No Homes To Go To
Posted on September 22, 2017 at 02:40 PM
Congress Communications Officer Macdara Doyle on plans to build a broad coalition to press for resolution of the housing crisis
For more than a century social housing in Ireland was successfully constructed, provided and maintained by local authorities.
Indeed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s spending on social housing in this country was amongst the highest in Europe.
Those were turbulent decades for the newly-emerged state, as it struggled to cope with successive and deep crises: the destructive legacy of the Civil War, the impact of the Wall Street Crash and global depression, Economic War with Britain in the 1930s, followed by the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and then the near economic collapse of the 1950s.
Yet by the early 1960s almost one in five people lived in publicly-provided and maintained housing.
Despite the acute scarcity of those years, the state took responsibility for the provision of social housing - via the local authorities – and the necessary resources were allocated.
But that positive and proactive role in the housing market came to an abrupt end in the 1980s.
While a lack of funding arising from the abolition of rates played some part in this withdrawal, ultimately it was ideology that was to prove the decisive factor.
The 1980s were the high water mark of neoliberalism, the belief system based on Margaret Thatcher’s infamous dictum: ‘There is no such thing as society.’
Across the developed world governments began to retreat from whole swathes of public life as it became conventional wisdom that the ‘market’ could provide key services more efficiently.
And if there truly was ‘no such thing as society’ then there was no need for services such as social housing.
Thus the housing market was ceded to the developers and profit replaced social need as the driving factor in housing construction.
Fast forward to 2017 and we are mired in the biggest housing crisis in our history with homeless agencies predicting that 10,000 people could be without a home within the next 12 months.
At BDC 2017, delegates unanimously passed a motion stating that: “The scale of emergency and the extent of human suffering caused by this major policy failure, based on a surrender to the market and property developers needs to be recognised.”
Congress has since published a report setting out solutions to the crisis and has established a Housing Committee – chaired by current President, Sheila Nunan – that is charged with mounting a campaign on this critical issue.
Clearly we need a fundamental change in official policy and the central aim of the campaign is to build a broad, civil society coalition to press the case for that change.
Already we have begun to engage with political groupings and parties, with local authorities in key areas and with civil society housing groups, in order to press the case for change.
This is not an intractable problem and there is broad consensus that a key to any successful resolution lies with the state – working through local authorities – and assuming responsibility for social housing provision.
Congress believes there are a number of key measures that government must take in order to resolve this crisis.
Crucially, government should declare a Housing Emergency and commit to increasing the Social Housing stock by some 50,000 over the coming five years.
With CSO figures showing there is enough serviced land available to build almost 400,000 homes, local authorities should be empowered to utilise Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) to acquire land for housing, while the Vacant Site Levy should be set at 6% and introduced in January 2018.
Our rental model is dysfunctional, with some €5.5 billion in public money paid out in rent supplement to private landlords in the last 15 years. That money could have built 30,000 homes.
The government should move to develop the European Cost Rental Model set out by NERI, a system which has proven successful in other EU states.
With rents accounting for almost 27% of disposable income in some areas and the shortage of homes creating serious pressure for families, it is clear that the housing crisis is impacting on the living standards and incomes of an increasing number of workers.
In short, the cost of this crisis is fast becoming untenable for working people across all sectors of society.
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