08 December 2016

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD on Labour’s Social & Affordable Housing Bill

Our Bill tonight sets out to address key problems in the housing market.

The history of our state has been marked by the insidious influence of private developers and property crashes.

If we have any desire to change this, then it is clear that we need a stronger role for the State in housing development and in the rental market.

The changes proposed in the Social and Affordable Housing Bill would make a substantive difference to tackling the housing crisis.

Our bill would tackle the unsustainable rise in the cost of living driven by escalating rents.

Once again this do-nothing Government, along with their Fianna Fáil partners, propose a delaying amendment.

This should hardly surprise us – the progress report published on the Programme for Government earlier today showed a pitiful lack of progress on any issue of substance.

Next week, just in time for the Christmas recess, the Minister might get around to publishing his long-awaited rental strategy.

Which means it’s already written – a fact that completely undermines the idea that this Bill cannot be considered until his strategy is published.

Minister Coveney and the Government are hiding behind his proposed strategy by delaying publication until the last possible moment, and shutting down all other proposals in the meantime.

With his strategy now written, he still wouldn’t confirm to the House what meaningful actions it might contain.

His daft idea of a rent supplement for middle income families has already been laughed out of town – but it educates us to what he would like to do.

He would like to have the State further subsidise the private rented market, as opposed to tackling the key issue of escalating rents.

The Minister will be already aware that through rent supplement and HAP the State pays over one third of private rents.

We have no clear idea of how Fine Gael and Fianna Fail propose to tackle soaring rents that Savills have predicted will rise by 25% over the next two years.

But we know that they are continuing to block all measures on rent certainty.

They block these proposals, even though Deputies from both parties supported rent certainty in the all-party committee on housing.

A fifth of our households now live in rented accommodation – in Dublin that figure rises to a quarter of all households.

It is not sustainable to continue allowing a Wild West situation in the rental market where a landlord can set prices way above the rate of inflation.

In the long term, members on all sides of this House are agreed that increasing the supply of housing is how we will resolve this crisis.

But in the meantime, we cannot allow that crisis to be used to drive rents to unsustainable levels.

If we do so, we will set new benchmarks that will not fall back when more properties are built.

What we know, and what we have seen from their actions is that the Government, along with Fianna Fáil, are happy to allow rents to soar out of control.

They are happy to allow developers and landlords extract every last possible cent from ordinary people.

They are happy to allow landlords to profit off the backs of those who want a secure rent, secure tenure and a more secure future.

The Minister is not prepared to hold an up or down vote on this Bill.

Rather he has tabled an amendment that claims our proposals would risk negatively impacting on existing and future supply of rental accommodation.

No evidence is put forward for this assertion.

In fact, rents are now higher than boom time peaks, vacancy rates are at an all-time low, queues form to view properties for let, while the number of properties advertised for rent is at an all-time low.

Despite these factors, there is no evidence that anyone is shying away from putting rental properties on the housing market.

There is a reason the REITS and other large investors are in the Irish rental market.

They can’t believe the profits they are able to make, and that’s why they’ve also started to build new units.

If apartments and houses cannot be built at the current rental price level, then we have much bigger problems to resolve.

We can do something now to stop them spiralling higher.

The Government just won’t do so.

If the long-promised rental strategy does not include measures to control soaring rents, then I would suggest it isn’t worth publishing at all.

All the PR in the world will not change that fact.

I understand that the Minister has spent almost €100,000 promoting his Rebuilding Ireland strategy.

There is no amount of money that will persuade people of the value of your rental strategy if you continue to ignore the spiralling rates of rent increases.

The notion that our Bill is unconstitutional is also ridiculous.

Our proposals are based on the all party Committee on the Constitution report which considered the property issue in 2004.

It was legally advised by a current leading member of the Court of Appeal and co-author of Ireland’s leading textbook on constitutional law.

The simple reason for the Government to object to our Bill is that they are kowtowing to some powerful interests in this country, who just do not want rents regulated.

Fianna Fail’s motion is a classic example of the Boris Johnson School of politics.

They want to have their cake, and eat it too.

They want rent certainty. Just not yet.

And they help this Government kick to touch anything that might achieve it.

They call for the Housing committee to consider over the period of a month how rent certainty measures would be implemented.

Linking rents to the rate of inflation is a standard mechanism across many countries.

We are not embarking on an untested model.

But still, they suggest we should delay for a month.

It bizarrely appears from the Fianna Fáil amendment, that they want the committee to sit over Christmas and the New Year.

I somehow doubt that Fianna Fáil TDs will be found sitting in a committee room, as opposed to tucking into their Christmas dinners.

The motion they have tabled is cynical in the extreme.

They oppose the Kenny report recommendations, which I suppose at least matches their traditional support for developers and speculators.

Their opposition will allow their old mates to continue to profit handsomely from the proceeds of zoned land.

And it speaks to a viewpoint that sees renters solely as just an income stream.

That approach will condemn housing policy in this country to continue to serve the interests of investors rather than the interests of our people.

When it comes to rent certainty and ensuring people have a secure roof over their heads – Fianna Fail have abstained.

Who are they trying to appease?

Developers and landlords – or those who need an affordable rent?

They claim to be worried about involuntary landlords.

But this bill has nothing to worry such landlords.

In fact it would help stabilise the market.

The rise in rents is costing ordinary people thousands each year.

Why is Fianna Fáil afraid to take a position to help those people?

There are those who will express concern and scratch their heads, wondering why workers seek pay rises and restoration.

But they are failing to connect the dots.

If the cost of putting a roof over your head is skyrocketing, then of course you are going to seek a rise in wages.

The Bill we are debating here tonight would go some way to address the issues in our housing market.

I urge the Government, and Fianna Fáil to reconsider their approach.

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