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(en) wsm.ie: Better to Squat Than Let Homes Rot by Cormac Caulfield

Date Sat, 6 Feb 2016 15:42:37 +0200

On the merits of Squatting as a tactical response to the permanent housing crisis. ---- While the government says there is no money to build social housing, they seem to forget the fact that there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone. There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland - but there is quite an easy answer to the housing crisis, the government doesn't even need to stretch itself any distance to address. they simply need to introduce a law to legally allow people to squat properties that have been empty for over 6 months, or relax the laws to make it easier to squat. Coupled with a sensible social housing strategy, based around people's actual needs and not purely profit for landlords, the housing/homeless crisis could be greatly reduced.

No government loan schemes, no sub-standard, gentrified social housing projects, and no need to wait for a new property bubble to develop to finish off the economy altogether. Over one billion a year is provided by the government to create and sustain social housing in Ireland over a two year period. The majority of this is a simple giveaway and effectively a government subsidy to private landlords (including large and small landlords, hotels, hostels and B&Bs), as the money goes straight into the coffers of already property- and capital-rich individuals/companies. It is largely dead money to those homeless or precariously homed people who have no choice but to pay artificially inflated rent for, in many cases, sub-standard and dangerous accommodation.

Another enormous problem with the renting market is that its is highly precarious. Renters are always under the foot of their landlords and the government (that's if the landlord even accepts rent allowance) and even if the renter has been paying for accommodation in the same space for 20 years they still do not own it. They have nothing to leave to their children or to call a permanent home in old age - they are at the complete mercy of the goodwill of the state and landlords.

But what is the outline of government strategy for solving the worsening issue? Below are the 3 primary aims of the government's housing strategy until 2020 - in dark italics is the effective meaning of their strategy.

Government policy plans-

1. Provide 35,000 new social housing units, over a 6 year period, to meet the additional social housing supply requirements as determined by the Housing Agency

(read: build too few houses to alleviate the problem according to their strategy, subsidise building companies and banks to build unnecessary houses, divert taxpayers' cash from essential services and waste it on those sectors which destroyed the economy, when a law could be introduced to legally allow people to take over empty property at no cost to the taxpayer)

2. Support up to 75,000 households through an enhanced private rental sector

(read: effectively give landlords more money, keeping people in precarious housing and wasting billions over a five year period instead of pushing legislation through to legalise squatting, which would cost nothing but would annoy landlords)

3. Reform social housing supports to create a more flexible and responsive system.

(read: make it easier for people to become trapped in the precarious rental sector - to the benefit of private landlords)

Obviously if the only choice were to leave individuals and families on the streets or the housing strategy outlined by the government then the government plan would be the best option to take, but this is not the case. Other countries have effectively legalised squatting in the past as it is cost-effective and an easy, practical way of minimising a homeless crisis. Up until 2010 squatting was in practice legal in the Netherlands - although the law technically made it illegal it was lax enough to allow hundreds of properties across the country to be occupied and used as homes for thousands of people. A similar law could be introduced in Ireland to help alleviate the housing crisis. How will we get this change of law?--by squatting and occupying empty properties!

41 out of 166 TDs are landlords and over 20% of Stormount MLAs are also landlords. Ignoring the class/structural connections between politicians, banks and property speculators the fact that over 25% of TDs are landlords is obviously a huge conflict of interest and will make TDs in the Dail very cautious about even proposing legislation to make it easier to squat – ignoring the fact that they have the same class/power interests of those who speculate and profit from the housing issue.

The best way to get this change is to begin to publicise squatting as a tactic, to help people develop the skills and know-how to squat, and to squat yourself to develop these skills. If we confine ourselves to just marching up and down the street, it will do nothing for homeless families and individuals. The government can ignore our passivity and apathy but they can't ignore our organised action. If marching up O'Connell St. isn't backed up by people taking over properties and forcing the politicians to think that maybe it will be their empty property next if they don't change the law to allow long term empty properties to be put to use by people, then the growing numbers of homeless people will continue to be ignored as a voiceless, powerless group within society.

While realistically the government will never be allowed or want to legalise squatting completely - as this would effectively spell the end of capitalist private property and be a threat to the state/capitalist system itself - it could relax the laws significantly as well as implementing a social housing policy plan that could include a law which would force landlords to use properties for housing after a certain period lying empty, and rent controls to keep rents more affordable. This is obviously only a short term solution to a permanent problem The housing crisis is not a phase, it is a product of a permanent problem. Capitalism.

Words: Cormac Caulfield

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