Readers of the Ireland After NAMA blog might be interested in this interview, over on Provisional University, with Geographer Desiree Fields on the topic of ‘Vulture Landlords’.  In their introduction to the interview, the Provisional University state that:

The crisis in Ireland’s private rented sector keeps gathering steam, and recent additional regulations introduced by Alan Kelly are not going to make much of a difference. One of the most novel aspects of what’s happening currently is the emergence of a new type of landlord: financial institutions buying cheap real estate and becoming mega-landlords. We’ve written an overview of this for the irelandafternama blog. But to understand what this means for tenants and for tenants organising, we thought we’d have a chat with Desiree Fields, a leading researcher and activist whose work focuses on this issue in the US context. She was involved in a recent global action against the vulture fund Blackstone, in which we also took part. Her work has uncovered the meteoric rise of private equity firms in the US rental sector, as well as analysing how and why this is happening and what the implications for tenants’ activism.

Read the full interview here.

Peoples Housing Forum Part 2

30 January 2016: Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square. 9.30am-2pm

Following on from the first People’s Housing Forum, which took place on 28 November 2015, the second People’s Housing Forum will take place on 30 January 2016 in the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square. This series of events is organised by Housing Action Now and the Irish Housing Network and seeks to build a collaborative and bottom-up approach to tackling the pressing housing emergency. The People’s Housing Forum also build on the discussions during the Towards a Real Housing Strategy event held on 1 Octover 2015, a synopsis of which can be read here. In the first People’s Housing Forum, those involved firstly worked towards identifying the current problems relating to different components of the housing system, and secondly towards identifying a set of concise People’s Housing Demands. A summary of the demands identified by the groups are as follows:

Homelessness

1. Modulars are not a solution. Open vacant Council properties (voids) and transfer suitable NAMA properties.
2. Create 24hr community and resource centres for homeless families and individuals. These centres would have 3 functions: a place to be warm and have access to food and cooking facilities; a place to use resources such as computers, charge phones, and have general access to facilities; a place to make contact with frontline physical and mental health services
3. It was felt in this workshop that provision for homelessness was left solely in hand of private enterprise and charities when it is a public crisis. Our last demand was an end to government’s reliance on private services for the relief of public need.

Private Rental Demands

1. Rent controls and rent freezes tied to inflation and income
2. Strengthen Tenants Rights: Lift barriers to access and end discrimination. Strengthen tenants rights regarding probation,conditions of dwelling, evictions. Enforce these rights.
3. Create infrastructure for tenants to exercise power. Independent organisation for support, information, and representation and change PRTB structure to a tenants focused organisation.
4. Break from the markets and stop subsidising landlords and private ownership. Build and keep public and social housing affordable and in ownership of public authorities.

Migrants and Direct Provision Demands

1. End Direct Provision. End all institutionalised refugee provision.
2. Let those in Direct Provision, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants work, access education, and live in Irish society. Tackle profiteering and standard of care. End forced transfers.
3. Create support infrastructure for those leaving direct provision and refugee centres. Grant full state rights including education, housing, social and community supports and health services. A place where everyone can access necessary information about their rights.
4. Take a firm anti racism position and tackle scape goating of migrant peoples.

Mortgages and Evictions Demands

1. No economic evictions. Bring in meaningful and long lasting rent controls and security of tenure
2. Create a community land trust and use it to write off debt. This would be overseen independently and not by banks.
3. Create support for those facing courts.
4. Change constitution to emphasise and enforce public good and right to housing over protection of private property.
5. Use creative and artistic ways to educate people on their rights relating to housing and change culture.

Social Housing Demands

1. Good quality secure housing as a human right. Supply the housing that is needed (which meets actual housing stock need) through Public Housing Agencies. Take housing stock provision out of the hands of councils.
2. Challenge government and private sector propaganda. Clarify and promote the ideology of housing rights groups.
3. Promote and implement practical measures to raise funding and delivery of housing. i.e. allocating USC to public housing building.

Traveller Accommodation Demands

1. Recognise Traveller Ethnicity
2. Set up Independent Traveller Accommodation Agency to deliver and ensure equality and rights in standards of accommodation and facilities. This body would also maintain halting sites and guarantee standard of facilities.
3. Fire safety analysis carried out on all sites.

The event on Saturday 30 January will seek to build upon these demands and develop strategies to end the housing crisis. Anyone interested in the issue of housing, please come along and join the discussion. Details are below.

The housing crisis has become an out-of-control housing emergency.

From rent hikes to evictions to homelessness, the very idea of the home is under fierce attack.
The People’s Housing Forum believes that communities, activists and all interested groups should work together to challenge this crisis and organise for the guaranteed right to housing for everyone.

Join us at the People’s Housing Forum on January 30th at the Teacher’s Club on Parnell Square to discuss strategies for organising for the right to housing. This will take the form of power structure analysis workshops, where we will collectively look at the people actually making the decisions around housing, and who actually has the power. Then we will discuss how we can organise and come together to challenge that power, and end this crisis. PSA’s are an extremely useful tool for mapping out campaigns, and we will be looking at the issues and power brokers in Social Housing; Private Rental Accomodation; Homelessness; Mortgages & Evictions; Traveller Accommodation; Migrants & Direct Provision.

The previous People’s Housing Forum was held on November 28th , and the goal was to agree upon a common set up demands across those different dimensions of the housing sector. For more information, and to see those demands, visit peopleshousingforum.wordpress.com or email us at housingactionireland@gmail.com.

Registration will begin at 09:30 and we will finish at approximately 14:00.

The People’s Housing Forum is hosted by Housing Action Now and the Irish Housing Network, in association with the Geography Department of Maynooth University.

Cian O’Callaghan

 

As the lifetime of the current government draws to a close, it is an opportune moment to review progress in planning reforms over the past five years.  Back in 2011 planning was very much front and centre of the national debate around the causes and consequences of the economic crisis. The highpoint of the reforms introduced under the previous government was the Planning & Development (Amendment) Act 2010, a piece of legislation that current planning minister, Paudie Coffey, once described as ‘social engineering’. The appearance of planning, on the very last page of the Programme for Government, almost as an afterthought, was perhaps a portend of what was to come.

It did not get off to the most auspicious start with the first of three ministers to hold the portfolio, Willie Penrose, resigning after just a few months. His only notable act as minister was to terminate the independent investigations into planning irregularities. Even after the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report and its findings of systematic corruption, Penrose’s successor Jan O’Sullivan was unmoved, describing criticisms of a cover-up as a smokescreen. It took a High Court case to force the government into a u-turn. In the aftermath of the recent RTE Investigates documentary it emerged that the independent review had been sitting on Ministers Kelly’s and Coffey’s desks for the past five months. In response, the government sheepishly announced a package of ‘radical’ planning measures which included the belated publication of the independent review, further rehashed details on the proposed Office of the Planning Regulator (the major recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal) and a ‘roadmap’ for the forthcoming National Planning Framework (NPF). The  independent review uncovered considerable evidence of malpractice throughout the planning system and includes 29 recommendations to improve “standards of transparency, consistency and accountability” which the Department has committed to implement. The foot-dragging on this issue has undoubtedly been a major blot on the copybook of a government elected on a mandate to stamp out cronyism and low standards. Despite the introduction of a new planning regulator having being approved by the government back in 2013 and the heads of the bill published almost one year ago, the legislation is yet to appear. Bizarrely, in September Minister Kelly even floated the idea of de-prescribing An Taisce  – the chief complainant in the review and which the report concluded had “raised issues of public interest and as such have served the common good in raising these matters.”

In fact, the only planning body which the government has subjected to an independent review has been An Bord Pleanála –  one of the few organisations to emerge from the Celtic Tiger with a semblance of integrity. More often than not it actually had the temerity to implement national policies in the face of local populism. It is widely reported that the trigger for this review was its handling of wind farm cases, a particular sore point for Minister Kelly. A public consultation on the review of the 2006 wind energy planning guidelines generated widespread expectations that setback distances between wind turbines and dwellings would be significantly increased (ironically an idea first tabled by the aforementioned Willie Penrose following his resignation).  The Minister has been running with the hare and hunting with the hound on this issue, formally intervening on three occasions to overturn restrictive setback policies introduced by local councils, prompting the mayor of Donegal County Council to initiate counter legal proceedings. The revised guidelines are yet to materialise, and the debacle has done little for the credibility of the planning system or government leadership in the face of a critical national policy priority.

One of the few achievements was the publication of a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) in 2015 replete with the usual lofty principles which litter the history of Irish planning and generally utterly ignored in practice. For example, 40% (over 15,000) of all new dwellings permitted by the planning system during the lifetime of the government were ‘one off’ houses – a spatial pattern which is completely inimical to each and every of the key principles of the PPS. This has not been helped by the Minister Kelly’s move to effectively exempt one-off dwellings from building regulations. The PPS also commits to the publication of the new NPF to succeed the National Spatial Strategy which was unexpectedly and unilaterally ‘scrapped’ in a solo run by former Minister Phil Hogan back in 2013. The roadmap for the new NPF, which is (rather optimistically) due to be completed by early 2017, continues the recent trend for planning discourses to depart from their progressive founding principles, which had social and redistributive justice at their heart, and folded evermore tightly into narrow neoliberal growth and global competitiveness agendas. Interestingly, as part of the preparation of the NPF it is proposed to develop long-term economic and demographic forecasting  through to 2040 (as previously advocated on this blog). Far from being radical, the roadmap sets out a conventional business-as-usual approach with scant reference to the foremost spatial challenge of the coming century – the requirement to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our energy and transport systems (as set out in the recent energy White Paper). There is very little sense that strategic spatial planning in Ireland has yet to get to grips with what this actually means in practice.

It is of course welcome that after years of retrenchment in planning departments at national, regional and local levels that there is a new impetus for spatial planning. Following the protracted reorganisation of the regions, new Regional Spatial & Economic Strategies are also to be developed to replace the Regional Planning Guidelines. The introduction of ‘Core Strategies’ in the 2010 Act has assisted spatial coordination but, as the economy recovers, there are already worrying signs that councillors are once again emboldened and overriding planning advice to zone land, particularly adjacent to motorways in contravention of new guidelines introduced in 2012. This  underscores the huge strategic error in opting for a property tax over a Site Value Tax (SVT) and the government’s abolishing of windfall taxes on zoned land. Just last week the National Competitiveness Council reiterated its call for the introduction of SVT that works in conjunction with the planning system. The ESRI has also called for the introduction of land taxes citing the example of Denmark where such taxes are shown to act as an incentive to sell/use underdeveloped or vacant lands in periods of increased demand.  The planning system now has all of the best-practice guidance it requires but will continue to be a locus for speculation, cronyism and corruption and hamstrung by shoddy practices in the absence of a strong fiscal lever. The new vacant site levy introduced in the Housing & Urban Regeneration Act 2015 is hopelessly limited in both scale and scope and a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem. Regrettably, following a recent public consultation on the issue, the government have once more been kowtowed to the development lobby and decided not to introduce any new tax on zoned and serviced land.

Reducing costs to the developers in order to stimulate market supply has of course been a persistent theme over the past five years. New guidelines on Section 48 levies introduced in 2013 sought to reduce financial contributions from new developments, despite the fact that many councils are in severe fiscal difficulties and owed hundreds of millions in unpaid levies. The Housing & Urban Regeneration Act 2015 also halved to 10% the quantum of Part V social housing required from new private housing developments – a move which was applauded by the Construction Industry Federation. Similarly, despite the well documented failures in building standards, Minister Kelly has fixated on criticising local authorities who impose building regulations which exceed national minimum standards. Rather than using scarce Dáil time to put through the radical reforms promised, the Planning & Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 is instead currently being  rushed through to prevent local authorities defying the Minister in the future. Such measures will obviously make no discernible impact to housing supply. In the context where the minister has just this week issued an unprecedented planning policy directive to address the urgent homelessness and housing crisis and to direct local authorities to do more to provide social housing it is hard to escape the conclusion of fiddling while Rome burns rather than any real radical reform agenda.

Gavin Daly

On 3 October 2015 over a hundred people came together in Liberty Hall to address the current housing and homelessness crisis. Included were activists, academics, community organisers, trade union representatives, and various individuals who have been personally affected by the housing crisis. There were those who had been made homeless through economic evictions, or were experiencing problems with their private landlord. There were those who have been on the social housing waiting list for years, with no end in sight. And there were many others who, for one reason or another, were being affected by the lack of affordability, supply, and security of tenure that is characteristic of housing in Ireland, and Dublin in particular.

While a number of talks by academics and others placed the current housing crisis within the context of Ireland’s increasing moves towards a commodified system of housing, the real purpose of the day was to create a participatory dialogue about the problems and more importantly solutions to the problem of housing.

In attendance on the day were students from the MA in Geography at Maynooth University. In this series of posts, they report back on the conference presentations, discussions, and proposed solutions.

#1 Samantha Smallhorne Dunne gives an overview of the themes and talks of the day.
#2 Sasha Brown reflects on the democratic structure of the conference and on making decisions collectively.
#3 Kellie Payne looks at practical housing solutions to address homelessness suggested by the group.
#4 Patrick Geaney looks at the prospect of changing the remit of NAMA to address the housing problem.
#5 Caoilfhionn D’Arcy looks at renting solutions and funding social housing.

A follow-up event, The People’s Housing Forum, will be held this Saturday 28 November in Liberty Hall. Anyone interested in the issue of housing, please come along and join the discussion.

peopleshousing forum

Introduction
Situated in Liberty Hall, the Housing Crisis Conference brought together people of all academic, social and political backgrounds to discuss the ongoing crisis occurring in our own backyard. It was essential that at such a conference it was not just academics and public representatives that had the opportunity to voice their opinion, but that ordinary people would also be heard. Families in emergency accommodation, high rents and insufficient government support are issues that were addressed with suggestions of government intervention and an increase in provision of public housing among the solutions discussed. This report will discuss the Renting & Funding Social Housing workshop outlining the issues and solutions deliberated throughout the session. The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Cian O’ Callaghan, Maynooth University, with guest speakers Dr. Lorcan Sirr, Lecturer in housing DIT, Des Derwin, SIPTU Dublin and Simon Brook, Clúid.

“Where have the houses gone?”
Focus Ireland states that in 2014 the number of additional families entering emergency housing in Dublin was 40 a month, doubling from the previous year. January 2015 saw a further increase, with a total of 400 families in Emergency Accommodation. This figure then increased by 76% to 700 families in August. Des Derwin revealed that 1,257 children are included in these 700 families, leaving them with a very unstable life. Drawing on the discussion, Derwin, posed the question of how we have gone from ghost estates, to families sleeping in parks. “Where have the houses gone?” he asked the room. According to a report  published by UCD and DIT, 170,000 houses were left vacant in 2010 following an excess of building during the Celtic Tiger. Five years on, can we really believe that some of these houses are not still available? The discussion reflected on how leaving the provision of housing to the market led to oversupply during the boom but to a deep crisis of inaccessibility and unaffordability during the recession, particularly as mortgages have dried up, rents continue to increase and the numbers of people left homeless continues to rise. Shelter, or housing, should be seen as a basic human right and this was highlighted on numerous occasions throughout the workshop. (more…)

The purpose of the housing conference in Liberty Hall on Saturday 3rd October was to come together to work Towards a Real Housing Strategy. It was a structured forum for activists, academics and the wider public to engage with each other and bring together their own knowledges of the current housing question so that we can better understand it and discuss what should be done in order to address it.

Activists from Housing Action Now, the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, Inner City Helping Homeless, the Peter McVerry Trust, Right2Change, Mandate, Unite and a number of others, spoke and contributed to the discussion. The experiences and understandings of these groups and individuals added the required grounding to a crisis that can sometimes feel abstracted from the human cost of experiencing housing distress. As well as the ‘traditional’ activists, a number of academics from NUI Maynooth provided a framework allowing us to understand the current housing crisis within broader social, economic and political contexts. With these strands of understanding converging, there is the hope that a strategy for tackling the housing crisis can emerge.

A significant part of the conference was to break into workshops so a dialogue about some of the ‘bigger’ issues could flourish. I broke into the workshop about NAMA. The session started with presentations from Mick Byrne (UCD) and Sinéad Kelly (Geography, Maynooth University) on the existing role of NAMA. Following their presentations, the audience became a workshop group with the discussion focused on how we might better understand NAMA and its potential role in reducing housing inequality in Dublin. Many of the questions posed and ideas considered were inherently about how to alter the use of NAMA for social gain and issues which arise from any desire to do so. (more…)

Since the economic crisis, starting in 2008, there has been a massive increase in the need for social housing across the nation. Figures from 2008-2013 indicate that there are now 100,000 households on social housing waiting lists. It is in response to this and additional problems surrounding housing, that the public conference “Towards a Real Housing Strategy” was held, on Saturday 3rd of October in Liberty Hall in Dublin’s City Centre. It was organised by Housing Action Now with support from charities such as Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), and academic and research institutes, including the Geography Department and NIRSA from Maynooth University. The conferences main objective was to create a real strategy to combat what can and should be addressed as “The Irish Housing Crisis” through raising awareness about alternative policies.

The conference brought together a varied mix of people with different interests and backgrounds from academics, activists and people who have been personally affected by the housing crisis; united in a desire for change and for action to be taken to tackle the crisis. The morning presentations given by housing experts, agencies and academics helped set the context from which the Housing crisis emerged, identify the primary problem as the lack of government intervention in providing social housing and regulating the rental sector and their failure to acknowledge a housing crisis.

Away from a statistical and objective perspective a testimony from Danielle, a mother of three left homeless since August exposes the real human suffering brought about by this crisis. Danielle described how she was forced to split up her family and allow her children to stay with relatives after she could not avail of temporary accommodation. In addition she felt that she was often not met with compassion. These figures and personal experiences highlight the deepening economic and social inequalities embedded in Irish society. (more…)

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