A housing system with the citizen at the centre

A home is one of the most basic needs a person has. Fine Gael believes that one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to make sure that there are enough safe and secure homes for every citizen.  Home ownership is not in the reach of many today, and we believe it should be. Fine Gael is the party of home ownership. In tandem with that there should be the option for individuals and families to rent in secure, good-quality and long-term tenancies either in the private market or through an expanded social housing stock.

Our ambition is to ensure:

  • there is a strong construction sector focused on the building of homes in all price ranges, not on land speculation;
  • that we are building in excess of 25,000 new houses per annum in 2020, rising to 35,000 in the years thereafter, and those houses are in locations with access to employment, public transport, and other essential amenities;
  • 12,000 new homes are added to the social housing stock each year by 2021 and that level is maintained thereafter;
  • that the homelessness crisis is ended and the time people spend in emergency accommodation is as short as possible; and
  • that we have tenant protections, both in legislation and in practice, that allow renters to enjoy secure, high-quality and long-term accommodation and provide landlords with a fair return on their investment.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

Plan-led development, not developer-led development

We must always be careful to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The sprawl that took place over the last twenty years, where housing was built far from people’s places of employment, was a major and avoidable mistake. It has resulted in parents spending hours in traffic when they should be with their children. It meant houses were built long before community facilities, schools, sports fields or other local amenities were even considered. It resulted in dormitory towns and villages which are empty during the working day. It was developer-led planning that only benefited the developer.

We fundamentally reject that developer-led planning approach and have replaced it with plan-led development. ‘Project Ireland 2040’ and the ‘National Planning Framework’ is that plan. Under ‘Project Ireland 2040’ future growth should be in the first instance, compact growth. Within the footprint of our existing cities, towns and villages. This focus will be aided by the Land Development Agency which will develop strategic landbanks within our urban areas as residential communities.

By prioritising new development within the infill or hinterland of existing urban centres, we will breathe new life into our city, town, and village centres. This will be of benefit to not only those who live in those city, town, or village centres but also their neighbours living in more rural areas, as their local urban centre will now have the centre of gravity to grow and thrive.

To achieve compact growth, and recognising the changing needs of individuals and families for housing, Fine Gael will make planning guidelines that facilitate greater density in city and town centres as well as in the immediate hinterland of public transport.

However, there are major challenges in developing the centres of many of our urban areas as residential for a wide variety of reasons. Therefore, to help achieve this goal, a €2 billion Urban Regeneration and Development Fund was established under ‘Project Ireland 2040’. An initial call for applications has been issued with the first successful applicants to be announced before the end of 2018. Fine Gael will ensure that there are regular rounds of bidding for this fund over the next decade so that local authorities and areas which have not yet fully developed urban regeneration projects, or are unsuccessful initially, have the opportunity to bid again.

‘Project Ireland 2040’ provides a clear framework for the future growth of the country and the funding to match it. ‘Project Ireland 2040’ on a national level, and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, will allow us to properly prepare and plan for that growth in a timely and planned fashion. This will help ensure that the failings of planning over the past thirty years are not repeated.

A sustainable home building sector delivering between 25,000 and 35,000 homes per annum

This year, almost 20,000 new homes will be built in Ireland, the highest level of output in a decade. We anticipate 25,000 new homes being built in 2019. From 2020 onwards, we want to ensure that the home building sector produces between 25,000 and 35,000 homes per annum. This level of output will ensure that enough homes are being provided for a growing population and to catch up on recent years without repeating the mistakes of the past. This is in line with ‘Project Ireland 2040’ and will be assisted by the Land Development Agency and Home Building Finance Ireland.

Delivering more affordable and subsidised housing

The most efficient way to provide affordable housing is to increase supply, in particular the supply of starter family homes as well as apartments. However there are people, particularly living in and around our major cities who are earning good wages, do not qualify for social housing, but are also unable to afford to buy their own homes on the open market. Fine Gael is particularly conscious of the need to have a strong supply of affordable homes to buy and rent.

To help people in this situation, Budget 2019 provided the largest affordability package in a decade at €310m. This investment will be used to service local authority land so that homes can be built on that land, and then sold at a discount to people, with the Local Authority retaining an equity share in the home. This will provide 6,200 new homes over the next three years.

It must be acknowledged though that there are different definitions of affordability based on geography, income and family circumstances and the problem does not impact all areas equally. For example, roughly one-in-two first time buyers in the 12 months to June 2018, purchased homes for less than €250,000 and average house prices in some regions and many counties are less than €200,000. Therefore, this investment will be targeted at Local Authorities in our major urban areas.

As part of our plans to use state lands more efficiently, we have mandated the Land Development Agency to bring vacant and underutilised land into use for housing. Where this is done, at least 30% of those homes will be made available through an affordable housing scheme, in addition to at least 10% of those homes being council homes. These homes will be provided at a discount and the state retains an equity stake in the home reflecting the discount.

Helping first time buyers

As part of our commitment to home ownership, Fine Gael believes that young families should be helped in buying their first home. In October 2016, Fine Gael in government brought in the Help to Buy (HTB) incentive. This was to assist first-time buyers with the deposit required to purchase or self-build a new house or apartment to live in as their home. The incentive provides for a refund of Income Tax and DIRT paid over the previous four tax years and capped at €20,000. Since its introduction, over 15,000 first time-buyers have been approved for this scheme, with 9,470 having drawn down the refund.

12,000 new social homes each year

In 2017 the number of social homes was increased by over 7,000 through new builds, renovations, acquisitions and long-term leasing. This will exceed 8,000 in 2018, move to 10,000 in 2019 and by 2021 reach 12,000 per annum. Under ‘Project Ireland 2040’, this level of additional social home provision – 12,000 per annum – will be maintained with the vast majority of the additional stock being new builds.

So between now and 2027, more than 112,000 new social homes will be added to the public housing stock. This is a massive increase and the commitment to maintaining this level of investment into the medium term will ensure that the mistakes of the past – in particular the stark fall off in social housing and the resulting high rents in the private rented market – do not occur again. In tandem with this massive increase in social housing supply, there will be an accompanying social housing reform agenda. This will ensure that the rules governing the provision of social housing are up to date, appropriate and fair to all concerned.

Realising the potential of the Land Development Agency

The recently established Land Development Agency’s (LDA) initial focus will be on developing publicly-owned lands for housing. This will significantly improve the supply of housing over the next five years with sites for 3,000 homes already secured, and sites for another 7,000 identified. Alongside the development of publicly owned lands, the LDA will also assemble strategically located but underutilised lands. These lands will then be developed and brought into use for housing and mixed use in line with current and future needs.

The LDA, with its clear long-term commercial mandate, will provide a counter-cyclical impetus in a marketplace that has for too long, and to the detriment of the citizens, been excessively focused on short-term profits. This approach will also ensure that the attractiveness of land hoarding as against land development is undermined. Based on European experience, the LDA is expected to develop 150,000 homes over the next two decades representing in the order of 25% of the expected housing demand.

Fine Gael will ensure that the LDA is given the full phalanx of legislative powers including CPO powers and €1.25 billion from the Strategic Investment Fund to fully deliver upon its potential.

Encouraging apartments to be built in our urban centres

A consistent supply of new, well-built apartments in our city and town centres is a major part of responding to the housing supply challenge. We are seeing a huge increase in the development of apartments, with planning permissions for apartments having increased by over 180%. We have changed the rules to enable more modern forms of apartments, to increase availability and decrease costs. For example, we believe that many people buying apartments in urban cores do not need an expensive underground car parking space and so we have reduced the need for car parking in areas in urban cores or immediately beside public transport.

We are introducing new rules to enable higher rise developments that are sympathetic to their surroundings. This will enable more apartment living in urban centres, close to where many people work and wish to live their daily lives.

Ensuring that we have a rental sector that provides long-term security for tenants and landlords

Over the past two years, Fine Gael has significantly strengthened the protections for tenants. We are now enacting legislation to further protect renters by introducing sanctions for breaching the rent caps, bringing in rent transparency, and requiring longer notice periods for tenants when their lease ends. In Budget 2019 we provided additional funds to the Residential Tenancies Board to increase its staff and resources and thereby allow it to protect vulnerable tenants better and tackle rogue landlords.

Developing cost rental as a real option

Fine Gael is determined that cost rental homes become a major part of our rental landscape in the future, making a sustainable impact on housing affordability, national competitiveness, and the attractiveness of our main urban centres as places to live as well as work. This is line with the best experience from other European countries.

Cost rental are schemes whereby tenants pay a rent that is closer to the cost of maintaining the property, and is lower than the market rent. Two cost rental projects have been announced for Dublin. Learning from these projects, Fine Gael will seek to expand the cost rental model in all our cities. Cost rental will be an important part of our rental market, providing certainty of tenure and rent to those who want to rent in the long-term, while also allowing breathing space for young people and families to save for a deposit while they rent.

Undermining the land speculators

The hoarding of zoned land and the non-use of vacant properties is a contributor to the housing crisis. The Vacant Site Levy has been introduced by Fine Gael in government. This levy is a site activation measure, to ensure that vacant land in urban areas is brought into beneficial use and will result in a 3% levy on such properties left vacant in 2018 and increasing to 7% for those left vacant in 2019.

Drawing on the work of the Law Reform Commission, which was mandated by Fine Gael in government, we will bring forward legislation that will consolidate and modernise Compulsory Purchase Order law. Part of this will be to improve and streamline the CPO powers of local authorities, as well as other state agencies including the Land Development Agency.

Providing finance to small and medium sized developers

While there has been improvements in the willingness of the banking sector to fund small and medium sized developers, the lack of appropriate finance options still presents a major obstacle for this element of our home building sector. This is especially the case for a developer building smaller projects or building outside our major urban areas.

To close this gap, Fine Gael in government is establishing Home Building Finance Ireland. HBFI is being set up with €750 million from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund and will begin operations before the end of 2018. It will provide up to 80% funding on projects with a minimum capacity of ten units. To ensure that HBFI’s loans go to projects that can be advanced quickly and contribute to our ambition of building more than 25,000 new homes per annum by 2021, projects will be expected to have full planning permission and the sponsors to be fully tax compliant.

Home Building Finance Ireland is designed as a temporary intervention which will be reviewed in 2021 for its effectiveness and then every two years thereafter. The continuation of HBFI will, therefore, be regularly monitored, with a view to the entity exiting the market in due course when sufficient supply of funding occurs.

A pathway out of emergency accommodation

Increasing the supply of housing and in particular social housing, as well as further strengthening of tenants’ rights, is the primary long-term tool in dealing with the unacceptable number of people in emergency accommodation.

In the short-term though we will continue to utilise the Housing Assistance Payment to subsidise 42,000 number of households to maintain their tenancies and avoid entering homelessness. We have ensured that money is provided to set up the Homeless HAP Placefinders service on a national basis. The Homeless HAP service helps families in emergency accommodation by helping them to find private rented accommodation themselves through bringing them to viewings, and other direct interventions to assist them in securing permanent accommodation.  Over 2,000 families are now being helped by the scheme.

We will also continue to invest in Family Hubs so that the use of hotels and B&Bs by families experiencing homelessness becomes rare. Hubs offer family living arrangements with a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation, with the capacity to provide appropriate play-space, cooking and laundry facilities, and communal recreation space, while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured.  Families in hubs move onto secure, own-door accommodation much more quickly than those in other forms of emergency accommodation, as they are provided with significant wrap-around assistance when securing a long-term home.

Ending prolonged rough-sleeping with Housing First

While the provision of social housing or secure long term private sector tenancies is the solution for the majority of people in emergency accommodation, it will not be sufficient by itself to reduce rough-sleeping and long-term homelessness.

Many people who sleep rough, and who are frequent users of emergency hostels and shelters, have complex needs around mental health and addiction, or have come out of state institutions. They require individualised care and assistance to successfully move from homelessness to a sustainable tenancy.  Fine Gael understands this and that is why we are committed to the implementation of Housing First. With Housing First, the priority is to assist a person who has experienced homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible, where they can receive the tenancy and health aids that they require. Housing First recognises that a stable home provides the basis for recovery in other areas. Already under Housing First 250 number of people have been housed with an 85% tenancy sustainment rate which shows that Housing First is working. Another 221 tenancies are being created over the next year with 663 to be created by 2021.

This will help build upon the progress to date in reducing rough-sleeping which has fallen 40% in Dublin from 184 people in Winter 2017 to 110 in Spring 2018. Through implementation of Housing First on a national basis we will make rough-sleeping rare over the next three-years.

Local Property Tax to part-finance local government

The Local Property Tax is an important part of the funding of local government and provides a fairer alternative to more taxes on income or jobs. Therefore, Fine Gael is committed to retaining it. Removing it will leave a hole of €485m in the public finances.

A review of the Local Property Tax is now being carried out by the government. House prices have increased significantly since the valuations for the LPT were set in 2013. Therefore, we are working to ensure nobody faces a large or sudden increase in their LPT.

Good quality, affordable student accommodation

Over the past two years, more than 5,500 additional student bed spaces have been built while over 7,000 more are under construction. A further 7,000 student beds have received planning permission in recent times as well. This is in line with the National Student Accommodation Strategy which identified a target of 24,000 student beds by 2024. We will continue to work so that the supply of student accommodation continues to increase. We will enact legislation to introduce rent caps on specifically-built student accommodation.

Regulating short-term tourism lets

The emergence of short term lets, most notably Airbnb, have greatly improved the tourism offering in Ireland and across the world. In the main, it has been an extremely positive development, allowing for new experiences for tourists and a way for home-owners to earn some additional money. However, the practice of letting out full houses on repeated short-term lets has had the effect of reducing the supply of housing that would normally be available for long-term rent.

Therefore we will introduce regulations that prohibit short-term lettings of a house or apartments for more than 90 days a year, unless planning permission is granted by the relevant Local Authority. This will only impact situations where the whole house or apartment is put up for short-term letting and will not stop the situation where a person places a room in their home up for a short-term let or places their home for short-term let or home swap for less than 90 days.