The Fight For A Right To Housing


Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy (left) and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe discuss house building initiatives yesterday; Donal O’Shea

In the weeks since the Irish people decided, by an overwhelming majority, to entrust women with control over their own bodies, there has been a tangible sense of optimism about the future for which our country is now heading.

The referendum illustrated that the Irish electorate, despite what we have been told about ourselves, possesses both the compassion and the intellectual wherewithal to engage with issues of great complexity, and come to conclusions not based on fear and manipulation.

It is important that we capitalise on the momentum created by the repeal movement, and continue to work towards change in how our society operates.

What do the repeal, marriage equality, and water charges movements have in common? Each had its roots in citizen-led, grassroots organization; often, years before they became issues of national import.

These campaigns showed that when the Irish people come together in solidarity we can break ties with our regressive past. They should be used as points of reference in the next social and political struggle facing the Irish population; the fight for a right to housing.

It seems clear that if there is to be any change in how we as a people interact with housing, it will need to come from outside the realm of party politics.

A second housing crisis, just 10 years after the first, has seemingly done nothing to dispel the view among our political class of housing as a commodity first and foremost. The needs of the Irish people remain a distant second to the needs of foreign vulture funds, and will continue to do so it seems.

If you were to look briefly at the current government’s oddly passive handling of the housing crisis thus far, you could be forgiven for interpreting their various missteps as just that; missteps.

But after further examination, it becomes apparent that their housing policy fits in with their overall ideological self-image; shepherds for the market, with little or no duty of care to their own electorate.

Their reluctance in regulating a private rental market out of control, for fear that they may disrupt the phantom supply that it has been providing, has seen rents approaching an average of €2000 in Dublin. Indeed, their pursuit of Rent Supplement as a primary solution has only served to create an artificial floor in many areas.

When contrasted with their bullish responses to the EU’s GDPR and the European Commission’s Apple tax ruling, it becomes evident that Irish legislature are only averse to imaginative, decisive policy solutions when the outcomes favour citizens over capital.

One of the most heartening developments of the entire repeal campaign was the success of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Assembly, a collection of citizens drawn from a range of locations, ages, genders, and social backgrounds, came together and heard expert witnesses, held Q&A sessions, and participated in roundtable discussions and debates.

This participatory forum, along with the campaign that followed, showed the way forward for Irish democracy. Citizens were allowed to influence and engage with their own futures in a way that wasn’t limited to a vote every few years.

Although there is no imminent prospect of a similar forum on the issue of housing, there does seem to be an increasing appetite among the public for a change from the traditional paradigm.

People want to live in a society, not a marketplace. Suggestions such as cost rental models and local cooperative housing, with a focus on local investment to suit local needs, are beginning to gain traction in the public consciousness.

The Irish political establishment are still a long way from legislating for the type of change required to make a meaningful impact on our broken housing system, but a groundswell of public protest and support would go a long way in encouraging them.

One needs only to revisit Leo Varadkar’s previous statements regarding marriage equality and the 8th amendment, not to mention Micheál Martin‘s shaky history with water charges, to see that our politicians have a propensity for evolutions in thinking depending on which way the electoral winds are blowing.

 Donal O’Shea is an Irish freelance writer, currently living in Chicago.


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31 thoughts on “The Fight For A Right To Housing

  1. Bern

    There are a lot of people (me included) who believe house prises, rent prices and homelessness could form a defining crisis of a generation.
    However, there are many others who not only see it as a crisis, but stand to benefit massively (either in real or perceived terms). That could be a spanner in the works.

    From my point of view, Eoghan Murphy should be sacked and increasing supply should be prioritised.

  2. Cian

    Another article on housing that has no practical solution to the problem.

    Yes, the Dublin market is broken. Demand outstrips supply. This isn’t news. But what is your solution?

    Abortion, marriage equality, and water charges are all changes that are effectively political. They needed to enact legislation to allow abortion, SSM. Or in the case of Irish Water, to re-jig finances to pay for water out of general taxation.

    The housing crisis isn’t a simple problem. And can’t be fixed by legislation.

    1. ollie

      Cian, legislation to reduce mortgage intetest to euro norms, tax telief for tenants, reduction in house vat, purchase of hap property, for a start

      1. Cian

        I’m not sure if the banks can forced to reduce mortgage interest – this is tied to (amongst other things) how difficult it is here to evict non-paying owners. It would also make the banks less profitable (and we own 85% or AIB)
        All of the other three will cost the taxpayer money. So if you introduce these then that money needs to be captured elsewhere – VAT increases? or a higher PAYE?
        If house VAT were reduced I’d say that the builders would just up their profits.

        Buying hap property is good – but there is a big up-front cost – that will only pay back over the long term.

          1. Cian

            if AIB’s share price drops, then the State loses money.
            We borrowed billions to prop-up AIB; in return we got ownership. As AIB is back on its feet we can see it off and recoup the billions.
            If AIB ends up worth less than the billions pumped it, we lose money.

            ‘we’ being the State. ‘we’ being taxpayers.

          2. Johnny

            Your logic is flawed,either the banks have made prudent adequate reserves on their NPL’s or they haven’t.
            We are constantly assured they have,as such legacy reckless lending is no excuse for ripoing off and gouging borrowers,via charging significantly more spread.

      2. Rob_G

        ‘Legislation to reduce mortgage interest to euro norms’ – this is the most short-sighted idea I have heard proposed in a long time. If you make credit cheaper, the only immediate effect it would have is to increase demand and push prices up even further. The problem is a lack of supply (of housing), not a shortage of demand.

  3. John f

    “continue to work towards change in how our society operates.”
    When that comes to property rights and housing rights that is a dangerous sentiment. The author of this piece is simply wrong to try and conflate public support for gay marriage/abortion with legislation making housing a right.
    If housing regulations were changed in the morning in such a way that would make it near impossible for a landlord to legally evict a tenant would that person have the proper incentive to pay rent? Also if that uncertainty came about why would the landlord buy, furnish, renovate, maintain a property in the first place?
    Many landlords are taking a big risk.
    By all means, the government needs to build more social housing, that does not mean debasing the supply that’s already there. Also imagine how the people who have made cutbacks to service their mortgages in the last difficult decade would feel knowing that they should not have done any of that, that the pay for nothing crowd was right?
    When you remove the incentive to do well from people it can have unintended consequences.

  4. Cathal

    More houses are needed but the current government agenda to increase house prices and rents to 2007 levels irrespective of the results. The way rents are going there will be very little money left after weekly expenses for any discretionary spending which will mean less jobs and other taxes. It looks like the government are trying to create a recession.

  5. Kolmo

    Overly deferential to fortunately placed vested interests, no political balls to take them on for the common good. The FG no-society dream has reached it’s predictable zenith, deliberate chronic mismanagement of state service to make people willingly run screaming to the profit-driven private providers with predictable wholesale gouging to shortly follow (see childcare, Healthcare, Eldercare etc…)

    1. Cathal

      Their plan means disenfranchising a large portion of the population. A huge underclass condemned to poverty with no access to healthcare or education.

      1. Cian

        I too yearn for the good old days when FF were in charge of our utopia. When HSE Health Boards were running a perfect zero-wait; zero-trolley, zero-scandal hospital service. When the RC were running all our schools.

        1. Kolmo

          Thank you for highlighting the cross-generational cretinous lack of imagination we seem to have

        2. Cathal

          ??? How does criticism of excessive rents translate into an endorsement of FF or the Catholic church? Is this the new FG logic? Anyone who criticises must be a rabid FF biblethumper?

          1. Cian

            Kolmo was suggesting that FG were responsible for the current mess: “The FG no-society dream has reached it’s predictable zenith”;
            You motioned an “underclass condemned to poverty with no access to healthcare or education”, I was suggesting that the start of this mess pre-dates FG and is a general malaise.

            But you are right – it is not one political party that has caused this – it is the logical endpoint of individuals consistently voting for parties that promise self-gratification instead of supporting the greater good.

  6. Diddy

    It’s only a crisis if you don’t own a house. That’s the problem …. many FG voters are very happy

    1. Otis Blue

      Not so many hard hat, sleeves rolled up photo opportunities with a smiling Varadkar any more.

      The guy’s toast

  7. kellma

    Air BNB has been a scourge. I know of three people in my immediate circle who have been forced out of their apartments for them to be let out through Air BnB. One left his 1300 per month 1 bed in the IFSC last year and saw it up on air BNB within weeks….

    1. Brian

      kellma, you’re 100% correct. I bought a flat recently where the rent was really cheap (for the area) before it was put on the market. Therefore investors weren’t looking at it due to the cap in rent increases. However, when it came to bidding, I was up against an investor who wanted to use the property for AirBNB. There really needs to be a clamp down on full properties being used solely for AirBNB.

      1. Cian

        I’d agree with this proposal. Licence people looking to AirBNB[1] .
        But then people (I’m looking at you dav) will just say FG are looking out for the hotel-owing mates.

        [1] Possible exception if it is less than 14 days a year – so people can let their gaff if they go away.)

  8. Zaccone

    Its a pretty easy/obvious solution: massive state construction of properties. Both social and to-let. Theres clearly a huge demand that the private sector isn’t fulfilling. If the poverty stricken Irish state in the 1950s and 1960s could manage to construct huge numbers of social housing it can surely do so now.

    The problem is FG under Varadkar have pretty hardcore laissez-faire “hands off” views. Large scale state intervention is horrifying to them, so instead they’ve been trying various ridiculous small measures to push the private sector along instead – tax rebates, HAP etc. Which just aren’t doing the job.

    It pains me to say it but an FF government would probably do a lot better in this area.

    1. Cian

      easy/obvious you say “massive state construction of properties” like in the 50s and 60s;

      But was this building a success? They moved the city-centre slums into the flats in Ballymun, Darndale, Tallaght, and many other areas that people didn’t want to live in. The city centre was a hollowed out wasteland – until Haughey kicked off the tax-free-zones of Temple Bar. Any how were all these houses built? FF got their buddies to build them – there was no oversight, no value-for-money;
      People got improved shelter (no more slums) – success;
      Cost/oversight/value for money – failure
      living in the new concrete jungles – failure.

      So while yes “we need to build more houses” is the simple answer – it is *not* simple to implement. And it could cause as many problems down the line as it solves today.

      1. Zaccone

        It was a huge success according to most major historians. Have you any idea of the difference in quality of life between an inner city tenement and Tallaght? It brought living standards into the 20th century for huge numbers of Irish people.

        Arguing that there was corruption involved in the building of houses in the 1950s is not an argument against building houses now. A large scale housing program is very simple to implement, and its not going to cause ” as many problems down the line as it solves today” – thats actually one of the most ridiculous arguments against it I’ve yet heard. What exact problems do you think building more housing will cause?

        There are homeless people in Ireland today, and more becoming homeless every week. There are people paying 50% of their income on rent. There are businesses reluctant to relocate here because of the difficulties of staff getting suitable accommodation. There are people commuting 2 hours each way because Dublin is too expensive to rent in. And more. There are huge society level problems with housing in Ireland that are already severe, and are getting worse every month as prices inrcease. FG’s party policy in government on housing since 2011 is clearly unfit for purpose. A big change is needed, sooner rather than later.

        1. Cian

          I think there are other ways to increase supply:

          There are a lot of empty-nesters – whose children have grown up and left home – that are living in big 3/4 bed houses. The gov could incentivise[1] these people to trade-down and allow families to use the bigger houses. People are living longer – and under utilising their homes.

          While living in Tallaght (in the day) was nicer than living in an inner city tenement – there were little or no local services. There were no new shops. No new pubs. No additional public transport from the sleepy hamlet it was in the 50s pretty much until the Square went up in the 90s.
          Similarly – the towers in Ballymun were sought after initially – but then they were worse than the original tenements. They were torn down in the last few years.

          Remember – in the 50s and 60s when these estates were built – they were *way* outside the suburbs of Dublin – total green-fields-as-far-as-the-eye-could-see. To replicate it today would mean out past Swords, Dunboyne (Meath), Celbridge (Kildare) and either in the Dublin Mountains, or past Bray (Wicklow). Good luck with public transport.

          I’m not saying it is not possible. I’m saying it is by no means simple.

          [1] euthanize

          1. Johnny

            All red herrings and straw men,the govt could simply enact legislation limiting the upside for vulture funds,to what they paid for NPL’s.The returns available are crowding out any investment in new development,they are just to good for taking little or no risk.

            “On 31 May, the Belgian Constitutional Court issued a landmark judgement in the case NML Capital vs Belgium. NML Capital became infamous when it undermined sovereign debt restructuring in Argentina in the 2000s, using the US court system to obtain a ruling that enforced their claims – resulting in a return on investment of over 1200%. This and other drastic cases of vulture funds litigation incentivised the Belgian Parliament in 2015 to act, and to pass legislation that would make vulture fund litigation economically unattractive, at least on Belgian soil. NML Capital saw the threat to their predatory business model, and litigated at the Constitutional Court, claiming that the Belgian law was unconstitutional. “

  9. dav

    Blaming Murphy for allowing the housing crisis to worsen is like blaming a wasp for stinging you – he is a blushirt, it is in his nature to cause misery

  10. belgravy

    the problem is It’s all about the short term, not the long term. The social housing built in the 50s some of them are still paying rent, that is a huge amount of cash and you have some well developed communities now. Do like the Dutch, build infrastructure first, then houses. use the rents from social housing initially to reinvest in community development. a mix of social and private housing

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