Towards a real housing strategy

By Rory Hearne

There will be young children tonight going to bed in a strange place with strangers all around them. They will be watching their parents, stressed and worried. They will probably walk the streets of our capital city with their parents looking for a homeless service where they might get some warm food.

They will look at other children going to normal homes and wish they could go too. Tonight they will sleep in emergency accommodation in a hostel or B&B. Tomorrow night is likely to be somewhere else. They will go to school tomorrow and try concentrate and play with the other children.

A similar situation faces 1,500 children living in emergency accommodation across the country. Thousands more live with families on the brink of homelessness, facing another unaffordable rent hike or home repossession. It is only a matter of time before one or more of these children die on our streets as happened with a homeless man last week. It is absolutely correct to call the situation facing these families as a ‘national emergency’ and a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

It is a clear breach of Article 27 of the UN Covention on the Rights of the Child to which Ireland is a signatory. Article 27 recognises the right of every child “to a standard of living adequate for child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development” and obliges the Irish state to “take appropriate measures to…implement this right and shall in the case of need, provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing”.

The Minister responsible for dealing with housing, Alan Kelly and the Taoiseach both state that they are doing all they can to solve the crisis and that resources are not an issue. The growing numbers of families presenting homeless – over 70 a month now in Dublin alone – shows that this is not true. It is not being given the political or funding priority required to address it.

That is why this coming weekend academics, policy experts, housing activists, trade unionists and housing charities are coming together to organize a public conference to discuss and highlight the many solutions that exist to address the crisis.

The conference, titled ‘Towards A Real Housing Strategy’, is being organised by ‘Housing Action Now’ and will discuss topics related to housing such as homelessness, rent regulation, tenant’s rights, funding models for social and affordable housing, and the role of NAMA.

But this is not just a conference for policy experts or activists – it is also open to the public and aims to provide people with a greater understanding of the causes of the crisis and possible solutions.

What is clear is that there are solutions to the housing crisis but there needs to be more public involvement (protest, contacting your TD and the media) in putting pressure on the government to immediately implement them. For example, increasing the social housing budget from the planned 500 million to 1.5bn, starting immediately would fast track an additional 10,000 permanent social housing units in the next year and address the immediate crisis and begin to address the wider housing waiting list.