The recent forcible eviction of housing activists occupying a previously vacant building on North Frederick Street led to massive increase in the media attention surrounding the ‘Take Back the City’ campaign. The campaign group, which is comprised of 18 different activist groups such as Dublin Central Housing Action and Take Back Trinity, has seen a huge variety of people from all backgrounds, a number of them current or former UCD students, take to illegally occupying vacant properties to protest the housing crisis and the lack of action being taken to solve it.
The first occupation took place at a property on Summerhill Parade that was newly vacant following the illegal eviction of a number of tenants from multiple properties on this road. The previous tenants were living in slum like conditions with up to 20 sharing one house and up to five tenants sharing a room in some cases, mould was growing on the walls, and it allegedly was in breach of fire safety regulations. The tenants of these properties were evicted after being given 24 hour notice in May of this year. The majority of tenants did not know who owned the buildings or who they were paying their rent to, and were mostly of Brazilian descent who were relatively new to the country, thus limiting their ability to contest the eviction. This eviction was wholly illegal and the silence from law enforcement and government figures is deafening. However, this illegal eviction is not an isolated incident. A similar incident took place in Rathmines where legal tenants were illegally evicted from a property on the 13th of September. The eviction was undertaken by private security hired by Grant Thornton International who were protected and aided by Gardai and tenants were evicted late at night as their belongings were discarded into the street outside.
The disregard for rule of law in this instance is something which needs to be protested, it is instances like these which result in direct action like we have seen from Take Back the City. The disregard and loosely followed legislation with its numerous loopholes is simply unacceptable. When legislation such as this intended to prevent evictions like this is little more than a front to protect those in power from being held accountable for these instances – something they can point to in order to say they provide protection for tenants and not just landlords. The ease with which landlords can bypass these laws, along with those limiting rent increases to 4% annually, and other similar pieces of legislation, points to the preferential treatment landlords receive, as can be further seen with the protection of hired thugs by the Garda Public Order Unit outside 34 North Frederick Street, despite the people they were protecting being in breach of multiple laws themselves.
The protection of Landlords should come as no surprise given the obsession our neo-liberal, landowning government has with protecting the free market. The fixation upon non-interference in the housing market has led to this situation we see currently with rents now at a record high average of €1,875 per month, a 12.4% increase from last year in a county with legislation limiting rent increases to 4%. This extortionate rent has served only to play into the hands of the Landlords sitting in Leinster House.
The conscious decision over the last number of decades by the political elite to outsource housing to the private market, and to cease the previously common practice of the government providing housing for those in need, has led to a market situation that is now out of control. This situation should not simply be left to the natural processes of the market. The commodification of housing which we have seen ignores the genuine need for housing and it does not view housing as a human right, but instead as a means to increase profits.
The leaving of properties vacant contributes further to this increase in prices as the free market dictates that a lack of supply will lead to an increase in price. It has been reported that this increase in value was part of the thinking behind Pat O’Donnell evicting tenants from the properties on Summerhill Parade in May. There are reported to be around 100,000 vacant properties in Ireland. These 100,000 properties are all serving to increase the market price of the available properties in Dublin by their lack of availability, on top of the fact that they are lying dormant when they could be used during one of the worst homelessness crises this state has seen. The situation has reached a stage where waiting for a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil led government to act is beyond futile. This crisis has been curated perfectly by them and their inability to act on these issues has been shown time and again. Direct action is now one of few remaining viable options to garner media attention, and to hit the people in power and their fellow landlords where it hurts. The time has come now to raise the issue of vacant properties which are not being given a Compulsory Purchase Order by pointing them out to Landlords and government figures in a way that they cannot ignore.
By Ailish Brennan – Features Writer