Ideology won’t supply housing — only actions will

A practical solution is desperately needed, one based in evidence and not in any particular ideology. writes Joyce Fegan.

WHEN it comes to housing, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Government is taking a “rational rather than ideological view”. He says we “must” take a “practical, non-ideological” approach.

View or approach, approach or view, though approach sounds a bit more proactive, it’s unlikely the electorate will pay much attention to ideology when it comes to housing.

Whether you consider yourself a neoliberal capitalist or a socialist, you still need a roof over your head at night. Whether you’re a Catholic, a Muslim, or have no faith, a supporter of People Before Profit or a member of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, the same ideology applies — that of basic human need, a roof over your head at night.

Ireland’s seemingly unfixable housing issues came up in Dáil Éireann during Leaders’ Questions this week regarding the small matter of 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation, renters stuck renting, and adult children stuck at home.

Varadkar was in attendance and told the chamber that the problem must be approached in a “practical, non-ideological” way.

When it comes to bricks and mortar, practical is about the only approach one would hope for. What ideology could possibly get in the way of those bricks and that mortar?

Ireland’s had housing issues before. Before action was taken in the past, a big report was published about the problem, the cause of the problem, and the solutions to the problem.

This big report highlighted three key issues:

  • That landlords were failing to maintain their properties;
  • That the State was reluctant to become involved in the building of social housing;
  • That there was an over-reliance on the private sector to provide the necessary housing.

The year was 1914.

One other thing the 1914 report (Housing Conditions of the Working Classes in the City of Dublin) highlighted was the need to build 14,000 new homes to rehouse the dwellers of the capital’s slums.

Understandably, it wasn’t until the early 1930s that any real action was taken. In 1932, two things happened: Legislation was passed and a man by the name of Herbert Simms was appointed as Dublin’s housing architect.

With ambition and attention to detail, between 1932 and 1948, London-born Simms oversaw the creation of 17,000 homes in Dublin, in the form of large-scale housing schemes in the suburbs and, more controversially, flats in the city.

Simms, informed by evidence, education, and experience, not ideology, knew that not everyone would be able to afford to live in a suburban setting. Flats in a city, so people could live close to work, were a practical solution at a time when people worked long hours and transport to and from home was a bit of a tricky issue.

Though he understood the necessity of public housing in a diverse society with a multifaceted economy, and was crucial to creating it, this story does not end well for Simms himself. In 1948, he took his own life, leaving a note that he felt overworked and overwhelmed.

Housing is a huge issue, in the sense that a roof over your head is a fundamental human need, integral, if not central, to a person’s wellbeing. The importance of housing, the palpable tangibility of a home of one’s own, must have been at the forefront of Simms’s mind.

Next Friday, as voters go to the polls in our local elections, housing is likely to be at the forefront of the electorate’s mind. 

Whether the voter is 69 years of age and cohabiting with their adult son, whether the voter is 32 and living with five other 30-somethings in Portobello, whether the voter is 27 and itching to finally move out of home, or whether the voter doesn’t have a polling card because one has not arrived to their emergency accommodation, this housing issue of ours has manifested itself in various ways and is affecting a large portion of our population.

A practical solution is desperately needed, one based in evidence and not in any particular ideology.

Whether we want to look at Ireland as an economy or a society, there are a few basic elements to our make-up. There are various jobs. Some jobs pay minimum wage, be that in retail or in the hospitality industry. These sectors keep a lot of people in work.

The wholesale and retail sector is Ireland’s largest employer, providing 280,000 jobs and there are 177,000 people employed in the accommodation and food sector. It is unlikely every single one of these jobs would provide a person with enough of a salary, or job security, to go to the bank and ask for a 35-year mortgage for a three-bed semi-detached suburban home.

And yet these are real jobs that our society and economy need to function, and they are real jobs for real people, who need adequate homes in order to function.

A mix of housing is needed. A mix of financing for that housing is needed. And a mix of private and public housing is needed. This isn’t about ideology, this is about being practical and rational, but, most of all, it’s about taking action.

IN 1914, there was the First World War to contend with, two years later there was the rebellion against British rule, and the eventual establishment of the Republic of Ireland, before that housing report could be acted on.

But we’re not in 1914 any more, the year is 2019 and our local and European elections take place this Friday. It might not be a general election, you might think the elections do not matter, but for the political parties the results will speak volumes.

They pore over newspaper popularity polls year round, carry out their own private opinion polls, but there is no place like the ballot box to democratically tell your politician what you really think of their policies, the policies that should be solving the pressing issues of our time.

If things like quality of life, wellbeing, and a sustainable society matter to you, don’t take it to the comments section of a news site or Facebook, take it to the ballot box on Friday instead.

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