The growing demand for housing: What is to be done?

Dublin has a growing population of just over 1,273,069 people. Of those, over 42,000 are on the social housing waiting list, 16,489 of whom are children, while overall there are over 90,000 nationwide. There are around 130 plus rough sleepers on the streets of Dublin at any giving time, scores of families are living in inhumane conditions in Direct Provision, and over 1,000 children are now confirmed as being homeless throughout the country. House repossessions have tripled as more people are being made homeless every day while rents continue to spiral out of control; meanwhile, a confirmed 11 percent of TDs are landlords.

In the 1990’s the emergence of Private Public Partnership Deals (PPPs) had enabled a new manifestation of neoliberalism to seep into the cracks of Irish society. The PPPs were designed to maximise profits for real estate capitalists, and had hardly anything at all to do with decent housing or area regeneration for the local indigenous working class populations.

The Urban Renewal Act, 1986, empowered the Minister for Environment to designate areas of the city for urban renewal. The establishment of a Special Purpose Development Agency SPDA, and Custom House Docks Development Authority CHDDA quickly followed and operated entirely outside the jurisdiction of Dublin Corporation.

As the Irish governments shift away from Keynesianism dominated economics materialised, the emergence of the neoliberal state, whose function it was to set up the legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if needs be, the proper functioning of the markets, had enabled and promoted the private sector to push through with PPPs into Dublin’s inner city communities, regardless of the far reaching consequences that lay ahead.

Power was immediately expropriated from Dublin Corporation, furthermore, empowering the private sector and enabling it to operate outside the jurisdiction of local authorities, while state intervention was kept to a bare minimum.

Be that it may, having being deprived of all power and influence, to this day Dublin City Council (DCC) continue to promote PPPs in social housing regeneration more so than any other local authority. Not even the spectacular crash of Dublin’s PPPs in 2008 would deter DCC from pushing ahead with the neoliberal model.

The result of this is that many families are now left again in limbo, as the fate of their dilapidated, and derelict communities hang in the balance. While those who continue to live under the yoke of the last remaining PPP deals to survive, the subsequent gentrification process and unyielding social cleansing is starting to take its toll as whole social structures of mainly working class neighbourhoods are completely destroyed, and entire communities are socially cleansed in the process.

During the so-called Celtic Tiger era, a flow of capital had ensured property speculators and developers each had a nice tidy sum of money to gamble high on the housing stock in Ireland. Millions of Euros were pumped into the housing bubble by gambling merchants. Reaching tipping point in an orgy of overproduction, the bubble soon burst back down to earth with a crash. Bringing down with it an entire economy in the process, and leaving hundreds and thousands of families without home within what is now a man-made scarcity of housing alongside a vast overproduction of housing stock that is going to waste.

When the banks started to crumble one by one and capital accumulation stagnated, housing stock became devalued, and sometimes even physically destroyed, as we observed when the destruction of some of the so-called ‘ghost estates’ around the country began.

Even right now an overproduction of surplus housing stock is still going to waste, for example, an estimated 300,000 plus empty homes lie vacant nationwide. The mere fact the capitalist class would prefer to knock them down, board them up, rather than house people in them, while reverting back to the same property bubble that fucked us over in the first place, just goes to show the complete and utter lunacy of the system.

Entering deeper into the abyss of a heartless world run by multinational corporations, gambling merchants, and speculators . . . neoliberal urban policy initiatives, that favour big business concepts and designs, have created the political and economic arrangements to quickly make a buck through back door shenanigans and shady dealings, and by disempowering local authorities, have turned housing into a money-spinner for the greedy landlord and capitalist class.

Combined with hegemonic neoliberal market logics and capitalist greed, the rise in rapid urbanisation coupled with poorly managed housing amenities and services, have all greatly attributed in some way shape or form to the most contemptible housing crisis Ireland has seen in decades.

Furthermore, Ireland is host to some of the most privileged minorities on the planet; however, amidst all the luxury and prestige extreme poverty and marginalisation are on the rise for the majority. Rapidly widening disparities between those who produce the wealth and those who control it is widely accredited to the problem. Consequently, just 1% of the population own 34% of all the wealth, and out of those few mega rich entities, five individuals in the country own 500 houses each, a staggering amount even by today’s standards.

Social exclusion continues to play a major role in creating some of the conditions of poverty and marginalisation, and usually is accompanied by a myriad of other social injustices and inequalities too.

While poverty may refer to somebody being poor because of a lack of material resources, social exclusion is defined by the inability to participate fully in society in ways that are only partly shaped by material resources.

The issue of housing is just one aspect where social exclusion has played a major role and impacted on the health and well-being of those who are denied full rights to have any say whatsoever on how we should live our lives. And because housing rights in Ireland are mainly individualistic and property-based, the collective rights for the majority of us goes largely unchallenged.

The process of giving private property rights chief precedence, above all, the collective rights of humanity and the urgent housing needs for the population at large, has left hundreds and thousands of people in a vulnerable situation.

It comes as no surprise then to find so many people on the bottom rung of the bureaucratic ladder fighting for a basic human right such as housing.

So what is to be done?

The notable anarchist, and renowned sociologist, Emma Goldman, once argued: “Ask for work. If they don’t give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.”

An Spréach argue likewise for these simplest of basic human rights: ask for housing, if they don’t give you housing, then take housing.

3Of the 300,000 plus over production surplus housing stock lying idle, working alongside our comrades in theIrish Housing Network, we have begun the task of liberating one of them, the Bolt Hostel, and putting to use for the common good a home for families in need.

For the past while, our comrades have been hard at work transforming this one time hostel back into the building it was once designed for before it was abruptly closed down.

We believe that in the ensuing crisis, one ought to be afforded basic human rights over the rights in property, and to this end we advocate opening up any empty homes, where deemed appropriate, to house people in need, both as in practical use, and as a means to highlight the housing situation in Ireland.

An Spréach remains committed to organising against the barbarism of the capitalist crisis and helping people into home. We call on all other likeminded comrades to help us in this crucial endeavour, and join us as we collectively challenge the power structures of the system with direct action for decent housing for all.

ENDS.

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Successful Occupation and Eviction Resistance

Today, 03/07/15, An Spréach and the Irish Housing Network held a successful occupation and eviction resistance when they liberated an unused hostel on Bolton Street in Dublin City Centre.

Earlier in the day around 60 protesters had marched from the GPO to the hostel to support the family who had been housed there by the housing action groups.

Four police cars arrived on the scene with 16 Gardaí and attempted to arrest some of the protesters but soon left without making any arrests.

Today a major victory for housing activists in Ireland was won. We succeed in doing what the state and DCC have refused to do when asked, that is, to open up some of 300,000 empty homes lying around the country, one that had been lying empty fo over 3 years, to house families in need.

An Spréach remains committed to securing homes for people in need and call on other likeminded individuals to join us in our campaign to help liberate some of the thousands of vacant homes around the country for the families who need them.

A special thank you to the people who joined us today, your continued support is greatly appreciated!

STATEMENT: Housing is a right’ are empty words in this society. We have reclaimed an abandoned homeless hostel, which Dublin City Council has left to rot for 3 years, in order to house families in need of emergency accomodation – its rightful purpose.

In a world of plenty, poverty is a crime. There are over 302,000 empty housing units in the south of Ireland, yet there are 5,000 people sleeping rough, a numerous amount of hidden homeless, and over 90,000 on the social housing waiting list. This is the absurd and cruel mathematics of capitalism.

Empty homes and homeless people – it’s not rocket science. Decent housing for all is very possible. But the state and capitalist class have proven their implaccable devotion to profit above all else. So, as it is the right of the needy to take what would naturally be theirs in a sane society, it is the duty of all conscientious people to help bridge this gap. Squatting is a short-term solution to a crisis which will always exist under this irrational economic system.

We will be accused of being thieves for obstructing a robbery. Private property is the greatest theft of all – making paupers despite prosperity, burglarising our futures, dreams, potentials, putting us at the service of a gilded elite which hoards without relent. Homelessness is theft. And what’s more, does this Council building not belong to the people? Have we not paid for it? Well, the people need homes without delay.

This is an example of people empowering themselves to combat the housing crisis – a non-party political project undertaken in people’s spare time with what little resources we had. Something the state could easily have done with its vast means, were it not too busy devising schemes for property developers to cash-in on our misery.

Indeed only ‘ordinary’ people banding together and taking direct action can make a better world, and only when we move past this antiquated social system will we be free. Until then, until a society where each person gives according to their ability, and receives according to need, we say: rob the robbers! Take what you need now!

Our demands are for nothing less than decent housing for all and an end to the dictatorship of the market. Here is the minimum of what we could do in the meantime:

Housing Demands

No Evictions
1. No evictions. Families and individuals in their primary residences, be they social, private rental, or owned property, should not face eviction (unless excessive/extravagant, e.g. a mansion).

Housing based on Need
2. All housing should be of a quality and affordability so that all can access it and live with dignity and decency.
3. Housing provision should shift away from the market towards state, social, community, and non-market based provision.
4. Social Housing Should be built immediately to accommodate need.
5. Vacant property should be turned over based on need.
6. NAMA properties should be immediate turned over to provide homes and community and public spaces and facilities.

Tenants’ Protection
7. Tenants’ Protection. Rent Controls should immediately be implemented.
8. Tenants’ Protection. Tenants should have security of tenancy, no probation, and secure and quality conditions as right.
9. Tenants’ Protection. Landlords should not be able to reject rent allowance, housing assistant payment or any other rent support.
10. Tenants’ Protection. A Tenants’ Union should not only be recognised but actively encouraged as a means of protecting and organising tenants.

Squatting Rights
11. Squatting Rights. That there is a right to reclaim spaces for housing and community use when they have been empty for 6 months.
12. Squatting Rights. When reclaimed homes and spaces have been put to use for 3 years they should owned by those who have lived and worked them.

Homelessness
13. Homelessness. Homeless support funding should be increased and homeless support services should be an immediate right not an emergency last hope

14. Homelessness. Homelessness support service should exist based on the needs of local areas and communities and not be centralised in large urban centres.

Housing as part of the Community
15. Homes exist in a community. Therefore the provision of housing must be met with adequate and accessible community resources, education and health, community facilities and spaces to live and enjoy recreation time. The needs of families and children should be particularly met along with those most vulnerable in society.

 

 

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Housing Acticvists force DCC into Housing Homeless People

An Spreach are delighted to announce that as a result of direct action taking between ourselves and various other housing groups, two of the homeless people we protested with when we occupied Dublin City Council offices have been giving long-term accommodation. It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless, and goes to show what can be achieved when we collectively challenge the power structures of the system with direct action. The struggle continues!

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What Housing Crisis? This is a Capitalist Crisis!

The housing crisis is a really a capitalist crisis. There are enough housing units for everyone multiple times over. Joe Conlon surveys the Irish housing movement and asks whether squatting is a short-term solution.

“Ours is a society in which, in every field, one group of people makes decisions, exercise control, limits choices, while the great majority have to accept these decisions, submit to this control and act within the limits of these externally imposed choices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of housing: one of those basic human needs which throughout history and all over the world people have satisfied as well as they could for themselves, using the materials what were at hand and their own, and their neighbors labor. The marvelously resourceful anonymous vernacular architecture of every part of the globe is a testimony to their skill, using timber, straw, grass, leaves, hides, stone, clay, bone, earth, mud sand even snow. Consider the igloo: maximum enclosure of space with minimum of labor. Cost of materials and transportation, nil. And all made of water. Nowadays, of course, the Eskimos live on welfare handouts in little northern slums. Man, as Habraken says “no longer houses himself: he is housed” – Colin Ward

The “housing crisis” we hear about so often in the media is a lie. Capitalism is the crisis; the housing problem is but one side effect of this cancerous system. The housing problem is getting worse and worse. People are forced to live in crappy cramped bed sits, cheap near-condemned B&Bs, live in uncertain rental accommodation, and some are living in a state of limbo in hostels waiting on housing lists (some aren’t even given this privilege). Even as I write this article in the 24 hour internet café on Talbot Street it is 11pm on a Thursday night the café is mainly being used by homeless people, they rent a computer for 1 euro per hour and lay across chairs and the floor trying to sleep.

No matter what time it is you’ll always find the less fortunate using the café to sleep and get out of the elements. If you walk around Dublin city no doubt you want have to walk long before you find someone sleeping in a doorway or under a bridge. These are horrible conditions in which people are forced to live. If you ever find yourself down on your luck and become homeless there is a good chance if there are no more beds left in a homeless hostel you will be give a sleeping bag for shelter.

Homeless people and those affected by the housing problem are starting to take the situation into their own hands because of the failures of elected officials and policy makers. Over a year ago in north Dublin a collective of radical mothers came together because of their disillusionment with mainstream politicians and formed North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community to help create change in the housing problem within their communities. As they get more organised people from other parts of Dublin come to them for advice and support.

On May 5th, Help the Hidden Homeless organised an occupation of the Dublin City Council offices. Homeless families and homeless individuals led the occupation. The homeless people included a heavily pregnant mother and her 1 year old child, a mother and her 3 year old child, a mother and father with their child and a homeless mental health patient – all were denied accommodation repeatedly. They were supported by other housing and homeless groups, which included North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community, the Hub, the Barricade Inn, An Spréach and Housing Action Now, to name but a few of the their supporters.

Strategically, it was decided to occupy Dublin City Council because it controls the bureaucracy of housing allocations throughout Dublin. After an hour of the occupation Dick Brady, manager of the City Council bureaucracy, agreed to meet and enter negotiations with delegates from Help the Hidden Homeless. All in all negotiations lasted over 3 hours, with demands eventually met.

Dick Brady told the delegates that it all boils down to the fact that there is no accommodation available. However, money is no issue – to pay for hostels, hotels, B&Bs and rent. Accessing accommodation is the problem. The supply of accommodation is left to private industry; to make matters worse rent is continually rising and most landlords in Dublin refuse rent allowance, which contributes to the rising homelessness.

Dick Brady believes the steps that can help to reduce the demand for accommodation are stabilizing rents, keep families in their properties, and rent caps. The delegates then asked what power Dublin City Council has. They were told Dublin City Council does not have the power to implement the steps; the government can only implement the steps. He said there is no money for building accommodation.

The heads of the homeless services were then negotiated with regarding the four cases mentioned above. It was agreed upon that if B&Bs or hotels would take them in, Dublin City Council would pay for the accommodation. Other points were mentioned to the manager of the Dublin City Council bureaucracy: the failures of the HAP scheme and the privatizing of social housing; the threats of children being took from families that are forced to roam the streets, and the system of only being able to present yourself on the day of being made homeless.

While the government says there is no money to build social housing they seem to forget the fact that there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone. There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland. These people could be housed in these vacant properties instead of letting them waist, rot and fall into disrepair. If Dublin City Council can’t do anything to help reduce homelessness and the government do not want to put funding into the creation of social housing what are people meant to do? Could a short term solution lie in squatting in these vacant properties mentioned above?

Squatting is a political act, it is a political occupation.

An-spreachA housing action collective called An Spréach (which means ‘the spark’ in Irish) has tried to do just that. The collective formulated a plan to open up vacant flats in the Tom Kelly flat complex in Charlemont street in Dublin’s South inner city. All together there are 3 blocks of flats left in the Tom Kelly flat complex, the rest were demolished because of the failed plans to regenerate the area. Only a handful of the flats are occupied, so An Spréach set out to open a vacant flat to house a homeless mother and her 2 children.

But their plans were foiled when the Garda raided the flat and arrested eight housing activists while they were fixing the flat up. All eight were charged with trespass. After 8 months of the case being dragged out in the court the charges were eventually thrown out as the Garda could not prove that any crime was committed. The process of dragging cases out for as long as possible is a way of keeping activists out of action while the case goes on.

In the months between the start and the end of the case homeless people died on the streets of Dublin from exposure to the elements. One homeless man Jonathan Corrie froze to death only a few feet from the Dáil. He froze to death in a doorway while the Dáil – supposedly the building that represents the people of Ireland – lay empty and heated. This is one of the many contradictions of capitalist society.

Another collective of radical activists are squatting in a old hotel on Parnell street in Dublin’s city center which was laying vacant over 10 years. These activists came together for the political occupation to open up the boarded up building, which was left to rot, to create a social center. They desire to create a free space for youths, community groups, and all sorts of grass roots and non-hierarchical groups to use as they see fit.

The social center is named the Barricade Inn, it is organised on anarchist principles of anti-authoritarianism and mutual aid; it is a hub of resistance against capitalism, neo-liberalism, all forms of discrimination and rascism, and the state. There is an info shop where people can go and read radical books and literature, bike workshop and computer lab and vegan cafe which will be in use soon, screen printing workshops, movie nights, free shop, language exchanges, music classes, parkour workshops and much more.

It was created by the young and ever-growing squatting movement. The movement burns with the flame of desire to create free spaces for people to use instead of letting them fall into disrepair. They have squatted many buildings around Dublin and in other counties. Over a year ago they started to squat in Grangegorman which includes houses, warehouses and a massive yard that was transformed from waste ground to a community garden, which local residents use. There is a free shop set up in one of the warehouses where people can come and take stuff or leave donations.

In March, a private security company with backup from the Garda tried to illegally evict the squatters. The squatters with the help of activists and local residents resisted the illegal eviction. The resistance lasted all day and into the late night. Eventually the private security company and Garda left. This was after the resistors sat in front of the vans and cars of the security company to prevent them from getting in or out of the warehouse complex. Eventually the security company were allowed to leave after long negotiations between the Garda and the squatters. The squatter were then brought through the courts and were ordered to leave by the 4th of May.

Another squatting action that took place in broad daylight was when 40 to 50 squatters and supporters helped to squat a row of vacant houses which have been left unused for years, instead of letting them go to waste people now use them to live. These houses were owned by the HSE. Squatting could be a way to solve the housing problem on the short term and would help to reducing the levels of homelessness. The people that are homeless due to the financial crash could be using the 270,000 houses, flats and apartments which lay vacant. Most of these vacant buildings lay empty because of the massive foreclosures resulting from the financial crash.

Most people wouldn’t know where to begin if they wanted to squat. Luckily, these skills can be learned every Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm in the Barricade Inn – there are practical squatting nights where people with the same ideas can meet and discuss ideas and ask advice. These are just some examples of activists trying to create alternatives to the housing problem. These are radical activists agitating and executing direct actions without relying on party organisations.

These activists are proving there are alternative forms of living, organizing and working together. Likewise community based housing groups are starting to see the lack of progress being made by the parties in power and the parties competing for power. Some community and housing groups are moving towards these alternative ways of struggle, taking the initiative themselves.

The working class and community activists are becoming disillusioned with mainstream politics and are starting to resist these top down policies, which have been created by the EU, IMF and ECB and implemented by the state bureaucracy, which are causing so much inequality. We have seen this resistance with the anti-water charges campaign and are starting to see it in relation to the housing and homeless problem.

In order to help create change and help reduce homelessness, eviction and rising rent prices, levers must be found that can be used against local councils. Means of resisting and combating the ruling bloc which is represented by the Troika and the governing coalition which imposed the austerity measures that are creating so much inequality need to be created in order to struggle, resist and to create positive change.

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A Victory for Social Justice: Housing Activists Beat the Court

Eight housing activists were today acquitted by the Dublin Criminal Court of Justice, relating to a case spanning back seven months ago, when the charge against them of trespass was thrown out of court.

All eight accused had initially set about into investigating whether or not it was feasible to open up, and re-do, one of the 80 unused flats on Charlemont Street, that had been lying empty for over two years or more.

In what can only be described as the worst housing crisis in recent decades, it is nothing short of a crime against humanity that so many homes lie empty across the country.

It is quite clear that laws in Ireland are geared towards protecting the rights in property, more so than people themselves. For instance, why aren’t there any laws preventing homeless people from freezing to death on the streets, but there are plenty of laws preventing people from seeking shelter within the overabundant empty houses and flats, around the country?

When we have 90,000 people in housing need; when there are more than 230,000 housing and apartments vacant nationwide; when 5,000 human beings are defined as homeless; when 180 people are sleeping rough in Dublin alone; when people are dying on our streets, it’s time we started asking why tolerate such a class in society that causes so much pain and suffering.

Today a small blow was struck against social injustice, and the terrible housing conditions we face, tomorrow, another will bring us even further towards achieving decent, and adequate housing for all.

An Spréach.

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PROTEST in Support of An Spréach & D8HAC Activists

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An Spréach & D8HAC back again before the Courts

Today, An Spréach and D8HAC were yet again brought before the perfidious decadent Irish justice system.

The trial has been further put back to Wednesday, 19th of December, at 11:30am. We will keep you all informed as the proceedings progress.

A big thank you to our comrades who came out and supported us today—SOLIDARITY!

An Spréach.

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An Spréach information Stall & Anti-Water Metre Protest

Today, An Spréach held a successful information stall outside the GPO on O’Connell Street, where we collected many signatories for a petition calling on the Council to open up the unused and vacant homes around the country.

The response from the passing public was absolutely fantastic, and at the same time, harrowing to hear their own sad stories at dealing with the horrific housing crisis. It’s a desperate situation right across the board.

Afterwards we joined in with our comrades in the anti-water metre protest, which saw upwards to 100000 people from across the country, both young and old, in attendance. An amazing show of strength by the ordinary citizens in this country, the ruling class are quaking in their boots—Keep up the Pressure!

(Visit our facebook page for more photos of today’s protest.)

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Attempted Eviction Thwarted by People Power

Well done to everybody who turned out in Cabra today and prevented the sheriff from evicting a family from their home.

An Spréach were present among such other groups as The Hub Ireland, The Land League, Anti-Eviction Ireland, who together with up to 70 other people present throughout the day, stood in solidarity in the torrential downpour, preventing the eviction from ever taking place.

The bailiff & sheriff have been thwarted for now—the people remain on standby.

Photo credit – John Ayres.

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PROTEST: Support An Spréach & D8HAC Activists

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