Housing

cov_housing

Rebuilding Ireland: Long on Promise, Short on Detail

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In July, the government announced a new housing plan. Called Rebuilding Ireland, it is designed to tackle the current shortage in housing supply. It is an ambitious plan with praise for itself as radical and innovative. In truth, it is neither of these things. This plan was put together after the previous Housing Strategy document of 2014 but states that this is “having a positive impact, but not at the pace necessary to meet current pressures and pent-up demands.” It is not at all clear how Rebuilding Ireland will address this question of pace. The central problem with Rebuilding Ireland, however, is that it relies on the notion of ‘access to a home’. At best this is a poorly worded substitute for the right to a place to live. At worst, Rebuilding Ireland’s underlying vision relies on a flawed model of provision. We have to give the plan some time to produce something tangible but the way the plan is written does not inspire any confidence that the shortage in housing here will be addressed.

The plan is structured under five ‘pillars’. These are billed as “high level actions [which] will support a range of actions across the five key pillars of the Action Plan”. The plan seeks to address homelessness, accelerate social housing, build more homes, improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing. In time worn tradition, these have targets and deadlines for delivery across government departments and local authorities. A few days after its launch, a senior public servant spoke on the radio and bumbled his way through some of these targets testily insisting that there would be 47,000 social houses available by 2021. Considering that local authorities acquired about 1,000 units in 2015 and constructed just 75 in the same year, there are a number of problems with these targets. Chief among these is a reliance on the private rented market and Approved Housing Bodies. Relying on the private and voluntary sector to provide that many units in five years would require an immediate four fold increase in both building programmes and municipal acquisitions.  The plan makes it clear that this figure would be supported by €5.3 billion worth of investment, including accelerated Housing Assistance Payment delivery. As recent high profile cases have shown us, the HAP scheme moves people seeking housing off the local authority housing lists in return for subsidy payments to private landlords. These landlords can evict the tenant if they sell this property later, throwing people back on to some housing safety net which does not yet exist.

Rebuilding Ireland is neither innovative nor radical. One of its guiding principles is a reliance on private providers of housing. This means more money given to landlords, both individual and institutional / financial ones. Why fall back on a model of housing provision which currently does not support people in vulnerable housing situations and which, on other scales, has shown that it can sell property from under people’s feet? One of the reasons identified for an oversupply in the years to 2008 was a reliance on private developer-led speculative building. Developers relied on the continuation of credit to provide home loans to people needing a place to live. More worrying still, the plan promises that it will “work closely with the ESRI and the Housing Agency to improve understanding of conditions in housing markets around the country”. Such understandings are already available: from the ESRI, the Housing Agency as well as the National Economic and Social Council and a number of other bodies concerned with housing rights. Measuring supply and demand is easily done, right now.

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Reflections on Water Movement and Right2Change Development

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Probably the most encouraging development that has come out of the water charges movement has been the accentuated understanding of ‘them’ and ‘us’; the idea that society is organised so as to benefit the minority at the expense of the majority. This is the starting point that all of us on the left had been yearning for since the beginning of the crisis. Undoubtedly, it was slow to arrive but when it finally did so, it was truly an explosion of struggle and organisational prowess, as we finally said ‘enough is enough’.

Any lingering illusions that the mainstream media, establishment parties or big business exist to better our lives, will have been dispelled for those at the heart of the movement. However, conclusions on how to change society for the better are numerous, unclear and disjointed. This comes as no surprise with an embryonic movement, which lacks ready-made and large radical institutions to provide solutions.

Ireland is a tax haven for big business

Rome, or Dublin for that matter, wasn’t built in a day. Economies and societies are incredibly complex systems that have developed over centuries. Ireland’s economy, in particular, presents many structural challenges for the left that simply cannot be wished away or eradicated overnight. The most successful capitalist economies are those which have the strongest industrial bases, specifically economies which actually make things and have goods or raw materials to trade with others countries or markets.

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Housing Without Profit, People with a Home

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The following is based on a talk I gave to the housing conference held on Saturday: ‘Towards a Real Housing Strategy’.  There were excellent contributions from academics, activists and victims of the housing crisis.  The contributions from Dr. Lorcan Sirs (DIT), Dr. Sinead Kelly and Dr. Mick Byrne (both from Maynooth) were particularly provocative, as were many others;including Fr. Peter McVerry and Dr. Rory Hearn.

The current model of 100 percent local authority provision of social housing is no longer capable of meeting the new challenges – not only because of future fiscal restraints and competing demands from other sectors – health, education, social protection, economic infrastructure, etc.  Future social housing provision will need to accommodate low and average income households – something which the private rental sector will struggle with, especially as transnational landlords, inward foreign investment and up-market accommodation are squeezing so many out.

This requires a new public sector-led model to adequately house a larger section of society and ensure that rents do not become a burden on the productive economy. 

There are three principles that can inform this new model:

  • It is not-for-profit (cost rental)
  • It blurs the distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘private’ so that the not-for-profit housing leads and eventually dominates the entire rental sector (unitary market)
  • It reduces the impact on public finances (off-the-books)

This will, in the first instance, require new housing providers. 

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Housing Policy is More Than Pulling Levers

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This article originally appeared on Eoin O’Mahony’s blog 53 Degrees on the 17th of August

In the new online newspaper, Dublin Inquirer, Lorcan Sirr stated that the most serious problem ”with housing in Dublin…is this:  at the state level, housing policy is dominated by an inappropriate and politically motivated rural ideology…” This ideology is made manifest by a constant drive for home ownership.  This leads to discrimination against urban housing and elected politicians who are concerned only with ”road frontage  and planning permissions.” I understand that Lorcan’s article was a version of a talk he gave at the MacGill Summer School in late July. But there are a number of problems with his argument as presented, the biggest one of these being that you cannot talk about housing in Ireland unless you talk about social class.

Houses  and flats are built, rented and bought.  People live in housing of all sorts and sizes and communities develop around these forms of housing. We find things in common with people around us and we build and sustain communities. These are productive relations  and housing is one outcome of these relations.  In this way, housing is not simply a matter of sufficient  units being built but decisions taken about how we should live.  It is a matter of politics, not technical capacity.  Lorcan’s argument about a rural ideology owes more to the second than the first.  Recent research  has pointed significant changes to housing over the years. In a report for hardly radicalised Jesuit  Centre for Faith and Justice  (JCFJ) earlier this year, the authors wrote that:

The  prolonged  period  of growth in the owner-occupier  sector reflected State-driven tenure strategies [since the mid-1940s], employing a range of direct and indirect incentives.

In other words, there is nothing natural or essential about an increase, post-1940s, in the proportion of the population living in owner-occupied  tenure. It is a matter of policy, an effort by strategy and tactics reflecting particular relations within a class, to achieve particular ends.  As the authors of the JCFJ demonstrate, owner-occupation is actually in decline since the early 1990s. The NESC has written recently on social class and tenure in Irish housing. They have noted a trend amongst different social groups:

Mortgage-holding is declining most among young people in the un- skilled, semi-skilled and skilled manual classes, particularly the former.

… [And] with the sharp decline in local-authority housing construction and other supports for low-income buyers from the mid-1980s, this option is no longer available for many younger people in socio-economic groups with lower incomes.

Sirr states that ”housing [policy] is regarded as being about three things only: planning, selling price and construction cost.” He is correct to point out that professions like planners have an overweening influence on housing in Ireland but local authority housing sections are not ”endured” by their staff. The electoral cycle is also a powerful influence on decision making. Local authorities are constrained by decisions by the last few governments, and particularly the current one, that are determined to starve social housing of funding. The last time the Irish government completed over 1,000 local authority houses was in 2010.  In the four year period since (for which data is available) about 1,300 local authority houses have been completed (source: CSO). In contrast,  during the same time period, over 35,000 units of private housing have been completed.

What this research and much more show is that these are the results of choices and political ones at that.  When  sufficient political pressure is brought to bear, much like the water tax struggle since 2013, things get changed.  It is not a matter of personnel and the over-familiarity among housing associations and local councils. Levers don’t get wearily pulled out of habit; political choices are argued for and, at times, forced. An argument that relies on an abstract sense of housing form, for ex- ample one-off housing, and the capacity of people to reproduce living conditions are both problems. We only have to drive through Leitrim, Longford and Roscommon to notice the longer-term effects of trying to cluster houses at the edge of villages ill-suited to suburban  housing forms.  These  are, however, the results of political decisions, not individual choice. It seems to me that Sirr’s argument relies on blam- ing ordinary people for putting themselves in poorly-planned housing. Decisions on housing are made on many scales.

I agree with him when he argues we need better data but a housing policy must serve people first, not a technocratic process of ’build and they will be housed’.  There is no sense that this ’rural ideology’ can be seen in material terms other than its rep- etition for want of an alternative just appearing.   I argue therefore that we need to understand social class when housing is considered,  particularly from a formal policy point of view. The use of adequate data is a necessary step. So too is avoid- ing unhelpful categories like rural and urban or more importantly between renters and owner-occupiers.  Housing in Ireland, particularly right now, is a more dynamic process of class relations than is evident from Sirr’s analysis.

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Open Letter on the Housing Crisis

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An Open Letter to the Dublin City Council, Real Estate Agencies in Dublin, the USI, the PRTB, the HEA, Department of Education and skills, the NAMA, Landlords, the Citizens and Students of Dublin City on the Housing Crisis in Dublin.

As well as being sent to all of the above today it was also published on www.increature.com issue 4 on Sunday the 12th October

Dear all,

We are two final year university students who live in Dublin and wish to express our profound discontent with some of the situations we found ourselves in during the housing crisis that took place this summer in the Irish Capital and the clear discrimination against students which is common practice in the rental market.

Between June and September, we were actively looking for private accommodation in Dublin. We sent several hundreds of emails, made hundreds of phone calls, many of which were from abroad, went to numerous viewings and spent a lot of time, money and energy looking for a place. This house hunt was long, stressful and, overall, a very unpleasant experience which resulted in us sacrificing a large part of our summer, spare time after work, family time and the possibility to advance with college work (readings, dissertation, etc).

We finally found a place two weeks before the start of the academic year. A place that we are not entirely satisfied with, but had to take because we had no other decent offers. We are somewhat relieved that we were lucky enough to have found something, as we are very aware of the fact that many students were not as lucky and are therefore forced to commute, live in hostels or even have to take a year out of college.

One of us is a final year Student in the faculty of arts and humanities who worked the whole summer in a well-respected office in Dublin and will continue to work part-time throughout the academic year. The other is a final year Political Science and Geography student who works during the summer months and is financially supported by her father who works in one of the European Institutions in Brussels. Both of us have letters of references from all our previous landlords stating we are responsible tenants, that the rent and all utility bills have always been paid on time and that we left our previous flats in good condition. Furthermore, we both have good work references from well-respect institutions.

Having such documents, one must wonder how it took us three months to find a mediocre residence.

To us, the answer is very simple. The housing crisis meant that it was hard for everyone to find a place in Dublin due to the fact that this year there was a 43% drop in supply in the rental market and a 7.5% increase in rental prices, but in particular students have a clear disadvantage and are discriminated against.

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Arise Kilnamanagh and take your place among the nations of the earth

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Book Review: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, Karl Whitney (Penguin Ireland 2014)

Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.

Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.

While some of the tourists might be inclined to follow Whitney’s Joyce trail—visit all of Joyce’s Dublin addresses in order (the Trieste equivalent includes his favorite knocking shop)—or even his Liffey descent—from where the river becomes tidal to the last bridge before the sea, crossing every bridge on the way—his bus game would be a bit too Situationist. In this one, you take buses for ninety minutes, changing bus every fifteen, crossing the road if a coin comes up tails. The first time he tries it, he ends up in an area with only one bus. A later attempt is no better. Taking a bus in Dublin has no element of play, but only `the extreme frustration familiar to the demoralized commuter.’ Whitney would not be the first artist crushed by the inadequacy of Dublin’s infrastructure.

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Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis

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Book Review: Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis, eds: Gerry Kearns, David Meredith, and John Morrissey, Royal Irish Academy (2014) 

The new book Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis, edited by Gerry Kearns, David Meredith, and John Morrissey and published by the Royal Irish Academy is extremely timely given its extensive analysis and detail on the causes of the Irish financial crisis, its socio-spatial impacts on inequality and suggestions for alternative, social-justice based, economic development. The Irish elite, government, big business and media are trumpeting that ‘austerity’ and ‘neoliberalism’ have worked. The Irish economy is now fully in ‘recovery’ it is claimed, ‘austerity’ will be eased with tax breaks again to be given out to the middle classes, employment is rising and we have a mini property boom in Dublin to celebrate. Even potential social partnership agreements are floating in the political air. However, it is now more than ever that critical political, economic, and socio-spatial justice analysis of the Irish economy is required. Rather than cheerleading blindly into another boom and bust cycle based on inequality and spatial injustice there is a need for academics and policy makers to engage in rigorous analysis and reflection on the crisis and the political economic trajectory for the coming decades.

Prof Gerry Kearns, of the Maynooth University Department of Geography, in the Introduction to the book, draws on President Higgins’ reflection on the importance of ‘critical thought’ in the wake of ‘failed orthodoxies’  as ‘the crisis is one of ideas as well as of policy’. Now more than ever, space and time must be given in the academic and public sphere in Ireland to identify the causes of the crisis, its impact on inequality, and alternative (non-capitalist) policies and approaches based on the common good and social justice rather than the interests of the minority elite – the 1%.

This book does this by placing social and spatial justice as an urgent consideration in all areas of social and economic policy. Interestingly, Kearns highlights how government responses to the current crisis go against Articles contained in the Irish Constitution including commitments of the state to ‘promot[ing] the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all institutions of the national life’ (Article 45.1). Significantly, this also includes ensuring that ‘the ownership and control of the material resources may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good’ (Article 45.2.ii).

The book covers the origins of the financial crisis, its political and territorial implications such as the outsourcing of state power to international credit rating agencies, the links between crisis, housing and planning, the uneven impacts of the crisis in different parts of the country and unevenly within cities such as failed regeneration, impacts on equality of opportunity, marginalization of migrants, and sustainability. Within these areas it addresses the questions of spatial justice and where the pain of crisis and the opportunities of recovery are distributed, geographically and socially. It highlights the uneven development that was at the heart of the Celtic Tiger in the inequalities that persisted through that period, how they were worsened by the crash and the forms in which they continue today.

The chapter by Prof Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, on Spatial Justice, Housing and the Financial crisis makes important links between rising inequality and housing crises internationally. This chapter is very interesting for an Irish audience as it highlights how the current housing crisis in Ireland has similar causes to other countries and there is much we can learn in regard to social justice based responses. Dorling argues that “we really need to think of housing again as a way in which we feel safe about where we are: not as a source of investment or a pension or something that can be used for profit, but instead as primarily a source of shelter”.  He offers suggestions to address this such as a mansions tax, rent control, and using second and third homes for housing for those who need it. He explains that “housing is fundamental. It is what lies at the bottom of this crisis. Housing is one of the basic things that everybody needs and that policies can work out a way to guarantee.” He surmises that the reason this is not the case is because current policy appears to be ”trying to protect the equity interest of a small proportion of people who happen to own quite a lot of very expensive housing”.

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Housing Action Ireland Manifesto Launch: 12th of June, @6pm, Teachers’ Club Parnell Sq

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Housing Action Ireland

Housing Action Ireland has been working away quietly for some time, but on the 12th of June we’re launching our Housing Manifesto. This is a public event so we hope to see as many of you there as possible. The manifesto will be available one week before the launch – watch this space to get a copy. Full details below and more to follow.

Housing Action Now

in The Teachers Club Parnell Square

On Thursday June 12th 2014 at 6pm.

Screening of the 15 minute film Scattered by Joe Lee

and O’Devaney Gardens Residents and Workers.

Aidan O’Halloran and Raymond Hegarty will play some music.

A short version of the Housing Manifesto for online sharing is available here. The full version is available here.

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By This Time Next Year We Could End Homelessness

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Let’s start with the conclusion: if by this time next year if there are people still homeless, it’s because the Government made a policy choice.  And the policy choice was to tolerate homelessness.

Now, back to the beginning.

The Government will be spending €7.1 billion this year.  It won’t be spent on public services, or social protection or investment.  And there will be no debate on it.  There will be no current affairs programmes, no panel discussions, no commentaries in the print media.  The Government will spend €7 billion this year and very few will know.

This €7 billion is being spent on paying down debt.  It comes from the Government’s considerable cash balances.  At the end of 2013, the Government held €18.5 billion in cash.  This is made up of money that has already been borrowed and revenue from bank investments (e.g. bonds held in Bank of Ireland, etc.).  The Government is taking the €7 billion and paying down Government debt to lower the debt/GDP ratio.  This is how it works:

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As seen, debt at the beginning of the year is estimated to €203 billion.  The Government will be borrowing €8.7 billion.  This results in a debt of €211.5 billion.  Debt is rising – both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP.  That’s because economic growth is low and we still have a deficit.

However, the Government will be taking €7 billion from their cash balances to write down debt.  This changes the level of debt.  Let’s continue the table above.

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attac

Launch of ATTAC Ireland, 5/6 April

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Disarm the Markets: Launch of Attac Ireland with a public talk by Esther Jeffers (University of Paris VIII and European Attac Network) and IFSC walking tour with Conor McCabe.

Where: Room 4-027, Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street, Dublin 2

When: Saturday 5th April, 2pm.

Attac is an international movement working towards social, environmental and democratic alternatives to neoliberal globalisation. Founded in France in 1998, it fights for the regulation of financial markets, the closure of tax havens, the introduction of global taxes to finance global public goods, the cancellation of debt, fair trade, and the implementation of limits to free trade and capital flows (see www.attac.org).

5th April marks the launch of the Irish chapter of Attac. Attac Ireland is delighted to welcome Esther Jeffers who will speak at the event. Esther is a lecturer at the University of Paris VIII and a specialist on shadow banking and finance in the Euro area.

Esther’s talk will be followed by an open meeting for anyone interested in becoming involved with Attac Ireland. This meeting will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about Attac, and to discuss how Attac Ireland could be developed to challenge financial power and injustice through education and activism.

These events will be followed on Sunday morning 6th April, with a walking tour of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) by Dr Conor McCabe (UCD School of Social Justice). Time tbc.

Follow Attac Ireland on Facebook

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They Partied. We Pay: Public Meeting, Connolly Books, Sat. 29th of March @2pm

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We All Partied?

They Partied. We Pay.

Public Meeting

Sat 29th March, at 2pm

Connolly Books
43 East Essex Street,
Temple Bar,
Dublin 2

The Communist Party of Ireland would like to invite you to the first of our new series of public talks.

The first talk will deal with the establishment false claims that we have left the bailout and put behind us the “Programme For Ireland.”

Nothing more than spoof and spin.

Speakers:

Dr. Conor McCabe
(Author and Editor of Irish Left Review)

Gareth Murphy
(Trade Union Left Forum)

Kathleen Lynch
(Professor of Equality Studies, UCD)

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Friday Stat Attack: How About A Housing Recovery For Those in Need?

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You’d think that the monthly release of property prices was the ultimate barometer of not only the health of the housing market but the economy as a whole.  Are they finally increasing?  Are they still falling?  What are houses worth in Euros and cents?

But what about those in need of housing?  Any signs of recovery there?

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There are nearly 90,000 households in need of social housing.  These households make up approximately 170,000 people.  60 percent have been waiting for two years or longer and since the start of the crisis, the numbers in need have increased by 60 percent.

Yes, we all know that there is a fiscal crisis and that money is tight.  Yet the Government has found it possible to spend money on trying to reflate property and housing market activity:  house renovation incentive, Living City initiative, property purchase incentive, REITs (real estate investment trusts), mortgage interest relief for first-time buyers, abolition of multiple Stamp Duty rates for non-residential properties, etc.

So what about those in housing need?  The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justiceputs the government’s response in perspective:

‘ . . while the numbers in need of social housing have been growing, the output of new social housing units has been dwindling. The output of new social housing units has dropped by 82% between 2008 and 2012, with only 1,391 new units added to the national stock of social housing in 2012.’

So the numbers in housing need have increased by 60 percent and social housing output has fallen by 82 percent.

I guess those waiting for accommodation will have to wait for property prices to improve.  Then, maybe, they might get a look-in on the national agenda.

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