From top: Emergency Beds for homeless people set up in St Catherine’s Community Sports Centre, Dublin 8 by the Peter McVerry Trust yesterday; Dr Rory Hearne
Homelessness continues to rise and tens of thousands more face potential homelessness from vulture fund take-over of mortgages in arrears.
Despite all the policy documents and plans – the housing and homelessness crisis continues to worsen. And this is five years into an economic ‘recovery’ and the fastest growth rates in Europe.
Despite all the claims of ‘complexity’ the reason we are in this crisis is relatively straightforward, as are the solutions.
The cause lies in the fact that successive governments for almost thirty years have withdrawn from the state directly building and supporting the provision of social and affordable housing.
The years of austerity (2008-2015) saw that policy brought to its ultimate conclusion – the effective cessation of building of social and affordable housing.
The other cause is the prioritisation of the interests of Irish banks, financial institutions and property investors (landlords, developers, vulture funds, Real Estate Investment Funds etc) over the housing needs of people.
Finally, the problem is housing policy is driven by financial and economic goals rather than fulfilling the housing needs and right to housing of our population.
The result – we now rely principally on the private market to supply housing in Ireland.
The problem – the private housing market is made up of multiple competing interests and is inherently dysfunctional, uncoordinated, inefficient and fails to provide ‘affordable’ housing – as its goal is to maximise profits and, therefore, prices and rents.
The result – unacceptable levels of homelessness. Which continue to rise year after year. The latest homelessness figures show another indictment of the continued failure of government policy to deal with crisis.
In the two years since Jan 2016 there are additional 1,437 children homeless – a 78% increase in that two years. That means over two children were made newly homeless every day in this two years.
The figures also show the expanding geographical reach of the homelessness crisis as homelessness increased in 22 out of 26 counties including Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow, Laois, Westmeath, Limerick, Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal (where it increased by 37%), Waterford (15%), Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.
In the two years since January 2016 there an additional 633 families became homeless and entered emergency accommodation – a 71% increase in just two years.
The majority of people are disgusted and ashamed of this – that our fellow human beings are treated with such indignity – and that this wealthy state is so unequal that it does not ensure all its people have access to the basic need and right of an affordable, secure, home.
And that is why the government and it’s cheerleaders in various policy and academic circles are trying to ‘normalise’ homelessness and to try blame those in mortgage arrears as trying to ‘get a house for free’. They want us all to blame the victims of the housing crisis, austerity and economic crash.
It is all to try divide society – between those who ‘get up early’ and work hard to pay their mortgage and those who are ‘sponging’ to get a ‘free’ house.
This is an unethical and wrong approach.
There are very very few who get a house ‘for free’ in this country – everyone in social housing pays a rent, everyone in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment pays a rent, those in mortgage arrears have a debt and paid at some point and will pay again when their income and housing situation becomes sustainable.
The lie and the myth at the heart of this argument is that somehow the middle class home-owners will lose out if the government builds more social and affordable housing and delivers on the right to housing for people like increasing tenant protections.
The fact is that our housing system is more expensive than countries which have more social and affordable housing.
Our housing crisis now affects families who are working and can’t afford to buy a home, it affects students unable to find affordable housing, it affects companies unable to source workers, or people who can’t move and get a job in the cities.
Rising rents and house prices is ‘lost’ money’ from the real economy – the main beneficiaries are a minority wealthy landlord and financial elite.
The reality needs to dawn on the generation seeking to buy housing – for most of them the only possibility of accessing affordable housing will be if the government builds it.
And that’s why your concern with rising homelessness should rightly be one of an ethical and moral disgust with the treatment of your fellow human beings.
And the solutions are common – for the government to engage the entire machinery of the state to undertake a massive social and affordable house building programme.
There is no doubt that the biggest fear of the government and wider state and property establishment is the emergence of a citizen’s movement on housing similar to the water movement.
Access to affordable and secure housing, and particularly an opposition to evictions, is strongly embedded in our national psyche. Nothing stirs our passions more than home – unfortunately that has been turned into an obsession with rising property prices and housing speculation.
But as more and more people are excluded from our broken housing system this could be changing. There is increasing demand for a change in direction – for housing to be provided as a home primarily rather than a speculative asset for investors.
Just look at the increasing citizen and political action being taken to try respond to the housing crisis. From protests (see Uplift’s on-line petition here) against the sell-off of loans to Vulture Funds and proposals for legislation to set up a Housing Co-op to buy the loans.
To the Dublin Tenants Form on tenant security taking place on March 13 (see here:), to the national protest march for Housing is a Human Right on April 7 (see here) organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, to the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Charter for Housing Rights.
Such a growing wave of citizen action has the potential to change the direction of this sinking ship.
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne