Author Archives: Rory Hearne

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From top: Apollo House last Wednesday; Dr Rory Hearne

Before Apollo, there was a feeling that we were collectively stuck in a sad and shameful silence – a sense of powerlessness that there was little we could do.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Thank you, Apollo and Home Sweet Home.

Before Apollo the only sound was silence. The homeless suffered in silence.

We saw their suffering and were silent. The dignity of our fellow human beings was stripped from them on our streets and was stripped from them again in hostels more dangerous than the cold and rainy streets.

There was silence about the thousands of children and their families being forced to live in unsuitable emergency accommodation with hugely traumatic impacts.

There was silence in relation to the thousands of families in mortgage arrears facing the threat of repossession and eviction, the thousands whose homes have been bought by vultures and Real Estate Investment Trusts.

There was only silence as thousands of families, renting in the private rented sector, struggle to afford the rents and face eviction, and as 100,000 households languish on social housing waiting lists.

Before Apollo, there was silence as the Government and NAMA went about selling our land and houses at knock-down prices to vulture property speculators.

But, of course, in saying there was just silence – I am just deliberatiely being provocative. There wasn’t complete silence about the housing crisis.

There was a lot of noise being made, particularly by Government. But it was loud and empty political rhetoric. Empty phrases. Hollow platitudes and feigned concern. Policies without sincerity. Plans without substance. Media interviews without analysis.

There was fictitious numbers of imaginary social houses that would only ever exist on paper; NAMA strategies based on feeding the speculative vultures and starving our people of homes.

It was, in fact, a post-colonial re-colonisation by vultures – facilitated once more by our own quisling class – the so-called political ‘leaders’, the so called ‘experts’. Those who know better than us. Those who make the ‘right’ decisions.

So, of course, there was a lot of ‘official’ noise about the housing crisis but much of it was no better than silence. In fact, it was worse than silence because it gave the impression officialdom actually cared and they were doing something that would solve it.

But, most importantly and most shamefully, there was too much silence from the Irish people. Did we care? Did anyone make any real noise? Yes, in fact there was a growing move for change. The housing crisis and homelessness was raised by ordinary people as a major election issue. It forced politicians to give it some focus.

And, of course, it is not true that before Apollo House the only sound from the Irish people was silence. In the communities of North Dublin, of St Michael’s Estate – the seeds of Apollo were being sown in the pioneering actions and vision of a new generation of housing activists involved in the Irish Housing Network, Housing Action Now, the Dublin Tenants Association, Erica Fleming, the Ringsend Glass Bottle Site Housing Action Campaign, the North Dublin Bay Housing Action Community, Uplift, and many more.

A new trade union-led campaign had just emerged to focus on rent certainty and security. The NGOs such as Focus, Simon and the Peter McVerry Trust were actively responding – providing services and constantly highlighting the growing tsunami of homelessness.

But, before Apollo, there was a feeling that we were collectively stuck in a sad and shameful silence – a sense of powerlessness that there was little we could do.

But that has all changed and changed utterly.

Apollo and Home Sweet Home have brought about an unprecedented level of public and political focus and attention on the housing crisis, in particular:

· The extent of the homelessness crisis

· The illogicality and immorality of empty State-owned NAMA buildings while people are homeless on our streets

· The unacceptable standards that exist in some emergency accommodation

· The necessity of homes rather than emergency hostels

· The inadequacy of the Government’s plans to address the housing crisis outlined in ‘Rebuilding Ireland’.

Apollo and Home Sweet Home have stirred the spirits and hearts of the Irish people. It touched and activated the deep sense of social justice and solidarity that exists in people. Across social classes and across the country, it captivated and captured the majority of the country in a wave of optimistic belief that we can end this national shame of ever-worsening levels of homelessness.

In Apollo, homeless people, artists, ordinary citizens, trade unionists and activists together created a transformative space that inspired, motivated, and connected with the country in a myriad of magical ways.

Apollo evoked in all of us the urgent and giddy dream of an equal Republic.

Apollo was always going to be temporary – given the priority the courts and Government gives to private property rights – it could only but be so.

But, that short moment of courage and vision has opened up a societal conversation and debate and the beginnings of a societal wide social movement that would not have existed. Indeed was unimaginable prior to Apollo House.

And after Apollo, the Minister for Housing Simon Coveney can no longer use his misleading figures to silence us. Home Sweet Home have highlighted the policies required to really address the homelessness and wider housing crisis. Principally, these include::

· A new major investment programme in social and affordable housing that actually builds tens of thousands of new social and affordable housing units each year

· The changing of NAMA’s commercial mandate to a social one and converting it into an affordable homes agency that would use its land and assets to build tens of thousands of social and affordable housing rather than selling off to vultures

· Real protection for tenants renting and families in mortgage arrears from eviction

After Apollo, there is no longer silence or powerlessness. There can no longer be silence and passivity. Property rights and profit rights can no longer be allowed to obstruct the human right to a home.

The question is where to now? Across the country people want to take action to address the homelessness and housing crisis. They know the crisis is only going to worsen. Those most affected require on-going support. Apollo inspired and provided a focus for solidarity, practical support, and a symbol of hope and defiance.

At its heart – Apollo was (and Home Sweet Home remains) a community and a coalition of diverse groups and individuals all willing to work together to achieve the one common aim – the right to a home for all. By keeping that common heart beating, we will find a way forward.

Apollo is not over. It has just begun.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Rollingnews

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Rory Hearne (left) with Apollo volunteers Anne Farrelly, Emily Duffy, Tommy Gavin (back)

Keep her lit.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The Apollo House occupation has achieved significant commitments from the Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, to improve homelessness services and provide decent accommodation for Apollo residents

These achievements show that the Apollo House occupation has been an incredible victory for citizen’s power.

The Home Sweet Home campaign has lit a new flame of hope in Ireland that everyone can and should have the right to an affordable and secure home.

Apollo House marks the point at which ordinary citizens have said ‘no more’ and ‘enough’ of this shameful housing crisis.

The citizens have declared that the homelessness crisis is not acceptable and it is a national emergency.

Home Sweet Home, through the Apollo House action, have mobilised the support of the majority of people of Ireland, to state clearly to the government and Dublin City Council – that they are not doing enough and that citizens are going to take direct action where the state fails – and that citizens will monitor and pressure the Government until everyone has the dignity of a home.

Specifically, the Home Sweet Home campaign has secured accommodation for its homeless residents and that “the short, medium and long term needs, including care plans for all current Apollo House residents, will be met according to their needs”.

They also secured the commitment by Government of the provision of two new additional facilities addressing the homelessness emergency (at an investment of €4million).

Importantly, they have also raised the bar “on the agreed minimum standards” for emergency accommodation as these facilities, the campaign states, “will include residents having their “own key” to a place they can call home”.

This minimum standard will also be achieved “with the direct participation of residents” and include units suitable for single persons and couples”.

Dublin City Council and the Peter McVerry Trust have told Home Sweet Home that the extra beds in new hostels are now six-month beds with 24-hour access as a result of the campaign.

The Minister for Housing has also guaranteed that there will be no families in commercial accommodation (hotels or B&Bs) by 1st July 2017.

They also achieved the rollout of community-based homeless services which can address the major challenges faced by families facing homelessness and lack of services in local communities.

As the campaign explains,

“Home Sweet Home has achieved an enormous amount in a very short period of time. This is down to the profound outpouring of public support for the campaign with more than 2,500 people volunteering their time and services along with donations of food, clothing, beds and more than €160,000 in funds. It has facilitated the assessment of 72 individuals by homeless services with 42 people moving into six-month beds…and helped more than 200 people to access a secure bed through the homeless Freephone number.”

Speaking at the Home Sweet Home press conference yesterday – where these achievements were outlined – spokesperson Aisling Hedderman explained how Apollo House has given homeless people a sense of dignity and raised the bar of what is acceptable in terms of emergency accommodation.

She said:

“The Home Sweet Home intervention allowed the homeless to have their voices heard and it allowed the public backing of them…it has given them a new chance at life…The homeless in Apollo have smiles on their faces. They are different people – accessing education and looking to get jobs. They have been given a chance. They thought that society had forgotten about them but the campaign showed that we haven’t forgotten about them.”

Aisling explained that she has been a housing activist with the North Dublin Bay Housing group where they had “screamed and shouted and occupied and had sit-ins to try have the voices of the most vulnerable heard – because they are not heard in public policy”.

But Apollo House has achieved a “victory” as “their voices are being heard”.

At the press conference Home Sweet Home spokesperson Brendan Ogle explained that Apollo House “is just the beginning” as Home Sweet Home “will be a permanent intervention in the nation’s housing policy and discussion”.

To do this, they are opening a permanent Dublin support, advice and activist centre assisting people with their housing information needs. The campaign is also taking a legal challenge arguing that the 1937 Constitution contains within it a right to housing.

They are going to have regular monthly meetings with Dublin City Council and other local authorities to review and assess housing and homelessness policies, particularly the issues of “hidden homelessness”.

The other really vital achievement of Home Sweet Home is the highlighting of NAMA’s role in worsening the crisis and its potential role in addressing it.

The campaign still awaits a response to their letter from the Minister for Finance where they called on the Minister to prioritise NAMA’s social mandate over its mandate to “maximise financial return” and to use NAMA’s land and buildings to address the crisis.

NAMA’s end-of-year review, released last week, again showed the potential role that NAMA could be playing in providing affordable housing (it showed NAMA has €2billion in cash reserves and will be building the 20,000 houses on a “commercial” basis, i.e. pushing up prices to sell to vultures) but because it is focused on maximising a commercial return it is selling its land and property assets to vulture funds and property investors.

After Apollo ends, it is vital to keep the focus on NAMA and the fact that it still can play a major role in addressing the crisis by using its land and cash reserves to build upwards of 20,000 social and affordable housing – not selling it to the vultures and property investors.

This year NAMA expects to build 3,500 houses – these should all be sold for social and affordable housing to local authorities and housing associations. This needs to be monitored closely.

The continuation and expansion of Home Sweet Home is essential because the harsh reality is that the housing crisis is going to worsen.

The homelessness crisis is just the tip of the iceberg of a wider housing crisis where hundreds of thousands of families and individuals are in circumstances of housing distress – unable to afford their mortgage or rent and facing potential eviction and repossession.

Vulture funds are circling – as the RTE documentary The Great Irish Sell Off showed last night, they have bought up 90,000 properties and are holding almost €10.3billion worth of assets in Ireland.

They will evict to get in higher paying tenants or repossess and sell houses in mortgage arrears.

There are 90,000 households on social housing waiting lists and 35,000 families in two years or more of arrears on their mortgage.

And, alongside this, we have the Government consistently refusing to act in ways that could address the crisis – by providing proper security of tenure for private tenants, by funding the construction of social and affordable housing on a massive scale and by stopping NAMA selling its land and property to vulture funds and using it instead to provide social and affordable housing.

There is, as Fr Peter McVerry has said before, “a tsunami of homelessness” on its way.

And it needs to be remembered. We have been here before with this, and other, governments making big promises to solve the homelessness and housing crisis.

But the Government and Irish state should not see the ending of the Apollo House occupation as a signal to ‘return to business as usual’, ignoring the humanitarian crisis and focusing on rising property prises and subsidising private investment.

The Apollo occupation and Home Sweet Home mark a very significant transformation in the politics of housing in Ireland. Prior to this it was housing charities, NGOs and a small number of housing activist groups, academics and politicians that were raising the severity of the housing crisis.

Home Sweet Home has brought it to another political level – the majority of the Irish people have been mobilised in support behind a new coalition of activists, trade unions and artists who are espousing the need to deliver a right to a home for all.

As Brendan Ogle explained, there has been a realisation amongst people that “all of us have to step out of our silos and work in a unified way”.

And the groups and individuals involved are no longer just pointing to someone else and saying ‘that is your job to solve the crisis’ – they are now stepping up and seeing that it is all our job to take action.

Ogle highlighted that “we as a nation had crossed the threshold of decency and we had gone too far” and the Home Sweet Home campaign “has shown that it has a power to force change in the area of housing and homelessness”.

It is this power – the power of direct citizen-led action of practical humanitarian solidarity with the homeless (not just protesting but actually stepping in and providing a solution), and the unprecedented public mobilisation of support behind it, that is at the heart of why the Apollo House action and the Home Sweet Home campaign has been so successful – and why it is so vital to be continued in various forms in the coming months and years.

It was only such a high-profile action undertaken by this broad societal coalition that managed to raise sufficient awareness and focus public and political attention on this unprecedented housing crisis.

And that broad coalition has the potential to end homelessness and the broader housing crisis – by extending to every corner and community of Ireland – by mobilising every citizen affected and every citizen who cares, and bringing it together into a mass movement of community and solidarity demanding the right to a home for all.

Home Sweet Home has started the movement.

They have lit the flame.

It’s up to all of us to take up that flame for a right to a decent and affordable home for all and carry it forward – in our homes, families, in our communities, our workplaces, our towns and cities and make it real. It is possible.

We are the only limitation to its achievement. We can do it. Just imagine it – if Ireland was known around the world – as the country that actually delivered a human right to a home for all its people.

Wouldn’t it be incredible?

The country that emerged from famine and evictions – that resisted through peasants’ land leagues and revolution – only to collapse, over a hundred years later, back into evictions, homelessness and a new form of colonialism, the takeover by speculative vulture funds.

Imagine this little country finally managing to realise its people’s long-held historical dream for justice and equality.

Apollo has begun that journey of moving from the dream of a right to a home for all – towards achieving the reality.

As Aisling Hedderman so eloquently put it: “We can do this – we can continue this. It’s only the start. It’s not the end. Apollo house is only a building but Home Sweet Home is a community. It’s a community that we want to see in all our communities – we want our voices heard and we will continue to do so.”

Home Sweet Home are inviting the public to join them at 12 noon tomorrow at Apollo House for a ‘Victory March’ “to celebrate our first step towards ending homelessness. Everyone that has been involved and that supported us in this movement, join us on the streets to help celebrate a victory we all should be proud of. Solidarity marches will take place in Kildare and Belfast at noon and Cork at 10am.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Rollingnews

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From top: Simon Coveney TD and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damien English TD 

The Rebuilding Ireland Plan has allocated insufficient funding, is manipulating the use of the term ‘social housing’ and misleading people with its promises

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The government has been responding to the Apollo House action by stating that dealing with the housing crisis is its “number one priority” and that their housing plan, Rebuilding Ireland, will address the crisis through the investment of €5bn in “a truly ambitious social housing programme of 47,000 units to 2021”.

Minister Coveney claims that “There’s a real acceleration happening here in terms of delivery” and has stated that there will be more than “21,000 social housing solutions provided in 2017”. With Budget 2017 providing “for a very significant increase in housing funding (of €1.3 billion).

But the Minister’s figures and the Rebuilding Ireland Housing Action plan just don’t add up.

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The graph above is the forecast provision of social housing in the Rebuilding Ireland Plan from 2016-2021. But in this you see that the new construction of social housing (represented by dark blue shade at the bottom) is only a very small proportion of the overall 100,000 ‘social housing’ units to be provided over the next 5 years.

The majority of ‘social housing’ is in fact not new build social housing at all but are various housing support schemes provided through the private rented sector such as the Housing Assistance Payment and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

These social housing ‘solutions’ (as the Minister’s refers to, note change of language from ‘new build housing units’ to ‘solutions’) are temporary, do not provide tenants with security of tenure and most importantly do not increase the much needed supply of real permanent social housing homes.

The schemes such as RAS and HAP have not met their delivery targets due to lack of availability of private rental housing (thus the governments social housing strategy also exacerbates the rental crisis – as it is taking supply from a sector that requires greater supply – a third of all tenancies are state funded social housing schemes.These should not be classified as social housing as it is not providing a secure form of tenancy).

Of course the HAP schemes suit government because they can reduce the housing waiting lists and make it appear as if the housing crisis is being dealt with – also while subsidising private landlords and avoiding allocating the necessary increase in funding to government/local authority state provision of affordable housing.

The Rebuilding Ireland Quarterly Review published in November gave the first official figures for what is represented in the graph above and breaks down the 47,000 ‘new social housing’ units figure.

This outlines that of the 47,000 social housing units by 2021:·

It is expected that 26,000 units will be built (construction, voids, Part V) exclusively for social housing

11,000 will be acquired (by LA, AHB & HA) from the market

And 10,000 units will be leased by LAs and AHBs – this will be a mix of units from the existing housing stock and newly-built units

Now the key figure here is the new build one because this provides additional housing supply. This is particularly important in Dublin, the commuter counties and other large cities (Galway, Cork) which need new units built and do not have the same vacancy level as other parts of the country. So the actual figure for ‘new build’ social housing units is 26,000 units (just over half the headline 47,000 figure).

Now as is mentioned this also includes bringing local authority voids back into use and new housing built under Part V (the 10% social housing provided in large private housing developments). But Part V delivered just 65 units in 2015 (but 286 were in progress).

Given that Part V delivered 3,246 units in 2007 (4.5% of total 71,000 private units delivered), and that was when Part V was 20% of all developments – which has since been reduced to 10% (but developers could pay cash to the local authority in lieu of the units and this is no longer available), then using the same percentage, then on the basis of 25,000 private units per annum, Part V is likely to deliver no more than 1,250 units per annum in the coming years.

That brings the 26,000 ‘new builds’ down to 24,750.

It was also estimated that 800 local authority voids would be brought back into use in 2017 so taking that away it leaves us with 23,950 new real social housing units planned to be built between now and 2021: which is 3,991 units per annum.

At that rate of delivery it would take 22 years to house all those of the current social housing waiting lists (90,000 households) into real permanent social housing homes.

How can that, in any way, be deemed an acceptable time frame of delivery to address the crisis? Particularly given that housing need is increasing significantly.

So what about the increase in the allocation in social housing investment in Budget 2017? The total exchequer Housing allocation in 2017 will be €1.2 billion –up from €814million in 2016.

However this is the same trick – the main increase is on temporary social housing through the private rental sector. Current (mainly spent on private rental sector schemes and leasing from private sector) increases from €382m to €566m while capital expenditure (includes new building and purchase of permanent social housing) only increased by an additional €150 million from €432m in 2016 to €655m in 2017.

But the ‘housing’ capital budget appears also includes €50m for an ‘infrastructure’ fund for local authorities to enable the development of private sites for housing, the payment for previous social housing already built by housing associations, the mortgage to rent scheme, urban regeneration, €70m for retrofitting existing social housing stock, €45 million for grants for private housing and funding for schemes such as the Pyrite Remediation Scheme. So while we don’t have an exact figure we can see that the actual budget allocation for new building (and purchase) of social housing is certainly under €400 million.

Therefore, the social housing units outlined in the Rebuilding Ireland plan are in fact largely various forms of private sector and privatised housing delivery. They are dependent on various forms of private financing, ‘off-balance sheet’ mechanisms, Public Private Partnerships, acquisition from the private market and delivery from Part V mechanisms.

The plan itself acknowledges that securing the social housing output is “dependent on a number of critical factors” including, most importantly,

“A functioning private residential construction sector, with levels of supply to meet demand (delivering 10% social housing units under Part V and providing a supply for targeted acquisitions)”.

Social housing provision is being privatised onto the private rented sector– which has meant a failure to achieve social housing targets and reduced private rental stock available to the wider population. This is not a ‘social housing’ strategy!

And this is where the plan ultimately fails. Its output of social housing is dependent on a very significant increase in supply in the private housing market which has already proven in its inability to do so.

What is required is an increase of the social housing capital allocation to €2bn per annum to local authorities and housing associations to ensure the building of at least 12,000 new permanent social housing units. This is alongside the changing of NAMA’s mandate to prioritise its social mandate over the maximising financial return and to ensure the 20,000 units it builds are affordable and public housing units – and to use its 3bn cash reserves to build an additional affordable and social 30,000 units.

It is only when we get close to building at least 20,000 new affordable and social housing units per annum that we can get close to addressing the national emergency of the housing crisis.

Ultimately the only guarantee of affordable supply of housing to a broad range of income groups (from the lowest income to middle income workers) is by the state through local authorities (with support from Housing associations). A social mix in developments can be achieved by the state building affordable housing available to different income groups.

This should be a mix of traditional public housing, cost rental housing, shared ownership, equity partnerships and cooperative housing. It is the time for a ‘New Deal’ in housing where we take this opportunity to ensure the provision of affordable and high quality homes as a right to all in this country.

It is great to see that Home Sweet Home’s Emergency Housing Plan includes these ideas as some of its core proposals.

Home Sweet Home outlines that there should be the provision of “a minimum of 10,000 new social/public housing units owned by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies per year for the next decade in order to clear all social housing lists”.

The government should “suspend all sales by NAMA of land and assets and use its finances to deliver 10,000 new social and affordable housing units for families and low-income households”.

Most importantly Home Sweet Home outlines that this new social and affordable housing building programme can be financed through “ceasing all tax cuts until the current housing and homelessness crisis has been averted”. It states that it “is morally reprehensible that we have so far given more than €2.5 billion in tax cuts while homelessness has doubled and thousands of children are spending their childhoods growing up in hotel rooms”.

They also highlight correctly that “should borrowing be necessary, the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has borrowed €500m at an interest rate of 0.81%. This low cost borrowing could provide up to 5,000 social housing units per year”. F

urthermore, they point out that in 2014 the Irish League of Credit Unions formally proposed making up to €5bn available for social and affordable housing schemes but “two years on and Government has yet to formally respond. This source of funding should be accessed as a matter of urgency”.

The reality is that the government in its Rebuilding Ireland Plan has allocated insufficient funding to the new build of permanent real social housing homes. It is manipulating the use of the term ‘social housing’ and misleading people with the figures it is using in order to suggest its plans will address the crisis – when in fact there is much less new build of real social housing in the plans than the government is trying to portray.

Rebuilding Ireland is a fundamentally flawed plan as it driven more by an ideological aversion to the state building affordable homes than evidence-based policy solutions based on meeting the housing needs and right to housing for people.

The Plan is based on the taxpayer incentivising and subsidising the private construction industry and private speculative finance through the various private rental social housing schemes, the ‘help-to-buy’ subsidy (for which there was no cost-benefit analysis done!), Real Estate Investment Trust tax breaks, the sell-off and leasing of local authority land to developers and the sale by NAMA at discount of land and property to vulture funds and investors.

The alternative approach outlined above is, therefore, urgently required. And that is why it is really important that the Apollo House and Home Sweet Home campaign gain sufficient public support to achieve this policy change.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Rollingnews

 

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From top: Banners inside Apollo House; Dr Rory Hearne

There is still time to use NAMA to do what it should have been used to do from the outset- to help heal the scars of the crash and austerity and the injustices of the bailouts.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Today at 12 noon the HomeSweetHome campaign will march from Apollo House to hand in a letter [at link below] and petition to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, calling on him to direct NAMA to use its property assets to address the homelessness and housing crisis.

The government and NAMA have been trying to hide from the public the significant role that NAMA could be playing in addressing the housing crisis. But the Apollo action means there is no more hiding for NAMA and the government.

This article provides a detailed overview and analysis of why and how NAMA should be used to address the housing crisis. A number of these points are included in the HomeSweetHome letter to the Minister.

While myself and other academics and housing activists have been making the case about NAMA for a number of years it has taken the innovative and inspiring Apollo House action to bring widespread public attention to this.

And it has become even more urgent as the homelessness crisis continues to worsen. The latest monthly figures show that there are now 1,205 families, with 2,549 children, living in emergency accommodation in Ireland.

These figures how that the occupation of the vacant NAMA building, Apollo House, and its transformation into safe and secure accommodation for homeless people is the correct, and socially just, thing to do in order to get public and political attention focused on our housing and homelessness crisis which is a national humanitarian emergency.

The figures show that the the dismissive criticisms made recently by various politicians and Dublin City Council officials about Apollo House are wrong.

Those comments are part of an-going attempt to undermine the massive groundswell of public support for the HomeSweetHome action.

This truth is the core injustice of NAMA itself– it is a truth that government and NAMA officials have attempted to hide from the Irish people.

The NAMA injustice is that NAMA is a state (i.e. belongs to me and you) agency that has the buildings, land and finance that is being used to enrich wealthy property investors rather than being used to end a homelessness crisis that sees hundreds forced to sleep on our streets and thousands of homeless families and children traumatised living in emergency accommodation.

The central problem with NAMA is that senior NAMA officials (operating under direction from the Minister of Finance) have prioritised NAMA’s purpose outlined in Section 10 of the NAMA Act 2009 which is to “obtain the best achieveable financial return for the state”.

 

The problem with this is that while it might appear that NAMA is maximising the commercial return to the state and taxpayer, it is in fact playing a major role in worsening the housing crisis and thus adding to the economic and social costs of dealing with the housing crisis.

NAMA has sold off loans, land and property to foreign vulture funds who have evicted tenants and raised rents to unaffordable levels.

Most disgracefully NAMA has sold development land (sites) to investors that had the potential for up to 20,000 housing units. However, just 1,100 (5%) of these have been built or are under construction. The investors have hoarded the land, waiting for (and contributing to) housing prices to rise.

NAMA’s current approach is thus worsening the housing crisis and resulting in a significant cost to the state through the necessity for increased spending on homeless accommodation and private rental schemes such as RAS, HAP etc.

It also means that there is no guarantee that the sale of its land and assets will be used in the provision of affordable housing (or other uses). In all likelihood in the current market – financiers are purchasing them to hoard and accrue value before resale in future years rather than redevelopment.

As I wrote in an opinion piece published in the Irish Times on NAMA in 2014:

“By pushing for maximum commercial returns, Nama is working against the interests of those looking for an affordable and secure home. It is continuing the speculative-asset approach to housing that fuelled the crisis. This promotes residential property as a commodity rather than a social good.

Nama is facilitating a massive transfer of wealth created by the Irish people to foreign and domestic capitalist investors.

But Section 2 of the NAMA Act 2009 states that NAMA’s mandate is “to contribute to the social and economic development of the State”.

So why is this not NAMA’s priority?

Furthermore, under the provisions of section 14 of the NAMA Act the Minister for Finance has the power to issue a direction to NAMA.

The Minister Finance could, therefore, as part of converting NAMA into an affordable housing agency, direct NAMA to prioritise its Social Mandate (section 2) over its commercial maximising mandate (Section 10) in all of its operations. Also this Social Mandate should be made to include the prioritisation of the delivery of social and affordable housing.

The Minister should then direct NAMA to sell its property related assets in Ireland (loans relating to land and residential property and holdings of property and land) to local authorities, housing co-operatives, community land and housing trusts, and housing associations rather than vulture funds and REITs.

NAMA should also use the 6000 residential units currently in its possession to house homeless and people off the housing waiting lists as these units become vacant.

Most importantly, NAMA is planning to build (finance and develop) 20,000 houses by 2020 and 90 % of these are to be in the greater Dublin area).

However, the only legal obligation on NAMA is to provide 10% of these units for social housing.

Furthermore, while NAMA states that these units will be ‘starter homes’, at market rates they will be out of reach for many first-time buyers. In 2017 3,500 of these are expected to be built (2,500 are already under construction in the Dublin area). A third of these units- 1,100 of these units – should be used to house all families who are currently living in emergency accommodation, such as hotels and B and B, in Dublin.

Such accommodation is totally unsuited to their needs and particularly those of children who may suffer lasting damage from such accommodation.

It should be noted that NAMA has provided around 2000 social housing units to date. In fact, local authorities have been offered 6,635 units by NAMA e.g. over 800 houses were offered to Dublin City Council but only were 400 taken up, largely because of insufficient funding being made available to local authorities by government and issues relating to over concentration of social housing in certain areas.

The Minister for Environment, should immediately direct local authorities to take up all NAMA offers of social housing and that these will be funded and sanctioned by his Department.

Furthermore, NAMA could build tens of thousands of additional homes on its own and local authority land through the use of its cash reserves and delaying the repayment of its remaining debt. NAMA has already paid off 81 per cent of its debt of €31 billion (€25 billion), so that only €5 billion remains to be repaid.

Currently the Minister Finance and NAMA are planning to pay down the remainder by 2020 and Michael Noonan, has repeatedly defended NAMA’s ‘maximising of the commercial return’ from the sale of its land and buildings in order to pay back this debt as soon as possible.

But that timeframe is arbitrarily set by NAMA and the Minister for Finance. NAMA can fulfil its commercial mandate and pay down the debt – just over a longer time frame – through the development of affordable housing schemes using its cash reserves and ability to raise low interest finance to fund development.

This can be staged over a longer time frame than that currently fixed. For example, NAMA could fund through its cash reserves and lending to local authorities and housing associations the building of upwards of 50,000 affordable (affordable homes for broad range of income groups through social rental, cost rental and affordable purchase) housing units in coming years using NAMA and other state land.

The 50,000 figure is based on 20,000 units on NAMA land and using NAMA’s cash reserves and other assets at a cost of €500 million per 10,000 units of affordable housing and €1bn per 6000 public/social units.

This would save the State a substantial proportion of the €100 million annual expenditure in emergency accommodation and hundreds of millions more euro on various social housing schemes in the private rental sector.

So if NAMA, for example, provided 20,000 social and affordable units, it could save the State at least €1 billion over five years, and at least €2 billion over ten years (this would increase if 50,000 units were built), which equates to the return NAMA is supposed to provide to the taxpayer anyway.

Furthermore, this approach would provide a longer term rental income stream and housing assets to the State, and would address the humanitarian disaster of homelessness and the social and economic costs of the wider housing crisis. NAMA has already developed a model for doing this using its NARPS special purpose vehicle, and is building some social and affordable housing across the country, although at very low numbers.

But there is still time to use NAMA to do what it should have been used to do from the outset- to help heal the scars of the crash and austerity and the injustices of the bailouts.

It could do this by contributing to the social recovery through social and affordable housing provision for the Irish people rather than fuelling the economic recovery of the already wealthy global and Irish investors.

As I wrote in 2014:

“When our financial system was in peril there was no obstacle too large for the State to overcome. Now we face an equivalent crisis in housing needs. It is legitimate to ask why the same radical approach is not applied to the housing crisis. It appears the Government is unwilling to stand up to the financial and property investors”.

The Receivers appointed by the NAMA to Apollo House obtained an injunction from the High Court directing the occupiers to vacate the premises by noon January 11 2017. The effect of this is that at least 40 people, currently housed at Apollo House, will be rendered homeless and forced to live on the streets.

In the coming days a lot of public support is required to convert this brave citizen’s act into an unstoppable movement for a right to an affordable and secure home for all in Ireland.

You can start by signing the HomeSweetHome Open Letter to Michael Noonan, demanding he use NAMA’s resources to help end the homelessness crisis here:

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne