Maiden Speech on Housing in 32nd Dáil

I gave my “maiden speech” in the Dáil last week, in what was the second day of sitting of the 32nd Dáil. My first speech was a contribution to the debate on Housing and Homelessness.

In summary the points I raised are as follows;
-Need for a restart of social housing building programme(currently 19,000 individuals on Kildare housing list).
-Review of rent allowance to combat the rising rental costs.
-Review of the Central Bank Mortgage deposit rules.
-Derelict sites refurbished and brought back into circulation.
-Rates initiative for living above shops (to bring more buildings into use for accommodation and knock on positive affects for our main streets).
-Account of consistent rental payments given more credibility when looking for a deposit for a home.

The full text of my speech is below:

“In my first contribution in the House and as a fellow Kildare man, I congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his role. I commend him on the diligence and professionalism he has displayed in office and I wish him well in his role.

A number of factors contribute to the housing crisis: purchase and rental affordability; availability; the backlog in social housing; and the lack of private home construction and supply across the board, which are functions of affordability. As a councillor until three weeks ago when I entered the Dáil, the single greatest issue being raised at my clinics on a daily basis was housing. People attended my clinics in a variety of situations but all had the common challenge of lacking a home or roof over their heads. Unfortunately, the only response that I could reasonably provide was that there was no supply, light at the end of the tunnel or stock to be allocated. Housing lists have extended from five years to six, seven or many more years. In some cases, we were fortunate enough to be able to assist a family in getting what was essentially a lucky break but a lucky break is not good enough for what is a basic requirement, namely, providing a family with a home. The majority of families in that situation do not get that lucky break. Indeed, they are sent back from clinics and the housing departments of local authorities to conditions in which they face homelessness or are on the verge of homelessness, staying with their families in overcrowded accommodation and sleeping on mattresses on kitchen floors in a form of hidden homelessness that is not reported in the statistics or on any planning radar. This is not good enough.

The housing assistance payment, HAP, and RAS are relatively useful in this situation but they have their difficulties, primarily because rents have soared to the extent that the RAS, in particular, does not cover anywhere near the full rent. Under-the-counter cash payments are being taken by landlords on top of RAS, leaving families bereft and living on the bread line. In my constituency of Kildare North in the commuter belt, rents are typically 30% to 40% higher than is covered by rent allowance.

A problem with HAP is that once a family has been accepted onto the scheme, it is deemed to have had its housing need met. This means that, at the stroke of a pen, the family is struck off the housing list after years of waiting and is effectively back to square one. This precludes many from taking up the option.

In County Kildare, 6,600 households are on the social housing list, comprising 19,000 individuals, making it the third largest waiting list in the country after the cities of Dublin and Cork. While there has been ongoing discussion on councils of money to be allocated from central government, it has not arrived. In fact, the number of social housing units completed in 2014 was just three per local authority. In 2015 and despite the alleged money coming through, only 28 social units were built by local authorities.

There is a significant problem with vacant and derelict properties across the State but this also presents an opportunity. The power under derelict sites legislation to sanction the owners of derelict properties and, in some cases, seize possession of those properties is only rarely exercised by the State. There appears to be a systemic reluctance to do so but vacant and derelict properties would present an opportunity to provide accommodation were the State only to intervene more proactively.

Commercial properties also present an opportunity. Many retail sector and high street buildings traditionally contained accommodation over their shops. This practice has declined in recent years but I call on the acting Government to examine concessions, perhaps by way of rates, to encourage retail outlets to create over-the-shop accommodation as well as in other fit parts of their properties. This would also provide a stimulus to the high street economy of our small towns and villages.

I will touch briefly on private market supply. There has been a major contraction in construction in the past five years and its costs have increased due to regulatory overheads. Before any construction cost is factored in, the regulatory cost of house building is €40,000 per unit more than it was previously.

Younger families, first-time buyers and expanding families have a particular difficulty with affordability in the private sector. Central Bank rules are forcing more households to remain in unaffordable rented accommodation, thereby reducing supply in the rental market and driving up rents while making no contribution to the goal of home ownership. Fianna Fáil is advocating a first-time buyers saving scheme with a 25% top-up to enable individuals to move towards deposits. It must be acknowledged that many couples and young families are paying significant rents while attempting to save for deposits and yet these factors are not always taken into account by banking rules.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this debate and I hope that these solutions are considered in a constructive fashion.”

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