The housing crisis is worse today “than at any time in the past 40 years”, according to campaigner Fr Peter McVerry.
The founder of the Peter McVerry Trust was speaking on RTÉ’s News at One after the relaunch of the Raise the Roof housing campaign, which today held the first of a series of regional and national town hall meetings on the housing crisis at Dublin.
At the meeting at the Buswells Hotel opposite Leinster House, Father McVerry said he had “never been so desperate and depressed” about the housing situation in Ireland.
Raise the Roof is an umbrella group made up of trade unions, housing and homelessness charities. women’s groups, travel groups, children’s rights groups, student unions, opposition political parties, housing academics and others.
Father McVerry said while there was “no magic wand” to deal with the housing crisis, there were a number of steps the government could take.
Among the proposals he put forward was the implementation of the 1973 Kenny Report, which would among other things allow local authorities to compulsorily purchase land for development, paying lower prices for farmland.
He will also propose a ban on evictions for up to three years, a 20% reduction in rents coupled with a 50% reduction in taxes paid by landlords and making it illegal for people to rent properties on short-term rental sites. term if they do not comply with the requirements of building permits and other regulations.
Father McVerry called the moves a “win-win for tenants and landlords”, but he insisted international investment firms would strongly oppose any such proposals.
Fr McVerry added that the Government’s mantra was that ‘supply was the solution’, but he said that was ‘only half true…the solution is affordable supply’.
“We know what works. There was a ban on rent increases and a ban on evictions during Covid and the number of homeless people dropped by around 2,000 in a relatively short period of time,” said Father McVerry.
“That ban was lifted about seven or eight months ago, homelessness has skyrocketed again.”
Pursuing vacant homes “much more aggressively” is also an important approach to meeting the challenge.
“It’s immoral, it’s almost criminal, to have an empty building in the midst of a housing crisis,” he said.
From tomorrow, Raise the Roof will hold meetings across the country, starting with one in Navan in County Meath, followed by meetings in Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Maynooth in County Kildare in June and July.
Another meeting will also take place in Dublin City on June 21 at the Mansion House.
The meetings aim to “build broad public support for solutions to the crisis and alternative housing policies”.
Opposition TDs who attended today’s event and pledged their support for the campaign included Labor leader Ivana Bacik, Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett.
Mr Ó Broin said: “We need a mass movement of people to force the government to abandon the policies that are causing the housing crisis.
“The alternatives are clear. Massive expansion of social housing to meet social and affordable housing needs.
“Greater protections for tenants to stop rent increases and reduce rents.
“Increased focus on preventing homelessness and measures to ensure that no part of society, whether travellers, migrants or people with disabilities, is left behind.”
Originally launched in 2018, Raise the Roof staged large street protests before the pandemic and there have been calls for more such protests in the coming months.
Campaign coordinator Macdara Doyle said the next round of meetings marked the start of the process of reviving the campaign and that large public protests were likely in the future.
Mr Doyle said Ireland is currently experiencing its longest and worst housing crisis, that “the policies of successive governments have failed to address the crisis and have arguably made it worse”.
“We seem to be repeating the same failed policies over and over again and continuing to expect different results,” Doyle said.
The General Secretary of the Irish Organization of Nurses and Midwives and current Deputy President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, also spoke at today’s event.
She warned that the current housing crisis would impact the ability of health services to recruit staff, citing as an example the new children’s hospital being built on a campus shared with St James’s Hospital.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said “at a minimum… 500 additional healthcare workers will be needed to open this hospital to full capacity.”
She added that there was “no accommodation provision to allow (staff) to live close to (the hospital) or even to move around as parking simply does not exist in and around of the hospital”.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the failure to provide a staff housing strategy where significant investment is made in health services was being replicated across the country.