The use of the word ‘crisis’ when we talk about the current housing crisis paints the image of an act of god, some spectacular event beyond our control which no one can be truly held responsible for. This is not the case.
The housing crisis is not a natural phenomenon. It did not come about by a mere accident of politics. This housing crisis has come from the deliberate policies and actions of the right wing parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, supported by the Labour and Green parties. These policies, which sold off public land to private developers, allowed landlords to continue to increase rent and leave properties vacant, and reduce the standard of living for the working class. All of this has resulted in thousands of Irish citizens being forced into homelessness and emergency accommodation.
These policies were not accidental, nor were they brought in out of ignorance. The politicians of these parties were not uninformed as to how this would affect the lives of the working class. Instead of putting the welfare of the people first, they put the pursuit of profit and capital ahead. With one in five TDs being landlords, it’s easy to begin to understand where their conflict of interest lies. The housing crisis was born out of rampant capitalism, facilitated by a state which doesn’t care whether the people live or die – only as long as there’s profit to be made.
Practically, the solutions to the housing crisis are to build more public houses, for the state to take vacant houses and to introduce rent caps equal to the living wages of the public. However, while these are the solutions to the crisis itself, the only way we will be able to reach these solutions is if the capitalist right wing parties are voted out of government and, until then, there is constant agitation by the public to force their hand in stopping the needless suffering on our streets. While battling for housing within the electoral process has its place and supporting public housing bills introduced by the left wing parties is extremely important, it only gets us anywhere if the elite establishment knows that if they do not enforce it, the public will turn on them.
Direct action like SummerHill Place, Frederick Street, and, as of the time of writing this piece, the 41 Belvedere Place occupations, have put the housing crisis into the public discourse. Only by physically seizing these homes can activists highlight that in a country of nearly 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, including 1500 families and 800 young people aged between 18-24, not only do houses exist, but potential comfortable homes are left empty for years. These vacancies serve the landlords, who can simply reap more profits from the suffering of others. The community support for these occupations, organised by many different housing organisations, activist groups, and left wing parties, has been huge.
As time goes on, and the landlords and the state face no consequences for forcing people to sleep in doorways, to battle the hellish bureaucracy of the emergency accommodation, and to live a life where every day is a struggle to survive until the next, more and more people will be affected by the crisis.
I’m sure the vast majority of students reading this, particularly first years coming up from outside Dublin, excited for their college experience, faced crippling stress this past summer trying to find accommodation, going to countless viewings, planning days of eating the bare minimum just to afford an astronomical rent set by an already grossly wealthy landlord. I’m sure many students will be splitting any free time they get from their studies, to work in a part-time job, just to afford to survive. I know there are others commuting for two or three hours twice a day, in and out of Dublin, because it just isn’t affordable to live here. This crisis, orchestrated by the landlords and capitalists, is affecting every one of us, threatening each person with the potential of becoming homeless. So what is to be done? For everyone reading this, hoping their SUSI grant isn’t retracted or waiting on that one packet of noodles they have to eat for the day because they can’t afford anything else, what hope is there to end the suffering?
The answer lies in supporting the occupations on Frederick Street and Belvedere Road and wherever else occupations spring up. That can be from doing a shift in the houses or simply sharing a Facebook post or having a conversation with a friend. The answer lies in joining left wing parties and activist groups to join the fight against oppression, in keeping housing on the public discourse and challenging the state as they continue their deliberate failure to address it. Together we can make housing a human right and end the society destroying greed that has already cost so many lives.