We all know there is a need for radical action to tackle the housing crisis, in particular in Dublin, but as other speakers said there is also a need for more housing in the large urban centres throughout the country. The big issue is how we deal with this.
There were some harrowing stories over the past week on the plight of homeless families. The two stories about which I read and about which there has been much publicity were that of a mother and her five children who have spent the past three months in a hotel room in west Dublin and of a mother and her three children who have lived and slept in a car. In an editorial last Saturday, The Irish Times asked how this could happen in 2014. It stated that in one of the situations, home was a hotel room used to accommodate a young family of six while in the other situation, home was a car, the last resort of a family of four. Both stories suggest a new dimension to homelessness in that we are not talking about individuals but about families and, increasingly, children feature in homelessness.
I am informed that in Dublin, more than 170 families, including 500 children, have been allocated temporary hotel accommodation by the local authorities and have to join the queue for social housing. That is why I particularly like the reference in the motion to situations involving children and offering emergency accommodation within a reasonable distance from the children’s schools. It is appalling that children would have to be taken out of a school because their accommodation is a distance from where they are staying.
The right to a home for every citizen is vital, as is permanent, secure and affordable housing. I hope we can support a strong social and private housing sector. However, I believe Ireland is falling behind in the way we provide units of housing – I prefer to call them “homes” – for families. We must address how we can make more homes available. The transfer of NAMA units is always mentioned as being very important. Developing housing associations is important, as is generally encouraging housing development.
We are aware that the construction industry has suffered a shocking level of decline, collapsing to just about 6.5% of GNP, which is well below the international average. The dramatic deficit in private sector housing is mirrored by the spiralling waiting list in social housing. We are told that more than 90,000 householders are on the social housing waiting list. We talk about transferring NAMA units into housing but only 10% of homes earmarked by NAMA for social housing have been transferred to local authorities. I hope we can take steps to tackle the private and the social housing situations.
Reference was made to the voluntary housing associations. I would like to see them accessing credit and starting to build and tenants being able to purchases houses, where appropriate, which they cannot do currently. I mentioned the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Ballinasloe to the Minister of State previously, and I do so again. It might be unusual for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to be involved in housing but, as the Minister of State knows, there is a trust in Galway city and in rural Galway which means there is funding available for the society to provide housing. In the case of Ballinasloe, it is through Clúid, the housing agency. Clúid is the Irish word for “cover” or “shelter”. Indeed, it is particularly expert in providing sheltered housing. The proposals under the capital assistance programme should be looked at and there is certainly one from Ballinasloe.
There are specialist units in every local authority to deal with disabled persons’ housing, disabled persons’ grants and tenant purchases. I would like to see the same type of units for NAMA. My information is that NAMA identified 4,500 residential properties as potentially suitable for social housing and so far 518 have been delivered. The figures are very stark. In the first three quarters of last year, a mere 253 social housing units were built compared to 5,000 in 2007. Obviously, there is a need to find a way to provide more housing.
The Minister of State talked about the mortgage-to-rent scheme, which we have raised in the House. There certainly have been stumbling blocks along the way and Clúid has talked about the banking sector as being a very serious stumbling block.
It has talked about 566 cases being referred to it and the banks withdrawing 240 cases. It is disappointing that is happening. The economist, Alan Ahearne, talked about central banks around the world driving interest rates and bond yields to low levels, but he said that in this country those policies have not resulted in lower interest rates on new mortgages. In fact, he said that banks have increased borrowed costs on new loans in part to cross-subsidise loss-making tracker mortgages. There is a boost for the housing market when people shift some of their savings into housing or when they get worried about DIRT tax or pension levies. According to Alan Ahearne, that partially explains the influx of the cash-rich buyers who have come into the market. In essence, he is saying that we should look at having more homes in the right places.
Dublin has been highlighted but in the suburbs of Cork and Galway there are increasing worries about homelessness. In Galway, for example, the HSE has 123 extra people on the homeless list. The Disability Federation of Ireland has also expressed concern that almost 4,000 people with disabilities were in need of social housing last year. I hope we can make progress and work on the basis of the motion before the House.