The current housing crisis is due to bad government and bad decision-making. Government expenditure on social housing in 2019 is projected at €1.3 billion with a target of 7,410 real social houses. Sinn Féin would increase this by a further €1 billion to double the output of public housing. This would deliver an additional 2,850 social homes, consisting of 1,500 new-builds, Part Vs and acquisitions, 950 vacant units via Buy and Renew and 400 units of Traveller-specific accommodation. This would bring the total number of social houses delivered in 2019 to 10,260, which is what was recommended by the Cross-Party Housing and Homeless Committee report. This government has not delivered one affordable home in 2016, 2017 or 2018 and it has no affordable-housing targets for next year. Sinn Féin would deliver 4,630 affordable homes of which 1,435 would be cost rental and 3,195 would be affordable sale.
Sinn Féin would introduce measures to curb rising rents. Rent prices are the highest in the history of the state and are continuing to rise. These rent hikes are unsustainable and are adding to a growing cost-of-living crisis. The government’s weak rent-pressure zone legislation isn’t working. Therefore, Sinn Féin propose the introduction of a temporary tax relief for renters in tandem with a three-year emergency rent freeze. This relief would cost €265 million per year. This tax relief will cover the price of one month’s rent for every renter in the state for a period of three years. It will be capped at €1,500 per renter, and will be refundable to ensure working people on low incomes benefit. Under the emergency rent freeze, existing tenancies would have rents frozen at their current levels. Any new tenancies would be pegged to the Residential Tenancies Board's standardised average rent index by county, and where appropriate local electoral area, from budget day.
With over 10,000 adults and nearly 4,000 children living in emergency accommodation, decisive, urgent action needs to be taken. Sinn Féin in government would deliver over 10,000 new social homes in 2019, which would allow local authorities to reduce the number of families in emergency accommodation. We would also commit to introducing 1,000 Housing First tenancies from within the overall provision of social housing to reduce long-term homelessness. We would invest €5 million towards the establishment of a quality standards framework and inspection regime.
Councils need to take a more proactive approach. This would require dedicated vacant-homes officers going out and engaging with owners to encourage them to avail of the available schemes. These officers should build up a vacant-home register and be working to a vacant-homes plan. A vacant-homes tax needs to operate in conjunction with these refurbishment schemes to further incentivise property owners wilfully leaving homes empty to return their empty properties to use. Any vacant-homes tax also needs to be more than a token gesture and must be punitive in nature. In Sinn Féin’s submission to the government’s vacant-homes strategy, we outlined a number of approaches the government could take to implementing such a tax, such as making it based on a percentage of the market value of the property. However, in advance of the introduction of such a measure, a state-wide vacant-homes register must be rolled out. We need to know how many vacant homes will actually be available for refurbishment and where they are. Key to developing this register would be dedicated vacant-homes officers employed by local authorities. A huge part of their role would be to engage with vacant property owners and encourage them to return them back into use.
In terms of addressing disabilities, Sinn Féin advocates a multi-annual programme to make public transport accessible for citizens with a disability. Sinn Féin support the greater streamlining of our transport infrastructure across Dublin. Transport needs to be modern and future-proofed as part of a modern infrastructure system. In terms of the MetroLink and BusConnects proposals, which plan to radically overhaul transport, we have made submissions ensuring that transport is more efficient and accessible, particularly for those with disabilities and our elderly citizens.
The current BusConnects project plans to develop 200 kilometres of cycle lanes across the city. Sinn Féin is supportive of initiatives that provide greater cycling opportunities for cyclists in a safer and accessible way. Cycling is better for one’s health and is environmentally friendly, however the introduction of new cycling lanes must be developed in line with community consultation.
Sinn Féin recently published a comprehensive report on our climate change proposals, which deals with sustainable transport, waste management, housing and the built environment, agriculture, energy security, education, citizen and community engagement. The full report is available [here] (https://www.sinnfein.ie/files/2019/Climate_Minority_Report.pdf).
Last year, my colleagues in Dublin Central Sinn Féin launched the Clean Our Streets campaign, expressing concern at the increase in litter levels in Dublin city centre and in other disadvantaged areas of the city. In 2017 alone, Dublin City Council dealt with 6,000 bags of illegally dumped waste. A survey carried out by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) found that a "lack of community involvement" and an "absence of pride in the locality of these areas" are major problems for areas such as Dublin’s north inner-city. This is a problem that I am keen to address. As part of our Clean Our Streets Campaign, Sinn Féin aims to create greater awareness on the state of the streets across Dublin. The Sinn Féin action plan seeks to increase the use of CCTV to detect offenders, increase the number of wardens across Dublin Central, increase Dublin City Council investment toward street cleaning, and improve public awareness about the implications of illegal dumping.
Given the significant construction rate in our city, it’s difficult to increase the number of parks and green spaces so our priority should be at least to preserve existing parks and green spaces and ensure that such facilities are made available and accessible to people. Our local TD Mary Lou McDonald has worked closely with individuals who have worked to develop green spaces across Dublin Central. My colleague Belinda Nugent and her husband Trevor worked with the local community to develop a community garden in Summerhill, where people can grow fruits and crops in a safe environment. This is an excellent example of community empowerment.
Existing public space in our city is already limited. Sinn Féin will fight to preserve the unique character of Dublin. We have a such a rich historical and architectural culture, which should be preserved and promoted and not subject to construction development. Dublin City Council has a responsibility to maintain such spaces and ensure that our citizens can enjoy them in a safe and clean environment.