Back in late October the Campaign For Public Housing burst onto the scene promising a water charges style agitation for that most basic of human needs. Harry Sal Lacey caught up with Eugene Mcartan to see if they tick any differently to the rest of the housing movement.
What do you mean by public housing? Is this social housing or affordable housing or both?
The difference between social or affordable housing and our demand for public housing is the following. We believe that everyone should be entitled to rent a home from the state, paying rent commensurate with their disposable income. The terms “social” and “affordable” to allow the “market”—that is, private developers, speculators, and landlords, both domestic and foreign (vulture funds)—to decide what is affordable and what is not. Affordable to whom? Speculators will not build houses unless they make a profit.
So we are allowing these small groups of companies and rich and powerful individuals, both national and foreign, to determine what is affordable or not. We do not accept that the “market” should determine the availability of shelter for our people—young or old, working or unemployed, married or single.
What groups are in the campaign and what are the main common objectives for the groups involved? Also, have we not reached “peak” housing groups?
A number of TDs have come on board to sponsor the campaign, including Clare Daly, Catherine Connolly, and Mick Wallace. In addition, the following parties, groups and individuals are actively involved, with more coming on board: Communist Party of Ireland, Dundrum Housing Action, D8HAC Altogether, Éirígí, Cllr Cieran Perry, Fr Peter McVerry, Inner City Helping Homeless, The Workers’ Party, 1916 Societies and the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community.
Do you see this government ever dealing with the crisis or is it just going to be all lip service?
It’s clear that the Government are ideologically incapable of dealing with this crisis. Given the experience of the last five decades of Governments made up of various shades of opinion, while outwardly appearing to be different they have shared a common approach to housing—and many economic and social questions—which is to leave the provision of a home (house or apartment) to the private market, dominated by property speculators, developers, and bankers, whose only concern is making the maximum profit. Experience has shown that the private market has never provided, and can never provide, for the basic human right to housing. It is not acceptable that the housing needs of our people should come second to greed.
This Government, and any possible future combination of the big parties in the present Dáil, are incapable of solving this problem, because they have enacted and continue to enact policies that are aimed at protecting the “market,” and not the interests of the people. Also, it is a fact that six Government ministers are landlords, as are many TDs. The dominant ideology promoted by the state itself gives priority to what the media call the “market,” in all aspects of our lives.
There are many groups working on the ground with those directly affected by homelessness. Will the campaign be co-ordinating with them or will it be taking a different angle?
Some of the organisations involved in working with the homeless are involved also in the Campaign for Public Housing. Where we differ from some of the organisations is that we see the solution in the building of public housing. We will campaign vigorously to raise awareness among working people throughout the country to expose the duplicity of the present and past governments in this crisis. Their policies have contributed greatly to the crisis. We cannot continue to implement or impose the same policies and expect a different result, other than the one now unfolding before our eyes.
Brendan Kenny recently got a few headlines for himself in setting three options for dealing with some of the dilapidated council housing stock around the city. He’s arguing in favour of widespread demolition and then rebuilding with land swaps. What do you think of this approach? Are alarm bells going off in your head too?
We would profoundly disagree with this approach. Speculators and developers want their hands on prime city-centre sites that at present are owned by Dublin City Council (ie the people), while working people would be forced to the outskirts of the city, with few amenities, poor public transport, etc. The spiral of breaking up existing communities would continue, because of the drive for maximum profit by a small few.
Also, we have the experience of councils up and down the country that have already given away valuable public land to private speculators in exchange for getting a few public houses built, or the odd community centre. We need to address the serious question and maintain that the common good is superior to the right of private property.
When it comes to creative solutions to the housing problem, should there not be a focus on transport or other “outside the box” ideas, like there are smaller towns dotted all over the rail network that if we had an expanded service could alleviate some of the burden in Dublin?
Certainly all ideas and suggestions are worth looking at. But once again experience would inform us that the state usually uses this as a means of dumping people into areas badly served in social and transport infrastructure, without proper consultation with the people, repeating the same old mistakes. So long as housing policy is determined by profit, then people’s interests will come well down the list. We can see particularly in Dublin, in the inner city, new student accommodation springing up and charging extortionate rents from students. These were and are traditional working-class districts. It is far more profitable to build students’ apartments and rip students off than to build public housing.
Private renting is a cash cow for international and domestic speculators, slum landlords, and other parasites. NAMA has given away a vast number of properties at knock-down prices to domestic and international speculators. We as a people were forced by the EU to take responsibility for 42 per cent of all EU bank debt, and NAMA is part of the burden placed upon us. So we are being doubly ripped off.
There have been loads of housing campaigns. None of them have ever succeeded to organise mass numbers. It’s seems to be an issue which attracts left-wing interest, but once a housing issue is solved for an individual, couple or family, people seem to move on. Does this not put a limit on the campaign?
That may or may not be the case. There are tens of thousands of families and individuals on housing waiting lists across the country and more joining the queue every day. Part of our remit is to raise public awareness about the interconnectedness of the main problems facing our people. The state has restructured the economy, with precarious employment, zero-hour contracts, “internships” and minimum-wage jobs increasingly becoming the norm. This is now coupled with precarious shelter, causing huge social problems across the board and having a profound effect on the lives of working people.
One of the big problems in housing campaigns is that everyone seems to have the same point “build more housing” but then avoid the more difficult questions. For example, across the left parties and independents, there is support for the policy of selling off council housing. Will the campaign raise its voice against this?
Our campaign is opposed to the selling off of public housing to tenants, to ensure the continuous increase of public housing as a percentage of the total housing stock. We are also opposed to the selling off of all public lands to private developers. Public land for public housing. If we are to end the obscenity of spiralling rents and the spiralling cost of buying a place in which to live, we need to break the private-sector monopoly on housing. The Government has created a situation where young people and thousands of families are locked into slum landlordism. The alternative is public housing, available to those who require it or who simply would rather live in public housing than be up to their necks in debt to banks.
A ready and plentiful supply of public housing would end slum landlordism. If you could get affordable accommodation from the city council or county council, why would you want to share a three-bedroom house with twenty other people and pay €400, €500 or €600 per month for the “privilege” of having somewhere to rest your head?
If you could get a publicly owned house, why would you want to borrow €400,000 to €600,000 for a house, put yourself and your family in debt servitude for forty years, afraid to get sick, or your children getting sick, doctors and hospital bills, pay school bills, provide your own health insurance, look after your own pension, exist on zero-hour contracts and precarious employment, coupled with precarious housing?
You’ll find the Campaign for Public Housing online. Keep an eye on them. Photos by Harry Sal Lacey