Éirígí on the housing crisis and how to fight it

The following was issued by Éirígí on October 4.  You can check out the party website by going to the links section on this site.

Yesterday (Oct 3) saw thousands of people mobilise in response to a call from housing groups, trade unions and political parties to ‘Raise The Roof’ in response to the housing scandal in the Twenty-Six Counties. The rally was organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and supported by the National Women’s Council, the Union of Students in Ireland and others. These organisations represent hundreds of thousands of Irish workers, women and students that are being adversely affected by the chaos of privatised housing. The fact that such a breadth of ‘civic society’ is now coming together with housing and homelessness organisations to demand housing justice is a very welcome development.

Housing has been Éirígí’s key campaigning issue for close to three years. During that time our activists have consistently worked to build a mass campaign for housing justice. To this end we have distributed tens of thousands of pieces of literature; organised countless public meetings; participated in direct actions; helped form housing action groups and homeless outreach groups; networked with other like-minded individuals and organisations to build alliances in support of our key housing demands.

All of this work has been informed by our key housing demand, namely the creation of a new Universally Accessible Mixed Income Public Housing system. We believe that everyone has an inherent human right to housing and that the state has an inescapable duty to vindicate that right by directly providing housing to those who need a home. Our view of housing forms part of our wider vision for a New Irish Republic to replace the two failed states that currently exist on this island.

An End To The Private Rental Sector 

We believe the private rental sector to be economically and socially parasitic and make no apologies for advocating a housing policy that would see a de facto end to the private rental sector. We see no place for a large private rental sector in the New Republic.

The current approach to housing (based on a large private sector and a small income-segregated public sector) is broken beyond repair and must be abandoned. We fundamentally disagree with any attempts to tweak or reform this system so that it can limp along only to produce another housing crisis in ten or twenty years time. Now is the time to strike for a permanent solution to the housing crisis.

As a relatively small, and entirely voluntary, activist organisation we can stand over our consistent track record on housing in terms of both policy and active campaigning.

This is the backdrop against which Éirígí put’s forward a rolling critique of the emergent mass movement for housing justice. We have skin in the game as citizens who are being impacted by the housing crisis and as activists who have invested our time, energy and money in arguing for maximum change in the housing sector. We have no interest in political sectarianism or personal attacks. Our only objective is the permanent end of housing injustices.

Energy and Hope Must Not Be Squandered

Yesterday’s Raise The Roof protest was a significant demonstration of people power. The mobilisation of 10,000 people on a Wednesday afternoon was no small achievement. All the indications suggest that we have now reached a tipping point in the development of a major housing movement. It is critically important that the key demands of this new movement are capable of actually achieving the stated objective of providing affordable, secure accommodation for all.

The energy and optimism that was on display in Dublin yesterday cannot be squandered on a set of minimalist demands or because of electoral ambition. That would be a tragic waste that history would judge very unkindly.

Leinster House Motion

Yesterday’s rally was called in support of an opposition motion on housing that was being debated in Leinster House. While the importance of that motion should not be overstated, neither should it be regarded as unimportant. And it should not be assumed that the motion reflects the analysis or demands of all the trade unions, USI, the National Women’s Council or the many organisations and individuals that attended Raise The Roof.

Motions of this type are not written on the back of an envelope. The political wordsmiths that draft motions carefully consider the implication of every word, comma and full stop of their text. Above all they make sure they create no hostages to fortune. This attention to detail is only amplified when a motion is being supported by multiple political parties.

It appears that People Before Profit, Sinn Féin, Solidarity, The Labour Party, The Social Democrats, The Green Party and Independents For Change all had some level of input into the drafting of the motion. While Fianna Fail did not have input to the drafting of the motion, they did vote to support it.

Yesterday’s motion represented an important opportunity for the collective opposition to outline their core analysis of the housing crisis and the steps that they believe will resolve it. It is therefore worthy of indepth examination.

What Did The Motion Say?

The motion was written in two parts with the first noting the following points:

• Access to secure and genuinely affordable housing is increasingly out of reach for many people
• From the locked out generation of students and young workers or unemployed people to older workers facing into retirement, high cost insecure accommodation is a reality for too many people
• The failure of government to provide an adequate supply of good quality public housing in sustainable communities lies at the heart of the housing crisis
• The most graphic symptom of this crisis is the growing number of children living in emergency accommodation
• A new approach to housing is required to meet the housing needs of all those locked out of the private market including young people, those on modest incomes, those on low pensions, those on Council waiting lists, travellers, people with disabilities, older people and students
• Important proposals to address the Housing Crisis have been put forward by a wide variety of groups including the National Housing and Homeless Coalition and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

The point above correctly identify the lack of public housing as being central to the crisis and a ‘new approach’ is needed to address the housing needs of many people.

The second part of the motion calls on the Dublin government to:

• Declare the housing and homeless crisis an emergency
• Dramatically increase the supply of social and affordable (including cost rental) housing by increasing capital spending on housing to €2.3bn in budget 2019; increase Part V requirements to 20% in standard developments & 30% in Strategic Development Zones; prioritise the delivery of public housing on public land; and aggressively target the return of vacant houses to active use
• Reduce the flow of adults and children into homelessness with emergency legislation to make it illegal for landlords, banks and investment funds to evict tenants and homeowners in mortgage distress into homelessness; provide real security of tenure and real rent certainty by linking rent reviews to an index such as the CPI and introducing measures to reduced the cost of rent; introduce a target for ending long term homelessness and the need to sleep rough
• Hold a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution

Some of the demands above are designed to expose government inaction. Others demand very specific and useful steps. And others still create more questions than they answer.

If implemented the demands would narrow the routes into homelessness. Those in private rental would have greater protection but would still be in private rental. The flow of social / public housing would be boosted, but would remain partially reliant on the private sector. Social housing would remain a segregated form of housing for low income families. ‘Affordable’ private housing would be created though subvention with public land and monies, as it was under the last such scheme.

Taken in their totality the demands are progressive and would likely moderate the worst excesses of the current housing system if fully implemented. The wording of yesterday’s motion clearly prioritised winning the support of less radical political parties, over mapping out a vision for a radically different approach to housing.

Some may argue that this was a legitimate tactical approach to bring maximum pressure to bear on the government. But that isn’t what has been articulated by the spokespeople of the ‘opposition’ parties who are claiming that the demands represent a radical new approach, when they clearly don’t.

So what should have been in the motion that wasn’t?

Given the limited amount of text that can be included in a motion it would be unfair to criticize yesterday’s motion for not mentioning relatively minor issues. There were, however, a number of extremely important issues that were not mentioned in the text – issues that are arguably far more important that some that were included.

The motion identified that the failure to provide an adequate supply of new public housing lies at the heart of the housing crisis. This is correct but it only tells half the story. Of the 330,000 public housing units that have been built since the foundation of the state, over 225,000 have been privatised via heavily discounted tenant-purchase-schemes. It is simply not possible to dramatically increase the pool of permanently affordable public housing if the state keeps selling it off to the private sector. Why did the motion not demand an end to these tenant-purchase-schemes? Was it because many of the ‘opposition’ parties support these schemes for ideological and electoral reasons.

The motion made no mention of the multinational Real Estate Investment Trusts or other institutional landlords that have had such a dramatic and negative effect on the housing landscape in the last five years. Why were they not mentioned in the motion? Was it because the Labour Party introduced the legislation that invited them into the country?

The motion made no mention of NAMA or the homes and lands it controls. Given that these extremely valuable assets are still being sold off to the private sector surely they were worthy of mention. Were they excluded because both the Green Party and the Labour Party were instrumental in establishing and maintaining NAMA?

Surely HAP, RAS and the other schemes that are transferring billions of euros of public money into private hands were of sufficient importance to merit mention in the motion. Why was there no call for them to be shut down?

No mention was made of the role that the private rental sector plays in perpetuating wealth inequality, of the fact that the private rental sector channels money from those who are already income and asset poor to those who are already income and asset rich. Even a ‘properly-regulated’ private rental sector will deepen wealth inequality in our society.

Perhaps most worryingly of all the motion failed to identify the catastrophic imbalance in the current tenure of our housing stock as the key cause of the housing scandal. Housing policies of the last fifty years have brought us to the point that just 10% of homes have controlled affordable rent. The remaining 90% of housing is privately owned and subject to all of the chaos and exploitation that goes with it. The number of families in private rented housing has increased from 10% to 20% in just one generation. Last week fifty housing experts signed a letter in the Irish Times calling for the percentage of public housing to be increased to somewhere in the range of 25% to 40%. Why did the motion not include a five- or ten-year target for the percentage of public housing in our overall housing stock?

The Universal Public Housing Elephant in the Room

An,d of course, the housing elephant in the room, was the complete absence of any mention of universally accessible mixed income public housing – the only ‘radical shift’ that has the potential to deliver housing justice for this and future generations. Universal Public Housing is the ‘big fix’ that can deliver housing justice for all, but it wasn’t even mentioned in yesterday’s motion. Not even as a long-term aspirational goal.

The principles underpinning Universal Public Housing are very simple.

The state builds large volumes of high quality housing on public land, as well as buying homes from the existing housing stock.
These homes are then rented to anyone who is in need of a home. Unlike social housing, there is no income cap on accessibility, so we don’t end up with the concentrations of poverty that the current model of ‘social housing’ creates.
Tenants have total security of tenure and pay a rent that is linked to their wages and ability to pay, most likely in the region of 25% to 30% of disposable income for most people.
The homes remain in permanent public ownership so that multiple generations can get the benefit of secure, affordable homes. The ‘lucky few’ don’t get to buy discounted public housing.
Universal Public Housing is designed to be self-funding through tenants rent over time. And that is without considering the indirect economic benefits of breaking with the destructive boom-bust chaos of the privatised housing system.
The state keeps on increasing the pool of public housing until demand is met. In the current conditions a minimum target of 30% of the housing stock will be required.
Citizens will have a constitutional and legal right to rent a public housing unit that is suited to their needs.
The private rental sector will shrink dramatically as potential tenants chose secure, affordable public accommodation over private insecurity and exploitation.
People who want to own a private home can take their chances in the unsubsidized private sector.
It was no accident that yesterday’s motion did not demand truly radical change – the kind of change that would cut the legs from under the private banks, private landlords, private developers, private estate agents and the private media that earn so much from property-related advertising. The bulk of those TDs who voted for the motion are simply not prepared to take on such powerful vested interests.

The motion needed the support of politicians who want to court voters with the promise of ‘affordable’ private homes that will be built on public land and subsidised with public money. Fianna Fail were the previous masters of this form of pyramid-scheme selling. No surprise they were willing to back the motion in the end.

The Raise The Roof initiative came together in some haste over the last number of weeks. It must be hoped that the constituent trade unions, student, women and housing organisations will now take the necessary time and space to produce a policy document and a set of demands that is not tainted by the consideration of electoral ambition; a roadmap to deliver the ‘radical shift’ in housing that our people need.

For almost three years Éirígí activists have been actively developing the concept of a new system of Universal Mixed Income Public Housing and promoting it though social media, hard copy leaflets, public meetings, stalls and one-to-one conversations. We have found the public response to be overwhelmingly positive once the idea has been properly explained. As was the case with the Water Tax and the 8th Amendment we believe that the population is, once again, miles ahead of the political and chattering classes.

Over the coming weeks, months and years we will continue to unapologetically promote our vision of a housing system that puts the need of our people ahead of the greed of the assorted property parasites. When we say we want housing justice, we mean what we say, regardless of what powerful interests it will upset or how many votes it might cost our Party. If you agree with our approach and want to help please get in touch today.

Note from the webmaster here: If you agree with the kind of politics – solid, socialist-republican politics in the tradition of Connolly and Costello – and you live in Ireland, you should seriously consider becoming involved in Éirígí.  If you live outside Ireland, you can join Clann Éirígí.

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Posted on October 10, 2018, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, éirígí, Economy and workers' resistance, Housing, Irish politics today, Labour Party, Political education and theory, Public events - Ireland, Trade unions, Workers rights. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Éirígí on the housing crisis and how to fight it.

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