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Religious orders asked to offer empty priests' homes and convents to homeless

Published 21/09/2016

Ireland has just 7 to 8% social housing
Ireland has just 7 to 8% social housing

Religious orders have been urged to offer the state vacant or disused priests' homes, convents and buildings to ease the housing and homeless crisis.

Housing, Planning and Local Government Minister Simon Coveney issued the plea after revealing three properties have been handed over in Cork, Kerry and Waterford in recent months.

Eighteen congregations signed deals with the state to meet 350 million euro of the cost of compensating abuse survivors.

By last year 42 million euro worth of property was handed over but M r Coveney appealed for all religious orders in the country to consider if they could donate any other buildings or homes to put a roof over people's heads.

"If there are any religious congregations listening and you have properties that are no longer in use or you are looking to vacate in the coming months or years we are interested in talking to you. Please make contact with us directly," Mr Coveney said.

The minister issued the plea at the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government where he was forced to defend plans to build new social houses in his Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.

Mr Coveney said a number of religious orders have approached him with offers.

One home for nuns in Kerry had recently been handed over to the housing agency Cluid, a former convent in Cork is being consider for housing for homeless women and a former home for priests in Waterford, St John's Training College, has been reopened for similar use.

"We hope to replicate that kind of partnership in other parts of the country," he said.

Ruth Coppinger, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD, said that out of the 47,000 social houses pledged over the next six years, 18,718 will be new builds by councils.

Other figures showed a total of 26,000 homes, both from private developers and in public schemes, will be built exclusively for social housing and another 10,000 homes will be on long-term leases of up to 30 years by local authorities and housing bodies.

Mr Coveney said he accepted that having only 7 to 8% of the houses in Ireland as social housing is not good enough. The rate across Europe averages at 17%.

"We have a lot of catching up to do," the minister said.

"That's why this plan is effectively about increasing the overall social housing stock by 30 or 40% over five or six years. That is a significant ambition and we are going to deliver it."

Mr Coveney also repeated his assertions that the Government was considering an initiative for first-time buyers in next month's budget.

It has been suggested that attempts will be made to easing financial pressures through a tax rebate.

Strict mortgage lending rules currently require first-time buyers to have a 10 per cent deposit for the first 220,000 euro of a house price and 20 per cent for the balance. Other buyers must have a 20 per cent deposit and lending is limited to 3.5 times incomes.

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