Alan Kelly Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Social Housing

Peter McVerry says he'd be embarrassed if he was Alan Kelly

The campaigner is not impressed by the government’s housing plans.

Updated: 17.35

HOMELESSNESS CAMPAIGNER FR Peter McVerry has said the government’s plan to build 1,700 social housing units by 2017 is “insignificant” and he’d be embarrassed if he was Alan Kelly.

Today the Department of the Environment announced that local authorities are to receive €312 million to build 1,700 houses in 100 separate projects.

McVerry told Today with Keelin Shanley: “If I was the minister, I’d be embarrassed making the announcement.”

He said it equates to just 600 homes being built a year and will provide houses for less than 2% of the 100,000 or so families on the social housing waiting list.

This isn’t the first time McVerry and Kelly have had a public disagreement. In February, the Environment Minister said McVerry has nothing positive to say about anything.

Earlier, Kelly told Morning Ireland the announcement is a “very positive development” as it’s “critically important that we start dealing with the issue of supply”.

Last November, Kelly outlined a €3.8 billion plan to deliver 35,000 new social housing units by 2020. Today’s announcement is the first phase of the building aspects of that plan.

He said the government will deliver the 35,000 houses promised, as well as announcing funding for “a massive programme” on voids (social housing units that are closed up).

If there’s one thing that has frustrated me since I became minister it’s the issue of social housing units, particularly across Dublin … which I see boarded up.

The social housing plan is expected to create about 3,000 jobs. Kelly said that in the past local authorities were not moving quickly enough on this issue but said he has spent the last eight months ensuring councils recruit architects, engineers and planners to “ensure that we can deliver on this programme”.

Mortgage arrears

Kelly also told Morning Ireland the government will shortly announce its plans to help people facing having their homes repossessed.

He said the issue is “an absolute top priority” for the coalition and he expects plans to be be made public in the next week or two.

Peter McVerry Trust Pre-Budget Busine Fr Peter McVerry Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

A report in today’s Irish Times showed the rate at which homes are being repossessed has increased by more than 500% since last year, according to figures from the Courts Service.

Some 586 repossession orders were granted by the circuit court in the first three months of this year, compared with 95 in the same period in 2014. Of this figure, some 383 were for primary homes, 97 were for buy-to-lets and 106 were “unknown”.

The greatest number of repossession applications granted was in Dublin circuit court where, between January and March, 100 repossession orders were granted.

Kelly said several government departments have been working on tackling this issue, noting: “The scale of this needs fresh thought.”

The minister added that the coalition needs to “force the banking sector into certain actions”.

“The banks have really got to step up to the mark here. They are not taking the fair share of the burden that they should be,” Kelly stated.

He said the government is considering several options in this regard.

“We’re looking at every issue to ensure that people can stay in their homes,” he added.

Kelly added that once the government has announced its plans mortgage arrears, it will turn its focus to rising rents – particularly in Dublin and its surrounds, and other urban areas.

Living City Initiative. Pictured The M Michael Noonan Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

On the issue of mortgage arrears, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said he will continue to put pressure on banks to reduce the cost of variable mortgage rates.

Noonan told Newstalk he plans to meet with the six major mortgage lenders, stating

I’ll sit them down and I’ll talk to them … If they continue to say ‘no’, we’ll continue to keep talking.
The Finance Minister also said he is “not adverse” to the bankruptcy term being reduced from three years to one, but said it is not a solution for helping those in mortgage arrears.

He said the issue should be looked at in the coming months.

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