are on their knees. They need a break. They need their rents reduced and they need better security of tenure. They need that support and they need support for our motion tonight.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "notes that:" and substitute the following:

- the Government remains fully committed to ensuring an increase in the supply of affordable high quality rental accommodation through continued significant capital investment, including cost rental and other means, and in a manner that respects the security of tenure for renters by ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants;

- the recent rental reforms introduced, in particular the development and expansion of Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs), has led to a moderation of the rate of increase of private sector rents whilst ensuring that the supply of private rental property remains unaffected by these price control mechanisms;

- the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Acts relating to RPZs are due to expire at the end of December, 2021, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is considering what balanced measures may be necessary from 2022, taking into account the constitutionally protected property rights of landlords;

- the Government is committed to improving the security of tenure for tenants through legislating for tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to legal advices;

- the sustained funding provided to local authorities to inspect rental properties and the strong legislative framework under which they operate the regime is making a positive contribution to ensuring that standards are maintained and improved as and when appropriate and is sufficient to enable the required level of oversight of rental standards;

- as per the commitment in the Programme for Government, the new whole-of-Government Plan for Housing – 'Housing for All', that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage intends to publish later this year, will ensure the provision of an adequate supply of high quality affordable rental accommodation remains a cornerstone of Government policy under the plan.

I welcome the Minister. I thank the Senators for bringing forward the motion to the House this evening. I do not know what planet one would have to be living on not to know that there is a crisis in housing affordability and supply, especially in this city. The motion speaks particularly to the crisis situation of renters. It is a crisis that predates Covid, although Covid has compounded the crisis, but it is not as if the crisis did not exist beforehand. That is the reason housing was the single biggest of the immediate issues in the most recent general election. The three parties in government understand that crisis and they are committed to tackling it, not through sloganeering or motions, but by doing the hard work of legislating and passing budgets to make a difference to people's lives and ensure that they have access to secure, affordable homes that meet their requirements and that will allow them and their children to get on with their lives. Access to secure affordable housing is an essential human requirement. It affects the mental and physical health of individuals, but also their economic and social health and their ability to get on with their lives. It has much broader implications for wider society and for macroeconomics.

There are approximately 300,000 private rental tenancies in the rental market, so it is not as if all of them are bad. There are many good quality tenancies and there are many people living in good quality rental accommodation, but there are significant problems with overcrowding and lack of affordability. That is why the Government is committed to ensuring a sustained supply of social and affordable homes. For the first time there will be affordable homes to rent, not just to purchase. We must legislate for it, as there is not any legislation in place for affordable housing to rent. We are trying to pass the legislation and I hope our colleagues on the other side of the House will facilitate the passing of the legislation to allow the Government to provide affordable housing to rent. We must fund it. I take the point that only 440 cost-rental homes will be delivered this year, but that is because there is no pre-existing legislation for it. The local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, are crying out for it. We intend to pass the legislation and to give them the powers to deliver cost-rental homes. Cost rental and affordable rental options will provide people with secure homes, certainty and affordability.

That is what the Government is determined to do. I urge the House to accept the Government amendment, which will be seconded by Senator Cummins. More important, I urge the House to work with the Minister and the Government to tackle once and for all the housing crisis so that all of our citizens can have access to a secure and affordable home, reach their full potential and live their lives as they see fit.

I second the amendment. I do not propose to stand here for six minutes and pretend there are no issues in housing; there are. Likewise, I do not propose to say there are sufficient affordable homes available for working families and individuals because there are not. Equally, however, I do not propose to sit here for the next two hours listening to Sinn Féin pontificate about simplistic solutions to what are very complex problems. I have always said that I will work with anybody but, unfortunately, Sinn Féin consistently presents fairytale solutions that take no account of the real world, the real costs involved, the technical expertise required to deliver housing at scale, state aid rules or constitutional rights. Sinn Féin thinks it can shake the magic housing tree, houses will suddenly fall from the sky and, hey presto, everything will be fixed. In the real world, we need to have a proper functioning housing and rental market. To do that, we must attract investment into the country to build mixed tenure housing, including social, affordable and private purchase housing. I accept the State has a role in that regard but to suggest it can do it alone is a fairytale. It will take private sector investment to build houses.

The thrust of the Sinn Féin motion is the introduction of a rent freeze for a period of three years. Sir Isaac Newton's third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While the slogan of banning rent increases for three years will sound appealing to the electorate, a responsible legislator must look at the consequences of such a move. In Berlin, the left-wing government proclaimed it would solve everything by freezing rents.

Eighteen months into what is its five-year rent freeze, it is important to reflect on some of the predictable consequences. While rents have been frozen and have reduced considerably across the regulated pre-2014 build apartments for existing tenants, what about those who currently do not have a tenancy? As of last September, the number of homes available for rent in Berlin was down 42% by comparison with a year earlier, and the number of pre-2014 homes available for rent had dropped by 59%. Why is that? There has been an exodus of landlords, with an increase in the number of units up for sale of 23%. For those who are lucky enough to get new tenancies in the unregulated new apartments, rents have risen by far in excess of those in any other German city. The Berlin legislation is being challenged in the federal court. If it is overturned, all those who have been paying lower rents will face massive increases and, potentially, large bills for back money. Where will the German Government be then? It is to believe in a fairy tale to believe the proposal contained in the motion is anything other than a reckless gimmick that would inevitably end up being challenged in our courts and that would almost certainly deter continued investment in the rental accommodation market at a time when the key requirement is to continue the progress being made to increase housing supply across the State.

The Sinn Féin motion is a further cynical attempt to paint a picture that the Government is doing nothing in this space when, in fact, the opposite is the case. My party introduced rent pressure zones in 2016. At this stage, some 73% of tenancies in the private rental sector are covered by rent pressure zone designation. The year-on-year growth in rents nationally is now below 2%. This is the first time this has been achieved since 2011, and it is a welcome relief for tenants. It points to a welcome moderation of rent increases in the private rental sector as a result of concerted Government action and initiatives. The Minister is very conscious that the legislative measures on residential tenancies are coming to a conclusion at the end of December and he is considering what action, if any, will be taken, bearing in mind the constitutionally protected property rights of landlords, which Sinn Féin seems to selectively ignore and, at worst, does not care about. One must remember that we cannot have a proper, functioning rental market without landlords. The recent RTB report showed that landlords with five tenancies or fewer account for 72% of all registered tenancies. These landlords should not be vilified. That is coming from someone who does not own a property, let alone a rental property. Unfortunately, given the course of things in recent years, it seems that if one says anything positive in favour of a landlord, one is regarded as being in some way against tenants. That is not the case. To pit one against the other is a great shame and deeply unhelpful. It should be said that only 2% of tenancies in this country actually end in dispute.

I am looking forward to the measures the Government is introducing in the Affordable Housing Bill for cost rental tenure, affordable purchase shared equity and an increase in affordable purchase under Part V of the Housing and Development Act. I certainly hope that every party in this House will support the Affordable Housing Bill when it reaches the floors of the Dáil and Seanad.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. Tá mo chuid Gaeilge uafásach ach is Seachtain na Gaeilge é agus, mar sin, caithfidh mé cúpla focal a labhairt as Gaeilge. Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo ag labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Tá fíorfhadhb ann leis an earnáil cíosa in Éirinn.

It is clear that the rental sector in Ireland is dysfunctional. Back in the good old days, when money was flying around this country, we did away with bedsits. Many single elderly people would be very happy to be in a bedsit today rather than sleeping on a cardboard box on one of the streets surrounding this House.

Countless Governments have allowed the housing sector to go mad over the years. I bought my first house when I was 23. I was a corporal in the Army and I was able to buy a house on a corporal's wages. I lost my first house because of a bad business decision. I have bought and sold 13 houses since then as I moved around the country with various changes in career. The interesting thing is that once I got on the ladder, I was able to either get back onto it or stay on it. I now have children. One of those children, in an excellent job and married to a man in an excellent job, will never ever be able to buy a house in this country. Why? It is because they are paying up to twice in rent what they would pay on a mortgage.

When I talk about the housing sector going absolutely mad in this country, the houses in my estate went to €960,000 during the height of the property boom and when the boom collapsed, they went to €360,000, so some poor unfortunates paid €600,000 more than the house was worth. With no disrespect to my colleagues in the House, I have heard that Government after Government was going to fix the housing market. What happened? We stopped building council houses and we started to build housing agencies instead. We are pumping in hundreds of millions of euro and I do not even know how many housing agencies there are in the country. Perhaps the Minister of State will be able to tell me how many housing groups are now providing social housing.

The truth of the matter is that unless we do something drastic and do it very quickly, we will find ourselves in a situation where nobody will be able to live here. An important issue is that some of the big multinationals that were bringing in from abroad employees with specific skills, because of the cost of the rental market in this country, had to provide accommodation for them as well. I remember speaking to a senior executive of one of those companies some months before the Covid crisis hit us. He told me that the days of coming to Ireland because Ireland has English are rapidly going. He said that his company could get employees in Barcelona who speak English every bit as good as those who live in Dublin, and the cost of accommodation in Barcelona is about 50% of the cost here.

Having a crack at Sinn Féin for the hell of it is something I really do not agree with. What we need in this House, in this Government and in this society right now is all of us pulling in the one direction, and there is some merit in what Sinn Féin is saying today. The animal instincts of capitalism are alive and well and living in Ireland. It is a great place if you have money; it is a horrible place if you do not. The Minister of State talked about the pressure zones but when they were introduced, there was no policing of them. I helped to find a local authority house for a couple in Drogheda when the house they were renting was for rent at €1,100 a month. When they said they were leaving, the landlord said they could not leave for four months because they had been there so long. We got into a bit of argy-bargy. The woman of the house was walking down the street and saw the house advertised at €1,400 a month. So much for the 4% increase. I rang the landlord and he said that she could leave in the morning because the landlord could get €1,400 for a house he was getting €1,000-odd for. The bottom line is that we can have all the regulations we want in place but if we do not police them, there is no getting away from it.

We are talking now about taking public land away from county councils and allowing that public land to be used for building social houses. On the face of it, that looks perfectly good to me. However, the Minister of State will know that local authority representatives - the people elected to local authorities - are outraged by this. The Government is taking whatever few powers they have left away from them. People will make the accusation that I have never sat on a local authority. Amen, I have not. I have been very lucky to come here without going through the tough route of local authority membership. However, at the end of the day, it is simply not good enough to start to write our local authority members out of the provision of housing. I would like to see us getting back to the days when we built local authority houses and made the best houses available for citizens who could not afford to buy their own.

Those who are in rental accommodation are paying the sort of money I am talking about, at one and a half times the mortgage cost. Can we not recognise the rent they paid over three or four years to make a mortgage available? The Cathaoirleach is getting tired of me and I must sit down. I wish the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, well. I think he is trying to do something but let us not pretend there is a silver bullet.

I thank the Sinn Féin group for tabling this motion and the Minister of State for being in the House. It is important to discuss the wider issue of housing policy, especially when it relates to the private rental sector. Since I was elected to this House nearly a year ago, there have been Bills to amend the Residential Tenancies Act twice but there has not been a wider discussion about housing policy. This debate is both needed and timely.

First, I want to address the eviction ban and tying it to the 5 km limit. While most of us anticipate the ability to move and to see people beyond the 5 km, some families are dreading the lifting of the ban and the potential flood of evictions that will happen when this pandemic is over. A welcome but unintended consequence of the pandemic was the response of homeless services. The fact that fewer families are entering homelessness is due to the protections contained in the eviction ban. If we lift the 5 km limit, we will lift that ban.

I know of a family, a couple and two kids, who are only in a house at present because the eviction ban is in place. The father has been served notice for substantial renovations but he thinks that is just an excuse. By the time any adjudication is made by the Residential Tenancies Board, that family will not have anywhere to go. On the same road, a single parent who has lived there for eight years is worried about being kicked out. She is in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP. Her landlord mentioned that he is thinking of selling up and moving to Spain. When she told me the story, I checked the property price register and the landlord had paid less than €100,000 for the house at the bottom of the market. He has made his money back in rent many times in the eight years she has lived there as a rental tenant with HAP, yet she will face homelessness and he will walk off with the guts of a €300,000 profit compared with what he paid for it. That is the rental market today.

When I listen to Government party Members talk about the balance between landlords and tenants, I note the market and the property rights we are facing. If the property rights of landlords are restricting us from being able to give tenants decency in their own home, let us progress the referendum on the right to housing. The Opposition in this House tried twice to give the Minister the power to implement an eviction ban based on regulations and public health advice but not to have it be tied to the 5 km limit. There is no legal or political reason it has to be the case, despite what has been said. I urge the Government, as we are moving on and vaccines are rolling out, to plan effectively for coming out of restrictions to ensure we will not see an increase in homelessness, including family homelessness, as a result of the lifting of the ban. This must be priority number one because, as a result of the pandemic, we have fallen behind with the construction of both public and private housing that we desperately need. I am not blaming the Government for that but I am saying we can plan effectively for the lifting of the eviction ban. Let us not leave people to the ravages of the market again.

There is a difference in power between landlords and tenants. One is living in a home he or she does not own while it is an investment for the other. Senator Warfield quite rightly pointed out that the deposit protection scheme has been promised and legislated for by my colleague, Deputy Kelly, for the past five years but no more progress has been made on the scheme. Queries on deposits increased by 43% last year, according to Threshold. People feel vulnerable and people who are living in rental accommodation feel afraid.

I want to discuss the two flagship initiatives of this Government regarding housing. At the moment, the Land Development Agency, LDA, Bill states that a minimum of 50% must be affordable to buy. A proposed change to Part 5 to 20% is very welcome. However, as the LDA Bill is currently drafted, the other 30% could be sold on to private developers. Many members of the Government do not want to see something like that happen, but we have to ensure that public housing and public land is locked in. It is proposed that only the Minister can decide whether or not to make a disposal. As it currently stands, local authority members have power over that. I urge the Government to consider accepting amendments which will ensure there is 100% public housing on public land and drop the proposal to stop local authority members having power over disposals.

The Affordable Housing Bill provides that any housing must be below market rent. However, that is almost €2,000 per month in Dublin, €1,500 in Cork and €1,400 in Galway. That is not affordable; market rent is not affordable. Affordability is considered to be 30% to 35% of net income. I urge the Government to look at defining affordability in both the Affordable Housing Bill and the LDA Bill to try to make sure that the housing we are building is genuinely affordable for people.

I am very happy to speak in favour of the Sinn Féin motion today. It highlights, as Senator Moynihan said, that this legislation comes through again and again. It went through the last Oireachtas multiple times. Every time the rental tenancies or any of these Bills come through there is never time to substantively discuss the issues. That is why the debate today is really welcome. We see again and again a new emergency measure, a partial fix or, as we saw in the rental tenancies legislation that went through last autumn, unfortunately, some real steps backwards which I am very concerned about.

Regarding the numbers of evictions, the eviction protection is very welcome. It was good that Ireland acted relatively promptly on that and that it was extended. However, an opportunity was missed, as we highlighted during the debate last autumn. I put forward two amendments, one which would extend the rental protection from evictions to 20 km and another which would give the Minister the discretion to extend and link it to another public health direction if he wished. That was not taken up, which is why we now have this situation whereby if we move from 5 km, we create jeopardy for people. Unfortunately, because of the legislation passed last year, the jeopardy is now greater than it ever was.

I urge the Government to promptly address a measure I am extremely concerned about before the ban on evictions is lifted. We know how quickly action can come from the previous listing of evictions in autumn when we saw 360 eviction notices served almost immediately, as soon as the ban was lifted. The provisions in the legislation last year meant that if a tenant was just 28 days in arrears, less than one month's paycheck, there would be just 28 days to pay that back. This applied even to Part 4 tenants, who may have lived for ten or 15 years with security of long-term tenure, and may have had one of the most difficult years of their lives.

I am extraordinarily concerned about the jeopardy we will see because of that 28 days arrears provision, to allow evictions, that came into new legislation last year. It has not yet had an impact because of the suspension, but it is an extraordinary jeopardy. I urge the Government to address it as a matter of priority and, while doing so, to address the issue of the 5 km and 20 km. That is a small piece of legislation that could come through these Houses very promptly.

I want to highlight some other loopholes that have affected Part 4 tenancies in Ireland. These are situations where a good thing is being used as a lever for insecurity - for example, retrofitting, which is something we want to see happen.

Cén fáth nach mbeadh a leithéid de rud ar fáil chun spreagadh a thabhairt do mhic léinn ardchaighdeán a bhaint amach trí Ghaeilge freisin? Luaigh sé freisin an laghdú atá sa mhéid marcanna a thugtar don scrúdú béil, rud a chuir iontas orm mar shílfinn go bhfuil an scrúdú béil i measc na rudaí is tábhachtaí maidir le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge. Mura bhfuil daoine in ann an teanga a labhairt, níl aon todhchaí ag an teanga sin.

Luaigh mé níos luaithe an méid atá á dhéanamh ar leibhéal an chultúir. Tréaslaím le TG4 agus le Raidió na Gaeltachta agus le leithéidí The Irish Times. Léim Alan Titley agus gabhaim ann go rialta agus luaigh mé Éanna Ó Caollaí. Tá daoine ann ag treabhadh an fhóid maidir le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge ar leibhéal ardchaighdeáin. Bhí mé an-tógtha an oíche cheana, agus mé ag éisteacht agus ag breathnú ar "Glór Tíre", leis an méid Gaeilge a raibh á fí isteach acu leis an mBéarla. Shíl mé gur bealach é sin chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn i measc iad siúd a bhfuil ar bheagán Gaeilge, b'fhéidir, nó nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge 100% ar a dtoil acu, díreach mar nach bhfuil sé 100% ar mo thoil agam féin ach an oiread.

Mholfainn cúpla rud eile sa mhéid ama atá fágtha agam. Mar a dúirt mé cheana, mura bhfuil saoránach in ann a chuid gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge leis an Stát nó le Roinn an Rialtais, ní fiú reachtaíocht a bheith ann. Tá gá le hathrú meoin ansin lena chinntiú go bhfuil na cearta ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge. Shílfeá in amanna gur beag suim ná cumhacht atá ag na polaiteoirí ach is iad na státseirbhísigh atá ag cur bac ar dhul chun cinn anseo. Tá súil agam nach bhfuil sé sin fíor. Tá go leor státseirbhíseach a bhfuil meas acu ar an nGaeilge ach tá gá anois le fianaise go bhfuil dul cinn á dhéanamh agus le déanamh.

Sa deireadh, bíodh dul chun cinn sa Tuaisceart maidir le hAcht na Teanga. Táimid ag fanacht leis ó Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus ansin ó Chomhaontú Chill Rìmhinn in 2006. Gealladh reachtaíocht maidir leis an teanga ó shin. Caithfimid dul i dteagmháil leis na haontachtaithe agus a rá leo nach aon chailleadh é cead cultúrtha a thabhairt do lucht na Gaeilge. Caithfimid tabhairt faoi bhealach nua. Mar a dúradh i gcomhaontú na bliana seo caite, Ré Nua, Cur Chuige Nua, ba cheart go mbeadh a leithéid in ann dúinn. Tá sé de dhíth orainn ó Thuaidh agus ó Dheas.

Glaoim ar an Seanadóir Clifford-Lee anois.

What we do not want to do is reduce supply while doing the right thing. We do not want to have a negative impact on supply in the sector. What we need to do is increase supply. We know this. We have been speaking about it for years and it just has not happened. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt to construction. That will have an impact and we may as well acknowledge it. This does not take away from the efforts being made to improve affordability in the sector and ensure that rent does not eat up 50% of earnings and that people are not left wondering from month to month whether they can pay the rent and meet the bills or whether they will have nothing left over for living and enjoying life. That is the position many people find themselves in.

Senator Warfield referred to the situation in the capital. I lived in Dublin for quite a long time, as did my sister, so I know full well what rents are like in the capital and how it has got worse. I assure the Senator that it is a problem that has filtered out throughout the country. It is not just a city problem now. In County Mayo, the number of rental properties available is quite sparse. Very little is available to rent. That is because we had a decade in which people were unable to save a deposit and buy a house as they would normally do. There has not been that natural changeover of properties, with people moving on to build or purchase a home, freeing up the rental property they had in their 20s and making it available for other younger people coming through. This throughput has not been happening in the past decade and there is pent-up demand. I can see it.

In recent years, the number of representations I have had on housing has increased dramatically. When I was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 2016 it was not the biggest issue I was dealing with. I know it was a massive issue in the cities but that was not the case in Mayo. That changed, and two years later it was becoming the top issue coming through the door. There were people from all walks of life, with everybody finding it difficult to find rental properties, particularly in the bigger towns in Mayo such as Castlebar, Westport and Ballina. People were finding they had to move to the smaller villages and rural areas. This poses a difficulty in a rural county where we do not have public transport. These issues have a domino effect, with one issue feeding into the next.

With regard to the cost of rental properties in my home town of Castlebar, going back five years, a three-bedroom property would have rented for €600 or €700 but now we are looking at €1,100 or €1,200. There has been a huge increase in the cost of rents outside the cities. This has filtered into rural areas. This pressure is being felt by many young couples and single people. Very often we focus on young families, forgetting the large cohort of single people who are also looking for housing. Very often they are not considered. I know from dealing with the local authority that it prioritises families with children, and I understand this, but we need to look at the types of housing we are building. Not everybody wants to live in a three-bedroom semi-detached house. Some people want to have one or two-bedroom apartments. We also need to think about how we cater for older people and their housing needs. Many older people living in very big properties would love to downsize if they had the right place to go in their community. They may not want to downsize and move out of the village or town they have lived in all of their lives but they find there are no alternatives to moving far away.

We need to take a holistic approach to housing. We need to cater for the rental sector for those who want to rent. Senator Higgins is correct with regard to security of tenure. We need to build properties where younger people want to live in the towns and cities where they can access work. We also need to look at housing for older people who may want to downsize that is in a community setting and facilitates independent living. Many older people do not want to go to a nursing home. They want a smaller place to which they can step down to in the heart of the community they have grown up and lived in. This option just is not there.

If we take the approach whereby we are getting people through from rental properties who perhaps want to buy and build we will free up those properties for younger families coming through. If we allow older people to downsize if they want to, and not everybody does, we will see properties freeing up for those who need them. There is a suggestion that we keep building three-bedroom semi-detached houses with a patch of grass at the front and another at the back that nobody really wants. We are not listening to the public and the demands that are being made. We will be discussing housing as an ongoing issue in the country for decades to come but at least new ideas are coming through as to how we might cater for all demands, rather than keeping supply as narrow as we have been doing in recent years.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am delighted to have this opportunity to say a few words on housing, which is the most important issue in the country at present. I do not envy the Minister of State or the Minister. Many things have been tried over the past ten years but the housing crisis seems to get worse and worse.

When he served as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley dezoned a great deal of land. The result of this has been that, in some cases, there is now no land available. It takes a long period to get county development plans in place and that has held up supply in some cases. There are many reasons why housing is so scarce. In my view, it is down to financial matters and zoning. Either people are not earning enough money or houses are too expensive. Building a house costs too much. We have to look at the costs involved. If they are too great, people cannot get the required deposit or loan because of the level of their earnings. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. With the new building regulations, the specifications have been set so high that the resultant costs relating to houses are enormous. While the running costs of houses are much less than they were in the case of older dwellings from the point of view of heating and electricity, the initial cost compared with what people are earning is the stumbling block. If people are renting, they are paying too much out of their incomes and cannot save to get a deposit to buy a house. Again, it is a chicken-and-egg situation. Many schemes have been put forward.

When I was a member of Mayo County Council in the 1980s, there was no housing crisis. There was a recession but the Government of the day took on responsibility for building local authority houses. All of the local authorities built a considerable number of houses with the result that there was no one in Ireland who did not have a house at the end of the 1980s. For some reason, the local authorities seem to have pulled back from building houses. They are building, but not to any great degree in comparison with the 1980s.

Senator Higgins stated that the retrofitting of houses should take place while tenants are in situ. This will not happen because people will not retrofit if tenants are still in their homes.

Senator Chambers alluded to the taxation policy. What she said is true. If one pays 50% tax, one is left with only 50% of the money one is paid. One has to pay for maintenance, management fees, in some cases, and for lot of other things, not to mention mortgage repayments or interest payments. I have mentioned to the Minister for Finance that we need to look at taxation policy. Either we have to reduce the level of VAT relating to building houses or make changes in the context of rental income. Vulture funds are paying limited tax but a person with one or two apartments or a small developer with one or two units for rent is paying 50% tax on the rental income. The system is not equal. This is something the Minister of State should look at and it should be discussed with the Minister for Finance. Our taxation policy should play a major role. In the context of taxation, we know that the Government can provide incentives to get matters up and running. I ask the Minister of State to examine the position in this regard.

I wish to highlight a simple statement in the Sinn Féin motion, that is, "too many working people cannot access secure or affordable accommodation, and too many young people are forced to reside with parents and relatives". Is there anyone in this Chamber who disagrees with that? Apparently there is because Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party did not include it in their amendment to the motion. They could not live with it as part of their amendment.

I find that quite extraordinary, particularly given the commentary we have heard this evening. That is the fact of the matter, however, and it is what the Government did with this amended motion. I believe we will be voting on it later. The Minister of State might address why he has withdrawn the statement that "too many working people cannot access secure or affordable accommodation, and too many young people are forced to reside with parents and relatives", when everyone in this Chamber knows it to be true.

Senator Cummins spoke about the real world. I have good news for him. We are not proposing to ban rents. It is not a bad idea but it is not what we are proposing as part of our motion. Perhaps the Senator could look at the motion before he comments. However, I will bring him into the real world of where I live in County Limerick. In my village, a couple with three children had their rent increased at Christmas from €1,200 to €1,400 for a three-bed house. That is a 16% rise. Rent pressure zones, where are you? When that family objected to the increase, the landlord made it clear that if the family did not like it they could be on their way once the pandemic protections ended and that he could have people looking at the house the following month without a problem.

That is the real world that people are facing. The real world in Limerick is €750 for a one-bedroom apartment and that is the cheapest property on Daft.ie today. That is the real world. My question for the Minister of State and my colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is how do they expect working people to afford those rents? How can they possibly afford to pay those rents? Those rents, by the way, have gone up by 45% under the Government's watch since 2016. There is a word for that, and the word is "greed". Let us be absolutely clear about that point.

Senator Burke was right about the differential. While rents have increased overall between 2009 and 2019 by 63%, wages have not moved up at all and that is the problem. People who have had no increase in wages are having to pay exorbitantly increased rents, which have gone up by as much as 63% overall and 45% in Limerick over the past five years. People do not have the money. The family in Limerick that I spoke about has no prospect of saving money for a house of their own. The members of this working family have to go to the community welfare officer each month to try to get by. That is the reality. The reality also is that we must do something fundamentally different to change this process because free market solutions are not going to work. Surely the Government should have realised that by now.

That is why Sinn Féin is proposing in this motion that we reduce rents. There is a way to do that and that is via a tax rebate. When I came home in 1993 such a tax rebate was in place, so this is not a fairy tale. It is simple economics that works. A rent freeze can then be introduced to lock in those savings, and following on from that we can legislate for proper contracts of indefinite duration and to give decent protections to renters. Such protections are already in place across Europe but they have never been put in place under a conservative Government. I will finish on an optimistic note, which is that everyone can now see there is not a difference of the width of a cigarette paper between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on the issue of housing.

As somebody who rented for 16 years and who could have paid a mortgage during that time, I have great sympathy for those renting who do not have security of tenure or the security of knowing what their ongoing payments will be. Many people in this category, including single people, couples and families. To an extent, they are living from month and month until the next rent review. Where challenges and issues exist within the rental sector, that leads to a certain amount of stress within households.

It is also important to note that there is no silver bullet to solving the housing crisis, and a solution needs real resources and real commitment. The last ten years have seen a crisis marked by homelessness that reached unprecedented levels, surging rents at historic heights and home-building numbers that were tens of thousands of units behind where they needed to be.

Approximately 140,000 people are in need of a permanent social home with the list growing longer month by month and year by year, and I see that particularly in my area of Kildare. However, all the while another massive problem emerged, which was completely ignored by the previous Government, where ordinary workers could not afford to have a place of their own. We still are in the midst of a national housing emergency that threatens home ownership levels in that an entire generation will be locked out of owning their own home because of unsustainable rent levels. It involves people paying high rent and not being able to have sufficient savings to put down a deposit to secure a house. It is very difficult for vulnerable people. I know of so many people who are only a wage packet or two away from the risk of homelessness.

Watching home ownership slipping away from an entire generation over the past number of years was absolutely soul destroying. That is why I am glad that Fianna Fáil, the party which has always put home ownership at the centre of government when in government, has the opportunity now to make that difference. It is up to my party to deliver with the support of our coalition partners. We absolutely have to deliver on this.

I looked at some research the Oireachtas Library and Research Service did on comparisons with other countries. It was interesting to see what the European courts allow in regard to legislation which regulates rents. Improving standards, security and affordability for renters is a priority for Fianna Fáil. Several commitments have been made in that regard. The obvious solution is to provide more opportunities for people to own their own homes through affordable housing schemes and for rent to be affordable for people. It is regrettable that with the Covid restrictions a certain amount of building has been stopped because that is putting a stop to the numbers. However, a really good start has been made with the legislation brought forward by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to deal with the problems we have.

I thank the Acting Chairperson, Senator Keogan, for allowing me to contribute to this important debate. Home ownership and the rental issue are probably the biggest issues society faces. How we tackle them will define this Government and society itself. There are issues with regard to rent in which we must engage and talk about. Supply is key and it is the biggest issue in the rental market. The supply of housing and how we stimulate the market will be most important. There are issues and we have spoken about the planning process and its issues. We have had a lockdown for the past three months but we must start to talk about how we get the building industry going again. There are planning permissions that are running very close to their expiry dates, meaning we need to extend those dates. That issue must be looked at by the Cabinet in the near future, otherwise supply will be affected.

We have a huge issue with Airbnb, in particular in my part of the world, and with how it is sucking up the retail market. Airbnb involvement in the retail market in coastal and rural areas is a new phenomenon over the past five years. What it means is that it is cheaper for individuals to opt for the Airbnb model instead of renting their houses in the normal rental market. That has become a significant issue. If one is outside the rent pressure zone, one is totally unregulated. It means one has a free pass regarding planning permission status.

If one is inside the rent pressure zones, there is regulation. However, Cork County Council found, on trying to get a list of active Airbnb properties in rent pressure zones, that it got an incomplete list from the Airbnb company. There are issues regarding regulation and how we can police Airbnb, which is sucking up rental properties at a rapid rate. That needs to be dealt with in the case of Airbnb properties, not only inside rent pressure zones but also outside of them. Without that, one will have the bones of 500 to 600 properties in my local authority area taken out of the market straight away. Those are rental properties traditionally that have now gone to Airbnb. How we tackle that must be by change in legislation.

Supply, as I mentioned, is the key issue. The fiasco of Irish Water is a significant issue in that supply. We are going through a county development plan process at present. Where there are 200 settlements in County Cork, 180 of them cannot get development because of insufficient water and sewerage. We can have development in 20 of those settlements. The other 180 - small villages and towns - cannot develop. Therefore, one will have real pressure on how sustainable growth in these communities will occur. We are fundamentally against rural once-off housing. We have stepped away from that. We are not allowing development in villages because we do not have adequate water and sewerage, and because of that we will be in a dilemma where we will push all our development into the few towns and villages that have sustainable water and sewerage. That will have a significant impact on the rental market. Because we will not have supply, we will not have the appropriate houses built.

There are significant issues here regarding supply. Airbnb has to be tackled. We cannot go down the rent pressure zones route and merely speak of planning permission. It has to be outside of that remit. When it comes to Irish Water, unless we tackle Irish Water's inability to deal with small settlements and small developments, we will not have balanced rural development. We will fundamentally have to change our policy when it comes to once-off rural housing because of the effects we will have on communities which will have no development because of our policies. Rent is the biggest issue. We need to sort out the demand. When we sort out the demand, we will go a long way towards sorting out the rental properties.

Gabhaim buíochas le mo chomhghleacaithe Shinn Féin as an Rún seo a leagadh os ár gcomhair anocht. Ar chuala an tAire Stáit scéalta na ndaoine atá i ndrochstaid agus iad ag streachailt leis an gcíos? Thug mé teachtaireacht láidir do dhaoine bliain ó shin san olltoghchán maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta. Tá athrú plean agus gnímh de dhíth go géar. Ach táimid ag cloisteáil ón Aire an t-am ar fad nach bhfuil aon fhadhb ann agus go bhfuil an córas cíosa ag feidhmiú de réir mar is cóir agus é a rá linn chun leanúint ar aghaidh. Tá na daoine féin tinn tuirseach de seo agus tá muidne i Sinn Féin ag éisteacht leo agus ag socrú réitigh dóibh.

Last week in the Dáil, the leader of Fianna Fáil, the Taoiseach, stated that he wanted to progress the shared equity scheme because he wanted to create opportunities for young people who are caught up in a rip-off rental market. There is the Taoiseach announcing that a rip-off rental market exists. A basic tenet of consumer protection is that where a customer has been ripped off, he or she deserves a refund. Sinn Féin also thinks renters are being ripped off and we will give them one month's rent back into their pockets. This is a tax relief of 8.33%, that is, equivalent to one month's rent paid by all renters not in receipt of other State assistance on a refundable basis. When we have reduced rents, we need to keep them at that lower level.

The earlier speaker from Fine Gael suggested my party's motion sought to ban rents. He spoke about fairy tales. He spoke about magic housing trees. I do not know what the Senator's night-time bedtime reading is but it clearly was not the Sinn Féin motion.

When the legislation for rent pressure zones was introduced, rent reviews were upward-only and limited at 4%. This 4% was taken as a minimum target to be met by most landlords. It says a lot that the former Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did not even consider rents being reviewed downwards.

Only 7% of rental properties were inspected in 2018, when €2.5 million was allocated. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has said that €10 million will be available for inspections in 2021.

Funding is provided on the basis of inspections carried out rather than through advanced allocations. As a result, there is no guarantee that €10 million will mean that four times as many properties will be inspected this year. There needs to be pressure from Government rather than a guessing game as to how many properties will be inspected every year. Sinn Féin has called for a system similar to that relating to the national car test, with certification that would be renewed every five years. A landlord would have to display compliance by certificate in the property. That would ensure that landlords are proactive in getting their properties suitable for renting and maintaining them at that standard. Under our plan, landlords would have to prove their compliance with minimum standards and fire safety standards before a property could be rented out. The landlord certification of compliance is then based on an independent inspection by a suitably qualified professional from the relevant local authority and the certificate must be provided to the RTB as part of the tenancy registration process. Can somebody tell me what is so wrong about that?

As has already been stated, many people feel trapped in the rental market and their biggest worry is receiving a notice to quit or notification of a rent increase. Our motion, if acted upon, would help to give certainty to renters. I noted angry words from the Minister towards Sinn Féin and its housing policy. When people see or hear him in the media desperately defending a discredited, developer-led scheme, is it any wonder that they look to Sinn Féin for real solutions to the problems they, as renters, face? The Minister and the Department should devote more time to offering the types of solutions we are seeking to implement by means of the motion rather than promoting a scheme that gains more critics week by week. We are happy for the Minister to simply copy and paste this motion and to act upon it immediately. Doing nothing, I am sure he will agree, is no longer an option. We desperately need to give renters a break, which this motion does. Simply put, the Government amendment does not give renters a break. It is as simple as that.

This debate is all about choice. Colleagues across the Chamber can tell us about the real problems that exist in their communities. They can tell us about the problems that they experienced as renters themselves. They can either vote for a vacuous, do-nothing amendment or a motion that actually seeks to do something about the crisis. As the old saying goes, the choice is yours.

I thank my colleagues across the floor for raising the important issue of housing. I feel that the body of the motion goes to show just how flawed their policy is. There seems to be a paralysis relating to rent when the difficulties in the housing sector are much wider than that. The motion also goes to show the differences in policy. From Fianna Fáil's perspective, the people of this country absolutely deserve to be afforded the opportunity to own their homes. That is one of our key policy platforms. A real difference in policy exists. The Government parties have been working urgently and diligently to resolve the issues being discussed here. The affordability and supply of housing are the key issues and wide-ranging measures have already been taken to make homes more affordable and accessible, ensuring that those in need can get effective and affordable housing. The Government has provided rental support through rent caps and pressure zones and has taken a proactive approach to housing, specifically in the context of protections for renters through the ban on evictions. That decision put the safety of tenants first in these uncertain and unprecedented times. I welcome the extension of that ban on evictions into the summer months because Covid-19 is not yet a thing of the past, as we all know. With that in mind, we must be aware and conscious of legal challenges and issues that may arise from more radical measures than those already implemented.

Work to build new housing and to renovate and make existing properties available to the market has been substantially hampered. For existing tenants, strong protections are in place and enforced through the RTB. The Government is committed to further improving these tenancy protections, if and when they are needed. It is crucial to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants and ensure fair and equitable treatment, as outlined in the programme for Government. However, the provision of housing does not end with rental properties. The programme for Government contains ambitious plans to construct housing through local authorities, approved housing bodies and State agencies.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage's Land Development Agency Bill 2021 is being examined by the Dáil. The Bill aims to increase the amount of public land available to build new housing to alleviate concerns about housing provision. I refute some of the suggestions made earlier that it would take powers away from councillors. It will do nothing of the sort. It will only do so in larger towns and where councillors are not doing their jobs. If councillors vote to build on these lands, they will have nothing to fear from the LDA. That point needs to be made strongly because people do not seem to be getting it.

Housing quality has not been a given in the past. I am well aware of the problem of unsuitable housing. In my own county of Donegal, a Government grant scheme, expected to cost hundreds of millions of euro at least, has been introduced to rebuild houses affected by mica defective concrete blocks. In February, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and his colleagues also established the independent working group to examine the issue of defective housing and work is under way to address the issue.

The Government has remained fully committed to housing as a priority and great steps have been taken in the right direction to ensure that housing is being provided according to the needs of renters, buyers and existing home owners. Progress will continue to be made with sustainability, legality, ownership issues and affordability in mind.

In the short time those three Ministers have been in the Department, they have made great strides. There is an awful fear that it may work for them and hence there has been a lot of hot air. I look forward to the developments on housing in the Department over the next couple of years.

It is very good that the Opposition tabled this motion on housing. We should probably have a motion on housing every day the Seanad sits. After health, it is probably the single biggest issue in the country. However, because it is so important and it is such an emergency, we should probably focus on solutions and the present rather than the past and all the problems. We know all the problems so people should not waste time talking about problems and things from 2017 and 2018. That is a waste of time.

The Opposition does not own the issue of housing or rental concerns. Everyone on all sides of the House cares just as much. I do not know if Opposition Senators have even read the housing policy in our programme for Government because it is the best one that has ever been seen from a Government. They have spoken about fuel poverty as though they own that issue too. Personally, I lived through fuel poverty with my son where we had to live in the sitting room because we could not afford oil but we could afford a bale of briquettes. They should spare me the narrative where Opposition Members understand what is going on and we have no notion because it is not true and it is disingenuous. The Government will be the first ever to have a mission to retrofit the social housing stock. Yes, people are cold in social houses but we have the solution. The Opposition does not want a carbon tax. What are we doing with carbon tax? We are using its revenue to make social housing warmer. What is it they want? They want everything so long as it sounds good coming out of their own mouths and they do not want it if it is coming out of our mouths. Let us not use housing as a political tool. It is too serious an issue. Let us not dilly-dally and waste time on motions for the sake of trying to undermine the Government's hard work on this issue.

It is always lovely to follow Senator Garvey with the passion and commitment she has in her contributions. I echo everything she said, particularly on the motivations behind motions such as this. I always get the sense from contributions from the other side, particularly from Sinn Féin, that it is almost about trying to create a division between renters and home owners or renters and landlords. That is certainly not the case on the Government side.

I rented for a long time, for ten or 12 years, in Cork. I moved from three or four places. I had the experience of getting notice to get out within 28 days and the fear of trying to find somewhere for the exact same price when earning what would not be regarded as even a half decent salary, starting off just out of college. I understand it from both sides. I understand the fear of being a renter and feeling, especially in the last ten years, that it is almost impossible to get out of the rental market to purchase one's own home.

It should be recognised that changes have been made in the past number of years by this and previous Governments. Some of the provisions brought forward have been opposed by Sinn Féin, such as the help to buy scheme, which is to essentially promote building of new properties. It would support a group of people who, over the past ten to 15 years, have really struggled to buy a new home and, more important, to save a deposit for a new home. The scheme has been very successful.

One of the biggest obstacles to owning one's home or having enough stock so everyone can have one is the building of houses. More houses need to be built and I am hopeful that next month the construction industry in the private sector will be back up and running. Currently we are losing approximately 800 houses per week. It does not matter if it is a private or social house as if there is one more house on the market, it can improve every section of that market. It is important that the building sector expands its planning applications as we do not want to get into a position after Covid-19 where planning applications have been in place for people to build but there has been no opportunity to start building and the process might have to start again. That would delay the process for everyone and would not be good for the housing market, the rental market or anything else.

If we are really talking about encouraging people to live in certain areas and have investment in housing, we must also invest in water. I could speak for a long time about how we need to invest in water but we do not have the time to discuss it tonight.

I listened to the contribution from Senator Gavan, who is right across the border from the all-Ireland champions. In fairness to him, even though only 27% of the country is not in a rent pressure zone, he still managed to find an example of a couple who had their rent increased from €1,200 to €1,400. That is not good. I know of certain similar cases in Tipperary as well. In fairness to the Senator, he has recognised that it is true to state that nobody can be evicted from their house during the Covid-19 pandemic. I presume that in the case he mentions the couple have been living in the home for more than a year as the rent could not change in the first year. They would have four months to look for a place after Covid-19. He suggests that somebody could be asked to move out within a month, which is a bit disingenuous. If people are in a place for more than three years, they would have 180 days, or close to six months, to move out. These changes were made and long before all this I was in a position where I only had 28 days to move out of my place. There is much talk from the Opposition trying to take ownership of the housing issue but it is not a true reflection of where we are.

I recognise the challenges for renters and I experienced them for a long time. I was in a position where I felt I would never be able to get out and I have family members who are currently in that same position. It is a challenge but to suggest that Sinn Féin has the solution to these problems when most of its ideas are fanciful-----

We are proposing-----

Almost everything that has succeeded in solving the problem was rejected by Sinn Féin. Every time Sinn Féin rejects something, it means it is working.

Fantasy policies. You are-----

Members should speak through the Chair, especially on International Women's Day.

Sinn Féin cannot take ownership of this. You are trying to do what you do in every sector of society, which is create division.

Members should speak through the Chair or they should leave. There should be some respect for the Chair.

I will take a few minutes. I forgot to welcome the Minister of State to the House this afternoon when I was in the Chair. I will relay something that was brought to my attention by Councillor Séamie Morris in Tipperary.

Part of the Local Government Act included a commitment to make a provision for a differential rent scheme, which was to be a reserved function, giving county councillors more power. Since then, it has been claimed that the Department is working on a new differential rent scheme. I welcome the Minister of State investigating the commitment to this provision soon. Perhaps it is something he can look into.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit as teacht isteach. Is onóir mhór dom é sin a rá ón gcathaoir seo. It is great to have the Minister of State here in the Chamber. I ask the Senators to listen with full respect as the Minister of State responds. The Minister of State has 15 minutes to speak on housing or rent. It is not an easy topic. One would need until the cows come home, so go n-éirí leat leis an bhfreagra.

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh, agus guím Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan sona do cách. Cosúil leis an Seanadóir Craughwell, níl agam ach beagán Gaeilge ach táim ag déanamh iarrachta gach lá.

I want to start by thanking Senators Warfield, Boylan, Gavan and Ó Donnghaile for tabling this motion. The exchange in the last contribution shows the level of emotion that exists in relation to this issue. I must say that that is welcomed. It is most important that we work together. There have been comments on the need to work together across parties to try and achieve an equitable outcome for everybody, because it is an issue which affects us all and our communities. In my contribution, I want to highlight that this is about collaboration and working together. Certainly, there are merits in the motion. The countermotion is trying to address positively the issues that were raised in the motion. We have an opportunity to bring about equitable solutions for families, couples, children and everybody in this State. I welcome the motion in that regard.

As set out in the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, improving standards, security and affordability for renters is a key priority for this Government. I welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate important issues in the private rental market, which is at the core of this motion. The motion is wide-ranging and all-encompassing when it comes to the various elements that can contribute to a successful rental sector. I am sure the Senators will appreciate that to do justice to the topics raised, it would take much more time than I have available, unfortunately. Instead, I plan on focussing on what I believe is at the heart of the motion and what constitutes the key elements of the Government’s amendment, that is, ensuring we put in place the framework, measures and funding that can deliver affordable, high quality private rental accommodation to those who need it.

I turn first to the key issue of affordability. We are all acutely aware that in recent years, rents have begun to reach levels that have put real pressures on individuals, families and households throughout the country, but most especially in our major cities and urban centres. The imposition of a three-year rent freeze, as proposed by the Senators, has been debated numerous times in both Houses of the Oireachtas. On the face of it, there is an instant, easy appeal about it, as a simple but effective measure. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Sometimes, as we all know, simple problems do not have easy answers. As has been said before, a blanket ban on any rent increases, in all likelihood, would face significant legal challenge and would severely impact the supply of rental accommodation in the medium to longer terms. We heard about the Berlin experience in that respect. I am sure Senators would agree that this would be a very unwelcome and unintended consequence of such a measure.

At this point I should point out that the measure taken by the last Government in introducing rent pressure zones, RPZs, has played a key part in moderating rent increases. It was a considered and thoughtful measure that balanced the needs of tenants with the legal rights of landlords and the imperative to ensure that rental housing supply was not adversely affected. It was stated in the debate earlier that 73% of rental properties are now covered by RPZs.

I would like to talk a little about cost rental, which is a key element of the Government’s aim to introduce affordability into the sector. My Department is working with local authorities, the Land Development Agency and Approved Housing Bodies to develop a new cost rental housing sector in Ireland. As the Senators will no doubt be aware, the aim will be that rents charged will only cover the cost of delivering, managing and maintaining homes, making them more affordable for households facing pressures in the private rental market.

The first purpose-built cost rental homes, 50 new apartments at Enniskerry Road, using serviced sites funding, will be completed later this year. Tenant eligibility and other operational conditions will be finalised in the forthcoming affordable housing Bill, which will place cost rental on a legislative basis for the first time. The LDA is meanwhile progressing with plans for cost rental on a range of projects, both on its own portfolio of public lands and in partnership with local authorities. The first LDA cost rental development is a partnership with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council at Shanganagh Castle, Shankill, where cost rental will sit alongside social housing and affordable purchase in a mixed-tenure community. Again, that mixed residential approach is something we all aspire to achieving. The Department is currently delivering cost rental homes in the immediate term through the new cost rental equity loan, CREL, scheme, which was allocated €35 million in budget 2021. On 8 February 2021 the Minister announced approval in principle for 390 CREL-funded homes to be acquired and managed by the Clúid, Respond and Tuath approved housing bodies. These developments are spread across Dublin, the greater Dublin area and Cork, with precise locations to be published on completion of commercial and contractual arrangements.

I will focus now on another important element of the motion, namely, the protection of tenants, be it through security of tenure or the quality of accommodation made available to them in the private sector. I am pleased to inform Senators that, following through on commitments in the Programme for Government, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, will shortly bring to Government a general scheme of a housing and residential tenancies Bill to address, amongst other things, tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to consultation with the Attorney General. Of course, strong tenancy protections are also in place and enforced through the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and this Government is committed to further improving them.

I note a call is made for the immediate enactment of the Property Services (Advertisement of Unfit Lettings) (Amendment) Bill 2019. This Bill was introduced by Senator Warfield and others in 2019 but fell at the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil. The then Government pointed out that many problematic issues arose with the Bill. These remain and as a result we think it is unworkable in its current form. However, we do acknowledge the importance of the issues raised and they will be considered as part of housing for all.

On housing standards, the motion quite wrongly implies that the Government is not providing appropriate funding to local authorities to monitor and inspect accommodation standards in the sector. The motion also contends the quality of rental stock is very poor and quotes poor compliance rates in Dublin city as evidence of this. However, the statistics are taken out of context. The reality is that local authorities, on a risk assessment basis, target the most problematic properties as part of their inspection programmes, therefore to extrapolate this non-compliance rate to the whole sector is simplistic and wrong. The Department has made an increased budget of €10 million available to local authorities this year to aid increased inspections of properties and ensure greater compliance with the minimum standards. This amounts to a 300% increase in funding in just three years and would in normal times allow councils to inspect up to 25% of all properties in the State each year. That question has been asked by one Senator this evening. I refer to normal times because Covid has of course had an impact. However, I am happy to say that the sector has been innovative in piloting virtual inspections, which the Department has been quick and happy to back with funding. Again, I take on board the point raised about a change in that type of inspection, based on moving away from the pass or fail approach which has been in place to date. It is certainly worth giving consideration to.

There appears to be a suggestion from the Senators that the Government favours institutional investors and bigger landlords in its policies. Let me be clear that our approach to this sector is not ideologically driven. It is driven simply by the desire to increase the supply of housing available to rent in the right places at the right price and as quickly as possible. The Government believes a more diverse rental sector, which includes institutional investors, provides more stability and less exposure to property market risk and volatility. Institutional investors can also help provide the range of tenancy options that households need across their life cycles. Large-scale investment in property has an important role to play in helping to deliver the professional high standard rental sector tenants deserve.

Let us be clear, though. Institutional investors occupy a small share of the residential housing market, with over 96% of landlords having five or fewer tenancies. Historically, the private rented sector has been largely made up of small-scale landlords. They will continue to provide the bulk of private rented accommodation and the Government remains committed to working with them.

The Government is acutely aware of the difficulties faced by people in the private rental sector. We are taking measures that will deliver and make a real difference in terms of affordability and quality of life in the everyday lives of those thousands of households that live there. The clearest demonstration of this commitment is that, this year, record funding of €3.3 billion is available to deliver housing solutions. The focus of this funding is on delivering on the construction of new social homes. However, it is important that local authorities have money available to them to fund a range of accommodation types, and this will be the case. Supports to improve the quality and affordability of the rental sector continuously will remain a cornerstone of Government policy under the new housing strategy, "Housing for All", which will be published in July.

A number of Senators have raised the issue of energy standards. It will be addressed. Senator Garvey mentioned deep retrofits. We will also address that issue in the private rental sector through supports. I thank the House for allowing me this time and Senators for what has been an engaging and worthwhile debate.

I will not take any time off Senator Warfield. I could take 30 seconds off his time like he took off Senator Ahearn's, but we will go easy on him despite his shouting and ignoring of the Chair.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. I mentioned to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, during one of the debates on the Residential Tenancies Act that Sinn Féin would introduce proposals in a constructive manner. He welcomed that at the time. I am somewhat disappointed that he is not present but this is a priority area for the Green Party in housing and planning and I hope it will live up to that reputation in government.

Sinn Féin tabled this motion, but not because we wanted to claim ownership of the housing issue. Would Senators propose that we not have a debate on housing whatsoever? Senator Higgins noted that the Seanad had not had statements on housing yet. It has only been talked about during debates on legislation, which offered limited time to discuss the issues. Do Senators suggest I not move any motion, go home and not work on this issue? I am not claiming ownership of it when all of my mates are paying out the behind in rent to put roofs over their heads. We are also accused of politicising the issue or pursuing an ideology. Everything about housing and housing policy is ideological and political.

Some Senators say that our proposals would discourage landlords and investment and affect supply. Rent certainty is good for landlords and tenants; the absence of regulation is bad for them. A culture in which friends of mine are afraid to rock the boat and contact their landlords about the landlords' property is a bad one and is bad for landlords and tenants. Even with a rent freeze, surely rental accommodation would remain a good investment. Who is investing in property in Dublin expecting rents to go even higher? That would not be a good investment.

I urge the Government to wake up tomorrow with a renewed commitment to renters because we need a culture change. The Government and the Green Party are the people with the power to change the circumstances of thousands of people in this city and across the State who want security and certainty. Good ideas come from these Houses. Many of those ideas have been implemented during Covid. People have a desire for change that stretches way beyond this pandemic. The Government has a chance to implement that change and provide that certainty and security for a quarter of Dublin's population who are renters and the thousands of renters across the State.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 8.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Fintan Warfield and Paul Gavan.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 5.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Fintan Warfield and Paul Gavan.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. next Friday.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.04 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 12 March 2021.