By James McCabe
For so long we’ve been told that if we work hard enough, we can attain a comfortable standard of living or at the very least be able to afford the security of a roof over our head. Yet so many people are now in a situation where they can’t guarantee where they will be living from one month to the next. And many are drawing the correct conclusion that their housing insecurity is not their own fault, it’s systemic.
In fact, data released by Eurostat back in July reported that the cost of housing in Ireland is actually 77.7% higher than the EU average. The media, business and political establishment here have no problem acknowledging that a housing crisis exists, but the policies they have championed and implemented thus far have only exacerbated the problems.
Housing for All plan
So, what’s to be said for the much-vaunted “Housing for All” plan that the government launched in September? They claimed, to much fanfare from the mainstream media, that they aim to get 33,000 houses built per year between now and 2030, including an increase in the percentage of social housing built annually. Considering that less than 500 social housing units were built in 2014 and 2015, it sounds like an improvement. But the new “Housing for All” plan is unfortunately a repackaging of the establishment’s standard approach to the issue:
a) The scale is completely insufficient. There are 450,000 young adults in the state who are living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent. There are also roughly 365,500 households in the private rental sector. In Kerry, rents are 16.5% higher now than they were this time last year. They rose by 5.6% nationally over the same period.
It should also be borne in mind that demographic trends show that there will be an additional one million people living in the south of Ireland by 2040. The supposed “Housing for All” plan didn’t even factor that into their calculations.
b) The plan contains no rent freeze or rent reductions, no increase in security of tenure for tenants, and no change in the ability of landlords to evict tenants. There should be an immediate ban on evictions and real rent controls should be introduced that make renting actually affordable for working people. Rents should be slashed and frozen at that level.
c) Who will build the much-needed social housing? The plan aspires to increase the amount of social housing. However, Rory Hearne, author of Housing Shock: The Irish Housing Crisis and How to Solve it argues that the plan gives no detail on how social houses will be built: “Will the social housing be bought from the private market as is currently the case?”
Even if you ignore the fact that a large cohort of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs are landlords themselves. Or the fact that the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien personally invested €30,000 into a real estate fund in 2008; the reality is that the government can’t fathom any other strategy than facilitating property investors and construction tycoons. The failed strategy of hoping that capitalists would resolve our housing problems has led to nothing but a locked-out generation, mica scandals, overcrowded housing and homelessness.
Homes for people not for profit
There is clearly a deep sentiment in society that this situation is untenable. 3,000 people from Donegal marched in Dublin during the summer to highlight their crumbling homes – as a result of corner-cutting profiteering by developers. That protest gave a glimpse of what could be done by a grassroots movement of workers, tenants and young people. But such a movement would need a programme of breaking with the logic of the capitalist market, where housing provision is based on private gain. Together we can build a mass movement to demand the building of hundreds of thousands of good quality and retrofitted social and affordable homes as soon as possible. We can’t wait any longer!