News & Media

Fine Gael must admit their housing policies are not working

10 April 2019

Speech by Willie Penrose TD
Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Rural & Community Affairs
Dominic file pic final

Speech by Deputy Willie Penrose in Dáil Éireann on Labour's housing motion 'Building Homes for the Future'. 

Deputy Penrose said;

I am proud that Labour has brought forward this motion, based on our comprehensive housing policy which would see 80,000 homes built over 5 years. Our housing policies are practical, implementable, fully-costed and place the State at the centre of activity on housing. 

The role of State agencies, leading the delivery of housing, as they have done through Ireland’s history, seems lost on this current government.  Our motion today aims to make the Government face up to the realities faced by hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland right now

Rents are way beyond the ability of many workers to pay. Council housing waiting lists are years long and tens of thousands of people are unable to heat their homes adequately

***

Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for the Labour party, which is why we have included it in this motion. Residential use of energy – oil, gas, and solid fuels – also accounts for 9.5% of all our carbon emissions. That’s around 5.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. That has to be halved by 2030, which means a massive drive for home energy efficiency.

If we do this right, we can eliminate fuel poverty at the same time as lowering carbon emissions. From recent surveys, we know that around 75,000 households (4.4%) are unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm. We also know around 138,000 households (8.1%) go without heating at some point during the year.

We know that elderly people or people with disabilities require more home heating because they spend more time at home. Yet they often have the lowest incomes.

The Government did not introduce regulations in relation to energy efficiency until 1979, and nearly half of the current housing stock was built prior to this. Significant thermal retrofits were not introduced until 2006, meaning that most Irish homes are not properly insulated.

That raises the cost of heating, and it also means more carbon emissions to achieve the same level of heating. There is plenty of action that can be taken by the Government to address this issue.

If we don’t already have this information, we should require every local council to report on the energy ratings of all its housing. Everyone in public housing should have a fair expectation of a home that they can heat to a decent standard of comfort. Every home under Local Authority control should be put into a programme to upgrade and retrofit any home that does not have adequate insulation.

Retrofitting homes will help the residents tackle the cost of heating, and will also lower carbon emissions.

All future public housing should be built to a much higher housing standard. This is to avoid the problems that beset social housing in the 1970s. And also to ensure that we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions. Housing standards for public housing should include a wide range of measures to ensure the lowest possible carbon footprint from house-building and the lifetime use of housing. 

This should include insulation, computer-controlled energy-efficient heating systems, local energy generation from solar panels and wind turbines, and the reuse of rainwater.

***

When it comes delivering more housing, of course, we need to increase supply in every way possible. There are currently 1,701 people on the housing list in Westmeath. In addition, there are 800 who have HAP tenancies.

To meet their needs, and to solve the wider housing problem, we need to think outside the box.

In my own constituency, I keep passing three houses that have been unoccupied and in poor condition for years. Every deputy in this chamber knows about similar houses in their own areas. We could do more to bring privately-owned vacant housing back into use.

Hundreds of millions is being spent on Rent Supplement and HAP, and some of this money could be diverted into making vacant houses habitable. The houses I’m talking about could be made habitable for maybe €30 - €40,000 each. They could provide great homes for people living in Westmeath.

Could we not offer a grant or scheme where we’d supply the funding if the owners commit to renting out the properties for social housing for a period of years? We could get better value this way than leasing properties under the HAP scheme, and we’d be stopping houses going into dereliction in cases where their owners can’t afford to do much with them.

***

Another policy that would permit the State to deliver more public housing would be the implementation of the 1973 Kenny Report. This is not the first time I have made this suggestion. I’ve been advocating this point for many years. Labour’s Social and Affordable Health Bill 2016 made this recommendation.

We should legislate for the compulsory purchase of lands at existing use value, building on the Kenny Report proposals. Judge Kenny made it clear that there is no constitutional impediment to doing this. He proposed paying a premium of up to 25 percent on lands compulsory purchased, but that was at 1973 prices. A smaller compensation would be fair today.

But this government has gone in the opposite direction and is selling off public lands to private developers as their great idea to solve the housing crisis.

Public ownership of public housing, built on public land is how we solve the crisis. 

Labour understands that. Housing organisations outside this house recognize that. Public housing experts are calling for that. 

We are all just waiting for Fine Gael to admit that their policies are not working, and cannot work.