From top: Apollo House, Dublin this morning; Dr Rory Hearne
Further to last night’s occupation of Nama-controlled Apollo House, Tara Street, Dublin 1
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
Ordinary citizens have stepped up and acted where politicians and government have failed over and over again.
Ordinary citizens have bravely challenged the on-going shameful situation whereby hundreds of people are forced to sleep on our streets while there are 35,000 vacant (and liveable) housing units and thousands of empty buildings in the city.
An empty NAMA building, Apollo House, in Dublin’s South inner city has been opened up by a citizen’s alliance of housing campaigners, homeless people, high profile musicians and trade union activists to house homeless people.
In the last year the number of homeless families and children in Dublin has doubled – from 770 families and 1185 children last year to 1,353 families and 2020 children this year.
While thousands more face possible homelessness from the lack of social housing, unaffordable and rising rents and landlords evicting to sell their properties, receivers selling off private rented accommodation, repossessions of family homes in mortgage arrears, and the lack of appropriate emergency accommodation for the homeless and particularly, victims of domestic violence.
And while the government wrings its hands and dithers and promises plans, strategies, ‘rapid build’, new supply and fails to provide affordable housing – at the same time they won’t use the thousands of empty buildings (particularly offices) that the state owns – through NAMA, local authorities and other state agencies to house homeless and those in need of emergency accommodation. There are 200,000 vacant (not derelict actually houses liveable in) across this country, as I said earlier, 35,000 in Dublin.
Yet don’t forget NAMA is ours – it is a state agency – belonging to the public. All these empty NAMA and public buildings are ours – belonging to you.
So why are they not being used to address this humanitarian disaster here on our streets? It is because the government has prioritised the profitability of the banks, the bailing out of the European and Irish financial system, our ‘reputation’ on the international financial markets, and the bailing out of their developer friends.
They have ploughed €64 billion of Irish people’s money into the banks – essentially into the top 10% – the super wealthy. They argued that it was an emergency and when they needed to be bailed out– and there was no limit to taxpayer’s money they would provide and no limit to what they would do for the financial institutions.
Yet when it comes to the the human right to a home, for our citizens – we are told there isn’t enough funding, they can’t refurbish offices, they have to sell off these buildings to pay back loans etc etc.
With NAMA the government continues to push it to use its buildings and land to secure the ‘highest return’ which means NAMA is hoarding vacant buildings and land, waiting for prices to rise, before it sells them on. It is investing in office and high-end residential rather than affordable housing provision.
NAMA holds significant building and land assets and therefore has the potential to develop affordable housing if the government directs it to do so. Remember – NAMA is a state agency that has to do what the Minister for Finance tells it to!
So it boils down to one simple truth – it’s about priorities and political decisions.
If they so wished, our government could solve the homeless crisis within weeks by directing NAMA to refurbish the empty NAMA and public buildings in this city and opening them as hostels and emergency accommodation.
They could hire a few hundred support workers, security, social workers and accommodation managers to run them. That would require a simple political decision just to do it. They have the money to do it- they have the buildings. Isn’t it time to prioritise the needs of our people ahead of the financial institutions?
I visited the occupied building this morning to meet with and express my support to the activists and they told me that this is about trying to do something practical to address the homelessness crisis.
I saw clearly that by undertaking this inspiring action this citizen’s alliance is revealing to the people of Ireland the shame of our current policies.
It is a hugely symbolic and practical act of solidarity and social justice. It shines a head light on a potential (temporary) solution to growing numbers sleeping on our streets. They will need all the public and political support possible in the coming days and weeks.
So if you can do one thing – contact them at the Home Sweet Home facebook page – donate and lend a hand. And please – everyone should email their local TDs and the media to say you support this the campaign to open up and refurbish the empty NAMA and state owned buildings to solve the homelessness crisis and for the government to start building affordable homes now.
We have had many commemorations of 1916 this year. But this setting up of homeless accommodation in a vacant NAMA building is actually the most truly genuine commemorative act in this centenary year.
They are fulfilling the Republic of equality envisioned in the Proclamation. There is light at the end of this austerity tunnel of inequality and they are providing it.
Uplift and Home Sweet Home ask you to sign their petition here: The time for broken promises is over. Take action today to support the powerful action by the #HomeSweetHomecampaign.
Earlier: The 2016 Reclamation
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams (right) and Sinn Fein Dublin City Councillor Chris Andrews join Dean Scurry , from Home Sweet Home, to lend their support to the occupation at Apollo House.
Pic via Sinn Féin