The occupation of empty properties in Dublin city centre by groups such as Take Back Trinity and other housing organisations, and the planned National Housing demonstration at the Dáil on October 3rd, organised by trade unions and the National Housing and Homeless Coalition have, once again, highlighted the need for urgent action to address a truly dire housing and homeless crisis.
Student, housing, trade union and political activists involved in these protests are absolutely right to say “enough is enough”. The time for talking about the housing and homeless emergency is over. We must urgently build a mass people’s movement to demand secure, affordable, quality housing as a basic right for all.
The facts speak for themselves. There are now 10,000 people, including 4,000 children, in emergency accommodation, 144,000 people waiting on council housing lists for up to 18 years, tens of thousands of families facing possible eviction over mortgage arrears, and a whole generation of students and young people facing the prospect of never being able to afford a home.
The suffering for children, parents and individuals, not knowing if they will have a roof over their head tomorrow or the hardship of paying rents so extortionate, that many have no money left to live, brings shame on our society.
For the last seven years, the policies of Fine Gael and its coalition partners, the Independent alliance, and before that, the Labour Party, have achieved absolutely nothing. In fact, they have made the crisis worse.
Indeed, a fundamental misconception about the current housing crisis is that it is a mistake or omission in policy
Indeed, a fundamental misconception about the current housing crisis is that it is a mistake or omission in policy. In truth, the current emergency flows directly from the conscious decisions of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-led governments over more than a decade.
Their decision to effectively abandon the direct state provision of public and affordable housing, in favour of almost total reliance on a profit-driven private sector to provide housing, and the utterly disastrous decision to sell off over €40 billion worth of property and land assets, mostly through Nama, to vulture funds and property speculators since the property crash of 2008, are the reason we have this crisis today.
Even during the celtic tiger years, when housing construction was at record levels, the housing crisis was getting worse because it was profit-driven. Private developers were building homes that no one could really afford while council housing construction had slowed to a trickle.
When the crash came, an already bad situation was made much worse by the decision of the new Fine Gael–Labour government to abandon council housing construction altogether.
In 2011, the new government published a new housing policy statement that called for a “fundamental reconfiguration of the landscape of housing support in Ireland” that would “rule out a return to very large capital-funded construction programmes by local authorities.” In ordinary language, that meant: “We’re not building any more public housing!” What madness inspired such a policy, when, even then, there were more than 96,000 families on council housing waiting lists?
What madness inspired such a policy, when, even then, there were more than 96,000 families on council housing waiting lists?
The answer is to be found in Nama and the banks that were holding tens of billions in distressed property assets and who needed to drive-up the value of those assets to make a profit. The Fine Gael–Labour government made clear that their priority was to help them do this by restoring the value of property and selling it off to even more profit-hungry investors.
In the years 2012 and 2013, then-Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and officials from his department held 65 meetings with vulture funds, such as Lone Star, Cerberus, Apollo, Kennedy Wilson and others. Nama then sold more than €40 billion worth of property assets to these vultures and other developers at bargain basement prices.
These property speculators not only got hold of billions worth of property at a major discount but also got enormous tax breaks that mean they pay almost no tax. These speculators were and are in no hurry to build houses when they can make a killing by just sitting on property and, most certainly, have no interest in making housing and accommodation affordable. Rather, they want to squeeze every bit of profit out their existing land and property assets.
Put simply, the worse the housing crisis gets, the more profit is made by a small group of speculators who own all the property and building land.
So how do we undo this mess and resolve this appalling housing emergency? It’s not rocket science. The state must build on a very large-scale, public and genuinely affordable housing and student accommodation on state-owned and Nama land.
So how do we undo this mess and resolve this appalling housing emergency? It’s not rocket science.
We must also pass emergency legislation to stamp out speculation and hoarding, by requiring residential building land to be developed or empty residential property be brought into use within six months, under pain of it being taken over and utilised by local authorities for public and affordable housing.
To achieve this radical shift in policy, we need a movement of people power of the sort we are seeing in the Summerhill and North Frederick St occupations. We also need to see tens of thousands of people to join the national demonstration outside the Dail on Wednesday October 3rd, when an opposition motion calling for emergency housing measures will be debated. Please join this crucial demonstration.