Tag Archives: Dr Rory Hearne

Dr Rory Hearne

We live in extreme times. Extreme inequality – where the 8 richest men on the planet have the same wealth as half the entire global population. Here in Ireland the top 20% own half of all the wealth.

But it is also a time of extreme insecurity – a deep sense of fear and trepidation about the present moment (and the future) – how can I have some sort of decent life, or even just survive?

Be that trying to access an affordable secure home, hospital treatment or a living wage. And then there is our children – we are deeply worried about how we can ensure they have the possibility of a better now and even more importantly, a better future.

It is also a time of extreme individualism – where people (once known as citizens with rights) have been commodified by corporations into perpetual ‘consumers’ of products.

And the future increasingly looks like it is going to be an extreme dystopia (some of you might have seen this depicted quite well in the recent movie, Bladerunner) of digitisation and automation.

This presents a horizon of unlimited exploitation of the majority – as human consumer-slaves – by the corporate super-elite, global financial markets and their ‘bots’. And within all this is politics which is ever more distant from the people – hollowed out democracies where politicians and government serve their banker, corporate and financial market masters to the exclusion of their citizens.

But there are signs of hope.

New ‘citizens’ movements are emerging to try challenge this age of extreme inequality, and they are trying to create a new politics that actually represents the majority – and not just a wealthy elite and corporate interests.

From the Momentum movement that has been the backbone of the phenomenal rise in support behind the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, to the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign supporting Bernie Sanders in the US, and the 15M and Podemos movements in Spain (visible also in the Catalan independence protest).

Here in Ireland we have seen new movements emerge to challenge the injustice of austerity and the unequal recovery –from small grassroots groups like the Ballyhea says no to Bondholder Bailout in Cork to the incredible Right2Water movement that involved hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

We saw it too in the occupation of Apollo House last Christmas that drew attention to the homelessness crisis, the Tesco and Dunnes’ strikes by workers for a living wage and conditions, and, again in the recent Repeal the 8th pro-choice protests.

There are also tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of citizens acting in co-operative and solidarity ways (i.e. not just consumers) across this country in citizen’s movements, protests, community groups, volunteering with an NGO or homeless support groups, helping to build co-operative ‘not-for-profit’ housing, being active in trade unions.

But you are told every day in the media, at work, in universities and school that you can’t change things and so you just have to accept this age of extremism – be it homelessness, high rents, climate pollution, corrupt politicians, child poverty, unaffordable childcare, and contract work.

But these movements, action, protest and politics challenge this consensus of passive acceptance and assert that there is an alternative and better path. Most importantly, they provide an alternative way of living than just being the atomised, individualised and alienated consumer that is the current dominant form of so-called living today.

This co-operative action, where we work with others to help bring about change for ourselves and the community, country or organisation around us, is a fundamental challenge to the dominant economic thinking that sees us as people seeking individual profit maximisation in a Darwinian ‘fight for survival of the fittest’.

But interestingly, psychological studies on people’s well-being show that “engagement in collective civic action toward a common purpose increases connected­ness among individuals in a community, and connections to fellow human beings satisfy a basic human need for belonging….(which) stave off social isolation and depression”.

We have been sold the neoliberal ‘free-market’ myth that happiness comes from fulfilling our individual material consumerist desires -from having the latest technology – from purchasing what we ‘want’. But in fact, the state of the world around us – be it our community, our country and the planet affects us deeply in a psychological-emotional way.

Our identity and our sense of well-being is affected by the well-being of others.

This is profound as it suggests we cannot be happy if we see fellow citizens in our community suffering. So taking action – like protest – against inequality is not just an act of self-interest or charity – but a logical response that recognises our welfare is bound up with the welfare of others. And it has been found that more equal societies (where clearly the values of solidarity and cooperation are dominant) do better.

However, politics and our shallow democracies in this age of extremism have become a major problem.

Civil society movements can protest and change the frame of debate and influence some policy change but it is at government and national parliament level that decisions are made about the direction of our economies and societies. Increasingly it is in authoritarian, conservative right-wing ways.

But the movements in support of Corbyn and Sanders have recognised this – that the power of the people needs to create a new politics in government that is willing to challenge the power of the privileged, financial markets and corporations.

Here in Ireland, in the run up to the 2016 general election, the successful Right2Water campaign established, Right2Change, a political campaign which sought ‘a fairer, more equal Ireland that benefits all of the people rather than a select few’.

Right2Change developed with the participation of community activists, trade unionists and political representatives, ten policy principles that would underpin a ‘progressive Irish government’ (i.e. a government led by parties of the left and independents, rather than the two right-wing parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that have shown time and time again, decade after decade, their inability and unwillingness to create a fair and socially just society). The principles included the right to water, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment and national resources (read them here  ).

Right2Change convinced 100 candidates to enter a voting transfer pact (including Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and independent candidates) in the 2016 general election. They got 19% of first preference votes and 36 out of 158 seats in the Dáil.

The establishment parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour) received their lowest combined support in the history of the state.

But what has happened to the momentum for change since that election? The establishment politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backed each other up to ‘shore up the centre’ (ie. protect the status quo) and form a new government of the centre-right.

The various left parties (including Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, People Before Profit etc) and independents, while each have done great work on various issues, they have not worked on developing a common vision, co-ordination or manifesto for a forthcoming election.

And while, despite the housing emergency and wide-scale housing crisis affecting a broad range of people, a citizen’s housing movement has yet to appear although it is growing and could yet emerge from Apollo House, local grassroots housing actions and national housing coalitions. Worth noting that this Taoiseach and the government are building their politics on a PR-image and veneer of addressing issues.

This makes them very vulnerable to anything that shatters that shiny image. Therefore, a large protest campaign uniting private renters, the homeless, those in mortgage arrears and those waiting for social housing together highlighting the devastation caused by the housing crisis would present a formidable challenge to that image and thus the government).

However, with the apparent lack of a broad united left political and citizens movement alternative the most recent opinion polls have shown the centre-right alliance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil recovering in public support.

But all this can change utterly in an instant as our election (where Fine Gael did much worse than expected) and the recent UK and US elections have shown. Citizen’s movements and new politics that offer hope and a positive vision for a future based on equality can dramatically change the political landscape.

That is why I will be speaking at the ‘Another Ireland is Possible’ Right2Change conference this coming Saturday in the Mansion House in Dublin. I believe, and I know many others do too, that we need a citizen’s movement for hope in Ireland that can transform our country into a Republic of Equality for all.

I will be talking about the housing crisis, solutions that could provide affordable housing and the role of people, citizen action and the need for a genuinely new citizen-led politics to bring about this change. The conference is open to the public and organisers are “encouraging everyone who shares a vision for a fairer, more equal Ireland to join us on Saturday, 4th November 2017 to discuss a pathway towards achieving a truly egalitarian Republic”.

Wealth has the power. But citizen’s movements create a counter power that can challenge all others. It is the power of ordinary people to take away the legitimacy of the government –to withdraw the consent of the people. If enough people protest the government has to listen. The water movement showed that.

But movements and politics must unite in order to create this power. They must bring together all the groups excluded – from the middle and working classes, public and private sector workers, unemployed, lone parents, the youth, disabled, migrants – into a power that government cannot ignore. All those groups working on their own can effect some change but it cannot radically transform societies and economies.

And that is what we need now- not tinkering around at the edges of a system that is producing such extreme inequality and human misery. We need transformation to bring about a caring and flourishing society that the economy serves and not, as we have it now, an economy that dictates and destroys society.

The sad reality is we should be living in an age of extreme hope and not despair. With digital technology and the massive wealth that exists globally (and in Ireland) we should have a world without poverty, without homelessness.

Here in Ireland there is no reason why we can’t have a Republic of equality for all (not just the Taoiseach’s ‘Republic of Opportunity’ for the privileged few) where we guarantee decent housing, health care, education, quality employment, liveable communities, and sufficient caring support to the young, old and disabled- to everyone. Countries like Sweden and Denmark can do it.

Poverty and inequality are not inevitable –they result from societal and political priorities and choices. We need a new politics, and citizen’s led movements to change the current priorities – and to turn fear into hope.

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

You can register for the November Right2Change conference here (speakers from the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign, Spanish 15 M Movement, Union of Students in Ireland, Right2Water, Housing/Homeless and Decency for Dunnes workers campaigns)

From top: Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy at press briefing in Government Buildings in relation to Budget 2018; Dr Rory Hearne

Last Tuesday I was left shaking my head in disappointment again. I know many others across the country felt the same.

The annual Budget might be a bit of a charade but it does provide a once a year focus on the direction of our economy and society, providing the overriding vision, policies and essential public spending and tax decisions that indicate our priorities as a country.

So the Budget was an ideal opportunity for the government to address the nation, declare the housing crisis an emergency and outline a series of radical and bold initiatives that would finally address the crisis. But instead we got another budget that will benefit the private developers, landlords and wealthy financial vulture investors.

Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance, backed up by his Fine Gael, Independent and Fianna Fail TD colleagues in government, provided more of the same policies that will be inadequate to address the crisis and will continue to make it worse.

In order to get a full picture of the Budget announcements on housing you have to wade through a fair amount of spin, half-truths and misleading figures in order to see the reality – that there was in fact no major increase in the provision of affordable or social housing by the Fine-Gael/Fianna Fail Government in Budget 2018.

Budget 2018 was another opportunity lost. Another budget that will make the housing crisis even worse as it continues the policies that have caused the housing crisis (in particular the low level of building of social and affordable housing by the state).

The building of affordable housing, for rent and sale, by local authorities and housing associations is the one thing the government can actually guarantee will happen, unlike relying on the private sector.

The government just has to increase direct funding to these state bodies or support them to borrow and they can build.

But the increase in funding for direct state building of affordable housing was nothing short of disgraceful. An additional €160 million per year providing 3,000 extra social homes by 2021. That increase won’t even house the additional families who become homeless in the next three years.

They claim that they will build 3,800 social housing units next year, but again we know this is just not true. On the basis of the figures for the first quarter of this year – where the state built just 235 social housing units it suggests the state will build around 1000 units this year which is just a third of the Rebuilding Ireland target.

What is even more misleading is the headline claim that the government will provide a total of 25,500 new “social housing” next year. The overwhelming majority, 19,600, is to come in the form of Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) for low-income tenants in the private rented sector. Another 1,200 are to come from Part V – where the state buys 10% of private developments.

So we can see why we are in such a crisis. The government has essentially privatised the delivery of social housing onto a private housing market that is in complete crisis.

So when the government states it is spending €1.9 billion next year on providing social housing – that is a completely misleading figure. Just over a quarter of it –around €500million will be on direct building housing by the state, the largest chunk (around €800million) will be going to private landlords.

One of the main measures of ‘success’ in the Budget is the increase in private sector housing provision. Again we have misleading figures here (Mel Reynolds and Lorcan Sirr have done excellent research on this showing the actual number of builds are much lower than headline figures).

The Minister for Finance stated, in the Budget:

“Our actions to support the sector, though, are bearing fruit. Commencement notices for new housing are up by 47%. Planning permissions are up by 49%.”

But these figures tell us nothing of when they will actually be built, and even more importantly at what price they will be sold. The only private building going on is for houses that are going for sale at well above actually affordable prices.

So what is the government doing to provide affordable housing?

Their first announcement on affordable housing was an extra €60 million for the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) which “provides enabling infrastructure on key sites to open up lands for early development”, this pays for the roads, drainage etc for private developers to encourage them to start building.

But there is no clear mechanism for how this funding will ensure the building of affordable housing on these sites. Cherrywood, for example, has received €15 million from LIHAF, yet the state looks like it will be paying €350,000 for social housing there and an ‘affordable’ 2 bed room apartment could be in the region of €400,000.

There is a major issue here over what is defined as affordable housing. The government defines it as in the region of €320,000.

Yet if we take the Central Bank definition of affordable housing as 3½ times your gross income, and two thirds of households have a gross income less than €60,000. This means an affordable house for two-thirds of households should be in the region of €210,000, a long way from €320,000 or €400,000.

And these figures show up the major flaw in the government’s big affordable housing announcement of the budget – the setting up of the Home Building Finance Ireland fund, with €750 million (coming from the former Pension Reserve Fund – state funding in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF) available “for commercial investment in housing finance”.

Developers claim they can’t build a house for less than €320,000 in Dublin, so the only housing that will be built by developers financed from this fund will be well in excess of that price i.e. will not be affordable for most people.

The interest rate being charged by this fund to developers will be 8%, significantly higher than the 1 per cent rate the government can borrow and fund building at. This is another expense that house buyers will have to pay for. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that builders will take up the fund – it relies on their profitability assessments and land prices etc.

They could also use it for buying land and thus inflating land prices further – like where ISIF already funded the private developer Cairn to pay the inflated price for the recent RTE land sale.

It is worth contrasting this €750 million fund for private developer provided unaffordable housing with the miserly €12 million being made available “to unlock Local Authority owned land specifically to deliver affordable housing on those sites using models like co-operative housing”.

This is despite the Cooperative housing approaches like O Cualann Cooperative in Ballymun building housing for sale at €170,000 on which the housing Minister has said “have already proven to be successful but are now needed at scale”. So why not actually fund affordable housing construction?

The other strategy is the ‘increase’ in the vacant site levy from 3% to 7%. Again the devil is in the detail. The increased rate of 7% will only apply in 2020. Is this a joke? No seriously, any owner of a vacant site who does not develop their land pays a 3% levy in 2019 and then, if they continue to hoard their land in 2019, they will not pay the 7% rate until 2020.

Given the major problem of land hoarding that is taking place. Nama for example has stated that it has sold land sites with the capacity to deliver 50,000 housing units but the majority of it is being hoarded as to date only 3,700 units had been built or were under construction.

Why is the levy not being put in place from January 1, 2018? This is an emergency. And, for every 10 per cent increase in house prices it is estimated that land values increase by 35 per cent. So the vacant site levy should, if it was to incentivise land sales and building, should be put at least at the annual increase in land value i.e. in the range of 35%.

While I am on the subject of NAMA, there was more nonsense during the week from the Finance Minister, claiming NAMA had done a great job. NAMA sold half of its land to vultures and international investors who are now hoarding that land and playing a major factor in the house price increases and lack of supply.

Furthermore NAMA claimed it was going to build 20,000 affordable homes by 2020. But just 2000 are under construction. NAMA has 1000 hectares in Dublin that could build 25,000 homes. So NAMA could be doing a lot more to address the crisis if the government wanted it to do so.

But instead it wants to show the global investors and the IMF and Europe – NAMA is being wound up and will have a cash surplus – a great ‘success’ for Ireland Inc. even if it is playing a major role in worsening our housing crisis. And the new House Building Finance Ireland that is providing the loans to developers will be staffed with personnel from NAMA. I guess we won’t see much affordable housing be financed there then.

Back to the lost opportunity of this budget. The government could have made bold, imaginative and radical proposals and actioned policies that would address the crisis – such as forgoing the tax cuts it gave out (what most people gained from them was miserly anyway so why not put it all together and do something significant and meaningful with the money?).

Instead it could have used the hundreds of millions given away in tax cuts and the €1.3bn allocated to a ‘rainy day’ fund (again – WTF is with this– there is a f***ing flood going on right now in housing. People are drowning in unaffordable rents and house prices, mortgage arrears and homelessness).

It could have used this funding and invested it in local authorities to build affordable homes that people need badly. And instead of allocating the €750 million to finance private developers it should have used it to seed fund the setting up a of new semi-state affordable homes building company that would actually build affordable homes.

The state through local authorities, and state agencies and NAMA has significant land banks that it could build affordable housing on now – and not be waiting for the private sector to build ( what will be unaffordable) housing in a year, or two years or ten years time when it sees it can make sufficient profit worth its while to build housing.

Of course, the longer the lack of supply goes on the higher the prices for the vulture land hoarders, the higher the rents for the Real Estate Investment Trusts, the more state subsidies to private landlords – so its suits the private developers and landowners to sit back and wait – as the crisis worsens their profits rise.

The government knows this. They know the private speculative building sector will never build ‘affordable housing’. So be very clear about in who’s interests government housing policy is working. And if they don’t realise it that is because they are blinded by their ideological faith in the private market. As it is only the state, and not-for-profit housing companies that will build affordable housing on a sufficient scale to meet housing need.

In announcing a radical housing plan the government could have asked for the solidarity and support of the Irish people in embarking on such a historic effort to address the humanitarian and economic disaster that is our housing crisis.

I believe people would have supported that if it was put in the context of a new national housing plan to provide affordable housing – to provide the human right of an affordable and secure home – for all those excluded from the housing market – from people looking to buy an affordable home, renters looking for security of tenure and affordable rents, those on social housing waiting lists needing a public house and the homeless who most urgently need a secure home.

I spoke to a homeless mother in one of the Family Hubs (which are supposed to be an improvement on hotels for homeless families but in reality are a political strategy to effectively hide the homeless crisis) the other day and she told me that her son, who has suffered major anxiety since they became homeless and went into a hub, is “asking Santa for a house for Christmas”.

This is what the housing disaster is doing to our citizens. Where a child’s dream is replaced by a living nightmare.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe (centre) at Liam Cosgrave’s funeral last Saturday, Dr Rory Hearne

Tomorrow, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will deliver Budget 2018.

Further to this…

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

In tomorrow’s Budget you will hear talk about ‘what the budget means for you’ and ‘how much will you get back in your pocket’.

You might hear or see the news headlines about how various groups are getting a few euro ‘back’.

You will also hear the big tax accountancy firms (who make massive incomes from advising the rich and corporations on our current tax system) like PricewaterhouseCoopers, provide the Budget analysis and they will state that the Government was confined in what it could do and had little room for manoeuvre given the EU fiscal rules.

But you won’t hear that in fact you would be much better off if the State didn’t cut tax and used it to invest in essential public services like affordable housing and childcare.

You won’t hear that the tax cuts will benefit the higher incomes the most and that there are many other options available to the Government that would provide a more equal society and sustainable economy that they chose to ignore.

You won’t hear much about how the Government’s Budget will actually do nothing (or more likely) worsen our deeply unequal society where we have one of the highest levels of low pay and poverty in Europe and is still struggling to overcome the impacts of austerity and a lost decade of investment in key public services like health and housing.

The presentation of the Budget will focus on Ireland’s growing economy and how we can’t do anything radical that might jeopardise that growth.

But the truth is that, without radical changes, this economy will crash again and inequality is going to continue at its current unacceptable levels.

This society is deeply unequal.

For example, the top 20% in Ireland get five times the income of the bottom 20%. The bottom 20% of our society gets just 8% of income – the top 20% gets 40% of income. The top half get 70% of income – the bottom 50% get just 30%.

We have a huge divide between those reliant on the public health system, waiting for months and years for urgent treatment and assessment, left on A & E trolleys and dying as a result, and those who are wealthy and privileged that can afford to access private treatment.

We have the divide between those who live in wealthy neighbourhoods, the majority of whom live longer and go to university, and those who live with substandard housing, broken playgrounds, the threat of anti-social behaviour, and a minority of whom get to go to third level and die younger.

Our economy and society is deeply divided. And this budget will not address that. We have a generation of people in their twenties and thirties (and many older too) in precarious, short-term and low-paid work and forced to live in expensive and precarious private rental accommodation.

Outward emigration of Irish nationals continued last year – 30,800 Irish nationals emigrated last year – most in employment.

They are leaving a country that has failed to provide them secure and affordable housing and prospects of a decent life, particularly in Dublin.

The Irish economic model has broken for younger generations and those on lower incomes and the poor. Home-ownership dropped from 80% in 1991 to 67% today.

Affordable home ownership is unavailable to a new generation.

A quarter of the population suffer from some form of deprivation – which is over double the 11% rate in 2007. Which shows the lasting impact of the crash and the failure of the recovery to reach many households.

Some of the most social excluded households have been hit hardest. Lone parent households for example have the highest deprivation rate at 57.9%. While those who were not at work due to illness or disability have an extremely high deprivation rate of over 50%.

Women, children, those with a disability or illness, those living in poor disadvantaged communities, Travellers, migrants – these are the most vulnerable groups in society and the ones who suffer the most – yet our system ignores them and deems it acceptable that their rate of poverty and deprivation is significantly worse than the rest of society.

This is a fundamental breach of the human right of these people who have the right to a live with human dignity just as anyone else does.

The truth is our economy is unequal and built on the fragile foundations of Government-supported tax avoidance by corporations.

We are a low taxation and, as a result, a low public spending economy, compared to other European countries.

The state has one of the lowest taxation levels – particularly for corporations, business and the wealthy – in Europe, as a proportion of GDP, and we also have one of the lowest levels of public expenditure as a proportion of GDP in Europe.

Our low tax intake means we have much less than countries such as Denmark and Sweden to spend on public services and support that addresses key issues such as supporting those in poverty (a fifth of our workforce are low paid – one of the highest in Europe – a quarter of our entire population suffer economic deprivation and a third of our children are in deprivation).

With less tax available, we also have less to spend on key areas of social and economic infrastructure such as affordable housing, healthcare, education, transport and childcare. Proposed tax cuts will make this situation worse.

In other countries they have much more public affordable services – such as childcare, healthcare, housing provided by the state or not-for-profit organisations (paid through state support, higher levels of taxation and state regulation of the private market).

But here we have followed much closer to the US, neoliberal, free-market approach to basic necessities – that is we leave it to the private market, the ‘for-profit’ commercial sector to provide much of these public services.

But as they seek to maximise profits it makes them more expensive and less universally available.

We face a major problem in regard to changing things. This is the ‘cosy-consensus’ insider culture in our permanent state (amongst the higher levels of civil service bureaucracy) and successive governments, who have been lead by either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, who protect themselves and their ‘class’ of the privileged.

They are not prepared to undertake radical measures that would really benefit those who are excluded and suffering.

For example, in housing – the obvious thing to do is to declare a housing emergency, increase by €1bn the funding going to local authorities so they can build 10,000 social houses per year, set up a State company that can build 20,000 affordable rental and ownership homes, and provide private tenants long term security of tenure.

It wouldn’t require raising taxes on ordinary people to do this – it could be financed by State borrowing, taking some of the Apple 13bn tax, using NAMA land and cash reserves, a high vacant site land tax, from the pension fund, a wealth tax, using the AIB and credit union funding, getting flexibility from the EU fiscal rules – clearly a lot of areas of potential funding.

But they won’t do it because it would lead to reduced rent and house prices – affecting the profits of the ‘property-financial’ industry complex – the vulture funds, the real estate investors, the landlords, the developers and land hoarders.

People on the ‘inside’.

So we won’t see major change until those in power are forced to change – by citizen’s action and by an alternative government that is actually prepared to do something radical – like implement a right to housing and health for all.

Why would the Government politicians change things?

They didn’t (and don’t) feel the pain of austerity, the stress of waiting for hospital treatment nor the trauma of being homeless or the constant anxiety of wondering how you will pay next month’s childcare, child’s birthday party, doctor, rent, mortgage or food bill?

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

Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan and (top) conditions at their current rented home

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Tracy McGinnis and her two boys, Declan aged 9 and Brendan aged 13 (who is severely disabled), face the threat of becoming homeless.

Their story provides another stark example of why the government must take real action to solve the housing crisis and declare it a national emergency.

The experience of the McGinnis family shows the extra challenges and suffering faced by carers and the disabled in trying to find suitable and affordable accommodation in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.

I met Tracy, Declan and Brendan last week and spoke to her about her housing conditions, the impact on her children, how difficult it to ‘speak out’, and public attitudes towards the vulnerable and the housing crisis.

Brendan, who has just turned thirteen, was born with Congenital CMV, which means he can’t walk or talk, has severe epilepsy, cerebral palsy and scoliosis. He is not expected to live longer than 18. He smiled with his rainbow coloured teddy bear tucked under his arm as he sat in his wheel chair during the interview.

Tracy has a Master’s Degree and worked as a therapist and with NGOs before she had to leave her career behind to become his full time carer when he was three.

She explains that currently they live in a private rented house in Kildare which has major problems:

“the house is so cold and so draughty, the boiler leaks kerosene, there is no light coming into the kitchen, the ceiling is not insulated.

The environmental health officer said it is in violation of various standards. It is half under construction and there are rolls of fibre glass insulation in the attic which is open and the wind sweeps down through to the rest of the house and I am worried about it affecting Declan and Brendan’s lungs.

There is mould growing on the ceiling in the bathroom. I have no lease and the landlord is unregistered”. It is, she says, “unsafe unsuitable, unfit and its putting Brendan’s health at risk, and mine as I try to care for him in a place that’s not suitable and not modified and can’t be modified for Brendan’s needs”.

The photographs of the house shows just how unsuitable it is: a shower chair sitting unbalanced in a bathtub; no safety rails; and she is unable to use a hoist as the doorway is too narrow and the hoist legs cannot go under the tub.

Tracy describes it, as “dangerous, inhumane and risking Brendan’s life as well as my health and safety as his carer as I am forced to carry Brendan in my arms across a wet floor, through doorways, from one room to the other.”

She has been trying to find somewhere else in Kildare to rent, and that would take the state-supported Housing Assistance Payment, which is the government’s main form of social housing support. Under HAP, the local authority pays the landlord the rent and the tenant pays a lower rent to the local authority.

Tracy is eligible for the HAP scheme. However, she has found it impossible to find landlords that will take them.

Landlords, she feels, are discriminating against her, “the landlords were saying they don’t think the house would suit my son’s needs – I heard that a number of times”.

She can’t stay in her current accommodation and so is trying to find rental accommodation that would take the HAP payment and be suitable for Brendan’s needs near Kilkenny City which would be close to Brendan’s school and care supports, and Declan’s old school.

Tracy is terrified of becoming homeless.

She said:

“Brendan can’t go into emergency accommodation – a hotel or B & B. He needs to have his medical bed as it helps with pressure sores and his scoliosis – he needs his oxygen near his bed and this can’t happen in a hotel or B&B”.

Tracy’s situation highlights a major problem with HAP, which I have also found in my research on other families experience of homelessness. It’s extremely difficult for vulnerable families to find suitable and affordable housing in the private rental sector.

Modification grants are only available for local authority housing or for a family that owns their own home. Renting someone else’s home does not allow the family to avail of any home modification grants which means the family cannot modify the home to safely and properly care for the disabled family member.

As Tracy explains:

“if a family with a disabled child is left to the private rental market, they are left at a tremendous risk of homelessness. They could be given notice to vacate after a 12 month lease and be back at the near impossible task of trying to find a suitable rental house again .If they are not made homelessness, they are more than likely forced to settle renting an unsuitable, unsafe house”

As the photographs above demonstrate renting a house does not provide security.

A social house, she says, would be more appropriate as it can be modified to suit Brendan’s complex healthcare needs. “We need a long term house that we can make a home secure for our future and modify for Brendan’s care.”

She wants a permanent home as she doesn’t want to ever have to leave the home where Brendan will spend his last years with her and his brother.

“I want to stay there, in that home – in our home – where he was for his remaining time, which I hope and pray is a good number of years still to come. I don’t want to ever have to leave behind the home where all those final memories will have been created”

She explains also that Declan needs to be settled:

“Every day he mentions the word homeless”. Tracy explains of her 9 year old son. “That’s not an exaggeration. He asks ‘when we become homeless what will happen? I don’t want my friends to know’. Every day there is at least one sentence involving homeless. This is not fair and not right so I’m trying to do everything I can to rectify it.”

Tracy, Brendan and Declan’s story is not unique. There are tens of thousands of families and children facing homelessness or living in housing insecurity in Ireland.

What is important about their story is the way in which it highlights the fundamental need for us all to have a secure, permanent, home and the deep meaning that is attached to home – as a place where a family can carry out its daily routine without fear of disruption and as a place where love is put into practice each day – where the vulnerable can be cared for – where memories of loved ones are created.

And where they can be held on when people go. There is a concept in psychology called ‘ontological security’ which captures the importance of home- it is the idea of a secure base from which normal functioning can take place – without it people can suffer mental illness.

Housing therefore cannot be treated as just another commodity as policy currently does. It needs to be seen in its key role as providing a secure base – and the private rental sector in Ireland does not provide this and thus exposes people to real mental health stress.

The solutions to this crisis are clear: the government must declare the housing crisis a national emergency; the state must build social and affordable homes (for rental and ownership) on a mass scale and not leave it to the profit-seeking and failed private housing market; private tenants need to be given real security of tenure (remove the ease with which landlords can evict), and there should be a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution to guarantee all our citizens a secure affordable home.

It is obvious now that citizen action is needed to get this as the current political and state institutions have shown themselves to be unprepared to enact people-centred housing policies and instead are focused on suiting property industry and vulture investors.

But why is there not more public action and protest taking place around the housing crisis?

Tracy explains that those most affected by the crisis face huge challenges that make It difficult for them to raise their voice, “people are exhausted and depressed and all our energy is devoted to trying not to drown”.

She explains she would not have gone public if it wasn’t for Brendan’s needs and her fear of him, ‘literally dying’, if they had to go into emergency accommodation. Also, she believes that the equal marriage referendum mobilised people because:

it was ‘a happy subject – about a simple idea – an equal right to love’ but “people can’t wrap their minds around disability or homelessness because haven’t been touched by it but they have all been touched by love.”

This is a challenge to those campaigning on the housing crisis – how to connect with the large bulk of the population, increasing numbers of whom are affected by the crisis but do not see a common link with others affected, such as the homeless.

But if you think about it – most people have a home, however unaffordable or temporary – and perhaps this is the missing connection campaigners need to focus on – to get people to think about home, what it is, the importance of it, the impact of its loss, and why everyone should have the right to a secure and affordable home.

Part of the problem is that in terms of housing – too often people who are homeless or on welfare or low incomes are blamed for their problem –just looking for ‘hand-outs’ and ‘everything for free’ and are called ‘scroungers’.

The Taoiseach’s recent comments about ‘welfare cheats’ and standing up for ‘those who get up early in the morning’ doesn’t help this stigma and division.

Of course, part of the intention behind the ‘getting everything for free’ and ‘scrounger’ narrative is about trying to reduce the state’s and politicians responsibilty for supporting vulnerable people. But the vulnerable face homelessness – as Tracy’s case shows – not because of their own fault – but because the system excludes them and doesn’t value all human beings equally and their rights and dignity – because it puts investor’s profits and the ‘market’ first.

There is a lot you – as a citizen – can do to try end this crisis. Call your local TD, get involved in local housing action groups, a political party, get your trade union to raise the issue. This isn’t going to change until the public makes it a political issue and making the system feel the pressure of our abhorrence. It’s up to you, to all of us, to act to change it.

I will leave the last word with Declan who was a little shy when we met but emailed me later:

“I don’t want to be homeless. Brendan would be in danger if he goes into a hotel (emergency accommodation). And where would I go to school? And what about Brendan, how would he get care? I feel worried and scared about being homeless. I’m worried about us”.

How can your heart not be broken reading this? It enrages me to think that the Irish state, because of its failure to provide affordable housing, is doing this to tens of thousands of children every day – removing from them their secure base of a home.

Tracy has an excellent blog where she writes about her experience which you can read here:

She is also speaking at the Inner City Helping Homeless annual homeless awareness campaign ‘Light the Liffey’ Tuesday October 10 at 8pm opposite CHQ building.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Maynooth University, has written and researched extensively on housing, privatisation, and inequality and is a social justice advocate, he has written two reports recently on the housing crisis in Ireland; With Dr Mary Murphy: Investing in the Right to a Home; A Home or a Wealth Generator.

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the dail yesterday; Dr Rory Hearne

In the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a reply to Independent TD Joan Collins, addressed the findings of a report researched and written by Dr Rory Hearne and his colleague Mary Murphy from Maynooth.

Mr Varadkar attempted to undermine the legitimacy of the report by using dáil privilege to make personal comments about Dr Hearne.

Joan Collins TD,: “Does the Taoiseach agree that families and children should not – as the report and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommend – spend longer than three months in emergency accommodation, including family hubs, and that this should be legislated for and there should be a commitment to close all hubs by December 2019?

Does he agree there is a danger, as the study says, that the newly established family hubs could become a form of direct provision for poor families?… It has been said to the Taoiseach here today that these hubs can possibly become the direct provision centres of the future.

He has heard it and he has had to respond to it. He has to deal with this emergency and meet with this group, Rory Hearne and the housing committee to go through this report. It is really crucial that we deal with these issues now and not let this continue.”

Leo Varadkar:: “I have met Rory Hearne on occasion in the past. I recall he was student union president in Trinity when I was a student there and I think he may even have been an election candidate for one of the left-wing groups more recently than that.

I met him not too long ago at a running event in the Phoenix Park where he was less than pleasant, to put it that way. It certainly was not the kind of polite conversation I would expect from a university academic.”

The report, Investing in the Right to a Home: Housing, HAPs and Hubs, conducted as part of a Europe-wide examination of how to strengthen social investment, shows that the housing crisis has not yet peaked and is in fact likely to escalate over the next five years and that families can be severely damaged and traumatised from living in emergency accommodation, including from family hubs.

Rollingnews

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story contained a response from Dr Hearne, which we have removed at his request.

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Policy analyst Dr Rory Hearne

People’s basic needs, in terms of human rights, if we look at social needs, in terms of housing, health care, childcare, jobs decent-quality jobs – are not being met.

If we just take the housing crisis for example. We have almost 7,000 people homeless in this country, record numbers. There was almost 500 children homeless in 2014, we now have over 2,000 – that’s a four-fold increase in that space of time.

We have almost 100,000 families and individuals on the social housing waiting list… the facts are that there is 8,000 social housing units, that includes local authority and housing associations, that are in some stage of planning. There’s only 1,800 – that’s a quarter of that number – actually on site that is likely to be built in the next two years.

There was about 500 local authority, plus housing association, 500 social housing units built last year. At that rate we will be 200 years before we meet the housing waiting list. [Minister for Housing Simon] Coveney Rebuilding Ireland plan and the Government’s housing plan is not actually going to deliver the social housing and the housing that’s needed…

There are between 800 to 1000 families homeless in Dublin and, at the same time there are 20,000 vacant homes, vacant houses, according to the CSO. So that’s 20 empty houses per each homeless family. And it’s just illogical that we have this situation where housing/property is treated primarily as an investment, as an asset, rather than a home and a need.

And, you know, I think this underlies part of why we’re in this crisis. Because we have vultures buying up property, we have Real Estate Investment Trusts coming in. And we’ve the Government just sitting there – yet the Government could be building, you know, 10,000 affordable rental homes every year, if it took on models like the European cost rental model – which provides, using public land for a mix of incomes – Austria does it, Denmark does it. These countries provide much more levels of affordable housing than us.

But it seems like our politicians and our Government are just obsessed with this free market approach – where the State cannot intervene – and, you know, maybe it’s not coincidental that a significant proportion of them are landlords themselves.

But there’s this real, I’d describe like it’s an unwillingness to change things radically. And what is really disappointing … in the last election, there was a very clear message of people wanted investment in public services – they wanted a more equal Ireland – that was the message back.

It was a rejection of the idea of the recovery and yet, rather than taking that energy that’s there and we saw it, the same in Apollo House recently, where we had thousands of volunteers being involved and saying ‘we want to address this crisis’. And that’s what’s really disappointing.

The people still believe in the idea of a fair Ireland, they want to get involved in helping it. Yet, what are our politicians and our Government doing? It’s like they’ve given up on the idea of an equal republic. All they are focused on is their party and them getting one better on each other.

The disconnect between politics and between people’s lives, I think, has got to the point where it is just disgusting.

The mainstream politics and main media discussion about politics is all about personalities and about competition for the spoils of power rather than actually ‘are we dealing with the issues that affect people’?

But if you talk to the people on the street – what do they want politics to be about? They want it to be about ‘are you dealing with the housing crisis, are you dealing with those awful, awful stories of children who are waiting months and years for health care? That’s what they want politics to be dealing with.

Dr Rory Hearne speaking on Tonight with Vincent Browne last night.

Watch back in full here

Earlier: Considering The Source

Related: Fine Gael heads the landlord list as TDs cash in with property (Mark Tighe, Sunday Times)

13/12/2016. Government- New Rental Strategy - Rebuilding Ireland. Pictured Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney TD speaking to the media on the Government strategy entitled the new rental strategy under rebuilding Ireland in Government Buildings this afternoon. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
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From top: Housing Minister Simon Coveney at the Rebuilding Ireland launch last December; Dr Rory Hearne

The latest social housing and homeless figures are frightening and show a crisis that will worsen significantly in coming years

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The latest figures included in the government’s Social Housing Status Report and the January 2017 Homeless Figures are frightening, in terms of the worsening housing crisis and the inadequacy of the government’s response to address it.

Dublin City Council will be building just 560 new social housing units in the coming two to three years based on current plans.

At this rate it will take at least 30 years to house those on the Dublin City housing waiting lists. While only 604 social housing units started on-site in 2016 in Dublin City, just five in South Dublin and there were no local authority housing units started on site in Cork City last year.

While the homeless crisis continues to worsen. There were 7,167 homeless people in January including 4,760 adults and 2,407 children which is the highest number of homelessness on record. Dublin is worst with 3,247 adults and 2,046 children homeless.

According to Focus Ireland 87 families with 151 children became homeless in Dublin in January, which their Director Mike Allen, explained “means that shockingly a child became homeless every five hours in Dublin during the month of January.”

Minister Coveney’s Social Housing Status Report is deeply worrying from a number of perspectives.

Firstly the plan claims that, “a rich construction pipeline is in place, which will see over 8,430 new social houses being built over the coming years”.

Yet 652 houses of this new ‘pipeline’ are already completed, as they were built last year, and should not be included.

But most worrying is the fact that only a fifth (1,829) of this new pipeline are ‘on site’ already. That means that the majority of the new social houses in the plan will not be built until 2019 or 2020 on current building schedules.

What this shows is that there is no way the government will meet its targets for new social housing construction (it claimed it would construct 26,000 by 2021), and so we are likely to see around 1000 new builds in 2017, perhaps reaching 2,000 in 2018 and 2019.

That is no where near sufficient to address the level of housing need. We need at least 10,000 new build social housing units delivered per year.

Unfortunately Rebuilding Ireland and the Department of Housing do not provide aggregate numbers of housing units being delivered by the different organisations and areas.

In order to get a picture of what is happening in reality on the ground in terms of delivery in the key areas of social housing need I have gone through the social housing projects and timelines outlined in the Status Update delivery for the four Dublin Local Authorities and Cork City and created this table below.

table

From this we can see that most worryingly only 604 social housing units have started on-site in 2016 in Dublin City, just five in South Dublin and there were no local authority housing units started on site in Cork City last year.

In total just a third of the new social housing units outlined for these key areas started on site in 2016.

These figures also show that a significant proportion (37% across these areas, and 48% in Dublin City) of new social housing units are not being built by local authorities but by ‘Approved Housing Bodies’- housing associations, like Respond, Tuath, Cluid and so on.

At a national level just 75 local authority housing units were built in 2015 and there were only 161 new local authority houses built by September 2016. This shows the national 652 ‘new build’ figure itself is misleading as it is likely to be mostly AHBs.

The issue here is that it is local authorities are state authority responsible for meeting housing need and that have the capacity to upscale and deliver large numbers of social housing units.

Housing Associations can play an important role in delivery but their capacity is much more limited to provide new units on a large scale. They are not-for-profit (so far) but are private, not state, organisations.

What this table also shows is that in Dublin City, a third of the new build local authority housing units are ‘regeneration’ units. These should not be counted as additional new units as they are replacing existing social housing units in areas such as Dolphin House and O Devaney Gardens where residents are planning to return once building is complete.

Furthermore, we can see from this that while there is a social housing waiting list of almost 20,000 in the capital, Dublin City Council will be building just 560 new social housing units in the coming two to three years based on current plans. Including Voluntary Housing Bodies, this number increases to 1,255.

At that rate it will take at least 30 years to house those on the housing waiting list (that doesn’t include people who become newly homeless, in need of housing etc).

A major reappraisal of financing, delivery mechanisms and time-frame targets are required for social housing delivery if we are to address this crisis.

For example, local authorities should be allocated an additional €500 million to directly build, a new state housing authority should be set up to provide 10,000 mixed income affordable rental housing units per annum, and NAMA should be directed to provide the 20,000 housing units it is planning to build in the coming years for mixed income affordable rental housing.

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

Rollingnews

Earlier: A Record 7,167 People

File Photo 5 euro increase in social welfare payments from next march.3/3/2009. Dole Queue. People queue down Cumberland Street, Dun Laoghaire to collect their social welfare payments. Picture James Horan/RollingNews.ie

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From top: Social welfare queue in Cumberland Street, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin; Rory Hearne

Dr Rory Hearne tackles the statistics behind Ireland’s growing inequality and challenges the narrative that those on social welfare receive the majority of state benefits.

Dr Hearne writes:

In 2007, prior to the economic crash and austerity 11.8% of the Irish population (about 485,000 people) suffered from material deprivation. A decade later, and four years into a supposed economic ‘recovery’, 25.5%, over a quarter of our population (that is 1 million people) are suffering from material deprivation.

That is an additional half a million people affected by deprivation.

So how can any one seriously argue that austerity ‘worked’ in Ireland and that we are in a recovery?

In fact, for some of our most vulnerable and socially excluded groups things are even worse. Take lone parent families for example. In 2007, 35.6% of lone parent families suffered deprivation.

Today their deprivation rate is a shocking 57.9%. And while the general deprivation rate dropped from 29% in 2014 to 25.5%, the deprivation rate for lone parent families showed no significant change from 2014 (when it was 58.7%).

While our children – the future of our country – 31% of all children suffer deprivation, which is double the 2007 rate of 15.9%.

But what does suffering from material deprivation mean?

It means that an individual or household experiences two or more types of enforced deprivation from a list of eleven deprivation indicators such as being without heating at some stage in the last year, being unable to afford new (not second-hand) clothes, being unable to afford to keep the home adequately warm, being unable to afford to have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month, being unable to afford to buy presents for family or friends at least once a year or being unable to afford to have family or friends for a drink or a meal once a month.

The CSO provides a further break down of what proportion of people are affected by each of the deprivation indicators.

These show that there was in fact an increase in the proportion of people who have been unable to keep their home adequately warm in the last year, rising from 8.8% in 2014 to 9% of the population in 2015.

While 13.6% (almost 650,000 people) went without heating at some point in the last year (this is over double the rate in 2007). The most common types of deprivation experienced were an inability to replace worn out furniture (24.4%), afford a morning/afternoon/evening out (18.6%) and have family/friends over for a meal/drink (16.8%).

There are 257,000 people in Ireland (5.4% of the population) who are unable to afford to buy presents for family or friends at least once a year.

The recent Generation F’D documentary on RTÉ2 showed a father suffering the pain of looking to Christmas and being unable to buy his children presents. But among those at risk of poverty (16.9% of the population – they have an annual income below €11, 863, or 60% of the national median income), 14% were unable to buy presents for friends or family.

The inequality at the heart of the recovery is also shown by the fact that for this section of the population (approximately 800,000 people) who are ‘at risk of poverty’, there was an increase in the last year in eight of the eleven types of deprivation. But for those not at risk of poverty, there was a decline in all eleven types of deprivation.

If we look at deprivation by income decile we can also see the same pattern of inequality. 42% of the bottom income decile (they have an income less than €195 per week) suffer three or more forms of deprivation.

This is almost 13 times the rate of the top income decile (where just 3.3% suffer three or more forms of deprivation). The weekly income of the top decile is greater than €764 per week.

The figures also show the deeply unequal nature of our society and economy. They show that the top 20% get 40% of net income while the bottom fifth of our population get just 8% of all income.

Of course this doesn’t include wealth which is even more unequal. The top 20% have 73% of all wealth in Ireland in contrast to the bottom half of the population with just 5% of all wealth.

But a very interesting table, Table A 2, shows the average weekly equivalised income by decile and the composition of that income.

From this we can see that the bottom decile has a net disposable income of just €146 per week while the top decile has a net disposable income of €1,066 or 7.3 times the bottom decile.

But what’s really fascinating is that the table shows ‘social transfers’ from the state (unemployment benefits, pension, housing allowances received) received per decile and the results of this are not what you would expect.

It shows that the top decile received, on average, €164 per week in social transfers from the state. That is more than the bottom decile which received €119.99 per week in social transfers. So it shows that the state gives more to the wealthiest and highest income households than the bottom!

This challenges the narrative that it is those on social welfare receive the majority of state benefits and highlights that there is a significant welfare going to the wealthiest households as well.

In fact, the top decile pays, on average, €408 per week in tax, yet receives in social transfers (this is excluding tax reliefs etc), almost 40% of this total tax back in social transfers. So 40% of the tax being paid by the top income earners is being returned to them through social transfers.

This is very significant and challenges the argument that the top are being over taxed.

Barnardos, the children’s charity were absolutely correct in their response to the recent CSO figures to state that the “Continued lack of improvement in child poverty rates is a national scandal that requires urgent intervention.”

As they explain:

“Childhood is short, yet the experiences we have shape the adults we become and the lives we lead. Children living in poverty live life on the margins, excluded from opportunities and often unable to break the cycle of poverty. Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life and has short and long term consequences on their development, health, education outcomes and life chances. Worryingly, children in lone parent households continue to experience poverty and deprivation at a far greater rate than children in two parent households”.

While, SPARK, the lone parent campaign group, has called on the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone to establish an immediate task force to tackle poverty in lone parent families. They have set up a petition in response to the CSO data arguing:

“The recent CSO data shows consistent poverty in the state is 8.7%. For 2 parent families with 3 or less children this drops to 7.7% but for children in lone parent families it is 26.2%. It is fundamentally wrong that a child is almost 3 1/2 times more likely to live in poverty based purely on their family status. We know childhood poverty has long reaching effects and we owe it to all children to ensure they have a fair chance”.

Take a minute to sign their petition here

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

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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

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