Seamus Healy TD – Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016: Report Stage
This rental strategy is the product of the new coalition Government of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance. It is a charade and pretence which is deeply flawed. It does nothing for families facing eviction or renters, in particular those currently paying extortionate rents. We should stop adding to the crisis. It is about time the Government and the Dáil accepted and declared we have a housing emergency. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has accepted we have an emergency. He has repeated this several times publicly but he refuses to formally declare a housing emergency in the Dáil. The Minister and the Government were quick to declare a financial emergency when they wanted to continue cutting pay and pensions in the public service when they renewed the FEMPI legislation on 30 June last.
Any Member or public representative will say there is an absolute emergency in housing. Up to 6,400 people are homeless, 2,400 of them children, forced to live in temporary accommodation, hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts and even tents. Up to 100,000 people are on local authority housing waiting lists, as well as 50,000 mortgages in arrears for more than two years. Every day, four families lose their homes. Up to 14,500 tenants are in buy-to-let properties where the mortgages for those properties are in arrears of more than two years. Those tenants, unfortunately, whether they know it or not, are facing eviction. Today, 117 families faced eviction courts. Twenty-seven of these were in my own town, Clonmel, 24 in Tralee and 63 in Dublin. These are decent, ordinary families who simply cannot make ends meet and now, through no fault of their own, face eviction.
Many of them are facing eviction by the banks we own, particularly Allied Irish Banks. The Minister could instruct these banks owned by the State to stop these evictions. The State is the owner of Allied Irish Banks and it can simply, by instruction from the Minister, stop its evictions. Only last month, Allied Irish Banks told an Oireachtas committee it had 2,879 repossession cases before the courts. Of this figure, 767 were granted. Only today, the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, clearly shocked by the fact that half of the 98 cases before him were from Allied Irish Banks, asked if the Minister for Finance knew about these repossessions. He does know about them because I have told him about them here on numerous occasions. The Minister has the wherewithal to stop those evictions. It is an absolute shame and disgrace that he does not. He is acting in our name and in the name of the people when he allows Allied Irish Banks evict people from their homes.
The declaration of a housing emergency is necessary if we are to put the right to a family home above the rights of private property. It would allow us have a rent freeze, rent certainty, security of tenure and to stop evictions, both from mortgaged and buy-to-let properties. Landlords have had a bonanza over the past five years as rents have gone through the roof. Deputy Mick Barry gave us figures earlier, showing how many rents are extortionate. This rental strategy is a landlord’s charter. Against the background of significant unaffordable rent increases for ordinary families over the past five years, this rental strategy, a point which Fianna Fáil should remember, will now increase rents again way above the consumer price index. It will mean families who are already struggling will find it almost impossible to make ends meet. If this strategy goes through, one can be absolutely certain that, in the next ten weeks, landlords, in areas where the strategy does not apply, will take the opportunity to increase their rents significantly. We saw this before when the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, introduced his so-called “rent certainty” terms. Immediately, there were significant increases in rents. We will see the same again after this rental strategy is introduced.
Landlords in every town across the country and in my constituency in places like Clonmel, Thurles, Nenagh, Roscrea, Carrick and Tipperary town will avail of that window of opportunity. There will be huge increases in rent in every urban area as a result of the vacuum that will be created by the passing of these amendments and this strategy.
It is absolutely necessary to declare a housing emergency. In the absence of such a declaration, this pro-landlord rental strategy will face legal and constitutional challenges that are likely to succeed.
15 December 2016
Speaking on the Courts Bill 2016. Repossessions must be stopped.
I have tabled amendment No. 5, the first paragraph of which encapsulates its intent. It states,”Dáil Éireann formally declares that a housing emergency exists in the State and while this emergency continues the right of any person to remain in the dwelling in which the person currently resides will take precedence over any property right of any other person”, and there are actions flowing from that. Fundamentally, the greatest issue facing the country now and for some time to come is the housing emergency. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government told the Irish Examiner last May that he accepted there is a housing emergency. This is clear to the thousands of people who are homeless currently. A total of 6,847 people are homeless, of whom 2,470 are children. According to figures published yesterday, 420 families lost their homes over the past three months, which equates to four a day.
Many of them are forced by banks and building societies to hand back their homes, the homes of others are being repossessed. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government accepts, and is quoted publicly as saying, that there is a housing emergency. I heard the Tánaiste acknowledge that in the House a fortnight ago. We need to take real action to ensure that those people who face the ultimate trauma of losing the roof over their heads are protected. It is essential and urgent that this Dáil formally declare a housing emergency in order to ensure a halt to evictions, to impose a rent freeze, to ensure that private property rights are made subject to the common good and to see to it that the right of individuals and families to remain in their homes supersedes the right to private property.
This Government declared a financial emergency and introduced legislation to cut the pay and pensions of public servants. It renewed that emergency on 30 June last. There is major trauma and daily evictions. We need to ensure that families facing homelessness, through no fault of their own, are protected and have a roof over their heads this Christmas. The formal declaration of a housing emergency is an absolute necessity. The Taoiseach has written to the European Commission on this issue. While we have not declared a housing emergency, the Commission will not take that request seriously. There has been no response to the request. The Commission needs to know the problems in this country with people living in tents, hostels and hotels. Focus Ireland tells us that 20 families and 40 children are made homeless per month. Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that there are more than 14,500 buy-to-let properties in arrears of more than two years. Unfortunately, whether the tenants in those properties know it or not they face eviction. Most of the families made homeless in the past 12 months were renting buy-to-let properties whose landlords were forced to sell by the banks. That practice needs to be stopped.
This situation developed as a result of the privatisation of the public housing programme in the early 2000s by a Fianna Fáil Government. I was a member of South Tipperary County Council at the time and when that was announced at our housing meeting, I said it would give rise to huge problems. We need a large quantity of local authority public housing for our citizens. In the 1970s we were able to build up to 10,000 local authority houses each year and we need to get back to that level. The Minister and the Government are simply tinkering around the edges. We need to declare a housing emergency in order to ensure that every citizen and family has the right to a roof over their heads this Christmas. The repossessions, which remind us of the battering rams used down the centuries in this country, need to be stopped.
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