Poverty in Ireland-Housing

In Dublin 20,000 people are on an approved housing list which requires a family to have two children before becoming eligible for inclusion. By John Feeney, Dan Ruddy and Vincent Browne. Published in Nusight, November 1969.

. 24,600 dwellings are occupied by more than one family in the country. In Dublin there are up to 7,000.
. A further 55,000 families live in overcrowded conditions.
. At present, about 400,000 people are inadequately housed.
. Ireland had lowest number of houses built per 1,000 of population in all of Europe in 1967 despite one of the highest averages of persons per room.

In the last five years or so Ireland has developed a housing crisis of unparalleled seriousness and intensity. This crisis is a comparatively recent phenomenon. In previous decades the chronic failure of the Irish economy partially obscured the inadequacy of the State's effort to provide adequate housing for the people. Emigration ensured that the natural need of the working class in the city for decent housing was minimised.

In the 1950s Irish economic policy was protectionist and failed to attract any of the American capital which was the basis of the post-war economic boom in western European capitalism. Our economy suffered a protracted depression while the British economy thrived. In the first half of the decade an average of 39,353 people a year emigrated from Ireland, in the second half the average rose to 42,400. At this period there were plenty of jobs in England which quickened the rate of emigration. During the 1930s when there was an equal depression in Ireland the rate of emigration was much less because Britain was suffering from a world-wide slump and had few jobs of its own. Indeed at this period the population of Dublin rose by an unprecedented 16% in lcss than ten years.

In the 1950s in Cork city almost a third of the houses were over 100 years old and over half had been built bcfore the beginning of the century. This meant for a considerable section of the working class a complete lack of lavatory and general plumbing facilities. Most of the older houses had only two or three rooms. But at least there was no shortage of houses. In Dublin, Cork and Limerick there was a waiting list for houses but the claimants were quickly satisfied as council houses were left vacant by emigrating families. The waiting list of families in Dublin never reached its present peak as many of the working class emigrated before they married or immediately after marrying. At this period, then, the failure of the State was primarily in the sphere of its callous acceptance of an enormous emigration rate when 15 people in every 1,000 emigrated.

In the 1960s Irish economic policy has changed radically.Government funds were utilised in order to attract foreign capital. The main attraction of course remained the high unemployment rate which has risen slightly during this period. Emigration, however, fell by almost 10% to 5.7 per 1,000 people. The consequences of this have revealed the absolute failure of the Fianna Fail government to meet housing needs. Once Irish people remained at home the failure became quite obvious. In Dublin 20,000 people at least are on an approved housing list which requires that a family have two children before they become eligible. There is a similar housing shortage in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Bray, Newbridge, Naas, Arklow, Navan and Galway. There are 24,600 dwellings occupied by more than one family in the country. In Dublin there are up to 7,000. These figures merely indicate decent council houses where families are living with their in-laws.The 1966 Census revealed a further 55,000 families which lived in overcrowded conditions. This represents, approximately, a huge 200,000 people. This overcrowding is due to a number of factors; about half are large families living in old council owned houses which are far too small, another 15,000 families lived in severely overcrowded conditions in inadequate private accommodation which is all they could afford when they leave their home due to unbearable conditions.

Unfit for human habitation
Three years ago there were about 300,000 people living in highly crowded and inadequate conditions. Apart from this there were 35,000 houses considered unfit for human habitation which required to be urgently replaced or renovated. This affected at least another 100,000 people. These people usually lived in houses around the centre of large ~rban areas such as the extensive slum areas clustered around the city centres in Dublin and Cork. These dwellings were considered unfit by local Inspection Officers and usually lacked piped water and sewerage. A minority of such houses were pre-1918 owner-occupied houses in rural areas where councils had failed to provide adequate publicly-owned alternative accommodation. At the present about four hundred thousand people or about one person in seven and a half is inadequately housed.If one remember

that the bulk of these people are working class who make up a minority of the Irish population, the failure of the State and its discrimination against the working class is quite clear.
Ireland ranks very low internationally in its provision for housing in the national budget. In 1967 Ireland came lowest in the whole of Europe in the number of houses built per thousand of the population. Austria built 7 per thousand, Denmark 9, Finland 7.9, France 805, Holland 10.2, Norway 8.1, Sweden 1207, Britain 7.6, and West Germany 1000. Ireland achieved a miserable 402. Even highly conservative countries in the field of social welfare such as Portugal, Italy and Spain built more houses per capita.

Ireland comes last despite having one of the highest averages (09) of persons per room. It does this badly despite having easily the lowest population increase in the whole of Europe in 1967. The increase in Ireland was a mere '4%. The next lowest was Austria with 4.7%. Ireland's failure can be further measured by its comparative number of married people as a percentage of the total population. Ireland once again ranked lowest with a tiny 33.5% of the population. The next lowest was Portugal which had 4108%. A pattern thus is quite clear in Ireland's housing record. It is doing least about housing its people and has a huge housing problem despite having the easiest problems to deal with. An overwhelming percentage of Irish houses are privately owned which springs from this inactivity of the State.Only 32% of Irish houses arc publiclyowned which once again is among the lowest figures in Europe. Only Finland has done worse than Ireland in this respect. \Vest Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway have built twice as many publicly owned houses.

Dangerous dwellings
Ireland has a high number of houses which need to be immediately replaced due to conditions which make human habitation not only intolerable but dangerous. This would affect over 20,000 people. Many of these are in Dublin and live either in renovated Georgian slums, rapidly dilapidating council flats built by the Free State Government along the quays and many privately owned rented slums around the centre of the city. In these areas there is not only a health hazard due to poor sanitation but a constant danger from accidents since there are no play facilities in the vicinity and the areas are usually situated near heavy traffic flows.

This situation is a genuinely critical one. The government estimates rather conservatively that there is an accumulated need for 59,000 new houses and that each year another twelve thousand houses are needed due to loss of dwellings from demolitions and obsolescence, marriage and migration. The Government estimates that it will require an output of 12,900 to 14,900 houses a year to cover the backlog by early in the 1980s.

The Government in defending its disgraceful housing record has attempted to insinuate that this level of demand is being met. It claims that housing output has risen from 7,800 dwellings in 1964 to 13,064 in 1969. This they proudly claim is a rise of 64% in five years. What the Government tacitly avoids stressing is that 8,451 of this output of houses is not built by local authorities and is not going to meet the huge housing need of the working class but, by and large, of an expanding middle class in Dublin. The number of publicly built houses rose from a tiny 1,463 houses eight years ago to 4,613. Judged in the light of these figures the accumulated need created by unfit and overcrowded accommodation cannot possibly be met during this century. Furthermore the Government's estimation of prospective needs is hopelessly unrealistic. In this category it claims that only 5,000 new dwellings a year are planned for new families. Yet at the same time it justifies its poor record in housing by citing the increasing percentage of married people in the 25-29 age group which has risen by 100% since 1946. The tendency among urban dwellers to marry at an increasingly earlier age has risen constantly even during the peak periods of emigration. With the development of industrial growth centres and the expansion of Dublin this figure of 5,000 is probably about 3,000 too low if present trends continue. This group of young married people are often in must urgent need of rehousing and the Government probably has underestimated by up to 30,000 the number of dwellings which will be needed in the 1980s even to keep the housing situation at its present poor level.

The Government must act in a much more serious manner in the field of housing. Evidently it considers its position on housing to be weak if one can judge by their periodic attacks on squatting groups in Ireland. The heightening crisis can be understood if one looks at the prevalence of squatting in Dublin. If one accepts that a whole family do not break the law lightly then a movement which breaks it on a very large scale is an accurate measure of the extent and depth of the desperation which many Irish people feel about housing. The City Manager in Dublin admitted last year that there were over two hundred families squatting on Corporation property. The Corporation takes rent from them and can evict them at will. The left wing squatting movement which only squats in private property is merely the conscious and advanced section of a much larger phenomenon. In 1966 44% of Corporation property in Dublin had subletting to relatives. This included old people as well as newly married people and the Government white paper "Housing in the Seventies" admits that State provision for old people in housing has only really begun in the last few years.

The squatting movement is also understandable if it is viewed in the light of the criteria used by Dublin Corporation in allowing people on to the waiting list. The list is not based merely upon need but upon residence qualifications. A person from the country has to be resident in Dublin five years before he can even enter the waiting list. This has the effect of either forcing people to squat or to emigrate rather than migrate to Dublin since it is easier in Britain to pay for private accommodation. Also an emigrant who wishes to return to Ireland is discriminated against. He cannot enter ::he waiting list until six months after he has returned even if he is a native of Dublin. This has the effect of discouraging a return to Ireland by emigrants. The Council waiting lists thus are not a clear guide to the real extent of deprivation In housing.

The criteria for entering our list of homeless families has very little to do with need. Dependents such as parents or aunts and uncles are not criteria of need. Overcrowding is not a criterion either. A large family which has depend~nt in-laws has no right to enter the housing list unless there are two children in the. dependent family. Such criteria serve to obscure the real need for houses while at the same time masquerading as a just system. Overcrowding itself should clearly be a criterion.

There is no easy solution to the housing problem. The capitalist expansion in Ireland in the last ten years has made it significantly more serious in many respects. There has been an enormous rise in the. price of serviced land due to the competition of foreign investment with housing. The Government's economic policies are aimed at attracting foreign capital by giving it favourable terms in acquisition of land and very often is subsidising the competitOrs of housing. Profit on office block investment in major urban areas is initially about five times that of housing profh. Furthermore the rise of large new bureaucratic centres for Irish investment and industry have been the cause "f unprecedented demo lition of housing in areas around the centre of Dublin, where the inhabitants comprise one of the poorest sections of the working class.

The Government in its white paper on "Housing in the Seventies" admits that there is a problem in the cost of serviced land, which oftcn comprises more than twenty per cent of the price of a house. It says in a revealing passage "while the obvious solution to this problem might appear to be to bring all building land into public ownership, this would entail the most serious Constitutional, legal, financial and administrative problems." Put another way, this means that many Fianna Fail memhers have already made a handsome profit on land speculation, foreign capital would not tolerate suitable land being taken for housing and the Government has decided on other solutions less hurtful to capitalism. One is the erection of flats in towers, as in Ballymun, which minimises the cost of serviced land. Another is the continued siting of the working class on the periphery of the city on cheap land, which creates great social and financial difficulties for people who retain jobs in areas where they formerly resided.

Bad solution
With the growth of demand for housing the Government has allowed the need to be met by private landlords. Its White Paper again recognises "the upward adjustment of rents as inevitable and their aim became the gradual abolition of rent controL" Only by allowing increased profit and speculation in flats has the Government offered an alternadve to other forms of investment for some small capitalists. There is no rent control on dwellings erected after 1961 or on self-contained flats converted since 1960. This has allowed the rise of luxury apartment blocks which have not contributed greatly to the alleviation of the poor. Rent control does not apply to houses of which the landlord has obtained vacant possession of since 1967. Landlords who carry out repairs to houses are also allowed to increase rents. These relaxations have caused a spiralling of rents in the last three years to a position where most working class families cannot afford any form of private accommodation. The relaxation in rent control has also gravely hit migrants from rural areas who come to Dublin to take up minor posts in the Civil Service and whose wages are merely, if not less than, those of a manual labourer.

Low investment
Irish capital investment in housing remains very low. In 1967 Ireland spent 4, 1 % of its GNP on housing construction. This was the third lowest in Europe after Norway and Britain. This is a rise from a mere 2. 2% in 1961. However, in the last three years the ratio has stabilised at 4, 1. Since the Government's economic policies are directed tOwards industrial investment and the development of more efficient education system it is unlikely that a much larger ratio will ever be reached.

Two in1mediate steps the Government should take are the implementation of strict rent control and the nationalisation of building land. Another step it should take is to enforce a rigid ban on the demolition of areas which speculators plan to develop when it will destroy a'housing area and leave people homeless.

A ban, however, on inflation of rents will not work until the Government makes a serious effort to offer publ;c competition to private landlords. At present landlords are secure in the knowledge that many people arc quitc dcsperate for accommodation. Rent control would merely cause somc landlords to exploit a different area of property speculation and would force others to offer even worse amenities to tenants. An immediate solution to the problem must be rent subsidies. These would allow working class people to use private dwellings without being crippled by high rents. They would furthermore, force the Government to examine the criteria which landlords usc in assessing rent since such a subsidy would need considerable Government finance, something which no Government likes to throwaway.

Irreparable damage
A great deal of irremediable damage has already been done to people by our housing programme. New development has never been planned. Vast new housing estates were thrown up whenever the situation demanded it. Housing estates never catered for people. They never had decent facilities for recreation or play. They are uniformly ugly and the houses are merely miniatures of middle class houses with tiny rooms which cramp people and waste a great deal of space. Thc complete disregard for the people living in the houses has rebounded on the authorities in some places.Many of the flats thrown up during the 1930s and the Second \Vorld War have degenerated already into near-slums because of the lack of facilities. Some areas in Dublin suffer from the Corporation treatment of people who will not pay their rent. They are herded into the worst dwellings which have very few lavatories or baths and small rooms. Mount Pleasant. Buildings, Benburb Street, Griffith Barracks, St. Theresa's Gardens and Devaney Gardens all suffer from this and from the inevitable vicious cirCle of teenage crime and cvictions of families who cannot pay their rent\vhilc their husbands are in jail.

Ireland's housing policy must be directed towards building decent houses for people to live in as well as towards building a great deal more publiclyowned houses. Housing is a form of poverty which affects every member of a family. And thc pattern of crime, desertion and alcoholism in our major towns can be traced to a large degrce to a policy of making people live in conditions which are unbearable.