Unfortunately, the dark reality facing a lot of people across the country is that having a home is simply out of their reach. Hopes that the government would address the housing crisis in this year’s budget was playing on lots of people’s minds last Tuesday morning. The housing crisis has gotten progressively worse over the last number of years and, along with health care, has been one of the biggest challenges for the current government. This crisis is cross-generational and affects people from all backgrounds with those worst-affected including low-income families, people living in emergency accommodation and students to name but a few. This is a two-pronged problem; on one hand, there are those that are being priced out of their existing accommodation, and on the other hand, those who are unable to find accommodation.
Mounting pressure is being placed on the current government to solve this widespread problem, but the question has to be raised, why didn’t previous governments foresee this problem’s worsening nor enact long-term solutions? Politicians have long relied on the quick fix to appease the electorate but neglect to put in place long-term initiatives. This has led to a nationwide shortage of housing both in the private sector as well as a complete lack of social housing. Furthermore, the housing crisis is not a problem that has just appeared out of nowhere over the last few years, this has been a problem in Dublin over the last decade. We would we also be naïve to deny that this is a problem not just in Dublin but across the country.
One of the primary reasons for this crisis is the lack of housing in the greater Dublin area where 40% of the population live. This has led to increased rent rates in the Capital, rendering citizens unable to afford accommodation, and forcing them into emergency accommodation, overcrowded lodgings or onto the streets. Every day, students who cannot find or afford accommodation in Dublin where three of the five biggest universities in the country are located are commuting from places as far away as Cavan, some spending over four hours travelling to and from college each day. In addition, there are a growing number of families who don’t have access to adequate social housing. Who can forget when only a couple of weeks ago Margaret Cash and her six children spent the night in Tallaght Garda station? How can the government think this is acceptable? How can we as people think this acceptable?
In this budget minister for finance, Paschal Donoghue acknowledged that the housing situation is ‘not where we want to be’, which is nothing short of an understatement. An extra €30 million has been allocated to homelessness services, €60 million in funding for additional emergency accommodation and €1.25 billion for the construction of 10,000 new social homes in 2019. Even though this is a step in the right direction it is not enough. One can’t help thinking though that this is a political strategy of appeasement, we shouldn’t have had to wait for the problem to have gotten this bad for the government to finally act.
What we need is more affordable housing. Dublin has to face the fact that it needs to build up, gone should be the days when buildings were only allowed to be twelve stories (50 meters), this is no longer feasible. Even, if in designated areas close to the city such as Ringsend or areas close to public transport connections such as Cherrywood developers were allowed to build up this would alleviate some of the problems. Some have argued that high rise buildings will ‘ruin’ the skyline or that the city will become dominated by these types of high-rise buildings, however, with careful planning this can be minimalised.
There are several groups lobbying the government and or holding regular protests in order to try and force the government’s hand so that they address this issue head-on. Take Back the City is one such organisation, they have had an extensive campaign in the recent weeks lobbying the government and demanding a resolution to the housing crisis. They are ‘A network of 18 grassroots groups working together to take direct action against those who perpetuate the housing crisis’ according to their Twitter biography. They are taking a more hands-on approach in raising awareness around this issue. They have held anti-eviction training workshops which have been open to the public and which train you how to resist potential eviction.
Another group who are lobbying the government are student unions. UCDSU has been very active in recent weeks since college has started back. On October 3rd UCDSU along with Union of Students Ireland (USI) marched on Leinster House calling for the government to declare a ‘housing emergency’ across Ireland. There were also calls for legislation surrounding ‘digs’ which a large number of students rely on for accommodation. This march was followed by a separate protest organised by Take Back the City which involved a sit-in outside the Department of the Taoiseach. Charities across the country are also providing emergency accommodation as well as providing aid to people trying to secure accommodation. It can’t be denied that the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges the Irish government has faced in the last number of years, and unfortunately, in this country, some people have no place to call home.
By Sean Cullen – Politics CoEditor