Republican community activist Rowan Clarke in the first of a series of pieces shares his thoughts on the Apollo House occupation.
Firstly before I continue I want to state categorically that I am very heartened by the time, effort and enthusiasm shown by the grassroots activists volunteering within the Apollo House occupation.
I know many on a personal basis, albeit it from within the Republican community in Dublin, and an assortment of other campaigns I’ve been involved with over the years. And even some friends neither normally interested in politics nor volunteering have given their all to this snap response to an ever-worsening homeless crisis engulfing the capital and many of our regional cities.
I want it to be known that that I respect all those involved for just reasons, and that I support the basis of this Home Sweet Home campaign.
In saying that I’m sure I will still be subjected to a barrage of reactionary comments that centre around that I’m a ‘begrudger’, ‘keyboard warrior’ and in some cases ‘karma will visit you’ as more than one Facebook commentator was seen to exclaim on social media.
It can be extremely hard to relay constructive criticism and engage critical thinking around the matter as there is much hysteria around such an event. It's positive hysteria but hysteria none the less.
There is no question there is a severe housing emergency in this State, particularly in the Capital.
Social Housing is scarce, with nothing concrete coming from housing minister Simon Coveney other then the selling off of public land, which in the past were council estates, now being sold to private developers to build lavish residences which former residents in that community cannot afford.
Private housing is limited with landlords exploiting the situation charging upwards of €1600
for a modest two-bedroom house or apartment in many working-class communities and suburban areas on the outskirts of the city.
To add insult to injury many of these landlords - who range from the absentee landlord with an extra house handy that they bought during the ‘boom’ period, to the vulture funds buying up entire apartment complexes and charging extortionate unaffordable rent through management firms - are engaging in widespread discrimination against potential tenants based on their means, number of children they have, single mothers and social welfare recipients: all despite legislation that was enacted early last year supposedly to combat the ‘Rent Allowance not accepted’ culture among landlords.
Evictions are commonplace, soulless banks forcing families from their long-term homes with the aid of the court system which now seems to be a nothing but the legal arm of these banks and suspect lending institutions.
Gentrification. The list goes on ...
It is in this climate that many find themselves homeless through no fault of their own. They are joining the ranks of the rough sleepers, a demographic that has always been present on Irish Streets throughout this State’s history not just in recent times (although there is a visible increase in the last few years).
I myself have experienced first-hand how utterly anxiety inducing and miserable it is to be stuck in the renting nightmare, having moved something like 5 times in the last 6 years with no certainty of whether your children will have a roof over their heads or of where to money is going to come from to pay next month’s ever increasing rental rates.
Weirdly in contrast to the Anti-Water Tax movement which captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women and awakened a sense of rebellion long dormant in the Irish psyche, the housing crisis has not animated the masses even though the prospect of not having a roof over your head is a far more daunting reality then being annoyed at having to pay a bill for water charges.
I myself have recently gotten involved in a local housing action group and it unlike some other more popular campaigns it can be hard going and from what I’ve seen from similar initiatives in other communities, it seems to be the same story.
The housing issue is only going to get worse and more people will sleep on the cold streets. People aren’t taking to the streets in protest despite the necessity of doing so.
There is a dire need for an effective National Housing campaign, but for there to be a campaign of this nature some very revolutionary ideas and solutions need to be adopted. Frankly the explication of these solutions are the only long term and short term remedy for housing.
‣ The immediate building on a large scale nationwide of Social Housing
‣ More regulation and scrutiny of the landlord class
‣ More rights and protections for those facing the threat of evictions
‣ More investment and protection of current Social Housing
‣ The utilisation of vacant properties, particularly Nama properties and empty council houses sitting idle
‣ Most importantly, enshrining the right to a home in the states constitution, something sadly lacking even after the centenary of the 1916 rising, even with all the pageantry the Enda Kenny and co indulged in.
The uncomfortable fact is it would tweak many to even suggest any of the above.
Then out of nowhere, came Apollo House and ‘Home Sweet Home’…………