The Housing crisis is the single biggest task facing our country. It represents a moral, social and economic challenge. With over 86,000 on the social housing waiting list, 8,300 homeless and a generation for whom home ownership is slipping away we must focus on this challenge.
With construction levels languishing in the doldrums for years we now need home building of over 40,000 units per annum. Given we don’t even know how many homes were built last year it’s a major increase.
But we have done it before. Fianna Fáil built over a million homes during its time in power since 1932. While the world struggled with the Great depression e helped to clear the slums in the 1930’s with an ambitious home building programme in what were deeply difficult economic times. It gave the citizens of a newly independent state a direct stake in our country. I am proud of that record and think that type of vision is needed once more.
I would like to outline what our key policy proposals are across Social, Rented and Private sectors. I think those measures and proposals will give a sense of our answer to the question posed by the housing crisis.
I think you will find much common ground between the parties present here and I hope we can all work collectively where we are in agreement to progress those ideas. Where there is disagreement we can argue it out to come to the best solution. That’s the cut and thrust of democracy.
Our party has always felt it is in the progressive centre. A pragmatic approach to problems rather than an ideological one. It with that in my mind I approach the housing crisis and the role of the market in it.
The Fine Gael record is a damning indictment of a party that places no value on home building for ordinary working people across our country. From 2011- 2016, Fine Gael built just 4,000 new social houses, which is fewer than what Fianna Fáil built in almost every single year from 1997 to 2009.
That record will not be rectified with the new Re-Building Ireland plan. The target of some 30,000 new build social units as part of an overall 50,000 unit target is not enough to meet the needs of our population.
This will require additional funding. Even after Budget 2018 we are still €350m off the levels we need to reach in order to match what we achieved in 2008. This money must be used to get back putting bricks and mortar in the ground.
I believe a new Home Delivery Agency is needed to undertake social and affordable housing in the state. This agency should have emergency compulsory purchase powers and can sub-contract work out. This should cut through department and local authority red tape. It can be financed from both public and private sources with the aim to remain off balance sheet as is the norm across Europe.
Part V should be expanded back to 20%. This should encompass both social and affordable homes. Market provision must be aligned with a social contribution. The concept of integrated communities should be defended.
HAP and rent supplement will form part of the short to medium term solution while construction levels are ramped up. However we cannot fool ourselves that it is a long term solution contrary to Fine Gael policy since 2011.
In terms of quality we need a new National Inspection Regime to set national standards, targets and information for all local authorities.
We only have around 65 people across the entire country looking at over 325,000 rental properties. Additional resources are required to ensure inspection levels are ramped up.
A NCT style inspection system where each property gets a quality certificate similar to the BER should be our long term goal.
The Rent Pressure Zone system has had limited success and was the result of protracted negotiations between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. However I am sceptical about a flat CPI linked cap and the risk of more landlords leaving the system. The simplest solution may not always be the best one. However I am open to suggestions on how to improve it.
We do need measures to ensure that private landlords the majority of which are single property owners, some 70% are kept in the system. This should involve commercial rate relief for above shop units, LPT reductions and measures to help involuntary landlords.
Affordable Rent must be developed. The Strategic Investment Fund should be directed to invest in private home building including affordable rent. These low cost loans for rental accommodation would encourage greater investment and building levels to meet demand. The government this week is still just talking about pilot projects.
We also propose the introduction of an ‘’Empty Property Grant’’ scheme to encourage owners to lease properties to AHBs or directly rent to Local Authority nominated tenants on long-term leases. In return AHBs or Local Authorities would refinance the full or partial costs of refurbishment. Similar schemes exist in the UK and could be introduced on a pilot basis in local authorities that have high vacancy rates.
Our party believes that home ownership is good for families and good for communities. From social housing tenants who buy their homes to the young couple getting on the property ladder it is an aspiration that government should facilitate and encourage.
Boosting supply is our central approach to the problem. This week’s affordable mortgages will not achieve anything without affordable houses.
A new Affordable Housing Scheme should be launched in line with the original vision of the 2000 Planning and Development Act. This will help open up home ownership for those stuck between social housing and the high costs of the private market.
In addition, Aspiring home owners need support to save for their deposits either through an SSIA or shared equity model.
We cannot build without builders. We must have to put in place a system that encourages development. We will press forward with planning changes to reduce the cost of building a home and make it quicker to get on-site and building. A development levy rebate and VAT incentives should form part of that.
Ramping up development also means ensuring we need to have the workers to do it. We need to draw lessons from the sub-contracting practice we saw in the collapsed Carillion company in the UK. A new apprenticeship scheme is required.
These are the ideas we have been pressing in the Oireachtas. Through the Confidence and Supply arrangement we have secured some progress. It is not exactly Camelot but it does provide a stable government and allows for some progress on the issues that are important to our party. In an Ireland where single party government is a thing of the past and minority governments will play a greater role into the future, all political parties must show real responsibility.
We are committed to putting forward ideas and holding this government firmly to account. I believe all parties must offer practical steps and the commitment to actually implement them in our fractured political landscape.
Thank you for inviting me and I look forward to the discussion.