Wednesday 19 June 2019

Eoghan Murphy: 'The market has never fixed a housing crisis - only the Government will'

Winds of change: A homeless person lays beneath a billboard poster promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage in May 2015, in Dublin. Photo: Getty
Winds of change: A homeless person lays beneath a billboard poster promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage in May 2015, in Dublin. Photo: Getty

Eoghan Murphy

People will march today calling for better housing, more affordable housing, more social housing, and just more housing.

Some will also demand that the right to housing be enshrined in the Constitution, and will claim this Government is ideologically opposed to public housing and dependent on market-driven solutions.

This Government is not waiting for the market to solve the problem. The market never has. This is not a government restrained by ideology.

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Every lever to increase supply - from taxing vacant land so that it is put back in to use, to setting up a new state developer and spending €2.4bn of public money on social housing this year - is being pulled.

Popular movements are important. Four years ago, rent controls were almost unthinkable. Now we have them and we are extending and improving them in the rent reform Bill currently going through the Oireachtas.

The State is very deliberately inserting itself directly into the provision of housing as it rebuilds a sector destroyed in the crash - from the type of homes being built, to their location and even price.

We know that many people, young and old, are in an incredibly difficult situation. Families have been left with nowhere else to go but emergency accommodation. That is unacceptable.

Action is being taken. Look at the rent reforms we are taking through the Oireachtas. We are extending the rent caps further, outside of Dublin and Cork. We are closing down loopholes that allowed landlords to avoid these caps.

We are bringing large new landlords, including institutional investors, under rent cap reforms for the first time.

We need larger, professional landlords agreeing longer leases with their tenants. That's why, under this new legislation, these landlords with new properties will now be covered by rent caps.

We are not standing back. While this group is important in delivering new supply, it represents less than 5pc of all tenancies nationally. Still, the Department of Finance is undertaking a report on its impact to be finalised this summer.

Most landlords - 70pc - own only one property. These are people and families who have rights too when it comes to the property they bought with their hard-earned money.

We are pressing ahead with radical and far-reaching rent reforms including giving greater security in the form of more time where a tenant has to leave the home they are renting.

Still, some today will demand we make it illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant because they intend to sell their property. This is a bad idea, though from noble motivations.

In the Seanad this week, reference was made to how bedsits were banned with good intentions but how it poured more petrol on the homeless fire. Good intentions on accommodation standards led to bad consequences for adult homelessness.

If a landlord was not allowed evict a tenant because they were selling their property, it would involve the new buyer evicting the tenants and result in families evicting families. It doesn't solve the problem, it just displaces it.

If tenants believe they are being evicted on spurious grounds, or that rent caps are being breached, they can seek help from the Residential Tenancies Board which is being given increased powers and resources to police rogue landlords. The RTB can also investigate without a complaint being made.

More reforms will come. It is Government policy to introduce tenancies of indefinite duration in further legislation later this year. Currently, a landlord can evict a tenant after six years without reason. That will change.

Ultimately, new supply is key, and building is increasing at a steady and sustainable rate. Just over 18,000 homes were built last year, roughly one in four for social housing. This compares with the 4,560 delivered in 2013. Output will increase again in 2019.

People falsely claim we are opposed to social housing. We are not.

We are in the middle of a massive expansion in social housing provision with 50,000 homes being added to the stock between 2016 and 2021, delivered by local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies using government funding.

This year we will also spend more than €145m helping the most vulnerable. The bulk of funding for our main homeless charities comes from the Government, precisely because we recognise the importance of providing the best possible care when people are in crisis.

Government affordability measures have also supported the buying of more than 12,000 homes since Rebuilding Ireland began. As state land is developed, at a minimum four in 10 houses built will be for social and affordable housing.

The Opposition supports these policies, at least tacitly. If they had better solutions, they could implement them without government approval, because we are in the minority. But they don't.

As people march, some will call on us to declare an emergency. It is an emergency. But declaring it one does not mean we can just suspend our laws or the Constitution.

This Government is open-minded on the proposal that a right to housing be enshrined in the Constitution. The best way to do this is to follow the same process as led to the successful Marriage Equality and Repeal referendums. The Dáil has agreed to this position, and Fianna Fáil chairs the Oireachtas committee responsible for taking it forward.

In the meantime, we treat our obligations around housing as seriously as if it was a Constitutional right. We continue to implement Rebuilding Ireland because it is working to provide solutions for tens of thousands of people, and we need it to provide more.

Eoghan Murphy TD is Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Irish Independent

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