Housing charity calls for court actions on arrears to cease

Phoenix Project says courts should wait until new mortgage-to-rent scheme is in place

William Prior, the Phoenix Project. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

William Prior, the Phoenix Project. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

All court actions targeting people’s homes should be immediately adjourned pending the implementation of a revamped mortgage-to-rent (MTR) scheme by the Government, a leading housing charity which helps people in financial distress has said.

There is widespread acceptance in Government circles that the mortgage-to-rent scheme as it currently stands has failed and only a few hundred homeowners have benefitted from it despite the fact that there are tens of thousands of homeowners in long-term mortgage arrears.

The new scheme, currently being finalised by the Government is expected to be launched within weeks and could keep thousands of families, currently under threat of eviction, in their homes while saving the State millions of euro.

However ahead of its implementation, many of those who could benefit are living under the threat of bank-instigated court actions and it is “unconscionable to allow more families be exposed to repossession” because of a timing issue, the Phoenix Project has said.

Under the new MTR plan, mortgages that are deeply in arrears will be bought from banks by private investors, typically private equity groups, pension funds or organisations dedicated to helping distressed homeowners, which will partner with financial backers.

The properties will be leased to local authorities or housing associations who will grant the occupier of the home a 25-30-year tenancy at an agreed rent. The tenant will pay as much of the rent as they can afford, and the State will pay the rest.

The average cost to the State per tenant will be €5,600 a year, compared to the cost of housing someone in a hotel, which is about €50,000 a year.

Stakeholders

The Department of Housing has been in discussions with a number of stakeholders in recent months, including the Phoenix Project, Home for Life and Merrion Capital, as well as other private finance interests.

In recent weeks, the Government has received confirmation from Eurostat, the official European statistics agency, that the scheme will be able to operate off the State’s balance sheet. This has overcome some concerns that the Department of Public Expenditure had about the plans.

In the second quarter of this year 1,642 new repossession cases came before the courts, while 1,645 were listed in the first three months of the year.

“The only logical response is to insist that a new practice direction be issued to the courts directing that these cases and all newly-issued proceedings, be adjourned until the suitability of the new expanded MTR scheme can be determined for each family facing homelessness,” the chief executive of the Phoenix Project William Prior said.

He said his organisation anticipates “there will be comments in some quarters of the unfairness of this on those who struggled to pay their mortgages. It is certainly not as unfair as the consequences for children who are reared in hotels and displaced in our society as a result. Nor is it as unfair as the future adverse social cost of a generation of dispossessed children that will be borne by every community in every county in Ireland. ”

He said the aim of the Phoenix Project was to prevent homelessness by assisting people in mortgage arrears to stay in their homes.

“As such we operate up-river from the acute homeless service providers,” Mr Prior said. “The expanded MTR is the greatest prospective tool we could have at our disposal if only the political machinery moved faster. It would be unconscionable to allow more families be exposed to repossession when a simple practice direction would protect them while politicians look up the meaning of the word crisis.”