Government ‘simply doesn’t get it’ when it comes to housing crisis, says Doherty

Government ‘simply doesn’t get it’ when it comes to housing crisis, says Doherty

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was criticised for his statement. Picture: Niall Carson/PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has been accused of failing to understand public anger at the housing crisis by playing down concerns about rising property prices.

A political row broke out when Mr Varadkar seemingly dismissed the impact of rising house prices at a time when thousands of people cannot get mortgages and are stuck paying sky-high rents.

The latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show the cost of apartments and houses rose by 4.5% in the year to April and the Central Bank has warned that the trend of rising house prices is set to continue.

The median age of a single person buying their own home is now 42, up from 34 a decade previously.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged the rise in house prices, but said 65% of Irish people own their own home, which is one of the highest rates in the developed world.

House prices are “substantially lower” than they were during the Celtic Tiger era, he added, referencing a time when prices soared to unsustainable levels and the housing market eventually collapsed.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty.
Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty.

Sinn Féin's Dáil deputy leader Pearse Doherty said the Government “simply doesn’t get it” and called for a doubling of capital investment in housing in the next budget.

“You simply don’t understand the level of anger that’s out there,” Mr Doherty told the Tánaiste.

Mortgage arrears

The row comes as mortgage arrears also remain stubbornly high, despite banks hailing the success of payment breaks for struggling borrowers during the worst of the Covid crisis.

Central Bank figures showed the number of households who required a restructuring deal from their lender rose in the first quarter, with more than 4,570 deals struck for borrowers struggling to meet their monthly payments.

Debt advisers and mortgage brokers have long warned that the type of restructuring deals favoured by banks are rarely in the financial interests of distressed mortgage borrowers, who only end up paying more over the lifetime of the loan.

Banks had nonetheless hailed the payment breaks they offered mortgaged households during the height of the Covid crisis last year, saying they had helped avert a second mortgage crisis.

Paul Joyce, senior policy adviser at the Free Legal Advice Centres, one of the country’s leading debt experts, said the restructuring of arrears is a questionable arrangement in many cases, and often ultimately means “paying more money”.

The number who have struck reduced repayment agreements suggest they are people who may have got into difficulty for the first time during the Covid crisis, he said.

Michael Dowling, a leading mortgage broker and personal insolvency practitioner, said of the restructuring deals: “In reality, all of these arrangements suit the bank.

“We are, in reality, not dealing with the bigger problem of long-term arrears, which keeps going up,” Mr Dowling added, referring to the 5,416 accounts in arrears for over 10 years.

There is no country in the world that would accept a situation where 5,416 people are more than 10 years in arrears,” he said.

Mr Dowling said that the now years-old policy of the mainstream lenders selling their distressed mortgage loans to vulture funds was not working in the interest of customers.

The Central Bank figures showed that, at the end of March, 13% of all residential mortgages in the Republic were in the hands of “non-bank entities”, but that 54% of all accounts in arrears for over a year were in the hands of the funds.

Selling loans to vulture funds effectively reduced the pressure on the mainstream banks to offer good solutions for distressed mortgage households, including writing off parts of the mortgage debt that work for customers, Mr Dowling said.

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