Sixteen Irish Churches are urging the faithful to hold politicians accountable for the “national epidemic of housing insecurity” at the February 8 general election.
Driving the news
“Homelessness is only the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper problem that includes families living in unsuitable accommodation, those living with the stress of mortgage arrears and those who live in fear of the next rent increase”, Catholic Bishop of Limerick and co-chair of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM), Brendan Leahy, warned in comments reported by the Irish Times.
Leahy was speaking on the occasion of the presentation of an IICM and Irish Council of Churches guide for “Canvassing Politicians on Housing and Homelessness” in both the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
That guide consists of a series of “Three Things You Need to Know” on homelessness, as well as questions to personally reflect on and to put to canvassers.
In the guide for Ireland, the Churches warn that a quarter of a million people are awaiting social housing and 40,000 households are in serious mortgage arrears.
“It’s a national epidemic of housing insecurity”, the Churches say.
“In 1975 the government built 8,500 social houses. In 2017 it built 750”, the Christians also denounce, warning that “the Minister for Housing has said that the state has enough land to build 50,000 houses, but that he doesn’t believe this is the answer to the housing crisis”.
“Every day we pay about €2,000,000 to landlords via the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and other rent support schemes. This is €3,650,000,000 over the last five years that hasn’t resulted in a single house being built”.
Why it matters
In the guide, the Churches call on voters “to find out about the lived realities” of homeless in their constituency.
They also urge citizens to push for politicians to build social housing, to rein in “vulture funds” bulk-buying houses and pushing up prices and to “work for stronger regulations to improve security of tenure, prevent excessive rent increases and protect people from eviction”.
“Would I be prepared to face a degree of suffering so that these peoples’ [the homeless] suffering will reduce (for example through an increase in taxes to pay for social housing, or through a reduction in house prices)?”, the Churches ask their faithful.
IICM co-chair with Leahy and President of the Irish Council of Churches, Methodist minister Brian Anderson, said “the trauma of homelessness and housing insecurity could be prevented” if “the economy serves the common good and respects and protects the dignity of all”.
Anderson explained that “it is not enough solely to look to our elected representatives to resolve this, although we have a responsibility to hold them to account”.
“We also need to ask ourselves challenging questions about the ways in which we may need to change our attitudes and behaviours if we are truly to be on the side of those who are vulnerable and marginalised”.
Apart from the Catholic and Methodist Churches, other Churches taking part in the anti-homelessness initiative include the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Indian Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, Moravian Church, Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church, Quakers, Rock of Ages Cherubim & Seraphim Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church and the Salvation Army.