Suzanne Harrington: Affordable housing for everyone is not a communist idea

Affordable housing for everyone requires us to stop viewing houses and flats as ‘investments’ — that is, goldmines with which to exploit the unhoused - and instead to see houses as they were originally intended: to provide shelter, security and comfort. 
Suzanne Harrington: Affordable housing for everyone is not a communist idea

Suzanne Harrington: I remember when rents were between one quarter to one-third of your income, depending on where you lived.

Shout out to June Shannon, the journalist who recently wrote about having to leave Dublin because she can no longer afford to live there. She and her husband, both Gen X, despite both always working full time, couldn’t afford to buy a place to live in the capital. So they rent, which in terms of housing security is the equivalent of being at sea on a lilo.  And now they have to uproot their family, to relocate somewhere more affordable. 

“At 51, I’m ashamed to say I’m still renting,” she writes. As though this is somehow her fault.

This shame is exactly what the market likes us to feel. That the outrageous, bloated prices of ordinary, unremarkable flats and houses — and our inability to afford them, despite working all hours — is down to us as individuals, rather than down to the fact that we are being collectively fleeced by an uncontrolled, out of control ‘free market’. 

When we question it, we are told that it’s either our fault – too many lattes, too much gym membership — or the fault of refugees / foreigners / insert scapegoat here, rather than the current robber-baron system.

Like Irish Times journalist, June, I’m also Gen X. I remember when rents were between one quarter to one-third of your income, depending on where you lived. Today, unfashionable areas carry des-res prices, and the only people I know who have secure housing apart from the ones who own their houses outright, who tend to be old people who got in there when it was still doable — are those in social housing. Yet we have been trained to regard social housing as inferior, particularly in Ireland. In Britain, social housing has almost entirely been sold off, and rent regulation long abolished.

I ‘own’ my house. I say ‘own’ — what I mean is the bank owns it. I would still be renting, had the NGO which employed my late husband not made a death-in-service payment, allowing me to put down a deposit on a very ordinary semi. That was 17 years ago, and I still don’t own it. Repayments have doubled in the past year, thanks to interest rates going mad. My house is stuffed with language students as well as adult kids, one of whom is a shed in the garden. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Affordable housing for everyone is not a communist idea. Nor does it just mean rent control, although that would hugely help. No, affordable housing for everyone requires us to stop viewing houses and flats as ‘investments’ — that is, goldmines with which to exploit the unhoused - and instead to see houses as they were originally intended: to provide shelter, security and comfort. 

You know, to be a ‘home’. A long-term haven that allows people to get on with the business of being alive, rather than spending so much mental and financial energy worrying about the roof — or lack of — overhead. We’re an educated, grown-up society — why do we tolerate this bullshit?

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