Raise the Roof for more public housing
Private rental costs are spiralling, the official number of homeless people is now over 10,000 including more than 3000 children, and the Government has failed to reach any of the building targets for public housing it set out in its Rebuilding Ireland plan almost three years ago.
New figures suggest that people in the private rental market are paying at least 27% of their monthly income for a roof over their heads with some in the major cities coughing up more than 40%. Meanwhile the so called ‘rent cap’ is being widely breached. For most people on modest or low incomes this leaves little or no money to meet every day needs, not to mind the cost of childcare or other necessities.
In a further blow to the credibility of government claims to have developed a sustainable housing policy, house prices have jumped by 8% in Dublin and 6% state-wide over the past year, making it more difficult for people even on higher incomes to purchase a home.
Then arrived a scathing letter to the Government in late March in which two respected UN investigators criticised the paucity of public housing programmes since 2008 and before. The letter from Surya Deva, chief rapporteur of the UN working group on human rights and transnational corporations and Leilani Farha, special rapporteur on adequate housing, is also a detailed critique of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and its role in what the authors term the ‘financialisation of housing’ in Ireland.
They claimed that over 90 per cent of loans sold by NAMA, since its inception in 2009, have gone to international, mainly US funds. It further stated that NAMA and the introduction of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) as well as the sale of non-performing loans by State controlled banks, have contributed directly to the housing and homeless emergency.
“Our chief concern lies with those laws and policies which have allowed unprecedented amounts of global capital to be invested in housing as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth,” the letter from Deva and Farha asserts.
“This expanding role and unprecedented dominance of unregulated financial markets and corporations in the housing sector is now generally referred to as the ‘financialisation of housing’ and it is having devastating consequences for tenants. Contrary to international human rights obligations, investment in housing in the Republic of Ireland has disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live in with security and dignity.”
The root cause of the State’s failure to deliver decent, affordable housing is the blind allegiance of the main right-wing parties, and the well-endowed interests that support them, to the notion that private builders and developers, including global investment funds, will supply the number of homes required to meet demand.
This ideological myopia flies in the face of reality but it also masks the deeper malaise in housing policy over several decades which has arisen over the decision to abandon the traditional role of the State through its local authorities to deliver social and affordable housing.
It is widely accepted that the Government must invest some €2.5 billion each year over the next ten years to meet the needs of those on the social housing list and others on low and middle incomes who require affordable homes. It is no accident that this is close to the amount put into the pockets of landlords through the HAP scheme and private builders and developers each year by the State.
Although this level of investment was endorsed by a majority Dáil vote in October last year, the Fine Gael led government, after confidence and supply discussions with Fianna Fáil, refused to make provision for the amount required in Budget 2019. This, despite the support given by Fianna Fáil TD’s to the opposition motion calling for this scale of investment as well as an end to forced evictions, proper rent controls and for the right to housing to be incorporated in law or in the Constitution.
These are the demands of the Raise the Roof campaign which involves trade unions, progressive parties women’s and students organisations as well as housing activist, NGO’s and community groups across the country. The campaign held its first rally at Leinster House, Dublin on 3rd October 2018 when the Dáil motion was debated.
The Raise the Roof campaign has also held rallies in Cork in January and in Galway on Monday 8th April to coincide with similar motions at local authority meetings in the two cities and is planning a national rally in Dublin on Saturday, 18th May. SIPTU District Councils have also organised seminars to highlight the housing emergency across the country in recent weeks.
It is vital that SIPTU members as well as the broad mass of people who are affected by the housing emergency, whose family members and friends are also struggling to make ends meet on low and precarious earnings and keep a decent roof over their heads, support this campaign and rally. Only a radical change in government policy can solve the housing emergency.