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“Declare a housing emergency,” says McVerry

Peter McVerry SJ has called on the Taoiseach to declare a housing emergency. He says: “We are beyond crisis… and Ireland had tolerated a dysfunctional housing system for far too long.” The long-time homelessness campaigner was speaking at a Symposium on Housing in Ireland: Philosophy, Policies and Results which took place between activists and academics at Joly Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, on 29 November from 5-7pm. He was also speaking in the middle of a week when two homeless men were found dead on the streets of Dublin.

Fr Peter McVerry warned that the situation could deteriorate still further saying: “House repossessions are increasing, rents are continuing to rise at an alarming rate, and Brexit will see many employees relocating to Ireland and looking for somewhere to live.”

He said that not only are numbers in emergency accommodation more than double what they were in January 2015, “but the numbers have increased every month since July 2016, when the Government published Rebuilding Ireland, its Action Plan on Housing. In October 2017, there were almost 2,000 more people in emergency accommodation than in July 2016, with the number of children going up by almost 850.”

Fr McVerry said that rebuilding Ireland is clearly not working, “Even the Minister for Housing has recently admitted that the homelessness situation will continue to deteriorate in the months ahead. Yet despite this, the Government seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge the failure of Rebuilding Ireland to address the current crisis.”

In one of his strongest statements to date, the well-known Jesuit addressed the government directly and personally. “I am calling on the Taoiseach to now declare housing emergency. He needs to bring all the relevant parties around a table, reach consensus on a new plan, and then demand that everyone works from that plan, as a priority.”

Professor P.J. Drudy, Department of Economics, Trinity College, who was also speaking at the event said: “Ireland had tolerated a dysfunctional housing system for far too long, with unwarranted reliance on the private sector to meet an essential need.”

He pointed out that: “In 2005, before the crash, private developers built 75,400 houses all over the country in all sorts of locations where they were not needed. Last year they built only a fraction of the 30,000 to 35,000 houses it is estimated Ireland now requires. Indeed, the official figure of 14,400 new houses in 2016 is reckoned by several commentators to be an over-estimate.”

He added:
“The shortfall between the clear need for additional housing and the actual output by the private sector is a classic example of ‘market failure’, just as the over-supply in the wrong locations during the boom was an example of such failure.”

Prof . Drudy went on to say:
“Private property developers are again failing to provide affordable homes. Most view homes as ‘commodities’ to be bought and sold like any other commodity – simply a means of making money. Some are now hoarding land and drip-feeding small numbers of executive-type homes onto the market to maintain high prices.”

The consequence, he pointed out, is a sharp increase in the cost of housing, with new private house and apartment prices are now well above their peak in 2007.

Furthermore, Drudy said:
“In the last four years alone overall house prices in Dublin increased by an unsustainable 87%. Private landlords are also charging unaffordable rents. This is a housing bubble!”

Prof Drudy argued that Government must now act to counteract this private sector failure. He said:
“The Government must give local authorities, voluntary housing bodies, and co-operatives the remit and the resources to build at least 10,000 homes annually for households on the waiting list as well as a further 10,000 ‘cost-rental’ and self-financing homes annually for those ineligible for social housing.”

Dr Sinéad Kelly, Department of Geography, Maynooth University, highlighted the impact on housing of the adoption of neo-liberal policies. She noted that the neo-liberal drive towards market provision in an increasing number of areas, including housing, is accompanied by a reduction in state spending, and a withdrawal of public provision in favour of privatisation and outsourcing.

Dr Kelly argued:
“Any market-based approach to housing provision will serve certain interests – that is, the interests of those with money and resources, and those involved in private-sector housing supply. However, it remains unconcerned withneed, which goes unmet in the case of those who cannot afford the market price demanded. Existing inequalities are worsened by the increased promotion of market-based approaches.”

Dr Kelly went on to say:
“The influence of neo-liberal policies means that housing increasingly prioritised as a commodity, and as being a legitimate source of profit for a range interests, including land owners, and land speculators; developers and builders; financiers, and investors (including international, institutional and other landlords.”

She added:
“Indeed, it is important for all these that housing need always outstrips supply so prices can be maximised.”

Dr Kelly pointed out:
“In Ireland, the move towards treating housing as a commodity and a financial asset has been actively supported by State policies, including, for example, capital gains tax measures favourable to investors, the approach adopted by NAMA, and the treatment of real estate investment trusts (REITs).”

Organised by Trinity Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in association with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, the Symposium provided a critical analysis of alternative philosophical approaches to housing; policies currently being pursued; and results on affordability and new homes.

Speakers

Sinéad Kelly, Department of Geography, Maynooth University
‘Neo-liberalism and its Impact on Housing Systems’

P.J. Drudy, Trinity College Dublin
‘Market Failure: Out-of-Reach House Prices and Rents’

Peter McVerry SJ, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
‘Homelessness: Have We Lost our sense of Outrage?’

Rory Hearne, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute
‘New Inequalities in Irish Housing’

Daithi Downey, Dublin City Council
‘Sustainability, Affordability and Choice: Towards a Cost Rental and Unitary Rental System’

Cian O’Callaghan and Philip Lawton, School of Geography, Trinity College Dublin
‘The Challenge and Opportunities of Vacant Space: Unfinished Legacy of the Property Crash’

Margaret Burns, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
‘The Right to Housing: What is the Issue?’

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