public housing

Public housing is the only solution

The saying “After all is said and done there is usually more said than done” would nicely sit with the Dublin government at this time, especially in their response to the housing crisis. If we are to believe the media, Simon Coveney more or less begged the previous taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to hand him the housing portfolio, with the promise of sorting out the homelessness problem in a year. He is on record as saying that no children would be in emergency accommodation by July 2017.

Needless to say, when he left office for his new post in the Department of Foreign Affairs the numbers in emergency accommodation had risen, to six hundred families.

“Emergency accommodation,” for those who don’t know, is not two-up two-down houses or anything similar: it’s usually hotel rooms, at the back of the hotels, hidden away from the hotel residents like pariahs: children shepherded out of the rooms early in the morning for the school run before any of the residents come down for breakfast; families living on top of each other in one room; children having no space to play, with a recent report claiming that these children will be affected later in life.

We have all stayed in a hotel at one time or another; but can you imagine living in that room for years on end? They are designed for a short stay and are definitely not suitable for bringing up a family.

The same applies to hostels, with shared bathrooms and shared kitchens. It’s not the way forward; some prisons have more liberty and better conditions.

The new man in town, Eoin Murphy, has come into the job as full of beans as Coveney was, with a new catchphrase: “Rebuilding Ireland.” He says he is looking at vacant rooms above shops, take-aways etc. to relieve the crisis.

The Blueshirt-led government in the South and the British Tory set-up in the North are totally ignoring what people want and are demanding: public housing, affordable homes built by county councils, like what was done in the 1930s and even right up to the 70s.

When I was serving my time as a carpenter I worked for Louth County Council, building these types of houses. The county councils were one of the biggest employers of construction workers at the time. The blueprint is there: we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

James Connolly, in the manifesto of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, stated: “Gradual extension of the principle of public ownership and supply of all the necessaries of life.” A home suitable for your family is a necessary of life; it’s a basic human right.

One of the main reasons for the rising homelessness figures is the fact that people are being evicted from their homes because they can no longer pay the mortgages they were tied into during the crazy days, when banks were throwing money at families to buy overpriced houses from the private market. At present one in ten mortgages is in distress, and this government want to return to that scenario again, leaving all the supply of homes and accommodation in the hands of the private market.

This is typical capitalism: run down the public sector by starving it of investment and then portray the private sector as our only saviours.

All the incentives so far offered by the government have been geared to helping their cronies in the private rental sector. The housing assistance payment (HAP) scheme can support you in a privately owned house, but they can’t find you a publicly owned house; so this money is being sucked up by rich landlords.

A home is a human right: it should not be a commodity for making money from. No home is worth two generations of the same family paying a mortgage just to keep a roof over their head. We should not become, or allow our children to become, slaves to private banks or mortgage companies’ vulture funds.

So why, you may ask, is the minister for housing not making any progress on this issue?—especially in the light of a homeless man dying in a doorway a few yards from Dáil Éireann, and a late-night tour around the capital by the former taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to see for himself the scale of the problem.

There are at present 180,000 vacant homes in the twenty-six counties, built during the so-called boom years—all private, which the ministers say can’t be used, for this very reason. During those years virtually no public housing developments financed by the department were tendered for by developers, as this would be a contradiction of private developments, and also produce lesser profits for rich developers and speculators.

So under capitalism, can we expect the homelessness crisis to be sorted out? I’m afraid not, as it’s the capitalist system that caused it; but what we can do is expose the contradictions in capitalism and, hopefully, raise people’s consciousness in the process.

In the last British general election Jeremy Corbyn talked about public ownership. If the Labour Party is returned in the next British election we can look over the pond to our neighbours and see what is meant by public ownership of the necessaries of life: housing, health, education, and so on, just as Connolly wrote in the programme of the Irish Socialist Republican Party all those years ago.