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.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story contained a response from Dr Hearne, which we have removed at his request.
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 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.
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.
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
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”.
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
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.
“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
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.
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
From top: Fine Gael TD Damien English, Rosie Leonard, of the Irish Housing Network, and Dr Rory Hearne, of TASC; a Dublin Region Homeless Executive graph showing the number of adults who have accessed homeless accommodation in Dublin since January 2014
On TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne, presented by Michael Clifford.
Fine Gael TD and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damien English, Rosie Leonard, of the Irish Housing Network, and Dr Rory Hearne, of TASC discussed the occupation of Apollo House by the group Home Sweet Home and the current homeless situation in Ireland.
They also discussed vulture funds with Ms Leonard recalling Focus Ireland’s ‘Vulture Shock’ campaign from earlier this year when it proposed legislation to protect homeowners and tenants from being evicted, via vulture funds.
At the time, Focus Ireland estimated that 47,000 homes in Ireland were owned by vulture funds.
Readers will recall how, in it’s most recent annual report published just before Christmas, the Simon Community said it had worked with 8,297 people – including 897 families – in 2015.
In addition to that, nearly 7,000 are currently using emergency accommodation.
Further to this…
From last night’s discussion…
Michael Clifford: “Damien, what do you think of Apollo House and Home Sweet Home?”
Damien English: “Well, look, as you said, there’s great energy there and it’s provided people with accommodation over the Christmas. You know, it is true to say that there is other, there is emergency accommodation there. We generally believe we have, there is enough of a supply there, we’ve increased it by 200. But this, it’s a worthy cause… again, it’s temporary and we are, as a government, as priority number one, to put in place long-term solutions. We can’t fix everything, every item, overnight but we’ve an action plan, you’ve read it yourself and we can talk through that but, you know, what Home Sweet Home are doing is certainly, you know, raised the profile a bit, there’s no doubt about that but for us, in Government, and for anybody involved in politics for the last year or two, it’s been a high priority, priority number one.”
English: “…there is enough accommodation there and what’s happening at Apollo House it’s, again, it’s temporary…
Rosie Leonard: “Then why are people sleeping in doorways?”
English: “Well…I mean, there is enough accommodation. Not everyone wants to choose to use it, for different reasons. I accept all that. But I can say to you, there is enough accommodation there and already we’ve engaged, through the Peter McVerry Trust, with all the members in Apollo House, who are there. That 68 people have been taking up residence there, 42 have left…just to be clear Michael…42 have transitioned out of there now into accommodation.”
Clifford: “OK. Do you have any problem with people, like Home Sweet Home, highlighting this issue…occupying buildings as they…”
English: “I can’t condone the occupying buildings that are illegal, right? I’ve no problem with raising the profile of the issue and on the thousands of people who want to help, absolutely, that’s great. There’s a lot of NGOs, who are doing great work, working with government over the last number of years on this as well. I’m sure they’ll avail of the energy. I can’t say. To me, it’s unnecessary to occupy homes. I believe we’re providing enough emergency accommodation. But apart from that, people are also transitioning out of emergency accommodation. And just to be clear, Michael, people need to know, because Rosie’s right, there’s some hope here – 3,000 people left homelessness this year and went into permanent accommodation but the problem was 3,000 more came…”
Clifford: “Homelessness is higher this year than it has been ever…”
English: “But I’m saying to you, the problem is, many more come onto it. But we have said, and we’re committed to it that, by June next year, there’ll be nobody living in emergency accommodation…we will fix this.”
English: “The trends that we can see are beginning to go the right way…”
Leonard: “They’re not.”
English: “Just…I want to make the point…”
Leonard: “There’s an average of 60 families that are going to continue becoming homeless every month this year…”
English: “From my point of view, from the department, from [Minister for Housing] Simon Coveney, myself and the department, we believe and we are confident, that we will have tackled that end of it by June.”
Rory Hearne: “Nama has been used as a way to show the international markets that Ireland is recovering and the way in which the Government has approached that is, trying to sell off, Nama is selling as much assets as possible, showing we’re paying down the debt. Nama itself being wound up early, returning, making a return to the taxpayer. But the fact, the problem with that approach has been that, in fact, that has worsened the crisis. Because Nama, by Nama selling off the assets so quickly, and in particular I would focus on the Irish ones, the international are different, it has meant that, for example, Nama itself has said that it has sold land that could build 20,000 houses but only 5% of those houses have been built because it has sold them to vulture funds, to investors who are hoarding the land. Also…”
Clifford: “On that, a lot of developers claim that one of the big problems they have is that it’s not worth their while building because of the cost at the moment and that that is much of the reason for the fact that only 5% of those lands have been developed.”
Hearne: “And that is exactly the point that why Nama should have sold that land and the point is it can still…Nama still has the land, it said itself, it can build 20,000 houses in the coming five years which would make a dramatic impact in the crisis but the problem is that those 20,000 houses, only 10% will be social, if even. And the rest will be sold to vulture fund investors because Nama’s mandate – that it’s operating under, under direction from the Minister for Finance – is to maximise the financial return to the taxpayer. The problem with that is it’s just selling assets that could be used for affordable housing and the issue is that Nama now has €3billion in cash reserves; it has paid down the majority of its debt. Those houses could be built as affordable houses if it sold them to local authorities, to housing associations and I think what has happened is the Government have looked on the housing system and the housing market and seen recovery in property prices as part of feeding into the narrative of economic recovery, rather than actually looking at how are we providing affordable housing and I think Nama is one key way that things could be done differently and can still be done differently.”
“The other issue is that they’ve promoted the introduction, the influx of real estate investment trusts. The Government introduced a tax break in 2013 which allowed real estate investment trusts write off a certain amount of their profits for rent because the Government has been about bringing in these investors to buy up the property, to give the impression that Ireland’s property bubble, crash has been dealt with…”
Hearne: “Kennedy Wilson [US investment fund] it’s been shown by the Freedom of Information Act, wrote to the government in 2014 and 2015, when there were talks of introducing rent controls…they were against the introduction of rent controls and the 4% increase in rent that’s been put in the rental strategy, there’s no evidence behind that. Why 4%? Why was it not inflation [Consumer Price Index]? And 4% is a yield to attract in private investors…at the heart of the problem is that the Government has not gone about approaching the housing issue with providing housing as a human right and a home. If you look at the action plan, the right to a home is not mentioned once in that plan.”
Leonard: “There’s no…another thing to add to that, there’s no preventative measures to stop the homeless figures from increasing. For example, there was an amendment proposed by Focus Ireland, into the new rental strategy bill. Focus Ireland have said that a third of all families being made homeless and presenting to them are because they’re in buy-to-let houses, the owners are selling up and they’re being forced out, evicted, because of terms of sale. And there was an amendment put in by Focus Ireland – to stop the terms of sale being used as the cause for an eviction in a buy-to-let house and that was voted down by Fine Gael. That would have immediately stopped a third of families who are becoming homeless and the 60, a month, on average, who are becoming homeless next year and that’s not even including people who are sofa surfing, who are hidden homeless, who are living in overcrowded situations and you declined that. So you’ve actually, you’ve actually said no to preventative measures that would have eased off the number of…”
Clifford [to English]: “Deal in general with the idea that Nama is not being used predominantly for the social good, as it could be, and it would tackle this issue, rather than as a vehicle to generate money to show the international community that the economy is doing well. Just deal with that issue.”
English: “I’ve heard that commentary and I’ve read a lot of what Rory has written on this aswell and it actually isn’t true…”
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
From top: People arrive to donate items at Apollo House on Tuesday night; gardaí also arrive at the building on Tuesday evening; and Dr Rory Hearne
Lawyers for the receivers of Apollo House, Mazars, will bring their case to the High Court at 10.30am. It follows Mazars serving injunction papers on the occupants yesterday [Tuesday] to leave the building.
Further to this…
Dr Rory Hearne, at Apollo House, writes:
The most inspiring and radical direct action taken, so far, to end the worsening homelessness crisis in Ireland – which is now a humanitarian crisis – has been the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin and its conversion into homeless accommodation. But, the occupation urgently needs your help.
Yesterday [Tuesday] I went inside Apollo and saw first-hand the incredible achievement of this citizens’ ‘civil disobedience’ that is now providing a volunteer self-organised home for 35 homeless people. Those homeless people would otherwise be sleeping on the wet and cold streets of Dublin.
However, just days before Christmas they, and the Home Sweet Home campaign, face eviction from their new temporary homes in occupied Apollo House.
Lawyers for the receivers of Apollo House served injunction papers yesterday [Tuesday] evening to the occupants to vacate the property and the case is to be heard in the High Court this morning [Wednesday morning]. The public is being asked by the Home Sweet Home campaign to support their protest at the court this morning.
The amazing transformation of Apollo House, in just a matter of days, from being an empty disused building to homeless accommodation (and a ground-breaking movement to end homelessness in Ireland) is an example of what ordinary people can achieve when they get together and work in community towards the common goal of social justice and solidarity.
I was in Apollo House on the first morning of the occupation last week, and while the building was functional it was quite bare – being made up of mainly empty offices. The housing campaigners who lead the occupation were determined but very apprehensive about how it all might go.
In just a few days the place has been transformed – with a kitchen set up, rooms for the homeless residents, a number of organising offices and a relaxing area for the residents – with TV, tables and eating area.
But the most inspiring and heartening aspect in Apollo house is the creation of a community of volunteers (of which there have been hundreds helping and thousands offering their help) who are giving up their time to make this homeless accommodation and citizens’ ‘act of defiance’ a success. The volunteers include electricians and maintenance workers from the trade unions, to doctors, nurses, social care workers, security workers, media experts (and media is a vital focus with Rosie Leonard of the Irish Housing Network playing a vital role here) and other volunteers providing cooking, cleaning, administration and other essential support.
There are also bags and bags, and boxes and boxes of food and other donations given in by the public – an entire floor of the building has been taken up by it. Also last night a packed public meeting was held in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin 1, with hundreds in attendance offering their support.
And it is this massive wave of public support that gives this occupation a real power that a court injunction or eviction attempt by gardaí will find hard to stop.
This is because the campaign has won the hearts and minds of the Irish people. There is majority public support for the occupation as RTÉ’s Clare Byrne opinion poll showed that 75 per cent of the public support the occupation of NAMA-controlled office blocks to house the homeless.
And the reason why it has received such public support is because the objective of the Home Sweet Home occupation is urgent, practical, and yet also profound. It is urgent, as Aisling Hedderman, one of the coordinators of the occupation and an activist with the Irish Housing Network explained, because it is “about saving lives”.
And it is a practical solution to the crisis. Aisling said: “It is a practical way in which ordinary people can show their solidarity with the homeless”.
It is also profound, unique and powerful because it is an unlikely and innovative alliance of high profile musicians, housing activists and trade unionists. The support and involvement from the outset by much-loved Irish musicians and high profile ‘celebrities’ including Glen Hansard, Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, Hozier, and Jim Sheridan has given it a positive media profile and wide public appeal.
But, most importantly, as Aisling explains, at its heart are the hundreds of people supporting through volunteering and donating who are from a cross-section alliance of Irish society – with volunteers from working class and professional backgrounds working together – and business people donating and trade union workers helping to fix up the building.
I saw in Apollo a very impressive level of structure and organisation. It is a huge task of co-ordination to make emergency accommodation run on a voluntary basis to work. That they have done it in just a few stays is testament to the capacity and ability of ordinary people to achieve real change.
Volunteers are divided up into different teams such as outreach, support, and media – with everyone being given a role and a responsibility – and the homeless residents being empowered to be involved as well.
I sat in on one meeting where a team planned the practical support service for the homeless residents. These were people from different backgrounds – including professionals who have worked with people sleeping rough and it also people who were formerly homeless or suffered addictions themselves and wanted to offer support for those now affected.
In that meeting alone, there were 20 or so people there – all giving up their own time – to try make things betters for others.
This is what makes it different from the ‘usual’ left activist campaign. It is very different from marching in the streets. Here, in Apollo, people can see the change happening in front of their eyes that they are achieving.
It is similar to the broad societal coalition that made the water movement such a success (and involves some its key co-ordinators such as Brendan Ogle and the Unite Trade Union, David Gibney from Mandate along with artist, producer and activist Dean Scurry) but this campaign extends even further into the hearts of middle Ireland, people who want an Ireland of social justice and where the vulnerable are cared for – not left to die on our streets.
Niamh McDonald, one of the coordinators and activists with Irish Housing Network, accurately explained the purpose of the occupation.
She said: “It exposes the government’s inadequate response to the homelessness crisis and the way in which through NAMA they are putting profits and economic gain before the needs of our most vulnerable citizens”.
She also explained that it has received such public support because of the “frustration of the Irish people. The Irish people are frustrated with the lack of practical/workable solutions for people who are suffering the most. The people see the government prevaricating and promising policies but failing to deliver.”
Apollo House with its single rooms and its provision of a ‘home-like’ building for the homeless highlights the inadequacy of some of the existing multi-bed emergency accommodation in the city where there are issues of drugs, the lack of safety and lack of accommodation for couples.
As one activist explained to me – “the multi-bed (dormed) emergency accommodation treats homeless people worse than dogs. There is no dignity or decency in that. Here they are treated with dignity and respect – given their power to make choices – not treated like cattle put into a stall in a shed in Dublin city centre”.
The Apollo building is not due to be demolished for at least six months. It has been converted into an effective homeless accommodation. So there is no justification for evicting the tenants. It has been made safe – and is safer for the homeless than being on the streets. So why can’t the building be left to provide this much-needed accommodation? And where will these homeless people go if they are evicted? Back on the streets?
The reality is that the Government and Minister for Finance can direct NAMA to intervene and get the receivers to stop the injunction process. This is what should happen. The public need to see this and put the focus back onto the Government to change what NAMA is doing with its properties.
Rather than using them to build offices and penthouses for the wealthy, they should be used for affordable housing. This can be done if the government directs NAMA to do it. These are our public buildings, and there are many hundreds of them vacant across the city.
Even worse there are almost 200,000 vacant homes across the country. And the Government could, if it wanted, solve the housing crisis.
As Home Sweet Home stated tonight: “Dublin has 32,000 millionaires and the second highest rents in europe, seems like we must be doing pretty well. So, how then do we nationally have over 7,000 people and children in immediate need of housing with many more on waiting lists, we have people sleeping and dying on our streets, we have over 190,000 empty homes and we have tax breaks for the rich and crumbs for the rest.”
We know that the homeless on our streets are only the top of the iceberg of the housing crisis – with thousands of families, children and individuals sleeping in emergency accommodation, cars, tents, on couches, floors, and overcrowded houses and apartments, not to mention the tsunami of people who will become homeless as the tens of thousands in mortgage arrears are repossessed, and as people are evicted by landlords charging unaffordable rents.
So, it’s not just more emergency accommodation that is needed – but an immediate country-wide government programme of building tens of thousands of affordable, community and social housing.
It is clear to me that if there is an attempt to evict the occupants of Apollo house there will be a massive public backlash and uproar.
Apollo, and the public response to it, is evidence of a re-awakened spirit of the Irish people – after being beaten by bailouts, austerity and inequality – are now standing up for social justice. It has spread from the Right to Water to now – the movement for the right to housing and a home. People are leading where the Government has failed.
Rather than the closure of Apollo House – we should see its extension. We need more Apollo Houses – to show up the idiocy, injustice and immorality of a society where state owned buildings are being left empty and sold to vulture funds while citizens die on the streets because they do not have a home.
In the face of growing cynicism, of disgust with politics, of the rise in other countries of movements of hate, in an era of greed and individualism – the Apollo house occupation is a ray of light – of a community of hope and collective action emerging in our battered Republic.
Finally, support their call today to go to the High Court. They say: “Apollo House has through hard work created a massive community of people who stand against this crisis. Please support us outside the High Court from 10am”.
You can donate or volunteer through their Facebook page here
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne