Social housing is “demonised” and should be rebranded as “public housing” to help change the way it is perceived, a conference of academics and activists heard on Thursday.
Sinn Féin spokesman on housing Eoin Ó Broin, who hosted the event, said although we “hear all about how social or public housing projects on a large scale are bad...the vast majority of local authority-built estates are good places to live.
“They are vibrant communities and many people would chew off their own arm to get into one”.
Keynote speaker, Anna Minton – housing academic at the University of East London and author of Big Capital: Who Is London For? – said there was a "demonisation of social housing" in Britain which began under former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
She described how much council housing had been allowed to fall into disrepair as global capital flooded into the London housing market. This had led to many complexes being cleared of tenants, demolished and replaced “with luxury apartments”.
Dr Mary Murphy, lecturer in Politics and Society in the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University said public housing policy had shifted from the provision of housing to the provision of housing benefits – rent supplement allowance and more recently the Housing Assistance payment (HAP) – which represented the transfer of public money to private interests and the abdication of State responsibility for the direct provision of social housing.
“To some degree we have been a little blind to it, that privatisation by stealth over the past 30 years that over time leads to a completely different housing policy.”
Rita Fagan, a Dublin housing activist who was centrally involved in an ill-fated residents' campaign to have St Michael's Estate – a local authority flats complex of over 340 households – refurbished said she had lived in social housing all her life.
“The majority of social housing communities in this country you never hear a word about because they are getting on with their lives,” she told the “Demanding Public Housing” conference.
Sinn Féin Dublin City councillor, Janice Boylan, said she was tired of hearing social housing spoken about as "units" while private housing was referred to as "homes".