Time for a mass movement to end the housing crisis. #Right2Housing #Together4Housing

Posted: June 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

The housing crisis is getting worse. Under the current Government homelessness has exploded to levels unseen before.

In just two years the number of people in emergency accommodation has increased by 55%. Levels of pensioner homeless have risen 60%. The number of children without a home has shot up a shocking 74%.

If the 875 adults and children removed from the Department of Housings monthly homeless reports in March and April were properly counted the real increase in homelessness since April 2016 would be 70%.

According to Minister Murphy there are 9,652 people including 3,689 children without as home.

As always these figures do not include rough sleepers, the 100 or so men and women in non state funded homeless shelters in Dublin, the hundreds of women and children in Tulsa funded domestic violence refuge and step down accommodation, the 500 our so former asylum seekers with leave to remain trapped in Direct Provision or the 875 people controversially recategorised by the Minister.

Behind every one of these numbers is a real person; a mother with children trapped for months on end in insecure and unsuitable emergency accommodation; a pensioner unsure where he will sleep tomorrow night.

Whatever the real level of homelessness, one thing is clear – the Governments response to the crisis is not working.

Right across the housing system the signs of Government failure are evident. Rents and house prices continue to spiral upwards – making housing increasingly unaffordable for ever larger groups of people.

Meanwhile the delivery of new homes, by both the private and public sectors, is glacial. Not only is output lagging significantly behind demand but the Minister for Housing cant event tell us the number of new homes delivered because there is no agreed methodology for counting them.

What is clear is that under both Simon Coveney and now Eoghan Murphy a narrow set of sectoral interests are driving housing policy. Gone are the days when the locals builders and developers mis-guided Government policy. They have been replaced by a small number of very large and very profitable investment trusts whose every demand appears to be met.

We have fast track planning, reduced apartment standards, increased private sector subsidies such as the housing assistance payment, the enhanced leasing scheme and the local infrastructure fund – all designed to meet the needs of a small number of players who to date have failed to deliver.

Meanwhile there are vast tracts of public land lying idle and our local authorities continue to be understaffed and underfunded and thus unable to deliver a meaningful supply of social, cost rental and affordable purchase homes.

The Department of Housings own figures clearly demonstrate that the most cost effective way to provide social and affordable homes is by providing public housing on public land with public funds. Yet Fine Gael continues to over rely on the private sector to meet housing need.

Beyond the bubble of Government buildings there is a growing policy consensus emerging that unless the state plays a greater direct role in housing delivery the crisis will continue. Yet as Budget 2019 approaches there is little sign of a change of thinking from the Minister for Housing and his cabinet colleagues.

A wide range of parties and groups are now calling for a radical shift in policy focus. The Housing and Homeless Coalition, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the entire Dáil opposition are saying that the next budget must be a housing budget.

That would mean at least a doubling of capital investment in social and affordable housing to €2.6bn in 2019. It would mean much more ambitious targets for local authority led social and affordable housing delivery. It would mean building good quality public housing in sustainable mixed income communities meeting the needs of a wider section of society than here to fore.

It would also require emergency action to reduce the flow of adults and children into homelessness and a clear commitment that no person would be in emergency accommodation for more than six months and no person would be forced to sleep rough due to lack of safe and appropriate emergency accommodation.

Our problem is not as lack of credible and costed alternatives. It is that the emerging consensus is uncoordinated and disparate. If this doesn’t change Budget 2019 will be a missed opportunity and the housing crisis will deepen.

We need to learn from the incredibly successful Together for Yes campaign. It is time for a unified mass movement of people calling for a different approach to ending the housing crisis.

This movement, just like Together for Yes, should be non party political and led by civil society. We need the entire trade union movement, the voluntary housing sector, homeless NGOs and our wealth of academic and advocacy talent to come together demanding change.

This must be supported, just as Together 4 Yes was, by politicians of all parties and none, in coordinated local and national action to pressurise Government into restoring the role of the state as a direct provider of public housing.

Only coordinated action on a scale not seen before on our streets, in the media and on the floor of the Dáil can deliver this change. Right2Water, Marriage Equality and Together for Yes have shown the way. Surely its now time for a Together for Housing campaign?

First published in the Sunday Business Post on 10.6.18

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