Saturday 18 January 2020

Nuns called on to donate site for social housing

Last week’s Wexford People front page story
Last week’s Wexford People front page story

Maria Pepper

The St. John of God congregation in Wexford has been urged to reconsider selling land that it owns at a prime location in Ferrybank on the commercial market and to make it available for badly-needed social housing instead.

Labour Party Local Area Representative Joe Ryan and the Wexford Campaign for Social Housing spokesperson Gary O' Brien have both called on the Wexford Sisters not to sell the extensive residential portion of the land for private development

Mr. Ryan said the Sisters should put the interest of families on the housing list ahead of the market place while Mr. O' Brien suggested they 'do the honorable thing' and donate it as a gift to the people of Wexford.

The St. John of God order has placed the 32 acres of land in its ownership beside Ely Hospital on the market at a guide price of €2.2 million. The site which includes 18.1 acres that is zoned residential, with the remainder in commercial and green space zoning, is being sold by private treaty through the offices of Kehoe and Associates Auctioneers.

Reacting to news of the planned sale, the former Mayor of Wexford Joe Ryan asked the congregation to reconsider auctioning the land.

He said he recognised that all religious orders have ageing members and have a moral responsibility to provide for their care and as a consequence they are obliged to look at the market value when disposing of assets.

But the private housing market is well catered for and what is needed in Wexford is affordable social housing, he said.

Mr. Ryan said he has no issue with the sections of land zoned for commercial use being sold for private development but in his view, the St. John of God order should sit down with the local authority to negotiate the sale of the 18 acres which are zoned for housing.

Citing a precedent, he said that 20 years ago the CBS order sold land directly to the council to build housing in Joseph Street.

'Housing lists in Wexford are now the longest they have ever been. There is a need for the state to directly intervene and to build social and affordable houses thorough county councils. I am calling on the St John of God congregation to put the interests of those who need homes ahead of the market place and ensure that this land can be sold to provide social housing. It's time for a change of heart', he said.

To support his argument, he quoted from an address by Bishop Kevin Doran at the launch of 'A Room at the Inn', a pastoral letter issued last week by the Catholic hierarchy.

Bishop Doran said housing should be recognised as a human right. He said it should be affordable and the provision of housing should not be left solely to the market.

'The move by the order contradicts Bishop Doran who said that caps should be placed on the price of private land and that the church has a role to play in providing homes', said Mr. Ryan.

Gary O'Brien of the Wexford branch of the national Campaign for Public Housing said the sale of the Ferrybank land represented a potential goldmine for private developers due to its location and nearby amenities.

'The current engineering housing shortage has driven property prices up to 2006 levels.Therefore, if private housing units are built on this land, they will be far beyond the reach of low-income families', said Mr. O'Brien who is also a member of Wexford People Helping People.

'The St. John of God Sisters are a self-described charitable order. The campaign group is calling on the Order to gift the land to the State on the proviso that it is used for 100% mixed-income universally accessible public housing'.

Mr. O'Brien differentiated between public housing and social housing and said the latter had hemmed low-income families into ghetto estates for decades, thereby creating anti-social problems.

'Under the model of public housing, by providing housing to anyone that wants it, with rent capped at around 20-30% of income, we would put and end to social segregation. Lower and middle income public housing can deliver diverse communities where a doctor lives next to a nurse, the postman lives next door to the hairdresser and a factory workers lives beside a solicitor.'

'Ferrybank is an open gate to the prosperity of many inhabitants in Wexford. The amenities are there within a 10-minute walk into the town centre. Such affordability can create an environment for our children in which their future is secured through the provision of a stable, permanent home.Developing this land into public housing would also create hundreds of long term construction jobs', he said.

'We call on the St. Jon of God Order to do the honorable and sensible thing in a time of suffering for people and to gift the land to the people of Wexford', said Mr. O' Brien, adding that providing public housing on the site has the potential to 'make a huge dent in the housing shortage in Wexford town'.

Wexford People

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