Housing plan lacks deterrent to the hoarding of land for future profit

19 July 2016

Speaking in Dail during Statements on Housing Strategy

It is welcome that the Government has published an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness and that it has taken on board many of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee. However, while it contains lots of measures, proposals and aspirations, I am concerned at what it does not contain and whether it can break the logjams that halted construction after the economic collapse of 2008.

People who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless need this plan to work and I do wish it success because this most important of issues needs immediate and effective action.

Yesterday, the Labour Party published a Social and Affordable Housing Bill. Some of the key measures proposed in that Bill were:

  • The implementation of the recommendations of the Kenny Report
  • The remit of NAMA to be broadened and for the organisation to be rebranded as the National Housing Development and Finance Agency
  • The professionalization of the landlord sector
  • The linking of rent to Consumer Price Index

All of these were in the draft of the Bill we published for consultation a month ago but all of these key actions have been ignored.

The Government proposes no action to implement the recommendations of the Kenny Report; no significant action to broaden the remit of NAMA; little to professionalise the landlord sector (despite the report noting the difficulties caused by “a shortage of professional institutional landlords or other landlords with longterm investment plans”) and absolutely no action to limit rent increases.

The biggest issue staring us all in the face is that there is a huge need, there are zoned available sites but no-one is building, apart from one-off houses in the countryside. If it is cost effective to build them, why is it not cost-effective to build multi-unit developments, with the economy of scale that is entailed and with the demand that is building in the cities? There are incentives (carrots) such as upfront payment for Part V units and making publicly owned land available for private houses to be built for profit but there is a pressing need to also have disincentives to hoarding land and sites until they become more profitable.

The Minister himself, when answering questions on the Plan at the launch this morning said that he was concerned that investment funds are buying up zoned land. This can only be for the purpose of holding on to it until they can make and killing. We need a strong deterrent to the hoarding of land for future profit and implementing the Kenny Report and bringing forward the vacant sites levy, both of which we have also proposed, would provide the deterrent that is needed

Measures to give more security to those privately renting are also lacking with nothing in the plan to link rent increases to the cost of living using a comparator such as the Consumer Price Index. While the Minister has said that there will be some protection for tenants to stay in their homes in large developments that are to be sold, this protection will not, it seems, be there for those who rent from a landlord who is selling an individual apartment or house, effectively ruling out most people who rent privately.

I do welcome increased funding for construction of Social Housing but that is building on the €3.1 billion provided by former Minister Alan Kelly in the strategy he announced in November 2014 and the amended amount of €5.35 billion will be spent over the 6 years up to 2021 while the previous plan was up to 2020.

There will be real challenges in getting this money spent and this, in my view, will be the real test of the success of the plan. Any examination of the snail’s pace at which money allocated to Local Authorities for social housing gets turned into actual houses, will show that the problem is far from as simple as fast-tracking the planning process. The time taken for a Part V planning application is 8 weeks, with a further 4 weeks if further information is required. It can then be appealed to An Bord Pleanala. Taking away the Local Authority role in planning, will, in my view, do little or nothing to get rid of the real log-jams that slow down the provision of social, or indeed, private housing and tampering with a transparent planning process in this way, is not a good idea.

We, in opposition, will work with the Government to deliver on this plan. We do, however, want them to listen to the measures proposed by us and other opposition Parties.

At all costs, we must avoid the boom and bust cycle that nearly broke our economy and our society and that was the basis for the huge problems of housing and homelessness that we have now and that have caused such misery and anxiety to so many of our citizens.

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