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Opinion: The election results offer radical possibilities to solve the housing crisis in Dublin – here’s how

The people of Dublin city have voted for a majority left-wing council. Now let’s see what they can do with it.

Rory Hearne

WITH MUCH OF the fallout of the elections focused on the internal dynamics of the Labour party, there should be a greater focus on the implications of the dramatic increase in the left and Independent vote in the city councils, particularly Dublin City Council, and what this means for implementing policies that move away from austerity and addressing the social crisis devastating our citizens.

Analysis of the Dublin City Council local election results shows that the parties of the left and left Independents won a majority of the 63 seats. This includes Sinn Fein with 16 councillors, eight independent left councillors, five People Before Profit councillors, three Green Party and one Anti Austerity Alliance councillor elected. That gives a total of 33 seats, an overall majority. If you include Labour’s eight seats that brings it to 41 broadly ‘left’ councillors. Clearly the people of Dublin have voted against austerity and for the social issues, particularly of housing, to be addressed in an immediate and radical way.

Making housing a human right

One of the key election commitments of all of these left candidates was to end the housing crisis in the capital and make housing a human right. For example, Sinn Fein’s local election manifesto committed to build 7,500 publicly owned social housing units within 18 months using €1 billion from the Strategic Investment Fund, fast track social housing units from Nama, grant powers to local authorities to set up Public Housing Trusts to borrow from the European Investment Bank, and build social housing.

Dublin Stock Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The People Before Profit alliance committed in its local election manifesto to see local councils investing in social housing and commencing an emergency house building programme, to get a change in the laws so that councils are given the power to control rents, to use the by-laws to regulate the housing market and for the use of unoccupied dwellings to house those on the housing waiting list. Some of the proposals of the independents were similar: for example Eilis Ryan, a newly-elected independent the in North Inner City  area called for caps on residential rents to curb rent inflation, investing in existing housing and building much-needed new housing, to clear waiting lists and the establishment of a Dublin housing agency to comprehensively oversee the fair supply of housing in the city.

Fuelling the rise in house and rent prices

These policies run counter to the current Government’s approach to addressing the housing crisis as set out in the recent Construction 2020 proposals to subsidise private developers and guarantee mortgages in the hope that this will provide an increased supply and lead to a reduction in house and rent prices. But the experience of the Celtic Tiger housing bubble showed that such an approach will only fuel house and rent prices further. The private market, home-ownership, developer-led approach caused the crash and will clearly not solve the crisis.

Fine Gael and Labour are pursuing it because they have a neoliberal or pro-market approach to housing which does not believe that housing should be a right or an entitlement and that local authorities should not play a key role in direct provision of social housing. But the experience of countries which do not have housing crises like ours – such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany –  show that social housing and rent control are key to addressing the roots of our crisis.

The policy suggestions of the newly-elected left councillors are, therefore, logical and could solve the housing crisis. They could meet the need of the growing numbers of homeless and provide affordable, sustainable and secure housing in the form of public housing and rent controlled private properties for low income families who need it.

Challenges

There are a number of challenges to achieving this, however. Firstly, implementing the policies requires agreement of the left parties and independents to work together. There is an obligation and responsibility on them based on the mandate from the people of Dublin to come together and solve this. If they did form a working majority on the council they are likely to face opposition from the unelected management within Dublin City Council. But as the majority in the Council they could overrule these officials and commence the housing solutions immediately.

They subsequently could face opposition from Government and the Department of Environment and, of course, from the property-speculative class of estate agents, landlords, banks and the property boom cheerleaders in the media. The weapon of government is to provide the City Council with a reduced budget and thus make their plans unimplementable. But rather than wait for a budget stand-off fiasco in December, the left parties and Independents should set out implementing their policy alternatives immediately from the first council meeting. They should start communicating their message effectively in order to achieve national public support through a campaign that highlights the benefits of this policy approach prior to the budget.

If they did this I believe they would get the majority public support (which was expressed through the election). This will require the people to mobilise in support of these policies. This would be a direct challenge to the austerity agenda and would offer real solutions to the people most directly affected by this crisis. It requires a Left-Independent alliance that is prepared to really challenge the system in the interests of ordinary people in this city.

Dr Rory Hearne is a lecturer in geography at NUI Maynooth, a member of Claiming Our Future and a former community worker.

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Rory Hearne

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