The housing crisis is a capitalist crisis

By Caitriona Ni Chathain 

As we move into the winter months the housing crisis is dramatically worsening, with homelessness figures at an all-time high, up by almost 30% compared to this time last year. 

There are now 11,300 living in emergency accommodation, a record number. However, these figures do not include those sleeping rough, couch surfing, in Direct Provision or those currently staying in domestic violence refuges. In a week in which we have had bitterly cold weather, we have witnessed the thoroughly shameful sight of refugees being forced to sleep in tents in lieu of adequate places to house. 

Nor do the above figures include the many families and individuals on waiting lists for social housing or in receipt of rent supplement payments. Right now, according to Oireachtas statistics, more than one in every 20 people in Ireland is in need of a home. 

The amount of funding the government spends on emergency accommodation shows that it is heavily invested in maintaining a system in which thousands of people each night don’t know where they or their families will sleep. 

Home ownership plummeting 

In recent years, with house prices skyrocketing, home-ownership has halved among people aged 25-34. This in turn has created a much higher proportion of people trapped in the private rental sector, with rents increasing four-and-a-half times faster in Ireland than in Europe over the last decade. The average market rents were €1,688 per month between July and September of this year, compared to just €765 in 2011. Supply of available rentals have also decreased, pushing prices upwards due to “limited supply”. 

It comes as no surprise then that more than 70% of young people in Ireland aged 18-24 are considering moving abroad for a better quality of life, with around a quarter saying that their experience with housing in the last six months is worse. Recently, a motion in the Dáil declaring a ‘housing emergency’ was voted down by the current parties in government. The current government refuses to acknowledge the scale of the crisis and take emergency action to end the large-scale suffering. 

Crisis in worker retention 

A survey carried out by the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) found that two-thirds of nursing graduates are considering emigrating. The union has said that for hospitals in urban areas to have safe staffing levels, there must be homes that nurses can afford to live in. 

Equally, the crisis in education has been growing for well over a decade, with the attacks on teachers’ pay and conditions worsening in recent years. The goodwill shown by teachers during the pandemic was rewarded with a continuation of some emergency measures that were promised to be once off, further increasing workload. It is no surprise then that 91% of schools experienced teacher recruitment difficulties in the previous six months, while 61% of schools experienced teacher retention difficulties.  

The current housing crisis is now an emergency and we need emergency measures to end it. This means breaking the rules of the capitalist market and ending the reliance on the private sector when it comes to housing provision. This system is drastically undermining our living standards, is killing our planet and is fueling the growth of the far-right and racist division. It must go now! 

In order to address the housing crisis we need to:

  • Make the ban on evictions permanent. Rent must be slashed to affordable levels — one-third of renters spend 50% of their income on rent. 
  • Tax the super-rich and big business. Ireland’s billionaires made €16 billion during the pandemic — for an emergency programme to build tens of thousands of public homes. Construction wokers should be directly employed by the state on trade union rates of pay to achieve this. 
  • Bring the large construction companies (that already rely on huge government funds) into democratic public ownership. Seize all land, houses and apartments that are being hoarded for profit. Ban vulture and cuckoo funds. 
  • No to racist division and the far-right! Irish and non-Irish working-class and poor people should not be forced to compete for the meagre resources provided by the capitalist system. Build homes for all. Abolish Direct Provision. Build culturally appropriate Traveller accommodation. 
  • “The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go” — James Connolly. This crisis will only worsen as long as this rotten system exists. Take the key sectors of the economy into democratic public ownership and build a democratic socialist society based on our needs not those of the billionaires and big business. 
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