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.
In 2015, 3,086 individuals accessed homeless accommodation, an increase of 34% from 2014. While ‘new’ individuals accessing homeless facilities fell from 572 to 475 individuals in 3 months, existing or repeat individuals rose to 2,670 people in the same period (see Figure 1). Simon Brook, from Clúid, a housing association which currently has 5,300 tenants, claims that this is a “political class” issue where the working class are the victims, while the upper class continue to profit in the private housing sector.
Des Derwin revealed that in Dublin rents have risen by 9.9%, with average rent in Dublin now €1,387 a month, making it incredibly difficult for ordinary people to afford. Social housing is also very scarce with less funding being invested following the 2008 economic crash. According to SIPTU, the funding of social housing fell by 82% between 2005 and 2014. With rents rising and funding decreasing, clearly, there is increasing pressure on ordinary people.
Difficulties in Addressing the Problem
Karen Loughrin (SIPTU) stated that there is a need for individual lobby groups, such as North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee and Housing Action Now to merge and work together. This is in order to ensure awareness reaches the wider public. Indeed a key challenge identified in the discussion was that the public is not fully aware of the issue. Thus, lobby groups working together in larger numbers can more effectively communicate how serious this problem is. The point was made that through the medium of social media, protests and rallies, the awareness of the problem will increase. Another method highlighted is direct action through sit-ins, such as the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee’s sit-in in Dublin City Council in May 2015.
Participants in the workshop expressed the feeling that there was simply no interest from government in solving the problem with local politicians not showing any sympathy or real care. Clearly people want government intervention but many participants expressed their disgust at the government’s failure to intervene in improving the accessibility to and affordability of housing . Reference was made to Minister Alan Kelly’s Social Housing Strategy, with Simon Brook acknowledging that this policy is a good start but arguing that it needs revamping.
How can the housing crisis be solved?
A key point arising from the workshop is that government intervention must occur in order to address the problems created by a private-housing based model. Simon Brook called for the Government to establish a National Social Housing Authority. According to Brook it would directly tackle the housing problem and organize on a national level (rather than just focusing on separate constituencies or areas) while accelerating the process of rehousing the homeless. Participants emphasized that this is a problem that will not go away overnight and will take time to fix. However, this Authority would aid in the healing. If the Government establishes rent caps, the rental sector could see a much wider range of people being able to access it with fewer people being evicted from their homes due to rising rent rates implemented by their landlord.
A call was made for the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to order NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) to place funding into the public housing sector. NAMA has the three factors needed to produce housing: properties, money and land. The Minister for Finance has direct control over NAMA and by putting pressure on NAMA to invest in the public, rather than the private sector, this would create more social housing for the Irish public.
Clearly, depending on government officials alone is not going to be enough to enact change. The workshop recognised that we, the public need to become involved and stand up for a person’s right to a home. Activity on social media is a necessity, as Twitter and Facebook are accessed by the public on a daily basis.
Furthermore, it is also essential for the public to put pressure on public representatives. By consistently pushing for change, TDs and local councilors will see there is a need for action. Voicing personal experiences would make the largest impact, as was felt at the conference when a young Dublin mother spoke out on being evicted and becoming homeless. While figures are crucial in showing the extent of the problem, it is real-life stories that make people feel deeply about issues and strive for change.
This conference gave a huge opportunity for people of different backgrounds to voice their issues and possible solutions to the crisis. Major issues included high rents, the large number of families and children in emergency accommodation, the Government’s lack of involvement in solving the crisis and the lack of social housing units available. It is through working together, sharing personal stories, putting pressure on the government to release funding from NAMA and increasing social housing numbers that will ease this problem. This emergency has been in existence for a long time, and it will not be solved in the near future. Despite this, it is important to begin immediately the campaign for the human right to a home and shelter.
Caoilfhionn D’Arcy is a student on the MA in Geography at Maynooth University