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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — How to Solve the Housing Crisis

We can all agree that desperate times call for desperate measures. We have certainly heard some desperate measures being mooted in some corners in connection with solutions to the housing crisis. Whether it is running the landlords out or the seizing of private property by the State, many of these desperate measures seem to be from the stick, rather than the carrot, school of thought. That is an imbalance we could examine.

Much has been said about the workings of the planning system, especially the degree to which planning applications can be held up or entirely prevented by a minority or even an individual. These are often serial objectors, persons who are only marginally affected by the proposed plans or, as the Government often points out, members of the Opposition. Changes made in this area could open the floodgates to thousands of new homes. I understand that An Bord Pleanála is an independent body but the Minister and Minister of State also have power. While we know the Department, An Bord Pleanála and the various other bodies that co-operate to provide housing have their ways of doing things, and likely their ideas of how things should be done, the buck stops with the Minister. Call me old-fashioned but I think the Minister should be empowered to lead in the areas to which he has been assigned rather than act as a figurehead to take the blame when the best-laid plans of senior civil servants go awry. Whether it is a ministerial writ, a statutory instrument or legislative amendments to the Planning and Development Acts, whatever mechanism makes most sense is needed. The near blanket green-lighting of planning permissions by An Bord Pleanála, ordered by the Minister's hand, would increase our 2023-24 housing stock no end.

I often think about what I would do if I were the Minister with responsibility for housing. I would bring every local authority, including their senior planners, to the convention centre to meet An Bord Pleanála every day for 31 days and order them to go and build houses on particular sites that are serviced. That would be it, straight away. They would get out and do the job.

We have 500 housing bodies and 31 local authorities. The system is seriously failing. We should be delivering 100,000 houses, not 30,000, every year. What can we do now to have a massive impact? The Government likes to say the housing crisis cannot be solved overnight. Here is something that can be done overnight. The Government should declare a period of amnesty from capital gains tax on the sale of a house or apartment owned in a fee simple to a person, couple or family who wants to live in it, but not to a vulture fund. Capital gains tax is charged at 33%. A third of a person's profit from sale is snapped up by the Government that had no hand in facilitating the sale. How many people baulk at that idea and are put off all the work and hassle of selling a house they have no use for or of downsizing? How many units would go to the market in the days, weeks and months following such an announcement? Does the Minister of State know? People could sell a house, get the money and keep the lot. The Exchequer might moan a little at the slice of the pie being snatched from its mouth but it was not going to get that pile anyway if the house was not sold. How many houses are being held on to? All the owners need is a little incentive. Let us make them an offer they cannot refuse, namely, current market value, without the stick of the seizure of more taxes or punitive measures for the crime of owning a property. The Government could throw them a bone and make the sale worth their while.

Another issue the Minister of State should look into is the RAS. I think that scheme started in 2013. People living in a RAS house who decide to buy the property cannot avail of the mortgage allowance scheme but people living in a council property can avail of it. People are punished to the tune of €11,500 for working and trying to do their best. RAS tenants lose €11,500 that should be taken off their mortgage in the first five years. Surely we should be incentivising people living in RAS houses to try to buy their properties as that property will go back to the State. The Minister of State should look at that. There are many ideas. I wish the Government would take up some of them.

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