Friday 23 August 2019

More than half a million people are living in a 'housing situation causing them serious distress' - campaigner Fr Peter McVerry

Fr Peter McVerry
Fr Peter McVerry
Jane Last

Jane Last

Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says he believes more than half a million people are living in a "housing situation causing them serious distress".

Speaking at the Women in Media conference in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, Fr McVerry said the housing crisis affects far more than the 10,000 people in emergency accommodation.

Those in "distress" include people "living in crowded accommodation, poor quality rented accommodation, and people living in good quality rented accommodation but worried about their rents".

Fr McVerry was taking part in a panel discussion on the housing crisis which also featured Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damien English, journalist Justine McCarthy and Labour Spokesperson on Housing Jan O’Sullivan.

Fr McVerry said Ireland has arrived at the current crisis as successive governments stopped building social housing stock. Building more social housing units needs to be a priority, he said.

"We’ve got to see investment in council housing as just as important as investment in broadband, or investment in transport, or investment in motorways. Investment in council housing is the only solution for this housing crisis," he said.

He warned the government is heading into "catastrophe", saying some 40,000 mortgages are in arrears, with 28,000 of them owner occupied.

If further housing repossessions occurred, this country "could not cope", he continued, and we would be treated to the sight of families staying "in garda stations, in parks and streets".

He claimed that the State owns enough land to build some 40,000 social housing, and urged the government to use State land for social and affordable housing.

"Public land should be used for public housing," he said.

Fr McVerry made special mention of people and households living in rented accommodation, who earn too much to qualify for social housing, and not enough to get a mortgage.

He also called for more action to be taken to address empty houses sighted throughout the country, with greater use of Compulsory Purchase Orders.

In instances where the landlord wishes to sell the property, Fr McVerry suggested local authorities should be given first refusal on properties landlords wish to sell, purchasing them at market value.

If this occurs, it will allow tenants to stay in the house, and the local authority gets another social housing unit.

Minister Damien English defended the Rebuilding Ireland programme at the conference, which was sponsored by Vodafone, saying the government do want to tackle the issue and they do care.

Some 5,200 adults and children have been helped out of homelessness, with some 10,000 housing units out of the 22,000 being built this year designated as social housing, he told the conference. 

Mr English also said other houses were being acquired so they could be given to families.

However, it will take some time to bring the housing crisis to an end.

"We had to reactivate the system. The social housing system had stopped. Nobody was building," he said.

Some 44,000 families are on a HAP supported scheme today, and will be before a permanent housing solution is constructed.

"We have no choice but to use the private sector until we get stock built," he said.

The system when it came to constructing social housing was "dysfunctional" and the planning system had to be addressed.

"We had to change the planning system. Only a couple of years ago, social housing could take six or seven years [to build]. Now you can do it in 58 weeks," he said.

The minister defending the selling of State owned large sites to developers, who will build between 30 to 40pc social and affordable units on the land. Mr English said this was for better social integration.

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan told the conference that when she was junior minister for the housing, "under the Troika, we weren’t allowed to build houses".

The only thing they could do at the time was restore social housing units and get them back in use.

"The reality is these things take time," she said.

Both Ms O’Sullivan and Mr English told the conference a bill is currently working its way through the houses of the Oireachtas, which aims to give people living in rented accommodation greater rights.

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