Student Housing Town Hall
What is a Town Hall Meeting?
When pressing issues affect the student body, MSU can organise a Town Hall meeting with the aim of engaging students and providing them with the opportunity to discuss topic on campus with the players involved. This Town Hall meeting on the housing crisis currently hitting the country offered invitations to the local elected representatives to attend. Taking up the invitation were; Matt Waine, a Solidarity Councillor for the Mulhuddart Ward on Fingal County Council; Sinn Fein Kildare Councillor Réada Cronin; and Fine Gael Kildare Councillor Tim Durkan. Each panellist made some opening statements to prompt discussion and give the room some information on their position on the issue.
Why Are We in a Housing Crisis?
Matt Waine expressed that we should approach the housing crisis like a business model, because that is how it is being treated by those who are profiting from it. The harsh reality is that renting is lucrative. "Therefore, we should be creating the right environment in order to be successful, as you would with any business, but the policy on housing has remained the same over the past five years. This is because of the ideological commitment to a neoliberal model to housing provision that the government are yet to let go of. A government that is meant to be of the people, for the people, is betraying their people and benefiting themselves. Unless you tackle the interest of the government, you continue to line their pockets."
Matt spoke on how the government and the media is presenting the issue as if it is a natural disaster, a humanitarian crisis without a solution, that they are trying their best to rectify, as if they have not played a massive part in its development over the years.
But Where Would the Money for Investment into Houses Come From?
Matt highlighted that post-budget, there was 0.5 billion euro of corporate tax returns that was not accounted for this year. "Where did the government decide to invest this money, they didn’t know they had? It was used to “pay back” the country’s debt. To who? To the countries who took a bet on little old Ireland, invested in us, and lost. As far as Matt is concerned, this is the same as betting money in a casino in Las Vegas, and expecting it back when you lose. This money could have provided 8,800 homes. Where does your government’s priorities lie?"
Do We Need Systematic Change?
Following Matt, Réada Cronin spoke on the structure of the government, which doesn’t allow them, as councillors, enough power to influence the proceedings in a “top-down government”. “Because Fianna Fáil are facilitating the Fine Gael government, you can get motions passed by the Dáil, but its very hard to get actual action on it.” Réada highlighted the presence of Maynooth Housing Action, and their presence at protests and the work they are doing to help students in the area. She spoke honestly on the root of the problem, expressing: “I don’t know where this is going to end if we don’t challenge the capitalist system.”
But What Has Been Done?
Tim Durkan, a councillor for Fine Gael spoke on what has been done in relation to the housing crisis, rather than that which needs to be done. Presumably, this was an attempt to remain positive on the situation and defend the government’s position on the crisis. Yet, by avoiding the shortcomings of the government, Tim, unfortunately, did not win the favour of the room. He referenced North Kildare as a microcosm for the country at large and explained that, on average, 180 houses are built per year. He spoke on how they secured 14 million euros for housing development this year, which accounts for 1700 homes, 10% of which have to be given to the county council. In his first week in his position, in 2014, he put forward the motion to identify the ownership of land – 250 acres – a lot of land to sit idle in his opinion. So what have they done since? He admits that the amount that has been done in relation to the housing crisis is small, but claims that it snowballs, and it will reach a tipping point.
“Now, if anyone tries to tell me that that’s not a government taking notice that we have a housing problem…that’s a huge amount of money to provide a massive amount of housing, throughout the country.”
Should We Be Concerned About Private Development?
In response to this, our SU Vice President of Education Katie raised concerns with privately developed PBSA [purpose-built student accommodation], as these private developers can charge whatever pricing they like – so the union would prefer if funding went through the government instead.
“If a private developer wants to price his student accommodation too high and out of the reach of students, students will quite easily walk and find elsewhere – and with the amount of units we are building, essentially we’ve got to a stage where it’s a tipping point, a release valve is required, the amount of residential development that will be coming to Maynooth in the next two years will release enough residential properties in housing estates that will free it up to students. It will also drop the price, because it’s a supply and demand issue.” – Tim
This response was not received very well by the room, panellists included. Réada expressed how there already is a demand, and that there are so many students commuting hours upon hours a day because they cannot afford the accommodation in Maynooth. “We don’t have enough social homes in Maynooth.”
Is 10% Enough?
One of the students in attendance called upon the following figure: 10% of housing built in Kildare will be dedicated to the public sector, in the deepest housing crisis in the history of the state, when there’s so many people who are homeless or cannot afford accommodation – would Fine Gael be willing to up that 50% or 60%? At least until there is enough houses to lift the current pressure on housing. Is it about supply and demand? It’s actually about what kind of homes you’re building – public or not.
To demonstrate the problem with the private development sector, Matt highlighted how there were more cranes in the skyline of Dublin in the last couple of weeks than in any other stage in the Celtic Tiger boom – what are they building? Hotels. You can make more money on them. Profitability is at the core interest of the government’s ideological commitment.
Culturally Specific Accommodation Funding Gets a Hit
Another issue raised by students was the fact that no funding was accepted by Kildare Co. Council from budget available for culturally specific accommodation – highlighting the travelling community in Maynooth who could have benefitted from this. Neither Kildare councillors could offer a satisfactory reason for this, but that it is a “blip in the process”, and there are ongoing plans for the future.
Students Asked Panellists for their Stance on the Three Main TBTC [Take Back The City] demands:
- End all evictions
- Public housing on public land
- Tie rent to income
Réada supports these demands – she believes in the power of feet on the street making a difference – she highlights how she didn’t join her political party for privilege or power. She endeavours to use her voice to make a difference in any way she can.
Tim endeavoured to demonstrate how Fine Gael are meeting these demands already, reminding the room of the housing development plans in place and ongoing. Réada actively opposed his response, highlighting the issue of building numerous private houses, as it will only create more competition, that they need more social and public homes.
Tim highlighted that rent currently falls at an average of 17% of a tenant’s wage – arguing that this is a reasonable cap. Matt responding that this kind of cap is relative to the tenant, that for some on a high wage or salary, this cap is reasonable, but for others on a low income, this is a huge chunk out of their expenditure.
Who is to Blame?
Matt addressed the banning of evictions, assuring the room that Solidarity support the banning of economic evictions. That is, evictions which involve the landlords utilising the housing crisis for their own benefit or profit. This still allows for eviction on the grounds of antisocial behaviour etc. As far as he is concerned, you are entering a business as a landlord – you should know the rules and accept that you have obligations and responsibilities. The interests of the tenant wins over landlord, as the landlord may be inconvenienced in some way, but the tenant has a home at stake, and it is not the tenants who are to blame for the government not building enough social housing.
Are We Hearing the Same Rhetoric Repeatedly?
A member of the student body in attendance highlighted the problem with Tim’s attitude towards the pricing of student accommodation. She expressed the desperation of students and their needs, that they will accept the so-called “bedspaces” for whatever the extortionate price is. This will just have a knock-on effect for the rest of their livelihood, that students take on more jobs, can’t afford food, and live through destitution just to fulfil their rent. They have no other choice. The rhetoric that “students can easily find something else”, is what they are always hearing, but it does not reflect the reality, as students don’t always find accommodation, and either end up commuting or not attending college at all. This rhetoric is not helpful in these trying times.
Student Engagement is Deteriorating
Leon, our SU President, asked the panel “how can we get young people more involved?”
Matt explained the need for the students to understand exactly why this is a crisis – not just superficially. He questioned, is it apathy or a sense of frustration and demoralisation under this pressure and lack of action? The Union need to create actions that seem or feel more purposeful – not just meetings like this – although small, they are important – but marches and direct action seem more purposeful and will get the attention and empathy of more people. In order to build on student engagement, the Union could hold a stall in the SU weekly and give people the information they need to become more impassioned and involved. Also, he advises the Union to remember who you are talking to – make the housing crisis relative to their lives outside of just accommodation – so link it with equal rights, social rights, jobs, etc. to make it more “real”, actionable and impactful.
Is It the University’s Fault?
Tim urged the students in the room, and the SU, to look towards the university themselves address them in relation to student housing. Katie promptly reminded him that the funding necessary for PBSA on campus needs to come from the government, highlighting how this problem can be reduced to the need for governmental action.
- As recalled by Nicole Kirwan