Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Mugging of Joel by Stormont is a shameful action

With all eyes firmly on the flag these days other issues for potential debate inevitably get put on the back burner. Where do we stand for example, in the case of Joel Kerr?

Very roughly a summing up of Mr Kerr's story is as follows ...

You buy your home at a premium price; a couple of years later somebody comes along, insists you're selling it to them at a knockdown price, you protest that you don't want to sell and that their deal will leave you 50 grand in the red but they take it from you anyway.

Oh, and you can't complain to the government about this because the party taking your home is ... the government. Or in this case, the Housing Executive.

In 2007, when the housing market was at its height, Joel Kerr was one of many thousands here who decided to invest in his own property.

He bought a house in the Village area of south Belfast for the not inconsiderable sum of £150,000.

As we all know now (but hadn't foreseen then) the market crashed quite spectacularly just around this time. Today the same house is worth only a fraction of that.

In the meantime though, something even worse was about to happen to Mr Kerr.

His house was vested for compulsory purchase by the government - one of over 500 properties in the area being similarly targeted to make way for redevelopment. Nobody is arguing that this redevelopment isn't needed. But what is a bit iffy to put it mildly, is that the amount of money Joel Kerr was "awarded" (to use the official phrase) fell a startling £50,000 short of what he still owes on the mortgage.

The argument is that the market was already on the plunge when the vesting order was issued and the Executive was offering him market value at that time.

Mr Kerr I imagine, would say that the then market value was irrelevant since he hadn't intended to sell what was, let us not forget, his home. Some years down the line when the market (hopefully) picks up again, negative equity would no longer be an issue.

The case ended up at tribunal and the householder lost.

The judge took the view that: "The loss that has been sustained by the applicant resulted from the disastrous collapse of the property market which had occurred before, and independently of, the vesting order."

But he did tellingly suggest that the Department for Social Development might wish to look again at its policy on dealing with those who like Mr Kerr find themselves in negative equity in similar circumstances.

It's a fair point surely. I doubt if Joel Kerr is the only householder to have found himself in such a position.

It's not as though he's trying to make a packet out of the government.

In fact it seems quite shocking to naïve old me that he can actually be left 50 grand out of pocket simply because his house was taken from him.

You read stories about the government in say, China demolishing the old hutong in Beijing forcing residents out of their homes to make way for new apartment blocks.

At the very least if that happened here, you assure yourself, the householders forced from their homes would be adequately compensated.

You think?

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