WE NEED AFFORDABLE HOUSING SCHEME

Today in the Dail my colleague Labour Spokesperson on housing Jan O’Sullivan outlined the Labour Party’s position in respect of restarting a large scale affordable housing programme:

We need to see a sense of urgency from Government on this issue and I did not detect that in the Minister’s speech today or in any of his contributions in the many housing debates we have had in this Chamber recently.  We seem to be going nowhere.  The Minister mentioned in his speech that we need all elements of the housing working optimally.  They are not working optimally.  We do not need announcements on expenditure and plans; we need delivery.  There was nothing in the Minister’s speech that gave me a sense that there is any intention to deal with this issue in an urgent way.  The Minister also said that all of this work is paying dividends but the dividends are not happening quickly enough.  He also mentioned the delivery of more than 3,000 new affordable homes initially.  The target is at least 10,000 new affordable homes in the medium to long term.

On cost rental, the Minister mentioned that one scheme has commenced and two are about to commence and that these will be relatively small scale, providing very valuable learning to the system and will shape the model for future large-scale developments.  All of the measures mentioned by the Minister will happen in the future.  We need houses sooner and I do not detect any sense that this will happen.  The number of houses delivered last year is only a fraction of what is needed.  None of the targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland have been reached, be that rapid build social housing or moving people out of hotels.  There has to be some kind of intervention to determine what is going wrong.

One of my Dublin colleagues told me yesterday that somebody in Dublin City Council said that it takes approximately 50 weeks to get approval, that is, to move a project from the proposal being put forward to the start of construction.

 There is no national affordable housing scheme.  There are 700 publicly owned sites around the country, most of them owned by local authorities.  We have the LIHAF fund, and there will be a call for a second round of that.  However, unless there is a national affordable housing scheme and councils can get going quickly on delivering social and affordable housing, the private operators will step in.  The councils will engage them because they want to get some type of development going on the sites.  Those operators will make a profit and the houses will be unaffordable for people.  That cannot be allowed or accepted.  These 700 publicly owned sites are the family silver.  Private developers should have to fund whatever they do with their privately owned sites, but they should not be able to jump in on the publicly owned sites when we so desperately and urgently need affordable housing, whether it is for rent or for purchase.  We need a far greater sense of urgenc y.  We must get rid of the blockages.  If that means just one stage of approval for local authority houses, so be it.  Give the authorities the money and tell them to build, but monitor it and have targets, including time targets.  If they do not spend the money it should be given to others to spend.  The situation simply cannot continue as it is.

The homeless figures are shocking.  They are increasing and there is nothing in what we heard from the Minister to give us any solace that they will start to reduce.  There are 3,755 children in homeless services.  As Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy said this morning, that is an increase of 48% in one year.  Children have only one childhood.  In many cases they are being moved away from their local communities, schools and so forth.  There was an article in TheJournal.ie about a woman who had been renting for ten years in an area of south County Dublin.  She is now in a hotel.  The main thrust of the article was about the conditions in the hotel but the point is that she was renting.  She has two children and was getting rent support and working part-time.  She lost her home because the landlord said he needed it for a family member.  I introduced a Bill on First Stage earlier and I will not repeat what I said this morning, but one of the measures in it is about t ightenin g up this matter of family members and the claim of doing up the house so the tenant must get out.  There is also the issue of linking rent to the cost of living, which Deputy Funchion and others have raised today.  All of us have raised it at various times.  We must deal with that in the short term and keep people in their homes.  If that means testing the private property versus social good elements of the Constitution, so be it.  I believe social good would win.  We need immediate legislation in that regard.

We also need to see building.  The Minister said that and I doubt that any of the Members disagree with it.  However, it has to happen.  O’Devaney Gardens has been ongoing for years.  It is now quoted as one of the developments that will solve certain problems but it should have moved a long time ago.  The Nevin Economic Research Institute conducted a study recently which was published in January and which showed that national median disposable income after tax has increased by just under 8% since 2012.  However, according to daft.ie there has been a rise of almost 60% in average rents across the country and 40% growth in asking prices for residential properties in the same period.  The cost of buying or renting a house has jumped way beyond people’s wages.  As a result, an increasing number of people are all stuck in the private rental system, whether they are waiting on social housing lists or they are people who cannot afford to buy, cannot afford the ren ts being asked or cannot afford to save for a deposit.  It has been estimated that approximately one third of the population needs some type of support with their housing costs.  All of those people are in the same squeezed section.

These problems will continue to get worse unless there is some urgency about introducing an affordable scheme.  There are models.  We have had models ourselves previously and there are models in Britain and other countries that could be used.

The Ó Cualann model, which many of us have spoken about in the House, is a co-operative housing scheme.  It has been able to deliver affordable houses in the Dublin area in conjunction with the local authority, which gave them the sites for a relatively low price and did not charge the development fee and so on.  They have been able to do that so there is no reason why it cannot be done.  We really have to use the publicly-owned land that is there.  This is available to us and it is essential that it is used for this purpose.  It should not be the case of just trying a few in Dublin and then maybe spread them out to the rest of the country.  The numbers of these types of developments are too small and the numbers of people who need housing support are growing all the time.  This is why a sense of urgency is needed.  We really need to see urgency and action rather than plans, figures and intentions.  We need to see action because the people who are facing homeless ness tod ay and those who are in homelessness cannot wait for plans that have a delivery date three years down the road.  I urge the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy to take action and bring a sense of urgency that I certainly did not detect in his speech today”.