The first issue that strikes me in this motion is that of the lack of housing supply. Some 90,000 persons are currently on social housing waiting lists around the country. While I welcome the announcements that have been made, we are still falling below the 25,000 units that are estimated to be required if people are to be allowed the opportunity to find suitable homes. Yesterday’s newspapers referred to an increase in the number of homes built in 2014, but the amount is still far short of what the market requires. Last year, 11,016 units were built, which is far fewer than 25,000.
I hope that we will see action on the new building programme. For a long time, we have heard about what NAMA will do and that there might be a special unit in every local authority to deal with NAMA and turn its units into social housing. We have also hoped that there will be dedicated people to deal with the housing associations. It is disappointing that, even though we have good plans and proposals, not all of them are being approved. In fact, the most successful association in County Galway is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. One would not normally associate the society with housing, but its proposal on housing for the elderly in Ballinasloe has been approved. I hope that this proposal can be expedited and the targets can be met, as we are way behind at the moment.
The Housing Agency, which advises the Government, stated that 2,994 houses were built in Dublin last year. That is in a city where demand is high. There are long waiting lists in County Galway, particularly on the east and west sides of Galway city, where just 87 units were completed when more than 2,000 units need to be built during the next three years. I am told that 155 units were completed in Cork city, representing a 34% decrease on the previous year’s figure. While output increased in 22 counties, it fell in nine and did not change in the remaining three. Units are needed.
I support the comments on the rural housing programme. I am glad to see that steps are being taken to deal with it. Half of the units completed last year were one-off homes. People often frown on them as examples of bad planning, but they are also good examples of families helping one another. Local authorities should consider building houses in rural areas. It has been a successful scheme, but most counties have seen few houses built in recent years.
I was interested in the statement by Mr. Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, to the effect that we were 14,000 units short of the 25,000 that should be built annually. He referred to the upward pressure on prices and rental costs as demand continued to exceed the levels of supply. He also stated that there was a considerable shortfall in Dublin, the area with the greatest level of demand.
It has been reported in the media that county councils will soon start hiring additional expert staff to work on the building of 35,000 social houses. One must ask why that process has not already started. We have had strategies, launches and Construction 2020 and the social housing strategy was launched in November. People are caught between high rents and the Central Bank’s new plans for a mortgage cap. Obviously, we welcome what the Central Bank has stated, but it remains a serious situation and could lead to homelessness. I have spoken with the Galway Simon Community about increased homelessness as well as the growing number of people on the housing list while paying rent. The CEO of ALONE and COPE Galway have proposed an investment programme that would ring-fence units for the homeless. Now, families are living in hotels and hostels. In Dublin, more than 300 children are in this situation. This creates difficulties when trying to arrange for education opportunities and to deal with the issue of mobility that has been mentioned.
Last night’s “Claire Byrne Live” saw a discussion on the difficulties with the mortgage-to-rent scheme and people who believed they were prudent while the price of property increased. We need clarity on these issues. I would also like to bear in mind what the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland stated when discussing the apprehension among builders planning new housing developments. I hope that the Central Bank’s announcement will help in that regard.