Our Government Fiddles, While Our Housing Crisis Burns...
Dáil Diary no 59 - 5th November 2015
This Fine Gael/ Labour Government have been in power now for almost 5 years, and in that time, the Housing Crisis has continued to get worse. Of all the failings of this Neo Liberal Government, I believe that their failure to address the Housing Crisis, the resultant problems around Homelessness and Affordability, the problems associated with Planning, Building Regulations, and the Construction Industry in general, will leave a seriously dark mark on their legacy. Their failure, to not only reform how NAMA operate, but to even hold them to account, is a huge part of the same fiasco.
NAMA’s decision to sell the bulk of residential units and development land in their portfolio, to US Vulture funds, at knockdown prices, was always going to lead to a sad ending. Were our politicians naïve? Were they stupid? Or were they complicit in a neo liberal agenda that favoured these large financial institutions, at the expense of the Irish people? As if things weren’t bad enough, our Government now refuses to do what is crying out to be done. – Start a serious programme of building local authority social housing, that would begin the process of tackling the Housing Crisis. Or would that not fit the Neo Liberal agenda either? Here’s my Leader’s Questions with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, which was interrupted 8 times by An Ceann Comhairle.-
“The Taoiseach said the last thing he wants to do is to make this problem worse. I would argue that not addressing the underlying problems in the housing crisis is making it worse. It beggars belief how poorly the Government has dealt with the housing crisis. This week, the Children’s Rights Alliance pointed out that in January 2015, 400 families with children had to go into emergency accommodation. How could that figure have reached 700 by August 2015? How has the Government failed so miserably to deal with the problem? The Government is now talking about getting the homeless off the streets for Christmas. It talked about same thing last year.
The Government has been nearly five years in office but the problems have not gone away. In fact, the housing crisis has got worse.
It is not all on the Taoiseach’s plate. The housing crisis is a result of decades of housing policy that followed the private, free-market version. There is nothing wrong with the private sector making money out of building houses. That is what it does. It is not a crime to make money or lose it. The private sector looks to make a profit on whatever it does. That is accepted.
I see the role of the State as being different, however. Its role is to provide an actual service. The State is not looking to make a profit but to provide homes to people who cannot afford to buy them. For several different reasons, from land-banking to the whole thrust of housing construction, there are significant problems with affordability and homelessness. The Taoiseach can throw all he likes at the housing crisis but he will not solve it until he accepts the fact that we need to build social housing through the local authorities again.
The Government is not actually doing that. Most of the social housing it is planning to provide over the next five years will be through the private sector, not through the State. Why are the local authorities not allowed to borrow money from the European Central Bank at the cheap rates to build social housing like the approved housing bodies? I do not understand the logic of this. Will the Taoiseach explain it to me?
NAMA building 20,000 houses was much trumpeted. Only 10% of this will be social. Why will the Taoiseach not make 50% of this social housing? It should be a mix of social and private, 50% of each, in the same buildings. We have a massive housing problem and the lack of social housing is at the root of the problem. Until the Government addresses that, it will not solve the problem.”
The Taoiseach: The Government has put €4 billion on the table for the provision of social housing. The Minister has called in all the local authority chief executives on two occasions. He has stated that they have their targets and they must get on with providing these houses. I expect 200 sites will be opened next year for building social housing all over the country.
In addition, NAMA expects, on the basis of the authorisation given to it by the Minister for Finance, to open 100 sites, most of which will be in Dublin. They will deliver about 80 units once they get started. This should be an addition to the system. As a builder himself, Deputy Wallace knows these cannot be provided overnight. We have to provide for the immediate term, as well as for the longer term.
Deputy Wallace recognises the supply element in dealing with the number of houses is absolutely critical. The fewer housing units, the greater the pressure on existing stock. That is what is causing the pressure in terms of rents. When higher rents are seen on the horizon by landlords, some go after them with a vengeance. We have to deal with this. That is why, unfortunately, there are people staying in hotel rooms and other unsuitable accommodation, as well as people on the street. This is a challenge with which we have to deal.
With all the measures being put in place, I hope we are making progress. We would like to think it could be done much faster, but that is not going to be the way it is. Some €4 billion will be spent on social housing between now and 2020. Instructions and authorisation have been given to get on with the task. Some 200 sites are to be opened. NAMA will provide 100 sites which once work starts will equate to 80 homes a week.
The Taoiseach: They will be an important addition to the housing stock and alleviate somewhat some of the problems.
Deputy Mick Wallace: There are 3,600 people on the social housing waiting list in County Wexford. The Government's five-year plan provides for the provision of 760 units, less than 100 of which - 20 a year - will be built by the local authorities in the next five years. That will not address the problem. Unless the Government changes its policy, we will see further boom and bust cycles and continue to have an affordability problem, homelessness and social exclusion. We sold the best sites through NAMA to investment trusts from abroad. Kennedy Wilson has just received planning permission to build 160 apartments at Clancy Barracks. It asked that no provision be made for social housing and no social housing is included. What will it do with the apartments? It will rent them out. What will that do? It will drive rents up further. There is a cartel of investors, most of them foreign, who control the rental market. Rents have increased from €1,000 a month for a two bedroom apartment in the city centre to €1,500 a month because the Government has sold half the country.
An Ceann Comhairle: A question, please.
Deputy Mick Wallace: NAMA has acted ridiculously, given the prices at which stuff has been sold. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, revealed-----
An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy, please, put his question?
Deputy Mick Wallace: In September 2013 the Minister for Finance said there was only one realistic bidder for and purchaser of Project Eagle. He was admitting that it was not a competitive process. Project Arrow, for which Cerberus has been agreed as the preferred bidder-----
An Ceann Comhairle: This is Question Time.
Deputy Mick Wallace: Will the Taoiseach consider intervening and not letting Project Arrow go ahead? Will he stall the project and see what units are suitable as social housing? Will he take these units out of the sale and sell the rest of them?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is way over time.
Deputy Mick Wallace: It is a non-competitive process.
An Ceann Comhairle: What is the Deputy's question?
Deputy Mick Wallace: Cerberus-----
An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy, please, put a question?
Deputy Mick Wallace: Will the Taoiseach stall Project Arrow and examine what units could be used as social housing to address the question of homelessness and affordability in the short term?
An Ceann Comhairle: That is not the original question the Deputy put.
Deputy Mick Wallace: I again ask the Taoiseach if he will reconsider-----
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He is way over time.
Deputy Mick Wallace: Will the Government start building social housing again because that is the only answer to the housing crisis