The Campaign for Public Housing was launched Saturday (28th October) at a large packed meeting room in the Unite trade union building in Dublin.
The demands of the campaign were announced as both long-term (in the form of a new system of universal public housing) and short-term (in dealing with the reality of the current housing crisis), as follows:
A new system of Universally Accessible Public Housing, based upon a cost rental model where the collective rent of tenants would fund the construction and procurement of large volumes of new public housing.
A tenants Bill of Rights to protect tenants in the private rental sector. This bill would control rents and provide real security of tenure.
A complete Ban on Economic Evictions by banks and private landlords.
A referendum to insert an unambiguous and legally enforceable Right to Public Housing into the constitution.
The political forces represented at the public meeting table were Éirigí (Brian Leeson), the Workers’ Party (Éilís Ryan), the Communist Party (chairing the meeting) and an individual who might be described as an independent left Republican activist (Cieran Perry). Both Perry and Ryan serve as elected councillors on Dublin City Council.
The Éirigí organisation is considerably reduced from the numbers of activists it had when it was first formed, largely by “dissidents” who left the Sinn Féin party soon after the Good Friday Agreement. The Workers’ Party is very small, having arrived at its current space through a series of splits from the original Sinn Féin (which became Official Sinn Féin after their dissidents formed the Provisionals back in 1970). The Communist Party of Ireland is also very small but owns a Dublin bookshop which also operates as a small theatre and meeting place for broader left anti-imperialist events.
At first glance, the political composition of the table may strike the observer as unimpressive in representation of numbers. However, such active forces have impacted significantly on the Irish political scene over the years and these in particular bring a wealth of political experience to the table. In addition, the audience contained a broad spectrum of left trade union and community activists, republicans, anarchists, socialists and participants who became active in recent campaigns.
According to a press statement released by the Campaign for Public Housing on 26th October, its supporters includes:
Peter McVerry (in a personal capacity, it was said at the launch)
Inner City Helping Homeless
The Workers’ Party
The Communist Party of Ireland
North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community
Cllr. Cieran Perry
D8HAC Altogether Now
Dundrum Housing Action
Catherine Connolly TD
Clare Daly TD
Mick Wallace TD
(and Joan Collins TD, it was announced at the campaign launch).
THE STATE FUNDING SPECULATORS TO BUY MORE PROPERTY
Speaking while using an electronic visual presentation on a large screen at the campaign public launch meeting, Leeson presented figures drawn from statistics produced by property and housing agencies and government departments to illustrate a history of public housing in the Irish State since its creation. Though hardly impressive in the numbers of public dwellings built, the figures showed a significant initiative in that direction under the early Fianna Fáil government years, when De Valera was at its head.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the ratio of public housing to private housing built was around one to one. In those years, private landlords notwithstanding, private housing was usually occupied by the owner. From the 1980s onwards, the ratio shifted to 10-1 in favour of private dwellings and huge numbers of these were no longer lived in by their owners and the ratio is much higher now. In effect, dwellings had become a commodity in which large-scale speculation was taking place, driving the rents and mortgages higher and higher, forcing people into debt for life or evictions and also into high-rent and unsuitable accommodation.
The figures also showed a state funding of the private property sector to the tune of eight billions (€8,000,000,000) – funds which the banks and other property speculators used to purchase more land and property, intensifying the housing crisis.
PUBLIC — NOT SOCIAL — HOUSING
Ryan concentrated her presentation on the need to call for public housing as a rational and necessary response, as one might consider for example public education or health service. Only public housing can solve the housing crisis, she maintained and so it is not only of moral importance but of urgent practical need. Turning to the cost of house building, Ryan pointed to the industry’s figures seen in the earlier presentation, showing that good-quality houses can be built much cheaper even under existing conditions. She was at pains to outline the differences between social and public housing: social housing is often aimed at low-income families and may be provided through a range of private or semi-private schemes. Public housing is state-funded with the rents going back to the state to reinvest in further housing provision and should be mixed in order to avoid ghettoisation.
Referring to the importance that Irish people tend to give to the state’s Constitution, Ryan stated that part of the objectives of the campaign was to insert a clause that guaranteed every person a good quality, affordable-according-to-income housing unit for life.
STOP THE SALE OF PUBLIC LAND!
“We have very little power as Councillors,” said Perry “but one thing we do have power on is the veto on selling public land.” He went on to speak of how Dublin City Council had sold Council land to private developers despite his and some other Councillors’ efforts. However, social and political pressure had forced the ratio of public housing on the Devanney Gardens site up to 30% despite the wishes of some political parties but that still meant that 70% went to private speculators.
Perry called for support for a demonstration outside City Hall on Monday November 6th at 5.30 pm in support of a motion put forward by himself and some other councillors to prevent the sale of any Council land.
Currently Dublin City Council own 120 hectares of land – enough to build 12,000 good quality homes. “There are 20,000 people on Dublin’s housing waiting lists, and many more average income households who will never be able to afford private rent or mortgage. So why are we allowing private developers to make money off our land?”
Turning to the question of the campaign itself, Perry promised it would be democratic, transparent and not become dominated by any political party or personality and urged all to become involved, to leave their contact details on the clipboard sheets at the door and to encourage others to come on board.
The questions and contributions were overwhelmingly of an intelligent kind and included areas such as hidden homelessness by emigration, housing waiting lists and disqualification; the privatisation of education and health services despite their public appearance; the need for the campaign to include direct action; the relationship between this campaign and other housing campaigns in Ireland; the need for quality monitoring by other than the contractor if the Council is to be the builder; the shortage of building workers at the moment; changes in the court systems to facilitate evictions; the involvement in a number of evictions of a firm led by an ex-British soldier using Loyalist ex-paramilitaries; the expected opposition from the EU to bans on the sale of public land; the hidden homelessness of one partner in a relationship breakup, etc.
Those leaving the meeting seemed fairly happy with the launch though inevitably some discussion took place on what tactics the campaign might employ and whether the organisation would degenerate into electoralism, or whether it would be manipulated for politically sectional interest. Political and community activists in Dublin have a long history and such discussion would be normal among all but the most naive. But the overall mood perceived by this reporter was decidedly positive.
Contact campaign: https://www.facebook.com/CampaignForPublicHousing/
Picket City Hall to demand no selling of public land: https://www.facebook.com/events/2562340743904927/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%223%22%2C%22ref_newsfeed_story_type%22%3A%22regular%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D