A report in the ‘Sunday Business Post’ on Sunday 30 August offers the latest absolutely damning indictment of the Southern political establishment’s handling of the housing crisis. The Business Post reports that local authorities are now renting former council houses from vulture funds. These houses, built by local councils over the decades, are now fully owned and controlled by these vulture funds. The very same councils who used to own these homes are now, perversely, having to rent them off the vulture funds in order to provide public housing!
This is a shameful development. But we all know the political establishment has no shame. For them, and their backers in the property industry, the housing crisis, which is devastating the lives of hundreds of thousands of working class people, is a golden opportunity to guarantee high profits for decades to come.
The report in the ‘Business Post’ is confirmation of Militant Left’s perspective that the current housing crisis is, in fact, a massive structural adjustment in Irish housing provision. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and the Greens are under orders from the property industry, including the vulture funds, to shift an increasing number of working class people into permanent renting, at high unregulated rents. This will guarantee colossal profits well into the future.
For this shift to happen two things are necessary. First, the State needs to end the building of public housing in the numbers needed to meet the huge need for housing. This is already State policy. The second thing that needs to happen is to drive working class people out of the property market. Those workers who can access mortgage finance are finding that they are continually outbid by big investors, both local landlords and multinational vulture funds.
As workers cannot access affordable public housing, nor are they able to buy their own home they are then forced into renting under a punitive regime which gives landlords all of the power and leaves tenants with almost no rights and paying permanently high rents.
This situation poses a deadly danger to the living standards of Irish workers. It cannot be allowed to worsen. It must be stopped now.
What needs to be done?
The broader working class, the trade union movement and the Left needs to urgently mobilise against the vulture funds. There needs to be a national co-ordinated, militant, campaign to kick out the vulture funds. A conference should be called of all those forces interested in building such a mass campaign. Small scale campaigns and local efforts by political forces, while admirable and which should be supported, are not going to stop the vulture funds. Only a mass campaign, involving hundreds of thousands of workers, can do this.
An immediate ban on vulture funds buying homes must be put in place. This is not enough, though. The housing crisis has developed and intensified since the financial crash of 2008. The political establishment at every stage since has used its control of the State’s finances to bail out and protect the property industry. The establishment of NAMA; the legislation to allow Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) to run amok; the introduction of the vulture funds; and, the most important of all, the ending of mass public house building.
The only way out of this crisis is a mass house building programme. Homes built by trade union labour to meet the sustainability demands of climate change would represent a massive stimulus to the economy and offer hope to millions. Militant Left has consistently called for this programme but the time is now to build a militant mass campaign to end the housing crisis once and for all.