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Housing crisis: How each of the political parties say they’re going to fix it

Wondering how to vote? Here’s what the parties will do for tenants, first-time buyers and the homeless

The Housing Fix is an Irish Times series exploring solutions to Ireland’s housing crisis – arguably the biggest social and economic issue facing the country and its next government – in the run-up to the general election.

Housing is one of the key battlegrounds in the general election – there is continuing public outcry over the high cost of rents, growing levels of homelessness and little affordability.

Most agree that a lack of supply lies at the heart of the crisis but each party sees different ways to improve the situation.

An analysis of the election pledges being made by each of the main parties shows a sometimes wide divide in how they pledge to solve the crisis. Here is what we know.

Rent

Fine Gael: The party has said that it would continue with its Rebuilding Ireland plan, which provides for rent pressure zones. These are designated areas around the country with particularly high rents that are limited to a maximum of 4 per cent rent increases per year for new and existing tenancies. The rent pressure zones would stay in place until 2021 when they would be reviewed. Despite the introduction of these zones in 2016, rents have continued to grow dramatically. Fine Gael has rejected calls for a rent freeze, saying it could dampen supply in the market.

Fianna Fáil: The party has rejected calls for a rent freeze, saying it has legal advice which deems this unconstitutional. It has also pledged a €600 rent tax credit for all private renters, the creation of a national rent deposit scheme with a "life-time deposit" that moves with the tenant until they withdraw it. And the party plans to overhaul the Residential Tenancies Board by doubling its resources to undertake active investigations.

Sinn Féin: The party has proposed an emergency freeze on rents for three years for all existing and new tenancies. It also pledges a major investment in affordable rental accommodation. They have also pledged a three year refundable tax credit for all existing and new tenancies.

Labour: Labour says it would freeze rents for a "limited period" of three years and introduce a cap on rents. They also want a rent register, so that new tenants know what previous tenants paid, and they say rent increases should be linked to cost-of-living increases rather than the 4 per cent that applies in rent pressure zones. They would also bring in a rent-to-buy scheme whereby a person with a tenancy for three years who pays all their rent would see this turned into a deposit.

Greens: The Green Party would support an "appropriate form of rent control", the removal of sale or refurbishment as a reason for ending a tenancy. It supports long term leases to provide security of tenure.

Other parties: The Social Democrats would introduce a nationwide rent freeze. People Before Profit favours the introduction of rent controls linked to the consumer price index.

Affordable and social housing

Fianna Fáil: The party pledges to increase the capital budget from €1.3 billion to €2 billion per annum, to build 50,000 units by 2025 and to increase discretionary spending thresholds to allow local authorities to build. The party would also increase the vacant site levy to 14 per cent.

Fine Gael: The party has pledged to build more than 11,000 new social housing homes in 2020, 12,000 next year and each year after. It also says it would and "operationalise" the Land Development Agency, whose primary objective is to ensure optimal use of State land and deliver housing where appropriate. The move to put the agency on a commercial basis is to ensure continued access to finance including in any potential downturn. Fine Gael also says if a developer applies for planning permission and does not act on it within 18 months, permission will be lost. The party would also legislate to ensure that, in the case of any State lands that are sold and suitable for housing, 40 per cent must be for social and affordable units.

Sinn Féin: The party pledges to "significantly increase capital investment in public housing to deliver the largest social and affordable housing programme in the history of the State". This would involve delivering 20,000 public homes each year and prioritising the use of public land.

Labour: Its plan is to build 80,000 social and affordable homes on public land "which will bring the much needed supply of such homes which are so urgently needed", the party's housing spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan says. A rent to buy scheme also forms part of its affordable housing plan.

Greens: The Green Party says it would allow local authorities to borrow 10 per cent of their annual budget for building housing, to deliver 36,000 homes per annum, of which 35 per cent would be social, 35 per cent affordable, and 12 per cent overall designed to universal design standards. They also propose "a move away from the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) as a model for providing public housing".

Other parties: People Before Profit wants to transfer large numbers of Nama housing units to local authorities. The Social Democrats would "radically scale up the planned number of houses being built by the State, on public lands, to an average of 20,000 a year – which is 100,000 over the lifetime of the next Dáil".

Homelessness

Fianna Fáil:The party says it would increase homeless funding to €250 million per annum and set up a new rolling acquisition fund in the Housing Agency to purchase repossessed units and keep their tenants in place.

Fine Gael: The party has promised to find a "path out of emergency accommodation" for homeless people and has said that in the short term it would continue to utilise the HAP to subsidise tens of thousands of households to maintain their tenancies. The party has promised to address the issue of supply and to also create, by the end of next year, 400 new housing-first tenancies, which provide homeless people with places to live and associated supports.

Sinn Féin: It has said that it would set a date for ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough, double the provision of housing-first tenancies and put a statutory limit of six months on the length of time a person can be in emergency accommodation.

Labour: The party's housing spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan says that the "answer to homelessness is homes and that is why Labour's focus is on construction. I have also brought a Bill to legislate for the specific needs of children and families in homelessness through Second Stage in the Dáil and pre-legislative scrutiny in the Housing Committee." Labour will seek to have it enacted in the next Dáil, O'Sullivan says.

Greens: The Green Party says it would seek better resourcing of services to prevent homelessness, including family and mental health supports and says it would implement a Housing First strategy. It also says that homeless people should be able to access the medical card with a PPS number rather than needing an address.

Others: The Social Democrats have said that local authorities should be given formal responsibility for finding alternative housing for people who have had their HAP tenancy terminated. The party has also said constitutional change is needed to provide for a right to a home.

First-time buyers

Fianna Fáil: The party has five pledges: to initiate a 33 per cent "SSIA-style" scheme for first-time buyers to help meet their deposit; to retain and expand the help-to-buy scheme; to launch an expanded affordable home scheme with a ¤2 billion fund; to restrict the presence of private funds in the rental market, by earmarking land for first-time buyers; and to launch a national shared ownership scheme.

Fine Gael: The party has said it would increase the grant under the help to buy scheme by €10,000 to €30,000. This scheme, when introduced, provided a tax refund worth up to €20,000 or 5 per cent of the cost of building or buying a new home. They would also make €200 million available for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, which started taking applications in 2018, from creditworthy people who have been refused lending by banks. Some 1,250 first-time buyers have applied to the scheme.

Sinn Féin: The party would "focus on bringing house prices down through investment in affordable purchase homes". It would reduce mortgage interest rates by introducing a Bill to cause the Central Bank to instruct the banks to lower rates. It would abolish the local property tax.

Labour:

“If the 80,000 homes Labour proposes are constructed, this will ensure the balance of supply and demand is restored and stabilise prices,” says Jan O’Sullivan. The party also favours a rent-to-buy scheme and says it would ensure rental payments and deposit savings are counted as part of credit ratings.

Greens: The party says first-time buyers would "benefit greatly from a steady supply of affordable homes for rental and purchase ... Grants and tax relief won't deal with the fundamental supply problem. Only building new homes and bringing vacant property into use will do that."