With housing demonstrations starting this week as part of a Winter of Discontent, councillor for People Before Profit, Tina MacVeigh, sets out why we all need to get involved and join the protests.
In typical Fianna Fáil style their great solution to the housing crisis is a policy document entitled Housing For All which gives the appearance of something for everyone but in reality is designed to reward their friends in the construction, finance and development industries.
The Galway tent may no longer be standing but the mentality lives on.
Housing For All has generally received a poor reception with much of the focus on the stated ambition to deliver 30,000 new homes per annum up to 2030. These numbers are nowhere near enough and are below the government’s own projections of what is needed. As UCD-based housing researcher, Michael Byrne, asked:
“… will Housing for All work? If by ‘work’ we mean eliminate the structural supply/demand imbalance and make housing significantly affordable … then the answer is a pretty emphatic no.”
However, this isn’t a just about a lack of ambition – the government could double the budgets and the housing crisis would still continue.
The problem is that in capitalism housing is seen as a commodity – something to be bought, sold and a place to store wealth. That is why government policy always favours the developer and financiers. Housing people is a by-product of the housing system; its main job is to enrich developers, landlords and finance providers.
In this regard the housing system is working just as successive governments have intended.
Public housing is the key
Socialists argue that there is an alternative: policies that put the housing need of people ahead of profits for the vulture funds and corporate developers. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, People Before Profit launched a housing document. It contains many strategies and concrete plans to address all the manifestations of the housing crisis.
The policies are based on the premise that we need to treat housing as a basic human need, not a commodity. That is, the best way of providing housing as a non-commodity is public housing.
In many European countries this premise is recognised and successfully pursued. Public housing is seen as a tenure of choice, with security, affordable rents, and democratic control over your landlord.
The more housing we can take out of being bought and sold as a commodity, not only can we provide more decent, secure and reasonably-priced homes for people to live in but we will also stabilise the rest of the housing system.
More tenant rights
We also need much stronger regulation and rights for tenants in the private rented sector. Yet Housing For All rehashes the old excuses that interventions in the rental market (such as rent caps) could be unconstitutional and therefore the government needs to further consult on the legal issues. So even while Minister Daragh O’Brien is hailing Housing For All as the great visionary solution, it contains the same old delaying tactics to ensure there is no change.
Further, there is absolutely no justification for allowing corporate landlords (including vulture, cuckoo and private equity funds) to operate in the state. Banning them is a simple legislative measure that could be taken by any government serious about reducing rents and protecting tenants.
Instead we are constantly told any regulation of private landlords (or increased rights and security for tenants) will result in landlords leaving the market. This is such a hollow threat. It is the houses/apartments that we need to house people — not the landlords. If the landlords want to leave, a policy whereby they transfer the homes to the local authority, with the sitting tenants, can easily be developed.
Protest is essential
In his book Housing Shock, Rory Hearne outlines the series of housing protests that have taken place since 2014, including the occupation of empty homes (such as in North Frederick Street, Dublin in 2018), Take Back the City blocking O’Connell Street, and countless campaigns and protests against evictions (such as the Leeside Anti-Eviction Group).
Arguably the most impactful and significant of these protests took place in October 2018, when over 10,000 joined a lunchtime demonstration outside the Dáil organised under the Raise the Roof campaign banner. It was co-ordinated to pressurise TDs to support an opposition motion, by the same name, being discussed inside the parliament that afternoon.
Fianna Fáil, then in a confidence and supply arrangement with the Fine Gael government, were indicating that they might abstain or even vote to support the government on the motion. That was until some of their TDs stuck their heads out of Buswell’s Hotel at lunchtime and saw the thousands protesting outside. The result: Fianna Fáil caved and supported the opposition motion.
Protests not only work but are absolutely necessary if we are to force this government to change policy direction. As the great anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will”. Starting on 15th September and continuing throughout the winter (and beyond) we need to raise our demands for decent, secure and truly affordable housing for all, on the streets, in workplaces, colleges and estates until we force the government to change its housing policy.