By Ann Marie Foley - 03 May, 2017
The government strategy on housing is not working, according to Fr Peter McVerry. Speaking at the May Day March in Dublin, which focused on homelessness, Fr McVerry called on the government to introduce adequate rent caps, incentives and compulsory purchase orders to bring empty houses back into use and legislation to stop evictions.
“What the government is doing isn’t working. The government introduced their [housing] strategy nine months ago and every single month since then the number of homeless people keeps rising and rising and rising. We need them to go back to the drawing board,” said Fr Peter McVerry.
He highlighted again how there are almost 200,000 empty houses and apartments in Ireland, many of which would be suitable for social housing.
“We call on government to give incentives to the owners to bring those houses back into use,” he said, and if owners do not act, then their empty houses should be acquired under compulsory purchase orders.
“Those houses lying empty are a scandal,” he told those who attended the march.
He also called on the government to stop the “steady flood of people coming into homelessness” by introducing legislation to prevent banks and landlords from evicting households “into homelessness”.
He said that the current rent cap of 4 per cent per year for three years is too high and asked how many people would see their salary rise by 12 per cent in the next three years to keep up with permitted rent increase.
“The rent cap the minister has introduced is not going to stop a lot of people from falling into homelessness,” he explained.
He said that trying to house those coming into homelessness while people are still being evicted and forced out of their homes due to high rent is “like trying to empty a bath while the tap is still on”.
He concluded that the big flaw in Minister Simon Coveney’s housing strategy is that he expects that two out of every three households will be housed in the private sector, but people do not want that as they need the security of tenure offered by social housing.
“We’ve got to provide social housing, whether we build them or take them from the existing empty houses,” he said, defining social housing as that owned or controlled by the state.
Fr McVerry was among speakers at the May Day March, organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, which joined with the National Homeless and Housing Coalition this year to highlight the homeless crisis. Other social issues were also highlighted on the march as participants walked from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square to Liberty Hall.
President of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions Pat Bolger said he hoped that the march would highlight that “housing is a right not a privilege and that public land should be used to build public housing and not for private profit.”
The march included trade union, campaign groups and political party representatives. As well as Fr Peter McVerry, speakers at the rally included community activist Rita Fagan and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland Director Edel McGinley.