A very successful conference on the housing crisis organised by People Before Profit has launched a broad Right2Housing campaign of resistance to homelessness and repossession, and for decent housing for all.
In a packed room in Dublin’s Academy Plaza Hotel, guest speaker Andrew McLaren from TCD told the conference that the decision to leave housing provision in the hands of the market was disastrous.
It was creating affordability problems, indebtedness and wage slavery and the end of the Celtic Tiger had produced negative equity, repossessions and homelessness and the private renting sector was producing uncontrolled rent rises and displacement of families.
Instead of the government subsidising landlords by €500 million a year it should be building social housing. Access to housing has always been difficult for the poor under a system that serves developers, landlords and speculators and that social need is not considered under capitalism. “Housing is a necessity. The rights of people come first, not rights of developers and landlords.”
Louise Bayliss, from lone parents’ group SPARK, said lone parents are the poorest and most vulnerable group in society and have been hit particularly hard by the housing crisis. Over 30% on the Dublin housing waiting list are lone parent families and Joan Burton’s outrageous decision to again refuse to increase rent caps was forcing many out of work, out of their communities and onto the streets. Lone parents have also been affected by the mortgage crisis and “lone parents cannot survive the childcare and housing crisis at the same time.”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett called for a new social movement like the Right2Water campaign and that the only way to deal with the crisis was to get out on the streets and fight for our right to housing. He said that the government’s response to the crisis back in October was a complete fake and an attempt to deceive the public.
“We demand that rent controls are introduced immediately and an emergency public housing programme put in place. How do you pay for this? With the €4billion in cash reserves being held by NAMA. This is our money and could be used to build thousands of social housing units and put many construction workers back to work.”
There were also demands for the building of good quality housing and an end to badly constructed homes, a problem that will not be resolved by the market.
PBP Cllr John Lyons said that basic needs were not being met under this economic system and that housing is a “fundamental human right we should be able to avail of freely. We have the right to a house and a home and that’s what we are fighting for.”
Father Peter McVerry said that homelessness had gone through the roof and that six people were now being made homeless every day, including whole families now being split apart.
He said FG/Labour’s latest refusal to raise rent caps was “a nail in the coffin of this government’s own homeless and social housing strategy.”
In an inspiring speech Peter McDonagh, himself homelss, said that people of all ages and backgrounds were now coming into homeless hostels. While thousands of boarded up dwellings across the city lay idle, 30 homeless people died on the streets last year. “Families on the streets is a bloody disgrace. Boarded up houses need to be opened up. Right2Housing is about getting everyone together to take on this government and get this done!”
Eileen Short, Chairperson of Defend Council Housing-East London, said the new housing movement in Britain had linked up unions with tenants to take on the developers and right-wing politicians. Empty council houses were occupied, grabbing headlines and raising the confidence of working class people to defend and demand public housing.
Trade unionist Mick O’ Reilly said the Housing Action Campaign in the 1970s forced the government to build 60,000 council houses and that we need a similar campaign today.
The rousing Conference ended with a unanimous vote to establish a new housing campaign of people power with grassroots communities its centre. Resistance will build on the momentum of Right2Water and will be broad, involving the groups affected by the crisis, :people facing repossession, struggling in the private rental market, the homeless and many others as well as trade unions, community groups, Left political parties and independents.
Key demands will be control of the price of land, no more evictions, increased public housing and rent controls.
A series of local Right2Housing meetings will be organised across the country with a plan to build for a mass national demonstration when the Dáil returns in September.
The battle to win this basic human right has begun!