Housing movement like anti-water charges campaign urged

Policy appears to be ‘solutions’ that are most profitable for private sector, conference told

A massive movement similar to the anti-water charges campaign must be mobilised “to force Government action on the housing crisis”, a conference heard on Tuesday.

The meeting, called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) to mark the publication of a Charter for Housing Rights, heard calls for "big support" for a national day of action on housing on April 7th. The initiative is supported by a coalition of housing groups, Ictu, and some political parties.

Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in housing policy at Dublin Institute of Technology, said the root of the current crisis was the "withdrawal by local authorities and the Department of Housing from the direct provision of housing" from the late 1980s.

He said that since then the department had moved from “managing a system of housing delivery to managing a market. And the market, I think, is running rings around them. In most things the market gets its way.”


Government policy appeared to be to bring in “solutions” that were “the most profitable” for the private sector, including “highly profitable” student accommodation and “shared living” developments.

“There appears to be a real lack of expertise in the department about how the housing industry works,” he said.

Mel Reynolds, an architect and housing policy expert, said one of the "greatest myths" promoted by the department was that increasing housing supply would bring down prices.

‘Not bananas’

“Houses are not bananas,” he said. “If the price of bananas goes up we buy apples instead. In housing, supply follows price. As prices go up, supply follows a year later. If prices go down, supply falls. In the past 40 years, not once has an increase in supply led to a decrease in prices.”

He said the vast bulk of public money being spent on social housing was to private landlords through rent supplement and the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). By 2019, he said, Government would be spending over €1 billion a year on HAP, up from the current €730 million.

Relying on the private sector to build social or affordable housing did not make economic sense, said Mr Reynolds. While a developer would seek a minimum of €330,000 to deliver a unit of social housing, the State could build one “all-in” on its own land for €191,000, while a housing co-operative could build one on State land for about €200,000.

Francis Doherty, of the Peter McVerry Trust, said poorer communities felt increasingly "abandoned" by their local authorities, which were less likely to engage with them as they had no housing resources to offer. He was concerned many of the groups the trust worked with – people with mental health, physical health and other issues – were being "designed out of" the housing market.

Richard Boyd Barrett (Solidarity-People Before Profit), one of five TDs to address the conference, said the crisis had impacted on his Dún Laoghaire constituents.

One family with three children, one of whom has a serious lung condition, was in a private-rented house with a “certified red-reading of damp”. They were “not a priority” for local authority housing. Homelessness was the only alternative to their current accommodation.

“So the family will stay put, even though the doctors say treatment will not work in those damp conditions.”

Solidarity-People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party "enthusiastically and fully" endorsed the Ictu Charter for Housing Rights which includes a call for a declaration of a national housing emergency, delivery of 10,000 new homes a year for the next five years and a referendum on a Constitutional "right to housing". Maria Bailey of Fine Gael and Barry Cowen of Fianna Fáil said they "broadly" supported its aims.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times