Apollo House activists urge Nama to house homeless

Demonstrators to meet Simon Coveney after launching emergency housing plan

Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin say they will not vacate the building unless property controlled by Nama is used to house the homeless. The group has released a four-page emergency housing plan it wants implemented.

 

Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin have said they will not vacate the building unless property owned by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) is used to house the homeless.

The occupiers of the Apollo House office building, which is being used to house up to 40 homeless people, have been told by the High Court to vacate the building by midday on January 11th.

Brendan Ogle of the Unite trade union, who is one of the organisers of the Home Sweet Home campaign, said a delegation would meet Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on Friday afternoon, having been invited by the Minister.

Asked what might happen that would cause the campaigners to vacate the previously empty office block, he said the Government could “with the stroke of a pen” instruct Nama to provide housing to suitable homeless people staying in Apollo House and other emergency accommodation.

However Nama chairman Frank Daly told an Oireachtas committee last year that it could not offer more homes for social housing than it already has because the rest of the portfolio is occupied.

To have offered more “would have simply displaced one group of people by giving their homes to another group,” he said. “It would have made no sense.”

Offers of commercial property made some years ago by Nama to housing agencies were turned down as they were not deemed suitable for housing.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Ogle said the political leaders of Germany, the UK and France did not have the advantage the State had when it came to solving homelessness as “they don’t have Nama”.

He said that when considering the deadline set by the courts the organisers of the campaign would be taking into account the talks with the Minister, legal considerations and the use of public pressure to support the Home Sweet Home campaign.

Ministerial instruction

Section 14 of the act that established Nama allows for the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to instruct the agency to provide property under its control for the housing of homeless people, Mr Ogle said.

“We want the Minister to use Nama to address the homelessness emergency,” he told a press conference at the Unite offices in Dublin at which the group released a four-page emergency housing plan it wants implemented.

Mr Ogle said he wanted to praise the artists who had come forward to support the Home Sweet Home campaign and said they had fulfilled a vital role in raising awareness about the homelessness issue. The Apollo House occupation was “totemic” rather than a solution to the problem.

He said the group was not advocating further occupations. He also said the group, which has raised about €170,000, would not be registering as a charity but would be publishing financial accounts.

David Gibney of Mandate trade union, said the plan being launched for resolving homelessness was an alternative to the “neoliberal, ideology-driven” plan of the Government, which aimed to increase the supply of houses by driving up prices.

Film-maker Terence McMahon said he had been homeless for a year and a half years and had to deal with the banks in relation to his family home. “I’ve seen the kind of scum they are,” he said.

Fire insurance on Apollo House runs out on January 11th, and public liability insurance five days’ later.

Figures from Nama show that it identified 6,900 residential properties associated with it debtors over the past number of years that might be suitable for social housing, 2,748 of which have since been delivered to housing bodies.

The bulk of the rest were deemed unsuitable by the housing agencies because of location, the fact that they would not fit with plans for mixed housing, or because they did not have the number of bedrooms required.

Most of these properties have since been sold or let, and the number of finished properties vacant is understood to be close to zero.

The State-owned agency has spent €200 million by way of a purposely-established vehicle, National Asset Residential Property Services Ltd, to speed up the process of providing social housing to housing agencies. It has also spent more than €100 million finishing off properties that housing agencies wanted to buy or lease from Nama debtors.

Last year the Nama chairman, Frank Daly, told an Oireachtas committee that the bulk of the houses that secure its loans are occupied.

“So there is really no hidden supply of houses that NAMA is keeping from the market,” he said. “And those that are not occupied are for sale to people who want to live in them or people who want to rent them to tenants.”

Mr Daly said the only way Nama could have increased the number of homes it was offering to local authorites, was by moving out the tenants that were in them.