Fr Peter McVerry: ‘Evictions are a return to famine times’

Fr Peter McVerry has said the country is returning to famine times by evicting families and that the Government is not willing to “take on” vested interests to solve the housing crisis.

Fr Peter McVerry: 'It should be made illegal to evict people into homelessness.'

“Unless we prevent more people coming into the system, then trying to house homeless people is like trying to empty the bath water with the tap still running.

“It should be made illegal to evict people into homelessness, particularly families. That’s what we did during the famine years and we’re still doing it today in 2017,” said Fr McVerry.

The homeless campaigner was asked why more action is not being taken by the Government to solve the housing crisis despite many solutions being tabled by voluntary bodies.

“Basically, I think, this whole question of housing, you have to take on vested interests. You have to take on the banks. You have to take on the greedy landlords. You have to take on the vulture funds.

“You have to take on big vested interests. I think that is what this conservative Government is not prepared to do,” he said.

Fr McVerry was speaking at the launch of a report by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, analysing the Government’s 15- month-old Rebuilding Ireland plan.

Rebuilding Ireland is described by the report as being a “flawed philosophy”. The campaigner tabled several measures that can be taken to tackle homelessness.

“We need a huge expansion of the mortgage-to-rent scheme. It’s been very unsuccessful so far but with 50,000 mortgages in mortgage arrears of more than two years, we have a catastrophe of homelessness coming down the road unless we address that problem because most of those houses will be repossessed,” he said.

“Under current policy the occupants will be turfed out.”

Fr McVerry also said that the 183,000 boarded-up houses and apartments around the country are the “supply” side of the equation.

PJ Drudy, emeritus professor of economics at Trinity College Dublin, was one of the authors of the report. He also listed immediate steps that could be taken to ease the housing crisis.

“How do we increase the supply and reduce prices if the market is not resolving the problem? It’s very simple.

“You can increase the supply by producing significant numbers of social housing units,” said Prof Drudy.

He estimated that 10,000 social housing units should be built per annum.

“If you do this it will have the immediate effect of reducing rents in the private sector because the three sectors of owner-occupation, private rented, and social housing are interlinked,” said Prof Drudy.

He also talked about “cost-rental” homes to cater for people who do not qualify for social housing but who are unable to afford their own property.

“There is a solution and that is for the Government to go for cost-rental homes. That would be a situation where the Government organises to build and own homes that would be rented out, not just to people on social housing lists but to the guard, the teacher, the professor, the journalist, and they’d pay a reasonable, regulated rent well below market rents and that would pay off the mortgage.”

“That is a great possibility in my view. The money is borrowed and paid back over a long period of time at a low-interest rate. That is the route we should be travelling. It would have an immediate impact,” he added.

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