Letter to Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy.

Dear Minister Eoghan Murphy,

We, the undersigned academics and policy experts, recognise, along with other housing experts, homelessness charities, and most politicians, that Ireland is experiencing a housing crisis on a scale never seen before.[1] Homelessness figures continue to rise, while rents have increased by over 40% nationally since 2011, and housing conditions worsen for more and more of the population. The response from government thus far has been wholly inadequate. The evidence strongly shows that treating housing as a commodity has exacerbated homelessness, prevented the building of sufficient numbers of affordable houses, and stoked inflation in house prices and rents. The current housing crisis demands extraordinary emergency measures. To this end, in solidarity with the Inner City Helping Homeless and Irish Housing Network, we support the six demands below.

Current government solutions through ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ overly rely on the private sector to deliver affordable housing, despite our past record of failing to deliver housing through the private sector. During the Celtic Tiger years, tax incentives for developers increased housing supply to excessive proportions. According to the 2011 Census, there were 289,451 vacant units nationally;[2] in terms of oversupply, there were at least 110,000 units.[3] This approach, rather than making housing more affordable, has resulted in housing price increases of between 300% and 400% in different parts of the country.[4] As the government did not provide sustainable long-term policies to deliver a stable social housing supply, as was the was the case for countries such as Denmark and Austria, [5] when Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), created to deliver social housing, collapsed during the crash no alternatives were set in place.[6] Meanwhile, the private rental sector remained underdeveloped and poorly regulated. The result is that Ireland has now some of the worst tenant rights of any country in Europe.[7] The series of housing crises in Ireland[8] have only been significantly exacerbated by the government response to the crisis.[9]

Cumulatively, as a society, Ireland is steadily moving from treating housing as a basic need and right to treating housing as a commodity. However, international evidence clearly shows that government policies that treat housing as a commodity have led to growing wealth inequality, housing insecurity and human rights abuses.[10] In 2017, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Housing to the Human Rights Council concluded that “rather than treating housing as a commodity valued primarily as an asset for the accumulation of wealth [governments must] reclaim housing as a social good, and thus ensure the human right to a place to live in security and dignity”.[11] We, the undersigned, urge the government to: to acknowledge the current housing crisis, change its housing policies and treat housing as a societal good, and to provide affordable housing to all to benefit Irish society as a whole.

Sincerely yours,

Irish Academics and Policy Experts Supporting Housing Justice

 

Dr Véronique Altglas, Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Patrick Bresnihan, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Michael Byrne, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Dr Patrick Collins, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Linda Connolly, Director, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Laurence Cox, Sr Lecturer in Sociology, Maynooth University

Dr Nessa Cronin, Centre for Irish Studies and Associate Director, Moore Institute, NUI Galway

Ciarán Cuffe, Programme Chair, Masters Programme in Urban Regeneration & Development, School of Transport Engineering, Environment & Planning, Dublin Institute of Technology

Professor Anna Davies, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dr  Sharae Deckard, Lecturer in World Literature, School of English, Drama and Film,  at University College Dublin

Dr Jessica Doyle, Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University

Samantha Dunne, MA, South Dublin County Public Partnership Network Coordinator

Dr Claire Edwards, University College Cork

Dr Frances Fahy, Head of Geography, Sr Lecturer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Dr Eugene Farrell, Lecturer, Physical Geography and Director, MSc Programme ‘Coastal and Marine Environments’, NUI Galway; Member, Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy Research, and President, Irish Geomorphology Group

Dr Eoin Flaherty, Asst Prof, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Ronan Foley, Sr Lecturer, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Alistair Fraser, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Paula Gilligan, Dept of Humanities, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire

Dr Leonie Hannan, Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr Rory Hearne, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

Dr Nuala Johnson MRIA, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Prof Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University

Dr M. Satish Kumar, FRGS, RCS, FHEA, Director of Internationalisation, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr David Landy, Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Joe Larragy, Lecturer in Social Policy, Maynooth University

Dr Philip Lawton, Lecturer in Human Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Steve Loyal, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr Kevin Lynch, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

Dr Mark Maguire, Department of Anthropology, Maynooth University

Dr Lidia Manzo, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Chandana Mathur, Maynooth University

Dr Mary McAuliffe,Gender Studies, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice

Prof Aoife McLysaght, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Alan Mee, Lecturer in Urban Design, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr Julien Mercille, Assoc Prof, University College Dublin

Assoc Prof Niamh Moore-Cherry, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Dr John Morrissey, Associate Director, Moore Institute for Humanities, NUI Galway

Dr Anne Mulhall,  University College Dublin

Prof Enda Murphy, University College Dublin

Dr Michelle Norris, University College Dublin

Prof John O’Brennan, Maynooth University

Dr Cormac O’Brien, Asst Prof, School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin

Dr Cian O’Callaghan, Asst Prof of Urban Geography, School of Natural Sciences,Trinity College Dublin

Dr Féilim Ó hAdhmaill, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Eoin O’Mahoney, Geographer

Dr Jacqui O’Riordan, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

Dr Michael Punch, School of Sociology, University College Dublin

Dr. Declan Redmond, School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, University College Dublin

Dr John Reynolds, Department of Law, Maynooth University

Prof Jan Rigby, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Silvia Ross, University College Cork

Dr Rory Rowan, Department of Geography, University of Zurich

Meabh Savage, PhD candidate in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Dr Helen Shaw, Maynooth University

Dr Henry Silke, School of Culture and Communication, University of Limerick

Dr Karen Smith, Lecturer in Equality Studies, University College Dublin

Prof Ulf Strohmayer, School of Geography and Archaeology, NUI Galway

Prof Karen Till, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Dr Sander van Lanen, Lecturer in Geography, National University of Ireland Galway

If you are an academic and would like to join this petition, please contact Prof Karen Till at karenetill@gmail.com

*****

Demands of the Inner City Helping Homeless and the Irish Housing Network below:
1. Emergency Accommodation Independent Review: An independent human rights and care review of all emergency housing, from private to charity and state run, must be conducted immediately.
2. Emergency Accommodation as a Centre of Care: Ensure that all Emergency Accommodation facilities have 24-hr access, with a fully funded response team, including wrap around supports, that focuses on: mental health, security and privacy for all residents. In addition, full and enforceable complaint procedures must be available and implemented.
3. No to Family Hubs. Warehousing families is not a solution. Instead we demand the creation of safe and affordable homes, not hubs, for those experiencing homelessness and/or housing crises.
4. No Evictions and Security of Tenure: We demand the end of economic evictions, as well as request security of tenure and housing rights, including affordable rents, for all currently in the private rental market.
5. Build and Buy Social Housing: To provide longer-term stable communities and cities, social housing must be provided. To this end, 183,000 empty houses should be transformed to social housing, and portfolios purchased from NAMA. In addition, new social housing must be planned and built at a reasonable rate.
6. Mortgages Write Down. For those in mortgage distress in their single family homes, negative equity should be cancelled.

*****

 

[1] Healy, T., & Goldrick-Kelly, P. (2017). Ireland’s Housing Emergency-Time for a Game Changer. Nevin Economic Research Institute Working Paper, (41).

[2] Of the 289,451 vacant units, 168,427 were vacant houses, 61,629 vacant apartments and 59,395 vacant holiday homes. 2011 Census data available at: http://www.cso.ie/en/census/.

[3] Although the oversupply had reduced to 77,00 units by 2016, these units are mostly not located in places where housing is needed.

[4] Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J., Keaveney, K., & O’Callaghan, C. (2010). A haunted landscape: housing and ghost estates in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper59.

[5] Norris, M., & Byrne, M. (2017). Housing Market Volatility, Stability and Social Rented Housing: comparing Austria and Ireland during the global financial crisis (UCD Geary working papers No. 201705).

[6] Hearne, R. (2011). Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or the Way Forward for the State. Manchester University Press.

[7] Sirr, L. (2014). Renting in Ireland: The Social, Voluntary and Private Sectors;. Mcgill-Queens University Press.

[8] Kitchin, R., Hearne, R., & O’Callaghan, C. (2015). Housing in Ireland: From crisis to crisis. http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/6313/1/RK-Housing-Ireland-77WP.pdf.

[9] Hearne, R. (2017) A home or a wealth generator? Inequality, financialization and the Irish housing crisis. TASC. https://www.tasc.ie/download/pdf/a_home_or_a_wealth_generator_inequality_financialisation_and_the_irish_housing_crisis.pdf.

[10] Aalbers, M. B. (2016). The financialization of housing: A political economy approach. Routledge; Fields, D., & Uffer, S. (2016). The financialisation of rental housing: A comparative analysis of New York City and Berlin. Urban Studies53 (7), 1486-1502; Marcuse, P., & Madden, D. (2016). In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso Books.

[11] Farha, L. (2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. January 2017; available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

 

 

homes-not-hostels

Over the last month, strong attention in Irish public debate has concerned the dramatically deteriorating housing conditions of an increasing number of people in the country, especially in the main cities. Launched by a variegated network of activists and groups, the Home Sweet Home campaign has been centred around the occupation of a vacant building owned by NAMA in the city centre of Dublin to give a shelter to homeless people who experience on a daily basis the serious lacks of the Irish welfare system in relation to housing. Solidarity towards the campaign has rapidly spread in the city (with more than a thousand of people volunteering in the project) and all around the country. I here do not want to account for the actions and strategies occurred up to last week when the building was evacuated following a court’s injunction; my aim is to stress the political importance of the Home Sweet Home campaign since it brought back direct action in Irish political arena.

The main political aim of Home Sweet Home is to give a grassroots-led response to the “housing crisis”, an idea full of political ambivalence. In fact the “housing crisis” has been recently invoked and used by the Irish government to support new supply-centred measures, thus guaranteeing conspicuous profits for developers. However such specious rhetoric collides with the material constraints of thousands of households who struggle to pay the rent or are in arrears with their mortgage; quoting David Madden and Peter Marcuse, we see how “the state of their housing is critical indeed” (2016: 11). So the direct action promoted by the Home Sweet Home campaign represents a response by those whose lives are severely conditioned by the “housing crisis”.

hsh

Direct action in housing through squatting vacant buildings is a long-standing political practice in Europe which has been traditionally associated by social and political scientists to several positive consequences for transformative politics, such as the experience of direct-democratic decision-making, and the prefiguration of another mode of organizing society through the challenge of private property rights and the power of making profit (exchange value) over material needs (use value). More recently the squatting of vacant buildings has re-appeared in southern Europe (where is has a strong social and political tradition), notably in Italy and Spain.

Spain represents a particularly relevant case for the Irish audience since the events leading to the “housing crisis” there echo what happened in Ireland with the boom and the burst of the bubble. Following a massive wave of evictions and foreclosures (made easy by a very punitive mortgage law) all around Spain, “mortgaged lives” (to quote the powerful concept introduced in a text edited by the current mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, a former spokesman of the PAH) soon started to organize to give a response to such a dramatic trend: the Plataforma de los Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) was created in Barcelona in 2009 and rapidly spread all around the Spanish country (currently counting more than 200 nodes).

For sure one of the main strategies leading to the success of the PAH has been its ability to cope with difference both in terms of people involved and repertoire of action, combining practices borrowed from anticapitalist/radical autonomy (e.g squatting of vacant buildings owned by financial institutions) with reformist practices (e.g. negotiating with banks, appealing the Spanish mortgage law in courts). Urban scholar Sophie Gonick has defined this encounter between different visions/perspectives realized by the PAH as agonistic engagement. Here the point is not to review all the different strategies and successes of the PAH, but emphasize how such agonistic engagement (deeply embedded in direct action in the form of blocking evictions or occupying buildings) has determined a double shift:

– in public discourse/popular narratives around the housing crisis, challenging those discourses/narratives blaming evicted/foreclosed people as irresponsible;

– in the material living conditions of thousands of people who got their eviction blocked or obtained new social housing agreements thanks to the direct action of the PAH.

pah

PAH activists occupying a bank

While I do not believe in the possibility of simply imitating/replicating what done by the PAH because it is the result of contextual factors and practices, I think it is important to keep it as a source of inspiration and reference for a campaign such as Home Sweet Home and for all those activists who struggle everyday for a more inclusive and equal system in which basic needs/rights (like housing) are acknowledged and defended.

Direct action like the re-appropriation of a vacant building destined to real estate speculation and private profit is important because it sheds lights on the political possibilities that we have here right now: while formal institutions are completely trapped in market/profit-centred measures/rationalities and some critical voices continue to call for a massive public intervention in the housing sector through new social housing construction, Home Sweet Home has unveiled another political possibility centred around re-appropriation, people’s engagement and the opposition to the power of non-transparent institutions serving private profit instead of promoting public wealth.

Of course the path initiated by Home Sweet Home is still new and will have to face a massive resistance from the part of conservative institutions (and the legal system developed to serve the interests of those in power and preserve the status quo). However direct action is able to create among those involved a passionate awareness and hope in the possibility of change, shaping new political subjects who do not see themselves anymore as passive receipts of the decisions made over their lives but are ready to create new worlds centred around solidarity, inclusion, respect, redistribution and mutual care.

Cesare Di Feliciantonio

Cesare Di Feliciantonio is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Geography Trinity College Dublin. His work lies at the intersection of social/urban geography, political economy, housing studies and urban studies with a focus on neoliberal subjectification and its contestations.

There has been much discussion, and not a little disagreement, about the Housing Bill 2016 (Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2016) currently going through the Seanad.  In essence, it is the Government’s attempt to ‘fast track’ the delivery of new housing units.  And while there has been some debate about a small number of legislative changes that will, potentially, give tenants more rights, the bill offers an example of more of the same, rather than fundamental departure, in terms of the housing policy pursued by successive governments.

In this post, I want to do two things. Firstly, I want to look briefly at some core points of the bill with a view to identifying where they depart or continue existing policy.  Secondly, I want to place the state’s approach to focusing on stimulating supply through incentivizing the development sector in a historical context.

dscf1655

 

The Housing Bill 2016

The Housing Bill 2016 is generally a continuation of the kinds of housing policies successive governments have been pursuing for years now. Its basic premise is to remove (more) barriers to development in order to increase supply quickly. Most fundamentally, it assumes that supply is the single most important element of the housing problem and that remedying the issue of supply will have a ‘trickle down’ effect to subsequently alleviate the other crises of housing affordability, homelessness, and tenure insecurity.

As I want to argue below, this assumption is highly problematic, as borne out from historical evidence in the Irish context.  But before I get to this, I want to briefly focus on three key points from the bill that have gained media and activist attention.

Firstly, the bill includes a clause to curb wholesale evictions when a property is sold to a large investor. It builds on the so-called ‘Tyrllestown amendment’ by including a provision that landlords with 20 properties or more cannot evict tenants when selling to an investor.  This protects against a particularly high-profile form of eviction, but one which is perhaps very limited in the overall scheme of things.  Some estimates suggest that this will affect only 0.56% of landlords*.  Moreover, a new get-out clause was also included in the bill, which allows a landlord to pursue a vacant sale (i.e. evict existing tenants) if they can prove that the value of the sale is decreased by 20% as a result of occupancy.  Given the current market conditions it may not be difficult for landlords to ‘prove’ this.

Secondly, the bill makes provisions to amend Part 4 Tenancy by removing the six-month window at the beginning and end of a four-year lease agreement in which a landlord can terminate a tenancy.  This improves the rights of tenants but offers limited protections in a context where a number of other gaping loopholes exist that allow landlords to terminate tenancies. Moreover, in a context where rents have increased by 40 per cent since 2011 this will do little to combat the tsunami of economic evictions taking place.

Thirdly, the bill proposes to give increased powers to An Bord Pleanála by introducing new ‘fast-track planning permissions’ for ‘strategic housing development’.  This removes planning powers, in particular instances, from the local authorities.  The bill proposes that:

“Applications for permission for strategic housing developments shall be made direct to the Board (An Bórd Pleanála) and not to the local planning authorities.”

The rationale here is to reduce the time it takes developers to secure planning permission, and thus reduce the overall time it takes for new housing supply to come on stream.

In the Irish planning system, An Bord Pleanála operates as an adjudicator of last resort on planning decisions made by local authorities: “Anyone applying for planning permission and anyone who made written submissions or observations to the planning authority on a planning application, can appeal a subsequent planning decision to An Bord Pleanála”.

As such, the ‘fast track’ approach, while ensuring a quicker process for developers, potentially removes one more avenue for community opposition to new development. Given the less than exemplary recent history of sustainable development in Ireland, the removal of recourse to objection is potentially worrying.

It has been documented in academic work by Linda Fox-Rogers and Enda Murphy and Gavin Daly that during the boom local authority planning departments were put under pressure to deliver favourable planning outcomes.  One mechanism used was the incorporation of ‘pre-planning’ talks, whereby a developer submitting an application could avail of extensive meetings (even negotiations) with the planning authority to ensure that a planning application could fit the criteria to be granted permission.  Will An Bord Pleanála, which is an independent body, now also be expected to engage in pre-planning discussions with developers given the political pressure to quickly increase supply?  If the answer is yes, it could seriously undermine the independence of the authority.  If the answer is no, the new measures might well fail to deliver the fast-track supply of housing the bill promises.

Underpinning the bill as a whole is the assumption that the supply of housing is the biggest challenge to overcome.  This dogma, although increasingly challenged by various housing experts, is stubbornly trotted out in the media by politicians and vested interests.  This simple formula for solving periodic housing crises, namely increase supply through removing barriers to development and incentivizing the construction and investment sector, has had a long history in Ireland, with highly variable outcomes.

 

Build it and they will come

This approach has deep roots in the history of Irish Housing Policy. Indeed, the first Fine Gael government sought to deal with a crisis of tenement housing by offering grants to incentivise higher income families to take out mortgages to buy their own home, thus freeing up units in tenements for low income families.  When Fianna Fail came to power in 1932, they instead embarked on a programme of building social housing, in the process offering incentives for the construction sector during a period of relative economic stagnation.  These two moves set in place the conditions that have remained stable in Irish housing policy since – a focus on homeownership as the optimum model of housing tenure and a close relationship between the successive Governments and the construction sector.  These close relationships have provided fluctuating outcomes for Irish housing.

To take two broad, and broadly different, examples.

Firstly, attempts by the state to solve period social housing crisis have in the past focused on strategies to increase supply and/or renovate existing stock.  Moreover, this has often been achieved through incentivizing the private sector.  For example, the plans to create Ballymun emerged in the context of a crisis of tenant housing in Dublin city centre.  Built using new rapid-build materials, Ballymun was intended to as modernist utopia delivering a large supply of working class housing.  However, while the development proved a relative success in the early years, the state’s failure to deliver local jobs coupled with the withdrawal of Dublin Corporation investment and general upkeep of the flats led to spiralling social problems in the area.  The supply of housing alone was not enough to make the community sustainable.

However, when the regeneration of Ballymun was slated in the 1990s, the focus was once again overwhelmingly on the ‘bricks and mortar’ approach to supply.  Although the plans included provisions for community and economic regeneration, these promises remained largely undelivered by the state.  Moreover, the regeneration was to be financed by the construction of new private housing units on site, which was expected to also lift the economic profile of the area.   Thus, what the community got was new public and private housing units, but less in terms of long-term investment in the community or the local economy.  The regeneration during the 1990s failed to deliver on long-term community development because of a focus on a supply of housing units rather than taking a more holistic view of housing.

Despite these problems, the Ballymun model of regeneration became the template for regeneration schemes in places like Cork, Limerick, and Dublin.  Using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach, regeneration of social housing was expected to deliver new social housing, enhance community development, and deliver private sector housing supply.  Moreover, it was expected to do this by incentivizing the private development sector.  Many of these PPP schemes collapsed with the property crash, leaving communities high and dry.

Secondly, from the 1986 Urban Renewal Act on, the state introduced a series of tax incentive schemes to increase the supply of property development in urban and rural areas.  This was a major factor in kick-starting the Celtic Tiger property bubble, which saw an astronomical increase in the supply of housing.  Between 1991 and 2006, 762,541 housing units were built in Ireland.  However, this supply did not lead to more affordable housing. In fact, house prices increased by between 300 and 400 per cent in different parts of the country.

The tax incentive schemes were extended far beyond the point at which they were necessary.  These policies to increase supply were a key factor in the creation of the 2,846 unfinished housing estates identified in 2010, including 78,195 complete and occupied units, 19,830 under construction, 23,250 complete and vacant, and planning permission in place for a further 58,025.

Moreover, the unregulated development that resulted from reducing the barriers for developers actually undermined the creation of sustainable communities built around strong transport links and services.  One of the reasons planned developments like Adamstown and Clongriffin failed to deliver on their promises, for example, was that unregulated development in neighbouring local authorities undermined plans for the timely delivery of schools, transport links, and other amenities in tandem with the phased delivery of housing.

Following the crash, there was little legislative change introduced to the planning system. And while the development sector has been significantly affected by the financial and housing crash, this has been the impact of external factors rather than designed through government policy.

The current housing and homelessness crisis is a direct outcome of the series of systemic problems created throughout the boom and the policy responses to the crash that ignored issues like mortgage debt, the decline in social housing provision, and the changing character of the rental sector, and continued to support existing and new development interests.

 

More than supply

The Housing Bill aims to solve a series of complex problems in the housing system through a short-term intervention to increase supply.  While this might be what vested interests in the sector need to get building in the short term, it will only exacerbate conditions for most of us with regard to our access to secure and affordable housing.

It foolish to assume that focusing on the needs of the same vested interests will remedy these problems.  Firstly, because they have never solved these problems in the past and indeed created many of them. Secondly, because the housing market has changed since the crash.

For financial actors, the rental market has become more profitable in recent years as a form of investment.  For international funds, in particular consistent rising rents is essential for them to return growing profits on their investments.  As such, a greater supply of rental stock will not mean more affordability – there will still be pressure to push up rents.  In combination with the incentives for first time buyers, measures supporting developers, landlords, and investors will only serve to further inflate the housing market.

In the meantime, the clear and modest demands to increase the supply of social housing, or improve tenants’ rights are being side-lined.  For example, the Secure Rents campaign asks for three things:  to regulate increases in rent by linking rents to the Consumer Price Index; to revoke the right of landlords to evict tenants for the purpose of sale; and to move from current 4 year leases to indefinite lease terms. These provisions are not radical by any means, but rather start to address some of the imbalances between the rights of tenants and those of landlords.  Indeed, tenant rights are particularly poor in Ireland in comparison to the rest of Europe. These provisions would not unnecessarily penalise developers, landlords, or investors. But they would slow down some of the crisis conditions.

More starkly, within the context of a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions, the Irish Housing Network have made a call for a complete ban on evictions.  It is worth remembering here that the number of homeless people in Dublin has risen by 35 per cent in a year.

In sum, the Housing Bill is unlikely to change the current system to any great extent – in terms of tenants, the new amendments will not make much of a dent, while in terms of development interests, the changes are just the latest iteration in a long-standing state support for this sector.  But in the context of the current housing crisis, this response is inadequate at best and has the potential to worsen the problem.

The assumption of supply being the most significant factor is highly problematic, as we can see from historical evidence.  The evidence suggests that relying on the logic of supply (without considering issues of affordability and security of tenure) will create increasingly dysfunctional housing systems.  It is time that we finally took stock and addressed the bigger housing problems that repeat themselves.

This is an emergency. And an emergency requires new thinking.

Cian O’Callaghan

*My thanks to Lorcan Sirr for providing this figure

The closure of two emergency homeless services

Today came with the news that two emergency accommodation services for homeless households in Dublin are set to close within the next two weeks. As reported by Kitty Holland, these closures could result in over 140 people returning to rough sleeping on the city’s streets. John’s Lane West is a 42 bed emergency accommodation facility operated by Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) and Brú Aimsir is a 100 bed emergency accommodation facility operated by Crosscare. Both services are commissioned, funded and coordinated by Dublin City Council (DCC) as the lead local authority on homelessness in Dublin.

Brú Aimsir was opened as part of the Cold Weather Initiative for 2015/16 and has been in operation since November 2015. While the Cold Weather Initiative has been going for a number of years, political pressure was ramped up last year following the death Jonathan Corrie in December 2014.

John’s Lane West has been in operation as part of the Cold Weather Initiative of 2014/15 to provide additional emergency accommodation, though it was originally intended to be a temporary measure.

The 42-bed John’s Lane West facility now needs to close due to planning permission obtained by Focus Ireland to build 32 social housing units on the site running out in December 2016. A planned exit strategy for the users of this facility is being led by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DHRE), PMVT and Focus Ireland.

The decision to close Brú Aimsir, however, rests with the Chief Executive and Board members of the Digital Hub, who own the premises in which the emergency accommodation is located. The service was due to close in April. But with the homeless crisis showing no signs of abating, DCC were hoping that they could negotiate the retention of the use of the building over a longer period. In spite of appeals made by the DHRE to retain the use of the building, the Digital Hub has chosen not to renew the lease. Moreover, it appears that they have done so without any new use planned.

Brú Aimsir will disappear and be replaced by a vacant space.

bru aimsir

The housing and homelessness crisis

The alarming rise in homelessness over recent years has been well documented. It is particularly acute in Dublin. Data from the DHRE confirmed that 5,480 adults accessed homeless accommodation in 2015. Of these, nearly four out of ten adults were new to homelessness. During the reference week of 21 to 27 March 2016, a total of 2,750 adults were accommodated in homeless services in Dublin (1,510 men and 1,240 women).

As the DRHE and other activist groups have detailed, this has entailed new types of family homelessness. Many of these new homeless are the result of economic evictions from an increasingly expensive private rental market. Given the dearth of market provision and options for alternatives, growing numbers are being accommodated by DCC in commercial hotels in lieu of access to formally commissioned emergency accommodation facilities from non-profit organisations.

For that reference week in March, 598 families (comprising 810 adults and 1,242 children) were residing in commercial hotels in Dublin.  A total of 839 families (comprising 1,132 adults and 1,723 dependent children) were accommodated in in privately owned emergency accommodation.

In total, 4,473 persons (2,750 adults and 1,723 child dependents) were residing in all forms of homeless services in Dublin in March 2016. And of these, over 45 percent were residing in commercial hotels.

This is a hugely expensive form of emergency accommodation provision. From a total expenditure outturn by DCC of over €70M on homeless services in Dublin in 2015 over €16M was spent on commercial hotels alone. This cost can be expected to double to over €30M in 2016. Apart from this cost being unsustainable, commercial hotel use is considered an unsuitable and inappropriate form of provision. It is occurring, according to DCC, in order to prevent any homeless family from having to sleep rough.

 

Brú Aimsir

In late March I paid a visit to Brú Aimsir along with a colleague from Maynooth University.  We wanted to learn about the policy measures being put in place to deal with the escalating crisis of homelessness in the city.  But we were also interested in this particular initiative in as an innovative reuse of one of the city’s many vacant spaces.

In April 2015, Dublin City Council estimated a total of 61 hectares of vacant or derelict space within its boundaries. In the period since the crash a range of policy and bottom-up actions have been rolled out that seek to implement innovative strategies to activate and reuse vacant spaces for new purposes. Prominent examples like Granby Park have been mobilised to promote Dublin as a vibrant and creative city.

Brú Aimsir has been a more low-key intervention than some other examples of the reuse of derelict space – advertising the city’s homelessness crisis doesn’t really fit well with an entrepreneurial agenda.  Yet, in its operation it offers an excellent example of an innovative and socially beneficial use of urban vacant space. Dublin City Council have spent over €1 million on rehabilitating a vacant warehouse into a bright, safe, and comfortable space for 100 of the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

We visited Brú Aimsir at about 7pm on a Tuesday, just as the service was about to open. The evening was warm and the atmosphere was relaxed as residents, patiently waiting to enter, chatted in small groups outside.

The emergency accommodation facility is used by single adult individuals rather than families, and caters for those at risk of rough sleeping.  In contrast to new family homelessness, this cohort might be viewed as representative of more ‘traditional’ homeless populations.

Those waiting to enter that evening were diverse in age, nationality and gender. Anonymous men and women with backpacks who might be seen traversing the city throughout the day.  They could be students, office workers, or service staff coming to and from work. They too are the hidden homeless, the casualties of an increasingly vicious housing system hiding in plain sight.  And it is to places like Brú Aimsir that they come in the evening for some respite.

The on-street entrance belies the large space behind.  It comprises a locker area (where residents can deposit personal belongings and valuables) a large, bright open communal space (which is colourfully decorated and pleasantly furnished with seating areas and a counter serving hot food), toilets, showers, and male and female sleeping areas.

The emergency accommodation facility has 60 male beds and 40 female beds. These are split into different sections, with female residents upstairs and male residents in two corridors off the communal space, and comprise of 3-bed or 2-bed rooms.

The staff members on duty told us that residents are encouraged to view it as their own space. They are responsible for keeping the own rooms, common areas, toilets and showers clean and tidy. As food is served throughout the evening, residents have more autonomy as to how they structure their time.  As we sat in the communal area, they came and went at an easy pace, with some going to their rooms to rest for a while, coming back later to eat or talk to other residents and staff.

The service has a policy of booking residents in for a minimum of 7 nights, which also provides an opportunity for more substantive forms of intervention.  In this regard too Brú Aimsir has proved extremely successful, in that higher numbers of residents have moved on to more stable accommodation than in other forms of emergency accommodation.  One of the duty managers, who has worked in homeless services for many years, and by his own account in almost every hostel in the city, told us that this is by far his most positive experience working in homeless services.

The few hours we spent there were quit, calm, and devoid of any sign of tension.  Created out of nothing but a void in the urban fabric, both the space and the model appear to be a success story in a dismal situation.

 

The triumph of the vacant city

Why then is Brú Aimsir being closed down? There seems to be no sensible answer to this.  The Digital Hub does not appear to have a new use planned for the site.  And given the substantial money already invested in converting the space, combined with the success of the venture and the fact that the crisis of homelessness has gotten worse rather than better, would it not be the sensible and ethical policy to keep the service running for as long as it is feasible?

It is true that 100 rough sleepers is a drop in the ocean in the context of the current crisis.  But we must also think of the closure of Brú Aimsir in relation to the loss of all it encompasses in terms of treatment and long-term solutions. It is the loss of this potential, albeit insufficient in itself, to seek more fundamental solutions or forms of redress.

Such decisions are indicative of a wider system, of an overall policy response to homelessness that is at best insufficient and at worst downright callous.

The closure of Brú Aimsir is the triumph of the vacant city.  It is the triumph of a vision of the city that privileges an economic elite over the needs of the people, that keeps urban space out of social use and waits blithely for economic investment while multiple crises stack up.

It is in the accretion of decisions like this that the crisis is compounded.  Every little decision not to act, to do too little, and to privilege some vague economic imperative over the humanitarian crisis is not only kicking the can down the road but also intensifying and exacerbating problems of urban inequality that may even now be already out of control.

The decision of the Board of the Digital Hub suggests how those in power, despite public rhetoric and promises, turn their backs on Dublin’s crisis for no other reason than no longer wanting it to be their problem.

In exchange for turning 100 people out on to the street, and closing a space carefully rehabilitated to meet their very pressing needs, Dublin will get back one more vacant warehouse.  Is this enough in return for all that will be lost?

Cian O’Callaghan

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

 

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…)

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…)