Dáil Speech by FF Spokesperson on Housing Darragh O’Brien on affordable housing

Go raibh maith agat a Ceann Comhairle, I am pleased to move this motion.

The Housing crisis can be seen in every corner of the country across the rental, social and private sector. The moral disgrace of homelessness and unprecedented highs of the social housing waiting lists have obscured another major challenge the Government has ignored. Ordinary workers can no longer afford to buy their own home.

Home ownership is an important part of Irish life. A safe and secure home is the building block of a strong community. Having a place to call your own is the bedrock of a stable family life. Working hard and owning the roof over your head has been an aspiration that many have realised over the past few decades.

However, for an entire generation the dream of home ownership is slipping away. While income levels have risen slowly property prices have exploded by 90% since 2012. As the property price escalator speeds up those left on the rental market fall further and further behind. Rent prices have surged over 25% higher than the 2008 peak with renters in Dublin paying over half their income for somewhere to live.

The current 68% home-ownership rate is the lowest since 1971. The age at which home ownership became the majority tenure category was 35 years in 2016. Prior to that age, more householders were renting rather than owning their home.

In comparison to previous censuses dating back to 1991, the ages which marked the changeover between renting and home ownership were 32 years (2011), 28 years (2006), 27 years (2002) and 26 years (1991).

Clearly home ownership is moving further and further away for young people. The social contract that promises each generation a stake in their country is under strain.

Yet what is Fine Gael doing to address this generational crisis?

Since it came into power seven years ago, Fine Gael has launched six separate housing plans and re-launched those plans countless times. During that same period it has not built a single affordable home.

In January of this year the Minister announced a three pronged affordable policy, each prong blunter than the last;

  1. Re-Building Ireland Home Loan

This re-packages the existing Local Authority loan schemes. However over half of applicants, some 54%, have been refused a loan to date while those who can get one are still competing for the same small supply of homes.

  1. Cost Rental Pilot Project Scheme

In 2015 the Government committed €10m to a Cost rental pilot project. This was reheated in January of this year even though the project has yet to go to tender or have any guiding income criteria.

  1. Affordable Purchase Scheme

This scheme sees €25m committed to serving State owned land for building affordable homes in co-operation with local authorities. Six local authorities built no homes at all last year and the Government’s failure to deliver homes with programmes such as the Repair and Lease scheme. The lack of specific targets in each area mean this plan is doomed to fail before it even gets going.

All the while they have not put their money where their mouth is. Despite the fanfare surrounding the Capital Plan, the allocated capital budget for housing is still 24% or €225m behind 2008 levels.

In the face of ballooning property prices Fine Gael has at best engaged in token gesture policies and at worst ignored a growing chasm in the property market.

Tonight’s motion sets down a marker.

Re-orientating government towards addressing the affordability gap that is swallowing up a generation must be placed at the heart of policy.

The State has a central role to play in delivery homes that someone on the average industrial wage can afford. Home ownership cannot be allowed to become the preserve of the few and the old. The next generation must get their chance to have a stake in their communities.

The State owns or controls enough zoned land to build 114,000 dwellings – half of which could be affordable housing. Drawing on NAMA and local authorities’ data, Mr Reynolds calculates the State controls 3,008 hectares of land zoned for housing across the State – some 1,691 hectares controlled by NAMA and 1,317 hectares owned by local authorities.

Some 48,724 homes could be built on council-owned zoned land and 65,399 homes on NAMA-controlled land. We need a driving ambition to realise the potential of those lands.

The new State led scheme must rest on:

  1. Specific Local authority targets
    2. Special Purpose Vehicle to finance it.
    3. New Housing Delivery Agency to monitor delivery and quality
    4. Localised income thresholds to reflect different circumstances in each area
    5. A 50,000 unit tagart over a term of Government in comparison to 10,000 in the Fine Gael scheme.

Fianna Fáil will be pressing the Government for a clear commitment on this in the upcoming budget negotiations. The State should initiate the scheme with up-front investment with on-going investment taking place on a sustainable off balance sheet basis.

Addressing the growing gap between home owners and rents will be a defining challenge of this Dáil, one that will have profound, long lasting effects.

Tonight’s motion is a small step towards that. It is time for the Government to replace spin with bricks and get affordable homes on the ground. Anything else will be a major social and economic failure.

Go raibh maith agat a Ceann Comhairle.

Fianna Fáil
Darragh O’Brien TD
Spokesperson on Housing, Planning and Local Government

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