NAMA and the Right to Housing?
NAMA, as Irish readers will know all too well, is the proposed National Asset Management Agency. To grossly simplify the story (we are not economists here at HRinI, as far as I know) NAMA will manage the property-related bad loans (considerable) of Irish banks – the hangover of our ill-fated construction boom. Where necessary, it will acquire the ‘distressed assets’ against which the loans are secured and re-use or re-sell the land to realise its value. The idea is that cleansing Irish ‘zombie banks’ of toxic debt will kick-start lending, which will in turn facilitate fresh growth in the economy. The proposal is scarcely uncontroversial. The Irish Human Rights Commission recently highlighted the human rights impact of the economic downturn in its Annual Report. Some important questions are beginning to be asked about the policy context of NAMA, and its – largely unexplored – potential to work towards the benefit of our poorest citizens; in particular, the 56,000 people on housing waiting lists.
To that end, today’s Irish Times carries a short interview with Joyce Loughnan, the chief executive of Focus Ireland; an organisation which advocates on behalf of people who are out of home. Focus Ireland has lobbied the Government and the Opposition on the inclusion of a housing agency in the proposed NAMA scheme and has published a very interesting policy document on NAMA. Ms Loughnan – noting the gross inadequacies of existing government leasing schemes which aimed to reduce homelessness – said:
It is absolutely inconceivable that the Government would dedicate €60 billion of taxpayers’ money to an organisation that then didn’t deliver a social return. It’s not just for schools and childcare centres, but it should be taking advantage of those empty homes we have been speaking about and land that can be developed for future social services.
In a similar vein, Threshold, which advocates for the housing rights of the socially excluded, yesterday called for NAMA property to be used to provide public housing, to alleviate the difficulties experienced by vulnerable citizens for whom private rental is not appropriate. Threshold’s chairperson, Aileen Hadyn, said that
“Rather than selling off these properties to the first carpet-bagger that opens their cheque book, the Government should take a look at the property portfolios and identify those that could be retained to meet housing needs.”
The taxpayer, she added, was paying for this property anyway.