Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, discusses the current housing crisis engulfing the nation.
The narrative on homelessness has changed sharply in recent years.
Until very recently, when we talked about homelessness we spoke about single men and a small number of single women, most of whom, in addition to poverty and the lack of an affordable place to live, experienced mental health and or addiction problems.
Now we witness daily a different type of homelessness. Economic homelessness. Homelessness caused by people being unable to afford accommodation which has resulted in a growing number of families finding themselves with no place to live and relying on emergency accommodation.
There are more than 1,200 children living in emergency accommodation across the state.
I think the enormity of this has been lost in the headlines and in the rush to assign blame. 1,200 children living in one room in many cases, away from the friends and extended families, away from their schools, with no cooking facilities and nowhere to do their homework. While all the various stakeholders sit in rooms to thrash out solutions that suit political agendas and budgets, these children face the interminable wait for a home.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2011 around eight families a month entered homeless services in Dublin, mostly needing short term help because of mental health or behaviour issues. Every year since then that figure has doubled, so that last month 83 families became homeless, 78 of them never having experienced homelessness before.
I accept that all of those working on the front line tackling this issue are doing their best and I pay tribute to them. While I believe assigning blame is counterproductive, I do believe that we need to look at and address the root causes of this growing issue so we can learn from previous mistakes and not repeat them. I believe our current housing crisis is man made. It could have been avoided had the right policies been made.
The catastrophic decision by successive governments over the last decade to cut back on social housing builds and to place a greater reliance on the private rented sector to house low income families is a key cause of this current crisis. The responsibility for providing social housing was abandoned by councils and the state and it was directed to the speculators, private developers and unaccountable landlords. The effects of this lassiez faire attitude to housing is evidenced in our current crisis.
I have been a city councillor for nine years and while housing has always been a big issue in my clinics, in the past two years numbers have skyrocketed and everyday I see and hear the tragic human casualties of years of inaction and failed housing policies.
What’s worse is there is still no impetus to redress this situation. It needs to be acknowledged that relying on the private sector will not solve this problem. We need to address the serious supply issue of social housing. The government needs to instigate a social build immediately. This is the only long term solution. Anything else is piece meal and while it might paper over the cracks for a while, it will not give people the certainty they deserve when it comes to creating a home.
It must also be stated that this problem permeates through every strand of society. Young couples who cannot afford to buy, cannot save to buy due to rising rents. Students are at the mercy of the private rental sector, as every September the struggle begins for somewhere affordable to live. Young professionals cannot afford to live in the city centre, it doesn’t help that there is a complete dearth of quality affordable one beds.
Our haste to throw up poor quality properties in the boom has come back to haunt us, undoubtedly there are plenty more longboat quays dotted around the country. The question is have we been significantly scarred enough by the legacy of these bad builds or are we trundling towards more of the same?
Níl aon tintean mar do thintean féin
Críona Ní Dhálaigh
Ardmhéara Bhaile Átha Cliath
Lord Mayor of Dublin