Saturday, July 21, 2018

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The Housing Crisis - It Hasn’t Gone Away & It's Only Getting Worse

Finn O Donnell takes a no-holds barred approach toward the continuing housing crisis that affects the people of Donegal and the island as a whole. Here, he writes of what has be done - or what has not been - and what people can do to change the system.

I am from a street simply named, Long lane. It is what it says, a long stretch of road that climbs from the left side of Letterkenny Hospital, right on up the hillside of the O’ Cannon’s that looks out onto the whole town and far beyond. 

Growing up in this area, there was a massive building boom. What was once fields surrounding the home, are now hundreds of houses that are located just off the long lane from top to bottom of this road. In recent years, more and more houses have been left to decay and become breeding grounds for anti-social behavior, vermin infestation and a further blackening of the all too familiar reputation of Long Lane. This has created a feeling of unease with the hard working and decent residents of the area and as a result, many have moved house. This in turn, created the almost ghost estate like atmosphere such as Meadowbank that is located just off the Long Lane.


Derelict houses of the Long Lane


Ditto

When austerity hits, it does not affect the areas of extreme wealth but always the working class areas such as Long Lane. It is of course evident that the Long Lane has had its trouble in the past but due to cuts and cuts and more cuts, scenes like the photos above are becoming more common. How can someone live comfortably or raise their children in an area where even the houses are abandoned and left to ruin? How can anyone feel safe when the local Gardai neglect the area while thugs and crime are allowed to go unpunished? It is not a surprise or a coincidence that when austerity and derelict houses in the area are scarce, when social housing residents are being treated with respect and dignity by the local authorities and are able to afford some sort of decent accommodation, that issues like crime, anti social behavior, vermin infestation and a sense of unease also become scarce.

Of course, those who take part in anti social behavior are to blame and those who set out the continuation of giving the Long Lane a bad name are also to blame. However, where there is neglect and a clear bias towards stereotyping and everyone is put in the same boat, you will inevitably get an aggressive and negative response. There are many decent hard working people I personally know of who live on the Long Lane who take no part in any thuggery, anti social behavior and are of course, slotted in the same category. Is it their fault that the state of the houses in the area are so derelict? Is it their fault that crime goes on and is neglected by local authorities? Of course not! but as usual and like other areas in towns and cities in Ireland the same stereotyping goes on and everyone is branded with the same name.

So who is responsible and who can make the change to make the Lane Lane a better area for reducing anti social behavior, vermin infestation, a place were people can raise their children safely and with dignity? Who is it, that can bring about a difference in our area. Could it be the Gardai?

Well, when the local people are so clearly neglected by the Gardai on any issue and have consistently told me of how they have done nothing for them and their area. When a local shopkeeper told me that when the Guards were called about an individual who walked into the proprietor's shop, picked up a packet of crisps and simply walked out without paying and the Gardai’s response was ‘‘that seems like too much paper work for me over a packet of crisps. There is nothing really we can do’’. When you hear of a man that had an arrest warrant and is walking around outside his house while guards drive up and down the area without so much as a raising eyebrow, when there are those selling cars outside residents' homes and revving engines and speeding up and down the road at 3am on a weekly basis as well as fights and shouting matches at the same time and still, nothing is done by the guards. When a women’s home has her windows smashed because she took the courage to stand up to thugs and those that threaten the neighborhood and yet nothing was done. So, how is it that the Guards could do anything to make change in the area? How is it that people can be blamed from being deterred from engaging with the Guards when the local residents are so clearly neglected by them? It is very clear, the Gardai Siochana will not help to make change in our area.

So what about the local County Council and local representatives? What can they do to make a change to the area?

Well, according to the figures obtained from the County Council under the freedom of information act, Only five houses have been delivered for social housing from 2012 to 2018. This is a truly shocking figure compared to the County Council’s Development Plan that stated it would need an additional "4,578 new houses in Donegal over the 2012 - 2018 period." The same depressing figure shows up regarding the actual construction of social houses. In 2015, just 1 house was constructed, in 2016, none were built and in 2017, just 11 houses were built for social houses.


Image showing delivered social housing between 2012 to 2018

The Long Lane in particular has approximately 12-15 houses lying derelict. These houses have the windows smashed or boarded up, the front and back gardens are over growing with foliage and has deterred people away from renting or buying property in the area. This, as explained above, has created vermin infestation, anti social behavior and more neglect form the Gardai. According to a report stated from the sitting of the Letterkenny Municipal District in May 2018, almost 1,000 people remain on the housing list. This was stated by local Sinn Fein Councillor, Gerry McMonagle, Ironically, Councillor McMonagle is a resident of the Long Lane. This irony alone clearly shows that even a local resident and top Sinn Fein Councillor is unable or simply does not put the pressure on at local council meetings to make changes to the area. The same goes for the likes of Fianna Fail’s Ciaran Brogan, Independent, Dessie Shiels or Fine Gael’s Jimmy Kavanagh, who have never mentioned or highlighted the housing disaster that people and their families face. I suspect they would be more concerned for ‘‘pints for the boys’’ more than helping people with real issues.

Article from the Donegal News (08/07/18)

Donegal News Journalist, Conor Sharkey, published a piece that blew the lid on the spending of the County Council on their ‘‘refreshments’’ expenditure. Sharkey revealed, under the freedom of information act, that Donegal County Council had spent over 400,000 euros on refreshments alone from 2015 to 2017. This totaled a whopping 400 euro a day drinks bill over a three year period. An utter disgrace and a complete abuse of their positions as servants to the people of Donegal and a slap in the face to those struggling on a daily basis just to get by. So, when a local resident who is a top councillor on the county council states the housing crisis in Donegal and yet nothing is done, no mention of the on going housing issues that faces the Long Lane and Letterkenny municipal district from any other local Councillors, a complete lack of investment to provide adequate amounts of social housing which have fallen so far below the required number and a clear corrupt bunch of crooks feeding off the trough that is the people’s money, it is very clear and evident that our council and representatives cannot or rather will not make any change to those of the Long Lane and the Letterkenny MD.


Leo finally holding his hands up

And what of a national level? what about our TD’s and the government? Could a loud cry from the people of Ireland wake the establishment up to what's going on with the housing crisis? Could report after report giving the damning evidence of the exact nature of what the housing crisis is doing send the message home to Fine Gael? A report of over ten thousand homeless with over 4, 000 of them, children? Well, it appears not! In March of this year, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar declared the housing crisis as a national emergency. This statement would make anyone think that action would be done to tackle this major issue. Alas, Varadker’s ‘‘declaration’’ was subsequently followed by him saying, "but declaring it an emergency doesn’t solve the problem", meaning, Fine Gael are fully aware of the Housing Crisis but will do nothing to up the priorities of it. 

Varadkar has also admitted in the Dail that the government are leaning on the private sector to ease the burden of the housing crisis. In other words, Fine Gael have handed their responsibility as a government over to landlords so that they can make a pretty penny out of the exploitation of people struggling to obtain affordable housing. This is unsurprising to a party with 18 out their 50 TD’s being landlords. 

Of course, everyone knows that the housing crisis will cost a bundle and cost plenty. To even attempt what is proposed by People Before Profit to build or purchase new homes every year for five years to accommodate 100,000 families will cost billions. The country is still economically on the ropes and is only hanging on by its fingertips. The books have only been balanced last year somewhat and there simply isn’t enough in the budget..... or so the current gravy boat sailors tell us. In an astounding turn of events, it was revealed that Apple was skipping their tax bill to the tune of 13 billion euro since the early 2000’s. The most remarkable thing was that it took the EU to bring this to light to the Fine Gael-led government. And to put the cherry on top, the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, refused to pick up the cheque and even sided with Apple in the court cases that followed, using the taxpayers money to defend the multi billion business! It gets better. Apple lost the cases and are now forced to pay the 13 billion euro. Astonishingly the finance minister, Paschal Donohue stated "I fundamentally disagree with the ruling," but will collect it regardless. So where and when will we see this 13 billion being used? Surely, the new money will be used to fix the housing crisis and the health care crisis at that? If we concinue to keep the same parties in, then we will not see a penny of it nor see any change in the economy. We will not see the derelict houses of Long Lane being bought by the council and redeveloped for homes for families and improving the community. The absolute blatant, clear as day corruption being carried out by Fine Gael is more than enough evidence to show that on a national level, the housing crisis will never be tackled by government, let alone a small working class area in the forgotten county.

From what was stated, It is clear that local gardai, local councillors and county council, our county's TD’s and government are unable to make the change residents of Long Lane want and deserve. It is evident that the authorities responsible for the protection, safety, right to live peacefully, opportunity and to raise a family with dignity and care have been neglected and at times blatantly ignored. We can no longer rely nor hold out hope that government, local or national will help or even recognise the issues that people face day to day on the Long Lane. Community efforts can no longer look to government for funding. It seems that in this age of individualism and a much smaller and connected world, people are more distant from each other than ever. That hope and self empowerment seems fading and a complete destruction of any sense of community is happening before our very eyes.

And of course, this is happening in the estates, streets, villages and towns throughout the island. The same neglect of Gardai, the same neglect from local councils and the same neglect from the government. The pattern happens all around the world. Crime rises, mental health of individuals are affected due to austerity and financial stress. Working class communities become more and more run down due to the cuts from a ruling class capitalist-led government. 

It is not a conspiracy nor coincidence that this pattern happens world wide but rather, this is exactly how capitalism works. A boom occurs and an overproduction occurs afterwards. A draw back from this overproduction happens, creating a selling off of that product at a loss. By that stage the winners have long gone and the taxpayer is left with the bill from that loss. A new government is put in place to make sure the right budget is carried out and the right people still get paid. This of course leads to massive job losses of the working class, minorities and the most vulnerable, Cuts are implemented usually in working class areas and to those who are most vulnerable in society so they do not make too much noise nor rattle the walls of the establishment. This is again the same pattern worldwide where it is the worker, the down trodden the vulnerable who never experienced the boom in full effect but has always been footed the bill.


So What Do We Do?

It is a cliché and familiar cry from many on the left but we say it because we truly believe that it can work and bring about the real changes we want in society and create a new way to do things in our Country. It is not because if we have nothing else, or we have run out of ideas and are just towing the same lines of Connolly. We don’t buy into the ‘‘romanticism’’ of it.

What we think we should do is mobilise, organise, and agitate, We get together and talk about the issues that are affecting us and talk about what we, as ordinary working people can do to make it happen. Every resident on the Long Lane has experienced or seen the anti social behavior going on, the neglect of the Gardai and our local council. Every resident has issues that are most likely connected to their neighbor and the next house and the next house and so on. Every resident knows deep down that things can be better but doesn’t quite know where to go or what to do. They have spoken to me about the state of the houses in the area, the lack of initiative and investment given to develop the potential of the green areas such as the one in Glenard Park, the greenery below Fair Green located at the top of Long Lane and other areas. Yet the same people who complain are not so much the same people who do nothing but more likely, feel that nothing can be done. Some feel that there is no platform for them to start or residents interested in the area that will take part in community efforts and projects.

As stated by the evidence showed, the government will not help. Therefore it is up the residents of Long Lane to make the change and so there in lies the first step - take back responsibility - Realise that it is up to us to make Long Lane, Glenwood, Ballymacool, Ashlawn etc, a better place for everyone. Once our responsibility is taken back, then we can begin to take back our communities.

Organising meetings will also start the beginnings of building relationships between neighbors within the area and ideas can get shared and develop and grow. Once these ideas are agreed and finalised, regardless of what it may be, then the action can begin.

Recently, myself and a resident of Long Lane got together and began to discuss a group. We talked about setting up a parents group that would accommodate parents with children who may be suffering from anti social behavior, addiction, mental health issues or who are just struggling as parents. We agreed that this group would be for parents by parents. It would not be affiliated with the social services, HSE or the Gardai. We called the group ‘’Parents Supporting Parents’’.

This was to prove that people getting together with and idea can make something happen and keep it going. We now have over ten members who get together regularly, have a Facebook page, are holding fun days for kids, raffles and get together’s and talk about ideas and potential projects. This began with two ordinary people sitting down over a cup of tea. In doing ‘this taking back of your own responsibility’ and taking back of your community, your becoming empowered. This in turn spills into your community and creates the potential of empowering the community. Empowerment means being informed because once an individual is informed they are empowered. Responsibility and empowerment are very much linked together.


Eamonn McCann

Once a real sense of community is developed, relationships formed and collective ideas are gathered, be it a parents group, tackling anti social behavior etc, then action can happen. The prolific Derry activist and former Foyle MLA, Eamonn Mc Cann stated ‘‘There is nothing that scares the shit out of the the establishment more, than a large group of angry people who are angry at the establishment’’. A collective voice is louder than one and to bond people together under similar ideas is immensely powerful. Community projects such as redevelopment of green areas e.g Glenard and Fairgreen will be able to take shape and grow and it will be the local residents who would be creating it, resulting in more empowerment and more of a sense of pride and a part of within their community.

Agitate - protests are a powerful weapon against the establishment to highlight the issues that people face and government ignore. It is also a highly effective tool against anti social behavior within the community. Having a protest in your area with a large number of residents in attendance and showing up or passing by the very people who we may know who is causing the anti social behavior deters it any further. If those engaged in anti social behavior are aware that there is a collective and that the people are not afraid of them and will stand up to them, the result be a overwhelming reduction.

Finally, we believe in having our voice heard in government. If we vote for the same two tier party then we will inevitably get the same results time and time again. There are those who do not vote as they do not see the point in voting for any party resulting in hope being lost and a vote being gained once more for the establishment parties. We tell them: vote and have your voice heard. Vote left wing and vote the one who is out on the street talking to people and understands the issues you face because he or she is living them too. Vote them in and the issues we have and the agitation we make, the mobilisation we create and the protests we hold. Vote them in and bring it all in with you so that we strike right the heart of where the cuts and corruption and greed lay.

For us, it is not a matter of if the housing crisis will get worse. It is a matter of when. More derelict houses will appear on our streets, more cuts will be enforced, more neglect from our so called representatives will go on. This is not the future we want.

We believe there is a different way and that way is: reclaiming your responsibility, Taking back our communities, Becoming empowered, Mobilise, Organise, Agitate. Through that, we can create a grassroots movement from the bottom up and grow into something that can challenge the very establishment itself. This movement will only come about from the collective responsibility and empowerment of working people of Ireland. The movement can only fall apart if the working people of Ireland fall foul to their collective responsibility and empowerment. Therefore, it is a tricky and immense road to walk. Are you the one to plant your boots upon that road?


References

Almost 1,000 people in Letterkenny MD on housing waiting list

Housing

Housing Policy



Finn O'Donnell is the People Before Profit Letterkenny Branch Organiser and a Long Lane resident. He has continually highlighted the issues of the Long Lane before, speaking with other local residents and posting on social media. Last year, the PBP representative organised a protest outside the premises of Gleneaney House in Letterkenny to highlight the living conditions in the building. He wrote a follow up article with No Bones on the aftermath of the protest. He is also a founding member of the Homeless & Housing Coalition, Donegal.

4 comments :

DaithiD said...

I’ve thought a lot about the housing issue.

Approaching it laterally, if you accept the West is going through a crisis where societies struggle to offer meaningful and fullfilling roles to all it citizens, resulting in a type of nihilism (you can infer this from the hateful tone of interactions on social media), the big question we need to ask is : what is preventing you living the life you desire? The answers can be reduced to the need to work in unfulfilling jobs to afford rent/mortgages, to just exist, leaving little time for much else. If this obstacle was removed, then people could pursue their interest in art or music, they could live in academia if they so chose.

Something has gone wrong with allowing market forces to allocate something that is not a lifestyle option, it’s a necessity. We can see the failure in so many measures, like the age children leave home getting later and later. The current model is also encouraging those who own property to support massive influxes to countries to ‘spoof’ the market, unless we rethink property as an investment tool, and restrict it to commercial premises perhaps, then we cannot fix it. I know this is erasing the dominant component of every market, but we at least need to begin thinking about it. It should be a non partisan issue.

James Quigley said...

I thought there was a party political slant to it. Everything was going well until PPP reared it's head. By all mean local agitation but keep politicians miles away.

Finn said...

I dont you can keep politics out it to be honest. The housing crisis is in my opinion political so i can't see how yiu can't? I'm a pbp representative of letterkenny highlighting this issue. Other parties are more than welcome to put their two cents in.

James Quigley said...

Finn of course it's political but the question is when is one using an issue to further the party. When it comes down to community or the party the politburo usually takes precedence. There is a fine line where politicians have no bother crossing time and time again.