House and home

 

Sir, – I read with interest the article “The Irish obsession with property” (David McWilliams, Opinion, June 19th).

The words “house” and “home” are often conflated. This is very common in popular media, and on television programmes, as a means of selling real estate, certain domestic lifestyles, and driving a desire for home ownership. This is, obviously, of benefit to the construction and banking industries, but it is also a tool used by governments with a broader ideological agenda aimed at increasing economic efficiency and growth. It has long since been a tool in Ireland, recently seen in political discourse with the invention of brand new and entirely rhetorical phrases such as “social-housing homes”.

David McWilliams, having referenced the President of Ireland’s essay on the history of home, demonstrates how smoothly the terms “housing”, “home” and indeed “property” can be used interchangeably. One outcome of continuing to conflate and thus confuse the terms “house” and “home” is that we arrive at the usual, and I would suggest, rather simplistic conclusions – that the Irish are “obsessed” with houses as economic property; that we are only interested in houses to get rich; that those with houses have a conflict of interest in fellow citizens getting a house to keep prices high; and that we Irish value the economic aspects of property over and above the social, emotional, intellectual, or ancestral, all of which, are more difficult, but not impossible, to measure.

After 20 years of working in housing research, design, and assessment, it is my experience that making a home, building human relationships, and forming communities are more central to why the Irish want a house or an apartment than is commonly reported. Generally, people want this irrespective of their form of tenure. The fault line proposed between David McWilliams between “insiders” and “outsiders” based on home ownership is not that clearly felt once you step into a living room and begin to talk directly to people about their experiences of living at home in Ireland.

The article is, however, a good reminder that some divisions might be useful in Irish housing. Perhaps Irish housing policy now needs a clear and explicit line drawn and a distinction made between “housing” and “home” when we talk of domestic life.

These words mean very different things and, I would argue, are confusing the role of the State.

Perhaps the role of the State in housing might better be framed as one in which it nurtures, establishes, and sustains the conditions in which citizens are enabled to form whatever kind of home they desire in whatever kind of building they choose. Housing is but public infrastructure, a foundation for homes to be slowly built by single people, families, old, young, etc, homes in which citizens form together and alone the foundations of a socially wealthy, spatially healthily, and community-focused society.

Put simply, the line to draw is one in which the State builds housing, and citizens build homes. – Yours, etc,

EMMETT SCANLON,

Assistant Professor,

School of Architecture,

Planning and

Environmental Policy,

UCD,

Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.