Seamus Healy TD 087-2802199
Leaders Questions to the Taoiseach
Healy Says Families on Housing Lists Being Abandoned and calls on Government to Build Social and Affordable Houses
Deputy Seamus Healy: There is a social and affordable housing crisis. More than 100,000 families are languishing on local authority housing waiting lists. These families cannot afford to buy or build their own homes and cannot access mortgages. In addition, because the Government has slashed the income limits to qualify for local authority housing, thousands of other families cannot get on those lists, cannot access mortgages and are condemned to private rented accommodation for the rest of their lives.
Social and affordable house building by local authorities and voluntary housing agencies is almost non-existent. The local authority house building budget was decimated by the Government, down from €367 million in 2010 to €65 million in 2013. Similarly, the voluntary sector budget was reduced from €70 million in 2012 to €55 million in 2013. The local authority social and affordable house building programme has been privatised by the Government, by bailing out landlords and developers, by shoving €500 million of public money into their deep pockets through the payment of rent supplement each year and paying their mortgages over and over again through rental accommodation and leasing schemes.
The ESRI has advised that we need to treble the house building programme. We have read that the Government has a draft housing plan. However, based on press reports, it relies solely on financial incentives for developers to build. It also apparently proposes to remove the requirements for builders to provide a proportion of social and affordable housing in each development.
With 100,000 families on local authority housing waiting lists and thousands more who cannot get on those lists, will the Taoiseach ensure direct investment in local authority and voluntary housing agency house building? Are there any proposals in this plan, which the Government is apparently preparing, for such investment?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has raised a matter of very considerable concern to people. Clearly he and everybody else is aware that during the so-called boom years we built nearly 100,000 housing units when we had a requirement for perhaps 25,000 or 30,000. We are now building 6,500 to 8,000 when we need 25,000 to 30,000. Of course these cannot be provided overnight. I am well aware of the pressure, particularly in city areas on the need for detached housing for families, many of whom are now caught in apartments or rented accommodation that is not suitable.
Considerable work is going on here. The Minister, Deputy Burton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, have initiated a pilot project in Limerick for the housing assistance payments scheme, which will be of interest to local authorities. That should be in legislation by early summer. On Thursday we will have a meeting of the Cabinet dealing with the construction sector in general, which will be of interest to the Deputy and others. We need to get the construction sector to contribute far more to the economy than it is. It used to be at 24% or 25% and is now down to 6% or 7%, which is much too low.
Clearly Deputies are aware of the pressure on local authorities for social housing. There is a programme in place for this year for the recommencement of local authority housing. There is to be a debate on housing in the Dáil in the next two to three weeks and the Deputy will have his opportunity to make a longer contribution to that with his many suggestions. The Government is conscious of the issue and it will be a feature of what we will discuss at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
Deputy Seamus Healy: Based on the Taoiseach’s reply, it is clear the Government’s draft plan is regressive as regards social housing. Obviously it will cater only for those who can afford to buy these houses or get mortgages for them. It will not cater for local authority housing applicants or those who have failed to get on the housing lists because the Government has reduced the income limits significantly. The issue I raise was highlighted today by a family who are protesting outside the office of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, because of the rent caps that are in place by the Government. That family are constituents of the Minister. This is an urgent matter. It is an emergency situation for the 100,000 families who are on these waiting lists and for those who cannot get on the lists. There must be a huge increase in investment in social housing. There is a real housing emergency and the Government is relying on a wing and a prayer of private developers and the market which failed us in the past.
I again ask the Taoiseach whether he will significantly increase the income limits for local authority housing. The Government has slashed them by half whereby families on less than €25,000 per annum cannot get on those lists. Will the Taoiseach immediately commence a local authority and voluntary agency house building programme to ensure those 100,000 families and the others who cannot get on that list have proper housing?
The Taoiseach: I would be the first to say that the public housing situation is not what it should be. The Minister for Finance has already made it clear that NAMA is offering 4,000 units that are available for housing.
Deputy Seamus Healy: There are 100,000 families on housing lists.
The Taoiseach: Admittedly some of them may not be in the proper locations and some of them may not be committed but it is an offer of 4,000 units.
The social and public housing programme is clearly too low and it is not meeting the demand we have. When Ireland was building 100,000 houses when 30,000 were needed, clearly the private sector area was very expensive, to put it mildly. The housing assistance payments scheme, which will be of interest to local authorities, will be tested in a number of pilot areas beginning in Limerick and should be law by the summer. The question of having more public housing capacity available and the question of income limits will all form part of the discussions and proposals that come from Members on the housing debate—–
Deputy Seamus Healy: Will the Taoiseach increase the income limits?
The Taoiseach: —–and will be part of the Government’s discussions on stimulating the construction sector in the economy generally this week.