. I welcome that we are discussing the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. I am concerned at some of the comments the Minister of State made. I am disappointed that when we are discussing homelessness, as we have been for some weeks in the Dáil, and when we are discussing the issue of increasing rents, we are not here this evening talking about doing something that would lead to extra housing or addressing the issue of rents.
The most positive thing to come from the Minister of State is the tenant purchase scheme, which is not a new scheme and is one many that tenants have been awaiting. We have had these schemes in the past. When a scheme is about to finish, people are worried if the following scheme will be better or worse than the previous one.
Having listened to the Minister of State, she obviously has other things to say about exclusions to the scheme. In responding, I hope she will refer to the situations where there would be exclusions to the tenant purchase scheme. She has referred in particular to section 30 which provides that the Minister may proscribe other classes of houses to which the scheme shall not apply, which concerns me.
I am also concerned that in many cases tenants cannot purchase a house. In some cases where I have supported voluntary housing associations getting involved in housing, tenants then find they cannot purchase the house. I have always argued for it. Even when my party was in power we were not able to do it and I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not addressed that most important issue in the Bill. There are many categories of housing in which tenants cannot buy out the house and it should be clarified.
The explanatory memorandum that accompanies the Bill states that the main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the following: a tenancy warning by a housing authority, which sounds very negative; a procedure to recover possession of a dwelling, which I presume would be as a last resort but again is very negative; a scheme of tenant purchase, which I welcome but would like more detail; a new scheme of housing assistance payments, HAP, which sounds like it is cutting red tape if the local authority is to be involved; and a mandatory facility for the deduction from social welfare payments due to local authority tenants and HAP and RAS beneficiaries of rents, rent contributions and rent arrears payable to housing authorities, which again is very negative and deals with recoupment.
I am very concerned that we are not talking about the real issue, which is helping homeless people and people who are paying rents and above all looking at the issue of building houses.
Given the Government’s commitment to construction, I hope there will be construction of social housing in the very near future because there is a crisis. Every expert in the field has said we face a crisis in housing.
I refer to the headlines in the newspapers over the past few days. The Irish Independent stated that rents jumped by 9% over chronic homes shortage while The Irish Times referred, in particular, to Dublin where, according to daft.ie, rents have jumped 14% in one year. The average increase in rent was 9% while in Dublin it was 14%. There has been a reduction in the amount of rental properties available. Some 10,000 rental properties were advertised in Dublin in the first four months of the year compared to 18,000 in the same four month period in 2012.
There is a crisis which we should discuss. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to do that because this Bill is as its Title suggests and relates to miscellaneous provisions. It does not deal with the real issues. We have already seen increases in cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. In Wicklow and Kildare, the commuter belt of Dublin, there was an increase of 9%.
The economist, Ronan Lyons, said that the latest daft.ie report showed that the housing crisis in Dublin is getting worse. He said the solution was not capping rents, which would limit the supply of new homes, but rather addressing the underlying problems, in particular, streamlining the cost of land and regulation. In all the debates I have heard, even on “Prime Time” last night, people have talked about what could be done with planning permissions and they mentioned, in particular, that 30,000 planning permissions were not used. These are the issues which should be looked at. Any steps that can be taken, as Deputy Cowen mentioned, to try to make more housing available, whether by reforming planning, looking at the levies, looking at VAT and so on, should certainly be considered. I hope we will have a serious look at what we are doing in regard to housing.
Two weeks ago we had a debate on a motion tabled by the Technical Group. There was much emphasis on Dublin, and rightly so because cities like Dublin and other urban centres are now facing real problems. People have told some harrowing stories of the plight of homeless families. We are now talking about families and children rather than just individuals becoming homeless. There was the well publicised example of the mother and her five children who spent three months in a hotel room in Dublin and of another mother and her three children who lived in a car, although I know efforts were made to help the family. I hope we can look at these situations. It is not enough to talk about helping people because, as has been pointed out in the debates, sometimes we move families away from their own areas and even move children from their schools. We talk about the education of children but it is very unfortunate that families can be sent to accommodation, welcome as it may be, a long way from where the children go to school or where they lived.
If the figures are correct, more than 170 families, including 500 children, have been allocated temporary hotel accommodation by the local authorities. These families, like many others, are in a queue for social housing. We should look at the situation with NAMA. We have been told NAMA units are available for housing and yet we do not have dedicated units for NAMA in local authorities. I suggest there should be dedicated units in NAMA itself.
The construction industry has been in decline, with a collapse to approximately 6.5% of GNP, which is well below the international average. There has been a reduction in the private sector and we understand that only 10% of homes earmarked by NAMA for social housing have been transferred to local authorities. Much more can be done in this area to make housing available and to support voluntary housing, in particular. I have put proposals to the Minister in regard to Ballinasloe and I hope voluntary housing can be promoted and can get the credit and facilities to start building for people who are homeless and disadvantaged.
I am disappointed in the Bill in that we are not discussing the issues but talking about penalties and what can be done about possession and repossession of houses. I would like to get more information on the tenant purchase scheme, in particular.