Tag Archives: progressive alternative

Another Time, Another Place – Alleviating The Housing Crisis

Providing adequate housing for all – a human right – is a problem in all capitalist societies where sensible solutions based on the notions of the common good and simple decency are discarded in the interest of speculators and landlords. Private wealth triumphs over human rights and higher human instincts, but more than that private wealth shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly.

Just as maintaining a numerically significant cohort in society in a state of permanent educational disadvantage and consequent inhibited development makes no economic sense at all, maintaining a significant number of individuals and families in a constantly precarious position with regard to housing makes no economic sense either.

With an ever-aging society where lower birth-rates do not provide a hedge against future demands for health-care or pensions, the idea that it makes sense to discard perhaps 20% of the population – potential earners – based on social class is simply insane. Further, stealing the potential happiness of men, women and children is simply naked brutality at play.

Homelessness brought about by repetitive capital-driven boom-bust is equally insane. It is impossible for those who are homeless to harbour any realistic ambition to seek and find satisfying and productive work or further education or training. Where they are eligible, decent human beings are forced to rely on social security payments or on the charity of strangers to survive. They are not allowed to advance their position, to be productive, to be healthy, to be even moderately happy, to contribute to the exchequer or to have dignity.

In 1970, living in a Notting Hill bedsit in London and with a baby due, my wife and I needed more suitable but affordable housing. Fortunately we lived within the Kensington Burrough Council area, and that council had an enlightened, pragmatic solution that worked.

It was relatively simple. Where a house lay unused, or where a landlord failed to maintain a house in proper order for existing tenants, the council had a procedure for taking control of those houses, carrying out any necessary refurbishment or repairs, letting the units to those on its housing list or to existing tenants, and using the rents to pay for the cost of any works necessary to render the buildings habitable and to a good standard. When the costs of works had been recouped the properties would revert to the owners.

The policy worked on a number of fronts. It provided additional quality housing to the council, it pressured landlords to maintain their buildings to a good standard and to ensure occupancy as opposed to dereliction, it enhanced the appearance of the urban environment, and it made use of existing housing assets to alleviate homelessness.

According to An Spréach housing action collective “…there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone”, and “There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland”.

There is a short-term solution. It was tried at another time, in another place, and it worked. It was not a permanent fix. One downside was the gentrification of the Notting Hill area a few years later – a boon for landlords and speculators. But there were some housing protections for tenants that made it more difficult for landlords to clear tenants out so as to profit from the property boom.

Adopting that solution runs up against an ideological problem of our own construction – the constitutional right to property. In this non-republic property rights trump human rights. But a creative approach could get around that issue pending a change in our constitution, preferably by scrapping it completely and offering the citizens a new constitution fit for a 21st century republic in which human rights trump property rights.

And it runs up against the problem of an institutionalised belief in local and central government and among the political class that capitalism rules, that no interference can be countenanced in the supremacy of capital to earn unencumbered profit regardless of social or human costs.

So, the homeless crisis is ideologically driven. Worse than that, it is fueled by a brutal indifference on the part of each of the three counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil – to the suffering of a significant part of our population and to their under-development or, worse still, un-development.

That is why it is so vital to build a progressive alternative to brutish government dedicated to helping the disadvantaged to move towards not just prosperity, but also happiness, and dignity. Stable decent housing is a component of that.

It’s about humanity. It’s about society. And it’s even about the economy.

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Create Alternative or Continue to Fail – Time for Dialogue

Although there are good reasons for optimism arising out of the protests that centre on water metering and billing at the moment – particularly the politicisation of so many who had been silent, the problem is getting past the widespread and mistaken belief on the part of most citizens that our only demonstrable power resides in our interaction with the ballot-box every four or five years.

Because of that, pressure must be maintained on those parties that are not FF, FG and Labour, and on independents – whether lone voices or representing groups, to atempt to overturn permanent misgovernment by any combination of those three parties and replacing that bad option with the option of a progressive alternative combination.

Let us admit from the off that the progressive alternative that we can construct in the short-term will not be perfect, but let us understand that we are capable of refining that initial model. ‘We’ does not indicate a top-down leadership but a bottom-up movement of politicised and increasingly better-informed autonomous citizens.

The most important result of the presentation to the people of an alternative is not necessarily electoral success this time but rather the process of breaking old bad habits of opting for the ‘safe’ haven of ‘the divil you know’. We have had 93 years to learn the hard lessons of that repeated foolishness, and we didn’t.

But the next time out at the polling stations in the General Election offers the opportunity to allow enough people to imagine, many for the first time, that there may be another better option. And if it worked (and it’s a long shot) and there was a government including SF, SP, SWP, other leftist parties and independents, but which didn’t ultimately measure up to our expectations, then we are not married to them either – a politically better informed and more adventurous electorate would be better positioned to move the pieces around the chessboard and less likely to accept failure.

There are real signs of a hunger for change and a willingness to leap into the unknown on the part of 40%-50% of likely voters. There are real signs of a growing active citizenry determined to have their say, to speak directly to existing power structures, and to make their demands for a place at the negotiating table.

Writing Sinn Féin out of that alternative equation, failing to pressure that party into moving further left, is to effectively run up the white flag and to consign the citizens to another five years of counter-revolutionary tyranny. There is currently no alternative that works without the numbers that Sinn Féin will provide which may well be closer to 30% than 20% by election-time. There are valid criticisms that can be made of that party, just as there are valid criticisms that can be made of the SP, SWP and other left groupings. Those criticisms should not trigger ostracisation but should trigger honest dialogue aimed at genuinely serving the citizens by creating a viable alternative.

There are those who will have to hold their nose so as to get over the potential mix of an alternative, some part of which they don’t like or don’t fully trust or about which they have misgivings. We all have to do that to a greater or lesser extent. The important thing is that we hold our nerve, dispel the idea that there can be a ‘pure’ revolution, and try to achieve an electoral payoff that lays the foundation for future transformational change if we don’t succeed this time – or even if we do. Light a fire in the imagination of citizens, and fan the flames. And then don’t be surprised if they start exercising some real control. Welcome it.

Meanwhile, and in parallel, all on the left should engage with the process of creating a new constitution for the sort of society (I call it the Irish Republic, but that’s my bias) that we think would work far better for all citizens, and for those who live among us, than the existing failed entity. Venezuelans and others have been able to do that, but for some strange reason we either believe it to be unimportant or that we are incapable of pulling it together. Without doing that work all we have to offer the people as we seek their support are broad principles, often fuzzy, rather than a clear outline of what the state that the citizens must own has to offer politically, socially and economically under that new constitutional regime over which the citizens must exercise ultimate authority.

Leaving the gate open for more of the same dreadful failure that we have consistently endured since 1922 is simply not an option for any genuine socialist or republican whose concern must be implementing immediate change to significantly alleviate the severe plight of many of our people, and whose goal must be the creation of a far better country in which to live, and not just exist.


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