Housing crisis: Dáil told of ‘mind-numbing’ lack of ambition

Labour Party leader tells Taoiseach, ‘I am convinced you don’t have the will to solve it’

Labour leader Brendan Howlin  hit out at the Government’s co-living proposals featuring shared kitchen and living areas, which he described as ‘ludicrous’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin hit out at the Government’s co-living proposals featuring shared kitchen and living areas, which he described as ‘ludicrous’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

The Government has been accused of being “mind numbing in its lack of ambition” in dealing with the housing crisis.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin made the claim in the Dáil as he hit out at co-living proposals featuring shared kitchen and living areas, which he described as “ludicrous”. He said these homes were an “attempt to normalise cramped living conditions and erode public housing standards”.

The Wexford TD said “we are now talking about people sharing bathrooms or having no bathrooms”, and reducing standards “so that people can live on top of one another”, creating the social crises of the future.

Mr Howlin told the Taoiseach he did not believe he understood the issue and “I am convinced you don’t have the will to solve it”.

Mr Varadkar said it was important to put the issue in context because this type of development “probably accounts for less than 1 per cent of the new homes being built in the country at the moment”.

The Taoiseach said there could be as few as half a dozen such developments this year and next and this type of housing could be a suitable choice for some people.

He added that when in government with Fine Gael from 2011-2016, Labour had responsibility for housing and “when it comes to the apartment guidelines, it was a Labour Party minister who took the decision to amend them to reduce apartment sizes”.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty accused the Government of “rolling out the red carpet” to vulture funds which he described as “leeches”. He said banks were continuing to sell loans to vulture funds at knock-down prices as he highlighted the Project Scarriff portfolio of 3,600 family homes and 2,900 buy-to-lets that were sold by Ulster Bank to Promontory Scariff.

A company called Cabot Financial Ireland wrote to buy-to-let customers in arrears, demanding full payment of the entire loan of €170,000 or €190,000 in seven days, when the arrears in some cases were less than €3,000, he said.

Heated exchanges

The Donegal TD said “all of this is a direct consequence of Government policy, which is to roll out the red carpet to these leeches”.

The Taoiseach said he did not have information about these cases but would have them looked into if Mr Doherty provided the details.

Mr Varadkar added that the tax treatment of property investment funds is under review. Six or seven years ago property prices were plummeting and nobody was building new homes and new apartments but it was a very different position now, he added.

They had extended regulation to property investment funds and the Government had also enhanced consumer protections so that mortgage holders had the same consumer protections regardless of who owned those loans.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry highlighted the case of residents of six flats at Dillon’s Cross in Cork city who were given notice to quit by July even though they were up to date with their rents and that the flats were to be refurbished. But he had no doubt that the rents would double or treble.

He accused the Government of refusing to act but instead supporting a European Commission directive “which will restrict the rights of member states to impose their own regulations on vulture funds”.

Mr Barry said he was not surprised as four Cabinet members, five Ministers of State and nearly one-third of the Fine Gael parliamentary party were landlords. “Fine Gael will not act against its class interests.”

The Taoiseach said he was very sorry to hear about the case “but I also know that there are many good stories”. He said the Government was working hard on tenants’ rights with legislation currently going through the Oireachtas to provide more secure tenancies, including extending the notice to quit period.