A fresh call was made in Athlone on Thursday last for Westmeath householders in serious mortgage arrears to engage with their lenders as there is now a fresh urgency to find solutions and leave families in their homes.
Speaking at the Home for Life Mortgage to Rent forum in Athlone attended by local councillors and financial and debt advisors, Stephen Curtis, a mortgage to rent specialist, said all sides, from the Housing Agency to banks and lenders, wanted to see as many of the 27,000 cases nationally still in trouble resolved as quickly as possible.
The Operations Director of Home For Life, a Government-approved private operator, emphasised the strict confidentiality around such agreement.
“It means if people get their debt written off and begin paying rent instead of mortgage that they can stay in the same home and no one need ever know there has been a change in circumstance,” Stephen explained.
Westmeath currently has in the region of 550 family home loans in arrears of two or more years, while 34 Mortgage to Rent cases have either been completed or are being actively progressed, according to figures just released by The Housing Agency.
“Although the Mortgage to Rent scheme has been with us for seven years, it is only really this year that changes have been made which makes it a real alternative.
“Lenders have a real appetite now to use the scheme as a solution while house-dwellers realise they can stay in their homes without fear of eviction,” Stephen remarked.
There was what he described as a new reality that very much favours the Westmeath householder.
“The Government has developed the scheme by widening the eligibility bands by €30,000 while banks and funds have made it clear they prefer to see a solution where the householder can stay in their home paying an income-based rent,” Stephen stressed.
The conference in the Prince of Wales Hotel was told that a Westmeath mother of seven, Daragh Clerkin from Killucan, had that week highlighted on national media and airwaves how mortgage to rent had changed her life from one of daily insecurity to one where she knew that herself and her children were guaranteed a home once she paid the rent.
Fianna Fail Councillor, Liam MacDaniels, was informed at the meeting that there was a facility for people to buy back their homes should their circumstance change for the better. This could either be via the market price at the time of the sale or by paying what the mortgage to rent operator paid, plus costs of improvements and interest charges.
On the same topic, Cllr. Tom Farrell of Fine Gael heard that anyone on the lease would be able to buy the property back under the scheme.
Mr. Curtis informed the Chairman of the Athlone Municipal Council, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke that the business model of Home For Life factored in the possibility of buy backs after five years, but said if someone wanted to do it earlier, his company would be happy to do this.
Fine Gael Councillor, John Dolan, referred to the low income threshold which Mr. Curtis explained was pitched at the qualification level for social housing support.
“The reality is that the Government is unlikely to change this for a variety of reasons, but it is important to remember that the €30,000 upper limit is net income,” Cllr. Dolan reiterated.
The meeting was told that there was now recognition that mortgage to rent could play a critical role in delivering people out of the human misery of worry and fear of losing their homes.
“I think councils and financial advisors also have a major role to play in firstly making people aware of this scheme and secondly in urging their constituents to engage,” Mr. Curtis concluded.